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Title: Bessy Rane - A Novel
Author: Wood, Mrs. Henry (Ellen)
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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Transcriber's Notes:
     1. Page scan source: Google Books
        https://books.google.com/books?id=JKxBAAAAYAAJ
        (Princeton University)



BESSY RANE.

A Novel.


BY
MRS. HENRY WOOD.
AUTHOR OF
"EAST LYNNE," "THE CHANNINGS," "JOHNNY LUDLOW," ETC.


Forty-second Thousand.



LONDON:
RICHARD BENTLEY AND SON,
Publishers in Ordinary to Her Majesty the Queen.
1897.
(_All rights reserved_.)



LONDON:
PRINTED BY WILLIAM CLOWES AND SONS, LIMITED,
STAMFORD STREET AND CHARING CROSS.



CONTENTS.
-----
PART THE FIRST.
          I. The Anonymous Letter.
         II. Ellen Adair.
        III. In Mrs. Gass's Parlour.
         IV. Alone with the Truth.
          V. Retrospect.
         VI. Watching the Funeral.
        VII. After the Funeral.
       VIII. Madam's Listening Closet.
         IX. In Lawyer Dale's Office
          X. Put to his Conscience.
         XI. A Quiet Wedding.
        XII. Jelly's Indiscretion
       XIII. Coming Home.

PART THE SECOND.

         I. What was, and what might be.
        II. Mrs. Gass amid the Workmen.
       III. Morning Visitors.
        IV. Three Letters for Dr. Rane.
         V. Madam's Advice.
        VI. Mary Dallory.
       VII. Love among the Roses.
      VIII. The Tontine.
        IX. At the Sea-side.
         X. A Last Proposal.
        XI. Under the Cedar-tree.
       XII. An Interruption.
      XIII. Panic.
       XIV. What Jelly saw.
        XV. Desolation.
       XVI. In the Churchyard.
      XVII. At Sir Nash Bohun's.
     XVIII. Jelly's Troubles.
       XIX. Coming Home to Die.
        XX. Richard North's Revelation.
       XXI. Under the Same Roof.
      XXII. Tangled Threads.
     XXIII. Jelly's Two Evening Visits.
      XXIV. Mischief brewing in North Inlet.
       XXV. Days of Pain.
      XXVI. Mrs. Gass at Home.
     XXVII. Once Again.
    XXVIII. Coming very Near.
      XXIX. In the Shrubbery.
       XXX. Lying in Wait.
      XXXI. Disturbing the Grave.
     XXXII. A Night Expedition.

PART THE THIRD.

         I. In Grosvenor Place.
        II. No Hope.
       III. Brought Home to him.
        IV. Conclusion.


BESSY RANE.

PART THE FIRST.



CHAPTER I.
THE ANONYMOUS LETTER.


It was an intensely dark night. What with the mist that hung around
from below, and the unusual gloom above, Dr. Rane began to think he
might have done well to bring a lantern with him, to guide his steps
up Ham Lane, when he should turn into it. He would not be able to
spare time to pick his way there. A gentleman--so news had been
brought to him--was lying in sudden extremity, and his services as a
medical man were being waited for.

Straight down, on the road before him, at only half-a-mile distance,
lay the village of Dallory; so called after the Dallory family, who
had been of importance in the neighbourhood in the years gone by. This
little off-shoot was styled Dallory Ham. The latter name had given
rise to disputes amidst antiquarians. Some maintained that the word
Ham was only a contraction of hamlet, and that the correct name would
be Dallory Hamlet: others asserted that the appellation arose from the
circumstance that the public green, or common, was in the shape of a
ham. As both sides brought logic and irresistible proof to bear on
their respective opinions, contention never flagged. At no very remote
period the Ham had been a grassy waste, given over to stray donkeys,
geese, and gipsies. They were done away with now that houses encircled
it; pretty villas of moderate dimensions, some cottages and a few
shops: the high-road ran, as it always had done, straight through the
middle of it. Dallory Ham had grown to think itself of importance,
especially since the time when two doctors had established themselves
in it: Dr. Rane and Mr. Alexander. Both lived in what might be called
the neck of the Ham, which was nearest to Dallory proper.

Standing with your face towards Dallory (in the direction the doctor
was hastening), his house was on the right-hand side. He had only now
turned out of it. Dallory Hall, to which place Dr. Rane had been
summoned, stood a little beyond the entrance to the Ham, lying back on
the right in its grounds, and completely hidden by trees. It was
inhabited by Mr. North.

Oliver Rane had come forth in haste and commotion. He could not
understand the message, excepting the one broad fact that Edmund
North, Mr. North's eldest son, was supposed to be dying. The servant,
who brought it, did not seem to understand it either. He spoke of an
anonymous letter that had been received by Mr. North, of disturbance
thereupon, of a subsequent encounter--a sharp, brief quarrel--between
Edmund North and Mr. Alexander, the surgeon; and of some sort of fit
in which Edmund North was now lying senseless.

Dr. Rane was a gentlemanly man of middle height and slender frame, his
age about thirty. The face in its small regular features might have
been held to possess a dash of effeminacy, but for the resolute
character of the firm mouth and the pointed chin. His eyes--rather too
close together--whiskers and hair, were of a reddish brown, the latter
worn brushed aside from the forehead; his teeth were white and even:
altogether a good-looking man; but one of rather too silent manners,
of too inscrutable a countenance to be very pleasing.

"An anonymous letter!" Dr. Rane had repeated to himself, with a sort
of groan, hastening from his house as one greatly startled, and
pursued his course down the Ham. Glancing across at Mr. Alexander's
house, he felt a momentary temptation to go over and learn
particulars--if, haply, the surgeon should be at home. The messenger
had said that Mr. Alexander flung out of Dallory Hall in a passion,
right in the middle of the quarrel; hence the summons for Dr. Rane.
For Mr. Alexander, not Dr. Rane, was the Hall's medical attendant:
this was the first time the latter had been so called upon.

They had come to Dallory within a day of each other, these two
doctors, in consequence of the sudden death of its old practitioner;
each hoping to secure the practice for himself. It was Mr. Alexander
who chiefly gained it. Both were clever men; and it might have been at
least an even race between them, but for the fact that Mrs. North, of
Dallory Hall, set her face resolutely against Dr. Rane. The reason was
inexplicable, since he had been led to believe that he should have the
countenance of Mr. and Mrs. North. She did her best in a covert way to
prevent his obtaining practice, pushing his rival--whom she really
despised, and did not care a tittle for--into favour. Her object might
not be to drive Oliver Rane from the spot, but it certainly seemed to
look like it. So Mr. Alexander had obtained the lion's share of the
practice in the best families, Dr. Rane but little; as to the poor,
they were divided between them pretty equally. Both acted as general
practitioners, and Mr. Alexander dispensed his own medicines. The
rivals were outwardly cordial with each other; but Dr. Rane, no doubt,
felt an inward smart at his want of success.

The temptation to dash over to Mr. Alexander's passed with the
thought; there was no time for it. Dr. Rane pursued his course until
he came to Ham Lane, an opening on the right, into which he turned,
for it was a nearer way to the Hall. A narrow lane, green and lovely
in early summer, with wild flowers nestling on its banks, dog-roses
and honeysuckles clustering in its hedges. Here was the need of the
lantern. But Dr. Rane sped on without regard to inadvertent steps
that might land him in the ditch. Some excitement appeared to be upon
him, far beyond any that might arise from the simple fact of being
called out to a gentleman in a fit; yet he was by temperament very
self-possessed, one of the calmest-mannered men living. A stile in the
hedge on the left, which he found as if by instinct, took him at once
into the grounds of Dallory Hall; whence there came wafting to him the
scent of hyacinths, daffodils, and other spring flowers in delicious
sweetness, spite of the density of the night-air. Not that Dr. Rane
derived much advantage from the sweetness; nothing could seem
delicious to him just then.

It was more open here, as compared with the lane, and not so intensely
dark. Three minutes of the same heedless pace in and out of the
winding walks, when he turned a point, and the old stone mansion was
before him. A long, grey, sensible-looking house, of only two stories
high, suggesting spacious rooms within. Lights shone from some of the
windows and through the fan-light over the entrance-door. One of the
gardeners crossed Dr. Rane's path.

"Is that you, Williams? Do you know how young Mr. North is?"

"I've not been told, sir. There's something wrong with him, we hear."

"Is this blight?" called back the doctor, alluding to the curiously
dark mist.

"Not it, sir. It's nothing but the vapour rising from the day's heat.
It have been hot for the first day o' May."

The door yielded to Dr. Rane's hand, and he went into the hall
it was of fair size, and paved with stone. On the left were the
drawing-rooms, on the right the dining-room, and also a room that was
called Mr. North's parlour; a handsome staircase of stone wound up at
the back. All the doors were closed; and as Dr. Rane stood for a
moment in hesitation, a young lady in grey silk came swiftly and
silently down the stairs. Her figure was small and slight, her face
fair, pale, gentle, with the meekest look in her dove-like grey eyes.
Her smooth, fine hair, of an exceedingly light brown, was worn in
curls all round the head, after the manner of girls in a bygone time.
It made her look very young, but she was in reality thirty years of
age; three months younger than Dr. Rane. Miss North was very simple in
tastes and habits, and adhered to many customs of her girlhood.
Moreover, since an illness seven years ago, her hair had never grown
very long or thick. She saw Dr. Rane, and came swiftly to him. Their
hands met in silence.

"What is this trouble, Bessy?"

"Oh, I am so glad you are here!" she exclaimed, in the soft, subdued
tones characteristic of dangerous sickness in a house. "He is lying as
though he were dead. Papa is with him. Will you come?"

"One moment," he whispered. "Tell me, in a word, what it all is. The
cause, I mean, not the illness."

"It was caused by an anonymous letter to papa. Edmund----"

"But how could any anonymous letter to your papa have caused illness
to Edmund?" he interrupted. And the tone of his voice was so sharp,
and the dropping of her hand, clasped until then, so sudden, that Miss
North thought he was angry with her, and glanced upwards through her
tears.

"I beg your pardon, Bessy. My dear, I feel so grieved and confounded
at this, that I am scarcely myself. It is to me utterly
incomprehensible. What were the contents of the letter?" he continued,
as they hastened upstairs to the sick-chamber. And Bessy North told
him in a whisper as much as she knew.

The facts of the case were these. By the six o'clock post that same
evening, Mr. North received an anonymous letter, reflecting on his son
Edmund. His first wife, dead now just eight-and-twenty years, had left
him three children, Edmund, Richard, and Bessy. When the letter
arrived, the family had sat down to dinner, and Mr. North did not open
it until afterwards. He showed it to his son Edmund, as soon as they
were left alone. The charges it contained were true, and Edmund North
jumped to the conclusion that only one man in the whole world could
have written it, and that was Alexander, the surgeon. He went into a
frightful passion; he was given to doing so on occasions; and he had,
besides, taken rather more wine at dinner than was good for him--which
also he was somewhat addicted to. As ill fate had it, Mr. Alexander
called just at the moment, and Mr. North, a timid man in nervous
health, grew frightened at the torrent of angry words, and left them
together in the dining-room. There was a short, sharp storm. Mr.
Alexander came out almost immediately, saying, "You are mad; you are
mad. I will talk to you when you are calmer." "I would rather be mad
than bad," shouted Edmund North, coming after him. But the surgeon had
already let himself out at the hall-door; and Edmund North went back
to the dining-room, and shut himself in. Two of the servants,
attracted by the sounds of dispute, had been lingering in the hall,
and they saw and heard this. In a few minutes Mr. North went in, and
found his son lying on the ground, senseless, He was carried to his
chamber, and medical men were sent for: Dr. Rane (as being the
nearest), and two physicians from the more distant market town,
Whitborough.

Edmund North was not dead. Dr. Rane, bending over him, saw that. He
had not been well of late, and was under the care of Mr. Alexander.
Only a week ago (as was to transpire later) he had gone to consult a
physician in Whitborough, one of those now summoned to him. This
gentleman suspected he had heart-disease, and warned him against
excitement. But the family knew nothing as yet of this; neither did
Oliver Rane. Another circumstance Edmund North had not disclosed. When
sojourning in London the previous winter, he had been attacked by a
sort of fit. It had looked like apoplexy more than heart; and the
doctors gave him sundry injunctions to be careful. This one also, Dr.
Rane thought, knowing nothing of the former, looked like apoplexy.
Edmund North was a very handsome man, but a great deal too stout.

"Is he dead, Oliver?" asked the grieving father; who, when alone with
the doctor, and unrestrained by the presence of his wife, often called
him by his Christian name.

"No; he is not dead."

And, indeed, a spasm at that moment passed over the prostrate face.
All the means that Oliver Rane could think of, and use, he tried with
the best heart and efforts--hoping to recall the fast-fleeting life.

But when the two doctors arrived from Whitborough, Oliver Rane found
he was not wanted. They were professionals of long standing, men of
note in their local arena; and showed themselves condescendingly
patronizing to the young practitioner. Dr. Rane had rather a strong
objection to be patronized: he withdrew, and went to Mr. North's
parlour. It was a dingy room; the shaded lamp on the table not
sufficing to light it up. Red moreen curtains were drawn before the
large French window that opened to the flower-garden at the side.

Mr. North was standing before the fire. He was a little shrivelled man
with stooping shoulders, his scanty hair smoothed across a low, broad
forehead, his lips thin and querulous; his eyes, worn and weary now,
had once been mild and loving as his daughter Bessy's. Time and care
and (as some people said) his second wife, had changed him. Oliver
Rane thought he had never seen him look so shrunken, nervous, and
timid as to-night.

"What a pity it was that you should have mentioned the letter to him,
Mr. North!" began the doctor, speaking at once of what lay uppermost
in his thoughts.

"Mentioned the letter to him!--why, it concerned him," was the
surprised answer. "But I never gave a thought to its having this
effect upon him."

"What was in the letter, sir?" was the doctor's next question, put
with considerable gloom, and after a long silence.

"You can read it, Oliver."

Opening the document, he handed it to Dr. Rane. It looked like any
ordinary letter. The doctor took it to the lamp.


"Mr. North,

"Pardon a friend who ventures to give you a caution. Your eldest son
is in some sort of embarrassment, and is drawing bills in conjunction
with Alexander, the surgeon. Perhaps a word from you would arrest
this: it is too frequently the first step of a man's downward
career--and the writer would not like to see Edmund North enter on
such."


Thus, abruptly and without signature, ended the fatal letter. Dr. Rane
slowly folded it, and left it on the table.

"Who could have written it?" he murmured.

"Ah, there it is!" rejoined Mr. North. "Edmund said no one could have
done it but Alexander."

Standing over the fire, to which he had turned, Dr. Rane warmed his
hands. The intensely hot day had given place to a cold night. His
red-brown eyes took a dreamy gaze, as he mentally revolved facts and
suppositions. In his private opinion, judging only from the contents
of the letter, Mr. Alexander was the last man who would have been
likely to write it.

"It is not like Alexander's writing," observed Mr. North.

"Not in the least."

"But of course this is in a thoroughly disguised hand."

"Most anonymous letters are so, I expect. Is it true that he and your
son have been drawing bills together?"

"I gather that they have drawn one; perhaps two, Edmund's passion was
so fierce that I could not question him. What I don't like is,
Alexander's going off in the manner he did, without seeing me: it
makes me think that perhaps he did write the letter. An innocent man
would have remained to defend himself. It might have been written from
a good motive, after all, Oliver! My poor son!--if he had only taken
it quietly!"

Mr. North wrung his hands. His tones were feeble, meekly complaining;
his manner and bearing were altogether those of a man who has been
constantly put down and no longer attempts to struggle against the
cares and crosses of the world, or the will of those about him.

"I must be going," said Oliver Rane, arousing himself from a reverie.
"I have to see a poor man at Dallory."

"Is it Ketler?"

"Yes, sir. Goodnight. I trust you will have reason to be in better
spirits in the morning."

"Goodnight, Oliver."

But the doctor could not get off at once. He was waylaid by a servant,
who said madam wished to see him. Crossing the hall, the man threw
open the doors of the drawing-room, a magnificent apartment. Gilded
and gleaming mirrors; light blue satin curtains and furniture; a
carpet softer and thicker than moss: and all kinds of bright and
resplendent things were there.

"Dr. Rane, madam."

Mrs. North sat on a couch by the fire. In the house she was called
Madam--out of the house, too, for that matter. A severely handsome
woman, with a cold, pale, imperious face, the glittering jewels in her
black hair looking as hard as she did. A _cruel_ face, as some might
have deemed it. When Mr. North married her, she was the widow of Major
Bohun, and had one son. Underneath the chandelier, reading by its
light, sat her daughter, a young lady whose face bore a strong
resemblance to hers. This daughter and a son had been born since her
second marriage.

"You wished to see me, Mrs. North?"

Dr. Rane so spoke because they took no manner of notice of him. Mrs.
North turned then, with her dark, inscrutable eyes; eyes that Oliver
Rane hated, as he hated the cruelty glittering in their depths, He
believed her to be a woman unscrupulously selfish. She did not rise;
merely motioned him to a seat with a haughty wave of her white arm:
and the bracelets shone on it, and her ruby velvet dress gleamed with
amazing richness. He sat down with perfect self-possession, every whit
as independent as herself.

"You have seen this infamous letter, I presume, Dr. Rane?"

"I have."

"Who sent it?"

"I cannot tell you, Mrs. North."

"Have you no idea at all?"

"Certainly not. How should I have?"

"Could you detect no resemblance in the writing to any one's you
know?"

He shook his head.

"Not to--for instance--Alexander's?" she resumed, looking at him
steadfastly. But Dr. Rane saw with a sure instinct that Alexander's
was not the name she had meant to speak.

"I feel sure that Mr. Alexander no more wrote the letter than--than
you did, Mrs. North."

"Does it bear any resemblance to Richard North's?" she continued,
after a faint pause.

"To Richard North's!" echoed the doctor, the words taking him by
surprise. "No."

"Are you familiar with Richard North's handwriting?"

Oliver Rane paused to think, and then replied with a passing laugh. "I
really believe I do not know his handwriting, madam."

"Then why did you speak so confidently?"

"I spoke in the impulse of the moment. Richard North, of all men, is
the lest likely to do such a thing as this."

The young lady, Matilda North, turned round from her book. An opera
cloak of scarlet gauze was on her shoulders, as if she were cold; she
drew it closer with an impatient hand.

"Mamma, why do you harp upon Richard? He _couldn't_ do it; papa told
you so. If Dick saw need to find fault with any one, or tell tales, he
would do it openly."

One angry gleam from madam's eyes as her daughter settled to her book
again, and then she proceeded to close the interview.

"As you profess yourself unable to give me information or to detect
any clue, I will not detain you longer, Dr. Rane."

He stood for a second, expecting, perhaps, that she might offer her
hand. She did nothing of the sort, only bowed coldly. Matilda North
took no notice of him whatever: she was content to follow her mother's
teachings when they did not clash with her own inclination. Dr. Rane
had ceased to marvel why he was held in disfavour by Mrs. North: to
try to guess at it seemed a hopeless task. Neither could he imagine
why she opposed his marriage with Bessy; for to Bessy and her
interests she was utterly indifferent.

As he left the drawing-room, Bessy North joined him, and they went
together to the hall-door. No servant had been rung for--it was one of
Mrs. North's ways of showing contempt--and they stood together
outside, speaking softly. Again the tears shone in Bessy's eyes: her
heart was a very tender one, and she had loved her brother dearly.

"Oliver, is there any hope?"

"Do not distress yourself, Bessy. I cannot tell you one way or the
other."

"How can I help distressing myself?" she rejoined, her hand resting
quietly in both his. "It is all very well for you to be calm; a
medical man meets these sad things every day. You cannot be expected
to care."

"Can I not?" he answered; and there was a touch of passionate emotion
in the usually calm tones. "If any effort or sacrifice of mine would
bring back his health and life, I would freely make it. Goodnight,
Bessy."

As he stooped to kiss her, quick, firm footsteps were heard
approaching, and Bessy went indoors. He who came up was a rather tall
and very active man, with a plain, but nevertheless an attractive
face. Plain in its irregular features; attractive from its open
candour and strong good sense, from the earnest, truthful look in the
deep-set hazel eyes. People were given to saying that Richard North
was the best man of business for miles round. It was so: and he was
certainly, in mind, manners, and person, a gentleman.

"Is it you, Rane? What is all this trouble? I have been away for a few
hours, unfortunately. Mark Dawson met me just now with the news that
my brother was dying."

The voice would have been pleasing to a degree if only from its tone
of ready decision: but it was also musical as voices seldom are, clear
and full of sincerity. From the voice alone, Richard North might have
been trusted to his life's end. Dr. Rane gave a short summary of the
illness and the state he was lying in.

"Dawson spoke of a letter that had excited him," said Richard.

"True; a letter to Mr. North."

"A dastardly anonymous letter. Just so."

"An anonymous letter," repeated the doctor. "But the effect on your
brother seems altogether disproportioned to the cause."

"Where is the letter? I cannot look upon Edmund until I have seen the
letter."

Dr. Rane told him where the letter was, and went out. Richard North
passed on to the parlour. Mr. North, sitting by the fire, had his face
bent in his hands.

"Father, what is all this?"

"Oh, Dick, I am glad you have come!" and in the tone there sounded an
intense relief, as if he who came brought with him strength and hope.
"I can't make top or tail of this; and I think he is dying."

"Who is with him?--Arthur?"

"No; Arthur has been out all day. The doctors are with him still."

"Let me see the letter."

Mr. North gave it him, reciting at the same time the chief incidents
of the calamity in a rambling sort of manner. Richard North read the
letter twice: once hastily, to gather in the sense; then attentively,
giving to every word full consideration. His father watched him.

"It was not so much the letter itself that excited him, Richard, as
the notion that Alexander wrote it."

"Alexander did not write this," decisively spoke Richard.

"You think not?"

"Why, of course he did not. It tells against himself as much as
against Edmund."

"Edmund said no one knew of the matter except Alexander, and therefore
no one else could have written it. Besides, Dick, where is Alexander?
Why is he staying away?"

"We shall hear soon, I daresay. I have faith in Alexander. Keep this
letter jealously, father. It may have been right to give you the
information it contains; I say nothing at present about that; but an
anonymous writer is generally a scoundrel, deserving no quarter."

"And none shall he get from me," spoke Mr. North, emphatically. "It
was posted at Whitborough, you see, Dick."

"I see," shortly answered Richard. He threw his coat back as if he
were too hot; and moved to the door on his way to his brother's
chamber.

Meanwhile Oliver Rane went down the avenue to the entrance-gates, and
took the road to Dallory. He had to see a patient there: a poor man
who was lying in danger. _He_ threw his coat back, in spite of the
chilling fog, and wiped his brow, as if the weather or his reflections
were too hot for him.

"What a fool! what a fool!" murmured he, half aloud, apostrophizing,
doubtless, the writer of the anonymous letter. Or, it might be, the
unfortunate young man who had allowed it to excite within him so fatal
an amount of passion.

The road was smooth and broad: a fine highway, well kept. For a short
distance there were no houses, but they soon began. Dallory was a
bustling village, both poor and rich inhabiting it. The North Works,
as they were familiarly called, from the fact of Mr. North's being
their chief proprietor, lay a little further on, and Dallory Church
still beyond. It was a straggling parish at best.

Amidst the first good houses that Dr. Rane came to was one superior to
the rest. A large, square, handsome dwelling, with a pillared portico
close to the village pathway, and a garden behind it.

"I wonder how Mother Gass is to-night?" thought the doctor, arresting
his steps. "I may as well ask."

His knock was answered by the lady herself, whom he had so
unceremoniously styled "Mother Gass." A stout, comfortable-looking
dame, richly dressed, with a face as red as it was good-natured, and a
curiously-fine lace cap, standing on end with yellow ribbon. Mrs. Gass
possessed neither birth nor breeding; she had made an advantageous
match, as you will hear further on: she owned many good qualities, and
was popularly supposed to be rich enough to buy up the whole of
Dallory Ham. Her late husband had been uncle to Oliver Rane, but
neither she nor Oliver presumed upon the relationship in their
intercourse with each other. In fact they had never met until two
years ago.

"I knew your knock, Dr. Rane, and came to the door myself. Step into
the parlour. I want to speak to you."

The doctor did not want to go in by any means, and felt caught. He
said he had no time to stay; had merely called, in passing, to ask how
she was.

"Well, I'm better this evening: the swimming in the head is less. You
just come in, now. I won't keep you two minutes. Shut the door, girl,
after Dr. Rane."

This was to a smart housemaid, who had followed her mistress down the
wide, handsome passage. Dr. Rane perforce stepped in, very
unwillingly. He felt instinctively convinced that Mrs. Gass had heard
of the calamity at the Hall and wished to question him. To avoid this
he would have gone a mile any other way.

"I want to get at the truth about Edmund North, doctor. One of the
maids from the Hall called in just now and said he had been frightened
into a fit through some letter; and that you were fetched to him."

"Well, that is true," said the doctor, accepting the situation.

"My patience!" ejaculated Mrs. Gass. "What was writ in the letter? She
said it was one of them enonymous things."

"So it was."

"Was it writ to himself?"

"No. To Mr. North."

"Well, now,"--dropping her voice--"was it about that young woman he
got acquainted with? You know."

"No, no; nothing of that sort." And Dr. Rane, as the shortest way of
ending the matter, gave her the details.

"There was not much in the letter," he said, in confidential tones.
"No harm would have come of it but for Edmund North's frightful access
of passion. If he dies, mind,"--the doctor added this in a dreamy
tone, gazing out as if looking into the future--"if he dies, it
will not be the letter that has killed him, but his own want of
self-control."

"Don't talk of dying, doctor. It is to be hoped it won't come to
that."

"It is, indeed."

"And Mr. Richard was not at home, the girl said!"

"Neither he nor Captain Bohun. Richard has just come in now."

Mrs. Gass would fain have kept him longer, but he told her the sick
man Ketler was waiting for him. This man was one of the North workmen,
who had been terribly injured in the arm; Dr. Rane hoped to save both
arm and life.

"That receipt for the rhubarb jam Mrs. Cumberland promised: is it ever
coming?" asked Mrs. Gass as Dr. Rane was quitting the room.

Turning back, he put his hat on the table and took out his pocketbook.
Mrs. Cumberland had sent it at last. He selected the paper from
amongst several others and handed it to her.

"I forgot to leave it when I was here this morning, Mrs. Gass. My
mother gave it me yesterday."

Between them they dropped the receipt. Both stooped for it, and their
heads came together. There was a slight laugh; in the midst of which
the pocketbook fell on the carpet. Some papers fluttered out of it,
which the doctor picked up and replaced.

"Have you got them all, doctor? How is the young lady's cold?"

"What young lady's?" he questioned.

"Miss Adair's."

"I did not know she had one."

"Ah, them lovely girls with their bright faces never show their
ailments; and she is lovely, if ever one was lovely in this terrestial
world. Goodnight to you, doctor; you're in a mortal hurry."

He strode to the street-door and it closed sharply after him. Mrs.
Gass looked out of her parlour and saw the same smart maid hastening
along the passage: a little too late.

"Drat it, wench! is that the way you let gentlefolk show themselves
out?--scuttering to the door when they've got clean away from it.
D'you call that manners?"



CHAPTER II.
ELLEN ADAIR.


The day promised to be as warm as the preceding one. The night and
morning mists were gone; the sun shone hot and bright. Summer seemed
to have come in before its time.

Two white gothic villas stood side by side just within the neck of
Dallory Ham, a few yards of garden and some clustering shrubs between
them. They were built alike. The side windows, facing each other over
this strip of ground, were large projecting bay-windows, and belonged
to the dining-rooms. These houses were originally erected for two
maiden sisters. A large and beautiful garden lay at the back,
surrounding the two villas, only a slender wire fence, that a child
might have stepped over, dividing it. Entering the Ham from the
direction of Dallory, these houses stood on the left; in the first of
them lived Mrs. Cumberland, the mother of Oliver Rane. She had been
married twice: hence the difference in name. The second house was
occupied by Dr. Rane himself. They lay back with a strip of grass
before them, the entrance-doors being level with the ground.

Let us go into the doctor's: turning the handle of the door without
ceremony, as Dr. Rane's more familiar patients are wont to do. The
hall is small, narrowing off at the upper end to a passage, and
lighted with stained glass. On the left of the entrance is the
consulting-room, not much larger than a closet; beyond it is the
dining-room, a spacious apartment, with its bay-window, already spoken
of, looking to the other house. Opposite the dining-room across the
passage is the white-flagged kitchen; and the drawing-room lies in
front, on the right of the entrance. Not being furnished it is chiefly
kept shut up. A back-door opens to the garden.

Oliver Rane sat in his consulting-room; the _Whitborough Journal_,
damp from the press, in his hand. It was just twelve o'clock and he
had to go out, but the newspaper was attracting him. By seven o'clock
that morning he had been at the Hall, and learnt that there was no
material change in the patient lying there: he had then gone on, early
though it was, to see the man, Ketler. The journal gave the details of
Mr. North's seizure with tolerable accuracy, and concluded its account
in these words: "We have reason to know that a clue has been obtained
to the anonymous writer."

"A clue to the writer!" repeated Dr. Rane, his eyes appearing glued to
the words. "I wonder if it's true?--No, no; it is not likely," came
the quiet, contemptuous decision. "How should any clue----"

He stopped suddenly; rose from the chair, and stood erect and
motionless, as if some thought had struck him. A fine man; almost as
good-looking at a casual glance as another who was stepping in upon
him. The front-door had opened, and this one was lightly tapped at.
Dr. Rane paused before he answered it, and a fierce look of inquiry,
as if he did not care to be interrupted, shot from his eyes.

"Come in."

A tall, slender, and very handsome man, younger than Dr. Rane, opened
the door slowly. There was a peculiar refinement in his proud fair
features; a dreamy look in his dark blue eyes. An attractive face at
all times and seasons, whose owner it was impossible to mistake for
anything but an upright, well-bred gentleman. It was Arthur Bohun;
Captain Bohun, as he was very generally called. He was the only son of
Mrs. North by her former marriage with Major Bohun, and of course
stepson to Mr. North.

"Any admittance, doctor?"

"Always admittance to you," answered the doctor, who could be affable
or not, as suited his mood. "Why don't you come in?"

He came in with his pleasant smile; a smile that hid the natural pride
of the face. Oliver Rane put down the newspaper.

"Well, is there any change in Edmund North?"

"The very slightest in the world, the doctors think; and for the
better," replied Captain Bohun. "Dick told me. I have not been in
myself since early morning. I cannot bear to look on extreme
suffering."

A ghost of a smile flitted across Dr. Rane's features at the avowal.
He could understand a woman disliking to look on suffering, but not a
man. And the one before him had been a soldier!

Captain Bohun sat down on an uncomfortable wooden stool as he spoke,
gently throwing back his light summer overcoat. He imparted the idea
of never being put out over any earthly thing. The movement displayed
his cool white waistcoat, across which fell a dainty gold chain with
its transparent sapphire seal of rare and costly beauty.

"You have begun summer early!" remarked the doctor, glancing at
Captain Bohun's attire.

The clothes were of a delicate shade of grey; looking remarkably cool
and nice in conjunction with the white waistcoat. Captain Bohun was
always well dressed; it seemed a part of himself. To wear the rude and
rough attire that some men affect nowadays, would have been against
his instincts.

"Don't sit on that stool of penitence; take the patient's chair," said
the doctor, pointing to an elbow-chair opposite the window.

"But I am not a patient."

"No. Or you'd be at the opposition shop over the way."

Arthur Bohun laughed. "It was of the opposition shop I came to speak
to you--if I came for anything in particular, Where's Alexander? Is he
keeping out of the way; or has he really gone to London as people
say?"

"I know nothing about him," returned Dr. Rane. "Look here--I was
reading the account they give in the newspaper. Is this last hint
true?"--holding out the journal--"that a clue has been obtained to the
writer of the letter?"

Arthur Bohun ran his eyes over the sentence to which the doctor's
finger pointed.

"No, this has no foundation," he promptly answered. "At least so far
as the Hall is concerned. As yet we have not found any clue whatever."

"I thought so. These newsmongers put forth lies by the bushel. Just as
we might do, if we had to cater for an insatiably curious public. But
I fear I must be going out."

Arthur Bohun brought down the fore-legs of the stool, which he had
kept on the tilt, rose, and said a word of apology for having detained
him from his patients. His was essentially a courteous nature,
sensitively regardful of other people's feelings, as men of great
innate refinement are sure to be.

They went into the dining-room, Dr. Rane having left his hat there,
and passed out together by the large bay-window. The doctor crossed at
once to a door in the wall that bound the premises at the back, and
made his exit to the lane beyond, leaving Arthur Bohun in the garden.

A garden that on a summer's day seemed as a very paradise. With its
clustering shrubs, its overhanging trees, its leafy glades, its
shrubberies, its miniature rocks, its sweet repose, its sweeter
flowers. Seated in a remote part of that which belonged to Mrs.
Cumberland, was one of the loveliest girls that eye had ever looked
upon. She wore a morning dress of light-coloured muslin, with an
edging of lace at the neck and wrists. Slight, gentle, charming, with
a peculiar look of grace and refinement, a stranger would have been
almost startled at her beauty. It was a delightful face; the features
clearly cut; the complexion soft, pure, and delicate, paling and
flushing with every emotion. In the dark brown eyes there was a
singularly sweet expression; the dark brown hair took a lustrously
bright tinge in the sunlight.

A natural arbour of trees and branches had been formed overhead: she
sat on a garden bench, behind a rustic table. Before her, at a short
distance, a falling cascade trickled down the artificial rocks, and
thence wound away, a tiny stream, amidst ferns, violets, primroses,
and other wild plants. A plot of green grass, smooth and soft as the
moss of the rocks, lay immediately at her feet, and glimpses of
statelier flowers were caught through the trees. Their rich perfume
came wafted in a sudden breeze to the girl's senses, and she looked up
gratefully from her work; some small matter of silken embroidery.

And now you could see the singular refinement and delicacy of the
face, the pleasant expression of the soft bright eyes. A bird lodged
itself on a branch close by, and began a song. Her lips parted with a
smile of greeting. By way of rewarding it, off he flew, dipped his
beak into the running stream, and soared away out of her sight. As is
the case sometimes in life.

On the table lay a handful of violets, picked short off at the
blossoms. Almost unconsciously, as it seemed, her thoughts far away,
she began toying with them, and fell insensibly into the French
schoolgirls' play, telling off the flowers. "M'aime-t-il?" was the
first momentous question; and then the pastime, a blossom being told
off with every answer. "Oui. Non. Un peu. Beaucoup. Pas du tout.
Passionnément." And so the round went on, until the last violet was
reached. It came, as chance had it, with the last word, and she, in an
access of rapture, her soft cheeks glowing, her sweet lips parting,
caught up the flower and pressed it to her lips.

"Il m'aime passionnément!"

Ah, foolish girl! The oracle seemed as true as if it had come direct
from heaven. But can we not remember the ecstasy such necromancy once
brought to ourselves!

With her blushes deepening as she woke, startling, into reality; with
a smile at her own folly; with a sense of maidenly shame for indulging
in the pastime, she pushed the violets together, threaded a needleful
of green floss silk, and went on soberly with her work. A few minutes,
and then either eye or ear was attracted by something ever so far off,
and she sat quite still. Quite still outwardly; but oh! the sudden
emotion that rose like a lightning flash within! and she knew the
footsteps. Every vein was tingling; every pulse throbbing; the pink on
her cheeks deepened; the life blood of her heart rushed wildly on, and
she pressed her hand upon her bosom to still it.

He was passing on from Dr. Rane's to the other house, when he caught a
glimpse of her dress through the trees, and turned aside. Nothing
could have been quieter or more undemonstrative than the meeting; and
yet a shrewd observer, skilled in secrets, had not failed to read the
truth--that both alike loved. Captain Bohun went up, calm as befitted
a well-bred man: shaking hands after the fashion of society, and
apparently with as little interest: but on his face the flush also
shone with all its tell-tale vividness; the hand that touched hers
thrilled almost to pain. She had risen to receive him: as calm
outwardly as he, but her senses were in wild confusion.

She began to go on with her work again in a hurried, trembling sort of
fashion when he sat down. The day, for her, had turned to Eden; all
things seemed to discourse sweet music.

True love--passionate, pure love--is not fluent of speech, whatever
the world may say, or poets teach. Dr. Rane and Miss North thought
they loved each other: and so they did, after a sensible, sober
manner: they could have conversed with mutual fluency for ever and a
day; but their love was not _this_ love. It is the custom of modern
writers to ignore it: the prevailing fashion is to be matter-of-fact;
realistic; people don't talk of love now, and of course don't feel it:
the capacity for it has died out; habits have changed. It is false
sophistry. We cannot put off human nature as we do a garment.

Captain Bohun was the first to break the silence. _She_ had been
content to live in it by his side for ever: it was more eloquent, too,
than his words were.

"What a lovely day it is, Ellen!"

"Yes. I think summer has come: we shall scarcely have it warmer than
this in July. And oh, how charming everything is!"

"Yes. Yesterday I had a ride of ten miles between green hedges in
which the May is beginning to blossom. Envious darkness had shut out
the world before I reached home again."

"And I sat out here all the afternoon," she answered--and perhaps she
unconsciously spoke in pursuance of the thought, that she had sat out
waiting and hoping for him. "Where did you go, Arthur?"

"To Bretchley. Some of my old brother officers are quartered there:
and I spent the day with them. What's that for?"

He alluded to the piece of work. She smiled as she held it out in her
right hand, on the third finger of which was a plain gold ring. A
small piece of white canvas with a pink rose and part of a green leaf
already worked upon it in bright floss silk.

"Guess."

"Nay, how can I? For a doll's cushion?"

"Oh, Arthur!" came the laughing exclamation. "If I tell you, you must
keep counsel, mind that, for it is a secret, and I am working it under
difficulties, out of Mrs. Cumberland's sight. Don't you think I have
done a great deal? I only began it yesterday."

"Well, what's it for?" he asked, putting his hand underneath it as an
excuse, perhaps, for touching the fingers that held it. "A fire-screen
for pretty faces?"

The young lady shook her head. "It's for a kettle-holder."

"A kettle-holder! What a prosy ending!"

"It is for Mrs. Cumberland's invalid kettle that she keeps in her
bedroom. The handle got hot a day or two ago, and she burnt her hand.
I shall put it on some morning to surprise her."

A silence ensued. Half their intercourse was made up of pauses:
the eloquent language of true love. Captain Bohun, thinking how
sweet-natured was the girl by his side, played abstractedly with the
blossoms lying on the table.

"What have you been doing with all these violets, Ellen?"

"Nothing," she replied; and down went the scissors. But that she
stooped at once, Captain Bohun might have seen the sudden flush on the
delicate face, and wondered at it: a flush of remembrance. _Il m'aime
passionnément_. Well, so he did.

"Please don't entangle my silk, Captain Bohun."

He laughed as he put down the bright gold skein. "Shall I help you to
wind it, Ellen?"

"Thank you, but we don't wind floss silk. It would deaden its beauty.
Arthur! do you know that the swallows have come?"

"The swallows! Then this summer weather will stay with us, for those
birds have a sure instinct. It is early for them to be here."

"I saw one this morning. It may be only an avant-courier, come to
report on the weather to the rest."

She laughed lightly at her own words, and there ensued another pause.
Captain Bohun broke it.

"What a shocking thing this is about Edmund North!"

"What is a shocking thing?" she asked, with indifference, going on
with her work as she spoke. Arthur Bohun, who was busy again with the
pale blue violets, scarcely as blue as his own eyes, lifted his face
and looked at her.

"I mean altogether. The illness; the letter; the grief at home. It is
all shocking."

"Is Edmund North ill? I did not know it."

"Ellen!"

Living in the very atmosphere of the illness, amidst its bustle,
distress, and attendant facts, to Arthur Bohun it seemed almost
impossible that she should be ignorant of it.

"Why, what has Rane been about, not to tell you?"

"I don't know. What is the matter with Edmund North?"

Captain Bohun explained the illness and its cause. Her work dropped on
her knee as she listened; her face grew pale with interest. She never
once interrupted him; every sympathetic feeling within her was aroused
to warm indignation.

"An anonymous letter!" she at length exclaimed. "That's worse than a
stab."

"A fellow, writing one of malice, puts himself beyond the pale of
decent society: shooting would be too good for him," quietly remarked
Captain Bohun. "Here comes a summons for you, I expect, Ellen."

Even so. One of the maids approached, saying Mrs. Cumberland was
downstairs; and so the interview was broken up. Captain Bohun would
perforce have taken his departure, but Miss Adair invited him in--to
tell the sad story to Mrs. Cumberland. Only too glad was he of any
plea that kept him by Ellen's side.

Putting her work away in her pocket, she took the arm that was held
out, and they went wandering through the garden; lingering by the
cascade, dreaming in the dark cypress walk, standing over the beds of
beautiful flowers. A seductive time; life's summer; but a time that
never stays, for the frosts of winter and reality succeed it surely
and swiftly.

Nothing had been said between them, but each was conscious of what the
other felt. Neither had whispered in so many words, "I love you."
Ellen did not hint that she had watched for him the whole of the past
livelong day with love's sick longing; he did not confess how lost
the day had been to him, how worse than weary, because it did not
bring him to her presence. These avowals might come in time, but they
would not be needed.

Stepping in through the centre doors of the bay window, as Arthur
Bohun had made his exit from the opposite one, they looked round for
Mrs. Cumberland, and did not see her. She was in the drawing-room on
the other side the small hall, sitting near the Gothic windows that
faced the road. A pale, reticent, lady-like woman, always suffering,
but making more of her sufferings than she need have done--as her son,
Dr. Rane, not over-dutifully thought. Her eyes were light and cold;
her flaxen hair, banded smoothly under a cap, was turning grey. But
that Mrs. Cumberland was quite occupied with self, and very little
with her ward, Ellen Adair, she might have noticed before now the
suggestive intimacy between that young lady and Arthur Bohun.

"Captain Bohun is here, Mrs. Cumberland," said Ellen, when they
entered. "He has some sad news to tell you."

"And the extraordinary part of the business is that you should not
have heard it before," added Arthur, as he shook hands with Mrs.
Cumberland.

Mrs. Cumberland's rich black silk gown rustled a very little as she
responded to the greeting; but there was no smile on her grey face,
her cold eyes wore no brighter light. In her way she was glad to see
him: that is, she had no objection to seeing him; but gladness and
Mrs. Cumberland seemed to have parted company. The suffering that
arises from constant pain makes a self-absorbed nature doubly selfish.

"What is the news that Ellen speaks of, Captain Bohun?"

He stood leaning against the mantelpiece as he told the tale: told it
systematically; the first advent of the anonymous letter to Mr. North;
the angry, passionate spirit in which Edmund North had taken it up;
his stormy interview with the surgeon, Alexander; the subsequent
attack, and the hopelessness in which he was lying. For once Mrs.
Cumberland was aroused to feeling sympathy in another's sufferings:
she listened with painful interest.

"And it was _Oliver_ who was called in first to Edmund North!" she
presently exclaimed, with emphasis, as if unable to credit the fact.

"Yes."

"But how was it he did not step in here afterwards to tell me the
news?" she added, resentfully.

Captain Bohun could not answer that so readily. Ellen Adair, ever
ready to find a charitable excuse for the world, turned to Mrs.
Cumberland.

"Dr. Rane may have had patients to see. Perhaps he did not return home
until too late to come here."

"Yes, he did; I saw his lamp burning before ten o'clock," was Mrs.
Cumberland's answer. "Ah! this is another proof that I am being
forgotten," she went on, bitterly. "When a woman has seen fifty years
of life, she is old in the sight of her children, and they go then
their own way in the world, leaving her to coldness and neglect."

"But, dear Mrs. Cumberland, Dr. Rane does not neglect you," said
Ellen, struck with the injustice of the complaint. "He is ever the
first to come in and amuse you with what news he has."

"And in this instance he may have kept silence from a good motive--the
wish to spare you pain," added Captain Bohun.

"True, true," murmured Mrs. Cumberland, her mind taking a more
reasonable view of the matter. "Oliver has always been dutiful to me."

Departing, Captain Bohun crossed the road to Mr. Alexander's; a slight
limp visible in his gait. The mystery that appeared to surround the
surgeon's movements at present, puzzled him not a little; his
prolonged absence seemed unaccountable. The surgery, through which he
entered, was empty, and he opened the door leading from it to the
house. A maid-servant met him.

"Is Mr. Alexander at home?"

"No, sir."

"Papa's gone to London," called out a young gentleman of ten, who came
running along the passage, cracking a whip. "He went last night. They
sent for him."

"Who sent for him?" asked Captain Bohun.

"The people. Mamma's gone too. They are coming home to-day; and
mamma's going to bring me a Chinese puzzle and a box of chocolate if
she had time to buy them."

Not much information, this. As Captain Bohun turned out again, he
stood at the door, wishing he had a decent plea to take him over to
Mrs. Cumberland's again. He was an idle man; living only in the sweet
pastime of making that silent love.

But Mrs. North never suspected that he was making it, or knew that he
was intimate at Mrs. Cumberland's. Still less did she suspect that
Mrs. Cumberland had a young lady inmate named Ellen Adair. It would
have startled her to terror.



CHAPTER III.
IN MRS. GASS'S PARLOUR.


Early on the following morning the death-bell ringing out from the
church at Dallory proclaimed to those who heard it that Edmund North
had passed to his rest. He had never recovered consciousness, and died
some thirty-six hours after the attack.

Amongst those who did not hear it was Oliver Rane. The doctor had been
called out at daybreak to a country patient in an opposite direction,
returning between eight and nine o'clock.

He sat at breakfast in the dining-room, unconscious of the morning's
calamity. The table stood in front of the large bay-window.

"She has done it too much--stupid thing!" exclaimed Dr. Rane, cutting
a slice of ham in two and apostrophizing his unconscious servant.
"Yesterday it was hardly warmed through. Just like them!--make a
complaint, and they rush to the other extreme. I wonder how things are
going on there this morning?"

He glanced up towards the distant quarter where the Hall was situated,
for his query had reference to Edmund North; and this gave him the
opportunity of seeing something else: a woman stepping out of Mrs.
Cumberland's dining-room. She was getting on for forty, tall as a
may-pole, with inquisitive green eyes, sallow cheeks, remarkably thin,
as if she had lost her teeth, and a bunch of black ringlets on either
side of her face. She wore the white apron and cap of a servant, but
looked one of a superior class. Emerging from the opposite window, she
stepped across the wire fence and approached Dr. Rane.

"What does Jelly want now?" he mentally asked.

A curious name, no doubt, but it was hers. Fanny Jelly. When Mrs.
Cumberland had engaged her as upper maid, she decided to call her by
the latter name, Fanny being her own.

Jelly entered without ceremony--she was not given to observing much at
the best of times. She had come to say that he need not provide
anything for dinner; her mistress meant to send him in a fowl--if he
would accept it.

"With pleasure, tell her," said Dr. Rane. "How is my mother this
morning, Jelly?"

"She has had a good night, and is pretty tolerable," replied Jelly,
giving a backward fling to her flying cap-strings. "The foreign
letters have come in; two for her, one for Miss Adair."

Dr. Rane, not particularly interested in the said foreign letters,
went on with his breakfast. Jelly, with characteristic composure,
stood at ease just inside the window watching the process.

"That ham is dried up to fiddle-strings," she suddenly said.

"Yes. Phillis has done it too much."

"And I should like to have the doing of her!" spoke Jelly in wrathful
tones. "It is a sin to spoil good food."

"So it is," said Dr. Rane.

"So that poor young man's gone!" she resumed, as he cracked an egg.

The doctor lifted his head quickly. "What young man?"

"Edmund North. He died at half-past seven this morning."

"Who says so?" cried Dr. Rane, a startled look crossing his face.

"The milkman told me: he heard the passing-bell toll out. You needn't
be surprised, sir: there has been no hope from the first."

"But there has been hope," disputed the doctor. "There was hope
yesterday at midday, there was hope last night. I don't believe he is
dead."

"Well, sir, then you must disbelieve it," equably answered Jelly; but
she glanced keenly at him from her green eyes. "Edmund North is as
certainly dead as that I stand here."

He seemed strangely moved at the tidings: a quiver stirred his lips,
the colour in his face faded to whiteness. Jelly, having looked as
much as she chose, turned to depart.

"Then we may send in the fowl, sir?"

"Yes, yes."

He watched her dreamily as she crossed the low fence and disappeared
within her proper domains; he pushed the neglected ham from him, he
turned sick at the lightly done egg, of which the shell had just been
broken. What, though he preferred eggs lightly done in calm times?
calm times were not these. The news did indeed trouble him in no
measured degree: it was so sad for a man in the prime of early life to
be cut off thus. Edmund North was only a year or two older than
himself: two days ago he had been as full of health and life, deep in
the plans and projects of this world, thinking little of the next.
Sad? it was horrible. And Dr. Rane's breakfast was spoiled for that
day.

He got up to walk the room restlessly: he looked at himself in the
glass; possibly to see how the news might have affected his features;
in all he did there was a hurried, confused sort of motion, betraying
that the mind must be in a state of perturbation. By-and-by he
snatched up his hat, and went forth, taking the direction of the Hall.

"I ought to call. It will look well for me to call. It is a civility I
owe them," he kept repeating at intervals, as he strode along. Just as
though he thought in his inmost heart he ought _not_ to call, and were
seeking arguments to excuse himself from doing so.

How eager he was to be there and see and hear all that was
transpiring, he alone knew. No power could have stopped him, whether
to go were suitable or unsuitable; for he had a strong will. He did
not take the lane this time, but went straight along the high-road,
turning in at the iron gates, and up the chestnut avenue. The tender
green of the trees was beautiful: birds sang; the blue sky flickered
through the waving leaves. Winding on, Dr. Rane met Thomas Hepburn,
the undertaker and carpenter: a sickly looking but intelligent and
respectable man.

"Is it you, Hepburn?"

"Yes, sir; I've been in to take the orders. What an awful thing it
is!" he continued in a low tone, glancing round at the closed windows,
as if fearful they might detect what he was saying. "The scoundrel who
wrote that letter ought to be tried for murder when they discover him.
And they are safe to do that, sooner or later."

"The writer could have done no great harm but for Edmund North's
allowing himself to go into that fatal passion."

"An anonymous writer is a coward," rejoined Hepburn with scorn. "They
say there'll not be an inquest."

"An inquest!" repeated the doctor, to whom the idea had never
occurred. "There's no necessity for an inquest."

"Well, doctor, I suppose the law would in strictness exact it. But Mr.
North is against it, and it's thought his wishes will be respected."

"Any of the medical men can furnish a certificate of the cause of
death. I could do it myself."

"Yes, of course. But I've no time to stay talking," added the
undertaker. "Good-day to you, sir."

The next to come forth from the house was Alexander, the surgeon. Dr.
Rane rubbed his eyes, almost thinking they deceived him. The brother
practitioners shook hands; and Mr. Alexander--a little man with dark
hair--explained what had seemed inexplicable.

It seemed that the very same evening delivery which brought Mr. North
the anonymous letter, had brought one to Mr. Alexander. His was from
London, informing him that he had been appointed to a post connected
with one of the hospitals, and requesting him to go up _at once_ for a
few hours. Mr. Alexander made ready, sent for a fly, and started with
his wife for the station, bidding the driver halt at Mr. North's iron
gates. As he was in attendance at that time on Edmund North, he wished
to give notice of his temporary absence. To be furiously attacked by
Edmund North the moment he entered the doors, and as it seemed to him,
without rhyme or reason, put Mr. Alexander into somewhat of a passion
also. There was no time for elucidation, neither was a single word he
said listened to, and the surgeon hastened out to his fly. He had
returned by the first train this morning--London was not much more
than an hour's journey by rail--and found that Edmund North had died
of that self-same passion. Half paralyzed with grief and horror, Mr.
Alexander hastened to the Hall; and was now coming from it, having
fully exculpated himself in all ways in the sight of its master.
Almost as fully he spoke now to Dr. Rane; in his grief, in his
straightforward candour, nothing selfish or sinister could hide
itself.

The transaction in regard to drawing the bill had been wholly Edmund
North's, Some months ago he had sought Mr. Alexander, saying he was
in want of a sum of money--a hundred pounds; he did not know how to
put his hands just then upon it, not wishing to apply to his own
family; would he, the surgeon, like a good fellow, lend it? At
first, Mr. Alexander had excused himself; for one thing he had not the
money--fancy a poor country surgeon with a hundred pounds loose cash,
he said; but eventually he fell in with Edmund North's pleadings. A
bill was drawn, both of them being liable, and was discounted by Dale,
the lawyer, of Whitborough. When the bill had become due (about a week
ago) neither of them could meet it; and the matter was arranged with
Dale by a second bill.

"What I cannot understand is, how Edmund North, poor fellow, could
have pitched upon me as the writer of that letter," observed the
surgeon to Dr. Rane, when he had finished his recital. "He must have
gone clean daft to think it. I had no reason for disclosing it; I did
not fear but he would eventually meet the bill."

"I told them you could not have written it," quietly rejoined the
doctor.

Mr. Alexander lifted his hand with angry emphasis. "Rane, I'd give a
thousand pounds out of my pocket--if I were a rich man and had it--to
know who wrote the letter and worked the mischief. I never disclosed
the transaction to a living soul; I don't believe Edmund North did;
besides ourselves, it was known only to the discounter. Dale is a safe
man; so it seems a perfect mystery. And mark you, Rane--that letter
was written to damage me at the Hall, not Edmund North."

Dr. Rane gazed at the other in great surprise. "To damage you?"

"It is the view I take of it. And so, on reflection, does Richard
North."

"Nonsense, Alexander!"

"If ever the hidden particulars come to light, you will find that it
is not nonsense, but truth," was the surgeon's answer. "I must have
some enemies in the neighbourhood, I suppose; most professional men
have; and they no doubt hoped to do for me with Mr. North. The Norths
in a degree sway other people here, and so I should have lost my
practice, and been driven away."

Oliver had raised his cane, and was lightly flicking the shrub by
which he stood, his air that of one in deep thought.

"I confess I do not follow you, Alexander. Your ill-doing or
well-doing is nothing to Mr. North; his son's of course was. If you
lived by drawing bills, it could be no concern of his."

"Drawing bills on my own score would certainly be of no moment to Mr.
North; but drawing them in _conjunction with his son_ would be. Upon
which of us would he naturally lay the blame? Upon a young, heedless
man, as Edmund North was; or upon me, a middle-aged, established
member of society, with a home and a family? The case speaks for
itself."

Oliver Rane did not appear quite to admit this. He thought the
probability lay against Mr. Alexander's theory, rather than with it.
"Of course," he slowly said, "looking at it in that light, the letter
would tell either way. But I think you must be wrong."

"No, I am not. Whoever wrote that missive did it to injure me. I
seemed to see it, as by instinct, the minute Mr. North gave me the
letter to read. If the motive was to drive me from Dallory, it might
have been spared, and Edmund North saved, for I am going to quit it of
my own accord."

"To quit Dallory?"

"In a month's time from this I and mine will have left it for London.
The situation now given to me I have been trying for, under the rose,
these six months past."

"But why do you wish to leave Dallory?"

"To better myself, as the servants say," replied Mr. Alexander, "and
the move will do that considerably. Another reason is that my wife
dislikes Dallory. Madam turned up her nose at us socially when we
first settled here; and that, in a degree, kept the best society
closed to Mrs. Alexander. She is well-born, has been reared a lady;
and of course it was: enough to set her against the place. Besides,
all our friends are in London; and so, you see, if my exit into the
wilderness was what that anonymous individual was driving at, he might
have gained his ends without crime, had he waited only a short time."

"I hate Mrs. North," dreamily spoke Dr. Rane; "and I am sure she hates
me, though the wherefore to me is incomprehensible."

"Look there," spoke the surgeon, dropping his voice.

Both had simultaneously caught sight of Mrs. North. She was passing
the shrubbery close by, and looked out at them. They raised their
hats. Mr. Alexander made a movement to approach her; she saw it, and
turned from him back to the dark wall with her usual sweeping step. So
he remained where he was.

"She asked to see me on Tuesday night when I was leaving; wanting to
know if I could tell her who wrote the letter," said Dr. Rane.

"She suspected me, I suppose."

"She appeared to suspect--_not_ you, but some one else; and that was
Richard North."

"Richard North!" ironically repeated Mr. Alexander. "She knows quite
well that he is above suspicion; perhaps she was only trying to divert
attention from some other person: she is made up of craft. Who knows
but she wrote the letter herself?"

"Mrs. North!"

"Upon my word and honour, the thought is in my mind, Rane. If the
motive of the letter were as you think--to do Edmund North damage with
his father--I know of only one person who would attempt it, and that
is Mrs. North."

Their eyes met: a strange light shone momentarily in Oliver Rane's. In
saying that he hated Mrs. North, he spoke truth; but there was every
excuse for the feeling, for it was quite certain that Mrs. North had
long been working him what ill she could. His marriage with Bessy was
being delayed, and delayed entirely through her covert opposition.

"That she is an entirely unscrupulous woman, and would stand at
nothing, I feel sure," spoke Dr. Rane, drawing a deep breath. "But, as
to the letter----"

"Well, as to the letter?" cried the surgeon, in the pause. "I don't
say she foresaw that it would kill him."

"This would disprove your theory of its being written to damage you,
Alexander."

"Not altogether. The damaging another, more or less, would be of no
moment at all to Mrs. North; she would crush any one without scruple."

"I'm sure she would crush me," spoke Dr. Rane. "Heaven knows why; I
don't."

"Well, if she did write the letter, I think her conscience must smite
her as she looks at the poor dead man lying there. Good-day, Rane: I
have not been home to see my little ones yet. Mrs. Alexander is
remaining in town for a day or two."

In talking, they had walked slowly to the end of the avenue; Mr.
Alexander passed through the gates, and took the road towards the Ham.

"I may as well go on at once, and see Ketler," thought Dr. Rane. "Time
enough to call at the Hall as I return."

So he went on towards Dallory. Two gentlemen passed him on horseback,
county magistrates, who were probably going to the Hall. The sight of
them turned his thoughts to the subject of an inquest: he began
speculating why Mr. North wished to evade it, and whether he would
succeed in doing so. For his own part, he did not see that the case,
speaking in point of law, called for one. Hepburn said it did; and he
was supposed, as chief undertaker in Dallory, to understand these
things.

Deep in reflection, the doctor strode on; when, in passing Mrs. Gass's
house, a sharp tapping at the window saluted his ear. It came from
that lady herself, and she threw up the sash.

"Just come in, will you, Dr. Rane? I want you for something very
particular."

He felt sure she only wanted to question him about the death, and
would a great deal rather have gone on: but with her red and smiling
face inviting him in peremptorily, he did not see his way to refusing
her.

"And so he is _gone_--that poor young man!" she began, meeting him in
her smart dress and pink cap. "When I heard the death-bell ring out
this morning, it sounded to me a'most like my own knell."

"Yes, he is gone--unhappily," murmured Dr. Rane.

"Well, now, doctor, the next thing is--what became of you yesterday?"

The change of subject appeared peculiar.

"Became of me?" repeated Dr. Rane. "How do you mean?"

"All the mortal day I was stuck at this parlour window, waiting to see
you go by," proceeded Mrs. Gass. "You never passed once."

"Yes, I did. I passed in the morning."

"My eyes must have gone a-maying then, for they never saw you," was
Mrs. Gass's answer.

"It was before my usual hour. I was called out early to a sick man in
Dallory, and I took the opportunity to see Ketler at the same time."

"Then that accounts for the milk in the cocoa-nuts; and I wasted my
time for nothing," was her good-tempered rejoinder.

"Why did you want to see me pass?"

Mrs. Gass paused for a moment before replying. She glanced round to
see that the door was closed, and dropped her voice almost to a
whisper.

"Dr. Rane, who wrote that fatal letter?"

"I cannot tell."

"Did _you?_"

Oliver Rane stared at her, a sudden flush of anger dyeing his brow. No
wonder: the question, put with emphatic earnestness, seemed an
assertion, almost like that startling reproach of Nathan to David.

"Mrs. Gass, I do not know what you mean."

"I see you don't relish it, doctor. But I am a plain body, as you
know; and when in doubt about a thing, pleasant or unpleasant, I like
to ask an explanation straight out."

"But why should you be in doubt about this?" he inquired wonderingly.
"What can induce you to connect me with the letter?"

Mrs. Gass took her portly person across the room to a desk; unlocked
it, and brought forth a folded piece of paper. She handed it to Dr.
Rane.

It was not a letter; it could not be the copy of one: but it did
appear to be the rough sketch of the anonymous missive that had
reached Mr. North. Some of the sentences were written two or three
times over; in a close hand, in a scrawling hand, in a reversed hand,
as if the writer were practising different styles; in others the
construction was altered, words were erased, others substituted.
Oliver Rane gazed upon it as one in complete bewilderment.

"What _is_ this, Mrs. Gass?"

"Is it not the skeleton of the letter?"

"No, certainly not. And yet----" Dr. Rane broke off and ran his eye
over the lines again and again. "There is a similarity in some of the
phrases," he suddenly said.

"Some of the phrases is identical," returned Mrs. Gass. "When Mr.
Richard North was here yesterday, I got him to repeat over to me the
words of the letter; word for word, so far as he remembered 'em, and I
know 'em for _these_ words. Whoever writ that letter to Mr. North,
doctor, first of all tried his sentences and his hand, on this paper,
practising how he could best do it."

"How did you come by this?"

"You left it here the night before last."

"_I_ left it here!" repeated Dr. Rane, looking as if he mentally
questioned whether Mrs. Gass was in her right senses.

"Yes. You."

"But you must be dreaming, Mrs. Gass."

"I never do dream--that sort of dreaming," replied Mrs. Gass. "Look
here"--putting her stout hand, covered with costly rings, on his
coat-sleeve--"didn't you upset your pocketbook here that night? Well,
this piece of paper fell out of it."

"It could not have done anything of the sort," he repeated, getting
flushed and angry again. "All the papers that fell out of my
pocketbook I picked up and returned to it."

"You didn't pick this up; it must have fluttered away unseen. Just
after you were gone I dropped my spectacle-case, and in stooping for
it, I saw this piece of paper lying under the claw of the table."

"But it could not have come out of my pocketbook. Just tell me, if
you please, Mrs. Gass, what should bring such a document in my
possession?"

"That's just what I can't tell. The paper was not there before
candle-light; I'll answer for that much; so where else could it have
come from?"

The last words were not spoken as an assertion of her view, but as a
question. Dr. Rane looked at her, she at him; both seeming equally
puzzled.

"Had you any visitor last evening besides myself?" he asked.

"Not a soul. The only person that came into the parlour, barring my
own servants, was Molly Green, under-housemaid at the Hall. She lived
with me once, and calls in sometimes in passing to ask how I am. They
sent her into Dallory for something wanted at the chemist's, and she
looked in to tell me. The thing had just happened."

Dr. Rane's brow lost its perplexity: an easy smile, as if the mystery
were solved, crossed his face. The hint recently given him by Mr.
Alexander was in his mind.

"I'm glad you've told me this, Mrs. Gass. The paper was more likely to
have been left by Molly Green than by me. It may have dropped from her
petticoats."

"Goodness bless the man! From her petticoats! Why, she had run all the
way from the Hall. And how was she likely to pick it up in _that_
house--even though her gown had been finished off with fish-hooks?"

"What cause have I given you to suspect _me_ of this?" retorted Dr.
Rane in harsh tones.

"Only this--that I don't see where the paper could have come from but
out of your own pocketbook," replied Mrs. Gass frankly. "I have no
other reason to suspect you; I'd as soon suspect myself. It is just a
mystery, and nothing else."

"Whatever the mystery may be, it is not connected with my pocketbook,
Mrs. Gass," he emphatically said. "Did you mention this to Richard
North?"

"No. Nor to anybody else. It was not a pleasant thing to speak of, you
see."

"Not a pleasant thing for me, certainly, to be suspected of having
dropped that paper. The culprit, an innocent one, no doubt, must have
been Molly Green."

"I never was so brought up in all my life," cried the puzzled woman.
"As to Molly Green--it must be just a fancy of yours, doctor, for it
never can be fact."

Oliver Rane drew his chair a little nearer to Mrs. Gass, and whispered
a word of the doubt touching Mrs. North. He only spoke of it _as_ a
doubt; a hint at most; but Mrs. Gass was not slow to take it.

"Heaven help the woman!--if it's her work."

"But this must not be breathed aloud," he said, taking alarm. "It may
be a false suspicion."

"Don't fear me: it's a thing too grave for me to mix myself up in,"
was the reply: and to give Mrs. Gass her due, she did look scared in
no slight degree. "Dr. Rane, I am sorry for saying what I did to you.
It was the impossibility, as I took it, of anything's having left it
here but that flutter of papers from your pocketbook. Whoever would
have given a thought to Molly Green?"

Dr. Rane made no answer.

"She put her basket down by the door there, and came up the room to
look at my geraniums; I held the candle for her. I remember she caught
her crinoline on the corner of the iron fender, and it gave her a
twist round. The idiots that girls make of themselves with them big
crinolines! Perhaps it dropped from her then."

"Well, let us bury it in silence, Mrs. Gass; it is only a doubt at
best," said the prudent but less eloquent physician. "You will allow
me to take this," he added alluding to the paper. "I should like to
examine it at leisure."

"Take it, and welcome," she answered; "I'm glad to be rid of it. As to
burying it in silence, we had better, I expect, both do that."

"Even to Richard North," he enjoined rather anxiously.

"Even to Richard North. I have kept secrets in my day, doctor, and can
keep 'em again."

Dr. Rane put the paper in his pocketbook, deposited that in the
breast-pocket of his coat, and took his departure. But now, being a
shrewd man, a suspicion that he would not have given utterance to for
the whole world, lay on Dr. Rane--that it was more in accordance with
probability that the paper had dropped out of his pocketbook than
from Molly Green's petticoats, seeing they were _not_ finished off with
fish-hooks.

A heavy weight lying there on his breast! And he went along with a
loitering step, asking himself how the paper could have originally
come there.



CHAPTER IV.
ALONE WITH THE TRUTH.


Oliver Rane was in his bedchamber; a front apartment facing the road.
It will be as well to give a word of description to this first floor,
for it may prove needed as the tale goes on. It consisted of a large
landing-place, its boards white and bare, with a spacious window
looking to the side of the other house, as the dining-room beneath it
did. Wide, low and curtainless was this window; giving, in conjunction
with the bare floors and walls, a staring appearance to the place.
Mrs. Cumberland's opposite landing (could you have seen it) presented
a very different aspect, with its rich carpet, its statues, vases,
bookcases, and its pretty window-drapery. Dr. Rane could not afford
luxuries yet; or, indeed, superfluous furniture of any sort. The
stairs led almost close to this window, so that in coming down from
any of the bedrooms, or the upper floor, you had to face it.

To get into Dr. Rane's chamber--the best in the house--an ante-room
had to be passed through, and its door was opposite the large window.
Two chambers opened from the back of the landing: they faced the back
lane that ran along beyond the garden wall. Above, in the roof, were
two other rooms, both three-cornered. Phillis, the old serving-woman,
slept on that floor in one of them, Dr. Rane on this: the house had no
other inmates.

The ante-room had no furniture: unless some curious-looking articles
lying on the floor could be called so. They seemed to consist chiefly
of glass: jars covered in dust, a cylindrical glass-pump, and other
things belonging to chemistry, of which science the doctor was fond.
Certainly the architect had not made the most of this floor, or he
would never have given so much space to the landing. But if this
ante-room was not furnished, Dr. Rane's chamber was; and well
furnished too. The walls were white and gold, the dressing-table and
glass stood before the window and opposite the door. On the left was
the fireplace; the handsome white Arabian bedstead was picked out with
gold, and its hangings of green damask, matched the window drapery and
the soft colours of the carpet.

Seated at the round table in the middle of the room, his hand raised
to support his head, was Dr. Rane. He had only just come in, and it
was now one o'clock--his usual dinner hour. It was that same morning
mentioned in the last chapter, when he had quitted Mrs. Gass's house
with that dangerous piece of paper weighing upon his pocket and his
heart. He had been detained out. As he was entering the house of the
sick man, Ketler, whom he had proceeded at once to see, a bustle in
the street, and much wild running of women, warned him that something
must have happened. Two men had fallen into the river at the back of
the North Works; and excited people were shouting that they were
drowned. Not quite: as Dr. Rane saw when he reached the spot: not
beyond hope of restoration. Patiently the doctor persevered in his
endeavours. He brought life into them at length; and stayed afterwards
caring for them. After that, he had Ketler and other patients to see,
and it was nearly one when he bent his steps towards home. In the
morning he had said to himself that he would call at the Hall on his
return; but he passed its gates; perhaps because it was his dinner
hour, for one o'clock was striking.

Hanging up his hat in the small hall, leaving his cane in the
corner--a pretty trifle with a gold stag for its handle--he was making
straight for the stairs, when the servant, Phillis, came out of the
kitchen. A little woman of some five-and-fifty years, with high
shoulders, and her head carried forward. Her chin and nose were
sharp now, but the once good-looking face was meek and mild, the sweet
dark eyes were subdued, and the hair, peeping from beneath the close
white cap, was grey. She wore a dark cotton gown and check apron. A
tidy-looking, respectable woman, in spite of her unfashionable
appearance.

"Is that you, sir? Them folks have been over from the brick-kilns,
saying the woman's not so well to-day, if you'd please to go to her."

Dr. Rane nodded. He went on up the stairs and into his own room, the
door of which he locked. Why? Phillis was not in the habit of
intruding upon him, and there was no one else in the house. The first
thing he did was to take the paper received from Mrs. Gass out of his
pocketbook, and read it attentively twice over. Then he struck a
match, set fire to it, and watched it consume away in the empty grate.
A dangerous memento, whosesoever hand had penned it; and the physician
did well, in the interests of humanity, to put it out of sight for
ever. The task over, he leaned against the window-frame, and lapsed
into thought. He was dwelling upon the death at Dallory Hall, and what
it might bring forth.

Hepburn, the undertaker, was right. There was to be no inquest. So
much Dr. Rane had learned from Richard North: who had hastened to the
works on hearing of the accident to his men. The two Whitborough
doctors had given the certificate of death: apoplexy, to which there
had been a previous tendency, though immediately brought on by
excitement: and nothing more was required by law. From a word spoken
by Richard, Dr. Rane gathered that it was madam who had set her veto
against an inquest. And quite right too; there was no necessity
whatever for one, had been the comment made by Oliver Rane to Richard.
But now--now when he was alone with himself and the naked truth: when
there was no man at hand whose opinion it might be well to humour or
deceive: no eye upon him save God's, he could not help acknowledging
that had he been Mr. North, had it been his son who was thus cut off
from life, he should have caused an inquest to be held. Ay, ten
inquests, an' the law would have allowed them; if by that means he
might have traced the letter home to its writer.

Quitting the window, he sat down at the table and bent his forehead
upon his hand. Never in his whole life had anything so affected him as
this death: and it was perhaps natural that he should set himself to
see whether, or not, any sort of excuse might be found for the
anonymous writer.

He began by putting himself in idea in the writer's place, and argued
the point for him: for and against. Chiefly _for_; it was on that side
his bias leaned. It is very easy, as the world knows, to find a plea
for those in whom we are interested or on whom misfortune falls; it is
so natural to indulge for their sakes in a little sophistry. Such
sophistry came now to the help of the physician.

"What need had Edmund North to fly into a furious passion?" ran the
self-argument. "Only a madman might have been expected to do so. There
was nothing in the letter that need have excited him, absolutely
nothing. It was probably written with a very harmless intention;
certainly the writer never could have dreamt that it might have the
effect of destroying a life."

_Destroying a man's life!_ A flush passed into Oliver Rane's face at
the thought, dyeing neck and brow. And, with it, recurred the words of
Hepburn--that the writer was a murderer and might come to be tried for
it. A murderer! There is no other self-reproach under heaven that can
bring home so much anguish to the conscience. But--could a man be
justly called a murderer if he had never had thought or intention of
doing anything of the kind?

"Halt here," said Dr. Rane, suddenly speaking aloud, as if he were a
special pleader arguing in a law court. "Can a man be called a
murderer who has never had the smallest intention of murdering--who
would have flown in horror from the bare idea? Let us suppose it
was--Mrs. North--who wrote the letter? Alexander suspects her, at any
rate. Put it that she had some motive for writing it. It might have
been a good motive--that of stopping Edward North in his downward
career, as the letter intimated--and she fancied this might be best
accomplished by letting his father hear of what he, in conjunction
with Alexander, was doing. According to Alexander, she does not
interfere openly between the young men and their father; it isn't her
policy to do so: and she may have considered that the means she took
were legitimate under the circumstances. Well, could she for a moment
imagine that any terrible consequences would ensue? A rating from Mr.
North to his son, and the matter would be over. Just so: she was
innocent of any other thought. Then how could she be thought guilty?"

Dr. Rane paused. A book lay on the table: he turned its leaves
backwards and forwards in abstraction, his mind revolving the subject.
Presently he resumed.

"Or--take Alexander's view of the letter--that it was written to
damage him with Mr. North and the neighbourhood generally. Madam--say
again--had conceived a dislike to Alexander, wished him dismissed from
the house, but had no plea for doing it, and so took _that_ means of
accomplishing her end. Could she suspect that the result would be
fatal to Edmund North? Would she not have shrunk with abhorrence from
writing the letter, had she foreseen it? Certainly. Then, under these
circumstances, how can a man--I mean a woman--be responsible, legally
or morally, for the death? It would be utterly unjust to charge her
with it. Edmund North is alone to blame. Clearly so. The case is
little better than one of unintentional suicide."

Having arrived at this view of the subject--so comforting for the
unknown writer--Dr. Rane rose briskly, and began to wash his hands and
brush his hair. He took a note-case from his pocket, in which he was
in the habit of entering his daily engagements, to see at what hour he
could most conveniently visit the brick-fields, in compliance with the
message received. The sick woman was in no danger, as he knew, and he
might choose his own time. In passing through the ante-room--a room,
by the way, generally distinguished as the Drab Room, from the unusual
colour of the hideous walls--he took up one of the glass jars,
requiring it for some purpose downstairs. And then he noticed
something that displeased him.

"Phillis!" he called, going out to the landing: "Phillis!" And the
woman, a very active little body, came running up.

"You have been sweeping the Drab Room?"

"It was so dirty, sir."

"Now look here," he cried, angrily. "If you sweep out a room again,
when I tell you it is not to be swept, I'll keep every place in the
house locked up. Some of the glass here is valuable, and I won't run
the risk of having it broken with your brooms and brushes."

Down went Phillis, taking the reproof in silence. As Dr. Rane crossed
the landing to follow her, his eyes fell on his mother's house through
the large window. The window opposite was being cleaned by one of the
servants: at the window of the dining-room underneath, his mother was
sitting. It reminded Dr. Rane that he had not been in to see her for
nearly two days; not since Edmund North----

Suddenly a sense of the delusive nature of the sophistry he had been
indulging, flashed into his brain, and the truth shone out distinct
and bare. Edmund North was dead; had been killed by the anonymous
letter. But for that fatal letter he had been alive and well now. A
sickening sensation, as of some great oppression, came over Oliver
Rane, and his nerveless fingers dropped the jar.

Out ran Phillis, lifting her hands at the crash of glittering
particles lying in the passage. "He has broken one himself now,"
thought she, referring to the recent reproof.

"Sweep the pieces carefully into a dust-pan, and throw them away,"
said her master as he passed on. "The jar slipped out of my fingers."

Phillis stared a minute, exhausting her surprise, and then turned away
for the dust-pan. The doctor went on to the front-door, instead of
into the dining-room, as Phillis expected.

"Sir," she called out, hastening after him, "your dinner's waiting.
Will you not take it now?"

But Dr. Rane passed on as though he had not heard her, and shut the
door loudly.

He turned into his mother's house. Not by the open window; not by
stepping over the slight fence; but he knocked at the front-door, and
was admitted as an ordinary visitor. Whether it was from having lived
apart for so many years of their lives, or that a certain cordiality
was wanting in the disposition of each, certain it was that Dr. Rane
and his mother observed more ceremony with each other than usually
obtains between mother and son.

Mrs. Cumberland sat at the open dining-room window just as he had seen
her from his staircase landing; a newspaper lay behind her on a small
table, as if just put down. Ellen Adair, as might be heard, was at the
piano in the drawing-room, playing, perhaps from unconscious
association, and low and softly as it was her delight to play, the
"Dead March in Saul." The dirge grated on the ears of Dr. Rane.

"What a melancholy performance!" he involuntarily exclaimed; and Mrs.
Cumberland looked up, there was so much irritation in his tone.

He shook hands with his mother, but did not kiss her, which he was not
accustomed to do, and stood back against the broad window, his face
turned to it.

"You are a stranger, Oliver," she said. "What has kept you away?"

"I have been busy. To-day especially. They had an accident at the
works--two men were nearly drowned--and I have been with them all the
morning."

"I heard of it. Jelly brought me in the news; she seems to hear
everything. How fortunate that you were at hand!"

He proceeded, rather volubly for him, to give particulars of the
accident and of the process he adopted to recover the men. Mrs.
Cumberland looked and listened with silent, warm affection; but that
she was a particularly undemonstrative woman, she would have betrayed
it in her manner. In her eyes, there was not so fine and handsome and
estimable a man in all Dallory as this her only son.

"Oliver, what a dreadful thing this is about Edmund North! I have not
seen you since. Why did you not come in and tell me the same night?"

He turned his eyes on her for a moment in surprise, and paused.

"I am not in the habit of coming in to tell you when called out to
patients, mother. How was I to know you wished it?"

"Nonsense, Oliver! This is not an ordinary thing: the Norths were
something to me once. I have had Edmund on my knee when he was a baby;
and I should have liked you to pay me the attention of bringing in the
news. It appears to be altogether a more romantic event than one meets
with every day, and such things, you know, are of interest to lonely
women."

Dr. Rane made no rejoinder, possibly not having sufficient excuse for
his carelessness. He stood looking dreamily from a corner of the
window. Phillis, as might be seen from there, was carrying away the
fowl prepared for his dinner, and a tureen of sauce. Mrs. Cumberland
probably thought he was watching with critical curiosity the movements
of his handmaid. She resumed:

"They say, Oliver, there has been no hope of him from the first."

"There was very little. Of course, as it turns out, there could have
been none."

"And who wrote the letter? With what motive was it written?" proceeded
Mrs. Cumberland, her grey face bent slightly forward, as she waited
for an answer.

"It is of no use to ask me, mother. Some people hold one opinion, some
another; mine would go for little."

"They are beginning now to think that it was not written at all to
injure Edmund, but Mr. Alexander."

"Who told you that?" he asked, a sharper accent discernible in his
tone.

"Captain Bohun. He came in this morning to tell me of the death.
Considering that I have no claim upon him, that a year ago I had never
spoken to him, I must say that Arthur Bohun is very kind and attentive
to me. He is one in a thousand."

Perhaps the temptation to say, "It's not for your sake he is so
attentive," momentarily assailed Oliver Rane. But he was good-natured
in the main, and he knew when to be silent, and when to speak: no man
better. Besides, it was no business of his.

"I entertain a different opinion," he observed, referring to the point
in discussion. "Of course it is all guess work as to the writer's
motive: there can be no profit in discussing it, mother: and I must be
going, for my dinner's waiting. Thank you for sending me the chicken."

"A moment yet, Oliver," she interposed, as he was moving away. "Have
you heard that Alexander is going to leave?"

"Yes: he was talking to me about it this morning."

If ever a glow of light had been seen lately on Mrs. Cumberland's
marble face, it was seen then. The tightly-drawn features had lost
their grey tinge.

"Oliver, I could go down on my knees and thank Heaven for it. You
don't know how grieved I have felt all through these past two years,
to see you put into the shade by that man, and to know that it was I
who had brought you here! It will be all right now. New houses are to
be built, they say, at the other end of the Ham, and the practice will
be worth a great deal. I shall sleep well to-night."

He smiled as he shook hands with her; partly in affection, partly at
her unusual vehemence. In passing the drawing-room, Ellen Adair
happened to be coming out of it, but he went on. She supposed he had
not observed her, and spoke.

"Ah! how do you do, Miss Adair?" he said, turning back, and offering
his hand. "Forgive my haste; I am busy to-day."

And before she had time to make any reply, he was gone; leaving an
impression on her mind, she could not well have told why or wherefore,
that he was ill at ease; that he had hastened away, not from pressure
of work, but because he did not care to talk to her.

If that feeling was possessing Dr. Rane, and had reference to the
world in general, and not to the young lady in particular, it might
not have been agreeable to him to encounter an acquaintance as he
turned out of his mother's house. Mr. Alexander was swiftly passing on
his way towards home from the lower part of the Ham, and stopped.

"I wish I had never said a syllable about going away until I was off,"
cried he in his off-hand manner--a pleasanter and more sociable manner
than Dr. Rane's. "The news has been noised abroad, and the whole place
is upon me; asking this, that, and the other. One man comes and wants
to know if I'll sell my furniture; another thinks he'd like the house
as it stands. My patients are up in arms;--say I'm doing it to kill
them. I shall have some of them in a fever before the day's over."

"Perhaps you won't go, after all," observed Dr. Rane.

"Not go! How can I help going? I'm elected to the post. Why, it's what
I've been looking out for ever so long--almost ever since I came here.
No, no, Rane: a short time, and Dallory Ham will have seen the last of
me."

He hastened across the road to his house, like a man who has the
world's work on his busy shoulders. Dr. Rane's thoughts, as he glanced
after him, reverted to the mental argument he had held in his chamber,
and he unconsciously resumed it, putting himself in the place of the
unknown, unhappy writer, as before.

"It's almost keener than the death itself--if the motive was to injure
Alexander in his profession, or drive him from the place--to know that
he, or she--Mrs. North--might have spared her pains! Heavens! what
remorse it must be!--to commit a crime, and then find there was no
necessity for doing it!"

Dr. Rane passed his white handkerchief over his brow--the day was very
warm--and turned into his house. Phillis once more placed the dinner
on the table, and he sat down to it.

But not a mouthful could he swallow; his throat felt like so much
dried-chip, and the food would not go down. Phillis, who was coming in
for something or other, saw him leave his plate and rise from table.

"Is the fowl not tender, sir?"

"Tender?" he responded, as though the sense of the question had not
reached him, and paused. "Oh, it's tender enough: but I must go off to
a patient. Get your own dinner, Phillis."

"Surely you'll come back to yours, sir?"

"I've had as much as I want. Take the things away."

"I wonder what's come to him?" mused the woman as his quick steps
receded from the house, and she was left with the rejected dishes. A
consciousness came dimly penetrating to her hazy brain that there was
some change upon him. What it was, or where it lay, she did not
define. It was unusual for his strong firm fingers to drop a glass; it
was still more unusual for him to explain cause and effect. "The jar
slipped from my fingers." "I've had as much as I want. I must go off
to a patient." It was quite out of the order of routine for Dr. Rane
to be explanatory to his servant on any subject whatever: and perhaps
it was his having been so in these two instances that impressed
Phillis.

"How quick he must have eaten his dinner!"

Phillis nearly dropped the dish. The words were spoken close behind
her, and she had believed herself alone in the house. Turning, she saw
Jelly, standing half in, half out of the window.

"Well, I'm sure!" cried Phillis, in wrath. "You needn't come startling
a body in that way, Mrs. Jelly. How did you know but the doctor might
be at table?"

"I've just seen him go down the lane," returned Jelly, who had plenty
of time for gossiping with her neighbours, and had come strolling over
the fence now with no other object. "Has he had his dinner? It's but
the other minute he was in at our house."

"He has had as much as he means to have," answered Phillis, her anger
evaporating, for she liked a gossip also. "I'm sure it's not worth the
trouble of serving meals, if they are to be left in this fashion. It
was the same thing at breakfast."

Jelly recollected the scene at breakfast; the startled pallor on Dr.
Rane's face, when told that Edmund North was dead: she supposed that
had spoiled his appetite. Her inquisitive eyes turned unceremoniously
to the fowl, and she saw that the merest slice off the wing was alone
eaten.

"Perhaps he is not well to-day," said Jelly.

"I don't know about his being well; he's odder than I ever saw him,"
answered Phillis. "I shouldn't wonder but he has had his stomach
turned over them two half-drowned men."

She carried the dinner-things across to the kitchen. Jelly, who
assisted at the ceremony, as far as watching and talking went, was
standing in the passage, when her quick eyes caught sight of two small
pieces of glass. She stooped to pick them up.

"Look, Phillis! You have been breaking something. It's uncommonly
careless to leave the bits about."

"Is it!" retorted Phillis. "Your eyes are in everything. I thought I
took 'em all up," she added, looking on the ground.

"What did you break?"

"Nothing. It was the doctor. He dropped one of them dusty glass jars
down the stairs. It did give me a start. You should have heard the
smash."

"What made him drop it?" asked Jelly.

"Goodness knows," returned the older woman. "He's not a bit like
himself to-day; it's just as if something had come to him."

She began her dinner as she spoke, standing, her usual mode of taking
it. Jelly, following her free-and-easy habits, stood against the
door-post, apparently interested in the progress of the meal. They
presented a contrast, these two women, the one a thin, upright
giantess, the other a dwarf stooping forward. Jelly, a lady's-maid,
held herself of course altogether above Phillis, an ignorant (as Jelly
would have described her) servant-of-all-work, though condescending to
drop in for the sake of gossip.

"Did you happen to hear how the doctor found Ketler?"

"As if I should be likely to hear!" was Phillis's retort. "He'd not
tell me, and I couldn't ask. My master's not one you can put questions
to, Jelly."

A silence ensued. The gossip apparently flagged to-day. Phillis had it
chiefly to herself, for Jelly vouchsafed only a brief remark now and
again. She was engaged in the mental process of wondering what _had_
come to Dr. Rane.



CHAPTER V.
RETROSPECT.


There must be a little retrospect to make things intelligible to the
reader; and it may as well be given at once.

Mr. North, now of Dallory Sail, had got on entirely by his own
industry. Of obscure, though in a certain way respectable, parentage,
he had been placed as apprentice to a firm in Whitborough. It was a
firm in extensive work, not confining itself to one branch. They took
contracts for public buildings, small and large: did mechanical
engineering; had planned one of the early railways. John North--plain
Jack North he was known as, then--remained with the firm when he was
out of his time, and got on in it. Steady and plodding, he rose from
one step to another; and at length, in conjunction with one who had
been in the same firm, he set up for himself. This other was Thomas
Gass. Gass had not risen from the ranks as North had: his connections
were good, and he had received a superior education; but his friends
were poor. North and Gass, as the new firm called itself, began
business near to Dallory; quietly at first--as all people, who really
expect to get on, generally do begin. They rose rapidly. The narrow
premises expanded; the small contracts grew into large ones. People
said luck was with them--and in truth it seemed so. The Dallory works
became noted in the county, employing quite a colony of people: the
masters were respected and sought after. Both lived at Whitborough;
Mr. North with his wife and family; Mr. Gass a bachelor.

Thomas Gass had one brother; a clergyman. Their only sister, Fanny, a
very pretty girl, had her home with him in his rectory, but she came
often to Whitborough on a visit to Thomas. Suddenly it was announced
to the world that she had become engaged to marry a Captain Rane,
entirely against the wish of her two brothers. She was under twenty.
Captain Rane, a poor naval man on half-pay, was almost old enough to
be her grandfather. Their objection lay not so much in this, as in
himself. For some reason or other, neither of them liked him. The
Reverend William Gass forbid his sister to think of him; Mr. Thomas
Gass, a fiery man, swore he would never afterwards look upon her as a
sister, if she persisted in thus throwing herself away.

Miss Gass did persist. She possessed the obstinate spirit of her
brother Thomas, though without his fire. She chose to take her own
way, and married Captain Rane. They sailed at once for Madras; Captain
Rane having obtained some post there, connected with the Government
ships.

Whether Miss Gass repented her marriage, her brothers had no means of
learning: for she, retaining her anger, never wrote to them during her
husband's lifetime. It was a very short one. Barely a twelvemonth had
elapsed after the knot was tied, when there came a pitiful letter from
her. Captain Rane had died, just as her little son Oliver (named after
a friend, she said) was born. Thomas Gass, to whom the letter had been
specially written, gathered that she was left badly off; though she
did not absolutely say so. He went into one of his angry moods, and
tossed the epistle across the desk to his partner. "You must do
something for her, Gass," said John North when he had read it. "I
never will," hotly affirmed Mr. Gass. "Fanny knows what I promised if
she married Rane--that I would never help her during my lifetime or
after it. She knows another thing--that I am not one to go from my
word. William may help her if he likes; he has not much to give away,
but he can have her home to live with him." "Help the child, then,"
suggested Mr. North, knowing further remonstrance to be useless. "No,"
returned obstinate Thomas Gass; "I'll stick to the spirit of my
promise as well as the letter." And Mr. North bent his head again--he
was going over some estimates--feeling that the affair was none of
his. "I don't mind putting the boy in the tontine, North," presently
spoke the junior partner. "The tontine!" echoed John North in
surprise, "what tontine?" "What tontine?" returned the hard
man--though in truth he was not hard in general, "why, the one that
you and others are getting up; the one you have just put your baby,
Bessy, into; I know of no other tontine." "But that will not benefit
the boy," urged Mr. North: "certainly not now; and the chances are ten
to one against its ever benefiting him in the future." "Never mind;
I'll put him into it," said Mr. Gass, whose obstinacy always came out
well under opposition. "You want a tenth child to close the list, and
I'll put him into it." So into the tontine Oliver Rane, unconscious
infant, was put.

But Mrs. Rane did not further trouble either of her brothers; or, as
things turned out, require assistance from them. She remained in
India; and after a year married a Government chaplain there, the
Reverend George Cumberland, who possessed some private property.
Little, if any, communication took place afterwards between her and
her brothers; she cherished resentment for old grievances, and would
not write to them. And so the sister and the brothers seemed to fade
away from each other from henceforth. We all know how relatives,
parted by time and distance, become estranged, disappearing almost
from memory.

Whilst the firm, North and Gass, was rising higher and higher in
wealth and importance, the wife of its senior partner died. She left
three children, Edmund, Richard, and Bessy. Subsequently, during a
visit to London, chance drew Mr. North into a meeting with a handsome
young woman, the widow of Major Bohun. She had not long returned from
India, where she had buried her husband. A designing, attractive
syren, who began forthwith to exercise her dangerous fascinations on
plain, unsuspicious Mr. North. She had only a poor pittance; what
money there was belonged to her only child, Arthur; a little lad: sent
out of sight already to a preparatory school. Report had magnified Mr.
North's wealth into something fabulous; and Mrs. Bohun did not cease
her scheming until she had caught him in her toils and he had made her
Mrs. North.

Men do things sometimes in a hurry, only to repent of them at leisure.
That Mr. North had been in a hurry in this case was indisputable--it
was just as though Mrs. Bohun had thrown a spell over him; whether he
repented when he woke up and found himself with a wife, a stepmother
for his children at home, was not so certain. He was a sufficiently
wise man in those days to conceal what he did not want known.

Whom he had married, beyond the fact that she was the widow of Major
Bohun, he did not know from Adam. For all she disclosed about her own
family, in regard to whom she maintained an absolute reticence, she
might have dropped from the moon, or "growed" like Topsy; but, from
the airs and graces she assumed, Mr. North might have concluded they
were dukes and duchesses at least. Her late husband's family were
irreproachable, both in character and position. The head of it was Sir
Nash Bohun, representative of an ancient baronetcy, and elder brother
of the late major. Before the wedding tour was over, poor Mr. North
found that his wife was a cold, imperious, extravagant woman, not to
be questioned by any means if she so chose. When her fascinations were
in full play (while she was only Mrs. Bohun) Mr. North had been ready
to think her an angel. Where had all the amiability flown to? People
do change after marriage somehow. At least, there have been instances
known of it.

A little circumstance occurred one day that--to put it mildly--had
surprised Mr. North. He had been given to understand by his wife that
Major Bohun died suddenly of sunstroke; she had certainly told him
so. In talking at a dinner-party at Sir Nash Bohun's with some
gentlemen not long from India, he and Mr. North being side by side at
the table after the ladies had retired, the subject of sunstrokes
came up. "My wife's former husband, Major Bohun, died of one,"
innocently observed Mr. North. "Died of _what?_" cried the other,
putting down his claret-glass, which he was conveying to his
mouth. "Of sunstroke," repeated Mr. North. "Bohun did not die of
sunstroke," came the impulsive answer; "who told you he died of
that?" "She did--my wife," was Mr. North's answer. "Oh!" said his
friend; and took up his claret again. "Why, what did he die of, if it
was not sunstroke?" asked Mr. North, with curiosity. "Well,--I--I
don't know; I'd rather say no more about it," was the conclusive
reply: "of course Mrs. North must know better than I." And nothing
more would he say on the subject.

They were staying at this time at Sir Nash Bohun's. In passing through
London after the Continental wedding trip on their way to Whitborough,
Sir Nash had invited them to make his house their resting-place. Not
until the day following his conversation at the dinner-table had Mr.
North an opportunity of questioning his wife; but, that some false
representation, intentionally or otherwise, had been made to him on
the subject of her late husband's death, he felt certain. They were
alone in her dressing-room. Mrs. North, who had a great deal of
beautiful black hair, was standing before the glass, doing something
to a portion of it, when her husband suddenly accosted her. He called
her by her Christian name in those first married days. It was a very
fine one.

"Amanda, you told me, I think, that Major Bohun died of sunstroke."

"Well?" she returned carelessly, occupied with her hair.

"But he did not die of sunstroke. He died of--of something else."

Mr. North had watched women's faces turn to pallor, but never in his
whole life had he seen so livid a look of terror as now overspread his
wife's. Her hair dropped from her nerveless hands.

"Why, what is the matter?" he exclaimed.

She murmured something about a spasm of the heart, to which she was
subject: an excuse, as he saw. Another moment, and she had recovered
her composure, and was busy with her hair again.

"You were asking me something, were you not, Mr. North?"

"About Major Bohun: what was it he died of---if it was not
sunstroke?"

"But it was of sunstroke," she said, in a sharp, ringing accent, that
would have required only a little more to be a scream. "What else
should he die of suddenly in India's burning climate? He went out in
the blazing midday sun, and was brought home dead!"

And nothing more, then or afterwards, did Mr. North learn. Her manner
rendered it impossible to press the subject. He might have applied to
Sir Nash for information, but an instinct prevented his doing so.
After all, it did not matter to him what Major Bohun had died of, Mr.
North said to himself and determined to forget the incident. But that
some mystery must have attended Major Bohun's death, some painful
circumstances which could blanch his wife's face with sickly terror,
remained on Mr. North's mind as a fact not to be disputed.

Mrs. North effected changes. Almost the very day she was taken home to
Whitborough, she let it be known that she should rule with an
imperious will. Her husband became a very reed in her hands; yielding
passively to her sway, as if all the spirit he had ever owned had gone
out of him. Mrs. North professed to hate the very name of trade; that
any one with whom she was so nearly connected should be in business,
brought her a sense of degradation and a great deal of talk about it.
The quiet, modest, comfortable home at Whitborough was at once given
up for the more pretentious Manor Hall at Dallory Ham, which happened
to be in the market. And they set up there in a style that might have
more properly belonged to the lord-lieutenant of the county. Perhaps
it was her assumption of grandeur indoors and out, combined with the
imperious manner, the like of which had never before been seen in the
simple neighbourhood, that caused people to call her "Madam." Or, it
might have been to distinguish her from the first Mrs. North.

In proportion as Mrs. North made herself hated and feared by her
husband, his children, and the household, so did she become popular
with society. It sometimes happens that the more fascination a woman
displays to the world, the more unbearable is she in her own house. It
was the case here. Madam put on all her attractions when out-of-doors;
she visited and dressed and dined; and gave fêtes again at Dallory
Hall utterly regardless of expense. Little wonder that she swayed the
neighbourhood.

Not the immediate neighbourhood. With the exception of the Dallory
family (and they did not live there always), there was not a single
person she would have visited. A few gentle-people  resided at Dallory
Ham; Mrs. North did not condescend to know any of them. People living
at a greater distance she made friends with, but not those around her;
and with as many of the county families as would make friends with
her. The pleasantest times were those when she would betake herself
off on long visits, to London or elsewhere: they grew to be looked
forward to.

But the most decided raid made by Mrs. North was on her husband's
business connections. Had Thomas Gass been a chimney-sweeper, she
could not have treated him with more intense contempt. Thomas Gass had
his share of sense, and pitied his partner far more than he would have
done had that gentleman gone in for hanging instead of second
marriage. Mr. Gass was a very wealthy man now; and had built himself a
handsome and comfortable residence in Dallory.

But, as the years went on, he was doomed to furnish food himself to
all the gossips within miles. Dallory rose from its couch one fine
morning, to hear that Thomas Gass, the confirmed old bachelor, had
married his housekeeper. Not one of your "lady-housekeepers," but a
useful, good, hard-working damsel, who had passed the first bloom of
youth, and had not much beauty to recommend her. It was a nine days'
wonder. Of course, however much the neighbours might solace their
feelings by ridiculing him and abusing her, they could not undo the
marriage. All that remained to them was, to make the best of it; and
by degrees they wisely did so. The new Mrs. Gass glided easily into
her honours. She made an excellent wife to her ailing husband--for
Thomas Gass's health had begun to fail before his marriage--she put on
no airs of being superior to what she was; she turned out to be a
thoroughly capable woman of business, giving much judicious advice to
those about her: she was very good to the sick and suffering, caring
for the poor, ready to give a helping hand wherever and whenever it
might be needed. In spite of her fine dresses, which sat ludicrously
upon her, and of her manner of talking, which she did not attempt to
improve; above all, in spite of their own prejudices, Dallory grew to
like and respect Mrs. Gass, and its small gentle-people  admitted her
to their houses on an equality.

And so time and years went on, Mr. North withdrawing himself more and
more from personal attendance on the business, which seemed to have
grown utterly distasteful to him. His sons had become young men.
Edmund was a civil engineer: by profession at least, not much by
practice. Never in strong health, given to expensive and idle habits,
Edmund North was generally either in trouble abroad, or leading a lazy
life at home, his time being much divided between going into needless
passions and writing poetry. Richard was at the works, the mainspring
of the business. Mr. Gass had become a confirmed invalid, and could
not personally attend to it; Mr. North did not do so. There was only
Richard--Dick, as they all called him; but he was a host in himself.
Of far higher powers than Mr. North had ever possessed, cultivated in
mind, he was a thorough man of business, and at the same time a
finished gentleman. Energetic, persevering, firm in controlling, yet
courteous and considerate to the very lowest, Richard North was
loved and respected. He walked through life doing his duty by his
fellow-men: striving to do it to God. He had been tried at home in
many ways since his father's second marriage, and borne all with
patient endurance: how much he was tried out of home, he alone knew.

For a long time past there had been trouble in the firm, ill-feeling
between the two old partners; chiefly because Mr. North put no limit
to the sums he drew out for his private account. Poor Mr. North at
length confessed that he could not help it: the money was wanted by
his wife: though how on earth she contrived to get rid of so much,
even with all her extravagance, he could not conceive. Mr. Gass
insisted on a separation: John North must withdraw from the firm;
Richard might take his place. Poor Mr. North yielded meekly. "Don't
let it get abroad," he only stipulated, speaking as if he were half
heartbroken, which was nothing new; "I should not like the world to
know that I was superseded." They respected his wishes, and the change
was made privately: very few being aware that the senior partnership
in the firm had passed into the hands of a young man. Thenceforth Mr.
North ceased to have any control in the business; in fact, to have any
actual connection with it. Dallory suspected it not: Mrs. North had
not the faintest idea of it. Richard North signed the cheques as he
had done before, "North and Gass:" and perhaps the bank at Whitborough
alone knew that he signed them now as principal.

Richard was the scape-goat now. Mr. North's need of money, or rather
his wife's, did not cease: the sum arranged to be paid to him as a
retiring pension--a very liberal sum, and Mr. Gass grumbled at
it--seemed to be as nothing; it melted in madam's hands like so much
water. Richard was constantly appealed to by his father; and responded
generously, though it crippled him.

The next change came in the shape of Mr. Gass's death. The bulk of his
property was left to his wife; a small portion, comparatively
speaking, to charities and servants; two thousand pounds to Richard
North. He also bequeathed to his wife his interest in the business,
which by the terms of the deed of partnership he had power to do. So
that his share of the capital was not drawn out, and the firm
remained, actually as well as virtually, North and Gass. People
generally supposed that the "North" was Mr. North; and madam went into
a world of indignation at her husband's name being placed in
conjunction with "that woman's." In the years gone by, Mr. North had
had a nice time of it, finding it a difficult matter to steer his
course between his partner and madam, and give offence to neither.
Madam had never condescended to notice Thomas Gass's wife in the least
degree: she took to abusing her now, asking her husband how he could
suffer himself to be associated with her. Mr. North, when goaded
almost beyond endurance, had hard work to keep his tongue from
retorting that it was not himself that was associated with her, but
Richard.

Mrs. Gass showed her good sense in regard to the partnership, as she
did in most things. She declined to interfere actively in the
business. Richard North went to her house two or three times a-week to
keep her cognizant of what was going on; he consulted her opinion on
great matters, just as he had consulted her husband's. She knew she
could trust to him. Ever and anon she would volunteer some advice to
himself personally: and it was invariably good advice. It could not be
concealed from her that large sums (exclusively Richard's) were ever
finding their way to the Hall, and for this she took him to task.
"Stop it, Mr. Richard," she said--always as respectful to him as she
had been in her housekeeping days: "Stop it, sir. Their wants are like
a cullender, the more water you pour into it the more you may. It's
doing them no good. An end must come to it some time, or you'll be in
the workhouse. The longer it goes on, the more difficult it will be to
put an end to, and the harder it will be for them." But Richard,
sorely tried between prudence and filial duty, could not bring himself
to stop it so easily; and the thing went on.

We must now go back to Mrs. Cumberland. It was somewhat singular that,
the very week Thomas Gass died, she should make her unexpected
appearance at Dallory. But so it was. Again a widow, she had come home
to settle near her brother Thomas. She arrived just in time to see him
put into his coffin. The other brother, William, had been dead for
years. Mrs. Gass, who knew all about the estrangement, received her
with marked kindness, and heartily offered her a home for the future.

Yet that was declined. Mrs. Cumberland preferred to have a home of her
own, possessing ample means to establish one in a moderate way. She
gave a sketch of her past life to Mrs. Gass. After her marriage with
the Reverend George Cumberland, they had remained for some time at his
chaplaincy in the Madras presidency; but his health began to fail, and
he exchanged to Australia. Subsequently to that, years later, he
obtained a duty in Madeira. Upon his death, which occurred recently,
she came to England. Her only son, Oliver Rane, had been sent home at
the age of seven, and was placed with a tutor in London. When the time
came for him to choose a profession he decided on the medical, and
qualified himself for it, studying in London, Paris, and Vienna. He
passed all the examinations with great credit, including that of the
College of Physicians. He next paid a visit to Madeira, remaining
three months with his mother and stepfather, and then came home and
established himself in London, with money furnished by his mother. But
practice does not always come quickly to young beginners, and Oliver
Rane found his means lessening. He had a horror of debt, and wisely
decided to keep out of it: taking a situation as assistant, and giving
up the expensive house he had entered on. This had just been effected
when Mrs. Cumberland returned. For the present she let her son remain
as he was: Oliver had all a young man's pride and ambition, and she
thought the discipline might do him good.

Mrs. Cumberland took on lease one of the two handsome gothic villas on
the Ham, and established herself in it; with Jelly for a waiting-maid,
and two other servants. This necessitated spending the whole of her
income, which was a very fair one. A portion of it would die with her,
the rest was willed to her son Oliver.

In the old days when she was Fanny Gass, and Mr. North, plain John
North--Jack with his friends--they were intimate as elder brother and
young sister. If Mrs. Cumberland expected this agreeable state of
affairs to be resumed, she was destined to find herself mistaken.
Madam set her scornful face utterly against Mrs. Cumberland: just as
she had against others. It did not matter. Mrs. Cumberland simply
pitied the underbred woman: her health was very delicate, and she did
not intend to visit any one. The gentle-people  of the neighbourhood
called upon her; she returned the call, and there the acquaintance
ended. When invitations first came in, she wrote a refusal, explaining
clearly and courteously why she was obliged to do so--that her health
did not allow her to visit. If she and Mr. North met each other, as by
chance happened, they would linger in conversation, and be happy in
the reminiscences of past days.

Mrs. Cumberland had thus lived on in retirement for some time, when
the medical man who had the practice of Dallory Ham, and some of that
of Dallory, died suddenly. She saw what an excellent opportunity it
would be for her son to establish himself, if he would but take up
general practice, and she sent a summons for him. When Oliver arrived
in answer to it, he entered into the prospect warmly; left his
mother to make arrangements, and returned to London, to superintend
his removal. Mrs. Cumberland went to Mr. North, and obtained his
promise to do what he could to further Oliver's interests. It was
equivalent to an assurance of success--for Dallory Hall swayed its
neighbours--and Mrs. Cumberland did not hesitate to secure the gothic
villa adjoining her own, which happened to be vacant, believing that
the future practice would justify it. In a week's time Oliver Rane
came down and took possession.

But fate was against him. Dr. Rane said treachery. A young fellow whom
he knew in London had told a medical friend--a Mr. Alexander--of this
excellent practice that had fallen in at Dallory, and that Rane was
hoping to secure it for himself. What was Dr. Rane's mortification
when, upon arriving at the week's end at Dallory Ham to take
possession, he found another there before him. Mr. Alexander had
arrived the previous day, was already established in an opposite
house, and had called on every one. Dr. Rane went over and reproached
him with treachery--they had not previously been personally
acquainted. Mr. Alexander received the charge with surprise; he
declared that the field was as open to him as to Dr. Rane--that if he
had not thought so, nothing would have induced him to enter it. He
spoke his true sentiments, for he was a straightforward man. An agent
in Whitborough had also written up to tell him of this opening; he
came to look at it, and decided to try it. The right to monopolize it,
was no more Dr. Rane's, he urged, than it was his. Dr. Rane took a
different view, and said so: but contention would not help the matter
now, and he could only yield to circumstances. So each held to his
right in apparent amicability, and Dallory had two doctors instead of
one; secret rivals from henceforth.

Not for a moment did Oliver Rane think Mr. Alexander could long hold
out against him, as he had secured, through his mother, the favour of
Dallory Hall. Alas, a very short time showed him that this was a
mistake; Dallory Hall turned round upon him, and was doing what it
could to forward his rival. Mrs. Cumberland went to Mr. North, seeking
an explanation. He could only avow the truth--his wife, who was both
master and mistress, had set her face against Oliver, and was
recommending Alexander. "John, you promised me," urged Mrs.
Cumberland, "I know I did, and I'd keep to it if I could," was Mr.
North's mournful answer; "but no one can hold out against her." "Why
should she have taken this dislike to Oliver?" rejoined Mrs.
Cumberland. "Heaven knows; a caprice, I suppose. She sets herself
against people without reason: she has never taken to either Richard
or Bessy; and only a little to Edmund. If I can do anything for Oliver
under the rose, I'll do it. I have every desire to help him, Fanny, in
remembrance of our friendship of the old days."

Mrs. Cumberland carried home news of her non-success to Oliver. As to
madam, she simply ignored him, bestowing her patronage upon his rival.
How bitterly the slight touched his heart, none but himself could
tell. Mrs. Cumberland resented it; but ah, not as he did. A sense of
wrong was ever weighing upon his spirit, and he thought Fate was
against him. One puzzle remained on his mind unsolved--what he could
have done to offend Mrs. North.

Mr. Alexander obtained a fair practice: Dr. Rane barely sufficient to
keep himself. His wants and those of the old servant Phillis were few.
Perhaps the entire fault did not lie with madam. Alexander had a more
open manner and address than Dr. Rane, and they go a long way with
people; he was also an older man, and a married man, and was supposed
to have had more experience. A sense of injury rankled ever in Oliver
Rane's heart; of injury inflicted by Alexander. Meanwhile he became
engaged to Bessy Rane. During an absence from home of madam's, the
doctor grew intimate at the Hall, and an attachment sprang up between
him and Bessy. When madam returned, his visits had to cease, but he
saw Bessy at Mrs. Gass's and elsewhere.

I think that is all the retrospect that need be gone into. It brings
us down to the present time, the period of the anonymous letter and
Edmund North's death. Exactly two years ago this same month, May, the
rival doctors had appeared in Dallory Ham; and now one of them was
about to leave it.

One incident must be told, bearing on something that has been related,
and then the chapter shall close.

The summer of the past year had been a very hot one. A labouring man,
working on Mr. North's grounds, suddenly fell; and died on the spot.
Mr. Alexander, summoned hastily, thought it must have been sunstroke.
"That is what my father died of," remarked Captain Bohun, who stood
with the rest. Mr. North turned to him: "Do you say your father died
of sunstroke, Arthur?" "Yes, sir, that is what he died of. Did you
not know it?" was the ready reply. "You are sure of that?" continued
Mr. North. "Quite sure, sir," repeated Arthur, turning his dreamy blue
eyes full upon his stepfather, in all their proud truthfulness.

Mr. North knew that he spoke in the sincerity of belief. Arthur Bohun
possessed in an eminent degree the pride of his father's race. That
innate, self-conscious sense of superiority that is a sort of
safeguard to those who possess it: the _noblesse oblige_ feeling that
keeps them from wrong-doing. It is true, Arthur Bohun held an exalted
view of his birth and family: in so far as that his pride in it
equalled that of any man living or dead. He was truthful, generous,
honourable; the very opposite in all respects to his mother. Her pride
was an assumed pride; a despicable, false, contemptible pride,
offensive to those with whom she came into contact. Arthur's was one
that you admired in spite of yourself. Of a tarnish to his honour, he
could almost have died; to bring disgrace on his own name or on his
family, would have caused him to bury his head for ever. Sensitively
regardful of other people's feelings, courteous in manner to all, he
yet unmistakably held his own in the world. His father had been just
the same; and in his day was called "Proud Bohun."

To have asserted that Major Bohun died of sunstroke, had any doubt of
the fact lain on his mind, would have been simply impossible to Arthur
Bohun. Therefore, Mr. North saw that, whatever the mystery might be,
regarding the real cause of Major Bohun's death, Arthur was not
cognizant of it.



CHAPTER VI.
WATCHING THE FUNERAL.


In Mrs. Gass's comfortable dining-room, securely ensconced behind the
closed blinds, drawn to-day, sat that lady and a visitor. It was the
day of the funeral of Edmund North; and Mrs. Gass had put on mourning
out of respect to the family: a black silk gown and white net cap. It
need not be said that the change improved her appearance greatly: she
looked, as she herself would have phrased it, genteel to-day. This was
her favourite sitting-room; she rarely used any other: for one thing
it gave her the opportunity of seeing the movements of her neighbours.
The drawing-room faced the garden at the back: a large and beautiful
apartment, opening to the smooth green lawn.

The visitor was Mrs. Cumberland. For once in her life Mrs. Cumberland
emerged from her shell of indifference and condescended to show a
little of the curiosity of ordinary people. She had come to Mrs.
Gass's to see the funeral pass: and that lady made much of her,
for their meetings were rare. Mrs. Cumberland was also in black
silk: but she rarely wore anything else. The two women sat together,
talking in subdued voices of bygone times: not that they had known
each other then; but each had interest in the past. Mrs. Gass was
full of respect, never presuming on her elevation; though they were
sisters-in-law, she did not forget that she had once been only a
servant in Mrs. Cumberland's family. They had little in common,
though, and the topics of conversation exhausted themselves. Mrs.
Cumberland was of a silent nature, not at all given to gossip in
general. She began to think the waiting long. For the convenience of
two mourners, who were coming from a distance, the funeral had been
put off until four o'clock.

"Holidays don't improve the working class--unless they've the sense to
use 'em as they ought," observed Mrs. Gass. "Just look at them three,
ma'am. They've been at the tap--and more shame to 'em! They'd better
let Mr. Richard catch his eye upon 'em. Putting themselves into that
state, when he is following his brother to the grave."

She alluded to some men belonging to the Dallory Works, closed to-day.
They had taken more than was becoming, and were lounging against the
opposite shutters, quarrelling together. Mrs. Gass could bear it no
longer; in defiance of appearances she drew up the blind and dashed
open the window.

"Are you three men not ashamed of yourselves? I thought it was you,
Dawson! When there's any ill-doing going on, you're safe to be in it.
As to you, Thomas, you'll not like to show your face tomorrow. Don't
come to me again, Smith, to beg grace for you of Mr. Richard North."

The men slunk away and disappeared down an entry. Mrs. Gass, in one
sense of the word, was their mistress; at any rate, their master's
partner. She closed the window and drew down the blind.

"Are the men paid for to-day, or do they lose it?" asked Mrs.
Cumberland.

"They're paid, ma'am, of course. It would be very unjust to dock them
when the holiday's none of their making. Neither Mr. Richard nor me
would like to be unjust."

"And he--Richard--seems to act entirely for his father."

Mrs. Gass coughed. "Mr. North is took up with his garden, and that; he
don't care to bother his head about business. It's better in younger
hands."

Another pause. Mrs. Cumberland felt weary.

"Is this funeral ever coming?" she exclaimed. "There seems to be some
delay."

"It was a late hour to fix it for, ma'am. Old Sir what's-his-name
wrote word he couldn't be here before the afternoon; so they put it
off to four o'clock for his convenience."

Mrs. Cumberland looked up inquiringly. She did not understand.

"I mean young Bohun's relatives, ma'am. Madam's brother-in-law by her
first husband."

"Sir Nash Bohun! Is he coming?"

"Sir Nash; that's the name," remarked Mrs. Gass. "I know when Mr.
Richard said it, it put me in mind of grinding the teeth."

"What could have induced them to ask him?" wondered Mrs. Cumberland.
"He is no relative."

"It sounds grand to have him, ma'am--and that's all _she_ thinks of,"
returned Mrs. Gass, with slighting allusion to madam. "Or maybe, as it
was an uncommon death, they want to make it an uncommon funeral. _I_
look upon it as no better than a murder."

"It is very strange about that piece of paper," observed Mrs.
Cumberland.

She lowered her voice as she spoke, as if the subject would not bear
the broad light of day. Any surprise, greater than appeared in Mrs.
Gass's face at hearing it could not well be imagined.

"Ma'am! Did he tell you of _that?_"

"Did who tell me?"

"Your son."

They looked questioningly at each other; both unconscious that they
were alluding to two totally different circumstances. Cross-purposes
are sometimes productive of more evil than straightforward ones.

It appeared that a night or two after Edmund North's death, Captain
Bohun found in his own desk a sheet of folded notepaper in an
envelope. It contained a few words in Edmund's handwriting, not
apparently addressed to any one in particular, but to the world in
general. No date was added, but the ink looked fresh, as if it had
recently been written.


"When the end comes, make no fuss with me, but bury me quietly out of
sight.--E. N."


Captain Bohun, not having the faintest idea as to who put it in his
desk, or how it came there, carried it to Richard North. Richard
showed it to his father. Thence it spread to the house, and to one or
two others. Opinions were divided. Mr. North thought his ill-fated son
had intended to allude to his own death: must have felt some
foreshadowing of it on his spirit. On the contrary, Arthur Bohun and
Richard both thought that it was nothing more than one of his scraps
of poetry: and this last idea was at length adopted. Arthur Bohun had
related the circumstance to Mrs. Cumberland, and it was _this_ she
meant to speak of to Mrs. Gass. Mrs. Gass, who knew nothing about it,
thought, quite naturally, that she spoke of the paper found on her
carpet.

"Of course it _might_ have been nothing more than some ideas he had
dotted down, poor fellow, connected with his nonsensical poetry,"
slightingly observed Mrs. Cumberland, who was the first to continue
speaking: "Richard North and Captain Bohun both hold to that opinion.
I don't. It may be that I am inclined to look always on the gloomy
side of life; but I can only think he was alluding to his own death."

"'Twas odd sort of poetry," cried Mrs. Gass, after a pause and a
stare.

"The only curious part about it to my mind is, that it should have
been found in Arthur Bohun's desk," pursued Mrs. Cumberland, the
two being still delightfully unconscious that they were at the
cross-purposes. "He says he has not left his desk unlocked at all,
that he is aware of--but of course he might have done so. Why Edmund
North should have chosen to put it there, is a mystery."

"What has Captain Bohun's desk to do with it?" inquired Mrs. Gass,
beginning to feel a little at sea.

"The paper was found in Captain Bohun's desk. Though why Edmund North
should have placed it there, remains a mystery."

"Ma'am, whoever told you that, must have been just trying to deceive
you. It was found on this carpet."

"Found on this carpet!"

"On this very blessed carpet, ma'am. Right back under the claw of that
centre dining-table."

Again they gazed at each other. Mrs. Cumberland thought her friend
must be dreaming.

"But you are quite mistaken, Mrs. Gass. The paper--note, or whatever
it was--could not have been on this carpet at all: nor in your house,
in fact. Captain Bohun discovered it in his desk three days ago, and
he has not the slightest idea as to how it came there. Mr. North took
possession of it, and it has never since been out of his hands."

"My dear lady, they have been mystifying of you," cried Mrs. Gass.
"Seeing's believing. The paper was first found by me. By me, ma'am, on
this carpet, and it was the same night that Edmund North was first
took; not an hour after the fit."

Mrs. Cumberland made no reply. She was drifting into the conclusion
that all the circumstances had not been related to her.

"I picked the paper up myself," continued Mrs. Gass, straightforwardly
anxious for the truth. "I kept it safe here for a day and a night,
ma'am, waiting to give it back to your son: what I thought was that he
had dropped it out of his pocketbook. I never spoke of it to a single
soul, and as soon as I had the opportunity I gave it up to him. If it
was found in Captain Bohun's desk afterwards--why, Dr. Rane, or
somebody else must have put it there. Ma'am, if, as I conclude, you've
heard about the paper from your son, I wonder he did not tell you
this."

"What paper was this?" inquired Mrs. Cumberland, a dim idea arising in
her mind that they could not be talking of the same thing.

"It was the copy of that anonymous letter."

"The copy of the anonymous letter!"

"Leastways, its skeleton."

Rapidly enough came elucidation now. Without in the least intending to
break faith with Dr. Rane, or with her own resolution to keep the
matter secret, Mrs. Gass told all she knew, with one exception. Led on
by the miserable, but very natural misapprehension that Mrs.
Cumberland was a depositary of the secret as well as herself, she
spoke, and had not the least idea that she was betraying trust. That
exception was the hinted suspicion that madam might have been the
writer. Mrs. Cumberland sat listening, still as a statue.

"And you thought that--this rough copy of the letter--was dropped by
Oliver?" she exclaimed at length, moved out of her usual calmness.

"What else could I think?" debated Mrs. Gass. "Dr. Rane had let fall
some papers from his pocketbook five minutes before, and I picked
this up as soon as he had gone. I'm sure I never so much as gave a
thought to Molly Green--though she had come straight from the Hall.
Dr. Rane said it might have dropped from her petticoats: but it was a
puzzle to me how; and it's a puzzle still."

A keen, inquiring glance shot from the speaker's eyes with the last
words. It was momentary and not intentional; nevertheless, something
in it caused Mrs. Cumberland's heart to quail. A greyer hue spread
over her grey face; a cold shade of recollection deadened her heart.
Captain Bohun had told her of Mr. Alexander's theory: that the letter
was written to damage himself.

"I am sorry I spoke of this, ma'am," struck in Mrs. Gass. "More
particular that it should have been you: you'll naturally tell Dr.
Rane, and he _will_ say I know how to keep secrets--just about as the
jackdaws keep theirs. It was your telling of the other paper that
misled me."

"I am quite safe," answered Mrs. Cumberland, with a sickly smile. "The
matter's nothing to me, that I should speak of it again."

"Of course not, ma'am. After all Halloa! here it comes!"

This sudden break was caused by the roll of a muffled drum, first
advent of the advancing funeral procession. Edmund North had belonged
to a local military corps, and was to be attended to the grave with
honours. Mrs. Gass drew up the white blind an inch above the Venetian,
which enabled them to look out unseen. The road suddenly became lined
with spectators; men, women and children collecting one hardly knew
from whence.

The band came first--their instruments in rest; then the muffled drum,
on which its bearer struck a note now and again. The hearse and three
mourning coaches followed, some private carriages, and the soldiers on
foot. And that was all: except some straggling spectators in the rear,
with Hepburn the undertaker and his men on either side the black
coaches. The hearse was exactly opposite Mrs. Cumberland when the band
struck up the Dead March in Saul. Suddenly there flashed across her a
recollection of the morning, only a very few days ago, when Ellen
Adair had been playing that same dirge, and it had grated on Oliver's
ear. Her eyes fixed themselves on the hearse as it passed, and she saw
in mental vision the corpse lying within. In another moment, the
music, her son, the dead, and the fatal letter, all seemed to blend
confusedly in her brain: and Mrs. Cumberland sat, down white and
faint, and almost insensible. The lady of the house, her eyes riveted
on the window, made her comments and suspected nothing of the
indisposition.

"Mr. North in the first coach with his white hankecher held to his
nose. And well he may hold it, poor berefted gentleman! Mr. Richard
is sitting by the side of him. Captain Bohun's on the opposite
seat:--and--who's the other? Why! it's young Sidney North. Then
they've sent for him from college, or wherever it is he stays at:
madam's doings, I'll lay. What a little whipper-snapper of a fellow
it is!--like nobody but himself. He'll never be half the man his
stepbrothers are."

Mrs. Gass's remarks ceased with the passing of the coach. In her
curiosity she did not observe that she received no response. The
second coach came in sight, and she began again.

"An old gent, upright as a dart, with snow-white hair and them
features called aquiline! A handsome face, if ever I saw one; his eyes
as blue and as fine as Captain Bohun's. There's a likeness between
'em. It must be his uncle, Sir Nash. A young man sits next him with a
white, unhealthy face; and the other two--why, if I don't believe it's
the young Dallorys!"

There was no reply. Mrs. Gass turned to see the reason. Her visitor
was sitting back in a chair, a frightfully grey shade upon her face
and lips.

"My patience! Don't you feel well, ma'am?"

"I am a little tired," replied Mrs. Cumberland, smiling languidly as
she roused herself. "Looking out at passing things always fatigues
me."

"Now, don't you stir, ma'am; I'll tell it off to you," came the
rejoinder, spoken with sympathy. "There's only one coach more. And
that have but two inside it--the doctors from Whitborough," added Mrs.
Gass. "I wonder they didn't invite Mr. Oliver--the first called in to
the poor young man--and Alexander. Not thought good enough by madam,
perhaps, to be mixed with all these dons."

She looked after the swiftly passing pageantry with lingering
admiration. Mrs. Cumberland sat still in the chair and closed her
eyes, as if all interest in the funeral--and in life too, for that
matter--had passed away.

The procession wound along: through the long straggling village
street, past the Dallory Works, an immense group of buildings that lay
on the left, and so to the church. It was the only church in the
parish, inconveniently distant for some of the inhabitants. Dallory
Ham spoke about building one for itself; but that honour had not yet
been attained to. In a corner of the large churchyard lay Mrs. North,
Mr. North's first wife and Edmund's mother. The new grave was dug by
her side.

Amidst the spectators, numbers of whom had collected in the burial
ground, stood Jelly. Very much no doubt to the astonishment of her
mistress, had she seen her. To peep surreptitiously from behind
blinds, was one thing; but to stand openly staring in the churchyard,
was another; and Mrs. Cumberland would assuredly have ordered her
away. Jelly had come to it with a cousin of hers, Susan Ketler, the
wife of the sick man who was being attended by Dr. Rane. Jelly had
curiosity enough for ten ordinary women--which is saying a great
deal--and would not have missed the sight for the world.

It was soon over: our burial service is not a long one: and the
coaches and mourners moved away again, leaving the field in possession
of the mob. A rush ensued to obtain a view of the coffin, as yet
scarcely sprinkled with earth. Jelly and her friend approached, and
the former read the inscription.

"Edmund, son of John North and of Mary, his first wife. Died May 3rd,
18--, aged 33."

"I should not have put 'died,' but 'murdered,' if it was me had the
writing of it," spoke Mrs. Ketler.

"And so should I, Susan," significantly replied Jelly. "Here! let's
get out of this throng."

Jelly, in her loftiness of stature and opinion, was above the throng
literally and figuratively; but it was dense and troublesome. Neither
death nor funeral had been of an ordinary description; and others
besides the great unwashed were crowding there. The two women elbowed
their way out, and passed back down the broad highway to Ketler's
house in Dallory. He was one of the best of the North workmen, earning
good wages; and the family lived in comfort.

Ketler was in the parlour, sitting up for the first time. Under Dr.
Rane's skilful treatment he was getting rapidly better. A child sat on
his knee, held by his able arm; the rest were around. The children had
wanted, as a matter of course, to go out and see the funeral. "No,"
said their father; "they might get playing, and that would be
unseemly." He was a short, dark, honest-looking man; a good husband
and father. Jelly sat talking for a short time, and then rose to
leave.

But she was not allowed to do so. To let her depart at that hour
without first partaking of tea, would have been a breach of
hospitality that the well-to-do workpeople of Dallory would never hear
of. Jelly, too easily persuaded where gossip was concerned, took off
her bonnet, and the tray was brought in.

Cups of beer induce men to a long sitting; cups of tea women. Jelly
sat on, oblivious of the lapse of time. The chief topic of
conversation was the anonymous letter. Jelly found to her surprise and
anger, that here, the prevailing belief was that it had been written
by a clerk named Wilks, who was in the office of Dale the lawyer, and
might have, become cognizant of the transaction between his master,
Mr. Alexander, and Edmund North.

"Who told you that, Ketler?" sharply demanded Jelly, fixing her
indignant eyes on the man.

"I can't rightly say who told me," replied Ketler; "it's the talk of
the place. Wilks denies it out and out; but when he's in his evening
cups--and that's not seldom--he does things that next morning he has
no recollection of. Doctor Rane laughed at me, though, for saying so:
a lawyer knows better than to let private matters get out to his
clerks, says the doctor. But he don't know that Tim Wilks as some of
us do."

"Well, I would not say too much about it's being Tim Wilks, if I were
you, Ketler," cried Jelly, in suppressed wrath, brushing the crumbs
from her black gown. "You might find yourself in hot water."

And then Ketler suddenly remembered that Wilks was her particular
friend, so he turned the subject.

Jelly tore herself away at last, very unwillingly: gossip and
tea-drinking formed her idea of an earthly paradise. Night was setting
in; a light, beautiful night, the moon sailing majestically in the
sky.

Just past the gates of Dallory Hall, in a bend of the road where
the overhanging trees on either side gave it a lonely appearance at
night: and by day too, for that matter: no dwelling of any sort being
within view, stood a bench at the side of the path. It was a welcome
resting-place to tired wayfarers; it was no less welcome to wandering
lovers in their evening rambles. As Jelly went hastening on, a faint
sound of voices broke upon her ear from this spot, and she arrested
her steps instinctively. The chance of pouncing unexpectedly upon a
pair exchanging soft vows, was perfectly delightful to Jelly;
especially if it should happen to be a pair who had no business to
exchange them.

Stealing softly along, went she, until she came to the turning, and
then she looked cautiously round. The projecting bushes favoured her.
To do Jelly justice, it must be affirmed that she had neither malice
nor ill-will in her nature; rather the contrary; but a little innocent
prying into her neighbours' affairs presented an irresistible
temptation. What, then, was her astonishment to see--not a dying swain
and his mistress, side by side: but her own mistress, Mrs. Cumberland,
seated on the bench in an agony of grief, and Dr. Rane standing with
folded arms before her.

Jelly, great at divining probabilities, easily comprehended the
situation. Her mistress must have stayed to take tea with Mrs. Gass,
and encountered her son in walking home.

To come down upon lovers with a startling reprimand was one thing; to
intrude upon her mistress and Dr. Rane would be quite another. Jelly
wished she had not gone stealing up like a mouse, and felt inclined to
steal back again.

But the attitude and appearance of Mrs. Cumberland riveted her to the
spot. Her face, never so grey as now, as seen in the moonlight, was
raised to her son's, its expression one of yearning agony; her hands
were lifted as if imploring some boon, or warding off some fear.
Jelly's eyes opened to their utmost width, and in her astonishment she
failed to catch the purport of the first low-breathed words.

"I tell you, you are mistaken, mother," said Dr. Rane in answer, his
own voice ringing out clearly enough in the still night; though it
nevertheless bore a hushed tone. "Is it probable? Is it likely? _I_
drop the copy of the letter out of my pocketbook! What next will you
suppose me capable of?"

"But--Oliver,"--and the voice was raised a little--"how else could it
have been found upon her carpet?"

"I have my theory about that," he rejoined with decision. "Mother,
come home: I will tell you more then. Is this a fitting time or place
to have thus attacked me?"

Air, voice, action, were sharp, with authority, as he bent and took
her hand. Mrs. Cumberland, saying something about "having been
surprised into speaking," rose from the bench. Jelly watched them
along the road; and then sat down on the bench herself to recover her
amazement.

"What on earth docs it mean?"

Ah! what did it mean? Jelly was pretty sharp, but she was afraid to
give full range to her thoughts. Other steps fell on her ear. They
proved to be those of Mr. Alexander.

"Is it you, Jelly! Waiting for your sweetheart?"

Jelly rose. "Standing about to look at funerals, and such things,
tires one worse than a ten-mile run."

"Then why do you do it?"

"One fool makes many," returned Jelly with composure. "Sir, I'd like
to know who wrote that letter."

"It strikes me the letter was written by a woman."

"A woman!" echoed Jelly, in genuine surprise. "Good gracious, Mr.
Alexander!"

"They are go sharp upon us at times, are women," he continued,
smiling. "Men don't attack one another."

"And what woman do you suspect, sir?" cried Jelly, in her insatiable
curiosity.

"Ah! there's the rub. I have been speaking of women in general, you
see. Perhaps it was you?"

"_Me!_" exclaimed Jelly.

Mr. Alexander laughed. "I was only joking, Jelly. Goodnight."

But Jelly, sharp Jelly, rather thought he had not been joking, and
that the suspicion had slipped out inadvertently.

She went straight home. And when she arrived there, Mrs. Cumberland
was seated by the drawing-room fire, her face calm and still as usual,
listening to the low sweet singing of Ellen Adair.

And Oliver Rane had passed in to his own house with his weight of
care. Half wishing that he could exchange places with Edmund North in
Dallory churchyard.



CHAPTER VII.
AFTER THE FUNERAL.


The two guests, Sir Nash Bohun and his son, were departing from
Dallory Hall. They had arrived the previous afternoon in time to
attend the funeral, had dined and slept there, and were now going
again. Their coming had originated with Sir Nash. In his sympathy with
the calamity--the particulars of which had been written to him by his
nephew, Arthur Bohun--Sir Nash had proposed to show his concern and
respect for the North family by coming with his son to attend the
funeral. The offer was accepted; albeit Mrs. North was not best
pleased to receive them. From some cause or other, madam had never
been anxious to court intimacy with her first husband's brother: when
thrown into his society, there was something in her manner that almost
seemed to say she did not feel at ease with him.

Neither at dinner last night nor at breakfast this morning had the
master of the house been present; the entertainment of the guests had
fallen on Richard North as his father's representative. Captain Bohun
was of course with them; also the rest of the family, including madam.
Madam played her part gracefully in black crape elaborately set off
with jet. For once in her life she was honest and did not affect to
feel the grief for Edmund that she would have felt for a son.

Sitting disconsolately before the open window of his parlour was Mr.
North. His black clothes looked too large for him, his whole air was
that of one who seems to have lost interest in the world. It is
astonishing how aged, as compared with other moments, men will look in
their seasons of abandonment. While we battle with our cares, they
spare the features in a degree: but in the abandonment of despair,
when all around seems dreary, and we are sick and faint because to
fight longer seems impossible, then look at the poor sunken face!

The room was dingy; it has already been said; rather long but narrow;
and it seemed uncared for. Opposite the fireplace stood an old
secretaire filled with seeds and papers relating to gardening, and
near it was a closet-door. This closet--but it was more a small,
dark passage than a closet--had an opposite door opening to the
dining-room. But, if the parlour was dingy, the capacious window and
the prospect on which it looked, brightened it. Stretching out before
it, broad and large, was the gay parterre of many-coloured flowers,
Mr. North's only delight for years past. In the cultivation of these
flowers, he had found a refuge from life's daily vexations and petty
cares. Heaven is merciful, and some counterbalancing interest to
long-continued sorrow is often supplied to us.

Mr. North sat looking at his flowers. He had been sitting there for
the past hour, buried in reflections that were not pleasant, and the
morning was getting on. He thought of his embarrassments: those
applications for money from madam, that he strove to hide from his
well-beloved son Richard, and that made the terror of his life. They
were apt to come upon him at the most unexpected times, in season and
out of season; it seemed to him that he was never free from them;
could never be sure at any moment she would not come down upon him the
next. For the past few days the house had been, so to say, sacred from
these carping concerns; even she had respected the sorrow in it; but
with this morning, the return to everyday life, business and the world
resumed its sway. Mr. North was looked upon as a man perfectly at his
ease in money matters; "rolling in wealth," people would say, as they
talked of the handsome portion his two daughters might expect on their
wedding-day. Local debts, the liabilities of ordinary life, were kept
punctually paid; Richard saw to that; and perhaps no one in the whole
outer world, excepting Mrs. Gass, suspected the truth and the
embarrassment. Mr. North thought of his other son, he who had gone
from his view for ever; but the edge of grief was wearing off, though
he was as eager as ever to discover the anonymous writer.

But there is a limit to all things--I don't know what would become of
some of us if there were not--and the mind cannot dwell for ever upon
its own bitterness. Unhappy topics, as if in very weariness, gradually
drifted away from Mr. North's mind, and were replaced by thoughts of
his flowers. How could it be otherwise, when their scent came floating
to him through the broad open window in delicious perfume. The colours
charmed the eye, the aroma took captive the senses. Spring flowers,
all; and simple ones. Further on, beyond the trees that bounded the
grounds, a fine view was obtained of the open country over Dallory
Ham. Hills and dales, woods and sunny plains, with here and there a
gleam of glistening water, lay under the distant horizon. Mr. North
looked not at the landscape, which was a familiar book to him, but at
his flowers.

The spring had been continuously cold and wet, retarding the
appearance of these early flowers to a very late period. For the past
week or two the weather had been lovely, and the flowers seemed to
have sprung up all at once. A little later the tulip beds would be in
bloom. A rare collection; a show for the world to flock to. Later on
still, the roses would be out, and many thought they were the best
show of all. And so the year went on, the flowers replacing each other
in their loveliness.

Sadness sat on them to-day: for we see things, you know, in accordance
with our own mood, not as they actually are. Mr. North rose with a
sigh and stood at the open window. Only that very day week, about this
time in the morning, his eldest son had stood there with him side by
side. For this was the eighth of May. "Poor fellow!" sighed the
father, as he thought of this.

Some one went sauntering down the path that led round from the front
of the house, and disappeared beyond the trees; a short, slight young
man. Mr. North recognized his son Sidney; madam's son as well as his
own; and he gave a sigh almost as profound as the one he had given to
the lost Edmund. Sidney North was dreadfully dissipated, and had
already caused a great deal of trouble. It was suspected--and with
truth--that some of madam's superfluous money went to this son. She
had brought him up badly, fostering his vanity, indulging him in
everything. By the very way in which he walked now--his head moodily
lowered, his gait slouching, his hands thrust into his pockets, Mr.
North judged him to be in some dilemma. He had not wished him to be
summoned home to the funeral; no, though the dead had stood to him as
half-brother; but madam took her own way and wrote for him. "He'll be
a thorn in her side if he lives," thought the father, his reflections
unconsciously going out to that future time when he himself should be
no more.

The door opened, and Richard came in. Mr. North stepped back from the
window at which he had been standing.

"Sir Nash and his son are going, sir. You will see them first, will
you not?"

"Going already! Why--I declare it is past eleven! Bless me! I hope I
have not been rude, Dick? Where are my boots?"

The boots were at hand, ready for him. He put them on, and hid his
slippers out of sight in the closet. What with his present grief, and
his disinclination for society, or, as he called it, company, that for
some time had been growing upon him, Mr. North had held aloof from his
guests. But he was one of the last men to show incivility, and it
suddenly struck him that perhaps he had been guilty of it.

"Dick, I suppose I ought to have been at the breakfast-table?"

"Not at all, my dear father; not at all. Your remaining in privacy is
perfectly natural, and I am sure Sir Nash feels it to be so. Don't
disturb yourself: they will come to you here."

Almost as he spoke they entered, Captain-Bohun with them. Sir Nash was
a very fine man with a proud face, that put you in mind at once of
Arthur Bohun's, and of the calmest, pleasantest, most courteous
manners possible. His son was not in the least like him; a studious,
sickly man, his health delicate, his dark hair scanty. James Bohun's
time was divided between close classical reading and philanthropic
pursuits. He strove to have what he called a mission in life: and to
make it one that might do him some service in the next world.

"I am so very sorry! I had no idea you would be going so soon: I ought
to have been with you before this," began Mr. North in a flutter.

But the baronet laid his hands upon him kindly, and calmed the storm.
"My good friend, you have done everything that is right and
hospitable. I would have stayed a few hours longer with you, but James
has to be in London this afternoon to keep an engagement."

"It is an engagement that I cannot well put off," interposed James
Bohun in his small voice that always sounded too weak for a man. "I
would not have made it, had I known what was to intervene."

"He has to preside at a public missionary meeting," explained Sir
Nash. "It seems to me that he has something or other of the kind on
hand every day in the year. I tell him that he is wearing himself
out."

"Not every day in the year," spoke the son, taking the words
literally. "This is the month for such meetings, you know, Sir Nash."

"You do not look strong," observed Mr. North, studying James Bohun.

"Not in appearance perhaps, but I'm wiry, Mr. North: and we wiry
fellows last the longest. What sweet flowers," added Mr. Bohun,
stepping to the window. "I could not dress myself this morning for
looking at them. I longed to open the window."

"And why did you not?" sensibly asked Mr. North.

"I can't do with the early morning air, sir. I don't accustom myself
to it.

"A bit of a valetudinarian," remarked Sir Nash.

"Not at all, father," answered the son. "It is as well to be
cautious."

"I sleep with my window open, James, summer and winter. But we all
have our different tastes and fancies. And now, my good friend," added
the baronet, taking the hands of Mr. North, "when will you come and
see me? A change may do you good."

"Thank you; not just yet. Thank you all the same, Sir Nash; but
later--perhaps," was Mr. North's answer. He knew that the kindness was
meant, the invitation sincere; and of late he had grown to feel
grateful for any shown to him. Nevertheless he thought he should never
accept this.

"I will not receive you in that hot, bustling London: it is becoming a
penance to myself to stay there. You shall come to my place in Kent,
and be as quiet as you please. You've never seen Peveril: it cannot
boast the charming flowers that you show here, but it is worth seeing.
Promise to come."

"If I can. Later. Thank you, Sir Nash; and I beg you and Mr. Bohun to
pardon me for all my seeming discourtesy. It has not been meant so."

"No, no."

They walked through the hall to the door, where Mr. North's carriage
waited. The large shut-up carriage. Some dim idea was pervading those
concerned that to drive to the station in an open dog-cart would be
hardly the right thing for these mourners after the recent funeral.

Sir Nash and his son stepped in, followed by Captain Bohun and Richard
North, who would accompany them to the station. As Mr. North turned
indoors again after watching the carriage away, he ran against his
daughter Matilda, resplendent in glittering black silk and jet.

"They have invited you to visit them, have they not, papa?"

"They have invited me--yes. But I shall be none the nearer going
there, Matilda."

"Then I wish you would, for I want to go," she returned, speaking
imperiously. "Uncle Nash asked me. He asked mamma, and said would I
accompany her: and I should like to go. Do you hear, papa? I should
like to go."

It was all very well for Miss Matilda North to say "Uncle Nash." Sir
Nash was no relation to her whatever: but that he was a baronet, she
might have remembered it.

"You and your mamma can go," said Mr. North with animation, as the
seductive vision of the house, relieved of madam's presence for an
indefinite period, rose mentally before him.

"But mamma says she shall not go."

"Oh, does she?" he cried, his spirits and the vision sinking together.
"She'll change her mind perhaps, Matilda. _I_ can't do anything in it,
you know."

As if to avoid further colloquy, he passed on to his parlour and shut
the door sharply. Matilda North turned into the dining-room, her
handsome black silk train following her, her discontented look
preceding her. Just then Mrs. North came downstairs, a coquettish,
fascinating sort of black lace hood upon her head, one she was in the
habit of wearing in the grounds. Matilda North heard the rustle of the
robes, and looked out again.

"Are you going to walk, mamma?"

"I am. Have you anything to say against it?"

"It would be all the same if I had," was the pert answer. Not very
often did Matilda North gratuitously retort upon her mother; but she
was in an ill humour: the guests had gone away much sooner than she
had wished or expected, and madam had vexed her.

"That lace hood is not mourning," resumed Miss Matilda North,
defiantly viewing madam from top to toe.

Madam turned the hood and the haughty face it encircled on her
presuming daughter. The look was enough in itself; and what she might
have said was interrupted by the approach of Bessy.

"Have you any particular orders to give this morning, madam?" Bessy
asked of her stepmother--whom she as often called madam as mamma, the
latter word never meeting with fond response from Mrs. North to _her_.

"If I have I'll give them later," imperiously replied madam, sweeping
out at the hall-door.

"What has angered her now?" thought Bessy. "I hope and trust it is
nothing connected with papa. He has enough trouble without having to
bear ill-temper."

Bessy North was housekeeper. And a troublesome time she had of it!
Between madam's capricious orders, issued at all sorts of inconvenient
hours, and the natural resentment of the servants, a less meek and
patient spirit would have been worried beyond endurance. Bessy made
herself the scape-goat; labouring, both by substantial help and by
soothing words, to keep peace in the household. None knew how much
Bessy did, or the care that was upon her. Miss Matilda North had never
soiled her fingers in her life, never done more than ring the bell,
and issue her imperious orders after the fashion of madam, her mother.
The two half-sisters were a perfect contrast. Certainly they presented
such outwardly, as witness this morning: the one not unlike a peacock,
her ornamented head thrown up, her extended train trailing, and her
odds and ends of jet gleaming; the other a meek little woman in a
black gown of some soft material with some quiet crape upon it, and
her smooth hair banded back--for she wore it plain to-day.

On her way to the kitchens, Bessy halted at her father's sitting-room,
and opened the door quietly. Mr. North was standing against the
window-frame, half inside the room half out of it.

"Can I do anything for you, papa?"

"There's nothing to be done for me, child. What time do we dine
to-day, Bessy?" he asked, after a pause.

"I suppose at six. Mrs. North has not given orders to the contrary."

"Very well. I'll have my luncheon in here, child."

"To be sure. Dear papa, you are not looking well," she added,
advancing to him.

"No? Looks don't matter much, Bessy, when folk get to be as old as I
am. A thought comes over me at odd moments--that it is good to grow
ugly, and yellow, and wrinkled. It makes us wish to become young and
fair and pleasant to the sight again: and we can only do that through
immortality. Through immortality, child."

Mr. North lifted his hand, the fingers of which had always now a
trembling sort of movement in them, to his shrivelled face, as he
repeated the concluding words, passing it twice over the weak, scanty
brown hair that time and care had left him. Bessy kissed him fondly,
and quitted the room with a sigh, one sad thought running through her
mind.

"How sadly papa is breaking!"

Mrs. North swept down the broad gravel-walk leading from the entrance,
until she came to a path on the left, which led to the covered portion
of the grounds: where the trees in places grew so thick and close that
shade might be had at midday. This part of the grounds was near the
dark portion of the Dallory highway, already mentioned (where Jelly
had surprised her mistress and Oliver Rane in the moonlight the past
night), only the boundary hedges being between them. It was a sweet
spot, affording retirement from the world and shelter from the fierce
rays of the sun. Madam was fond of frequenting this spot: and all the
more so because sundry loop-holes gave her the opportunity of peering
out beyond. She could see all who passed to and from the Hall, without
being herself seen. One high enclosed wall was especially liked by
her; concealed within its shade, quietly resting on one of its rustic
seats, she could hear as well as see. Before she had quite gained this
walk, however, her son Sidney crossed her path. A young man of twenty
now, undersized, insufferably vain, fast, and conceited. His face
might be called a pretty face: his auburn curls were arranged after
the models in a hairdresser's window; his very blue unmeaning eyes had
no true look in them. Sidney North as like neither father nor mother:
like no one but his own contemptible self; madam looked upon him as
next door to an angel; he was her well-beloved. There can be no
blindness equal to that of a doting mother.

"My dear, I thought you had gone with them to the station," she said.

"Didn't ask me to go; Dick and Arthur made room for themselves, not
for me," responded Sidney, taking his pipe from his mouth to speak,
and his voice was as consequential as his mother's.

A frown crossed madam's face. Dick and Arthur were rather in the habit
of putting Sidney in the shade, and she hated them for it. Arthur was
her own son, but she had never regarded him with any sort of
affection.

"I'm going back this afternoon, mamma."

"This afternoon! No, my boy; I can't part with you to-day."

"Must," laconically responded Sidney, puffing away at his pipe. And
madam had come to learn that it was of no use saying he was to stay if
he wanted to go. "How much tin can you let me have?"

"How much do you want?"

"As much as you can give me."

His demands for money seemed to be as insatiable as madam knew her
husband found hers. The fact was beginning to give her some concern.
Only two weeks ago she had despatched him all she could afford: and
now here he was, asking again. A slight frown crossed her brow.

"Sidney, you spend too much."

"Must do as others do," responded Sidney.

"But, my sweet boy, I can't let you have it. You don't know the
trouble it causes."

"Trouble!--with those rich North Works to draw upon!" cried Sidney.
"The governor must be putting by mines of wealth."

"I don't think he is, Sidney. He always pleads poverty; says we drain
him. I suppose it's true."

"Flam! All old paters cry that. Look at Dick--the loads of gold he
must be netting. He gets his equal share, they say; goes thirds with
the other two."

"Who says it?"

"A fellow told me so yesterday. It's an awful shame that Dick should
be a millionaire, and I obliged to beg for every paltry coin I want!
There's not so many years between us."

"Dick has his footing at the works, you see," observed madam. "Let
him! I wouldn't have _you_ degrade yourself to it for the world. He's
fit for nothing but work; has been brought up to it; and we can
spend."

"Just so," complacently returned the young man. "And you must shell
out liberally for me this afternoon, mamma."

Without further ceremony of adieu or apology, Mr. Sidney North
sauntered away. Madam proceeded to her favourite shaded walk, where
she kept her eyes looking out on all sides for intruders, friends or
enemies. On this occasion she had the satisfaction of being gratified.

Her arms folded over the black lace shawl she wore, its hood gathered
on her head, altogether very much after the fashion of a Spanish
mantilla, and her train with its crape and jet falling in stately
folds behind her, madam had been pacing this retreat for the best part
of an hour, when she caught sight, through the interstices of the
leaves, of two ladies slowly approaching. The one she recognized at
once as Mrs. Cumberland; the other she did not recognize at all. "What
a lovely face!" was her involuntary thought.

A young, fair, lovely face. The face of Ellen Adair.



CHAPTER VIII.
MADAM'S LISTENING CLOSET.


Many years before, when the Reverend George Cumberland held his
chaplaincy in Madras, there were two friends also there with whom he
was intimate--Major Bohun and Mr. Adair. The latter held a civil
appointment under Government. At that time, Mr. Adair was not married.
Later, this gentleman went to Australia: Mr. and Mrs. Cumberland also
went there. Mr. Adair had married in the course of time. His wife
died, leaving one little child, a daughter: who was, despatched to
England for her education. Upon its completion, William Adair wrote
and begged Mrs. Cumberland to receive her: he thought it probable that
he should be returning home; and if so, it would not be worth while
for Ellen to go out to him. Mrs. Cumberland consented, and the young
lady became an inmate of her house at Dallory Ham. Very liberal terms
were offered by Mr. Adair: but this was a matter entirely between
himself and Mrs. Cumberland.

Holding herself, as she did, so aloof from her neighbours, there was
little wonder in madam's having remained unconscious of the fact that
some months ago, nearly twelve now, a young lady had come to reside
with Mrs. Cumberland. Part of the time Mrs. Cumberland had been away.
Madam had also been away: and when at home her communication with
Dallory and Dallory Ham consisted solely in being whirled through its
roads in a carriage: no one indoors spoke unnecessarily in her hearing
of any gossip connected with those despised places; and to church she
rarely went, for she did not get up in time. And so the sweet girl,
who had for some time now been making Arthur Bohun's heart's
existence, had never yet been seen or heard of by his mother.

For Mrs. Cumberland to be seen abroad so early was something
marvellous; indeed, she was rarely seen abroad at all. On this morning
she came out of her room between eleven and twelve o'clock, dressed
for a walk; and bade Ellen Adair prepare to accompany her. Ellen
obeyed, silently wondering. The truth was, Mrs. Cumberland had picked
up a very unpleasant doubt the previous day, and would give the whole
world to lay it to rest. It was connected with her son. His assurances
had partly pacified her, but not quite: and she determined to have a
private word with Mr. North. Ellen, walking by her side along the
road, supposed they were going in to Dallory. Mrs. Cumberland kept
close to the hedge for the sake of the shade: as she brushed the bench
in passing, where she had sat the past night, a slight shudder seized
her frame. Ellen did not observe it; she was revelling in the beauty
of the sweet spring day. The gates of Dallory Hall gained, Mrs.
Cumberland turned in. Ellen Adair wondered more and more; but Mrs.
Cumberland was not one to be questioned at will on any subject.

On they came, madam watching with all her eyes. Mrs. Cumberland was in
her usual black silk attire, and walked with the slow step of an
invalid. Ellen wore a morning dress of lilac muslin. It needed not the
lilac parasol she carried to reflect an additional lovely hue on that
most lovely face. A stately, refined girl, as madam saw, with charming
manners, the reverse of pretentious.

But as madam, fascinated for once in her life, gazed outwards, a
certain familiarity in the face dawned upon her senses. That she had
seen it before, or one very like it, became a conviction to her. "Who
on earth is she?" murmured the lady to herself--for madam was by no
means stilted in her phrases in leisure moments.

"Are you going to call at the Hall, Mrs. Cumberland?" inquired Ellen,
venturing to ask the question at length in her increasing surprise.
And every word could be distinctly heard by madam, for they were very
close to her.

"I think so," was the answer, given in hesitating tones. "I--I should
like to tell Mr. North that I feel for his loss."

"But is it not early to do so--both in the hour of the day, and after
the death?" rejoined Ellen, with deprecation.

"For a stranger it would be; for me, no. I and John North were once as
brother and sister. Besides, I have something else to say to him."

Had Miss Adair asked what the something else was--which she would not
have presumed to do--Mrs. Cumberland might have replied that she
wished again to enlist the Hall's influence on behalf of her son, now
that Mr. Alexander was about to leave. A sure indication that it was
_not_ the real motive that was drawing her to the Hall, for she was
one of those reticent women who rarely, if ever, observe candour even
to friends. Suddenly she halted.

"I prefer to go on alone, Ellen. You can sit down and wait for me.
There are benches about in the covered walks."

Mrs. Cumberland went forward. Ellen turned and began to walk towards
the entrance-gates with the lingering step of one who waits. Mrs.
Cumberland had gone well on, when she turned and called.

"Ellen."

But Ellen did not hear.

"Ellen! Ellen Adair!"

A louder call, this, falling on the warm summer air, echoing in the
curious ears covered by the lace mantilla. Mrs. North gave a quick,
sharp start. It looked very like a start of terror.

"Ellen Adair!" she repeated to herself, her eyes, in their fear,
flashing out on the beautiful face, to see whether she could trace the
resemblance _now_. "Ellen Adair? Good Heavens!"

Ellen had turned at once. "Yes, Mrs. Cumberland."

"Do not go within sight of the road, my dear. I don't care that all
the world should know I am calling at Dallory Hall. Find a bench and
sit down, as I bade you."

Obedient as it was in her nature to be, the young lady turned into one
of the side paths, which brought her within nearer range of madam's
view. She, madam, with a face from which every atom of colour had
faded, leaving it white as ashes, stood still as a statue, as one
confounded.

"I see the likeness: it is to _him_," she muttered. "Can he have come
home?"

Ellen Adair passed out of sight and hearing. Madam, shaking herself
from her fear, turned with stealthy steps to seek the house, keeping
in the private paths as long as possible, which was a more circuitous
way. Madam intended, unseen, to make a third at the interview between
her husband and Mrs. Cumberland. The sight of that girl's face had
frightened her. There might be treason in the air.

Mrs. Cumberland was already in Mr. North's parlour. Strolling out
amongst his flowers, he had encountered her in the garden, and taken
her in through the open window. Madam arriving a little later, passed
through the hall to the dining-room. Rather inopportunely, there sat
Bessy, busy with her housekeeping books.

"Take them elsewhere," said madam, with an imperious sweep of the
hand.

She was not in the habit of giving a reason for any command whatever:
let it be reasonable or the contrary, the rule was to hear and obey.
Bessy gathered her books up and went away, madam fastening the bolt of
the door after her.

Then she stole across the soft Turkey carpet and slipped into the
closet already spoken of, that formed a communication--though never
used--between the dining-room and Mr. North's parlour. The door
opening to the parlour was unlatched, and had been ever since he put
his slippers inside it an hour ago. When her eyes became accustomed to
the darkness, madam saw them there; she also saw one or two of his old
brown gardening coats hanging on the pegs. Against the wall was a
narrow table with an unlocked desk upon it, belonging to herself. It
was clever of madam to keep it there. Opening the lid silently, she
pulled up a few of its valueless papers, and let them appear. Of
course, if the closet were suddenly entered from the parlour--a most
unlikely thing to happen, but madam was cautious--she was only getting
something from her desk. In this manner she had occasionally made an
unsuspected third at Richard North's interviews with his father.
Letting the lace hood slip off, madam bent her ear to the crevice of
the door, and stood there listening. She was under the influence of
terror still: her lips were drawn, her face wore the hue of death.

Apparently the ostensible motive of the interview--Mrs. Cumberland's
wish to express her sympathy for the blow that had fallen on the
Hall--was over; she had probably also been asking for Mr. North's
influence in favour of her son. The first connected words madam caught
were these:--

"I will do what I can, Mrs. Cumberland. I wished to do it before, as
you know. But Mrs. North took a dislike--I mean took a fancy to
Alexander."

"You mean took a dislike to Oliver," corrected Mrs. Cumberland. "In
the old days, when you were John North without thought of future
grandeur, and I was Fanny Gass, we spoke out freely to each other."

"True," said poor Mr. North. "I've never had such good days since. Ah,
what a long time it seems to look back to! I have grown into an old
man, Fanny, older in feeling than in years; and you--you wasted the
best days of your life in a hot and unhealthy climate."

"Unhealthy in places and at certain seasons," corrected Mrs.
Cumberland. "My husband was stationed in the beautiful climate of the
Blue Mountains, as we familiarly call the region of the Neilgherry
Hills. It is pleasant there."

"Ay, I've heard so. Getting the cool breezes and all that."

"People used to come up there from the hot plains to regain their lost
health," continued Mrs. Cumberland, whose thoughts were apt to wander
back to the earlier years of her exile. "Ootacamund is resorted to
there, just as the colder seaside places are here. But I and Mr.
Cumberland were stationary."

"Ootacamund?" repeated Mr. North, struck with the name. "Ootacamund
was where my wife's first husband died; Major Bohun."

"No, he did not die there," quietly rejoined Mrs. Cumberland.

"Was it not there? Ah! well, it does not matter. One is apt to confuse
these foreign names and places in the memory."

Mrs. Cumberland made no rejoinder, and a momentary silence ensued.
Madam, who with the mention of the place, Ootacamund, bit her lip
almost to bleeding, bent forward, and looked through the opening of
the door. She could just see the smallest portion of the cold, calm,
grey face, and waited in sickening apprehension of what the next words
might be. They came from Mrs. Cumberland and proved an intense relief,
for the subject was changed for another.

"I am about to make a request to you, John: I hope you will grant it
for our old friendship's sake. Let me see the anonymous letter that
proved so fatal to Edmund. Every incident connected with this calamity
is to me so full of painful interest!" she continued, as if seeking to
apologize for her request. "As I lay awake last night, unable to
sleep, it came into my mind that I would ask you to let me see the
letter."

"You may see it, and welcome," was Mr. North's ready reply, as he
unlocked a drawer in his old secretaire, and handed the paper to her.
"I only wish I could show it to some purpose--to someone who would
recognize the handwriting. You won't do that."

Mrs. Cumberland answered by a sickly smile. Her hands trembled as
she took the letter, and Mr. North noticed how white her lips had
become--as if with some inward suspense or emotion. She studied the
letter well, reading it three times over; looking at it critically in
all lights. Madam in the closet could have struck her for her
inquisitive curiosity.

"You are right, John," she said, with an unmistakable sigh of relief
as she gave the missive back to him; "I certainly do not recognize
that handwriting. It is like no one's that I ever saw."

"It is a disguised hand, you see," he answered. "No doubt about that:
and accomplished in the cleverest manner."

"Is it true that poor Edmund had been drawing bills in conjunction
with Alexander?"

"Only one. He had drawn a good many I'm afraid during his short
lifetime in conjunction with other people, but only one with
Alexander--which they got renewed. No blame attaches to Alexander; not
a scrap of it."

"Oliver told me that."

"Ay. I have a notion that poor Edmund did not get into this trouble
for his own sake, but to help that young scamp, his brother."

"Which brother?"

"Which brother!" echoed Mr. North, rather in mockery. "As if you need
ask that. There's only one of them who could deserve the epithet, and
that's Sidney. An awful scamp. He is but twenty years of age, and he
is as deep in the ways of a bad world as though he were forty."

"I am very sorry to hear you say it. Whispers go abroad about him, as
I dare say you know, but I would rather not have heard them confirmed
by you."

"People can't say much too bad of him. We have Mrs. North to thank for
it: it is all owing to the way she has brought him up. When I would
have corrected his faults, she stepped in between us. Oftentimes have
I thought of the enemy that sowed the tares amidst the wheat in his
neighbour's field."

"The old saying comes home to many of us," observed Mrs. Cumberland
with a suppressed sigh, as she rose to leave. "When our children are
young they tread upon our toes, but when they grow older they tread
upon our hearts."

"Ay, ay! Don't go yet," added Mr. North. "It is pleasant in times of
sorrow to see an old friend. I have no friends now."

"I must go, John. Ellen Adair is waiting for me, and will find the
time long. And I expect it would not be very agreeable to your wife to
see me here. Not that I know wherefore, or what I can have done to
her."

"She encourages no one; no one of the good old days," was the
confidential rejoinder. "There's no fear of her; I saw her going off
towards the shrubberies--after Master Sidney, I suppose. She takes
what she calls her constitutional walks there. They last a couple of
hours sometimes."

As Mr. North turned to put the letter into the drawer again, he caught
sight of a scrap of poetry that had been found in Arthur Bohun's desk.
This he also showed his visitor. He would have kept nothing from her;
she was the only link left to him of the days when he and the world
(to him) were alike young. Had Mrs. Cumberland stayed there till
night, he would then have thought it too soon for her to depart.

"I will do all I can for your son, Fanny," said Mr. North, as they
stood for a moment at the glass-doors. "I like Oliver. He is a steady,
persevering fellow, and I'll help him on if I can. If I do not, the
fault will not lie with me. You understand?" he added, looking at her.

Mrs. Cumberland understood perfectly--the fault would lie with madam.
She nodded in answer.

"Mr. Alexander is going, John--as you know. Should Oliver succeed in
getting the whole of the practice--and there's nothing to prevent
it--he will soon be making a large income. In that case, I suppose he
will be asking you to give him something else."

"You mean Bessy. I wish to goodness he had her!" continued Mr. North
impulsively; "I do heartily wish it sometimes. She has not a very
happy life of it here. Well, well; I hope Oliver will get on with all
my heart; tell him so from me, Fanny. He shall have her when he does."

"_Shall_ he!" ejaculated madam from her closet, and in her most
scornfully defiant tone--for the conversation had not pleased her.

They went strolling away amidst the flowers, madam peering after them
with angry eyes. She heard her husband tell Mrs. Cumberland to come
again; to come in often; whenever she would. Mr. North went on with
her down the broad path, after they had lingered some minutes with the
sweet flowers. In strolling back alone, who should pounce upon Mr.
North from a side path but madam!

"Was not that woman I saw you with the Cumberland, Mr. North?"

"It was Mrs. Cumberland: my early friend. She came in to express her
sympathy at my loss. I took it as very kind of her, madam."

"I take it as very insolent," retorted madam. "She had some girl with
her when she came in. Who was it?"

"Some girl!" repeated Mr. North, whose memory was anything but
retentive. "Ah yes, I remember: she said her ward was waiting for
her."

"Who is her ward?"

"The daughter of a friend whom they knew in India, madam. In India or
Australia; I forget which: George Cumberland was stationed in both
places. A charming young lady with a romantic name: Ellen Adair."

Madam toyed with the black lace that shielded her face. "You seem to
know her, Mr. North."

"I have seen her in the road; and in coming out of church. The first
time I met them was in Dallory, one day last summer, and Mrs.
Cumberland told me who she was. That is all I know of her, madam--as
you seem to be curious."

"Is she living at Mrs. Cumberland's?"

"Just now she is. I--I think they said she was going out to join her
father," added Mr. North, whose impressions were always hazy in
matters that did not immediately concern him. "Yes, I'm nearly sure,
madam: to Australia."

"Her father--whoever he may be--is not in Europe then?" slightingly
spoke madam, stooping to root up mercilessly a handful of blue-bells.

"Her father lives over yonder. That's why the young lady has to go out
to him."

Madam tossed away the rifled flowers and raised her head to its
customary haughty height. The danger had passed. "Over yonder" meant,
as she knew, some far-off antipodes. She flung aside the girl and the
interlude from her recollections, just as ruthlessly as she had flung
the blue-bells.

"I want some money, Mr. North."

Mr. North went into a flutter at once. "I--I have none by me, madam."

"Then give me a cheque."

"Nor cheque either. I don't happen to have a signed cheque in the
house, and Richard is gone for the day."

"What have I repeatedly told you--that you must _keep_ money by you;
and cheques too," was her stern answer. "Why does Richard always sign
the cheques? Why can't you sign them?"

She had asked the same thing fifty times, and he had never been goaded
to give the true answer.

"I have not signed a cheque since Thomas Gass died, except on my own
private account, madam; no, nor for long before it. My account is
overdrawn. I shan't have a stiver in the bank until next quarter-day."

"You told me that last week," she said contemptuously. "Draw then upon
the firm account."

He shook his head. "The bank would not cash it."

"Why?"

"Because only Richard can sign. Oh dear, this is going over and over
the old ground again. You'll wear me out, madam. When Richard took the
management at the works, it was judged advisable that he should alone
sign the business cheques--for convenience' sake, madam; for
convenience' sake. Gass's hands were crippled with gout; I was here
with my flowers."

"I don't care who signs the cheques so that I get the money," she
retorted in rude, rough tones. "You must give me some to-day."

"It is for Sidney; I know it is for Sidney," spoke Mr. North
tremulously. "Madam, you are ruining that lad. For his own sake some
check must be put upon him: and therefore I am thankful that to-day I
have no money to give."

He took some short hurried steps over the corners of paths and
flower-beds, with the last words, and got into his own room. Madam
calmly followed. Very sure might he be that she would not allow him
to escape her.

Ellen Adair, waiting for Mrs. Cumberland, had _not_ felt the time
long. Very shortly after she was left alone, the carriage came back
from the station, bringing Arthur Bohun: Richard had been left at
Whitborough. Captain Bohun got out at the gates, intending to walk up
to the house. Ellen saw him come limping along--the halt in his gait
was always more visible when he had been sitting for any length of
time--and he at the same time caught sight of the bright hues of the
lilac dress gleaming through the trees.

Some years back, the detachment commanded by Arthur Bohun was
quartered in Ireland. One ill-starred night it was called out to
suppress some local disturbances, and he was desperately wounded:
shot, as was supposed, unto death. That he would never be fit for
service again; that his death, though it might be lingering, was
inevitable; surgeons and friends alike thought. For nearly two years
he was looked upon as a dying man: that is, as a man who could not
possibly recover. But Time, the great healer, restored him; and he
came out of his sickness and danger with only a slight limp, more or
less perceptible. When walking slowly, or when he took any one's arm,
it was not seen at all. Mrs. North (who was proud of her handsome and
distinguished son, although she had no love for him) was wont to tell
friends confidentially that he had a bullet in his hip yet--at which
Arthur would laugh.

The sight of the lilac dress caused him to turn aside. Ellen rose and
stood waiting; her whole being was thrilling with the rapture the
meeting brought. He took her hand in his, his face lighting.

"Is it indeed you, Ellen! I should as soon have expected to see a
fairy here."

"Mrs. Cumberland has gone to call on Mr. North. She told me to wait
for her."

"I have been with Dick to take my uncle and James to the station,"
spoke Captain Bohun, pitching upon it as something to say, for his
tongue was never too fluent when alone with her. "He has been asking
me to go and stay with him."

"Sir Nash has?"

"Yes. Jimmy invites no one; he is taken up with his missionaries, and
that."

"Shall you go?"

Their eyes met as she put the question. Go! away from her!

"I think not," he quietly answered. "Not at present. Miss Bohun's turn
must come first: she has been writing for me this long time."

"That's your aunt."

"My aunt. And a good old soul she is. Won't you walk about a little,
Ellen?"

She took the arm he held out, and they paced the covered walks, almost
in silence. The May birds were singing, the budding leaves were green.
Eloquence enough for them: and each might have detected the beating of
the other's heart. Madam had her ear glued to that closet-door, and so
missed the sight. A sight that would have made her hair stand on end.

Minutes, for lovers, fly on swift wings. When Mrs. Cumberland
appeared, it seemed that she had been away no time. Ellen went forward
to meet her: and Captain Bohun said he had just come home from the
station. Mrs. Cumberland, absorbed in her own cares, complaining of
fatigue, took little or no notice of him: he strolled by their side up
the Ham. Standing at Mrs. Cumberland's gate for a moment in parting,
Oliver Rane came so hastily out of his house that he ran against them.

"Don't knock me down, Rane," spoke Arthur Bohun in his lazy but very
pleasing manner.

"I beg your pardon. When I am in a hurry I believe I am apt to drive
on in a blindfold fashion."

"Is any one ill, Oliver?" questioned his mother.

"Yes. At Mrs. Gass's. I fear it is herself. The man who brought the
message did not know."

"You ought to keep a horse," spoke Captain Bohun, as the doctor
recommenced his course. "So much running about must wear out a man's
legs."

"Oughts go for a great deal, don't they?" replied the doctor, looking
back. "I ought to be rich enough to keep one, but I'm not."

Captain Bohun wished them good-day, and they went indoors. Ellen
wondered at hearing that Mrs. Cumberland was going out again. Feeling
uneasy--as she said--about the sudden illness, she took her way to the
house of Mrs. Gass, in spite of the fatigue she had been complaining
of. A long walk for her at any time. Arrived there she found that lady
in perfect health; it was one of her servants to whom Oliver had been
summoned. The young woman had scalded her hand and arm.

"I was at the Hall this morning, and Mr. North showed me the anonymous
letter," Mrs. Cumberland took occasion to say. "It evidently comes
from a stranger; a stranger to us. The handwriting is quite strange."

"So much the better, ma'am," heartily spoke Mrs. Gass. "It would be
too bad to think it was wrote by a friend."

"Oliver thinks it was madam," pursued Mrs. Cumberland, lowering her
voice. "At least--he has not gone so far as to say _he_ thinks it, but
that Mr. Alexander does."

"That's just what he said to me, ma'am. Alexander thought it, he said,
but that he himself didn't know what to think, one way or the other.
As well, perhaps, for us not to talk of it: least said is soonest
mended."

"Of course. But I cannot help recalling a remark once innocently made
by Arthur Bohun in my hearing: that he did not know any one who could
imitate different handwritings so well as his mother. Did you"--Mrs.
Cumberland looked cautiously round--"observe the girl, Molly Green,
take her handkerchief from her pocket whilst she stood here?"

"I didn't see her with any handkercher," was the answer, given after a
slight pause. "Shouldn't think the girl has one. She put her basket on
the sideboard there, to come forward to my geraniums, and stood stock
still while she looked at 'em. I don't say she didn't go to her
pocket; but I never saw her do it."

"It might have been so. These little actions often pass unnoticed. And
it is so easy for any other article to slip out unseen when a
handkerchief is drawn from a pocket," concluded Mrs. Cumberland in a
suppressed, almost eager tone. Which Mrs. Gass noticed, and did not
quite like.

But there is still something to relate of Dallory Hall. When madam
followed her husband through the glass-doors into his parlour, an
unusually unpleasant scene ensued. For once Mr. North held out
resolutely. He had no other resource, for he had not the money to give
her, and did not know where to get it. That it was for Sidney, he well
believed; and for that reason only would have denied it to the utmost
of his feeble strength. Madam flounced out in one of her worst moods.
Mrs. Cumberland's visit and the startling sight of Ellen Adair had
brought to her unusual annoyance. As ill-luck had it, she encountered
Bessy in the hall, and upon her vented her temper. The short scene was
a violent one. When it was over, the poor girl went shivering and
trembling into her father's parlour. He had been standing with the
door ajar, shrinking almost as much as Bessy, and utterly powerless to
interfere.

"Oh, child! if I could only save you from this!" he murmured, as they
stood together before the window, and he fondly stroked the head that
lay on his breast. "It's cue of the troubles that are wearing me out,
Bessy: wearing me out before my time."

Bessy North was patient, meek, enduring; but meekness and patience can
both be tried beyond their strength.

"Oliver Rane wants you: you know that, Bessie. If he could see his way
to keeping you, you should go to him tomorrow. Ay! though your poor
brother has just been put into his grave."

Bessy lifted her head. In these moments of emotion, the heart speaks
out without reticence.

"Papa, I would go to Oliver as he is now, and risk it," she said
through her blinding tears. "I should not be afraid of our getting on:
we would make shift together, until better times came. He spoke a word
of this to me not long ago, but his lips were sealed, he said, and he
could not press it."

"He thought he had not enough for you?"

"He thought you would not consider it so. _I_ should, papa. And I
think those who bravely set out to struggle on together, have as much
happiness in their makeshifts and economies as others who begin with a
fortune."

"We'll see; we'll see, Bessy. I should like you to try it, if you are
not afraid. I'll talk to Dick. But--mind!--not a word here," he added,
glancing round to indicate the precincts of Mrs. North. "We shall have
to keep it to ourselves if we would not have it frustrated. I wonder
how much Oliver makes a year."

"Not much; but he is advancing slowly. He has talked to me about it.
What keeps one will keep two, papa."

"He comes into about two hundred a-year when his mother dies. And I
fear she won't live long, from what she tells me. Poor Fanny! Not that
I'd counsel any one to reckon on dead men's shoes, child. Life's
uncertain: he might die before her."

"He would not reckon on anything but his own exertions, papa. He told
me a secret--that he is engaged on a medical work, writing it all his
spare time. It is quite certain to become a standard work, he says,
and bring him good returns. Oh! papa, there will be no doubt about our
getting on. Let us risk it!"

She spoke in a bright, hopeful tone--her mild eyes shining. Mr. North
caught a little of the glad spirit, and resolved--Dick being willing:
sensible Dick--that they should risk it.



CHAPTER IX.
IN LAWYER DALE'S OFFICE.


Whitborough was a good-sized, bustling town, sending two members to
parliament. In the heart of it lived Mr. Dale, the lawyer, who did a
little in money-lending as well. He was a short stout man, with a red
face and no whiskers, nearly bald on the top of his round head; and he
usually attired himself in the attractive costume of a brown tail coat
and white neckcloth.

On this same morning which had witnessed the departure of Sir Nash
Bohun and his son from Dallory Hall, Mr. Dale, known commonly amongst
his townsfolks as Lawyer Dale--was seated in his office at
Whitborough. It was a small room, containing a sort of double desk, at
which two people might face each other. The lawyer's seat was against
the wall, his face to the room; a clerk sometimes sat, or stood on the
other side when business was pressing. Adjoining this office was one
for the clerks, three of whom were kept; and clients had to pass
through their room to reach the lawyer's.

Mr. Dale was writing busily. The clock was on the stroke of twelve,
and a great deal of the morning's work had still to be done, when one
of the clerks came in: a tall, thin, cadaverous youth with black hair,
parted into a flat curl on his forehead.

"Are you at home, sir?"

"Who is it?" asked Mr. Dale, growling at the interruption.

"Mr. Richard North."

"Send him in."

Richard came in; a fine looking man in his mourning clothes; the
lawyer could not help thinking so. After shaking hands--a ceremony Mr.
Dale liked to observe with all his clients, when agreeable to them--he
came from behind his desk to seat himself in his elbow-chair of red
leather, and gave Richard a seat opposite. The room was small, the
desk and other furniture large, and they sat very close together.
Richard held his hat on his knee.

"You guess, no doubt, what has brought me here, Mr. Dale. Now that my
ill-fated brother is put out of our sight in his last resting-place, I
have leisure and inclination to look into the miserable event that
sent him there. I shall spare neither expense nor energy in
discovering--if it may be--the traitor."

"You allude to the anonymous letter."

"Yes. And I have come to ask you to give me all the information you
can about it."

"But, my good sir, I have no information to give. I don't possess
any."

"I ought to have said details of the attendant circumstances. Let me
hear your history of the transaction from beginning to end: and if you
can give me any hint as to the writer--that is, if you have formed any
private opinion about him--I trust you will do so."

Mr. Dale could be a little tricky on occasion; he was sometimes
engaged in transactions that would not have borne the light of day,
and that most certainly he would never have talked about. On the other
hand, he could be honest and truthful where there existed no reason
for being the contrary: and this anonymous letter business came under
the latter category.

"The transaction was as open and straightforward as possible," spoke
the lawyer--and Richard, a judge of character and countenances, saw he
was speaking the truth. "Mr. Edmund North came to me one day some
short time ago, wanting me to let him have a hundred pounds on his own
security. I didn't care to do that--I knew about his bill
transactions, you see--and I proposed that some one should join him.
Eventually he came with Alexander the surgeon, and the matter was
arranged."

"Do you know for what purpose he wanted the money?"

"For his young brother, Sidney North. A fast young man, that, Mr.
Richard," added the lawyer in significant tones.

"Yes. Unfortunately."

"Well, he had got into some secret trouble, and came praying to
Mr. Edmund to get him out of it. Whatever foolish ways Edmund North
had wasted money in, there's this consolation remaining to his
friends--that the transaction which eventually sent him to his grave
was one of pure kindness," added the lawyer warmly. "'My father has
enough trouble,' he remarked to me; 'with one thing and another, his
life's almost worried out of him; and I don't care that he should hear
what Master Sidney's been up to, if it can be kept from him.' Yes; the
motive was a good one."

"How was it he did not apply to me?" asked Richard.

"Well--had you not, just about that time, assisted your brother Edmund
in some scrape of his own?"

Richard North nodded.

"Just so. He said he had not the face to apply to you so soon again;
should be ashamed of himself. Well, to go on, Mr. Richard North. I
gave him the money on the bill; and when it became due, neither he nor
Alexander could meet it: so I agreed to renew it. Only one day after
that, the anonymous letter found its way to Dallory Hall."

"You are sure of that?"

"Certain. The bill was renewed on the 30th of April; here, in this
very room. Mr. North received the letter on the 1st of May."

"It was so. By the evening post."

"So that, if the transaction got wind through that renewing, the
writer did not lose much time about it."

"Well now, Mr. Dale, in what way could that transaction have got wind,
and who heard of it?"

"I never spoke of it to a human being," impetuously cried the lawyer.
And Richard North again felt sure that he spoke the truth.

"The transaction, from the beginning, was known only to us three men:
Edmund North, the surgeon, and myself. I don't believe either of them
mentioned it at all. I know I did not. It's just possible Edmund North
might have told his stepbrother Sidney how he got the money--the young
scamp. I beg your pardon, Mr. Richard; I forgot he was your brother
also."

"It would be to Sidney's interest to keep it quiet," remarked Richard.
"Our men at the works have a report amongst them--I know not where
picked up, and I don't think they know either--that the writer was
your clerk, Wilks."

"Nonsense!" contemptuously rejoined the lawyer. "I've heard the report
also. Why should Wilks trouble his head about it? Don't believe
anything so foolish."

"I don't believe it," returned Richard North. "Wilks could have no
motive whatever for it, as far as I can see. But I think that he may
have become cognizant of the affair, and talked of it abroad."

"Not one of my clerks knew anything about it," protested Mr. Dale.
"I've three of 'em: Wilks and two others. You don't suppose, sir, I
take them into my confidence in all things."

"But, is it quite impossible that any one of them--say Wilks--could
have found it out surreptitiously?" urged Richard.

"Wilks has nothing surreptitious about him," said the lawyer. "He is
too shallow for it. A thoroughly useful clerk, but a man without
guile."

"I did not mean to apply the word to him personally. I'll change it if
you like. Could Wilks, or either of the other two, have accidentally
learnt this, without your knowledge? Was there a possibility of it?
Come, Mr. Dale; be open with me. Even if it were so, no blame would
attach to you."

"It is just this," answered Mr. Dale: "I don't see how it was possible
for any one of them to have learnt it; and yet at the same time, I see
no other way in which it could have transpired. That's the candid
truth. I lay awake one night for half-an-hour, turning the puzzle over
in my mind. Alexander says he never opened his lips about it; I know I
did not; and poor Edmund North went into his fatal passion thinking
Alexander wrote the letter, because he said Alexander alone knew of
it; a pretty sure proof he had not talked about it himself."

"Which brings us back to your clerks," remarked Richard North. "They
might have overheard a few chance words when the bill was renewed."

"I'm sure the door was shut," debated Mr. Dale, in a tone as if he
were _not_ sure, but rather sought to persuade himself that he was so.
"Only Wilks was in, that morning; the other two had gone out."

"Rely upon it that's how it happened. The door could not have been
quite closed."

"Well, I don't know. I generally shut it myself, and carefully too,
when important clients are in here. I confess," honestly added Mr.
Dale, "that it's the only explanation I can see in the matter. If the
door was unlatched, Wilks might have heard. I had him in last night,
and taxed him with it. He denies it out and out: says that, even if
the affair had come to his knowledge, he knows his duty better than to
have talked about it."

"I don't doubt that he does, when in his sober senses. But he is not
always in them."

"Oh, come, Mr. Richard North, it is not as bad as that."

Richard was silent. If Mr. Dale was satisfied with his clerk and his
clerk's discretion, he had no desire to render him otherwise.

"He takes too much now and then, you know, Mr. Dale; and he may have
dropped a word in some enemy's hearing: who perhaps caught it up and
then wrote the letter. Would you mind my questioning him?"

"He is not here to be questioned, or you might do it and welcome,"
replied Mr. Dale. "Wilks is lying up to-day. He has not been well for
more than a week past; could hardly do his work yesterday."

"I'll take an opportunity of seeing him then," said Richard. "My
father won't rest until the writer of this letter has been traced;
neither, in truth, shall I."

The lawyer said good-morning to his visitor, and returned to his desk.
But ere he recommenced work, he thought over the chief subject of
their conversation. Had the traitor been Wilks, he asked himself. What
Richard North had said was perfectly true--the young man sometimes
took too much after work was over. But Mr. Dale had hitherto found no
reason to complain of his discretion; and, difficult as it seemed to
find any other loophole of suspicion, he finally concluded that he had
no reason to do so now.

Meanwhile Richard North walked back to Dallory--it was nearly two
miles from Whitborough. Passing his works, he continued his way a
little further, to a turning called North Inlet, in which were some
houses, large and small, chiefly tenanted by his workpeople. In one of
these, a pretty cottage standing back, lodged Timothy Wilks. The
landlady was a relative of Wilks's, and as he paid very little for his
two rooms, he did not mind the walk once a-day to and from
Whitborough.

"Good-morning, Mrs. Green. Is Timothy Wilks in?"

Mrs. Green, an ancient matron in a mob-cap, was on her knees,
whitening the door-step. She rose at the salutation, saw it was
Richard North, and curtsied.

"Tim have just crawled out to get a bit o' sunshine, sir. He's very
bad to-day. Would you please to walk in, Mr. Richard?"

Amidst this colony of his workpeople he was chiefly known as "Mr.
Richard." Mrs. Green's husband was timekeeper at the North Works.

"What's the matter with him?" asked Richard, as he stepped over the
threshold and the bucket to the little parlour.

"Well, sir, I only hope it's not low fever; but it looks to me
uncommon like it."

"Since when has he been ill?"

"He have been ailing this fortnight past. The fact is, sir, he _won't_
keep steady," she added in deploring tones. "Once a-week he's safe to
come home the worse for drink, and that's pay night; and sometimes
it's oftener than that. Then for two days afterwards he can't eat; and
so it goes on, and he gets as weak as a rat. It's not that he takes
much drink; it is that a little upsets him. Some men could take
half-a-dozen glasses a'most to his one."

"What a pity it is!" exclaimed Richard.

"He had a regular bout of it a week or so ago," resumed Mrs. Green;
who once set off on the score of Timothy's misdoings, never knew when
to stop. It was so well known to North Inlet, this failing of the
young man's, that she might have talked of it in the market-place and
not betrayed confidence. "He had been ailing before, as I said, Mr.
Richard; off his food, and that; but one night he caught it smartly,
and he's been getting worse ever since."

"Caught what smartly?" asked Richard, not posted up in North Inlet
idioms.

"Why, the drink, sir. He came home reeling, and give his head such a
bang again the door-post that it knocked him back'ards. I got him up
somehow--Green was out--and on to his bed, and there he went off in a
dead faint. I'd no vinegar in the house: if you want a thing in a
hurry you're sure to be out of it: so I burnt a feather up his nose,
and that brought him to. He began to talk all sorts of nonsense then,
about doing 'bills,' whatever that might mean, and old Dale's
money-boxes, running words into one another like mad, so that you
couldn't make top or tail of it. I'd never seen him as bad as this,
and got frightened."

She paused to take breath, always short with Mrs. Green. The words
"doing bills" struck Richard North. He immediately perceived that
hence might have arisen the report--for she had no doubt talked of
this publicly--that Timothy Wilks was the traitor. Other listeners
could put two and two together as well as he.

"I thought I'd get in the vinegar, in case he went off again,"
resumed Mrs. Green. "And when I was running round to the shop for
it--leastways walking, for I can't run now--who should I meet, turning
out of Ketler's but Dr. Rane. I stopped to tell him, and he said he'd
look in and see Tim. He's a kind man in sickness, Mr. Richard."

"Did Dr. Rane come?" asked Richard.

"Right off, sir, there and then. When I got back he had put cloths of
cold water on Tim's head. And wasn't Tim talking! You might have
thought him a show-man at the fair. The doctor wrote something on
paper with his pencil and sent me off again to Stevens the druggist's,
and Stevens he gave me a little bottle of white stuff ta bring back.
The doctor gave Tim some of it in a teacup of cold water, and it sent
him into a good sleep. But he has never been well, sir, since then:
and now I misdoubt me but it will end in low fever."

"Do you remember what night this was?" asked Richard.

"Ay, that I do, sir. For the foolish girls was standing out by twos
and threes, making bargains with their sweethearts to go a-maying at
morning dawn. I told 'em they'd a deal better stop indoors to mend
their stockings. 'Twas the night afore the first of May, Mr. Richard."

"The evening of the day the bill was renewed," thought Richard. He
possessed the right clue now. If he had entertained any doubt of Wilks
before, this set it at rest.

"Did any of the neighbours hear Tim talking?" he asked.

"Not a soul but me and Dr. Rane here, sir. But I believe he had been
holding forth to a room-full at the Wheatsheaf. They say he was in
part gone when he got there. Oh, it does make me so vexed, the ranting
way he goes on when the drink's in him. If his poor father and mother
could look up from their graves, they'd be fit to shake him in very
shame. Drink is the worst curse that's going, Mr. Richard--and poor
Tim's weak head won't stand hardly a drop of it."

She had told all she knew. Richard North stepped over the bucket
again, remarking that he might meet Tim. Sure enough he did so. In
taking a cross-cut to the works, he came upon him, leaning against the
wooden railings that bordered a piece of waste land. He looked very
ill: Richard saw that: a small, slight young man with a mild, pleasant
countenance and inoffensive manners. His mother had been a cousin of
Mrs. Green's, but superior to the Greens in station. Timothy would
have held his head considerably above North Inlet, but for being
brought down both in consequence and pocket by his oft-recurring
failing.

Kindly and courteously, but with a resolute tone not to be mistaken,
Richard North entered on his questioning. He did not suspect Wilks of
having written the anonymous letter; he told him this candidly; but he
suspected, nay, knew, that it must have been written by some one who
had gathered certain details from Wilks's gossip. Wilks, weak and ill,
acknowledged that the circumstance of the drawing of the bill; or
rather the renewing of one; had penetrated to his hearing in Mr.
Dale's office; but he declared that he had not, as far as he knew,
repeated it again.

"I'd no more talk of our office business, sir, than I'd write an
anonymous letter," said he, much aggrieved. "Mr. Dale never had a more
faithful clerk about him than I am."

"I dare say you would not, knowingly," was Richard's rejoinder.
"Answer me one question, Wilks. Have you any recollection of
haranguing the public at the Wheatsheaf?"

Mr. Wilks's reply to this was, that he had not harangued the public at
the Wheatsheaf. He remembered being at the house quite well, and there
had been a good deal of argument in the parlour; chiefly, he thought,
touching the question as to whether masters in general ought not to
give holiday on the first of May. There had been no particular
haranguing on his part, he declared; and he could take his oath that
he never opened his lips there about what had come to his knowledge.
One thing he did confess, on being pressed by Richard--that he had no
remembrance of quitting the Wheatsheaf, or of how he reached home. He
retained a faint idea of having seen Dr. Rane's face bending over him
later, but could not say whether it was dream or reality.

Nothing more could be got out of Timothy Wilks. That the man was
guiltless of intentional treachery was as undoubted as that the
treachery had occurred through his talking. Richard North bent his
steps to the Wheatsheaf, to hold conference with Packerton, the
landlord of that much-frequented hostelrie.

And any information that Packerton could give, he was willing to give;
but it amounted to little. Richard wanted the names of all who went
into the parlour on the night of the 30th of April, during the time
that Wilks was there. The landlord mentioned as many as he could
remember; but said that others might have gone in and out. One
man--who looked like a gentleman and sat by Wilks--was a stranger, he
said; he had never seen him before or since. This man grew quite
friendly with Wilks, and went out with him, propping up his steps.
Packerton's son, a smart youth of thirteen, going out on an errand,
had overtaken them on their way across the waste ground. (In the very
path where Richard had only now encountered Wilks.) Wilks was holding
on by the railings, the boy said, talking with the other as fast as he
could talk, and the other was laughing. Richard North wished he could
find out who this man was, and where he might be seen; for, of all the
rest mentioned by the landlord, not one was at all likely to have
written the anonymous letter. Packerton's opinion was that Wilks had
not spoken of the matter there; he was then hardly "far enough gone"
to have committed the imprudence.

"But I suppose he was when he left you," said Richard.

"Yes, sir, I'm afraid he might have been. He could talk; but every bit
of reason had gone out of him. I never saw anybody but Wilks just like
this when they've taken too much."

Again Richard North sought Wilks, and questioned him who this
stranger, man or gentleman, might be. He might as well have questioned
the moon. Wilks had a hazy impression of having been with a tall,
thin, strange man: but where, or when, or how, he knew not.

"I'll ask Rane what sort of a condition Wilks was in when he saw him,"
thought Richard.

But Richard could not carry out his intentions until night. Business
claimed him for the rest of the day, and then he went home to dinner.

Dr. Rane was in his dining-room that night, the white blind drawn
before the window, and writing by the light of a shaded candle. Bessy
North had said to her father that Oliver was busy with a medical work
from which he expected good returns when published. It was so. He
spared himself no labour; over that, or anything else: often writing
far into the small hours. He was a patient, persevering man: once give
him a chance of success, a fair start on life's road, and he would be
sure to go on to fortune. He said this to himself continually; and he
was not mistaken. But the chance had not come yet.

The clock was striking eight, when the doctor heard a ring at his
door-bell, and Phillis appeared, showing in Richard North. A thrill
passed through Oliver Rane; perhaps he could not have told why or
wherefore.

Richard sat down and began to talk about Wilks, asking what he had to
ask, entering into the question generally. Dr. Rane listened in
silence.

"I beg your pardon," he suddenly said, remembering his one shaded
candle. "I ought to have asked for more light."

"It's quite light enough for me," replied Richard. "Don't trouble. To
go back to Wilks: Did he say anything about the bill in your hearing,
Rane?"

"Not a word; not a syllable. Or, if he did, I failed to catch it."

"Old Mother Green says he talked about 'bills,'" said Richard. "That
was before you saw him."

"Does she?" carelessly remarked the doctor. "I heard nothing of the
kind. There was no coherence whatever in his words, so far as I
noticed: one never pays much attention to the babblings of a drunken
man."

"Was he quite beside himself?--quite unconscious of what he said,
Rane?"

"Well, I am told that it is the peculiar idiosyncrasy of Wilks to be
able to talk and yet to be unconscious for all practical purposes, and
for recollection afterwards. Otherwise I should not have considered
him quite so far gone as that. He talked certainly; a little; seemed
to answer me in a mechanical sort of way when I asked him a question,
slipping one word into another. If I had tried to understand him, I
don't suppose I could have done so. He did not say much; and I was
away from him a good deal about the house, looking for water and rags
to put on his head."

"Then _you_ heard nothing about it, Rane?"

"Absolutely nothing."

The doctor sat so that the green shade of the candle happened to fall
on his face, making it look very pale. Richard North, absorbed in
thought about Wilks, could not have told whether the face was in
shadow or in light. He spoke next about the stranger who had joined
Wilks, saying he wished he could find out who it was.

"A tall thin man, bearing the appearance of a gentleman?" returned Dr.
Rane. "Then I think I saw him, and spoke to him."

"Where?" asked Richard with animation.

"Close to your works. He was looking in through the iron gates. After
quitting Green's cottage, I crossed the waste ground, and saw him
standing at the gates, under the middle gas-lamp. I had to visit a
patient down by the church, and took the nearer way."

"You did not recognize him?"

"Not at all. He was a stranger to me. As I was passing, he turned and
asked me whether he was going right for Whitborough. I pointed to the
high-road and told him to keep straight on. Depend upon it, this was
the same man."

"What could he have been looking in at my gates for?" muttered
Richard. "And what--for this is of more consequence--had he been
getting out of Wilks?"

"It seems rather curious altogether," remarked Dr. Rane.

"I'll find this man," said Richard, as he got up to say goodnight; "I
must find him. Thank you, Rane."

But after his departure Oliver Rane did not settle to his work as
before. A man, once interrupted, cannot always do so. All he did was
to pace the room restlessly with bowed head, as a man in some uneasy
dream. The candle burnt lower, the flame grew above the shade,
throwing its light on his face, showing up its lines and angles. But
it was not any brighter than when the green shade had cast over it its
cadaverous hue.

"Edmund North! Edmund North!"

Did the words in all their piteous, hopeless appeal come from him? Or
was it some supernatural cry in the air?



CHAPTER X.
PUT TO HIS CONSCIENCE.


A fine morning in June. Lovely June; with its bright blue skies and
its summer flowers. Walking about amidst his rose-trees, was Mr.
North, a rake in his hand. He fancied he was gardening; he knew he was
trifling. What did it matter?--his face looked almost happy. The glad
sunshine was overhead, and he felt as free as a bird of the air.

The anonymous letter, that had caused so much mischief, was passing
into a thing of the past. In spite of Richard North's efforts to trace
him out, the writer remained undiscovered. Timothy Wilks was the chief
sufferer, and bitterly resentful thereon. To have been openly accused
of having sent it by at least six persons out of every dozen
acquaintances he met, disturbed the mind and curdled the temper of
ill-starred Timothy Wilks. As to the general public, they were
beginning to forget all about the trouble--as it is in the nature of a
faithless public to do. Only in the hearts of a few individuals did
the sad facts remain in all their sternness; and of those, one was
Jelly.

Poor Mr. North could afford to be happy to-day, and for many days to
come. Bessy also. Madam had relieved them of her presence yesterday,
and gone careering off to Paris with her daughter. They hoped she
might be away for weeks. In the seductive freedom of the home, Richard
North had stayed late that morning. Mr. North was just beginning to
talk with him, when some one called on business, and Richard shut
himself up with the stranger. The morning had gone on; the interview
was prolonged; but Richard was coming out now. Mr. North put down the
rake.

"Has Wilson gone, Richard?"

"Yes, sir."

"What did he want? He has stayed long enough."

"Only a little business with me, father," was Richard's answer in his
filial care. It had not been agreeable business, and Richard wished to
spare his father.

"And now for Bessy, sir?" he resumed, as they paced side by side
amongst the sweet-scented roses. "You were beginning to speak about
her."

"Yes, I want to talk to you. Bessy would be happier with Rane than she
is here, Dick."

Richard looked serious. He had no objection whatever to his sister's
marrying Oliver Rane: in fact, he regarded it as an event certain to
take place, sooner or later; but he did not quite see that the way was
clear for it yet.

"I have no doubt of that, father."

"And I think, Dick, she had better go to him now, whilst we are at
liberty to do as we please at home."

"Now!" exclaimed Richard.

"Yes; now. That is before madam comes back again. Poor Edmund is only
just put under the sod; but--considering the circumstances--I think
the memory of the dead must give place to the welfare of the living."

"But how about ways and means, sir?"

"Ay: how about ways and means. Nothing can be spared from the works at
present, I suppose, Dick."

"Nothing to speak of, sir."

Mr. North had felt ashamed even to ask the question. In fact, it was
more a remark than a question, for he knew as well as Richard did that
there was no superfluous money to draw upon.

"Of course not, Dick. Rane gets just enough to live upon now, and no
more. Yesterday, after madam and Matilda had driven off, I was at the
front-gates when Rane passed. So he and I got talking about Bessy. He
said his income was small now, but that of course it would
considerably augment as soon as Alexander had left. As he and Bessy
are willing to try it, I don't see why they should not do so, Dick."

Richard gave no immediate reply. He had a rose in his hand and was
looking at it absently, deep in thought. His father continued:

"It's not as if Rane had no expectations whatever. Two hundred a-year
must come to him at his mother's death. And--Dick--have you any idea
how Mrs. Gass's will is left?"

"Not the least, sir."

"Oliver Rane is the nearest living relative to her late husband, Mrs.
Cumberland excepted. He is Thomas Gass's own nephew--and all the money
was his. It seems to me, Dick, that Mrs. Gass is sure to remember him:
perhaps largely."

"She may do so."

"Yes; and I think will do so. Bessy shall go to him; and be
emancipated from her thraldom here."

"Oliver Rane has no furniture in his house."

"He has some. The dining-room and his bedroom are as handsomely
furnished as need be. We can send in a little more. There are some
things at the Hall that were Bessy's own mother's, and she shall have
them. They have not been thought much of here, Dick, amidst the grand
things that madam has filled the house with."

"She'll make a fuss, though, at their being removed," remarked Dick.

"Let her," retorted Mr. North, who could be brave as the best when two
or three hundred miles lay between him and madam. "Those things were
your own dear mother's, Dick; she bought them with her own money
before she married me, and I have always regarded them as heir-looms
for Bessy. It's just a few plain solid mahogany things, as good as
ever they were. It was our drawing-room furniture in the early days,
and it will do for their drawing-room now. When Rane is making his six
or seven hundred a-year, they can buy finer if they choose. We thought
great things of it; I know that."

Richard smiled. "I remember once when I was a very little fellow, my
mother came in and caught me drawing a horse on the centre-table with
pen-and-ink. The trouble she had to get the horse out!--and the
whipping I had!"

"Poor Dick! She did not whip often."

"It did me good, sir. I have been scrupulously careful of furniture
ever since."

"Ah, nothing like the lessons of early childhood for making an
impression," spoke Mr. North. "'Spare the rod and spoil the child!'
There was never a truer saying than that."

"Then you really intend them to marry at once," said Richard,
returning to the question.

"I do," replied Mr. North in more decisive tones than he usually
spoke. "They both wish it: and why should I hold out against them?
Bessy's thirty this year, you know, Dick: if girls are not wives at
that age, they begin to think it hard. It's better to marry tolerably
young: a man and woman don't shake down into each other's ways if they
come together late in life. You are silent, Dick."

"I was thinking, sir, whether I could not manage a couple of hundred
pounds for them from myself."

"You are ever generous, Dick. I don't know what we should all do
without you."

"The question is--shall I give it over to them in money, or spend it
for them in furniture?"

"In money; in money, Dick," advised Mr. North. "The furniture can be
managed; and cash is cash. Spend it in chairs and tables and it seems
as if there were nothing tangible to show for it."

Richard smiled. "It strikes me that the argument lies the other way,
sir. However, I think it will be better to do as you advise. Bessy
shall have two hundred pounds handed to her after her marriage, and
they can do what they consider best with it."

"To be sure; to be sure, Dick. Let them be married. Bessy has a
miserable life of it here; and she'll be thirty on the twenty-ninth of
this month. Oliver Rane was thirty the latter end of March."

"Only thirty!" cried Richard. "I think he must be more than that,
sir."

"But he's not more," returned Mr. North. "I ought to know; and so
ought you, Dick. Don't you remember they are both in the tontine? All
the children put into that tontine were born in the same year."

"Oh, was it so? I had forgotten," returned Richard carelessly, for the
tontine had never troubled him very much. He could just recollect that
when they were children he and his brother were wont to teaze little
Bessy, saying if she lived to be a hundred she would come into a
fortune.

"That was an unlucky tontine, Dick," said Mr. North, shaking his head.
"Of ten children who were entered for it, only three remain. The other
seven are dead. Four of them died in the first or second year."

"How came Oliver Rane to be put into the tontine?" asked Richard. "I
thought he came to life in India--and lived there for the first few
years of his life. The tontine children were all Whitborough
children."

"Thomas Gass did that, Richard. When he received news that his sister
had this baby--Oliver--he insisted upon putting him into the tontine.
It was a sort of salve to Tom Gass's conscience; at least I thought
so: what his sister and the poor baby wanted then was money--not to be
put into a useless tontine. Ah, well, Rane has got on without any
one's assistance, and I dare say will flourish in the end."

Richard glanced at his watch; twelve o'clock; and increased his pace;
a hundred and one things were wanting him at the works. Mr. North
walked with him to the gate.

"Yes, it's all for the best, Dick. And we'll get the wedding
comfortably over while madam's away."

"What has been her motive, sir, for opposing Bessy's engagement to
Rane?"

"Motive!" returned Mr. North. "Do you see that white butterfly, Dick,
fluttering about?--as good ask me what _its_ motive is, as ask me
madam's. I don't suppose she has any motive--except that she is given
to opposing us all."

Richard concluded it was so. Something might lie also in Bessy's
patient excellence as a housekeeper; madam, ever selfish, did not
perhaps like to lose her.

As they reached the iron gates, Mrs. Cumberland passed, walking
slowly. She looked very ill. Mr. North arrested her, and began to
speak of the projected marriage of Oliver and Bessy. Mrs. Cumberland
changed colour and looked almost frightened. Unobservant Mr. North saw
nothing. Richard did.

"Has Oliver not told you what's afoot?" said the former. "Young men
are often shyer in these matters than women."

"It's a very small income for them to begin upon," she observed
presently, when Mr. North had said his say--and Richard thought he
detected some private objection to the union. "So very small for
Bessy--who has been used to Dallory Hall."

"It won't always remain small," said Mr. North. "His practice will
increase when Alexander goes; and he'll have other money, may be,
later. Oh, they'll get on, Fanny. Young couples like to be
sufficiently poor to make struggling upwards a pleasure. I dare say
you married upon less."

"Of course, if you are satisfied--it must be all right," murmured Mrs.
Cumberland. "You and Bessy."

She drew her veil over her grey face, said good-morning, and moved
away. Not in the direction of Dallory--as she was previously
walking--but back to the Ham. Mr. North turned into his grounds again;
Richard went after Mrs. Cumberland.

"I beg your pardon," he said--he was not as familiar with her as his
father was--"will you allow me a word. You do not like this proposed
marriage. Have you anything to urge against it?"

"Only for Bessy's sake. I was thinking of her."

"_Why_ for Bessy's sake?"

There was some slight hesitation in Mrs. Cumberland's answer. She
appeared to be drawing her veil straight.

"Their income will be so small. _I_ know what a small income is, and
therefore I feel for her."

"Is that all your hesitation, Mrs. Cumberland?--the narrowness of the
income?"

"All."

"Then I think, as my father says, you may safely leave the decision
with themselves. But--_was_ this all?" added Richard: for an idea to
the contrary had taken hold of him. "You have no personal objection to
Bessy?"

"Certainly it was all," was Mrs. Cumberland's reply. "As to any
personal objection to Bessy, that I could never have. When Oliver
first told me they were engaged, I thought how lucky he was to win
Bessy North; I wished them success with all my heart.

"Forgive me, Mrs. Cumberland. Thank you. Good-morning."

Reassured, Richard North turned, and strode hastily away in the
direction of Dallory. He fancied she had heard Bessy would have no
fortune, and was feeling disappointed on her son's account. It struck
him that he might as well confirm this; and he wheeled round.

Mrs. Cumberland had gone on and was already seated on the bench before
spoken of, in the shady part of the road. Richard, in a few concise
words, entering into no details of any sort, said to her that his
sister would have no marriage portion.

"_That_ I have long taken as a matter of course; knowing what the
expenses at the Hall must be," she answered with a friendly smile.
"Bessy is a fortune in herself; she would make a good wife to any man.
Provided they have sufficient for comfort--and I hope Oliver will soon
be making that--they can be as happy without wealth as with it, if
your sister can only think so. Have you--pardon me for recalling what
must be an unpleasant topic, Richard--have you yet gained any clue to
the writer of that anonymous letter?"

"Not any. It presents mystery on all sides."

"Mystery?"

"As it seems to me. Going over the various circumstances, as I do on
occasion when I have a minute to myself, I try to fit the probability
into another, and I cannot compass it. We must trust to time, Mrs.
Cumberland. Good-morning."

Richard raised his hat, and left her. She sat on with her pain. Mrs.
Cumberland was as strictly rigid a woman in tenets as in temperament;
her code of morality was a severe one. Over and over again had she
asked herself whether--it is of no use to mince the matter any
longer--Oliver had or had not written that anonymous letter which had
killed Edmund North: and she could not answer the question. But, if he
had done it, why then surely he ought not to wed the sister. It would
be little less than sin.

Since this secret trouble had been upon her, more than a month now,
her face had seemed to assume a greyer tinge. How grey it looked now,
as she sat on the bench, passers-by saw, and almost started. One of
them was Mr. Alexander. Arresting his quick steps--he always walked
quickly--he inquired after her health.

"Not any better and not much worse," she answered. "Complaints, such
as mine, are always tediously prolonged."

"They are less severe to bear, however, than sharper ones," said the
doctor, willing to administer a grain of comfort if he could. "What a
lovely day! And madam's off for a couple of months, I hear."

"Have the two any connection with each other, Mr. Alexander?"

"I don't know," he said laughing. "Her presence makes winter at the
Hall, and her absence its sunshine. If I had such a wife, I'm not sure
that I should think it any sin to give her an overdose of laudanum
some day, out of regard to the general peace. Did you hear of her
putting Miss Bessy's wrist out?"

"No."

"She did it, then. Something sent her into a passion with Miss Bessy;
she caught her hand and flung it away so violently that the wrist
began to swell. I was sent for to bind it up. Why such women are
allowed to live, I can't imagine."

"I suppose because they are not fit to die," said Mrs. Cumberland.
"When are you leaving?"

"Sometime in July, I think, or during August. I enter on my new post
the first of September, so there's no especial hurry in the matter."

Mrs. Cumberland rose and continued her slow way homewards. Passing her
own house, she entered that of her son. Dr. Rane was engaged with a
patient, so she went on to the dining-room and waited.

He came in shortly, perhaps thinking it might be another patient, his
face bright. It fell a little when he saw his mother. Her visits to
him were so exceedingly rare that some instinct whispered him nothing
pleasant had brought her there. She rose and faced him.

"Oliver, is what I hear true--that you are shortly to be married?"

"I suppose it is, mother," was his answer.

"But--is there no impediment that should bar it?" she asked in a
whisper.

"Well--as to waiting, I may wait to the end, and not find the skies
raining gold. If Bessy's friends see no risk in it, it is not for me
to see it. At any rate, this will be a more peaceful home for her than
the Hall."

"I am not talking of waiting--or of gold--or of risk, Oliver," she
continued solemnly, placing both her hands on his arm. "Is there
nothing on your mind that ought to bar this marriage? Is your
conscience at rest? If--wait and let me speak, my son; I understand
what you would say; what you have already told me--that you were
innocent--and I know, that I ought to believe you. But a doubt
continually flashes up in my mind, Oliver; it is not my fault; truth
knows my will is good to bury it for ever. Bear with me a moment; I
must speak. If the death of Edmund North lies at your door, however
indirectly it was caused, to make his sister your wife will be a thing
altogether wrong; little less than a sin in the sight of Heaven. I do
not accuse you, Oliver; I suggest this as a possible case; and now I
leave it with you for your own reflection. Oh, my son, believe me--for
it seems to me as though to-day I spoke with a prophet's inspiration!
If your conscience tells you that you were not innocent, to bring
Bessy North home to this roof will be wrong, and I think no blessing
will rest upon it."

She was gone. Before Oliver Rane in his surprise could answer a word,
Mrs. Cumberland was gone. Passing swiftly out at the open window, she
stepped across the garden and the wire-fence, and so entered her own
home.



CHAPTER XI.
A QUIET WEDDING.


Apparently Dr. Rane found nothing on his conscience that could present
an impediment, and the preparation for the wedding went quietly on.
Secretly might almost be the better word. In their dread lest the news
should reach madam in her retreat over the water, and bring her back
to thwart it, those concerned deemed it well to say nothing; and no
suspicion of what was afloat transpired to the world in general.

Bessy--upon whom, from her isolated position, having no lady about
her, the arrangements fell--was desired to fix a day. She named the
twenty-ninth of June, her birthday. After July should come in, there
was no certainty about madam's movements; she might come home, or she
might not, and it was necessary that all should be over by that time,
if it was to be gone through in peace. The details of the ceremony
were to be of the simplest nature: Edmund North's recent death and the
other attendant and peculiar circumstances forbidding the usual
gaiety. The bridal party would go to church with as little ceremony as
they went to service on Sundays, Bessy in a plain silk dress and a
plain bonnet. Mr. North would give his daughter away, if he were well
enough; if not, Richard. Ellen Adair was to be bridesmaid; Arthur
Bohun had offered himself to Dr. Rane as best man. It might be very
undutiful, but Arthur enjoyed stealing a march on madam as much as the
best of them.

Mrs. Cumberland was no doubt satisfied with regard to the scruples she
had raised, since she intended to countenance the wedding, and go to
church. Dr. Rane and his bride would drive away from the church-door
to the railway-station at Whitborough. The bridal tour was to last one
week only. The doctor did not care to be longer away from his
patients, and Bessy confessed that she would rather be at home,
setting her house in order, than prolonging her stay at small inns in
Wales. But for the disconcerting fact of madam's being in Paris, Dr.
Rane would have liked to take Bessy across the Channel and give her
her first glimpse of the French capital. Under madam's unjust rule,
poor Bessy had never gone anywhere: Matilda North had been taken half
over the world.

The new household arrangements at Dr. Rane's were to be accomplished
during their week's absence: the articles of furniture--that Mr. North
chose to consider belonged to Bessy--to be taken there from the Hall;
the new carpet, Mrs. Cumberland's present, to be laid down in the
drawing-room; Molly Green to enter as helpmate to Phillis. Surely
madam would not grumble at _that?_ Molly Green, going into a temper
one day at some oppression of madam's, had given warning on the spot.
Bessy liked the girl, and there could be no harm in engaging her as
her own housemaid.

One of those taken into the secret had been Mrs. Gass. Richard, who
greatly respected her in spite of her grammar, and liked her also,
unfolded the news. She received it in silence: a very rare thing for
Mrs. Gass to do. Just as it had struck Richard in regard to Mrs.
Cumberland, so it struck him now--Mrs. Gass did not quite like the
tidings.

"Well, I hope they'll be happy," she said at length, breaking the
silence, "and I hope he deserves to be. I hope it with all my heart.
Do you think he does, Mr. Richard?"

"Rane? Deserves to be happy? For all I see, he does. Why should he
not?"

"_I_ don't know," answered Mrs. Gass, looking into Richard's face.
"Oliver Rane is my late husband's nephew, but he's three parts a
stranger to me, except as a doctor; for he attends here, you know,
sir,--as is natural--and not Alexander. Is he truthful, Mr. Richard?
Is he trustworthy?"

"He is, for anything I know to the contrary," replied Richard North, a
little wondering at the turn the conversation was taking. "If I
thought he was not, I should be very sorry to give Bessy to him."

"Then let us hope that he is, Mr. Richard, and wish 'em joy with all
our hearts."

That a doubt was lying on Mrs. Gass's mind, in regard to the scrap of
paper found in her room, was certain. Being a sensible woman, it could
only be that--when surrounding mists had cleared away--she should see
that the only likely place for it to have dropped from, was Dr. Rane's
pocketbook. Molly Green had been subjected to a cross-examination,
very cleverly conducted, as Mrs. Gass thought, which left the matter
exactly as it was before. But the girl's surprise was so genuine, at
supposing any receipt for making plum-pudding (for thus had Mrs. Gass
put it) could have been dropped by her, that Mrs. Gass's mind could
only revert to the pocketbook. How far Oliver Rane was guilty, whether
guilty at all, she was quite unable to decide. A doubt remained in her
mind, though she was glad enough to put it from her. One thing struck
her as curious, if not suspicious--that from the hour she had handed
him over the paper to this, Dr. Rane had never once spoken of the
subject to her. It almost seemed to Mrs. Gass that an innocent man
would have done so, though it had only been to say, I have found no
clue to the writer.

And if a little of the same doubt rose to Richard North during his
interview with Mrs. Gass, it was due to her manner. But he was upright
himself, unsuspicious as the day. The impression faded again; and he
came away believing that Mrs. Gass, zealous for the Norths' honours,
rather disapproved of the marriage for Bessy, on account of the
doctor's poverty.

And so, there was no one to give a word of warning where it might have
been effectual, and the day fixed for the wedding drew on. After all,
the programme was not strictly carried out, for Mr. North had one of
his nervous attacks, and could not go to church.

At five minutes past nine o'clock, in the warm bright June morning,
the Dallory Hall carriage drove up to Dallory Church. Richard North,
his sister, and Arthur Bohun were within it. The forms and etiquette
usually observed at weddings were slighted here, else how came
Arthur Bohun, the bridegroom's best man, to come to church with the
bride? What did it matter? Closely in its wake came up the other
carriage--which ought to have been the first. In after days, when a
strange ending had come to the marriage life of Oliver Rane and his
wife, and Oliver was regarded with dread, assailed with reproach,
people said the marriage had been the Norths' doings more than his. At
any rate, Bessy was first at church, and both were a little late.

But Mr. North was not the only one who failed them; the other was Mrs.
Cumberland. She assigned no reason for absenting herself from the
ceremony, excepting a plea that she did not feel equal to it--which
her son believed or not, as he pleased. Her new bright dress and
bonnet were spread out on the bed; but she never as much as looked at
them: and Ellen Adair found that she and Dr. Rane had to drive to
church alone, in the hired carriage, arriving there almost
simultaneously with the other party.

Richard North conducted his sister up the aisle, the bridegroom
following close on their steps. Ellen Adair and Captain Bohun, left
behind, walked side by side. Bessy wore a pretty grey silk and plain
white bonnet: she had a small bouquet in her hand that the gardener,
Williams, had arranged for her, Ellen Adair was in a similar dress,
and looked altogether lovely. Mr. Lea, the clergyman, stood ready,
book in hand. The spectators in the church--for the event had got wind
at the last moment, as these events almost always do, and many
came--rose up with expectation.

Of all the party, the bridegroom alone seemed to suffer from
nervousness. His answering voice was low, his words were abrupt. It
was the more remarkable, because he was in general so self-contained
and calm a man. Bessy, always timid and yielding, spoke with gentle
firmness; not a shade of doubt or agitation seemed to cross her. But
there occurred a frightful contretemps.

"The ring, if you please," whispered the officiating clergyman to the
bridegroom at that part of the service where the ring was needed.

The ring! Oliver Rane felt in his waistcoat-pocket, and went into an
agony of consternation. The ring was not there. He must have left it
on his dressing-table. The little golden symbol had been wrapped in
white tissue paper, and he certainly remembered putting it into his
waistcoat-pocket. It was as certainly not there now: and he supposed
he must have put it out again.

"I have not got the ring!" he exclaimed hurriedly.

To keep a marriage ceremony waiting while a messenger ran a mile off
for the ring and then ran a mile back again, was a thing that had
never been heard of by the clergyman or any other of the startled
individuals around him. What was to be done? It was suggested that
perhaps some one present could furnish a ring that might suffice.
Ellen Adair, standing in her beauty behind the bride, gently laid down
the glove and bouquet she was holding, took off her own glove, and
gave Oliver Rane a plain gold ring from her finger: one she always
wore there. Arthur Bohun alone knew the history of the ring; the rest
had never taken sufficient interest in _her_ to inquire it; perhaps
had never noticed that she wore one.

The service proceeded to its end. Had Oliver Rane gone a pilgrimage to
all the jewellers' shops in Whitborough, he could not have chosen a
more perfectly fitting wedding-ring than this. When they went into
the vestry, Bessy, agitated by the mishap and the emotional position
altogether, burst into tears, asking Ellen how _she_ came by a
wedding-ring.

The history was very simple. It arose--that is the possession of the
ring--through the foolish romance of two young girls. Ellen and one of
her schoolfellows named Maria Warne had formed a sincere and lasting,
attachment to each other. At the time of parting, when Ellen was
leaving school for Mrs. Cumberland's, each had bought a plain gold
ring to give the other, over which eternal friendship had been vowed,
together with an undertaking to wear the ring always. Alas, for time
and change! In less than six months afterwards, Ellen Adair received
notice of the death of Maria Warne. The ring had in consequence become
really precious to Ellen; but in this emergency she had not scrupled
to part with it.

As they came out of the vestry, Ellen found herself face to face with
Jelly. The clerk, and the two women pew-openers, and the sexton,
considering themselves privileged people, pressed up where they chose:
Jelly, who of course--living with Mrs. Cumberland--could not be at all
confounded with the common spectators, chose to press with them. Her
face was long and serious, as she caught "hold of Miss Adair.

"How _could_ you, Miss Ellen?" she whispered. "Don't you know that
nothing is more unlucky than for a bride to be married with anybody
else's wedding-ring?"

"But it was not a wedding-ring, Jelly. Only a plain gold one."

"Anyway it was unlucky for _you_. We have a superstition in these
parts, Miss Ellen, that if a maid takes off a ring from her own finger
to serve at a pinch for a bride, she will never be a wife herself. I
wouldn't have risked it, miss."

Ellen laughed gaily, Jelly's dismay was so real and her face so grave.
But there was no time for more. Richard held out his arm to her; and
Oliver Rane was already taking out his bride. Close up against the
door stood Mr. North's carriage, into which stepped the bride and
bridegroom.

"My shawl! where's the shawl?" asked Bessy, looking round.

She had sat down upon it; and laughed gaily when Oliver drew it out.
This shawl--a thin cashmere of quiet colours--was intended to be
thrown on ere they reached the station. Her silk dress covered with
that, and a black lace veil substituted for the white one on her
bonnet, the most susceptible maid or matron who might happen to be
travelling, would never take her for a bride.

Arthur Bohun deliberately flung an old white satin slipper after the
carriage--it struck the old coachman's head, and the spectators
shouted cheerily. Richard was going to the works. He placed Ellen in
the carriage that had brought her.

"Will you pardon me, if I depute Captain Bohun to see you safely home
instead of myself, Miss Adair? It is a very busy day at the works, and
I must go there. Arthur, will you take charge of this young lady?"

What Ellen answered, she scarcely knew. Captain Bohun entered the
carriage. The situation was wholly unexpected: and if their hearts
beat a little faster in the tumult of the moment's happiness, Richard
at least was unconscious of it.

"It is the first wedding I ever was at," began Ellen, feeling that she
must talk to cover the embarrassment of the position. Both were
feeling it: and moved as far apart from each other as if they had
quarrelled: she in one corner, he in the further one opposite. "Of
course it had been arranged that I should go home with Mrs.
Cumberland."

"Is she ill?"

"Dr. Rane thinks it is only nervousness: he said so as we came along.
I had to come with him alone. I am sure the people we passed on the
road, who had not heard about Bessy thought it was I who was going to
be married to him, they stared so into the carriage."

Ellen laughed as she said it. Arthur Bohun, drinking in draughts of
her wondrous beauty, glanced at her meaningly, his blue eyes
involuntarily betraying his earnest love.

"It may be your turn next, Ellen."

She blushed vividly, and looked from the window as though she saw
something passing. He felt tempted there and then to speak of his
love. But he had a keen sense of the fitness of time and place; and
she had been placed for these few minutes under his protection: it
seemed like putting him on his honour, as schoolboys say. Besides, he
had fully made up his mind not to speak until he saw his way clear to
marry.

Ellen Adair brought her face round again. "Jelly is in a terrible way
about the ring, foretelling all sorts of ill-luck to every one
concerned, and is thankful it did not happen to _her_. Will Bessy keep
my ring always, do you think? Perhaps she would not be legally married
if she gave it me back and took to her own--when it is found?"

Arthur Bohun's eyes danced a little. "Perhaps not," he replied in the
gravest tones. "I don't know what they, would have done without it,
Ellen."

"I did not tell Bessy one thing, when she asked me about it in the
vestry. I will never tell her if I can help it--that Maria Warne is
dead. How was it Mr. North did not come?"

"Nervousness too, in my opinion. He said he was ill."

"Why should he be nervous?"

"Lest it should come to his wife's ears that he had so far
countenanced the marriage as to be present at it."

"Can you tell why Mrs. North should set her face against it?"

"No. Unless it is because other people have wished it. I should only
say as much to you, though, Ellen: she is my mother."

The implied confidence sounded very precious in her ears. She turned
to the window again.

"I hope they will be happy. I think there is no doubt of it. Bessy is
very sweet-tempered and gentle."

"He is good-tempered too."

"Yes, I think so. I have seen very little of him. There's Mrs. Gass!"

They were passing that lady's house. She sat at the open window; a
grand amber gown on, white satin ribbons in her cap. Leaning out, she
shook her handkerchief at them in violent greeting, just as though
they had been the bride and bridegroom. As Ellen drew back in her
corner after bowing, her foot touched something on the carpet at the
bottom of the carriage.

"Why! what is this?"

They both stooped at once. It was the wedding-ring enclosed in its
tissue paper. Captain Bohun unfolded the paper.

"Dr. Rane must have lost it out of his pocket as we went along," cried
Ellen. "He said, you know, that he felt so sure he had put it in. What
is to be done with it?"

"Wear it instead of your own until they come back again," said Arthur.
"Bessy can then take her choice of the two."

Accepting the suggestion without thought of dissent, Ellen took off
her right glove and held out the other hand for the ring. He did not
give it. Bending forward, he took her right hand and put it on for
her.

"It fits as well as my own did."

Their eyes met. He had her hand still, as if trying how far the ring
fitted. Her sweet face was like a damask rose.

"I trust I may put one on to better purpose some day, Ellen," came the
murmuring, whispered, tremulous words. "Meanwhile--if Bessy does not
claim this, remember that I have placed it on your finger."

Not another syllable, not another look from either. Captain Bohun sat
down in his corner; Ellen in hers, her hot face bent over the glove
she was putting on, and fully believing that earth had changed to
Paradise.



CHAPTER XII.
JELLY'S INDISCRETION.


The days went on, and Dr. Rane's house was being made ready for the
reception of the bride. No time could be lost, as the wedding tour was
intended to be so short a one. As Jelly said, They would be at home
before folk could look round. Mrs. Cumberland presented the new carpet
for the drawing-room; the furniture that had been the first Mrs.
North's, arrived from Dallory Hall. Molly Green arrived with it,
equally to take up her abode in the house of Dr. Rane. The arranging
of these things, with the rest of the preparations, was carried on
with a considerable amount of bustle and gossip, Jelly being at the
doctor's house continually, and constituting herself chief mistress of
the ceremonies. Phillis and Molly Green, with native humility,
deferred to her in all things.

It was said in a previous chapter that Jelly was one of those who
retained an interest in the anonymous letter. She had a special cause
for it. Jelly in her propensity to look into her neighbours' affairs,
was given to taking up any mysterious cause, and making it her own.
Her love of the marvellous was great, her curiosity insatiable. But
Jelly's interest in this matter was really a personal one and
concerned herself. It was connected with Timothy Wilks.

Amongst Jelly's other qualities and endowments, might be ranked one
that was pre-eminent--love of admiration. Jelly could not remember to
have been without an "acquaintance" for above a month at a time since
the days when she left off pinafores. No sooner did she quarrel with
one young man and dismiss him, than she took up another. Dallory
wondered that of all her numerous acquaintances she had never married:
but, as Jelly coolly said, to have a suitor at your beck and call was
one thing, and to be tied to a husband was quite another. So Jelly was
Jelly still; and perhaps it might be conceded that the fault was her
own. She liked her independence.

The reigning "acquaintance" at this period happened to be Timothy
Wilks. Jelly patronized _him_; _he_ was devoted to her. There was a
trifling difference in their ages--some ten years probably, and all on
Jelly's side--but such a disparity had often happened before. Jelly
had distinguished Tim by the honour of taking him to be her young man;
and when the damaging whisper fell upon him, that he had probably
written the anonymous letter resulting in the death of Edmund North,
Jelly resented the aspersion far more than Timothy did. "I'll find out
who did do it, if it costs me a year's wages and six months'
patience," avowed Jelly to herself in the first burst of indignation.

But Jelly found she could not arrive at that satisfactory result any
sooner than other people. It is true, she possessed a slight clue that
they did not, in the few memorable words she had overheard that
moonlight night between her mistress and Dr. Rane, but they did not
assist her. The copy of the letter was said to have dropped out of Dr.
Rane's pocketbook on somebody's carpet, and he denied that it had so
dropped. Neither more nor less could Jelly make of the matter than
this: and she laboured under the disadvantage of not being able to
speak of what she had overheard, unless she confessed that she had
been a listener. Considering who had been the speakers, Jelly did not
choose to do that. From that time until this, quite two months, had
the matter rankled in Jelly's mind; she had kept her ears open and put
cautious questions whenever she thought they might avail, and all to
no purpose. But in this, the first week of July, Jelly had a little
light thrown on the clue by Molly Green. The very day that damsel
arrived at Dr. Rane's as helpmate to Phillis, and Jelly had gone in
with her domineering orders, the conversation happened to turn on
plum-pudding--Phillis having made a currant-dumpling for dinner, and
let the water get into it--and Molly Green dropped a few words which
Jelly's ears caught up. They were only to the effect that Mrs. Gass
had asked her whether she did not let fall on her carpet a receipt for
making plum-pudding, the night of Edmund North's attack; which receipt
Mrs. Gass had said, might have belonged to madam, and been brought
from the Hall by Molly Green's petticoats. Jelly put a wary question
or two to the girl, and then let the topic pass without further
comment. That same evening she betook herself to Mrs. Gass, acting
craftily. "Where's that paper that was found on your carpet the night
Edmund North was taken?" asked Jelly boldly. Upon which Mrs. Gass was
seized with astonishment so entire that in the moment's confusion she
made one or two inconvenient admissions, just stopping short of the
half-suspicion she had entertained of Dr. Rane.

In the days gone by, when Mrs. Gass was a servant herself, Jelly's
relatives--really respectable people--had patronized her. Mrs. Gass
was promoted to what she was; but she assumed no fine airs in
consequence, as the reader has heard, and she and Jelly had remained
very good friends. Vexed with herself for having incautiously admitted
that the paper found was the copy of the anonymous letter, Mrs. Gass
turned on Jelly and gave her a sharp reprimand for taking her
unawares, and for trying to pry into what did not concern her. Jelly
came away, not very much wiser than she went, but with a spirit of
unrest that altogether refused to be soothed. She dared not pursue the
inquiry openly, out of respect to her mistress and Dr. Rane, but she
resolved to pump Molly Green. This same Molly was niece to the people
with whom Timothy Wilks lodged, and rather more friendly with the
latter gentleman than Jelly liked.

On the following morning when Jelly had swallowed her breakfast, she
went into the next house with her usual want of ceremony. Phillis and
Molly Green were on their knees laying down the new carpet in the
drawing-room, tugging and hammering to the best of their ability,
their gowns pinned round their waists, their sleeves up to the elbows;
Phillis little and old, and weak-looking; Molly a comely girl of
twenty, with rosy cheeks.

"Well, you must be two fools!" was Jelly's greeting, after taking in
appearances. "As if you could expect to put down a heavy Brussels
yourselves! Why didn't you get Turtle's men here? They served the
carpet, and they ought to put it down."

"They promised to be here at seven o'clock this morning, and now it's
nine," mildly responded Phillis, her pleasant dark eyes raised to
Jelly's. "We thought we'd try and do it ourselves, so as to be able to
get the table and chairs in, and the room finished. Perhaps Turtles
have forgot it."

"I'd forget them, I know, if it was me, when I wanted to buy another
carpet," said Jelly, tartly.

But, even as she spoke, a vehicle was heard to stop at the gate.
Inquisitive Jelly looked from the window, and recognized it as
Turtle's. It seemed to contain one or two pieces of new furniture.
Phillis did not know that any had been coming, and went out. Molly
Green rose from her knees, and stood regarding the carpet. This was
Jelly's opportunity.

"Now, then!" she cried sharply, confronting the girl with imperious
gesture. "Did you drop that, or did you not, Molly Green?"

Molly Green seemed quite bewildered by the address--as well she might
be. "Drop what?" she asked.

"That plum-pudding receipt on Mrs. Gass's parlour carpet."

"Well, I never!" returned Molly after a pause of surprise. "What is it
to you, Jelly, if I did?"

Now the girl only spoke so by way of retort; in a spirit of banter.
Jelly, hardly believing her ears, accepted it as an admission that
she had dropped it. And so the two went floundering on, quite at
cross-purposes.

"Don't stare at me like that, Molly Green. I want a straightforward
answer. Did it drop from your skirts?"

"It didn't drop from my hands. As to staring, it's you that's doing
that, Jelly, not me."

"Where had you picked up the receipt? Out of Mr. Edmund North's room?"

"Out of Mr. Edmund North's room!" echoed Molly in wonder. "Whatever
should have brought me doing that?"

"It was the night he was taken ill."

"And if it was! I didn't go a-nigh him."

A frightful thought now came over Jelly, turning her quite faint. What
if the girl had gone to her aunt Green's that night and picked the
paper up there? In that case it could not fail to be traced home to
Timothy Wilks.

"Did you call in at your aunt's that same evening, Molly Green?"

"Suppose I did?" retorted Molly.

"And how _dare_ you call in there, and bring--bring--receipts away
with you surreptitious?" shrieked Jelly in her anger.

Molly Green stooped to pick up the hammer lying at her feet, speaking
quietly as she did so. Some noise was beginning to be heard outside,
caused by Turtle's men getting a piano into the house, and Phillis
talking to them.

"I can't think what you are a-driving at, Jelly. As to calling in at
aunt's, I have a right to do it when I'm out, if time allows. Which it
had not that night, at any rate, for I never went nowhere but to the
druggist's and Mrs. Gass's. I ran all the way to Dallory, and ran back
again; and I don't think I stopped to speak to a single soul, but
Timothy Wilks."

Jelly's spirits, which had been rising, fell to wrath again at the
name. "You'd better say you got it from _him_, Molly Green. Don't
spare him, poor fellow; whiten yourself."

Molly was beginning to feel just a little wrathful in her turn. Though
Jelly was a lady's-maid and superior to herself with her red arms and
rough hands, that could be no reason for attacking her in this way.

"And what if I did get it from him, pray? A plum-pudding
prescription's no crime."

"But a copy of an anonymous letter _is_," retorted Jelly, the moment's
anger causing her to forget caution. "Don't you try to brazen it out
to me, girl."

"WHAT?" cried Molly, staring with all her eyes.

But in a moment Jelly's senses had come back to her. She set herself
coolly to remedy the mischief.

"To think that my mind should have run off from the pudding-receipt to
that letter of poor Mr. Edmund's! It's your fault, Molly Green,
bothering my wits out of me! Where _did_ you pick up the paper? There.
Answer that; and let's end it."

Molly thought it might be as well to end it; she was growing tired of
the play: besides, here were Turtle's men coming into the room to
finish the carpet.

"I never had the receipt at all, Jelly, and it's not possible it could
have dropped from me: that's the blessed truth. After talking to me,
just as you've done, and turning me inside out, as one may say, Mrs.
Gass as good as confessed that it might have fell out of her own
bundle of receipts that she keeps in the sideboard drawer."

Slowly, Jelly arrived at a conviction that Molly Green, in regard to
knowing nothing about the paper, must be telling the truth. It did not
tend to lessen her anger.

"Then why on earth have you been keeping up this farce with me? I'll
teach you manners with your betters, girl."

"Well, why did you set upon me?" was the good-humoured answer.
"There's no such great treason in dropping a plum-pudding-receipt,
even if I had done it--which I didn't. I don't like to be brow-beat
for nothing: and it's not your place to do it, Jelly."

Jelly said no more. Little did she suspect that Mr. Richard North,
leaning against the door-post of the half-open drawing-room door,
whilst he watched the movements of the men, had heard every syllable
of the colloquy. Coming round to see what progress was being made in
the house, before he went to the works for the day, it chanced that he
arrived at the same time as Turtle's cart. The new piano was a present
from himself to Bessy.

Turtle's men leaving the piano in the hall, went into the room to
finish the carpet, and Jelly came out of it. She found her arm touched
by Mr. Richard North. He motioned her into the dining-room: followed,
and closed the door.

"Will you tell me the meaning of what you have just been saying to
Molly Green?"

The sudden question--as Jelly acknowledged to herself afterwards--made
her creep all over. For once in her life she was dumb.

"I heard all you said, Jelly, happening to be standing accidentally at
the door. What was it that was dropped on Mrs. Gass's carpet the night
of my brother's illness?"

"It--was--a receipt for making plum-pudding, sir," stammered Jelly,
turning a little white.

"I think not, Jelly," replied Richard North, gazing into her eyes with
quiet firmness. "You spoke of a copy of an anonymous letter; and I am
sure, by your tone, you were then speaking the truth. As I have
overheard so much, you must give me a further explanation."

"I'd have spent a pound out of my pocket, rather than this should have
happened," cried Jelly, with much ardour.

"You need not fear to tell _me_. I am no tattler, as you know."

Had there been only the ghost of a chance to stand out against the
command, Jelly would have caught at it. But there was none. She
disclosed what she knew: more than she need have done. Warming with
her subject, when the narrative had fairly set in--as it was in
Jelly's gossiping nature to warm--she also told of the interview she
had been a partial witness to between Mrs. Cumberland and the doctor,
and the words she had overheard.

Richard North looked grave--startled. He said very little: only
cautioned Jelly never to speak of the subject again to other people.

"I suppose you will be asking Mrs. Gass about it, sir," cried Jelly,
as he was turning to leave.

"I shall. And should be thankful to hear from her that it really was
nothing more than a receipt for plum-pudding, Jelly."

Jelly's head gave an incredulous toss. "I hope you'll not let her
think that I up and told you spontaneous, Mr. Richard. After saying to
her that I should never open my lips about it to living mortal, she'd
think I can't keep my word, sir."

"Be at ease, Jelly; she shall not suppose I learnt it by any thing but
accident."

"And I am glad he knows it, after all!" decided Jelly to herself, as
she watched him away up the Ham. "Perhaps he'll now be able to get at
the rights and the wrongs of the matter."

Richard North walked along, full of trouble. It could not be but
that he should have taken up a suspicion that Oliver Rane--now his
brother-in-law--might have been the author of the anonymous letter.
How, else, could its copy have dropped from his pocketbook--if,
indeed, it had so dropped? Jelly had not thrown so much as a shadow of
hint upon the doctor; either she failed to see the obvious inference,
or controlled herself to caution: but Richard North could put
two-and-two together. He went straight to Mrs. Gass's, and found that
lady at breakfast in her dining-room, with window thrown up to the
warm summer air.

"What is it you, Mr. Richard?" she cried, rising to shake hands. "I'm
a'most ashamed to be found breakfasting at this hour; but the truth
is, I overslept myself: and that idiot of a girl never came to tell me
the time. The first part of the night I had no sleep at all: 'twas
three o'clock before I closed my eyes."

"Were you not well?" asked Richard.

"I'd a touch of my pain; nothing more. Which is indigestion, Dr. Rane
says: and he's about right. Is it a compliment to ask you to take some
breakfast, Mr. Richard? The eggs are fresh, and here's some downright
good tea."

Richard answered that it would be only a compliment; he had
breakfasted with his father and Arthur Bohun before leaving home. His
eyes ran dreamily over the white damask cloth, as if he were admiring
what stood on it; the pretty china, the well-kept silver, the vase of
fresh roses. Mrs. Gass liked to have things nice about her, although
people called her vulgar. In reality Richard saw nothing. His mind was
absorbed with what he had to ask, and with how he should ask it.

In a pause, made by Mrs. Gass's draining her cup of tea, Richard North
bent forward and opened the communication, speaking in low and
confidential tones.

"I have come to you thus early for a little information, Mrs. Gass.
Will you kindly tell me what were the contents of the paper that was
found here on your carpet, the night of Edmund's seizure?"

From the look that Mrs. Gass's countenance assumed at the question, it
might have been thought that she was about to have a seizure herself.
Her eyes grew round, her cheek and nose red. For a full minute she
made no answer.

"What cause can you have to ask me that, Mr. Richard? _You_ can't know
nothing about it."

"Yes, I can; and do. I know that such a paper was found; I fear it was
a copy of the anonymous letter. But I have come to you for
particulars."

"My patience!" ejaculated Mrs. Gass. "To think you should have got
hold of it at last. Who in the world told you, sir?"

"Jelly. But----"

"Drat that girl!" warmly interposed Mrs. Gass. "Her tongue is as long
as from here to yonder."

"But not intentionally, I was about to add. I overheard her say a
chance word, and I insisted upon her disclosing to me what she knew.
There is no blame due to Jelly, Mrs. Gass."

"I say Yes there is, Mr. Richard. What right has she to blab out
chance words about other folk's business? Let her stick to her own.
That tongue of hers is worse than a steam-engine; once set going, it
won't be stopped."

"Well, we will leave Jelly. It may be for the better that I should
know this. Tell me all about it, my dear old friend."

Thus adjured, Mrs. Gass spoke; telling the tale from the beginning.
Richard listened in silence.

"He denied that it came out of his pocketbook?" was the first remark
he made.

"Denied it out and out. And then my thoughts turned naturally to Molly
Green; for no other stranger had been in the room but them two. He
said perhaps she had brought it in her petticoats from the Hall;
but I don't think it could have been. I'm afraid--I'm _afraid_, Mr.
Richard--that it must have dropped from his pocketbook."

Their eyes met: each hesitating to speak out the conviction lying at
heart, notwithstanding there had been confidential secrets between
them before to-day. Richard was thinking that he ought not to have
married Bessy--at least, until it was cleared up.

"Why did you not tell me, Mrs. Gass?"

"It was in my mind to do so--I said a word or two--but then, you see,
I _couldn't_ think it was him that wrote it," was her answer. "Mrs.
Cumberland told me she saw the anonymous letter itself; Mr. North
showed it her; and that it was not a bit like any handwriting she ever
met with. Suppose he is innocent--would it have been right for me to
come out with a tale, even to you, Mr. Richard, that he might have
been guilty?"

On this point Richard said no more. All the talking in the world now
could not undo the marriage, and he was never one to reproach
uselessly. Mrs. Gass resumed.

"If I had spoke ever so, I don't suppose it would have altered things,
Mr. Richard. There was no proof; and, failing that, you wouldn't have
liked to say anything at all to Miss Bessy. Any way they are man and
wife now."

"I hope--I _hope_ he did not write it!" said Richard, fervently.

Mrs. Gass gave a sweep with her arm to all the china together, as she
bent her earnest face nearer to Richard's.

"Let's remember this much to our comfort, Mr. Richard: if it _was_
him, he never thought to harm a hair of your brother's head. He must
have wrote it to damage Alexander. Oliver Rane has looked upon
Alexander as his mortal enemy--as a man who did him a right down bad
turn and spoilt his prospects--as a man upon whom it was a'most a duty
to be revenged."

"Do you think this?" cried Richard, rather at sea.

"No; but I say he thinks it. He never meant worse nor better by the
letter than to drive Alexander away from the place where, as Rane
fancies, he only had a footing by treachery. That is, _if_ he wrote it.
Sometimes I think he did, and sometimes I think he didn't."

"What is to be done?"

"Nothing. You can do nothing. You and me must just bury it between us,
sir, for Miss Bessy's sake. It would be a nasty thing for her if a
whisper of this should go abroad, let him be as innocent as the babe
unborn. They are fond of one another, and it would just be a cruelty
to have stopped the marriage with _this_. He is a well-intentioned man,
and I don't see but what they'll be happy together. Let us hope that
he has made his peace with the Lord, and that it won't be visited upon
him."

"Amen!" Was the mental response of Richard North.



CHAPTER XIII.
COMING HOME.


Dashing up to Dallory Hall, just a week and a day after the wedding,
came Mrs. North. Madam had learnt the news. Whilst she was reposing in
all security in Paris, amidst a knot of friends who had chosen to be
there at that season, Matilda North happened to take up a _Times_
newspaper of some two or three days old, and saw the account of the
marriage: "Oliver Rane, M.D., of Dallory Ham to Bessy, daughter of
John North, of Dallory Hall, and of Elizabeth, his first wife." Madam
rose up, her face flaming, and clutched the journal: she verily
believed Miss Matilda was playing a farce upon her. No: the
announcement was there in plain black and white. Making her hasty
arrangements to quit the French capital, she came thundering home: and
arrived the very day that Dr. and Mrs. Rane returned.

A letter had preceded her. A letter of denouncing wrath, that had made
her husband shake in his shoes. Poor Mr. North looked tremblingly out
for the arrival, caught a glimpse of the carriage and of madam's face,
and slipped out by the back-door into the fields. Where he remained
wandering about for hours.

So madam found no one to receive her. Richard was at the works,
Captain Bohun had been out all the afternoon.

Nothing increases wrath like having no object to expend it on; and
madam foiled, might have sat for a picture of fury. The passion that
had been bubbling higher and higher all the way from Paris, found no
escape at boiling point.

One of the servants happened to come in her way; the first housemaid,
who had been head over Molly Green. Madam stopped her; bit her lips
for calmness, and then inquired particulars of the wedding with a
smooth face.

"Was it a runaway match, Lake?"

"Goodness, no, madam!" was Lake's answer, who was apt to be outspoken,
even to her imperious mistress. "Things were being got ready for a
month beforehand; and my master would have gone to church to give Miss
Bessy away himself, but for not being well. All us servants went to
see it."

Little by little, madam heard every detail. Captain Bohun was
best man; Mr. Richard took out Miss Adair, who was bridesmaid, and
looked lovely. The bride and bridegroom drove right away from the
church-door. Captain Bohun went back in the carriage with Miss Adair;
Mr. Richard went off on foot to the works. Miss Bessy--leastways Mrs.
Oliver Rane now--had had some furniture sent to her new home from the
Hall, and Molly Green was there as housemaid. That Lake should glow
with intense gratification at being enabled to tell all this, was only
in accordance with frail humanity: she knew what a dose it was for
madam; and madam was disliked in the household more than poison. But
Lake was hardly prepared for the ashy, tint that spread over madam's
features, when she came to the part that told of the homeward drive of
her son with Ellen Adair.

The girl was in the midst of her descriptions when Arthur Bohun came
in. Madam saw him sauntering lazily up the gravel-drive, and swept
down in her fine Parisian costume of white-and-black brocaded silk,
lappets of lace floating from her hair. They met in the Hall.

"Why! is it you, mother?" cried Arthur in surprise--for he had no idea
the invasion might be expected so soon. "Have you come home?"

He advanced to kiss her. Striving to be as dutiful as she would allow
him to be, he was willing to observe all ordinary relations between
mother and son: but of affection there existed none. Mrs. North drew
back from the offered embrace, and haughtily motioned him to the
drawing-room. Matilda sat there, sullen and listless: she was angry at
being brought away summarily from Paris.

"Why did I assist at Bessy's wedding?" replied Arthur, parrying the
attack with light good humour, as he invariably strove to do on these
occasions. "Because I liked it. It was great fun. Especially to see
Rane hunting in every pocket for the ring, and turning as red as a
salamander."

"What business had you to do such a thing?" retorted madam, her face
dark with the passion she was suppressing. "How dared you do it?"

"Do what, madam?"

Madam stamped a little. "You know without asking, sir; personally
countenance the wedding."

"Was there any reason why I should not do so? Bessy stands to me as a
sister: and I like her. I am glad she is married, and I hope sincerely
they'll have the best of luck."

"I had forbidden the union with Oliver Rane," stamped madam. "Do you
hear?--_forbidden it_. You knew that as well as she did."

"But then, don't you see, mother mine, you had no particular right to
forbid it. If Matilda, there, took it into her head to marry some
knight or other, you would have a voice in the matter, for or against;
but Bessy was responsible to her father only."

"Don't bring my name into your nonsense, Arthur," struck in Matilda,
with a frown.

Madam, looking from one to the other, was biting her lips.

"They had the wedding whilst you were away that it might be got over
quietly," resumed Arthur, in his laughing way, determined not to give
in an inch, even though he had to tell a home truth or two. "For my
part, mother, I have never understood what possible objection you
could have to Rane."

"That is my business," spoke Mrs. North. "I wish he and those
Cumberland people were all at the bottom of the sea. How dared you
disgrace yourself, Arthur Bohun?"

"Disgrace myself?"

"You did. You, a Bohun, to descend to companionship with _them!_ Fie
upon you! And you have been said to inherit your father's pride."

"As I hope I do, in all proper things. I am unable to understand your
distinctions, madam," he added, laughingly. "Rane is as good as Bessy,
for all I see. As good as we are."

Madam caught up a hand-screen, as if she would have liked to throw it
at him. Her hand trembled, with emotion or temper.

"There's some girl living with them. They tell me you went home with
her in the carriage!"

Arthur Bohun suddenly turned his back upon them, as if to see who
might be coming, for distant footsteps were heard advancing. But for
that, madam might have seen a hot flush illumine his face.

"Well? What else, mother? Of course I took her home--Miss Adair."

"In the face and eyes of Dallory!"

"Certainly. And we had faces and eyes out that morning, I can tell
you. It is not every day a Miss North gets married."

"How came _you_ to take her home?"

"Dick asked me to do so. There was no one else to ask, you see. Mrs.
Gass cheered us in going by, as if we had been an election. She had a
shining yellow gown on and white bows in her cap."

His suavity was so great, his determination not to be ruffled so
evident, that Mrs. North felt partly foiled. It was not often she
attacked Arthur; he always met it in this way, and no satisfaction
came of it. She could have struck him as he stood.

"What is the true tale about the ring, Arthur?" asked Matilda, in the
silence come to by Mrs. North. "Lake says Oliver Rane really lost it."

"Really and truly, Matty."

"Were they married without a ring?"

"Some one present produced one," he replied carelessly, in his
invincible dislike to mention Ellen Adair before his mother and
sister: a dislike that had ever clung to him. Did it arise from the
reticence that invariably attends love, this feeling?--or could it
have been some foreshadowing, some dread instinct of what the future
was to bring forth?

"How came Dr. Rane to lose the ring?"

"Carelessness, I suppose. We found it in the carriage, going home. He
must have dropped it accidentally."

"Peace, Matilda! Keep your foolish questions for a fitting time,"
stormed madam. "How dare you turn your back upon me, Arthur? What
money has gone out with the girl?"

Arthur turned to answer. In spite of his careless manner, he was
biting his lips with shame and vexation. It was so often he had to
blush for his mother.

"I'm sure I don't know, if you mean with Bessy; it is not my business
that I should presume to ask. Here comes Dick: I thought it was his
step. You can inquire of him, madam."

Richard North looked into the drawing-room, unconscious of the storm
awaiting him. Matilda sat back in an easy-chair tapping her foot
discontentedly; Arthur Bohun toyed with a rose at the window; madam,
standing upright by the beautiful inlaid table, her train sweeping the
rich carpet, confronted him.

But there was something about Richard North that instinctively subdued
madam; she had never domineered over him as she did over her husband,
and Bessy, and Arthur; and at him she did not rave and rant. Calm
always, sufficiently courteous to her, and yet holding his own in
self-respect, Richard and madam seldom came to an issue. But she
attacked him now: demanding why this iniquity--the wedding--had been
allowed to be enacted.

"Pardon me, Mrs. North, if I meet your question by another," calmly
spoke Richard. "You complain of my sister's marriage as though it were
a wrong against yourself. What is your reason?"

"I said it should not take place."

"Will you tell me why you oppose it?"

"No. It is sufficient that, to my mind, it did not present itself as
suitable. I have resolutely set my face against Dr. Rane and his
statue of a mother, who presumes to call the Master of Dallory Hall
John! And I forbade Bessy to think of him."

"But--pardon me, Mrs. North--Bessy was not bound to obey you. Her
father and I saw no objection to Dr. Rane."

"Was it right, was it honourable, that you should seize upon my
absence to marry her in this indecent manner?--before Edmund was cold
in his grave?"

"Circumstances control cases," said Richard. "As for marrying her
whilst you were away, it was done in the interests of peace. Your
opposition, had you been at home, would not have prevented the
marriage; it was therefore as well to get it over in quietness."

A bold avowal. Richard stood before madam when he made it, upright as
herself. She saw it was useless to contend: and all the abuse in the
world would not undo it now.

"What money has gone out with her?"

It was a question that she had no right to put. Richard answered it,
however.

"At present, not any. To-morrow I shall give Rane a cheque for two
hundred pounds. Time was, madam, when I thought my sister would have
gone from us with twenty thousand."

"We are not speaking of what was, but of what is," said madam, an
unpleasant sneer on her face. "Mr. North--to hear him speak--cannot
spare the two hundred."

"Quite true; Mr. North has it not to spare," said Richard. "It is I
who give it to my sister. Drained though we constantly are for money,
I could not, for very shame, suffer Bessy to go to her husband quite
penniless."

"She has not gone penniless," retorted madam, brazening the thing out.
"I hear the Hall has been dismantled for her."

"Oh, mother!" interposed Arthur in a rush of pain.

"Hold your tongue; it is no affair of _yours_," spoke Mrs. North. "A
cartload of furniture has gone out of the Hall."

"Bessy's own," said Richard. "It was her mother's; and we have always
considered it Bessy's. A few trifling mahogany things, madam, that you
have never condescended to take notice of, and that never, in point of
fact, have belonged to you. They have gone with Bessy, poor girl; and
I trust Rane will make her a happier home than she has had here."

"I trust they will both be miserable," flashed madam.

Equable in temper though Richard North was, there are limits to
endurance; he found his anger rising, and quitted the room abruptly.
Arthur Bohun went limping after him: in any season of emotion, he was
undeniably lame.

"I would beg your pardon for her, Dick, in all entreaty," he
whispered, putting his arm within Richard's, "but that my tongue is
held by shame and humiliation. It was an awful misfortune for you all
when your father married her."

"We can only make the best of it, Arthur," was the kindly answer. "It
was neither your fault nor mine."

"Where is the good old pater?"

"Hiding somewhere. Not a doubt of it."

"Let us go and find him, Dick. He may be the better for having us with
him to-day. If she was not my mother--and upon my word and honour,
Richard, I sometimes think she is not--I'd strap on my armour and do
brave battle for him."


The bride and bridegroom were settling down in their house. Bessy,
arranging her furniture in her new home, was busy and happy as the
summer day was long. Some of the mahogany things were terribly
old-fashioned, but the fact never occurred to Bessy. The carpet was
bright; the piano, Richard's present, and a great surprise, was
beautiful. It was so kind of him to give her one--she who was only a
poor player at best, and had thought of asking madam to be allowed to
have the unused old thing in the old schoolroom at Dallory Hall. She
clung to Richard with tears in her eyes as she kissed and thanked him.
He kissed her again, and gave his good wishes for her happiness, but
Bessy thought him somewhat out of spirits. Richard North handed over
two hundred pounds to them: a most acceptable offering to Dr. Rane.

"Thank you, Richard," he heartily said, grasping his brother-in-law's
hand. "I shall be getting on so well shortly as to need no help for my
wife's sake or for mine." And Richard knew that he was anticipating
the period when the other doctor should have left, and the whole
practice be in his own hands.

It was on the third or fourth morning after their return, that Dr.
Rane, coming home from seeing his patients, met his fellow-surgeon,
arm-in-arm with a stranger. Mr. Alexander stopped to introduce him.

"Mr. Seeley, Rane," he said. "My friend and successor."

Had a shot been fired at Dr. Rane, he could scarcely have felt more
astounded. In the moment's confused blow, he almost stammered.

"Your successor? Here?"

"My successor in the practice. I have sold him the goodwill, and he
has come down to be introduced."

Dr. Rane bowed. The new doctor put out his hand. That same day Dr.
Rane went over to Mr. Alexander's and reproached him.

"You might at least have given me the refusal had you wanted to sell
it."

"My good fellow, I promised it to Seeley ages ago," was the answer.
"He knew I had a prospect of the London appointment: in fact, helped
me to get it."

What was to be said? Nothing. But Oliver Rane felt as though a bitter
blow had again fallen upon him, blighting the fair vista of the
future.

"Don't be down-hearted, Oliver," whispered Bessy, hopefully, as she
clung around him when he went in and spoke of the disappointment. "We
shall be just as happy with a small practice as a large one. It will
all come right--with God's blessing on us."

But Oliver Rane, looking back on a certain deed of the past, felt by
no means sure in his heart of hearts that the blessing would be upon
them.



PART THE SECOND.



CHAPTER I.
OF WHAT WAS, AND OF WHAT MIGHT BE.


Bessy Rane sat at the large window of her dining-room in the coming
twilight. Some twelve months had elapsed since her marriage, and
summer was round again. Her work had dropped on her lap: it was that
of stitching some wristbands for her husband: and she sat inhaling the
sweet scent of the flowers, and watching Jelly's movements in Mrs.
Cumberland's dining-room, facing her. Jelly had a candle in her hand,
apparently searching for something. Bessy leaned forward to pluck a
sprig of sweet verbena, and sat on tranquilly.

At the table behind her sat Dr. Rane, writing as fast as the waning
light would permit him. Some unusual and peculiar symptoms had
manifested themselves in a patient he had been recently attending, and
he was making them and the case into a paper for a medical
publication, in the hope that it would bring him back a remunerative
guinea or two.

"Oliver, I am sure you can't see," said Bessy presently, looking
round.

"It is almost blindman's holiday, dear. Will you ring for the lamp?"

Mrs. Rane rose. But, instead of ringing for the lamp, she went up to
him, and put her hand on his shoulder persuasively.

"Take a quarter-of-an-hour's rest, Oliver. You will find all the
benefit of it; and it is not quite time to light the lamp. Let us take
a stroll in the garden."

"You are obstructing what little light is left, Bessy; standing
between me and the window."

"Of course I am. I'm doing it on purpose. Come, Oliver! You ought to
know a great deal better than I do that it is bad to try the eyes,
sir. _Please_, Oliver."

Yielding to her entreaties, he pushed the paper from him with a sigh
of weariness, and they stepped from the window into the garden. Bessy
passed her hand within his arm; and, turning towards the more secluded
paths, they began to converse with one another in low tones.

Many a twilight half-hour had they thus paced together of late,
talking together of what was and of what might be. The first year of
their marriage had not been one of success in a pecuniary point of
view; for Dr. Rane's practice did not improve. He earned barely
sufficient for their moderate wants. Bessy, as cash-keeper, had a
difficulty in making both ends meet. But the fact was not known; never
a syllable of it transpired from either of them. Dr. Rane was seen out
and about a great deal, going to and fro amongst his patients; and the
world did not suspect that his returns were so small.

The new surgeon, Seeley, had stepped into all Mr. Alexander's
practice, and was flourishing. Dr. Rane's, as before, was chiefly
confined to the lower classes, especially those belonging to the North
Works; and from certain circumstances, these men were not so supplied
with funds as they had been, and consequently were not so well able to
pay him. That Dr. Rane was bitterly mortified at not getting on
better, for his wife's sake as well as his own, could not be mistaken.
Bessy preached of hope cheerfully; of a bright future yet in store;
but he had lost faith in it.

It seemed to Dr. Rane that everything was a failure. The medical book
he had been engaged upon with persevering industry at the time of his
marriage, from which he had anticipated great things both in fame and
fortune, had not met with success. He had succeeded in getting it
published; but as yet there were no returns. He had sacrificed a sum
of money towards its publication; not a very large sum, it is true,
but larger than they could afford, and no one but themselves knew how
it had crippled them. Bessy said it would come back some day with
interest; for the present they had only to keep up a good heart and
live frugally.

Poor Bessy herself had one grief that she never spoke of even to
him--the want of offspring. There had been no prospect of it whatever;
and she so loved children! As week after week, month after month went
by, her disappointment was very keen. She was beginning to grow a
little reconciled to it now; and became only the more devoted to her
husband.

Mrs. Rane was an excellent manager in the household, spending the
smallest fraction that she could, consistently with comfort. It had
not yet come to the want of _that_. At the turn of the previous winter
old Phillis became ill and had to leave; and Bessy had since kept only
Molly Green. By a fortunate chance Molly understood cooking; she had
become a really excellent servant. At the small expense they lived at
now, Dr. Rane might perhaps have managed to continue to meet it whilst
he waited patiently for better luck; but he did not intend to do
anything of the sort. His only anxiety was to remove to another place,
as far away from Dallory Ham as possible.

Whether this thirst for migration would have arisen had his practice
become successful, cannot be told. We can only record things as they
were. With the disappointment--and other matters--lying upon him, the
getting away from Dallory had grown into a wild, burning desire, that
never left him by night or day. That one fatal mistake of his life
seemed to hang over him like a curse. It is true that when he penned
the letter so disastrous in its result, he had no more intention in
his heart of slaying or killing than had the paper he wrote on; he had
only thought of putting Alexander into disfavour at Dallory Hall; but
it had turned out otherwise, and Dr. Rane felt that he had a life to
answer for. He might have borne this; and at any rate his running away
from Dallory would neither lessen the heart's burden nor add to it;
but what he could not bear was the prospect of detection. Not a day
passed but he saw some one or other whose face tacitly reminded him
that such discovery might take place. He felt sure that Mrs. Gass
still suspected him of having written the letter; he knew that his
mother doubted it; he gathered a half suspicion of Jelly; he had more
than half one of Richard North; and how many others there might be he
knew not. Ever since the time when he had returned from his marriage
trip, he thought there had been an involuntary constraint in Richard's
manner to him; it could not be fancy. As to Jelly, the way he
sometimes caught her green eyes observing him, was enough to give the
shivers to a nervous man, which Dr. Rane was not. How he could have
committed the fatal mistake of putting that copy of the miserable
letter into his pocketbook, he never knew. He had tried his writing
and his sentences on two or three pieces of paper, but he surely
thought he had torn all up and burnt the pieces. Over and over again,
looking back upon his carelessness, he said to himself that it was
Fate. Not carelessness, in one sense of the word. Carelessness if you
will, but a carelessness that he could not go from in the arbitrary
dominions of Fate. Fate had been controlling him with her iron hand,
to bring his crime home to him; and he could not escape it. Whatever
it might have been, however--Fate, or want of caution--it had led to
his being a suspected man by some few around him; and continue to live
amongst them he would not. Dr. Rane was a proud man, liking in an
especial degree to stand well in the estimation of his fellows; to
have such a degradation as this brought publicly home to him would
well-nigh kill him with shame. Rather than face it he would have run
away to the remotest quarter of the habitable globe.

And he had quite imbued Bessy with the wish for change. She only
thought as he thought. Never suspecting the true reason of his wish to
get away and establish himself elsewhere, she only saw how real it
was. Of this they talked, night after night, pacing the garden paths.
"There seems to have been a spell of ill-luck attending me ever since
I settled in this place," he would say to her; "and I know it won't be
lifted whilst I stop here." He was saying it this very night.

"I hate the place, Bessy," he observed, looking up at the bright
evening star that began to show itself in the clear blue sky. "But for
my mother and you I should never have stayed in it. I wish I had the
money to buy a practice elsewhere. As it is, I must establish one."

"Yes," acquiesced Bessy. "But where? The great thing is--what other
place to decide upon."

Of course that was the chief thing. Dr. Rane looked down and kept
silence, pondering various matters in his mind. He thought it had
better be London. A friend of his, one Dr. Jones, who had been a
fellow-student in their hospital days, was doing a large practice as a
medical man in the neighbourhood of New York: he wanted assistance,
and had proposed to Dr. Rane to go over and join him. Nothing in the
world would Dr. Rane have liked better; and Bessy was willing to go
where he went, even to quit her native land for good; but Dr. Jones
did not offer this without an equivalent, and the terms he named, five
hundred pounds, were quite beyond the reach of Oliver Rane. So he
supposed it must be London. With the two hundred pounds that he hoped
to get for the goodwill of his own practice in Dallory Ham--at this
very moment he was trying to negociate with a gentleman for it in
private---he should set up in London, or else purchase a small share
in an established practice. Anything, anywhere, to get away, and to
leave the nightmare of daily-dreaded discovery behind him!

"Once we are away from this place, Bessy, we shall get on. I feel sure
of it. You won't long have to live like a hermit, from dread of the
cost of entertaining company, or to look at every sixpence before you
lay it out."

"I don't mind it, Oliver. You know how sorry I should be if you
thought of giving up our home here for my sake."

"But I don't; it's for my own as well," he hastily added. "You can't
realize what it is, Bessy, for a clever medical man--and I am that--to
be beaten back for ever into obscurity; to find no field for his
talents; to watch others of this generation rising into note and
usefulness. I have not got on here! Madam has schemed to prevent it.
Why she should have patronized Alexander; why she should patronize
Seeley; not for their sakes, but to oppose me; I have never been able
to imagine. Unless it was that my mother, when Fanny Gass, and Mr.
North were intimate as brother and sister in early life."

"And madam despises the Gass family and ours equally. It was a
black-letter day for us all when papa married her."

"That is no reason why she should have set her face against _me_. It
has been a fatal blight on me: worse than you and the world think for,
Bessy."

"I am sure you must have felt it so," murmured Bessy. "And she would
have stopped our marriage if she could."

"Whoever succeeds me here will speedily make a good practice of it.
You'll see. She has kept me from doing it. There's one blessed
thing--her evil influence cannot follow us elsewhere."

"I should like to become rich and have a large house, and get poor
papa to live with us," said Bessy hopefully. "Madam is worrying him
into his grave with her cruel temper. Oh, Oliver, I should like him to
come to us!"

"I'm sure I wouldn't object," replied Dr. Rane good-naturedly. "How
they will keep up the expenses at Dallory Hall if this strike is
prolonged, I cannot think. Serve madam right!"

"Do you hear much of the trouble, Oliver?"

"Much of it! Why, I hear nothing else. The men are fools. They'll cut
their own throats as sure as a gun. Your brother Richard sees it
coming."

"Sees what?" asked Bessy, not exactly understanding.

"Ruin," emphatically replied Dr. Rane. "The men will play at bo-peep
with reason until the trade has left them. Fools! Fools!"

"It's not the poor men, Oliver. I have lived amongst them--some of
them at any rate--since I was a child, and I don't like to hear them
blamed. It is that they are misled. Misled by the Trades' Unions."

"Nonsense!" replied Dr. Rane. "A man who has his living to earn ought
not to allow himself to be misled. There's his work to hand; let him
do it. A body of would-be autocrats might come down on me and say,
'Oliver Rane, we want you to join our society: which forbids doctors
to visit patients except under its own rules and regulations.' Suppose
I listened to them?--and stayed at home, and let Seeley, or any one
else, snap up my practice, and awoke presently to find my means of
living irrevocably gone?--nothing left for me but the workhouse?
Should I deserve pity? Certainly not."

Bessy laughed a little. They were going in, and she--still keeping her
hand within his arm--coaxed him yet for another moment's recreation
into the drawing-room. Sitting down to the piano in the fading
light--the piano that Richard had given her--she began a song that her
husband was fond of, "O Bay of Dublin." That sweet song set to the air
of "Groves of Blarney," by the late Lady Dufferin. Bessy's voice was
weak and of no compass, but it was true and rather sweet; and she had
that, by no means common, gift of rendering every word as distinctly
heard as though it were spoken: so that her singing was pleasant to
listen to. Her husband liked it. He leaned against the window-frame,
now as she sang, in a deep reverie, gazing out on Dallory Ham, and at
the man lighting the roadside lamps. Dr. Rane never heard this song
but he wished he was the emigrant singing it, with some wide ocean
flowing between him and home.

"What's this, I wonder?"

Some woman, whom he did not recognize, had turned in at his gate and
was ringing the door-bell. Dr. Rane found he was called out to a
patient: one of the profitless people as usual.

"Piersons want me, Bessy," he looked into the room to say. "The man's
worse. I shall not be long."

And Bessy rose when she heard the street-door closed.

Taking a duster from the drawer, she carefully passed it over the keys
before closing her piano for the night. Very much did Bessy cherish
her drawing-room and its furniture. They did not use it very much: not
from fear of spoiling it, but because the other room with its large
bay window seemed the more cheerful; and people feel more at ease
in the room they usually sit in. Bessy took as much pride in
her house as though it had been one of the grandest in all Dallory:
happy as a queen in it, felt she. Stepping lightly over the
drawing-room carpet--fresh as the day when it came out of Turtle's
warehouse--touching, with a gentle finger, some pretty thing or other
on the tables as she passed, she opened the door and called to the
servant.

"Molly, it is time these shutters were shut."

Molly Green, in an apology of a cap tilted on her hair, and a white
muslin apron, came out of the kitchen. Molly liked to be as smart as
the best of them, although she had all the work to do. Which all was
not very much when aided by her mistress's good management.

"You had better light the hall-lamp," added Mrs. Rane, as she went
upstairs.

It was tolerably light still. Bessy often did what she was about to
do--namely, draw down the window-blinds; it saved Molly trouble. The
wide landing was less bare than it used to be; at the time of Dr.
Rane's marriage he had covered it with some green drugget, and put a
chair and a book-shelf there. It still looked too large, still
presented a contrast to the luxuriously furnished landing of Mrs.
Cumberland's opposite, especially when the two wide windows happened
to be open; but Bessy thought her own quite good enough. Of the two
back-rooms, one had been furnished as a spare bedchamber; the other
had not much in it besides Bessy's boxes that had come from the Hall.
Richard had spoken kindly to her about this last chamber. "Should any
contingency arise; sickness, or other; that you should require its
use, Bessy," he said, "and Rane does not find it quite convenient to
spare money for furniture, let me know, and I'll do it for you." She
had thanked him gratefully: but the contingency had not come yet.

Into this back-room first went Bessy, passed by her boxes, closed the
window, and drew the white blind down. From thence into the next
chamber--a pretty room with chintz curtains to the window and the
Arabian bed. Dr. Rane was very particular about having plenty of air
in his house, and would have every window open all day long. Next,
Bessy crossed the landing again to her own chamber. She had to pass
through the drab room (as may be remembered) to get to it. The drab
room was in just the same state that it used to be; Dr. Rane's glass
jars and other articles used in chemistry lying on one side its bare
floor. Formerly they were strewed about anywhere: under Bessy's neat
rule they were gathered into a small space. Sometimes Bessy thought
she should like to make this her own sitting and work-room: its window
looked towards the fields beyond Dallory Ham. Often, when she first
came to the house, she would softly say to her heart, "What a nice
day-nursery it would make!" She had left off saying it now.

Taking some work from a drawer in her own room, which was what she
went up for--for she knew that Oliver would tell her to leave off if
she attempted to stitch the wristbands by candle-light--she stood for
a minute at the window and saw some gentleman, whom she did not
recognize, turn out of Mr. Seeley's, and go towards Dallory.

"A fresh patient," she thought to herself, with a sigh very like envy.
"He gets them all. I wish a few would come to Oliver."

As she watched the stranger up the road, something in his height and
make put her in mind of her dead brother, Edmund. All her thoughts
went back to the unhappy time of his death, and to the letter that had
led to it.

"It's very good of Oliver to comfort me, saying he could not in any
case have lived long--and I suppose it was so," murmured Bessy; "but
that does not make it any the less shocking. He was killed. Cut off
without warning by that wicked, anonymous letter. And I don't believe
the writer will be ever traced now: even Richard seems to have cooled
in the pursuit, since he discovered it was not the man he had
suspected."

Close upon the return of Dr. and Mrs. Rane after their marriage, the
tall, thin stranger who had been seen with Timothy Wilks the night
before the anonymous letter was sent, and whom Richard North and
others fully believed to have been the writer, was discovered.
It proved to be a poor artist, travelling the country to take
sketches--who was sometimes rather too fond of being a boon companion
with whatever company he might happen to fall into. Hovering here some
days, hovering there, in pursuit of his calling, he at length made his
headquarters at Whitborough. Hearing he was suspected, he came forward
voluntarily, and convinced Richard North that he at least had had
nothing to do with the letter. Richard's answer was that he quite
believed him. And perhaps it was Richard North's manner at this time,
coupled with a remark he made to the effect that "it might be better
to allow all speculation on the point to rest," that first gave Dr.
Rane the idea of Richard's suspicion of himself. Things had been left
at rest since then: and oven Bessy, as we see, thought her brother was
growing cold.

Turning from the window with a sigh, given to the memory of her dead
brother, she passed through the ante-room to the landing on her way
downstairs. Mrs. Cumberland's landing opposite gave forth a brilliant
light as usual--for that lady liked to burn many lamps in her hall and
staircases--and Ann, the housemaid, was drawing down the window blind.
Mrs. Rane's window had never had a blind.

Molly Green was taking the supper-tray into the dining-room when she
went down. Bessy hovered about it, seeing that things were as her
husband liked them. She put his slippers ready, she drew his arm-chair
forward; ever solicitous for his comfort. To wait on him and make
things pleasant for him was the great happiness of her life. After
that she sat down and worked by lamplight, awaiting his return.

Whilst Dr. Rane, walking forth to see his patient and walking home
again, was buried in an unpleasant reverie, like a man in a dream.
That one dreadful mistake lay always with heavier weight upon him at
the solitary evening hour. Now and again he would almost fancy he
should see Edmund North looking out at him from the roadside hedges or
behind trees. At any sacrifice he must get away from the place, and
then perhaps a chance of peace might come to him: at least from this
ever-haunting dread of discovery. He would willingly give the half of
his remaining life to undo that past dark night's work.



CHAPTER II.
MRS. GASS AMID THE WORKMEN.


There was trouble amongst the Dallory workpeople. It had been looming
in the distance for some time before it came. No works throughout the
kingdom had been more successfully carried on than the North Works.
The men were well paid; peace and satisfaction had always reigned
between them and their employers. But when certain delegates, or
emissaries, or whatever they may please to call themselves, arrived
stealthily at Dallory from the Trades' Unions, and took up stealthy
abode in the place, and whispered stealthy whispers into the ears of
the men, peace was at an end.

It matters not to trace the working of these insidious whispers, or
how the poison spread. Others have done it far more effectively and to
the purpose than I could do it. Sufficient to say that the Dallory
workpeople caught the infection prevailing amongst other bodies of
men--which the public, to its cost, has of late years known too much
of--and they joined the ranks of the disaffected. First there had been
doubt, and misgiving, and wavering; then agitation; then
dissatisfaction; then parleying with their master, Richard North; then
_demands_ to be paid more and do less work. In vain Richard, with his
strong sense, argued and reasoned: showing them, in all kindness, how
mistaken was the course they were entering on, and what must come of
it. They listened with respect, for he was liked and esteemed; but
they would not give in. It had been privately told Richard that much
argument and holding-out had been carried on with the Trades' Union
emissaries, some of whom were ever hovering over Dallory like birds of
prey: the workmen wanting to insist on the sense of Richard North's
views of things, the others speciously disproving it. But it came to
nothing. The workmen yielded to their despotic rulers as submissively
as others have done, and Richard's words were set at nought. They were
like so many tame sheep blindly following their leader. The agitation,
beginning about the time of Bessy North's marriage, continued for many
months; it then came to an issue; and for several weeks now, the works
had been shut up.

For the men had struck. North and Gass had large contracts on hand,
and they could not be completed. Unless matters took a speedy turn,
masters and men would alike be ruined. The ruin of the first involved
that of the last.

Mrs. Gass took things more equably than Richard North. In one sense
she had less need to take them otherwise. Her prosperity did not
depend on the works. A large sum of hers was certainly invested in
them; but a larger was in other and safe securities. If the works and
their capital went to ruin, the only difference it would make to Mrs.
Gass was, that she would have so much the less money to leave behind
her when she died. In this sense therefore Mrs. Gass could take things
calmly: but in regard to the men's conduct she was far more outspoken
and severe than Richard.

Dallory presented a curious scene. In former days, during work time
not an idle man was to be found: the village had looked almost
deserted, excepting for the children playing about. Now the narrow
thoroughfares were blocked with groups of men; talking seriously, or
chaffing with each other, as might be; most of them smoking, and
all looking utterly sick of the passing hours. Work does not tire a
man--or woman either--half as much as idleness.

At first the holiday was an agreeable novelty; the six days were each
a Sunday, as well as the seventh; and the men and women lived in
clover. Not one family in twenty had been sufficiently provident to
put by money for a rainy day, good though their wages had been; but
the Trades' Unions took care of their new protégés, and supplied them
with funds. But as the weeks went on, and Richard North gave no sign
of relenting--that is, of taking the men on again at their own
terms--the funds did not come in so liberally. Husbands, not
accustomed to being stinted; wives, not knowing how to make sixpence
suffice for a shilling, might be excused if they felt a little put
out; and they began to take things to the pawnbroker's. Mr. Ducket,
the respectable functionary who presided over the interests of the
three gilt balls at Dallory, rubbed his hands complacently as he took
the articles in. Being gifted with a long sharp nose, he scented the
good time coming.

One day, in passing the shop, Mrs. Gass saw three women in it. She
walked in herself; and, without ceremony, demanded what they were
pledging. The women slunk away, hiding their property under their
aprons, and leaving their errand to be completed another time. That
Mrs. Gass or their master, Richard North, should see them at this
work, brought humiliation to their minds and shame to their cheeks.
Richard North and Mrs. Gass had both told them (to their utter
disbelief) that it would come to this: and to be detected in the
actual fact of pledging, seemed very like defeat.

"So you've began, have you, Ducket?" commenced Mrs. Gass.

"Began what, ma'am?" asked Ducket; a little, middle-aged man with
watery eyes and weak hair; always deferent in manner to the wealthy
Mrs. Gass.

"Began what! Why, the pledging. I told 'em all they'd come to the
pawnshop."

"It's them that have begun it, ma'am; not me."

"Where do you suppose it will end, Ducket?"

Ducket shook his head meekly, intimating that he couldn't suppose
anything about it. He was naturally meek in disposition, and the
brow-beating he habitually underwent in the course of business from
his customers of the fairer sex had subdued his spirit.

"It'll just end in their pawning every earthly thing inside their
homes, leaving them to the four naked walls," said Mrs. Gass. "And the
next move 'll be into the work'us."

In the presence of Mrs. Gass, Ducket did not choose to show any sense
of latent profit this wholesale pledging might bring to him. On the
contrary, he affected to see nothing but gloom in the matter.

"A nice prospect for us rate-payers, ma'am, that 'ould be! Taxes be
heavy enough, as it is, in Dallory parish, without having all these
workmen and their families throw'd on us."

"If the taxes was of my mind, Ducket, they'd let the men starve,
rather than help 'em. When able-bodied artisans have plenty of work to
do, and won't do it, it's time they was taught a lesson. As sure as
you and I are standing here, them misguided men will come to want a
crust."

"Well, I'd not wish 'em as bad as that," said Ducket, who, apart from
the hardness induced by his trade, was rather softhearted. "Perhaps
Mr. Richard North 'll give in."

"Mr. Richard North give in!" echoed Mrs. Gass. "Don't upset your
brains with perhapsing that, Ducket. Who ought to give in--looking at
the rights and wrongs of the question--North and Gass, or the men?
Tell me that."

"Well, I think the men are wrong," acknowledged the pawnbroker,
smoothing down his white linen apron. "And foolish too."

Mrs. Gass nodded several times, a significant look on her pleasant
face. She wore a top-knot of white feathers, and they bowed
majestically with the movement.

"Maybe they'll live to see it, too. They will, unless their senses
come back to 'em pretty quickly. Look here, Ducket: what I was about
to say is this--don't be too free to take their traps in."

Ducket's face assumed a mournful cast, but Mrs. Gass was looking at
him, evidently waiting for an answer.

"I don't see my way clear to refusing things when they are brought to
me, Mrs. Gass, ma'am. The women 'ould only go off to Whitborough and
pledge 'em there."

"Then they should go--for me."

"Yes, ma'am," rejoined the man, not knowing what else to say.

"I'm not particular squeamish, Ducket; trade's trade; and a pawnbroker
must live as well as other people. I don't say but what the money he
lends does sometimes a world of good to them that has no other help to
turn to--and, maybe, through no fault of their own, poor things. But
when it comes to dismantling homes by the score, and leaving families
as destitute as ever they were when they came into this blessed world,
that's different. And I wouldn't like to have it on my conscience,
Ducket, though I was ten pawnbrokers."

Mrs. Gass quitted the shop with the last words, leaving Ducket to
digest them. In passing North Inlet, she saw a group of the
disaffected collected together, and turned out of her way to speak to
them. Mrs. Gass was quite at home, so to say, with every one of the
men at the works; more so than a lady of better birth and breeding
could ever have been. She found fault with them, and commented on
their failings as familiarly as though she had been one of themselves.
Of the whole body of workpeople, not more than three or four had
consistently raised their voices against the strike. These few would
willingly have gone to work again, and thought it a terrible hardship
that they could not do so; but of course the refusal of the majority
to return practically closed the gates to all. Richard North could not
keep his business going with only half-a-dozen pairs of hands in it.

"Well," began Mrs. Gass, "what's the time o' day with you men?"

The men parted at the address, and touched their caps. The "time o'
day" meant, as they knew, anything but the literal question.

"How much longer do you intend to lead the lives of gentlefolk?"

"It's what we was a-talking on, ma'am--how much longer Mr. Richard
North 'll keep the gates closed again' us," returned one whose name
was Webb, speaking boldly but respectfully.

"Don't you put the saddle on the wrong horse, Webb; I told you that
the other day. Mr. Richard North didn't close the gates again' you:
you closed 'em again' yourselves by walking out. He'd open them to you
tomorrow, and be glad to do it."

"Yes, ma'am, but on the old terms," debated the man, looking
obstinately at Mrs. Gass.

"What have you to say again' the old terms?" demanded that lady of the
men collectively. "Haven't they kept you and your families in comfort
for years and years? Where was your grumblings then? I heard of none."

"But things is changed," said Webb.

"Not a bit of it," retorted Mrs. Gass. "It's you men that have
changed; not the things. I'll put a question to yon, Webb--to all of
you--and it won't do you any harm to answer it. If these Trade Union
men had never come amongst you with their persuasions and doctrines,
should you, or should you not, have been at your work now in content
and peace? Be honest, Webb, and reply."

"I suppose so," confessed Webb.

"You know so," corrected Mrs. Gass. "It is as Mr. Richard said the
other day to me--the men are led away by a chimera, which means a
false fancy, Webb; a sham. There's the place"--pointing in the
direction of the works--"and there's your work, waiting for you to do
it. Mr. Richard will give you the same wages that he has always given;
you say you won't go to work unless he gives more: which he can't
afford to do. And there it rests; you, and him, and the business, all
at a standstill."

"And likely to be at a standstill, ma'am," returned Webb, but always
respectfully.

"Very well; let's take it at that," said Mrs. Gass, with equanimity.
"Let's take it that it _lasts_, this state of things. What's to come
of it?"

Webb, an intelligent man and superior workman, looked out straight
before him thoughtfully, as if searching a solution to the question.
Mrs. Gass, finding he did not answer, resumed:

"If the Trades' Unions can find you permanently in food and drink, and
clothes and firing, well and good. Let 'em do it: there'd be no more
to say. But if they can't?"

"They undertake to keep us as long as the masters hold out."

"And the money--where's it had from?"

"Subscribed. All the working bodies throughout the United Kingdom
subscribe to support the Trades' Unions, ma'am."

"I heard," said Mrs. Gass, "that you were not getting quite as liberal
a keep from the Trades' Unions as they gave you to begin upon."

"That's true," interrupted one named Foster, who very much resented
the shortening of supplies.

Mrs. Gass gave a toss to her lace parasol. "I heard, too--I've seen,
for the matter of that--that your wives had begun to spout their spare
crockery," said she. "What'll you do when the allowance grows less and
less till it comes to nothing, and _all_ your things is at the
pawnshop?"

One or two of them laughed slightly. Not at her figures of speech--the
homely language was their own--but at the improbability of the picture
she called up. It was a state of affairs impossible to arise, they
answered, whilst they had the Trades' Unions at their backs.

"_Is_n't it," said Mrs. Gass. "Those that live longest 'll see most.
There's strikes agate all over the country. You know that, my men."

Of course the men knew it. But for the general example set by others,
they might never have struck themselves.

"Very good," said Mrs. Gass. "Now look here. You can see out before
you just as well as I can, you men; your senses are as sharp as mine.
When nearly the whole country goes on the strike, where are the
subscriptions to come from for the Trades' Unions? Don't it stand to
common reason that there'll be nobody to pay 'em? Who'll keep you
then?"

It was the very thing wanted--that all the country should go on
strike; for then the masters must give in, was the reply. And then the
men stood their ground and looked at her.

Mrs. Gass shook her head; the feathers waved. She supposed it must be
as Richard North had said--the men in their prejudice really could not
foresee what might be looming in the future.

"It seems no good my talking," she resumed; "I've said it before. If
you don't come to repent, my name's not Mary Gass. I'm far from
wishing it; goodness knows; and I shall be heartily sorry for your
wives and children when the misery comes upon 'em. Not for _you_;
because you are bringing it deliberate on yourselves."

"We don't doubt your good wishes for us and our families, ma'am,"
spoke Webb. "But, if you'll excuse my saying it, you stand in the
shoes of a master, and naturally look on from the masters' point of
view. Your interests lie that way, ours this, and they're dead opposed
to each other."

"Well, now, I'll just say something," cried Mrs. Gass. "As far as my
own interest is concerned, I don't care one jot whether the works go
on again, or whether they stand still for ever. I've as much money
as will last me my time. If every pound locked up in the works is
lost, it'll make no sort of difference to me, or my home, or my
comforts--and you ought to know this yourselves. I shall have as much
to leave behind me, too, as I care to leave. But, if you come to
talking of interests, I tell you whose I do think of, more than I do
of my own--and that's yours and Mr. Richard North's. I am as easy on
the matter, on my own score, as a body can be; but I'm not so on yours
or his."

It was spoken with simple earnestness. In fact Mrs. Gass was incapable
of deceit or sophistry--and the men knew it. But they thought that, in
spite of her honesty, she could only be prejudiced against the
workmen; and consequently her words had no more weight with them than
the idle wind.

"Well, I'm off," said Mrs. Gass. "I hope with all my heart that your
senses will come to you. And I say it for your own sakes."

"They've not left us--that we knows on," grumbled a man in a
suppressed, half-insolent tone, as if he were dissatisfied with things
in general.

"I hear you, Jack Allen. If you men think you know your own business
best, you must follow it," concluded Mrs. Gass. "The old saying runs,
A wilful man must have his way. One thing I'd like you to understand:
that when your wives and children shall be left without a potater to
their mouths or a rag to their backs, you needn't come whining to me
to help 'em. Don't you forget to bear that in mind, my men."

Waiting for her at home, Mrs. Gass found Richard North. That this was
a very anxious time for him, might be detected by the thoughtful look
his face habitually wore. It was all very well for Mrs. Gass, so amply
provided for, to take existing troubles easily; Richard was less
philosophical. And with reason. His own ruin--and the final closing of
the works would be nothing less--might be survived. He had his
profession, his early manhood, his energies to fall back upon; his
capacity and character both stood pre-eminent: he had no fear of
making a living for himself, even though it might be done in the
service of some more fortunate firm, and not in his own. But there was
his father. If the works were permanently closed, the income Mr. North
enjoyed from them could no longer be paid to him. All Mr. North's
resources, whether derived from them or from Richard's generosity,
would vanish like the mists of a summer's morning.

"What's it you, Mr. Richard?" cried Mrs. Gass when she entered, and
saw him standing near the window of her dining-room. "I wouldn't have
stopped out if I'd known you were here. Some of the men have been
hearing a bit of my mind," she added, sitting down behind her plants
and untying her bonnet-strings. "It's come to pawning the women's best
gowns now."

"Has it?" replied Richard North, rather abstractedly, as if buried in
thought. "Of course it must come to that, sooner or later."

"Sooner or later it would come to pawning themselves, if hey could do
it," spoke Mrs. Gass. "If this state of things is to last, they'll
have nothing else left to pawn."

Richard wheeled round and took a chair in front of Mrs. Gass. He had
come to make a proposition to her; one he did not quite approve of
himself; and for that reason his manner was perhaps a little less
ready than usual. Richard North had received from Mrs. Gass, at the
time of her late husband's death, full power to act on his own
responsibility, just as he had held it from Mr. Gass; but in all
weighty matters he had made a point of consulting them: Mr. Gass
whilst he lived, Mrs. Gass since then.

"It is a question that I have been asking myself a little too often
for my own peace--how long this state of things will last, and what
will be the end," said Richard in answer to her last words, his low
tone almost painfully earnest. "The longer it goes on, the worse it
will be; for the men and for ourselves."

"That's precisely what I tell 'em," acquiesced Mrs. Gass, tilting her
bonnet and fanning her face with her handkerchief. "But I might just
as well speak to so many postesses."

"Yes; talking will not avail. I have talked to them; and find it only
waste of words. If they listen to my arguments and feel inclined to be
impressed with them, the influences of the Trades' Union undo it all
again. I think we must try something else."

"And what's that, Mr. Richard?"

"Give way a little."

"Give way!" repeated Mrs. Gass, pushing her chair back some inches in
her surprise. "What! give 'em what they want?"

"Certainly not. That is what we could not do. I said give way a
_little_."

"Mr. Richard, I never would."

"What I thought of proposing is this: To divide the additional wages
they are standing out for. That is, offer them half. If they would not
return to work on those terms, I should have no hope of them."

"And my opinion is, they'd _not_. Mr. Richard, sir, it's them Trade
Union people that upholds 'em in their obstinacy. They'll make 'em
hold out for the whole demands or none. What do the leaders of the
Union care? It don't touch their pockets, or their comforts. So long
as their own nests are feathered, the working man's may get as bare as
boards. Don't you fancy the rulers 'll let our men give way half. It's
only by keeping up agitation that agitators live."

"I should like to put it to the test. I have come here to ask you to
agree to my doing it."

"And what about shortening the time that they want?" questioned Mrs.
Gass.

"I should not give way there. It is impracticable. They must return on
the usual time: but of the additional wages demanded I would offer
half. Will you assent to this?"

"It will be with an uncommon bad grace," was Mrs. Gass's answer.

"I see nothing else to be done," said Richard North. "If only as a
matter of conscience I should like to propose it. When it ends in a
general ruin--which seems only too certain, for we cannot close our
eyes to what is being enacted all over the country in almost all
trades--I shall have the consolation of knowing that it is the men's
own fault, not mine. Perhaps they will accept this offer. I hope so,
though it will leave us little profit. If we can only make both ends
meet, just to keep us going during these unsettled times, we must be
satisfied. I am sure I shall be doing right, Mrs. Gass, to make this
proposal."

"Mr. Richard, sir, you know that I've always trusted to your judgment,
and shall do so to the end: anything you thought well to do, I should
never dissuade you from. You shall make this offer if you please: but
I know you'll be opening out a loophole for the men. Give 'em an inch,
and they'll want an ell."

"If they come back it will be a great thing," argued Richard. "The
sight of the works standing still; the knowledge that all it involves
is standing still also, almost paralyzes me."

"Don't go and take it to heart at the beginning now," affectionately
advised Mrs. Gass. "There's not much damage done yet."

Richard bent forward, painfully earnest. "It is of my father that I
think. What will become of him if all our resources are stopped?"

"I'll take care of him till better times come round," said Mrs. Gass,
heartily. "And of you, too, Mr. Richard; if you won't be too proud to
let me, sir."

Richard laughed; a slight, genial laugh; partly in amusement, partly
in gratitude. "I hope the better times will come at once," he said,
preparing to leave. "At least, sufficiently good times to allow
business to go on as usual. If the men refuse this offer of mine, they
are made of more ungrateful stuff than I should give them credit for."

"They _will_ refuse it," said Mrs. Gass, emphatically. "As is my
belief. Not them, Mr. Richard, but the Trades' Unions for 'em. Once
get under the thumb of that despotic body, and a workman daredn't say
his soul is his own."

And Mrs. Gass's opinion proved to be correct. Richard North called his
men together, and laid the concession before them; pressing them to
accept it in their mutual interests. The men requested a day for
consideration, and then gave their answer: rejection. Unless the whole
of their demands were complied with, they unequivocally refused to
return to work.

"It will be worse for them than for me in the long run," said Richard
North.

And many a thoughtful mind believed that he spoke in a spirit of
prophecy.



CHAPTER III.
MORNING VISITORS.


In the dining-room at Mrs. Cumberland's, with its window open to the
garden and the sweet flowers, stood Ellen Adair. It was the favourite
morning-room. Mrs. Cumberland, down in good time to-day, for it was
scarcely eleven o'clock, had stepped into the garden, and disappeared
amidst its remoter parts.

Ellen Adair, dressed in a cool pink muslin, almost as thin as gauze,
stood in a reverie. A pleasant one, to judge by the soft blush on her
face and the sweet smile that parted her lips. She was twirling the
plain gold ring round and round her finger, thinking no doubt of the
hour when it had been put on, and the words spoken with it. Bessy Rane
had altogether refused to give back the ring she was married with, and
Ellen retained the other.

The intimacy with Arthur Bohun, the silent love-making, had continued.
Even now, she was listening lest haply his footsteps might be heard;
listening with hushed breath and beating heart. Never a day passed but
he contrived to call, on some plea or other, at Mrs. Cumberland's,
morning, afternoon, or evening: and this morning he might be coming,
for aught she knew. At the close of the past summer, Mrs. Cumberland
had gone to the Isle of Wight for change of air, taking Ellen and her
maid Jelly with her. She hired a secluded cottage in the neighbourhood
of Niton. Singular to relate, Captain Bohun remembered that he had
friends at Niton--an old invalid brother-officer, who was living there
in great economy. On and off, during the whole time of Mrs.
Cumberland's stay--and it lasted five months, for she had gone the
beginning of September, and did not return home until the end of
February--was Arthur Bohun paying visits to this old friend. Now for a
day or two; now for a week or two; once for three weeks together. And
still Mrs. Cumberland suspected nothing! It was as if her eyes were
withheld. Perhaps they were: there is a destiny in all things, and it
must be worked out. It is true that she did not see or suspect half
the intimacy. A gentle walk once a-day by the sea was all she took. At
other times Ellen rambled at will; sometimes attended by Jelly, alone
when Jelly could not be spared. Captain Bohun took every care of her,
guarding her more jealously than he would have guarded a sister: and
this did a little surprise Mrs. Cumberland.

"We ought to feel very much obliged to Captain Bohun, Ellen," she said
on one occasion. "It is not many a young man would sacrifice his time
to us. Your father and his, and my husband, the chaplain, were warm
friends for a short time in India: it must be his knowledge of this
that induces him to be so attentive. Very civil of him!"

Ellen coloured vividly. Eminently truthful, she yet did not dare to
say that perhaps that was _not_ Captain Bohun's reason for being
attentive. How could she hint at Captain Bohun's love, clear though it
was to her own heart, when he had never spoken a syllable to her about
it? It was not possible. So things went on in the same routine: he and
she wandering together on the sea-shore: both of them living in a
dream of Elysium. In February, when they returned home, the scene was
changed, but not the companionship. It was an early spring that year,
warm and genial. Many and many an hour were they together in that
seductive garden of Mrs. Cumberland's, with its miniature rocks, its
velvety grass; the birds sang and their own hearts danced for joy.

But Mrs. Cumberland's eyes were not to be always closed.

It was not to be expected that so lovely a girl as Ellen Adair should
remain long without a declared suitor. Especially when there was a
rumour that she would inherit a fortune--though how the latter arose
people would have been puzzled to say. A gentleman of position in the
neighbourhood; no other than Mr. Graves, son of one of the county
members; began to make rather pointed visits at Mrs. Cumberland's.
That his object was Ellen Adair, and that he would most likely ask her
to become his wife, Mrs. Cumberland clearly saw. She wrote to Mr.
Adair in Australia, telling him she thought Ellen was about to receive
an offer of marriage, in every way eligible. The young man was of high
character, good family, and large means, she said: should she, if the
proposal came, accept it for Ellen. By a singular omission, which
perhaps Mrs. Cumberland was not conscious of, she did not mention Mr.
Graves's name. But the proposal came sooner than Mrs. Cumberland had
bargained for: barely was this letter despatched--about which, with
her usual reticence, she said not a word to any one--when Mr. Graves
proposed to Ellen and was refused.

It was this that opened Mrs. Cumberland's eyes to the nature of the
friendship between Ellen and Captain Bohun. She then wrote a second
letter to Mr. Adair, saying Ellen had refused Mr. Graves in
consequence, as she strongly suspected, of an attachment to Arthur
Bohun--son of Major Bohun, whom Mr. Adair once knew so well. That
Arthur Bohun would wish to make Ellen his wife, there could be, Mrs.
Cumberland thought from observation, no doubt whatever: might he be
accepted? In a worldly point of view, Captain Bohun was not so
desirable as Mr. Graves, she added--unless indeed he should succeed to
his uncle's baronetcy, which was not very improbable, the present heir
being sickly--but he would have enough to live upon as a gentleman,
and he was liked by every one. This second letter was also despatched
to Australia by the mail following the one that carried the first.
Having thus done her duty, Mrs. Cumberland sat down to wait for Mr.
Adair's answer, tacitly allowing the intimacy to continue, inasmuch as
she did not stop the visits of Arthur Bohun. Neither he nor Ellen
suspected what she had done.

And with the summer there had come another suitor to Ellen Adair. At
least another was displaying signs that he would like to become one.
It was Mr. Seeley, the doctor who had replaced Mr. Alexander. Soon
after Mrs. Cumberland's return from Niton in February, she had been
for a week or two alarmingly ill, and Mr. Seeley was called in as well
as her son. He had remained on terms of friendship at her house; and
it became evident that he very much admired Miss Adair.

Things were in this state on this summer's morning, and Ellen Adair
stood near the window twirling the plain gold ting on her finger.
Presently she came out of her reverie, unlocked a small letter-case,
and began to write in her diary.

"Tuesday.--Mrs. Cumberland talks of going away again. She seems to me
to grow thinner and weaker. Arthur says the same. He thinks----"

A knock at the front-door, and Mr. Seeley was shown in. He paid a
professional visit to Mrs. Cumberland at least every other morning.
Not as a professional man, he told her; but as a friend, that he might
see how she went on.

Miss Adair shook hands with him, her manner cold. He saw it not; and
his fingers parted lingeringly from hers.

"Mrs. Cumberland is in the garden, if you will go to her," said Ellen,
affecting to be quite occupied with her writing-case. "I think she
wants to see you; she is not at all well. You will find her in the
grotto, or somewhere about."

To this Mr. Seeley answered nothing, except that he was in no hurry,
and would look after Mrs. Cumberland by-and-by. He was a dark man of
about two-and-thirty, with a plain, honest face; straightforward in
disposition and manner, timid only when with Ellen Adair. He took a
step or two nearer Ellen, and began to address her in low tones,
pulling one of his gloves about nervously.

"I have been wishing for an opportunity to speak to you, Miss Adair.
There is a question that I--that I--should like to put to you. One I
have very much at heart."

It was coming. In spite of Ellen Adair's studied coldness, by which
she had meant him to learn that he must not speak, she saw that it was
coming. In the pause he made, as if he would wait for her permission
to go on, she felt miserably uncomfortable. Her nature was essentially
generous and sensitive; to have to refuse Mr. Seeley, or any one else,
made her feel as humiliated as though she had committed a crime. And
she could have esteemed the man apart from this.

They were thus standing: Mr. Seeley looking awkward and nervous, Ellen
turning red and white: when Arthur Bohun walked in. Mr. Seeley,
effectually interrupted for the time, muttered a good-morning to
Captain Bohun and went into the garden.

"What was Seeley saying, Ellen?"

"Nothing," she rather faintly answered.

"_Nothing!_"

Ellen glanced up at him. His face wore the haughty Bohun look; his
mouth betrayed scorn enough for ten proud Bohuns put together. She did
not answer.

"If he was saying 'nothing,' why should you be looking as you
did?--with a blush on your face, and your eyes cast down?"

"He had really said as good as nothing, Arthur. What he might have
been going to say, I--I don't know. He had only that moment come in."

"As you please," coldly returned Arthur, walking into the garden in
his turn. "If you do not think me worthy of your confidence, I have no
more to say."

The Bohun blood was bubbling up fiercely. Not doubting Ellen; not in
resentment against her--at least only so in the moment's anger: but in
indignation that Seeley, a common village practitioner, should dare to
lift his profane eyes to Ellen Adair. Captain Bohun had suspected the
man's hopes for some short time past; there is an instinct in these
things; and he felt outrageous over it. Tom Graves's venture had
filled him with resentment; but he at least was a gentleman and a man
of position.

Ellen, wonderfully disturbed, gently sat down to write again; all she
did was gentle. And the diary had a few sentences added to it.

"That senseless William Seeley! And after showing him as plainly as I
could, that it is useless--that I should consider it an impertinence
in him to attempt to speak to me. I don't know whether it was for the
worst or the best that Arthur should have come in just at that moment.
For the best because it stopped Mr. Seeley's nonsense; for the worst
because Arthur has now seen and is vexed. The vexation will not last,
for he knows better. Here they are."

Once more Ellen closed her diary. "Here they are," applied to the
doctor and Mrs. Cumberland. They were walking slowly towards the
window, conversing calmly on her ailments, and came in. Mrs.
Cumberland sat down with her newspaper. As Mr. Seeley took his
departure to visit other patients, Arthur Bohun returned. Close upon
that, Richard North was shown in. It seemed that Mrs. Cumberland was
to have many visitors that morning.

That Richard North should find his time hang somewhat on hand, was
only natural; he, the hitherto busy man, who had often wished the
day's hours doubled, for the work he had to do in it. Richard could
afford to make morning calls on his friends now, and he had come
strolling to Mrs. Cumberland's.

They sat down: Arthur in the remotest chair he could find from Ellen
Adair. She had taken up a bit of light work, and her fairy fingers
were deftly plying its threads. Richard sat near Ellen, facing Mrs.
Cumberland. He could not help thinking how lovely Ellen Adair was: the
fact had never struck him more forcibly than to-day.

"How is the strike getting on, Richard?"

Mrs. Cumberland laid down her newspaper to ask the question. No other
theme bore so much present interest in Dallory. From the time that
North and Gass first established the works, things had gone on with
uninterrupted smoothness, peace and plenty reigning on all sides. No
wonder this startling change seemed as a revolution.

"It is still going on," replied Richard. "How the men are getting on,
I don't like to think about. The wrong way, of course."

"Your proposition, to meet them half-way, was rejected, I hear."

"It was."

"What do they expect to come to?"

"To fortune, I suppose," returned Richard. "To refuse work and _not_
expect a fortune, must be rather a mistake. A poor look-out at the
best."

"But, according to the newspapers, Richard, one-half the
working-classes in the country are out on strike. Do you believe it?"

"A great number are out. And more are going out daily."

"And what is to become of them all?"

"I cannot tell you. The question, serious though it is, never appears
to occur to the men or their rulers."

"The journals say--living so much alone as I do, I have time to read
many of them, and I make it my chief recreation--that the work is
leaving the country," pursued Mrs. Cumberland.

"And so it is. It cannot be otherwise. Take a case of my own as an
example. A contract was offered me some days ago, and I could not take
it. Literally _could not_, Mrs. Cumberland. My men are out on strike,
and likely to be out; I had no means of performing it, and therefore
could only reject it. That contract, as I happen to know, has been
taken by a firm in Belgium. They have undertaken it at a cheaper rate
than I could possibly have done it at the best of times: for labour is
cheap there. It is quite true. The work that circumstances compelled
me to refuse, has gone over there to be executed, and I and my men are
playing in idleness."

"But what will be the end of it?" asked Mrs. Cumberland.

"The end of it? If you speak of the country, neither you nor I can
foresee the end."

"I spoke of the men. Not your men in particular, but all those that we
include under the name of British workmen: the great bodies of
artisans scattered in the various localities of the kingdom. What is
to become of these men if the work fails?"

"I see only one of three courses for them," said Richard, lifting his
hand in some agitation, for he spoke from the depth of his heart,
believing the subject to be of more awful gravity than any that had
stirred the community for some hundreds of years. "They must
eventually emigrate--provided the means to do so can be found; or they
must become burdens upon public charity; or they must lie down in the
streets and starve. As I live, I can foresee no better fate for them."

"And what of the country, if it comes to this?--if the work and the
workmen leave it?"

Richard North shrugged his shoulders. It was altogether a question too
difficult for him. He would have liked it answered from some one else
very much indeed; just as others would.

"Lively conversation!" interposed Captain Bohun, in a
half-satirical, half-joking manner, as he rose. It was the first time
he had spoken. "I think I must be going," he added, approaching Mrs.
Cumberland.

Richard made it the signal for his own departure. As they stood,
saying adieu, Bessy Rane was seen for a moment at her own window. Mrs.
Cumberland nodded.

"There's Bessy," exclaimed Richard. "I think I'll go and speak to her.
Will you pardon me, Mrs. Cumberland, if I make my exit from your house
this way?"

Mrs. Cumberland stepped outside herself, and Richard crossed the low
wire fence that divided the two gardens. Arthur Bohun went to the
door, without having said a word of farewell to Ellen Adair. He stood
with it in his hand looking at her, smiled, and was returning, when
Mrs. Cumberland came in again.

"Won't you come and say goodbye to me here, Ellen?"

The invitation was given in so low a tone that she gathered it by the
form of the lips rather than by the ear; perhaps by instinct also.
She went out, and they walked side by side in silence to the open
hall-door. Dallory Ham, in its primitive ways and manners, left its
house-doors open with perfect safety by day to the summer air.
Outside, between the house and the gate, was a small bed planted with
flowers. Arrived at the door, Captain Bohun could find nothing better
to talk of than these, as he stood with her on the crimson mat.

"I think those lilies are finer than Mr. North's."

"Mrs. Cumberland takes so much pains with her flowers," was Ellen's
answer. "And she is very fond of lilies."

They stepped out, bending over these self-same lilies. Ellen picked
one. He quietly took it from her.

"Forgive me, Ellen," he murmured. "I am not a bear in general.
Goodbye."

As they stood, her hand in his, her flushed face downcast, Mrs.
North's open carriage rolled past. Madam's head was suddenly propelled
towards them as far as safety permitted: her eyes glared: a stony
horror sat on her countenance.

"Shameful! Disgraceful!" hissed madam. And Miss Matilda North, by her
side, started up to see what the shame might be.

Arthur Bohun had caught the words--not Ellen--and bit his lips in a
complication of feeling.

But all he did was to raise his hat--first to his mother, then to
Ellen--as he went out at the gate. Madam flung herself back in her
seat, and the carriage pursued its course up the Ham.



CHAPTER IV.
THREE LETTERS FOR DR. RANE.


"You are keeping quality hours, Bessy--as our nurse used to say when
we were children," was Richard North's salutation to his sister as he
went in and saw the table laid for breakfast.

Mrs. Rane laughed. She was busy at work, sewing some buttons on a
white waistcoat of her husband's.

"Oliver was called out at seven this morning, and has not come back
yet," she explained.

"And you are waiting breakfast for him! You must be starving."

"I took some coffee when Molly had hers. How is papa, Richard?"

"Anything but well. Very much worried, for one thing."

"Madam and Matilda are back again, I hear?" continued Bessy.

"Three days ago. They have brought Miss Field with them."

"And madam has brought her usual temper, I suppose," added Bessy. "No
wonder papa is suffering."

"That of course; it will never be otherwise. But he is troubling
himself also very much about the works being stopped. I tell him to
leave all such trouble to me, but it is of no use."

"When will the strike end, Richard?"

Richard shook his head. It was an unprofitable theme, and he did not
wish to pursue it with Bessy. She had sufficient cares of her own, as
he suspected, without adding to them. Three letters lay on the table,
close to where Richard was sitting; they were addressed to Dr. Rane.
His fingers began turning them about mechanically, quite in
abstraction.

"I know the handwriting of two of them," remarked Bessy, possibly
fancying he was curious on the point; "not of the third."

"The one is from America," observed Richard, looking at the letters
for the first time.

"Yes; it's from Dr. Jones. He would like Oliver to join him in
America."

"To join him for what?" asked Richard.

Bessy looked at him. She saw no reason why her brother should not be
told. Dr. Rane wished it kept secret from the world; but this, she
thought, could not apply to her good and trustworthy Richard. She
opened her heart and told him all; not what they were going certainly
to do, for ways and means were still doubtful, but what they hoped to
be able to do. Richard, excessively surprised, listened in silence.

They had made up their minds to leave Dallory. Dr. Rane had taken a
dislike to the place; and no wonder, Bessy added in a parenthesis,
when he was not getting on at all. He intended to leave it as soon as
the practice was disposed of.

"I expect this letter will decide it," concluded Bessy, touching one
that bore the London postmark. "It is from a Mr. Lynch, who is wishing
to find a practice in the country on account of his health. London
smoke does not do for him, he tells Oliver. They have had a good deal
of correspondence together, and I know his handwriting quite well.
Oliver said he expected his decision to-day or tomorrow. He is to pay
two hundred pounds and take the furniture at a valuation."

"And then--do I understand you rightly, Bessy?--you and Rane are going
to America?" questioned Richard.

"Oh _no_," said Bessy with emphasis. "I must have explained badly,
Richard. What I said was, that Dr. Jones, who has more practice in
America than he knows what to do with, had offered a share of it to
Oliver if he would join him. Oliver declined it. He would have liked
to go, for he thinks it must be a very good thing; but Dr. Jones wants
a large premium: so it's out of the question."

"But surely you would not have liked to emigrate, Bessy?"

She glanced into Richard's face with her meek, loving eyes, blushing a
very little.

"I would go anywhere where he goes," she answered simply. "It would
cost me pain to leave you and papa, Richard; especially papa, because
he is old, and because he would feel it; but Oliver is my husband."

Richard drummed for a minute or two on the table-cloth. Bessy sewed on
her last button.

"Then where does Rane think of pitching his tent, Bessy?"

"Somewhere in London. He says there is no place like it for getting
on. Should this letter be to say that Mr. Lynch, takes the practice,
we shall be away in less than a month."

"And you have never told us!"

"We decided to say nothing until it was a settled thing, and then only
to you, and Mrs. Cumberland, and papa. Oliver does not want the world
to know it sooner than need be."

"But do you mean to say that Rane has not told his mother?" responded
Richard to this in some surprise.

"Not yet," said Bessy, folding the completed waistcoat. "It will be
sure to vex her, and perhaps needlessly; for, suppose, after all, we
do not go? That entirely depends upon the disposal of the practice
here."

Bessy was picking up the threads in her neat way, and putting the
remaining buttons in the little closed box, when Dr. Rane was heard to
enter his consulting-room. Away flew Bessy to the kitchen, bringing in
the things with her own loving hands--and, for that matter, Molly
Green was at her upstairs work--buttered toast, broiled ham, a dainty
dish of stewed mushrooms. There was nothing she liked so much as to
wait on her husband. Her step was light and soft, her eye bright.
Richard, looking on, saw how much she cared for him.

Dr. Rane came in, wiping his brow: the day was hot, and he tired. He
had walked from a farm-house a mile beyond the Ham. A strangely weary
look sat on his face.

"Don't trouble, Bessy; I have had breakfast. Ah, Richard, how d'ye
do?"

"You have had breakfast!" repeated Bessy. "At the farm?"

"Yes; they gave me some."

"Oh dear! won't you take a bit of the ham, or some of the mushrooms,
Oliver? They are so good. And I waited."

"I am sorry you should wait. No, I can't eat two breakfasts. You must
eat for me and yourself, Bessy."

Dr. Rane sat down in his own chair at the table, turning it towards
Richard, and took up the letters. Selecting the one from Mr. Lynch, he
was about to open it when Bessy, who was now beginning her breakfast,
spoke.

"Oliver, I have told Richard about it--what we think of doing?"

Dr. Rane's glance went out for a moment to his brother-in-law's, and
met it. He made the best of the situation, smiled gaily, and put down
the letter unopened.

"Are you surprised, Richard?" he asked.

"Very much, indeed. Had a stranger told me I was going to leave
Dallory myself--and, indeed, that may well come to pass, with this
strike in the air--I should as soon have believed it. Shall you be
doing well to go, do you think, Rane?"

"Am I doing well here?" was the doctor's rejoinder.

"Not very, I fear."

"And, with this strike on, it grows worse. The wives and children fall
ill, as usual, and I am called in; but the men have no money to pay me
with. I don't intend to bring Bessy to dry bread, and I think it would
come to that if we stayed here----"

"No, no; not quite to that, Oliver," she interposed. But he took no
notice of her.

"Therefore I shall try my fortune elsewhere," continued Dr. Rane. "And
if you would return thanks to the quarter whence the blow has
originated, you must pay them to your stepmother, Richard. It is she
who has driven me away."

Richard was silent. Dr. Rane broke the seal of Mr. Lynch's letter, and
read it to the end. Then, laying it down, he took up the one from
America, and read that. Bessy, looking across, tried to gather some
information from his countenance; but Dr. Rane's face was one which,
in an ordinary way, was not more easily read than a stone.

"Is it favourable news, Oliver?" she asked, as he finished the long
letter, and folded it.

"It's nothing particular. Jones runs on upon politics. He generally
gives me a good dose of _them_."

"Oh, I meant from Mr. Lynch," replied Bessy. "Is he coming?"

"Mr. Lynch declines."

"Declines, Oliver!"

"Declines the negotiation. And he is not much better than a sneak for
giving me all this trouble, and then crying off at the eleventh hour,"
added Dr. Rane.

"It _is_ bad behaviour," said Bessy, warmly. "What excuse does he
make?"

"You can see what he says," said Dr. Rane, pushing the letter towards
her. Bessy opened it, and read it aloud for the benefit of Richard.

Mr. Lynch took up all one side with apologies. The substance of the
letter was, that a practice had unexpectedly been offered to him at
the seaside, which he had accepted, as the air and locality would
suit his state of health so much better than Dallory. If he could be
of service in negotiating with any one else, he added, Dr. Rane was to
make use of him.

It was as courteous and explanatory a letter as could be written. But
still it was a refusal: and the negotiation was at an end. Bessy Rane
drew a deep breath: whether of relief or disappointment it might have
puzzled herself to decide. Perhaps it was a mixture of both.

"Then, after all, Oliver, we shall not be leaving!"

"Not at present, it seems," was Dr. Rane's answer. And he put the two
letters into his pocket.

"Perhaps you will be thinking again, Oliver, of America, now?" said
his wife.

"Oh no, I shall not."

"Does Dr. Jones still urge you to come?"

"Not particularly. He took my refusal as final."

She went on, slowly eating some of the mushrooms. Richard said
nothing: this projected removal seemed to have impressed him to
silence. Dr. Rane took up the remaining letter and turned it about,
looking at the outside.

"Do you know the writing, Oliver?" his wife asked.

"Not at all. The postmark's Whitborough."

Opening the letter, which appeared to contain only a few lines, Dr.
Rane looked up with an exclamation.

"How strange! How very strange! Bessy, you and I are the only two left
in the tontine."

"What!" she cried, scarcely understanding him. Richard North turned
his head.

"That tontine that we were both put into when infants. There was only
one life left in it besides ourselves--old Massey's son, of
Whitborough. He is dead."

"What! George Massey? Dead!" cried Richard North.

Dr. Rane handed him the note. Yes: it was even so. The other life had
dropped, and Oliver Rane's and his wife's alone remained.

"My father has called that an unlucky tontine," remarked Richard. "I
have heard it said that if you want a child to live, you should put it
into a tontine, for the tontine lives are sure to arrive at a green
old age, to the mutual general mortification. This has been an
exception to the rule. I am sorry about George Massey. I wonder what
he has died of?"

"Last long, in general, do you say?" returned Dr. Rane musingly. "I
don't know much about tontines myself."

"Neither do I," said Richard. "I remember hearing of one tontine when
I was a boy: five or six individuals were left in it, all over eighty
then, and in flourishing health. Perhaps that was why my father and
Mr. Gass took up with one. At any rate, it seems that you and Bessy
are the only two remaining in this."

"I wonder if a similar condition of things ever existed before as for
a man and his wife to be the two last in a tontine?" cried Dr. Rane,
slightly laughing. "Bessy, practically it can be of no use to us
conjointly; for before the money can be paid, one of us must die. What
senseless things tontines are!"

"Senseless indeed," answered Bessy. "I'd say something to it if we
could have the money now. How much is it?"

"Ay, by the way, how much is it? What was it that each member put in
at first, Richard? I forget. Fifty pounds, was it? And then there's
the compound interest, which has been going on for thirty years. How
much would it amount to now?"

"More than two thousand pounds," answered Richard North, making a
mental calculation.

Dr. Rane's face flushed with a quick hot flush: a light shone in his
eye: his lips parted, as with some deep emotions. "More than two
thousand pounds!" he echoed under his breath. "Two thousand pounds!
Bessy, it would be like a gold-mine."

She laughed slightly. "But we can't get it, you see, Oliver. And I am
sure neither of us wishes the other dead."

"No--no; certainly not," said Dr. Rane.

Richard North said good-day and left. Just before turning in at the
gates of Dallory Hall, he met a gig containing Lawyer Dale of
Whitborough, who was driving somewhere with his clerk; no other than
Timothy Wilks. Mr. Dale pulled up, to speak.

"Can it be true that George Massey is dead?" questioned Richard as
they were parting.

"It's true enough, poor fellow. He died yesterday: was ill but two
days."

"I've just heard it at Dr. Rane's. He received a letter this morning
to tell him of it."

"Dr. Rane did? I was not aware they knew each other."

"Nor did they. But they were both in that tontine. Now that George
Massey's gone, Dr. Rane and his wife are the only two remaining in it.
Rather singular that it should be so."

For a minute Mr. Dale could not recollect whether he had ever heard of
this particular tontine; although, being a lawyer, he made it his
business to know everything; and he and Richard talked of it together.
Excessively singular, Lawyer Dale agreed, that a tontine should be
practically useless to a man and his wife--unless one of them died.

"Very mortifying, I must say, Mr. Richard North; especially where the
money would be welcome. Two thousand pounds! Dr. Rane must wish the
senseless thing at Hanover. I should, I know, if it were my case.
Good-morning."

And quiet Timothy Wilks, across whom they talked, heard all that was
said, and unconsciously treasured it up in his memory.

Richard carried home the news to his father. Mr. North was seated at
the table in his parlour, some papers before him. He lifted his hands
in dismay.

"Dead! George Massey dead! Dick, as sure as we are here, there must be
something wrong about that tontine! Or they'd never drop off like
this, one after another."

"It's not much more than a week ago, sir, that I met George Massey in
Whitborough, and was talking to him. To all appearance he was as
healthy and likely to live as I am."

"What took him off?"

"Dale says it was nothing more than a neglected cold."

"I don't like it; Dick, I don't like it," reiterated Mr. North, "Bessy
may be the next to go; or Rane."

"I hope not, father."

"Well--I've had it in my head for ever so long that that tontine is an
unlucky one; I think it is going to be so to the end. We shall see.
Look here, Dick."

He pointed to some of the papers before him; used cheques apparently;
pushing them towards his son.

"They sent me word at the bank that my account was overdrawn. I knew
it could not be, and asked for my cheques. Dick, here are four or five
that I never drew."

Richard took them in his fingers. The filling up was in madam's
handwriting: the signature apparently in Mr. North's.

"Do you give Mrs. North blank cheques ready signed, sir?"

"No, never, Dick. I was cured of that, years ago. When she wants
money, I sometimes let her fill in the cheque, but I never sign it
beforehand."

"And you think you have not signed these?"

"Think! I know I have not. She has imitated my signature, and got the
money."

Richard's face grew dark with shame; shame for his stepmother. But
that Mr. North was her husband, it would have been downright forgery.
Probably the law, if called upon, might have accounted it so now. He
took time for consideration.

"Father, I think--pardon me for the suggestion--I think you had better
let your private account be passed over to me. Allow it to lie in my
name; and make my signature alone available--just as it is with our
business account. I see no other safe way."

"With all my heart; and be glad to do it," acquiesced Mr. North, "but
there's no account to pass. There's no account to pass, Dick; it's
overdrawn."



CHAPTER V.
MADAM'S ADVICE.


A dinner-party at Dallory Hall. Arthur Bohun was in his chamber,
lazily dressing for it. Not a large party, this: half-a-dozen people
or so, besides themselves; and the hour six o'clock. Two gentlemen,
bidden to it, would have to leave by train afterwards: on such
occasions dinner of necessity must be early.

Mr. North and Richard did not approve of madam's dinners at the most
favourable times: now, with all the care of the strike upon them and
the trouble looming in the distance if that strike lasted: the
breaking up of their business, the failure of their means: they
looked on these oft-recurring banquets as especially reprehensible.
They were without power to stop them; remonstrance availed not with
madam. Sometimes the dinners were impromptu, or nearly so, madam
inviting afternoon callers at the Hall to stay, or bringing home a
carriage-full of guests with her. As was partly the case on this day.

Captain Arthur Bohun, who liked to take most things easily, dressing
included, stood hair-brush in hand. He had moved away from the glass,
and was looking from the open window. His thoughts were busy. They ran
on that little episode of the morning, when madam, passing in her
carriage, had seen him with Ellen Adair, and had chosen to display her
sentiments on the subject in the manner described. That it would not
end there, Arthur felt sure; madam would inevitably treat him to a
little more of her mind. It was rather a singular thing--as if Fate
had been intervening with its usual cross purposes--for circumstances
so to have ordered it that madam should still be in ignorance of their
intimacy. Almost always when Mrs. Cumberland was at home, it chanced
that madam was away; and, when madam was at the Hall, Mrs. Cumberland
was elsewhere. Thus, during Mrs. Cumberland's prolonged stay at Niton,
madam's presence blessed her household; the very week that that lady
returned to Dallory Ham, madam took her departure, and had only
recently returned. She had spent the interval in Germany. Sidney
North, her well-beloved son, giving trouble as usual to all who were
connected with him, had found England rather warm for him in early
spring, and had betaken himself to Germany. His chief point of sojourn
was Homburg, and madam, with her daughter Matilda, had been making it
hers since the spring. Mr. North, in the relief her absence brought
him, had used every exertion to supply her with the money she so
rapaciously sent home for. It would appear that the accommodation had
not been sufficient, for--as was soon to be discovered by Richard--the
cheques shown to him by his father had been drawn by her at Homburg.
And so, as Fate or Fortune had willed it, Mrs. North had been out of
the way of watching the progress of the intimacy between her son and
Ellen Adair.

A quick knock at the chamber-door, and madam swept in, a large crimson
rose, just brought from the greenhouse, adorning her jet-black hair,
her white silk gown rustling and trailing after her. As well as though
she had already spoken, Arthur knew what she had come for. He thought
that she was losing no time and must have hurried over her toilette
purposely. The carriage had not long returned home, for she and
Matilda had been to a distance, and remained out to luncheon. Arthur,
not moving from where he was, began brushing his hair haphazard.

"I suppose I am late, madam?"

"Was it _you_ that I passed this afternoon in Dallory Ham, talking to
some girl?" began madam, taking no notice of his remark.

"It was me, safe enough; I had been calling on Mrs. Cumberland,"
replied Arthur, carelessly. "Dick also. By the way you stared, madam,
I fancied you scarcely knew me."

A little banter. Madam might take it seriously, or not, as she chose.
She went round to the other side of the dressing-table, and stood
opposite him at the window.

"What girl were you talking to?"

"Girl! I was with Miss Adair."

"Who _is_ she, Arthur?"

"She is Mrs. Cumberland's ward."

"What do you know of her?"

"I know her as being at Mrs. Cumberland's. I see her when I go there."

Was he really indifferent? Standing there brushing away at his hair
lazily, his apparently supreme indifference could not be exceeded.
Madam scanned his face in momentary silence; _he_ was closely intent
upon two sparrows, fighting over a reddening cherry on the branch of a
tree.

"Fight away, young gentlemen; battle it out; you'll have all the
better appetite for supper."

"Will you attend to me for a short time, Captain Bohun?" spoke madam,
irritably.

"Certainly; I am attending," was the captain's ready answer.

Just for an instant madam paused. This was not one of the daily petty
grievances that she made people miserable over, but a trouble to her
of awful meaning, almost as of life or death. In this, her own grave
interests, she could control her temper, and she thought it might be
the better policy to do so whilst she dealt with it.

"Arthur, you know that you are becoming more valuable to me," she
said, with calmness; and Arthur Bohun opened his surprised ears at the
words and tone. "Since Sidney took up his abode away from England, and
cannot come back to it, poor fellow, for the present you are all I
have here. If I speak, it is for your welfare."

"Very good of you, I am sure," returned Arthur, seeing she waited for
him to say something, and feeling how two-faced the words were, mother
of his though she was. "What is it you wish to say?"

"It's about that girl, Miss--what do you call her?--Adair. Young men
will be young men; soldiers especially; I know that; but wrong is
wrong, and it cannot by the most ingenious sophistry be converted into
right. It is quite wrong to play with these village girls, as you seem
to be doing with Miss Adair."

Arthur threw back his head as though his pride were hurt. Madam had
seen just the same movement in his father.

"I have no intention of _playing_ with Miss Adair."

A gleam shot from her eyes--half fear, half defiance. She bit her lip,
and went on in a still softer tone.

"You cannot mean anything _worse_, Arthur."

"I do not understand you, madam. Worse? Worse than what?"

"Anything serious. To play with village girls is reprehensible;
but----"

"I beg your pardon, mother; this is quite unnecessary. The playing
with village girls--whatever that may mean--is not a habit of mine,
and never has been. The caution might be more appropriate if applied
to your men-servants than it is to me."

"Allow me to finish, Arthur. To play with village girls is
reprehensible; but to intend anything serious with one would be far
more so in your case. Will you profit by the caution?"

"If you wish me to comprehend the word 'serious,' you must speak out.
What does it mean?"

"It means _marriage_," she answered, with an outburst of temper--as
far as tone might convey it. "I allude to this absurd intimacy of
yours with Miss Adair. You must be intimate with the girl; your look
and attitude, as I passed to-day, proved it."

"And if I did mean marriage, what then?"

He asked the question jokingly, laughing a little; but he was not
prepared for the effect it had on his mother. Her eyes flashed fire,
her lips trembled, her face turned white as death.

"Marriage! With _her?_ You must be dreaming, Arthur Bohun."

"Not dreaming; joking," he said, lightly. "You may be at ease, madam;
I have no intention of marrying any one at present."

"You must never marry Miss Adair."

"No?"

"Arthur Bohun, you are treating all this with mockery," she exclaimed,
beginning to believe that he really was so; and the relief was great,
though the tacit disrespect angered her. "How dare you imply that you
could think seriously of these village girls?--only to annoy and
frighten me."

"You must be easily frightened to-day, madam. I don't think I did
imply it. As to Miss Adair----"

"Yes, as to Miss Adair," fiercely interrupted madam. "Go on."

"I was about to say that, in speaking of Miss Adair, we might as well
recognize her true position. It is not quite respectful to be alluding
to her as a 'village girl.' She is a lady, born and bred."

"Perhaps you will next say that she is equal to the Bohuns?"

"I do not wish to say it. Don't you think this conversation may as
well cease, madam?" added Arthur, after a short pause. "Why should it
have been raised? One might suppose I had asked your consent to my
marriage, whereas you know perfectly well that I am a poor man, with
not the slightest chance of taking a wife."

"Poor men get engaged sometimes, Arthur, thinking they will wait--and
wait. Seeing you with that girl--the world calls her good-looking, I
believe--I grew into an awful fright for your sake. It would be most
disastrous for you to marry beneath your rank--a Bohun never holds up
his head afterwards, if he does that; and I thought I ought to speak a
word of warning to you. You must take a suitable wife when you do
marry--one fitted to mate with the future Sir Arthur Bohun."

"To mate with plain Arthur Bohun. To call me the future Sir Arthur is
stretching possibility very wide indeed, madam," he added, laughing.

"Not at all. You will as surely succeed as that I am telling you so.
Look at that puny James Bohun! A few years at most will see the last
of him."

"I hope not, for his father's sake. Any way, he may live long enough
to marry and leave children behind him. Is your lecture at an end,
madam?" he jestingly concluded. "If so, perhaps you may as well leave
me to get my coat on, or I shall have to keep dinner waiting."

"I have another word," said madam; "your coat can wait. Miss Dallory
dines here."

"Miss Dallory! I thought she was in Switzerland. Did she come over in
a balloon to dine with us?"

"She is staying with her brother Frank. I and Matilda called at Ham
Court just now and brought her with us."

"Did you bring him also?"

"I did not see him; they said he was not in the way. But now why do I
mention this?"

"As a bit of gossip for me, I suppose. It's very good of you. My coat
and dinner can certainly wait."

"I have brought Miss Dallory here for your sake, Arthur Bohun," was
the rejoinder, spoken with emphatic meaning. "_She_ is the young lady
you will do well to think of as your future wife."

Madam went out of the room with much stately rustle, and swept
downstairs. Another minute, and the door opened again to admit Richard
North. Captain Bohun had not progressed further in dressing, or
stirred from his place, but was leaning against the window-frame,
whistling softly.

"Madam's in a way, is she not?" began Richard, in low tones. "My
window was open, Arthur, and I was obliged to catch a word here and
there. I made all kinds of noises, but you did not take the hint."

"_She_ didn't; and I would as soon you heard as not," was Captain
Bohun's answer. "You are ready, I see, Dick."

"The course of true love never did run smooth, you know," said
Richard, laughing.

"And never will. Whenever I read of the old patriarchal days, in which
a man had only to fix on a wife and bring her home to his tent; and
look on all that has to be considered in these--money, suitability of
family, settlements--I wonder whether it can be the same world. Madam
need not fear that I have any chance of marrying."

"Or you wouldn't long be a bachelor?"

"I don't know about that."

"You don't know! Why, you do know, and so do I. I've seen how it is
for some weeks now, Arthur."

"Seen what?"

Richard smiled.

"Seen what?"

"How it is between you and Ellen Adair."

"You think you have?"

"Think! You love her, don't you?"

Arthur Bohun put down the hair-brush gently, and moved to take up his
coat.

"Dick, old fellow, whether it will come to anything between us or not,
I cannot tell," he said, his voice strangely deep, his brow flushing
with emotion, "but I shall never care for any one else as I care for
her."

"Then secure her," answered Dick.

"I might be tempted to do it, in spite of my mother, had I the
wherewithal to set up a home; but I haven't."

"You have more than double what Rane and Bessy have."

"Rane and Bessy! But Bessy is one in a thousand. I couldn't ask a wife
to come home to me on that."

"Just as you think well, of course. Take care, though, you don't get
her snapped up. I should fear it, if it were my case. Ellen Adair is
the loveliest girl I ever saw, and I think her the sweetest, I could
only look at her as we sat in Mrs. Cumberland's room this morning.
Other men will be finding it out, Arthur, if they have not already
done so."

Arthur never answered. He had gone back to his former post, and was
leaning against the window-frame, looking out dreamily.

"Madam objects, I presume?"

"I presume she would, if I put it to her," assented Arthur, as if the
proposition admitted of no dispute.

"I don't see why she should do so, or you, either."

"I'm afraid, Dick, we Bohuns have our full share of family pride."

"But Mr. Adair is, no doubt, a gentleman?"

"Oh yes. That is, not in trade," added Arthur, carelessly.

"Well, a gentleman is a gentleman," said Richard.

"Of course. But I take it for granted that he holds no position in the
world. And we Bohuns, you know----"

Arthur stopped. Richard North laughed. "You Bohuns would like to mate
only with position. A daughter, for example, of the Lord-Lieutenant of
the county."

"Exactly," assented Arthur, echoing the laugh, but very much in
earnest for all that. "Madam has been recommending Miss Dallory to my
notice."

"Who?" cried Richard, rather sharply.

"Miss Dallory."

"You might do worse," observed Richard, after a pause.

"No doubt of that. She is downstairs."

"Who is downstairs?"

"She. So madam has just informed me."

"There's the gong."

"And be hanged to it!" returned Arthur, getting into his coat. "I wish
to goodness madam did not give us the trouble of putting on dinner
dress every other day! Neither are entertainments seemly in your house
during these troubled times."

"What's more, I don't see how they will be paid for, if the trouble
continues," candidly spoke Richard. "Madam must be uncommonly sanguine
to expect it."

"Or careless," returned Arthur Bohun. "Dick, my friend, it's a bad
sign when a man has no good word to give his mother."

That every grain of filial affection had long gone out of his breast
and been replaced by a feeling akin to shame and contempt, Arthur
Bohun was only too conscious of. He strove to be dutiful; but it was
at times a hard task. Living under the same roof as his mother, her
sins against manners and good feeling were brought under his notice
perpetually; he was more sensitively alive to them than even others
could be.

Since Arthur Bohun had quitted the army and recovered from the long
sickness that followed on his wound, Dallory Hall had been his
ostensible home. Latterly he had made it really so; for Dallory Ham
contained an attraction from which he could not tear himself. Ellen
Adair had his heart's best love: and, far from her he could not
wander. A pure, ardent love, honourable as every true passion must be
in an honourable man, but swaying his every action with its power. Sir
Nash Bohun invited him in vain. His aunt, Miss Bohun, with whom he was
a great favourite, wondered why he went so rarely to see her; or, when
he did go, made his visit a flying one. Arthur Bohun possessed a few
hundreds a-year: about four: just enough to keep him as a gentleman:
and he had none of the bad habits that run away with young men's
money. Miss Bohun would leave him fairly well off when she died: so he
was at ease as to the future. One day, after he had been at Dallory
Hall for a few months, he put a hundred-pound banknote into Richard
North's hands.

"What is this for?" questioned Richard.

Arthur told him. The embarrassments in the Hall's financial
department, caused by madam, were lightly touched on: this was
Arthur's contribution towards his own share of the housekeeping. In
the surprise of the moment, Richard North's spirit rose, and fought
against it. Arthur quietly persisted.

"As long as I pitch my tent amongst you here, I shall hand over this
sum every six months. To you, Dick; there's no one else to be trusted
with it. If I gave it to Bessy, she would be safe to speak about it,
and it might be wiled out of her."

"I never heard such nonsense in my life," cried Richard. "You will not
get me to take it. I wouldn't countenance anything of the sort."

"Yes you will, Dick, Yon wouldn't like me to take up my abode at the
Dallory Arms. I declare on my honour I shall do so, if I am forced to
be as a guest at the Hall."

"But, Arthur----"

"Dick, my friend, there's no need of argument. I mean what I say.
Don't drive me away. The Dallory Arms would not be a very comfortable
home; and I should drift away, goodness knows where."

"As if one inmate, more or less, made any difference in our home
expenses."

"As if it did not. I have no right or claim whatever to be living on
your father. Don't make me small in my own eyes, frère Richard. You
know that you'd feel the same in my place, and do the same. No one
need know of this but our two selves, Dick."

Richard gave in: he saw that Arthur was resolute: and after all, it
was just. So he took the banknote into account, and told his father
about it; and Arthur Bohun stayed on, his conscience at peace. Once,
in one of madam's furious onslaughts, when she spared no one, she
abused her son for staying at the Hall, and living upon her. Upon
_her!_ Arthur parried the attack with careless good-humour, merely
saying he was Dick's guest. When Dick turned him out of the Hall, he
should go.



CHAPTER VI.
MARY DALLORY.


The guests waited in the drawing-room. Madam, with gracious suavity,
was bestowing her smiles on all, after her manner in society, her
white silk dress gleaming with richness. A slight frown crossed her
brow, however, at the tardy entrance of her son and Richard North.

"We have waited for you," she said rather sharply. "Dinner has been
announced."

Richard found his father did not intend to be present, and that he
must act as host, which was nothing new. Glancing round the room, he
was advancing to Miss Dallory--there was no married lady present
excepting madam--when madam's voice rang out cold and clear.

"Take in Miss Field, Richard. Arthur, you will conduct Miss Dallory."

Now that was wrong according to the rules of etiquette. Miss Dallory,
the great heiress, whose family was of some note in the county, should
have fallen to Richard: Miss Field, a middle-aged lady, had only been
Matilda North's governess. But madam had a way of enforcing her own
commands: or, rather, of letting people know they might not be
disputed. There was a moment's awkwardness: Richard and Arthur both
stood with arrested footsteps; and then each advanced to the appointed
lady. But Miss Dallory nearly upset it all: she turned from Captain
Bohun to Richard, her hand outstretched.

"How do you do, Mr. North?"

He clasped it for a moment. Madam, who had a shrewd way of making
guesses, and of seeing things that no one else saw, had gathered an
idea long ago, that had Richard North's fortunes been in the
ascendant, he might have forgotten the wide gulf separating him from
Mary Dallory--she patrician-born, he plebeian--and asked her to step
over it.

"I did not know you had returned, Miss Dallory, until a few minutes
age," said Richard.

"No! I have been home two days."

They parted. Madam was sweeping on to the dining-room on the arm of a
Colonel Carter, whose acquaintance she had made at Homburg, and the
rest had to follow. Richard brought up the rear with Miss Field.

Miss Dallory, a rather tall and graceful girl of two-and-twenty, sat
between Arthur Bohun and Richard North. She was not particularly
handsome, but very pleasing. A fair-complexioned face with plenty of
good sense in it, grey eyes rather deeply set, and soft dark-brown
hair. Her manners were remarkably open: her speech independent. It was
this perhaps--the pleasantness of the speech and manner--that made her
a favourite with every one.

The Dallorys were very wealthy. There were three of them: Miss Dallory
and her two brothers, John and Frank, both older than herself. They
had been left orphans at an early age: their father's will having
bequeathed his property almost equally amongst the three; the portion
of it entailed on his elder son lay in another county. To the surprise
of many people, it was found that he had left Dallory Hall to his
daughter; so that, in point of fact, this Miss Dallory, sitting at Mr.
North's dinner-table, was owner of the house. It had been the
residence of the Dallorys during Mr. Dallory's lifetime: after his
death, the trustees let it on lease to Mr. North. The lease had been
purchased, so that Mr. North had no rent to pay for it. The lease,
however, had now all but terminated. Madam hoped to be able to get it
renewed: perhaps that might be one of the reasons why she was now
paying court to Mary Dallory. That young lady came into her property
when she was one-and-twenty; and all power lay in her own hands.
Nearly two years ago Miss Dallory had gone on the Continent with her
aunt, Mrs. Leasom. Illness had prolonged Mrs. Leasom's stay there, and
they had only just returned. Mrs. Leasom remained at her home in
London; Miss Dallory came down at once to her younger brother's
house--an extremely pretty place just beyond the Ham.

Dinner progressed. Miss Dallory talked chiefly to Richard, next to
whom she sat; Arthur Bohun, on the other side, was rather silent and
glum. She was telling them of her travels: and jestingly complaining
of finding what she called a grand dinner, when she had thought Mrs.
North was only bringing her to dine en famille. For her dress was
nothing but a coloured muslin.

"Don't laugh at me, Mr. Richard North. If you had been living in a
remote village of Switzerland for months, dining off bonilli and a
tough chicken in your aunt's chamber, you would think this grandeur
itself."

"I did not laugh," answered Richard. "It is a great deal grander than
I like."

"Where is Mr. North?" she asked, slightly lowering her voice.

Richard shook his head. "The grandeur, as you call it, has tired him,
Miss Dallory. He dines almost always in his own room: I join him as
often as I can."

"I hear he is breaking," she continued, her deep grey eyes looking
straight at Richard, pity and concern in their depths. "Frank says
so."

"He is breaking sadly. The prolonged strain is too much for him."

Madam glanced down the table, and spoke in sharp tones.

"Are you attending to Miss Field, Richard?"

Miss Field was on his left hand: Miss Dallory on his right.

"Yes, madam. She heard," added he to Miss Dallory, scarcely moving his
lips.

"And it was high treason, I suppose," rejoined that young lady,
confidentially. "There have been changes in your home, Mr. Richard,
since I was last here. Mr. North's first children were all in it,
then."

"And now two of them have gone out of it. Bessy to another home:
Edmund to--his last one."

"Ah, I heard all. How sad it must have been for you and Mr. North!
John and Frank wrote me word that they followed him to the grave."

"Very sad for him as well as for us," assented Richard. "But he is
better off."

"Who sent that wicked letter?"

Richard North dropped his glance on his plate as he answered,
apparently intent on what was there. Miss Dallory's keen eyes had been
on his: and she used to read a great deal that lay within them.

"There has been no discovery at all."

"It was thought to be Mr. Timothy Wilks, I believe."

"It was certainly not he," said Richard, rather hastily.

"No! He had at least something to do with the mischief, if he did not
write the letter."

"Yes. But without intending evil. The next to leave the home here may
be myself," he added.

"_You!_"

"Of course you have heard that our works are at a standstill? The men
have struck."

"That's old news: I heard it in Switzerland."

"If we are not able to reopen them--and I begin to think we shall not
be--I must go out into the world and seek employment elsewhere."

"Nonsense!"

"If you reflect for a moment, you will see that it is all sober
earnest, Miss Dallory. When a man does not possess the means of
living, he must work for one."

She said no more then. And when she spoke again the subject was
changed.

"Is Bessy's marriage a happy one?"

"Very--as it seems to me. The worst is, Rane gets on as badly as ever
in his profession."

"But why does he?"

"I know not. Except that madam undoubtedly works--always works--to
keep him down."

"How wrong it is! He shall come and attend me. I will get up some
headaches on purpose."

Richard laughed.

"We have had changes also, since you and I met," resumed Miss Dallory.
"But not sad ones. I have become my own mistress in the world; am
independent of every one. And Frank has taken up his abode at Ham
Court for a permanency."

"I hope you intend to make a good use of your independence," said
Richard, gravely.

"Of course. And I shall _be_ independent; you may rely on that."

"We heard it rumoured some time ago that you were likely to lose your
independence, Miss Dallory."

"I! In what way?"

"By getting married."

Their eyes met for a moment, and then dropped. Miss Dallory laughed
lightly.

"Did the news penetrate as far as this? Well, it never was 'likely,'
Mr. Richard North. A--gentleman asked me; but I had reason to suppose
that he wanted my money more than he did myself, and so--nothing came
of it."

"Who was he?"

"It would not be fair to tell you."

"Thank you for correcting me," spoke Richard, in his earnest way. "I
ought to feel shame for asking. I beg your pardon; and his."

Happening to glance at the young lady, he saw that her face had turned
crimson. A rare thing for Miss Dallory. She was too self-possessed to
display emotion on light occasions.

"Have you seen Ham Court lately?" she resumed, looking up; the blushes
making her very pretty.

"Not since your brother came to it. He has not been here long, you
know. I called one day, but they said Mr. Dallory was out."

"The place is very nice now. He has made alterations, and done it up
beautifully. You must come again."

"With pleasure," answered Richard. "How long shall you remain with
him?"

"As long as he will have me. I am not going away yet. I shall make it
my home. Frank has quiet tastes, and so have I: and we intend to live
a Darby and Joan life together, and grow into an old maid and an old
bachelor."

Richard smiled. "How is it Francis did not come with you this
evening?"

"May I dare to tell you why?" she whispered. "When we saw madam's
carriage driving up, Frank disappeared. 'Say I am out,' was his order
to me. He and madam never got on well: as a little boy he was terribly
afraid of her, and I think the feeling has lasted. When I went to put
my bonnet on, I found him shut up in his room. He wished me joy of my
visit, and promised to come and walk home with me in the evening."

Madam rose from table early. Something in the arrangements did not
seem to suit her. It was a warm and lovely evening, and they went out
on the lawn. Miss Dallory slipped round the corner of the house to the
window of Mr. North's parlour.

It stood open and he sat just within it. Sat with his hands on his
knees, and his head drooping. Miss Dallory started: not so much
because his face was thin and worn, but at its hopeless expression. In
her two years' absence, he seemed to have aged ten.

She stepped over the threshold, and gently laid her hands on his. He
looked up as a man bewildered.

"Why--it--it cannot be Mary Dallory."

"It is Mary Dallory; come home at last. Won't you kiss me, dear Mr.
North?"

He kissed her fondly. In the old days, when John North was supposed to
be the most rising man, in a commercial point of view, in the county,
Mr. Dallory had thought it worth while to court his friendship, and
Mr. North had been asked to stand godfather to his little girl.
Mary--after she lost her own parents--was wont to say she belonged to
the Hall, and often would be there. Her aunt, Mrs. Leasom, who had
been a Miss Dallory once, was left guardian to the children, with Ham
Court as her residence until the younger son should be of age, to whom
it would then lapse. But Mrs. Leasom spent a large portion of her time
in London, and sometimes the children had not seen their native place,
Dallory, for years together.

"When did you come home, my dear?"

"To England a week ago. To Ham Court only yesterday. Do you know that
you are much changed?"

"Ay. There's nothing but change in this life, my dear. The nearer we
approach the end of our days, the faster our sorrows seem to come upon
us. I have had more than my share of them, and they have changed me. I
see only one source of comfort left to me in the wide world."

"And that?" she asked, half kneeling at his feet.

"My dear son Richard. No one knows the son he has been to me; the
sacrifices he has made. No one save God."

Miss Dallory gave no answer to this. He was lost in deep abstraction,
thinking no doubt of his many troubles--for he always was thinking of
them--when the person in question entered; Richard North. Miss Dallory
rose and sat down on a chair decorously.

She remained only a minute or two now, and spent the time talking and
laughing. Richard gave her his arm to take her back to the others.
Miss Dallory apparently was in no hurry to go, for she lingered over
some of the flower-beds.

"Is the strike a serious matter?" she questioned in a confidential
tone.

"As serious as it is possible for any matter of the kind to be,"
replied Richard.

"You and your men were always on the best of terms: why did they
become dissatisfied with you?"

"They never became dissatisfied with me. The Trades' Unions' agents
stepped in and persuaded them they would be better off if they could
work less time and be paid more wages. The men listened: it was only
natural they should do so: and presented themselves with these new
demands. I did not grant them, and they struck. That's the case in a
nutshell, Miss Dallory."

"I suppose you would not grant them?"

"I would not grant them upon principle; I could not, because my
profits did not allow it. I am quite certain that if I had given way,
in a short time the men would have demanded more. The Trades' Unions
will never allow them to be satisfied, until----"

"Until what?" she asked, for Richard had stopped.

"Until the country is ruined, and its trade has left it."

"It is a serious thing," she said--and she was very grave now. "I
suppose you would take the men on again upon the old terms?"

"And be glad to do it."

"And they will not come?"

"No. I have offered to meet them half-way. It is of no use."

"Then I think those men deserve to learn what want of employment
means," she returned warmly. "I thought your men were intelligent; I
used to know many of them. When I go amongst them--and that may be
tomorrow---I shall ask them if they have taken leave of their senses.
What does Mrs. Gass say to it all?"

Richard smiled a little. Mrs. Gass said more than he did, he answered,
but it was equally useless.

"And I suppose it is the strike that is troubling Mr. North? I think
him so very much changed."

"It troubles him, of course--and there are other things."

"Does it trouble _you?_" asked Miss Dallory, pointedly, as she looked
straight at him.

"Trouble me!" he rejoined, surprised at the unnecessary question.
"Why, it involves simply ruin, unless we can go on again. Ruin to me,
and to my father with me. There's your brother."

They had reached the lawn at length, and saw Francis Dallory, who had
come for his sister. He was a short, fair young man, with an open
countenance. Madam had already appropriated him.

"Where's Arthur?" demanded madam, imperiously, as Miss Dallory came up
on Richard's arm. "I thought he was with you."

Miss Dallory answered that she had not seen Arthur Bohun since
quitting the dinner-table. No one had seen him, as far as madam could
discover. She suspected he must have gone off somewhere to smoke; and
would have liked to put his pipe behind the fire.

But the pipe was not in fault. Arthur Bohun, possibly thinking there
were enough without him, had quietly made his escape, and gone for a
stroll towards the Ham. It took him so near to Mrs. Cumberland's that
he said to himself he might as well call and ask after the headache
she had been suffering from in the morning.

Sophistry! Nothing but sophistry. Captain Arthur Bohun did not really
care whether her headache was worse or better; until a moment ago he
had not even remembered that she had complained of headache. The
simple truth was, that he could not bear to rest for even one evening
without a glimpse of Ellen Adair. No mother ever hungered for a lost
child as he hungered for her presence.

They were at tea. Mrs. Cumberland, Ellen, and Mr. Seeley. When Jelly
showed Captain Bohun in, the doctor was just taking his second cup.
Ellen, who presided at the tea-tray, asked Captain Bohun if he would
take some, and he rather shortly answered, No. Warfare lay in his
mind. What business had that man to be sitting there on a footing of
companionship with Ellen Adair?

Mrs. Cumberland's head was a little worse, if anything, she replied,
thanking Captain Bohun for his solicitude in regard to it. Mr. Seeley
had given her two draughts of something--ether, she believed--in the
afternoon, but they had not done her head any good.

It might have come to a question as to which would sit out the
other--for Mr. Seeley detected somewhat of the state of Arthur Bohun's
mind, and resented it--but for the entrance of Dr. Rane. Dr. Rane
appeared to have no present intention of leaving again, for he plunged
into a hot discussion with his brother-practitioner, touching some
difficult question in surgery, which seemed quite likely to continue
all night, and Arthur Bohun rose. He would have remained willingly,
but he was ever sensitive as to intruding, and fancied Mrs. Cumberland
might wonder why he stayed.

As he went out, Francis Dallory and his sister were passing on their
walk homeward. Captain Bohun turned with them, and went to the end of
the Ham.

The shades of evening--nay, of night--had stolen over the earth as he
went back again; the light night of summer. The north-west was bright
with its opal tints; a star or two shone in the heavens. Dr. Rane was
pacing his garden walks, his wife on his arm.

"Goodnight, Bessy!" he called out to her, whom he had always regarded
as his stepsister.

"Goodnight, Arthur!" came the hearty rejoinder as Bessy recognized
his voice.

Onwards a few steps--only a few--and it brought Arthur Bohun level
with the window of Mrs. Cumberland's drawing-room. It was not yet
lighted. At the window, standing very closely together, stood the
other doctor and Ellen Adair. In Captain Bohun's desperate jealousy,
he stared Ellen full in the face, and made no movement of recognition.
Turning away with a contemptuous movement, plainly discernible in the
dusk, he went striding on.

Shakespeare never read more truly the human heart than when he said
that jealousy makes the food it feeds on. Arthur Bohun went home
almost maddened; not so much with jealousy in its absolute sense, as
with indignation at the doctor's iniquitous presumption. Could he have
analyzed his own heart fairly, he would have found there full trust in
the good faith of Ellen Adair. But he was swayed by man's erring
nature, and yielded to it.

How innocent it all was! how little suggestive, could Captain Bohun
only have read events correctly. There had been no invitation to tea
at all; Mr. Seeley had gone in just as they began to take it, and was
offered a cup by Mrs. Cumberland. As to being together at the window,
Ellen had been standing there to catch the fading light for her
wool-work, perhaps as an excuse for leaving him and Mrs. Cumberland to
converse alone; and he had just come up to her to say goodnight as
Captain Bohun passed.

If we could only divine the truth of these fancies when jealousy puts
them before us in its false and glaring light, some phases of our
lives might be all the happier in consequence. Arthur Bohun lay
tossing the whole night long on his sleepless pillow, tormenting
himself by wondering what Ellen Adair's answer to Seeley would be.
That the fellow in his audacity was proposing to her as they stood at
the window, he could have sworn before the Lord Chief Baron of
England. It was a wretched night; his tumultuous thoughts were
sufficient to wear him out. Arthur had Collins' "Ode to the Passions"
by heart; but it never occurred to him to recall any part of it to
profit now.


     "Thy numbers, Jealousy, to nought were fixed,
        Sad proof of thy distressful state.
      Of differing themes the veering song was mixed:
        And now it courted Love; now, raving, called on Hate."



CHAPTER VII.
LOVE AMONG THE ROSES.


When Arthur Bohun rose the next morning, his senses had returned to
him. That Ellen Adair's love was his, and that no fear existed of her
accepting any other man, let him be prince or peasant, reason assured
him. He wanted to see her; for that his heart was always yearning; but
on this morning when, as it seemed, he had been judging her harshly,
the necessity seemed overwhelmingly great. His impatient feet would
have carried him to Mrs. Cumberland's immediately after breakfast; but
his spirit was a little rebellious still, and kept him back. He would
not betray his impatience, he thought; would not go down until the
afternoon; and he began to resort to all sorts of expedients for
killing time. He walked with Richard North the best part of the way to
Dallory: he came back and wrote to his aunt, Miss Bohun; he went
sauntering about the flower-beds with Mr. North. As the day wore on
towards noon, his restless feet betook him to Ham Lane--which the
reader has not visited since he saw Dr. Rane hastening through it on
the dark and troubled night that opened this history. The hedges were
green now, beautiful with their dog-roses of delicate pink and white,
giving out the perfume of sweet-briar. Captain Bohun went along,
switching at these same pleasant hedges with his cane. Avoiding the
turning that would take him to Dallory Ham, he continued his way to
another and less luxurious lane; the lane that skirted the back of the
houses of the Ham, familiarly called by their inhabitants "the back
lane." Strolling onwards, he had the satisfaction of finding himself
passing the dead wall of Mrs. Cumberland's garden, and of seeing the
roof and chimneys of her house. Should he go round and call? A few
steps lower down, just beyond Dr. Rane's, was an opening that would
take him there, a public-house at its corner. He had told himself he
would not go until the afternoon, and now it was barely twelve
o'clock; should he call, or should he not call?

Moving on, in his indecision, at a slow pace, he had arrived just
opposite Dr. Rane's back garden door, when it suddenly opened, and the
doctor himself came forth.

"Ah, how d'ye do?" said the doctor, rather surprised at seeing Arthur
Bohun there. "Were you coming in this way? The door was bolted."

"Only taking a stroll," carelessly replied Captain Bohun. "How's
Bessy?"

"Quite well. She is in the dining-room, if you'll come in and see
her."

Nothing loth, Arthur Bohun stepped in at once, the doctor continuing
his way. Mrs. Rane was darning stockings. She and Arthur had always
been the very best of friends, quite brother and sister. Meek and
gentle as ever, she looked, sitting there with her smooth, curling
hair, and the loving expression in her mild, soft eyes! Arthur sat
down and talked with her, his glance roving ever to that other house,
seeking the form of one whom he did not see.

"Do you know how Mrs. Cumberland is this morning?" he inquired of
Bessy.

"I have not heard. Mr. Seeley has been there; for I saw him in the
dining-room with Ellen Adair."

Arthur Bohun's pulses froze to ice.

"I think they are both in the garden now."

"Are they?" snapped Arthur. "His patients must get on nicely if he
idles away his mornings in a garden."

Bessy looked up from her darning. "I don't mean that Seeley's there,
Arthur--I mean Mrs. Cumberland and Ellen."

As Bessy spoke, Jelly was seen to come out of Mrs. Cumberland's house,
penetrate the trees, and return with her mistress.

"Some one has called, I suppose," remarked Bessy.

Captain Bohun thought the gods had made the opportunity for himself
expressly. He went out, stepped over the small fence, and disappeared
in the direction that Mrs. Cumberland had come from, believing it
would lead him to Ellen Adair.

In the secluded and beautiful spot where we first saw her--but where
we shall not often, alas! see her again--she sat. The flowers of early
spring were out then; the richer summer flowers were blooming now. A
natural bower of roses seemed to encompass her; the cascade was
trickling softly as ever down the artificial rocks, murmuring its
monotonous cadence; the birds sang to each other from branch to
branch; glimpses of the green lawn and of brilliant flowers were
caught through the trees. Ellen Adair had sometimes thought the spot
beautiful as a scene in fairy-land. It was little less so.

She was not working this morning. An open book lay before her on the
rustic table; her cheek was leaning on her raised hand, from which the
lace fell back; a hand so suspiciously delicate as to betoken a want
of sound strength in its owner. She wore a white dress, with a bow of
pink ribbon at the throat, and a pink waistband. There were times,
and this was one of them, when she looked extremely fragile.

A sound of footsteps. Ellen only thought it was Mrs. Cumberland
returning, and read on. But there was a different sound in _these_
steps as they gained on her ear. Her heart stood still, and then
bounded on again tumultuously, her pulses tingled, her sweet face
turned red as the blushing rose. Sunshine had come.

"Good-morning, Miss Adair."

In cold, resentful, haughty tones was it spoken, and he did not
attempt to shake hands. The sunshine seemed to go in again with a
sweep. She closed her book and opened it, her fingers fluttering.
Captain Bohun put down his hat on the seat.

"I thought Seeley might be here," said he, seeking out a lovely rose,
and plucking it carefully.

"Seeley!" she exclaimed.

"Seeley. I beg your pardon. I did not know I spoke indistinctly.
SEELEY."

He stood and faced her, watching the varying colour of her face, the
soft blushes going and coming. Somehow they increased his anger.

"May I ask if you have accepted him?"

"Ac--cepted him!" she stammered, in wild confusion. "Accepted what?"

"The offer that Seeley made you last night."

"It was not last night," she replied in a confused impulse.

"Oh, then it was this morning! May I congratulate you, or not?"

Ellen Adair turned to her book in deep vexation. She had been caught,
as it were, into making the tacit admission that Mr. Seeley had made
her an offer. And she was hurt at Arthur Bohun's words and tone. Had
he no more trust in her than _this?_ As she turned the leaves of the
book in her agitation, the plain gold ring on her finger attracted his
sight. He was chafing inwardly, but he strove to appear at careless
ease, and sat down as far from her as the bench allowed.

"I would be honourable if I died for it," he remarked with
indifference, looking at the rose. "Is it quite the thing for you to
listen to another man whilst you wear that ring upon your finger?"

Ellen took it off and pushed it towards him along the table.

This frightened him. He turned as white as ashes. Until now, he had
only been speaking in jealousy, not in belief. Her own face was
becoming white, her lips were compressed to hide their trembling. And
thus they sat for a minute or two. He looked at the ring, then looked
at her.

"Do you mean it, Ellen?" he asked, in a voice that struggled with
agitation, proving how very earnest he deemed the thing was
becoming--whatever it might have begun in.

She made no answer.

"Do you wish to give me back this ring?"

"What you said was, I thought, equivalent to asking for it."

"It was not. You know better."

"Why are you quarrelling with me?"

Moving an inch nearer, he changed his tone to gentleness, bending his
head forward.

"Heaven knows that it is bitter enough to do so. Have I cause, Ellen?"

Her eyes were bent down: the colour stole into her face again; a
half-smile parted her lips.

"You know, Ellen, it is perfectly monstrous that a common man like
Seeley should dare to cast his aspiring thoughts to you."

"Was it my fault?" she returned. "He ought to have seen that--that--I
should not like it."

"What did you tell him?"

"That it was quite impossible; that he was making a mistake
altogether. When he was gone, I complained to Mrs. Cumberland."

"Insolent jackanapes! Was he rude, Ellen?"

"Rude! Mr. Seeley!" she returned in surprise. "Quite the contrary. He
has always been as considerate and deferential as a man can be. You
look down on his position, Arthur, but he is as great a gentleman in
mind as you are."

"I only despise his position when he would seek to unite you to it."

"It has been very wrong of you to make me confess this. I can tell you
I am feeling anything but 'honourable,' as you put it just now. There
are things that should never be talked about; this is one of them.
Nothing can be more unfair."

Very unfair. Captain Bohun's right feeling had come back to him, and
he could only assent to it. He began to feel a little ashamed of
himself on more points than one.

"It shall never escape my lips, Ellen, whilst I breathe. Seeley's
secret is safe for me."

Taking up the ring, he held it for a moment, as if examining the gold.
Ellen rose and went outside. The interview was becoming a very
conscious one. He caught her up near the cascade, took her right hand
in his, and slipped the ring upon her third finger.

"How many times has it been off?" he asked.

"Never until to-day."

"Well, there it is again, Ellen. Cherish it still. I hope--that ere
long----"

He did not finish, but she understood quite well what he meant. Their
eyes met, and each read the impassioned love seated within the other;
strangely pure withal, and idealistic as ever poet dreamed of. He
strained the hand in his.

"Forgive my petulance, my darling."

Excepting the one sweet word and the lingering pressure of the hand;
excepting that the variegated rose was transferred from his possession
to hers, the interview had been wholly wanting in the fond signs and
tokens that are commonly supposed to attend the intercourse of lovers.
Captain Bohun had hitherto abstained from using them, and perhaps
Heaven alone knew what the self-denial cost him. In his unusually
refined nature he may have deemed that they would be unjustifiable,
until he could speak out openly and say, Will you be my wife?

"What is your book, Ellen?" he asked, as she returned to take it up
from the table.

"Longfellow."

"Longfellow! Shall I read some of it to you? can you remain out?"

"I can do so until one o'clock; luncheon-time."

They sat down, and he began "The Courtship of Miles Standish." The
blue sky shone down upon them through the flickering leaves, the
cascade trickled, the bees hummed in the warm air, the white
butterflies sported with the buds and flowers: and Ellen Adair, her
hands clasping that treasure they held, the rose, her eyes falling on
it to hide their happiness, listened in wrapt attention, for the voice
was sweeter to her than any out of heaven.

The words of another poet most surely were applicable to this period
of the existence of Captain Bohun and Ellen Adair. One of them at
least would acknowledge it amidst the bitterness of afterlife.


"Love took up the glass of Time, and turned it in his glowing hands;
 Every moment, lightly shaken, ran itself in golden sands."


It could not last--speaking now only of the hour. One o'clock came all
too soon; when he had seemingly read about ten minutes; and Miles
Standish had to be left in the most unsatisfactory condition. Ellen
rose: she must hasten in.

"It is a pity to break off here," said Arthur. "Shall I come and
finish it this afternoon?"

Ellen shook her head. In the afternoon she would have to drive out
with Mrs. Cumberland.

Captain Bohun went home through the green lanes, and soon found
himself amidst those other flowers--Mr. North's. That gentleman came
forth from his room to meet him, apparently in some tribulation, a
letter in hand.

"Oh, Arthur, I don't know what to say to you; I am so sorry," he
exclaimed. "Look here. When the postman came this morning, I happened
to be out on the lawn, and he gave me my two letters, as I thought,
and as he must have thought too, going on to the hall-door with the
rest. I put them into my pocket and forgot them, Arthur: my spectacles
were indoors. When I remembered them only just now, I found one was
directed to you in Sir Nash's handwriting. I am so sorry," repeated
poor Mr. North in his helpless manner.

"Don't be sorry, sir," replied Arthur cheerily. "It's nothing; not of
the least consequence at all," he added, opening the letter.
Nevertheless, as his eyes fell on the contents, a rather startled
expression crossed his face.

"There!" cried Mr. North. "Something's wrong, and the delay has done
mischief."

"Indeed nothing's wrong--in the sense you are thinking," repeated
Arthur--for he would not have added to the poor old man's troubles for
the world. "My uncle says James is not as well as he could wish: he
wants me to go up at once and stay with them. You can read it for
yourself, sir."

Mr. North put on his glasses. "I see, Arthur. You might have gone the
first thing this morning, but for my keeping the letter. It was very
stupid of the postman to give it to me."

Arthur laughed. "Indeed, I should have made no such hurry. There's not
the least necessity for that. I think I shall go up this afternoon,
though."

"Yes, do, Arthur. And explain to Sir Nash that it was my fault. Tell
him that I am growing forgetful and useless. Fit only to be cut down,
Arthur; only to be cut down."

Arthur Bohun put the old man's arm affectionately within his, and took
him back to his parlour. If Mr. North had grown old it was with worry,
not with years: the worry dealt daily out to him by madam; and Arthur
would have remedied it with his best blood had he known how.

"You had better go up with me, sir; for a little change. Sir Nash
would be glad to see you."

"_I_ go up with you! I couldn't, Arthur; I am not equal to it now. And
the strike is on, you know, and my place ought to be here while it
lasts. The men look upon me still as their master, though Dick--Dick
acts. And there's another thing, Arthur--I couldn't leave my roses
just as they have come into bloom."

Arthur Bohun smiled; the last reason was all powerful. Mr. North
stayed behind, and he went up that same afternoon to London.



CHAPTER VIII.
THE TONTINE.


The tontine. If the reader only knew how important a share the
tontine--with its results--holds in this little history, he would
enter on it with interest.

Tontines may be of different arrangement. In fact they are so. This
one was as follows. It had been instituted at Whitborough. Ten
gentlemen put each an equal sum into a common fund, and invested the
whole in the joint names of ten children all under a year old. This
money was to accumulate at compound interest, until only one of these
children should be living: the last survivor would then receive the
whole of the money unconditionally.

Of these ten children whose names were inscribed on the parchment
deed, Oliver Rane and Bessy North alone survived. Mr. North had been
wont to call it an unlucky tontine, for its members had died off
rapidly one after another. For several years only three had been left;
and now one of them, George Massey, had followed in the wake of those
who were gone. Under ordinary circumstances, the tontine would have
excited no comment whatever, but have gone on smoothly to the end:
that is, until one of the two survivors had collapsed. The other would
have had the money paid him; and nothing would have been thought about
it, except that he was a fortunate man.

But this case was exceptional. The two survivors were man and wife.
For the good fortune to lapse to one of them, the other must die. It
was certainly a curious position, and it excited a great deal of
comment in the neighbourhood. Dallory, as prone to gossip as other
places, made of it that oft-quoted thing, a nine-days' wonder. In the
general stagnation caused by the strike, people took up the tontine as
a source of relief.

Practically the tontine was of no further use to the two remaining
members: that is, to the two combined. They were one, so to say; and
so long as they continued to be so, the money could not lapse to
either. If Bessy died, Dr. Rane would take it; if Dr. Rane died, she
would take it. Nothing more could be made of it than this. It had been
accumulating now just one-and-thirty years; how much longer it would
be left to accumulate none could foresee. For one-and-thirty years to
come, in all human probability; for Dr. Rane and his wife appeared to
possess sound and healthy constitutions. Nay, they might survive ten
or twenty years beyond that, and yet not be very aged. And so, there
it was; and Dallory made the matter its own, with unceremonious
freedom.

But not as Dr. and Mrs. Rane did. They had need of money, and this
huge sum--huge to them--lying at the very threshold of their door, but
forbidden to enter, was more tantalizing than pen can describe.
Richard North had not been far wrong in his computation: and the
amount, as it stood at present, was considerably over two thousand
pounds. The round sum, however, was sufficient to reckon by, without
counting the odds and ends. Two thousand pounds! Two thousand pounds
theirs of right, and yet they might not touch it because both of them
were living!

How many hours they spent discussing the matter with each other could
never be told. As soon as twilight came on, wherever they might be and
whatever the occupation, the theme was sure to be drifted into. In the
dining-room when it grew too dark for Dr. Rane to pursue his writing;
in the drawing-room, into which Bessy would wile him, and sing to him
one of her simple songs; walking together, arm within arm, in the
garden paths, the stars in the summer sky above them, the waving trees
round about them, the subject of the tontine would be taken up: the
tontine; nothing but the tontine. No wonder that they grew to form
plans of what they would do if the money were theirs: we all know how
apt we are to let imagination run away with us, and to indulge visions
that seem to become almost realities. Dr. Rane sketched a bright
future, With two thousand pounds in hand, he could establish himself
in a first-rate metropolitan locality, set up well, both
professionally and socially; and there would be plenty of money for
him and his wife to live upon whilst the practice was growing. Bessy
entered into it all as eagerly as he. Having become accustomed to the
idea of quitting Dallory, she never glanced at the possibility of
remaining there. _She_ thought his eager wish, his unalterable
determination to leave it, was connected only with the interests of
his profession; _he_ knew that the dread of a certain possible
discovery, ever haunting his conscience, made the place more
intolerable to him day by day. At any cost he must get away from it:
at any cost. There was a great happiness in these evening
conversations, in the glowing hopes presented by plans and projects.
But, where was the use of indulging in them, when the tontine
money--the pivot on which all was to turn--could never be theirs? As
often as this damping recollection brought them up with a check, Dr.
Rane would fall into gloomy silence. Gradually, by the very force of
thinking, he saw a way, or thought he saw a way, by which their hopes
might be accomplished. And that was to induce the trustees to advance
the money at once to him and his wife jointly.

Meanwhile the strike continued with unabated force. Not a man was at
work; every one refused to do a stroke unless he could be paid for it
what _he_ thought right, and left off his daily labour! when he chose.
One, might have supposed, by the independence of the demands, that the
men were the masters, North and Gass the servants. Privation was
beginning to reign, garments grow scanty, faces pale and pinched.
There was not so much as a sixpence for superfluities: and under that
head in troubled times must be classed the attendance of a medical
man. It will readily be understood, therefore, that this state of
affairs did not contribute to the income of Dr. Rane.

One day, Mr. North, sitting on the short green bench in front of his
choicest carnation bed, found two loving hands put round his neck from
behind. He had been three parts asleep, and woke up slightly
bewildered.

"Bessy, child, is it you?"

It was Mrs. Rane. Her footfall on the grass had not been heard. She
wore a cool print dress and a black silk mantle; and her plain straw
bonnet looked charming, around the pretty falling curls. Bessy looked
quiet and simple at all times: and always a lady.

"Did I startle you, papa?"

"No, my dear. When I felt the arms, I thought it was Mary Dallory. She
comes upon me without warning sometimes. Here's room, Bessy."

She sat down beside him. It was a very hot morning, and Bessy
unfastened the strings of her bonnet. There was a slight look of
weariness on her face as if she were just a little worried with home
cares. In truth she felt so: but all for Oliver's sake. If the money
did not come in so freely as to make matters easy, she did not mind it
for herself, but for him.

"Papa, I have come to talk to you," she began, laying one of her hands
affectionately on his knee. "It is about the tontine money. Oliver
thinks that it might be paid to us conjointly; that it ought to be."

"I know he does," replied Mr. North. "It can't be done, Bessy."

Her countenance fell a little. "Do you think not, papa?"

"I am sure not, child."

"Papa, I am here this morning to beg you to use your interest with Sir
Thomas Ticknell. Oliver knows nothing about my coming. He said last
night, when we were talking, that if you could be induced to throw
your influence into the scale, the bank might listen to you. So I
thought that I would come to you in the morning and ask."

"The bank won't listen to me, or to any one else, in this matter,
Bessy. It's illegal to pay the tontine money over while two of you are
living, and the Ticknells are too strict to risk it. I shouldn't do it
myself in their places."

"What Oliver says is this, papa. The money must, in the course of
events, come to either him or me, whichever of us survives the other.
We have therefore an equal interest in it, and possess at present an
equal chance of succeeding to it. No one else in the wide world, but
our two selves, has the smallest claim to it, or ever can have. We are
the only survivors of the ten; the rest are all dead. Why, then,
should the trustees not stretch a point and let us have the money
while it can be of use to us conjointly? Oliver says they ought to do
it."

"I know he does," remarked Mr. North.

"Has Oliver spoken to you, papa?"

"No," said Mr. North. "I heard about it from Dick. Dick happened to be
at the bank yesterday, and Thomas Ticknell mentioned to him that Dr.
Rane had been urging this request upon them. Dick said Sir Thomas
seemed quite horrified at the proposition; they had told Dr. Rane, in
answer, that if they could consent to such a thing it would be no
better than a fraud."

"So they did," replied Bessy. "When Oliver was relating it to me after
he came home, he could not help laughing--in spite of his vexation.
The money is virtually ours, so where would the fraud lie?"

"To be virtually yours is one thing, Bessy; to be legally yours is
another. You young women can't be expected to understand business
problems, my dear; but your husband understands them. Of course it
would be a great boon to get the two thousand pounds whilst you are
both together; but it would not be legal for the bankers to do it, and
they are right in refusing it."

"Then--do you think there is no chance for us, papa?"

"Not the least chance, child."

A silence ensued. Mr. North sat watching his carnations, Bessy
watching, with far-off gaze, the dark-blue summer sky. In spite of her
father's opinion, she thought the brothers, Thomas and William
Ticknell, unduly hard.

The Ticknells were the chief bankers of Whitborough. Upon the
institution of the tontines, the two brothers, then in their early
prime, had been made trustees to it, in conjunction with a gentleman
named Wilson. In the course of time, Mr. Wilson died: and Thomas and
William Ticknell grew into tolerably aged men; they wanted now not
much of the allotted three score years and ten. The elder brother had
gone up to court with some great local matter, and he came back Sir
Thomas. These two gentlemen had full power over the funds of the
tontine. They were straightforward, honourable men; of dispositions
naturally cautious; and holding very strict opinions in business.
Increasing years had not tended to lessen caution, or to soften strict
tenets: and when Dr. Rane, soliciting a private interview with the
brothers, presented himself before them with a proposition that they
should pay over the tontine money to him and his wife conjointly,
without waiting for the death of either, the few hairs remaining on
the old gentlemen's white heads rose up on end.

Truly it had seemed to them, this singular application, as touching
closely upon fraud. Dr. Rane argued the matter with them, putting it
in the most feasible and favourable light: and it must be acknowledged
that, to his mind, it appeared a thing not only that they might do,
but that it would be perfectly right and honest to do. All in vain;
they heard him with courtesy, but were harder than adamant. Richard
North happened to go in upon some business soon after the conclusion
of the interview, and the brothers--they were the bankers of North and
Gass--told him confidentially of the application. Richard imparted it
to his father: hence Mr. North heard Bessy without surprise.

Regarded from the narrow, legal point of view, of course the Messrs.
Ticknell might be right; but, taking it broadly and comprehensively,
there could be no doubt that it seemed hard upon Oliver Rane and his
wife. The chief question that had presented itself to Richard North's
mind was: if the money were handed over now, would the Messrs.
Ticknell be quite secure from ulterior consequences? They said _not_.
Upon Richard North's suggesting that a lawyer might be consulted on
the point, Sir Thomas Ticknell answered that, no matter what a lawyer
might say, they should never incur the responsibility of parting with
the tontine money so long as two of its members were living. "And I
think they must be right," Richard remarked afterwards to his father.
Turning to Bessy, sitting by him on the bench, Mr. North repeated
this. Bessy listened in dutiful silence, but shook her head.

"Papa, much as I respect Richard's judgment, clever as I know him to
be, I am sure he is wrong here. It is very strange that he should go
against me and Oliver."

"It is because of that same good judgment, my dear," replied Mr. North
simply. "I'd trust it against the world, on account of his
impartiality. When he has to decide between two opposite opinions, he
invariably puts himself, or tries to put himself, in either place,
weighs each side, and comes to an unbiassed conclusion. Look at this
present strike: Dick has been reproached with leaning to the men's
side, with holding familiar argument with them, for and against; a
thing that few masters would do: but it is because he sees they really
believe they have right on their side, and he would treat their
opinions with respect, however mistaken he may know them to be."

"Richard cannot think the men are not to blame!" exclaimed Mrs. Rane.

"He lays the blame chiefly where, as _he_ says, it is due--on the
Trade Union. The men were deluded into listening to it at first; and
they can't help obeying its dictates now. They have given themselves
over to it, body and soul, Bessy, and can no more escape from it than
a prisoner from a dungeon. That's Richard's view, mind; and it makes
him lenient; I'd try and bring them to their senses in a different
way, if I had the power and the means left me."

"In what way, papa?"

"Bessy, if I were what I once was--a wealthy man, independent of
business--I'd close the works for good: break them up: burn them if
necessary: anything but reopen them. The trade should go where it
would, and the men after it; or stay here and starve, just as they
chose. I would never have my peace of life worried out of me by these
strikes; or let men that I have employed and always done liberally by
dictate to me. They'll find it out, Bessy, to their cost, as sure as
that we two are sitting here."

Mr. North seized the hoe that was resting beside the bench, and struck
it lightly on the ground. Meaning no doubt to give emphasis to his
words. Bessy Rane passed from the subject of the strike to that which
more immediately concerned her.

"Richard is honest, papa; he would never say what he did not think;
but he may be mistaken sometimes. I _cannot_ understand how he can
think the Ticknells right in refusing to let us have the money. If
there were the slightest, smallest reason for their keeping it back,
it would be different: but there is none."

"See here, Bessy. If they go by the strict letter of the law, they
cannot do it. The tontine deed was drawn up as tightly as any deed can
be: it expressly says that nine of the members must be dead, and only
the tenth remaining, before the money can be withdrawn from its
investment. The Ticknells can't get over this."

"Papa--forgive me--you should not say can't, but won't," spoke Mrs.
Rane. "They can do it if they please; there is nothing to prevent it.
All power lies with them; they are responsible to none. If they paid
over the money to Oliver tomorrow, not an individual in the whole
world could call them to account for it. The strictest judge on the
bench could not say to them afterwards, You have paid away money that
you had no right to pay."

"Stop, Bessy--that's just where the weak point lies. The Ticknells say
that if they parted with the money now, they might be called upon
again for it at some future time."

Bessy sat in amazement. "Why! How could that be?"

"Dick put it somehow in this way, my dear: that is, Thomas Ticknell
put it to him. If you should die, Bessy, leaving your husband a
widower with children: or, for the matter of that, if he should die,
leaving you with some: those children might come upon the Ticknells
for the money over again. Or Rane might come upon them, if he were the
one left; or you, if you were. It was in that way, I think Dick said;
but my memory is not as clear as it used to be."

"As if we should be so dishonourable! Besides--there could be no
possibility of claiming the money twice over. Having received it once,
the Ticknells would hold our receipt for it."

Mr. North shook his head. "The law is full of quips and quibbles,
Bessy. If the trustees paid over this money to you and your husband
now, contrary to the provisions of the tontine deed, I suppose it is
at least a nice question whether the survivor could not compel them to
pay it again."

Bessy held her breath. "Do _you_ think they could be compelled, papa?"

"Well, I don't know, Bessy. I fancy perhaps they might be. Dick says
they are right, as prudent men, to refuse. One thing you and Oliver
may rest assured of, my dear--that, under the doubt, the Ticknells
will never be persuaded to do it as long as oak and ash grow."

Bessy Rane sighed, and began to tie her bonnet. She had no idea that
paying the money would involve the trustees in any liability, real or
fancied, and hope went out of her from that moment. By nature she was
as just as Richard; and she could not henceforth even wish that the
bankers should incur the risk.

"Dick's indoors, my dear, if you'd like to ask him what Thomas
Ticknell said; he would explain it to you better than I have. No hurry
now, to be off in a morning: there are no works open to go to."

"I have heard enough, papa; I quite understand it now," was Mrs.
Rane's answer. "It will be a dreadful disappointment to Oliver when he
hears that no chance, or hope, is left. It would have been--oh such a
help to us."

"He is not getting on very well, is he, Bessy?"

"No. Especially since the strike set in. The men can't pay."

"Seeley must feel it as well as Oliver."

"Not half as much; not a quarter. His practice chiefly lies amongst
the richer classes. Well, we must have patience. As Oliver says,
Fortune does not seem to smile upon us just now."

"If I could put a hundred-pound note, or so, into your hand, whilst
these bad times are being tided over, I'd do it, Bessy, with all my
heart. But I can't. Tell Oliver so. The strike is bringing us no end
of embarrassment, and I don't know where it will end. It was bad
enough before, as you remember, Bessy: but we always had Richard as a
refuge."

"Richard will take care of you still, papa; don't be troubled; in some
way or other, I am sure he will. As to ourselves, we are young, and
can wait for the good time coming."

Very cheerily she spoke. And perhaps felt so. Bessy's gentle nature
held a great deal of sunshine.

"I wonder Oliver's mother does not help him," remarked Mr. North.

"She would gladly do it, papa, but she lives up to every farthing of
her income: beyond it, I fancy, sometimes. She is accustomed to
luxuries, and her travelling about costs a good deal. Mrs. Cumberland
is not one to economize, or to put up with small lodgings and
discomforts on her different sojourns. Sometimes, as you know, she
posts: it is easier, she says; and that is expensive."

"You'll come in, won't you, Bessy?" said Mr. North as she rose. "Miss
Field and Matilda were sitting in the hall just now; it is the coolest
place in the house."

She hesitated for a moment, and then walked on by his side. Mrs.
Rane's visits to the Hall were rare. Madam had not been cordial with
her since her marriage; and she had never once condescended to enter
Bessy's home.

The hall was empty. Bessy was about to enter the drawing-room in
search of Matilda, when the door opened and madam appeared. Madam
started haughtily, stepped back, and shut the door in Bessy's face.
Next moment, a hand was extended over Bessy's shoulder, and threw it
wide.

"By your leave, madam," said Richard North calmly. "Room for my
sister."

He marshalled her in as though she had been a duchess. Madam, drawing
her lace shawl round her shoulders, swept majestically out,
vouchsafing neither word nor look. It was nothing more than the
contempt often dealt to Bessy: but Richard's blood went up in a boil.

That the trustees' refusal to part with the funds of the tontine was
irrevocable, there could be no doubt about: nevertheless, Oliver Rane
declined to see it. The matter got wind, as nearly everything else
seemed to do in Dallory, and many people took his part. It was a
frightful shame, they thought, that a man and his wife could not enjoy
together the money that was their due, but must wait for one or the
other's death before they received it. Jelly's tongue made itself
particularly busy. Dr. Rane was not a favourite of hers on the whole,
but she espoused his cause warmly in this.

"It's such a temptation," remarked Jelly to a select few, one night at
Ketler's, whither she had betaken herself to blow up the man for
continuing to keep out on strike, to which movement Jelly was a
determined foe.

"A temptation?" rejoined Tim Wilks respectfully, who made one of her
audience. "In what way, Miss Jelly?"

"In what way," retorted Jelly with scorn. "Why in the way of
_stealing_ the money, if it's to be got at; or of punching those two
old bankers' heads. When a man's kept out of his own through nothing
but some crotchet, it's enough to make him feel desperate, Tim Wilks."

"So it is," acquiesced meek Timothy.

"If my mistress withheld my wages from me--which is twenty pounds
a-year, and her left-off silks--I should fight, I know: perhaps take
them. And _this_ is two thousand pounds."

"Two thousand pounds!" ejaculated honest Ketler in low tones of
reverence, as he lifted his hands. "And for the doctor to be kept out
of it because his wife's not dead! It _is_ a shame."

"I wouldn't say, either, but it might bring another sort of temptation
to some men, besides those mentioned by Miss Jelly," put in Timothy
Wilks with hesitation.

"And pray what would that be?" demanded Jelly tartly--for she made it
a point to keep Timothy under before company.

"The putting his wife out of the way on purpose to get the money, Miss
Jelly," spoke Tim with deprecation. And the words caused a sudden
pause.

"You--you don't mean murdering her!" shrieked Mrs. Ketler, who was a
timid woman and given to being startled.

"Yes I did," replied Timothy Wilks. "Some might be found to do it. No
offence to Dr. Rane. I'm putting the possible case of a bad man; not
of him."



CHAPTER IX.
AT THE SEASIDE.


The summer was slowly passing. At a small and obscure seaside place on
the East coast Mrs. Cumberland was located. She had engaged part of
one of the few good houses there--houses that let at an enormous price
in the season to visitors--and lived in it with Ellen Adair, and her
maid to wait on her. Not Jelly this time, but the housemaid Ann. The
interior of Mrs. Cumberland's own house at Dallory was being painted
during her absence. She had deemed it well to leave Jelly in charge:
and brought Ann instead.

They had been in this place, Eastsea, for some weeks now; and Ellen
privately believed that this sojourn was never coming to an end. Any
thing more wearisome than it was to her, could not have been found.
Arthur Bohun was in London at his uncle's, where he had been staying
for some time. It was several weeks since he and Ellen had met: to her
it seemed as many months. James Bohun was still ill, but fluctuated
much; at one time appearing to be beyond recovery, at another as if he
were almost well again. He would not part with Arthur; Sir Nash said
he must not think of leaving. Under the circumstances, Arthur did not
see his way clear to getting away.

Another person was fluctuating. And that was Mrs. Cumberland. Her
complaint, connected with the heart, was one of those that may snap
life suddenly, or allow it to be prolonged for years. That she was
gradually growing worse, was undoubted; but it was by almost
imperceptible degrees. No change could be noted from day to day; it
was only by comparing her present state with what it had been three,
six, or twelve months before, that the change could be seen.
Sometimes, for days together, she would feel very ill, be quite unable
to quit her room; and again she would have an interval of ease, almost
of seeming recovery, and walk and drive out daily. Dr. Rane had come
over twice to see his mother: staying on each occasion only a few
hours. His opinion was, that she might yet, with care, live for years;
and probably many years. At the same time, he knew that there could be
no certainty of it.

It was during this sojourn at Eastsea that Mrs. Cumberland received
news from Mr. Adair. He wrote in answer to Mrs. Cumberland's
letter--the first of the two letters already alluded to--wherein she
had spoken of the probability of Ellen's being sought in marriage by a
gentleman in every way desirable, but in which she had omitted,
probably from inadvertence, to mention the gentleman's name. Mr.
Adair's answer, now received, was to the effect that--fully relying on
Mrs. Cumberland's judgment--he could not desire better for his
daughter than that so suitable a marriage should be entered into; and
accorded it his cordial consent.

But this involved a most unhappy contretemps: of which no one as yet
was, or could be, conscious. That first letter of Mrs. Cumberland's
had alluded to Mr. Graves: _she imagined this consent to apply to
Arthur Bohun_. It takes time, as every one knows, for a letter to
reach Australia from England and an answer to be returned. Whether,
during those intervening weeks, Mrs. Cumberland actually forgot that
her first letter had applied to Mr. Graves: or whether in her invalid
state, memory had grown confused, and she remembered only the last
letter, must ever remain a question. Certain it was, that she accepted
this present approbation of Mr. Adair's as applying to Arthur Bohun.
It might be, that she had altogether forgotten having written about
Mr. Graves.

With her usual reticence, she said nothing to Ellen Adair. Not a word.
Time enough for that when Arthur Bohun should speak--if he ever did
speak. She held the consent ready for use if necessity ever required
it: and was at ease.

"Ellen, how listless you seem!"

Ellen Adair looked up, faintly blushing at the abrupt charge, which
came from Mrs. Cumberland.

"Listless!" exclaimed Ellen.

"My dear, it is nothing less. I don't think you care for Eastsea."

"Not very much. At least--it is rather dull."

"Well, I suppose you can only find it so; confined to the house half
my time, as I am. At Niton you had often Captain Bohun to go out with;
now you have to go out alone."

Ellen turned away, a soft blush rising to her face at the remembrance
of Niton, "Shall you be going home soon, do you think, Mrs.
Cumberland?" she asked.

"Oh dear no. I had a note from Jelly this morning, and she says the
house is not half ready. Workpeople are so lazy! Once you get them
into a place you can't get them out again. But if Jelly were ready for
us I should still not go. This air is doing me good on the whole.
Perhaps I shall remain the winter here."

Ellen's heart fell within her. All the autumn in this place, that
verily seemed to her the fag end of the world, and all the winter!
Should she _ever_ again get the chance of seeing her heart's love,
Arthur Bohun? And he?--perhaps he was forgetting her.

"Do you feel well enough to come out, Mrs. Cumberland?"

"No. I am sorry, Ellen, but you must go alone. Put on your things at
once, child: the afternoon will be passing."

Ellen sighed. It was of no moment to her whether she went out or
stayed in: she obeyed mechanically, and went forth. Quite alone.
Generally speaking Ann attended her, but the servant was this
afternoon wanted by her mistress.

The sunshine played on the clear blue sea, ever changing its lovely
hues, as the light autumn clouds floated above it in the sky. Ellen
Adair sat in a sheltered spot and watched it. It was her favourite
seat: one hewn out of the rocks, and apparently frequented only by
herself, as she had never yet been disturbed in it. Excepting the
small strip of beach before her, nothing was to be seen from it but
sea and sky. Overhead, she could hear the children's voices at play:
the tide below was coming in with gentle monotony. Ellen had a book
with her, and she had her diary; she had read a few pages in the one,
she had written some lines in pencil in the other: and so the hours
passed, and she was utterly dreary. The weary day was only the type of
the other weary days that at present made up the sum total of her
life.

"Will it ever come to an end?" she murmured, having watched a tiny
pleasure-boat shoot past and disappear, leaving her to her silent
solitude. "Shall we ever get back to Dallory Ham, and--the friends who
live there? I suppose a winter _might_ be got through and survived in
this place, but----"

A gentleman in deep mourning walking on the strip of beach, looking to
right and left. Ellen's thoughts were summarily ended, and she rose
with a faint cry: the cry of intense joy that in its sound is so near
akin to that of exquisite pain.

For it was no other than Captain Arthur Bohun. He had not heard it;
but he saw her; it was for her he had been searching: and he turned
with an outstretched hand. For a moment she felt utterly bewildered,
half doubting the reality of the vision. But oh yes, it was he; it was
he! The sea and sky, the rocks, and the monotony--all had changed into
paradise.

"How do you do, Ellen?"

Nothing more than this commonplace greeting was spoken. They stood in
silence, their hands clasped. His lips were quivering slightly,
proving how ardent was the feeling that stirred him at their renewed
meeting; Ellen, blushing and paling by turns, was agitated almost to
pain. Sitting down quietly by her side on the ledge of rock he
accounted for his unexpected appearance. On his arrival at Eastsea
that afternoon, he had gone at once to call at Mrs. Cumberland's. Ann
said her mistress was lying down, and that Miss Adair was on the
beach.

"Did you think I was never coming to see you, Ellen? I thought so. I
could not get away from my uncle's whilst James was so ill."

"Is he--dead?" hesitated Ellen, looking pointedly at the black
clothes.

"Oh no. It is a cousin of Sir Nash's and of my father's who is dead: a
very old man who has lived for years in the South of France. James
Bohun is very much better."

"I thought, by the deep mourning, it must be."

"Is it deep? I suppose it looks so. I should not wish it otherwise in
the present instance, for the good old man has been generous to me."

They fell into silence, each feeling the rapture of the other's
presence, after the prolonged separation, as something more than
human. So intense was it that Ellen, at least, might have been content
to die in it there and then. The sea changed its beautiful colours,
the sky seemed to smile on them, the children played overhead, a
silvery flute from some unseen boat in the distance was softly
playing. No: Eden could never have been sweeter than this.

"What have you been doing, all this time by yourself at Eastsea?" he
at length asked her.

"Very much what I am doing now, I think--sitting here to watch the
sea," she answered. "There has been nothing else to do. It was always
dull."

"Has Mrs. Cumberland had any visitors?"

"Dr. Rane has been here twice. He gives a bad account of things at
Dallory. The strike shows no signs of coming to an end; and the men
are in want."

"So Dick says. I get a letter from him sometimes."

A great amount of talking, this. The tide turned; a big steamer went
by in the distance.

"Do you hear that, Ellen?"

A man's soft tenor voice had struck up a love-song overhead: "Ellen
Adair," Robin Adair, as the world more often has it. Arthur Bohun used
to hear it sung as "Ellin Adair," when he was recovering from his
wound in Ireland; the Irish insisted on it that so it was in the
original song; and he had sometimes asked Ellen to sing it so for him
since. The children ceased their play; the verses went on, and these
two below the rocks, unseen, listened to the end, catching every word
distinctly.


     "Yet her I loved so well,
        Still in my heart shall dwell.
      Oh! I shall ne'er forget
                Ellen Adair."


"Nor I," softly spoke Arthur, as the refrain died away.

Mrs. Cumberland was up when they got in. Ann had told her of Captain
Bohun's appearance and that he had gone to find Miss Adair. Mrs.
Cumberland took a few minutes for consideration, and then decided on
her course of conduct, and that was to speak to Captain Bohun.

It might have been all very well, whilst she was armed with no
authority, tacitly to countenance Captain Bohun's frequent visits; but
now that she had authority, she deemed it right, in justice to Ellen,
to take a different standing. If Captain Bohun had serious intentions,
well and good; if not, she should request him to bring the intimacy to
a close. Feeling the responsibility that lay upon her as the sole
guardian in Europe of Ellen Adair, she thought she should be justified
in saying so much, for, unless Arthur Bohun proposed to make the young
lady his wife, it was cruel to allow her to fall in love with him.

When Mrs. Cumberland once made her mind up to any resolve, she did not
usually lose time in putting it into practice, and she lost none here.
Taking the opportunity this same evening, when Ellen was out of the
room; sent from it by herself on some errand of excuse; she spoke to
Captain Bohun.

But the most fastidious man living could not have taken exception to
what she said. She spoke quite as a lady. Captain Bohun's appearance
that day at Eastsea--coupled with the remembrance of his frequent
sojourns at Niton when they were staying there, and his constant
visits to her house at Dallory Ham--had revived a faint idea that had
sometimes presented itself to her mind, namely, that he might be
growing attached to Ellen Adair. Mrs. Cumberland did not wish to
enlarge on this point; it might be, or it might not be; Captain Bohun
si! one knew; perhaps she was wholly mistaken; all she wished to say
was this--that if Captain Bohun _had_ no future thoughts in regard to
Miss Adair, she must request him to terminate his intimacy at once.
When she returned to Dallory Ham she should be glad to see him at her
house occasionally, just as any other visitor; but nothing more.

To this Arthur Bohun answered candidly enough. He did like Ellen
Adair; if circumstances permitted he should be only too glad to make
her his wife; but, as Mrs. Cumberland knew, he had hitherto been very
poor. As he pleased, Mrs. Cumberland remarked; the matter was entirely
for his own consideration; she did not attempt to press it, one way or
the other; if he saw no chance of his circumstances improving, he
should freely say so, and terminate his visits; she could not allow
Ellen to be played with. And upon that, Arthur begged to have the
night for reflection; he would see Mrs. Cumberland in the morning, and
give her his decision.

So it was left. When Ellen returned to the room--unsuspicious of what
had been said during her few minutes' absence from it--Captain Bohun
took his departure. Arrived at the hotel where he had put up, he
devoted himself to the consideration of the grave question, weighing
it in all its bearings as fairly as his love for Ellen allowed him to
do. Of course that biassed him.

He had sufficient to marry upon now. By the death of the relative for
whom he was in mourning, he had come into about eight hundred a-year.
With his own income, that made twelve. Quite sufficient to begin upon,
though he was a Bohun. But--there were deterring considerations. In
some way, as he suspected, his mother, in her fear of Ellen Adair, had
contrived to instil a suspicion in the mind of Sir Nash, that Arthur,
unless he were closely controlled, might be making a mésalliance. Sir
Nash possessed all the pride of the Bohuns, and it frightened him. He
spoke to Arthur, telling him that unless he married with the full
approval of his family, he should never succeed to the estates. No,
nor to the title if he could help it. If James died, he, Sir Nash,
would marry first, and leave direct heirs.

This, it was, that now interfered with Arthur's decision. One fact was
known to him--that James Bohun, since this illness set in, had joined
his father in cutting off the entail, so that the threat of leaving
the estates away from Arthur (even though he succeeded to the title)
could be easily accomplished. What was to be done? Part with Ellen
Adair he could not. Oh, if he might only make her his wife without the
world knowing it; the world abroad, and the world at home! _Might_
this be? Very slowly Arthur Bohun arrived at a conclusion--that the
only plan, if Mrs. Cumberland and Ellen would accede to it, was to
have a private marriage.

Arguments are so easy when inclination goes with them. The future
looks very much as we ourselves paint it. They might be married at
once, here at Eastsea. If James Bohun recovered and lived, why, there
could be no question about the title or the estates lapsing to Arthur,
and he might avow his marriage as soon as he pleased. If James died,
he should not, as he really believed, have to conceal it long, for he
thought Sir Nash's life quite as precarious as James's. A few months,
perhaps a few weeks, and he might be able to tell the world that Ellen
was his wife. He felt an inclination to whisper it beforehand to his
good friend and aunt, Miss Bohun. But, he must first of all ascertain
from Mrs. Cumberland what was the social standing of Mr. Adair. Unless
he were undeniably a gentleman, Ellen could be no fit wife for a
Bohun. Arthur, swayed by his love, had hitherto been content to take
this fact for granted; now he saw the necessity of ascertaining it
more certainly. It was not that he had any real doubt, but it was only
right to make sure.

Mr. Adair held some post under the British Government, formerly in
India, for a long time now in Australia. His wife had died young; his
only child, Ellen, had been sent to a first-rate school in England for
her education. Upon its completion, Mr. Adair had begged Mrs.
Cumberland to receive her; he had some thought of returning home
himself, so that he did not wish Ellen to go out to him. An impression
was afloat in Dallory that Ellen Adair would inherit a fortune; also
that Mrs. Cumberland received liberal remuneration for the expenses of
the young lady. These generalities Arthur Bohun already knew; but he
knew no more.

He paid the promised visit to Mrs. Cumberland in the morning. Ellen
was on the beach with the maid; there was no interruption, and their
conversation was long and confidential. Heaven alone knew how Arthur
Bohun succeeded in making Mrs. Cumberland believe in the necessity for
a private marriage. He did succeed. But he used no subterfuge. He
frankly told of the prejudice his mother had taken against Ellen
Adair, and that she had gained the ear of Sir Nash. In short, the same
arguments he had used to himself the previous evening, he urged now.
Mrs. Cumberland--naturally biassed against madam for the injury she
had striven to work upon Dr. Rane--thought it a frightful shame that
she should also strive to destroy the happiness and prospects of her
own son Arthur, and sympathized with him warmly. It was this feeling
that rendered her more easy than she would otherwise have been--in
short, that made her give her consent to Arthur's plan. To counteract
the bitter wrong contemplated by Mrs. North, she considered would be a
merit on Arthur's part, instead of a sin. And then, when things were
so far settled, and the speedy marriage determined on, Mrs. Cumberland
astonished Captain Bohun by putting Mr. Adair's letter into his hands,
explaining how it came to be received, and what she had written to
that gentleman to call it forth. "So that her father's blessing will
rest on the marriage," remarked Mrs. Cumberland; "but for that fact, I
could not have consented to a private one."

This gave Arthur the opportunity to ask about the position of Mr.
Adair, which, in the heat of argument, he had been forgetting.
Certainly he was a gentleman, Mrs. Cumberland answered, and of very
good Scotch family. Major Bohun, Mr. Adair, and her own husband,
George Cumberland, had been firm friends in India at the time of Major
Bohun's death. She could not help thinking, she added in conclusion,
that it was the remembrance of that early friendship which induced Mr.
Adair to give so ready and cordial a consent to his daughter's union
with Major Bohun's son.

And so there the matter ended, all couleur-de-rose; Arthur believing
that there could be no possible objection to his marrying Ellen Adair;
nay, that the way had been most markedly paved for it through this
letter of Mr. Adair's; Mrs. Cumberland deeming that she was not
indiscreet in permitting the marriage to be a private one. Both were
unsuspicious as the day. He, that there existed any real objection;
she, that Mr. Adair's consent applied to a very different man from
Arthur Bohun.

Captain Bohun went out from Mrs. Cumberland's in search of Ellen, with
the light of love flushing his cheeks. He found her in the same
sheltered spot, hedged in from the gaze of the world. Again alone. The
servant had gone to the shops, to buy ribbon. Their salutations
hitherto had been nothing but decorum and formality, as witness that
of the previous day.

"Good-morning," said Ellen, rising and holding out her hand.

Instead of taking it, he took herself. Took her in his arms with a cry
of long-repressed emotion, and laid her sweet face upon his breast,
kissing it with impassioned kisses. Ellen, utterly astonished, could
not escape.

"Do not shrink from me, Ellen. You are to be my wife."



CHAPTER X.
A LAST PROPOSAL.


Affairs grew more unsatisfactory at Dallory as the weeks went on. The
strike continued; the men utterly refusing to return to work except on
their own terms, or, rather, the Trades' Union refusing to allow them
to do so. Supplies became more scanty. If not actual famine, something
near to it began to reign. North Inlet, once so prosperous, looked
like a half-starved place out at elbows. Oh, what senseless folly it
was! What would it end in? Mrs. Gass had grown tired of going amongst
the men to reason with them and try to bring them to their senses; but
Miss Dallory still went. Miss Dallory could make no impression
whatever. The men were moody, miserable, almost starved. They would
gladly have gone back to work again almost on no pay at all, only as a
relief to the present idleness; but they belonged to the famous
Trades' Union now, and must obey its dictates. Mary Dallory grew angry
sometimes, and asked whether they were men, or cravens, that they had
no pity for their poor helpless children.

One day Mrs. Gass and Miss Dallory went forth together. Not of
premeditation. One of Ketler's children was ill and weakly, incipient
consumption, Dr. Rane said; she was a sweet little child, mild and
gentle; and Miss Dallory would sometimes carry her strengthening
things. It was a terrible shame, she would tell Ketler, that he should
let even this poor sickly child starve: and Ketler humbly acknowledged
to his own heart that the child _was_ starving; and felt it keenly. The
man was as well-meaning a man as Heaven ever sent into the world;
anxious to do his duty: but he had signed himself a member of the
Trades' Union, and was helpless.

Miss Dallory wore a print gown, and was altogether a great deal less
fine than Jelly. She carried a small basket in her hand, containing
fresh eggs. As she passed Mrs. Gass's that lady was standing at her
open parlour window, in all the glory of a gorgeous green satin robe,
and white bonnet with bird-of-paradise feather. She dearly loved fine
clothes, and saw no reason why she should not wear them.

"Where be you bound to, my dear?" asked the grandly-dressed lady, as
Mary stopped.

"I am taking these eggs to little Cissy Ketler. Mrs. Gass, what is to
become of all the poor children if this state of things should last
much longer?"

"I'm sure I don't know. It goes again' the grain to see 'em want; but
when we give 'em food or helps it's just so much premium offered to
the father's incorrigible obstinacy and idleness, my dear."

"But the child is ill," said Mary Dallory. "And so are many other
children."

"They'll be worse before long. My dear, I was not talking at you, in
saying that. But I don't see where it's all to end. We can't set up
hospitals for the women and children, even with the best will to do
it. And the will, I, for one, have not. Once get their wives and
children took care of, and the men would lead the lives of gentlemen
to the end o' the chapter. Here; I'll walk with you, my dear; and we
can talk going along."

She came forth, drawing on her lemon-coloured gloves: and they went
towards Ketler's. North Inlet looked deserted to-day. Not a man was
lounging in it. The few stragglers to be seen were walking briskly in
the direction of the works; as if they had business on hand, and were
without their pipes. Mrs. Gass arrested one who was passing her.

"What's up, Dawson?"

"We've been called together, ma'am, to meet Mr. Richard North. He have
som'at to say to us. Happen, maybe, he's a-going to give in at last."

"Is he!" retorted Mrs. Gass. "I don't think you need worrit your
inside with that idea, Dawson. It's a deal more likely that he's going
to warn you he'll sell the works out and out--if he can get any fool
to buy 'em."

The man passed on. Mrs. Gass, as she turned to Miss Dallory, gave
a flourish with her small white lace parasol and a toss to the
bird-of-paradise.

"Had anybody told me men could be so obstinate, in regard to thinking
themselves in the right, I'd never have believed it: but seeing's
believing. My dear, suppose we just step on to the works, and learn
what matter Mr. Richard has in hand."

The men, going in at the iron gates, branched round to their own
entrance. Mrs. Gass took Miss Dallory to a private one. It led at once
into what might now be called the audience chamber, for Richard North
was already haranguing the men in it: a long and rather narrow room,
with a counter running across it. It used to be the pay-room of the
men: perhaps some of them, entering now, recalled those prosperous
days with a sigh. Richard North did not see the ladies come in. He
stood with his back to them, in his usual everyday attire, a plain
black frock-coat and grey trousers. His hands rested on the counter as
he talked to the men, who faced him on the other side; a crowd of
them, all with attentive countenances. Mrs. Gass signed to Miss
Dallory to halt; not to conceal themselves from Richard, but simply
lest their advance should interrupt what he was saying. And so they
remained listening, Richard unconscious that he had any other audience
than his workpeople.

The matter was this. A contract had just been offered to North and
Gass. It was a very large one, and would certainly, if accepted, keep
the men employed for some time. It was offered at a certain price.
Richard North made his calculations and found that he could accept it,
provided the men would work on the former terms: but he could not if
the rate of wages had to be raised. Considering the present hopeless
condition of the men, imagining that they must have had very nearly
sufficient experience of idleness and empty cupboards to bring them to
reason, he determined to lay the proposal before them--that they might
accept or reject it. In a clear and concise manner he stated this, and
the men heard him respectfully to the end. One of them then advanced a
few steps before the rest, and answered. Answered without the smallest
deliberation; without so much as a pretence of inquiring what the
feelings of his fellows might be.

"We can't do it, sir."

Richard North raised his hand for silence, as if the man had spoken
before his time.

"Do you fully understand the case in all its bearings?" resumed
Richard: "if not, take time to reflect until you do understand it.
Look at it well; take into consideration the future as well as the
present. Listen again. This contract has been offered me: it is a good
one, as you must know. It will set our works going again; it will be
the means of bringing back the business that seems to be drifting more
hopelessly away from us day by day. It will provide you with,
employment, with wages that you not so long ago thought liberal; and
will place you again in what may be called prosperity--great
prosperity as compared with what exists at present. Your homes may be
homes of plenty again, your children have sufficient food. In short,
both to you and to me, this contract offers just the turn of the tide.
I wish to accept it: I see nothing but ruin before my father and
myself if I cannot do so: what I see before you I do not care to speak
of, if you are not wise enough to see it for yourselves. The decision
lies with you, unfortunately; I wish it lay with myself. Shall I take
it, or shall I not?"

"We couldn't return at them rate of wages, nohow," spoke up a voice
from the crowd.

"It is the last chance that I shall offer you," proceeded Richard.
"For your sakes I would strongly advise you to take it. Heaven is my
witness that I am honest in saying 'for your sakes.' We have been
associated together for many years, and I cannot see the breaking up
of old ties without first using every effort to re-unite them. I must
give my answer tomorrow, and accept this work or reject it. Little
time is allowed me for decision, therefore I am unable to give much to
you. Virtually the acceptance or rejection lies with you; for, without
you, I could not fulfil it: but I cannot help a remark in passing,
that for such a state of things to exist argues something rotten at
the core in the relations between master and men. At six o'clock
tomorrow morning the great bell shall be rung, calling you to work as
formerly. My men, I hope you will all respond to it."

No, not at the terms offered, was the answer gathered by Richard North
from the buzz that rose around.

"I cannot offer you better. I have said that this is the last chance,"
repeated Richard. "I shall never give you the option of working for me
again."

The men couldn't help that. The fact was, they only half believed it.
One ventured a supposition that if the works were sold, the new firm
might give them work on new terms.

"No," said Richard North. "I am very different from you, my men. You
see work at your very hand, and will not do it. You look forward to
the future with, as I must suppose, easy apathy, giving neither care
nor anxiety as to how you and your families are to live. I, on the
contrary, am only anxious to work; at a reduced rate of profit, on a
smaller scale if it must be; but, any way, to work. Night after night
I lie awake, tormented with lively apprehensions for the future. What
seemed, when you first turned out, to be a mere temporary stoppage,
that reason and good sense on both our sides could not fail to
rectify, has assumed gigantic proportions and a permanent aspect.
After some time I gave way; offering to split the difference, as to
wages, if you would return----"

"But we wanted the whole," came an interruption. "And you didn't give
way as to time."

"I could not do either," said Richard North firmly. "I offered all I
was able. That is a thing of the past: let it go. I now make you this
last and final offer; and I think it only fair to tell you what my
course will be if you reject it. I shall go over to Belgium and see if
I cannot engage Belgian workmen to come here and take your places."

A dead silence fell on the room. Ketler broke it.

"You'd surely not do that, sir!"

"Not do it! Why, you force it upon me. I must either get a new set of
men, or give up the works entirely. As I do not feel inclined to the
latter course, the former alone is open to me."

"We'll have none o' them Belgiums here!" cried a threatening voice
from the crowd.

"Allow me to tell you, Thoms, to tell you all, that the Belgians will
not ask your leave to come," spoke Richard, raising his head to its
full height. "Would you act the part of dogs-in-the-manger? I offer
_you_ the work; offer it _now_; and I heartily wish you to accept it;
but if you do not, I shall certainly endeavour to get others here who
will."

"Who be they Belgicks that they should snatch the bread out of honest
Englishmen's mouths!"

"What are the honest Englishmen about, to give them the opportunity?"
retorted Richard. "Listen, my men," he continued, as he leaned forward
and raised his hand impressively. "If you (I speak of the country
collectively) refuse to work, it can practically matter very little to
you whether the work goes to Belgium or elsewhere to be done, or
whether strangers come and do it here. _It must end in one or the
other_."

"It shan't never end in them frogs o' foreigners coming here," spoke
Thoms again, vexed that his voice should have been recognized by
Richard North. And this second interruption was hissed down by his
more sensible comrades; who sharply bade him hold his tongue, and hear
the master. Richard put up his hand again.

"We will take it, for the moment's argument, at what Thoms says--that
strangers would not, or should not, come here. In that case the other
result must happen--the work of the country would pass away from it.
It has already begun to pass; you know it, my men; and so do your
rulers the Trades' Unions. How it affects their nerves I don't pretend
to say; but, when once this tide of desolation has fairly set in as a
settled result, there will not be much need of their agitation. As
truly as that I live, and now stand here speaking to you, I believe
this will come. In different parts of the country whole places are
being dismantled--the work has left it. Do you suppose North Inlet is
the only spot where the provision shops may as well be closed because
the men have no longer money to spend in them? Any newspaper you take
up will tell you the contrary. Read about the ship-building in the
East of London; how it has gone away, and whole colonies of men are
left behind starving. Gone to Scotland; to the banks of the Tyne;
anywhere that men can be found to work. It is the same with other
trades. Whose fault is this? Why, the men's own."

Murmurs. "No. No."

"No! Why, here's a present illustration of it. Whose fault is it that
my works are shut up, and you are living in idleness--or, we'll say,
starving in idleness, if you like the word better? If I am unable to
take this contract now offered, and it goes elsewhere, whose doings
will it be, but yours? Don't talk nonsense, my men. It is all very
well to say that the Trades' Unions don't allow, you to take the work.
I have nothing to do with that: you and the Unions may divide the
responsibility between you."

"The fact is, sir, that we are not our own masters," said Ketler.

"Just so. And it seems that you cannot, or will not, emancipate
yourselves from your new slavery and again become your own masters.
However, I did not call you together to go over this old ground, but
to lay before you the option of returning to work. You have the day to
consider it. At six o'clock tomorrow the call-bell will ring----"

"'Twon't be of no use ringing it, sir," interrupted Ketler, some
sadness in his tone.

"At six o'clock tomorrow morning the call-bell here will ring,"
authoritatively repeated Richard North. "You respond to it and I shall
heartily welcome you back. If you do not, my refusal must go in, and
the contract will lapse from me. If we part to-day it is our final
parting, for I shall at once take measures to secure a fresh set of
workpeople. Though I gather but ten together at first, and the work I
undertake be insignificant in proportion, _I'll get them_. It will be
something like beginning life again: and you will have forced it on
me."

"And of all pig-headed idiotics that mortal master ever had to deal
with, sure you men are the worst!"

The undignified interruption came from Mrs. Gass. Richard looked
round, in great surprise; perhaps all the greater when he also
saw Miss Dallory. Mrs. Gass came forward; talking volubly; her
bird-of-paradise nodding time to her words. As usual she told the men
some home truths; none the less forcibly because her language was
homely as their own.

"Is this true?" asked Miss Dallory in a low tone, as Richard went back
to shake hands with her. "Shall you really reopen the works again
with another set of men?"

"Yes--if these do not return. It will be better, however quietly I may
have to begin, than going out to seek my fortune in the world. At
least, I have lately been thinking so."

"Do you think the men _will_ return?"

"I am afraid to give you my true opinion. It might seem like a bad
omen."

"And now you have given it me. It is also mine. They are blind to
infatuation."

"Not so much blind, I think, as that they are--I have just said so to
them--in a state of slavery from which they dare not emancipate
themselves."

"And who would do so--under the specious promises of the Trades'
Unions? Don't blame them too much, Mr. Richard North. If some strong
body came down on you or me with, all sorts of agitation and golden
promises for the future, we also might believe in them."

Richard shook his head. "Not if the strong body lived by the
agitation: and took our hard-earned money to keep themselves and their
golden promises going."

Mary Dallory laughed a little. "Shall you ring that great bell in the
morning?"

"Yes; certainly."

"Ah, well--the men will only laugh at you. But I dare say you can
stand that. Oh dear! What need there is that the next world should be
great and good, when this is so foolish a one!"

The meeting had broken up. Richard North and a few of the more
intelligent of the men--those who had filled the more important posts
at the works--remained talking yet together. Mrs. Gass, and Miss
Dallory with her basket of fresh eggs, went away together.

Women stood about with anxious faces, watching for the news. They
were tired of the strike: heartsick, as some of them feelingly
expressed it. Nothing teaches so well as experience: the women were as
eager for the strike at one time as the men could be, believing it
would bring them a tide of prosperity in its wake. They had not
bargained for what it had really brought: misery, and dismantled
homes, and semi-starvation. But for being obliged to keep up as others
did--as we all have to do, whatever may be the life's struggles, the
heart's bitter care--there were those amongst them who would have laid
down to die in sheer hopelessness.

Mrs. Ketler stood at her door in a tattered black net cap--the once
tidy woman. She was shading the sun from her eyes as she looked out
for her husband. It prevented her noticing the approach of the ladies;
and when they accosted her she backed into her house in her timid way,
rather startled, attempting a few words by way of apology. The little
girl who was sick--a wan child of seven years old--was being nursed by
one somewhat older. Miss Dallory looked round to see that there was a
chair left, and took the invalid on her own lap. Almost all the
available things the house once contained had been parted with; either
pledged or sold. Miss Dallory gave the eggs to the mother, and a
half-pint bottle of beef-tea that lay at the bottom of the basket.

"How is Cissy to-day?" she asked tenderly of the child.

"Cissy tired," was the little one's answer.

"Has Cissy finished the strawberry-jam?"

Cissy nodded.

"Then let your big boy come to Ham Court for some more," said Miss
Dallory, turning to the mother.

The "big boy" was the eldest. He had been employed at the works, but
was of course condemned to idleness like the rest.

"Aren't you pretty tired of this sort o' thing?" demanded Mrs. Gass,
who had come to an anchor on a wooden bucket turned upside-down.

The woman knew what she meant by "this sort o' thing," and gave a
groan. It was very expressive, showing _how_ tired she was of it, and
how hopeless were any prospects of a change.

"I've heard about the master's offer, ma'am; but the men mean to
reject it," she said. "Smith stopped to tell me as he went by. The
Lord above knows what is to become of us!"

"If the men do reject it, they'll deserve to starve for the rest of
their lives," retorted Mrs. Gass. "Any way, I hope they'll have it
upon their consciences for ever."

"It's the Trades' Union," said the woman in a low tone, giving a
frightened look around. "The men can't do as they would."

"Not do as they would!" echoed Mrs. Gass. "Don't you pick up their
folly and retail it to me again, Susan Ketler. If the men was fools
enough to be drawn into joining the Union at first--and I wouldn't
blame 'em too much for that, for the best of us gets led away at times
by fair promises that turn out in the end to be smoke, or worse--they
ought not to be so obstinate as to keep there. Now that they've seen
what good that precious Trades' Union is doing for 'em, and what it's
likely to do, they should buckle on the armour of their common sense
and leave it. Mr. Richard North has this day given them the
opportunity of doing so. Every man Jack of 'em can go back to work
tomorrow morning at the ringing of the bell: and take up again with
good wages and comfort. If they refuse they'll not be so much fools as
something worse, Susan Ketler: they'll be desperately wicked."

"They are afraid," murmured the woman. "They have yielded themselves
by word and bond to the Union."

"Then let 'em break the bond. Don't tell me, Susan Ketler. Afraid?
What of? Could the Union kill them for it? Could the men be hung,
drawn and quartered for leaving it? Who _is_ the Union? Giants that were
born with thunderbolts and power from the Creator to control people's
wills?--or just simple men like themselves: workmen too, once, some of
'em, if reports are true. You'd better not try to come over me with
your fallacies. Facts is facts. If these men chose to do it, they
could send the Trades' Union to the right about this very day, and
return, with one accord, to work and their senses tomorrow. Who's to
hinder them?"

Mrs. Ketler ventured to say no more. She only wished she dared say as
much to her husband and the men. But, what with common sense, as Mrs.
Gass called it, on the one side, and the Trades' Union sophistries on
the other, the steering in North Inlet just now was difficult in the
extreme. Mrs. Gass rose from her uncomfortable seat, and departed with
Miss Dallory.



CHAPTER XI.
UNDER THE CEDAR-TREE.


There was commotion that day in Dallory. An offer such as this of
Richard North's, coming as it did in the very midst of distress and
prolonged privation, could not be rejected off-hand without dissenting
voices. The few men who had not joined the Union, who only wished to
get back to work, pleaded for acceptance as if they were pleading for
life. Strangers also--that is, gentlemen who had no direct interest in
the question--went about amongst the men, striving to impress upon
them where their obligations lay, and what their course ought to be.
One of these was Dr. Rane. There had been a good deal of sickness
lately--when is there not where privation reigns?--and the doctor's
services were in great requisition. Every house he visited that day,
every workman with whom he came into contact, he spoke to forcibly and
kindly: urging them all most strongly not to reject this opportunity
of putting themselves right with the world. It was one, he said, that
might never occur again, if neglected now. Dr. Rane, whilst blaming
the men, was sorry for them; keenly sorry for their wives and
children.

He had had a very fatiguing day. When the dusk of evening came on, he
went and sat in the garden, tired and weary. Bessy had gone to spend
the evening at Ham Court with Miss Dallory; and the doctor had
promised to fetch her home. His ruminations still ran, as ever, on
getting away from Dallory; but at present there seemed to be little
chance of his doing it. Unless he could dispose of his practice here,
he would not have the wherewithal to establish himself elsewhere. Had
Oliver Rane been a less healthy man than he really was, he would long
ago have thought and worried himself into a nervous fever.

It grew darker. Dr. Rane struck his repeater--for it was too dark to
see the hands--wondering whether it was time to go for his wife. No;
not quite, he found; he could delay another quarter-of-an-hour yet.
And he lapsed into his musings.

The seat he had chosen was under the great cedar-tree at the extreme
corner of the garden, close to the wire fence that divided his ground
from Mrs. Cumberland's, and also close to that lady's back-door. Some
foliage of clematis and woodbine would have hidden him from any one on
the other side even in daylight, and Dr. Rane felt as solitary as he
would have felt in an African desert. From his own troubles his
thoughts went roaming off to other matters: to his mother's long
sojourn at Eastsea; to wondering when she meant to return home; to
speculating on what the workmen's answer to Richard North's call would
be.

"Will they show the white feather still? it is nothing less, this
cowardly grovelling to the dictates of the Union," soliloquized Dr.
Rane; "or will they respond to Dick like men of sense, and go back to
him? If it were not for those agitators----"

"I can tell you what it is, Mr. Tim Wilks--if you don't choose to keep
to your time and your promises, you need not trouble yourself to come
worrying after me later. A good two mortal hours by the clock have I
been at Green's waiting for _you_."

The above, succeeding to the sound of footsteps in the lane, and
uttered in Jelly's sharpest tones, cut short Dr. Rane's musings. A
short squabble ensued: Jelly scolding; Tim Wilks breathlessly
explaining. From what the doctor, sitting in silence, and unsuspected,
could gather, it appeared that Jelly must have had some appointment
with Tim--no doubt of her own imperious making--which he had failed to
keep, and had come running after her, only to catch her up at the
garden-door.

Jelly put the key in the lock, and stepped inside the garden: the
servants sometimes chose that way of entrance in preference to the
front. During the absence of Mrs. Cumberland Jelly acted as mistress,
entertained her friends, and went in and out at will. Mr. Wilks meekly
remained where he was, not daring to cross the threshold without
permission.

"Is it too late to come in, Miss Jelly?" asked he.

"Yes, it is too late," retorted Jelly; the pair not having the
slightest notion that any eavesdropper was near them. But the word
could not justly be applied to Dr. Rane: he did not want to hear what
was said; felt rather annoyed at the noise and interruption.

"I couldn't get home before," resumed Timothy, "though I ran all the
way from Whitborough. When a young man has his day's work to finish,
and that in a lawyer's office, he is obliged to stay beyond hours if
necessary."

"Don't tell me," said Jelly, who stood with the half-closed door in
her hand in the most inhospitable manner. "You could have come home if
you'd chosen."

"But I couldn't, Miss Jelly."

"You are always stopping beyond hours now. That is, _saying_ that you
do."

"Because we have been so busy lately," answered Tim. "Our head clerk,
Repton, is away through illness, and it puts more work on the others.
Dale's as cranky as he can be, and works us like horses. If you'll
believe me, Miss Jelly, I hadn't time to go out and get any tea. I've
not had bit or drop inside me since one o'clock to-day."

This pitiful view of affairs a little pacified Jelly; and she dropped
her sharp tone. Dr. Rane was wishing they would take their departure.
He would have done so himself, but that he did not altogether care to
betray his presence.

"Why does that old Dale not get another clerk?" demanded Jelly. "I
should tell him plainly if I were you, Tim, that going without my
regular meals did not suit me."

"We should not dare to say that. Much he'd listen if we did! As to
getting another clerk, I believe he is doing it. Repton's doctor says
he'll never be well again, so Dale thinks it's of no use waiting for
him."

"_You_ were to take Repton's place, if ever he left," said Jelly,
quickly.

"I know I was"--and Timothy Wilks's voice became so rueful that it
might have made Dr. Rane laugh under more open circumstances. "But
when Dale made that promise, Miss Jelly, you see the affair of the
anonymous letter had not taken place."

"What anonymous letter?"

"The one that killed Edmund North."

"Why, you don't mean to insinuate that Dale lays the blame of that on
_you?_"

"I don't suppose he thinks I sent it. Indeed I'm sure he does not. But
he was anything but pleasant over it to me at the time, and he has
never been quite the same to me since."

"He is an unjust owl," said Jelly.

"One does not look for much else than injustice from lawyers."

"Does Dale say that letter is the reason of his not promoting you to
Repton's place?"

"He doesn't say it: but I know that it is so, as if he did just as
well."

Jelly struck the key two or three times against the door. She was
thinking.

"That's through your foolish tongue, Timothy Wilks. You know you did
talk of the matter out of the office."

"They say so," confessed Timothy. "But if I did, I'm sure I've been
punished enough for it. It's hard that it should stick to me always.
Why don't they find the writer of the letter, and punish _him?_ He was
the villain; not me."

"So he was," said Jelly. "Tim, what would you say if I told you I knew
who it was?"

"I? Excuse me, Miss Jelly, but I should not quite believe it."

Jelly laughed. Not a loud laugh, but one rather derisive, and full of
_power_. Its peculiar significance penetrated to him who was seated
under the cedar-tree, betraying all too surely that Jelly knew his
dangerous secret. Even the less sensitive Tim Wilks was impressed by
the sound.

"Surely, Miss Jelly, you do not mean that you know who wrote the
letter?"

"I could put my finger out from where I now stand, Tim, and lay it on
the right person," she answered in low, impressive tones, little
suspecting how literally true were her words.

Tim seemed overwhelmed. He drew a deep breath.

"Then, why don't you, Miss Jelly?"

"Because----" Jelly stopped short. "Well, because there are certain
considerations that make it difficult to speak."

"But you ought to speak. Indeed you ought, Miss Jelly. If Lawyer Dale
got to hear of this, he'd tell you he could compel you to speak."

Again there broke forth a laugh from Jelly. But quite a different
laugh this time--one of mirth. Tim decided that she had only been
making fun of him. He resented it, as much as he was capable of
resenting anything.

"You shouldn't make game, of a young man in this way, Miss Jelly! I'm
sure I thought you were in earnest. You'd make a fine play-actor."

"Shouldn't I?" assented Jelly, "and take in the audience nicely, as I
take in you. Well," changing her tone, "you must be soft, Tim Wilks!
The idea of believing that _I_ could know who wrote the letter?"

The hint about Lawyer Dale had frightened Jelly, bringing back the
prudence which her impulsive sympathy with Tim's wrongs had
momentarily put to flight. All she could do, then, was to strive to
efface the impression she had made. There existed certain
considerations, that made it, as she had aptly said, difficult to
speak. But she felt vexed with herself, and resented it on Tim.

"See here," cried she, "I can't stand at this gate all night,
jabbering with you; so you can just betake yourself off again. And the
next time you make a promise to be home by a certain hour to take a
late cup of tea with friends at Mrs. Green's, I'll trouble you to keep
it. Mind that, Mr. Wilks."

Mr. Wilks had his nose round the post, and was beginning some
deprecatory rejoinder, but Jelly slammed the door, and nearly snapped
the nose off. Locking it with a click, she put the key in her pocket,
and marched on to the house.

Leaving Dr. Rane alone to the night dews under the heavy cedar-tree.
_Were_ the dews falling?--or was it that his own face gave out the
damp moisture that lay on it? He sat still as death.

So, then, Jelly did know of it! As he had before half-suspected; and
he had been living, _was_ living, with a sword suspended over him. It
mattered not to speculate as to how she acquired the terrible secret:
she knew it, and that was sufficient. Dr. Rane had not felt very safe
before; but now it seemed to him as though he were treading on the
extreme edge of a precipice, and that his footing was crumbling from
under him. There could be no certainty at any moment that Jelly would
not declare what she knew: tomorrow--the next day--the day after: how
could he tell what day or hour it might be? Oliver Rane passed his
handkerchief over his face, his hand anything but a steady one.

The "certain considerations" to which Jelly had confessed, meant that
she was in service with Mrs. Cumberland, and that he was Mrs.
Cumberland's son. Whilst Jolly, retained her place, she would not
perhaps be deliberately guilty of the bad faith of betraying, as it
were, her mistress. Yet there were so many chances that might lead to
it. Lawyer Dale's questioning might bring it about--and who could
answer for it that this might not at once set in at a word from
Wilks?--or she might be quitting Mrs. Cumberland's service--or taking
upon herself to right Tim with the world--or speaking, as she had
evidently spoken that night, upon impulse. Yes; there were a
hundred-and-one chances now of his betrayal!

He must get away from Dallory without delay. "Out of sight, out of
mind," runs the old proverb--and it certainly seemed to Dr. Rane that
if he were out of sight the chances of betrayal would be wonderfully
lessened. He could battle with it better, too, at a distance, if
discovery came; perhaps keep it wholly from his wife. Never a cloud
had come between him and Bessy: rather than let _this_ disclosure come
to her--he would have run away with her to the wilds of Africa. Or,
perhaps from her.

Run away! The thought brought a circumstance to his mind. That
self-same morning another letter had arrived from his friend in
America, Dr. Jones. Dr. Jones had again urged on Oliver Rane his
acceptance of the offer to join him in his practice there, saying it
was an opportunity he might never have again throughout his lifetime.
Dr. Rane fully believed it: it was, beyond doubt, a very excellent
offer; but, alas! he had not the money to embrace it. Five hundred
pounds--besides the expenses of the voyage and the removal: Dr. Rane
had not five hundred shillings to spare. The tontine money came
flashing through his brain. Oh, if he could only get it!

The air grew really damp; but he still sat in the dark under the shade
of the cedar-tree, reviewing plans and projects, ways and means. To
him it was growing as a very matter of life or death.

How long he sat, he knew not: but by-and-by the faint sound of Dallory
Church clock was wafted to him through the clear air. He counted the
strokes--ten. _Ten?_ Dr. Rane started up: he ought to have gone for
his wife long and long ago.


Six o'clock in the morning; and the great bell of the works of North
and Gass was ringing out upon the morning air! It was a bell Dallory
had not heard of late, and sleepy people turned in their beds. Many
had been listening for it, knowing it was going to be rung; some got
up and looked from their windows to see whether the street became
lively with workmen, or whether it remained silent.

Richard North was within the works. He had come out thus early, hoping
to welcome his men. Three or four entered with him. The bell rang its
accustomed time, and then ceased; its sound dying away, and leaving a
faint echo on the air. There was no other answer: the men had not
responded to the call. Nothing more, than that faint vibration of
sound remained to tell of the appeal made by Richard North.

Richard North threw up the proposed contract; and proceeded on a
journey without loss of time. Some said he went to Scotland, some to
Belgium; but the utmost known about it was that his departure had
reference to business. But that he was a temperate man, and given to
pity as much as to blame, he could have cursed the men's blind folly.
What was to become of them? The work was there, and they drove it away
from their doors, driving all chance with it of regaining prosperity.
They were forcing him to supersede them: they were bringing despair,
famine, death upon a place where content and comfort had once reigned.
Yes, death: as you will find. Surely never did greater blindness than
this fall on man!

Days went on, and grew into weeks: and Richard North was still absent.
Prospects seemed to be looking gloomy on all sides. To make matters
worse, some cases of fever began to manifest themselves at Dallory.
Dr. Rane and his brother practitioner, Mr. Seeley, only wondered that
something of the sort had not broken out before.

Amidst other places that wore an air of gloom was the interior of
Dallory Hall. Madam's insatiable demands for money had been very
partially responded to of late: not at all since the absence of
Richard. Even she, with all her imperious scorn of whence supplies
came, provided they did come, began to realize the fact that gold can
no more be drawn from exhausted coffers than blood from a stone. It
did not tend to improve her temper.

She sat one morning in what she was pleased to call her boudoir--a
charming apartment opening from her dressing-room. Several letters lay
before her, brought up by her maid: she had carelessly tossed them
aside for some hours, but was getting to them now when it was nearing
midday. Not very pleasant letters, any of them, to judge by madam's
dark face. One was from Sidney at Homburg, piteously imploring for
assistance--which had not recently been sent him; two or three were
rather urgent demands for the payment of private accounts of madam's
rather long delayed; one was a polite excuse from Frank Dallory and
his sister for not accepting a dinner invitation. There was not a
single pleasant letter amongst them all.

"I wonder what Dick North means by staying away like this!--and
leaving orders at Ticknells' that no cheques are to be cashed!"
growled madam in soliloquy. "He ought to be here. He ought to force
those miserable men of his back to work, whether they will or not.
He's away; Arthur's away; Sidney's away: and with this uncertain state
of things out of doors and trouble within, the house is worse than a
dungeon. People seem to be neglecting it: even Mary Dallory stays
without the gates. That girl's an artful flirt: as Matilda said
yesterday. If Arthur and Dick were back she'd come fast enough: I
should like to know which of the two she most cares for. It is absurd,
though, to speak of her in conjunction with Dick North! I think I'll
go off somewhere for a time. Should this suspicion of fever prove
correct, the place will not be safe. I shall want a hundred pounds or
two. And Sidney must have money. He says he'll do something desperate
if I don't send it--but he has said that before. Confound it all! Why
does not gold grow upon trees?"

Madam's dress this morning was a striped lilac silk of amazing rustle
and richness. Letting it all out behind her, she went down the stairs
and through the hall, sweeping the dust along in a little cloud. Mr.
North was not in his parlour; madam went about looking for him.

To her surprise she found him in the drawing-room; it was not often he
ventured into that exclusive place. He had a shabby long coat on, and
a straw hat. Madam's scornful head went up when she saw him there.

"What do you want?" she asked in a tone that plainly said he had about
as much right in the room as an unwelcome stranger.

"I have come to beg some cotton of Matilda to tie up these flowers,"
was Mr. North's answer. "Thomas Hepburn's little boy is here, and I
thought I'd give the child a posy."

"A posy!" repeated madam, scorning the homely term.

"I have no cotton," said Matilda, who lay back in a chair, reading.
"What should bring cotton in a drawing-room?"

"Oh well--I can bind it with a piece of variegated grass," said Mr.
North with resignation. "I'm sorry to have troubled you, Matilda."

"And when you have disposed of your 'posy,' I am coming to your
parlour," said madam.

Mr. North groaned as he went out. He knew that his peace was about to
be destroyed for the day. There were moments when he thought heart and
brain must give way under home worries and madam's.

"When did this come?" enquired madam, pointing to a letter that was
placed upright on the mantelpiece: one addressed to Richard North, in
her son Arthur's writing.

"This morning," shortly answered Matilda, not looking up from her
book.

"Yes, Arthur can write often enough to Dick. This is the second letter
that has come for him within a week. What did you do with the other?"
madam broke off to ask.

"Put it into Dick's room until he comes home."

"But Arthur does not trouble himself to write to us, or to let us know
anything of his movements," resumed madam. "We have not had a syllable
from him since he sent word that old Bohun was dead. Is he still in
London?--or at his aunt's?--or where?"

"I'm sure I don't know where," retorted Matilda, irritated at being
interrupted.

Neither did she care. Madam turned the letter over in idle curiosity:
but the postmark was not to be deciphered. Leaving it on the
mantelpiece, she went to look after Mr. North. He stood on the lawn,
doing something to a dwarf-tree of small and beautiful roses. There
was some wind to-day, and his long coat waved a little in the breeze.

"Did you hear what I said--that I was coming to your parlour?"
demanded madam, swooping down upon him majestically. "_Money must be
had_. I want it; Sidney wants it; the house wants it. I----"

Mr. North had straightened himself. Desperation gave him a little
courage.

"I would give it you if I had it. I have always given it you. But what
is to be done when I have it not? You must see that it is not my
fault, madam."

"I see that when money is needed it is your place to find it," coolly
returned madam. "Sidney cannot live upon air. He has----"

"It seems to me that he lives upon gold," Mr. North interrupted in
querulous tones. "There's no end to it."

"Sidney must have money," equably went on madam. "I must have it, for
I purpose going away for a time. You will therefore----"

"Goodness me! here's the telegraph man."

This second interruption was also from Mr. North. Telegraphic messages
were somewhat rare at Dallory Hall; and its master went into a
flutter. His fears flew to his well-beloved son, Dick. The messenger
was coming up the broad walk, a despatch in his hand. Mr. North
advanced to meet him; madam sailing behind.

"It is for Captain Bohun, sir," spoke up the man, perceiving something
of Mr. North's agitation.

"For Captain Bohun!" interposed madam. "Where's it from?"

"London, madam."

Motioning the messenger to go to the house for his receipt, she tore
it open without the smallest ceremony, and read its contents:

"Dr. Williams to Arthur Bohun, Esq.:

"James Bohun is dying. Sir Nash wishes you to come up without delay."

Looking to right and left, stood madam, her thoughts busy. Where could
Arthur be? Why had he left London?

"Do _you_ know?" she roughly asked of Mr. North.

"Know what, madam?"

"Where Arthur Bohun is."

Mr. North stared a little. "Why, how should I know?" he asked. "It's
ever so long since Arthur wrote to me. He sends me messages when he
writes to Dick."

Madam swept into the drawing-room. She took the letter from the
mantelpiece, and coolly broke its black seal. Even Matilda's scruples
were aroused at this.

"Oh, mamma, don't!" she exclaimed, starting up and putting her hand
over the letter. "Don't open that. It would not be right."

Madam dexterously twitched the letter away, carried it to the window
and read it from end to end. Matilda saw her face turn ghastly through
its paint, as if with fright.

"Serves her right," thought the young lady. "Mamma, what is amiss?"

Madam crumpled the letter into a ball in her agitated hand: but no
answer came from her white lips. Turning abruptly up the stairs, she
locked herself into her chamber.

"She is in an agony of fright--whatever the cause may be," quoth Miss
Matilda, in soliloquy.

Ere the day had closed, the household was called upon to witness
madam's sudden departure by train. She went alone: and gave not the
slightest clue as to where she might be going, or when she would
return.

Matilda North had aptly worded the paroxysm: "an agony of fright." She
might have added: a tempest of fury; for madam was in both. For that
letter had given her the news of Arthur Bohun's present locality--and
that he was by the side of Ellen Adair. What had become of Dick? the
letter asked. He must hasten and come, or he would be too late. Madam
did not understand at all. There followed a mysterious intimation to
Dick; to Dick, whom Arthur so trusted and who was true as steel; it
was more obscure even than the rest; but it seemed to hint at--yes, to
hint at--marriage. Marriage? Madam felt her flesh creeping.

"A son of mine marry _her!_" she breathed. "Heaven help me to avert
the danger."

About the last woman, one would think, who ought to call for help from
Heaven.



CHAPTER XII.
AN INTERRUPTION.


The tide came rippling up on the sea-shore with a monotonous, soothing
murmur. There were no waves to-day; the air was densely still; but in
the western sky little black clouds were rising, no bigger yet than a
man's hand; and as the weatherwise old fishermen glanced to the spot,
they foretold a storm.

Two people, pacing the beach side by side, regarded neither the sea
nor the threatened storm. Need you be told that they were Arthur Bohun
and Ellen Adair. What were the winds and the waves to them in their
happiness? Amidst the misery that was soon to set in for both, the
recollection of this short time spent at Eastsea, these few weeks
since their love had been declared, and their marriage was
approaching, would seem as an impossible dream.

The private marriage, consented to by Mrs. Cumberland, must not be
confounded with a secret marriage. It was to be kept from the world in
general: but not from every friend they possessed. Mrs. Cumberland
intended to be present as Ellen's guardian; and she very much urged
that some friend of Arthur's should also attend. He acquiesced, and
fixed on Richard North. Captain Bohun purposed to tell his aunt, Miss
Bohun, his friend in every way: but not until the wedding was over: he
would trust no one beforehand, he said, excepting Mrs. Cumberland and
Dick. Even Dick he did not trust yet. He commanded Dick's presence at
Eastsea, telling him that his coming was imperative: there must be no
refusal. Finding Dick did not respond, Arthur wrote again; but still
only mysteriously. The first letter was the one put aside by Miss
Matilda North, the second was that opened by madam.

But there were moments when, in spite of his happiness, Arthur Bohun
had qualms of conscience for his precipitation: more especially did
they press upon him immediately after the marriage was decided upon.
For, after all, he really knew nothing, or as good as nothing, of Mr.
Adair's position: and the proud Bohun blood bubbled up a little, as a
thought crossed him that it was just possible he might find too late
that, in point of family, hers was not fitting to have mated with his.

The human heart is treacherous: given over to self-deception, and to
sophistry. So long as a thing is coveted, when it seems almost
unattainable, we see nothing but the advantages of gaining it, the
happiness it must bring. But, let this desire be attained, and lo! we
veer round, and repent our haste. Instantly every argument that could
bear against it, true or false, rises up within us with mocking force,
and we say, Oh that I had waited before doing this thing! It is that
deceitful heart of ours that is in fault, nothing else; placing upon
all things its own false colouring.

At first, as they sat together under cover of the rocks, or on the
more open benches on the sands, or wandered to the inland walks and
the rural lanes, his conversation would turn on Mr. Adair. But Ellen
seemed to know as little of her father as he did.

"It is strange you don't remember more of him, Ellen!" he suddenly
said on one occasion when he was alone with her at Mrs. Cumberland's.

"Strange! Do you think so?" returned Ellen, turning from the bay
window where she was standing. "I was sent to Europe at eight years
old, and children at that age so soon forget. I seem to recollect a
gentleman in some sort of white coat, who cried over me and kissed me,
and said mamma was gone to live in heaven. His face was a pleasant
one, and he had bright hair; something the colour of yours."

She thought Arthur had alluded to personal appearance. But he had not
meant that.

"I remember another thing--that papa used to say I was just like my
mother, and should grow up like her," resumed Ellen. "It seems ages
ago. Perhaps when I see him I shall find that my memory has given me
an ideal father, and that he is quite different from what I have
pictured him."

"You know none of your Scotch relatives, Ellen?"

"None."

"Or where they live?"

"No."

"Why does not Mr. Adair come home?"

"I don't know. He has been thinking of it for some years; and that's
why I am with Mrs. Cumberland instead of going out to him again. I am
sure he must have a very high opinion of Mrs. Cumberland," added
Ellen, after a pause. "His letters prove it. And he often mentions her
late husband as his dear friend and chaplain. I will show you some of
his letters, if you like. Would you care to see them? I keep all
papa's letters."

Arthur Bohun's face lighted up at the proposition. "Yes," he said with
animation. "Yes. As many as you please."

She crossed the room to her desk, took out three or four letters
indiscriminately from a bundle lying there, and brought them to him.
He detained the pretty hands as well as the letters, and took some
impassioned kisses from the blushing face, turned up unconsciously to
his. Sweeter kisses than Arthur Bohun would ever impress upon any
other face in afterlife. Ellen had almost learned not to shrink from
them in her maiden modesty; he vowed to her that they were now his
best right and privilege.

But the letters told him nothing. They were evidently a gentleman's
letters; but of the writer's position or family they said not a word.
Arthur returned them with a half-sigh: it was of no use, he thought,
to trouble himself any more about the matter. After all, his own
father and Mr. Adair had been close friends in India, and that was a
sort of guarantee that all must be right. This decided, he delivered
himself up to his ideal happiness: and the wedding day was finally
settled.

This afternoon, when they were pacing the beach, unobservant of the
little clouds rising in the west, was the marriage eve. It is the last
day they need thus walk together as mere formal acquaintances: for at
that little church whose spire is not a stone's-throw away, they will
tomorrow be made man and wife. A strange light sits on Arthur Bohun's
cheek; the light of intense happiness. The day and the hour are
drawing near to its realization: and not so much as a thought has
crossed his mind that any untoward fate can arise to mar it.

Ah, might not those dark clouds have read him a lesson? Just as the
small circlets out there might gather into an overwhelming storm,
before which both man and beast must bow their heads, so might be
rising, even then, some threatening wave in the drama of his life. And
it was so: though he suspected it not. Even now, as they walked, the
clouds were increasing! just as the unseen thunderstorm was about to
descend upon their lives and hearts. Suddenly, in turning to face the
west, Arthur noticed the altered aspect of the sky.

"Look at those clouds, getting up! I hope the weather's not going to
change for us tomorrow, Ellen. What does that mean?" he asked of a
man who was doing something to his small boat, now high and dry upon
the beach.

The sailor glanced up indifferently.

"It means a storm, master."

"Shall we get it here, do you think?"

"Ay, sir. Not till tomorrow, maybe. I fancy we shall, though"--giving
a look round, as if he could see the storm in the air. "I knowed there
was going to be a change."

"How did you know it?"

"Us fishermen sees a storm afore it comes, master. My foot tells it me
besides. I got him jammed once, and he have had the weather in him
ever since."

They walked on. "That will be two untoward events for us," remarked
Captain Bohun; but he spoke with a smile, as if no untoward events
could mar their happiness. "We want a third to complete it, don't we,
Ellen?"

"What are the two?"

"The bad weather threatened for tomorrow; and Dick's non-arrival is
the other. I am vexed at that."

For, on this same morning, Mrs. Cumberland had received a letter from
her son. Amidst other items of news, Dr. Rane mentioned that Richard
North was absent: it was supposed in Belgium, but no one knew
positively where. This explained Richard's silence to Captain Bohun,
and put an end to the hope that Richard would be at the wedding. Dr.
Rane also stated another thing, which was anything but pleasant news:
that beyond all doubt fever was breaking out at Dallory, though it was
not yet publicly known. The doctor added that he feared it would prove
of a malignant type, and he felt glad that his mother was away. Bessy
was well, and sent her love.

"Will you rest a little before going in?"

They were passing the favourite old seat under the rocks. Ellen
acquiesced, and they sat down. The black clouds grew larger and
higher: but, absorbed in their own plans, their own happiness, had the
heavens become altogether overshadowed it would have been as nothing
to them. In low tones they conversed together of the future; beginning
with the morrow, ending they knew not where. Their visions were of the
sweetest rose-colour; they fully believed that bliss so great as their
own had never been found on earth. His arm was round Ellen as they
sat, her hand lay in his, her head seemed resting against his heart.
To all intents and purposes they seemed as entirely alone in this
sheltered nook as they could have been in the wilds of the desert. The
beach was shingly; footsteps could not approach without being heard:
had any one passed, they would have been seen sitting as decorously
apart as though they had quarrelled: but the shore seemed deserted
this afternoon.

The arrangement for the marriage was as follows:--At half-past eleven
o'clock, Arthur, Ellen, and Mrs. Cumberland would enter the little
church by a private door, and the ceremony would take place. Richard
North was to have given her away, but that was over now. Arthur held
the licence; he had made a friend of the clergyman, and all would be
done quietly. He and Ellen were to go away for a few days; she would
then return home with Mrs. Cumberland, and be to the world still as
Miss Adair. After that, Arthur would take his own time, and be guided
by circumstances for declaring the marriage: but he meant, if
possible, to at once introduce Ellen to his aunt, Miss Bohun.

And Ellen Adair? Not a scruple rested on her mind, not a doubt
or hesitation on her heart; her father had given his cordial
approbation--as expressed in the letter to Mrs. Cumberland--and she
was full of peace.

"Did you feel that, Ellen?"

A faint, quivering breeze had seemed to pass over them with sudden
sharpness, and to die away in a moan.

Some white sails out at sea flapped a little, and the boats turned
homewards.

"We had better be going, too, my love; or we may have it upon us."

She rose as he spoke, and they walked away. The sky was growing
darker; the shades of evening were beginning to gather. Mrs.
Cumberland had been lying down and was dressing, the maid said--if
Captain Bohun would wait. Ellen took off her bonnet and mantle.

"Whilst we are alone, let me see that I have not made a mistake in the
size, Ellen."

Taking from his pocket a bit of tissue-paper, he unfolded it and
disclosed a wedding-ring. Ellen blushed vividly as he tried it on.
"I--thought," she timidly began, "that you meant this to be my
wedding-ring"--indicating the plain gold one she habitually wore on
her right hand.

"No. Rane bought that one. This will be mine."

It fitted exactly. Captain Bohun had not allowed for the probability
of those fragile fingers growing larger with years. As he held it on
for a minute, their eyes met. Ellen suddenly recalled that long-past
day in Dallory Church, when she had taken off Maria Warne's ring for
Bessy North, the after-scene in the carriage, when Arthur Bohun put
the other one on, and his sweet words: lastly, the scene in the garden
when he put it on again. This was time the third.

"If this should ever become too small for me?" she murmured, as he
took it off the finger.

"Oh, but that--if ever--won't be for ages and ages."

Not for ages, and ages! If, in their innocent unconsciousness, they
could only have seen the cruel Fate that was already coiling its
meshes around them!

The storm did not come that night. But whether, in revenge for the
delay, it chose to expend itself with double violence, certain it was
that such a storm had seldom been seen at Eastsea as raged in the
morning. The sky was lurid and angry; the sea tossed itself in great
waves; the wind whistled and shrieked; the rain dashed furiously down
at intervals: all nature seemed at warfare.

In much distress lay Mrs. Cumberland. Exceedingly subject of late to
outer influences, whether it might be the storm that affected her, she
knew not, but she felt unable to rise from her bed. The hour for the
marriage was drawing on. It had been fixed for half-past eleven. The
clergyman had a funeral at half-past ten; and Mrs. Cumberland had said
that she herself could not be ready before that time. At a little
after eleven Arthur Bohun came up in the fly that was to convey them
to church. Mrs. Cumberland sent to ask him to go upstairs to her; and
he found her in tears. A curious eight in so self-contained a woman.

"I cannot help it, Captain Bohun: indeed I cannot. Had not the
marriage better be put off for a day? I may be better tomorrow."

"Certainly not," he answered. "Why should it be put off? I am very
sorry for Ellen's sake; she would have felt happier had you been in
church. But your presence is not essential to the ceremony, Mrs.
Cumberland."

"Her father and mother were my dear friends. It seems as though I
should fail in my duty if I were to allow her to go to church without
me."

Arthur Bohun laughed. He would not listen to a word--was it likely
that he would do so? In less than an hour's time all responsibility in
regard to Ellen would be transferred to himself, he answered, for he
should be her husband.

"The marriage will be perfectly legal, dear Mrs. Cumberland, though
you do not witness it," were his last words as he went downstairs.

Ellen was ready. She wore an ordinary silk dress of light quiet
colour, and a plain white bonnet: such as she might have walked out in
at Eastsea. There was nothing, save her pale face and quivering lips,
to denote that she was a bride. To have to go to church alone was very
unpalatable to her, and she could with difficulty suppress her tears.

"My dearest love, I am more grieved at it for your sake than you can
be," he whispered. "Take a little courage, Ellen; it will soon be
over. Once you are my wife, I will strive to shelter you from all
vexation."

But this illness of Mrs. Cumberland's made a slight alteration in the
programme. For Arthur Bohun to go out with Mrs. Cumberland and Ellen
in a fly, was nothing; he sometimes accompanied them in their drives:
but to go out alone with Ellen, and in that storm, would have excited
the curiosity of Ann and the other servants. Arthur Bohun rapidly
decided to walk to church, braving the rain: Ellen must follow in the
fly. There was no time to be lost. It was twenty minutes past eleven.

"Shall I put you in the carriage first, Ellen?" he stayed to ask.

"No. I think you had better not."

"My darling, you _will come?_"

Did a doubt cross him, that he should say this? But she answered that
she would: he saw she spoke sincerely. He wrung her hand and went out
to the door.

Had the fly multiplied itself into two flies?--and were they
squabbling for precedence? Certainly two were there: and the one wet
driver was abusing the other wet driver for holding his place before
the door, and not allowing him to draw up to it.

"Arthur! Good Heavens, how fortunate I am! Arthur Bohun! don't you see
me?"

Every drop of blood in Arthur Bohun's veins seemed to stand still and
turn to ice as he recognized his mother's voice and his mother's face.
Madam, driven hastily from the railway-station, had come to bear him
off bodily. That his wedding was over for that day, instinct at once
told him: she would have gone to church and forbidden the banns. He
stepped to the fly door.

In afterlife, he could never clearly recall these next few minutes.
Madam spoke of the telegram that had been received at Dallory. She
said--giving to matters her own colouring--that James Bohun was in
extremity; that he only waited to see Arthur to die; that he was
asking for him: not a moment was to be lost. She had hastened to
London on receipt of the telegram, and had now come down to fetch him.

"Step in, Arthur. We must catch the quarter-to-twelve train."

"I--I cannot go," he answered.

"Not go!" screamed madam. "But I command you to go. Would you disobey
the last wishes of a dying man?"

Well, no; he felt that he could not do that. "A quarter to twelve?" he
said rather dreamily. "You must wait, madam, whilst I speak to Mrs.
Cumberland. There's plenty of time."

He went in with his tale, and up to Mrs. Cumberland, as one in a
dream. He was forced to go, he bewailed, but not for more than a day,
when he should be back to complete the marriage. What could she
answer? In her bewilderment, she scarcely understood what had
happened. Leaping downstairs again, he closed the door of the
sitting-room upon himself and Ellen, and clasped her to his heart.

"My darling! But for this, you would have been on your way to become
my wife. Come what may, Ellen, I shall be down again within a few
hours. God bless you, my love! Take care of these."

They were the ring and licence; he handed them to her lest he might
lose them. Before Ellen could recover herself, whilst yet her face was
glowing with his farewell kisses, he was being rattled away in the fly
with madam to the station.

Crafty madam! Waiting in the fly at the door and making her
observations, she had read what the signs meant almost as surely as
though she had been told. The other fly waiting, and Ellen dressed;
going out in it on that stormy day; Arthur out of mourning, his attire
covered with a light overcoat. She guessed the truth (aided by the
mysterious hint in the letter she had opened) and believed surely
that nothing less than a MARRIAGE had she interrupted. Not a word said
she on the way to the station. Getting him away was a great victory:
it would not do to risk marring it. But when they were in the train,
and the whistle had sounded, and they were fairly off, then madam
spoke. They had the compartment to themselves.

"Arthur, you cannot deceive me: any attempt to do so would be useless.
You were about to marry Ellen Adair."

She spoke quietly, almost affectionately; when the bosom is beating
with a horrible dread, it produces calmness of manner rather than
passion. For a single moment there wavered in Arthur Bohun's mind a
doubt as to whether it should be avowal or evasion, but not for
longer. As it had come to this, why he must take his standing, He
raised his head proudly.

"Eight, mother. I am going to wed Ellen Adair."

Madam's pulses began to beat nineteen to the dozen. Her head grew hot,
her hands cold.

"You _were_, you mean, Arthur."

"Yes. Put it as you like. What was interrupted to-day, will be
concluded tomorrow. As soon as I have seen James, I shall return to
Eastsea."

"Arthur! Arthur Bohun! It must never be concluded, Never."

"Pardon me, mother. I am my own master."

"A Bohun may not wed shame and disgrace."

"Shame and disgrace cannot attach to _her_. Madam, I must beg you to
remember that in a few hours that young lady will be my wife. Do not
try my temper too sorely."

"No, not to her, but to her father," panted madam--and Arthur felt
frightened, he knew not why, at her strong emotion. "Would you wed the
daughter of a--a----"

Madam paused. Arthur looked at her; his compressed lips trembled just
a little.

"Of a what, mother? Pray go on."

"Of everything that is bad. A forger. A convict."

There was a dead pause. Nothing to be heard but the whirling train.
"A--what?" gasped Captain Bohun, when he could get back his breath.

"A CONVICT," burst forth madam in a scream; for her agitation was
becoming irrepressible. "Why do you make me repeat painful things?"

"Mother! Of whom do you speak?"

"Of her father: William Adair."

He fell back in the carriage as one who is shot. As one from whom life
and all that can make it sweet, had suddenly gone out for ever.



CHAPTER XIII.
PANIC.


The funerals were going about in Dallory. Dr. Rane's prognostications
had proved correct; the fever was severe. It spread, and a panic set
in.

As yet it had been confined to the poor. To those who for some months
now had been living in despair and poverty. Some called it a famine
fever; some a relapsing fever; some typhus fever: but, whatever the
name accorded to it, one thing was certain--it was of a malignant and
fatal type.

It possessed a somewhat singular feature: it had seemed to break out
all at once--in a single night. Before the doctors had well
ascertained that anything of the kind was in the air, before most of
the public had so much as heard of it, it came upon them. The
probability of course was that it had been smouldering for some days.
On the afternoon that witnessed madam's departure from Dallory
Hall--after the receipt of the telegram and the reading of Dick's
letter--there had not been one decided case: in the morning no less
than seven cases had shown themselves. After that, it spread rapidly.

Madam remained away. James Bohun was dead, and she stayed with Sir
Nash. Matilda North, taking French leave, went up to join her without
an invitation; she did not care to stay in the midst of the sickness.
So the master of Dallory Hall was alone, and enjoyed his liberty as
much as trouble had left him any capacity for enjoyment.

A week or ten days had passed on since the outbreak, and the funerals
were going about Dallory. The two medical men, Dr. Rane and Mr.
Seeley, were worked nearly off their legs. The panic was at its
height. Dallory had been an exceptionally healthy place: people were
not used to this state of things, and grew frightened. Some of the
better families took flight, for the seaside, or elsewhere. The
long-continued distress, resulting on the strike, had predisposed the
poorer classes for it. It was they whom it chiefly attacked, but there
were now two or three cases amongst their betters. This was no time
for the medical men to speculate whether they should or should not be
paid; they put all such considerations aside, and gave the poor
sufferers their best care. Dr. Rane in particular was tenderly
assiduous with his patients. In spite of that fatal letter and the
mistake--nay, the sin--it involved, he was a humane man. Were he a
successful practitioner, making his hundreds or his thousands a-year,
as might be, he would be one of the first and readiest to give away
largely of his time and skill to any who could not afford to pay him.

The last person whom the fever had attacked was one of the brothers
Hepburn, of Dallory, undertakers, carpenters, and coffin-makers. Both
were sickly men, but very steady and respectable. The younger brother,
Henry, was the one seized: it was universally assumed that he caught
it in the discharge of certain of the duties of his calling, and the
supposition did not tend to decrease the public panic. Dr. Rane
thought him a bad subject for the illness, and did all he could for
him.

Bessy Rane stood in her kitchen, making an apple pudding. It is rather
a sudden transition of subject, from sickness to puddings, but only in
accordance with life. Whatever calamity may be decimating society
around, the domestic routine of existence goes on at home in its
ordinary course. Molly Green was pudding-maker in general: but Molly
was hastening over her other work that day, for she had obtained leave
to go home in the evening to see her mother: a woman who had been
ailing for years with chronic illness, and lived at Whitborough. So
Bessy this morning took the pudding upon herself.

Mrs. Rane stood at the table; a brown holland apron tied over her
light morning gown, her sleeves turned up to the middle of her
delicate arms. Hands and wrists and arms were alike pretty and
refined. The apples were in a basin, ready pared, and she was rolling
out the crust. Ever and anon she glanced at the kitchen clock. Her
husband had been called out at four o'clock that morning, and she was
growing a little anxious. Now it was close upon eleven. It cannot be
said that Bessy was afraid of the fever for him: she shared in the
popular belief that medical men are generally exempt from infection;
but she was always glad to see him arrive home safe and well.

His latch-key was heard in the door whilst she was thinking of him.
Dr. Rane went straight up to the unused top-room, changed his clothes,
and washed his hands and face--a precaution he always took when he had
been with fever patients. Bessy put the kitchen-door open, that he
might see her when he came down.

"Pudding-making, Bessy!" he cried, looking in. "Why don't you let
Molly do that?"

"Molly's busy. She wants to go home this evening, Oliver, as soon as
we can spare her, and will not come back until tomorrow night. She
received a letter this morning to say her mother has at last taken to
her bed, and the doctor thinks her very ill. I have given her leave to
go."

"But how shall you manage without her?"

"I shall have old Phillis in. Molly has been to her, and she says
she'll be glad to come."

Dr. Rane said no more. It was quite the same to him whether Molly or
Phillis did what was wanted. When men are harassed in spirit, they
cannot concern themselves with the petty details of domestic life.

"I was thinking, Oliver, that--if you don't mind--as we can have
Phillis, I would leave it to Molly whether to come back tomorrow
night, or not. If her mother is really growing worse, the girl may
like to stay a day longer with her."

"My dear, do just as you like about it," was the doctor's rather
impatient answer.

"Your breakfast shall be ready in a moment, Oliver."

"I have taken breakfast. It was between eight and nine before I could
get away from Ketler's, and I went and begged some of Mrs. Gass. After
that I went the round of the patients."

Bessy was putting the crust into the basin. She lifted her hands and
turned in some dismay.

"Surely, Oliver, they have not got the fever at Ketler's!"

Dr. Rane laughed slightly. "Not the fever, Bessy: something else. The
baby. It was Ketler who called me up this morning."

"Oh dear," said Bessy, going on with her pudding. "I thought that poor
baby was not expected for a month or two. How will they manage to keep
it? It seems to me that the less food there is for them, the quicker
the babies come."

"That's generally the case," observed Dr. Rane.

"Is the mother well?"

"Tolerably so."

"And--how are the other things going on, Oliver?"

He knew, by the tone of her voice, that she meant the fever. Bessy
never spoke of that without a kind of timidity.

"Neither better nor worse. It's very bad still."

"And fatal?"

"Yes, and fatal. Henry Hepburn is in danger."

"But he will get over it?" rejoined Bessy quickly.

"I don't think so. His brother will have it next if he does not mind.
He is as nervous over it as he can be. I am off now, Bessy, up the
Ham."

"You will be in to dinner?"

"Before that, I hope."

Bessy settled to her pudding again, and the doctor departed. Not into
danger this time, for the fever had not yet shown itself in Dallory
Ham. Scarcely a minute had elapsed when the door-bell rang, and Molly
went to answer it. Mrs. Rane, her hands all flour, peeped from the
kitchen, and saw Mr. North.

"Oh papa! How glad I am to see you! Do you mind coming in here?"

Mind! Mr. North felt far more at home in Bessy's kitchen than in his
wife's grand drawing-room. He had brought a small open basket of
lovely hot-house flowers for Bessy. He put it on the table, and sat
down on one of the wooden chairs in peace and comfort. Richard had not
returned, and he was still alone.

"Go on with your pudding, my dear. Don't mind me. I like to see it."

"It's all but done, papa. Molly will tie it up. Oh, these beautiful
flowers!" she added, bending down to them. "How kind of you to think
of me!"

"I'm going to Ham Court about some seeds, child; the walk will do me
good, this pleasant day. I feel stronger and better, Bessy, than I
did."

"I am so glad of that, papa."

"And so I thought--as I intended to call in here--that I would cut a
few blossoms, and bring them with me. How's the fever getting on,
Bessy?"

"It is not any better, I am afraid, papa."

"So I hear. They say that Henry Hepburn's dying."

Bessy felt startled. "Oh, I trust not! Though I think--I fear--Oliver
has not very much hope of him."

"Well, I've heard it. And I came here, Bessy, to ask if you would not
like to come to the Hall for a week or two. It might be safer for you.
Are you at all afraid of catching it, child?"

"N--o," answered Bessy. But it was spoken doubtfully, and Mr. North
looked at her.

"Your husband has to be amongst it pretty well every hour of his life,
and I can only think there must be some risk in it for you. You had
better come to the Hall."

"Oliver is very careful to change his clothes when he comes in; hut
still I know there must of course be some little risk," she said. "I
try to be quite brave, and not think of it, papa: and I have a great
piece of camphor here"--touching the bosom of her dress--"at which
Oliver laughs."

"Which is as good as confessing that you are nervous about it, Bessy,"
said Mr. North.

"Not very, pupa. A doctor's wife, you know, must not have fancies."

"Well, come up to the Hall to-day, Bessy. It will be a change for you,
and pleasant for me, now I'm alone; it will be like some of the old
days come back again, you and me together. As to Oliver, I dare say
he'll be glad to have the house to himself a bit, whilst he is so
busy."

Bessy, wiping the flour off her hands, consented. In point of fact,
her husband had proposed, some days ago, that she should go away: and
she did feel half afraid of taking the fever through him.

"But it cannot be until tomorrow, papa," she said, as Mr. North rose
to depart, and she accompanied him to the door, explaining that Molly
was going home. "I should not like to leave Oliver alone in the house
for the night. Phillis will be here tomorrow: she can stay and sleep,
should Molly Green not return."

"Very well," said Mr. North.

So it was left. Bessy opened the door for her father, and watched him
on his way up the Ham.

Dr. Rane came back to dinner; and found his patients allowed him an
hour's peace for it. Bessy informed him of the arrangement she had
made: and that he was to be a bachelor from the morrow for an
indefinite period. The doctor laughed, making a jest of it:
nevertheless he glanced keenly from under his eyelids at his wife.

"Bessy! I do believe you are afraid!"

"No, not exactly," was her answer: "I don't think 'afraid' is the
right word. It is just this, Oliver: I do not get nervous about it;
but I cannot help remembering rather often that you may bring it home
to me."

"Then, my dear, go--go by all means where you will be out of harm's
way, so far as I am concerned."

Dinner over, Dr. Rane hastened out again, on his way to see Mrs.
Ketler. He had just reached that bench in the shady part of the road
at the neck of the Ham, when he saw Jelly coming along. The doctor
only wished there was some shelter to dart into, by which he might
avoid her. Ever since the night when he had heard that agreeable
conversation as he sat under the cedar-tree, Jelly's keen green eyes
had been worse than poison to him. She stopped when she met him.

"So that child of Susan Ketler's is come, sir!"

"Ay," said Dr. Rane.

"What in the world brings it here now?"

"Well, I don't know," returned the doctor. "Children often come
without giving their friends due notice. I am on my way there."

"And not as much as a bed gown to wrap it in," resentfully went on
Jelly, "and not a bit of tea or oatmeal in the place for her! My
faith! baby after baby coming into the world, and the men out on
strike! This makes seven--if they'd all been alive: she'll be
contented perhaps when she has seventeen."

"It is the way of the world, Jelly. Set up the children first, and
consider what to do with them afterwards."

"What's this that's the matter with Tim Wilks, sir?" demanded Jelly,
abruptly changing the subject.

"With Tim Wilks! I did not know that anything was the matter with
him."

"Yes, there is," said Jelly. "I met old Green just now, and he said
Timothy Wilks was in bed ill. They thought it might be a bilious
attack, if it was not the fever."

"I'll call in and see him," said Dr. Rane. "Has he been drinking
again?"

Jelly's eyes flashed with resentment. Considering that Tim had really
kept sober and steady for the past year and a half, she looked on the
question as a frightful aspersion. More especially so as proceeding
from Dr. Rane.

"_I_ can answer for it that he has not been drinking--and so, as I
supposed, might everybody else," was her tart reply. "Timothy Wilks is
worried, sir; that's what it is. He has never been at ease since
people accused him of writing that anonymous letter: and he never will
be till he is publicly cleared of it. Sir, I think he ought to be
cleared."

Was it an ice-bolt that seemed to shoot through Oliver Rane's
heart?--or only a spasm? Something took it: though he managed to keep
his countenance, and to speak with quiet indifference.

"Cleared? Cleared of what? I fancied it had been ascertained that
Wilks was the man who spoke of the affair out of Dale's office. He
can't clear himself from that. As to any other suspicion, no one has
cast it on him."

"Well, sir--of course _you know best_," answered Jelly, recollecting
herself and cooling down: but she could not help emphasizing the
words. "If Tim should become dangerously ill, it might have to be done
to set his mind at rest."

"What might have to be done?" demanded Dr. Rane with authority.

And Jelly did not dare to answer the direct question. She could boast
and talk _at_ people in her gossiping way as long as she felt safe,
but when it came to anything like proving her words, she was a very
coward. Dr. Rane was looking at her, waiting for her to speak, his
manner stern and uncompromising.

"Oh well, sir, I'm sure I don't know," she said, feeling as if her
throat had dried up. "And I'm sure I hope poor Tim has not got the
fever."

"I'll call and see him," repeated Dr. Rane, proceeding on his way.
Jelly curtsied and went on hers.

When beyond her view, he took out his handkerchief and wiped his face,
damp as with the dews of death. He must, he must get away from Jelly
and Dallory! But for having a wife on his hands, he might have felt
tempted to make a hasty flitting to America and join Dr. Jones. Join
Dr. Jones? But how obtain the funds to do it with? His thoughts
turned, as they ever did on these occasions, to that money of his
locked up in the Tontine. _Of his_: that was how Dr. Rane had come to
regard it. That money would bring him salvation. If he could only
obtain it----

A bow from some white-haired old gentleman, passing in a carriage. Dr.
Rane returned it, the singular coincidence of his appearance at that
moment flashing through his mind. For it was Sir Thomas Ticknell. Yes:
it truly seemed that that Tontine money would be nothing less than
salvation to him. He went on with a great fear and pain in his
throbbing heart, wondering for how long or how short a time Jelly
would keep her counsel.

The next morning was Thursday. It brought news that almost struck
people dumb: Henry Hepburn, the undertaker, was dead, and Mrs. Rane
had been seized with the fever. Dr. Rane's account was, that his wife
had been very restless all night; he gave her a composing draught,
which seemed to be of use for the time: but upon attempting to get up
she was attacked with nausea and faintness, and had to go back to bed.
The symptoms that subsequently set in he feared were those of fever.

It was an awkward time for Bessy to be ill, as Molly Green had gone
homo: but Phillis, an excellent substitute, was there. She attended on
Mrs. Rane, and the doctor went abroad to his patients. Mr. North,
disappointed at Bessy's non-arrival, hearing of her indisposition,
came to the house; but Bessy sent down an urgent message by Phillis,
begging him not to run any danger by coming up to her chamber. And Mr.
North, docile and obedient--as madam in her imperiousness had trained
him to be--left his best love, and went home again.

In the course of the morning Dr. Rane called in at Hepburn's. It was a
double shop and house; in the one were sold articles of furniture, in
the other the carpenter's work was carried on. Thomas Hepburn and his
family lived in the former; Henry, now dead, had occupied the latter.
He was a married man, but had no children. When Dr. Rane entered the
second shop, he did not at first see Thomas Hepburn; the shutters up
at the window made the place dark, coming in from the bright sunshine.
Thomas Hepburn saw him, however, and came forward from the workshop
behind, where he had been looking on at his men. Various articles
seemed to be in the course of active construction, coffins amongst the
rest.

"I am very sorry for this loss, Hepburn," began the doctor.

"Well, sir, I've not had any hope from the first," sighed Hepburn, his
face looking careworn and unusually sickly in the half light. "I don't
think poor Henry had."

"The fact is, Hepburn, he had not strength to carry him through the
disorder; it did not attack him lightly. I did all I could."

"Yes, sir, I'm sure of that," returned Hepburn--and what with his
naturally weak voice, and the hammering that was going on behind, Dr.
Rane had to listen with all his ears to catch the words. "We've been
an ailing family always: liable to take disorders, too, more than
others."

Dr. Rane made no reply for the moment. He was looking at the speaker.
Something in his aspect suggested the suspicion that the man was in
actual fear himself.

"You must keep up a good heart, you know, Hepburn."

"I'd rather go a hundred miles, sir, than do what I've got to do just
now amidst the dead," said Hepburn, glancing round, "_That's_ how my
brother took it."

"Let the workman go instead of you."

The undertaker shook his head. "One _has_ to go with me; and the other
is just as afraid as can be. No, I must go on myself. There'll be
double work for me, now Henry's gone."

"Well, Hepburn, I begin to think the fever is on the turn," said the
doctor cheerily, as he walked away.

The day wore on. Mrs. Rane's symptoms were decidedly those of fever,
and the doctor went all the way to Whitborough himself: not far in
point of distance, only that he could not well spare the time: to tell
Molly Green she was to keep where she was, out of harm's way, and not
return until sent for. When he returned home his wife was worse.
Phillis met him at the door, and said her poor mistress's face was
scarlet, and she rolled her head from side to side. Phillis wanted to
remain the night, but the doctor would not have it: there was no
necessity for it, he said, and she had better not be subjected to
infection more than could be helped. So Phillis went away at ten
o'clock.

Between eleven and twelve, just as Mr. Seeley was preparing for rest,
Dr. Rane came in and asked him to go over to see his wife. The surgeon
went at once. Bessy was lying in her comfortable chamber, just as
Phillis had described--her face scarlet, her head turning uneasily on
the pillow. A candle stood on the table, dimly lighting the room; Mr.
Seeley took it close to inspect her face; but Bessy put up her hand
and turned her head away, as if the light disturbed her.

"She seems slightly delirious," whispered Mr. Seeley apart, and Dr.
Rane nodded. After that, the two doctors talked together a little on
the stairs, and Mr. Seeley went away, saying he would come again in
the morning.

In the morning, however, Dr. Rane went over to tell him that his wife,
after a most restless night, had dropped into a quiet doze, and had
better not be disturbed. He felt sure she was better. This was Friday.

Phillis arrived betimes. She found a wet sheet flapping in the grey
ante-room, just outside the bedroom door, which Dr. Rane had saturated
with disinfecting fluid. Jars of disinfectants stood on the wide
landing, on the staircase, and in other parts of the house. Phillis
had no fear, and went in behind the flapping sheet. She could make
nothing of Mrs. Rane. Instead of the scarlet face and restless head,
she now lay buried in her pillow, still, and pale, and intensely
quiet. Phillis offered her some tea; Mrs. Rane just opened her eyes,
and feebly motioned it away with her hand, just as she had motioned
away the light the previous night. "It's a sudden change," thought
Phillis. "I don't like it."

Later in the morning, Dr. Rane brought up Mr. Seeley. She lay in
exactly the same position, deep in the pillow. What with that, and
what with the large night-cap, the surgeon could get to see very
little of her face.

"Don't disturb me," she faintly said, when he would have aroused her
sufficiently to get a good look. "I am easy now."

"Do you know me?" questioned Mr. Seeley, bending over her.

"Yes," she answered, opening her eyes for a moment. "Let me sleep; I
shall be better tomorrow."

"How do you feel?" he asked.

"Only tired. Let me sleep."

"Bessy," said her husband, in the persuasive voice he used to the
sick, "won't you just turn to Mr. Seeley?"

"To-morrow. I want to sleep."

And so they did not disturb her further. After all, sleep does
wonders, as Dr. Rane remarked.

It might have been that Mr. Seeley went away somewhat puzzled,
scarcely thinking that the fever had been on her sufficiently long to
leave her in this state of exhaustion.

As the day went on a rumour was whispered that Mrs. Rane was dying.
Whence it arose none could trace, unless from a word or two dropped by
Dr. Rane himself to Thomas Hepburn. They happened to meet in the
street, and the undertaker stopped to inquire after Mrs. Rane. She was
in a most critical state, was the doctor's answer; the night would
decide it, one way or the other.

Phillis went up to her mistress several times. Dr. Rane kept the
hanging sheet well saturated, and flapped it often. Mrs. Rane never
seemed to rouse herself throughout the day: seemed, in fact, to sleep
through it. Phillis began to hope that it was indeed comfortable,
refreshing rest, and that she would wake from it better.

"You'll let me stay here to-night, sir?" she said, when there was
nothing more to be done, as Dr. Rane--who had been out--came in, and
passed by the kitchen.

"No need," he answered in his decisive manner. "Be here the first
thing in the morning."

Phillis put on her shawl and bonnet, wished him goodnight, and
departed. It was about ten o'clock. Dr. Rane saw her out and went up
to the sick room. In less than five minutes he came down again with a
white face, opened the front-door, and strode across the road to Mr.
Seeley's. The latter was in his surgery, in the act of pouring some
medicine into a small phial.

"Seeley! Seeley! My wife is gone!"

What with the suddenness of the interruption, and the words, the
surgeon was so startled that he dropped the bottle.

"Gone!" he cried. "Do you mean _dead?_"

"I do."

"Why, when I saw you at dusk, you told me she was sleeping
comfortably!" said the surgeon, staring at Dr. Rane. "Phillis also
said it."

"And so she was. She was to all appearance. Heaven is my witness that
I thought and believed the sleep then to be natural, and was
refreshing her. She must have died in it. I went up now, and found
her--found her--gone."

Oliver Rane put his arm on Mr. Seeley's counter and bent his face to
hide his emotion. The surgeon in the midst of his surprise, had hardly
ever felt so sorry for any one as he felt in that moment for his
brother practitioner.



CHAPTER XIV.
WHAT JELLY SAW.


"It was too true; Mrs. Rane was dead," said sympathizing people one to
the other; for even that same night the sad tidings went partially out
to Dallory. What with the death of Hepburn the undertaker, and now the
doctor's wife--both prominent people, as might be said, in connection
with the sickness--something like consternation fell on those who
heard it. Dr. Rane carried the news himself to Dallory Hall, catching
Mr. North just as he was going to bed, and imparting it to him in the
most gentle and soothing manner in his power. Fearing that if left
until morning, it might reach him abruptly, the doctor had thus made
haste. From thence he went on to Hepburn's. He had chanced to meet
Francis Dallory in coming out of Seeley's; he met some one else he
knew; these carried the tidings to others; so that many heard of it
that night.

But now we come to a strange and singular thing that happened to
Jelly. Jelly in her tart way was sufficiently good-hearted. There was
sickness in Ketler's house: the wife had her three days' old infant:
the little girl, Cissy, grew worse and weaker: and Jelly chose to
sacrifice an afternoon to nursing them. Much as she disapproved of the
man's joining the Trades' Union and upholding the strike, often as she
had assured him that both starving and the workhouse, whichever he
might prefer, were too good for him, now that misfortune lay upon the
house, Jelly came-to a little. Susan Ketler was her cousin; and, after
all, she was not to blame for her husband's wrong doings. Accordingly,
in the afternoon of the last day of Mrs. Rane's illness, Jelly went
forth to Ketler's, armed with some beef-tea, and a few scraps for the
half-famished children, the whole enclosed in a reticule.

"I shall take the latch-key," she said, in starting, to the cook, who
was commonly called Dinah, "so you can go to bed. If Susan Ketler's
very ill I shall stop late. Mind you put a box of matches on the slab
in the hall."

Susan Ketler was not very ill, Jelly found; but the child, Cissy, was.
So ill, that Jelly hardly knew whether to leave her at all, or not.
The mother could not attend to her; Ketler had gone tramping off
beyond Whitborough after Union work, and had not returned. Only that
she thought Mrs. Cumberland would not be pleased if she came to hear
that Jelly, the confidential servant in charge, had stayed out for a
night, leaving the house with only the cook in it, she had certainly
remained. At past twelve poor Ketler arrived home, dead beat, sick,
faint, having walked several miles without food. Jelly blew him up a
little: she considered that the man who could refuse work when his
children were starving, because he belonged to the Trades' Union,
deserved nothing but blowing-up: bade him look to Cissy, told him
ungraciously that there was a loaf in the pan, and departed. Ketler,
ready to drop though he was, civilly offered to see her home; but all
the thanks he received in return, was a recommendation to attend to
his own concerns and not to meddle with hers.

It was a fine, still night, rather too warm for the illness that had
fallen upon Dallory; and Jelly walked on at a swift pace, her
reticule, empty now, on her arm. Some women might have felt timid at
the midnight walk: Jelly was too strong-minded to feel anything of the
sort. She certainly found it a little lonely on entering the Ham, as
if the road under the overshadowing trees, beginning now to lose some
of their leaves, had something weird about it. But this part was soon
passed; and Jelly came to the houses, and within sight of home. Not a
soul met she: it was as dreary, as far as human companionship went, as
it could be. A black cat sprang suddenly from the hedge, and tore
across the road almost touching Jelly's feet; and it made her start.

She began thinking about Mrs. Rane; quite unconscious of the death
that had taken place. When Jelly left home in the afternoon Mrs. Rane
was said to be in danger: at least such was Phillis's opinion,
privately communicated: but, late in the evening, news had been
brought to Keller's that all danger was over. Mrs. Rane was in a
refreshing sleep, and going on safely to recovery.

"And I'm downright glad of it, poor young lady!" said Jelly, half
aloud, as she turned in at her gate. "Doctors' wives are naturally
more exposed to the chance of catching infectious illnesses. But on
the other hand they have the best advice and care at hand."

It was striking one. Letting herself in with the latch-key, Jelly felt
for the box of matches, passing her hand cautiously over the marble
table. And passed it in vain: no matches were there.

"Forgetful hussy!" ejaculated Jelly, apostrophizing the unconscious
Dinah. "Much good she's of!"

So Jelly crept quietly upstairs in the dark, knowing she had matches
in her own chamber: and in a minute came upon another of the negligent
Dinah's delinquencies. She had omitted to draw down the blind of the
large window on the landing.

"She has been out at that back-door, talking to people," quoth Jelly
in her wrath. "Just like her! Won't she catch it from me in the
morning!"

Turning to draw the blind herself, she was suddenly arrested, with the
cord in her hand, by something on the opposite landing, at Dr. Rane's.
Standing there, dressed in something white, which Jelly at the time
thought looked like a nightgown, was Mrs. Rane. The landing was
faintly lighted, as if by some distant candle; but Mrs. Rane was
perfectly visible, her features and even their expression quite clear.
The first thought that crossed Jelly was, that Mrs. Rane was
delirious: but she looked too still for that. She did not move; and
the eyes gazed with a fixed stare, as it seemed to Jelly. But that she
herself must have been invisible in the surrounding darkness, she
would have thought Mrs. Rane was staring at _her_. For a full minute
this lasted: Jelly watching, Mrs. Rane never moving.

"What in the world brings her standing there?" quoth Jelly in her
amazement. "And what can she be staring at? It can't be at me."

But at that moment Jelly's bag slipped from her arm, and fell on the
carpet. It caused her to remove her gaze from the opposite landing for
a single second--it really did not seem longer. When she looked again,
the place was in darkness: Mrs. Rane and the faint light had both
disappeared.

"She has no business to be out of her bed--and the doctor ought to
tell her so if he's at home," thought Jelly. "Anyway, she must be a
great deal better: for I don't think it's delirium."

She waited a short time, but nothing more was seen. Drawing down the
blind, Jelly picked up her bag, and passed on to her own chamber--one
of the back rooms on this first floor. There she slept undisturbed
until morning.

She did not get up until late. Being amenable to no one whilst Mrs.
Cumberland was away, the house's mistress in fact, as well as Dinah's,
Jelly did not hurry herself. She was not lazy in general, especially
on a Saturday, but as she felt tired after her weary afternoon at
Ketler's and from having gone so late to rest. Breakfast was ready in
the kitchen when she went down; Dinah--a red-faced young woman in a
brown-spotted cotton gown--being busy at the fire with the coffee.

"Now then!" began Jelly--her favourite phrase when she was angry.
"What have you to say for yourself? Whereabouts on the slab did you
put those matches last night?"

Dinah, taken-to, tilted the kettle back. Until that moment she had not
thought of her negligence.

"I'm afraid I never put 'em at all," she said.

"No you _didn't_ put 'em," retorted Jelly with sharp emphasis. "But for
having matches and a candle in my room, I must have undressed in the
dark. And I should like to know why you didn't put 'em; and what you
were about not to do it?"

"I'm sure I'm sorry," said Dinah, who was a tractable sort of girl. "I
forgot it, I suppose, in the upset about poor Mrs. Rane."

"In the upset about poor Mrs. Rane," scornfully repeated Jelly. "What
upset you, pray, about her?--And you've never been out to fasten back
the shutters!"

"She's dead," answered Dinah--and the tears came into the girl's eyes.
"That's what I've got the shutters half-to for. I thought you'd most
likely not have heard it."

A little confusion arose in Jelly's mind. Thought is rapid. Mrs.
Rane's death, as she supposed, could not possibly have occurred before
morning: the neglect, as to the matches, was last night. But, in the
present shock she passed this over. Her sharp tone disappeared as by
magic: her expression changed to sadness.

"Dead? When did she die, Dinah?"

"It was about nine o'clock last night, they think. And she lay an hour
after that in her bed, Jelly, before it was found out."

On hearing this, Jelly's first impression was that Dinah must be
trifling with her. The girl came from the fire with the coffee, the
tears visible.

"Now what d'ye mean, girl? Mrs. Rane didn't die last night--as I can
answer for."

"Oh but she did, Jelly. Dr. Rane went up to her at ten o'clock--he had
been out till then--and found her dead. I can tell you, I didn't half
like going all the way up to bed by myself to that top floor, and me
alone in the house, knowing she was lying there at the very next
door."

Jelly paused to take in the full sense of the words, staring the while
at Dinah. What could it all mean?

"You must have taken leave of your senses," she said, as she began to
pour out the coffee.

"I'm sure I've not," returned Dinah. "Why?"

"To tell me Mrs. Rane died last night. How did you pick up the tale?"

"Jelly, it's no tale. It's as true as you and me's here. I was
standing at the front gate for a breath of air, before shutting-up,
when Dr. Rane came out of his house in a hurry, and went across to Mr.
Seeley's. It struck me that Mrs. Rane might be worse and that he had
gone to fetch the other, so I stayed a bit to see. Presently--it
wasn't long--he came back across the road again. Mr. Francis Dallory
happened to be passing, and he asked after Mrs. Rane. She was dead,
the doctor said; and went on to tell him how he had found her. You
needn't look as if you thought I was making-up stories, Jelly. They
stood close by the doctor's gate, and I heard every word."

Jelly did not precisely know how she looked. If this was true,
why--what could be the meaning of what she had seen in the night?

"She can't be dead?"

"She is," said Dinah. "Why should you dispute it?"

Jelly did riot say why. She drank her hot coffee, and went out. She
did not believe it. Dinah evidently did: but the girl might have
caught up some wrong story.

The first thing that struck Jelly, when outside, was the appearance of
the doctor's house. It was closely shut up, doors and windows, and the
blinds were down. As Jelly stood, looking up, she saw Mr. Seeley
standing at his door without his hat. She went over and accosted him.

"Is it true, sir, that Mrs. Rane is dead?"

"Quite true," was the answer. "She died yesterday evening, poor lady.
It was terribly sudden."

Jelly felt a very queer sensation come over her. But she was still
full of disbelief. Mr. Seeley was called from within, and Jelly
returned and knocked softly at Dr. Rane's door. Phillis opened it, her
eyes red with crying.

"Phillis, what is all this?" demanded Jelly, in low tones. "When did
she die?"

"Stop," interposed Phillis, barring her entrance. "You'd better not
come in. I am not afraid: and, for the matter of that, somebody must
be here: but it isn't well for those to run risks that needn't. The
doctor says it was the quickest and most malignant case of them all."

"I never caught any disorder in my life, and I don't fear that I ever
shall," answered Jelly, quietly making her way to the kitchen. "_When_
did she die, Phillis?"

"About nine o'clock last evening, as is thought. The minute and hour
will never be known for sure: at ten, when the doctor found her, she
was getting cold. And for us below to have thought her quietly
sleeping!" wound up Phillis with a sob.

The queer sensation increased. Jelly had never experienced anything
like it in her whole life. She stood against the dresser, staring
helplessly at Phillis.

"I don't _think_ she could have died last evening," whispered Jelly
presently.

"And I'm sure I as little thought she was dying," returned Phillis.
"The last time I went up was about half-after seven: she was asleep
then; that I'm positive of; and it seemed a good healthy sleep, for
the breathing was as regular as could be. Sometime after eight
o'clock, master went up: he came down and said she was still sleeping,
and he hoped she'd sleep till morning, and I'd better not go up again
for fear of disturbing her. I didn't go up, Jelly. I knew if she woke
and wanted anything she'd ring: the bell-rope was to her hand. Master
went out to a patient, and I cleared up the kitchen here. He came in
at ten o'clock. I was ready to go, but asked him if I should stay all
night. There was no need, he answered, missis being better; and I
went. I never heard nothing more till I came this morning. The milkman
got to the door just as I did; and he began saying what a sad thing it
was that she had died. 'Who had died,' I asked him, and he said, 'Why,
my missis.' Jelly, you might have knocked me down with a breath of
wind."

By Jelly's looks at this moment, it seemed as if a breath of wind
might have done the same for her. Her face and lips had turned livid.

"The master opened the door to me: and told me all about it: about his
finding her dead close upon my going out," continued Phillis. "He's
frightfully cut up, poor man. Not that there's any tears, but his face
is heavy and sad, like one who has never been in bed all night--as he
hasn't been. I found a blanket on the dining-room sofa, so he must
have lain down there."

"Where is he now?" asked Jelly.

"Out. He was fetched to somebody at Dallory. I must stir up the pots,"
added Phillis, alluding to the earthen jars that stood about with
disinfectants. "Master charged _me_ to do it every hour. It's safer for
the undertaker's men and others that have to come to the house."

Armed with a piece of stick, she went into the hall, and gave the
contents of each jar a good stir. The dining-room door was open: Dr.
Rane's solitary breakfast was spread there, waiting for him. From
thence, Phillis went up the staircase to the other jars. Jelly
followed.

"Nasty stuff! I do hate the smell of it," muttered Phillis. "I
wouldn't come up if I were you," she added to Jelly, in the low,
hushed voice that we are all apt to use when near the dead.

Jelly disregarded the injunction. She believed herself safe: and was
not given to following advice at the best of times. "What's that?" she
exclaimed when she reached the landing.

The sheet that had been flapping for two days outside the bedroom
door, now flapped, wet as ever, on the landing before the door of the
ante-room. Dr. Rane considered this the better place for it now.
Phillis knocked it a little with the stick to bring out its
properties.

Compared with the gloom of the rest of the house, with its drawn
blinds, this landing, with its wide, staring, uncovered window, was
especially bright. Jelly glanced round, it might have been thought
nervously, only that she was not a nervous woman. Here, in the middle
of the floor, at one o'clock in the morning, her face turned to that
window, had stood Mrs. Rane. If not Mrs. Rane--who?--or what?

"Phillis," whispered Jelly, "I should like to see her."

"You can't," answered Phillis.

"Nonsense. I am not afraid."

"But you can't, Jelly. She is fastened down."

"She is---- Why what do you mean?" broke off Jelly.

Phillis took up a corner of the sheet, unlocked the door--in which the
key was left--and opened it half an inch for Jelly to peep in. There,
in the middle of the grey room stood a closed coffin, supported on
trestles. In the shock of surprise Jelly fell back against the wall,
and began to tremble.

The idea that came over her--as she said to some one afterwards--was,
that Mrs. Rane had been put into the coffin alive. What with the sight
of the previous night (and Jelly did not yet fully admit to herself
what that sight might have been), and what with this, she felt in a
sort of hopeless horror and bewilderment. Recovering a little, she
pushed past the sheet into the room, but with creeping, timid steps.

"Jelly, I wouldn't go in! The master charged _me_ not to do so."

But Jelly heard not. Or, if she heard, did not heed. It was a common
deal shell: nailed down. Jelly touched it with her finger.

"_When_ was she put in here, Phillis?"

"Sometime during the night."

"And fastened down at once?"

"To be sure. I found it like this when I came this morning."

"But--why need there have been so much haste?"

"Because it was safest so. Safest for us that are living, as my master
said. The leaden one will be here to-day."

Well--of course it was safer. Jelly could but acknowledge it, and
recovered somewhat. She wished she had not seen--that--in the night.
It was that sight, so unaccountable, that was now troubling her mind
so strangely.

With her usual want of ceremony, Jelly opened the bedroom door and
looked in. It had not been put straight: Phillis said her master would
not let her go in to do anything to it until the two rooms should have
been disinfected. Medicine bottles stood about; the bed-clothes lay
over the foot of the bed, just as Hepburn's men must have placed them
when they removed the dead. On the dressing-table lay a bow of blue
ribbon that poor Bessy had worn in her gown the last day she had one
on, a waistband with his buckle, and other trifles. Jelly began to
feel oppressed, as if her breath were growing short, and came away
hastily. Phillis stood on the landing beyond the sheet.

"It seems like a dream, Phillis."

"I wish we could awake and find it one," answered Phillis,
practically, as she turned the key in the lock; and they went
downstairs.

Not a minute too soon. Before they had well reached the kitchen, Dr.
Rane's latch-key was heard.

"There's the master," cried Phillis under her breath, as he turned
into his consulting-room. "It's a good thing he didn't find us up
there."

"I want to say a word to him, Phillis; I think I'll go in," said
Jelly, taking a sudden resolution to acquaint Dr. Rane with what she
had seen. The truth was, her mind felt so unhinged, knowing not what
to believe or disbelieve, that she thought she must speak, or die.

"Need you bother him now?--what's it about?" asked Phillis. "I'd let
him get his breakfast first."

But Jelly went on to the consulting-room; and found herself very
nearly knocked down by the doctor--who was turning quickly out of it.
She asked if she could speak to him: he said Yes, if she made haste;
but he wanted to catch Mr. Seeley before the latter went out.

"And your breakfast, sir?" called out Phillis in compassionate tones.

"I'll take some presently," was the answer. "What is it you want,
Jelly?"

Jelly carefully closed the door before speaking. She then entered on
her tale. At first the doctor supposed, by all this caution, that she
was about to consult him on some private ailment of her own; St.
Anthony's fire in the face, for instance, or St. Vitus's dance in the
legs; and thought she might have chosen a more fitting moment. But he
soon found it was nothing of the sort. With her hands pressing heavily
the back of the patients' chair, Jelly told her tale. The doctor stood
facing her, his arms folded, his back to the drawn blind. At first he
did not appear to understand her.

"Saw my wife upon the landing in her nightgown?" he exclaimed--and
Jelly thought he looked startled. "Surely she was not so imprudent as
to get out of bed and go there!"

"But, sir, it is said that she was then dead!"

"Dead when? She did not die until nine o'clock. She could not have
known what she was doing," continued Dr. Rane, passing his hand over
his forehead. "Perhaps she may then have caught a chill. Perhaps----"

"You are misunderstanding me, sir," interrupted Jelly. "It was in the
night I saw this; some hours after Mrs. Rane's death."

Dr. Rane looked bewildered. He gazed narrowly at Jelly, as if
wondering what it was she would infer.

"Not _last_ night?"

"Yes, sir. Or, I'd rather say this morning; for it was one o'clock. I
saw her standing there as plainly as I see you at this moment."

"Why, Jelly, you must have been dreaming?"

"I was as wide awake, sir, as I am now. I had just got home from
Ketler's. I can't think what it was I did see," added Jolly, dropping
her voice.

"You saw nothing," was the decisive answer--and in the doctor's tone
there was some slight touch of anger. "Fancy plays tricks with the
best of us: it must have played you one last night."

"I have been thinking whether it was possible that--that--she was not
really dead, sir," persisted Jelly. "Whether she could have got up,
and----"

"Be silent, Jelly. I cannot listen to this folly," came the stern
interruption. "You have no right to let your imagination run away with
you, and then talk of it as reality. I desire that you will never
speak another word upon the subject to me; or to any one."

Jelly's green eyes seem to have borrowed the doctor's bewildered look.
She gazed into his face. This was a most curious business: she could
not see as yet the faintest gleam of a solution to it.

"It was surely her I saw on the landing, sir, dead or alive. I could
swear to it. Such things have been heard of before now as swoons being
mistaken for death. When poor Mrs. Rane was left alone after her
death--that is, her supposed death--if she revived; and got up; and
came out upon the landing----"

"Hold your tongue," interposed the doctor, sharply. "How dare you
persist in this nonsense, woman! You must be mad or dreaming. An hour
before the time you speak of, my poor wife, dead and cold, was where
she is now--fastened down in her shell."

He abruptly left the room with an indignant movement; leaving Jelly
speechless with horror.

"Fastened down," ran her thoughts, "at twelve o'clock--dead and
cold--and I saw her on the landing at one! Oh, my goodness, what does
it mean?"



CHAPTER XV.
DESOLATION.


At the front-parlour window at Eastsea, sat Ellen Adair--looking for
one who did not come. Whatever troubles, trials, mysteries might be
passing elsewhere, Eastsea was going through its usual monotonous
routine. How monotonous, Ellen Adair could have told: and yet, even
here, something like mystery seemed to be looming in the air.

"Come what may, Ellen, I shall be down again within a few hours," had
been Arthur Bohun's parting words to her. But the hours and the days
passed on, and he came not.

To have one's marriage suddenly interrupted, and the bridegroom borne
off from, as may be said, the very church-door, was not more agreeable
to Ellen Adair than it would be to any other young lady. She watched
him away in the fly, whilst his kisses were yet warm upon her lips.
All that remained, was to make the best of the situation. She took off
her bonnet and dress, and locked up the ring and licence he had begged
her to take care of. Until the morrow she supposed; only until the
morrow. Mrs. Cumberland sent out a message to her own flyman to the
effect that, finding herself unable to get up, she could not take her
drive, but he was to bring the fly at the same hour on the morrow.
Mrs. Cumberland also wrote a line to the clergyman.

The morrow came; and went. Ellen scarcely stirred from the window,
which commanded a view of the road from the station; but she did not
see Captain Bohun. "Sir Nash's son must be worse, and he cannot
leave," she said to herself, striving to account for the delay, whilst
at the same time a vague undercurrent of uneasiness lay within her,
which she did her best not to recognize or listen to. "There will be a
letter tomorrow morning--or he himself will come."

But on the morrow there was no letter. Ellen watched the postman pass
the house, and she turned sick and white. Mrs. Cumberland--who was
better and had risen early, expecting Captain Bohun, and that the
marriage would certainly take place that day--took the absence of
letters with philosophy.

"He might as well have written a line, of course, Ellen; but it only
shows that he is coming in by the first train. That will be due in
twenty minutes."

Ellen stood at the window, watching: her spirit faint, her heart
beating. That vague undercurrent of uneasiness had grown into a
recognized fear now--but a fear she knew not of what. She made no
pretence to eating any breakfast; she could not have swallowed a
morsel had it been to save her life: Mrs. Cumberland said nothing,
except that she must take some after Captain Bohun had arrived.

"There's the train, Ellen. I hear the whistle."

Ellen sat behind the Venetian blind at the window, glancing through
it. Three or four straggling passengers were at length perceived,
making their way down the street. But not one of them was Captain
Bohun. The disappointment was turning her heart to sickness, when a
station fly came careering gaily up the street.

Ah, how hope rose again! She might have known he would take a fly, and
not _walk_ up. The driver seemed making for their house. Ellen's eyes
grew bright; her pale cheeks changed to rose-colour.

"Is that fly coming here, my dear?"

"I think so, Mrs. Cumberland."

"Then it is Captain Bohun. We must let the clergyman know at once,
Ellen."

The fly stopped at their house, and Ellen turned away; she would not
seem to be looking for him, though he was so soon to be her husband.
But--something was shrilly called out from the inside; upon which the
driver started on again, and pulled up at the next door. A lady and
child got out. It was _not_ Captain Bohun.

I wonder whether disappointment so great ever fell on woman? Great
emotions, whether of joy or sorrow, are always silent. The heart alone
knoweth its own bitterness, says the wise King, and a stranger may not
intermeddle with its joy. Ellen laid her hands for a minute or two on
her bosom; but she never spoke.

"He will be here by the next train," said Mrs. Cumberland. "He _must_
come, you know, Ellen."

She watched through the livelong day. How its hours dragged themselves
along she knew not. Imagination pictured all sorts of probabilities
that might bring him at any moment. He might post down: he might have
alighted by mistake at the wrong station, and walk on: he might have
arrived by the last train, and be changing his dress at the hotel
after travelling. Five hundred ideas, alternating with despair,
presented themselves to her. And thus the weary day went on. Towards
night the same delusive hope of the morning again rose; the same
farce, of the possible arrival of Captain Bohun, was gone through.

It was almost dark: for Ellen, watching ever, had not thought about
lights; and Mrs. Cumberland, tired with her long day, had gone into
the small back dining-room to lie undisturbed on the sofa. The last
train for the night was steaming in: Ellen heard the whistle. If it
did not bring Captain Bohun she thought she could only give him up for
ever.

A short interval of suspense; and then--surely he was coming! A fly or
two came rattling through the street from the station: and one of
them--yes--one of them drew up at the door. Ellen, thinking she had
learnt wisdom, said to herself that she would not get up any undue
expectation in regard to this. Foolish girl! when her whole heart was
throbbing and beating.

One of the house servants had gone out, and was opening the fly door.
A gentleman's hand threw out a light overcoat; a gentleman himself
leaped out after it, and turned to get something from the seat. Tall
and slender, Ellen thought it was Captain Bohun: the light coat was
exactly like his.

And the terrible suspense was over! She should now know what the
mystery had been. He had written most likely, and the letter had
miscarried: how stupid she was not to have thought of that before! She
heard his footsteps in the passage: in another instant she should be
in his arms, feel his kisses on her lips. It was a moment's delirium
of happiness: neither more nor less. Ellen stood gazing at the door,
her colour coming and going, her nervous hands clasped one within the
other.

But the footsteps passed the sitting-room. There seemed to be some
talking, and then the house subsided into silence. Where was he?
Whither had he gone? Not into the dining-room, as Ellen knew, for Mrs.
Cumberland might not be awakened. Gradually the idea came creeping in,
and then bounded onwards with a flash that, after all, it might not
have been Captain Bohun. A faint cry of despair escaped her, and she
put her hands up as if to ward off some approaching evil.

But the suspense at least must be put an end to; it was too great to
bear; and she rang the bell. Ann, who chiefly waited on them, answered
it.

"For lights, Miss Ellen?"

"Yes. Who has just come here in a fly?"

"It's the landlady's son, miss. A fine, handsome man as ever was
seen!"

When Mrs. Cumberland entered, Ellen sat, pale and quiet, on the low
chair. In truth the inward burden was becoming hard to bear. Mrs.
Cumberland remarked that Captain Bohun had neither come nor written,
and she thought it was not good behaviour on his part. And, with that,
she settled to her evening newspaper.

"Why, Ellen! Here's the death of James Bohun," she presently
exclaimed. "He died the day after Arthur left us. This accounts for
the delay, I suppose."

"Yes," murmured Ellen.

"But not for his not writing," resumed Mrs. Cumberland. "That is very
strange. I hope," she added, smiling, "that he does not intend to give
you up because he is now heir-presumptive to a baronetcy."

Mrs. Cumberland, as she spoke, happened to look at Ellen, and was
struck by her expression. Her face was pale as death; her eyes had a
sort of wild fear, the lips trembled.

"My dear child, you surely did not take what I said in earnest! I
spoke in jest. Captain Bohun is not a man to behave dishonourably; you
may quite rely upon that. Had he come into a dukedom, you would still
be made his duchess."

"I think I will go to bed, if you don't mind my leaving you," said
Ellen, faintly. "My head aches."

"I think you had better, then. But you have tormented yourself into
that headache, Ellen."

To bed! It was a mere figure of speech. Ellen sat up in her room,
knowing that neither bed nor sleep could bring her ease--for her
dreams the past two nights had been worse than reality. She watched
for hours the tossing sea; it had never properly calmed down since the
storm.

The morning brought a letter from Captain Bohun. To Mrs. Cumberland;
not to Ellen. Or, rather a note, for it was not long enough to be
called a letter. It stated that urgent circumstances had prevented his
returning to Eastsea--and he would write further shortly. He added
that he was very unwell, and begged to be remembered to Miss Adair.

To Miss Adair! The very formality of the message told its tale.
Something was wrong: it was evident even to Mrs. Cumberland. The
letter was short, constrained, abrupt; and she turned it about in
haughty wonder.

"What can the man mean? _This_ is not the way to write when things are
at their present crisis. Here the ring and licence are waiting; here
the clergyman is holding himself in readiness from day to day; here
you are fretting your heart out, Ellen, and he writes such a note as
this! But for being his own handwriting, I know what I should think."

"What?" asked Ellen, hastily.

"Why, that he is worse than he says. Delirious. Out of his senses."

"No, no; it is not that."

"I think if it is not, it ought to he," sharply retorted Mrs.
Cumberland. "We must wait for his next letter, I suppose; there is
nothing else to be done."

And they waited. And the weary days dragged their slow length along.


Any position more cruelly difficult than that of Captain Bohun cannot
well be conceived. Madam's communication was not confined to the one
first revelation; she added another to it. At first there had been no
opportunity for more; the train stopped at a branch station just
beyond Eastsea, and the carriage became filled with passengers.
Arthur, in his torment, would have further questioned his mother,
praying for elucidation; but madam demanded in a whisper whether he
was mad, and then turned her back upon him. The people went all the
way to London, but as soon as Arthur had handed his mother into a cab,
on their way to Sir Nash Bohun's, he began again. The storm that raged
at Eastsea had apparently extended its fury to London; the rain beat,
the wind blew, the streets were as deserted as London streets at a
busy hour of the afternoon can be. Arthur shuddered a little as he
glanced out; the elements just now seemed as dark and warring as his
fate.

"Mother, things cannot rest here," he said. "You evaded my questions
in the train; you must answer them now. Cannot you see how dreadful
this suspense must be to me? I am engaged to marry Ellen Adair: if not
to-day, some other day. And now you tell me that, which--which----"

Which ought to break it off, he was about to say: but emotion stopped
him. He raised his hand and wiped the moisture from his forehead.
Madam bent down, and kissed his hand. He did not remember to have been
kissed by her since he was a child. Her voice assumed a soft, tender
tone; something like tears stood in her eyes.

"I can see how you suffer, Arthur; I am sure you must love her, poor
young lady; and I would give anything not to have to inflict pain or
disappointment on you. But what else can I do? You are my son: your
interests are dear to me: and I must speak. Don't you remember how I
have always warned you against Miss Adair? But I never suspected there
would be cause for it so great as this."

He did remember it. This new soft mode of madam's became her well. In
the midst of his own trouble Arthur spared a moment to think that
perhaps he had in a degree misjudged her.

"I cannot understand how so frightful a charge can be brought against
Mr. Adair," spoke Arthur. "What you tell me sounds like a fable. I had
been given to understand that he and my father were close friends."

"As they were, once."

"And yet you say that he, Mr. Adair, was a--a----"

"A convict," spoke madam, supplying the words. "I cannot give you
details, Arthur: only facts. He was tried, out there, and convicted.
He obtained a ticket-of-leave--which I dare say may not have expired
yet."

"And his crime?--What was it?"

"I told you. Forgery."

"Did _you_ ever know him?"

"Of course I did: at the time when he was intimate with your father.
We never quite knew who he was, Arthur; or who his people were at
home, or what had taken him originally to India; but Major Bohun was
unsuspicious as the day, as you yourself. There arose great trouble,
Arthur; gambling and wickedness, and I can't tell you what: and
through it all, nearly up to the last, your father believed in Adair."

"Was he a convict _then?_"

"No, no; all that came afterwards: not the crime, perhaps, but
discovery, trial, and conviction. Arthur--how sorry I am to say it, I
can never tell you--your father's son had better go and marry that
miserable drab, than a daughter of William Adair."

She pointed to a poor wretch that was passing. A gaunt skeleton of a
woman, with paint on her hollow cheeks, and a tawdry gown trailing in
the mud.

Arthur pressed his hands to his temples; all sorts of confused
thoughts were fighting together within his breast.

"Did Mrs. Cumberland know of this?" he asked.

"I cannot say. _Her husband did_. At the time it all happened, Mrs.
Cumberland was away in ill-health. I should think she would hear it
from her husband afterwards."

"Then--how could she encourage me to enter into this contract with
Miss Adair?" returned Arthur, in a flash of resentment.

"You must never see her again, Arthur; you must never see her again.
Go abroad for a time if need be: it may be the better plan."

"What am I to say to them?" he cried in self-commune. "After all,
Ellen is not responsible for her father's sins."

A spasm caught madam. Was this information not sufficient?--would he
carry out the marriage yet?

"Arthur, there's worse behind," she breathed. "Why can't you be
satisfied?--why do you force me to tell you all?--I would have spared
you the rest."

"What rest?" he asked, his lips turning white.

"About that man--William Adair."

"What rest?"

"He killed your father."

"Killed--my father?"

"Yes. He forged his name; he ruined him: and in the shock--in the
shock--he----"

Madam stopped. "What?" gasped Arthur.

"Well, the shock killed your father."

"Do you mean that he died of it?"

"He could not bear the trouble; and he--shot himself."

Madam's face was white now: white with emotion. Arthur, in _his_
emotion, seized her hand, and gazed at her.

"It is true," she whispered. "He shot himself in the trouble and
disgrace that Adair brought upon him. And you, his son, would have
married the man's daughter!"

With a horrible fear of what he had all but done--with a remorse that
nearly turned him mad--with a sort of unformed vow never again to see
Mrs. Cumberland or Ellen Adair, Arthur Bohun dropped his mother's hand
with a suppressed groan, and kept silence until they stopped before
the house of Sir Nash Bohun.

Mechanically he looked up at the windows, and saw that the shutters
were open. So James was not dead. Arthur gave his hand to madam, to
help her in.

But James Bohun was as ill as he could be: very palpably nearer death
than when madam had started from the house at break of dawn. In fact
there had then been some hope, for he had rallied in the night. Arthur
never knew that. He supposed his mother had really come off to fetch
him, in order that he should be present at the close: he suspected not
that she had frantically hastened down to disturb him in his paradise.

And this was Arthur Bohun's present position. It is not possible, as
was just remarked, to imagine one more cruelly difficult. Bound by
every tie of honour to Ellen Adair, only not married to her through a
mere chance, she waiting for him now--each hour as it passed--to
return and complete the ceremony; and loving her as he should never
love any other in this world. And--in the very midst of these
obligations--to have made the sudden and astounding discovery that
Ellen Adair was the only woman living who must be barred to him; whom,
of all others, of all the numbers that walked the earth, he must alone
not make his wife. The position would have been bewildering to a man
without honour; to Arthur Bohun, with his fastidiously high standard,
it was simply terrible.

For the few hours that James Bohun lasted, Arthur did nothing. It may
almost be said that he _thought_ nothing, for his mind was in a chaos.
On the day following his arrival James died: and he, Arthur, had then
become heir-presumptive. To many, it might have seemed that he was
quite as secure of the succession as though he were heir-apparent; for
Sir Nash was old and ailing. A twelvemonth ago Sir Nash Bohun had been
full of life; upright, energetic, to all appearance strong, hearty,
and likely to outlive his son. But since then he had changed rapidly;
and the once healthy man seemed to have little health in him now.
Medical men told him that if he would go abroad and for some months
take certain medicinal springs, he might--and in all probability
would--regain health and strength. Sir Nash would have tried it but
for the declining health of his son. James could not leave home; Sir
Nash would not be separated from him.

What though Arthur Bohun was the heir? In his present misery, it
seemed worse than a mockery to him. A Bohun could not live
dishonoured: and he must be dishonoured to the end of his days. To
abandon Ellen Adair would bring the red stain of undying shame to his
cheek; to marry her would be, of the two, only the greater disgrace.
What, then, could anticipated rank and wealth be to him?--better that
he should depart for some far-off land and become an exile for ever.

He knew not what to do; even at this passing moment, he knew it not.
What ought he to do? Torn with conflicting emotion, he could not see
where lay his duty in this very present dilemma. What was he to say to
Ellen?--what to Mrs. Cumberland? Where seek an excuse for his conduct?
They were expecting him, no doubt, by every train, and he did not go
to them. He did not mean to go. What could he write?--what say? On the
day of James Bohun's death, he took pen in hand and sat down: but he
never wrote a word. The true reason he could not urge. He could not
say to Ellen, Your father was a convict; he caused my father's death;
and so our union must not take place. That Ellen knew nothing of any
disgrace attaching to her father was as clear as day. "I tell you
these dreadful truths in confidence," madam had said to Arthur, "you
must not repeat them. You might be called upon to prove them--and
proof would be very difficult to obtain at this distance of time. The
Reverend George Cumberland knew all, even more than I; but he is dead:
and it may be that Mrs. Cumberland knows nothing. I should almost
think she does not: or she would never have wished to marry you to
Adair's daughter. You can only be silent, Arthur; you must be so, for
the poor girl's sake. By giving a mere hint as to what her father was,
you would blight her prospects for life. Let her have her fair chance:
though she may not marry you, she may be chosen by someone else: do
nothing to hinder it. If the story ever comes out through others,
why--you will be thankful, I dare say, that at least it was not
through you."

He sat with the pen in his hand, and did not write a word. No word or
phrase in the whole English language would have served him. "My
darling, Fate has parted us, but I would a great deal rather die than
have to write it, and I shall hold you in my heart for ever."
Something like that he would have said, had it been practicable. But
he had no longer to deal with romance, but with stern reality.

He put ink and pens away for the day, and lay back in his chair with a
face almost as white as that of his dead cousin; and almost felt as
though he were dying himself. Man has rarely gone through a keener
mental conflict than this. He saw no way out of his dilemma; no
possible means of escape.

On the third day he spoke to Sir Nash. It was not that a suspicion of
his mother's veracity crossed his mind: it did not do so: for she had
betrayed too much agitation to permit him to doubt the genuineness of
her revelation. Therefore, he spoke not to hear the tale confirmed,
but in the fulness of his stricken heart.

They were alone in the library. Sir Nash began talking of different
things; of Arthur's probable succession; of his lost son. James, never
strong, had worn himself out between philanthropy and close reading,
he said. Arthur, he hoped, would take a lesson, embrace rational
pursuits, and marry. He, Sir Nash, understood there was a charming
young lady waiting to be asked by him; a young lady of family and
fortune, possessing everything in her favour: he alluded to Miss
Dallory.

"Did you know anything of the cause of my father's death, sir?"
questioned Arthur, who had stood listening, in silence, his elbow on
the mantelpiece, his hand supporting his brow.

"Do _you_ know?" returned Sir Nash, glancing keenly at Arthur.

"I always understood that he died of sunstroke. But my mother has at
length disclosed the truth to me. He--died in a different way."

"He shot himself," said Sir Nash, in hushed tones. "My brother was
suddenly overwhelmed with trouble, and--he was unable to face it. Poor
Tom!"

Arthur asked for some of the particulars: he was anxious to hear them.
But Sir Nash could not tell him a syllable more than he already knew:
in fact, the baronet seemed very hazy about it altogether.

"Of course I never learned the details as clearly as if I had been on
the spot, Arthur," he said, "Your poor father fell into the meshes of
a scoundrel, one Adair, who had somehow forged his way by false
pretences into society--which I suppose is not difficult to manage,
out there. And this Adair brought some disgrace on him from which
there was no escape: and--and Tom, poor fellow, could not survive it.
He was honour and integrity itself, believing all men to be as upright
as he, until he found them otherwise. If he had a failing, it was on
the side of pride--but I'm afraid most of us Bohuns have too much of
that. A less proud man might have got over it. Tom could not. He died,
rather than live with dishonoured name."

Arthur Bohun, standing there and looking more like a ghost than a
living man, thought of the blow his own honour had just received--the
slur that would rest on it for ever.

"And you know nothing of the details, uncle?" he resumed. "I wonder
you did not stir in it at the time--bring Adair to justice."

"On the contrary, we hushed it up. We have never spoken of it,
Arthur. Tom was gone; and it was as well to let it die out. It took
place in some out-of-the-way district of India; and the real truth
was not known to half-a-dozen people. The report there was that
Major Bohun had died of sunstroke; it spread to Europe, and we
let it go uncontradicted. Better, we thought, for Tom's little
son--you,--Arthur--that the real facts should be allowed to rest, if
rest they would."

There ensued a pause. Presently Arthur lifted his face; and spoke, as
Sir Nash supposed, in derision. In truth, it was in desperation.

"It would not do, I suppose, for a gentleman to marry Adair's
daughter?"

Sir Nash turned quickly. "Why do you ask this? I have heard that you
know the girl."

"I will tell you, sir. No one could have been nearer marriage than I
was with Ellen Adair. Of course it is all at an end: I cannot do it
now."

Sir Nash Bohun stared for a moment, as if unable to take in the
wildness of the words. He then drew up his fine old head with dignity.

"Arthur Bohun! a gentleman had rather do as your poor father
did--shoot himself--than marry Ellen Adair."

And Arthur Bohun in his misery, wondered whether he had _not_ better
do it, rather than live the life that remained to him now.



CHAPTER XVI.
IN THE CHURCHYARD.


Nothing of late years had affected Mr. North so much as the death of
Bessy Rane. His son Edmund's death, surrounded by all the doubt and
trouble connected with the anonymous letter, did not touch him as did
this. Perhaps he had never realized until now how very dear Bessy was
to his heart.

"Why should Bessy have died?" he asked over and over again in his deep
distress. "They have called it a famine fever, some of them, but why
should a famine fever attack Bessy? I knew she was exposed to danger,
through her husband; but if she did take it, why should she not have
recovered from it? Others recovered who had not half Bessy's
constitution. And why, why did she die so suddenly?"

No one could answer him. Not even Dr. Rane. Fever was capricious, the
latter said. And death was capricious, he added in lower tones, often
taking those we most cared to save.

Dallory echoed Mr. North's sentiments. The death of Mrs. Rane was the
greatest shock that had fallen on them since the outbreak of the
fever. Mrs. Gass, braving infection--though, like Jelly, she did not
fear it--went down to Dr. Rane's house on the Monday morning to tender
her sympathy, and relieve herself of some of her surprise. She felt
much grieved, she was truly shocked: Bessy had always been a favourite
of hers; it seemed impossible to realize that she was dead. Her mental
arguments ran very much as did Mr. North's--Why should Bessy have
died, when so many of the poor and the half starved recovered? But the
point that pressed most forcibly on Mrs. Gass was the rapidity of the
death. None had died so soon as Bessy, or anything like so soon; it
seemed unaccountable that she should not have battled longer for life.

Phillis received Mrs. Gass in the darkened drawing-room; her master
was out. Dr. Rane could not stay indoors to indulge his grief and play
propriety, as most men can. Danger and death were abroad, and the
physician had to go forth and try to avert both from others, in
accordance with his duty to Heaven and to man. That he felt his loss
keenly, was evident; there was no outward demonstration; neither sighs
nor tears; but he seemed as a man upon whom some heavy weight had
fallen; his manner preoccupied, his bearing almost unnaturally still
and calm. Phillis and Mrs. Gass were talking, and, if truth must be
told, shedding tears together, when the doctor came in. Phillis,
standing near the centre table, had been giving particulars of the
death, as far as she knew them, just as she had given them to Jelly
the morning after the sad event. Mrs. Gass, seated in the green velvet
chair, had untied the strings of her bonnet--she had not come down in
satins and birds-of-paradise to-day, but in subdued attire--and was
wiping away the tears with her broad-hemmed handkerchief while she
listened.

The old servant retired at the entrance of her master. He sat down,
and prepared to go through the interview with equanimity, though he
heartily wished Mrs. Gass anywhere else. His house was desolate;
infected also; he thought that visitors, for their own sake and his,
had better keep away. They had not met since the death, and Mrs. Gass,
though the least exacting woman in the world, took it a little
unkindly that he had not been in, knowing that he passed her house
several times in the day.

In subdued tones, Oliver Rane gave Mrs. Gass a summary of Bessy's
illness and death. He had done all he could to keep her, he said; all
he could. Seeley had come over once or twice, and knew that nothing
more had remained in his power.

"But, doctor, I heard that on the Friday you told people she was
getting better and the danger was over," urged Mrs. Gass, her tears
flowing afresh.

"And I thought it was so," he answered. "What I mistook for sleepiness
from exhaustion, and what Seeley mistook for the same, must have been
the exhaustion of approaching death. We are deceived thus sometimes."

"But, doctor, she never had more than a day's fever. Was that enough
to cause death from exhaustion?"

"She had a day and a night of fever. And consider how intense it was:
I never before saw anything like it. We must not always estimate the
fatality of a fever by its duration, Mrs. Gass. The terrible
suddenness of the blow has been worse to me than it could have been to
any one else."

Yes, Mrs. Gass believed that, and warmly sympathized with him. She
then expressed a wish to see the coffin. "Would it be well for her to
go up?" he asked. "Oh dear, yes," Mrs. Gass answered; "she was not
afraid of anything." And the doctor took her up without further
hesitation. There was little if any danger now, he observed, as he
raised the sheet, which still hung there, to enable her to enter the
grey room.

Everything was completed. Hepburn's men had been to and fro, and all
was ended. The outer coffin was of oak, its lid bearing the
inscription. Mrs. Gass's tears fairly gushed out as site read it.


     "BESSY RANE.
        AGED 31."


"But you have not put the date of the death, doctor!" cried Mrs. Gass,
surprised at the omission.

"No? True. That's Thomas Hepburn's fault; I left it to him. The man is
half-crazed just now, between grief for his brother and fear for
himself. It will be put on the grave."

From Dr. Rane's Mrs. Gass went to Dallory Hall, knowing that madam was
absent. Otherwise she would not have ventured there. And never was
guest more welcome to its master. Poor Mr. North spoke out to her all
his grief for Bessy without reservation.

But of all who felt this death, none were so affected by it as Jelly.
She could not rest for the wild thoughts that tormented her day and
night. The idea at first taken up kept floating through her head, and
sometimes she could not get rid of it for hours: an idea that Mrs.
Rane had been put into her coffin alive; that what she saw was Mrs.
Rane herself, and not her spirit. Yet Jelly knew that this could not
be, and her imagination would turn to another wild improbability,
though she dared not follow it--that the poor lady had not died a
natural death. One night there came surging into Jelly's brain the
suggestive case put by Timothy Wilks, that some men might be found who
would put their wives out of the way for the sake of the tontine
money. Jelly tossed from side to side in her uneasy bed, and stared at
the candle--for she no longer cared to sleep in the dark--and tried to
get rid of the wicked notion. But she never got rid of it again; and
when she rose in the morning, pale, and trembling, and weary, she
believed that the dread mystery had solved itself to her, and would be
found in _this_.

What ought she to do? Going about that day as one in a dream, the
question continually presented itself to her. Jelly was at her wits'
end with indecision: at night resolving to tell of the apparition, and
of her suspicion of Dr. Rane; in the morning putting the thoughts from
her, and call herself a fool for yielding to them. Dinah could not
make out what ailed her, she was so strange and silent, but privately
supposed it might be the condition of Mr. Timothy Wilks. For that
gentleman was confined to his bed with some attack connected with the
liver.

Wednesday, the day of the funeral, drew on. It had been a little
retarded to allow of the return of Richard North. News had been
received of him the morning after Bessy's death. It may readily be
imagined what Richard's consternation and grief must have been to hear
of his sister's death; whom he so recently left well, happy, and as
likely to live as he himself.

The funeral was fixed for twelve o'clock. Richard only arrived the
same morning at ten. He had been delayed twelve hours by the state of
the sea, the Ostend boat not having been able to put out. Jelly, in
her superstition, thought the elements had been conspiring to keep
Richard North from following one to the grave who had not been sent to
it by Heaven.

Long before twelve o'clock struck, groups had formed about the
churchyard. The men, out on strike, and their wives, were there in
full force: partly because it was a break to their monotonous
idleness, partly out of respect to their master. The whole
neighbourhood sincerely regretted Bessy Rane, who had never made an
enemy in her life.

In the church people of the better class assembled, all in mourning.
Mrs. Gass was in her pew, in an upright bonnet and crape flowers.
Seeing Jelly come in looking very woebegone, she hospitably opened the
pew door to her. And this was close upon the arrival of the funeral.

The first to make his appearance was Thomas Hepburn in his official
capacity; quite as woebegone as Jelly, and far more sickly. The rest
followed. The coffin, which Mrs. Gass had seen the other day, was
placed on its stand; for the few last words of this world to be read
over it. Dr. Rane, as white as a sheet; and Mr. North, leaning on his
son Richard's arm, comprised the followers. No strangers were invited:
Dr. Rane thought, considering what Bessy had died of, that they might
not care to attend. People wondered whether Captain Bohun had been
bidden to it. If so, he certainly had not come.

It seemed only a few minutes before they were moving out of the church
again. The grave had been dug in the corner of the churchyard, near to
Edmund North's: and he, as may be remembered, lay next to his mother.
Mrs. Gass and Jelly took their seats on a remote bench, equally
removed from the ceremony and the crowd. The latter stood at a
respectful distance, not caring, from various considerations, to
approach too near. Not a word had the two women as yet spoken to each
other. The bench they sat on was low, and overshadowed by the trees
that bordered the narrow walks. Not ten people in the churchyard were
aware that any one sat there. Jelly was the first to break the
silence.

"How white he looks!"

It was rather abrupt, as Mrs. Gass thought. They could see the
clergyman in his surplice through the intervening trees, and the
others standing bare-headed around him.

"Do you mean the doctor, Jelly?"

"Yes," said Jelly, "I mean him."

"And enough to make him, poor berefted man, when the one nearest and
dearest to him is suddenly cut off by fever," gravely rejoined Mrs.
Gass. "In the midst of life we are in death."

Now, or never. Sitting there alone with Mrs. Gass, surrounded by these
solemn influences, Jelly thought the hour and the opportunity had
come. Bear with the secret much longer, she could not; it would wear
her to a skeleton, worry her into a fever perhaps; and she had said to
herself several times that Mrs. Gass, with her plain common sense,
would be the best person to confide in. Yes, she mentally repeated,
now or never.

"_Was_ it the fever that cut her off?" began Jelly, significantly.

"Was it the fever that cut her off?" echoed Mrs. Gass. "What d'you
mean, Jelly?"

Jelly turned to the speaker, and plunged into her tale. Beginning,
first of all, with the apparition she had certainly seen, and how it
was--staying late at Ketler's, and Dinah's having left the blind
undrawn--that she had come to see it. There she paused.

"Why, what on earth d'you mean?" sharply demanded Mrs. Gass. "Saw Mrs.
Rane's ghost! Don't be an idiot, Jelly."

"Yes, I saw it," repeated Jelly, with quiet emphasis. "Saw it as sure
as I see them standing there now to bury her. There could be no
mistake. I never saw her plainer in life. It was at one o'clock in the
morning, I say, Mrs. Gass; and she was screwed down at twelve: an hour
before it."

"Had you taken a little too much beer?" asked Mrs. Gass, after a
pause, staring at Jelly to make sure the question would not also apply
to the present time. But the face that met hers was strangely earnest:
too much so even to resent the insinuation.

"It was her ghost, poor thing: and I'm afraid it'll walk till justice
lays it. I never knew but one ghost walk in all my life, Mrs. Gass:
and he had been murdered."

Mrs. Gass made no rejoinder. She was absorbed in looking at Jelly.
Jelly went on--

"It's said there's many that walk: the world's full of such tales; but
I never knew but that one. When people are put to an untimely end, and
buried away out of sight, and their secrets with 'em, it stands to
reason that they can't rest quiet in their graves. _She_ won't."

Mrs. Gass put her hand impressively on Jelly's black shawl, and kept
it there. "Tell me why you are saying this?"

"It's what I want to do. If I don't tell it to some one, I shall soon
be in the grave myself. Fancy me living at the very next door, and
nobody in the house just now but Dinah!"

Jelly spoke out all: that she believed Dr. Rane might have "put his
wife out of the way." Mrs. Gass was horrified. Not at the charge: she
didn't believe a word of it; but at Jelly's presuming to imagine it.
She gave Jelly a serious reprimand.

"It was him that wrote that anonymous letter, you know," whispered
Jelly.

"Hush! Hold your tongue, girl. I've warned you before to let that
alone."

"And I'm willing to do so."

"That is downright wicked of you, Jelly. Dr. Rane loved his wife. What
motive do you suppose he could have had for killing her?"

"To get the tontine money," replied Jelly, in a whisper.

The two women gazed at each other; gaze meeting gaze. And then Mrs.
Gass suddenly grew whiter than Dr. Rane, and began to shiver as though
some strange chill had struck her.



CHAPTER XVII.
AT SIR NASH BOHUN'S.


Reclining on the pillows of an invalid chair was Arthur Bohun,
looking as yellow as gold, recovering from an attack of jaundice. The
day of James Bohun's funeral it had poured with rain; and Arthur,
standing at the grave, had caught a chill. This had terminated in the
jaundice--his unhappy state of mind no doubt doing its part towards
bringing on the malady. He was recovering now. Sir Nash, at whose
house he lay, was everything that was kind.

Madam was kind also: at least she made a great profession of being so.
Her object in life just now was to get her son to marry Miss Dallory.
Madam cared no more for her son Arthur or his welfare than she did for
Richard North; but she was shrewd enough to foresee that the source,
whence her large supplies of money had hitherto been drawn, was now
dried up: and she hoped to get supplies out of Arthur for the future.
Marrying an heiress, wealthy as Miss Dallory, would wonderfully
increase his power to help her. Moreover, she wished to be effectually
relieved from that horrible nightmare that haunted her still--the
possibility of his marrying Ellen Adair.

So madam laid her plans--as it was in her scheming nature ever to be
laying them--and contrived to bring Miss Dallory, at that time in
London with her aunt, to Sir Nash Bohun's for a few days' visit when
Arthur was recovering. The young lady was there now: and Matilda North
was there; and they both spent a good part of every day with Arthur;
and Sir Nash made much of Mary Dallory, partly because he really liked
her, and partly because he thought there was a probability that she
would become Arthur's wife. During his illness, Captain Bohun had had
time for reflection: not only time, but _calmness_, in the lassitude
it brought to him mentally and physically: and he began to see his
immediate way somewhat clearer. To give no explanation to the two
ladies at Eastsea, to whom he was acting, as he felt, so base a part,
was the very worst form of cowardice; and, though he could not explain
to Ellen Adair, he was now anxious to do so to Mrs. Cumberland.
Accordingly the first use he made of his partially-recovered health,
was to ask for writing materials and write her a note in very shaky
characters. He spoke of his serious illness, stated that certain
"untoward circumstances" had occurred to intercept his plans, but that
as soon as he was sufficiently well to travel he should beg of her to
appoint a time when she could allow him a private conference.

The return post brought him a letter from Ellen. Rather to his
consternation. Ellen assumed--not unnaturally, as the reader will
find--that the sole cause of his mysterious absence was illness; that
he had been ill from the first, and unable to travel. It ran as
follows:--


"My Dearest Arthur,

"I cannot express to you what my feelings are this morning; so full of
joy, yet full of pain. Oh I cannot tell you what the past two or three
weeks have been to me; looking back, it almost seems a wonder that I
_lived_ through them. For I thought--I will not say here what I
thought, and perhaps I could not say, only that you were never coming
again; and that it was agony to me, worse than death. And to hear now
that you could not come: that the cause of your silence and absence
has been dangerous illness, brings to me a great sorrow and shame. Oh
Arthur, my dearest, forgive me! Forgive also my writing to you thus
freely; but it almost seems to me as though you were already my
husband. Had you been called away only half-an-hour later you would
have been, and perhaps even might have had me with you in your
illness.

"I should like to write pages and pages, but you may be too ill yet to
read very much, and so I will say no more. May God watch over you and
bring you to health again.

"Ever yours, Arthur, yours only, with the great love of my heart,

     "Ellen Adair."


And Captain Arthur Bohun, in spite of the cruel fate that had parted
them, pressed the letter to his heart, and the sweet name, Ellen
Adair--sweeter than any he would ever hear again--to his lips, and
shed tears of anguish over it in the feebleness induced by illness.

They might take Mary Dallory to his room as much as they pleased; and
Matilda might exert her little wiles in praising her, and madam hers
to leave them "accidentally" together; but his heart was too full of
another, and of its own bitter pain, to have room for as much as a
responsive thought to Mary Dallory.

"Arthur is frightfully languid and apathetical!" spoke Miss North one
day in a burst of resentment. "I'm sure he is quite rude to me and
Mary: he lets us sit by him for an hour at a time, and never speaks."

"Consider how ill he has been--and is," remonstrated Sir Nash.

Mrs. Cumberland's span of life was drawing into a very narrow space:
and it might be that she was beginning to suspect this. For some
months she had been growing inwardly weaker; but the weakness had for
a week or two been visibly and rapidly increasing. Captain Bohun's
unaccountable behaviour had tried her--for Ellen's sake. She was
responsible to Mr. Adair for the welfare of his daughter, and the
matter was a source of daily and hourly annoyance to her. When this
second tardy note arrived, she considered it, in one sense, a
satisfactory explanation; in another, not so: since, if Captain Bohun
had been too ill to write himself, why did he not get some one else to
write to her and say so? However, she was willing to persuade herself
that all would be right: and she told Ellen, without showing her the
note, that Captain Bohun had been dangerously ill, unable to come or
write. Hence Ellen's return letter.

But, apart from the progress of the illness in itself, nothing had
done Mrs. Cumberland so much harm as the news of her daughter-in-law's
death. It had been allowed to reach her abruptly, without the smallest
warning. I suppose there is something in our common nature that urges
us to impart sad tidings to others. Dinah, Jelly's friend and
underling, was no exception to this rule. On the day after the death,
she sat down and indited a letter to her fellow-servant, Ann, at
Eastsea, in which she detailed the short progress of Mrs. Rane's
illness, and her strangely sudden death. Ann, before she had well
mastered the cramped lines, ran with white face to her mistress; and
Miss Adair afterwards told her that she ought to have known better.
That it was too great a shock for Mrs. Cumberland in her critical
state, the girl in her repentance very soon saw. Mrs. Cumberland asked
for the letter, and scarcely had it out of her hand for many hours.
Dead! apparently from no sufficient cause; for the fever had lasted
only a day, Dinah said, and had gone again. Mrs. Cumberland, in her
bewilderment, began actually to think the whole thing was a fable.

Not for two or three days did she receive confirmation from Dr.
Rane. Of course the doctor did not know or suppose that any one else
would be writing to Eastsea; and he was perhaps willing to spare his
mother the news as long as he could do so. He shortly described the
illness--saying that he, himself, had entertained very little hope
from the first, from the severity of the fever. But all this did not
help to soothe Mrs. Cumberland; and in the two or three weeks that
afterwards went on, she faded palpably. Little wonder the impression,
that she was growing worse, made its way to Dallory.



CHAPTER XVIII.
JELLY'S TROUBLES.


With the same rapidity that the sickness had appeared, so did it
subside in Dallory. Mrs. Rane's was the last serious case: the last
death; the very few cases afterwards were of the mildest description;
and within a fortnight of the time that ill-fated lady was laid in the
ground, people were restoring their houses and throwing their rooms
open to the renewed air.

The inhabitants in general, rallying their courage, thought the sooner
they forgot the episode the better. Excepting perhaps by the inmates
of those houses from which some one had been taken, they did soon
forget it. It was surprising--now that fear was at an end and matters
could be summed up dispassionately--how few the losses were. With the
exception of Henry Hepburn the undertaker and Mrs. Rane, they were
entirely amongst the poor working people out on strike, and, even
here, were principally amongst the children. Mrs. Gass told men to
their faces that the fever had come of nothing but famine and poverty,
and that they had only themselves to thank for it. She was in the
habit, as the reader knows, of dealing some home truths out to them:
but she had dealt out something else during the sickness, and that was
wholesome food. She continued to do so still to those who had been
weakened by it: but she gave them due warning that it was only
temporary help, which, but for the fever, they would never have
received from her. And so the visitation grew into a thing of the
past, and Dallory was itself again.

One, there was, however, who could not forget: with whom that unhappy
past was present night and day. Jelly. That Dr. Rane had in some way
wilfully caused the death of his wife, Jelly was as sure of as though
she had seen it done. Her suspicion pointed to laudanum; or to some
equally fatal preparation. Suspicion? Nay, with her it had become a
certainty. In that last day of Bessy Rane's life, when she was
described as sleeping, sleeping, always sleeping; when her sole cry
had been--"I am easy, only let me sleep," Jelly now felt that Dr. Rane
knew she had been quietly sleeping away to death. Unerringly as though
it had been written with the pen of truth, lay the conviction upon her
heart. About that, there could be neither doubt nor hesitation: the
difficulty was--what ought to be her own course in the matter?

In all Jelly's past life she had never been actually superstitious; if
told that she was so now, she would have replied that it was because
circumstances had forced it upon her. That Mrs. Rane's spirit had
appeared to her that memorable night for one sole purpose--that she,
Jelly, should avenge her dreadful end by publicly disclosing it, Jelly
believed as implicitly as she believed in the Gospel. Not a soul in
the whole wide world but herself (saving of course Dr. Rane) had the
faintest idea that the death was not a natural one. Jelly moaned and
groaned, and thought her fate unjustly hard that _she_ should have
been signalled out by Heaven--for so she solemnly put it--for the
revelation, when there were so many others in the community of Dallory
who might have done it better than herself. Jelly had periods of
despondency, when she did not quite know whether her head was on or
off, or whether her mind wouldn't "go." Why couldn't the ghost have
appeared to some one else, she would mentally ask at these moments: to
Phillis, say; or to Dinah; or to Seeley the surgeon? Just because she
had been performing an act of charity in sitting up with Keller's sick
child, it must show itself to _her!_ And then Jelly's brain would go
off into problems, that it might have puzzled one wiser than she to
answer. Supposing she had not been at Ketler's that night, the
staircase blind would have been drawn at dusk as usual, she would have
gone to bed at her ordinary hour, have seen, nothing, and been spared
all this misery. But no. It was not to be. And although Jelly, in her
temper, might wish to throw the blame on Ketler for staying out, and
on Dinah for her negligence, she recognized the finger of Destiny in
all this, and knew she could not have turned aside from it.

What was she to do? Living in constant dread of again seeing the
apparition, feeling a certainty within herself that she should see it,
Jelly pondered the question every hour of the day. Things could not
rest as they were. On the one hand, there was her natural repugnance
to denounce Dr. Rane: just as there had been in the case of the
anonymous letter: not only because she was in the service of his
mother, but for his own sake; for Jelly, with all her faults, as to
gossip and curiosity, had by no means a bad heart. On the other hand,
there was the weighty secret revealed to her by the departed woman,
and the obligation laid upon her in consequence. Yet--how could she
speak?--when the faintest breath of such an accusation against her
son, would assuredly kill Mrs. Cumberland in her present critical
state! and to Jelly she was a good and kind mistress. No, she could
never do it. With all this conflict going on within her, no wonder
Jelly fell away: she had been thin enough before, she was like a
veritable skeleton now. As to the revelation to Mrs. Gass, Jelly might
just as well have made it to the moon. For that lady, after the first
shock had passed, absolutely refused to put any faith in the tale: and
had appeared ever since, by her manner, to ignore it as completely as
though it had never been uttered.

Gradually Jelly grew disturbed by another fear: might she not be taken
up as an accomplice after the fact? She was sure she had heard of such
cases: and she tormented Tim Wilks almost out of patience--that
gentleman having recovered from his temporary indisposition--by asking
endless questions as to what the law might do to a person who found
out that another had committed some crime, and kept back the
knowledge: say stolen a purse, for instance, and appropriated the
money.

One night, when Jelly, by some fortunate chance, had really got to
sleep early--for she more often lay awake until morning--a ring at the
door-bell suddenly roused her. Mrs. Cumberland had caused a night-bell
to be put to the door: in case of fire, she had said. It hung on this
first landing, not very far from Jelly's head, and it awoke her
instantly. Dinah, sleeping above, might have heard it just as well as
Jelly; but Dinah was a sound sleeper, and the bell, as Jelly knew,
might ring for an hour before it awoke her. However, Jelly lay still,
not caring to get up herself, hoping against hope, and wondering who
in the world could be ringing, unless it was some one mistaking their
house for Dr. Rane's. Such a thing had happened before.

Ring; ring; ring. Not a loud ring by any means; but a gentle peal, as
if the applicant did it reluctantly. Jelly lay on. She was not afraid
that it was connected with the sight she was always in dread of again
seeing, since ghosts are not in the habit of ringing to announce their
visits. In fact, surprise, and speculating as to who it could be, put
all fear for the time being out of Jelly's head.

Ring; ring; ring. Rather a louder peal this time, as if a little
impatience now mingled with the reluctance.

Flinging on a warm shawl, and putting her feet into her shoes, Jelly
proceeded to the front-room--Mrs. Cumberland's chamber when she was at
homo--threw up the window, and called to know who was there. A little
man, stepping back from the door into the bright moonlight, looked up
to answer--and Jelly recognized the form and voice of Ketler.

"It's me," said he.

"You!" interrupted Jelly, not allowing the man to continue. "What on
earth do you want here at this hour?"

"I came to tell you the news about poor Cissy. She's dead."

"Couldn't it wait?" tartly returned Jelly, overlooking the sad nature
of the tidings in her anger at having been disturbed. "Would it have
run away, that you must come and knock folks up to tell it, as if
you'd been the telegraph?"

"It was my wife made me come," spoke Ketler, with much humility.
"She's in a peck o' grief, Jelly, and nothing would do but I must come
right off and tell you; she thought, mayhap, you'd not be gone to
bed."

"Not gone to bed at midnight!" retorted Jelly. "And there it is,
striking: if you've any ears to hear. You must be a fool, Ketler."

"Well, I'm sorry to have disturbed you," said the man, with a sigh. "I
wouldn't have done it myself; but poor Susan was taking on so, I
couldn't deny her. We was all so fond of the child; and--and----"

Ketler broke down. The man had loved his child: and he was weak and
faint with hunger. It a little appeased Jelly.

"I suppose you don't expect me to dress myself and come off to Susan
at this hour?" she exclaimed, her tone, however, not quite so sharp as
it had been.

"Law, bless you, no," answered Ketler. "What good would that do? It
couldn't bring Cissy back to life again."

"Ketler, it's just this--instead of being upset with grief, you and
Susan might be thankful the child's taken out of the trouble of this
world. She won't be crying for food where she's gone, and find none."

The man's grief was renewed at the last suggestion. But Jelly had
really meant it in the light of consolation.

"She was your god-child, Jelly."

"You needn't tell me that," answered Jelly. "Could I have saved her
life at any trouble or cost, I would have done it. If I had a home of
my own I'd have taken her to it, but I'm only in service, as you know.
Ketler, it is the strike that has killed that child."

Ketler was silent.

"Cissy was a weakly child and required extra comforts; as long as you
were in work she had them, but when that dropped off, of course the
child suffered. And now she's gone. She is better off, Ketler."

"Yes," assented the man as if he were heartbroken. "If it wasn't for
the thought of the rest, I should wish it was me that was gone
instead."

"Well, give my love to Susan and say I'm sorry for it altogether, and
I'll come down some time in the morning. And, look here, Ketler--what
about the money for the burial? You've nothing towards it, I expect."

"Not a penny," moaned Ketler.

"Well, I know you wouldn't like the poor little thing to be buried by
the parish, so I'll see what's to be done, tell Susan. Goodnight."

Jelly shut down the window sharply. She really looked upon the strike
as having led to the child's death--and remotely possibly it had done
so; so what with that, and the untimely disturbance, her anger was
somewhat excusable.

In passing across the landing to her own chamber, the large window
became suddenly illuminated. Jelly stopped. Her heart, as she would
herself have expressed it, leaped into her mouth. The light came from
the outside; no doubt from Dr. Rane's. Jelly stood motionless. And
then--what desperate courage impelled her she never knew, but believed
afterwards it must have been something akin to the fascination of the
basilisk--she advanced to the window, and drew aside the white blind.

But she did not see Bessy Rane this time, as perhaps she had expected;
only her husband. Dr. Rane had a candle in his hand, and was
apparently picking up something he had dropped quite close to his own
window. In another moment he lodged the candle on a chair that stood
there, so as to have both hands at liberty. Jelly watched. What he had
dropped appeared to be several articles of his deceased wife's
clothing, some of which had unfolded in the fall. He soon had them
within his arm again, caught up the candle, and went downstairs. Jelly
saw and recognized one beautiful Indian shawl, which had been a
present from her own mistress to Bessy.

"He is going to pack them up and sell them, the wicked man!" spoke
Jelly in her conviction. And her ire grew very great against Dr. Rane.
"I'd almost rather have seen the spirit of his poor wife again than
_this_," was her comment, as she finally went into her room.

Putting aside all the solemn doubts and fears that were making havoc
with Jelly's mind, her curiosity was insatiable. Perhaps no woman in
all Dallory had so great a propensity for prying into other people's
affairs as she. Not, it must be again acknowledged, to harm them, but
simply to gratify her inquisitiveness.

On the following morning, when Jelly attired herself to go to Ketler's
after breakfast--the meal being seasoned throughout with reproaches to
Dinah for not hearing the night-bell--she bethought herself that she
would first of all step into the next door. Ostensibly with the
neighbourly object of informing Phillis of the death of the child;
really, to pick up any items of information that might be floating
about. Dr. Rane, it may be here remarked, had given Molly Green a
character to get herself another situation, preferring to retain the
elder servant, Phillis, who, however, only went to him by day. The
doctor was alone in his house at night, and Jelly believed he dared
not have even old Phillis in, knowing it was haunted. He made no
secret now of his intention of quitting Dallory. As soon as his
practice should be disposed of, and the tontine money paid over to
him, away he would go.

Jelly coolly walked out of the window of Mrs. Cumberland's
dining-room, and through that of the doctor's. She had seen him go out
some little time before. Phillis was upstairs, putting her master's
chamber to rights, and Jelly sought her there. She described the
fright Ketler had given her by coming at midnight to bring the news
about Cissy; and Phillis, whose heart was tender, dropped a tear or
two to the child's memory. Cissy had been loved by every one.

"Miss Dallory will be sorry to hear this when she comes back,"
remarked Phillis.

"I say, Phillis, what does your master mean to do with Mrs. Rane's
clothes?" abruptly asked Jelly.

Phillis, dusting the looking-glass at the moment, paused in her
occupation, as if considering.

"I'm sure I don't know, Jelly, He pointed out a few of the plain
things to me one day, and said I might divide them between myself and
Molly Green, but that he wouldn't like to see us wear them till he was
gone away. As of course we shouldn't, being in black for her."

"She had lots of beautiful clothes. I'm sure the shawls, and scarfs,
and embroidered robes, and worked petticoats, and other valuable
Indian things that my mistress was always giving her, would have set
up any lady's wardrobe. What will he do with _them?_"

Phillis shook her head, and pointed to a high chest of drawers. Her
heart was full yet when she spoke of her late mistress.

"They are all in there, Jelly."

Are they, thought Jelly. But Phillis was going down now, her
occupation ended. Jelly lingered behind, and put her black bonnet out
at the window, as if looking at something up the road. When Phillis
had descended the stairs, Jelly tried the drawers. All were locked
except one. That one, which Jelly softly drew open, was filled with
articles belonging to the late Mrs. Rane; none of them, as far as
Jelly could gather by the cursory glance, of much value.

"Yes," she said bitterly. "He keeps these open for show, but he is
sending away the best. Those other drawers, if they could be looked
into, are empty."

If ever Jelly had been startled in all her life at human footstep, it
was to hear that of Dr. Rane on the stairs. How she closed the drawer,
how she got her bonnet stretched out at the window again as far as it
would stretch, she hardly knew. The doctor came in. Jelly, bringing in
her head, apparently as much surprised as if a rhinoceros had walked
into the room, apologized and explained rather lamely. She supposed
Phillis must have gone down, she said, while she was watching that
impudent butcher's boy; she had made bold to step up to tell Phillis
about Ketler's little girl.

"Ah, she is gone," observed Dr. Rane, as Jelly was walking out. "There
has been no hope of her for some time."

"No, sir, I know there hasn't," replied Jelly, somewhat recovering her
equanimity. "I told Ketler that he may thank the strike for it."

Jelly got out with this, and was passing through the grey room, when
the doctor spoke again.

"Have you heard from your mistress this morning, Jelly?"

"No, sir."

"Well, I have. I am very much afraid that she is exceedingly ill,
Jelly?"

"Dinah had a letter from Ann a day or two ago, sir; she said that her
missis was looking worse, and seemed lower than she had ever known
her."

"Ay, I wish she would come home. Eastsea is far away, and I cannot be
running there everlastingly," added the doctor, as he closed the
chamber-door in Jelly's face.



CHAPTER XIX.
COMING HOME TO DIE.


Time went on again; nearly a fortnight. Dallory had relapsed into its
old routine; the fever was forgotten. Houses had recovered from the
aroma of soap and scrubbing: their inhabitants were back again; and
amongst them were Mrs. North and her daughter Matilda.

The principal news madam found to interest her was, that Richard North
had opened the works again. The glow of hope it raised within her was
very bright; for she considered it as an earnest that supplies would
spring up again in the future as they had in the past. That she would
find herself mistaken was exceedingly probable; Richard himself could
have said a certainty. Madam had the grace to express some calm regret
for the untimely death of Bessy Rane, in the hearing of Mr. North and
Richard; she had put herself and Matilda into deeper mourning than
they had assumed for James Bohun. It was all of the most fashionable
and costly description; and the master of Dallory Hall, poor helpless
man, had the pleasure of receiving the bills for it from the London
court-milliners and dressmakers. But madam never inquired into the
particulars of Bessy's illness and death; in her opinion the less
fevers were talked about the better.

Yes: the North works were reopened. Or, to be quite correct, they were
on the point of being reopened. Upon how small a scale he must begin
again, Richard, remembering the extent of past operations, felt almost
ashamed to contemplate. But, as he good-humouredly remarked, half a
loaf was better than no bread. He must earn a living; he had no
fortune to fly to; and he preferred doing this to seeking employment
under other firms, if indeed anything worth having could have been
found; but the trade of the country was in a most depressed state, and
hundreds of gentlemen, like himself, had been thrown on their beam
ends. It was the same thing as beginning life over again; a little
venture, that might succeed or might fail; one in which he must plod
on carefully and cautiously, even to keep it going.

The whole staff of operatives would at first number less than twenty.
The old workmen, idly airing themselves still in North Inlet, laughed
derisively when they heard this. They were pleasantly sarcastic over
it, thinking perhaps to conceal their real bitterness of heart. The
new measure did not find favour with them. How should it, when they
stood out in the light of exclusion? Some eight or ten, who had never
willingly upheld the strike, had all along been ready to return to
work, would be taken on again; the rest were foreigners that Richard
North was bringing over from abroad. And the anger of the disaffected
may be imagined.

Mrs. Gass entered cordially into Richard's plans. She would have put
unlimited money into his new undertaking; but Richard would not have
it. Some portion of her capital that had been embarked in the firm of
North and Gass, of necessity remained in it--all, in fact, that was
not lost--but this she counted as nothing, and wanted to help Richard
yet further. "It's of no good crying over spilt milk, Mr. Richard,"
she said to him, philosophically; "and I've still a great deal more
than I shall ever want." But Richard was firm: he would receive no
further help: it was a risk that he preferred to incur alone.

Perhaps there were few people living that Richard North liked better
than Mrs. Gass. He even liked her homely language; it was honest and
genuine; far more to be respected than if she had made a show of
attempting what she could not have kept up. Richard had learned to
know her worth: he recognized it more certainly day by day. In the
discomfort of his home at Dallory Hall--which had long been anything
but a home to him--he had fallen into the habit of almost making a
second home with Mrs. Gass. Never a day passed but he spent an hour or
two of it with her; and she would persuade him to remain for a meal as
often as she could.

He sat one afternoon at her well-spread tea-table. His arrangements
were very nearly organized now; and in a day the works would open. The
foreign workmen had arrived, and were lodging with their families in
the places appointed for them. Two policemen, employed by Richard, had
also taken up their position in Dallory, purposely to protect them. Of
course their mission was not known: Richard North would not be the one
to provoke hostilities; but he was quite aware of the ill-feeling
obtaining amongst his former workmen.

"Downright idiots, they be," said Mrs. Gass, confidentially, as she
handed Richard a cup of tea. "They want a lesson read to 'em, Mr.
Richard; that's what it is."

"I don't know about that," dissented Richard. "It seems to me they
could hardly receive a better lesson than these last few months must
have taught them."

"Ah, you don't know 'em as I do. I'm almost double your age, sir; and
there's nothing gives experience like years."

Richard laughed. "Not double my age yet, Mrs. Gass."

"Anyway, I might have been your mother--if you'll excuse my saying
it," she contended. "You're hard upon thirty-three, and I'm two years
turned fifty."

In this homely manner Mrs. Gass usually liked to make her propositions
undeniable. Certainly she might, in point of age, have been Richard's
mother.

"I know the men better than you do, Mr. Richard; and I say they want a
lesson read to 'em yet. And they'll get it, sir. But we'll leave the
subject for a bit, if you please. I've been tired of it for some time
past, and I'm sure you have. To watch once sensible men acting like
fools, and persisting in doing it, in spite of everybody and
everything, wearies one's patience. Is it tomorrow that you open?"

"The day after."

"Well, now, Mr. Richard, I should like to say another word upon a
matter that you and me don't agree on--and it's not often our opinions
differ, is it, sir? It's touching your capital. I know you'll want
more than you can command: it would give me a real pleasure if you'll
let me find it."

Richard smiled, and shook his head, "I cannot say more than I have
said before," was his reply. "You know all I have urged."

"Promise me this, then," returned Mrs. Gass. "If ever you find
yourself at a pinch as things go on, you'll come to me. I don't ask
this, should the concern turn out a losing one, for in that case I
know cords wouldn't draw you to me for help. But when you are getting
on, and money would be useful, and its investment safe and sure, I
shall expect you to come to me. Now, that's enough. I want to put a
question, Mr. Richard, that delicacy has kept me from worrying you
about before. What about the expenses at Dallory Hall? You can't
pretend to keep 'em up yourself."

"Ah," said Richard, "that has been my nightmare. But I think I see a
way through it at last. First of all, I have given notice to Miss
Dallory that we shall not renew the lease: it will expire, you know,
next March."

"Good," observed Mrs. Gass.

"My father knows nothing about it--it is of no use troubling him
earlier than is necessary; and of course madam knows nothing. _She_
imagines that the lease will be renewed as a matter of course. Miss
Dallory will, at my request, keep counsel--or, rather, her brother
Francis for her, for it is he who transacts her business."

"They know then that you are the real lessee of Dallory Hall? Lawk a
mercy, what a simpleton I am!" broke off Mrs. Gass. "Of course they
must have known it when the transfer was made."

Richard nodded. "As soon as Christmas is turned I shall look out for a
moderate house in lieu of the Hall; one that I shall hope to be able
to keep up. It shall have a good garden for my father's sake. There
will be rebellion on the part of madam and Matilda, but I can't help
that. I cannot do more than my means will allow me."

"See here, Mr. Richard; don't worry yourself about not being able to
keep up a house for Mr. North. I'll do my part in that: do it all, if
need be. He and my husband were partners and friends, and grew rich
together. Mr. North has lost his savings, but I have kept mine; and I
will never see him wanting comfort while he lives. We'll look out for
a pretty villa with a lovely garden; and he'll be happier in it than
he has ever been in that grand Hall. If madam doesn't like to bring
her pride down to it, let her go off elsewhere--and a good riddance of
bad rubbish.--Mr. Richard, have you heard the news about Mary
Dallory?"

"What news?" he asked.

"That she's going to be married to Captain Bohun."

Richard North drank his tea to the dregs. His face had flushed a
little.

"I hear that madam wishes it, and is working for it," he answered.
"Miss Dallory was staying with them when they were at Sir Nash
Bohun's."

"I know madam has given it out that they're going to marry," rejoined
Mrs. Gass. "By the way, Mr. Richard, how is Captain Bohun getting on,
after his illness?"

"He is better. Almost well."

Mrs. Gass helped herself to some buttered toast. "I shall believe in
that marriage when it has taken place, Mr. Richard; not before. Unless
I am uncommonly out, Captain Bohun cares for another young lady too
well to think of Mary Dallory. Folks mayn't suspect it; and I believe
don't. But I have had my eyes about me."

Richard knew that she alluded to Ellen Adair.

"They are both as sweet and good girls as ever lived, and a gentleman
may think himself lucky to get either of 'em. Mr. Richard, your
coat-sleeve is coming into contact with the potted-ham."

Richard smiled a little as he attended to his cuff. Mourning was
always bad wearing, he remarked, and showed every little stain. And
then he said a few words about her for whom it was worn. He had rarely
alluded to the subject since she died.

"I cannot grow reconciled to her loss," he said in low tones. "At
times can scarcely believe in it. To have been carried off after only
a day's fever seems to me incredible."

And Mrs. Gass felt that the words startled her to pallor. She turned
away lest he should see the change in her countenance.


Bad news arrived from Mrs. Cumberland. Only a morning or two later, a
loud knock at the front-door disturbed Jelly and Dinah at their
breakfast. Upon its being opened by the latter, Dr. Rane walked
straight into the kitchen without ceremony, an open letter in his
hand. Jelly rose and curtsied. She had been markedly respectful to the
doctor of late, perhaps in very fear lest he should suspect the
curious things that were troubling her mind.

"My mother will be home to-night, Jelly."

"To-night, sir!" exclaimed Jelly in her surprise.

"She is much worse. Very ill indeed. She says she is coming home to
die."

Jelly was startled out of her equanimity.

"It is only three lines, and she writes herself," continued Dr. Rane,
just showing the letter in his hand, as if in confirmation. "They were
to go to London yesterday, remain there the night, and will come home
to-day. Of course you will have everything in readiness."

"Yes, sir. And what about meeting my mistress at the station?"

"I shall go myself," said Dr. Rane.

He went away with the last words. Jelly sat still for a few minutes to
digest the news, and came to the conclusion that "coming home to die"
was a mere figure of speech of Mrs. Cumberland's. Then she rose up to
begin her preparations, and overwhelmed and bewildered Dinah with a
multitude of orders.

During the day, Jelly, in pursuance of something or other she wanted,
was walking quickly towards Dallory, when in passing the Hall gates
she found herself accosted by Mrs. North. Madam was taking her usual
promenade in the grounds, and had extended it to the gates. Jelly
stood still in sheer amazement; it was the first time within her
recollection that madam had condescended to address her or any other
inhabitant of the neighbourhood.

How was Mrs. Cumberland?--and _where_ was she? madam graciously asked.
And Jelly in the moment's haste, answered that she was at Eastsea.

"To stay the winter, I believe," went on madam. "And Miss Adair--is
she with her?"

"I ought to have said _was_ at Eastsea," corrected Jelly, who did not
like madam well enough to be more than barely civil to her. "My
mistress is worse, and is coming home to-day. Miss Adair is with her
of course. I must wish you good-morning, madam; I've all my work
before me to-day." And away went Jelly, leaving madam a mental
compliment:

"Nasty proud cat! she had some sly motive for asking, I know."

And so the day went on.

The early twilight of the autumn evening was beginning to fall,
together with a heavy shower of rain, when the carriage containing
Mrs. Cumberland stopped at her door. Jelly ran out; and was met by
Ellen Adair, who spoke in a startled whisper.

"Oh, Jelly, she is so ill! too ill to speak."

The doctor stood helping his mother out. Ann was gathering up small
articles from beside the driver. Jelly caught one glimpse of her
mistress's face and fell back in alarm. Surely that look was the look
of death!

"She ought not to have come," murmured Dr. Rane in Jelly's ear. "Go
and ask Seeley to step over--whilst I get my mother upstairs."

There was bustle and confusion for the moment. Mrs. Cumberland was
placed in the easy-chair in her room, and her bonnet and travelling
wraps were removed. She refused to go to bed. In half-an-hour or so,
when she had somewhat recovered the fatigue, she looked and seemed
much better, and spoke a little, expressing a wish for some tea. The
doctors left her to take it, enjoining strict quiet. Jelly was near
her mistress, holding the cup and saucer.

"What did she die of, Jelly?" came the unexpected question.

"Who?" asked Jelly, wonderingly.

Mrs. Cumberland motioned in the direction of her son's house: and her
voice was subdued to faintness: "Bessy Rane."

Jelly gave a start that almost upset the teacup. She felt her face
grow white; but she could not move to conceal it.

"Why don't you reply? What did she die of?"

"Ma'am, don't you know? She caught the fever."

"It troubles me, Jelly; it troubles me. I've done nothing but dream
about her ever since. And what will Oliver do without her?"

The best he can, Jelly had a great mind to answer. But all she said,
was, to beg her mistress to leave these questions until the morning.

"I don't think any morning will dawn for me," was Mrs. Cumberland's
remark. "I sent you word I was coming home to die. I wanted to come
for many reasons. I knew the journey would do me harm; I had put it
off too long. But I had to come home: I could not die away from it."

Every consoling thing that Jelly could think of, she said, assuring
her mistress it was nothing but the journey that had brought her into
this state of depression.

"I want to see Mr. North," resumed Mrs. Cumberland. "You must bring
him to me."

"Not to-night," said Jelly.

"To-night. At once. There is no time to be lost. To see him was one of
the things I had to come home for."

And Mrs. Cumberland, ill though she was, was as resolute in being
obeyed as she had ever been in the days of her health. Jelly had the
sense to know that refusal would excite her more than any result from
compliance, and prepared to obey. As she passed out of the presence of
Mrs. Cumberland, she saw Ellen Adair sitting on the stairs, anxiously
listening for any sound from the sick-room that might tell how all was
going on within it.

"Oh, Miss Ellen! You should not be there."

"I cannot rest anywhere, Jelly. I want to know how she is. She is my
only friend on this side of the wide world."

"Well now, Miss Ellen, look here--you may come in and stay with her,
whilst I am away: I was going to call Ann. But mind you don't talk to
her."

Hastily throwing on a shawl, Jelly started for Dallory Hall. It was an
inclement night, pouring with rain. And Ellen Adair took up her place
in silence by the side of the dying woman--for she _was_ dying,
however ignorant they might be of the fact. Apart from Ellen's natural
grief for Mrs. Cumberland, thoughts of what her own situation would
be, if she lost her, could but intrude on her mind, bringing all sorts
of perplexity with them. It seemed to her that she would be left
without home or protector in the wide world.



CHAPTER XX.
RICHARD NORTH'S REVELATION.


For a wonder, the dinner-table at Dallory Hall included only the
family-party. Madam headed it; Mr. North was at the foot; Richard on
one side; Matilda on the other. Scarcely a word was being spoken.
Madam was in one of her imperious humours--when, indeed, was she out
of them?--the servants waited in silence.

Suddenly there rang out a loud peal from the hall-bell. Richard, who
was already beginning to be disturbed by vague fears as to what his
ex-workmen's hostilities might make them do, sat back in his chair
absently, and turned his head.

"Are you expecting any one, Dick?" asked his father.

"No, sir. Unless it be a message to call me out."

It was, however, a message for Mr. North; not for Richard. Mrs.
Cumberland wanted to see him. "On the instant," the servant added: for
so Jelly had imperatively put it.

Mr. North laid down his knife and fork and looked at the man. He did
not understand.

"Mrs. Cumberland is at Eastsea," he cried.

"No, sir, she has just got home, and she wants to see you very
particular. It's the lady's maid who has brought the message."

"Mr. North cannot go," broke forth madam to the servant. "Go and say
so."

But Jelly, to whom the words penetrated as she stood in the hall, had
no notion of her mistress's wishes being set at nought by madam. Jelly
had a great deal of calm moral and physical courage--in spite of the
supernatural terrors that had recently influenced her--some persons
might have said her share of calm impudence also: and she made no
ceremony of putting her black bonnet inside the room.

"My mistress is dying, sir; I don't think there can be a doubt of it,"
she said, advancing to Mr. North. "She wishes to say a few last words
to you, if you'll please to come. There's no time to be lost, sir."

"Bless me!--poor Fanny!" cried Mr. North, rising: his hands beginning
to tremble a little. "I'll come at once, Jelly."

"You will _not_ go," spoke madam, as if she were issuing an imperial
edict.

"I must go," said Mr. North. "Don't you hear, madam, that she is
dying?"

"I say you shall not go."

"The wishes of the dying must be respected by the living," interposed
Jelly, still addressing Mr. North. "Otherwise there's no telling what
ghosts might haunt 'em after."

The words were somewhat obscure, but their meaning was sufficiently
plain. Mr. North took a step or two towards the door: madam came
quickly round and placed herself before him.

"My will is law in this house, and out of it you do not go."

For a minute or two Mr. North looked utterly helpless; then cast an
appealing look at his son. Richard rose, laying down his table-napkin.

"Leave the room for an instant," he quietly said to the servants,
including Jelly. And they filed out.

"My dear father, is it your wish to see Mrs. Cumberland?"

"Oh, Dick, you know it is," spoke the poor brow-beaten man. "There's
little left to me in life to care for now; but if I let her die
without going to her there'll be less."

"Then you shall go," said Richard. Madam turned to him in furious
anger.

"How _dare_ you attempt to oppose me, Richard North? I say your father
shall not go forth at the beck and call of this crazy woman."

"Madam, I say he shall," calmly spoke Richard.

"Do you defy me? Has it come to that?"

"Why yes, if you force it upon me: it is not my fault. Pardon me if I
speak plainly--if I set you right upon one point, madam," he added.
"You have just said your will is law in the house and out of it: in
future it must, on some occasions, yield to mine. This is one of them.
My father will go to Mrs. Cumberland's. Say no more, madam: it will be
useless; and I am about to admit the servants."

From sheer amazement madam was silent. The resolution born of
conscious power to will and to execute lay in every tone and glance of
Richard North. Before she could rally her energies, the door was
opened to the servants, and she heard Richard's order to make ready
and bring round the close carriage. Instantly.

"Mr. North will be with your mistress as soon as you are, Jelly," said
he. And Jelly curtsied as she took her departure.

But a scene ensued. Madam had called Mrs. Cumberland a crazy woman:
she seemed nothing less herself. Whatever her private objection
might have been to her husband's holding an interview with Mrs.
Cumberland--and there could be no doubt that she had one--Richard
fairly thought she was going mad in her frenzied attempts to prevent
it. She stamped, she raved, she threatened Mr. North, she violently
pushed him into his chair, she ordered the servants to bar the house
doors against him; she was in fact as nearly mad, as a woman out of an
asylum could be. Matilda cried: indifferent as that young lady
remained in general to her mother's ordinary fits of temper, she was
frightened now. The servants collected in dark nooks of the hall, and
stood peeping; Mr. North stole into his parlour, and thence, by the
window, to a bench in the garden, where he sat in the dark and the
rain, trembling from head to foot. Of his own accord he had surely
never dared to go, after this: but Richard was his sheet anchor.
Richard alone maintained his calm equanimity, and carried matters
through. The servants obeyed his slightest word; with sure instinct
they saw who could be, and was, the Hall's real master: and the
carriage came to the door.

But all this had caused delay. And yet more might have been
caused--for what will an unrestrained and determined woman not do--but
that just as the wheels, grating on the wet gravel struck on madam's
ear, her violence culminated in a species of fainting-fit. For the
time at least she could not move, and Richard took the opportunity to
conduct his father to the carriage. It was astonishing how confidingly
the old man trusted to Richard's protection.

"Won't you come also, Dick? I hardly dare go alone. She'd be capable
of coming after me, you know."

Richard's answer was to step in beside his father. It was eight
o'clock when they reached Mrs. Cumberland's. Jelly, with a reproachful
face, showed them into a sitting-room.

"You can't go up now, sir; you will have to wait!" said she.

"Is she any better?" asked Richard.

"She's worse," replied Jelly; "getting weaker and weaker with every
quarter-of-an-hour. Dr. Rane thinks she'll last till morning. I don't.
The clergyman's up there now."

And when the time came for Mr. North to be introduced into the
room, Mrs. Cumberland was almost beyond speaking to him. They were
alone--for she motioned others away. Mr. North never afterwards
settled with himself what the especial point could have been that she
had wished to see him upon; unless it was the request that he should
take charge of Ellen Adair.

Her words were faint and few, and apparently disjointed, at times
seeming to have no connection one with another. Mr. North--sitting on
a chair in front of her, holding one of her hands, bending down his
ear to catch what fell from her white lips--thought her mind wandered
a little. She asked him to protect Ellen Adair--to take her home to
the Hall until she should be claimed by her husband or her father. It
might be only a few days, she added, before the former came, and he
would probably wish the marriage to take place at once; if so, it had
better be done. Then she went on to say something about Arthur Bohun,
which Mr. North could not catch at all. And then she passed abruptly
to the matter of the anonymous letter.

"John, you will forgive it! You will forgive it!" she implored, feebly
clasping the hand in which hers lay.

"Forgive it?" returned Mr. North, not in dissent but in surprise that
she should allude to the subject.

"For my sake, John. We were friends and playfellows in the old
days--though you were older than I. You will forgive it, John, for my
sake; because I am dying, and because I ask it of you?"

"Yes, I will," said John North. "I don't think as much about it as I
did," he added. "I should like to forgive every one and everything
before I go, Fanny; and my turn mayn't be long now. I forgive it
heartily; heartily," he repeated, thinking to content her. "Fanny, I
never thought you'd go before me."

"God bless you! God reward you," she murmured. "There was no ill
intention, you know, John."

John North did not see why he merited reward, neither could he follow
what she was talking about. It might be, he supposed, one of the
hallucinations that sometimes attend the dying.

"I'll take every care of Ellen Adair: she shall come to the Hall and
stay there," he said, for that he could understand, "I promise it
faithfully, Fanny."

"Then that is one of the weights off my mind," murmured the dying
woman. "There were so many on it. I have left a document, John, naming
you and Richard her guardians for the time being. She's of good
family, and very precious to her father. There has been so short a
time to act in: it was only three or four days ago that I knew the end
was coming. I did not expect it would be quite so soon."

"It mostly come when it's not expected," murmured poor John North:
"many of us seem to be going very near together. Edmund first; then
Bessy; now you, Fanny: and the next will be me. God in His mercy grant
that we may all meet in a happier world, and be together for ever!"

Richard North had remained below in the dining-room with Ellen Adair.
The heavy crimson curtains were drawn before the large garden window,
a bright fire blazed in the grate. Ellen in her black dress, worn for
Bessy, sat in the warmth: she felt very chilly after her journey, was
nervous at the turn the illness seemed to be taking; and every now and
then a tear stole silently down her sweet face. Richard walked about a
little as he glanced at her. He thought her looking, apart from the
present sorrow, pale and ill. Richard North was deliberating whether
to say a word or two upon a matter that puzzled him. He thought he
would do so.

"I have been across the Channel, you know, Ellen, since you left for
Eastsea," he began. He had grown sufficiently intimate at Mrs.
Cumberland's since his enforced term of idleness, to drop the formal
"Miss Adair" for her Christian name.

"Yes, we heard of it. You went to engage workmen, did you not?"

"For one thing. When I returned home, I found a letter or two awaiting
me from Arthur Bohun, who was then at Eastsea. Madam had opened one of
them."

Ellen looked up, and then looked down again immediately. Richard North
saw a change pass over her face, as though she were startled.

"I could not quite understand the letters; I think Arthur intended me
not to fully understand them. They spoke of some--some event that was
coming off, at which he wished me to be present."

Ellen saw that he did understand: at least, that he believed he did.
She rose from her seat and went close to him, speaking in agitation.

"Will you grant me a request, Richard? I know you can be a firm
friend; you are very true. Do not ever think of it again--do not speak
of it to living man or woman."

"I presume it did _not_ take place, Ellen."

"No. And the sooner it is altogether forgotten, the better."

He took her hand between his, and drew her to the fire. They stood
before it side by side.

"I am glad you know that I am your firm and true friend, Ellen; you
may trust me always. It is neither idle curiosity nor impertinence
that makes me speak. Madam stopped it, I conclude."

"I suppose so. She came and fetched him away; James Bohun was dying
and wanted him. Since then I--I hardly know. He never came down again.
He has been ill."

"Yes, very ill. Let him regain his health, and it will be all right.
That's all, my dear. I should like to take care of you as though you
were my sister."

"Care!" she replied. "Oh, Richard, I don't see what will become of me,
or where I shall go. They say Mrs. Cumberland will not live till
morning; and papa, you know, is so far away."

Jelly appeared with some coffee; and stayed for a minute or two to
gossip, after the bent of her own heart. The carriage and the horses
were waiting outside in the rain. Dr. Rane came in and out, in his
restlessness. It was an anxious night for him. He would--how
willingly!--have restored his mother for a time, had human skill alone
been able to do it.

Before the interview with Mr. North was over--and it did not last
twenty minutes--Mrs. Cumberland had changed considerably. Her son went
into the room as Mr. North left it; and he saw at once how fallacious
was the hope he had entertained of her lasting until morning.

Poor Mr. North, broken alike in health and heart, weak in spirit
almost as a child, burst into tears as soon as he entered the
dining-room. Richard spoke a few soothing words to him: Ellen Adair,
who had rarely, if ever, seen a man shed tears, stood aghast.

"They are all going, Dick," he sobbed; "all going one by one. Fanny
and I were almost boy and girl together. I loved the child; she was as
pretty a little thing as you'd ever wish to see. She was younger than
me by a good deal, and I never thought she'd go before me. There'll be
only you left, Dick; only you."

Ellen touched Richard's arm: she held a cup of coffee in her hand. "If
he can take it, it may do him good," she whispered.

Mr. North drank the coffee. Then he sat awhile, breaking out ever and
anon with reminiscences of the old days. Presently Richard reminded
him that the carriage was waiting; upon which Mr. North, who had quite
forgotten the fact, rose in nervous agitation.

"I should like to know how she is before I go, Dick," he said.
"Whether there's any change."

A change indeed. Even as the words left his lips, some slight
commotion was heard in the house, following upon Dr. Rane's voice, who
had come out of the chamber. The last moment was at hand. Ellen Adair
went up, and Jelly went up. Mr. North said he must wait a little
longer.

In five minutes all was over. Ellen Adair, brought down by Dr. Rane,
was overcome with grief. Mr. North said she should go back with them
to the Hall, and bade Jelly put up what she might immediately require.
At first Ellen refused: it seemed strangely sudden, almost unseemly,
to go out of the house thus hurriedly; but when she came to reflect
how lonely and undesirable would be her position if she remained
there, she grew eager to go. To tell the truth, she felt half afraid
to remain: she had never been in personal contact with death, and the
feeling lay upon her as a dread.

So a small portmanteau was hastily repacked--not an hour had elapsed
since it was unpacked--and taken out to the carriage, Jelly
undertaking to send the larger box in the morning. And Ellen was
driven to the Hall with Mr. North and Richard.

"I am glad to come," she said to them, in her emotion. "It is so very
kind of you to receive me in this extremity."

"Not at all, my dear," answered Mr. North. "The Hall will be your home
until we receive instructions from your father. Mrs. Cumberland has
appointed me and Richard as your temporary guardians: I was telling
Dick so when you were upstairs."

Ellen broke down afresh, and said again and again how kind it was of
them. Richard North felt that he loved her as dearly as a sister.

But there would be words to the bargain: they had not taken madam into
consideration. The idea that she would object to it never occurred to
Mr. North or Richard; madam was so very fond of having company at
Dallory Hall. When the coachman, tired of being in the wet, dashed up
to the door, and they descended and entered into the blaze of light,
and madam, standing a little back, saw the young lady and the luggage,
her face was a picture.

"What does this intrusion mean?" she demanded, slowly advancing.

"It means, madam, that Mrs. Cumberland is dead, and that she has left
Miss Adair in my charge and in Dick's for a bit," answered Mr. North
with trembling courtesy, remembering the frightful mood he had escaped
from. Whilst Richard, catching madam's ominous expression, hastily
took Ellen into the drawing-room, introduced her to Matilda, and
closed the door on them.

"You say Mrs. Cumberland is dead!" had been madam's next words to Mr.
North.

"Yes, she's dead. It has been terribly sudden."

"What did she want with you?" resumed madam, her voice lowered almost
to a whisper; and, but that Mr. North was not an observant man, he
might have seen her very lips grow white with some dread suspense.

"I don't know what she wanted," he replied--"unless it was a promise
that I would take care of Miss Adair. She was almost past speaking
when I went up to her; things had made me late, madam."

"Did she--did she---- By the commotion that woman, Jelly, made, one
would have supposed her mistress had some great secret to impart,"
broke off madam. "Had she?"

"Had who?" asked Mr. North, rather losing the thread of the dialogue.

"Mrs. Cumberland," said madam, with a slight stamp. And, in spite of
her assumed carelessness, she watched her husband's face for the
answer as if she were watching for one of life or death. "Did she
impart to you any--any private matter?"

"She had none to impart, madam, that I am aware of. I shouldn't think
she had. She rambled in her talk a bit, as the dying will do; about
our old days, and about the anonymous letter that killed Edmund. There
was nothing else, except that she wanted me to take temporary charge
of Miss Ellen Adair, until we can hear from her father."

Mr. North was too simply honest to deceive, and madam believed him.
Her old arrogance resumed its sway as fear died out.

"What did she tell you about the father?"

"Nothing; not a word, madam: what should she? I tell you mind and
speech were both all but gone. She rambled on about the old days and
the anonymous letter and I couldn't follow her even in that, but she
said nothing else."

All was right then. The old will and the old arrogance reasserted
themselves; madam was herself again.

"Miss Adair goes back to Mrs. Cumberland's to-night," said she. "I do
not receive her, or permit her to remain here."

"What?" cried Mr. North; and Richard, who had just entered, stood
still to listen. "Why not, madam?"

"Because I do not choose to," said madam. "That's why."

"Madam, I wouldn't do it for the world. Send her back to the house
with the dead lying in it, and where she'd have no protector! I
couldn't do it. She's but a young thing. The neighbours would cry
shame upon me."

"She goes back at once," spoke madam in her most decisive tones. "The
carriage may take her, as it rains; but back she goes."

"It can't be, madam, it can't, indeed. I'm her guardian, now, and
responsible for her. I promised that she should stay at Dallory Hall."

And madam went forth with into another of her furious rages; she
stamped and shook with passion. Not at being thwarted: her will was
always law, and she intended it to be so now; but at Mr. North's
_attempting_ to oppose it.

"You were a fool for bringing her at all, knowing as you might that I
should not allow her to stay here," raved madam. "The hall is mine: so
long as I am mistress of it, no girl that I don't choose to receive
shall find admittance here. _She goes lack at once_."

Mr. North seemed ready to fall. The look of despair, piteous in its
utter helplessness, came into his face. Richard drew nearer, and
caught his expression. All this had taken place in the hall under the
great lamp.

"Dick, what's to be done?" wailed Mr. North. "I should die of the
shame of turning her out again. I wish I could die; I've been wishing
it many times to-night. It's time I was gone, Dick, when I've no
longer a roof to offer a poor young lady for a week or two's shelter."

"But you have one, my dear father. At least I have, which comes to the
same thing," added Richard, composed as usual. "Madam"--politely, but
nevertheless authoritatively, taking madam's hand to lead her into the
dining-room--"will you pardon me if I interfere in this?"

"It is no business of yours," said madam.

"Excuse me, madam, but it is. I think I had better take it on myself
exclusively, and relieve my father of all trouble--for really, what
with one thing and another, he is not capable of bearing much more."

"Oh, Dick, do; do!" interposed poor Mr. North, timidly following them
into the dining-room. "You are strong, Dick, and I am weak. But I was
strong once."

"Madam," said Richard, "this young lady, Miss Adair, will remain at
the Hall until we receive instructions from her father."

Madam was turning livid. Richard had never assumed such a tone until
to-night. And this was the second time! She would have been glad to
strike him. Had he been some worthless animal, her manner could not
have expressed more gratuitous contempt.

"By what right, pray, do _you_ interfere?"

"Well, madam, Mrs. Cumberland expressed a wish that I, as well as my
father, should act as Miss Adair's guardian."

"There's a document left to that effect," eagerly put in Mr. North.

"And what though you were appointed fifty times over and and fifty to
that; do you suppose it would give you the right to bring her here--to
thrust her into my home?" shrieked madam. "Do not believe it, Richard
North."

"Madam," said Richard, quietly, "the home is mine."

"On sufferance," was the scornful rejoinder. "But I think the
sufferance has been allowed too long."

"You have known me now many years, madam: I do not think in all those
years you have found me advance a proposition that I could not
substantiate. In saying the home here was mine I spoke what is
literally true. I am the lessee of Dallory Hall. You and my
father----My dear father"--turning to him--"I know you will pardon me
for the few plain words I must speak----are here on sufferance. My
guests, as it were."

"It is every word Gospel truth," spoke up poor Mr. North, glad that
the moment of enlightenment had at length come. "Dick holds the lease
of Dallory Hall, and he is its real master. For several years now we
have all been pensioners on his bounty. He has worked to keep us,
madam, in this his own house; and he has done it nobly and
generously."

It seemed to madam that her brain suddenly reeled, for the words
brought conviction with them. Richard the master! Richard's money that
they had been living upon!

"I am grieved to have been obliged to state this, madam," Richard
resumed. "I shall wish never to allude to it again, and I will
continue to do the best I can for all. But--in regard to Miss Ellen
Adair, she must remain here, and she shall be made welcome."



CHAPTER XXI.
UNDER THE SAME ROOF.


A crafty and worldly-wise woman, like Mrs. North, can change her
tactics as readily as the wind changes its quarters. The avowal of
Richard, that he was the master of Dallory Hall, so far as holding all
power went--had been the greatest blow to her of any she had
experienced in all these later years. It signed, as she perceived, the
death-warrant of her own power; for she knew that she should never be
allowed to rule again with an unjust and iron hand, as it had been her
cruel pleasure to do. In all essential things, where it was needful to
interfere, she felt that Richard's will and Richard's policy would
henceforth outweigh her own.

Madam sat in her dressing-room that night, mentally looking into the
future. It was very dim and misty. The sources whence she had drawn
her exorbitant supplies were gone; her power was gone. Would it be
worth while to remain at the Hall, she questioned, under the altered
circumstances. Since the death of James Bohun, and her short sojourn
with Sir Nash, an idea had occasionally crossed her mind that it might
be desirable to take up her residence with the baronet--if she could
only accomplish it. From some cause or other she had formerly not felt
at ease when with Sir Nash; but that was wearing off. At any rate, a
home in his well-appointed establishment would be far preferable to
Dallory if its show and luxury could not be kept up; and all
considerations gave way before madam's own selfish interest.

Already madam tasted of deposed power. Ellen Adair was to remain at
the Hall, and--as Richard had emphatically enjoined--was to be made
welcome. Madam gnashed her teeth as she thought of it. Ellen Adair,
whom she so hated and dreaded! She lost herself in a speculation of
what Richard might have done had she persisted in her refusal.

But as madam sat there, a doubt slowly loomed into her mind, whether
it might not, after all, be the better policy for Ellen Adair to be at
the Hall. The dread that Arthur Bohun might possibly renew his wish to
marry her, in spite of all that had been said and done, occasionally
troubled madam. In fact it had never left her. She could not make a
child again of Arthur and keep him at her apron-string: he was free to
go where he would; no matter in what spot of the habitable globe Ellen
might be located, no earthly power could prevent his going to her if
he wished to do so. Why then, surely it was better that the girl
should be under her own eye, and in her own immediate presence. Madam
laughed a little as she rose from her musings; she could have found it
in her heart to thank Richard North for bringing this about.

And so, with the morning, madam was quite prepared to be gracious to
Ellen Adair. Madam was one of those accommodating people who are
ready, as we are told, to hold a candle to a certain nameless
personage, if they think their interest may be served by doing it.
Matilda North, who knew nothing whatever of madam's special reasons
for disliking Miss Adair--saving that she had heard her mother once
scornfully speak of her as a nameless young woman, a nobody--was
coldly civil to her on Richard's introduction. But the sweet face, the
gentle voice, the refined bearing, won even on her; and when the
morning came Matilda felt rather glad that the monotony of the Hall
was to be relieved by such an inmate, and asked her all about the
death of Mrs. Cumberland.

And thus Ellen Adair became an inmate of Dallory Hall. But Mrs. North
had not bargained for a cruel perplexity that was to fall upon her ere
the day was over: no less than the return of Captain Bohun.

It has been mentioned that Sir Nash was ailing. In madam's new scheme,
undefined though it was at present--that of possibly taking up her
residence in his house--she had judged it well to inaugurate it by
trying to ingratiate herself into his favour so far as she knew how.
She would have liked to make herself necessary to him. Madam had heard
a whisper of his going over to certain springs in Germany, and as she
knew she should never get taken with him there, though Arthur might,
she schemed a little to keep him in England. During the concluding
days of her stay, Sir Nash had been overwhelmed with persuasions that
he should come down to Dallory Hall, and get up his health there. To
hear madam, never had so salubrious a spot been discovered on earth as
Dallory; its water was pure, its air a tonic in itself; for rural
quiet, for simple delight, it possessed attractions never before
realized saving in Arcadia. Sir Nash, in answer to all this, had not
given the least hope of trying its virtues; and madam had finally
departed believing that Dallory would never see him.

But on the morning after Ellen Adair's arrival, madam, amongst other
letters, received one addressed in her son Arthur's handwriting.
According to her frequent habit of late--though why she had fallen
into it she could not have told--she let her letters lie, unheeded,
until very late in the morning. Just before luncheon she opened them;
Arthur's the last: she never cared to hear from _him_. And then madam
opened her eyes as well as her letter. She read, that Sir Nash had
come to a sudden resolution to accept her hospitality for a short
time, and that he and Arthur would be with her that day. At this very
moment of reading, they were absolutely on their road to Dallory Hall.

Madam sat staring. Could she prevent it, was her first thought. It was
very undesirable that they should come. Ellen Adair was there; and
besides, after this new and startling revelation of Richard's, madam
was not quite sure that she might continue to crowd the house with
guests. But there was no help for it; ransack her fertile brain as she
would, there seemed no possible chance of preventing the travellers'
arrival. Had she known where a message would reach them, she might
have telegraphed that the Hall was on fire, or that fever had broken
out in it.

Mrs. North was not the first who has had to make the best of an
unlucky combination of circumstances. She gave orders to her servants
to prepare for the reception of the guests: and descended to the
luncheon-table with a smooth face, saying not a word. Richard was out,
or she might have told him: he was so busy over the reopening of
those works of his, that he was now only at home night and morning. It
happened, however that on this day he had occasion to come home for
some deed that lay in his desk.

It was about four o'clock in the afternoon--a showery one--and Richard
North was quickly approaching the gates of the Hall, when he saw some
one approaching them more leisurely from the other side. It was Mary
Dallory. He did not know she had returned; and his face had certainly
a flush of surprise on it, as he lifted his hat to her.

"I arrived home yesterday evening," she said, smilingly. "Forced into
it. Dear old Frank wrote the most woebegone letters imaginable,
saying he could not get on without me."

"Did you come from Sir Nash Bohun's?" asked Richard.

"Sir Nash Bohun's! No. What put that into your head? I was at Sir Nash
Bohun's for a few days some ages ago--weeks, at any rate, as it seems
to me--but not lately. I have been with my aunt in South Audley
Street."

"London must be lively at this time," remarked Richard rather
sarcastically; as if, like Francis Dallory, he resented her having
stayed there.

"Very. It _is_, for the tourists and people have all come back to it.
I suppose you would have liked me to remain here and catch the fever.
Very kind of you! I was going in to see your father."

He glanced at her with a half smile, and held out his arm after
passing the gates.

"I am not sure that I shall take it. You have been quite rude, Mr.
Richard."

Richard dropped it at once, begging her pardon. His air was that of a
man who has received a disagreeable check. But Miss Dallory had only
been joking; she glanced up at him, and a hot flush of vexation
overspread her face. Richard held it out once more, and they began
talking as they went along. Rain was beginning to fall, and he put up
his umbrella.

He told her of Mrs. Cumberland's death. She had not heard of it, and
expressed her sorrow. But she had had no acquaintance with Mrs.
Cumberland, could not remember to have seen her more than once, and
that was more than three years ago: and the subject passed.

"I hear you have begun business again," she said.

"Well--I might answer you as Green, my old timekeeper, answered me
to-day. I happened to say to him, 'We have begun once more, Green.'
'Yes, in a sort of way, sir,' said he, gruffly. I have begun 'in a
sort of way,' Miss Dallory."

"And what 'sort of way,' is it?"

"In as cautious and quiet a way as it is well possible for a poor man
to begin," answered Richard. "I have no capital, as you must be aware;
or at least, as good as none."

"I dare say you could get enough of that if you wanted it. Some of
your friends have plenty of it, Mr. Richard."

"I know that. Mrs. Gass quarrels with me every day, because I will not
take hers, and run the risk of making ducks and drakes of it. No. I
prefer to feel my way; to stand or fall alone, Miss Dallory."

"I have heard Richard North called obstinate," remarked the young
lady, looking into the air.

"When he believes he is in the right. I don't think it is a bad
quality, Miss Dallory. My dear sister Bessy used to say----"

"Oh! Richard--what of Bessy?" interrupted Miss Dallory, all ceremony
thrown to the winds. "I never was so painfully shocked in my life as
when I opened Frank's letter telling me she was dead. What _could_
have killed her?"

"It was the fever, you know," answered Richard, sadly. "I shall never
forget what _I_ felt when I heard it. I was in Belgium."

"It seemed very strange that she should die so quickly."

"It seems strange to me still. I have not cared to talk about her
since: she was my only sister and very dear to me. Rane says it was a
most violent attack: and I suppose she succumbed to it quickly,
without much struggle."

"That poor little Cissy Ketler is gone, too."

"Yes."

"Is Ketler one of the few men who have gone back to work?"

"Oh dear, no!"

The rain had ceased: but they were walking on, unconsciously, under
the umbrella. By-and-by the fact was discovered, and the umbrella put
down.

"Who's this?" exclaimed Richard. "Visitors for madam, I suppose."

Richard alluded to the sound of carriage-wheels behind. He and Miss
Dallory had certainly not walked as though they were winning a wager,
but they were close to the house now; and reached its door as the
carriage drew up. Richard stood in very amazement, when he saw its
inmates--Arthur, thin and sallow: and Sir Nash Bohun.

There was a hasty greeting, a welcome, and then they all entered
together. Madam, Matilda, and Miss Adair were in the drawing-room.
Arthur came in side by side with Miss Dallory; they were talking
together, and a slight flush illumined his thin face. Ellen, feeling
shy amongst them all, remained in the background: she would not press
forward: but a general change of position brought her and Arthur close
to each other; and she held out her hand timidly, with a rosy blush.

He turned white as death. He staggered back as though he had seen a
spectre. Just for a minute he was utterly unnerved; and then, some
sort of presence of mind returning to him, he looked another way
without further notice, and began talking again to Miss Dallory. But
Miss Dallory had no longer leisure to waste on him. _She_ had caught
sight of Ellen, whom she had never seen, and was wonderfully struck by
her. Never in her whole life had she found a face so unutterably
lovely.

"Mr. Richard"--touching his arm, as he stood by Arthur Bohun--"who is
that young lady?"

"Ellen Adair."

"Is _that_ Ellen Adair? What a sweet face! I never saw one so lovely.
Do take me to her, Richard."

Richard introduced them. Arthur Bohun, his bosom beating with shame
and pain, turned to the window: a faintness was stealing over him; he
was very weak still. How he loved her!--how he loved her! More; ay,
ten times more, as it seemed to him, than of yore. And yet, he must
only treat her with coldness; worse than if she and he were strangers.
What untoward mystery could have brought her to Dallory Hall? He stole
away, on the plea of looking for Mr. North. Madam, who had all her
eyes about her and had been using them, followed him out.

There was a hasty colloquy. He asked why Miss Adair was there. Madam
replied by telling (for once in her life) the simple truth. She
favoured him with a short history of the previous night's events that
had culminated in Richard's assertion of will. The girl was there, as
he saw, concluded madam, and she could not help it.

"Did Mrs. Cumberland before she died reveal to Miss Adair what you
told me about--about her father?" inquired Arthur, from between his
dry and feverish lips.

"I have no means of knowing. I should think _not_, for the girl
betrays no consciousness of it in her manner. Listen, Arthur," added
madam, impressively laying her hand on his arm. "It is unfortunate
that you are subjected to being in the same house with her; but I
cannot, you perceive, send her away. All you have to do is to avoid
her; never allow yourself to enter into conversation with her; never
for a moment remain alone with her. You will be safe then."

"Yes, it will be the only plan," he mechanically answered, as he
quitted madam, and went on his way.

Meanwhile Ellen Adair little thought what cruelty was in store for
her. Shocked though she had been in the first moment by Arthur Bohun's
apparent want of recognition, it was so improbable a rudeness from
_him_, even to a stranger, that she soon decided he had purposely not
greeted her until they should be alone, or else had really not
recognized her.

In crossing the Hall an hour later, Ellen met him face to face. He was
coming out of Mr. North's parlour as she was passing it. No one was
about; they were quite alone.

"Arthur," she softly said, smiling at him and putting out her hand.

He went red and white, and hot and cold. He lifted his hat, which he
was wearing, having come in through the glass-doors, and politely
murmured some words that sounded like "I beg your pardon:" but he did
not attempt to touch her offered hand. And then he turned and
traversed the room back to the garden.

It seemed as though she had received her death-blow. There could no
longer be any doubt or misapprehension after this, as to what the
future was to be. And Ellen Adair crept into the empty drawing-room,
and leaned her aching brow against the window frame.

Presently Matilda North entered. The young lady had her curiosity even
as her mother, and fancied some one was in sight.

"What are you looking at, Miss Adair?"

"Nothing," answered Ellen, lifting her head. And in truth she had not
been looking out at all.

"Ah! I see," significantly spoke Miss North.

Walking slowly side by side along a distant path, went Captain Bohun
and Miss Dallory. Matilda, acting on a hint from madam, would not lose
the opportunity.

"Captain Bohun is losing no time, is he?"

"In what way?" inquired Ellen.

"Don't you know that they are engaged? He is to marry Miss Dallory. We
had all kinds of love passages, I assure you, when he was ill at my
uncle's, and she was there helping me to nurse him."

It was a wicked and gratuitous lie: there had been no "love passages"
or any semblance of them. But Ellen believed it.

"Do you say they are engaged?" she murmured.

"Of course they are. It will be a love match too, for he is very fond
of her--and she of him. I think Richard was once a little bit touched
in that quarter; but Arthur has won. Sir Nash is very pleased at
Arthur's choice; and mamma is delighted. They are both very fond of
Mary Dallory."

And that ceremony, all but completed, only a few weeks ago in the
church at Eastsea!--and the ring and licence she held still!--and
the deep, deep love they had owned to each other, and vowed to keep
for ever--what did it all mean? Ellen Adair asked the question of
herself in her agony. And as her heart returned the common-sense
answer--fickleness: faithlessness--she felt as if a great sea were
sweeping away hope and peace and happiness. The iron had entered into
her soul.



CHAPTER XXII.
TANGLED THREADS.


It was a curious position, that of some of the present inmates of
Dallory Hall. Sir Nash Bohun, who went down to accompany Arthur more
than anything else, and who had not intended to remain above a day or
two, stayed on. The quiet life after the bustle of London was grateful
to him; the sweet country air really seemed to possess some of the
properties madam had ascribed to it. Sir Nash was to go abroad when
the genial springtime should set in, and try the effect of some
medicinal waters. Until then, he was grateful for any change, any
society that served to pass away the time.

Sir Nash had been as much struck with the wonderful beauty of Ellen
Adair as strangers generally were. That she was one of those unusually
sweet girls, made specially to be loved, he could not fail to see. In
the moment of their first arrival, he had not noticed her: there were
so many besides her to be greeted; and the appearance of Miss Dallory
amongst them was a most unexpected surprise. Not until they were
assembling for dinner, did Sir Nash observe her. His eyes suddenly
rested on a most beautiful girl in a simple black silk evening dress,
its low body and sleeves edged with white tulle, and a black necklace
on her pretty neck. He was wondering who she could be, when he heard
Richard North speak of her as Ellen Adair. Sir Nash drew Arthur Bohun
to the far end of the drawing-room, ostensibly to look at a rare
Turner hanging on the walls.

"Arthur, who _is_ she? It cannot be Adair's daughter?"

"Yes, sir, it is."

"Mercy be good to her!" cried Sir Nash in dismay. "What a calamity!
She looks absolutely charming; fitted to mate with a prince of the
blood-royal."

"And she is so."

"To have been born to an inheritance of shame!" continued Sir Nash.
"Poor thing! Does she know about it?"

"No, I am sure she does not," replied Arthur warmly, his tone one of
intense pain. "She believes her father to be as honourable and good as
you are yourself, sir."

For the very fact of Ellen's having put out her hand to him in the
hall with that bright and confiding smile, had convinced Arthur Bohun
that at present she knew nothing.

It made his own position all the worse: for, to her, his behaviour
must appear simply infamous. Yet, how tell her? Here they were, living
in the same house; and yet they could only be to each other as
strangers. An explanation was due to Ellen Adair; but from the very
nature of the subject, he could not give it. If he had possessed the
slightest idea that she was attributing his behaviour to a wrong
cause--an engagement with Miss Dallory--he would at least have set
that right. But who was likely to tell him? No one. Madam and Matilda,
be very sure, would not do so: still less would Ellen herself. And so
the complication would, and must, go on; just as unhappy complications
do sometimes go on. But there is this much to be said--that to have
set straight the only point on which they were at cross purposes would
not have healed the true breach by which the two were hopelessly
separated.

And Sir Nash Bohun never once entered into any sort of intercourse
with Ellen Adair. He would not, had he known it beforehand, have
taken up his sojourn under the same roof with one whose father had
played so fatal a part with his long-deceased brother: but
circumstances had brought it about. In herself the young lady was so
unobjectionable--nay, so deserving of respect and homage--that Sir
Nash was won out of his intended coldness; and he would smile
pleasantly upon her when paying her the slight, unavoidable courtesies
of everyday life. But he never lingered near her, never entered into
prolonged conversation: a bow or two, a good-morning and goodnight,
comprised their acquaintanceship. He grew to pity her; almost to love
her; and he relieved his feelings at least once a day in private by
sending sundry unorthodox epithets after the man, William Adair, for
blighting the name held by this fair and sweet young lady.

It was not a very sociable party, taken on the whole. Sir Nash had a
sitting-room assigned him, and remained much in it: his grief for his
son was not over, and perhaps never would be. Mr. North was often shut
up in his parlour, or walking with bent head about the garden paths.
Madam kept very much aloof, no one knew where; Matilda was buried in
her French and English novels, or chattering above to madam's French
maid. Richard was at the works all day. Ellen Adair, feeling herself a
sort of interloper, kept her chamber, or went to remote parts of the
garden and sat there in solitude. As to Arthur Bohun, he was still an
invalid, weak and ill, and would often not be seen until luncheon or
dinner-time. There was a general meeting at meals, and a sociable
evening closed the day.

Madam had not allowed matters to take their course without a word from
herself. On the day after Sir Nash and Arthur arrived, she came, all
smiles and suavity, knocking at Ellen's chamber-door. She found that
young lady weeping bitter tears--who stammered out, as she strove for
composure, some excuse about feeling so greatly the sudden death of
Mrs. Cumberland. Madam was gracious and considerate; as she could be
when it pleased her: she poured some scent on her own white
handkerchief, and passed it over Miss Adair's forehead. Ellen thanked
her and smoothed her hair back, and dried her tears, and rose up out
of the emotion as a thing of the past.

"I am sorry it should have happened that Sir Nash chose this time for
his visit," spoke madam; "you might just now have preferred to be
alone with us. Captain Bohun is still so very unwell that Sir Nash
says he could but bring him."

"Yes," mechanically replied Ellen, really not knowing what she was
assenting to.

"And Arthur--of course he was anxious to come; he knew Miss Dallory
would be at home again," went on madam, with candour, like a woman
without guile. "We are all delighted at the prospect of his marrying
her. Before he was heir to the baronetcy, of course it did not so much
matter how he married, provided it was a gentlewoman of family equal
to the Bohuns. But now that he has come into the succession through
poor James's death, things have changed. Did you know that Sir Nash
has cut off the entail?" abruptly broke off madam.

Ellen thought she did. The fact was, Arthur had told Mrs. Cumberland
of it at Eastsea: but Ellen did not understand much about entails, so
the matter had passed from her mind.

"Cutting off the entail has placed Arthur quite in his uncle's hands,"
continued madam. "If Arthur were to offend him, Sir Nash might not
leave him a farthing. It is fortunate for us all that Mary is so
charming: Sir Nash is almost as fond of her as is Arthur. And she is a
great heiress, you know: she must have at the very least three or four
thousand a-year. Some people say it is more; the minority of the
Dallory children was a long one."

"It is a great deal," murmured Ellen.

"Yes. But it will be very acceptable. I'm sure, by the way affairs
seem to be going on with Mr. North and Richard, it seems as though
Arthur would have us all on his hands. It has been a _great_ happiness
to us, his choosing Miss Dallory. I don't believe he thought much of
her before his illness. She was staying with us in town during that
time, and so--so the love came, and Arthur made up his mind. He had
the sense to see the responsibility that James Bohun's death has
thrown upon him, the necessity for making a suitable choice in a
wife."

Ellen had learnt a lesson lately in self-control, and maintained her
calmness. She did not know madam--except by reputation--quite as well
as some people did, and believed she spoke in all sincerity. One thing
she could not decide--whether madam had known of the projected
marriage at Eastsea. She felt inclined to fancy that she had not done
so, and Ellen hoped it with her whole heart. Madam lingered yet to say
a few more words. She drew an affecting picture of the consolation
this projected union brought her; and--as if she were addressing an
imaginary audience--turned up her eyes and clasped her hands, and
declared she must put it to the honour and good feeling of the world
in general not to attempt anything by word or deed that might tend to
mar this happy state of things. With that she kissed Ellen Adair, and
said, now that she had apologized for their not being quite alone at
the Hall and had explained how it happened that Sir Nash had come, she
would leave her to dress.

The days went on, and Mary Dallory came on a visit to the Hall. Her
brother Frances left home to join a shooting party, and madam seized
the occasion to invite his sister. She came, apparently nothing loth;
and with her a great trunkful of paraphernalia. Matilda North had once
said, when calling Mary Dallory a flirt, that she would come fast
enough to the Hall when Richard and Arthur were there. At any rate,
she came now. After this, Arthur Bohun would be more downstairs than
he was before; and he and she would be often together in the grounds;
sitting on benches under the evergreens or strolling about the walks
side by side. Sometimes Arthur would take her arm with an invalid's
privilege; his limp at the present time more perceptible than it ever
had been; and sometimes she would take his. Ellen Adair would watch
them through the windows, and press her trembling fingers on her
aching heart. She saw it all: or thought she did. Arthur Bohun had
found that his future prospects in life depended very much upon his
wedding Miss Dallory, or some equally eligible young lady; and so he
had resolved to forget the sweet romance of the past, and accept
reality.

She thought he might have spoken to her. So much was certainly due to
her, who had all but been made his wife. His present treatment of her
was simply despicable; almost wicked. Better that he had explained
only as madam had done: what was there to prevent his telling her the
truth? He might have said, ever so briefly: "Such and such things have
arisen, and my former plans are frustrated, and I cannot help myself."
But no; all he did was to avoid her: he never attempted to touch her
hand; his eyes never met hers if he could help it. It was as though he
had grown to despise her, and sought to show it. Had he done so? When
Ellen's fears suggested the question--and it was in her mind pretty
often now--she would turn sick with despair, and wish to die.

The truth was really this. Arthur Bohun, fearing he should betray his
still ardent love, was more studiously cold to Ellen than he need have
been. A strange yearning would come over him to clasp her to his heart
and sob out his grief and tenderness: and the very fear lest he might
really do this some day, lest passion and nature should become too
strong for prudence, made him shun her and seem to behave, as Ellen
felt and thought, despicably. He knew this himself; and he called
himself far harder names than Ellen could have called him: a coward, a
knave, a miserably-dishonoured man. And so, in this way things went on
at Dallory Hall: and were likely to continue.

One afternoon, a few days after Mrs. Cumberland had been interred,
Ellen went to see her grave. Madam, Miss Dallory, Matilda, and Sir
Nash had gone out driving: Arthur had been away somewhere since the
morning, Mr. North was busy at the celery-bed with his head gardener.
There was only Ellen: she was alone and lonely, and she put her things
on and walked through Dallory to the churchyard. She happened to meet
three or four people she knew, and stayed to talk to them. Mrs. Gass
was one; the widow of Henry Hepburn was another. But she made way at
last, feeling a little shy at being out alone. When walking as far as
Dallory Mrs. Cumberland had always caused a servant to attend her.

The grave was not far from Bessy Rane's. Ellen had no difficulty in
distinguishing the one from the other, though as yet there was no
stone to mark either. Mrs. Cumberland's was near that of the late
Thomas Gass; Bessy's was close to Edmund North's. A large winter tree,
an evergreen, overshadowed this corner of the churchyard, and she sat
down on the bench that encircled the trunk. Bessy's grave was only a
very few yards away.

She leaned her face on her hand, and was still. The past, the present,
the future; Mrs. Cumberland, Bessy Rane, Edmund North; her own bitter
trouble, and other things--all seemed to be crowding together
tumultuously in her brain. But, as she sat on, the tumult cleared a
little, and she lost herself in imaginative thoughts of that heaven
where pain and care shall be no more. Could they see her? Could Mrs.
Cumberland look down and see her, Ellen Adair, sitting there in her
sorrow? A fanciful idea came to her that perhaps the dead were the
guardian angels appointed to watch the living: to be "in charge over
them, to keep them in all their ways." If so, who then was watching
_her?_--It must be her own mother, Mary Adair. Could these guardian
angels pray for them?--intercede with the mighty God and the Saviour
that their sins here might be blotted out? How long Ellen was lost in
these thoughts she never knew: but she wound up by crying quietly to
herself, and she wondered how long it would be before she joined them
all in heaven.

Some one, approaching from behind the tree, came round with a slow
step and sat down on the bench. It was a gentleman in mourning; she
could see so much, though he was almost on the other side of the tree,
and had his back to her. Ellen found she had not been observed, and
prepared to leave. Twilight had fallen on the dull evening. As she
stooped to pick up her handkerchief, which had fallen, the intruder
turned and saw her. Saw as well the tears on her face. It was Captain
Bohun. He got up more quickly than he had sat down, intending no doubt
to move away. But in his haste he dropped the stick that he had used
for support in walking since his illness--and it fell close to Ellen's
feet. She stooped in some confusion to pick it up, and so did he.

"Thank you--I beg your pardon," he said, with an air of humiliation so
great that it might have wrung a tender heart to witness. And then he
felt that he could not for very shame go off without some notice, as
he had been attempting to do. Though why he stayed to speak and what
he said, it might have puzzled him at the moment to tell. Instinct,
more than reason, prompted the words.

"She was taken off very suddenly."

Though standing close to Bessy's grave, Ellen thought he looked across
at Mrs. Cumberland's. And the latter had been last in her thoughts.

"Yes. I feared we should not get her home in time. And I feel sure
that the journey was fatal to her. If she had remained quiet, she
would not have died quite so soon."

"It was of Bessy I spoke."

"Oh--I thought you alluded to Mrs. Cumberland. Mrs. Cumberland's death
has made so much difference to me, that I suppose my mind is much
occupied with thoughts of her. This is the first time I have been
here."

Both were agitated to pain: both could fain have pressed their hearts
tightly to still the frightful beating there.

"Ellen, I should like to say a word to you," he suddenly exclaimed,
turning his face to her for a moment, and then turning it away again.
"I am aware that nothing can excuse the deep shame of my conduct in
not having attempted any explanation before. To you I cannot attempt
it. I should have given it to Mrs. Cumberland if she had not died."

Ellen made no answer. Her eyes were bent on the ground.

"The subject was so intensely painful and--and awkward--that at first
I did not think I could have mentioned it even to Mrs. Cumberland.
Then came my illness. After that, whilst I lay day after day, left to
my own reflections, things began to present themselves in rather a
different light; and I saw that to maintain silence would be the most
wretched shame of all. I resolved to disclose everything to Mrs.
Cumberland, and leave her to repeat it to you if she thought it well
to do so--as much of it, at least, as would give you some clue to my
strange and apparently unjustifiable conduct."

Ellen's eyes were still lowered, but her hands trembled with the
violence of her emotion. She did not speak.

"Mrs. Cumberland's death, I say, prevented this," continued Captain
Bohun, who had gathered a little courage now that the matter was
opened: "and I have felt since in a frightful dilemma, from which I
see no escape. To you I cannot enter on any explanation: nor yet am I
able to tell you why I cannot. The subject is altogether so very
painful----"

Ellen lifted her head suddenly. Every drop of blood had deserted her
face, leaving it of an ashen whiteness. The movement caused him to
pause.

"I know what it is," she managed to say from between her white and
trembling lips.

"You--know it?"

"Yes. All."

Alas for the misapprehensions of this world. _He_ was thinking only of
the strange disclosure made to him concerning Mr. Adair; _she_ only of
his engagement to Miss Dallory. At her avowal a multitude of thoughts
came surging through his brain. All! She knew _all!_

"Have you known it long?" he questioned in low tones.

"The time may be counted by days."

He jumped to the conclusion that Mrs. Cumberland had disclosed it to
her on her death-bed. And Ellen's knowledge of it improved his
position just a little. But, looking at her, at her pale sweet face
and downcast eyes, at the anguish betrayed in every line of her
countenance, and which she could not conceal, Arthur Bohun's heart was
filled to overflowing with a strange pity, that seemed almost to reach
the point of breaking. He drew nearer to her.

"Thank God that you understand, Ellen--that at least you do not think
me the shameless scoundrel I must otherwise have appeared," he
whispered, his voice trembling with its deep emotion. "I cannot help
myself: you must see that I cannot, as you know all. The blow nearly
killed me. My fate--our fate, if I may dare still so far to couple
your name with mine--is a very bitter one."

Ellen had begun to shiver. Something in his words grated terribly on
her ear: and pride enabled her to keep down outward emotion.

"You left the ring and licence with me," she abruptly said, in perhaps
a sudden bitterness of temper. "What am I to do with them?"

"Burn them--destroy them," he fiercely replied. "They are worthless to
us now."

But he so spoke only in his anguish. Ellen interpreted it differently.

"God help us both, Ellen! A cruel fate has parted us for this world:
but we may be permitted to be together in the next. It is all my hope
now. Heaven bless you, Ellen! Our paths in life must lie apart, but I
pray always that yours may be a happy one."

Without further word, without touching her hand, thus he left her.
Limping on to the broad path, and then down it towards the churchyard
gate.

There are moments into which a whole lifetime of agony seems to be
compressed. Such a moment was this for Ellen Adair. Darkness was
coming on rapidly now, but she sat on, her head bent low on her hands.
They were, then, separated for ever; there was no further hope for
her!--he himself had confirmed it. She wondered whether the pain would
kill her; whether she should be able to battle with it, or must die of
the humiliation it brought. The pain and the humiliation were strong
and sharp now--now as she sat there. By-and-by there stole again into
her mind those thoughts which Captain Bohun's appearance had
interrupted--the heavenly place of rest to which Bessy and Mrs.
Cumberland had passed. Insensibly it soothed her: and imagination went
roving away unchecked. She seemed to see the white robes of the
Redeemed; she saw the golden harps in their hands, the soft sweet
light around them, the love and peace. The thoughts served to show her
how poor and worthless, as compared with the joys of that Better Land,
were the trials and pains of this world: how short a moment, even at
the longest, they had to be endured: how quickly and surely all here
must pass away! Yes, she might endure with patience for the time! And
when she lifted her head, it was to break into a flood of violent yet
soothing tears, that she could not have shed before.

"Father in heaven, Thou seest all my trouble and my agony. I have no
one in the world to turn to for shelter--and the blast is strong.
Vouchsafe to guide and cover me!"

But night was falling, and she rose to make her way out of the
churchyard. In a sheltered nook that she passed, sat a man: and Ellen
started a little, and quickened her pace. It was Captain Bohun.
Instead of going away, he had turned back to wait. She understood it
at once: at that hour he would not leave her alone. He wished to be
chivalrous to her still, for all his utter faithlessness. In the very
teeth of his avowed desertion, his words and manner had proved that he
loved her yet. Loved _her_, and not another. It brought its own comfort
to Ellen Adair. Of course it ought not to have done so, but it did:
for the human heart at best is frail and faulty.

Captain Bohun followed her out of the churchyard, and kept her in
sight all the way home, every feeling he possessed aching for her. He
had seen the signs and traces of her weeping; he knew what must be the
amount of her anguish. He might have been ready to shoot himself could
it have restored her to peace; he felt that he should very much like
to shoot Mr. Adair, whose bad deeds had entailed this misery upon
them.

At the Hall gates he was overtaken by Richard, striding home hastily
to dinner. Richard, passing his arm through Arthur's, began telling
him that he feared he was going to have some trouble with his
ex-workmen.

And as they, the once fond lovers, sat together afterwards at table,
and in the lighted drawing-room, Arthur as far from her as he could
place himself, none present suspected the scene that had taken place
in the churchyard. Ellen Adair's eyes looked heavy; but that was
nothing unusual now. It was known that she grieved much for Mrs.
Cumberland.



CHAPTER XXIII.
JELLY'S TWO EVENING VISITS.


Jelly--to whom we are obliged to refer rather frequently, as she holds
some important threads of the story in her hands--found times went
very hard with her. A death within the house in addition to the death
close without it, was almost more than Jelly could well put up with in
her present state of mind. The startling circumstances that had
characterized Mrs. Rane's demise did not attend Mrs. Cumberland's: but
it had been very sudden at last, and Jelly was sincerely attached to
her mistress.

Dr. Rane was left sole executor to his mother's will. It was a very
simple one: she bequeathed to him all she had. That was not much; for
a portion of her income died with her. He found that he had two
hundred a-year--as he had always known that he should have--and her
household furniture. Of ready money there was little. When he should
have discharged trifling claims and paid the funeral expenses, some
twenty or thirty pounds would remain over, that was all.

Dr. Rane acted promptly. He discharged two of the servants, Ann and
Dinah, retaining Jelly for the present to look after the house. He
wished, if he could, to get the furniture taken with the house; so he
advertised it in the local papers. He had been advertising his
practice--I think this has been already said--but nothing satisfactory
had come of it. Inquiries had been made, but they all dropped through.
Perhaps Dr. Rane was too honest to say his practice was worth much, or
to conceal the fact that Mr. Seeley had the best of it in Dallory.
Neither was the tontine money as yet paid over to him; and, putting
out of consideration all other business, the doctor must have waited
for that.

Now, of all things that could have happened, Jelly most disliked and
dreaded being left alone in the house. From having been as physically
brave as a woman can be, she had latterly become one of the most
timid. She started at her own shadow; she would not for the world
have entered alone at night the room in which Mrs. Cumberland died.
Having seen one ghost, Jelly could not feel sure that she should not
see two. Some people hold a theory that to a very few persons in this
world--and not to others--is given the faculty, or whatever you may
please to call it, of discerning supernatural sights or visions. Jelly
had heard this: and she became possessed of the idea that for some
wise purpose she had been suddenly endowed with it. To remain in the
house alone was more than her brain would bear; and she selected
Ketler's eldest girl, a starved damsel of thirteen, called "Riah," to
come and keep her company. As it was one less to feed, and they had
tried in vain to get Riah a place--for the strike and badness of trade
had affected all classes, and less servants seemed to be wanted
everywhere--Ketler and his wife were very glad to let her go.

How do rumours get about? Can any one tell? How did a certain rumour
get about and begin to be whispered in Dallory? Certainly no one there
could have told. Jelly could have been upon her Bible oath if
necessary (or thought she could) that she had not set it floating. It
was a very ugly one, whoever had done it.

Late one afternoon Jelly received a call from Mrs. Gass's smart
housemaid. The girl brought a letter from her mistress; Mrs. Gass
wanted very particularly to see Jelly, and had sent to say that Jelly
was to go there as soon as she could. Jelly made no sort of objection.
She had been confined to the house much more closely of late than she
approved of: partly because Dr. Rane had charged her to be in the way
in case people called to look over it: partly because she had found
out that Miss Riah had a tendency to walk off, herself, if she could
get Jelly's back turned.

"Now, mind you sit still in the kitchen and attend to the fire, and
listen to the door; and perhaps I'll bring you home a pair of strings
for that bonnet of yours," said Jelly to the girl, when she was ready
to start. "The doctor will be in by-and-by, so don't attempt to get
out of the way."

With these injunctions, Jelly began her walk. She had on her best new
mourning--and was in a complaisant mood. It looked inclined to
rain--the weather had been uncertain of late--but Jelly had her
umbrella: a silk one that had belonged to her mistress, and that Dr.
Rane had given, with many other things, to Jelly. She rather wondered
what Mrs. Gass wanted with her, but supposed it was to tell her of a
situation. It had been arranged that if an eligible one offered, Jelly
should be at liberty to depart, and a woman might be placed in the
house to take care of it. Mrs. Gass had said she would let Jelly know
if she heard of anything desirable. So away went Jelly with a fleet
foot, little thinking what was in store for her.

Mrs. Gass, wearing mourning also, was in her usual sitting-room, the
dining-room. As Jelly entered, the smart maid was carrying out the
tea-tray. Mrs. Gass stirred up her fire, and bade Jelly to a chair
near it, drawing her own pretty closely to her.

"Just see whether that girl have shut the door fast before I begin,"
suggested Mrs. Gass. "It won't do to have ears listening to me."

Jelly went, saw the door was closed, came back and sat down again. She
noticed that Mrs. Gass looked keenly at her, as if studying her face
before speaking.

"Jelly, what is it that you have been saying about Dr. Rane?"

The question was so unexpected that Jelly did not immediately answer
it. Quite a change, this, from an offer of a nice situation.

"I've said nothing," she replied.

"Now don't you repeat that to me. You have. And it would have been
a'most as well for you that you had cut your tongue out before doing
it."

"I said--what I did--to you, Mrs. Gass. To nobody else."

"Look here, Jelly--the mischiefs done, and you'd a great deal better
look it full in the face than deny it. There's reports getting up
about Dr. Rane, in regard to his wife's death, and no mortal woman or
man can have set 'em afloat but _you_. This morning I was in North
Inlet, looking a bit after them scamps of workmen that won't work, and
won't let others work if they can help it: and after I had given a
taste of my mind to as many of 'em as was standing about, I stepped
into Mother Green's. She has the rheumatics--and he has a touch of
'em. Talking with her of one thing and another, we got on to the
subject of Dr. Rane and the tontine; and she said two or three words
that frightened me; frightened me, Jelly; for they pointed to a
suspicion that the doctor had sacrificed his wife to get it. I
pretended to understand nothing--she didn't speak out broad enough for
me to take it up and answer her--and it was the best plan _not_ to
understand----"

"For an old woman, Mother Green has the longest tongue I know,"
interrupted Jelly.

"You've a longer," retorted Mrs. Gass. "Just wait till I've finished,
girl. 'Twas a tolerable fine morning, and after that I went walking
on, and struck off down by the Wheatsheaf. Packerton's wife was
standing at the door with cherry ribbons in her cap, and I stopped to
talk to her. _She_ brought up Dr. Rane; and lowered her voice as if it
was high treason; asking me if I'd heard what was being said about his
wife's not having died a natural death. I did give it the woman; and I
think I frightened her. She acknowledged that she only spoke from a
hint dropped by Timothy Wilks, and said she had thought at the time it
couldn't have anything in it. But what _I_ have to say to you is
this," continued Mrs. Gass to Jelly more emphatically, "whether it's
Tim Wilks that's spreading the report, or whether it's Mother Green,
they both had it in the first place from you."

Jelly sat in discomfort. She did not like this. It is nothing to be
charged with a fault when you are wholly innocent; but when conscience
says you are partly guilty it is another thing. Jelly was aware that
one night at Mother Green's, taking supper with that old matron and
Timothy, she had so far yielded to the seductions of social gossip as
to forget her usual reticence; and had said rather more than she
ought. Still, at the worst, it had been only a word or two: a hint,
not a specific charge.

"I may have let fall an incautious word there," confessed Jelly. "But
it was nothing anybody can take hold of."

"Don't you make sure of that," reprimanded Mrs. Gass. "We are told in
the sacred writings--which it's not well to mention in ordinary talk,
and I'd only do it with reverence--of a grain of mustard seed, that's
the least of all seeds when it's sown, and grows into the greatest
tree. You remember Who it is says that, Jelly, so it's not for me to
enlarge upon it. But I may say this much, girl, that that's an apt
exemplification of gossip. You drop one word, or maybe only half a
one, and it goes spreading out pretty nigh over the world."

"I'm sure, what with the weight and worry this dreadful secret has
been on my mind, almost driving me mad, the wonder is that I've been
able to keep as silent as I have," put in Jelly, who was growing
cross. Mrs. Gass resumed.

"If the thing is what you think it to be---a dreadful secret, and it
is brought to light through you, why, I don't know that you'd get
blamed--though there's many a one will say you might have spared your
mistress's son and left it for others to charge him. But suppose it
turns out to be no dreadful secret; suppose poor Bessy Rane died a
natural death of the fever, what then?--where would you be?"

Jelly took off her black gloves as if they had grown suddenly hot for
her hands. She said nothing.

"Look here, girl. My belief is that you've just set a brand on fire!
one that won't be put out until it's burnt out. My firm belief also
is, _that you be altogether mistaken_. I have thought the matter over
with myself hour after hour; and, except at the first moment when you
whispered it to me in the churchyard, and I own I was startled, I have
never been able to bring my common sense to believe in it. Oliver Rane
loved his wife too well to hurt a hair of her head."

"There was that anonymous letter," cried Jelly.

"Whatever hand he might have had in that anonymous letter--and nobody
knows the truth of it whether he had or whether he hadn't--I don't
believe he was the man to hurt a hair of his wife's head," repeated
Mrs. Gass. "And for you to be spreading it about that he murdered
her!"

"The circumstances all point to it," said Jelly.

"They don't."

"Why, Mrs. Gass, they do."

"Let's go over 'em, and see," said Mrs. Gass, who had a plain way of
convincing people. "Let's begin at the beginning. Hear me out, Jelly."

She went over the past minutely. Jelly listened, growing more
uncomfortable every moment. There was absolutely not one fact
inconsistent with a natural death. It is true the demise had been
speedy, but the cause assigned, exhaustion, might have been the real
one; and the hasty fastening down of the coffin was no doubt a simple
measure of precaution, taken out of regard for the living. No; as Mrs.
Gass put it in her sensible way, there was positively not a single
fact that could be urged for supposing that Mrs. Rane came to an
untimely end. Jelly twirled her gloves, and twisted her hands, and
grew hot and uncomfortable.

"There was what I saw--the ghost," she said.

But Mrs. Gass ridiculed the ghost--that is, the idea of it--beyond
everything earthly. Jelly, however, would not give way there; and they
had some sparring.

"Ghost, indeed! and you come to this age! It was the beer, girl; the
beer."

"I hadn't had a drop of beer," protested Jelly, almost crying. "How
was I to get beer at Ketler's? They've none for themselves. I had had
nothing inside my lips but tea."

"Well; beer or no beer, ghost or no ghost, it strikes me, Jelly, that
you have done a pretty thing. This story is as sure to get wind now as
them geraniums of mine will have air when I open the window tomorrow
morning. You'll be called upon to substantiate your story; and when
you can't--and I'm sure you know that you can't--the law may have you
up to answer for it. I once knew a man that rose a bad charge against
another; he was tried for it, and got seven years' transportation. You
may come to the same."

A very agreeable prospect! If Jelly's bonnet had not been on, her hair
might have risen up on end with horror. There could be no doubt that
it was she who had started the report; and in this moment of
repentance she sat really wishing she had first cut her foolish tongue
out.

"Nothing can be done now," concluded Mrs. Gass. "There's just one
chance for you--that the rumour may die away. If it will, let it; and
take warning to be more cautious in future. The probability is that
Mother Green and Tim Wilks have mentioned it to others besides me and
Packerton's wife: if so, nothing will keep it under. You have been a
great fool, Jelly."

Jelly went away in terrible fright. Mrs. Gass had laid the matter
before her in its true light. Suspect as she might, _she had no
proof_; and if questioned by authority could not have advanced one.

"Dr. Rane have been in here three times after you," was young Riah's
salutation when Jelly reached home.

"Dr. Rane has?"

"And he said the last time you oughtn't to be away from the house so
long with only me in it," added the damsel, who felt aggrieved, on her
own score, at having been left.

"Oh, did he!" carelessly returned Jelly.

But she began considering what Dr. Rane could want. For her parting
charge to Riah, that Dr. Rane was coming in, had been a slight
invention of her own, meant to keep that young person up to her duty.
Just as she had decided that it might refer to this same report, which
he might have heard, and Jelly was growing more and more ill at ease
in consequence, he came in. She went to him in the dining-room.

"Jelly," said the doctor, "I think I have let the house."

"Have you, sir?" returned Jelly, blithely, in the agreeable revulsion
of feeling. "I'm sure I am glad."

"But only for a short time," continued Dr. Rane. "Two ladies of
Whitborough are wanting temporary change of air, and will take it if
it suits them. They are coming tomorrow to look at it."

"Very well, sir."

"They will occupy the house for a month, and perhaps take it for
longer. This will give me time to let it for a permanency. If you feel
inclined to take service with them, I believe there will be room for
you."

"Who are they?" asked Jelly.

"Mrs. and Miss Beverage. Quakers."

She knew the name. Very respectable people; plenty of money.

"You'll show them over it tomorrow when they come: I may or may not
be in the way at the time," concluded Dr. Rane.

Jelly attended him to the door. It was evident he had not heard the
rumour that had reached Mrs. Gass; or, at least, did not connect Jelly
in any way with it. But how was he likely to hear it? The probability
was, that all Dallory would be full of it before it reached him.

Jelly could not eat her supper. Mrs. Gass's communication had left no
room for appetite. Neither did she get any sleep. Tossing and turning
on her bed, lay she: the past doubt and present dread troubling her
brain until morning.

But, when Jelly had thus tormented herself and regarded the matter in
all its aspects, the result was, that she still believed her own
version of the tale--namely, that Mrs. Rane had not come fairly by her
death. True, she had no proof: but she began wondering whether proof
might not be found. At any rate, she resolved to search for it. Not
openly; not to be used; but quietly and cautiously: to hold, as it
were, in case of need. She could not tell how to look for this, or
where to begin. No one had seen Mrs. Rane after death--excepting of
course the undertakers. Jelly resolved to question them: perhaps
something might be gleaned in this way.

It was afternoon before the expected ladies arrived. Two pleasant
women, dressed after the sober fashion of their sect. Mrs. Beverage, a
widow, was sixty; her daughter nearly forty. They liked the house, and
said they should take it; and they liked Jelly, and engaged her as
upper maid, intending to bring two servants of their own. After their
departure, Jelly had to wait for Dr. Rane: it would not do for him to
find only Riah again. He came in whilst Jelly was at tea. She told him
the ladies wished to enter as soon as convenient; and the doctor said
he would at once go over to Whitborough and see them.

This left Jelly at liberty. It was growing late when she set out on
her expedition, and she started at the hedge shadows as she went
along. Jelly's thoughts were full of all kinds of uncanny and
unpleasant things. Jelly's disposition was not a secretive one; rather
the contrary; and she hated to have to do with anything that might not
be discussed in the broad light of day.

The commencement of her task was at any rate not difficult: she could
enter the Hepburns' house without excuse or apology, knowing them
sufficiently well to do so. When they were young, Thomas Hepburn, his
wife, and Jelly had all been companions at the same day-school.
Walking through the shop without ceremony, saving a nod to young
Charley, who was minding it, Jelly turned into the little parlour: a
narrow room with the fireplace in the corner surmounted by a high
old-fashioned wainscoting of wood, painted stone-colour. Thomas
Hepburn, who seemed to be always ailing with something or other, had
an inflammation on his left arm, and his wife was binding bruised lily
leaves round it. Jelly, drawing near, at once expressed her
disapprobation of the treatment.

"I can't think how it should have come, or what it is," he observed.
"I don't remember to have hurt it in any way."

Jelly took the seat on the other side the fireplace, and Mrs.
Hepburn, a stout healthy woman, sat down at the small round table and
began working by lamplight. Thomas Hepburn, nursing his arm, which
pained him, led all unconsciously to the subject Jelly had come to
speak about. Saying that if his arm was not better in the morning, he
should show it to Dr. Rane, he thence went on to express his sorrow
that the doctor should talk of leaving Dallory, for they liked him so
much both as a gentleman and a doctor.

"But after such a loss as he has experienced in his wife, poor lady,
no wonder the place is distasteful to him," went on Hepburn. And Jelly
felt silently obliged for the words that helped her in her task.

"Ah, that was a dreadful thing," she observed. "I shall never forget
the morning I heard of it, and the shock it gave me."

"I'm sure I can never forget the night he came down here, and said she
was dead," rejoined the undertaker. "It was like a blow. Although I
was in a degree prepared for it, for the doctor had told me in the
afternoon what a dangerous state she was in--and I didn't like his
manner when he spoke: it seemed to say more than his words. I came
home and told Martha here that I feared it was all over with Mrs.
Rane. Poor Henry was lying dead at the same time."

"And the answer I made to Thomas was, that she'd get over it," said
Mrs. Hepburn, looking up from her sewing at Jelly. "I thought she
would: Bessy North was always hearty and healthy. You might have taken
a lease of her life."

"We had shut up the shops for the night, though the men were at work
still next door, when the doctor came," resumed Thomas Hepburn, as if
he found satisfaction in recalling the circumstances for Jelly's
benefit. "It was past eleven o'clock; but we had to work late during
that sad time; and Henry's illness and death seemed to make a
difference of nearly as much as two hands to us. I was in the yard
with the men when there came a knocking at the shop-door: I went to
open it, and there stood the doctor. 'Hepburn,' said he, 'my poor wife
is gone.' Well, I did feel it."

Jelly gave a groan by way of sympathy. She was inwardly deliberating
how she could best lead on to what she wanted to ask. But she was
never at fault long.

"I have heard you express distaste to some of the things that make up
your trade, Thomas Hepburn, but at least they give you the opportunity
of taking last looks at people," began Jelly. "I'd have given I don't
know how much out of my pocket to have had a farewell look at Mrs.
Rane."

"That doesn't always bring the pleasure you might suppose," was the
answer of the undertaker.

"Did you go to her?" asked Jelly.

"No. I sent the two men: Clark and Dobson. They took the coffin at
once: the doctor had brought the measure."

"And they screwed her down at once," retorted Jelly, more eagerly than
she had intended to speak.

"Ay! It was best. We did it in some other cases that died of the
same."

"Did the men notice how she looked--whether there was much change in
her?" resumed Jelly, in a low tone. "Some faces are very sweet and
placid after death: so much so that one can't help thinking they are
happy. Was Mrs. Rane's so?"

"The men didn't see her," said Hepburn.

"Didn't see her!"

"No. The doctor managed that they should not. It was very kind of him.
Dobson had had an awful dread all along of catching the fever; and
Clark was beginning to fear it a little: Dr. Rane knew this, and said
he'd not expose them to more risk than could be helped. The men
carried the coffin up to the ante-room, and he said he would manage
all the rest."

Jelly sat with open mouth and eyes staring. The undertaker put it down
to surprise.

"Medical men are used to these things, Jelly. It comes as natural to
them as to us. Dr. Rane said to Clark that he would call Seeley over
if he found he wanted help. I don't suppose he would want it: she was
small and light, poor young lady."

Jelly found her speech. "Then they--Clark and Dobson--never saw her at
all!"

"Not at all. She was in the far room. The door was close shut, and
well covered besides with a sheet wet with disinfecting fluid. There
was no danger, Dr. Rane assured them, so long as they did not go into
the room where she lay. The men came away wishing other people would
take these precautions; but then, you see, doctors understand things.
He gave them each a glass of brandy-and-water too."

"And--then--_nobody_ saw her!" persisted Jelly, as if she could not
get over the fact.

"I dare say not," replied Thomas Hepburn.

"He must have hammered her down himself!" cried the amazed Jelly.

"He could do it as well as the men could. They left the nails and
hammer."

"Well--it--it--seems dreadful work for a man to have to do for his
wife," observed Jelly, after a pause, staring over Mr. Hepburn's head
into vacancy.

"He did violence to his own feelings out of consideration to the men,"
said the undertaker. "And I must say it was very good of him. But, as
I've observed, doctors know what's what, and how necessary it is to
keep away from danger in perilous times."

"Did he manage the lead coffin as well as the first one?" continued
Jelly, in a hard, sarcastic tone, which she found it impossible to
suppress. "And then there was the third coffin, after that?"

"I went and soldered down the lead myself. The men took up the last
one and made all ready."

"Were you not afraid to run the risk, Thomas Hepburn?" asked Jelly,
tauntingly, for she despised the man for being so unsuspicious.

"The rooms had been well disinfected then, the doctor said. Any way,
we took no harm."

That Thomas Hepburn had never discerned cause for the slightest
suspicion of unfair play on the part of Dr. Rane was evident. Jelly,
in her superior knowledge, could have shaken him for it. In his place
she felt sure she should not have been so obtuse. Jelly forgot that it
was only that superior knowledge that enabled her to see what was
hidden from others: and that whilst matters, from Hepburn's point of
view, looked all right; from her own, they were all wrong.

"Well, I must be wishing you good-evening, I suppose," she said. "I've
left only Riah in the house--and she's of no mortal use to anybody,
except for company. With people dying about one like this, one gets to
feel dull, all alone."

"So one does," answered the undertaker. "Don't go yet."

Jelly had not risen. She sat looking at the fire, evidently deep in
thought. Presently she turned her keen eyes on the man again.

"Thomas Hepburn, did you ever see a ghost?"

He received the question as calmly and seriously as though she had
said, Did you ever see a funeral? And shook his head negatively.

"I can't say I ever saw one myself. I've known those who have. That
is, who say and believe they have. And I'm sure I've no reason to say
they haven't. One hears curious tales now and then."

"They are not pleasant things to see," remarked Jelly a little
dreamily.

"Well, no; I dare say not."

"For my part, I don't put faith in ghosts," said hearty Mrs. Hepburn,
looking up with a laugh. "None will ever come near me, I'll answer for
it. I've too many children about me, and too much work to do, for
pastime of that sort. Ghosts come from nothing but nervous fancies."

Jelly could not contradict this as positively as she would have liked,
so it was best to say nothing at all. She finally rose up to go--Riah
might be falling asleep with her head in the candle.

And in spite of the suggested attractions of a supper of toasted
cheese and ale, Jelly departed. Things had become as clear as daylight
to her.

"I don't so much care now if it does come out," she said to herself as
she hastened along. "What Thomas Hepburn can tell as good as proves
the doctor's guilt. I knew it was so. And I wish that old Dame Gass
had been smothered before she sent me into that doubt and fright last
night!"

But the road seemed terribly lonely now; and Jelly more nervous than
ever of the shadows.



CHAPTER XXIV.
MISCHIEF BREWING IN NORTH INLET.


Morning, noon and night, whenever the small body of fresh workmen had
to pass to and from the works, they were accompanied by the two
policemen specially engaged to protect them, whilst others hovered
within call. North Inlet, the ill-feeling of its old inhabitants
increasing day by day, had become dangerous. It was not that all the
men would have done violence. Ketler, for instance, and others,
well-disposed men by nature, sensible and quiet, would not have lifted
a hand against those who had, in one sense of the word, displaced
them. But they did this: they stood tamely by, knowing quite well that
some of their comrades only waited their opportunity to kill, or
disable--as might be--Richard North's new followers. North Inlet was
not quite so full as it used to be: for some of the old inhabitants,
weary and out of patience with hope deferred: hope they hardly knew of
what, unless for the good time promised by the Trades' Union: had
departed on the tramp, with their wives and little ones, seeking a
corner of the earth where work sufficient to give them a crust of
bread and a roof, might be found. Others had decamped without their
wives and children: and were in consequence being sought by the
parish. North Inlet, taken on the whole, was in a sore plight. The men
and women, reduced by want and despair to apply for parish relief,
found none accorded them. They had brought themselves to this
condition; had refused work when work was to be had; and to come and
ask to be supported in idleness by the parish was a procedure not to
be tolerated or entertained; as one resolute guardian, sitting at the
head of a table, fiercely told them. Not as much as a loaf of bread
would be given them, added another. If it came to the pass that they
were in danger of dying of hunger--as the applicants urged--why they
must come into the house with their wives and families: and a
humiliating shame that would be for able-bodied men, the guardian
added: but they would receive no relief out-of-doors. So North Inlet,
not choosing to go into that unpopular refuge for the destitute, kept
out of it. And to terrible straits were they reduced!

Looking back upon their past life of plenty, and their present empty
homes and famished faces, little wonder that this misguided body of
men grew to find that something of the old Satan was in them yet. A
great deal of it, too. Perhaps remorse held its full share with them.
They had intended that it should be so entirely for the better when
they threw up work; and it had turned out so surprisingly for the
worse. They had meant to return to work on their own terms; earning
more and toiling less: they had been led to believe that this result
lay in their own hands, and was as safe and certain as that the sun
shone overhead at noonday. Instead of that--here they were, in as
deplorable a condition as human beings could well be; Time had been,
not very long ago either, that the false step might have been
redeemed; Richard North had offered them work again on the old terms.
Ay, and he had once conceded a portion of their demands--as they
remembered well. But that time and that offer had gone by for ever.
Fresh men (few though they were) had taken their places, and they
themselves were starving and helpless.

The feeling against these new men was bitter enough; it was far more
bitter against the small number of old workmen who had gone back
again. We are told that the heart of man is desperately wicked: our
own experience shows us that it is desperately selfish. They saw the
employed men doing the work which once was theirs; they saw them
wearing good coats, eating good food. They themselves had neither one
nor the other; and work they had rejected. It would not have seemed
quite so hard had the work altogether left the place: but to see these
others doing it and living in comfort was more than mortal temper
could brook.

This was not all. The men unreasonably held to it that these others
having taken work again, was the cause why they themselves were kept
out of it. Richard North would ha' come-to, they said, if these curs
hadn't went sneaking back again to lick his hand. If all had held out,
Dick North must ha' given in. And this they repeated so constantly, in
their ire, one to another, that at last they grew to believe it. It
was quite wrong, and they were wholly mistaken: for had Richard North
not begun again cautiously as he did, and on the old terms, he would
not have recommenced at all: but the men refused to see this, and held
to their idea, making it a greater grievance than the want of food. It
is so convenient to have something substantial on which to throw
blame: and unlimited power and permission to punch the obnoxious head
would have afforded intense gratification. Oh, it was very hard to
bear. To see this small knot of men re-established in work, and to
know that it was their own work once, and might have been theirs
still! Peeping through hedges, hiding within doorways, standing
sulkily or derisively in the open ground, they would watch the men
going to and fro, guarded by the two policemen. Many a bitter word,
many a silent threat was levelled at the small band. Murder had been
done from a state of mind not half as bad as they were cherishing.

"What be you looking at, with those evil frowns on your faces?"

A group of malcontents, gazing from a corner of North Inlet at the
daily procession, found this question suddenly sounding on their ears.
Mrs. Gass had stepped out of a dwelling close by, and put it to them.
Their eyes were following the escorted men coming home to their
twelve-o'clock dinner, so that they had not observed her.

They turned to her, and dropped their threatening expression. A man
named Poole, not too much respected in the most prosperous times, and
one of the worst of the malcontents, answered boldly too.

"We was taking the measure o' that small lot o' convic's. Wishing we
could brand 'em."

"Ah," said Mrs. Gass. "It strikes me some of you have been wishing it
before to-day. I should like to give you a bit of advice, my men; and
you, especially, Poole. Take care you don't become convicts
yourselves."

"For two pins, I'd do what 'ud make me one," was the rejoinder of
Poole, who was in a more defiant mood than even he often dared
exhibit. He was a large, thick-set man, with shaggy light hair and a
brick-dust complexion. His clothes, originally fustian, had been worn
and torn and patched until they now hardly held together.

"You are a nice jail-bird, Poole! I don't think you ever were much
better than one," added Mrs. Gass. To which candid avowal Poole only
replied by a growl.

"These hard times be enough to make jail-birds of all of us,"
interposed another, Foster; but speaking civilly. "Why don't the
Government come down and interfere, and prevent our work being took
out of our hands by these rascals?"

"You put the work out of your own hands," said Mrs. Gass. "As to
interference, I should have thought you'd had about enough of that, by
this time. If you had not suffered them fine Trades' Unionists to
interfere with you, my men, you'd have been in full work now, happy
and contented as the day's long."

"What we did, we did for the best."

"What you did, you did in defiance of common sense, and of the best
counsels of your best friends," she said. "How many times did your
master show you what the upshot would be if you persisted in throwing
up your work?--how much breath did I waste upon you, as I'm doing now,
asking you all to avoid a strike--and after the strike had come, day
after day begging you to end it?--could any picture be truer than mine
when I said what you'd bring yourselves to?--rags, and famine, and
desolate homes. Could any plight be worse than this that you've
dropped into now?"

"No, it couldn't," answered Foster. "It's so bad that I say Government
ought to interfere for us."

"If I was Government, I should interfere on one point--and that's with
them agitating Unionists," bravely spoke Mrs. Gass. "I should put
_them_ down a bit."

"This is a free country, ma'am," struck in Ketler, who made one of the
group.

"Well, I used to think it was, Ketler," she said; "but old ways
seem to be turned upside down. What sort of freedom do you enjoy just
now?--how much have you had of it since you bound yourselves sworn
members of the Trades' Unions? You have wanted to work and they
haven't let you: you'd like to be clothed and fed as you used to be
and to clothe and feed your folks at home, and they prevent your
exercising the means by which you may do it. What freedom or liberty
is there in that?--Come, Ketler, tell me, as a reasonable man."

"If the Trades' Unions could do as they wish, there'd be work and
comfort for all of us."

"I doubt that, Ketler."

"But they can't do it," added Ketler. "The masters be obstinate and
won't let 'em."

"That's just it," said Mrs. Gass. "If the Trades' Unions held the
world in their hands, and there were no such things as masters and
capital, why then they might have their own way. But the masters have
their own interests to look after, their business and capital to
defend: and the two sides are totally opposed one to the other, and
squabbling is all that comes of it, or that ever will come of it. You
lose your work, the masters lose their trade, the Unionists fight it
out fiercer than ever--and, between it all, the commerce of the
country is coming to an end. Now, my men, that is the bare truth; and
you can't deny it if you talk till midnight."

"'Twouldn't be no longer much of a free country, if the Government put
down the Trades' Unions," spoke a man satirically; one Cattleton.

"But it ought to put down their arbitrary way of preventing others
working that want to work," maintained Mrs. Gass. "The Unionists be
your worst enemies. I'm speaking, as you know I have been all along,
of the heads among 'em who make laws for the rest; not of poor sheep
like yourselves who have joined the society in innocence. If the heads
like to live without work themselves, and can point out a way by which
others can live without it, well and good; there's no law against
that, nor oughtn't to be; but what I say Government ought to put down
is this--their forcing you men to reject work when it's offered you.
It's a sin and a shame that, through them, the country should be
brought to imbecility, and you, its once free and brave workmen, to
beggary."

"The thought has come over me at times that under the new state of
things we are no better than slaves," confessed Ketler, his eyes
wearing an excited look.

"Now you've just said it, Ketler," cried Mrs. Gass, triumphantly.
"Slaves. That's exactly what you are; and I wish to my heart all the
workmen in England could open their eyes to the truth of it. You took
a vow to obey the dictates of the Trades' Union; it has bound you hand
and foot, body and soul. If a job of work lay to your hand, you dare
not take it up; no, not though you saw your little ones dying of
famine before your eyes. It's the worst kind of slavery that ever fell
on the land. Press-gangs used to be bad enough, but this beats 'em
hollow."

There was no reply from any of the men. Mrs. Gass had been a good
friend to their families even recently; and the old habits of respect
to her, their mistress, still held sway. Perhaps some of them, too,
silently assented to her reasoning.

"It's that that I'd have put down," she resumed. "Let every workman be
free to act on his own judgment, to take work or to leave it. Not but
what it's too late to say so: as far as I believe, the mischief has
gone too far to be remedied."

"It be mighty fine for the masters to cry out and say the Trades'
Unions is our enemies! Suppose we choose to call 'em our friends?"
spoke Poole.

"Put it so, Poole, if you like," said Mrs. Gass equably. "The
society's your friend, let's say. How has it showed its friendship?
what has it done for you?"

Mr. Poole did not condescend to say.

"It's not hard to answer, Poole. The proofs, lie on the surface; not
one of you but may read 'em off-hand. It threw you all out of good
work that you had held for years under a good master, that you might
probably have held, to the last day of your lives. It dismantled your
homes and sent your things to the pawnshop. It has reduced you to a
crust of bread, where you used to have good joints of beef; it has
taken your warm shoes and coats, and sent you abroad half naked. Your
children are starving, some of them are dead; your wives are worn out
with trouble and discontent. And this not for a time, but for good:
for, there's no prospect open to you. No prospect, that I can see, as
I am a living woman. That's what your friends, as you call 'em, have
done for you; and for thousands and thousands beside you. I don't care
what they meant: let it be that they meant well by you, and that you
meant well--as I'm sure you did--in listening to 'em: the result is as
I've said. And you are standing here this day, ruined men."

Mr. Poole looked fierce.

"What is to become of you, and of others ruined like you, the Lord in
heaven only knows. It's a solemn question. When the best trade of the
country's driven from it, there's no longer any place for workmen.
Emigration, suggest some of the newspapers. Others say emigration's
overdone for the present. We don't know what to believe. Any way, it's
a hard thing that a good workman should find no employment in his
native land, but must be packed off, very much as if he was
transported, to be an exile for ever."

Poole, not liking the picture, broke into an oath or two. The other
men looked sad enough.

"You have been drinking, Poole," said Mrs. Gass with dignity, "Keep a
civil tongue in your head before me if, you please."

"I've not had no more than half-a-pint," growled Poole.

"And that was half-a-pint too much," said Mrs. Gass. "When people's
insides are reduced by famine, half-a-pint is enough to upset their
brains in a morning."

"What business have Richard North to go and engage them frogs o'
Frenchmen?" demanded Poole who had in truth taken too much for his
good. "What business have them other fellows, as ought to have stuck
by us, to go back to him? It's Richard North as wants to be
transported."

"Richard North was a good master to you. The world never saw a
better."

"He's a rank bad man now."

"No, no--hold th' tongue!" put in Ketler. "No good to abuse _him_."

"If you men had had a spark of gratitude, you'd have listened to Mr.
Richard North, when he prayed you to go back to him," said Mrs. Gass.
"No, you wouldn't; and what has it done for him? Why, just ruined him,
my men: almost as bare as you are ruined. It has took his hopes from
him; wasted what little money he had; played the very dickens with his
prospects. The business he once had never will and never can come
back. If once you break a mirror to pieces, you can't put it together
again. Mr. Richard has a life of work to look forward to; he may earn
a living, but he won't do much more. You men have at least the
satisfaction of knowing that whilst you ruined your own prosperity,
you also ruined his."

They had talked so long--for all that passed cannot be recorded--that
it was close upon one o'clock, and the small band of workmen and the
two policemen were seen coming back again towards the works. The
malignant look rose again on Poole's face: and he gave forth a savage
growl.

"There'll be mischief yet," thought Mrs. Gass, as she turned away.

Sounds of a woman's sobbing were proceeding from an open door as she
went down North Inlet, and Mrs. Gass stepped in to see what might be
the matter. They came from Dawson's wife. Dawson had been beating her.
The unhappy state to which they were reduced tried the tempers of the
men--of the women also, for that matter--rendering some of them little
better than ferocious beasts. In the old days, when Dawson could keep
himself and his family in comfort, never a cross word had been heard
from him: but all that was changed; and under the new order of things,
it often came to blows. The wife had now been struck in the eye.
Smarting under ills of body and ills of mind, the woman enlarged on
her wrongs to Mrs. Gass, and displayed the mark; all of which at
another time she would certainly have concealed. The home was
miserably bare; the children, wan and thin, were in tatters like their
mother; it was a comprehensive picture of wretchedness.

"And all through those idiots having thrown up their work at the
dictates of the Trades' Union!" was the wrathful comment of Mrs. Gass,
as she departed. "They've done for themselves in this world: and, to
judge by the unchristian lives they are living, seem to be in a fair
way of doing for themselves in the next."

As she reached her own house, the smart housemaid was showing Miss
Dallory out of it. That young lady, making a call on Mrs. Gass, had
waited for her a short time, and was departing. They now went in
together. Mrs. Gass, entering her handsome drawing-room, began
recounting the events of the morning; what she had heard and seen.

"There'll be mischief, as sure as a gun," she concluded. "My belief
is, that some of them would kill Mr. Richard if they had only got the
chance."

Mary Dallory looked startled. "Kill _him!_" she cried. "Why, he has
always been their friend. He would have been so still, had they only
been willing."

"He's a better friend to them still than they are aware of," said Mrs.
Gass, nodding her head wisely. "Miss Mary, if ever there was a
Christian man on earth, it is Richard North. His whole life has been
one long thought for others. Who else has kept up Dallory Hall? Who
would have worked and slaved on, and on, not for himself, but to
maintain his father's home, finding money for madam's wicked
extravagance, to save his poor father pain, knowing that the old man
had already more than he could bear. At Mr. Richard's age, he ought,
before this, to have been making a home and marrying: he would have
done so under happier circumstances: but he has had to sacrifice
himself to others. He has done more for the men than they think for;
ay, even at the time that they were bringing ruin upon him--as they
have done--and ever since. Richard North is worth his weight in gold.
Heaven, that sees all, knows that he is; and he will sometime surely
be rewarded for it. It may not be in this world, my dear; for a great
many of God's own best people go down to their very graves in nothing
but disappointment and sorrow: but he'll find it in the next."

Miss Dallory made no reply. All she said was, that she must go. And
Mrs. Gass escorted her to the front-door. They had almost reached it,
when Miss Dallory stopped to ask a question, lowering her voice as she
did so.

"Have you heard any rumour about Dr. Rane?"

Mrs. Gass knew what must be meant as certainly as though it had been
spoken. She turned cold, and hot, and cold again. For once language
failed her.

"It is something very dreadful," continued Miss Dallory. "I do not
like to give utterance to it. It--it has frightened me."

"Law, my dear, don't pay no attention to such rubbish as rumours,"
returned Mrs. Gass, heartily. "_I_ don't. Folk say all sorts of things
of me, I make little doubt; just as they are ready to do of other
people. Let 'em! We shan't sleep none the worse for it. Goodbye. I
wish you'd have stayed and taken some dinner with me--as lovely a
turkey-poult as ever you saw, and a jam dumpling."



CHAPTER XXV.
DAYS OF PAIN.


Pacing the shrubbery walk at Dallory Hall, a grey woollen shawl
wrapped closely round her flowing black silk dress, her pale, sweet,
sad face turned up to the lowering sky, was Ellen Adair. The weather,
cold and dull, gave signs of approaching winter. The last leaves left
on the trees fell fluttering to the earth; the wind, sighing through
the bare branches, bore a melancholy sound. All things seemed to speak
of death and decay.

This ungenial weather had brought complication with it. Just as Sir
Nash Bohun was about to quit Dallory Hall, taking Arthur with him, the
wind caught him in an unguarded moment, and laid him up with
inflammation of the chest. Sir Nash took to his bed. One of the
results was, that Arthur Bohun must remain at the Hall, and knew not
how long he might be a fixture there. Sir Nash would not part with
him. He had come to regard him quite as his son.

Ellen Adair thought Fate was cruel to her, taking one thing with
another. And so it was; very cruel. Whilst they were together, she
could not begin to forget him: and, to see him so continually with
Mary Dallory, brought her the keenest pain. She was but human:
jealousy swayed her just as it sways other people.

Another thing was beginning to trouble her--she did not hear from Mr.
Adair. It was very strange. Not a letter had come from him since that
containing the permission to marry Arthur Bohun;--as Mrs. Cumberland
had interpreted it--received at Eastsea. Ellen could not understand
the silence at all. Her father had always written so regularly.

"He ought not to remain here," she murmured passionately as she
walked, alluding to Arthur Bohun. "_I_ cannot help myself; I have
nowhere else to go: but he ought to leave, in spite of Sir Nash."

A greyer tinge seemed to creep over the sky. The shrubbery seemed to
grow darker. It was only the first advent of twilight, falling early
that melancholy evening.

"Will there ever be any brightness in my life again?" she continued,
clasping her hands in pain. "Is this misery to last for ever? Did any
one, I wonder, ever go through such a trial and live? Scarcely. I am
afraid I am not very strong to bear things. But oh--who could bear
it?"

She sat down on one of the benches, and bent her aching brow on her
hands. What with the surrounding gloom, and her dark dress, some one
who had turned into the walk, came sauntering on without observing
her. It was Arthur Bohun. He started when she raised her head: his
face was every whit as pale and sad as hers; but he could not help
seeing how ill and woebegone she looked.

"I fear you are not well," he stopped to say.

"Oh--thank you--not very," was the confused answer.

"This is a trying time. Heaven knows I would save you from it, if I
could. I would have died to spare you. I would die still, if by that
means things for you could be made right. But it may not be. Time
alone must be the healer."

He had said this in a somewhat hard tone, as if he were angry with
some one or other; perhaps with Fate; and went on his way with a
quicker step, leaving never a touch of the hand, never a loving word,
never a tender look behind him; just as it had been that day in
Dallory Churchyard. Poor girl! her heart felt as though it were
breaking there and then.

When the echo of his footsteps had died away, she drew her shawl
closer round her slender throat and passed out of the shrubbery.
Hovering in a side walk, unseen and unsuspected, was madam. Not often
did madam allow herself to be off the watch. She had seen the exit of
Captain Bohun; she now saw Ellen's; and madam's evil spirit rose up
within her, and she advanced with a dark frown.

"Have you been walking with Captain Bohun, Miss Adair?"

"No, madam."

"I--_thought_--I heard him talking to you."

"He came through the shrubbery when I was sitting there, and spoke to
me in passing."

"Ah," said madam. "It is well to be careful. Captain Bohun is to marry
Miss Dallory: the less any other young woman has to say to him, the
better."

To this speech--remarkable as coming from one who professed to be a
gentlewoman--Ellen made no reply, saving a bow as she passed onwards,
with erect head and self-possessed step, leaving madam to her devices.

She seemed to be tormented on every side. There was no comfort, no
solace anywhere. Ellen could have envied Bessy Rane in her grave.

And the farce that had to be kept up before the world. That very
evening, as fate had it, Captain Bohun took Miss Adair in to dinner
and sat next her, through some well-intentioned blundering of
Richard's. It had pleased madam to invite seven or eight people; it
did not please Mr. North to come in to dinner as he had been expected
to do. Richard had to be host, and to take in a stout lady in green
velvet, who was to have fallen to his father. There was a moment's
confusion; madam had gone on; Richard mixed up the wrong people
together, and finally said aloud, "Arthur, will you take in Miss
Adair?" And so they sat, side by side, and no one observed that they
did not converse together, or that anything was wrong. It is curious
how long two people may have lived estranged from each other in a
household, and the rest suspect it not. Have you over noticed
this?--or tried it? It is remarkable, but very true.

After dinner came the drawing-room; and the evening was a more social
one than had been known of late. Music, cards, conversation. Young Mr.
Ticknell, a relative of the old bankers' at Whitborough, was there; he
had one of the sweetest voices ever given to man, and delighted them
with his unaffected singing. One song, that he chose after a few
jesting words with Ellen, in allusion to her name, two of them at
least had not bargained for. "Ellen Adair." Neither had heard it since
that evening at Eastsea; so long past now, in the events that had
followed, that it seemed to be removed from them by ages.

They had to listen. They could not do otherwise. Ellen sat at the
corner of the sofa in her black net dress with its one white flower,
that Mr. North had given her, in the middle of the corsage, and
nothing, as usual, in her smooth brown hair; _he_ was leaning against
the wall, not far from her, his arms folded. And the verses went on to
the last one.


     "But now thou art cold to me,
                          Ellen Adair:
      But now thou art cold to me,
                          Ellen my dear.
          Yet her I loved so well,
          Still in my heart shall dwell,
          Oh! I shall ne'er forget
                          Ellen Adair."


She could not help it. Had it been to save her life, she could not
have helped lifting her face and glancing at him as the refrain died
away. His eyes were fixed on her, a wistful, yearning expression in
their depths; an expression so sad that in itself it was all that can
be conceived of pain. Ellen bent her face again; her agitation at that
moment seeming greater than she knew how to suppress. Lifting her hand
to shade her eyes, the plain gold ring, still worn on it, was
conspicuously visible.

"You look as though you had all the cares of the nation on your
shoulders, Arthur."

He started at the address, which came from Miss Dallory. She had gone
close up to him. Rallying his senses, he smiled and answered
carelessly. The next minute Ellen saw them walking across the room
together, her hand within his arm.

The next morning, Jelly made her appearance at the Hall, with two
letters. They were from Australia, and from Mr. Adair. One was
addressed to Mrs. Cumberland, the other to Ellen. Dr. Rane had desired
Jelly to take both of them to Miss Adair, whom he now considered the
most proper person to open Mrs. Cumberland's. Ellen carried it to Mr.
North, asking if she ought to open it. Certainly, Mr. North answered,
confirming Dr. Rane's view of the matter.

Ellen carried the letters to a remote and solitary spot in the garden,
one that she was fond of frequenting, and in which she had never yet
been intruded upon. She opened her own first: and there read what
astonished her.

It appeared that after despatching his last letter to Mrs. Cumberland:
the one already alluded to, that she had read with so much
satisfaction to Arthur Bohun at Eastsea: Mr. Adair had been called
from his station on business, and had remained absent some two or
three months. Upon his return he found other letters awaiting him from
Mrs. Cumberland, and learnt, to his astonishment, that the gentleman
proposing for Ellen was Arthur Bohun, son of the Major Bohun with whom
Mr. Adair had once been intimate. (The reader has not forgotten how
Mrs. Cumberland confused matters in her mind, or that in her first
letter she omitted to mention any name.) In a few peremptory lines
written to Ellen--these that she was now reading--Mr. Adair retracted
his former consent. He absolutely forbade her to marry, or ever think
of marrying, Arthur Bohun: a union between them would be nothing less
than a calamity for both, he wrote, and also for himself. He added
that in consequence of an unexpected death he had become the head of
his family, and was making preparations to return to Europe.

Wondering, agitated, Ellen dropped the letter, and opened Mrs.
Cumberland's. An enclosure fell from it: a draft for a sum of money,
which, as it appeared, Mrs. Cumberland was in the habit of receiving
every half-year for her charge of Ellen. Mr. Adair wrote in still more
explicit terms on the subject of the proposed marriage to Mrs.
Cumberland--almost in angry terms. _She_, of all people, he said, ought
to know that a marriage between his daughter and the late Major
Bohun's son would be unsuitable, improper, and most distasteful to
himself. He did not understand how Mrs. Cumberland could have laid
such a proposal before him, or have permitted herself to entertain it
for a moment: unless indeed she had never been made acquainted with
certain facts of the past, connected with himself and Major Bohun and
Major Bohun's wife, which Cumberland had known well. He concluded by
saying, as he had said to Ellen, that he hoped shortly to be in
England. Both letters had evidently been written in haste and in
agitation: all minor matters being accounted as nothing, compared with
the distinct and stern embargo laid upon the marriage.

"So it has happened for the best," murmured Ellen to her breaking
heart, as she folded the letters and put them away.

She took the draft to Mr. North's parlour. He put on his spectacles,
and mastered its meaning by the help of some questions to Ellen.

"A hundred and fifty pounds!" exclaimed he. "But surely, my dear, Mrs.
Cumberland did not receive three hundred a-year with you! It's a large
sum--for so small a service.

"She had two hundred, I think," said Ellen. "I did not know the exact
sum until to-day: Mrs. Cumberland never talked to me about these
matters. Papa allows me for my own purse fifty pounds every half-year.
Mrs. Cumberland always gave me that."

"Ah," said Mr. North. "That's a good deal, too."

"Will you take the draft, sir; and let me have the fifty pounds at
your convenience?"

Mr. North looked up as one who does not understand.

"The money is not for me, child."

"But I am staying here," she said, deprecatingly.

He shook his head as he put back the paper.

"Give it to Richard, my dear. He will know what to do about it, and
what's right to be done. And so your father is coming home! We shall
be sorry to lose you, Ellen. I am getting to love you, child. It seems
as if you had come in the place of my poor lost Bessy."

But Ellen was not sorry. The arrival of Mr. Adair would at least
remove her from her present position, where every hour, as it passed,
could only bring fresh pain to her.



CHAPTER XXVI.
MRS. GASS AT HOME.

It was a warm and sunny day in Dallory. Mrs. Gass threw open her
window and sat behind the geraniums enjoying the sunshine, exchanging
salutations and gossip with as many of her acquaintances as happened
to pass her windows.

"How d'ye do, doctor? Isn't this a lovely day?"

It was Dr. Rane who was hurrying past now. He turned for an instant to
the window, his brow clearing. For some time now a curious look of
care and perplexity had sat upon it.

"Indeed it is," he answered. "I hope it will last. Are you pretty
well, Mrs. Gass?"

"I'm first-rate," said that lady. "A fine day, with the wind in the
north, always sets me up. Doctor, have they paid you the tontine money
yet?"

"No," said Dr. Rane, somewhat angrily. "There are all sorts of forms
to be gone through, apparently; and the Brothers Ticknell do not hurry
for any one. The two old men are past business, in my opinion. They
were always slow and tiresome; it is something more than that now."

"Do you stir 'em well up?" questioned Mrs. Gass.

"When I have the chance of doing it; but that's very rarely. Go when I
will, I can scarcely ever see any one except the confidential clerk,
old Latham; and he is as slow and methodical as his master. I suppose
the money will come sometime, but I am tired of waiting for it."

"And what about your plans when you get it, doctor? Are they all cut
and dried?"

"Time enough to decide on them when I do get the money," replied the
doctor, shortly.

"But you still intend to leave Dallory Ham?"

"Oh yes, I shall do that."

"You won't be going to America?"

"I think I shall. It is more than likely."

"Well, I wouldn't banish myself from my native country for the best
practice that ever shoes dropped into. You might be getting nothing
but Red Indians for patients."

Dr. Rane laughed a little; and there was an eager sort of light in his
eyes that seemed to speak of anticipation and hope. Only he knew how
thankful he would be to get to another country and find himself clear
of this.

"I wonder," soliloquized Mrs. Gass, as he walked on his way, "whether
it is all straight-for'ard about that tontine money? Have the
Ticknells heard any of these ugly rumours that's flying about; and are
they keeping it back in consequence? If not, why it ought to have been
paid over to him before this. The delay is odd--say the least of it.
How d'ye do, sir? A nice day."

A gentleman, passing, had raised his hat to Mrs. Gass. She resumed her
reflections.

"The rumours be spreading wider and getting uglier. They'll go up
presently, like a bomb-shell. I'm heartily sorry for him; for I don't
believe--no, I _don't_--that he'd do such a frightful thing. If it
should turn out that he did--why, then I shall blame myself ever after
for having procrastinated my intentions."

Mrs. Gass paused, and began to go over those intentions, with a view,
possibly, to seeing whether she was very much to blame.

"Finding Oliver and his wife couldn't get the tontine money paid to
them--and a hard case it was!--I had it in my mind to say, 'I'll
advance it to you. You'll both be the better for something in my will
when I'm gone--the doctor being my late husband's own nephew, and the
nearest relation left of him--and if two thousand pounds of it will be
of real good to you now, you shall have it. But I didn't say it at
once--who was to suppose there was such need for hurry--and then she
died. If the man's innocent--and I believe he is--that Jelly ought to
have her mouth sewn up for good. She---- Why, there you are! Talk of
the dickens and he's sure to appear."

"Were you talking of me?" asked Jelly: for Mrs. Gass had raised her
voice with surprise and brought it within Jelly's hearing. She carried
a small basket on her arm, under her black shawl, and turned to the
window.

"I was thinking of you," responded Mrs. Gass. "Be you come out
marketing?"

"I'm taking a few scraps to Ketler's," replied Jelly, just showing the
basket. "My mistress has given me general leave to give them any
trifles not likely to be wanted at home. The cook's good-natured too.
_This_ is a jar of dripping, and some bones and bread."

"And how do you like the Beverages, Jelly?"

"Oh, very well. They are good ladies; but so serious and particular."

Mrs. Gass rose from her seat, pushed the geraniums aside, and leaning
her arms upon the window-sill, brought her good-natured red face very
near to Jelly's bonnet.

"I'll tell you what I was thinking of, girl: it was about these awful
whispers that's flying round. Go where you will, you may hear 'em.
Within dwelling-houses or at street corners, people's tongues are
cackling secretly about Dr. Rane's wife, and asking what she died of.
I knew it would be so, Jelly."

Jelly turned a little paler. "They'll die away again, perhaps," she
said.

"Perhaps," repeated Mrs. Gass, sarcastically. "It's to be hoped they
will, for your sake. Jelly, I wouldn't stand in your shoes to be made
a queen tomorrow."

"I wouldn't stand in somebody else's," returned Jelly, irritated into
the avowal. "I shall have pretty good proof at hand, if I'm forced to
bring it out."

"What proof?"

"Well, I'd rather not say. You'd only ridicule it, Mrs. Gass, and
blow me up into the bargain. I must be going."

"I guess it's moonshine, Jelly--like the ghost you saw. Good-morning."

Jelly went away with a hard and anything but a happy look, and Mrs.
Gass resumed her seat again. Very shortly there came creeping by,
following the same direction as Jelly, a poor shivering woman, with a
ragged shawl on her thin shoulders, and a white, pinched, hopeless
face.

"Is that you, Susan Ketler?"

Susan Ketler turned and dropped a curtsy. Some of the women of North
Inlet were even worse off than she was. She did have help now and then
from Jelly.

"Yes, ma'am, it's me."

"How long do you think you North Inlet people will be able to keep
going--as things be at present?" demanded Mrs. Gass.

"The Lord above only knows," said the woman, looking upwards with a
pitiful shiver. "Here's the winter a-coming on."

"What does Ketler think of affairs now?"

Ketler's wife shook her head. The men were not fond of disclosing what
they might think, unless it was to one another. Ketler had never told
her what _he_ thought.

"Is he still in love with the Trades' Unions, and what they've done
for him? My opinion is this, Susan Ketler," continued Mrs. Gass, after
a pause: "that in every place where distress reigns, as it does here,
and where it can be proved that the men have lost their work through
the dictates of the society, the parish ought to go upon the society
and make it keep the men and the families. If a law was passed to that
effect, we should hear less of the doings of the Trades' Union people
than we do now. They'd draw in a bit, Susan; they'd not give the
gaping public quite so many of their procession-shows, and their
flags, and their speeches. It would be a downright good law to make,
mind you. A just one, too. If the society forbids men to work, and so
takes the bread necessary for life out of their mouths, it is only
fair they should find them bread to replace it."

An almost hopeful look came into the woman's eyes. "Ma'am, I said as
good as this to Ketler only yesterday. Seeing that it was the society
that had took the bread from us, and that the consequences had been
bad instead of good, for we were starving, the society ought to put us
into work again. It might bestir itself to do that: or else support us
while we got into something."

Mrs. Gass smiled pityingly. "You must be credulous, Susan Ketler, to
fancy the society can put 'em into work again. Where's the work to
come from? Well, it's not your fault, my poor woman, and there's more
people than me sorry for you all. And now, tell me," Mrs. Gass lowered
her voice, "be any of the men talking treason still? You know what I
mean."

Mrs. Ketler glanced over both her shoulders to see that no one was
within hearing, before she whispered in answer.

"They be always a-talking it. I can see it in their faces as they
stand together. Not Ketler, ma'am; he'd stop it if he could: he don't
wish harm to none."

"Ah. I wish to goodness they'd all betake themselves off from the
place. Though it's hard to say so, for there's no other open to them
that I see. Well, you go on home, Susan. Jelly has just gone there
with a basket of scraps for you. Stay a minute, though."

Mrs. Gass quitted the room, calling to one of her servants. When she
returned she produced a half-pint physic bottle corked up.

"It's a drop of beer," she said. "For yourself, mind, not for Ketler.
You want it, I know. Put it under your shawl. It will help down
Jelly's scraps."

The woman went away with grateful tears in her eyes. And Mrs. Gass sat
on and enjoyed the sunshine. Just then Mary Dallory came by in her
little low pony-carriage. She often drove about in it alone. Seeing
Mrs. Gass, she drew up. That lady, without any ceremony, went out in
her cap and stood talking.

"I hear you have left the Hall, my dear," she said, when the gossip
was coming to an end.

"Ages ago," replied Miss Dallory. "Frank is at home again, and wanted
me."

"How did you enjoy your visit on the whole?"

"Pretty well. It was not very lively, especially after Sir Nash was
taken ill."

"He is better, Mr. Richard tells me," said the elder lady.

"Yes; he sits up now. I went to see him yesterday."

"Captain Bohun looks but poorly still."

"His illness was a bad one. Fancy his having jaundice. I thought it
was only old people who had that."

"My dear, it attacks young and old. Once the liver gets out of order,
there's no telling. Captain Bohun was born in India; and they are more
liable to liver complaint, it's said, than others. You are driving
alone to-day, as usual," continued Mrs. Gass.

"I like to be independent. Frank won't show himself in this little
chaise; he says it is no better than a respectable wheelbarrow; and
I'm sure I am not going to be troubled with a groom at my side."

"If all tales told are true, you'll soon run a chance of losing your
independence," rejoined Mrs. Gass. "People say a certain young lady,
not a hundred miles at this moment from, my elbow, is likely to give
her heart away."

Instead of replying, Mary Dallory blushed violently. Observant Mrs.
Gass saw and noticed it.

"Then it is true!" she exclaimed.

"What's true?" asked Mary.

"That you are likely to be married."

"No, it is not."

"My dear, you may as well tell me. You know me well; I'll keep good
counsel."

"But I have nothing to tell you. How can I imagine what you mean?"

"'Twasn't more than a hint I had: that Captain Bohun--Sir Arthur as he
will be--was making up his mind to have Miss Dallory, and she to have
him. Miss Mary, is it so?"

"Did madam tell you that?"

"Madam wouldn't be likely to tell me--all of us in Dallory are so much
dust under her feet; quite beneath being spoken to. No: 'twas her
maid, Parrit, dropped it to me. She had heard it through madam,
though."

Mary Dallory laughed a little and flicked the ear of the rough Welsh
pony. "I fancy madam would like it," she said.

"Who wouldn't?" rejoined Mrs. Gass. "I put the question to Richard
North--Whether there was anything in it? He answered there might be;
he knew it was wished for."

"Richard North said that, did he? Of course, so it might be--and may
be--for anything he can tell."

"But, my dear Miss Mary, is it so?"

"Well--to tell you the truth, the offer has not yet been made. When it
comes, why then--I dare say it will be all right."

"Meaning that you'll accept him."

"Meaning that--oh, but it is not right to tell tales beforehand, even
to you, Mrs. Gass," she broke off, with a laugh. "Let the offer come.
I wish it would."

"You would like it to come, child?"

"Yes, I think I should."

"Then be sure it will come. And God bless you, my dear, and bring you
happiness whatever turns out. Though it is not just the marriage I had
carved out in my own mind for one of the two of you."

She meant Arthur Bohun. Mary Dallory thought she meant herself; and
laughed again as the pony trotted away.

The next friend to pass the window after Mrs. Gass had again resumed
her seat, was Richard North. He did not stop at the window, but went
in. Certain matters connected with the winding-up of the old firm of
North and Gass, had arisen, rendering it necessary that he should see
Mrs. Gass.

"Do as you think best, Mr. Richard," she said, after they had talked
together for a few minutes. "Please yourself, sir, and you'll please
me. We'll leave it at that: I know it's all safe in your hands."

"Then I will do as I propose," said Richard.

"I've had Miss Dallory here--that is, in her pony-chay before the
door," observed Mrs. Gass. "I taxed her with what I'd heard about her
and Captain Bohun; She didn't say it was, and she didn't say it
wasn't: but Mr. Richard, I think there's truth in it. She as good as
said she'd like him to make her an offer: and she did say madam wished
it. So I suppose we shall have wedding cards before a year's gone over
our heads. In their case--he next step to a baronet, and she rolling
in money--there's nothing, to wait for."

"Nothing," mechanically-answered Richard North.

"But I did think, as to him, that it would have been Ellen Adair.
Talking of that, Mr. Richard, what is it that's amiss with her?"

"With her?--with whom?" cried Richard, starting out of a reverie.

"With that sweet young lady, Ellen Adair?"

"There's nothing amiss with her that I know of."

"Isn't there! There _is_, Mr. Richard, if my judgment and eyes are to
be trusted. Each time I see her, she strikes me as looking worse and
worse. You notice her, sir. Perhaps now the clue has been given you'll
see it too. I once knew a young girl, Mr. Richard, that was dying
quietly under her friends' very eyes, and they never saw it. Never saw
it at all, till an aunt came over from another country. She started
back when she saw the child, and says: 'Why, what have yon been doing
with her? She's dying.' They were took aback at that, and called in
the first doctor: but it was too late. I don't say Ellen Adair is
dying, Mr. Richard; 'tisn't likely; but I'm sure she is not all right.
Whether it's the mind, or whether it's the body, or whether it's the
nerves, I'm not prepared to say; but it's something."

"I will find out," said Richard.

"Anything fresh about the men, Mr. Richard?"

"Nothing. Except that my workmen are getting afraid to stir out at
night, and the disaffection increases amongst the others. I cannot see
what is to be the end of it," he continued. "I do not mean of this
rivalry, but of the sad state to which the men and their families are
reduced. I often wish I did not think of it so much: it is like a
chain about me from which I cannot escape. I wish I could help them to
find work elsewhere."

"Ah!" said Mrs. Gass, "work elsewhere is very nice to think about in
dreamland; but I'm afraid it'll never be seen for them in reality.
It's not as if work was going a-begging: it has broken up everywhere,
Mr. Richard; and shoals and shoals of men, destitute as our own, are
tramping about at this minute, like so many old ravens with their
mouths open, ready to pick up anything that may fall."

Richard North went home, his mind full of what Mrs. Gass had said
about Ellen Adair. Was she indeed looking so ill? He found her sitting
in the open seat near what would be in spring the tulip bed. Mr. North
had just left her and gone in. Yes: Richard saw that she looked very
ill; the face was wan, the eyes were sad and weary. She was coughing
as he went up to her: a short, hacking cough. Some time ago she had
caught cold, and it seemed to hang about her still.

"Are you well, Ellen?" he asked, as he sat down beside her.

"Yes, I believe so," was her reply. "Why?"

"Because I don't think you look well."

A soft colour, like the pink on a sea-shell, stole over her face as
Richard said this. But she kept silence.

"You know, Ellen, we agreed to be as brother and sister. I wish to
take care of you as such: to shield you from all ill as far as I
possibly can. Are you happy here?"

A moment's pause, and then Ellen took courage to say that she was not
happy.

"I should like to go elsewhere," she said. "Oh, Richard, if it could
only be managed!"

"But it cannot," he answered.

"I have sufficient money, Richard."

"My dear, it is not that. Of course you have sufficient. I fancy, by
sundry signs, that you will be a very rich young lady," he added,
slightly laughing. "But you have no near friends in England, and we
could not entrust you to strangers."

"If I could go for a time into some clergyman's family, or something
of that sort."

"Ellen!"

She raised her hand from beneath the grey shawl--her favourite
outdoor covering, for the shawl was warm--and passed it across her
brow. In every movement there was a languor that spoke weariness of
body or of spirit.

"When Mr. Adair comes home, if he found you had gone into 'some
clergyman's family,' what would he think and say of us, Ellen?"

"I would tell him I went of my own accord."

"But, my dear, you cannot be allowed to do things of your own accord,
if they are not wise. I and my father are appointed to take charge of
you, and you must remain with us, Ellen, until Mr. Adair returns to
England."

It was even so. Ellen's better judgment acknowledged it, in the midst
of her great wish to be away. A wish: and not a wish. To be where
Arthur Bohun was, still brought her the most intense happiness; and
this, in spite of the pain surrounding it, she would not willingly
have relinquished: but the cruelty of his conduct--of their
estrangement--was more than she knew how to bear. It was making her
ill, and she felt that it was. There was, however, no help for it. As
Richard said, she had no friends to whom they could entrust her. The
lady in whose house she was educated had recently died, and the
establishment was being broken up.

Ten times a-day she longed to say to Arthur Bohun, "You are ungenerous
to remain here. I cannot help myself, but you might." But pride
withheld her.

"It may be months before papa arrives, Richard."

"And if it should be! We must try to make you happier with us."

"I think I must go in," she said, after a pause. "The day has been
very fine, but it is growing cold now."

Folding the shawl closer to her throat, as if she felt chilly, and
coughing a little as she walked, Ellen went round to the hall-door and
entered. Richard, occupied in watching her and busy with his own
thoughts, did not perceive the almost silent approach of Arthur Bohun,
who came slowly up from behind.

"Well, Dick, old fellow!"

"Why, where did you spring from?" asked Richard, as Arthur flung
himself down in the place vacated by Ellen.

"I have been under yonder tree, smoking a cigar. It has a good broad
trunk to lean against."

"I thought the doctors had forbidden you to smoke."

"So they have. Until I grew stronger. One can't strictly obey orders.
I don't suppose it matters much one way or the other. You have been
enjoying a confidential chat, Dick."

"Yes," replied Richard. He had not felt very friendly in his heart
towards Arthur for some time past. What was the meaning of his changed
behaviour to Ellen Adair?--what of the new friendship with Mary
Dallory? Richard North could not forgive dishonour; and he believed
Arthur Bohun was steeping himself in it to the backbone.

"Were you making love, Dick?"

Richard turned his eyes in silence on the questioner.

"She and I have had to part, Dick. I always thought you admired and
esteemed her almost more, perhaps quite more, than you do any other
woman. So if you are thinking of her----"

"Be silent," sternly interrupted Richard, rising in anger. "Are you a
man?--are you a gentleman? Or are you what I have been thinking you
lately--a false-hearted, despicable knave?"

Whatever Arthur Bohun might be, he was just then in desperate
agitation. Rising too, he seized Richard's hands.

"Don't you see that it was but sorry jesting, Richard? Pretending to a
bit of pleasantry, to wile away for a moment my weight of torment. I
am all that you say of me; and I cannot help myself."

"Not help yourself?"

"As Heaven is my witness, No! If I could take you into my
confidence--and perhaps I may do so one of these days, for I long to
do it--you would see that I tell you the truth."

"Why have you parted from Ellen Adair?--she and you _have_ parted? You
have just said so."

"We have parted for life. For ever."

"You were on the point of marriage with her only a short time ago?"

"No two people could have been nearer marriage than she and I were. We
were within half-an-hour of it, Dick; and yet we have parted."

"By your doing, or hers?"

"By mine."

"I thought so."

"Dick, I have been _compelled_ to do it. When you shall know all, you
will acknowledge that I could not do otherwise. And yet, in spite of
this, I feel that to her I have been but a false-hearted knave, as you
aptly style me: a despicable, dishonourable man. My father fell into
dishonour--or rather had it forced upon him by another--and he could
not survive it; he shot himself. Did you know it, Dick?"

"Shot himself!" repeated Richard, in his surprise. "No, I never knew
that. I thought he died of sunstroke."

"My father shot himself," cried Arthur. "He could not live
dishonoured. Dick, old fellow, there are moments when I feel tempted
to do as he did."

"What--because you have parted from Ellen?"

"No. That's bitter enough to bear; but I can battle with it. It is the
other thing, the dishonour. That is always present with me, always
haunting me night and day; I know not how to live under it."

"I do not understand at all," said Richard. "You are master of your
own actions."

"In this case I have not been: my line of conduct was forced upon me.
I cannot explain. Don't judge me too harshly, my friend. I am bad
enough, Heaven knows, but not quite as bad, perhaps, as you have been
thinking me."

And Arthur Bohun turned and went limping away, leaving Richard lost in
wonder.

He limped away to indulge his pain where no mortal eye could see him.
Parted from Ellen Adair, the whole world was to him as nothing. A
sense of dishonour lay ever upon him, the shame of his conduct towards
her was present to him night and day. With all his heart he wished
James Bohun had not died, that there might have been no question of
his succession. He would then have gone somewhere away with her, have
changed his name, and been happy in obscurity. But there was no place
unfrequented by man; he could not change his wife's face; and she
might be recognized as the daughter of Adair the convict. Besides,
would it not be an offence against Heaven if he wedded the daughter of
the man who had caused the death of his father? No; happiness could
never be his. Look where he would, there was nothing around him but
pain and misery.



CHAPTER XXVII.
ONCE AGAIN.


Jelly lived, so to say, on a volcano. She felt that, figuratively
speaking, there was not an hour of the day or night but she might be
blown into fragments. The rumours as to the death of Mrs. Rane were
becoming more terrible. They stole up and down Dallory like a
scorching tongue of fire, and Jelly had the satisfaction of knowing
that it was she who had first set light to the flame. It was all very
well to say that she had made herself safe by securing the evidence of
Thomas Hepburn: in her secret conscience she knew that she was not
safe; and that, even in spite of that evidence, Dr. Rane might chance
to be innocent. If so, why, a pretty dilemma she would find herself
in. There was no help for it; she could do nothing. The creeping,
scorching tongue went twisting itself in and out, and she could not
quench it.

One night Jelly was lying awake, according to custom now, buried deep
in some horrible visions that had lately begun to haunt her: now of
working in chains; now of stepping incessantly up a treadmill; now of
picking oakum and living upon gruel. Turning in the bed, to escape, if
possible, these imaginary pictures, she suddenly heard a knock at her
door. A loud hasty knock; and now a louder. Jelly turned hot then cold
as ice. Had the officers of the law come to arrest her?

"Who's there?--what is it?" she asked faintly, not daring to sit up in
bed.

"Art thee awake, Jelly?" came the gentle response, as her door was
opened a few inches. "I am very sorry to have to ask thee to get up,
but my mother is worse. Make haste, please."

Had Miss Beverage's voice been that of an angel, it could not have
sounded sweeter to Jelly just then. The relief was great.

"I'll get up instantly, ma'am," was the ready answer--and Miss
Beverage wondered it should have in it a tone as of gratitude. "I'll
be with you at once."

Mrs. Beverage was subject to violent but rare attacks of spasms. She
had felt ill before going to bed, but hoped it would pass off. Jelly
and her own two servants were soon at her bedside. She was very ill
indeed. Some of them ran to get hot water ready; Jelly thought it
would be well to call in Dr. Rane.

"I should like the doctor to see her; at the same time, I grieve to
arouse him from sleep," said Miss Beverage.

"Law, ma'am, that's nothing to doctors; they are used to it," cried
Jelly.

"Mother, would thee like Oliver Rane sent for?" asked Miss Beverage,
bending over the suffering lady. "Yes--yes," was the feeble answer. "I
am very ill, Sarah."

"Thee go, then, Jelly."

Away went Jelly. Unbarring their own front-door, she passed out of it,
and approached Dr. Rane's. The doctor's professional lamp burnt
clearly, and, to her great surprise, Jelly saw that the door was not
closed.

"He cannot have gone to bed to-night," she thought, as she walked in
without ringing. It was past three o'clock.

But the house seemed to be still and dark. Jelly left the front-door
open, and the light shone a little way into the passage. She tried the
surgery-door; it was locked; she tried the dining-room; the key of
that was also turned; the kitchen-door stood open, but it was all in
darkness.

"He has gone to bed and forgotten to shut up," was the conclusion
Jelly now arrived at. "I'll go up and call him."

Groping her way upstairs, she had almost reached the top, when a pale
white light suddenly illumined the landing--just the same faint sort
of light that Jelly had seen once before, and remembered all too well.
Raising her head hastily, there stood--what?

Not quite at the moment did Jelly know what. Not in the first access
of terror did she clearly recognize the features of Bessy Rane. It was
she, all too surely; that is, the image of what she had been. She
seemed to stand almost face to face with Jelly: Jelly nearly at the
top of the staircase, she facing it before her. The light was even
more faint before the figure than behind: but there was no mistaking
it. What it was dressed in or whence it came, Jelly never knew: there
it was--the form and face of Bessy Rane. With a cry of agony, that
echoed to the ends of the empty house in the night's silence, Jelly
turned and flew down again.

She never looked behind. Out at the front-door went she, slamming it,
in her terror, to keep in what might be following her; and she almost
gave forth another scream when she found herself touched by some one
coming in at the gate, and saw that it was Dr. Rane.

"I am called out to a country patient," he quietly said. "Whilst I was
putting the horse to the gig, an impression came over me that I had
left my house-door open, so I thought I had better come back and see.
What are you doing here at this hour, Jelly? Any one ill?"

Jelly was in terrible distress and confusion of mind. Clutching his
arm as if for protection, she sobbed for an instant or two
hysterically. Dr. Rane stared at her, not knowing what to make of it.
He began to think she must require his services herself.

"Sir--do you know--do you know who is in the house?"

"Nobody's there: unless they've come in these last few minutes--for I
suppose I did leave the door open," was Dr. Rane's rejoinder, and his
composure contrasted strongly with Jelly's emotion. "When I leave my
house at night, I carry my household with me, Jelly."

"Your wife's there," she whispered, with a burst of agony. "Sir, it's
as true as that I am living to tell it."

"What do you say?"

 Jelly's answer was to relate what she had seen. When Dr. Rane had
gathered in her full meaning, he grew very angry.

 "Why, you must be mad, woman," he cried in a low concentrated voice.
"This is the second time. How dare you invent such folly?"

"I swear that her ghost walks, and that it is in there now," exclaimed
Jelly, almost beside herself. "It is on the landing, exactly where I
saw it before. Why should she come again?--why should she haunt that
one particular spot? Sir, don't look at me like that. You know I would
not invent such a thing."

"Your fancy invents it, and then you speak of it as if were fact. How
dare you do so?"

"But he could not appease Jelly: he could not persuade her out of her
belief. And the doctor saw that it was useless to attempt it.

"Why, why should her poor ghost walk?" wailed Jelly, wringing her
hands in distress.

"I'm sure I don't know why it should walk," returned the doctor, as if
he would humour Jelly and at the same time ridicule her words. "It
never walks when I am in the house." But the ridicule was lost on
Jelly.

"She can't lie quiet in her grave. What reason is there for it?--oh,
what dreadful mystery is in it?"

Dr. Rane looked as though he would have liked to annihilate Jelly. "I
begin to think that you are either a fool or a knave," he cried. "What
brought you in my house at three o'clock in the morning?"

The question, together with his unconcealed anger, recalled Jelly's
scattered senses. She told him about the illness of Mrs. Beverage, and
asked if he would come in.

"No, I cannot come," said Dr. Rane quite savagely, for it seemed that
he could not get the better of his anger. "I am called out to a case
of emergency, and have no time to waste over Mrs. Beverage. If she
wants a doctor, send for Seeley."

He opened his door with his latch-key, and shut it loudly after him.
However, it seemed that he reconsidered the matter, for when Jelly was
slowly walking across the road towards Mr. Seeley's, Dr. Rane came out
again, called her back, and said he would spare a minute or two.

With a stern caution to Jelly not to make the same foolish exhibition
of herself to others that she had to him, he went up to Mrs.
Beverage--who was then easier, and had dozed off to sleep. Giving a
few general directions in case the paroxysm should return, Dr. Rane
departed. About ten minutes afterwards, Jelly was in her room, which
looked towards the lane, when she heard his gig come driving down and
stop at his garden-door. After waiting there a short time--he had
probably come in for some case of instruments--it went away quickly
across country.

The horse and gig used by the doctor belonged to the neighbouring
public-house. Dr. Rane had a key to the stables, so that if he wanted
to go out during the night, he could harness the horse to the gig
without disturbing any one.

"If he had not said beforehand that he was putting the horse to, I
should have thought he'd gone out because he daredn't stay in the
house," muttered Jelly, as she glued her face to the window pane, to
look after the doctor and the gig. She could see neither; the night
was very dark.

Jelly's mind was in a chaos. What she had witnessed caused her still
to shiver and tremble as though she had an ague; and she fully
believed that she was really in danger of becoming what the doctor had
told her she was already--mad.

Suddenly, a cry arose in the house. Mrs. Beverage was worse again. The
paroxysm had returned so violently that it seemed to the frightened
beholders as though she would die. Dr. Rane was not attainable, and
Miss Beverage sent one of the under-servants for Mr. Seeley. He came
promptly.

In about an hour the danger had passed; the house was quiet again, and
Mr. Seeley was at liberty to return to his rest. He had crossed the
road to his own door when he heard a step following him. Turning he
saw Jelly.

"Surely she is not ill again!" he hastily exclaimed.

"No, sir, she is all right I think now. Mr. Seeley," added Jelly in
agitation so marked that he could not help noticing it, "I want to
speak to you: I want to tell you something. I must tell somebody, or I
shall never live till morning."

"Are _you_ ill?" questioned Mr. Seeley.

"When I was holding the flannels just now, and otherwise helping you,
sir, you might have seen that I hadn't all my wits about me. Miss
Beverage looked at me once or twice, as much as to ask what had become
of them. Mr. Seeley, I have the weight of a most awful secret upon me,
and I can't any longer bear with it."

"A secret!" repeated Mr. Seeley.

Jelly drew near to him. She pointed to the house of Dr. Rane, and
lowered her voice to a whisper.

"Mrs. Rane's there."

He looked across at the house--so apparently still and peaceful behind
its white blinds; he turned and looked at Jelly. Not a syllable did he
understand of her assertion.

"Mrs. Rane comes again, sir. She haunts the house. I have seen her
twice with my own eyes. Once, the night of her death, just after she
had been put into her coffin; and again this very night."

"Why, what on earth do you mean?" questioned Mr. Seeley in amazement.
"Mrs. Rane haunts the house?--I don't understand you."

"Her ghost does, sir. It is there now."

The surgeon leaned against his door-post, and stared at Jelly as if he
thought her mind was wandering. A minute or two passed in utter
silence.

"My good woman, you need a composing draught as badly as Friend
Beverage did just now. What is the matter with you, Jelly?"

In reply, Jelly told her story--as to the appearance of Mrs.
Rane--from the beginning. But she cautiously avoided all mention of
suspicion as to unfair play: in fact she did not mention Dr. Rane's
name at all. Mr. Seeley listened quietly, as though he were hearing a
fairy tale.

"Have you spoken of this to Dr. Rane?" was his first question.

"Yes, sir: both times. To-night I met him as I was rushing out of the
house in my terror."

"What does he say to it?"

"He ridicules it. He says it's my fancy, and is in a towering rage
with me. Mrs. Gass asked whether I had been taking too much beer.
People are hard of belief as to such things."

"You told Mrs. Gass, then?"

"I told her the first time. I was in great distress and perplexity,
and I mentioned it to her as we sat together in the churchyard looking
at Mrs. Rane's funeral."

"What did Mrs. Gass say?"

"She cautioned me never to speak of it again to living soul. Neither
of that, nor of--of anything. But this very night, sir, I have seen it
again: and if it is to go on like this, I shall soon be in a lunatic
asylum."

Mr. Seeley had no faith in ghosts. At the same time he saw how
implicit was Jelly's belief in what she fancied she had seen, and the
distressed state of mind it had induced. What to answer for the best,
he did not know. If he threw ridicule on the story, it would make no
impression upon her: if he pretended to receive it as truth, it could
bring her no relief.

"Jelly," said he, "I should not believe in a ghost if I saw one."

"I didn't believe in them once," answered Jelly. "But seeing brings
belief."

"I'm sure I don't know what to say to you," was his candid avowal.
"You are evidently so imbued with your own view of the matter, that
any argument to the contrary would be useless."

"What troubles me is this," resumed Jelly, as if she had not heard
him. "_Why_ is she unable to rest, poor thing? What's the reason for
it?"

"I should say there was no reason," observed Mr. Seeley.

"Should you, sir?"

Jelly spoke significantly, and he looked at her keenly. There was a
professional lamp over the door, as there was over Dr. Rane's; and
their faces were visible to each other. The significant tone had
slipped out in the heat of argument, and Jelly grew cautious again.

"What am I to do, sir?"

"Indeed I cannot tell you, Jelly. There is only one thing to be done,
I should say--get rid of the fancy again as quickly as you can."

"You think I did not see it!"

"I think all ghost-stories proceed purely from an excited
imagination," said the surgeon.

"You have not lived here very long, sir, but you have been here quite
long enough to know that I've not much imagination. I don't remember
that, before this happened, I ever felt excited in my whole life. My
nature's not that way. The first time I saw her, I had come in, as I
say, from Ketler's; and all I was thinking of was Dinah's negligence
in not putting out the matches for me. I declare that when I saw her,
poor thing, that night, I was as cool as a cucumber. She stood there
some time, looking at me with a fixed stare, as it seemed, and I stood
in the dark, looking at her. I thought it was herself, Mr. Seeley, and
felt glad that she was able to be out of bed. In the morning, when I
heard she was dead and shut up in her coffin, I thought she must have
been shut in alive. You were the first I asked whether it was true
that she was dead," added Jelly, warming with the sudden recollection,
"I saw you standing here at the door after Dinah had told me, and I
stepped over to you."

The surgeon nodded. He remembered it

"To-night when I went for Dr. Rane, there was not a thought or
particle of superstition in my mind. I was troubled about Mrs.
Beverage, and wondering what carelessness brought the doctor's
front-door open. And there she stood!--facing me as I went up the
stairs--just in the same identical spot that she had stood in the time
before. Ugh!" broke off Jelly, with a shudder. "But don't say again,
sir, please, that it was my excited imagination."

"I could tell you stories of the imagination that would surprise you,
Jelly."

"If it was not Mrs. Rane--that is, her apparition--that appeared to
me to-night, sir, and that appeared to me the other night, I wish
these eyes may never behold anything again," spoke Jelly solemnly. And
Mr. Seeley saw how worse than useless would be any further contention.

"Jelly, why have you told me this? I do not see how I can help you."

"I've told you because the weight of keeping it to myself was greater
than I could bear," she replied. "It's an awful thing, and a cruel
thing, that it should be just _me_ that's singled out for it. I think
I know why: and I am nearly torn to pieces with the responsibility. As
to helping me, sir, I don't think that you or anybody else can do
that. Did you see Mrs. Rane after she died?"

The question was put abruptly, but in a tone that Jelly meant to be
indifferent. Mr. Seeley replied in a very matter-of-fact manner.

"No."

"Well, I'll wish you goodnight, sir. Keeping you talking here will do
no good."

"Good-morning, I should say," returned the surgeon.

Jelly had reached her own gate, when she paused for a moment and then
turned back across the road. The surgeon had not moved. He was still
leaning against his door-post, apparently gazing at Dr. Rane's house.
Jelly said what she had returned to say.

"You will please not speak of this again to any one, Mr. Seeley. There
are reasons why."

"Not I, Jelly," was the hearty rejoinder. "I don't want to be laughed
at in Dallory as a retailer of a ghost-story."

"Thank you, sir."

With that, the surgeon passed into his dwelling, and Jelly went over
to hers. And the winter's night wore on to its close.

In the favourable reaction that had fallen on Mrs. Beverage, Jelly
might have gone to rest again had she so chosen. But she did not do
so. There could be neither rest nor sleep for her. She sat by the
kitchen-fire, and drank sundry cups of tea: and rather thought, what
with one perplexity and another, that it was not sinful to wish
herself dead.

In the morning about seven o'clock, when she was upstairs in her
chamber, she heard the sound of a gig in the lane, and looked out. It
was Dr. Rane, returning from his visit to his patient. His face was
white and troubled. An ordinary passer-by would have said the doctor
was cold: Jelly drew a different conclusion.

"It's his conscience," she mentally whispered. "It's the thought of
having to live in his house now that he knows what's in it. He might
have set it down to my fancy the first time: he can't this. Who knows,
either, but what she appears to _him?_--who knows? but it strikes me
his nerves are made of iron. He must have been driving like mad, too,
by the way the gig's splashed!" added Jelly, catching a glimpse of the
state of the vehicle as it whirled round the corner towards the
stables. "Good Heavens! what is to be done?--what is to be done about
this dreadful secret? Why should it have fallen on ME of all people in
the world?"



CHAPTER XXVIII.
COMING VERY NEAR.


When rumours of this grave character arise, they do not come suddenly
to a climax. Time must be given them to grow and settle down. It came
at length, however, here. Doubts ripened into convictions: suppressed
breathings widened into broad assertions: Oliver Rane had certainly
murdered his wife for the sake of the tontine money. People affirmed
it one to another as they met in the street--or rather, to avoid
compromising themselves, said that others affirmed it. Old Phillis
heard it one day, and almost fell down in a fit. She did not
altogether believe it: nevertheless from that time she could not speak
to her master without visibly trembling. The doctor thought she must
be suffering from nervous derangement. At length it penetrated to
Dallory Hall and the ears of madam; and upon madam it produced an
extraordinary effect.

It has been stated throughout that Mrs. North had conceived a violent
dislike to Dr. Rane; or at least, that she persistently acted in a
manner that produced the impression that she had done so. As if she
had only waited for this rumour to accuse him of something tangible,
madam made the cause her own. She never appeared to doubt the truth of
the report, or to inquire as to its grounds; she drove about, here,
there, and everywhere, unequivocally asserting that Bessy Rane had
been poisoned, and that her husband, Oliver Rane, had done the deed.

In truth Mrs. North had been in a state of mental ferment ever since
she had become cognizant of the expected return of Mr. Adair to
England. Why she should dread this, and why it should excite her in no
measured degree she alone knew. No one around her had the least idea
that the home-coming of Mr. Adair would be more to her than the
arrival of any stranger might be. Restless, nervous, anxious, with an
evil and crafty look in her eyes, with ears that were ever open, with
hands that could never be still, waited madam. The household saw
nothing--only that her tyranny became more unbearable day by day.

It almost seemed as though she took up the whispered accusation
against Dr. Rane as a vent for some of her other and terrible
uneasiness. He must be brought to the bar of justice to answer for his
crime, avowed madam. She drove to the houses of the different county
magistrates, urging this view upon them; she besieged the county
coroner in his office, and bade him get the necessary authority and
issue his orders for the exhumation of the body.

The coroner was Mr. Dale. There had recently been a sharp contest for
the coronership, which had become vacant, between a doctor and a
lawyer: the latter was Dale, of Whitborough, and he had gained the
day. To say that madam, swooping down upon him with this command,
startled him, would be saying little, as describing his state of
astonishment. Occupied very much just now with the proceedings
attaching to his new honour, Lawyer Dale had found less time for
gossiping about his neighbours' affairs than usual; and not a syllable
of the flying rumour had reached him. So little did he at first
believe it, and so badly did he think of madam for the part she was
playing, that, had she been a man, he would have given her the lie
direct. But she was persistent, repeating the charge over and over to
him in the most obnoxious and least delicate manner possible: Oliver
Rane had poisoned his wife during her attack of fever, and he had done
it to get possession of the tontine money. She went over the grounds
of suspicion, dwelling on them one by one; and perhaps the lawyer's
belief in Dr. Rane's innocence was just a trifle shaken--which,
however, he did not acknowledge. After some sparring between them--Mr.
Dale holding back from interference, she pressing it on--the coroner
was obliged to admit that if a demand for an inquest were formally
made to him he should have no resource but to call one. Finally he
undertook to institute some private inquiries into the matter, and see
whether there were sufficient grounds to justify so extreme a course.
Madam sharply replied that if he showed the smallest disposition to
stifle the inquiry, she should at once cause the Home Secretary to be
communicated with. And with that she swept down to her carriage.

Perhaps, of all classes of men, lawyers are most brought into contact
with the crimes and follies committed by the human race. Mr. Dale had
not been at all scrupulous as to what he undertook; and many curious
matters had come under his experience. Leaning back in his chair after
madam's visit, revolving the various points of the story, his opinion
changed, and he came to the conclusion that, on the face of things, it
did look very much as though Dr. Rane had been guilty. Lawyer Dale had
no reason to wish the doctor harm; especially the fearful harm a
public investigation might entail upon him: had the choice lain with
him, he would have remained quiescent, and left the doctor to his
conscience. But he saw clearly that Mrs. North would not suffer this,
and that it was more than probable he would have to act.

The first move he made, in his undertaking to institute some private
inquiry, was to seek an interview with Mr. Seeley. He went himself;
the matter was of too delicate a nature to be confided to a clerk. In
his questions he was reticent, after the custom of a man of law,
giving no clue, and intending to give none, as to why he put them; but
Mr. Seeley had heard of the rumoured accusation, and spoke out freely.

"I confess that I could not quite understand the death," he avowed:
"but I do not suspect that Dr. Rane, or any one else had any hand in
it. She died naturally, as I believe. Mr. Dale, this is a horrible
thing for you to bring against him."

"_I_ bring it!" cried Mr. Dale. "I don't bring it; I'd rather let the
doubt die out. It is forced upon me."

"Who by? These confounded scandalmongers?"

"By Mrs. North."

"Mrs. North!" echoed the surgeon, in surprise. "You don't mean to say
the North family are taking it up."

"I don't know about the family. Madam is, with a vengeance. She won't
let it rest. There is an evident animus in her mind against Dr. Rane,
and she means to pursue the charge to its extremity."

Mr. Seeley felt vexed to hear it. When these rare and grave charges
are brought against one of the medical body, the rest, as a rule,
would rather resent than entertain it. And, besides, the surgeon liked
Dr. Rane.

"Come; you may as well tell me the truth," cried the lawyer, breaking
the silence. "You'll have to do it publicly, I fancy."

"Mr. Dale," was the answer, "I have told you the truth according to my
belief. Never a suspicion of foul play crossed my mind in regard to
Mrs. Rane's death. I saw nothing to give rise to it."

"You did not see her after she died: nor for some hours before it?"

"No."

"You think she went off naturally."

"Most certainly I think so."

"But, see here--we lawyers have to probe opinions, you know, so excuse
me. If it were to be proved that she went off in--in a different way,
you would not be surprised; eh, Seeley?"

"I should be very much surprised."

"From your recollection of the facts, you would not be able to bring
forth any proof to the contrary?"

"Well, no; I should not be able."

"There's the difficulty, you see," resumed the lawyer; "there's where
it will lie. You believe Rane was innocent, I may believe him
innocent; but no one can furnish sufficient proof to stop the inquiry.
It will have to go on as sure as fate."

"Cannot _you_ stop it, Mr. Dale?"

"I promise you this: that I will throw as many difficulties in the way
of it as I possibly can. But when once I am publicly called upon to
act, I shall have to obey."

That was the end of the interview. It had a little strengthened the
lawyer's doubts, if anything. Mr. Seeley had not seen her after death.
What he was going to do next Mr. Dale did not say.

By the day following this, perhaps the only two people accustomed to
walk up and down the streets of Dallory who still remained in blissful
ignorance of the trouble afloat, were Dr. Rane himself, and Richard
North. No one had dared to mention it to either of them. Richard,
however, was soon to be enlightened.

Business took him to his bankers' in Whitborough. It was of a private
nature, requiring to be transacted between himself and one of the old
brothers at the head of the firm. After it was over they began talking
about things in general, and Richard asked incidentally whether much
further delay would take place in paying the tontine money to Dr.
Rane.

"I am not sure that we shall be able to pay it at all," replied Sir
Thomas Ticknell.

"Why not?" asked Richard, in surprise.

For answer, the old gentleman looked significantly at Richard for a
moment, and then demanded whether he was still in ignorance of what
had become the chief topic of the place.

Bit by bit, it all came out. The Brothers Ticknell, it appeared, had
heard the report quite at the first: friends are always to be found
when there is an opportunity of doing a fellow-man an injury; and some
one had hastened to the bankers with the news. Richard North sat
aghast as he listened. His sister was supposed to have come by her
death unfairly! For once in his life he changed to the hue of the
grave, and his strong frame trembled.

"We hear the new coroner, Dale, has the matter in hand now," remarked
Sir Thomas. "I fear it will be a terrible scandal."

Recovering the shock in some degree, Richard North took his departure,
and went over to Dale's, whose offices were nearly opposite the bank.
The lawyer was there, and made no scruple of disclosing what he knew
to Richard.

"It's a pity that I have to take the matter up," said Dale.
"Considering the uncertainty at present attending it--considering that
also it cannot bring the dead to life, and that it will be a most
painful thing for old Mr. North--and for you too, Mr. Richard--I think
it would be as well to let it alone."

"But who is stirring in it?" asked Richard.

"Madam."

"Madam! Do you mean Mrs. North?"

"To be sure I do. I don't say that public commotion and officious
people would not soon have brought it to the same issue; but, any way,
Mrs. North has forestalled them." And he told Richard of madam's visit
to him.

"You say you have been making some private inquiries," observed
Richard.

Mr. Dale nodded.

"And what is your candid opinion? Tell me, Dale."

But the lawyer hesitated to say he feared Dr. Rane might have been
guilty. Not only because it was an unpleasant assertion to make to Dr.
Rane's brother-in-law, but also because he really had doubts as to
whether it was so or not.

"I hold no decided opinion as yet," he said. "I may not be able to
form one until the post-mortem examination has taken place----"

"You do not mean to say that they will--that they will disturb my
sister!" interrupted Richard North, his eyes full of horror.

"Why, that's the first thing they will do--if the investigation goes
on at all," cried the lawyer. "That's always the preliminary step in
these cases. You are forgetting."

"I suppose I am," groaned Richard. "This has been a great shock to me.
Dale, you cannot believe him guilty!"

"Well, I can't tell; and that's the fact," candidly avowed the lawyer.
"There are certainly some suspicious circumstances attending the case:
but at the same time, they are only what Dr. Rane may be able to
explain satisfactorily away."

"How have the doubts arisen?" questioned Richard. "There were none--I
suppose--at the time."

"As far as I can at present ascertain, they have sprung from some
words incautiously dropped by Jelly, the late Mrs. Cumberland's maid.
Whether Jelly saw anything at the time of Mrs. Rane's illness to give
rise to suspicion I don't know. I have not yet seen her. It is
necessary to go about this business cautiously; and Jelly, I expect,
will not prove a willing witness."

"Did madam tell you this arose from Jelly?"

"Oh dear, no. Madam does not concern herself as to the source of the
suspicions; she said to me: 'There they are, and you must deal with
them.' I had the information from my clerk, Timothy Wilks. In striving
to trace the rumours to their source, I traced them to him. Carpeting
him before me in this room, I insisted upon his telling me where he
obtained them from. He answered readily enough, 'From Jelly.' It seems
Jelly was spending an evening at his aunt's, or cousin's, or
grandmother's--whatever it is. I mean the wife of your timekeeper,
Mr. Richard North. Wilks was present: only those three; the
conversation turned upon Mrs. Rane's death, and Jelly said a few words
that startled them. I quite believe that was the beginning of the
scandal."

"What can Jelly know?" exclaimed Richard, dreamily.

"I can't tell. The report is, that Mrs. Rane had something wrong given
to her by her husband the last day of her life: and that his object
was to get the tontine money, which he could not touch whilst she
lived. A curious thing that the husband and wife should be the two
last left in that tontine!" added the lawyer. "I've often said so."

"But even"--Richard paused--"if this had been so, how could Jelly have
learnt it?"

"Well, things come out in strange ways sometimes; especially if they
are things that ought to be kept secret. I've noticed it. Jelly's
mistress was away, and she may have gone in to help nurse Mrs. Rane in
her illness: we don't yet know how it was."

Richard North rose to depart. "At any rate, I do not see that it was
madam's place to take it up," he remarked. "She should have left that
to the discretion of my father and myself."

"She was in a perfect fever over it," cried Mr. Dale. "She talked of
sending an application to the Home Secretary. I shouldn't wonder but
what it has already gone up."

From the lawyer's house, Richard went direct to that of the late Mrs.
Cumberland. The darkness of evening was then drawing on. As he reached
the door, Miss Beverage, in her dove-coloured Quaker's bonnet,
approached it from an opposite direction. Raising his hat, he asked
whether he could be allowed a five minutes' interview with Jelly. Miss
Beverage, who knew Richard by sight, was very chatty and pleasant: she
took him into the drawing-room and sent Jelly to him. And Jelly felt
half inclined to faint as she shut the door, for she well knew what
must be coming.

But, after some fencing with Richard's questions, Jelly gave in. He
was resolute in hearing all she could tell, and at length she made a
clean breast of it. She related what she knew, and what she suspected,
from beginning to end; and before she had finished, a strange relief,
that Richard should know it, grew upon her.

"For I shall consider that the responsibility is now taken off my
shoulders, sir," she said. "And perhaps it has been nothing but this
that the ill-fated lady has wanted me to do, in coming again."

In the whole narrative, the part that most struck Richard North was
Jelly's positive assertion that she had since twice seen Mrs. Rane. He
was simply astounded. And, to tell the truth, he did not attempt to
cast ridicule or disbelief on it. Richard North was an educated and
practical man, possessed of an abundance of good common sense, with no
more tendency to believe in supernatural appearances than men have in
general; but his mind had been so unhinged since the interview with
Sir Thomas Ticknell, that he almost felt inclined to admit the
possibility of his sister's not resting in her grave.

He sat with his head leaning on his hand. Collecting in some degree
his scattered senses, he strove to go over the grounds of suspicion.
But he could make nothing more of them than Dale had said. Grounds
there certainly were, but none that Dr. Rane might not be able to
explain away. Jelly drew her own deductions, and called them proofs:
but Richard saw that of proofs as yet there were none.

"Ever since that first night, I've lived in mortal horror of seeing it
again," said Jelly, interrupting his reverie. "Nobody can imagine,
sir, what a dreadful time it has been. And when I was least thinking
of it, it came the second time."

"To whom have you repeated this story of having seen her?" asked
Richard.

"The first time I told Dr. Rane and Mrs. Gass. This last time I told
the doctor and Mr. Seeley."

"Jelly," said Richard quietly, "there is no proof that anything was
wrong, except in your fancy."

"And the hasty manner that she was hid out of the way, sir--no woman
called in to do anything for her; no soul allowed to see her!" urged
Jelly. "If it wanted proof positive before, it can't want it since
what Thomas Hepburn related to me."

"All that may have been done out of regard to the welfare of the
living," said Richard.

Jelly shook her head. To her mind it was clearer than daylight.

But at this juncture, a servant came in to know if she should bring
lights. Richard took the opportunity to depart. Of what use to prolong
his stay? As he went out he saw Mr. Seeley standing at his door.
Richard crossed over and asked to speak with him: he knew of Dale's
interview with the surgeon.

"Can Rane have been guilty of this thing, or not?" questioned Richard,
when they were closeted together.

But not even here could Richard get at any decided opinion. It might
have been so, or it might not, Seeley replied. For himself, he was
inclined to think it was _not_ so: that Mrs. Rane's death was natural.

Leaving again, Richard paced up and down the dark road. His mind was
in a tumult. He, with Seeley, could not think Dr. Rane guilty. And,
even though he were so, he began to question whether it would not be
better for his father's sake, for all their sakes, to let the matter
lie. Richard put the two aspects together, and compared them. On the
one side there would be the merited punishment of Oliver Rane and
vengeance on Bessy's wrongs; the other would bring a terrible amount
of pain, exposure, almost disgrace. And Richard feared for the effect
it might have on Mr. North. Before his walk was over, he decided that
it would be infinitely best to hush up the scandal, should that still
be possible.

But, for his own satisfaction, he wished to get at the truth. It
seemed to him that he could hardly live in the uncertainty. Taking a
rapid resolution, he approached Dr. Rane's; knocked at the door, and
asked old Phillis if he could see her master.

She at once showed him into the dining-room. Dr. Rane, weary, perhaps,
with the cares of the day, had fallen asleep in his chair. He sprang
up at the interruption; a startled, almost frightened expression
appeared in his face. Richard North could but notice it, and his heart
failed him, for it seemed to speak of guilt. Phillis shut them in
together.

How Richard opened the interview, he scarcely knew, and could never
afterwards recall. He soon found that Dr. Rane remained as yet in
ignorance of the stir that was abroad; and this rendered his task all
the more difficult. Richard entered on the communication in the most
delicate manner that the subject admitted of. Dr. Rane did not receive
it kindly. He first swore a great oath, and then--his anger checked
suddenly as if by some latent thought or fear--he sank back in his
chair and bent his head on his hands, as a man struck dumb with
tribulation.

"I think _you_ need not have given credit to this report against me,
Richard North," he presently spoke in reproachful accents. "But I
believe you lost confidence in me a year and a half ago."

He so evidently alluded to the anonymous letter that Richard did not
affect to misunderstand him. It might be better to speak openly.

"I believe you wrote that, Rane."

"True. I did. But not to injure your brother. I thought Alexander must
be a bad man--that he must be leading Edmund North into difficulties
to serve himself. I had no cause to spare him, but the contrary, for
he had injured me, was injuring me daily; and I wrote what I did to
Mr. North, hoping it might expose Alexander and damage him. There: you
have it. I would rather have had my hand cut off than have hurt your
brother. I wished afterwards that it had been cut off first. But it
was too late then."

And because of that anonymous letter Dr. Rane knew, and Richard felt,
that the accusation, now made, gathered weight. When a man has been
guilty of one thing, we think it a reason why he may be guilty of
another.

A silence ensued. They sat, the table between them. The room was
rather dark. The lamp was shaded, the fire had burned low; before the
large window wore stretched the sombre curtains. Richard North would
have given some years of his life for this most distressing business
never to have come into it.

He went on with what he had to say. Dr. Rane, motionless now, kept his
hand over his face whilst he listened. Richard told of the public
commotion; of the unparalleled shock it had been to himself, of the
worse shock he feared it might be to his father. Again there was an
interruption: but Dr. Rane in speaking did not raise his face.

"Is my liberty in danger?"

"Not yet--in one sense of the word. I believe you are under the
surveillance of the police."

"Watched by them?"

"Yes. But only to see that you do not get away."

"That is--they track me out and home, I am to understand? I am watched
in and out of my patients' houses. If I have occasion to pay country
visits, these stealthy bloodhounds are at my heels, night or day?"

"I conclude it is so," answered Richard.

"Since when has this been?"

"Since--I think since the day before yesterday. There is a
probability, as I hear, that the Home Secretary will be applied to.
If----"

"For what purpose?"

"For authority to disturb the grave," said Richard, in low tones.

Dr. Rane started up, a frenzy of terror apparent in his face.

"They--they--surely they are not talking of doing _that?_" he cried,
turning white as death.

"Yes they are. To have her disturbed will be to us the most painful of
all."

"Stop it, for Heaven's sake!" came the imploring cry. "Stop it,
Richard North! Stop it!"

But at that moment there broke upon their ears a frightful commotion
outside the door. Richard opened it. Dr. Rane, who had sunk on to his
seat again, never stirred. Old Phillis, coming in from the scullery
after a cleaning excursion, had accidentally dropped a small cartload
of pots and pans.



CHAPTER XXIX.
IN THE SHRUBBERY.


Wintry weather set in again. The past few days had been intensely cold
and bleak. Ellen Adair sat in one of her favourite outdoor seats.
Sheltered from the wind by artificial rocks and clustering evergreens,
and well wrapped-up besides, she did not seem to feel the frost.

Her later days had been one long trial. Compelled constantly to meet
Arthur Bohun, yet shunned by him as far as it was possible without
attracting the observation of others, there were times when she felt
as though her position at the Hall were killing her. Something, in
fact, _was_ killing her. Her state of mind was a mixture of despair,
shame, and self-reproach. Captain Bohun's conduct brought her the
bitterest humiliation. Looking back on the past, she thought he
despised her for her ready acquiescence in his wish for a private
marriage: and the repentance, the humiliation it entailed on her was
of all things the hardest to bear. She almost felt that she could die
of the memory--just as other poor creatures, whose sin has been
different, have died of their shame. The thought embittered her peace
by night and by day: it was doing her more harm than all the rest. To
one so sensitively organized as Ellen Adair, reared in all the graces
of refined feeling, this enforced sojourn at Dallory Hall could indeed
be nothing less than a fiery ordeal, from which there might be no
escape to former health and strength.

Very still she sat to-day, nursing her pain. Her face was wan, her
breathing laboured: that past cold she had caught seemed to hang about
her strangely. No further news had been received from Mr. Adair, and
Ellen supposed he was on his way home. After to-day her position would
not be quite so trying, for Arthur Bohun was quitting Dallory. Sir
Nash had decided that he was strong enough now to travel, and they
were to depart together at two o'clock. It was past twelve now. And
so--the sunshine of Ellen Adair's life had gone out. Never, as she
believed, would a gleam come into it again.

In spite of the commotion beyond the walls of the Hall now increasing
daily and hourly to a climax, in spite of madam's unceasing exertions
to urge it on, and to crush Oliver Rane, no word of the dreadful
accusation had as yet transpired within to its chief inmates. Mr.
North, his daughter Matilda, Ellen Adair, Sir Nash Bohun, and Arthur;
all were alike in ignorance. The servants of course knew of it, going
out to Dallory, as they often did: but madam had issued her sharp
orders that they should keep silence; and Richard had begged them not
to speak of it for their master's sake. As to Sir Nash and Arthur
Bohun, Richard was only too glad that they should depart without
hearing the scandal.

He himself was doing all he could to stop proceedings and allay
excitement. Since the night of his interviews with Jelly, Mr. Seeley,
and Dr. Rane, Richard had devoted his best energies to the work of
suppression. He did not venture to see any official person, the
coroner excepted, or impress his views on the magistrates; but he went
about amongst the populace, and poured oil on the troubled waters.
"For my father's sake, do not press this on," he said to them; "let my
sister's grave rest in peace."

He said the same in effect to the coroner; begging of him, if
possible, to hush it up; and he implied to all, though not absolutely
asserting it, that Dr. Rane could not be guilty. So that Ellen Adair,
sitting there, had not the knowledge of this to give her additional
trouble.

A little blue flower suddenly caught her eye, peeping from a mossy
nook at the foot of the rocks. She rose, and stooped. It was a winter
violet. Plucking it, she sat down again, and fell into thought.

For it had brought vividly before her memory that long-past day when
she had played with her violets in the garden at Mrs. Cumberland's.
"Est-ce qu'il m'aime? Oui. Non. Un peu. Beaucoup. Pas du tout.
Passionnément. _Il m'aime passionnément_." False augurs, those flowers
had been! Deceitful blossoms which had combined to mock and sting her.
The contrast between that time and this brought to Ellen Adair a whole
flood-tide of misery. And those foolish violets were hidden away
still! Should she take this indoors and add it to them?

By-and-by she began to walk towards the house. Turning a corner
presently she came suddenly upon three excited people: Captain Bohun,
Miss Dallory, and Matilda North. The two former had met accidentally
in the walk. Miss Dallory's morning errand at the Hall was to say
goodbye to Sir Nash; and before she and Captain Bohun had well
exchanged greetings, Matilda bore down upon them in a state of
agitation, calling wildly to Arthur to stay and hear the tidings _she_
had just heard.

The tidings were those that had been so marvellously kept from her and
from others at the Hall--the accusation against Dr. Rane. Matilda
North had just learnt them accidentally, and in her horror and
surprise she hurried to her half-brother, Arthur, to repeat the story.
Ellen Adair found her talking in wild excitement. Arthur turned pale
as he listened; to Mary Dallory the rumour was not new.

But Arthur Bohun and Matilda North were strong enough to bear the
shock. Ellen Adair was not so. As she drank in the meaning of the
dreadful words--that Bessy had been murdered--a deadly sickness seized
upon her heart; and she had only time to sit down on a garden-bench
before she fainted away.

"You should not have told it so abruptly, Matilda," cried Arthur,
almost passionately. "It has made even me feel ill. Get some water:
you'll go quicker than I should."

Alarmed at Ellen's state, and eager to be of service, both Matilda and
Miss Dallory ran in search of the water. Arthur Bohun sat down on the
bench to support her.

Her head lay on his breast, as he placed it. She was without
consciousness. His arm encircled her waist; he took one of her
lifeless hands between his. Thus he sat, gazing down at the pale, thin
face so near to his; the face which he had helped to rob of its bloom.

Yet he loved her still! loved her better than he did all the rest of
the world put together! Holding her to his beating heart, he knew it.
He knew that he only loved her the more truly for their estrangement.
His pulses were thrilling with the rapture this momentary contact
brought him. If he might but embrace her, as of old! An irrepressible
yearning to press her lips to his, came into his heart. He slightly
lifted the pale sweet face, and bent down his own.

"Oh, my darling! My lost darling!"

Lips, cheeks, brow were kissed again and again, with impassioned
tenderness. It was so long since he had touched them! A sigh escaped
him; and he knew not whether it contained most of bliss or of agony.

This treatment was more effective than the water could have been.
Ellen drew a deep breath, and stirred uneasily. As soon as she began
really to revive, he managed to get his coat off and fold it across
the head and arm of the bench. When Ellen awoke to consciousness, she
had her head leaning on it; and Captain Bohun stood at a very
respectful distance from her. Never a suspicion crossed her mind of
what he had been doing.

"You are better," he said. "I am glad!"

The words, the voice, aroused her fully. She lifted her head and
opened her eyes and gazed around her in bewilderment. Then what
Matilda had said came back with a rush.

"Is it true?" she exclaimed, looking piteously at him. "It never can
be true!"

"I don't know," he answered. "If false, it is almost as dreadful to us
who hear it. Poor Bessy! I loved her as a sister."

Ellen, exhausted by the fainting-fit, her nerves unstrung by the news,
burst into tears. Matilda and Miss Dallory came hastening up with
water, wine, and smelling-salts. But she soon recovered her
equanimity, so far as outward calmness went, without the aid of
remedies, which she declined. Rising from the bench, she turned
towards the house, her steps a little uncertain.

"Pray give your arm to Miss Adair, Captain Bohun," spoke Mary Dallory
in sharp, quick tones, surprised perhaps that he did not do so. And
upon that, Captain Bohun went to Ellen's side, and held it out.

"Thank you," she answered, and refused it with a slight movement of
the head.

They walked on at first all together, as it were. But Matilda and Miss
Dallory were soon far ahead, the former talking excitedly about Bessy
Rane and the terrible accusation regarding her. Ellen's steps were
slower; she could not help it; and Captain Bohun kept by her side.

"May I wish you goodbye here, Ellen?" he suddenly asked, stopping
towards the end of the shrubbery, through which they had been passing.

"Goodbye," she faintly answered.

He took her hand. That is, he held out his own, and Ellen almost
mechanically put hers into it. To have made a scene by refusing, would
have wounded her pride more than all. He kept it within his own,
clasping his other hand upon it. For a moment his eyes met hers.

"It may be, that we shall never again cross each other's path in life,
Ellen. God bless you, my love, and keep you always! I wish to Heaven,
for both our sakes, that we had never met!"

"Goodbye," she coldly repeated as he dropped her hand. And they
walked on in silence and gained the lawn, where the two in advance had
turned to wait for them.

But this was destined to be an eventful day: to others, at least, if
not to them. At the appointed time, Sir Nash Bohun and Arthur took
their departure; Richard North, who had paid the baronet the attention
of coming home to luncheon--for there was no longer any concealment
now as to the true host of Dallory Hall--seeing them into their
carriage.

"You have promised to come and stay with me, Richard," said the
baronet, at the farewell hand-shake.

"Conditionally. When my work allows me leisure," answered Richard,
laughing.

"Can't you go with us to the station, Dick?" put in Arthur.

"Not to-day, I fear. I must hold an immediate interview with madam; it
is important. If you waited for me you might lose the train."

Arthur bent his face--one of pain now--to Dick's, and whispered.

"Is it money-trouble again, Richard?"

"No; not this time."

"If she brings anything of that sort on you in future, refer her to
me. Yes, Richard: I must deal with it now."

Farewells were exchanged, and the carriage drove away. Richard,
stepping backwards, came into contact with Miss Dallory.

"I beg your pardon!" he exclaimed. "Have I hurt you? I did not know
you were there."

"Of course you have not hurt me: and I had no business to be there. I
stood to wave to them. Good-afternoon, Mr. Richard."

"Are you going?" he asked.

"I have promised to spend the afternoon and take tea with Mrs. Gass.
Luncheon was my dinner. I saw you looking at me as if you thought my
appetite remarkable."

"Miss Dallory!"

She laughed slightly.

"To confess the truth, I don't think I noticed whether you took
anything or nothing," said Richard. "I have a great deal to trouble me
just now. Good-afternoon."

He would be returning to Dallory himself in perhaps a few minutes, but
he never said to her, "Stay, and I will walk with you." Miss Dallory
thought of it as she went away. It had indeed crossed Richard's mind
to say so: but he arrested the words as they were about to leave his
lips. If she was to be Arthur Bohun's wife, the less Richard saw of
her the better.

Inquiring for madam when he went indoors, he found she was ensconced
in her boudoir. Richard went up, knocked at the door, and opened it.
Madam appeared not to approve of the procedure; she bore down on him
with a swoop, and would have bade him retire.

"What do you want here, Richard North? I am not at liberty. I cannot
admit you."

"Pardon me, madam, I must speak with you for five minutes," he
answered, passing quietly in.

By something he had heard that morning from Dale, Richard had reason
to suppose that Mrs. North was still actively pursuing the charge
against Dr. Rane; was urging in high quarters the necessity for an
investigation. Richard had come to ask her whether this was the case,
and to beg her, once for all, to be still. He sat down uninvited
whilst he put the question.

But madam would acknowledge nothing. In fact, she led him to believe
that it was altogether untrue; that she had not stirred in it at all
since the caution Richard had given her, not to do so, some days ago.
It was simply impossible to know whether what she said might be
depended on--for she was habitually more false than true. Richard
could only hope she was true on this occasion.

"It would be a terrible exposure," he urged. "Madam, I beg you; I beg
you for all our sakes, to be _still_. You know not what you would do."

She nodded an ungracious acquiescence: and Richard departed for his
works, casually mentioning to Mr. North, as he passed him in the
garden, that he should not return home until night. Like Miss Dallory,
he had intended the midday meal to be his dinner.

"Dick," cried Mr. North, arresting him, "what's the matter with
Matilda? She seems to be in a great commotion over something or
other."

Richard know not what to answer. If his father had to be told, why,
better that he himself should break it to him. There was still a
chance that it might be kept from him.

"Something or other gone wrong, I suppose, sir. Never mind. How well
those new borders look!"

"Don't they, Dick! I'm glad I decided upon them."

And Richard went on to his works.



CHAPTER XXX.
LYING IN WAIT.


Night had fallen: not a bright or pleasant night.

A few skulkers had gathered behind the dwarf hedge, that skirted the
piece of waste land near the North Works. An ill-looking set of men,
as seen at present: for they had knelt so as to bring themselves
almost on a level with the top of the hedge. Poole was in the middle;
his face savage, a pistol in his right hand.

Of all the men who had returned to work, the most obnoxious to the old
hands was one named Ralley. It was not so much because he had been a
turn-coat--that is, after holding out to the eleventh moment, had
finally gone back at the twelfth--that the men hated him, as because
they believed him to be treacherous. Ralley had been red-hot for
the strike; had done more by his agitation than any one man to bring
it about. He had resolutely refused all the overtures made by Richard
North: and yet--he had gone back when the works were finally
reopened. For this the men heartily despised him--far more than they
did those who had been ready to go back from the first. In addition to
this, they had been suspecting--and lately had felt sure--that he was
a snake in the grass. That he had laid himself out to pick up, fairly
or stealthily, as might be, bits of information about them, their
doings and sayings, their wretched condition and threats of revenge,
and had carried them to the works and to Richard North. And so--the
contents of the pistol that Poole held in his hand were meant for
Ralley.

For a long time the malcontents of North Inlet had been burning to
take vengeance on some one: some new treachery on Ralley's part, or
suspected treachery, had come to light, and they determined to shoot
_him_. Poor, misguided, foolish men! As if it would improve things for
them! Suppose they killed Ralley, how would it better their condition?
Ralley had not suffered half what they suffered. He was unmarried;
and, during the strike, he had been helped by his relatives, who were
pretty well off, so that he had known neither starvation nor tattered
clothing, as they had: and this made his returning to work all the
worse in their eyes. Ralley was about the age of Richard North, and
not unlike him in height and figure: so much like him, indeed, that
since their evil act had been determined on, one of the others had
bade Poole take care he did not mistake the master for him in the
dark. Poole's sullen rejoinder was, that it would not much matter if
he did.

The night was dark; a drizzling rain had come on, and the part where
they were was not too well lighted. The small band, about to issue
from the gates of the works, would pass this waste land within some
fifteen yards of them. Poole had been a famous marksman in his day,
and felt sure of his aim. John Allen knelt on his right, one Denton on
his left, and one on either side beyond: five in all.

Five o'clock struck. Almost simultaneously the bell at the works was
heard, giving warning that it was time for the men to go to tea. Three
or four sharp, quick strokes: nothing more.

"That's Green, I'll swear," cried Denton, alluding to the ringer. "I
didn't know he was back again: his rheumatics must be better."

"Hush--sh--sh!" was all Denton received in answer. And a death-like
silence ensued. Poole broke it.

"Where the devil are they? Why don't they come?"

Ay, why did they not come? Simply because there had been scarcely
sufficient time for them to do so. But every moment, to these would-be
murderers, kneeling there, seemed like a long-drawn-out period.

"Here they are," whispered Denton.

It was so. The men were coming out at the gate, about twenty of them;
two and two; the policemen to-night heading the string. Sometimes the
officers were behind, at other times at the side of the men. Poole
rose cautiously and prepared to take aim. They were crossing from the
gates, and presently would pass the hedge. This was the second night
the men had thus lain in ambush. The previous night they had waited in
like manner; but Ralley happened to be then on the other side his
companion in the march, and so for the time was saved.

Allen stretched up his head. His sight was keen as a sailor's.

"Which side's he on, Jack?" whispered Poole. "I don't see him yet."

For answer John Allen put his hand quickly on Poole's arm to lower the
pistol. "No good again, mates," said he. "Ralley ain't there."

"Not there!" retorted Poole with a strong oath.

"I'm as nigh sure of it as I can be," said Allen. "Wait till they come
nearer."

It proved to be so. Ralley for some reason or other was not with the
men. Denton again gave vent to a furious oath.

Tramp, tramp, tramp; their regular tread sounded in the stillness of
the night as they passed. Poole had crouched down again.

The steps died away in the distance, and the conspirators ventured to
raise their heads. Allen happened to look in the direction of the
gates.

"Here he is!" burst forth Allen, with almost a suppressed scream.
"Something must have kept him back. Now's our time, mates. Here's
Ralley."

"That ain't his hat, Jack Allen," dissented one.

"Hat be smothered! it's himself," said John Allen.

Ralley was coming on quickly, a dark, low-crowned hat somewhat drawn
over his brows. A minute's silence, during which you might have heard
their hearts beat, and then----

Poole fired. Ralley gave a cry: staggered, and walked on. He was
struck, no doubt, but not killed.

"Your boasted aim has failed, Poole," cried Denton with a savage oath.

Not more savage than Poole's, though, as he broke through the low
hedge. What the bullet had not done, the pistol itself should.
Suddenly, with a startled cry, Allen broke after him, shouting to him
to stay his hand.

"It's the master, Poole; it's not Ralley. _Stop, you fool!_--it's the
master."

Too late. It was, indeed, Richard North. And Mr. Poole had felled him
by a wicked blow on the temple.


Mrs. Gass and Mary Dallory were seated at tea in a sad and sorrowful
mood--for the conversation had turned on those dreadful rumours that,
in spite of Richard North, would not be hushed. Mrs. Gass was stoutly
asserting that she had more faith in Dr. Rane than to believe them,
when some commotion in the street dawned on their ears. Mrs. Gass
stopped in the midst of an emphatic sentence.

"What's that?" she cried.

Fleet steps seemed to be running to and fro; voices were raised in
excitement. They distinctly heard the words, "Mr. Richard," "Richard
North." Mrs. Gass drew aside her crimson curtains, and opened the
window.

"Smith--is it you?" she said, arresting a man who was running in the
wake of others. "What's the matter?"

"I don't rightly know, ma'am," he answered. "They are saying that Mr.
Richard North has been shot dead."

"Lord help us!" cried Mrs. Gass. She shut down the window and brought
her face round to the light again. Every vestige of colour had left
it. Mary Dallory stood rigidly upright, her hands clasped, as one who
had been turned to stone.

"Did you hear what he said, child?"

"I heard," was the scarcely murmured answer.

Mrs. Gass caught up a bonnet, which happened to lie on a chair, and
went into the street. At the entrance to North Inlet a crowd of men
and women had gathered. As in all similar cases, reports varied. Some
said it had taken place in the high-road to Whitborough, some at the
works, others near Dallory Hall. So the mob was puzzled which way to
go and not miss the excitement. Thoms was talking at the top of his
voice as Mrs. Gass arrived, anxious, perhaps, to disclaim complicity
on his own score.

"They've had it in their heads to do it, some o' them bad uns have. I
could name names, but I won't. If the master had knowed all, he'd ha'
went about in fear of his life this long while past."

This was enough for Mrs. Gass. Gathering her black silk skirts in her
hands, and her face paler than the assemblage had ever seen it, she
stood, unmindful of the rain, and told them what she thought.

"If you've shot Richard North, you have shot the best and bravest man
you'll ever know in this life. You'll never find such a friend again.
Ay, he was brave. Brave for good in the midst of difficulties, brave
to forbear. Don't _you_ boast, Thoms, with your ready tongue. None of
you men round me now may be the one that's shot him, but you've been
all rowing in the same boat. Yes, you have. You mayn't have planned
out murder yourselves--I wouldn't answer for it that you've not--but,
any way, you knew that others was a-planning it, and you winked at it
and kept silence. Who has been the friend to you that Richard North
has been? Since you've been half starving, and your wives and
children's been half starving, where has all the help come from, d'you
suppose, that has kept you from starving outright? Why, from him. The
most has come from him. The money I gave was his, the things I bought
was mostly paid for by him. A little came from me; not much; I was too
angry with your folly; but he couldn't see you quite clam, and he took
care you shouldn't. Look at how you were all helped through the fever;
and meat, and bread, and beer given you to get up your strength a bit,
after it! Who did all that? Why, Richard North. You thought it was me;
but it was him; only he wouldn't have it known. That was his return
for all the black ingratitude you'd showed, in refusing to work for
him and bringing him to ruin. Pray God he may not be dead! but if he
is, a good man has gone to his reward.--Is that you, Ketler?"

"Yes, it's me," answered Ketler, who was standing in shadow, his face
wearing a deeper gloom than the night could cast.

"When that child of yours died, Cissy--and many a little help did she
have in life from him--who but Richard North took care that she
shouldn't be buried by the parish? He met Fanny Jelly, and he put some
money into her hand, and charged her to let it be thought it was
_hers_. 'They are in distress and trouble, I know, Jelly,' he said;
'let this be used in the way that's best for them.' Go and ask Jelly,
if you don't believe me: I had it from her. And that's the master
you've been conspirating together to kill, Ketler!"

Ketler swallowed down a groan. "I'd never have raised a hand again the
master; no, nor countenanced it. If anybody has said I would, it's a
lie."

"There's not one of you but knew what mischief was in the wind, or
might have known it; and you've countenanced it by keeping silence,"
retorted Mrs. Gass. "You are a pack of cowards. First of all you ruin
him by throwing up his work, and when you find yourselves all clamming
together, or nigh upon it, you turn round on him and kill him. May the
Lord forgive you! I never will."

Some disturbance. A tramping of feet, and a shouting of running boys.
Poole, Denton, John Allen, and one more were marching by in handcuffs,
marshalled by some policemen. A hiss greeted them.

"'Twas a mistake," said Jack Allen, in answer to the hiss, reckless
under his untoward fate. "'Twas meant for Ralley, not for the master."

"Is he dead?" called out Mrs. Gass.

But amidst the confusion she received no answer. And at that moment
she became aware of a pale countenance near her, peeping out from a
cloud of wool.

"Good gracious, Miss Mary, child! You shouldn't be out here."

"I have been with you all the time."

"Then, my dear, you just betake yourself home again. I'll come in as
soon as I can learn the truth of it all."

Mrs. Gass had not long to wait. Almost as she spoke, Richard North
appeared: and thereupon ensued more excitement than ever. Blood was
trickling from his temple, but he appeared quite sensible, and was
walking slowly, helped by two men.

"Thank God!" said Mrs. Gass aloud: and the words were heartily echoed.
"To my house, men. Mr. Richard, sir, it is but a few steps more, and
we'll soon have the doctor. A fine night's work, this is!" she
concluded, leading the way to her home.

Little Barrington, the druggist, came out of his shop, and helped to
place Richard on Mrs. Gass's sofa. They managed to get off his coat.
The left arm was injured, as well as the temple. Barrington staunched
the blood trickling from the latter; but preferred not to meddle with
the arm. "He had better be kept quite quiet, until the surgeon comes,"
said the druggist to Mrs. Gass.

Mrs. Gass cleared the room. A dozen excited messengers had run to the
Ham for Mr. Seeley or Dr. Rane, or both if they should be found at
home. She stood at the front-door, watching and waiting.

Richard North, weak and faint, lay with his eyes closed. Opening them
in the quiet room, he saw Mary Dallory kneeling by the sofa, pale and
sad.

"Don't be alarmed," he whispered. "It might have been worse."

"I would have given my life to save yours, Richard," she impetuously
exclaimed in the sorrow and terror of the moment.

His right hand went out a little and met hers.

"Richard, I wish I might stay and nurse you. You have no sister.
Matilda is useless in a sick-room."

Richard North nervously pressed her fingers. "Don't try me too much,
Mary. I care for you already more than is good for my peace. Don't
tempt me."

"And if I were to tempt you? Though I don't quite know what you mean,"
she rejoined softly and nervously. "What then?"

"I might say what I ought not to say."

He paused.

"It would make it all the harder for me," he continued, after a
moment's silence. "I am a man of the people; a man of work. You will
belong to--to one of a different order."

She knew he alluded to Arthur Bohun, and laughed slightly.

But, though she said no more, she left her hand in his. Richard
thought it was done solely out of compassion.

And now there was a bustle heard, and in came Mr. Seeley, warm with
hastening. The hands parted, and Mary Dallory went round to the other
side of the table, and stood there in all due decorum.



CHAPTER XXXI.
DISTURBING THE GRAVE.


By twos and threes, by fours and fives and tens, the curious and
excited groups were wending their way towards Dallory churchyard. For
a certain work was going on there, which had never been performed in
it within the memory of the oldest inhabitant.

Richard North was lying incapacitated at Dallory Hall. When Mr.
Seeley--assisted by Dr. Rane, who had come in--examined into his
injuries at Mrs. Gass's, he pronounced them not to be of a grave
character. The bullet had struck a fleshy part of the arm, and passed
off from it, inflicting a wound. Care and rest only would be necessary
to heal it; and the same might be said with regard to the blow on the
temple. Perfect rest was essential to guard against any after
consequences. Mrs. Gass wished Richard to remain at her house and be
nursed there; but he thought of the trouble it would cause her regular
household, and said he preferred to be taken home. Mr. Seeley
continued to attend him by Richard's own wish; not Dr. Rane. The
public thought the rejection of the latter significant, in spite of
Richard's recent exertions to do away with any impression of his
guilt.

"Absolute quiet both of body and mind," enjoined Mr. Seeley, not only
to Richard himself but to the family and servants. "If you have it,
Mr. Richard, you will be about again in a short time: if you do not
have it, I cannot answer for the result."

But Richard North, with his good common sense, was an obedient
patient. He knew how necessary it was for his business, that he should
not long be laid by, and he kept as quiet as Mr. Seeley could desire.
No stranger was allowed to disturb him; none of the household presumed
to carry him the smallest item of public or domestic news. It was
during this confinement of Richard's that Ellen Adair received her
summons for departure. Her father had arrived in London, and wrote to
Mrs. Cumberland--unconscious of that lady's death--begging that she
and Ellen would at once join him there. He apologized for not coming
to Dallory, but said that family business required his presence in
London. Mr. North at first proposed to take Ellen up herself: but he
was really not able to do it: and it was decided that madam's maid
should attend her thither.

Ellen was allowed to go in and bid goodbye to Richard before her
departure. She burst into tears as she strove to thank him for his
kindness.

"You must come and see papa as soon as you are well enough, Richard.
When I tell him how kind you have been, he will want to see and thank
you."

"Goodbye, my dear," said Richard, releasing her hand. "I trust you
will soon get up all your spirits again, now your father has come."

She smiled faintly. It was not on her father--so imperfectly, if at
all, remembered--that her spirits depended. As Ellen was passing
through the hall to enter the carriage that would take her to the
station, she found herself touched by madam, and drawn into the
dining-room.

"You have not seemed very happy with us, Miss Adair. But I have tried
to make you so."

"Yes, madam, I am sure you have; and I thank you," returned Ellen
gratefully--for madam really did appear to have been very kind to her
of late. "I trust papa will have an opportunity of thanking you and
Mr. North personally."

Madam coughed. "If you think I deserve thanks, I wish you would do me
a slight favour in return."

"If I can. Certainly."

"Some years ago, when we were in India," proceeded madam, "my late
husband, Major Bohun, and your father were acquainted with each other.
Some unpleasant circumstances took place between them: a quarrel in
fact. Major Bohun considered he was injured; Mr. Adair thought it was
himself who was so. It was altogether very painful, and I would not
for the world have that old matter raked up again; it would cost me
too much pain. Will you, then, guard from Mr. Adair's knowledge that
I, Mrs. North, am she who was once Mrs. Bohun?"

"Yes, I will," said Ellen, in the impulse of the moment, without
pausing to consider whether circumstances would allow her to do so.

"You promise me this?"

"Yes, certainly. I will never speak of it to him, madam."

"Thank you, my dear." And madam kissed her, and led her out to the
carriage.

Day by day Richard North never failed to question the surgeon as to
whether anything fresh was arising in regard to the accusation against
Dr. Rane. The answer was invariably No. In point of fact, Mr. Seeley,
not hearing more of it himself, supposed there was not; and at length,
partly in good faith, partly to calm his patient, who was restless on
the subject, he said it had dropped through altogether.

But the surgeon was wrong. During Richard's active opposition, madam
had found her power somewhat crippled; she scarcely deemed it might be
altogether to her own interest at the Hall to set him at defiance; but
the moment he was laid up, she was at work again more actively than
ever. It was nothing but providential, madam considered, that Richard
had been put out of the way for a time: and could madam have released
Poole from the consequences of his act, and sent him on his road
rewarded, she had certainly done it. She gained her point. Poor Mrs.
Rane was to be taken up from her grave.

Dale, who had it in hand, went about the proceedings as quietly and
secretly as possible. He was sorry to have to do it, for he bore no
ill-will to Richard North, but the contrary, and he knew how anxious
he was that this should not be done; whilst at the same time the
lawyer hated madam. But, he had no alternative: he had received his
orders, as coroner, to call an inquest, and could not evade it. He
issued his instructions in private, strictly charging the few who must
act, to keep silence abroad. And not a syllable transpired beforehand.

The work was commenced in the darkness of the winter's morning. By ten
o'clock, however, the men had been seen in the churchyard, and secrecy
was no longer possible. The news ran like wildfire to all parts of
Dallory--Mrs. Rane was being taken up. Never had there been such
excitement as this. The street was in an uproar, windows were alive
with heads: had Dallory suddenly found itself invaded by a destroying
army, the commotion could not have been greater.

Then began the exodus to the churchyard. Mr. Dale had foreseen this
probability, and was prepared for it. A body of police appeared in the
churchyard, and the people found they could only approach the actual
spot within a very respectful distance. Resenting this, they relieved
their feelings by talking the louder.

Jelly was there. Never nearer losing her reason than now. Between
dismay at what she had set afloat, and horror at the crime about to be
revealed, Jelly was not clear whether she stood on her head or her
heels. When the news was carried to her of what was going on, Jelly
very nearly fainted. Now that it had come to the point, she felt that
she would have given the world never to have meddled with it. It was
not so much the responsibility to herself that she thought of, as the
dreadful aspect of the thing altogether. She went into a violent fit
of trembling, and sought her chamber to hide it. When somewhat
recovered, she asked leave of Mrs. Beverage to be allowed to go out
for a few hours. To have been compelled to remain indoors would have
driven her quite mad. The morning was growing late when Jelly arrived
at the scene, and the first person she specially noticed there was
Mrs. Gass.

But Mrs. Gass had not come forth in idle curiosity as most others had
done--and there were some of the better classes amongst the mob. Mrs.
Gass was inexpressibly shocked and dismayed that it should really have
come to this. Oliver Rane was her late husband's nephew; she did not
think he could have been guilty: and she had hastened to see whether
any argument or persuasion might avail at the twelfth hour, to arrest
proceedings and spare disgrace to the North and Gass families.

But no. Stepping over the barrier-line the police had drawn, without
the smallest regard to the remonstrance of a red-faced inspector, who
was directing things, Mrs. Gass approached the small throng around the
grave. She might have spared herself the pains. In answer to her
urgent appeal she was told that no one here had any power now; it had
passed out of their hands. In returning, Mrs. Gass encountered Jelly.

"Well," said she, regarding Jelly sternly, "be you satisfied with your
work?"

Jelly never answered. In her shame, her regret, her humiliation at
what she had done, she could almost have wished herself labouring at
the treadmill that had so long haunted her dreams.

"Anyway, you might have had the decency to keep away," went on Mrs.
Gass.

"I couldn't," said Jelly, meekly. "I couldn't stop at home and bear
it."

"Then I'd have gone a mile or two the other way," retorted Mrs. Gass.
"You must be quite brazen, to show your face here. And you must have a
conscience too."

A frightful noise interrupted them: a suppressed shout of horror. The
heavy coffin was at length deposited on the ground with the pick-axes
beside it, and the populace were expressing their mixed sentiments at
the sight: some in applause at this great advance in the show: others
in a groan meant for Dr. Rane, who had caused it all. Mrs. Gass, what
with the yelling, the coffin and pick-axes, and the crush, had never
felt so humiliated in all her days; and she retired behind a remote
tree to hide her emotion.

At that moment Thomas Hepburn appeared in sight, his face sad and
pale.

"Hepburn," said Mrs. Gass, "I can't think they'll find anything wrong
there. My belief is she died naturally. Unless there were better
grounds to go upon than I know of, they ought not to have gone to this
shameful length."

"Ma'am, I don't think it, either," assented the man. "I'm sure it has
been more like a dream to me than anything else, since I heard it.
Folks say it is madam at the Hall that has forced it on."

Had Mrs. Gass been a man, she might have felt tempted to give madam a
very strong word. What right had she, in her wicked malice, to inflict
this pain on others?

"Whatever may be the upshot of this, Thomas Hepburn, it will come home
to her as sure as that we two are talking here. What are you going
there for?" added Mrs. Gass, for he was preparing to make his way
towards the grave.

"I've had orders to be here, ma'am. Some of those law officials don't
understand this sort of work as well as I do."

He crossed over, the police making way for him, Inspector Jekyll
giving him a nod. Jelly was standing against a tree not far from Mrs.
Gass, straining her eyes upon the scene. By the eagerness displayed by
the crowd, it might have been supposed they thought that they had only
to see the face of the dead, lying within, to have all suspicion of
Dr. Rane turned into fact.

The work went on. The leaden covering came off amidst a tumult, and
the common deal shell alone remained.

It was at this juncture that another spectator came slowly up. The
mob, their excited faces turned to the grave and to Thomas Hepburn,
who was already at his work, did not see his approach. Perhaps it was
as well: for the new arrival was Dr. Rane.

Even from him had these proceedings been kept secret; perhaps
especially from him: and it was only now, upon coming forth to visit a
patient in Dallory, that he learnt what was taking place in the
churchyard. He came to it at once: his countenance stern, his face
white as death.

Mrs. Gass saw him; Jelly also. Mrs. Gass silently moved to prevent his
further approach, spreading her portly black silk skirts. Her
intentions were good.

"Go back," she whispered. "Steal away before you are seen. Look at
this unruly mob. They might tear you to pieces, doctor, in the humour
they are in."

"Let them--when I have stopped _that_," he recklessly answered,
pointing to what Thomas Hepburn was doing.

"You are mad," cried Mrs. Gass in excitement. "Stop that! Why, sir,
how impossible it would be, even with the best wish, to stop it now. A
nail or two more, sir, and the lid's off."

It was as she said. Dr. Rane saw it. He took out his handkerchief, and
passed it over his damp face.

"Richard North gave me his word that he would stop it, if it came to
this," he murmured more to himself than to Mrs. Gass.

"Richard North knows no more of this than it seems, you knew of it,"
she said. "He is shut up in his room at the Hall, and hears nothing.
Doctor, take advice and get away," she whispered imploringly. "There's
still time."

"No," he doggedly said. "As it has gone so far, I'll stand my ground
now."

Mrs. Gass groaned. The sound was lost in a rush--police contending
against King Mob, King Mob against the police. Even Mrs. Gass turned
pale. Dr. Rane voluntarily arrested his advancing steps. Jelly's
troubled face was peering out from the distant tree.

The lid had been lifted, and the open shell stood exposed. It was more
than the excited numbers could witness, and be quiet. Inspector Jekyll
and his fellows keep them back from looking into it? Never. A short,
sharp struggle, and the police and their staves were nowhere. With a
triumphant whoop the crowd advanced.

But a strange hush, apparently of consternation, had fallen on those
who stood at the grave; a hush fell on these interlopers as they
reached it. The coffin was empty.

Of all unexpected stoppages to proceedings, official or otherwise, one
more complete than this had never fallen. An old magistrate who was
present, the coroner--who had just come striding over the ground, to
see how things were going on--Thomas Hepburn, and others generally,
stared at the empty coffin in profound perplexity.

And the mob, when it had duly stared also, elbowing each other in the
process,18 and fighting ruefully for precedence, burst out into a howl.
Not at all a complimentary one to Dr. Rane.

He had sold her for dissection! He had never put her in at all! He had
had a sham funeral! 'Twasn't enough to poison of her, but he must sell
her afterwards!

To accuse a man of those heinous offences behind his back, is one
thing, but it is not felt to be quite so convenient to do it in his
presence. The sight of Dr. Rane walking calmly, not to say impudently,
across the churchyard into their very midst, struck a certain timidity
on the spirits of the roarers. Silence ensued. They even parted to
allow him to pass. Dr. Rane threw his glance on the empty coffin, and
then on those who stood around it.

"Well," said he, "why don't you take me?"

And not a soul ventured to reply.

"I have murdered my wife, have I? If I _have_ done so, why, you know I
deserve no quarter. Come, Mr. Coroner, why don't you issue your orders
to arrest me? You have your officers at hand."

The independence with which this was spoken, the freedom of Dr. Rane's
demeanour, the mockery of his tone, could not be surpassed. He had the
best of it now; might say what he pleased, and laugh derisively at
them at will: and they knew it. Even Dale, the coroner, felt
small--which is saying a good deal of a lawyer.

Turning round, the doctor walked slowly back again, his head in the
air. Mrs. Gass met him.

"Tell me the truth for the love of goodness, doctor. I have never
believed it of you. You did not help her to her death?"

"Help her to her death?" he retorted. "No: my wife was too dear to me
for that. I'd have killed the whole world rather than her--if it must
have come to killing at all."

"And I believe you," was the hearty response. "And I have told
everybody, from the first, that the charge was wicked and
preposterous."

"Thank you, Mrs. Gass."

He broke away from any further questions she might have put, and
stalked on towards Dallory, coolly saying that he had a patient to
see.

As to the crowd, they really did not know what to make of it: it was a
shameful cheat. The small staff of officials, including the police,
seemed to know as little. To be enabled to take Oliver Rane into
custody for poisoning his wife they must first find the wife, and
ascertain whether she really had been poisoned. Lawyer Dale had never
met with so bewildering a check in the long course of his practice;
the red-faced Inspector stroked his chin, and the old magistrate
clearly had not recovered his proper mind yet.

By the appearance of the shell, it seemed evident that the body had
never been there at all. What had he done with it?--where could he
have hidden it? A thought crossed Mr. Jekyll, experienced in crime,
that the doctor might have concealed it in his house--or buried it in
his garden.

"How was it you did not feel the lightness of the shell when you put
it into the lead, you and your men?" asked the Inspector, turning
sharply upon Thomas Hepburn.

"We did not do it," was the undertaker's answer. "Dr. Rane undertook
that himself, on account of the danger of infection. We went and
soldered the lead down, but it was all ready for us."

A clearer proof of guilt, than this fact conveyed, could not well be
found: as they all murmured one to another. The old magistrate rubbed
up his hair, as if by that means he could also rub up his intellect.

"I don't understand," he said, still bewildered. "Why should he have
kept her out of the coffin? If he did what was wrong--surely to bury
her out of sight would be the safest place to hide away his crime.
What do you think about it, Jekyll?"

"Well, your worship, I can only think that he might have feared some
such proceeding as this, and so secured himself against it," was the
Inspector's answer. "I don't know, of course: it is only an idea."

"But _where_ is the body, Jekyll?" persisted the magistrate. "What
could he have done with it?"

"It must be our business to find out, your worship."

"Did he cut her up?" demanded the mob. For which interruption they
were chased backwards by the army of discomfited policemen.

"She may be about his premises still, your worship," said the
Inspector, hazarding the opinion. "If so, I should say she is lying a
few feet below the surface somewhere in the garden."

"Bless my heart, what a frightful thing!" cried his worship. "And
about this? What is going to be done?"

He pointed to the coffins and the open grave. Yes: what was to be
done? Lawyer Dale searched his legal memory and could not remember any
precedent to guide him. A short counsel was held.

"When her bones is found, poor lady, they'll want Chris'an bur'al: as
good let the grave lie open," interposed one of the grave-diggers
respectfully--who no doubt wished to be spared the present labour of
filling-in the earth. To which opinion the gentlemen, consulting
there, condescended to listen.

And, finally, that course was decided upon: Thomas Hepburn being
requested to have the coffins removed to his place, pending inquiry.
And the gentlemen dispersed, and the mob after them.

A very dissatisfied mob tramping out of the churchyard. They seldom
had much pleasure now, poor things, in their enforced idleness and
starvation: and to be balked in this way was about as mortifying a
termination to the day as could have happened. Only one greater evil
could be imagined--and that was a possibility not to be glanced at:
that it should have been discovered that poor Mrs. Rane had died a
natural death.

The last person left in the churchyard--excepting a man or two who
remained to guard the coffins, whilst means were being brought to take
them away--was Jelly. To watch Jelly's countenance when the empty
shell stood revealed, was as good as a play. The jaw dropped, the eyes
were strained. It was worse than even Jelly had supposed, Dr. Rane a
greater villain. Not content with taking his wife's life, he had also
made away with her body. Whether he had disposed of it in the manner
affirmed by the mob, in that suggested by the Inspector, or in any
other way, the doctor must be one of the most hardened criminals
breathing--his brazen demeanour just now in the graveyard was alone
sufficient evidence of that. And now the trouble was no nearer being
brought to light than before, and Jelly almost wished, as she had
wished many a time lately, that she might die. Hiding from the
spectators stood she, her heart faint within her. When the echoes of
the tramping mob had died away in the distance, Jelly turned to depart
also, drawing her black shawl around her with a shudder.

"_That's_ why she can't rest, poor lady; she's not laid in consecrated
ground. At the worst, I never suspected this."



CHAPTER XXXII.
A NIGHT EXPEDITION.


Seven o'clock was striking out on a dark winter's night, as a hired
carriage with a pair of post-horses drew up near to the gates of
Dallory Hall. Apparently the special hour had been agreed upon as a
rendezvous; for before the clock had well told its numbers, a small
group of people might have been seen approaching the carriage from
different ways.

There issued out from the Hall gates, Mr. North, leaning on the right
arm of his son Richard. Richard had quitted his chamber to join in
this expedition. His left arm was in a sling, and he looked pale; but
he was fast progressing towards recovery; and Mr. Seeley,
confidentially consulted, had given him permission to go forth. Mrs.
Gass came up from the direction of Dallory; and Dr. Rane came striding
from the Ham. A red-faced, portly gentleman in plain clothes, standing
near the carriage, greeted them: without his official costume and in
the dark night, few would have recognized him for Inspector Jekyll,
who had been directing affairs in the churchyard the previous day.
Mrs. Gass, Mr. North and Richard, entered the carriage. The Inspector
was about to ascend the box, the postillion being on the horses, but
Dr. Rane said he would himself prefer to sit outside. So Mr. Jekyll
got inside, and the doctor mounted; and the carriage drove away down
Dallory Ham.

Peering after it, in the dark night, behind the gates, was Mrs. North.
Some one beside her--it was only a servant-boy--ran off, at a signal,
towards the stables with a message, as fast as his legs would carry
him. There came back in answer madam's carriage--which must have been
awaiting the signal---with a pair of fresh fleet horses.

"Catch it up, and keep it in sight at a distance," were her orders to
the coachman, as she stepped in. So the post-carriage was being
tracked and followed: a fact none of its inmates had the slightest
notion of.

In her habit of peeping and prying, of listening at doors, of glancing
surreptitiously into other people's letters, and of ferreting
generally, madam had become aware during the last twenty-four hours
that something unusual was troubling the equanimity of Mr. North and
Richard: that some journey, to be taken in secret by Mr. North, and
kept secret, was being decided upon. Conscience--when it is not an
easy one--is apt to suggest all sorts of unpleasant things, and
madam's whispered to her that this hidden expedition had reference to
herself; and--perhaps--to a gentleman who had recently arrived in
England--William Adair.

Madam's cheeks turned pale through rouge and powder, and she bit her
lips in impotent rage. She could have found means, no doubt, to keep
Mr. North within doors, though she had broken his leg to accomplish
it; she could have found means to keep Richard also, had she known he
was to be of the party: but of what avail? Never a cleverer woman
lived, than madam, and she had the sense to know that a meeting with
Mr. Adair (and she believed the journey had reference to nothing else)
could not thus be prevented: it must take place sooner or later.

A carriage was to be in waiting near the Hall gates after dark, at
seven o'clock--madam had learned so much. Where was it going to? In
which direction? For what purpose? That at least madam could
ascertain. She gave private orders of her own: and as night
approached, retired to her room with a headache, forbidding the
household to disturb her. Mr. North, as he dined quietly in his
parlour, thought how well things were turning out. He had been haunted
with a fear of madam's pouncing upon him, at the moment of departure,
with a demand to know the why and the wherefore of his secret
expedition.

Madam, likewise attired for a journey, had escaped from the Hall long
before seven, and taken up her place amidst the shrubs near the
entrance-gates, her position commanding both the way from the house
and the road without. On the stroke of seven, steps were heard
advancing; and madam strained her gaze.

_Richard!_ Who had not yet left his sick-room! But for his voice, as
he spoke to his father, madam would have thought the night was playing
tricks with her eyesight.

She could not see who else got into the carriage: but she did see Dr.
Rane come striding by; and she thought it was he upon the box when the
carriage passed. Dr. Rane? Madam, catching her breath, wondered what
private histories Mrs. Cumberland had confided to him, and how much he
was now on his way to bear witness to. Madam was altogether on the
wrong scent--the result of her suggestive conscience.

Almost in a twinkling, she was shut up in her own carriage, as
described, her coachman alone outside it.

The man had no difficulty in obeying orders. The post-carriage was not
as light as madam's. Keeping at a safe distance, he followed in its
wake, unsuspected. First of all, from the Ham down the back lane, and
then through all sorts of frequented, cross-country by-ways.
Altogether, as both drivers thought, fifteen or sixteen miles.

The post-carriage drew up at a solitary house, on the outskirts of a
small hamlet. Madam's carriage halted also, further away. Alighting,
she desired her coachman to wait: and stole cautiously along under
cover of the hedge, to watch proceedings. It was then about nine
o'clock.

They were all going into the house: a little crowd, as it seemed to
madam; and the post-carriage went slowly away, perhaps to an inn. What
had they gone to that house for? Was Mr. Adair within it? Madam was
determined to see. She partly lost sight of prudence in her
desperation, and was at the door just as it closed after them. Half a
minute and she knocked softly with her knuckles. It was opened by a
young girl with a broad country face, and red elbows.

"Law!" said she. "I thought they was all in. Do you belong to 'em?"

"Yes," said Mrs. North.

So she went in also, and crept up the dark staircase, after them,
directed by the girl. "Fust door you comes to at the top." Madam's
face was growing ghastly: she fully expected to see William Adair.

The voices alone would have guided her. Several were heard talking
within the room: her husband's she distinguished plainly: and, she
thought, madam certainly thought, he was sobbing. Madam went into a
heat at the sound. What revelation had Mr. Adair been already making?
He had lost no time apparently.

The door was not latched. Madam cautiously pushed it an inch or two
open so as to enable her to see in. She looked very ugly just now, her
lips drawn back from her teeth with emotion, something like a hyena's.
Madam looked in: and saw, not Mr. Adair, but--Bessy Rane.

Bessy Rane. She was standing near the table, whilst Dr. Rane was
talking. Standing quite still, with her placid face, her pretty curls
falling, and wearing a violet-coloured merino gown, that madam had
seen her in a dozen times. In short, it was just like Bessy Rane in
life. On the table, near the one solitary candle, lay some white work,
as if just put out of hand.

In all madam's life she had perhaps never been so frightened as now.
The truth did not occur to her. She surely thought it an apparition,
as Jelly had thought before; or that--or that Bessy had in some
mysterious manner been conveyed hither from that disturbed grave. In
these confused moments the mind is apt to run away with itself.
Madam's was not strong enough to endure the shock, and be silent. With
a piercing shriek, she turned to fly, and fell against the whitewashed
chimney that the architect of the old-fashioned house had seen fit to
carry up through the centre of it. The next moment she was in
hysterics.

Bessy was the first to run to attend her. Bessy herself, you
understand, not her ghost. In a corner of the capacious old room,
built when ground was to be had for an old song, was Bessy's bed; and
on this they placed Mrs. North. Madam was not long in recovering her
equanimity: but she continued where she was, making believe to be
exhausted, and put a corner of her shawl up to her face. For once in
her life that face had a spark of shame in it.

Yes: Bessy was not dead. Humanly speaking, there had never been any
more probability of Bessy's demise than there was of madam's at this
moment. Dr. Rane is giving the explanation, and the others are
standing to listen; excepting Mr. North, who has sat down in an
old-fashioned elbow-chair, whilst Richard leans the weight of his
undamaged arm behind it. Mrs. Gass has pushed back her bonnet from her
beaming face; the inspector looks impassive as befits his calling, but
on the whole pleased.

"I am not ashamed of what I have done," said Dr. Rane, standing by
Bessy's side; "and I only regret it for the pain my wife's supposed
death caused her best friends, Mr. North and Richard. I would have
given much to tell the truth to Mr. North, but I knew it would not be
safe to trust him, and so I wished it to wait until we should have
left the country. For all that has occurred you must blame the
tontine. That is, blame the Ticknells, who obstinately, wrongfully,
cruelly kept the money from us. There were reasons--my want of
professional success one of them--why I wished to quit Dallory, and
start afresh in another place; I and my wife talked of it until it
grew, with me, into a disease; and I believe Bessy grew to wish for it
at last almost as I did."

"Yes, I did, Oliver," she put in.

"Look at the circumstances," resumed Dr. Rane, in his sternest tones,
and not at all as though he were on his defence. "There was the sum of
two thousand pounds belonging to me and my wife conjointly, and they
denied our right to touch it until one of us should be dead and gone!
It was monstrously unjust. You must acknowledge that much, Mr.
Inspector."

"Well--it did seem hard," acknowledged that functionary.

"I know _I_ thought it so," said Mrs. Gass.

"It was more than hard," spoke the doctor passionately. "I used to say
to my wife that if I could get it out of the old trustees' hands by
force, or stratagem, I should think it no shame to do it. Idle talk!
never meant to be anything else. But to get on. The fever broke out in
Dallory, and Bessy was taken ill. She thought it was the fever, and so
did I. I had fancied her a little afraid of it, and was in my heart
secretly thankful to Mr. North for inviting her to the Hall. But
for putting off her visit for a day--through the absence of Molly
Green--what happened later could never have taken place."

Dr. Rane paused, as if considering how he should go on with his story.
After a moment he resumed it, looking straight at them, as he had been
looking all along.

"I wish you to understand that every word I am telling you--and shall
tell you--is the strict truth. The truth, upon my honour, and before
Heaven. And yet, perhaps, even after this, you will scarcely credit me
when I say--that I did believe my wife's illness was the fever. All
that first day--she had been taken ill during the night with sickness
and shivering--I thought it was the fever. Seeley thought it also. She
was in a very high state of feverishness, and no doubt fear for her
served somewhat to bias our judgment. Bessy herself said it was the
fever, and would not hear a word to the contrary. But at night--the
first night, remember--she had nearly an hour of sickness; and was so
relieved by it, and grew so cool and collected, that I detected the
nature of the case. It was nothing but a bad bilious attack,
accompanied by an unusual degree of fever; but it was not _the_ fever.
'You have cheated me, my darling,' I said jestingly, as I kissed her,
'I shall not get the tontine money.'--Here she stands by my side to
confirm it," broke off Dr. Rane, but indeed they could all see he was
relating the simple truth. "'Can you not pretend that I am dead?' she
answered faintly, for she was still exceedingly ill; 'I will go away,
and you can say I died.' Now, of course Bessy spoke jestingly, as I
had done: nevertheless the words led to what afterwards took place.
_I_ proposed it--do not lay the blame on Bessy--that she really should
go away, and I should give it out that she had died."

A slight groan from the region of the bed. Dr. Rane continued.

"It seemed very easy of accomplishment--very. But had I foreseen all
the disagreeable proceedings, the artifice, the trouble, that must
inevitably attend such an attempted deceit, I should never have
entered upon it. Had I properly reflected, I might of course have
foreseen it: but I did not reflect. Nearly all that night Bessy and I
conversed together: chiefly planning how she should get away and where
she should stay. By morning, what with the fatigue induced by this
prolonged vigil, and the exhaustion left by her illness, she was
thoroughly worn out. It had been agreed between us that she should
simulate weariness and a desire to sleep, the better to avert a
discovery of her restoration; but there was no need for simulation;
she was both sleepy and exhausted."

"I never was so sleepy before in all my life," interrupted Bessy.

"The day went on. At ten o'clock, when Phillis left, I went up to my
wife's room, and told her the time for acting had come," pursued Dr.
Rane. "Next I crossed over to Seeley's with the news that my wife was
gone: and I strove to exhibit the grief I should have felt had it been
true. Crossing to my home again, I saw Frank Dallory, and told him.
'The play has begun,' I said to Bossy when I went in--and then I went
forth to Mr. North's; and then on to Hepburn's. Do you remember,
sir, how I tried to soothe your grief?--speaking persistently of
hope--though of course you could not see that any hope remained,"
asked Dr. Rane, turning to Mr. North. "I dared not speak more plainly,
though I longed to do so."

"Ay, I remember," answered Mr. North.

"The worst part of all the business was the next; bringing in the
shell," continued the doctor. "Worse, because I had a horror of my
wife seeing it. I contrived that she did not see it. Hepburn's men
brought it up to the ante-room: Bessy was still in bed in the
front-room, and heard them: I could not help that. When they left, I
put it down by the wall with the trestles, threw some coats carelessly
upon it, and so hid it out of sight. It was time then for Bessy to get
up. Whilst she was dressing, I went round to the stables, where the
horse and gig I use are kept, to make sure that the ostler had gone to
bed--for he had a habit sometimes of sitting up late. It was during
this absence of mine that Bessy went to the landing to listen whether
or not I had come in. The chamber-door was open, so that light shone
on to the landing. It happened to be at that moment that Jelly was at
the opposite window, and--later--thought it was Mrs. Rane's ghost that
she had seen."

Mrs. Gass's amused face was something good to witness. She nodded in
triumph.

"I thought it might have been the effects of beer," said she. "I told
Jelly what an idiot she was. I knew it was no ghost!"

"Bessy made herself ready, took some refreshment, and I brought the
gig to the garden-door and drove my wife away. The only place open at
that time of night--or rather morning--would be some insignificant
railway-station. We fixed on Hewley. I drove her there; and there left
her sitting under cover in solitary state--for I had to get back with
the horse and gig before people were astir. As soon as the morning was
pretty well on, Bessy walked to Churchend, about five miles' distance,
and took a lodging in this very house--this very same room. Here she
has been ever since--and it is a great deal longer time than we either
of us ever anticipated. Poison my wife!" added Dr. Rane, with some
emotion, as he involuntarily drew her towards him, with a gesture of
genuine affection. "She is rather too precious to me for that. _You_
know; don't you, my darling."

The happy tears stood in her eyes as she met his. He stooped and
kissed her, very fondly.

"If my wife were taken from me, the Ticknells might keep the tontine
money, and welcome; I should not care for it without Bessy. It was
chiefly for her sake that my desire to possess it arose," he added
emphatically. "I could not bear that she should be reduced to so poor
a home after the luxury of Dallory Hall. Bessy constantly said that
she did not mind it, but _I_ did; minded it for her and for her
alone."

"Couldn't you have managed all this without the funeral?" asked
Richard North, speaking for the first time.

"How could I?" returned Dr. Rane. "It was not possible. When my wife
was given out as dead, she had to be buried, or Mr. Inspector Jekyll,
there, might have been coming in to ask the reason why. Had I properly
thought of all that must be done, I should, as I say, never have
attempted it. It was hateful to me; and I declare that I don't know
how I could, or did, carry it through. Once or twice I thought I must
give in, and confess, to my shame, that Bessy was living--but I felt
that might be worse, of the two, than going on with it to the end. I
hope the Ticknells will suffer for what they have cost me."

"Jelly says she saw the ghost twice," observed Mrs. Gass,

"Ah! that was Bessy's fault," said Dr. Rane, shaking his head
at his wife, in mock reproval, as we do at a beloved child when
it is naughty. "She was so imprudent as to come home for a few
hours--walking across country by easy stages and getting in after
nightfall. It was about her wardrobe. I have been over twice at
night--or three times, is it not, Bessy?--and brought her things
each time. But Bessy said she must have others; and at last, as I tell
you, she came over herself. I think the clothes were nothing but an
excuse--eh, Bessy?"

"Partly," acknowledged Bessy. "For, oh! I longed for a sight of
home. Just one more sight as a farewell. I had quitted it in so
bewildered a hurry. It again led to Jelly's seeing me. I was at my
large chest-of-drawers, papa," she continued, addressing Mr. North.
"Oliver had gone round for the gig to bring me back again; I thought I
heard him come in again, and went to the landing to listen. It was not
he, but Jelly; and we met face to face. I assure you she frightened me
quite as much as I frightened her."

"And Bessy, my dear, what have the people here thought about it, all
the time?" inquired Mrs. North. "Do they know who you are?"

"Why of course not, papa. They think I am a lady in bad health;
staying here for the sake of country air--and I did feel and look very
ill when I came. An old widow lady has the house, and the girl you saw
is her servant. They are not at all inquisitive. They know us only as
Mr. and Mrs. Oliver, and think we live at Bletchley. I want to know
who pushed matters to extremities in regard to these proceedings
against my husband," added Mrs. Rane, after a pause. "It was not you,
papa: and Richard was doing his best to hush it all up. Richard had
known the truth since an interview he held with Oliver. Who was it,
papa?"

Madam tumbled off the bed, moaning a little, as if she were weak and
ill. Bessy had not the slightest idea that madam had been the culprit.

"Who was it, Mr. Jekyll?" continued Bessy.

The Inspector looked up to the ceiling and down to the floor; and then
thought the candle wanted snuffing. Which it certainly did. Madam
cried in a shrill voice as he was putting down the snuffers, that she
must depart. If the others chose to stay and countenance all this
unparalleled iniquity, _she_ could not do so.

She stood, upright as ever, tossing back her head, all her impudence
returning to her. Dr. Rane quietly put himself in her path as she was
gaining the door.

"Mrs. North, pardon me if I request you to give me a little
information ere you depart, as it is probably the last time we shall
ever meet. What has been the cause of the long-continued and
persistent animosity you have borne towards me?"

"Animosity towards _you!_" returned madam, flippantly. "I have borne
none."

The coolness of the avowal, in the very face of facts, struck them as
almost ludicrous. Mr. North raised his head and gazed at her in
surprise.

"You have pursued me with the most bitter animosity since the first
moment that I came to Dallory, madam," said Dr. Rane, quietly and
steadily. "You have kept practice from me; you have done what you can
to crush me. It is you who urged on this recent charge against me--a
very present proof of what I assert. But for you it might never have
been made."

Madam was slightly at bay: she seemed just a little flurried.
Rallying her powers, she confronted Dr. Rane and told him that she
did not think him skilful and did not personally like him; if she had
been biassed against him, the feeling must have taken its rise in
that--there was nothing else to cause it.

Another of her shuffling untruths--and they all knew it for one. But
they would get nothing better from her.

The fact was this. Madam had feared that Mrs. Cumberland could, and
perhaps would, throw light on a certain episode of the past years: a
contingency madam had dreaded above anything earthly: for this she had
wished and hoped to drive Mrs. Cumberland from the place, and had
thought that if she could drive away Oliver Rane, his mother would
follow him. That was the actual truth: but no living person, excepting
madam, suspected it.

She quitted the room with the last denial, conscious that she did not
just now appear to advantage--for the sneaking act of tracking them
this night, madam, with all her sophistry, could not plead an excuse.
They let her go. Even the Inspector did not pay her the courtesy of
opening the door for her, or of lighting her down the crooked old
wooden stairs. It was Bessy who ran to do it.

"When you found things were going against you, sir, why did you not
declare the truth?" asked the Inspector of Dr. Rane.

"I knew that the moment I declared the truth, all hope of the tontine
money would be at an end; I should have done what I had done for
nothing," answered Dr. Rane. "Richard North undertook to give me
timely notice if things went too far; but he was disabled, you know,
and could not do so. Until they were in the act of disturbing the
grave, I had no warning of it whatever."

A silence followed the answer. Dr. Rane resumed.

"Ill-luck seems to have attended it from the first. Perhaps nothing
else was to be expected. Jelly's having seen my wife was a great
misfortune. And then look at the delay as to the tontine money! Had
the trustees paid it over at once, Bessy and I should have been safe
away long ago."

"Where gone?" asked Mrs. Gass.

"To America. It is where we shall go now, in any case. As I have not
the money to join Dr. Jones as partner, I dare say he will take me as
an assistant."

"See here," said Mrs. Gass. "I don't say that what you've done is
anything but very wrong, doctor; but it might have been worse: and,
compared to what a lot of fools were saying, it seems a trifle. I was
once about to make you an offer of money. Finding you couldn't get the
tontine paid to you and your wife; which, as I've told you, I thought
was a shame, all things considered; I resolved to advance it to you
myself. Mrs. Rane's death stopped me from doing it; I mean, her
reported death. You won't get it now, doctor, from the Ticknells--for
I suppose they'll have to be told the truth: and so you shall have it
from me. Two thousand pounds is ready for you, at your command."

The red flush of emotion mounted to Dr. Rane's pale face. He gazed
eagerly at Mrs. Gass, as if asking whether it could be true.

"It's all right, doctor. You are my late husband's nephew, you know,
and all the money was his. You'll find yourself and your wife
substantially remembered in my will; and as two thousand pounds of it
may do you good now, it shall be advanced to you."

Bessy stole round to Mrs. Gass, and burst into tears on her bosom.
Happy, grateful tears. The doctor, the flush deepening on his face,
took Mrs. Gass's hand and clasped it.

"And I wish to my very heart I had made no delay in the offer at
first," cried Mrs. Gass. "It'll always be a warning to me not to put
off till tomorrow what should be done to-day. And so, doctor, there's
the money ready; and Bessy, my dear, I don't see why you and he need
banish yourselves to America. You might find a good practice, doctor,
and not go further than London."

"I must go to America; I must," said the doctor, hastily. "Neither I
nor Bessy would like now to remain in England."

"Well, perhaps you may be right," acquiesced Mrs. Gass.

"But it's a long way off," said Mr. North.

"It may not be for ever, sir," observed Dr. Rane, cheerfully. "I know
I shall do well there; and when I have made a fortune perhaps we may
come back and live in London. Never again in Dallory. The old and the
new world are brought very near each other now, sir."

Is it of any use pursuing the interview to its close? When they went
out again, after it was over, madam's carriage was only then driving
off. Madam's coachman had put up his horses somewhere; and neither he
nor they could readily be found. There was apparently no house open in
the primitive village, and madam had the pleasure of undergoing an
hour or two's soaking in a good, sound, down-pouring rain.

"I shall have to make things right with the authorities; and I suppose
Hepburn may keep the coffins for his pains," quaintly remarked Mr.
Inspector Jekyll.

But the carriage took back one less than it had brought. For Dr. Rane
did not return again to Dallory.



PART THE THIRD



CHAPTER I.
IN GROSVENOR PLACE.


A well-spread dessert-table glittered under the rays of the chandelier
in the dining-room of Sir Nash Bohun's town-house. Sir Nash and his
nephew Arthur were seated at it, a guest between them. It was General
Strachan; an old officer, Scotch by birth, who had just come home,
after passing the best part of his life in India.

The winter was departing. Arthur Bohun looked better, Sir Nash pretty
well. In a month or two both intended to depart for the German springs
that were to renovate Sir Nash's life.

General Strachan had been intimate with Sir Nash Bohun in early life,
before he went out to India. After he had gone out he had been equally
intimate with Major Bohun: but he was only Captain Strachan in those
days.

"And so you think Arthur like his father," observed Sir Nash, as he
passed the claret.

"His very image," replied the general. "I'm sure I should have known
him for Tom Bohun's son had I met him accidentally in the street.
Adair saw the likeness, too."

"What Adair's that?" carelessly asked Sir Nash.

"William Adair. You saw him with me at the club-door this morning. We
were going in at the moment you came up."

Perhaps Sir Nash was a little struck by the name. He called to mind a
good-looking, slender, gentlemanly man, who had been arm-in-arm with
the general at the time mentioned.

"But what Adair is it, Strachan?"

"What Adair? Why, the one who was in India when--when poor Tom died.
He was Tom's greatest friend. Perhaps you have never heard of him?"

"Yes I have, to my sorrow," said Sir Nash. "It was he who caused poor
Tom's death."

General Strachan apparently did not understand. "Who caused poor Tom's
death?"

"Adair."

"Why, bless me, where could you have picked that up?" cried the
general in surprise. "If Adair could have saved Tom's life by any
sacrifice to himself he'd have done it. They were firm friends to the
last."

Sir Nash seemed to be listening as though he heard not. "Of course we
never heard the particulars of my brother's death, over here, as we
should have heard them had we been on the spot," he remarked. "We were
glad, rather, to hush it up for the sake of Arthur. Poor Tom fell into
some trouble or disgrace, and Adair led him into it. That's what we
were ever told."

"Then you were told wrong, Bohun," said the general somewhat bluntly.
"Tom fell into debt, and I don't know what all, but it was not Adair
who led him into it. Who could have told you so?"

"Mrs. Bohun, Tom's widow."

"Oh, she," returned the general, in accents of contempt that spoke
volumes. "Why she--but never mind now," he broke off, suddenly
glancing at Arthur as he remembered that she was his mother. "Let
bygones be bygones," he added, sipping his claret; "no good recalling
them. Only don't continue to think anything against William Adair. He
is one of the best men living, and always has been."

Arthur Bohun, who had sat still as a stone, leaned his pale face a
little towards the general, and spoke.

"Did not this Mr. Adair, after my father's death, get into disgrace,
and--and undergo its punishment?"

"Never. Adair got into no disgrace."

"Has he not been a convict?" continued Arthur in low, clear tones.

"A WHAT?" cried the general, putting down his glass and staring at
Arthur in amazement. "My good young fellow, you cannot know of whom
you are speaking. William Adair has been a respected man all his life:
he is just as honourable as your father was--and the world knew pretty
well what poor Tom's fastidious notions of honour were. Adair is a
gentleman amongst gentlemen; I can't say better of him than that,
though I talked for an hour. He has come into all the family honours
and fortune; which he never expected to do. A good old Scotch family
it is, too; better than mine. There; we'll drop the subject now; no
good reaping up things that are past and done with."

Sir Nash asked no more: neither did Arthur. Some instinct lay within
both that, for their own sakes, it might be better not to do so.

But when the general left--which he did very soon, having an evening
engagement--Arthur went out with him. Arthur Bohun knew, as well as
though he had been told, that his wicked mother--he could only so
think of her in that moment--had dealt treacherously with him; to
answer some end of her own she had calumniated Mr. Adair. Cost him
what pain and shame it might, he would clear it up now.

"Will you give me the particulars that you would not give to my
uncle," began Arthur in agitation, the moment they were out of the
house, as he placed his hand on the general's arm. "No matter what
they are, I must know them."

"I would give them to your uncle, and welcome," said the plain old
soldier. "It was to you I would not give them."

"But I must learn them."

"Not from me."

"If you will not give them to me, I shall apply to William Adair."

"William Adair can give them to you if he pleases. I shall not do so.
Take advice, my dear young friend, and don't inquire into them."

"I will tell you what I suspect--that if any one had a hand in driving
my father to--to do what he did do, it was his wife; my mother. You
may tell me now."

"No. Because she is your mother."

"But I have the most urgent reason for wishing to arrive at the
particulars."

"Well, Arthur Bohun, I would rather not tell you, and that's the
truth. If poor Tom could hear me in his grave, I don't think he would
like it, you see. No, I can't tell you. Ask Adair, first of all,
whether he'd advise it, or not."

"Where is he staying?"

"In Grosvenor Place. He and his daughter are in a furnished house
there. She is very delicate."

"And--you say--I beg your pardon, general," added Arthur in agitation,
detaining him as he was going away--"You say that he is honoured, and
a gentleman."

"Who? Adair? As much so as you or I, my young friend. You must be
dreaming. Goodnight."

In his mind's tumult any delay seemed dreadful, and Arthur Bohun
turned at once to the house in Grosvenor Place. He asked if he could
see Mr. Adair.

The servant hesitated. "There is no Mr. Adair here, sir," he said.

Arthur looked up at the number. "Are you sure?" he asked of the man.
"I was informed by General Strachan that Mr. Adair had taken this
house, and was living here."

"The general must have said Sir William, sir. Sir William Adair lives
here."

"Oh--Sir William," spoke Arthur, "I--I was not aware Mr. Adair had
been knighted."

"Knighted, sir! My master has not been knighted," cried the man, as if
indignant at the charge. "Sir William has succeeded to the baronetcy
through the death of his uncle, Sir Archibald."

What with one thing and another, Arthur's senses seemed deserting him.
Sir Archibald Adair had been well known to him by reputation: a proud
old Scotch baronet, of a grand old lineage. And so this was Ellen's
family! And he had been deeming her not fitting to mate with him, a
Bohun!

"Can I see Sir William? Is he at home?"

"He is at home, sir. I think you can see him."

In his dining-room sat Sir William Adair when Arthur was shown
in--some coffee on a stand by his side, a newspaper in his hand. He
was a slight man of rather more than middle height, with an attractive
countenance. The features were good, their expression noble and
pleasing. It was impossible to associate such a face and bearing with
anything like dishonour.

"I believe my name is not altogether strange to you, sir," said Arthur
as the servant closed the door. "I hope you will pardon my
intrusion--and especially that it should be at this late hour."

Sir William had risen to receive him. He could but mark the agitation
with which the words were spoken. A moment's hesitation, and then he
took Arthur's hand and clasped it within his own.

"If I wished to be distant with you I could not," he said warmly.
"For, to me, you appear as your father come to life again. He and I
were fast friends."

"And did you wish to be distant with me?" asked Arthur.

"I have felt cold towards you this many a year. More than that."

"But why, Sir William?"

"Ah--why. I cannot tell you. For one thing, I have pictured you as
resembling another, more than my lost friend."

"You mean my mother."

Sir William looked at Arthur Bohun before replying. "Yes, I do. Will
you take a seat: and some coffee?"

Arthur sat down, but it may be questioned whether he as much as heard
that coffee was mentioned. Sir William rang the bell and ordered it to
be brought in. Arthur leaned forward; his blue eyes solemnly earnest,
his hand a little outstretched. Sir William almost started.

"How strangely like!" he exclaimed. "The look, the gesture, the voice,
all are your father's over again. I could fancy that you were Thomas
Bohun--as I last saw him in life."

"You knew him well--and my mother? You knew all about them?"

"Quite well. I knew you too when you were a little child."

"Then tell me one thing," said Arthur, his emotion increasing. "Was
she my mother?"

The question surprised Sir William Adair. "She was certainly your
mother, and your father's wife. Why do you ask it?"

"Because--she has so acted--that I--have many a time wished she was
not. I have almost hoped it. I wish I could hope it now."

"Ah," cried Sir William. It was all he said.

"Did you care much, for my father, Sir William?"

"More than I ever cared for any other man. I have never cared for one
since as I cared for him. We were young fellows then, he and I; not
much older than you are now; but ours was a true friendship."

"Then I conjure you, by that friendship, to disclose to me the whole
history of the past: the circumstances attending my father's death,
and its cause. Speak of things as though my mother existed not. I wish
to Heaven she never had been my mother!"

"I think you must know something of the circumstances," spoke Sir
William. "Or why should you say this?"

"It is because I know part that I must know the whole. My mother
has--has _lied_ to me," he concluded, bringing out the word with a
painful effort. "She has thrust a false story upon me, and--I cannot
rest until I know the truth."

"Arthur Bohun, although you conjure me by your late father: and for
his sake I would do a great deal: I fear that I ought not to do this."

"General Strachan bade me come to you. I begged him to tell me all,
but he said no. Does he know all?" broke off Arthur.

"Every tittle. I think he and I and your mother are nearly the only
three left who do know it. There were only some half-dozen of us
altogether."

"And do you not think that I, Major Bohun's only son, should at least
be made acquainted with as much as others know? Tell me all, Sir
William: for my lost father's sake."

"The only difficulty is--that you must hear ill of your mother."

"I cannot hear worse of her than I already know," impetuously returned
Arthur. "Perhaps it was less bad than I am imagining it may have
been."

But Sir William held back. Arthur seemed on the brink of a fever in
his impatience. And, whether it was that, or to clear the memory of
Major Bohun, or that he deemed it a righteous thing to satisfy Major
Bohun's son, or that he yielded to overpersuasion, Sir William Adair
at last spoke out.

They sat very close together, only the small coffee-table between
them. Whether the room was in light or darkness neither remembered. It
was a miserable tale they were absorbed in; one that need not be
elaborated here.

William Adair, when a young man, quarrelled with his family, or they
with him, and an estrangement took place. His father and mother were
dead, but his uncle, Sir Archibald, and other relatives, were left.
He, the young man, went to the Madras Presidency, appointed to some
post there in the civil service. His family made a boast of discarding
him; he, in return, was so incensed against them, that had it been
practicable, he would have abandoned the very name of Adair. Never a
word did he breathe to any one of who or what his family was; his
Scotch accent betrayed his country, but people knew no more. That he
was a gentleman was apparent, and that was sufficient.

A strong friendship ensued between him and Major Bohun. During one hot
season it happened that both went up in search of health to the Blue
Mountains, as Indians call the beautiful region of the Neilgherry
Hills. Mrs. Bohun accompanied her husband; Mr. Adair was not married.
There they made the acquaintance of the Reverend George Cumberland,
who was stationed at Ootacamund with his wife. Ootacamund was at that
time filled, and a good deal of gaiety was going on; Mrs. Bohun was
noted for it. There was some gambling nightly: and no votary joined in
it more persistently than she. Major Bohun removed with her to a
little place at a short distance, and a few others went also; the
chaplain, George Cumberland, was one of them.

There came a frightful day for Major Bohun. Certain claims suddenly
swooped down upon him; debts; promissory notes, bearing his signature
in conjunction with William Adair's. Neither understood what it meant,
for they had given nothing of the sort. A momentary thought arose to
Major Bohun--that his wife was implicated in it; but only so far as
that she might have joined in this high play; nothing worse. He had
become aware that she had a passion for gambling, and the discovery
had alarmed him: in fact, it was to wean her from undesirable
associates and pursuits that he had come away on this holiday; health,
the ostensible plea, was not the true one. But this was not known even
to his best friend, William Adair. "Let me deal with this," said the
major to Mr. Adair. But Mr. Adair, not choosing to allow a man to
forge his name with impunity--and he had no suspicion that it was a
woman--did not heed the injunction, but addressed himself to the
investigation. And a nest of iniquity he found it. He traced the
affair home to one Rabbetson--in all probability an assumed name--a
bad man in every way; no better than a blackleg; who had wormed
himself into society to prey upon it, and upon men and women's
failings. This man Mr. Adair confronted with Major Bohun: and
then--the fellow, brought to bay, braved it out by disclosing that his
helpmate was Mrs. Bohun.

It was even so. Mr. Adair sat aghast at the revelation. Had he
suspected this, he would have kept it to himself. How far she had
connected herself with this man, it was best not to inquire: and they
never did inquire, and never knew. One thing was certain--the man
could afford to take a high ground. He went out from the interview
bidding them do their worst--which with him would not be much, he
affirmed; for it was not he who had issued the false bills, but the
major's wife. And they saw that he spoke the truth.

Arthur Bohun listened to this now, motionless as a statue.

"I never saw any man so overcome as Bohun," continued Sir William
Adair. "He took it to heart; to heart. 'And she is the mother of my
child!' he said to me; and then he gave way, and held my hands in his,
and sobbed aloud. 'We will hush it up; we will take up the bills and
other obligations,' I said to him: though in truth I did not see how I
should do my part in it, for I was a poor man. He was poor also; his
expenses and his wife kept him so. 'It cannot be hushed up, Adair,' he
answered; 'it has gone too far.' Those were the last words he ever
said to me; it was the last time I saw him alive."

"Go on," said Arthur, without raising his head.

"Mrs. Bohun came into the room, and I quitted it. I saw by her face
that she knew what had happened; it was full of evil as she turned it
on me. Rabbetson had met her when he was going out, and whispered some
words in her ear. What passed between her and Major Bohun I never
knew. Before I had been five minutes in my rooms she stood before me;
had followed me down. Of all the vituperation that a woman's tongue
can utter, hers lavished about the worst on me. It was I who had
brought on the crisis, she said; it was I who had taken Rabbetson  to
her husband. I quietly told her that when I took Rabbetson  to Major
Bohun, I had not the remotest idea that she was mixed up with the
affair in any way; and that if I had known it, known what Rabbetson
could say, I never should have taken him, but have striven to deal
with it myself, and keep it dark for my friend Bohun's sake. She would
hear nothing; she was as a mad woman; she swore that not a word of it
was true; that Rabbetson  did not say it, could not have said it, but
that I and Major Bohun had concocted the tale between us. In short, I
think she was really mad for the time being."

"Stay a moment, Sir William," interrupted Arthur. "Who was she? I have
never known. I don't think my father's family ever did know."

"Neither did I ever know, to a certainty. A cousin, or sister, or
some relative of hers, had married a doctor in practice at Madras,
and she was out there on a visit to them. Captain Bohun--as he was
then--caught by her face and figure, both fine in those days, fell in
love with her and married her. He afterwards found that her father
kept an hotel somewhere in England."

So! This was the high-born lady who had set up for being above all
Dallory. But for the utmost self-control Arthur Bohun would have
groaned aloud.

"Go on, please," was all he said. "Get it finished."

"There is not much more to tell," returned Sir William. "I went
looking about for Bohun everywhere that afternoon; and could not find
him. Just before sun-down he was found--found as--as I dare say you
have heard. The spot was retired and shady, his pistol lay beside him.
He had not suffered: death must have been instantaneous."

"The report here was that he died of sunstroke," said Arthur, breaking
a long pause.

"No doubt. Mrs. Bohun caused it to be so reported. The real facts
transpired to very few: Cumberland, Captain Strachan, myself, and two
or three others."

"Did Mrs. Cumberland know them?" suddenly asked Arthur, a thought
striking him.

"I dare say not. I don't suppose her husband would disclose the
shameful tale to her. She was not on the spot at the time; had gone to
nurse some friend who was ill. I respected both the Cumberlands
highly. We made a sort of compact amongst ourselves, we men, never to
speak of this story, unless it should be to defend Bohun, or for some
other good purpose. We wished to give Mrs. Bohun a chance of redeeming
her acts and doings in her own land, for which she at once sailed.
Arthur, if I have had to say this to _you_, it is to vindicate your
dead father. I believe that your mother has dreaded me ever since."

Dreaded him! Ay! and foully aspersed him in her insane dread. Arthur
thought of the wicked invention she had raised, and passed his hands
upon his face as if he could shut out its remembrance.

"What became of Rabbetson?" he asked, in low tones.

"He disappeared. Or I think I should surely have shot him in his turn,
or kicked him to death. I saw him afterwards in Australia dying in the
most abject misery."

"And the claims?--the bills?"

"I took them upon myself; and contrived to pay all--with time."

"You left India for Australia?" continued Arthur, after a pause.

"My health failed, and I petitioned government to remove me to a
different climate. They complied, and sent me to Australia. I stayed
there, trying to accumulate a competency that should enable me to live
at home with Ellen as befitted my family: little supposing that I was
destined to become its head. My two cousins, Sir Archibald's sons,
have died one after the other."

Arthur Bohun had heard all he wished to know, perhaps all there was to
tell. If--if he could make his peace with Ellen, the old relations
between them might yet be renewed. But whilst his heart bounded with
the hope, the red of shame crimsoned his brow as he thought of the
past. Glancing at the timepiece on the mantel-shelf, he saw it was
only half-past nine; not too late yet.

"May I see your daughter, sir?" he asked. "We used to be good
friends."

"So I suppose," replied Sir William. "You made love to her, Arthur
Bohun. You would have married her, I believe, but that I stopped it."

"You--stopped it!" exclaimed Arthur, at sea: for he had known nothing
of the letter received by Ellen.

"I wrote to Ellen, telling her I must forbid her to marry you. I
feared at the time of writing that the interdict might arrive too
late. But it seems that it did not do so."

"Yes," abstractedly returned Arthur, letting pass what he did not
understand.

"You see, I had been thinking of you always as belonging to her--your
mother--more than to him. That mistake is over. I shall value you now
as _his_ son; more I dare say than I shall ever value any other young
man in this world."

Arthur's breath came fast and thick. "Then--you--you would give her to
me, sir!"

Sir William shook his head in sadness. Arthur misunderstood the
meaning.

"The probability is, sir, that I shall succeed my uncle in the
baronetcy. Would it not satisfy you?"

"You can see her if you will," was Sir William's answer, but there was
the same sad sort of denial in his manner. "I would not say No now for
your father's sake. She is in the drawing-room, upstairs. I will join
you as soon as I have written a note."

Arthur found his way by instinct. Ellen was lying back in an
easy-chair; the brilliant light of the chandelier on her face. Opening
the door softly, it--that face--was the first object that met his
sight. And he started back in terror.

Was it _death_ that he saw written there? All too surely conviction
came home to him.

It was a more momentous interview than the one just over. Explaining
he knew not how, explaining he knew not what, excepting that his love
had never left her, Arthur Bohun knelt at her feet, and they mingled
their tears together. For some minutes neither could understand the
other: but elucidation came at last. Arthur told her that the wicked
tale, the frightful treachery which had parted them was only a
concocted fable on his mother's part, and then he found that Ellen had
never known, never heard anything, about it.

"What then did you think was the matter with me?" he asked.

And she told him. She told him without reserve, now that she found how
untrue it was: she thought he had given her up for another. Madam had
informed her he was about to marry Miss Dallory.

He took in the full sense of what the words implied: the very abject
light in which his conduct must have appeared to her. A groan burst
from him: he covered his face to hide its shame and trouble.

"Ellen! Ellen! You could not have thought it of me."

"It was what I did think. How was I to think anything else? Your
mother had said it."

"Heaven forgive her her sins!" he wailed, in his despair. "It was
enough to kill you, Ellen. No wonder you look like this."

She was panting a little. Her breathing seemed very laboured.

"Pray Heaven I may be enabled to make it up to you when you are my
wife. I will try hard, my darling."

"I shall not live for it, Arthur."

His heart seemed to stand still. The words struck him as being so very
real.

"Arthur, I have known it for some time now. You must not grieve for
me. I even think that death is rather near."

"What has killed you? I?"

A flush passed over her wan face. Yes, he had killed her. That is, his
conduct had done so: the sensitive crimson betrayed it.

"The probability is that I should not in any case have lived long,"
she said, aloud. "I believe they feared something of the sort for me
years ago. Arthur, don't! Don't weep; I cannot bear it."

Sir William Adair had just told him how his father had wept in _his_
misery. And before Arthur could well collect himself, Sir William
entered.

"You see," he whispered aside to Arthur, "why it may not be. There
will be no marriage for her in this life. I am not surprised. I seem
to have always expected it: my wife, her mother, died of decline."

Arthur Bohun quitted the house, overwhelmed with shame and sorrow.
What regret is there like unto that for past mistaken conduct which
can never be remedied in this world?



CHAPTER II.
NO HOPE.


Once more the scene changes to Dallory.

Seated on a lawn-bench at Dallory Hall in the sweet spring
sunshine--for the time has again gone on--was Ellen Adair. Sir William
Adair and Arthur Bohun were pacing amidst the flower-beds that used to
be Mr. North's. Arthur stooped and plucked a magnificent pink
hyacinth.

"It is not treason, sir?" he asked, smiling.

"What is not treason?" returned the elder man.

"To pick this."

"Pick as many as you like," said Sir William.

"Mr. North never liked us to pluck his flowers. Now and then madam
would make a ruthless swoop upon them for her entertainments. It
grieved his heart."

"No wonder," said Sir William.

The restoration to the old happiness, the disappearance of the
dreadful cloud that had told so fatally upon her, seemed to infuse new
vigour into Ellen's shortening span of life. With the exception of her
father, every one thought she was recovering: the doctors admitted,
rather dubiously, that it "might be so." She passed wonderfully well
through the winter, went out and about almost as of old; and when more
genial weather set in, it was suggested by friends that she should be
taken to a warmer climate. Ellen opposed it; she knew it would not
avail, perhaps only hasten the end; and after a private interview Sir
William had with the doctors, even he did not second it. Her great
wish was to go back to Dallory: and arrangements for their removal
were made.

Dallory Hall was empty, and Sir William found that he could occupy it
for the present if he pleased. Mr. North had removed to the house that
had been Mrs. Cumberland's, leaving his own furniture: in point of
fact it was Richard's: at the Hall, hoping the next tenant, whoever
that might prove to be, would take to it. Miss Dallory seemed
undecided what to do with the Hall, whether to let it for a term
again, or not, But she was quite willing that Sir William Adair should
have it for a month or two.

And so he came down with Ellen, bringing his own servants with him.
This was only the third day after their arrival, and Arthur Bohun had
arrived. Sir William had told him he might come when he would.

The change seemed to have improved Ellen, and she had received a few
visitors. Mrs. Gass had been there; Mr. North had come down; and
Richard ran in for a few minutes every day. Sir William welcomed them
all; Mrs. Gass warmly; for she was sister-in-law to Mrs. Cumberland,
and Ellen had told him of Mrs. Gass's goodness of heart. She had
unfastened her bonnet, and stayed luncheon with them.

Mr. North was alone in his new home, and was likely to be so; for his
wife had relieved him of her society. Violently indignant at the
prospect of removal from such a habitation as the Hall to that small
home of the late Mrs. Cumberland's, madam went off to London with
Matilda, and took Sir Nash Bohun's house by storm. Not an hour,
however, had she been in it, when madam found all her golden dreams
must be scattered to the winds. Never again would Sir Nash receive her
as a guest or tolerate her presence. The long hidden truth, as
connected with his unfortunate brother's death, had been made clear to
him: first of all by General Strachan, next by Sir William Adair, with
whom he became intimate.

Of what use to tell of the interview between Arthur and his mother? It
was of a painful character. There was no outspoken reproach, no voice
was raised. In a subdued manner, striving for calmness, Arthur told
her she had wilfully destroyed both himself and Ellen Adair; her life,
for she was dying; his happiness for ever. He recapitulated all that
had been disclosed to him relating to his father's death; and madam,
brought to bay, never attempted to deny its accuracy.

"But that I dare not fly in the face of one of Heaven's Commandments,
I would now cast you off for ever," he concluded in his bitter pain.
"Look upon you again as my mother, I cannot. I will help you when you
need help; so far will I act the part of a son towards you; but all
respect for you has been forced out of me; and I would prefer that we
should not meet very often."

Madam departed the same day for Germany, Matilda and the maid Parrit
in her wake. Letters came from her to say she should never return to
Dallory; never; probably never set her foot again on British soil; and
therefore she desired that a suitable income might be secured to her
abroad.

And so Mr. North had his new residence all to himself--saving Richard.
Jelly had taken up her post as his housekeeper, with a boy and a maid
under her; and there was one outdoor gardener. She domineered over all
to her heart's content. Jelly was regaining some of her lost flesh,
and more than her lost spirits. Set at rest in a confidential
interview with Mr. Richard, as to the very tangible nature of the
apparition she had seen, Jelly was herself again. Mr. North thought
his garden lovely, more compact than the extensive one at the Hall; he
was out in it all day long, and felt at peace. Mrs. Gass came to see
him often; Mary Dallory almost daily: he had his good son Richard to
bear him company of an evening. Altogether Mr. North was in much
comfort. Dr. Rane's house remained empty: old Phillis, to whom the
truth had also been disclosed, taking care of it. The doctor's
personal effects had been sent to him by Richard.

"Ellen looks much better, sir," remarked Arthur Bohun, as he twirled
the pink hyacinth he had plucked.

"A little fresher, perhaps, from the country air," answered Sir
William.

"I have not lost hope: she may yet be mine," he murmured.

Sir William did not answer. He would give her to Arthur now with his
whole heart, had her health permitted it. Arthur himself looked ill;
in the last few months he seemed to have aged years. A terrible
remorse was ever upon him; his life, in its unavailing regret, seemed
as one long agony.

They turned to where she was sitting. "Would you not like to walk a
little, Ellen?" asked her father.

She rose at once. Arthur held out his arm, and she took it. Sir
William was quite content that it should be so: Arthur, and not
himself. The three paced the lawn. Ellen wore a lilac silk gown and
warm white cloak. An elegant girl yet, though worn almost to a shadow,
with the same sweet face as of yore.

But she was soon tired, and sat down again, Arthur by her side. One of
the gardeners came up for some orders, and Sir William went away with
him.

"I have not been so happy for many a day, Ellen, as I am now," began
Captain Bohun. "You are looking quite yourself again. I think--in a
little time--that you may be mine."

A blush, beautiful as the rose-flush of old, sat for a moment on her
cheeks. She knew how fallacious was the hope.

"I am nearly sure that Sir William thinks so, and will soon give you
to me," he added.

"Arthur," she said, putting her wan and wasted hand on his, "don't
take the hope to heart. The--disappointment, when it came, would be
all the harder to bear."

"But, my darling, you are surely better!"

"Yes, I seem so, just for a little time. But I fear that I shall never
be well enough to be your wife."

"It was so very near once, you know," was all he whispered.

There was no one within view, and they sat, her hand clasped in his.
The old expressive silence that used to lie between them of old,
ensued now. They could not tell to each other more than they had told
already. In the unexpected reconciliation that had come, in the bliss
it brought, all had been disclosed. Arthur had heard all about her
self-humiliation and anguish; he knew of the treasured violets, and
their supposed treachery: she had listened to his recital of the weeks
of despair; she had seen the letter, written to him from Eastsea, worn
with his kisses, blotted with his tsars, and kept in his bosom still.
No: of the past there was nothing more to tell each other; so far,
they were at rest.

Arthur Bohun was still unconsciously twirling that pink hyacinth in
his fingers. Becoming aware of the fact, he offered it to her. A wan
smile parted her lips.

"You should not have given it, to me, Arthur."

"Why?"

Ellen took it up. The perfume was very strong.

"Why should I not have given it to you?"

"Don't you know what the hyacinth is an emblem of?"

"No."

"Death."

One quick, pained glance at her. She was smiling yet, and looking
rather fondly at the flower. Captain Bohun took both flower and hand
into his.

"I always thought you liked hyacinths, Ellen."

"I have always liked them very much indeed. And I like the
perfume--although it is somewhat faint and sickly."

He quietly flung the flower on the grass, and put his boot on it to
stamp out its beauty. A truer emblem of death, now, than it was
before; but he did not think of that.

"I'll find you a sweeter flower presently, Ellen. And you know----"

A visitor was crossing the lawn to approach them. It was Miss Dallory.
She had not yet been to see Ellen. Something said by Mrs. Gass had
sent her now. Happening to call on Mrs. Gass that morning, Mary heard
for the first time of the love that had so long existed between
Captain Bohun and Miss Adair, and that the course of the love had been
forcibly interrupted by madam, who had put forth the plea that her son
was engaged to Miss Dallory.

Mary sat before Mrs. Gass in mute surprise, recalling facts and
fancies. "I know that madam would have liked her son to marry me; the
hints she gave me on the point were too broad to be mistaken," she
observed to Mrs. Gass. "Neither I nor Captain Bohun had any thought or
intention of the sort; we understood each other too well."

"Yet you once took me in," said Mrs. Gass.

Mary laughed. "It was only in sport: I did not think you were
serious."

"They believed it at the Hall."

"Oh, did they? So much the better."

"My dear, I am afraid it was not for the better," dissented Mrs. Gass
rather solemnly. "They say that it has killed Miss Ellen Adair."

"What?" exclaimed Mary.

"Ever since that time when she first went to the Hall after Mrs.
Cumberland's death, she has been wasting and wasting away. Her father,
Sir William, has now brought her to Dallory, not to try if the change
might restore her, for nothing but a miracle would do that, but
because she took a whim to come. Did you hear that she was very ill?"

"Yes, I heard so."

"Well, then, I believe it is nothing but this business that has made
her ill--Captain Bohun's deserting her for you. She was led to believe
it was so--and until then, they had been wrapt up in each other."

Mary Dallory felt her face grow hot and cold. She had been altogether
innocent of ill intention; but the words struck a strange chill of
repentance to her heart.

"I--don't understand," she said in frightened tones. "Captain Bohun
knew there was nothing between us; not even a shadow of pretence of
it: why did he not tell her so?"

"Because he and she had parted on another score; they had been parted
through a lie of madam's, who wanted him to marry you. I don't rightly
know what the lie was; something frightfully grave; something he could
not repeat again to Miss Adair; and Ellen Adair never heard it, and
thought it was as madam said--that his love had gone over to you."

Mary sat in silence, thinking of the past. There was a long pause.

"How did you get to know this?" she breathed.

"Ah, well--partly through Mr. Richard. And I sat an hour talking with
poor Miss Ellen yesterday, and caught a hint or two then."

"I will set it straight," said Mary; feeling, though without much
cause, bitterly repentant.

"My dear, it has been all set straight since the winter. Nevertheless,
Miss Mary, it was too late. Madam had done her crafty work well."

"Madam deserves to be put in the stocks," was the impulsive rejoinder
of Miss Dallory.

She went to the Hall there and then. And this explains her present
approach. Things had cleared very much to her as she walked along. She
had never been able to account for the manner in which Ellen seemed to
shun her, to avoid all approach to intimacy or friendship. That Mary
Dallory had favoured the impression abroad of Arthur Bohun's possible
engagement to her, she was now all too conscious of; or, at any rate,
had not attempted to contradict it. But it had never occurred to her
that she was doing harm to any one.

Just as Arthur Bohun had started when he first saw Ellen in the
winter, so did Miss Dallory start now. Wan and wasted? ay, indeed.
Mary felt half faint in thinking of the share she had had in it.

She said nothing at first. Room was made for her on the bench, and
they talked of indifferent matters. Sir William came up, and was
introduced. Presently he and Arthur strolled to a distance.

Then Mary spoke. Just a word or two of the misapprehension that had
existed; then a burst of exculpation.

"Ellen, I would have died rather than have caused you pain. Oh if I
had only known! Arthur and I were familiar with each other as brother
and sister: never a thought of anything else was in our minds. If I
let people think there was, why--it was done in coquetry. I had some
one else in my head, you see, all the time; and that's the truth. And
I am afraid I enjoyed the disappointment that would ensue for madam."

Ellen smiled faintly. "It seems to have been a complication
altogether. A sort of ill-fate that I suppose there was no avoiding."

"You must get well, and be his wife."

"Ay. I wish I could."

But none could be wishing that as Arthur did. Hope deceived him; he
confidently thought that a month or two would see her his. Just for a
few days the deceitful improvement in her continued.

One afternoon they drove to Dallory churchyard. Ellen and her father;
Arthur sitting opposite them in the carriage. A fancy had taken her
that she would once more look on Mrs. Cumberland's grave; and Sir
William said he should himself like to see it.

The marble stone was up now, with its inscription: "Fanny, widow of
the Reverend George Cumberland, Government Chaplain, and daughter of
the late William Gass, Esq., of Whitborough." There was no mention of
her marriage to Captain Rane. Perhaps Dr. Rane fancied the name was
not in very good odour just now, and so omitted it. The place where
the ground had been disturbed, to take up those other coffins, had
been filled in again with earth.

Ellen drew Sir William's attention to a green spot near, overshadowed
by the branches of a tree that waved in the breeze, and flickered the
grass beneath with ever-changing light and shade.

"It is the prettiest spot in the churchyard," she said, touching his
arm. "And yet no one has ever chosen it."

"It is very pretty, Ellen; but solitary."

"Will you let it be here, papa?"

He understood the soft whisper, and slightly nodded, compressing his
lips. Sir William was not deceived. Years had elapsed, but, to him, it
seemed to be his wife's case over again. There had been no hope for
her; there was none for Ellen.



CHAPTER III.
BROUGHT HOME TO HIM.


She lay back in an easy-chair, in the little room that was once Mr.
North's parlour. The window was thrown open to the sweet flowers, the
balmy air; and Ellen Adair drank in their beauty and perfume.

She took to this room as her own sitting-room the day she came back to
the Hall. She had always liked it. Sir William had caused the shabby
old carpet and chairs and tables to be replaced by fresh bright
furniture. How willingly, had it been possible, would he have kept her
in life!

Just for a few days had hope lasted--no more. The change had come
suddenly, and was unmistakable. She wore a white gown, tied round the
waist with a pink girdle, and a little bow of pink ribbon--her
favourite colour--at the neck. She wished to look well yet; her toilet
was attended to, her bright hair was arranged carefully as ever. But
the maid did all that. The wan face was very sweet still, the soft
brown eyes had all their old lustre. Very listless was the worn white
hand lying on her lap; loosely sat the plain gold ring on it--the ring
that, through all the toil and trouble, had never been taken off.
Ellen was alone. Sir William had gone by appointment to see over
Richard North's works.

A sound as of steps on the gravel. Her father could not have come back
yet! A moment's listening, and then the hectic flushed to her face;
for she knew the step too well. Captain Bohun had returned!

Captain Bohun had gone to London to see Sir Nash off on his projected
Continental journey to the springs that were to make him young again.
Sir Nash had expected Arthur to accompany him, but he now acknowledged
that Ellen's claims were paramount to his. Ellen had thought he might
have been back again yesterday.

He came in at the glass-doors, knowing he should probably find her in
the room. But his joyous smile died away when he saw her face. His
step halted: his hand dropped at his side.

"_Ellen!_"

In timid, wailing tones was the word spoken. Only three days' absence,
and she had faded like this! Was it a relapse?--or what had she been
doing to cause the change?

For a few minutes, perhaps neither of them was sufficiently collected
to know what passed. In his abandonment, he knelt by the chair,
holding her hands, his eyes dropping tears. The remorse ever gnawing
at his heart was very cruel just then. Ellen bent towards him, and
whispered that he must be calm--must bear like a man: things were only
drawing a little nearer.

"I should have been down yesterday, but I waited in town to make
sundry purchases and preparations," he said. "Ellen, I thought
that--perhaps--next month--your father would have given you over to
me."

"Did you?" she faintly answered.

"You must be mine," he continued, in too deep emotion to weigh his
words. "If you were to die first, I--I think it would kill me."

"Look at me," was all she answered. "See whether it is possible."

"There's no knowing. It might restore you. Fresh scenes, the warm pure
climate that I would take you to--we would find one somewhere--might
do wonders. I pointed this out to Sir William in the winter."

"But I have not been well enough for it, Arthur."

"Ellen, it must be! Why, you know that you were almost my wife.
Half-an-hour later, and you would have been."

She released one of her hands, and put it up to her face.

Captain Bohun grew more earnest in his pleading; he was really
thinking this thing might be.

"I shall declare the truth to Sir William--and I know that I ought to
have done so before, Ellen. When he knows how very near we were to
being man and wife, he will make no further objection to giving you to
me now. My care and love will restore you, if anything can."

She had put down her hand again, and was looking at him, a little
startled and her cheeks hectic.

"Arthur, hush. Papa must never know this while I live. Do as you will
afterwards."

"I shall tell him before the day's out," persisted Captain Bohun. And
she began to tremble with agitation.

"No, no. I say no. I should die with the shame."

"What shame?" he rejoined.

"The shame that--that--fell upon me. The shame of--after having
consented to a secret marriage, you should have left me as you did,
and not fulfilled it, and never told me why. It lies upon me still,
and I cannot help it. I think it is that that has helped to kill me
more than all the rest. Oh, Arthur, forgive me for saying this! But do
not renew the shame now."

Never had his past conduct been brought so forcibly home to him. Never
had his heart so ached with its repentance and pain.

"The fear, lest the secret should be discovered, lay upon me always,"
she whispered. "Whilst I was staying here that time it seemed to me
one long mental torment. Had the humiliation come, I could never have
borne it. Spare me still, Arthur."

Every word she spoke was like a dagger thrusting its sharp point into
his heart. _She_ was going--going rapidly--where neither pain nor
humiliation could reach her. But he had, in all probability, a long
life before him, and must live out his bitter repentance.

"Oh, my love, my love! I wish I could die for you!"

"Don't grieve, Arthur; I shall be better off. You and papa must
comfort one another."

He was unconsciously turning round the plain gold ring on her wasted
hand, a sob now and again breaking from him. How real the past was
seeming to him; even the hour when he had put that ring on, and the
words he spoke with it, were very present. What remained of it all?
Nothing, except that she was dying.

"I should like to give you this key now, whilst I am well enough
to remember," she suddenly said, detaching a small key from her
watch-chain. "It belongs to my treasure-box, as I used to call it at
school. They will give it you when I am dead."

"Oh, Ellen!"

"The other ring is in it, and the licence--for I did not burn it, as
you bade me that day in the churchyard; and the two or three letters
you ever wrote to me; and my journal, and some withered flowers, and
other foolish trifles. You can do what you like with them, Arthur;
they will be yours then. And oh, Arthur! if you grieve any more now,
like this, you will hurt me, for I cannot bear that you should suffer
pain. God bless you, my darling, my almost husband! We should have
been very happy with one another."

Lower and lower bent he his aching brow, striving to suppress the
anguish that well-nigh unmanned him. Her own tears were falling.

"Be comforted," she whispered; "Arthur, be comforted! It will not be
for so many years, even at the most; and then we shall be together
again, in heaven!"


      *     *     *     *     *


And so she died. A week or two more of pain and suffering, and she was
at rest. And that was the ending of Ellen Adair--one of the sweetest
girls this world has ever known.



CHAPTER IV.
CONCLUSION.


The genial spring gave place to a hot summer; and summer, in its turn,
was giving place to autumn. There is little to record of the interval.

Dallory, as regards North Inlet, was no longer crowded. The poor
workmen, with their wives and families, had for the most part drifted
away from it; some few were emigrating, some had brought themselves to
accepting that last and hated refuge, the workhouse; and they seemed
likely, so far as present prospects looked, to be permanent recipients
of its hospitality. The greater portion, however, had wandered away to
different parts of the country, seeking for that employment they could
no longer find in their native place. Poole and the other conspirators
had been tried at the March assizes. Richard North pleaded earnestly
for a lenient sentence: and he was listened to. Poole received a term
of penal servitude, shorter than it would otherwise have been, and the
others hard labour. One and all, including Mr. Poole, declared that
they would not willingly have injured Richard North.

So, what with one thing and another, North Inlet had too much empty
space in it, and was now at peace. There was no longer any need of
special policemen. As to Richard, he was going on steadily and
quietly; progressing a little, though not very much. Five or six men
had been added to his number, of whom Ketler was one; Ketler having,
as Jelly said, come to his senses. But the works would never be what
they had been. For one thing, Richard had no capital; and if he had,
perhaps he might not now have cared to embark it in this manner.
Provided he could gain a sufficient income for expenses, and so employ
his time and energies, it was all he asked.

Madam lived permanently abroad. Mr. North--Richard in reality--allowed
her two hundred a-year; her son Arthur two; Sir Nash two. Six hundred
a-year; but it was pretty plainly intimated to madam that this income
was only guaranteed so long as she kept herself aloof from them. Madam
retorted that she liked the Continent too well to leave it for
disagreeable old England.

Matilda North had married a French count, whom they had met at
Baden-Baden. She, herself, made the announcement to her stepbrother
Arthur in a self-possessed letter, telling him that as the count's
fortune was not equal to his merits, she should depend upon Arthur to
assist them yearly. Sidney North had also married. Tired, possibly,
with his most uncertain existence, finding supplies from home were now
the exception rather than the rule, and not daring to show his face on
English soil to entreat for more, Mr. Sidney North entered into the
bonds of matrimony with a wealthy American dame a few years older than
himself; the widow of a great man who had made his fortune by the oil
springs. It was to be hoped he would keep himself straight now.

And Mr. North, feeling that he was freed from madam, was happy as a
prince, and confidentially told people that he thought he was growing
young again. Bessy wrote to him weekly; pleasant, happy letters. She
liked her home in the new world very much indeed; and she said Oliver
seemed not to have a single care. The new firm, Jones and Rane, had
more patients than they could attend to, and all things were well with
them. In short, Dr. and Mrs. Rane were evidently both prosperous and
happy. No one was more pleased to know this than Mrs. Gass. _She_
flourished; and her beaming face was more beaming than ever when seen
abroad, setting the wives of Richard North's workmen to rights, or
looking out from behind her geraniums.

Dallory Hall was empty again. William Adair had quitted it, his
mission there over. Richard North was thinking about removing the
furniture; but in truth he did not know what to do with it. There was
no hurry, for Miss Dallory said she did not intend to let it again at
present.

Perhaps the only one not just now in a state of bliss was Jelly. Jelly
had made a frightful discovery--Tim Wilks was faithless. For several
months--as it came out--Mr. Wilks had transferred his allegiance from
herself to Molly Green, whom he was secretly courting at Whitborough.
At least, he was keeping it from Jelly. The truth was, poor Tim did
not dare to tell her. Jelly heard of it in a manner that astounded
her. Spending a Sunday at Whitborough with Mrs. Beverage's servants,
Jelly went to morning service at one of the churches. "Pate" took her
to a particular church, she said. And there she heard the banns of
marriage read out, for the first time of asking, between Timothy
Wilks, bachelor, and Mary Green, spinster. Jelly very nearly shrieked
aloud in her indignation. Had the culprits been present, she might
have felt compelled to box their ears in coming out. It proved to be
true. Tim and Molly were going to be married, and Tim was furnishing a
pretty cottage at Whitborough.

And that is how matters at present stood in Dallory.

One autumn day, when the woods were glowing with their many colours,
and the guns might be heard making war on the partridges, Richard
North overtook one of his Flemish workmen at the base of a hill about
half-a-mile from his works. The man was wheeling a wheelbarrow that
contained sand, but not in the handy manner that an Englishman would
have done it, and Richard took it himself.

"Can't you learn, Snaude?" he said, addressing the man. "See here;
you should stoop: you must not get the barrow nearly upright. See how
you've spilt the sand."

Wheeling it along and paying attention to nothing else, Richard took
no notice of a basket-carriage that was coming down the opposite hill.
It pulled up when it reached him. Looking up, Richard saw Miss
Dallory. Resigning the wheelbarrow to the man, Richard took the hand
she held out.

"Yes," he said laughing, "you stop to shake hands with me now, but you
won't do it soon."

"No? Why not?" she questioned.

"You saw me wheeling the barrow along?"

"Yes. It did not look very heavy."

"I have to put my hands to all sorts of things now, you perceive, Miss
Dallory."

"Just so. I hope you like doing it."

"Well, I do."

"But I want to know what you mean by saying I shall soon not stop to
speak to you."

"When you become a great lady. Report says you are about to marry."

"Does it? Do you still think, sir, I am going to accept a Bohun?"

"There has been some lord down at your brother's place, once or twice.
The gossips in Dallory say that he comes for you."

"Then you can tell the gossips that they are a great deal wiser than I
am. Stand still, Gyp"--to the shaggy pony. "I would not have him; and
I'm sure he has not the remotest idea of having me. Why, he is hardly
out of his teens! I dare say he thinks me old enough to be his
godmother."

Miss Dallory played with the reins, and then glanced at Richard. He
was looking at her earnestly, as he leaned on the low carriage.

"That young man has come down for the shooting, Mr. Richard. Frank
takes him out every day. As for me, I do not intend to marry at all.
Never."

"What shall you do, then?"

"Live at Dallory Hall. Frank _is_ going to be married, to the lord's
sister. Now there's some information for you, but you need not
proclaim it. It is true. I shall remove myself and my chattels to the
Hall, and live there till I die."

"It will be very lonely for you."

"Yes, I know that," she answered sadly. "Most old maids are lonely.
There will be Frank's children, perhaps, to come and stay with me
sometimes."

Their eyes met. Each understood the other as exactly as though a host
of words had been spoken. She would have _one_ man for a husband, and
only one--if he would have her.

Richard went nearer. His lips were pale, his tones husky with emotion.

"Mary, it would be most unsuitable. Think of your money; your birth. I
told you once before not to tempt me. Why, you know--you _know_ that I
have loved you, all along, too well for my own peace. In the old days
when those works of ours"--pointing to the distant chimneys--"were of
note, and we were wealthy, I allowed myself to cherish dreams that I
should be ashamed to confess to now: but that's all over and done
with. It would never do."

She blushed and smiled; and turned her head away from him to study the
opposite hedge while she spoke.

"For my part, I think there never was anything so suitable since the
world was made."

"Mary, I cannot."

"If you will please get off my basket-chaise, sir, I'll drive on."

But he did not stir. Miss Dallory played with the reins again.

"Mary, how _can_ I? If you had nothing, it would be different. I
cannot live at Dallory Hall.

"No one else ever shall." But Richard had to bend to catch the
whisper.

"The community would cry shame upon me. Upon that poor working man,
Richard North."

"How dare you call yourself names, Mr. Richard? You are a gentleman."

"What would John and Francis say?"

"What they pleased. Francis likes you better than any one in the
world; better than--well, yes, sir--better than I do."

He had taken one of her hands now. She knew, she had known a long
while, how it was with him--that he loved her passionately, but would
never, under his altered circumstances, tell her so. And, moreover,
she knew that he was aware she knew it.

"But Mary, since--since before you returned from Switzerland up to
this hour, I have not dared to think the old hopes could be carried
out, even in my own heart."

"You think it better that I should grow into an old maid, and you into
an old bachelor. Very well. Thank you. Perhaps we shall both be
happier for it. Let me drive on, Mr. Richard."

He drew nearer to her; made her turn to him. The great love of his
heart shone in his face and eyes. A face of emotion then. She dropped
the reins, regardless of what the rough pony might do, and put her
other hand upon his.

"Oh, Richard, don't let us carry on the farce any longer! We have been
playing it all these months and years. Let us at least be honest with
each other: and then, if you decide for separation, why--it must be
so."

But, as it seemed, Richard did not mean to decide for it. He glanced
round to make sure that no one was in the lonely road: and, drawing
her face to his, left some strangely ardent kisses on it.

"I could not give up my works, Mary."

"No one asked you to do so, sir."

"It is just as though I had left the furniture in the Hall for the
purpose."

"Perhaps you did."

"Mary!"

"There's the pony going. Stand still, Gyp. I won't give up Gyp, mind,
Richard. I know he is frightfully ragged and ugly, and that you
despise him; but I won't give him up. He can be the set-off bargain
against your works, sir."

"Agreed," answered Richard, laughing. And he sealed the bargain.

Mary said again that she must drive on; and did not. How long they
would really have stayed there it was impossible to say, had not the
man come back from the works with the empty wheelbarrow for more sand.


      *     *     *     *     *


When the next spring came round, Richard North and his wife were
established at Dallory Hall. Somewhere about the time of the marriage,
there occurred a little warfare. Mary, who owned a great amount of
accumulated money, wanted Richard to take it into his business.
Richard steadily refused. A small amount would be useful to him; that
he would take; but no more.

"Richard," she said to him one day, before they had been married a
week, "I do think you are more obstinate upon this point than any
other. You should hear what Mrs. Gass says about it."

"She says it to me," returned Richard, laughing. "There's not my equal
for obstinacy in the world, she tells me."

"And you know it's true, sir."

But the next minute he grew strangely serious. "I cannot give up
business, Mary; I have already said so----"

"I should despise you if you did, Richard," she interrupted. "I have
money and gentility--I beg you'll not laugh, sir; you have work, and
brains to work with; so we are equally matched. But I wish you would
take the money."

"No," said Richard. "I will never again enter on gigantic operations,
and be at the beck and call of the Trades' Unions. There's another
reason against it--that it would require closer supervision on my
part. And as I have now divided duties to attend to; I shall not add
to them. I should not choose to neglect my works; I should not choose
to neglect my wife."

"A wilful man must have his way," quoth Mary.

"And a wilful woman shall have hers in all things, excepting when I
see that it would not be for her good," rejoined Richard, holding his
wife before him by the waist.

"I dare say I shall!" she saucily answered. "Is that a bargain,
Richard?"

"To be sure it is." And Richard sealed it as he had sealed the other
some months before.

And so we leave Dallory and its people at peace. Even Jelly was in
feather. Jelly, ruling Mr. North indoors, and giving her opinion,
unasked, in a free-and-easy manner whenever she chose, as to the
interests of the garden: an opinion poor Mr. North enjoyed instead of
reproved, and grew to look for. Jelly had taken on another "young
man," in the person of Mr. Francis Dallory's head-gardener. He was a
staid young Scotchman; very respectful to Jelly, and quite attentive.
Mr. Seeley had moved into Dr. Rane's old house, and old Phillis was
his housekeeper; so that Jelly's neighbourly relations with the next
door were continued as of old.

On Arthur Bohun there remained the greatest traces of the past. Sir
Nash was restored to health; and Arthur, in his unceasing remorse,
would sometimes hope that he would marry again: he should almost hate
to succeed to the rank and wealth to which he had, in a degree,
sacrificed one who had been far dearer to him than life. Arthur's
ostensible home was with Sir Nash; but he was fond of coming to
Dallory. He had stayed twice with Mr. North; and Richard's home, the
Hall, would be always open to him. The most bitter moments of Arthur
Bohun's life were those that he spent with Sir William Adair: never
could he lose the consciousness of having wronged him, of having
helped to make him childless. Sir William had grown to love him as a
son, but it was only an additional stab to Arthur's aching heart.

And whenever Arthur Bohun came to Dallory, he would pay a visit to a
certain white tomb in the churchyard. Choosing a solitary evening for
it, after twilight had fallen, and remaining near it for hours, there
he indulged his grief. Who can tell how he called upon her?--who can
tell how he poured out all the misery of his repentant heart, praying
to be forgiven? Neither she nor Heaven could answer him in this world.
She was gone; gone: all his regret was unavailing to recall her: there
remained nothing but the marble stone, and the simple name upon it:

     "ELLEN ADAIR."



THE END.



-------------------------------------------------------------------
LONDON: PRINTED BY WILLIAM CLOWES AND SONS, LIMITED, STAMFORD STREET
AND CHARING CROSS.





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