By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII ]

Look for this book on Amazon

We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: Kissing the Rod, Vol. 3 (of 3) - A Novel
Author: Yates, Edmund
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Kissing the Rod, Vol. 3 (of 3) - A Novel" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.

Transcriber's Notes:
     1. Page scan source--Google Books
        (Oxford University)


A Novel.


"The heart knoweth its own bitterness."



[_All rights of translation and reproduction reserved_.]


       V. FAILURE.
      IX. SUCCESS.
       X. COMING HOME.



It was perhaps fortunate for Robert Streightley that the pressure of
an immediate necessity for exertion was put upon him at the same time
that he received his wife's letter. The blow was so frightful that it
might have completely crushed him, had he not been forced to rouse
himself from its first effect, to put the meaning of the terrible
communication aside for a time, while he attended to the stern duties
which were his, as the only representative of the dead man. The
subdued bustle, the ceaseless coming and going, the people to be seen,
the letters to be written, the innumerable demands upon his attention
in reference to his deceased father-in-law, to say nothing of the
exigencies of his own affairs, from which he had not an hour's
respite, controlled him in spite of himself, and by suspending
softened the intensity of the knowledge of the punishment that had
overtaken him.

The suspense and perplexity into which Katharine's unexplained absence
from home had thrown the household on the preceding day had prepared
them to expect that some important intelligence was contained in the
letter which had reached their master that morning; and the unhappy
man comprehended the necessity of making some communication on the
subject. He briefly informed Katharine's maid that she had left town
for the present; and on being asked whether the woman was to join her
mistress at Middlemeads, he said Mrs. Streightley was not there; that
she had better wait for orders, and in the mean time ask no more
questions. An injudicious answer; but Robert neither knew nor cared
what would have been the judicious course to pursue. He knew only that
his sin had found him out; that the chastisement had come; and that
the woman whom he had so loved and so wronged had left him for
ever--left him hating and despising him.

The hours of that dreadful day wore through somehow. Robert had been
engaged during many of them in making arrangements consequent upon Mr.
Guyon's death; he had been at Queen Anne Street, and at his office in
the City, transacting business of different but invariably unpleasant
kinds. He had seen several persons, but not any by whom the domestic
calamity which had fallen upon him was suspected. He had written to
his mother, informing her of Mr. Guyon's death, and requesting that
Ellen would not come to Portland Place for the present; but giving no
explanation of this request. All the day he had carried about with him
the dreadful knowledge of what had befallen him--had been oppressed by
its weight, darkened by its shadow; but he had not examined his
burden--he had gone his appointed way, and done his relentless task,
and the day had been got through somehow. Now he was going to look the
truth in the face; he was going to force his mind to understand it, to
take it in fully, and to suffer the torture at his leisure.

He shut himself up in his "study," and gave orders that no one was to
be admitted. Then, with the door locked and sure of solitude, he read
Katharine's letter again,--not that he needed to do so; every one of
its few remorseless words seemed to have burned themselves into his
brain,--and then he read the letter which hers had enclosed--the
letter endorsed "Shown to R. S." He had not looked at it in the
morning; it had sufficed him to know that the letter which Mr. Guyon
had shown him on the day which had witnessed their disgraceful
compact--the letter which they had tacitly agreed to suppress, still
existed, for his conviction, for his condemnation, and had reached the
hands to which it had been addressed at last: he had put it away with
a shudder. But now he read it--steadily, and with utter amazement.
There it was; and on the blank side of the sheet, in Mr. Guyon's hand,
were the words, "Shown to R.S." But this letter was sill in Mr.
Guyon's hand, and Robert had never seen it--had never heard of it;
this was not the letter from Gordon Frere to Katharine which her
father had shown to him; there was a dreadful mistake somewhere. As
Robert read the heartless words in which Mr. Guyon rejected Gordon
Frere on his daughter's behalf, he understood for the first time how
the conspiracy which had resulted in so sad a success had been carried
out. This, then, was the method Mr. Guyon had adopted, and into which
Robert had never inquired. He saw it all--he understood it all now;
and he honestly recoiled at the baseness by which his triumph had been
secured. He even thought he would not have consented, had he known how
the thing was to be done; but his conscience was not so deadened as to
accept that sophistry, and another moment's thought taught him that he
was as guilty as ever.

But how came the letter to be endorsed with words, intended by their
writer only as a private memorandum, which were not true? This puzzled
Robert, until he guessed, what really was the case, that Mr. Guyon
had put Frere's letter and his reply away together, and had mistaken
the one for the other. Why had he kept them at all? thought Robert;
why had he put such dangerous and useless documents aside, thus
running the risk of detection now realised? "He never could have
intended to use them as a weapon against me," thought Robert, who had
arrived at a tolerably correct appreciation of the character of his
deceased father-in-law. "They convict him directly; me, though
conclusively _to her_, only indirectly to others. Why on earth did he
keep them?"

Ah, why? Why is half the mischief that is done in the world done by
the instrumentality of letters, which ought to have been read and
destroyed, being treasured up instead by foolish women, or read and
left about by men whom experience has not availed to teach? If Robert
Streightley had quite understood Mr. Guyon's character, he would have
known, in the first place, that that gentleman had never been in the
habit of contemplating the contingency of his own death, or of making
any preparation, temporal or spiritual, for that event; in the second,
that his vanity was of so ominous a kind that he liked to indulge in
the recollection of successful enterprises, no matter what their
nature, and treasured up the trophies of his fortunate _coups_, as
other people might keep love-tokens or relics of departed friends,--a
ghastly perversion, it is true, but a characteristic trait of Mr.
Guyon, as Robert came to learn, when he had to examine all the dead
man's papers and personal effects.

After all, it did not matter very much that this mistake had been
made. Any one of the papers concerning this transaction, so endorsed,
would have equally convicted her husband in Katharine's eyes. For a
moment, when Robert perceived the error and recognised how it had
occurred, a faint hope had sprung up in his heart that all might be
explained, in explaining that he had never seen the draft of Mr.
Guyon's letter to Gordon Frere; but it lasted only for a moment, and
then left Robert more shame-stricken, more despairing than before.

The bitter remembrance of his resolutions of the day before came to
torment him now. How futile they were! made all too late, and useless;
how ridiculous they seemed, too! Would he ever have had the courage to
tell the woman he had wronged the truth concerning himself and her?
Cowering as he was now under the blast of her scorn and anger, he
could not believe that he would; he heaped upon himself all the
reprobation which the sternest judge could have measured out to him.
His sin had found him out indeed, and nothing could save him now from
the fullest retribution. It had come in its worst form, complicated
with the death of his accomplice, as a double horror. Robert
Streightley was not a man who could coldly contemplate such an event
as Mr. Guyon's death. He had indeed retained but little personal
regard for him; but that fact, the growing knowledge of the man which
rendered such regard impossible, invested his death with additional
horror to Robert. That such should have been the manner of the
detection and the punishment, impressed him with awe. Standing, as he
had done that day, by the dead man's bed, he had bowed his head
submissively to the tremendous lesson which the scene conveyed. Where
was their fine scheme now? Where was the wealth for which the father
had sold the daughter? Gone--almost all gone; and if it had remained a
million times told, what could it avail to the form of clay which lay
there waiting for the coffin and the grave? Where was the beautiful
wife whom the father's accomplice had purchased at the price of his
honour? Who was to tell that to the wretched husband, who knew nothing
but that she had detected them both, and fled from them both,--from
the living and the dead?

As he thought these thoughts, and a thousand others which could find
no utterance in words, no expression by the pen, the long hours of the
night were wearing by. Up and down the room, long after the fire had
died out, unnoticed, Robert Streightley walked, buried in his
tormenting thoughts, full of horror, remorse, shame, the sense of
righteous retribution and torturing grief. She was gone,--his darling,
the one treasure of his life, the beautiful idol of his worship: the
desolation of that knowledge had not come to him yet; he had had no
time to think of the meaning of life without her; the fear, the
excitement, the strangeness of the fact were all that he had as yet
realised. The awful sorrow, the hopeless bereavement were for the
future. The strokes of the rod were beginning to fall upon him;
strokes which were to continue, ceaseless and stinging, until the end.
Any one who has ever battled, quite alone, with a tremendous sorrow in
its first hours of strife, knows how vain is the effort to collect his
thoughts at the time, and to recall their order afterwards; knows how
the merest trifles will intrude themselves on the attention at times,
and at others how the faculties will seem to be suspended, and a kind
of dull vacuity will succeed the access of raging pain. The story of
Robert's suffering in no way differed from that of any other supreme
agony. It had all the caprices, all the fantasies of pain; it had the
dreadful vitality, and the intervals of numbness and wandering. Many
times in the course of that night Robert sat down in a chair and fell
asleep, to wake again--with a start, and an impression that some voice
had uttered his name--to the renewed consciousness of his misery.

It was very long before he began to think about the circumstances of
Katharine's flight from her home, before he began to speculate upon
how she had gone, and whither. From the moment he had read her
assurance that in this world he should never see her face again, he
had been seized with a horrible conviction that this was literally
true: he would seek her, of course; he would find out where she had
gone to,--he did not even stop to think whether there would be much,
or any difficulty about that--but he should see her face no more. No
such wild notion as that Katharine would relent and forgive him ever
crossed Robert's mind. He knew how cold and proud she was--how cold
and proud when she was ignorant of his sin against her, and when he
had lived only in the hope of winning her love some happy day before
he died;--he knew how insensate any hope would now be, and he never
cherished such a delusion for a moment. She was dead to him, and all
the gorgeous fabric of the life he had built up for himself had
crumbled away.

The new day was dawning, when Robert Streightley went wearily
upstairs, and stopped at the door of his wife's dressing-room. He had
hardly courage to enter the deserted chamber,--it was as though she
lay dead inside. There had been so strong a likeness to her face in
that of the dead man he had stood beside that day, that it had had a
double awe for him. When at length he opened the door and went in, the
cold dim dawn was there before him, and the orderly emptiness of the
splendid chamber struck him to the heart.

No picturesque disarray was there, but the trimness of a swept and
garnished apartment. He had not entered this room on the preceding
night--he had not thought of looking for any explanation of
Katharine's absence there. But now that she had furnished the
explanation herself, he remembered the servants had told him she had
been some time in her dressing-room after her return from Queen Anne
Street. He drew back the curtains and admitted the misty light; he sat
down on a sofa and leaned his head wearily upon his hands. Gradually
fatigue overcame him, and he fell into a deep sleep, which gave him
merciful forgetfulness until late in the morning.

Robert was roused from his slumber by Katharine's maid, who told him
that Lady Henmarsh had arrived and was waiting to see him. "There's
another lady with her, sir," said the maid,--"Mrs. Frere."

Robert started perceptibly. "I cannot see any one yet," he said. "Say
I am not dressed, but will call on Lady Henmarsh as soon as possible."

The woman hesitated. "Lady Henmarsh wants to know what day is fixed
for the funeral, sir; and she has been asking about my mistress."

"Just tell her what I have said," returned Robert impatiently, "and
say no more."

The maid left him, and Robert went to his own room. His injunction was
useless. Lady Henmarsh, who had felt more discomposure when the news
of Mr. Guyon's death had reached her than any other intelligence
respecting her fellow-creatures could have caused her to experience,
had hurried up to town, had gone to Queen Anne Street, and learned
from the housekeeper the strange disappearance of Katharine.
While her message was being conveyed to Robert, she was engaged in
cross-examining the footman; and she had elicited all that any one,
save Robert himself, could tell her before she went away, obliged to
be contented with the promise of a speedy visit from Mr. Streightley.

The news of Mr. Guyon's death had been received by Mrs. Streightley
and her daughter as such news would naturally be received by such
persons. They were shocked and sorry; shocked, because they knew Mr.
Guyon to be a "worldly" man, and they could not but regard his
unprepared death with awe; sorry, because he was Katharine's father,
and Ellen at least loved Katharine, and grieved for her grief. Ellen
would indeed have gone to her sister-in-law, and sought to soothe her
in her simple fashion, had not Robert's note forbade her doing so.
This note had excited no fresh alarm; the ladies agreed that Katharine
was not able to see any one, not even Ellen, just yet, and were quite
content to wait for the subsidence of a feeling so natural. Thus, when
Robert made his appearance a little before noon on the day following
the receipt of his note, they were wholly unprepared for the
intelligence he had to communicate, and they received it with mingled
horror and incredulity.

"My wife had grave cause of complaint against me," Robert had said,
"and she has left me."

To this plain but not explanatory statement he limited his disclosure,
and he left his mother and sister in much perplexity and distress. It
did not occur to them that Robert was ignorant of his wife's plans;
they accepted the situation as a simple separation; and Mrs.
Streightley's comment upon it to her daughter, made after Robert had
left them, was:

"I don't care what her cause of complaint may be, nothing can justify
her leaving Robert. Don't let us speak of her, my dear; time will
bring things right, and at all events will console him."

Thus Ellen had not any information to afford Mrs. Gordon Frere, when
she surprised her by a visit that same afternoon. It was Hester who
repeated to Ellen the particulars which Lady Henmarsh had extracted
from the footman that morning, and Hester who suggested that Robert
might find it more difficult than he imagined to open any
communication with his wife.

"Lady Henmarsh went to Mr. Guyon's solicitor," said Hester; "and he
evidently can tell nothing. Mrs. Streightley had a long interview with
him after her father's death, but he declares she never gave him a
hint of her intention, and was singularly quiet and composed. He
wondered, indeed, at the composure with which she bore her father's
death. I believe Mr. Streightley expects her to communicate with him,
or you, or some one, by letter?"

"I suppose so. O, of course," said Ellen; "but the whole thing
bewilders me. What fault can she have to find with Robert? Surely no
woman ever had a better husband."

Mrs. Frere assented to this proposition, and the two talked over the
mysterious occurrence. With none the less _goût_ that no amount of
talking could render it less mysterious. Hester had a certain degree
of knowledge, and a greater degree of suspicion; but she did not
confide either to her guileless companion, who was distracted between
her admiring affection for Katharine and her absolute belief in
Robert's faultlessness.

The interview between Robert and Lady Henmarsh was not more
communicative on his part than that which had taken place at the
Brixton villa, in so far as the motive of Katharine's flight was
concerned. "Cousin Hetty" had so much to say about Mr. Guyon's death,
and was so much agitated by it, that Robert's kindness of heart would,
under any circumstances, have prevented his telling her any thing
derogatory to the memory of the dead man. He therefore confined
himself to a general statement of the circumstances. Lady Henmarsh was
genuinely astonished, and honestly concerned. She thought in her heart
that Katharine was the "greatest fool" in existence. "The other man is
married," said she to herself, "and therefore out of her reach. She
has not run off with any one else; and unless she was really too well
off, and bored to death by having every thing she wished for, I cannot
understand her conduct." Her manner was perfect in its sympathy with
Mr. Streightley, and in her condemnation of his wife, whose flight
she, however, took care to represent as merely a caprice, a little bit
of temper,--"she always had an ungovernable temper," said Lady
Henmarsh, in a parenthesis,--but of the worst possible taste under the

"Did I understand you rightly, that Katharine was with her poor dear
father when he died?" she asked.

"Yes, she was with him," said Robert; "she was with him all night, and
until near eleven o'clock next day."

"How very extraordinary and how very shocking!" exclaimed Lady
Henmarsh. "Well, Mr. Streightley, I am sure, no matter what you and
she have quarrelled about, the fault is not yours; and her friend will
speedily send her back to you."

"Her friend?" said Robert, interrogatively.

"Yes; Mrs. Stanbourne I mean. Of course she is gone to her. Do not you
think so? She does not say so, I suppose, just to keep you in
suspense, and make a sensation; but no doubt she is gone to her: she
did so in all her troubles formerly; poor Ned and I were not good
enough for her," and Lady Henmarsh sniffed spitefully. "My advice to
you is to take no notice; she must come off her high horse when she
wants money."

Robert started. He had not thought of that; he had not thought of his
wife being reduced to any material distress. The mere idea gave him
acute pain; and yet what better chance for her communicating with him,
and some faint hope arising out of such communication? The divided
pain and relief of the thought struggled in his expressive face.

"I have no idea," he replied; "there is no clue, no indication in her
letter--nothing but the terrible, bare truth; and I don't know whether
she has money with her or not."

"She had a private banking account, I know, among the other luxuries
of her _vie de princesse,_" said Lady Henmarsh with a spiteful
emphasis; "you had better see to its condition. I have no doubt she
has gone to Mrs. Stanbourne. It is unfortunate; and she is foolish to
have made such a scandal as, let us all keep the matter as close as we
may, it must make, for it will not be easily lived down by her, or
forgotten by the world. However, it cannot be helped; she must only
come back, and propitiate society more than ever."

Robert hardly heard her; his thoughts were far distant, in pursuit of
the beloved fugitive. The trivial talk of the woman of the world
passed him by unheeded. He roused himself to tell Lady Henmarsh what
were the arrangements for the funeral of Mr. Guyon, and to utter a few
sentences of kindness towards the dead man, and concern for her grief.
Then he was going away, when he remembered something he had to say,
and turned again to speak to her.

"No papers can be removed until after the funeral," he said; "but I
have looked over the greater part of poor Mr. Guyon's, and I have set
aside a large packet which I consider you are the proper person to
dispose of. I will send them to you carefully."

Lady Henmarsh thanked him; but her manner was confused to a degree
which did her habitual _sang froid_ a great wrong, and a genuine blush
dyed her face from the chin to the forehead. "To think of his being
such an idiot as to keep those letters," she said, when Robert had
left her. "Who could have believed it? I should not be surprised if he
had kept some letter, some memorandum, which has opened Kate's eyes;
and if so, knowing what a devil she is when she's roused, I'm not
surprised at any thing."

Robert found that Katharine had not drawn on her private banking
account for more than a fortnight. More than ever puzzled by this
discovery, he questioned her maid, inquiring if she could tell what
money her mistress had had in her possession. She had only a few
sovereigns in her purse, the maid knew, when she went out that fatal
day in the carriage. Katharine had forgotten her purse, and sent her
upstairs for it just as she reached the hall-door; so she had seen the
purse, and taken particular notice of it, as it lay open on the
dressing-table. Robert went with the woman to examine the drawers and
wardrobes in Katharine's room. He was intensely anxious now to be
assured that she had the equivalent of money with her; for he was far
from really sharing Lady Henmarsh's confident anticipations, though he
tried to persuade himself that he did so. All Katharine's possessions
were in perfect order--not a trinket, not a jewel was missing,--not
one, at least, that Robert had given her, or that she had bought since
their marriage; nothing but the old-fashioned case containing her dead
mother's diamonds, her sole dowry, was gone from its place. Then
Robert despaired; then he seemed to understand the terrible and final
meaning of this event.

He was standing before the open doors of a cabinet in which
Katharine's jewels were symmetrically arranged, and had just satisfied
himself that only the case of jewels had been removed, when a servant
came to seek him.

"What is it?" said Robert. "I am busy: I cannot see any one."

"It is one of the clerks from the City, sir," returned the man; "and
he wants to see you on important business."

Robert went down to the study, and saw the clerk from the City. His
business was important, and his news serious. New and heavy loss had
fallen on Streightley and Son. Troubles had indeed come to Robert,
"not by single spies, but in battalions."


It was eleven o'clock in the morning, and Mr. Charles Yeldham was hard
at work, his oak rigidly closed, the sleeves of his dressing-gown
turned up, his hair in a grand state of "towzle," caused by the
frequent passage of his hands through it; a shower of fresh
ink-splotches dotting the carpet close by his desk, and other
indubitable signs of a hard case of "treadmill." It had occurred to
Mr. Yeldham, in the midst of applying a wise saw to a modern instance,
that somebody was tapping at his outer door; but entirely engrossed by
the vastness of the application, he had given himself to rubbing his
hands together under his desk, and had wholly ignored the knocker. In
the act of taking a fresh dip of ink, preparatory to the elaboration
of a sentence which should utterly confound his adversary the
opposition chamber-counsel, Mr. Yeldham paused, and, recognising the
peculiar taps at the door as those only known to the affiliated,
Charley, with some faint idea that it might be Gordon Frere coming in
for a chat and a smoke, laid down his pen, and unbolting the door,
admitted Robert Streightley.

Very pale, with a bright hectic flush under the eyes, and with an
unnatural brightness in the eyes themselves; with his hat drawn over
his brow, and his shoulders far more rounded than when Yeldham had
last seen him, Robert Streightley wrung his friend's hand, entered the
room, and without invitation flung himself into a chair by the desk.
The appearance of the man was so changed, the action was so contrary
to his usual custom, that Charles Yeldham looked hard at him, and
looking, noticed the restless quivering of his lips, the odd manner in
which he plucked at his chin with his hand, the way in which from time
to time he pressed his side, as though to check the beating of his
heart. Yeldham noticed all these points; but his voice never betrayed
him, and he said perfectly calmly,

"Well, Robert, old man, it's not often you venture into my
quarters--afraid of the law, eh, old fellow?--think that I shall
entangle you into a dispute with Rothschild, or show how easily you
could promote a claim against the Barings? However, I'm glad to see
you now you are come."

"I'm sure you are, Charley; and I know you'll be more glad to see
me--I mean more ready with your sympathy and advice--when you learn
that I have come to you--in trouble."

"In trouble? O yes, I recollect; I saw in the papers. Dreadful thing
about Mr. Guyon; so sudden, and at such a place! Dreadful for your
wife too; I suppose she feels it acutely?"

"I suppose she does. I can't say--I don't know!"

"You can't say--you don't know! Why, Hubert, old fellow, Mr. Guyon's
death must--"

"I didn't come here to talk to you about Mr. Guyon's death, Yeldham; I
came to speak of my own affairs."

"Why, Robert, how you--what on earth's the matter with you, man?"

"What on earth's the matter with a man whose wife--whom he adores and
worships--has left him for ever?"

"Has left him for ever? Good God, Streightley, what's the matter with
you; you've not been----"

"No, I'm not drunk, Charley, if you mean that; and grief has not
turned my brain yet; at all events I know what I said, and I mean
it--read that!" and he handed him Katharine's note.

Yeldham read it through with contracting brows and pursing lips. He
read it twice; then Streightley said, "That note was posted to me, and
reached me the morning after my wife left her home. You see that it
does not give the slightest clue to her whereabouts."

"It does not--it----"

"Why do you hesitate?"

"Well--there was no occasion for you to show me that letter; and you
would not have shown it to me, I presume, if you intended your
confidence to end there."

"I have come here to ask your advice and help, and with the full
intention of concealing nothing from you."

"That is the only condition under which advice, to be worth any thing,
can be given. Mrs. Streightley in that letter speaks of some plot or
conspiracy of which you were cognisant, by which her whole life was
warped and spoiled. I'm not quoting exact words, but that remains upon
my mind as the sense of the passage. What does she mean by that?"

"She means that I, whom you have always known as an honourable man,
acted on one occasion like a sneak and a scoundrel!--she means that I
was so mad in my pursuit of her before we were married, that I
descended to the use of foul means to carry my point; that I was base
enough to be party to an arrangement which, as she says, warped and
spoiled her life, for the sake of getting her for myself."

"This is strong language, Robert! Knowing you as I do, I should think
your conduct even in this matter can hardly have been such as to
justify this self-condemnation."

"Wait and hear the story before you judge. You know how I loved
Katharine Guyon. I told you all about it that first day we went down
to Middlemeads; I told you how, the first time in my life, I was
passionately, madly in love with her. We spoke, if you recollect,
of your friend Gordon Frere; but I did not tell you what I then
knew--that he had paid great attention to Miss Guyon; that these
attentions had been very well received by her, and that there was a
very strong flirtation--if not an understood engagement--between

"You did not tell me, but I knew it. I had been told of it by Gordon

"You knew of it, and yet listened to my love-ravings? However, the
flirtation, engagement--whatever it was--was gall and wormwood to me.
I had seen them together on several occasions, and the recollection of
the pleasure which she always showed in his society used to madden me.
I made all kinds of excuses to go to her house; I lent her father
money whenever he asked for it; each time I saw her I was more madly
in love, but she was no nearer to me than before. One morning her
father wrote to me to come to him on urgent business. I thought he
wanted more money, but he explained that it was to consult me--I who
was so calm and clever and far-seeing, God help me!--as to the future
of his child. He had that morning had a letter from Mr. Gordon Frere
making a formal proposal for Miss Guyon's hand, and enclosing another
letter to Miss Guyon herself."

Here Charles Yeldham shifted his position, leaning forward in his
chair, and fixing his eyes on Streightley's face.

"I did not read either of these letters," continued Robert; "but Mr.
Guyon explained to me their purport, and I knew at once my doom. Mr.
Guyon expressed his dislike to the proposed connection, stating that
Mr. Frere was too young, too frivolous, and too poor to be intrusted
with Miss Guyon's future. In an instant, and almost without knowing
what I did, I proposed to Mr. Guyon for his daughter. He accepted me
instantly, declared himself delighted, and assured me that he would
smooth matters for me with Miss Guyon. But there was Frere's letter.
We both knew that she was fond of the young man; we both knew that she
would accept his offer; we--yes, we both agreed that the letter should
be kept back from her, and that she should never be informed of
Frere's proposal."

"Good God!" exclaimed Yeldham, "and that intention was carried out?"

"At once. Frere was answered by Mr. Guyon that his daughter was
engaged to me, and--there! I cannot go through the sickening details
of that time again, nor describe the manner in which that girl was
cheated of her lover and made over to me. Since then the knowledge of
my treachery has never left me, I may fairly say I haven't had one
happy hour, and--could I only get my wife back, and prove to her how
sincere is my desire to atone for my part in this plot, I should not
repine at its having come to light. You don't speak, Yeldham; you
despise me--you----"

"I don't despise you, Robert; I pity you from the bottom of my soul,"
said Yeldham in a hard dry voice. "I don't think, much as I have heard
it talked of, that I ever believed in what men call the power of
passion before. That it made whole idiots of the half-brained people
who chose to let it get the mastery of them, I understood; but that
under its influence you should have permitted yourself to have your
sense of right and wrong warped and degraded--that you should have
suffered yourself to become a conspirator with, if not the tool of,
such a thorough-paced scoundrel as old Guyon, is to me most
marvellous. I confess I thought there was something queer in the case;
but I never dreamed of this."

Yeldham stopped speaking for a minute; but as Robert Streightley
remained silent, his head buried in his hands, Charley rose to his
feet and began striding up and down the room, as was his fashion when
very much excited.

"I should be no true friend to you, Streightley, if I did not tell you
all I feel in this matter," he said, "though I cannot express in
strong enough terms my horror at what has been done. When I recollect
how that poor fellow Gordon Frere went away almost heart-broken, and
soured in temper, at the way in which he thought he had been treated
by Miss Guyon--his visits unacknowledged, his letters unreplied to,
his proposal rejected,--when I think how he stormed about her conduct
and cursed her--yes, cursed her, poor girl, as a heartless coquette;
cursed her for what it now appears she not merely had nothing to do
with, but was a fellow-victim in,--when I think of all this, I feel I
must be drunk or dreaming when connecting my old friend Robert
Streightley with such a deliberate piece of villainy! Don't start,
Robert; it was a hard word, but it was the right one. I'm not a friend
of yesterday; we've been like brothers since we were boys, and you
know I'd give my life for you if it were wanted; but I claim the right
to speak out plainly in this matter. Why, it was but the other day
that Frere, who, thank God, came home quite cured of all that early
romance, was here talking of you and your wife, and saying how lucky
she was to have chosen for her helpmate in life such an honest,
genuine, sterling good fellow."

"Charley," pleaded Streightley, crossing his hands behind his head,
"for heaven's sake spare me this! To know what I was, what I seem to
be, and what I am, is too much!"

"There then," said Yeldham, pausing by his friend and laying his hand
on Robert's shoulder--"I've done. No talk will mend the matter, and
besides, immediate action is needed. You say Mrs. Streightley had left
your house?"

"She had; that letter came by the post the day after her father's
death--the day on which she went away."

"And at present you have no clue to her whereabouts?"

"Not the slightest."

Charles Yeldham sat down at his desk, and leaning his head on his
hands, remained for a minute or two in deep thought. Then he turned to
his friend and said:

"Mrs. Streightley was, I should imagine from the little I saw of her,
a woman of great force of character, and not likely to do a thing on
the spur of the moment without calculating results. You see this
letter, by its postmark, must have been written some hours after she
left home. During those hours she was deliberating and forming her
plan; and whatever that was, she'll hold to it, I'm sure. She has
determined that you sha'n't trace her; and it's my opinion you'll have
the greatest difficulty in doing it."

"We might employ the detectives, don't you think?" asked Robert.

"Detectives! There's been no detection done by the detectives since
they were made the heroes of sensation novels; and, besides, we don't
quite want to place your domestic history among the archives of
Scotland Yard. No; whatever is to be done--and, as I said before, I
fear the chance is small enough--must be done amongst ourselves. Who
were her female friends? intimates, I mean; dear and dearest, and all
those things that women say and write to each other?"

"I--I scarcely know," said Robert, looking blank. "She never appeared
to me to have what one could call an intimate friend. There was Lady
Henmarsh, who used to take her about before we were married; but
there's not been over much cordiality between them lately, I should
say; and Mrs. Stanbourne, who is a relative of Katharine's, and a very
charming woman, the kindest and best--so particularly nice to me, made
me feel quite at home--but she's not in England, or I would have sent
to her at once; and there's my sister Ellen, and Hester Gould--Mrs.
Frere, I mean--but of course, under the circumstances, she would not
go to either of them."

"Of course not," said Yeldham, rubbing his head. "It's a tremendous
knot--a most tremendous knot. I don't see my way in it the least.
Motive for leaving plain enough--discovery of this plot. Inducement
for her to go any where in particular? none. 'Never will forgive
you--never will look on your face again'--that means concealment, or I
don't know but she's just the woman whose spirit would induce her
to--no, not that either. Too much pride; hates the world's talk and
pity--no, no. What does she say about having taken nothing of yours?
Hadn't she any money?"

"She had a private banking account of her own, but I find she has not
drawn a cheque for weeks. She has only taken with her some jewels
which belonged to her mother, and which--ah, my darling! my darling!"
and the strong man, who had borne up with such fortitude hitherto,
broke down and wept like a child.

"Robert--old fellow--for God's sake, any thing but that! Have some
brandy; have some----"

"If she should be in want--she, who never yet knew an ungratified
wish--if she--O Charley, I know I'm making a fool of myself, old
friend, but I love her so! O Heaven, I love her so!"

There were tears in honest Charley Yeldham's eyes as he sat himself
down by his friend, and took his hand and said, "Come, Robert--be a
man. I know it's hard to bear, horribly hard, and no preaching, and no
attempt at consolation will make it any better. It must be faced and
battled with. She's gone, and we must find her. It's one consolation
to know that wherever she may be, she'll be certain, by that wonderful
something which I have often felt, but which I can't explain, and
which is innate in her, to command the respect of those she is thrown
among. But the money-test is decidedly an awkward one. She has some
jewels, you say; but she'll know nothing of the way to convert them
into cash, and she's sure to be awfully done; and I suppose she was
like most women, had not the least knowledge of the value of money?"

"Well, no, poor child--not much, I think; you see, she has never had

"Of course not; I know. Look here, Robert; you must take a blunt
question from a blunt man, and give a blunt answer if you choose. Is
what is beginning to be murmured about you in the City true?"

The colour flushed up into Robert Streightley's pale face at the
question. The pride in his wife, in his position, had been things of
later days; the pride in his City stability had been born in him, and
nurtured in his youth.

"I will answer you, Charley, in all truth," he said, with quivering
lips; "but you must tell me first what the report is."

"The report is, that, hit heavily by the failure of Hicks' bank, you
have been trying to recover leeway by--well, what they call wild
speculation; that you've got some tremendous bills in hand, and

"There; quite enough. Public rumour is, as usual, considerably in
advance of the truth. We were hit by Hicks' failure, but you'll find
that Streightley and Son will weather the gale yet. Pshaw!"
Streightley exclaimed, suddenly changing his tone--"I got relief from
one confession, why should not I from another? I won't disguise from
you, my dear Charley, that we have been very heavily hit, and that our
present situation is--well, what may be called precarious; but I hope,
and think, we shall pull through."

"Has this state of things been for long?"

"Well--for some months."

"And Mrs. Streightley knew nothing of it?"

"God forbid! Knowing how she had been purchased, was I to yield up the
sole influence I possessed over her by telling her that the gold for
which she had been sacrificed was only dross and dead leaves, and that
the 'merchant prince' was on the brink of ruin? Not I. And what has it
come to now? She is gone, and I am left alone in my misery and
desolation." His head fell on his breast as he said this, and the big
tears rolled down his cheeks.

"Look here, Robert," said Yeldham, laying his hand heavily on his
friend's shoulder; "this won't do at all. You're all unstrung and
out of health. Get you home--if you're not absolutely wanted in the
City--and rest a bit; you need it, heaven knows. Leave this business
to me--you know I'm a capital ferret--and I'll take it in hand at
once, and you shall see me to-morrow with my report."

Robert Streightley wrung his friend's hand, and very shortly left the
chambers; but Charley Yeldham remained for more than an hour with his
chin buried in his hands, and his mind full of all he had heard. At
length he put on his hat, and walked into Fleet Street, where, close
by the top of Middle Temple Lane, he encountered Mr. Daniel Thacker.

It is scarcely necessary to say that, though they were acquainted,
there was very little friendship between Mr. Yeldham and Mr. Thacker.
The Hebrew gentleman regarded the lawyer as a plodding snob; the
conveyancing barrister regarded the West-end money-lender as an
unscrupulous scoundrel; but they had met and been introduced, and were
in the habit of stopping to exchange verbal civilities; and they did
so on this occasion. After the first compliments had passed, Mr.
Thacker expressed his regret at not seeing more of Mr. Yeldham in
society, but added that he perfectly well understood how it was; there
must be bees as well as drones--and Mr. Yeldham had the credit of
being one of the most hardworking as well as one of the most
deservedly successful bees in the legal hive. Mr. Yeldham--in his
coldly formal politeness one could scarcely have recognised the
warm-hearted Charley, Robert Streightley's friend--Mr. Yeldham was
compelled to leave society to those who adorned it, like Mr. Thacker;
and, "talking of society," said Mr. Yeldham, "this is very sad news
about our poor friend Mr. Guyon."

"Sad enough for me," said Mr. Thacker with charming frankness. "Mr.
Guyon was a client of mine; a client for whom I--like a soft fool as I
was--however, that's neither here nor there--I shall have to stand the
racket in that quarter, and be a considerable loser, I can tell you."

Mr. Yeldham expressed his concern, and attempted to terminate the
interview; but Mr. Thacker caught him by the lapel of his coat. "And
talking of that," said he, "this is a pretty business in Portland

In Portland Place? You would have gathered from the expression of Mr.
Yeldham's face that it was the first time he had ever heard of that

"Yes, yes; you know what I mean," said Mr. Thacker impatiently;
"Guyon's son-in-law--Streightley, the City man."

"Streightley, the City man?" repeated Yeldham; "ah, of course,
dreadfully cut up at the sudden death."

"Dreadfully cut up at the sudden death! I hope that's the only way in
which he'll be cut up dreadfully. Haven't you heard the news?"

By a shoulder-shrug which would have done credit to Frederic Lemaitre,
Mr. Yeldham intimated his ignorance.

"Well, then, Mrs. Streightley has gone away from her home--left her
husband, sir; and no one knows where she's gone to."

"That's a very awkward statement to make, Mr. Thacker," said Yeldham;
"Mrs. Streightley, too, of all persons in the world! I suppose you
have--you must have--excellent authority for such a story, or you
would scarcely venture, a man of your perspicacity, to repeat it."

"All I know is, that a--well, in point of fact, a client of mine, Mrs.
Frere, was with Lady Henmarsh, Mr. Streightley's great friend, and
heard it when they called in Portland Place."

"Mrs. Frere--a client of yours? ay, ay! ay, ay! a strange story
indeed, but one which we lawyers must take _cum grano_, as we say.
Good morning, Mr. Thacker." And Yeldham bowed to his acquaintance, and
passed on.

"A dry stick that," said Thacker, looking after him; "a very dry
stick. How much of that story did he know? Every bit; more than any of
us are acquainted with, for he was an old friend of Streightley's, and
has doubtless been consulted about the business. I've underrated that
chap hitherto, I imagine; he did that very neatly, very neatly indeed.
Shook me off at the right instant too, at the very moment when I
intended to pump him about Streightley's liabilities; a deuced cool,
clever hand. I'll remember you, my friend, when I want clear-headed

"'In point of fact, a client of mine,'" said Yeldham to himself as he
went his way. "That's it, is it? Mrs. Frere a client of Thacker's!
Fishy that--deuced fishy, considering her relations with the
Guyon-cum-Streightley case. Something to be made out of that, I fancy.
I'll just take a turn round the Regent's Park before going back to
head-work, and think that out."


The return of Mr. and Mrs. Gordon Frere to England had been almost
simultaneous with the double catastrophe of Mr. Guyon's death and
Katharine's flight. They had returned to Hester's house in Palace
Gardens, and had no intention of leaving London during the winter.
Gordon was excessively tired of Continental life, and had conceded to
fashion rather than consulted his own inclination by spending his
honeymoon out of England. Hester, who had never seen any foreign
country until after her marriage, had been enchanted with every
thing, and would have prolonged her stay with much pleasure, but that
she had perceived her husband's weariness, and desire to find himself
in England again. Gordon was too essentially sweet-tempered and
good-humoured to thwart any one, or to press his own wishes unduly;
but his wife was as keen of perception as she was devotedly attached
to him, and she read him like a book. A glance at the page, on which
incipient boredom was written, was enough for her. With admirable tact
and grace she discovered a score of good and sufficient reasons for
returning to England; and no one would have guessed, who saw her step
gaily into the railway-train at the Embarcadère du Nord, that she was
experiencing a keen disappointment, and renouncing a pleasure to which
she had ardently aspired. Quiet and persistent self-will, which never
failed in its object, but rarely hurt other people in attaining it,
was a strong characteristic of Hester; but the stronger had come
in--Love, the conqueror, the invincible--and self-will had promptly
surrendered. There was a good deal of unconscious selfishness in
Gordon Frere's nature--the light, airy, pleasant selfishness which is
frequently combined with a large capacity for enjoyment and
constitutional indolence, but which in his case would have been easily
dispelled on any given occasion by a remonstrance, and never made
itself offensive. To this quality his wife's excessive love was
particularly calculated to minister, detrimentally to his general
character; for her devotion knew no bounds. It was not unnatural that,
having departed from the rule and practice of her previous life, by
allowing a passion to gain possession of her, Hester should have
departed from it by the widest possible divergence. It would have been
touching as well as curious to watch the subjugation of the proud,
calculating, intellectual woman to the love that filled her whole soul
and ruled her whole life. From her wedding-day to that which saw her
return to London, and her acquisition of the knowledge of Mr. Guyon's
death, by a note despatched from Lady Henmarsh's half-dismantled house
in Cavendish Square, on the chance of her arrival, she had never
bestowed a thought on Middlemeads, on the embarrassments of Robert
Streightley, or the equivocal confidence which existed between herself
and Daniel Thacker. She had indeed thought much and often of
Katharine--thought of her with exultation; occasionally with a touch
of pity, when she satisfied her jealous, passionate soul that no
remembrance of her, except in the most ordinary casual way, ever
cropped up in Gordon Frere's mind. Hester was destined to learn the
truth of a certain proverb about "the letting in of water;" for having
opened the floodgates for the admittance of love, she had no power to
stop the tide, and the tumbling waves of jealousy thundered in the
distance. But, as Hester was, above all things, a reasonable woman,
the danger was still far off; indeed, its foretaste was sweet. She
liked to assure herself that she had no rival with her husband, whose
character, in all but one or two points, she really did understand as
thoroughly as she believed she understood it on all. She liked to
remember that his was a light, gay--if it must be so called, shallow
nature; that all traces of a former rule had passed away, and the
sceptre of this kingdom was securely in her hand. How safely she would
hold it! how tender and watchful her rule should be! She felt, when
this great love laid its grasp upon her, as though she grew ever so
many years older in its hold. She mentally compared herself with her
husband, and smiled at the difference which existed between them,
though her years were fewer by many than his. She utterly laid aside,
she completely forgot, her hatred of Robert and Katharine--that hatred
which had grown on her unperceived, which she had never deliberately
fostered, but had acknowledged, nevertheless, with the strange candour
in self-judgment which characterised her. She made no mistake in her
estimate of her husband's feelings towards her. She did not look for
more than he could give; but she knew exactly how much was comprised
in that _all_, and she joyfully and rightly believed that she
possessed it. She knew that Gordon could no more give her the same
amount and intensity of love that she gave him than he could read the
same books which she read, or be moved by the same impulses, the same
associations of thought and feeling. She never repined at the
knowledge, she never wished him other than he was; his handsome,
refined face was a constant delight to her; she sunned herself in the
light and warmth of his joyous, kind, careless, life-enjoying
disposition; she watched him with an intense secret pride; in short,
she loved him in all the depth and strength of that word of
inexhaustible meaning. He loved her, in return, honestly, heartily,
and after his careless, joyous fashion. He thought her very handsome
and "deuced clever," and was fond of mentioning the latter article of
his creed. "Knows every thing, my dear old fellow, and reads every
thing, and can talk of every thing; not a bit blue, you know--not in
the least; can't bear that sort of thing. Not a bit of show-off in
her, I assure you, but a first-rate head, and a splendid woman of

As Gordon Frere had, in acquiring wealth and its responsibilities, by
no means acquired a taste for business of any kind, and had developed
no practical talents whatever, except for getting out of life all the
enjoyment attainable by large means, youth, high spirits, and a
splendid constitution, it was fortunate for the prosperity and good
management of the Frere _ménage_ that its mistress merited the
commendation he delighted to bestow. They were both singularly free
from littleness of character; and there was not the least danger of
jarring susceptibilities being disturbed by the fact that Hester owned
all the wealth, and kept the management of affairs in her own hands.
Gordon Frere was not a man who could understand the petty pride and
that kind of egotism which make a man married to a rich woman
perpetually uneasy because she is rich, and perpetually desirous of
reminding her and the world that he is the legal proprietor of herself
and her money. Hester Frere was not the sort of person to understand
that, having given him herself, a woman could estimate her money more
highly in the transaction, and aim at keeping her husband mindful of
the secondary and comparatively insignificant concession. In the case
of these two persons, therefore, wealth had fewer snares than it
ordinarily spreads to insure the troubling of peace, and the
destruction of self-respect, in marriages of this kind.

It was Gordon's happy, pleasant way to like every body, instinctively,
and to be difficult to persuade into disliking them, even when he had
discovered for himself, or been convinced by others, that certain
persons were not estimable or admirable. Thus, he liked Mr. Thacker,
and never thought whether he was not just a little vulgar and
presumptuous; whether there was not something about him suggestive of
a pronounced talent for scheming, and a remarkably low estimate of his
fellow-creatures. He liked Ellen Streightley, and never asked himself
whether she was not rather silly, and did not border on the tiresome
as a companion. The nearest approach he had ever made to such an idea
was when he proudly thought of the advantages which Ellen must derive
from Hester's society, and concluded that it was "a splendid thing for
her, by Jove!" It did not occur to him to remember that his wife's
intimate friend was Mrs. Streightley's sister-in-law, and that it was
presumable that his once-adored Katharine's influence was also
available for her benefit. He did not feel so cordially towards Lady
Henmarsh as might have been desired, it is true; but then he had known
her in the old times; he had habitually spoken of her as "the old
cat;" he had prided himself immensely on detecting under the veneer of
fashion the ingrained vulgarity of her mind, and, like all persons
when exercising a talent which they possess in an infinitesimal
degree, he was very proud of his perspicacity in this instance, and
felt that he was bound, in consistency, never to like Lady Henmarsh.
"It isn't as if she really cared about Hester," he would say to
himself, or to the friend with whom he was almost as confidential;
"but she doesn't, you know; she only cares to make Hester give parties
for her purposes--parties by which the old cat pays off all her own
obligations; and to have the use of Hester's carriage, and the
advantage of Hester's popularity--for every one likes my wife.--I
understand her. I'm a sharp fellow in some things, dear old boy,
though I never could take to pens and parchment, and look wise and
bilious, like you." And Charley Yeldham thought what an enviable
nature was this young man's, and what a pity it would be to disturb
his serenity by any revelations, supposing it ever came within his
power to make them. Perhaps it may appear that Yeldham's cogitations
were needless, and that Frere's was not the kind of serenity to be
disturbed by any discovery which only touched the past; but this was
not so. The one or two points on which Hester did not know her
husband's character were precisely those on which his old chum and
faithful friend understood him best.

No unmanly laziness, no idle abandonment to the mere surface follies
of existence, dictated Gordon Frere's ignorance of the details of the
management of his wife's fortune. He knew she was, as he said, "a
deuced clever woman, and a first-rate hand at business," and he simply
acted, having no meanness in him, on his belief. He never thought at
all about the nature of the investments in which his wife's money was
placed, neither did he ever think about her former relations with the
Streightleys; and had he known that Robert was Hester's debtor to the
large amount, which she had advanced to him through Thacker, he would
not have seen in the transaction any thing beyond the merest ordinary
matter of business.

Gordon Frere was excessively shocked by the intelligence of Mr.
Guyon's death. Not that he had any regard for him; indeed, rather
because he had not, and because he knew him better (though far from
thoroughly) than most of Mr. Guyon's friends, who had not had
"business" transactions with the departed gentleman, knew him; and
such a death, come to after such a fashion, had a grim and painful
effect on a mind which was not callous or irreverent, only frivolous
and untrained.

Hester had only waited to impart the intelligence conveyed by Lady
Henmarsh's note to her husband before she went to offer her
condolences to her _ci-devant_ chaperone, who had urgently requested
to see her. But in her manner of telling him there was something that
jarred upon Gordon's sensibility. Coldness and curiosity were in her
tone, and he did not like it. The event was terrible in itself, and
had terrible meaning to Lady Henmarsh and to Katharine Streightley.
Gordon thought honestly of the latter as his wife's friend, not as the
woman he had loved; and he winced at the little touch of unwomanliness
which Hester betrayed. He understood her very incompletely; and though
he knew she loved him, he did not know that she loved no one in the
world but himself--and herself. The good-natured fellow did not get
over the novel sense of annoyance with his wife easily; and to divert
the pain of it, he thought he would go and look in on Yeldham, and
talk over things with him. But he did not succeed in this. When he
reached the Temple, he found Yeldham hopelessly immersed in a
consultation with an inexorable solicitor; and the fiat went forth, in
a whisper at the door, "heavy case, my dear fellow, and quite
impossible to spare five minutes; see you to-morrow, any time." So
Gordon went away, in sufficient discontent, and less in love with law
and hard work than ever; and so it fell out that not from him, but
from Robert, did Yeldham hear the news of Mr. Guyon's death, and that
the next interview between the friends was destined to be of a painful
and memorable nature.

Hester did not see Gordon Frere, after her visit to Lady Henmarsh,
until late in the afternoon; and then they were not alone, so that
there was no conversation between them on the additional circumstances
which had transpired. In the mean time Hester had seen Thacker, and
made communications to him of which the result has been shown in the
preceding chapter. Of all these circumstances Gordon Frere was
profoundly ignorant. He had left a card for Mrs. Streightley during
the afternoon, and made the customary inquiry, to which the
well-taught servant had made the invariable answer; and Gordon had
turned away from the door without learning that a second calamity,
infinitely outweighing the first, had fallen upon the household. When
he saw his wife again, she was engaged with visitors; and though he
remarked that her face was somewhat flushed, and that she was less
gracefully easy in her manner than usual, he imputed these uncommon
appearances to the agitating nature of her visit to Lady Henmarsh, and
he was rather pleased to think she had not taken the dreadful
occurrence, which had affected him powerfully, quite so easily as he
had at first supposed. They were not alone at dinner, and Aunt
Lavinia, in the pleasure of seeing her niece again after her absence,
had affectionately accompanied her to her dressing-room; so that she
had had many hours in which to think over the events of the day before
she had an opportunity of discussing them with Gordon. During these
hours Hester's bad angel had surely been in the ascendant; and
Hester's good sense had failed her for once, in the temptation of
success, in the consciousness of power where she had been powerless
and of superiority where she had been dominated. For once she lost
sight of that which was generally the first, the greatest object of
her attention, her husband's approbation, and made the first false
step in a career which had hitherto been marked by circumspection.

Gordon ran lightly up the stairs, after he had carefully consigned
Aunt Lavinia to the carriage and the special care of the servants, and
found his wife standing by the fire, whose light was shining on the
folds of her velvet dress, and on the few well-chosen jewels she wore.
There was a flush of excitement in her face, which added to its
beauty, but which made Gordon look at her with surprise. Before he
could ask her if any thing had happened, she said, in an eager voice:

"Have you heard the news?"

"No; what news? Any thing more about Mr. Guyon?"

"No; there's only one more event possible for him, and it is to take
place on Thursday. Have you heard nothing of the Streightleys?"

"No; I called there to-day. What's the matter, Hester? is any thing
wrong with Katharine?" His face was pale, and his voice hurried.
Hester started at the word. Why did she not remember; why did she not
take warning? Who can tell? It was but another illustration of "the
letting in of water." In a harsh voice, through her set teeth, she
answered him:

"Yes, there is something wrong with 'Katharine,' as you call
her--something very wrong. The bubble has burst--she has run away from
her husband!"

"Good God!" was Gordon's only answer; but the tone in which he uttered
the exclamation angered Hester, and hardened her.

"Yes," she went on, "there is no doubt about it; I have it on the best
authority--Mr. Streightley's own. She has left her husband at a nice
time, too--on a proper filial occasion--when her father's dead body is

Gordon looked at her; and had she been wise she would have taken
warning, she would have seen the dawning of a suspicion that she was
different to that he had believed her, in that look, and paused before
she flung into the gulf of a new and cruel passion the gem of all her
treasures, whose pricelessness she knew well. But she was not wise,
and she mistook the meaning of that look; she did not know that its
sorrow and its misgiving were for her; she gave them to another, in
her excited fancy, and she rushed upon her ruin.

"You are deeply concerned, Gordon, are you not, and very anxious to
learn all the particulars? You shall hear all I know." He was standing
close to her as she spoke, and they were looking steadily at one

"I am indeed, Hester," he replied mildly. "I trust there is some
terrible mistake; tell me what you have heard."

"There is no mistake; Mrs. Streightley has run away from her husband,
leaving a letter for him, like the young ladies in the plays, who
elope with a lover when 'Gardy' wants to marry them; only in this case
there is no lover, I believe, or he is so very well hidden that nobody
knows who he is."

Still Gordon looked at her, but now there was relief in his face.
"Thank God there is no infamy in this," he said; "though I deserve to
be shot for having believed for a moment there could be infamy in any
act of Katharine Guyon's."

"Katharine _Streightley's_, you mean," said Hester with a sneer; "it
strikes me there is some little infamy in her conduct as it is, though
there may be no lover in the case."

"No," said Gordon Frere, in a tone of manly decision, "there is no
such thing. Misery and misunderstanding, possibly mischief, there may,
there must be, but no infamy, no disgrace. I will never hear it said
or hinted. This will be set right, I am convinced."

"You are as sanguine as you are chivalrous, Gordon," said Hester; "but
there is a little difficulty in setting such matters right, either in
the private or the public sense. Mr. Streightley is very generous, we
all know, and he gave his wife the love she did _not_ marry him for,
as well as the money she _did_; but he may have his wrongs as well as
his faults, and----"

"Why are you so hard and bitter, Hester?" said Gordon, in a quick,
unsteady voice. "How have these people offended you? They have always
been your friends, have they not? I thought you had known them
intimately for years, and always received kindness from them--I am
sure you have told me so--and now you speak of their trouble in this
sneering way. When you told me of poor old Guyon's death, I was
shocked at your want of feeling; and now, God forgive me, but I am not
able to resist the suspicion there is something horribly like gladness
in your heart. How can this be? What is it all? What has Robert
Streightley, what has Katharine done, that you should regard their
misery as you do?" He took her hand gently; he looked at her with pity
in his clear blue eyes. She saw the "pity," and it maddened her; she
did not see that he was thinking of her as much as of that other whom
she hated. What! _he_ had reproved her, and on Katharine's account;
the first cloud that had obscured the glorious light of her wedded
happiness, the first ripple on the ocean of her unimaginable bliss,
had come through _her!_ In an instant, in one pang of exceeding agony,
her fancy transported her to the gay garden where she had first seen
this man, who was now _hers_; this man whom she loved with all the
intensity of a nature whose power and passion she herself was only
beginning to understand. In one of those terrible spasms of feeling,
which, when we think of them afterwards, make us understand the
mystery of eternity, she lived through one memorable day again. She
saw the sunshine and the flowers; she felt the perfumed air; she heard
the strains of music; she saw the flitting crowd, the gay groups, the
fluttering dresses, the rich colours, the young faces; she heard the
sounds of talking and laughter, and the soft rustling and flapping of
the flower-tents; she saw Katharine and her party, Mr. Guyon and
Streightley, and Yeldham, and she saw Gordon Frere; he was walking
beside Katharine, and looking at her as lovers look: had he ever so
looked at _her_, his wife,--she who loved him with a love in which she
now knew there were untold possibilities of suffering, she who lived
only to love him? In the instant during which this vision filled her
brain, and wrung her heart, Hester Frere lived through hours of
anguish; and yet there was not a perceptible pause between her
husband's question and her reply. She spoke it with her hand in his,
with her eyes on his, with her face growing paler and harder with
every word:

"You do well to ask me such questions," she said; "you do well to
suspect me of such feelings. This is as it should be; this is what I
should have expected. Perhaps _you_ can answer for Mrs. Streightley's
purpose in this flight; perhaps _you_ know why she found her home
intolerable, and the bondage into which she sold herself for money
unendurable. You answer glibly for her, there is no infamy in her
flight--indeed, are you sure there was no infamy in her marriage? Are
you sure this is the first time she has deceived Robert Streightley?"
She loosed her hand from his hold, and sat down, panting for breath.
Gordon still stood, and looked at her; but his face had darkened, and
an angry look had come into his eyes. He spoke very slowly, and cold
fear came upon Hester, as he said,

"Explain yourself, if you please. Such unwomanly, such base
insinuations shall have no reply from me. Say what you think,--ask
what you wish to know, plainly; but first, let me say this--that I
have been utterly mistaken in you; that I believed you a woman
incapable of a meanness, and honoured you as such----"

"Yes," said Hester, in a voice so low that it was hardly audible,
"_honoured me!_--I believe you; but you loved _her_. Yes; don't start
and stammer, and seek to deny it," for Gordon, in sheer astonishment,
had started, and tried to speak. "It is useless; I know all. I know
how she played with you, and jilted you, and threw you over for the
rich man, whom she despised. Do you think because I was only a
music-teacher, and not 'in society,' I never heard what society talked
about, and had no eyes to see? I tell you, I read your secret and hers
the first time I ever saw your face; and I read it again, when I, the
new heiress, and the 'great prize of the season,' went up the
staircase at Mrs. Pendarvis's ball with you, and _she_ came down with
the _millionnaire_ for whom she had discarded you. I don't know why
this woman has left her husband, but I can guess; perhaps you _do_
know. I don't care."

"Hush, Hester!" said Frere, and his tone forced her into silence.
"Beware lest you reveal to me more of your nature than I can endure.
Never venture to speak such words to me again. I am ignorant of
Katharine's movements, as you know as well as I do; but I would stake
my life on her honour, and I trust her motives, as I trust her
actions. If there be, as there must be, a serious misunderstanding
between her and Streightley, I pity him with all my heart. I know
little of him; but as I have come to know that little, I have learned
to respect and esteem him. I will help him to the utmost of my power."

"Will you?" said Hester, with a sneer. "Your will and your power are
both likely to be taxed. Mrs. Streightley timed her departure well;
she had got all there was to be had out of her great marriage. Robert
Streightley is a ruined man!"

Gordon Frere turned a shade paler as he said, quietly,

"Is this true, Hester? are you sure?"

"It is perfectly true, and I am perfectly sure," she replied.

"Then how do _you_ know it?"

She laughed a low quiet laugh.

"Ah, that is _my_ secret," she said.

"So be it," he replied. "And now, understand me. You have taunted me
with my love for Katharine Guyon, and her rejection of me. I avow
both. I loved her dearly, and I believed she loved me. I asked her to
be my wife, and she rejected me. I don't question her motives; I only
know that I suffered the keenest misery in consequence. But I say to
you, as I would say to any other, who dared to accuse me of sullying
the purity of Katharine Streightley by an unauthorised word or look or
wish, that it is a base and dastardly lie. She has been to me, since
her marriage, as distant as a star,--an object of admiration and
reverence indeed, but no more, as she never can be less. Now--I
would do any thing in the world to prove to her, and to her husband,
that I am the warmest of her friends and the most devoted of her
servants.--And now, Hester, one word of ourselves. You are not a
foolish woman, speaking random words and swayed by every gust of
temper. I presume you have not so spoken to-night; and I give all you
have said its weight of sober seriousness. I think you would have done
better to have left these words unsaid; but remember this, they can
never be unsaid now, and the fruit they are likely to bear will be no
sweeter to your taste than to mine. I am going to see Yeldham in the
morning, and will breakfast with him. Good-night."

So he left her, and she let him go without a word. The time crept on,
and still she sat beside the fire, with the flickering light upon her
jewels and her velvet dress, with her dark eyes stern and fixed, and
her hands clasped and motionless. It was not until a servant came to
ask if the lights might be put out, that she roused herself, and went
upstairs to her room. There she found her maid, shivering and yawning
in the protracted weariness of waiting.

She dismissed the woman at once, who went out of the room, not without
having looked sharply at her mistress. Hester caught the look, and
when she was alone, went to her dressing-table, and gazed fixedly at
the reflection of her face in the glass.

"Yes," she said; "I am to lose that too, I suppose--power over my
feelings first, then over my words, lastly over my features,--and
become the weak thing I have always despised. Fool! fool!"


For many weeks after Mr. Guyon's death the inexorable pressure of
business, increased by a commercial crisis long impending and now
arrived in full severity, obliged Robert Streightley to put his sorrow
as far as possible from his thoughts during business hours, and bring
all his intellect to grapple with the conduct of his affairs. That the
old house of Streightley and Son was in any thing but a prosperous
condition; that its cool, calculating manager had rushed wildly into
almost impossibly beneficial speculations,--was now pretty generally
talked of, and various reasons were assigned for Robert's conduct.
Some people, of course, roundly stated that they had never believed in
him at all; that all his previous success had been the result of luck,
or "flukes;" and that he was merely finding his proper level. Others
lamented that spirit of flunkeydom which had led a sharp fellow like
Streightley to marry the daughter of an insolvent West-end swell, who
had spent all his money in reckless extravagance, and, it was said,
had bolted from him now the money was gone. Few--very few--had a word
of pity for him; he had been too successful for that; and though
during the long years of his triumph he had always been generous and
kindhearted to a degree, in the hour of his fall this was not
remembered; and it was not even allowed, by those who knew nothing of
his private history, that he "took his punishment" well, or that he
exhibited a proper pluck under his defeat and downfall.

It mattered little to Robert Streightley what was thought of him even
in the City now. The mainspring of his life was broken; she, for whom
up to the very last he had plotted and schemed and speculated, had
left him. All his efforts now--and he struggled hard--were made to
save the reputation of the house. Hour after hour did he and Mr.
Fowler spend in going over the books, looking at lists of outstanding
debts, the recovery of which was hopeless, and liabilities which it
was impossible to evade. Hour after hour did the result of their work
show them the hopelessness of their position, and the fact that the
final crash was every day drawing nearer. Poor old Mr. Fowler was a
pitiable spectacle; to him the fact that "the house" was in
difficulties was infinitely more distressing than the thought that
with it would go all the savings of years, from time to time invested
with it, and all chance of that comfortable pension on retirement on
which he could fairly have reckoned.

After Katharine's departure, Robert Streightley seemed to have struck
his flag and given up the battle, so far as his business was
concerned; endeavouring only to steer his wrecked fortune safely into
port. This, notwithstanding all his losses and the bad position of his
affairs, he might have been able to do, but that, within three months
of the catastrophe, he was obliged to make a payment of five thousand
pounds to Mr. Daniel Thacker, as Robert imagined, but in reality to
Mrs. Gordon Frere. Streightley had found Thacker hitherto very kindly
disposed towards him, and after some consideration he wrote, stating
that the security was as good as at the time of the loan; that he
would pay the interest, but that it would be a great convenience to
him if the repayment of the capital could be postponed for a few
months. To this application he had had a reply from Thacker, stating
that he would turn it over in his mind, and write again in a few days.

"Turning it over in his mind" meant, of course, consulting his
principal. So, as soon as he had sent his answer to Robert's note, Mr.
Thacker drove to Palace Gardens, and had the honour of a private
interview with the lady of the mansion, in her boudoir. Hester was
looking very handsome, as Mr. Thacker thought, though there was a
little too much set intensity about her lips for that gentleman's
rather full-flavoured taste. After some ordinary conversation, Hester

"And now, Mr. Thacker, state the special business of which you wrote
to me, and which has brought you here to-day."

"It is one of Streightley's matters, Mrs. Frere. He had, if you
recollect, some five thousand and odd pounds from us some months ago,
for which we hold as security the assignment of the house in Portland
Place, and one or two other minor deeds. That money is, I see, due on
the third of next month--a fortnight hence, that is to say; and I have
received a letter from Mr. Streightley--who, of course, only knows me
in the matter--asking for a renewal of the loan on payment of the
interest, and on the continuance of the same security."

"Have you that letter with you?"

"I have."

"Be good enough to let me see it."

As he handed it to her, Thacker said,

"I know that I have no right even to make a suggestion in this matter;
but I think, Mrs. Frere, that unless you have any special objection,
you might comply with his prayer. The security is undeniable; and
Streightley has been so much knocked about lately, poor fellow, in
several ways, you know, that----"

"It is impossible for me to read the letter while you talk, Mr.
Thacker," said Hester firmly.

Thacker bowed, and turned very red; and Mrs. Frere, leaning back in
her chair, opened the note and applied herself to its perusal. She
remembered the bold firm handwriting, which she had first seen,--ah,
how long since it seemed!--in little formal notes addressed to
herself, or enclosing young-ladyish scraps from Ellen. She recollected
how she had lingered over those notes in the old days, weaving little
romances of the future, in which their writer played a very different
part from the one now filled by him. There was not an atom of
tenderness in these recollections; on the contrary, as Mrs. Frere
thought of the difference between her day-dreams and what had actually
occurred, a bitter smile flitted across her face; and as she read the
letter her lips were set tighter than ever.

She read it through twice carefully, then folded it up and handed it
to Mr. Thacker, saying very calmly,

"I cannot agree to that proposition." It was Mr. Thacker's rule in
life never to betray astonishment at any thing. He did not depart from
his rule in the present instance; but he must have involuntarily
raised his bushy eyebrows a little higher than usual, for Mrs. Frere
said to him,

"Did you expect any other answer?"

This was a home question, and Mr. Thacker objected to being called
upon to answer home questions. He had not been exactly sure of the
state of Mrs. Frere's feelings towards Streightley (of the feeling
with which Miss Hester Gould had regarded the same individual, it will
be recollected, he had arrived at a perfect knowledge), and he knew
that her reply would be entirely governed by them. So he contented
himself with saying:

"It is a mere business question with me. You do not require the money
elsewhere,--at least so far as I know,--and the security is
undeniable. As to the sentimental view of the matter, I know from the
experience of that morning at Middlemeads that you are not likely to
be biassed by any silliness of that kind. Only, you see, things have
changed since then, and poor Streightley is in a very different
position now."

"I don't think we need discuss Mr. Streightley's altered position,
except so far as this proposition is concerned; and on that you have
my decision, Mr. Thacker," said Mrs. Frere coldly.

"And that decision is final? I shall probably be asked to reverse it,
and therefore may as well have my cue," said Thacker.

"Quite final. I prefer not to discuss Mr. Streightley or his affairs
for the future."

"As you please," returned Mr. Thacker; and then he excused himself for
his abrupt departure on the plea of business, and took his leave.

Mr. Thacker had not felt comfortable in Mrs. Frere's society of late;
there was an alteration in her manner towards him--a gradual
withdrawal of confidence, as he took it; but which was, in reality,
only preoccupation of mind, and which Mr. Thacker could very ill
brook. Nor were his relations with Gordon Frere at all of a
satisfactory kind; that gentleman being accustomed to speak to his
wife of Mr. Thacker as "your Hebraic agent, my dear," and to his
friends of the same gentleman as "a Jew fellow, who's my wife's
trustee, or something."

As Mr. Thacker lay back in his brougham on his way to the City, he
fell into a fit of musing over all that had occurred. He drew poor
Robert's letter from his pocket-book and read it through; then laid it
down on his lap, and recalled the scene that had taken place--recalled
Mrs. Frere's words and looks at certain parts of the interview; and
said to himself:

"She's a wonder; she certainly is a wonder. Sticks to what she has
made up her mind to like a leech; and as to moving her to pity, you
might as well clap a blister on the Monument. I'm certain I'm right in
my old opinion that she played for Streightley, and that she was as
wild as possible when he did not see it, but married that pretty Miss
Guyon instead. She'll never forgive him. And the next thing will be,
that he won't be able to pay up the first instalment either; and then
she'll have Middlemeads. Yes; and I shall have helped her to it too.
Well, it must have come, I suppose, in the long-run, even if he had
pulled through for a little; but I fancy this will smash him up at
once. He must sell the house; that will get wind, and then--by Jove,
poor fellow! I'm afraid it's all u-p!" And Mr. Thacker looked and felt
much more sorry than might have been supposed. The next day he found
it a very difficult and unpleasant task to write to Messrs.
Streightley and Son, telling them that, "owing to circumstances over
which he had no control," it would be impossible for him to comply
with their request, but that he trusted, &c. However, there was no
help for it; so, on the receipt of this note, Robert had an interview
with Thacker; and within a week the house in Portland Place was stuck
all over with bills, announcing the sale of the furniture and of the
lease at an early date.

Perhaps during the whole of his trouble this period immediately
antecedent to the sale in Portland Place was the most distressing to
Robert Streightley. With the exception of an old woman and her
daughter--mysterious people who lived in the kitchens, and were
supposed to "do for the good gentleman"--every body had left the house
but himself; and he used to roam through the various rooms, thinking
of Katharine and of her associations with each. Not merely

     "In hanging robe and vacant ornament"

did she present herself to his thoughts, but each article of furniture
spoke of her taste; wherever his eye fell he was reminded of her. For
many weeks after her departure, he had kept her dressing-room locked,
and retained the key in his own possession. This room opened into her
boudoir, and there, on her writing-table, long after dust had gathered
thick upon its leaves, lay her blotting-book open, as she had left it;
on it a note just commenced. He had been requested by Katharine's maid
to compare the jewels which she had left behind with the list in his
own possession, and he had done so. Then he replaced them all, as they
had been when she turned away from all the luxury with which he had
surrounded her. Often in the evenings, his dreary task of battling
with the rising tide of ruin done, he would visit the forsaken shrine
of his idol, and feel the pang of her absence all the more keenly for
these mute evidences that it was all real, that she had once been
there, where silence and emptiness now dwelt. When the blow fell, and
he knew the house and furniture must be sold, his wife's rooms were
the last to be dismantled. With his own hands, and alone, he packed up
every article of her personal property for safe keeping, wherever he
should be. When he entered her dressing-room to commence his task, he
caught sight of his own reflection in the looking-glass doors of a
large wardrobe, and started to see how worn and pale he looked. Some
of her dresses were hanging up in the first wardrobe which he opened,
and, obedient to an impulse, he caught hold of one of them and kissed
it, and went staggering blindly from the room.

A few days before the time announced for the sale in Portland Place
the commercial crisis so long dreaded swooped down upon London.
Continental politics, unsettled since '48, had been seething and
simmering, and daily the aspect of affairs had become more bellicose.
Big German States looked at little German States with longing eyes and
watering mouths, and consoled themselves by the reflection that if
awkward and powerful neighbours snapped at them and went off with a
mouthful, they could revenge themselves on smaller fry. Italy moaned
in her sleep, tormented by the old but unfulfilled dream of freedom
from the Alps to the Adriatic; and France and Russia were looking on
expectant. Things in the City had for some time had what is called "a
downward tendency." Consols were at 82, and French Rentes lower than
they had been known for years. People shook their heads at Spanish
Passives, and Egyptian Scrip was at a discount. One of the great
discount houses, the Brotherly Bound--formed out of the old firm of
Ready, Rowdy, and Dibbs--had recently failed (partly on account of the
old partners having taken all their capital out, partly on account of
all the new capital which was brought in having been spent by the
managing directors in giving banquets to the aristocracy), and the
shareholders in similar concerns were beginning to be seriously
alarmed. Under the alarm of shareholders, managers drew in their
horns, and talked of limiting their business, refused all questionable
paper--in which they had been dealing wholesale--and looked not too
well pleased at good bills, such as they had never had before. There
was gloom on the Stock Exchange, and Clapham dinner-parties were, if
possible, duller than usual. No actual outbreak yet though, and chance
of peace, so the papers said. If war could only be averted, the crisis
would pass. The crisis! it was on them as they spoke. At that moment
the clerks in Lothbury were reading off a telegraphic message,
containing the few words spoken by the Emperor to a provincial mayor;
and when those words appeared in print, it was known that war was
meant, and three of the largest establishments in the City suspended
payment that afternoon. Up went the Bank rate of discount, and the
panic commenced.

These events happened late in the afternoon of a bright spring day, so
immediately before the cessation of business, that they were only
known to those actually concerned in the City; and it was not until
the next morning that the general public was apprised of all that had
happened. The news sprawled over the placards of the newspapers in the
biggest typo; the news-boys at the suburban omnibuses and railway
stations were "sold out" at once; people rushed to tell their friends
what had happened; the panic spread to all stock- and shareholders,
and even to the depositors in banks. Then towards noon the City began
to be filled with a set of people to whom its ways were strange, and
who were unfamiliar with its customs. Elderly maiden ladies and rich
widows from prim Peckham paradises; old boys, club bucks and fogies,
from Bury Street or St. Alban's Place lodgings, who had little
annuities on which they lived; artists and actors hurrying down to see
the special stockbrokers in whom they implicitly believed; newspaper
reporters on the look-out for matter from which to concoct a sensation
article; mooners and loungers of every kind, were blocking up Lombard
Street and pouring into Cornhill. The old-established banks never
quivered for an instant; wild customers brandishing cheques rushed up
to the counter, and felt abashed as they were met by the calmest
clerks, who, without a hair of their parting or a fold of their cravat
displaced, asked them in the most mellifluous voices "how they would
have it?" the copper shovels plunged into the drawers, and came out,
as usual, full of sovereigns; the forefinger of the clerks duly
moistened counted off rolls of notes with the accustomed precision.
"Panic?" they seemed to say; "pooh! it must be something more than
panic that can affect us."

But three or four of the smaller houses, which had been battling for
months with the exigencies of the times, found it impossible to hold
on any longer, and succumbed--amongst them the house of Streightley
and Son. No stone had been left unturned, no effort untried; but the
state of the money-market was such that it was found impossible to
realise the securities which they held; and at length, bowed down with
despair, old Mr. Fowler wrote with his own hand the notice, that,
"owing to the crisis in the money-market having caused a run on the
house, and having failed to procure advances on the securities, or
obtain the slightest temporary assistance, we find it necessary to
suspend our payments." The notice went on to say that the step had
been taken with the view to protect as far as possible the interest of
the friends of the firm, whose forbearance was confidently relied on,
and added, that the books had been placed in the hands of Messrs.
Addison and Tottle, and that the early realisation of a satisfactory
dividend was anticipated.

It was not to be expected that such an old-established firm could fail
without plenty of comment. They talked over "Streightley's smash" that
day at City conferences, on the flags of 'Change, and the Gresham
Club; and many and various were the opinions expressed.

"'Protect as far as possible the interest of their friends!'" said an
indignant merchant, who, when first starting in commerce, had received
the greatest assistance from Robert Streightley's father. "Like their
d--d impudence! What do they mean by that?"

"Better have protected their friends' principal, and not minded the
interest, eh, Jenkinson?" said the wag of Capel Court.

"I'm afraid that the realisation of the satisfactory dividend is all
bunkum," said a third. "Lucky if we get fourpence in seven years, I
should say."

"It's a good thing old Streightley can't come out of his grave and see
this," said a white-bearded patriarch; "he was of the old school--slow
and sure."

"Deuced slow and not very sure," said Ralph Elgood, the Rupert of the
Stock Exchange. "Bob Streightley's a thundering good fellow, but has
been hitting out wildly of late, and now he feels it."

"Nonsense; hitting out wildly!" said young Porunglow, junior partner
(of three weeks' standing) of Shaddock, Porunglow, Quaver, and
Porunglow, great West-Indian merchants, who had been three months in
business, and who frequented the vortex of West-end society.
"Streightley might have gone on all right if he had not married old
Guyon's daughter; a splendid gal, who made the tin fly like--like old
boots! Thundering fine parties they had, sir. None of the Belgravian
nobs did it up browner in the way of foreign singers, and Edgington,
and Coote and Tinney, and real flowers, and all that kind of thing. I
s'pects it's that that's settled Streightley's hash."

"I shall take deuced good care to attend the meeting of creditors,"
said the first speaker; "and unless the personal expenses are
decidedly moderate, I shall take the opportunity of saying a few words
on that subject."

This was the tone in which the matter was talked over in the City, and
then the talkers turned to the discussion of other things. Of the firm
of Streightley and Son nothing soon remained, save the name on the
door-posts in Bullion Lane: the winding-up and the meeting of the
creditors were duly reported in the City Intelligence; and shortly
afterwards a new firm took the old house, and the erasure of the name
from the doors and of the memory of the firm from their friends were
almost simultaneous.

So there was a smash in Bullion Lane and a sale at Portland Place, and
Robert Streightley, the quondam "City magnate," the merchant-prince,
had lost his place among rich men, of consequence to mankind and human
affairs; and had returned to his former quiet life in his mother's
suburban house (for her income had happily been secured against the
vicissitudes of business), and had not even begun to "look about him;"
but was stunned and silent under the reiterated shocks of calamity.

His mother and sister had taken the intelligence of his ruin as most
women do take the tidings of a calamity in which the affections are
not concerned--that is to say, quietly and resignedly. If so many
other persons had not also been ruined, it would have been much harder
to bear, because then inconsiderate, hasty people might have blamed
Robert; but as it was, he was only one of many; and they thought about
the matter much as they would have thought about a war in Russia, or a
revolution in Venetia, the rinderpest, or a railway accident.

As for Robert, he had little personal feeling in the affair. Poverty
or wealth made little difference to him. He could have faced the one
with courage and confidence, had Katharine remained with him, and bid
him grow rich again for her sake; he had valued the other only because
it had won her. And now the money which had enabled him to do the evil
he had done was gone, and the wife it had purchased was gone; and days
had melted into weeks, and weeks into months, and brought no word or
sign of her. No language can tell how Robert suffered during all the
time that his attention was externally claimed by his business; with
what agony of hope deferred he would ask Yeldham, day after day, if
there was any chance of discovering her place of retreat. Foremost in
Robert Streightley's memory was the mind-picture of his desolate home;
keenest of all his torturing thoughts was the idea of his cherished
one, so daintily reared, now perhaps exposed to privation or absolute
want. Compared with the horror of this feeling, the disgrace of his
failure, the loss of his City position, which at another time would in
themselves have been sufficient to crush him, now fell upon him with
lightness--the world thought with extraordinary lightness--for such a
sensitive man. But Yeldham, who alone was in his confidence, knew what
were the secret yearnings of his heart. "O God! if we could only find
her, Charley; if I could only see her once again, only hear her say
she forgave me, I think I'd be content to die, and slip out of it

The inquiries which Yeldham had instituted in every possible quarter
had all been without result, and already many weeks had elapsed, when
one morning Robert received a letter from Mrs. Stanbourne, to whom he
had written immediately on Katharine's departure, but from whom, up to
that time, he had received no reply. He had had no exact knowledge of
her address, and his inquiries had elicited no more precise indication
than "Rome;" so he had no resource but waiting--with little patience
indeed, and but poorly rewarded, for the letter ran thus:


"My Dear Mr. Streightley,--Your letter has been following me about for
several weeks,--I believe for months, indeed,--and has only just
reached me. I cannot--I need not tell you how greatly the news which
it conveys has pained and distressed me. I am sure you will understand
this without my dwelling upon the point, and that you personally will
be assured of my sympathy in this your hour of grief. I am old enough
to be allowed to speak plainly in these matters, even to one with whom
I have not been very long acquainted, and I may tell you therefore
that not merely did I see in you many qualities which any girl might
be proud of in a husband, but I took the opportunity of showing to
Katharine that I had observed them. I am sure furthermore, not merely
from the manner in which those remarks were received, but from the
general tenour of her conduct, that she had not one thought which she
would have been ashamed of sharing with you, and I therefore am
disposed to hope that her departure may have been caused by childish
petulance, provoked by some little 'tiff,' which you have not
explained to me--that it has been merely temporary, and that now, ere
this note reaches you, she has returned to you and her duty. If this
be so, you will throw this letter into the fire and think no more of
it. But if it be not so; if she is still holding aloof from you
through self-will, and which I suppose, as her relative, I may venture
to call obstinacy, I think it best to give you all the aid and
information in my power. I need scarcely tell you that she is not,
that she has not been, with me. I do not know that she would have
sought me; but, at any rate, my frequent changes of address would have
prevented her finding me. Had I seen her, I should have put aside my
own ill-health (which is, I suspect, a great deal laziness, and hatred
of England in the dull season), and, starting off at once, never
left her until I had restored her to you. But I remember that two or
three years ago a great friend and old schoolfellow of hers, Annie
Burton--of whom I know Katharine had a very high opinion--went to live
at the Convent de St. Etienne, in Paris, and, as I believe, ended in
taking the veil there. If all the other inquiries which you have
doubtless set on foot have failed, would it not be well to make a
search for our poor lost girl at this convent? Such a place would be
likely to attract her in her then frame of mind. She would have the
solace of the companionship of her old friend; and as boarders are
received at the convent, she could command perfect privacy and peace,
and, so far as she knows, avoid every chance of discovery. This is
rather a vague idea, but it is a foundation upon which pursuit may
improve. I sincerely trust it may not be needed, but yet I think it
advisable to send it. In any case I shall be most anxious to hear from
you again, and to assist you in any way in my power.

"Yours very sincerely,

     "Margaret Stanbourne."

The perusal of this letter brought light into Robert Streightley's
eyes and comfort to his heart. For the first time since Katharine's
departure he felt that there was a chance of recovering her for
himself, of seeing her once again, and telling her all he had
suffered--all he hoped. His heart beat violently as these thoughts
came across him, and he trembled from the intensity of his feelings.
He would have gone at once to Yeldham's chambers and shown him the
letter; but he felt unable to move, and remained for a few minutes
panting and palpitating in his chair. He was weak and dizzy, and had a
strange oppressive feeling that he should die before he could get upon
the clue just given him. But after a short time these feelings passed
away, and he managed to rouse himself and drive to the Temple, where
he found Charley, as usual, hard at his 'treadmill.'

As his friend entered the room, Yeldham looked up from his writing,
uttered a short cry of alarm, and came hurriedly towards him.

"What's the matter with you, Robert?" he said,--"white as a ghost,
dark circles round your eyes--what the deuce is it? No bad news?"

"No, Charley, I'm all right--or shall be in a minute; a little knocked
down by what's in this letter. I think there's something in it--some
clue at last. Read it, and tell me how it strikes you."

Charles Yeldham took the letter and read it through carefully; then
put it down, and looked across at his friend.

"Well?" said Streightley, anxiously.

"Well, Robert, of course it's a new light, and--and there may
be something in it; but I'm not very much impressed. I scarcely
think--but then I know so little, that I'm not a fair judge--that a
convent's exactly the place to which a lady of Mrs. Streightley's
temperament would retire. However, of course one can send over and

"Send over!" cried Robert; "nothing of the kind. I think far more
highly than you seem to do, Yeldham, of this information. I think so
highly of it, that I shall start at once for Paris, and pursue the

"You? No, Robert, I would not do that. You're not well, my good
fellow; you're not strong; any excitement of this kind might knock you
up, and that would never do, you know."

"I know that I shall start by the tidal train to-morrow morning,
Charley. Now don't argue with me, for my mind is made up."

But Robert Streightley did not start to Paris by the next morning's
tidal train. As he sat that night talking over his intended journey
with his friend, Yeldham saw the colour fade out of his face, the
light out of his eyes,--finally saw him go off in a dead swoon.
Yeldham carried him to his own bed, and sent for a doctor, who
peremptorily forbade any notion of his being moved for days. "It might
cost him his life," he said. And Robert, made acquainted with the
veto, after some murmuring, acquiesced in it, and fell back, weak and
wavering, to sleep.

"I don't like your friend's symptoms, Mr. Yeldham," said Dr. Mannering
to Charley. "Has he had any great mental strain or worry lately? Ah, I
thought so. I'm afraid there's very little doubt that his heart's


Robert could not leave Yeldham's chambers for several days after the
astute doctor for whom Charley had sent had hazarded his guess about
the "mental" sources of his patient's illness; and as the strictest
quiet was enjoined, reference to the agitating subject of Katharine
and Mrs. Stanbourne's letter had to be strictly avoided. Such
avoidance was much less difficult than Yeldham had apprehended it
would be; for Robert's exhaustion was extreme, and he readily accepted
his friend's assurance that he knew what he wished to have done, and
that it should be done without any delay.

"I've sent a line to your mother, Robert, and told her not to frighten
herself; and I've had a bed put ready for me in the comer; so you've
nothing to do and nothing to think about except getting well."

"And Katharine?" said Robert, with a vague, wan, painful smile.

"Well, and Katharine; but there's nothing to be done until you get
well--think of that, my dear fellow, and try--except what I have done,
what I did last night when you were asleep."

Robert's hollow eyes questioned him eagerly.

"I wrote to Miss Annie Burton," said Yeldham, sitting down by the bed,
"telling her the circumstances briefly, and entreating her to give us
any information in her power. I assured her, in case her friend should
have reposed any confidence in her, either as to her residence or
otherwise, which she might hesitate to violate, that no attempt would
be made to control Mrs. Streightley's movements in any way; that the
object of the inquiry was to rectify a misapprehension on her part,
and to procure some relief of mind for her husband, whom her
departure, and his ignorance of what had become of her, had nearly
killed. I said that, Bob; I made it strong; and indeed I believe it,
old fellow."

Robert covered his face with his hands, and groaned. Yeldham jumped up
immediately, at once remembering the doctor's injunctions.

"This will never do," he said; "I must leave you, Robert. The 'demd
horrid grind,' you know!"

"We have only to wait, then?" said Robert wearily.

"Yes, to 'wait and hope,' as Monte Christo told his young friends,"
said Yeldham, with a very poor attempt at gaiety. "I'm off now, to
engage in an interesting question about Farmer Shepperton's ten-acre

During the few following days the grind which Mr. Charles Yeldham had
instituted for himself, and had without interruption or question kept
up for several years, received many irruptions and incursions at this
period of his life, was broken in upon here, and suddenly put a
stop to there, in a manner that would have annoyed any but the
best-tempered and largest-hearted man in the whole world. While Robert
Streightley lay ill in his bed, it was not to be expected that Charley
Yeldham could remain quiet, poring over his law-papers, without
running in now and then to see how his friend was getting on; whether
he wanted any thing; whether the perpetual scratching of the pen
disturbed him; whether the preternatural silence did not drive him
mad; and other queries, such as men in rude health propose to those
whom, being ill, they take to be fanciful. Then there was the doctor's
visit, the consultation afterwards, the getting the sick man to
acquiesce in all the necessary arrangements, the despatch of Charley's
lad for the medicines, and a hundred other little performances, all of
which Charley had to take part in; thus giving up his work and
withdrawing himself from his desk. He did not mind so very much; for
Charles Yeldham's position was now secured, and he knew that the
attorneys must await his pleasure. His was no bumptious self-conceit;
he had won his spurs in fairest fight and by hardest exertion, by
sheer determination and indomitable energy; and he was as incapable of
affecting a deprecation of his legitimate success as he would have
been of swaggering before that success had been legitimately obtained.
So, notwithstanding his innate love of work, he had no hesitation in
tearing himself from "treadmill" to attend to his friend, whom he
pitied with all his large heart, with a profound pity which had long
ago buried blame out of sight.

One morning, when Robert Streightley was sitting in the easy-chair at
the open window looking on to the Thames, gazing, with that calm
uninterested feeling which comes to us in illness, on the life
below--the nursemaids and valetudinarians in the Temple Gardens; the
squad of Inns-of-Court volunteers in private clothes, but carrying
their rifles, being put through the mysteries of company-drill by the
attendant sergeant; the steam-boats on the river, cutting in and out
among the heavy barges; the distant bridges crowded with traffic, and
the shore immediately in front resonant with the work of the
Embankment,--as he sat, very weak in body, very anxious in mind--for
no answer had as yet come to Yeldham's letter to Miss Burton--Charley
Yeldham opened the door, and coming up to him, laid his hand gently on
his shoulder, and asked him how he was.

Robert answered that he was better; "progressing--quietly, he thought
he might say."

"That's good hearing, old boy! that's glorious hearing! You certainly
have more colour to-day, and your eyes are brighter, and you look more
yourself. How do you feel about your nerves?"

"What a wonder you are, Charley! No other man in the world would ask
such a question, knowing perfectly that if my nerves were in a queer
state, there is nothing so likely to knock them over as being asked
after them. However, they're tolerably right, thank God!--Why?"

"Well, I suppose it was a very stupid question; and I'm not about to
mend it by what I'm going to say now. I was going to say, if your
nerves are tolerably right, and you feel decently strong and able to
bear it, there's somebody in the sitting-room--Good God, Robert!"

He might well exclaim, for Robert Streightley had fallen forward on
the table, his face ghastly pale, his hand shaking and trembling, his
voice, sunk to a whisper, muttering, "Has she come at last? has she

"No, no, my dear fellow; a thousand times no. Compose yourself,
for heaven's sake. What a tremendous ass I am in any matter like
this--sure to make a mess of it! No, no; there's no 'she' there at
all; only an old friend of mine and an acquaintance of yours; and I
thought if you were well enough, you might like to see him. I may as
well tell you at once it's Gordon Frere."

Streightley started as though he had been cut by a whip, seemed about
to speak; hesitated for a moment; and finally said, "I'll come in and
see him at once."

"You will?" said Charley Yeldham, overjoyed beyond measure; "you will?
That's first-rate. I'm delighted, Robert."

"Why should I not?" said Streightley. "If he were to refuse to see me,
I could understand that well enough; but now when I, who--and I'm
determined that I won't let slip this opportunity of telling him--"

"Robert, Robert, what nonsense you're talking! Frere, of course, like
all the rest of the world, has heard of Mrs. Streightley's departure;
and as he has a tolerably clear head, he might be of use in our
difficulties; but as for going back into bygones, I forbid it utterly.
Now, will you see him or not?"

"Give me your arm, Charley, old fellow, and help me into the other
room at once."

The few days' illness, with all the suffering and suspense which had
preceded it, had had a grievous effect on Robert Streightley's
appearance; so that Gordon Frere--usually impassive, as society
required him--gave a great start when he saw him entering the room
leaning on Yeldham's arm; and, hastily advancing, took him by the hand
and murmured a few words of kindness and sympathy. Robert Streightley
was in a very weak state still; his eyes filled with tears, and the
pressure with which he endeavoured to return Frere's manual greeting
was a very feeble one.

"Now sit down, Gordon, here, close by Streightley--for we mustn't let
him exert himself too soon after his illness--and let us have a quiet
talk," said Charley Yeldham. "Our friend Frere is an old friend of
mine, as you know--and--well--what the world talks of, you know--in
fact, he's heard the story of Mrs. Streightley, and--having known her
and taken some interest in her--he has come, hearing you were here, to
inquire for you, and ask what news we have of her. I've told him what
I know--what we all know; but as for particulars, Lord help us, who
could give them?"

"Our dear old Charley here," said Gordon Frere, "puts in his own
peculiar way--which of course you know, Mr. Streightley, as well as or
better than I--the state of affairs. I heard at the time of what had
happened; but I, like every one else, I suppose, expected it would all
blow over in a few days. I should have liked to have seen you then,
and tried to cheer you up, but I thought it better not. However, as my
wife sees a good deal of your sister, we have heard that things are
not as we hoped they would have been; and yesterday I heard of your
illness, so I have come, having long had the pleasure of Mrs.
Streightley's acquaintance, and having--if you will permit me to say
so--a great esteem for you, to ask Yeldham if I could be of any
assistance in the matter."

The old courtly manner; how well Robert remembered it! As Gordon Frere
spoke to him, he saw him taking leave of Katharine on horseback in the
Park, bending over her in the opera-box, whispering to her at the
Botanical Gardens, in that happy time now so far away. He remained
perfectly quiet, thinking over this for a minute or two; then he said
in a deep voice, and with his eyes cast down:

"No one has a stronger claim to confidence in this matter than Mr.

Gordon looked astonished, both at the words and the solemn tone in
which Streightley spoke; but Charles Yeldham interposed nervously:

"Yes, yes, of course. Gordon is an old friend of the Guyon
family--known Miss Guyon--Mrs. Streightley, that is to
say--since--ever so long."

"Not merely on that account, but on another----"

"For God's sake, Streightley! You're weak and ill, and not

"My dear Charley Yeldham, I'm weak--and ill--and--well, not my former
self, at all events; but I cannot see that you are justified in
stopping me in what I was about to say."

"But did not you promise me?"

"Certainly not. I came into this room with the full intention of
saying what I am now going to say. When Mr. Frere knows that the
saying it will have given me relief--and I need relief--I think he
will comprehend my anxiety on the point."

Frere glanced from one to the other in mute amazement. He was not what
is generally called "quick at taking things," and this dialogue was
unintelligible to him. Robert continued:

"You are aware, Mr. Frere, that Mrs. Streightley has long left her
home, and that as yet we are unhappily in ignorance where she may be?"

"I had heard so, to my very great regret."

"But you cannot be aware of what is really the fact--that you are to a
great extent implicated in her departure."

"I? Mr. Streightley----"

"Hear me out. Our good friend here thinks I am in the wrong in
entering into this story to you."

"I don't see the necessity for it," growled Charley Yeldham.

"Very likely not; but then you have not carried the weight about in
your bosom for months, or you would hail such a chance of relief with
delight. A chance indeed; but I have often contemplated seeking you,
and telling you what you are now about to learn. I am fortunate indeed
in an opportunity offered by your kindness." He was speaking clearly
and steadily now; so he spoke until the end. "Mr. Frere, I owe you an
explanation of my last remark to you, and I'm proceeding to give it;
but you will have to pardon my feebleness and give me time. You were
acquainted with Miss Guyon long before I was introduced to her?"

"I was."

"And--I am speaking to you frankly of yourself; you will see how
frankly I shall speak of myself presently--and you admired her very

"I thought--I think," said Frere, after an instant's hesitation, "that
there never was a more beautiful woman."

"Nor a more heartless one, I suppose you would add. That woman, as you
imagine, fooled you to the top of your heart, gave you every
encouragement to seek her hand; and when you did so, frankly and
honourably, deliberately threw you over for the richer prize which
came in her way."

"Mr. Streightley," said Frere, in an earnest voice, "I'm sure you must
have some very strong motive, or you would never touch upon a subject
which must be so painful to both of us."

"I have a strong motive, sir, as you will speedily find. Your calls
were unnoticed, your letters disregarded, your honourable and manly
offer rejected, almost with contempt. Shortly afterwards Miss Guyon
was married to me. Now, Mr. Frere, I am coming to my point. Katharine
Guyon's rejection of you and her acceptance of me were alike the
result of a base conspiracy against you and her. In matters concerning
you she was hoodwinked and deceived; your visits were not mentioned to
her; your letters were kept back from her. The very offer of your hand
she never received, and until the day of her father's death she was in
ignorance of its having been made."

Gordon Frere had started back at the beginning of this disclosure, and
now sat staring wildly, scarcely able to comprehend what he had heard.
After a pause, he said, "Good God, how awful! And by whom was this
treachery perpetrated?"

"By two men, one of whom has gone to his account, with all his
imperfections on his head; while the other, mercifully spared so far
to repent and make such atonement as lies in his power, is before

At these words Gordon Frere started from his chair; for an instant
remained erect, taking no heed of Yeldham's hands outstretched in
warning; then, as his eyes fell on Streightley's worn and haggard
face, he sank quietly back into his seat.

"I can fully understand what you must feel, Mr. Frere," said Robert;
"and I shall shrink from nothing you may say to me. But there is a
little more to be told yet, and I may as well finish it. I said that
you were somehow concerned in my wife's flight; and what I meant was
this. Her discovery of this plot, the rage and humiliation which she
felt at having been made one of its victims, led her to leave her
home. I am confident she had no other motive. She----" Robert stopped
for a moment, and then continued, "I can't say much more. I'm not
strong yet, and--I only wanted you to know that my crime has not been
unpunished. God knows my share in that miserable compact has never
been absent from my thoughts, and now retribution has overtaken me."

He ceased speaking, and leaned back in his chair, faint and pale. Nor
was Gordon Frere much less pallid as he rose and said:

"I'm taken so aback by all this, that I can say nothing at this
instant. I want ten minutes by myself to collect my thoughts. Charley,
give me your key; I'll go into the Gardens for a few minutes, and then
I'll come back to you."

Although the Temple Gardens were Mr. Yeldham's favourite and only
exercising ground; and although Gordon Frere, in the old days lazily
lounging out of the window with his pipe in his mouth, had often seen
his friend tearing round and round them, doing his constitutional in
the intervals of "treadmill," it is probable that the young man
himself had not been in them more than half-a-dozen times in his life,
and knew nothing of their various beauties. Certain it is that he saw
nothing of them on the present occasion. He walked among the
nursemaids and the town-made children, and the misanthropes and the
valetudinarians; but he saw none of them. He saw the staircase at Mrs.
Pendarvis's house, and the conservatory and the landing, and Katharine
with her head bent down, listening to his soft familiar phrases--which
are not, indeed, the language of love, but which form such a pleasant
prelude to it. He saw the saucy toss of the head with which she would
greet his late arrival in society where they had arranged to meet, and
that half-bashful, half-earnest look in her eyes when they were about
to part. Gordon Frere's heart beat very rapidly as he thought of these
things, and he bit his lip impatiently; but he was a thorough
nineteenth-century man, with a horror of giving expression to or even
indulging in any strong feelings, and he had long outlived the boyish
passion for Katharine which had glorified that past time. His pride
was sharply hurt, and the gentlemanly sense of honour, which alone
among a man's feelings the nineteenth-century code does not require
him to repress, revolted against the story he had just heard from the
shattered invalid within there. How right he had been, when he first
heard from Hester of Katharine's flight, and had instinctively
justified her, even though he then believed she had treated him so
badly! So, while he was regarding her as a jilt, she was thinking that
he had basely trifled with her. Poor Katharine! he pitied her. Did he
pity himself? Well, not much; it was over--the glamour was gone, and
he was none the worse; but she, sold to this man--a poor man
now--homeless, self-exiled, with burning anger in her proud heart. He
never for a moment thought of the possibility that Katharine might
love him, Gordon Frere; still something he did not pause to analyse
told him she did not--that the dream was over for her as for him. The
waking was very different though. Father and husband lost; home and
position forfeited; a wanderer, and poor. Katharine Guyon was all
this. How bright was his own fate in comparison! Mr. Guyon's part in
the transaction galled him. He had so heartily despised the dressy,
boasting, foppish, frivolous, false old man, and had so often laughed
at his little tricks and cheateries, that to have been so thoroughly,
so completely _done_ by him, was, even in such distant retrospect,
decidedly humiliating and unpleasant. He had that letter somewhere,
with its infernal hypocritical condolence, and its coolly impudent
messages from Katharine. All a lie, was it--infernal old scoundrel!
Dead though, that must be remembered, even in the utmost scorn and
anger. And Streightley--how he pitied him! The man knew so little of
the world, and Guyon had made him so completely his tool. He liked
Robert, and all the more since Hester had behaved so ill about it all.
He wished now he had seen him at once, when this happened; had not
been kept back by any fear of Hester's "queerness," as he called it.
Things had never been quite comfortable between them since, and he had
avoided the subject. But now why should he be angry with this poor
broken fellow, who had lost Katharine too, if it came to that? No; he
pitied him, and he would help him to the best of his ability; and now
he would go and tell him so.

Such is a rapid _résumé_ of Mr. Gordon Frere's thoughts as he walked
round the Temple Gardens; and such was the conclusion at which he
arrived before he again entered his friend's rooms.

He walked straight up to the chair in which Robert Streightley sat,
and taking his thin wan hand, said, "I've thought carefully over all
that you have told me, Mr. Streightley, and the result is, that, so
far as I am concerned, the matter is put away and buried for ever. It
shall never be mentioned by me again, and I think I may say it shall
never rise in my mind to your prejudice. The only thing that I will
say about it is, that I am glad I have heard this explanation,
because by it Miss--Mrs. Streightley is freed from the suspicion of
double-dealing and--well, I must say it--heartlessness, which at one
time I attached to her. And now," said Gordon, changing the tone of
his voice, and laying his hand kindly on Streightley's shoulder--"now
we must devote all our energies to finding her and bringing her back.
I'm sure, when she hears that I have--I mean when she knows that
you've told me all--and--yourself so ill--and--that she'll give in at
once--eh, Charley?"

"My dear fellow, I agree with you entirely; I have very little doubt
that if we could communicate with Mrs. Streightley, who is a
particularly sensible woman, all might be arranged happily at once.
But the difficulty is to find her."

"Have you no clue?"

"We had not until quite recently; and even what we now have is very
slight indeed." Then Yeldham repeated to Frere all that has been
already told respecting Mrs. Stanbourne's letter, and that which he
had written to Miss Burton.

"She has not yet answered my letter," he went on to say, with a glance
of significant anxiety at Robert, which Gordon understood. "But she
may be away from Paris."

"Certainly," said Frere; "nothing more likely. She may have gone home,
you know; and the people at the convent may have sent on the letter.
We must not be discouraged by a little delay, must we, eh, Charley?"

"O dear, no," said Yeldham; "there is nothing to be discouraged about.
We must have patience, and Robert must gain strength. Suppose we got a
letter now, and knew where she is, he wouldn't be fit to go to her."

"O yes, I would!" cried Robert. "I should get strength for that. Be
sure of me, so far as that goes."

"Well, well; we will discuss that when the time comes," said Yeldham,
who was impatient for the termination of this agitating interview.
"And now, Gordon, I'm going to turn you out."

"All right, old fellow," said Gordon cheerfully. "I'll soon come and
see you again, Mr. Streightley; meantime, if you have any good news,
you'll let me have the pleasure of sharing it. I understand now why
Yeldham has never spoken much of you to me; but that's all over, is it
not?" And the handsome, happy young man held out his hand, with all
the irresistible grace of his peculiar manner, to Robert, who clasped
it fervently in his poor thin fingers. Yeldham left the room with
Gordon, and the two held a brief colloquy on the landing.

"Will he find her, do you think?"

"I fear not. If ever a determined woman lived, she is that woman. And
he has no hold on her--no knowledge of her past, no intimacy with her

"She hadn't any, I believe," said Gordon. "I don't think she had a
friend in the world. She was dangerous, you see, being so handsome,
and so poor; and her father was so deuced disreputable. Did she make
many friends since her marriage?"

"I fancy not; I never heard--except Mrs. Frere."

"O, she knows nothing about her," said Gordon hurriedly. "Good-bye,
Charley. Go back to the poor fellow; he wants you."

Gordon Frere had taken a step down the stairs, and Yeldham's hand was
on the door, when the former turned and came back.

"By Jove, Charley," he said, "I was just going away without telling
you one of the principal things I came to say. That fellow Thacker,
you know, he manages all Hester's business--as far as she allows any
one but herself to manage it, that is to say--and very well he does
it, I fancy. However, that's not the news, and this is. She gave him a
lot of money to invest on one occasion, and he invested it, it
appears, in a thingummy--a loan--you know what I mean--where you get
the place if you are not paid up to time."

"Yes; a mortgage. Go on, Gordon."

"Well, then, a mortgage on Middlemeads; and of course, then, you know
Streightley smashed; and the end of it is, Middlemeads belongs to
us--to her, I mean--and she wants to go and live there when the
season's over. Deuced unpleasant, isn't it, Yeldham? especially after
the story that poor fellow has just told us; looks as if I did it out
of spite to Katharine. I can't explain to Hester; and there's no
reasonable reason why she shouldn't have the place, is there, Charley?
'Pon my life, I don't know what to do."

"It's a strange coincidence, Gordon, and that's all that can be said
about it. And, after all, it is only strange to us three, because only
we know that it is a coincidence at all. To other people Mrs. Frere is
much more strictly allied with the Streightleys than you are. As for
Robert, he won't mind it in the least; he never thinks about the
place. He was eager enough about it, poor fellow, when he and I saw it
first; but I don't think it ever costs him a thought or a regret now.
You may go and live there without a scruple, take my word for that."

"Do you really think so, Charley? That's very nice indeed, and a great
relief; for I would not hurt Streightley for the world. Good-bye

He ran downstairs gaily, and his friend stood for a minute looking
after him, thinking of the story that had been told to him, thinking
of his own confidences about Katharine in the very same room, and
wondering at, a little envying, perhaps a little despising, his
invincible light-heartedness.

There was something odd, he thought, about the Middlemeads
transaction. He had never heard Robert mention the mortgagee's being
Mrs. Frere: but he would say nothing about it; it might agitate him.
So he dismissed the matter from his mind, and went cheerfully back to
Robert, whom he found pale and depressed, and willing to talk only of
the one engrossing topic--_when_ an answer must surely come from Miss

"What a fine fellow he is!" Robert thought sadly, in Yeldham's
absence, as he reviewed Frere's conduct in their interview. "How nobly
generous and forgiving! What a contrast to me! And yet he cannot have
loved her as I love her, or no generosity could avail to make him
pardon the man who robbed him of her. Ah, no; who could ever love her
as it is my torment, my punishment, and yet my life, my pride to love

A few hours more, and suspense, so far as the clue with which Mrs.
Stanbourne had furnished Robert was concerned, was ended. The
following morning brought a letter to Mr. Yeldham from Miss Burton,
written, not from Paris, but from an obscure village in the Pyrenees,
where a religious house of the order to which she belonged had lately
been established. Its contents were conclusive. She had never heard
from or of Katharine from the time she had received the intimation of
her marriage; she had it not in her power to afford the slightest
information or assistance, beyond writing to the superior of her
former convent in Paris, and entreating her, should Mrs. Streightley
make inquiry there for her, to detain her if possible, but in any case
to communicate with her friends. She expressed the liveliest concern
and inquietude concerning Katharine, and the deepest regret for her
own inability to help in this sore strait.

Profound discouragement fell upon the friends when they had read this
letter; nevertheless Robert bore the disappointment better than
Yeldham expected. He had a settled sense of the sin he had committed
upon him, and a resigned conviction that the punishment was not to be
escaped or lessened. The uttermost farthing was to be the sum of the
payment to be exacted from him; he did not rebel against the
conviction he suffered. "I will never give up seeking her, though I
don't believe I shall ever see her face again," he would say to
Yeldham, when his friend strove to encourage him, to exhort him to a
hope he himself was far from feeling.

Yeldham answered Miss Burton's letter, thanking her warmly for her
good wishes, and the precaution she had taken in their behalf; and
then he had nothing more to do--the weary waiting had to be resumed.

Many were the councils held by the three friends, as the days, which
resembled each other only too closely to him, to whom not one of them
brought hope or relief, passed by. Robert had returned to Brixton
shortly after the arrival of Miss Burton's letter, and had improved
since then in health. The demands of society on Gordon Frere were not
quite so insatiable as in his bachelor days; and many a long summer
evening found the friends together, sometimes on the river, sometimes
in some quiet country nook, a little railway-run from town, and
secluded as a desert; but oftener still in Yeldham's chambers.

Robert was a busy man again, to a certain extent; though now he worked
for others, in a subordinate position, which seemed to hurt his pride
but little, if at all. "I can't live in idleness on my mother,
Charley," he said; "and--and if I never see her face again"--that
sentence in her letter haunted him--"I should like to leave her

Charles Yeldham encouraged Robert in these resolves, and had the
satisfaction of seeing him become more tranquil and cheerful, when
with him. He had always the gratification of knowing that to others he
never afforded an indication of the suffering of his mind.

"You are clear, then, Charley," said Gordon Frere on one occasion,
when he had "run up to town" from Middlemeads--they were living there
now, and it was late in the autumn--"you are clear, then, that there
is nothing, positively nothing, to be done? She is certainly not
within the limits of the United Kingdom; for I am confident we have
fished out every mortal creature she ever knew, intimately or
slightly, and no one has heard of her directly or indirectly."

"I am perfectly clear on that point, Gordon. The case stands thus: we
have exhausted all private sources of information known to us, and
must now wait until some others discover themselves. Mrs. Stanbourne
is keenly interested in our success, and she has access to such
foreign information as we could not command. The only other likely
clue is that secured to us, in case of its usefulness, by Miss Burton.
I have always maintained that this was not a case for detective work;
because, in the first place, it would not avail; and in the second,
Katharine never would pardon the employment of such means. The fatal
loss of time at first--the only time in which detective work is ever
good for any thing--disposes of that resource, if no other objection
existed. Robert, Lady Henmarsh, and myself having concluded, most
naturally, that she had gone to Mrs. Stanbourne, the trail was
effectually lost before we knew that we were mistaken. She had more
than time to hide herself, long before it ever occurred to us that she
intended concealment; for you must remember, Gordon, the desperate
defiance of her letter to Robert by no means necessarily implied

"You are sure she had no other friends abroad but Mrs. Stanbourne and
Miss Burton--no friends among foreigners, I mean?"

"Quite certain. Lady Henmarsh knows; and indeed Katharine had told
Robert herself that she had never been abroad for more than a
fortnight, or farther than Paris, till their marriage, and she knew no

"Where did they go to after the marriage?" asked Gordon.

"To Switzerland. But they returned very soon, and did very little
tourist business, I fancy; for Katharine had a severe illness at
Martigny, which upset all their plans. No, no; there's not a chance in
that direction. Robert and I have not left an incident undiscussed,
not a speculation untried."

And they believed so. But one individual connected with their stay at
Martigny had entirely escaped Robert's memory and mention. Had he
remembered Dr. Hudson, however, it would never have occurred to him
that in that direction any help could lie. He knew nothing of the
profession and the promise with which the doctor and his beautiful
patient had parted.

So, like the children in their games of hide and-seek, Gordon had
unconsciously strayed near to the concealed treasure of knowledge when
he asked his careless question, but had wandered away again--no hint
given, no warning cry, "You burn! you burn!"


Time went on, and Robert Streightley received no fresh intelligence to
guide him to the one object for which he now cared to live. The
terrible disappointment of the hopes inspired by the only suggestion
he had received had utterly prostrated him; and now, even the revived
conviction that news of her _must_ come in some way, that though he
might never see her again, this cloud of absolute ignorance of her
fate must drift away--had yielded to the slow influence of the passing
days. Charles Yeldham had succeeded in inducing him to be calm and
quiet; in convincing him that no means of discovering what he wanted
to find out should be neglected; and that the best way to insure
success was to allow some time to elapse, after which Katharine's
precautions would probably relax of themselves. Robert knew his
friend's zeal and fidelity; and in his depressed state of mind, and
weakened condition of bodily health, he was obliged, and thankful, to
rest in that knowledge, and security, not indeed from his sorrow, but
from exertion on his own part. He had once more begun to tax his
intellectual energies by application to business; and the former
habits of his life were regaining their dominion over him. He had
resumed his residence in his mother's house at Brixton, without the
smallest regret for the luxurious abode he had quitted. He had
regarded all the surroundings of the brief period of display and
luxury which had succeeded to his marriage with perfect indifference
on his own account, and now he forgot them. He was to all outward
appearance, in habits and tastes, the same man who had gone City-wards
from the same house, year after year, before the brilliant
interruption; the difference was unseen, undiscernible by any eyes but
those of the Father of Spirits.

It is probable that at this time Mrs. Streightley was as happy as she
had ever been in all her blameless but uninteresting life. She did not
care much about public repute, except in the sense of the impugnment
of commercial honesty; and as Robert's character stood as high as
ever, in spite of his pecuniary disasters, she cared not at all that
the world should talk about his domestic affairs. The world which did
so talk was not her world. Brixton and Clapham, the Pratts and the
Perkinses, the "connection," and the ministers thereof, said little
about the separation between her son and his beautiful "high-flying"
wife, and that little had a consolatory tendency; for these good
people seemed to think Robert's eternal prospects improved by the
occurrence, and it was no part of their creed to trouble themselves
about those of Katharine. The old lady had her son with her again; the
former routine was resumed: if Robert was unhappy, he did not show it;
and she could not understand how he could fret after a woman who had
never been a wife to him,--"not what I call a wife, at least," she
would say, on the very rare occasions when she mentioned the matter.
She was a good woman in her way; but she essentially belonged to the
narrow-minded order of human beings, and was quite incapable of
realising the fact that though she had seen nothing to like, and
little even to admire, in Katharine, her son had seen in her all the
value and the glory of life to him, and was living, under her kind,
motherly, but unobservant eyes, a broken-hearted man.

Ellen, whose weakness of character rendered her amiability and her
enthusiasm almost valueless, had begun to forget Katharine. She had
been charmed by her beauty and kindness, but she had always felt a
little restrained, a little puzzled by her; and as she had never
thought of applying such intellect as she possessed to the solution of
the puzzle, it had remained, to make her uncomfortable. From the first
Katharine's flight had been a silent subject between her brother and
her; and by degrees Ellen had ceased to think of it much, and the
image of her sister-in-law had become faint in her memory. Besides,
the Rev. Decimus had always decidedly disapproved of her; and he had
improved the occasion, entirely to his own satisfaction, and very
nearly to Ellen's conviction, by his eloquent exposition of the
dangers of riches, the snares of fashion, the undesirableness of
beauty, and the enormity of self-will. The reverend gentleman, who was
a good creature in his small way, had one or two defects of character,
not altogether unknown in his class. He was uncharitable in his
judgments, and implacable--piously so, of course, and with the utmost
deprecation of such a sentiment--in his resentments. Robert's marriage
had been distasteful to his brother-in-law elect from every point of
view, personal and professional; and he had never been able to
perceive the slightest concession to his influence on the part of
Katharine; indeed he felt perfectly certain that on the few occasions
of their meeting she had never remembered his existence, after giving
him the prescribed bow or word of recognition. If he could have
believed that Mrs. Streightley had disliked or feared him or his
doctrines, he would have been far less bitter against her than he
really, though secretly, was;--for he mourned over her in the true
unctuous style of self-exaltation, and depreciation of the sinner,
familiar to "professors" of his sort;--he would then have been enabled
to _poser en martyre_, a sufferer of contumely for conscience' sake;
and great would have been his reward in Brixton and Clapham circles,
where Katharine was utterly unknown, except as an object of holy
detraction and affected pity, in the days of her pride and prosperity.
But no such resource was open to Mr. Dutton; he knew perfectly well
that Mrs. Streightley had never thought of him, had never formed any
opinion about him at all; that he had simply been completely
indifferent to her. Strange are the complications of human nature, the
self-delusions of the best among us. Here was a really good man,
disinterested, zealous, perfectly sincere; a man indifferent to wealth
(except for missionary purposes), and with whom Ellen Streightley
outweighed in attraction the whole of womankind; a man to whom the
smallest, the most transient infidelity, either as lover or husband,
would have been as impossible as picking a pocket or forging a
bill--filled with resentment because a woman, a rich and beautiful
woman, had shown herself politely oblivious of him. And he a clergyman
too! Ah, there was the rub--the egotism of the good creature was a
divided egotism, after all; he could not understand feminine
indifference to the cloth! His experiences were partly Polynesian, and
partly Claphamite, and he judged, as he lived, according to his

When the Rev. Decimus, then, spoke of Katharine with solemn horror, as
an utterly lost sheep, and without the slightest suggestion that it
was any body's business to follow her into the wilderness and bring
her back, Ellen listened to him with her usual adoring respect, and
made no protest. As her future husband, and a clergyman _in esse_,
Decimus was doubly a law to her; and obedience was as deep-seated in
Ellen's nature as revolt is in that of some women. Her curiosity
respecting the cause of Katharine's flight, the "cause of complaint"
against her brother which Robert had assigned, without explaining,
remained in her mind long after her sorrow and her affection for the
lost sheep had subsided. There was not the least probability that it
would ever be gratified; and she began to take the view of the matter
insinuated by Mr. Dutton, though he had not the smallest grounds for
such a conjecture, and was innocent of intentional slander in the
suggestion. "Rely upon it, Ellen," he had said, "Robert's generosity
leads him to shelter his unhappy wife from additional disgrace, by
assuming the blame of this wretched business himself. I daresay he
made some discovery concerning her former life--the life of a
worldling and an unbeliever, my dearest, has no doubt always
disgraceful secrets in it--and this is the result. Your brother is
very generous, and I am sure capable of such a sacrifice."

This was quite a new idea to Ellen, and it took some time to absorb;
but at length she said, with a little air of wisdom:

"Well, but, Decimus, in that case he would know where she is, and all
about her."

"And how do you know that he does not know? He never says a word on
the subject, does he? I think I understood from you that he never
mentioned her since he came back to live here."

"O no, never; not to mamma even, or to old Alice. He has never once
pronounced her name. My reason for thinking he does not know any thing
about her is because Hester says she feels sure he does not, and that
he and his friends--friends we know nothing about--are making every
effort to find out where she is."

"Mrs. Frere is always right, to be sure; but in this case, I think,
she would be certain to know it positively, if such were the case.
Frere would know it--he is so great a friend and ally of Robert--and
he would tell her. No, no, Ellen; on this point I stick to my own
opinion." Which was, indeed, the reverend gentleman's habit in all
matters wherein he differed from his fellow-creatures.

Mr. Dutton's dislike of Katharine Streightley was only exceeded by his
regard for Hester Frere. This sentiment, like all his sentiments, was
entirely disinterested, and had sprung into existence long before
Hester had taken any active interest in his affairs. According to her
usual wise custom, Miss Gould had made herself agreeable to her
friend's lover before she was in a position which enabled her to
patronise him; and he had conceived a genuine liking for her, into
which the element of gratitude was now introduced. Hester had brought
her common-sense, her unfailing tact, and her powers of deferential
persuasion to bear upon Ellen's betrothed respecting the missionary
question; and as she understood the good little man's weaknesses as
well as she understood his narrow sincerity and stupid zeal, she came
out of the discussion with entire success. Mr. Dutton was brought to
recognise the force of the reasoning which maintained that English
savages are as well worth saving as Polynesian savages, and that the
labour implied in the task is at least as arduous, and considerably
more repulsive. Hester had her own notions as to his fitness for
either task; but she kept them to herself, being supremely indifferent
to the spiritual welfare of the world on either side of the Equator.
"I daresay his parishioners won't swallow his doctrines," she said to
herself contentedly; "but then neither will they swallow his wife."
And she derived very great satisfaction from the promptitude and skill
with which Mr. Thacker had executed the commission intrusted to him,
before the great absorbing interest of this woman's life had arisen,
to overpower every other. A living had been found in a situation which
almost realised the conditions prescribed by Hester, and the marriage
of Ellen and Decimus was to take place immediately.

To this, as to most other external circumstances, Robert was
indifferent; he had lost his interest in such things now: his only
feeling about it was regret that he could not give his sister a large
dowry, as he had once hoped to do. He had been consulted in a formal
way by both Decimus and Ellen, and he had agreed to all their plans;
then, his duty being done, he turned away again, and fed upon his
sorrow in silence,--in a silence growing submissive, full of
repentance and humility. His sin had found him out, and the
chastisement was heavy upon him; but Robert was discerning more and
more clearly that the hand which was dealing it was God's hand, and he
was learning to kiss the rod. Very, very slowly were these lessons
learned: the progress of the human soul in the school of the wisdom
which is not of this world, is never rapid; but neither is it ever
arrested, turned aside, or ineffectual.

The long winter, the bright spring, the gay summer had twice come and
gone, since that November day which had witnessed Katharine's flight,
and the rich tints of autumn were upon the beautiful beechwoods of
Middlemeads. The place that was to know her no more, never again to be
adorned by her graceful presence or enlivened by her beauty, was, to
all outward appearance, not a whit the worse for the privation. It was
still splendid, still luxurious, still gay; still the home of youth
and beauty, of fashion and frivolity. It was Hester Frere's home now;
and Gordon was master of the house from which the woman whom he had
loved and lost had turned resolutely away, to be lost in utter
obscurity. He thought of this at times with keen pain; for a change
had passed upon him too, and he was more serious than he had been;
which seriousness his wife marked, and, assigning to it as a primary
cause one which was but secondary, bitterly resented. Gordon had
learned with displeasure as well as astonishment that his wife was the
possessor of Middlemeads; the "profitable investment" had no charms
for him to counterbalance the unpleasantness and what he felt to be
the difficulty of such a position. But what could he do? His wife's
friendship with the Streightleys was no reason why she should not live
at Middlemeads, since it was evident that not one of those concerned
had any notion that her living there was any offence to that
friendship. The real reason against it was confined to his knowledge,
and must not be imparted to his wife. Had he arbitrarily crossed her
wishes, he would have been gratuitously unkind, and that it was not in
Gordon's nature to be; and so he went to Middlemeads against his will,
and remained there, deriving very moderate pleasure from the abode,
and feeling that the coldness and restraint which had sprung up
between him and Hester since the occasion of their conversation about
Katharine were inexplicably increased by the possession of the place.

Since that memorable night Katharine's name had never been spoken
between them. Hester knew that her husband and Robert Streightley were
much more intimate than they had previously been; and this knowledge
fed the jealous passion which devoured her. "They meet to talk of her,
these two men whom she took from me," she would think; and her
once-powerful and well-trained common-sense failed to come to her aid
here, when her need was at its utmost. She would have been desperately
angry had she known that Gordon had told Robert his objection to
living at Middlemeads, and that it was Robert who had quieted his

"Don't mind about me, Frere," Robert had said. "What does it matter to
me? I could never see the place again, you know; and it makes no
difference to me who lives there. Hester always liked it, I remember;
and I am glad to think she has it now. I am indeed, Frere; I am, upon
my honour."

And he was. All this was only a trifle, a secondary point of delicacy,
a nothing; it had no influence upon his fate, it did not wound his
feelings; the calamity that had come upon him left him no
sensitiveness to spare for minor suffering. He never saw Hester now;
but that was accident, not design: he had not the remotest notion that
she had any meaning in his life beyond the trifling meaning she had
always had; he never thought of her at all, indeed. When she was in
town Ellen was much with her, he knew; and he also knew that she had
procured the living whose charms had diverted Decimus from those of
black heathendom; he knew that Ellen was to pass some time with her at
Middlemeads in the autumn; but that was all. It had occurred to him to
wonder a little how Ellen would feel at Middlemeads without Katharine.
But Robert knew his sister; and he smiled at the passing thought, and
at himself.

So Hester was in possession. The dream she had dreamed had become a
reality. She was mistress of Middlemeads, owner of the home of her
unconscious enemy, and of the possessions which had belonged to the
man who had preferred another before her. More than this, she was the
wife of the man her enemy had loved--still loved, perhaps: she had no
clue to Katharine's thoughts, no power to read the change which time
had wrought in her. Was ever revenge so safe, so sure as hers? was
ever revenge so complete? And it had not compromised her in the least:
she was all the richer in money, and none the poorer in friends; she
could talk of Mrs. Streightley with polite pity, and if by any
extraordinary chance the fugitive should ever again come to the
surface of society, she could even meet her, unsuspected, unrebuked.
Truly her success had been marvellous, her good fortune and her good
management unsurpassed; and her secret was so entirely her own. A
little impetuousness, the least loss of self-control, and she might
have betrayed herself to Thacker. (Hester was quite unconscious of the
tone in which she had spoken in the church-porch on the occasion of
Robert's marriage.) But she had never lost her self-control; and he
knew nothing. Supposing him to suspect, what matter? she dreaded not
suspicion, but knowledge.

Hester was happy, then. Happy in her wealth, her popularity, her
authority, in her success and prosperity. Happy, as she sat with Lady
Henmarsh, who was clad in the deepest and glossiest of widow's weeds,
having been disembarrassed of Sir Timothy by the kind hand of death
early in the preceding spring, and was now enjoying Hester's
hospitality, which she proposed to enjoy as fully and for as long a
period as possible. The scene suggested happiness. The two ladies were
seated at the large French window of the room which the former
mistress of Middlemeads had occupied as a dressing-room, and which was
furnished in a style at once sumptuous and tasteful; yet it was not
furnished as in Katharine's time. The conservatory, with the fountain
and the marble floor, the aviary, and the flight of marble steps by
which the Italian garden was to be reached, were there, but the
"Lady-Kilmantan" hangings and furniture, the subject of Mrs.
Stanbourne's remonstrance with Katharine, had disappeared. Hester,
consistent even in the novel defects she was acquiring, had sent all
these things to Ellen's future home. She would dissociate herself as
far as possible from Katharine,--her private rooms should bear no
trace of her; but she would make a judicious use of articles of
property, notwithstanding Gordon noticed the alteration, and gave his
wife offence by doing so.

"Didn't you like the blue-and-silver things in your dressing-room,
Hester? I thought them very pretty."

"No," she answered shortly; "blue is horribly unbecoming to me. I have
not a faultless fair complexion, you know."

"I didn't know complexion had any influence on the choice of
furniture," said Gordon, smiling, and quite unconscious of the
feelings his careless remark had excited.

"Didn't you? No, I don't suppose men understand those things. Read the
Duchesse d'Abrantes, and you'll be wiser."

The obnoxious blue-and-silver had been replaced by the freshest and
prettiest of chintzes; and the apartment, if less splendid, was even
more elegant and inviting. Traces of Hester's intellectual tastes were
to be seen about it; and Hester herself was no insignificant ornament.
The development of her beauty had been steadily going on, and now the
new mistress of Middlemeads need not have greatly feared competition
with the former. With all the accessories of wealth and refinement
around her, Hester Frere was a beautiful woman to the most critical
eye--more beautiful indeed to the critical than to the careless; for
hers was the beauty of form and expression, the accuracy of feature
and symmetry of form, the correct loveliness which is less sympathetic
but more satisfying than the lighter, more brilliant, and more
striking kinds of beauty.

"And you actually had Mr. Thacker's sisters down here for a month,
Hester? How very good of you! Were they very dreadful?"

Hester smiled. "You forget," she said, "that I lived all my life among
similar people, and am of them. You can't expect me to admit that they
are dreadful."

"O, I know all that; you need not talk like that to me, Hester, or
pretend that you ever were like the Thacker girls. They are like human
peonies. I shall never forget Rebecca's parasol, with a pink-coral
handle, and her opera-cloak with amber buttons."

"They are very fond of bright colours and jewelry, certainly. I don't
dispute that, or hope to correct it; but they are old friends, and I
am very constant to them."

"So you are to all friends, Hester, and in that wonderfully unlike
most women of the world; and you know the world as well as any one, I
think. But talking of old friends and constancy, what about that silly
girl Streightley's sister, that Katharine, and you too, Hester, bored
one to death with last year?"

"She is coming to me shortly, to stay with me while Gordon goes to the
Scotch moors; and I shall keep her until we go to town. Then she is to
be married early in the winter."

"Indeed!" said Lady Henmarsh in a dissatisfied tone, which referred to
the earlier portion of the reply. "I wonder her brother likes her
coming here; it must be rather awkward for her, and for him too."

"O no, I think not," replied Hester quickly, and with a slight change
of colour. "She does not mind, I am sure."

"That's well," said Lady Henmarsh. "Do you see much of poor
Streightley? I have not heard of him for an age. I never can get over
his unfeeling conduct to poor Ned Guyon. I know all about it, you
know; for Ned wrote me every thing--refusing him money when he was on
the brink of ruin; horrid, wasn't it? So I really know nothing of him.
I suppose, nothing has been heard of that unfortunate mad woman?"

"Mad woman! Why do you call Mrs. Streightley a mad woman, Lady
Henmarsh?" asked Hester with surprise.

Lady Henmarsh was rather confused. She felt she must make some reply,
and she did not know exactly how to make a judicious one, for she had
forgotten for a moment the strange complication in the position of the
woman she was speaking of, and that of the woman she was speaking to.

"Well, really," she answered awkwardly, "you have only to look round
you and out of window for an answer. No sane woman would run away from
such a home as this, I presume."

"But she could not have remained here," said Hester; "Mr.
Streightley's affairs were embarrassed before she went away."

"Yes; but then she did not know it," said Lady Henmarsh. "I suspected
always that she knew nothing about her husband's affairs; and
Streightley admitted that she did not. No, no, worse luck for him; he
declares that it was his own fault that she left him; and I know
Katharine well. She has, as her poor father used to say, 'a devil of a
temper;' and she is as proud as Lucifer, and gave me an immense deal
of trouble; but I am perfectly sure, if she had known the truth, and
the trouble Streightley was in, she would have forgiven him."

"Forgiven him what, Lady Henmarsh? Do you know?--did he ever tell

"No, never. He only said he was to blame--that she had a cause of
complaint against him;--you know exactly what he said. However, she is
the chief sufferer by her folly, and it is no concern of ours."

Hester was a remarkably keen observer, even where she was much less
interested than, since her fatal revelation of her jealousy to Gordon
Frere, she had been about every thing which concerned Katharine; and
her quick observation now revealed to her that Lady Henmarsh knew more
than she was willing to tell, and was very anxious to conceal her
knowledge. She did not allow her discovery to appear; and soon after
the two ladies separated to dress for dinner.

An hour later Mrs. Frere stood at one of the windows of the long
drawing-room, gazing thoughtfully out with eyes that took no heed of
the objects they saw. She was beautifully dressed in sheeny satin and
soft rich lace; she looked proud, composed, and beautiful; and the
thoughts she was thinking were these:

"She will know sooner or later that misfortunes have come on him, and
she will return. Then Gordon will see her again, when the little love
he ever gave me is dead; when he has become her husband's friend; when
there is no confidence between him and me--and _she_ has been the
means of its withdrawal. Yes, it was she, not myself, not my betrayal
of my feelings--how could I help that? how could any wretched creature
like me avoid that?--it was _she!_ he is always thinking of her. What
is his friendship for Robert but love of her? I know he works for him;
he goes to him whenever he goes to town; and ah, how often he goes! He
does not like this place--I can see it--because it ought to be
hers--forsooth, ought to be hers! and bought with my money. But he
does not care for my money, and he does not care for me. _I
wish--I wish I was dead!_"

You see Hester's success had been complete; and the mistress of
Middlemeads, reigning in her rival's stead, must needs be perfectly


Town was getting empty, and business of every kind was getting slack,
so that it chanced one day that Mr. Yeldham found himself writing
letters at abnormal hours, and with no very pressing engagements on
hand. He was just thinking what a pleasant thing a little leisure, not
too pronounced, was, when his clerk rushed in, and announced "Mr.

"You're surprised to see me, Mr. Yeldham," said Thacker, as, after a
quick survey of the apartment, he sat himself calmly down in a chair
by Yeldham's desk.

"Well--if you ask the question--yes," said Charley with perfect

"And not too well pleased, perhaps?"

"I should have left you to say that, in any case, Mr. Thacker. I
presume you come to me on business. Have the goodness to explain its

Charley Yeldham had not been gifted by nature with great powers of
making himself disagreeable, but on this occasion he exerted all he

"I always heard you were a cool hand, Mr. Yeldham," said Thacker, in
admiration, "and I find they did not say a bit too much. You don't
mind my smoking a cigar, do you, while I stop?"

"Not in the least," replied Mr. Yeldham, with immovable gravity, "if
you find smoking conducive to the despatch of business."

Mr. Thacker looked at him with an unmoved expression of countenance,
and Yeldham began to experience a strong inclination to kick him. He
restrained it, however, and kept his seat and his countenance, while
Mr. Thacker lighted a peculiarly fine cigar by the aid of a peculiarly
fine light-box which hung from his prodigious watch-chain.

"I allow all that," said Mr. Yeldham; "so, Mr. Thacker, fire away."

"You wonder what brings me here," said Thacker, settling himself into
his chair; "but you'll wonder a great deal more when I tell you. I
suppose you think I'm not particularly friendly to your friend
Streightley, eh?"

"I didn't think about it one way or the other," said the imperturbable

"But you knew that I held the mortgages on most part of his
property--that place down in the country where the Freres are living,
and his town-house--you knew I held those, and that it was I who
mainly helped to sell him up?"

"Yes, I knew that; but as I also knew that gentlemen in your
profession were men of business, and not usually swayed by sentiment,
I did not see much to wonder at in the proceeding. I imagine any one
else would have done the same."

"You're complimentary to what you call my profession--you are, by
George! but that's neither here nor there. Suppose--I only say
suppose--that I've had little or nothing to do with any of
Streightley's money transactions; that though I've conducted them and
carried them out; though he has had my cheques for the cash, and I've
had his signature to the deeds--suppose all the time that I've not
been acting for myself, but merely as agent to a third party, who
wanted to lay their claws on R.S. What do you think of that? Ah! I
thought I'd make you look interested at last."

"This is true, Mr. Thacker? you're not romancing, or trying to trot me
out in any way, are you?"

"As true as that I'm sitting before you at this present moment."

"Then I must ask why, having kept up the delusion so long, you come
here now to disclose it? The motive requires a little elucidation, Mr.
Thacker. It's not spontaneous penitence, I suppose?"

"Of course I know you'll want to know the motive," replied Mr.
Thacker, daintily removing the cigar from his full red lips, and as
daintily replacing it, wholly unmoved by Yeldham's observation; "and
I'll tell you. Because I've been badly treated by my principal--ah,
you smile and shrug your shoulders! the usual 'discharged servant's'
tactics, you think. Only understand, I discharged myself."

"I must ask you to be more explicit, Mr. Thacker. I have no time for
circumlocution. In the first place, who is your principal?"

"That's coming home at once," said Mr. Thacker; "but I don't mind.
Miss Hester Gould that was--Mrs. Gordon Frere that is."

Even Charles Yeldham's placid equanimity--placid by nature, more
placid by training--gave way under his astonishment at this
revelation, and Thacker's quick ears heard him mutter "The devil!"
under his breath.

"Ah! I thought that would astonish you," he said triumphantly. "You're
not one of those that have much to learn, Mr. Yeldham; but there are
very few people of my acquaintance that I couldn't wake up one way or
another, I fancy. Yes, sir, that lady is my principal. Her husband
don't know or care much about business, I daresay, and so much the
better--a good fellow, I daresay; but soft, sir--soft."

"And so Mrs. Frere is your principal, Mr. Thacker," said Yeldham,
after a moment's pause, to recover his equanimity, "and was her
friend's principal creditor, eh? Well, well, that's strange enough.
And you and she don't put your horses together now? What can have made
you agree to differ?"

"You've a very insinuating manner, Mr. Yeldham. It's a pity you're not
in the courts instead of in chamber practice. You'd get it out of them
wonderfully there. But it's only due to myself to tell you that I see
your every move, and that I should not tumble to it in the least if I
had not previously made up my mind to have it all out."

Charles Yeldham smiled and bowed, and Mr. Thacker proceeded.

"You know these women don't understand business; and because it had
suited my book, for other than mere monetary reasons"--and here he
settled his cravat and looked conscious--"to do work for Miss Gould,
she began to look upon me as a mere clerk. She forgot, tins young
woman, that while she was a poor governess, glad enough to come up to
Hampstead and have tea with my sisters, I was one of the leading
financiers of the West-end. She forgot that in my bureau I had the
names of half the peerage on stamped paper; that I dined here, and
lunched there; and was hand-and-glove with some of the best men in
London. She forgot that--I see you grinning, Yeldham; and all this
time that I'm swaggering you're waiting to get at the story. Well,
I'll tell it you as shortly as I can. You're too well posted up in
these matters not to know that a tremendous smash like that in the
City two years ago could not have passed over without touching most of
us at the West-end. We've been all of us under the harrow, more or
less, ever since; and I found it hard work to pull up the losses of
that time. I just did that, however, and no more. But there are two or
three affairs in which I'm largely interested, which have been
excellent, and which will be better still, only just at this
particular moment they want a little bolstering. All I could do for
them I have done; but a lot of my money was still locked up, and I
knew that these things only wanted backing to be splendid investments.
So, a short time ago, I went to our friend Mrs. F., and told her all
about it; took her a sheet of paper full of figures--women always like
that; most of 'em can't understand 'em, but she can--and went
thoroughly into it with her; proved that it would be a good thing for
her, and urged it as a personal favour to myself. Damme, sir, she
refused to have any thing to do with it!"

Mr. Thacker brought down his fist upon the table with a bang. Then,
seeing Mr. Yeldham was not particularly moved, he went on. "I was not
to be beaten at the first go off; so, after she had spoken, I asked
her, if she would not go into the matter herself, whether she would
let me have the money--of course on unexceptionable security. She
refused point-blank; and when pressed to give her reasons, said
she did not want to go into any more speculations. I never saw a
woman so altered in my life. I don't know what the devil has come
over her--gone mad on her money, I suppose. I don't know what induced
me to say it,--I can generally manage to take these things quietly
enough,--but I was a little bit annoyed, I suppose; but, at all
events, I did say, 'This is not quite the manner in which you answered
me when I proposed to you to take that mortgage on Middlemeads, Mrs.
Frere.' The words were hardly out of my mouth when she turned round on
me as quick as lightning, and said, 'You think of nothing but the
interest on your money. I had another motive in that investment.'
'And that was--?' I asked. 'To serve my--my own purposes,' she
replied. 'I had a long-standing account to settle with Robert
Streightley, and that was the method I chose of doing it.' You would
not have liked the expression of my lady's face when she said this.
For the first time in her life she seemed to drop the mask. I saw her
eyes glowing, her lips livid; and then I felt certain of what I had
always suspected."

"And that was--?"

"That when she was down on her luck, and intimate with his people, she
had really intended to make Robert Streightley marry her; and that
when she found he did not care for her, and eventually married Miss
Guyon, she determined to be revenged on them both."

"Certainly, Mr. Thacker, your boast of being able to tell strange
things is fulfilled in the present instance. I had no idea of this."

"How should you have? But it's fact, nevertheless; take my word for
it. I suppose I let on by the expression of my face--for she is as
downy as a cat--that I had spotted her game; for she tried in every
possible way to wriggle out of what she had said. 'Middlemeads was
such a good investment.' 'Money wasn't so scarce then.' 'In these
times one ought to be particularly careful,' &c. &c. But I wasn't to
be put off with any such humbug as that; I just asked her plainly once
more, whether she would make the advances I suggested, on the security
I offered; and when she again decidedly refused, I took up my hat
and wished her good morning. And I took my oath, as I crossed her
hall-mat, that I'd go out of my way to do her a bad turn; and, as luck
would have it, now I'm able to do it without going out of my way."

"That is splendid! we're really coming to it!"

"You're still chaffing me, Mr. Yeldham. I might have told you that
interest in Streightley was the sole motive for my coming here to tell
you what I am going to tell you presently, whereas I don't disguise
for a minute that the hope of doing Mrs. Frere a bad turn entirely
governs me in the matter. I thought at first that what would annoy her
most would be to see Streightley's business doing well again. And,
mind you, that could be very easily managed. He came out of his
troubles with a high character, and money is getting plenty. There are
heaps of fellows who, from old respect and friendship, would come
forward to help to put Robert Streightley on his legs again. I'd do my
little share--from another motive. I thought of that plan; I've got it
all down in detail at home; it may be of use some day; but in the mean
time something else has turned up which looks infinitely more
promising, in the way of sticking a dagger into my lady's breast."

"Don't soar into metaphor again, Mr. Thacker, please. It delays your
point most confoundedly."

"That Streightley is ruined--partly by her act--is nuts to her, but
nothing like such nuts as that his wife has left him. She and that old
cat Lady What-do-you-call her--Marsh something--have talked that poor
girl over ever since,--regular old Tabby that Lady Thingammy,--and so
I changed my mind, and thought to myself, 'No; nothing would make Mrs.
Frere so wild as to see Mrs. Streightley restored to, and happy with,
her husband;' and I determined I'd do my best to carry that idea into

"My good fellow, you only determined what all of us have determined
and tried, but without the smallest possible result."

Mr. Thacker settled his elbows comfortably on the table, and replied
in a tone of easy confidence:

"Ye-es; that's exactly the difference between me and 'all of us.' But
listen to me, and I will show you I have come here on no fool's
errand. You know that, pending the great gathering together of all of
us at Jerusalem, our people are spread over the whole face of the
earth. Thus those among us who are well known, or who take a leading
part, have ramifications and correspondents in every large city in the
world. I myself am in this position; and it was my intention to have
set the whole of the machinery in motion, with the view of discovering
where Mrs. Streightley lay hidden, when, by a most fortunate accident,
I believe I have been spared the trouble, and have at once
accomplished my end."

"God grant it!" said Yeldham earnestly. "But how? how?"

"You must let me tell my story in my own way, and this part of it
involves rather a lengthened explanation. When I was a lad, my
bosom-friend was a boy of my own age named Hartmann. He was of German
origin; but his family had been for a long time settled in this
country, and he and I were sworn chums. I do not know why; I never
could make out why, except perhaps"--and here Mr. Thacker set his
teeth, while the colour mounted into his cheeks--"except perhaps that
we were both Jews; and the other boys stood aloof from us, and used to
chaff and call us names. D--n 'em! I've made some of 'em pay for that
fun since. There was nothing else in common between young Hartmann and
me. I was always pushing and energetic, looking to the main chance,
and doing all I could to make something out of every body; while he
was a dreamy, quiet kind of fellow, with no interest for any thing in
the world but music. He was a wonderful musician. By George! sometimes
even now, when I'm in a quiet mood, and get thinking of him, I fancy I
hear the sounds that he used to draw out of his violin. There he would
sit, scraping away hour after hour in play-time; so that when we left
school, which we did about the same time, he'd had great practice for
such a young chap, and was quite a proficient. His friends talked
about getting him into a house of business; but I knew how much that
would do. When you've got what your friends call artistic, and your
enemies Bohemian tendencies, you had better give way to 'em at once,
for they'll prevent your settling down to any thing else, and they're
sure to claim you in the end. Poor Nat Hartmann prayed so hard to be
allowed to follow his bent, that his friends never attempted to
struggle with him; and he went off, very soon after leaving school, to
some connections of his family at Vienna, where he was to finish his
musical education. He was not long absent before we had news of him.
He was in the highest spirits, making excellent progress. Then he
wrote that he had been noticed by the Emperor, and taken into the
Imperial private band, of which, in about three years, he became
leader. His name began to be known in musical circles, and his arrival
in England was announced for the approaching season. Then suddenly
there came a rumour that he was under a cloud--how or why we could
never ascertain. I wrote to him twice or thrice; but my letters were
unanswered, and I gave it up in despair.

"It must have been ten years after this, that, one night as I was
coming out of the Opera, I felt a gentle pull at my coat, and, turning
round, I saw Nat Hartmann. I knew him in an instant, though he was
utterly changed from my friend of years before. All his colour was
gone; his face was thin and pinched and haggard; his eyes sunk deep in
his head; his lips, which had been so full and ruddy, were now thin
and pallid. I stepped aside to satisfy myself that it was he; then I
made him get into my brougham, and drove him to my rooms. To my dying
day I shall never forget that man's appearance as he stood in his
thin, wretched clothes, under the lamplight; I shall never forget the
manner in which he rushed to the fireplace, knelt down on the rug, and
spread out his transparent hands to the blaze; I shall never forget
the manner in which he gulped down the wine which I handed to him, or
the ravenous way in which he tore at the food. When he had eaten and
drank, had warmed himself, and nature seemed revived within him, I
talked to him, and bit by bit managed to drag from him his story. He
was a long time telling it, and it was disconnected and jerky to a
degree, interspersed with loud railing at fortune, with sighs and
tears, and dolorous ejaculations, and I had a hard task to follow him;
but I gleaned from him this: His first downward step had been caused
by his having married a Christian girl, a singer at the Grand Opera in
Vienna, with whom he fell desperately in love. This had so exasperated
his relatives, that after trying, by every means in their power, to
prevent the marriage, when they found it had actually taken place,
they repudiated him, and did every thing possible to ruin him and his
wife. One of the principal Jewish bankers, who had originally
introduced Hartmann to the Imperial notice, now became his bitterest
enemy, used the influence which had formerly been exerted in the young
man's favour to debase him, and finally, under some pretext, got him
removed from his position as leader of the Emperor's private band.
From that time onward misfortune seemed to have seized him; his wife,
after a long illness, died in childbirth, leaving him with one little
girl. In his misery he took to drinking, and sunk from bad to worse.
One night, while drunk, he struck an officer who had mocked his
playing, and, to save his life, fled with his little child to England.
He had been in London a week, and had haunted the streets in the hope
of meeting me; and the meeting was only just in time, by George! for
he and his little child were nearly starved.

"This is a long story, but it's pretty nearly over now. Of course I
did what was possible to be done for this poor fellow; I gave him
money and clothes, and sent him to the doctor, and all that; but he
was very proud in all his misery, and would not accept what he called
'charity,' but insisted upon working for his living. Poor Nat, poor
fellow! the drink had ruined him, mind and body--all his crisp touch,
all his wonderful execution, gone, sir, gone never to return; but he
could still play the fiddle very decently, better than most, at any
rate; so I spoke to Wuff and some operatic people I knew, and got him
playing at concerts and theatres, and that sort of thing. But it
didn't last long; the drink had done its work, and he could not get on
without stimulants; when he got ill again, and broke up suddenly,
sending for me when he was on his death-bed, and imploring me to take
care of his little girl--his little Louise. I promised readily enough,
for she was a sweet little child, and I had always been fond of her;
and as soon as we had buried the poor fellow, I sent the girl over to
a school in Paris, intending to have her brought up as a governess;
but with a splendid violinist for her father, and a first-rate
opera-singer for her mother, it wasn't to be expected that she'd go in
for steady respectability, though she's as good a girl as ever
breathed; moreover she inherits her mother's voice, and I
believe--from what I hear from friends of mine over there, who know
all about this kind of thing--that she'll some day be a splendid
singer, and astonish the world. So, when all these representations
were made to me, I could not hold out any longer; and when Louise left
school, eighteen months ago, I got her admitted as a pupil at the
Conservatoire; and there she is working away, and I'm told is getting
on gloriously. Was getting on gloriously, I should say, up to within
the last month; but she has been very ill, poor child, and that has
pulled her down, and put her back; and--that's exactly what I'm coming
to. I daresay you've been horribly bored up to this point, Mr.
Yeldham; but I think when I've finished, you'll say it was worth your
listening to."

"Only you carry out the hopes you've raised, Mr. Thacker, and you may
depend upon it I won't complain," said Yeldham.

"Well, I had been wondering that I had not heard from this girl. She
must be sixteen or seventeen now, and she writes most capital letters.
I assure you, when I'm regularly dry and stoney with business, feel as
if I was stuccoed all over like, one of this girl's letters refreshes
me and cheers me up, and makes me remember there is something else in
the world to live for besides money-getting. I had been wondering I
had not heard from Louise, when this morning a letter came. In it she
told me that she had been very ill with a fever, which had completely
prostrated her, and that--but I may as well read this part out to

Mr. Thacker then produced a letter from his pocket-book, and read the
following passage:

"You know, my dear guardian, notwithstanding my foreign extraction and
half-foreign bringing-up, the horror I have always had of French
doctors; and it is certain I should have been left to the mercy of
some of these dreadful creatures, if it had not been for Lucy Elliott,
who is a fellow-pupil of mine at the Conservatoire, and who knew Dr.
Hudson, who is our great English physician over here. She came and saw
me when I was first taken ill, and promised to send Dr. Hudson to me.
Within an hour he was by my bedside; and I can never express to any
one his kindness and attention. He asked me, without the smallest
impertinent curiosity, about myself; and when I told him that I was
all alone in Paris, and had no relations on whom I could depend, he
shook his head, and said it was absolutely necessary that I should
have some one to nurse me. I suggested Sister Agatha, who used to come
and see us so often at the _pension_, and who, I know, is a skilled
and practised nurse; but Dr. Hudson said he thought he could do better
than Sister Agatha for me, and that he would try to get an English
widow lady of his acquaintance to come and nurse me."--("Ah, ha! you
start, Yeldham, my friend! Hold on a bit, my boy; the scent's only
just warming yet; hold on a bit longer.")--"I went to sleep after Dr.
Hudson left me; and when I woke that evening I found a stranger
sitting by my side. A tall elegant young woman, very young still, but
looking as though she had seen a great deal of sorrow; for her
beautiful face--I can't explain to you how wonderfully beautiful it
is, so calm and classical and statuesque--is marked here and there
with deep lines, and there is a gravity about her which I am sure has
been brought on by mental suffering. She motioned me to keep silent,
and then told me, in O such a sweet voice, that I was to be quite
quiet, and that she had come to nurse me and attend upon me, and under
God's help get me well again. From that night until now--she has only
just gone away, and she will be back this evening, though I scarcely
require any assistance now--she has been my best and dearest friend,
my nurse, my consoler, my sister. In all that dreadful fever I had the
sense of her constant presence, knew the touch of her cool hands to my
hot head, recognised the cheering tone of her voice, when, in my pain
and misery, I could scarcely see her. To her and my kind Dr. Hudson I
owe my life; and as I know, my dear guardian, that you are good enough
to prize that life, I am sure you will be grateful to these good
friends. And here I come to a point where I require your advice and
assistance. I told Dr. Hudson that though I was only a struggling
pupil at the Conservatoire, I had connections in England who, I was
sure, would take care that his kindness to me was not forgotten. I
presumed so much, my dear guardian; for I felt certain that your
goodness of heart"--("That's nothing," said Mr. Thacker abruptly;
"hem! hem! here it is")--"but now I don't know what to say about
Madame Sidney. She is evidently not rich, though a thorough lady born
and bred; and I'm sure you will think with me that some recompense
should be made her, though what it is to be, and how it is to be
managed, I must leave to your better sense and knowledge of the world
to suggest. One thing I have discovered, and that is, that this is one
of the most trying, if not _the_ most trying, occasions on which
Madame Sidney has acted in the capacity of sick nurse; and that
discovery I made in this way. When I was first coming into
convalescence, when I first had a glimmering of what was passing round
me, I heard the doctor say to her, 'Well, I knew I was not mistaken;
the child owes her recovery, under Providence, to your care and
ceaseless attention. It's your greatest experience; it's the
opportunity which you have so much wished for, of showing that you
possessed the patience, the energy, and the long-suffering for which
you have so long fervently prayed; but all of which _I_ knew were your
attributes, when, under different circumstances, neither you nor I
thought you would ever be called upon to employ them, for they were
not wanted then for others, but they were wanted for yourself,--I mean
during that week's illness at Martigny.'"

"Stop!" cried Charley Yeldham, bringing his hand down heavily on the
table, and then rising and pacing hurriedly up and down the room;
"stop! that seems to me to be conclusive."

"Ah, ha!" cried Thacker, in exultation; "we're hot at last; we're
burning now, ain't we? When I came to that passage in Louise's letter,
the whole thing flashed across me. I recollected having heard
Streightley talk of his wife's illness at Martigny. I said to myself,
'Here's a go; the lost bird's found!' And in an instant I saw my
way--I confess it; I don't go in for any high moral dodges--I saw my
way to being revenged on Mrs. Gordon Frere, and to shooting a bolt
between the joints of her armour, and hitting her in the very place
where she was most vulnerable, and would least like to be hit." And
Mr. Thacker looked up in Yeldham's face, and rubbed his hands with the
greatest glee.

"By Jove, Thacker, I think there's very little doubt about the
co-identity of Mrs. Streightley and Madame Sidney," said Yeldham,
after a few minutes' deliberation. "It will be a wonderful thing if it
turns out so. I never thought that--" and Yeldham stopped.

"Never thought that I should be the means of furnishing you with such
pleasant information? Never thought that the Jew-discounter could ever
do a man a good turn without an ulterior view to his own advantage?
That's it, eh? Don't be bashful; speak out."

"Not exactly that," said Charley Yeldham. "I am in the habit of
speaking out, and so I'll say that I never thought--how could I?--that
the man whom we have all regarded as the active agent in Robert
Streightley's financial ruin would probably turn out to be the means
of securing his domestic happiness."

"I hope to God I may!" said Thacker earnestly. "Look here. I don't
pretend to be a particularly moral or a strait-laced kind of person;
and I acknowledge, as I have done from the first, that my promptings
in this matter have been to be revenged on Hester Gould--Mrs. Frere, I
mean. But if by any act of mine I could do a good turn to Streightley,
whom I believe to be an honourable man and a devilish clever fellow,
and to his wife, who is certainly the handsomest woman I know,
I--well, it would be a deuced pleasant thing to think over by and by,
and I wouldn't let money be any obstacle to my carrying it out."

"You said I didn't like you, and wasn't pleased to see you, when you
came in," said Yeldham, taking Thacker's hand and wringing it. "Put
that opinion to the test some day--you'll find yourself mistaken."

"That's the ticket," said Mr. Thacker. "And now good-bye, and God
speed you! I swear all the notions of revenge on Mrs. F. with which I
came here seem to have disappeared, and I can think of nothing now but
the chance of having done a good turn to Streightley. Ah, old
Shakespeare knew all about it: 'Hath not a Jew what's-his-names'--you
remember the quotation."

And Mr. Thacker waved his hand jauntily in adieu and left the

As may be readily supposed, Yeldham lost no time in communicating to
Robert the main points of Mr. Thacker's valuable information. He kept
that gentleman's revelation of the virtuous motives which had animated
him strictly to himself; they did not bear upon Robert's interests,
and a knowledge of them could only tend to distress him.

Robert's agitation was extreme when he learned the unmistakably
reliable nature of the clue now placed so unexpectedly in their hands.
He remembered the English doctor who had attended Katharine in her
illness at Martigny perfectly, and he was desperately vexed and
impatient with himself that he had not remembered him sooner. Yeldham
did not try to stem the tide of his self-reproach, but he did not set
himself very seriously in opposition to Robert's determination, that
the evening of the day then passing should see him _en route_ for

"Suppose you find her--and you must remember, Robert, that though most
probable, it is not certain--and she positively refuses to see you?
What are you to do? You cannot force yourself into her presence.
Suppose she learns your intention, and she is resolved to carry out
her purpose, she will fly away again, and then we shall be worse off
than before. Be guided by me, Robert; let me go in your stead. If I am
to succeed, the pleasure will not be lessened; if I am to fail, better
I than you. You can trust me, I know; and you know, in the best case,
I only precede you by a few hours; in the worst--well--we won't talk
of that beyond saying that you'll bear it better coming through me."

These arguments and his own secret despondency induced Robert to
consent. He was immeasurably grateful to Yeldham for undertaking the
task for him; but he said little. He was "not strong," as he was
accustomed to say, and easily upset; so Yeldham got up a great deal of
unnecessary bustle and discussion to cover his emotion; and, indeed,
on this and some other late occasions the lawyer displayed great
womanish tact and affectionate cunning. Yeldham could not go that same
evening, and the little delay tried Robert; but he strove to hide his
impatience; and his friend seconded the effort, and arranged to leave
London on the morrow.

A short note from Yeldham to Gordon Frere had informed the latter that
Charley was about to start for Paris. He had not time to enter into
written explanations, and he greatly desired to secure for Robert
during his absence the comfort of Gordon's cheerful companionship and
invariably hopeful counsel. So he had merely said, "We have got a
clue, a safe one this time, so far as finding the person we want goes,
and I am off to follow it up. Can you come up for a day or two? I want
to see you before I start."

Gordon Frere announced his intention of going to town for a few days,
immediately after he received this note; but gave no explanation of
its motive. He had dropped into habits of the sort of late; and he and
his wife were quite a fashionable couple, independent of each other in
all their arrangements, and models of courtesy.

Having reached the Temple, he found Yeldham in the midst of a vast
confusion of books and papers, and, to his great satisfaction, alone.
He had rather expected that Robert would be there to the last moment,
clinging to his emissary, and urging upon him superfluous entreaties
concerning speed and earnestness.

Yeldham explained to Gordon briefly and clearly what had happened,
merely suppressing Hester's share in Thacker's revelation. He had no
inclination to make mischief between Mrs. Frere and her husband,
though he could not avoid thinking what a sufficient kind of
punishment for her lay ready to his hand, had he chosen to use it. But
Yeldham disdained to do so; the woman would be punished by the
restoration of her innocent rival to her husband, if such a blessed
event were indeed to be; and if it were not--he could not waste a
thought on her meanness and her malice. He knew Gordon would not ask
for more information than he was disposed to give, and would not take
the trouble of looking beneath the surface of any thing. So he told
him as much as he thought proper; and Gordon, his first surprise and
curiosity abated, questioned him concerning his anticipations of

"What are the chances, Charley?" he asked, earnestly,--"what do you
really think they are?"

"That they are terribly small. Small enough as to the finding of the
lady, and smaller still as to getting her to return. However, I do
think that in all respects it is better that Robert Streightley should
not go himself. His wife would be much more likely to hear of his
presence there than of mine."

"And do you think if she did hear of it she would avoid him?"

"She would go off somewhere else like a shot. She is just a
temperament difficult to deal with. Smarting under the sense of a
great wrong, she is capable of any thing.'"

"She was always strong-minded--I mean self-reliant, and that sort of
thing," said Frere; "but she had plenty of common-sense."

"So I should imagine from what I saw of her. Of course I would not
have dreamed of hinting such a thing before our poor friend; but the
difficulty of arranging the matter will arise not so much from Mrs.
Streightley's want of sense as from her want of heart. A woman who
could see her husband suffering from the anxieties which beset Robert
long before the crash came, and yet persist in a course of thoroughly
reckless extravagance, is not very impressionable, you may depend upon

"Do you imagine that--"

"My dear Gordon, it's not a nice thing to say, but I imagine that,
though she did not know the terms of the bargain, she felt that she
had been purchased by her husband, and she was determined to have the
entire price. Now, you know, dealing with such a woman as that, where
questions of feeling are concerned, is difficult."

"It's but a poor look-out, I'm afraid," said Frere, rising from his
chair; "and I don't envy you your mission, Charley, though I don't
know any one who would do it so well; and if honesty and warm feeling
are to win the day, you'll be successful. So, God bless you! Mind you
let me know how you prosper. Better write to me at the club, I think,"
added Mr. Frere, with a sudden recollection that news of Katharine
Streightley was ever too welcome to the lady who was now his wife.

Yeldham shook hands warmly with him, grinning the while. None of these
little evidences of character were thrown away on the old bachelor,
who may have derived solace and instruction from them.

Robert was to accompany him to the station, and the hour of his
arrival drew near. Yeldham's packing was quickly done, and he had a
few minutes' leisure to think of the strangeness of the freak of
fortune which was sending _him_ in search of the only woman towards
whom his heart had ever been attracted, with the object of winning her
back to another. Perhaps he had censured her too harshly in talking to
Gordon Frere--to that other man, who had also loved her, after his
fashion. Then he heard Robert's step ascending the stairs, and sighed
as he thought that it was hard indeed to look at his suffering face,
and acquit Katharine of heartlessness and cruelty.


In one of the old-fashioned hotels of the Rue de l'Université, in that
quarter of Paris around which cling some of the saddest and noblest
memoirs of a history which is but a succession of acts in a great
pompous tragedy, Dr. Hudson had occupied a suite of apartments for
many years. There were other and younger English physicians in Paris
than he; but he had made, and kept, a solid reputation, and his
friends comprised a large number of the native denizens of Paris, and
all his own compatriots "of standing," as the Yankees say. His
_clientèle_ was of wider range; for the English doctor was as well
known to the poor of Paris as to the rich, and he laboured among them
as assiduously.

On the self-same day which had witnessed Mr. Thacker's visit to
Middlemeads, and the failure of his application to Mrs. Gordon
Frere--on which he had expressed himself with so much resentment to
Charles Yeldham--and at the self-same hour at which the project of his
vengeance began to take shape in the brain of the angry Hebrew,--Dr.
Hudson was seated in his study, conversing earnestly with a lady, who
wore the mournful garb of widowhood in the English form. The frank,
thoughtful face of the physician was clouded, and his voice was low
and troubled, as he spoke to the lady.

"I don't like to let you go, Katharine. You have been doing too much.
This long attendance upon poor Louise has been too much for you
already; and now the care of an old blind woman--no, no; it ought not
to be."

"The care of your mother, my best friend!" returned the lady in a tone
of remonstrance; "does _that_ not make all the difference? Besides,
what does it matter? here, or in Brittany? The work has to be done,
and place does not make the smallest difference. You cannot bring the
old lady to Paris; and since Marion's death you have had no peace of
mind, no confidence about your mother. Let us look at this rationally.
Is there any one in whom you have such confidence as in me?"

"Certainly not, Katharine, though----"

"Though I do not return it. Well, in one sense I do not; but let us
not discuss that for the present. If you do not let me go to Morlaix,
to your mother, you must send some one in whom you have less
confidence. That's a 'logical sequence,' as you learned people say,
isn't it?--and I should also call it a very silly proceeding. Next,
you must provide me with work here; and I can assure you, you can give
me none I should like half so well. I am free too, and I don't know
that any other of your helpers are:--let me see the list."

She took a manuscript volume from the table, turned to a certain page,
and ran over a list of names.

"No; I thought not. All busy, and with serious cases,--'long jobs,' as
the 'regulars' call them. You see Fate and my self-will are against
you--and I must go; so that's settled. And now, Mr. Doctor, let me
make my report."

"This was your last visit to Louise, I think?" he asked absently.

"My last regular visit. She is quite well now; but I shall never lose
sight of her, I hope. She is a good girl and a grateful; and so long
as she has this illness, and I have Martigny to talk about and the
same rescuer to praise--though she little knows how small an item in
the account between him and me Martigny is--we are not likely to tire
of each other's company. Where are your wits wandering to? you are not
listening to a word I am saying to you."

He turned his face fully towards her, and the serious expression it
bore increased. He took an ivory paper-knife from off his desk, and
beat it softly upon his open palm as he spoke.

"My wits are wandering to speculations about you, my dear. How long
are you going to lead this life? and when am I to know the meaning of
it all? It is not fit for you, Katharine; you must rest."

"No, no," she said nervously; "you know the only thing I cannot do
when you bid me, is rest. Besides, I am going to be very quiet, you
know, down in Brittany----"

"That will not be for long, if even I let you go. My poor old mother's
life is nearly ended; and then----"

"And then--for I mean to go; it is quite settled---are there no more
duties for me? are the poor and the sick to cease out of the land?"

"No, it is not that; I am thinking of you seriously, Katharine, and
wondering whether I am doing right by you. I had no doubt, when you
came to me, and claimed the fulfilment of the promise I made to you at
Martigny--there was such desperation, such utter self-abandonment
about you--that I, who knew the symptoms of despair, and their
deadliness, could not hesitate about what was to be done. But now,
Katharine, now, has not time made any difference?--it has made a great
alteration in you, my dear--a very great and blessed change; not time
alone, I know, but life and suffering and self-knowledge, and a higher
wisdom still--has it not changed circumstances too? You told me your
return to your husband's home was an impossibility then; and I knew, I
felt it was so. You never told me why; you never placed the secret
of his sin, whatever it may have been, in my possession. Now I ask
you--the matter has been pressing long upon my mind, and is daily
growing heavier--is the same impossibility in force still?"

Katharine did not make any answer, but she looked at him, pale and
tearful. Then he continued:

"Think of your youth, Katharine. Your life is almost all before you;
and you have no friend but me. Supposing I were to die, my dear, how
would it be with you then? For though you are not so helpless and so
ignorant of the world's ways as when you came to me that winter's
night, and told me I must hide you, and that without a question, and I
did it--you are as little fitted as any woman I know for the
loneliness of a friendless life. Is this offence quite past
forgiveness? is there no way of reconciliation?"

"None, none," she murmured. "O, do not talk to me of the past."

"Katharine," he said, with deeper solemnity still, "think, be very
sure, before you answer. Remember that nothing but the extremest
injury can justify the course you are pursuing. Your name is false,
your position is false, your very dress"--he stretched out his hand
and touched it--"is a lie!"

"My widowhood at least is real," she said in an abrupt and bitter

"My poor child, I don't doubt that. I know it is; but the evils dealt
by man's hand are often of God's sending. Are you resisting God, and
not man only? I am talking to you in the dark about many things, but
there are some broad truths applicable to all circumstances. One of
them is, that no self-imposed duties can stand in the place of those
which God has appointed. When I watch--and I watch it closely--your
exemplary life of usefulness, your self-denial, your promptitude in
doing good--and see that you are not at peace in it, I cannot but
think that you are doing this--that you are trying to do your own
will, and not God's will; and that you are reaping the inevitable

Her head was bowed now, and she was crying.

"I don't know why I have felt forced to say all this to you to-day,
Katharine. Something has forced me to say it, certainly. Think of it,
my dear; and if there be any possible way to reconciliation with your
home and your former life, turn your steps towards it."

"Are you weary of the charge of me? are you tired of the thankless

He smiled, very slowly and tenderly; then rose; and, arranging some
papers on his desk, said:

"Do you think to turn away my meaning by such a silly subterfuge? I am
going out now: think of what I have said, Katharine; and, remember, if
I have hurt you, it is because of my ignorance. I don't reproach you
that you have kept me in it; but you must not wonder if it sometimes
tells against yourself. Be sure of this, Katharine, there is no life
so acceptable as that in which we carry _our own_ burdens, without
selecting them; and no spirit so safe as that which takes trials as
they are sent, not sought for--kissing the rod."

He was leaving the room, when she rose impetuously and went up to him.
She caught his arm, and pressed it to her closely, as she said:

"Don't say more to me now; I can't bear it. I wonder why you have
spoken like this again--it is so long since you did so before. Let me
go to your mother, and think it all out there--all you know and all
you don't know; and when I come back I will tell you every thing."

"My dear, you mistake me. I don't want to know; it is from no feeling
of that kind I speak;--it is for your own sake, and because of the
treacheries and changes of life----"

"Yes, yes; I know. When had you any but good motives, or did any but
good deeds? Just give me this little time, and keep your vow to me,
that you will never answer a question about me, or give any human
being a clue to finding me; and when I come back you shall know all,
and judge for me."

"Agreed," said Dr. Hudson; "I will keep my promise, and you will keep

A day or two later Katharine Streightley left Paris.

"I give you my word of honour--I will take the most solemn and sacred
oath you can dictate to me, that nothing you can tell me, of what I
ask you, can harm the lady. I am here on behalf of her husband."

"Her husband!" said Louise Hartmann, with a disdainful smile; "now I
know you are deceiving me. She is a widow--her husband is dead."

"Indeed--indeed he is not, my dear young lady; for God's sake listen
to me! Her husband is alive, and he loves her better than his life.
Indeed he is dying, I truly believe, because he cannot find or hear of
her. A quarrel--a misunderstanding parted them, and he has sought her
vainly ever since. Just think of the dreadful weary time, and have
pity on this poor man."

Charley Yeldham's friends would have been only less astonished than
himself had they heard him thus eloquently pleading the cause of
Robert to the inflexible little German girl, who stood before him, the
very image of immovable fidelity.

"See! look at her portrait again; you have acknowledged that you know
it, and that it is Madame Sidney's likeness. Well, I tell you her
husband has worn it on his breast night and day for nearly three
years, and would not have parted with it for a moment for any less
object than enabling me to trace her by it. He asks nothing but to
know where she is--nothing but the means of communicating with her.
Surely you will tell him that much?"

"Have you asked Dr. Hudson? he knows her better than I," was the
cautious questioning reply of the German girl.

"Yes," said Yeldham incautiously; "I went to his house at once, and I
waited a long time to see him, but all in vain. He knew Madame Sidney,
but he would tell me nothing about her--not even whether she was now
in Paris, or ever in the habit of residing in Paris."

"And yet Dr. Hudson is her best friend, and knows more about her than
any one in the world."

"Yes, yes; we heard that: then so much was right at least."

Louise Hartmann deliberately sat down, tucked her feet comfortably
under her chair, and folded her hands in her lap. Yeldham waited,
breathlessly anxious for her to speak. She kept him waiting for some
time; but at length she said, slowly and emphatically:

"Soh! you fine English gentleman, who give your word of honour and
your sacred and solemn oath, you come to a poor girl like me, and you
try to make me tell you about Madame Sidney--who nursed me, and was
more good to me than ever any one in the world was before--what the
good doctor, her own friend, refuses to tell you. You may go away,
sir, back to England; I will tell you nothing--no, not one single
word. If this lady's husband is alive, he has done something that
makes her think of him as dead, and she knows best. He has made her
miserable; for she is not happy, I know that--I often saw that; and he
shall never render her miserable again through help of mine."

Yeldham was utterly confounded by the girl's calm speech, and the
resolution which showed itself in her face and sounded in her voice.
He stood bewildered and silent for several minutes. At length Louise
spoke again:

"Please to go away, sir; you have nothing to hear from me, and nothing
to say to me more."

He caught joyfully at the anxiety she expressed to get rid of him. Was
it not a proof that Katharine was in Paris still--was near; that she
was then expecting or fearing her coming? He made another appeal.

"Listen to me, my dear young lady," he said. "No one can honour your
fidelity to your friend, or respect you for keeping your word so
firmly, more than I do; but I swear to you you are acting under a
mistake,--a most fatal and lamentable mistake. At all events, I, who
am not this lady's husband, cannot injure her--cannot force her to do
any thing against her will. Let me see her. I swear to you, if you
will, that if she bids me be silent, I will not utter a word; and I
will neither follow her nor have her followed. I ask you this, because
if you will only do it, you shall see for yourself the error there is
in all this, and you will probably be the means of richly rewarding
your friend for all she has done for you, by restoring her confidence
in her husband."

Louise had looked at Charles Yeldham with earnest intentness all the
time he was speaking, and the incredulous scorn which had possessed
her wholly during the earlier part of their interview began to give
way. She dropped her eyes, put her hand to her brow, and thought

"I dare not believe you," said she at last; "I dare not listen
longer to you, lest I might be persuaded to do Madame Sidney a wrong.
So now you must go away. You had better; if you stay here a month, I
will tell you no more than this--and it cannot harm her, if her
husband, and you too--and perhaps you are her husband--bah, how can I
tell?--were ever so wicked and cruel. She is not in Paris. Now go; you
shall not got another answer out of me."

She rose, and stepped towards the door, as though about to open it for
his departure.

"Thanks," he exclaimed, "a thousand thanks, even for that information;
and, as you say, it could not harm her, if we, who are her devoted
servants, desired to do so. Yes," for she had her hand on the latch of
the door, "I will leave you immediately; only let me say a few words

Louise frowned. "I will give you no answer," she said sullenly.

"O yes, I think you will, when I have spoken them. If Madame Sidney
ever comes back to Paris--I don't ask whether you expect her-- (here
he stole a quick glance at her, but she was prepared to meet and
conquer it--there was not the smallest change in her face, from its
expression of sullen waiting)--but if she comes back, and comes to see
you, tell her about my visit; tell her I came from her husband--here
is my card. There can be no harm in telling her, you know, and then
it will depend on herself--not on you, or on me, but on herself
only--whether she will let any one who loves her see her again in this
world. You understand me in this, do you not, mademoiselle? You see
that I am speaking now what must be the truth, and cannot by
possibility deceive any one."

Louise appeared to be moved by this direct appeal to her
understanding. She took up the card, which he had laid on the table,
and read the name aloud.

"Mr. Yeldham! Yes; I understand that if I tell her you have been here,
she will be free to choose whether you shall come again; and unless
she or I tell you, you can never know whether she comes again. So it
will be her own affair, and I cannot be betrayed into injuring her.
Yes,"--she looked up suddenly at him,--"I will tell her if she comes
here ever again."

"Thank God!" exclaimed Yeldham in a tone of infinite relief; "then all
will be right, and it is only waiting a little longer; for I am sure
she will come back at some time. God bless you for that promise! You
do not know all the good you may do, all the ill you may prevent, by
keeping it."

"I always keep my promises," said Louise coldly, rather offended by
his thanks.

"Yes, yes, I know that; but O, if I could but make you understand!
_She_ will make you understand, some day, all I could never explain. A
word more, and I leave you. When you tell her that I was here, and the
story I have told you of my business and my hopes--_she_ will believe
it, though it is quite natural and right that _you_ should hesitate to
do so--tell her this, that I entreated you to write to me and let me
know that she had returned to Paris. You will do this too, will you
not? You see it is only a part of what you have already promised: it
is not a new thing. I cannot know that she has returned, unless she
permits you to tell me, and so only can harm her. You see I take your
own view, with her own consent."

"I see that," said Louise; "it follows from the first. Yes, if she
gives me leave, I will write to you."

He contented himself with a more moderate expression of gratitude than
was natural to him under the circumstances; and then, having written
his address in full, and very distinctly, on the card Louise had
consented to keep, he took his leave.

He had been defeated in the greater purpose, but he had achieved a
less one, whose gain would have seemed to the friends priceless good
fortune a little while ago, but which was robbed of its fail
proportions by the larger hope unfulfilled.

Yeldham communicated to Robert the result of his expedition by letter
the same evening, and the following day he returned to London.

"I am thankful, Charley, for the light I have been granted. It is dawn
after dark, and now I will wait and hope for the day," said Robert;
and Yeldham rejoiced to see his fortitude.

So October passed, and November; and December came, and it was only
twilight still.


The wintry rays of the sun were contending unsuccessfully with the
strong and cheerful blaze of a bright fire in Charles Yeldham's outer
room one morning in December, when that hard-working gentleman emerged
from his bedroom at an unusually late hour, and glanced with an
expression of satisfaction at the fire, the preparations for
breakfast, and the heap of letters and other papers which occupied one
end of the small table. Charles Yeldham was looking troubled on this
particular day, but not as he usually was, full of the care and
preoccupation of his work; his generally concentrated gaze was
abstracted; and any one familiar with his expression would have
recognised that the subject of his thoughts was not present to his
bodily eyes. He seated himself and began to open his letters, having
first poured out his tea. They were numerous and various: one from his
father, one from his sister, a note from Frere, a number of business
letters, and one from Paris. His face changed as he took up this one,
changed still more as he read:

"Rue d'Alger, No. --, 9th Dec. 186-.

"Sir,--I fulfil my promise, relying on yours, and believing all you
told me of your intentions for the dear lady's good. She is dear and
good. She has come back to Paris, and I have seen her.

"I am, sir, your servant,

"Louise Hartmann."

Yeldham's first impulse was to jump up from his untasted breakfast,
take his hat and coat, and rush off to find Robert Streightley; but he
resisted the impulse, and set himself to consider what would be the
best thing to do. Robert had been ailing lately; Yeldham had noticed
his altered looks with pain, and he dreaded telling him news except
such as was undeniably and completely good. This could not be said to
be so. There was no doubt now that the way was opened to communication
with Katharine; but much more than communication was involved. So long
a time had elapsed, so obstinately had her determination been adhered
to, so intense and keen had been her husband's suffering--suffering
which none but Yeldham had divined, under Robert's quiet and reticent
bearing--that the matter had assumed to Yeldham's mind an aspect of
even additional importance. Should he act on the information contained
in this note at once, and only tell Robert when he should have seen
Katharine and ascertained the state of her feelings, or should he
communicate with Robert immediately, and allow him to proceed at once
to Paris in search of his wife? In favour of the latter method of
proceeding there was the consideration that the mutual position of the
estranged pair was one of the utmost pain, and requiring the most
delicate handling; and that undoubtedly the husband and wife could
alone discuss the matters which divided them with propriety and
authority. There was also the consideration of Katharine's excessive
pride, which would lead her instinctively and vehemently to resent the
interference of a third person. Both these were gravely pondered by
Charles Yeldham. In favour of the former method of proceeding were,
the comparative composure and hopelessness with which Robert had begun
to regard his fate since Yeldham's unsuccessful expedition, the
patience with which he acceded to Yeldham's advice that they should
not unnecessarily discuss the matter of their most constant thoughts,
and the consequent risk, in case all overtures should prove
unavailing, of exciting Robert to dangerous agitation and increased
grief. Yeldham understood Streightley better than Streightley
understood himself; and when he would say, as he constantly did, that
he would ask nothing more than to know where his wife was, to be sure
that she was more content than he without her, that he had no hope of
ever seeing her more, Yeldham knew that he entirely believed what he
said, but that he deceived himself; and that with the first
intelligence of Katharine new feelings would arise, whose
disappointment would be terrible. Added to this, he knew that Robert
could not plead his own cause as he, Charles Yeldham, would plead it
for him; if she should refuse to see him, Robert, conscience-stricken,
would not persevere. Thus the subject had two sides, and he had to
regard first the one, and then the other, with great care and
deliberation. He did so, and finally decided, all parts of the
question balanced, that he would tell Robert he had received the
letter for which they had looked so long in vain, and leave it to him
to decide on what should be done. "If I went, and failed, he must know
it sooner or later," was the result of Yeldham's cogitations; "so he
may as well know about this at once."

So Charles Yeldham wrote a note to Robert, requesting him to call on
him late in the afternoon, when he should be comparatively at leisure,
and proposing that they should dine together in the City afterwards.
Then he dismissed the matter from his mind, as far as possible, and
went to his "treadmill."

There was nothing unusual in the tone of Yeldham's note--nothing to
excite Robert's hopes or fears. He had had several such notes from the
writer; and yet he was agitated while he read it, and nervous when he
laid it down. He was always nervous now, he said to himself, as he
rebuked his own tremors. How unmanly, how weak, how foolish he was
becoming--less and less like a man whom she ever could love, he would
think, with a degree of despondency which might have proved to him,
had he considered his own case in a philosophical light, how much hope
had really lurked at the bottom of his abnegation. This nervousness
increased as the hour drew near for his interview with Yeldham; and at
six o'clock, when the streets were bright with gaslight, and the crisp
cold of a clear wintry night had set in, Robert Streightley's hand
trembled as he knocked at the outer door of his friend's chambers, and
his face was pale. Yeldham observed him closely, and decided on
deferring his purposed communication until a later hour. Accordingly
he easily gave a plausible turn to his summons of Streightley; the two
dined together; and Roberts spirits rose, as they invariably did,
under the influence of his old friend's genial temperament.

Yeldham knew that Robert would not deliberately break through the
established rule of silence on the subject of Katharine, but that he
might be easily led into doing so; and he accordingly gave the
conversation a turn which brought it to bear upon the past, and then
seized the opportunity. Robert took the communication which his friend
made to him with more calmness than Yeldham had anticipated, but he
was not in the least sanguine.

"The question now is, Robert, whether you or I shall go to find her
and bring her back," said Yeldham in the most cheerful tone he could

Robert kept silence.

"I expected you to have been quite elated," said his friend in almost
a tone of reproach. "You take it very quietly. At all events you must
be thankful to know that we shall find out where she is, and all about
her circumstances."

"I am thankful, God knows," said Robert, "as well as He, and He only,
knows what I have suffered, in my ignorance, in the innumerable fears
that have beset me, and," he said with a heavy sigh, "that may all be
realised yet. I am thankful; but this intelligence, and my gratitude
for it, do not bring me nearer to _her_. No, no, Charley, I shall
never see her face again--never see her face again!" he repeated
drearily; and leaning his elbows on the table, he laid his face on the
open palms of his hands.

Yeldham looked uneasily at him. He knew that he was quoting
Katharine's own words.

"Robert," he said impressively, "you must not despair, you must not
give way in this fashion. You will see her face again, please God; you
will see it as beautiful as ever, and with no cloud between you and
it. I feel convinced of this, my dear fellow; and you must feel
convinced of it too, if you will listen to your reason and not to your
self-reproach. Just think what time does in all sorts of cases, and
remember how much time has gone over since your wife left you."

"_I_ think of it, Charley? Do you think I have not felt the passage of
every hour of it?"

"I know you have," said Yeldham; "but I want you to think of it in
another sense--its own sense. It effaces every thing--kingdoms and
flies, men's strength and women's beauty, the deepest loves, the
bitterest hatreds, the cruellest injuries, the firmest resolves.
Believe me, Katharine has outlived her anger, and has been held to
her purpose by pride and circumstances. She must always remain your
wife--she must always remember that she is so; and, depend upon it,
she will not be sorry to return to a quiet home with you, to whom she
is still so dear. Three years have had their effect upon her, be sure
of it. Rely upon it, she thinks more of her duty and less of her
resentment now."

"Her duty!" said Robert, looking up from the palms of his hands with
hollow, burning eyes; "her duty! O Charley, how can you or I talk of
her duty _to me?_"

"I certainly can," returned Yeldham. "I don't wish to go back over the
past, but nothing can absolve her from that duty; and I look to the
faults for which each has to forgive the other as the strongest bond
between you for the future."

Robert sighed, but made no reply. Yeldham continued: "And now, Robert,
you will go to her at once, of course?"

"I--I don't know, Charley," returned Robert, in a low and broken
voice; "I don't know. I am--I am almost afraid."

"Afraid, Robert, of what? That she will not see you? Well, that risk
must be run; but I feel so confident that there is no danger of her
refusing to do so, that I can hardly excuse your hesitation. I know I
cannot inspire you with the confidence I feel, but at least act as if
you felt it; and remember that the influence of time has been all in
your favour. She has had leisure to forgive, if not to forget, one
injury, and to remember and miss the innumerable proofs of love you
gave her. You will start to-morrow, will you not?" Yeldham put the
question in a business-like tone, which dismissed discussion, and
obliged Robert to rouse himself from thought to action.

"Yes, yes; since you think I ought, I will go to-morrow. Can you come
with me, Charley?"

"I don't know; if you wish it very much, I will try. Send round in the
morning, and I will let you know."

These were almost the last words spoken between the friends before
they parted, Robert going his way to Brixton, and Yeldham returning to
his chambers, to pass several hours of the night in so arranging his
work as to admit of a brief absence from London.

The morrow brought Robert's messenger, but not the expected question.
On the contrary, Robert sent word to Yeldham that he wished to see
him, feeling too ill to "keep his appointment."

The first glance which Charles Yeldham gave at his friend showed him
that he must revert to the second alternative which had presented
itself to his mind. Old Alice had admitted him, and had told him
"Master Robert" was bad again with "them spazims;" and the state of
prostration in which Robert lay on a large sofa, drawn as near the
dining-room fire as its size would admit, fully bore out her
assertion. Mrs. Streightley was not at home, her daughter requiring
her services just then; and the interview between the friends was
quite uninterrupted.

Robert's complete inability to undertake a journey to Paris being
admitted, his nervous impatience for Yeldham's departure in his stead
became uncontrollable. Yeldham did not attempt to contest it, but
assured him that the following day should see him at Paris, and, if by
any effort or exertion the thing were possible, in Katharine's

"And I'll bring her back to you, my dear fellow; I'll bring her back
to you--rest assured I will."

"No, no, never; I can't believe it; nevertheless go and tell her all.
See her; let me see a face that has looked on hers, though I am to see
hers no more. Tell her--tell her----"

"Yes, yes," said Yeldham; "I know, Robert, I know; have trust in me;
be assured I will tell her all you wish--every thing--and I will bring
her with me--something tells me so--and you know I am not sentimental,
or presentimental either. Only keep quiet, and get well; it won't do
to frighten her with such a face as that, you know," said Yeldham,
with a dreary attempt at cheerfulness.

"I'll take care," returned Robert; "but, Charley, you won't deceive
me, will you? You'll tell me every word she says, no matter how
severe, no matter how hopeless. You'll tell me every word and, as far
as you can, every look. I shall be able to see them by the aid of
_this_;" and he touched his breast-pocket, in which Yeldham knew he
always carried the miniature by whose aid Katharine had been
identified. "And, Charley, you'll tell her I never, never blamed her:
you'll tell her I suffered; but I know I deserved it all." His eyes
were shining now with a feverish light, and Yeldham hastened to
terminate their interview. He bent over Robert, as he lay upon the
sofa, and took his hand.

"Be content, Robert," he said; "I have never failed you yet, and I
will not fail you now. All that I know, and all that I can guess you
wish to have said to your wife, I will say to her; and as surely as I
am talking to you now I will bring her home to you,--I never felt more
certain of any thing. Good-bye, my dear fellow; you have nothing to do
but trust me, keep quiet, and get well."

"Yes, I will keep very quiet--as quiet as I can. God bless you!

They wrung each other's hands, and Yeldham went away, speaking gravely
to Alice in the hall, and reflecting with a queer sense of wonder,
when he gained the road, upon the oddity of the fate that made him a
messenger, in this supreme crisis, to Katharine Streightley, the only
woman who had ever made him think regretfully of his loneliness, the
only woman who had ever realised his early dreams of love and beauty.

Robert had kept his face towards the door until the sound told him
Yeldham had shut the little garden-gate, and was gone; then he turned
his head away, buried his face in the sofa-cushion, and closed his
eyes. Thus old Alice found him, when she came to see if he required
any thing, an hour later; and the old woman said downstairs that she
wished Master Robert would let her send for the doctor, for he was
looking "desperate white and weary, to be sure."

When Charles Yeldham reached Paris in the evening after his interview
with Robert, he found the fair city looking beautiful, under the
combined influence of clear starlight, sharp frost, and the glow of
the best-arranged gaslight in Europe. The scene, striking as it
always must be, made but little impression upon him, as he drove from
the railway-station to his hotel, revolving in his mind all the
circumstances of the painful and difficult business which lay before
him, and haunted by the remembrance of Robert's white, grieved face.
He was tired, depressed, and more doubtful of the success of his
undertaking than when he had spoken so confidently to Robert; but he
tried to rouse himself, to shake off the foreboding which beset him,
and to arrange some definite plan for the interview with Katharine,
which he felt sure would be accorded him. It was no part of his
intention to take her by surprise. He knew that she would resent such
a _ruse_ as an unpardonable liberty, and did not doubt that it would
defeat its own purpose, and lead to her immediate departure from
Paris. He made his calculations in this way: "When she receives my
request for an interview, she will conclude that no further effort at
concealment will avail; she will remember that no coercion of her is
possible; and she will consider it more in accordance with her own
dignity to grant me the interview--a concession winch does not commit
her to any thing. After all, too, she is a woman; and she _must_ want
to know something about the world she has turned her back on; she
_must_, after all this time." So Charles Yeldham felt no apprehension
about the first portion of his task, though there was a strange
flutter of various emotions in the feelings with which he anticipated
finding himself in Katharine's presence.

He wrote briefly to Robert, announcing his arrival, and went early to
rest. At noon on the following day he presented himself to the
unrecognising stare of the _concierge_ at No.-- Rue d'Alger, and
having named Mademoiselle Hartmann, passed up the wearisome flight of
stairs leading _au quatrième_. He was admitted by the girl herself,
and gladly perceived that she was looking much improved in health. The
appearance of the neat little apartment also bore witness to
improvement of another kind. Modest as before, it was more
comfortable, and was now a pleasant snug nest for this lonely bird.

The girl had believed in Yeldham from the first, and was unaffectedly
glad to see him. She had expected him, she told him candidly; and she
had told the dear lady all about his previous visit.

"You did well," said Yeldham. "I would not have you deceive your good
friend in any thing."

"I told her I had promised to write to you when she should return to
Paris, but I would not do so if she forbade me; and I asked her what I
should do. Then she asked me many questions about you, and I told her
all she asked; and she told me I might write to you. I said I know you
would come when you should receive my letter; and she said she thought
so too, and if you did come, I was to give you this."

She unlocked a drawer in a little table which stood beneath the
window, and handed a folded slip of paper to Mr. Yeldham. It contained
an address in the Rue du Bac, and these words:

"_Mrs. Streightley will see Mr. Yeldham. He must inquire for Madame

"When did she give you this?" he asked.

"I have told monsieur," replied the girl, smiling; "on the day I wrote
to you--two days ago."

"And you have not seen her since?"

No, she had not seen the dear lady since; and she trusted monsieur
would see her, and give her back all her happiness. She was paler and
sadder now than before she went to Brittany; and she was too good, had
too much heart, too great compassion for all who suffered, to be left
to any sadness. All the world ought to be good to her, who was good to
all the world.

Half an hour later Charles Yeldham had realised a hope, a dream which
had mocked and eluded him for long: he was in Katharine Streightley's
presence. Striving hard and ineffectually when before the eyes of the
woman towards whom he had felt the strongest emotion which life had
ever Drought him for the composure which had seemed so easy at a
distance, filled with yearning pity for the man who would have given
so much to stand where he was standing, and to see what he was looking
upon, Charles Yeldham was quite silent for some minutes. He had been
ushered into a room in which Katharine was sitting, and she had risen
on his entrance, and stood facing him, her hand resting on the back of
her chair--resting there calmly, not grasping the chair, with no
nervous flutter in the fingers, no need for support implied in the
action. With his first glance at her, every impression, every memory
he held of her, flashed freshly through Yeldham's mind,--every
attitude in which he had seen her, every dress she had worn, every
scene in which they had met. The tone of her musical girlish voice
sounded in the air around him, while yet this woman he looked upon had
not spoken; the graceful form flitted about a flower-decked garden and
moved through stately rooms, while yet this woman stood motionless
before him. Changed! Yes, she was changed; in the first glance,
comprehending all the past, perceiving all the present, he saw the
change,--saw that whereas Katharine when he had seen her last looked
younger than her years, the woman he now saw looked older than those
which had been added. The face was pale, more waxen in its delicate
clearness, and there was a sterner line about the beautiful lips. The
radiant eyes were radiant still, but their light was steady and
serious, and the glorious lustre of youth had passed from the face for
ever. What had replaced it, Yeldham thought, that made her so much
more beautiful, that lent her a charm, a majestic influence,
insurmountable and immortal? He knew afterwards that that which had
wrought the change was the purification, the strengthening influence
of suffering, the teaching of life and experience, the education of
the spirit, which first bruises and then heals, which first chastens
even to faintness, almost to despair, and then leads to peace and
shelters from self-deception. After his first glance at her, he did
not fear for Robert; he felt that he should fulfil the promise which
had sounded so rashly confident. Pardon, and the magnanimity of a
large heart, looked out of Katharine's beautiful eyes as she bowed her
head to her visitor, and said in a low tone, as she indicated a seat
to him and resumed her own:

"You are my husband's friend, Mr. Yeldham; and you come to me from
him, I think?"

Yeldham's many and troubled speculations had never strayed into the
direction of such a reception as this; and the delight with which he
heard her words was equalled by his astonishment.

"You are right, Mrs. Streightley," he answered; "I do come from your
husband; from one who, let me assure you, has never for one hour
ceased to repent the sin which drove you away from him as bitterly as
he has mourned your loss."

She became exceedingly pale, and spoke the next words with some

"Is it true, Mr. Yeldham, that my husband has suffered heavy
losses--that he is no longer a rich man?"

"It is quite true," he replied; "and it is part of my business here to
tell you a fact which I have always believed would have pleaded with
you, had you known it. Robert had sinned grievously against you; but I
am sure, had you known that when you left him ruin was hanging over
his head, you would have regarded that as sufficient punishment. In
itself it has been heavy, but to him as much lighter than that which
you have inflicted as his love for you is greater than his care for
his wealth. May I ask when and how you learned this, Mrs.

"Very lately--only a few days ago. I accidentally met a Mr.
Stallbrass, a person whom I had no recollection of ever having seen,
and whose name I had certainly never heard. This gentleman, it
seems, had seen me--once--" here she hesitated, and turned paler
still,--"and he recognised me. He told Dr. Hudson that he had done so,
but gave his word of honour to my kind friend that he would never
mention the circumstance. He told him all he knew concerning my
husband's affairs, being under the impression that ours was a
separation by mutual consent, and that I was in possession of the

Katharine paused, and a fresh strong hope sprang up in Yeldham's
heart; a hope in which he saw the realisation of happiness for Robert
far beyond any thing he had dared to dream of for him. With its fresh
impulse in his voice, he said eagerly:

"And tell me, I entreat you, what effect had this disclosure upon

"Tell me first, Mr. Yeldham, what message do you bring me from my
husband? Yet--no," and she stretched her hand towards him to stay his
eager answer; "not so, I owe him much: I owe him reparation for pride
and passion, for blind resentment, for selfishness and ungovernable
self-will, and I will make it. Before I hear my husband's message, let
me tell you mine to him."

A small ivory box stood near her on a table; she drew it towards her,
and took from it a sealed letter, which she held in her hand while she
spoke. Yeldham listened to her with a painful intensity of attention,
and marked with wonder the varying beauty of her sensitive face.

"It is written here, in this letter, which I should have sent to him
three days ago, but that a few hours after I had written it I learned
how you had sought me out, and that you would come to seek me again.
Then I resolved to wait; for I knew whatever communication my husband
had charged you with would form the answer to my letter, and it would
be better to receive it thus."

"And the letter--what is it?" asked Yeldham, with all the agonising
anxiety and entreaty which he felt in his voice. Katharine laid one
hand heavily upon her breast, and breathed deeply.

"It tells him that I ask his forgiveness, as I have long granted him
mine; it is to ask his permission to return, and do my duty to him in
the future, as I never did it, or understood it, in the past. Mr.
Yeldham, what is my husband's message to me?"

He rose, came towards her, caught her hands in his, and said hoarsely,
while unheeded tears ran down his face:

"His message to you is the message of a dying man to one who holds his
life in her gift--of one who loves you with an immortal love; to whom
life has been sheer unmitigated agony without you; to whom it has no
hope, no ambition, no desire, but your pardon. It is the prayer of the
sick for health, of the famishing for food, of the shipwrecked for a
sail. 'If I should never see her face again,' he said last night, 'let
me look upon a face which has looked upon hers;' and I am here,
Katharine,--I am here!"

He held her hands in a grasp tight even to pain while he spoke; now he
released them. She covered her face with them, and sobbed aloud.

Trembling with delight, he stood by until her emotion had subsided.
Then he said:

"Never was ambassador so happy to find his mission useless and
superseded. God for ever bless you for the words you have spoken. Let
me leave you now; I must write to Robert. Will you send your letter,
or shall I? Perhaps," he went on gravely, "you had better let me
enclose it. He has been ill, and even the best-managed communication
of such unlooked-for happiness will try him; though joy never kills,
they say, it may harm him. Don't be anxious; remember you will bring
him health and happiness and life."

He took up the letter, once more caught her hands in his, and
reverently kissed them; told her he would be with her on the morrow at
an early hour, and left her--feeling like a man who walked in a dream.

His success had been so immeasurably beyond his hopes! _His_ success?
what nonsense was he talking to himself? It had not been his success,
but that of circumstances, of an accident--the success of time, of
experience, of conscience. How happy Robert would be! How "pure
womanly" she was, with her loftiness and her lowliness, her beautiful
compassion, her rapid generous impulse, her ready self-accusation, and
thoroughness of reparation! How beautiful too--how very, very
beautiful, in her sombre dress! deep mourning too! the sort of
mourning widows wear in France, if he did not mistake--of course she
had passed as a widow--a gloomy dress, but she was too beautiful to
heed it. When would she go to England, he wondered; would she return
with him at once? he might ask her to-morrow. That would be very soon;
but he must go,--delay was impossible; and she was likely to do at
once any thing she had made up her mind to do at all.

Yeldham's excitement remained so long upon him, that it was difficult
to him to write the few lines to Robert which were necessary. At
length he scrawled them.

"All has succeeded, as I told you it would. The enclosed letter from
your wife will explain more and better than I could. Be happy, dear
old fellow, but don't agitate yourself; and mind you are quite well
when I keep my word, and bring Katharine home."


"Alice," said Robert Streightley to the old nurse, who had kept an
anxious watch upon him from the moment she had heard Yeldham's parting
words, "I want to speak to you. Come upstairs with me to Miss Ellen's

It was about noon, on the second day after Charles Yeldham reached
Paris; and Robert had received his letter, with the enclosure from
Katharine, that morning. It had been delivered at the hour which
usually found Robert at breakfast, and old Alice in attendance upon
him; as in the old time, which had had so brief, so brilliant, and so
melancholy an interruption. But on this occasion Robert was alone, by
his own express desire; and Alice, too much concerned, too seriously
apprehensive to be affronted, had acquiesced without grumbling in his
request that she would leave him for a little. No human eye,
therefore, had seen Robert's perusal of his wife's letter--had
witnessed the effect produced on him by such a reversal of his life
for the past three years. His heart had known its own bitterness, and
neither friend nor stranger was near now to meddle with its joy--a joy
too deep for utterance, too supreme almost for endurance--a joy full
of keen and piercing pain, of repentance, infinitely more terrible
since forgiveness had come, and rich with the divinest blessings of
hope. Hours had gone over since the glorious light of this new life
had dawned--unheeded hours; and now Robert called to Alice, and she
came. As he spoke, the old woman looked at him anxiously, but his face
reassured her. It was very pale, and he looked old--he had been
looking old of late, she had often thought--but peace, serenity, a
calm, which she felt without understanding or questioning, were on the
features, and a smile--a sweet and serious smile--lighted them. She
followed him without a word to the now disused but always orderly,
room which had been Mrs. Dutton's in her maiden days. It was a pretty,
bright, simple apartment, with gay chintz curtains, carefully pinned
up now, and covered with holland wrappings; with a bright carpet,
covered with its linen shroud; and pretty furniture, simple and
inexpensive, but in good taste and in perfect order. The day was
bright and clear, and the tireless room, though cold, was not
cheerless. Robert glanced round the room, placed a chair for Alice,
bade her sit down, and shut the door. Then he set his back against the
door, and said:

"Alice, I want you to get this room made ready for a lady as soon as

"Lord bless us! Master Robert," said the old woman nervously, "who
ever's coming, and the mistress away, and Miss Ellen not fit to be
left, I'm sure--not for a fortnight yet, if so soon----"

"Alice, dear old woman!" said Robert, and he bent his tall figure, and
laid his hands kindly on her shoulders,--"it is for my wife. My wife
is coming back to me!"

She looked at him with the timid uncertainty of old age, and began to
tremble and cry.

"Yes, she's coming," he said. "You don't know her, Alice,--you saw her
very seldom; you don't know how good she is----"

"Good, Master Robert! and stay from you so long, and you in trouble,
and so fond of her!"

"She did not know I was in trouble, nurse; I never told her anything
of the kind. She thought I was the same rich man I had been when she
left me; and it was all my fault. I cannot explain; but if you love
me,--and I know you do, old nurse, I know you do--who so well?--never
blame my wife in your heart, or let others blame her in your hearing.
But she's coming back to me; think of that."

"When?" was Alice's first practical question; "does my mistress know?"
was her second.

"To-morrow, or the next day, I hope; I am not sure, until I hear
again--no, my mother does not know; no one knows. She will come here
to me, until I can get a quiet home of our own; then she and I will
begin our life again;" and as Robert spoke the words, he could hardly
believe in the meaning they conveyed.

Alice had entertained no favourable opinion of Katharine, and had
never thought at all of her of late, since she had ceased to be
mentioned by Mrs. Streightley. But Robert's joy acted as a revelation
of his sorrow to the faithful friend who watched him more closely, and
knew him better than any one in the world beside. She listened,
therefore, with the utmost attention to his directions, and promised
the closest compliance with his wishes. Every thing should be done to
make the house fit for Mrs. Streightley's reception; little was
needed, indeed, but the fires should be lighted and the rooms swept
and garnished. Robert thought of the suite of apartments at Portland
Place, and of the "Lady-Kilmantan" hangings at Middlemeads, but not
bitterly; he thought of them, indeed, with a smile: such things
mattered little now to him, or to his wife. His wife! He called her by
the sacred name, in his thoughts, a thousand times in an hour, and
life seemed too short and narrow for all his thankfulness and joy.

The news soon spread through the little household, and was received
with much indifference. The three female servants who composed the
modest establishment were new-comers; they had known nothing of
Robert's wife, and cared nothing about her. But they liked him, and
they were rather glad than otherwise that any thing should occur to
give him pleasure, more especially as Nurse Alice informed them the
"young madam's" residence would be but temporary, for they agreed
unanimously that they "couldn't abide two mistresses, and in course it
was only natural as Mr. Robert's wife should like to have her own
way." Thus they set to work with very tolerable activity and
good-will, and the work of preparation went on briskly.

How the hours of that day passed over Robert Streightley he could not
have told, had there been any to question him. Should he write? he had
asked himself, when he was once more shut up in the dining-room and
secure from interruption. What could he say? To Yeldham he might
possibly write a few words of thanks and thankfulness; but what would
they avail? what a poor mockery they would be! But perhaps he had
better write them. Then the strong man, who had seen his fortunes
crumble into dust, and stood upright amid the ruins, took a pen in his
hand, and tried to form a few simple words, and he could not do it;
darkness gathered before his eyes and his senses reeled. So he went
out to the nearest telegraph-office, and he dictated a message to a
clerk in three words,--"Come home quickly;" and he lingered about
until he knew they had been clicked off to Paris, and then he began to
count the time as he walked, he hardly knew where, about the clean,
frosty suburban roads, and to speculate upon the exact moment when his
wife would receive his message. So wandering, while the short hours of
the winter's day were waning, he found himself on the borders of
Clapham Common, and leant for a few minutes idly against an iron post,
watching the omnibuses starting from the Plough, and their conductors
warming themselves by brisk exercise, assisted by strong drink. A
narrow road led away to his right; and a little way down, a tall,
graceful, lancelike church-spire showed solemn and beautiful against
the steel-coloured vault of the sky; the stars were beginning to
twinkle, and the leafless trees rustled sharp and brittle in the
frosty air. Looking upward at the spire, Robert turned down the narrow
road, and found himself in a minute before the low gate and little
paved court in front of a modern Gothic church, small, but of rich and
correct architecture. The gate swung open as he came up to it, and
several children ran gladly out into the road. Through the porch and
the heavy oak-door, iron-clamped, and half-open, Robert saw glimpses
of the interior of the church, saw gleams of rich colour and bits of
quaint Gothic decoration. The grand sonorous tones of an organ swelled
out suddenly, and ceased, as he stood idly looking and listening. The
notes were the last of the "practice," and accompanied a reiterated
"Amen" by children's voices. He passed through the gate into the
porch, and, after a moment's hesitation, entered the church. A great
longing for the peace of God had come over him, and here was God's
house; it mattered not to him that the form of the worship therein
was Catholic, not that to which he was accustomed, and he went in.
There was no light in the church save the red gleam from the
sacramental-lamp, swung by long silver chains before the High Altar;
the gas-jets which had given light to the organist were turned out as
he went into the church, and the children went down the gallery-stairs
and trooped noisily away. A man lingered for a few minutes to arrange
some chairs piled against the wall of a side aisle, and then departed,
having left all in order for the evening service, to commence in an
hour. Robert was quite alone: over the large window, high up in the
wall, behind which the guests of the Community (for the church was
attached to a monastery) were wont to sit and assist unseen at Divine
worship, a crimson curtain hung; there was no human eye to witness the
emotion of his soul.

Robert sat long, absorbed in thought; then he drew near the
altar-rail, and kneeled down upon the marble step. The red light shone
solemnly upon his kneeling figure, and upon the paintings glowing on
the sanctuary-walls. His eyes wandered over these, until they rested
upon one, and then they stayed their wandering. It represented a Man
of infinitely benign and sorrowful aspect, in whose figure there was
great dignity and power. He stood with outstretched arms and piercing
gaze directed out from the canvas, as though he looked into the faces
of a multitude. A scroll ran round the top of the picture, and bore
these words: "Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white
as snow."

The light was very dim; he could not have read the written words by
its glimmer had he needed to read them; but he did not. Kneeling
there, on the altar-step, before the face and the words of promise,
Robert took his wife's two letters from his breast, and, like Hezekiah
in his trouble, he, in his repentance and his gratitude, "spread them
before the Lord."

It was late when Robert reached home, and Alice was anxiously
expecting him. He was very cheerful, and listened with pleasure to the
old woman's account of all that had been done during the day in the
way of preparation for Katharine's reception. He had several matters
of business to attend to; and so the hours wore themselves away; and
at length he was the only one waking in the quiet house.

"You'll go to bed soon, Master Robert," old Alice had said to him;
"and you'll sleep well, I hope, for you'll not like to be looking ill
when Mrs. Streightley comes; and you're not strong, you know. Promise
me, now, that you'll not sit up."

So Robert promised, and he fully meant to keep his word; but as the
night wore on restlessness came upon him, and distressing pain in the
head and eyeballs. He wondered that any illness or pain could come
near him, he was so happy so thankful--God had been so good to him,
and Katharine was coming home! He could not sleep; no, the effort
would be useless; so he made up the fire in the sitting-room, and he
walked up and down, trying to tire himself into sleepiness. He had
lost command over his thoughts; and though he might not have tried to
guide them otherwise than they were going, he felt that he had lost
it, and they hurried wildly into the past. All his life seemed to pass
before him in a strange phantasmagoria, of which he was but a
spectator; and innumerable forgotten scenes, and faces which he had
not seen for years, rose up before him,--the first day he had seen
Katharine, the day at the Flower-show, the day Mr. Guyon had shown him
the letter. Good God, how terrible that recollection was! But she had
forgiven him now, and he might fairly try to forgive himself, with
this blessed assurance (and he grasped the letter in his breast with
his hand as he walked up and down) in his possession, and the
certainty of reading a full pardon in her eyes before long. And then
he shuddered, shook through all his limbs with the strong contest of
emotion, with irrepressible passionate delight and pain. Anon he rose
again, and was whirled away upon another storm of thoughts. Mr. Guyon
was present to him--the terrible sudden death. Ah, he had taken that
too lightly; he had condemned the dead man too hastily and too
heavily; the dead man, who had cared for trifles, who had found
pleasure in things he could not comprehend, but was no worse than he;
the dead man, who loved money and enjoyment, and naught beside. Well,
he ought to have pitied him for that--he did pity him, for he was
dead. His daughter could not come to him with soft words of peace, and
heavenly smiles of pardon, as she was coming to the husband who had
wronged her. He did pity the dead old man. He thought how coldly he
had looked on the dead face--the rigid, ashy face; he remembered it
well, how forlorn and ghastly it was! how awfully alone!--more so than
any dead face he had ever seen. And then he remembered how carelessly
he had attended the funeral; he had had no thought, no sorrow for the
dead; his heart had been rent and wrung with anguish for the loss of
Katharine; he had hardly heard the Burial Service at all: he had been
glad when it was over, and had turned away to his business and his
grief. He remembered some of it now: "Man that is born of a woman hath
but a short time to live, and is full of misery." Yes, full of misery;
but not now, not now--that was over. "The sure and certain hope"--this
was troubling him; he would read it all through, and try to steady his
thoughts upon it.

Mrs. Streightley's "church-books" lay upon a shelf near one of the
windows. She rarely used the Common Prayer-book, inclining rather to
dissenting forms of worship; so Robert found the book without
difficulty. He sat down beside the fire, and read the Burial Service
throughout, half aloud; and as he concluded it, heavy sleep fell upon
him suddenly, as it had done a few times lately since he had not been
so strong and well as formerly. He slept on, though the wintry dawn
came and the fire died out; and when the housemaid came into the room
in the morning, "it gave her," as she described it, "quite a turn, to
see the master a-sittin' there asleep, and the gas a-burnin' in the
broad daylight."

Old Alice came bustling in to rouse and scold him; and Robert, feeling
very much ashamed of himself, went off sheepishly to bathe and dress.
He looked and felt much better after those restoratives, and assured
Alice that it had not harmed him to sleep on a chair instead of his
bed; he felt just a little giddy of course, but it was nothing, he
told her. He told himself it was the expectation of the post-hour, and
the news it would bring. He did not venture to ask Alice to leave him
to breakfast alone this morning; so the old woman was in the room when
the expected letter arrived. It was very short; and with his first
glance at it, he said:

"She will be here this evening, Alice; she comes by the day-mail."

"Thank God!" said the old woman fervently. "I am thankful there's to
be no more waiting; for you ain't fit for it, Robert, my boy, and
that's the truth."

"The train comes in at six; she will be here before seven. Mr. Yeldham
is coming with her. Is every thing ready, Alice?"

"Every thing, Master Robert. I will have the fire lighted in her room
immediately, and the things all put straight; and then you can look at
it, and satisfy yourself. And you won't worry yourself--will you
promise me not to worry yourself?"

"I worry myself!--no, indeed, nurse. I think that nothing can ever
harm or grieve or 'worry' me, as you call it, any more."

Then he told her he must go into the City for an hour or two: and he
took a kind leave of her and went. The old woman sat down on the chair
he had vacated, and burst into an unaccountable fit of crying.

"I am an old fool, to be sure, if ever there was one!" she said
irritably, after a few minutes; "but I can't help it--there's
something over me, though I'm glad for my dear boy. Now that _that's_
over, I'll go and look after those girls, and see what's best to have
for her dinner."

It was nearly four o'clock when Robert returned; and he came in a cab
which looked like a small conservatory on wheels, for every available
space in it was filled with flowers. He carried the pots and the
bouquets carefully into the house; and having assured Alice that he
was not hungry--for her anxiety on that point had not slumbered since
his infancy--he asked her if the rooms upstairs were ready.

"I have just come down from looking after them myself, Master Robert;
and nothing could be prettier nor nicer."

"Well, nurse, help me to take these flowers upstairs, and show me all
your beautiful decorations."

Alice was right: nothing nicer or prettier than the room prepared for
Katharine could be seen. A bright fire burned in the polished grate,
and a soft white lambskin rug lay before the fender; the chintz
curtains shaded the windows cosily, and the uncovered carpet looked
fresh and gay; the simple furniture was tastefully disposed; and a low
velvet chair, borrowed from the drawing-room, stood invitingly before
the fire. Ellen had been fond of flowers, and some pretty Parian vases
were among the ornaments of her forsaken chamber. Aided by Alice,
Robert arranged the flowers he had brought--and which, though
numerous, were not various, for even money will not avail to procure
floral variety in December--and disposed the vases as his taste
dictated. Then they set the flower-pots in the balcony, and looked
round approvingly on their completed task. The two faithful friends
stood a while in silence, and then Robert said,

"Is all ready downstairs as well?"

"All ready, my dear; and not long to wait now, God be praised! What
are you going to do--not going to the station to meet them surely, are

"O no, nurse--I'm going to wait for her here; and I want you to take
care that I'm not disturbed. I have a great deal to think about,
Alice, and I want to be alone now until she comes."

"Very well, Robert; no one shall come near you. What time is it now?"

"Half-past four. Have plenty of light downstairs, that the house may
look cheerful when she comes; and, Alice, I will light the gas here
now, so shut the shutters."

He went with her to one of the windows to aid her, and they looked
out. The red wintry sun was going down in a fiery ball, and red
streaks were lying low upon the sky.

"They have had a pleasant journey, no doubt," said Alice cheerfully;
"and they're on the sea now, I suppose."

Robert made her no answer: he was looking at the sunset, a fold of the
shutter in each hand. He closed them together, fastened the bolt, and
drew the curtains, while Alice lighted the gas-lamps. His face was
very pale, but there was a smile of exultation and delight upon it. He
spoke aloud, forgetting his reticence in his joy:

"The last sun has set that I shall see rise without her. All my
troubles are over, nurse."

The old woman went up to him, gently lifted her arms, and drew his
face down towards her own. She kissed him fondly more than once, and
said in a low broken tone,

"God bless you, my darling boy! Don't forget the Lord, who has granted
you your heart's desire."

Then she left the room quickly, and went downstairs, wiping her eyes
with her apron.

After a few minutes Robert went into the adjoining room, and returned,
carrying a large leather box. He set it upon a small table, near the
toilet, and opened it with a key attached to his watch-chain. Then he
took from it several cases, which he arranged symmetrically on the
dressing-table, opening each, and displaying its contents.

"Yes," he murmured; "I am sure it was in just such order they lay that
night when she put on the bracelet when I asked her, and put her hand
in mine. The amethysts here, and the opal cross beside the pincushion,
and the diamonds there." And he placed them as he spoke. The diamond
serpent came to his hand last, and he held it, turning it to the light
and watching the flashes of rich colour which gleamed from the gems.
Then he replaced it in its satin case, and laid it upon the stand of
the toilet-mirror.

"Yes, my darling," he murmured, "they are beautiful, and worth much
money; and I have wanted money sorely since you adorned them last and
turned from them with disdain; but I would have starved, I think,
before I could have parted with them, for they had touched you."

He sat down in the velvet chair by the fire, took something from his
waistcoat-pocket, and held it towards the light on his open palm. It
was a plain gold ring, and a date was engraved inside it. It was that
of the day then passing into evening, and he had had it done that

"This is the true symbol," he murmured, "she will wear this

He sat for many minutes gazing at the ring upon his outstretched hand;
then he put it back into his pocket, and started up.

A quarter to six.

Later than he had thought, than he had hoped. His thoughts were
confused. Now they were hurrying him away again. This must not be. In
this supreme hour of his life there must be no vagueness; he must rule
his mind. But how? Her letter--he would read her letter--yes, that
would reassure him, would restore his composure. A horrid feeling of
unreality was creeping over him. This was not a dream, surely?
Katharine his wife was really coming--this was her room. The fire and
light were real; the doors of yonder wardrobe were lying open to
receive her dresses, and the jewels upon the table there were
hers--she had worn them. He was really standing in the midst of
objects which assured him all was true. Then why had he felt for a
moment a wide cold barren heath around him, and seen the sky and the
stars? They were shut out, and there was no picture upon the wall
opposite? Of course not. There was no picture there; he was only
remembering the picture he had seen yesterday. He would read her
letter, and he would read it on his knees, and remain kneeling until
he should hear the sound of wheels--and then? How painful the slow
heavy beating of his heart grew! It quite confused him. He would be
much easier kneeling down. He crossed the room to the low white bed,
touching the table with his hand for a moment, and knelt down on the
side of the bed which faced the door. He took Katharine's letter from
his breast, spread it open on the coverlet, stretching his arms out
round it, like a frame. He was steadier now--that strange hurry had
passed away. This was the letter:--

"I wrote to you three years ago, on the day after my father died; and
I then believed, and intended what I said, that that should be the
last communication I would ever hold with you. I left you, full of
anger and revenge, full of self-contempt that I had permitted myself
to be deceived, and with no thought beyond myself, my injuries, and my
vengeance. From that day I never heard your name spoken, or was
recalled by any outward circumstance to the recollection of the life I
had forsaken, until a few days ago; and the letter I am now writing to
you, Robert, is the result of what I then accidentally learned.

"The knowledge I have gained is the knowledge of your loss of
fortune--ruin. The person who mentioned it called it in the strong
phrase natural to those who love wealth best, and value it above all.
I hope it is not so bad as this; but whatever it be, you are what the
world I lived in once, but which has forgotten me, and which I have
forgotten, calls a poor man. Thus the great barrier which did exist
between you and me exists no longer, and I can address you as frankly
and as freely as I will, with my whole heart. You may have ceased to
love me, you may not care for my pardon now; but at least you cannot
say I am tired of obscurity and poverty, and would return to my former
position of wealth and luxury as your wife. Neither you nor the world,
if it should ever know any thing of me again,--nor even my own proud
self-doubting heart, which has so often tortured me with suggestions
of deceitful motives,--can whisper that I have any purpose but the
right to serve in this.

"I have suffered and learned since I left you, Robert. That suffering
has been good for me, and that learning has changed me; so that I have
often wished to do that which I am now doing, but have been held back
by pride. For I am asking you to take me back; I am asking you to give
me once more the place in your home and in your life which I wilfully,
in my blind wrath, abandoned. The wrong you did me I have long ago
forgiven; will you forgive me the wrong I have done you? I never
understood it aright until I knew that your fortunes had fallen, until
I knew that you, too, had lapsed out of your place in the world; and
then, though you never cared for these things as I cared for them, I
came to understand what I had done to you. You hid all your troubles
from me; you kept a cheerful face to me when your heart was sad; and
you allowed me to lavish money when it was melting out of your hands;
you never found a fault with me, or denied a wish of mine its most
ample gratification. Foolish, vain, worthless wishes they were, and I
think of them with shame; but I remember your forbearance, your
generosity, your constant kindness with gratitude, which is no new
feeling, for I have been learning life's lessons for a long time in
silence and loneliness; and if I could have conquered my pride, if I
could have known above all what I know now, I should long ago have
told you this. What am I, that I should be relentless to you? what am
I, that I should not forgive? I never fulfilled a wife's duties; I
never understood them; no one ever tried to teach me but one, and I
set my headstrong will against her. I left you to sorrow and
perplexity, to humiliation, and to ruin; I, who had enjoyed your
wealth, and had married you without love. Your sin was not greater in
reality than mine, Robert. I wonder can any sin be really greater than
a marriage without love? But I was implacable to you, and you never
complained of me. We lived together, the one a mystery for the other,
each a lie to ourselves, and there was no confidence between us, and
in me no forbearance. God help me, I was ignorant indeed; and it was
not until I had become a lonely looker-on at life that I learned the
lessons which earlier might have saved both you and me.

"I soon forgave you, Robert; but I have never been able to forgive
myself. Perhaps when you have forgiven me, as I know you will, peace
will come to me. External quiet I have had, but not peace, though it
took me long to learn that I was seeking a vain shadow, under that
name, and that in doing the right alone can any human being ever find
it. In the day when self-delusion fell away from me, it left me as
lonely as I had left you; and there was no possibility of substituting
self-made duties for those which God's law and my own vow had laid
upon me, and which I had forsaken. If you have been unhappy--and,
little as I know you, in comparison with the comprehension which a
wife's ought to be, I know you well enough to feel only too sure that
you have been unhappy--my life has had no joy in it, no serenity. All
that ever pleased me in the past has utterly lost its charm. God has
had too much compassion on me to suffer me to say, 'Peace, peace, when
there is no peace;' and now the end of the struggle has come. Careless
words spoken by a stranger have been a revelation to me. You have
sought for me in vain, Robert; then you desire to find me? Is it that
you love me still, as you loved me in those evil days when I so ill
requited your love? Or is it because you too would expiate the past
for God's sake and the right? Whatever be your motive, there is but
one course for me--the course I am taking. If you will receive me, I
am ready to return to you whenever you shall summon me.

"Do you remember Dr. Hudson, who attended me at Martigny after our
marriage? He has been a true and untiring friend to me. Nobly has he
redeemed the unasked pledge of fidelity which he gave me when we
parted there. I sought him out when I left you, and he has taken care
of me ever since. Part of the time I lived in a convent, and was
permitted to work among the poor and the sick; but of late I have been
living with Dr. Hudson's mother in Brittany. This is a brief history
of a long time. If you can forgive me, and bid me come home, I will
tell you all the story of my outwardly quiet life, and you shall; tell
me yours. We are husband and wife, Robert; and yet what strangers we
are to each other! I wonder if you are as much changed as I am. Since
I have known that you have had other heavy griefs besides those which
I laid upon you, I dread to think how they may have altered you. Let
me help you to bear them now--I, who never before touched your burdens
with so much as a finger--let me be to you in adversity what in
prosperity I did not care, did not know how to be. Let our dead past
bury its dead. Life must always be sad and serious, I think, to those
who are neither foolish nor wicked; and it will be always sad and
serious to us. There are shadows cast from the time that is gone upon
our paths, which no light can wholly dissipate, until we emerge into
the perfect day; but the shades of anger and resentment are not among
them: they have vanished, and can never come again. I do not know
where your home is, Robert, and I must direct this letter to your
mother's house; but wherever and whatever it may be, I entreat you let
me share it. Let me come to you, late as it is, and keep my vow to
you, so long and so wilfully broken, 'until death do us part.'

"Katharine Streightley."

A quarter-past six.

The hour chimed gaily with a treble ring from the little French clock
on the mantelpiece. The fire was burning steadily, as fires burn in
cheerful frosty weather; the delicate scent of the flowers had come
out under the genial influence of the warmth, and dispersed itself
through the room. The sharp roll of cab and carriage wheels upon the
road came deadened through the closed windows. Robert still knelt
beside the bed, and still framed his wife's letter with his
outstretched arms. The stir of expectation and preparation was audible
downstairs. The dining-room door stood invitingly open, the fights
burned brightly, the table was laid for three, and the snowy
tablecloth and glittering glass looked not the least attractive among
the items of the welcome prepared for the travellers. The little hall
was lighted too, and the very porcelain tiles seemed to have been
brightened for the occasion.

Half-past six.

Alice comes upstairs from the kitchen, opens the hall-door, and
listens. The keen air comes in, but the old woman is not afraid of the
keen air, and there is no wind. Soon she goes to the stair-head and

"Susan, your clock is slow. The down-train is just leaving the
junction. They'll be here directly."

Susan answers from the bottom of the short staircase:

"Let 'em come. Dinner is all ready, and I doubt it'll be spoiled, if
they don't come soon, by the time they've got their things off.
Where's master?"

"In Miss Ellen's room; he's not to be disturbed till they come. O,
he'll hear 'em fast enough. There, it's gone the quarter!"

Alice comes back to the door, and holding it a little ajar, continues
to peep out. Many trains from distant places arrive about this hour,
and she is disappointed several times by cabs, luggage-laden, which
pass the gate.

"I've often heard Master Robert say a quarter of an hour should always
be allowed for them foreign trains," the old woman mutters a little
impatiently; "but surely they'll soon be here. He'll be worn out with


They are here. A cab stops at the gate, and Alice calls excitedly to
the servants, Susan cannot abandon the dinner, but the others come and
concern themselves about the luggage, while she opens wide the door,
and a lady and gentleman enter.

"Well, nurse," says Mr. Yeldham in an excited voice, "you see I have
brought Mrs. Streightley home."

"I see, sir," says Alice, trembling. "God bless you, ma'am; and
welcome home a thousand times!"

Katharine puts out her hand hurriedly, and takes the old woman's; but
she does not speak. She is very pale, and her lips are trembling; but
she is very, very beautiful. Alice is startled at her beauty. She
looks like a queen, she thinks; her deep-mourning dress drapes her
like robes. But she has only time for a glimpse of Katharine, for
Yeldham leads her quickly into the dining-room, whence he comes out in
a moment, and asks Alice, still in the hall, and watching the servants
and the cabman carrying the luggage up the little garden walk,
"Where's Robert?"

Alice explains that he is in the room prepared for Mrs. Streightley,
but wonders he has not heard the cab, and is bustling towards the
stairs to call him, when Yeldham stops her.

"No, nurse; I know the room. I'll take her to him."

So he calls Katharine, and she comes quickly; and they go up the
stairs together, Alice following. There is light on each landing, and
they are soon at the door. Yeldham taps rapidly, and at the same time
turns the door-handle; and Katharine, with a swift steady step, passes
into the room, into the glow of the light and the warmth and the
perfume of the flowers. She sees it all with one quick happy glance;
sees the jewels on the table, and recognises them; sees the light
glancing upon the scales of the diamond serpent; sees the outstretched
arms upon the bed, and the head now laid down upon them. In a moment
she is beside the kneeling figure, her hand upon the shoulder, her
breath upon the thick brown curls.

"Robert! I have come--I am here!"

There is no answer. The breathless listeners on the landing hear no
sound of glad welcome. An instant, and a faint gasping cry reaches
them; for Katharine has knelt beside her husband, and lifted his head
from off his outstretched arms, and it has swayed helplessly, and
fallen heavily against her bosom.

Death has parted them!



*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Kissing the Rod, Vol. 3 (of 3) - A Novel" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.