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Title: A Strange World, Vol 2 (of 3) - A Novel
Author: Braddon, M. E. (Mary Elizabeth)
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 "A Strange World, Vol 2 (of 3) - A Novel" ***

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                            A STRANGE WORLD

                                A Novel

                            BY THE AUTHOR OF

                         ‘LADY AUDLEY’S SECRET’

                             ETC. ETC. ETC.

                            IN THREE VOLUMES

                                VOL. II.

                    [Illustration: Publisher’s Logo]

                                 LONDON
                          JOHN MAXWELL AND CO.

                       4, SHOE LANE, FLEET STREET

                                  1875

                         [All rights reserved.]


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



                          CONTENTS TO VOL. II.


                                -------

             CHAP.                                      PAGE

                I. ‘FAREWELL,’ QUOTH SHE, ‘AND COME        1
                     AGAIN TO-MORROW’

               II. ‘O’ER ALL THERE HUNG A SHADOW AND A    16
                     FEAR’

              III. ‘HE COMETH NOT,’ SHE SAID              26

               IV. ‘AND I SHALL BE ALONE UNTIL I DIE’     53

                V. ‘SURELY, MOST BITTER OF ALL SWEET      67
                     THINGS THOU ART’

               VI. ‘WE ARE PAST THE SEASON OF DIVIDED     83
                     ILLS’

              VII. ‘THE DROWSY NIGHT GROWS ON THE        100
                     WORLD’

             VIII. ‘GOOD NIGHT, GOOD REST. AH! NEITHER   107
                     BE MY SHARE’

               IX. ‘SUCH A LORD IS LOVE’                 121

                X. ‘THEN STREAMED LIFE’S FUTURE ON THE   134
                     FADING PAST’

               XI. ‘A MERRIER HOUR WAS NEVER WASTED      158
                     THERE’

              XII. ‘IT WAS THE HOUR WHEN WOODS ARE       165
                     COLD’

             XIII. ‘NOW HALF TO THE SETTING MOON HAVE    182
                     GONE, AND HALF TO THE RISING DAY’

              XIV. ‘O HEAVEN! THAT ONE MIGHT READ THE    201
                     BOOK OF FATE!’

               XV. ‘QUI PEUT SOUS LE SOLEIL TROMPER SA   209
                     DESTINEE?’

              XVI. ‘THIS IS MORE STRANGE THAN SUCH A     225
                     MURDER IS’

             XVII. ‘AH, LOVE, THERE IS NO BETTER LIFE    235
                     THAN THIS’

            XVIII. ‘LOVE IS A THING TO WHICH WE SOON     251
                     CONSENT’

              XIX. SORROW AUGMENTETH THE MALADY          265

               XX. ‘BUT OH! THE THORNS WE STAND UPON!’   281


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



                            A STRANGE WORLD



                               CHAPTER I

           ‘FAREWELL,’ QUOTH SHE, ‘AND COME AGAIN TO-MORROW.’


THE old housekeeper’s eyes were dim as she finished her story of the
heir of Penwyn.

‘He was the best of all,’ she said; ‘Mr. Balfour we saw very little of
after he grew up, being the youngest to marry and leave home; Mr. James
was a kind, easy-going young fellow enough; but Mr. George was
everybody’s favourite, and there wasn’t a dry eye among us when the
Squire called us together after his illness, and told us how his son had
died. “He died like a gentleman—upholding the honour of his Queen and
his country, and the name of Penwyn,” said the master, without a tremble
in his voice, though it was feebler than before the stroke, “and I am
proud to think of him lying in his far-off grave, and if I were not so
old I would go over the sea to kneel beside my poor boy’s resting-place
before I die. He displeased me once, but we are good friends now, and
there will be no cloud between us when we meet in another world.”’

Here Mrs. Darvis was fairly overcome, much to the astonishment of the
girl Elspeth, whose uncanny black eyes regarded her with a scornful
wonder. Maurice noticed that look.

‘Sweet child,’ he said to himself. ‘What a charming helpmeet you will
make for some honest peasant in days to come, with your amiable
disposition!’

He had taken his time looking at the old house, and listening to the
housekeeper’s story. The sun was low, and he had yet to find a lodging
for the night. He had walked far since morning, and was not disposed to
retrace his steps to the nearest town, a place called Seacomb,
consisting of a long straggling street, with various lateral courts and
alleys, a market-place, parish church, lock-up, and five dissenting
chapels of various denominations. This Seacomb was a good nine miles
from Penwyn Manor.

‘Perhaps you’d like to see the young Squire’s portrait,’ said Mrs.
Darvis, when she had dried those tributary tears.

‘The young Squire?’

‘Mr. George. We used to call him the young Squire sometimes.’

‘Yes, I should like to have a look at the poor fellow, now you’ve told
me his history.’

‘It hangs in the old Squire’s study. It’s a bit of a room, and I forgot
to show it to you just now.’

Maurice followed her across the hall to a small door in a corner, deeply
recessed and low, but solid enough to have guarded the Tolbooth, one
would suppose. It opened into a narrow room, with one window looking
towards the sea. The wainscot was almost black with age, the furniture,
old walnut wood, of the same time-darkened hue. There was a heavy old
bureau, brass handled and brass clamped; a bookcase, a ponderous writing
desk, and one capacious arm-chair, covered with black leather. The high,
narrow chimney-piece was in an angle of the room, and above this hung
the portrait of George Penwyn.

It was a kit-kat picture of a lad in undress uniform, the face a long
oval, fair of complexion, and somewhat feminine in delicacy of feature,
the eyes dark blue. The rest of the features, though sufficiently
regular, were commonplace enough; but the eyes, beautiful alike in shape
and colour, impressed Maurice Clissold. They were eyes which might have
haunted the fancy of girlhood, with the dream of an ideal lover; eyes in
whose somewhat melancholy sweetness a poet would have read some strange
life-history. The hair, a pale auburn, hung in a loosely waving mass
over the high narrow brow, and helped to give a picturesque cast to the
patrician-looking head.

‘A nice face,’ said Maurice, critically. ‘There is a little look of my
poor friend James Penwyn, but not much. Poor Jim had a gayer, brighter
expression, and had not those fine blue-grey eyes. I fancy Churchill
Penwyn must be a plain likeness of his uncle George. Not so handsome,
but more intellectual-looking.’

‘Yes, sir,’ assented Mrs. Darvis. ‘The present Squire is something like
his uncle, but there’s a harder look in his face. All the features seem
cut out sharper; and then his eyes are quite different. Mr. George had
his mother’s eyes; she was a Tresillian, and one of the handsomest women
in Cornwall.’

‘I’ve seen a face somewhere which that picture reminds me of, but I
haven’t the faintest notion where,’ said Maurice. ‘In another picture,
perhaps. Half one’s memories of faces are derived from pictures, and
they flash across the mind suddenly, like a recollection of another
world. However, I mustn’t stand prosing here, while the sun goes down
yonder. I have to find a lodging before nightfall. What is the nearest
place, village, or farmhouse, where I can get a bed, do you think, Mrs.
Darvis?’

‘There’s the “Bell,” in Penwyn village.’

‘No good. I’ve tried there already. The landlady’s married daughter is
home on a visit, and they haven’t a bed to give me for love or money.’

Mrs. Darvis lapsed into meditation.

‘The nearest farmhouse is Trevanard’s, at Borcel End. They might give
you a bed there, for the place is large enough for a barrack, but they
are not the most obliging people in the world, and they are too well off
to care about the money you may pay them for the accommodation.’

‘How far is Borcel End?’

‘Between two and three miles.’

‘Then I’ll try my luck there, Mrs. Darvis,’ said Maurice, cheerily. ‘It
lies between that and sleeping under the open sky.’

‘I wish I could offer you a bed, sir; but in my position——’

‘As custodian such an offer would be a breach of good faith to your
employers. I quite understand that, Mrs. Darvis. I come here as a
stranger to you, and I thank you kindly for having been so obliging as
to show me the house.’

He dropped a couple of half-crowns into her hand as he spoke, but these
Mrs. Darvis rejected most decidedly.

‘Ours has never been what you can call a show place, sir, and I’ve never
looked for that kind of perquisite.’

‘Come, young one,’ said Maurice, after taking leave of the friendly old
housekeeper, ‘you can put me into the right road to Borcel End, and you
shall have one of these for your reward.’

Elspeth’s black eyes had watched the rejection of the half-crowns with
unmistakable greed. Her sharp face brightened at Maurice’s promise.

‘I’ll show you the way, sir,’ she said; ‘I know every step of it.’

‘Yes, the lass is always roaming about, like a wild creature, over the
hills, and down by the sea,’ said Mrs. Darvis, with a disapproving air.
‘I don’t think she knows how to read or write, or has as much Christian
knowledge as the old jackdaw in the servants’ hall.’

‘I know things that are better than reading and writing,’ said Elspeth,
with a grin.

‘What kind of things may those be?’ asked Maurice.

‘Things that other people don’t know.’

‘Well, my lass, I won’t trouble you by sounding the obscure depths of
your wisdom. I only want the straightest road to Trevanard’s farm. He is
a tenant of this estate, I suppose, Mrs. Darvis?’

‘Yes, sir. Michael Trevanard’s father was a tenant of the old Squire’s
before my time. Old Mrs. Trevanard is still living, though stone-blind,
and hardly right in her head, I believe.’

They had reached the lobby door by this time, the chief hall door being
kept religiously bolted and barred during the absence of the family.

‘I shall come and see you again, Mrs. Darvis, most likely, before I
leave this part of the country,’ said Maurice, as he crossed the
threshold. ‘Good evening.’

‘You’ll be welcome at any time, sir. Good evening.’

Elspeth led the way across the lawn, with a step so light and swift that
it was as much as Maurice could do to keep pace with her, tired as he
was, after a long day afoot. He followed her into the pine wood. The
trees were not thickly planted, but they were old and fine, and their
dense foliage looked inky black against a primrose-coloured sky. A
narrow footpath wound among the tall black trunks, only a few yards from
the edge of the cliff, which was poorly guarded by a roughly fashioned
timber railing, the stakes wide apart. The vast Atlantic lay below them,
a translucent green in the clear evening light, melting into purple far
away on the horizon.

Maurice paused to look back at Penwyn Manor House, the grave,
substantial old dwelling-house which had seen so little change since the
days of the Tudors. High gable ends, latticed windows gleaming in the
last rays of the setting sun; stone walls moss-darkened and
ivy-shrouded, massive porch, with deep recesses, and roomy enough for a
small congregation; mighty chimney-stacks, and quaint old iron
weathercock, with a marvellous specimen of the ornithological race
pointing its gilded beak due west.

‘Poor old James! what good days we might have had here!’ sighed Maurice,
as he looked back at the fair domain. It seemed a place saved out of the
good old world, and was very pleasant to contemplate after the gimcrack
palaces of the age we live in—in which all that architecture can conjure
from the splendour of the past is more or less disfigured by the tinsel
of the present.

‘Dear old James, to think that he wanted to marry that poor little
actress girl, and bring her to reign down here, in the glow and glory of
those stained-glass windows—gorgeous with the armorial devices of a line
of county families! Innocent, simple-hearted lad! wandering about like a
prince in a fairy tale, ready to fall in love with the first pretty girl
he saw by the roadside, and to take her back to his kingdom.’

‘If you want to see Trevanard’s farm before dark you must come on, sir,’
said Elspeth.

Maurice took the hint, and followed at his briskest pace. They were soon
out of the pine grove, which they left by a little wooden gate, and on
the wild wide hills, where the distant sheep-bell had an eerie sound in
the still evening air.

Even the gables of the Manor House disappeared presently as they went
down a dip in the hills. Far off in a green hollow, Maurice saw some
white buildings—scattered untidily near a patch of water, which
reflected the saffron-hued evening sky.

‘That’s Trevanard’s,’ said Elspeth, pointing to this spot.

‘I thought as much,’ said Maurice, ‘then you need go no further. You’ve
fairly earned your fee.’

He gave her the half-crown. The girl turned the coin over with a
delighted look before she put it in her pocket.

‘I’ll go to Borcel End with you,’ she said. ‘I’d as lief be on the hills
as at home—sooner, for grandmother is not over-pleasant company.’

‘But you’d better go back now, my girl, or it’ll be dark long before you
reach home.’

Elspeth laughed, a queer impish cachinnation, which made Maurice feel
rather uncomfortable.

‘You don’t suppose I’m afraid of the dark,’ she said, in her shrill
young voice, so young and yet so old in tone. ‘I know every star in the
sky. Besides, it’s never dark at this time of year. I’ll go on to Borcel
End with you. May be you mayn’t get accommodated there, and then I can
show you a near way across the hills to Penwyn village. You might get
shelter at one of the cottages anyhow.’

‘Upon my word you are very obliging,’ said Maurice, surprised by this
show of benevolence upon the damsel’s part.

‘Do you know anything about this Borcel End?’ he asked, presently, when
they were going down into the valley.

‘I’ve never been inside it,’ answered Elspeth, glibly, more
communicative now than she had been an hour or two ago, when Churchill
questioned her about the house of Penwyn. ‘Mrs. Trevanard isn’t one to
encourage a poor girl like me about her place. She’s a rare hard one,
they say, and would pinch and scrape for a sixpence; yet dresses fine on
Sundays, and lives well. There’s always good eating and drinking at
Borcel End, folks say. I’ve heard tell as it was a gentleman’s house
once, before old Squire Penwyn bought it, and that there was a fine park
round the house. There’s plenty of trees now, and a garden that has all
gone to ruin. The gentleman that owned Borcel spent all his money,
people say, and old Squire Penwyn bought the place cheap, and turned it
into a farm, and it’s been in the hands of the Trevanards ever since,
and they’re rich enough to buy the place three times over, people say,
if Squire Penwyn would sell it.’

‘I don’t suppose I shall get a very warm welcome if this Mrs. Trevanard
is such a disagreeable person,’ said Maurice, beginning to feel doubtful
as to the wisdom of asking hospitality at Borcel End.

‘Oh, I don’t know about that. She’s civil enough to gentlefolks, I’ve
heard say. It’s only her servants and such like she’s so stiff with. You
can but try.’

They were at the farm by this time. The old house stood before them—a
broad stretch of greensward in front of it, with a pool of
blackish-looking water in the middle, on which several broods of
juvenile ducks were swimming gaily.

The house was large, the walls rough-cast, with massive timber
framework. There was a roomy central porch, also of plaster and timber,
and this and a projecting wing at each end of the house gave a certain
importance to the building. Some relics of its ancient gentility still
remained, to show that Borcel End had not always been the house of a
tenant farmer. A coat of arms, roughly cut on a stone tablet over the
front door, testified to its former owner’s pride of birth; and the
quadrangular range of stables, stone-built, and more important than the
house, indicated those sporting tastes which might have helped to
dissipate the fortunes of a banished and half-forgotten race. But Borcel
End, in its brightest day, had never been such a mansion as the old
Tudor Manor House of Penwyn. There was a homeliness in the architecture
which aspired to neither dignity nor beauty. Low ceilings, square
latticed windows, dormers in the roof, and heavy chimney-stacks. The
only beauty which the place could have possessed at its best was the
charm of rusticity—an honest, simple English home. To-day, however,
Borcel End was no longer at its best. The stone quadrangle, where the
finest stud of hunters in the county had been lodged, was now a
straw-yard for cattle; one side of the house was overshadowed by a huge
barn, built out of the _débris_ of the park wall; a colony of jovial
pigs disported themselves in a small enclosure which had once been a
maze. A remnant of hedgerow, densest yew, still marked the boundary of
this ancient pleasance, but all the rest had vanished beneath the cloven
hoof of the unclean animal.

Though the farmyard showed on every side the tokens of agricultural
prosperity, the house itself had a neglected air. The plaster walls,
green and weather-stained, presented the curious blended hues of a
Stilton cheese in prime condition, the timber seemed perishing for want
of a good coat of paint. Poultry were pecking about close under the
latticed windows, and even in the porch, and a vagabond pigling was
thrusting his black nose in among the roots of one solitary rose bush
which still lingered on the barren turf. Borcel End, seen in this fading
light, was hardly a homestead to attract the traveller.

‘I don’t think much of your Borcel End,’ said Maurice, with a
disparaging air. ‘However, here goes for a fair trial of west-country
hospitality.’


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



                               CHAPTER II

               ‘O’ER ALL THERE HUNG A SHADOW AND A FEAR.’


MR. CLISSOLD entered the porch, scattering the affrighted fowls right
and left. As they sped cackling away, the house door, which had stood
ajar, was opened wider by a middle-aged woman, who looked at the
intruder frowningly. ‘We never buy anything of pedlars,’ she said,
sharply. ‘It’s no use coming here.’

‘I’m not a pedlar, and I haven’t anything to sell. I am going through
Cornwall on a walking tour, and want to find a place where I could stop
for a week or so, and look about the country. I am prepared to pay a
fair price for a clean homely lodging. The housekeeper at Penwyn Manor
told me to try here.’

‘Then she sent you on a fool’s errand,’ replied the woman; ‘we don’t
take lodgers.’

‘Not as a rule perhaps, but you might strain a point in my favour, I
dare say.’

Maurice Clissold had a pleasant voice and a pleasant smile. Mrs.
Trevanard looked at him doubtfully, softened in spite of herself by his
manner. And then no Trevanard was ever above earning an honest penny.
They had not grown rich by refusing chances of small profits.

‘Come, mother,’ cried a cheery voice from within, while she was
hesitating, ‘you can ask the gentleman to come in and sit down a bit,
anyhow. That won’t make us nor break us.’

‘You can walk in and sit down, sir, if you like,’ said Mrs. Trevanard,
with a somewhat unwilling air.

Maurice crossed the threshold, and found himself in a large stone-paved
room, which had once been the hall, and was now the living room. The
staircase, with its clumsy, black-painted balustrades, shaped like gouty
legs, occupied one side of the room; on the other yawned the mighty
chimney, with a settle on each side of the wide hearth, a cosy retreat
on winter’s nights. The glow of the fire had a comfortable look even on
this midsummer evening.

A young man—tall, broad-shouldered, good-looking, clad in a suit of
velveteen which gave him something the air of a gamekeeper—stood near
the hearth cleaning a gun. He it was who had spoken just now—Martin
Trevanard, the only son of the house, and about the only living creature
who had any influence with his mother. Pride ruled her, religion, or
bigotry, had power over her, gold was the strongest influence of all.
But of all the mass of humanity there was but one unit she cared for
besides herself, and that one was Martin.

‘Sit down and make yourself at home, sir,’ said the young man, heartily.
‘You’ve walked far, I dare say.’

‘I have,’ answered Maurice, ‘but I don’t want to rest anywhere until I
am sure that I can get a night’s shelter. There was no room for me at
the “Bell” at Penwyn, but I left my knapsack there, thinking I should be
forced to go back to the village anyhow. It was an afterthought coming
on here. Oh, by the way, there’s a girl outside, the lodge-keeper’s
daughter, who has been my guide so far, and wants to know my fate before
she goes home. What can you do with me, Mrs. Trevanard? I’m not
particular. Give me a truss of clean hay in one of your barns, if you’re
afraid to have me in the house.’

‘Don’t be ill-natured, old lady,’ said the young man, ‘the gentleman is
a gentleman. One can see that with half an eye.’

‘That’s all very well, Martin; but what will your father say to our
taking in a stranger, without so much as knowing his name?’

‘My name is Clissold,’ said the applicant, taking a card out of his
pocket-book and throwing it on the polished beechwood table, the only
handsome piece of furniture in the room. A massive oblong table, big
enough for twelve or fourteen people to sit at. ‘There are my name and
address. And so far as payment in advance goes,’—he put a sovereign down
beside the card—‘there’s for my night’s accommodation and refreshment.’

‘Put your money in your pocket, sir. You’re a friend of Mr. Penwyn’s, I
suppose?’ asked Mrs. Trevanard, still doubtful.

‘I know the present Mr. Penwyn, but I cannot call myself his friend. The
poor young fellow who was murdered, James Penwyn, was my nearest and
dearest friend, my adopted brother.’

‘Let the gentleman stop, mother. We’ve rooms enough, and to spare, in
this gloomy old barrack. A fresh face always brightens us up a little,
and it’s nice to hear how the world goes on. Father’s always satisfied
when you are. You can put the gentleman in that old room at the end of
the corridor. You needn’t be frightened, sir, there are no ghosts at
Borcel End,’ added Martin Trevanard, laughing.

His mother still hesitated—but after a pause she said, ‘Very well, sir.
You can stop to-night, and as long as you please afterwards at a fair
price—say a guinea a week for eating, drinking, and sleeping, and a
trifle for the servant when you go away.’

Even in consenting the woman seemed to have a lingering reluctance, as
if she were giving assent to something which she felt should have been
refused.

‘Your terms are moderation itself, madam, and I thank you. I’ll send
away my small guide.’

He went out to the porch where Elspeth sat waiting—no doubt a listener
to the conversation. Maurice rewarded her devotion with an extra
sixpence, and dismissed her. Away she sped through the gathering gloom,
light of foot as a young fawn. Maurice felt considerably relieved by the
comfortable adjustment of the lodging question. He seated himself in an
arm-chair by the hearth, and stretched out his legs in the ruddy glow,
with a blissful sense of repose.

‘Is there such a thing as a lad about the place who would go to the
“Bell” at Penwyn to fetch my knapsack for a consideration?’ he asked.

There was a cowboy who would perform that service, it seemed. Martin
went out himself to look for the rustic Mercury.

‘He’s a good-natured lad, my son,’ said Mrs. Trevanard, ‘but full of
fancies. That comes of idleness, and too much education, his father
says. His grandmother yonder never learned to read or write and ’twas
she and her husband made Borcel End what it is.’

Following the turn of Mrs. Trevanard’s head, Maurice perceived that an
object which in the obscurity of the room he had taken for a piece of
furniture was in reality a piece of humanity—a very old woman, dressed
in dark garments, with only a narrow white border peeping from under a
cowl-shaped black silk cap, a dingy red handkerchief pinned across her
shoulders, and two bony hands, whose shrivelled fingers moved with a
mechanical regularity in the process of stocking knitting.

‘Ay,’ said a quivering voice. ‘I can’t read or write—that’s to say I
couldn’t even when I had my sight—but between us, Michael and I made
Borcel what it is. Young people don’t understand the old ways—they have
servants to wait upon ’em, and play the harpsichord—but little good
comes of it.’

‘Is she blind?’ asked Maurice of the younger Mrs. Trevanard, in a
whisper.

The old woman’s quick ear caught the question.

‘Stone blind, sir, for the last eighteen years. But the Lord has been
good to me. I’ve a comfortable home and kind children, and they don’t
turn me out of doors, though I’m such a useless creature.’

A gloomy figure in that dark corner beyond the glow of the fire. Maurice
felt that the room was less comfortable somehow, since he had discovered
the presence of this old woman, with her sightless orbs, and
never-resting fingers, long and lean, weaving her endless web, gloomy as
Clotho herself.

A plump, ruddy-cheeked maid-servant came bustling in with preparations
for supper, making an agreeable diversion after this sad little episode.
She lighted a pair of tall tallow candles in tall brass candlesticks,
which feebly illumined the large low room. The wainscoted walls were
blackened by smoke and time, and from the cross-beams that sustained the
low ceiling hung a grove of hams, while flitches of bacon adorned the
corners, where there was less need of headway. Every object in the room
belonged to the useful rather than the beautiful. Yet there was
something pleasant to Maurice’s unaccustomed eye in the homely old-world
comfort of the place.

He took advantage of the light to steal a glance at the face of his
hostess, as she helped the servant to lay the cloth and place the viands
on the table. Bridget Trevanard was about fifty years of age, but there
were few wrinkles on the square brow, or about the eyes and mouth. She
was tall, buxom, and broad-shouldered; a woman who looked as if she had
few feminine weaknesses, either moral or physical. The muscular arm and
broad open chest betokened an almost virile strength. Her skin was
bright and clear, her nose broad and thick, but fairly modelled of its
kind, her under lip full, and firm as if wrought in iron, the upper lip
long, straight, and thin. Her eyes were dark brown, bright and hard,
with that sharp penetrating look which is popularly supposed to see
through deal boards, and even stone walls on occasion. So at least
thought the servants at Borcel End.

A model farmer’s wife, this Mrs. Trevanard, a severe mistress, yet not
unjust or unkind, a proud woman, and in her own particular creed
something of a zealot. A woman who loved money, not so much for its own
sake, as because it served the only ambition she had ever cherished,
namely, to be more respectable than her neighbours. Wealth went a long
way towards this superior respectability, therefore did Mrs. Trevanard
toil and spin, and never cease from labour in the pursuit of gain. She
was the motive power of Borcel End. Her superlative energy kept Michael
Trevanard, a somewhat lazy man by nature, a patient slave at the mill.
Martin was the only creature at Borcel who escaped her influence. For
him life meant the indulgence of his own fancies, with just so much work
as gave him an appetite for his meals. He would drive the waggon to the
mill, or superintend the men at hay-making and harvest. He rather liked
attending market, and was a good hand at a bargain, but to the patient
drudgery of every-day cares young Trevanard had a rooted objection. He
was good-looking, good-natured, walked well, sang well, whistled better
than any other man in the district, and was a general favourite. People
said that the good blood of the old Trevanards showed in young Martin.


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



                              CHAPTER III

                       ‘HE COMETH NOT,’ SHE SAID.


WHEN the supper-table was ready, the servant girl ran to the porch and
rang a large bell, which was kept under one of the benches—a bell that
pealed out shrilly over the silent fields. This summons brought home
Michael Trevanard, who appeared in about five minutes, pulling down his
shirt-sleeves, and carrying his coat over his arm, while some stray
wisps of hay which hung about his hair and clothes indicated that he had
but that moment left the yard where they were building a huge stack,
which Maurice had seen looming large through the dusk as he approached
Borcel.

‘We’ve stacked the fourteen acre piece, mother,’ said the farmer, as he
pulled on his coat, ‘and a fine stack it is, too, as sweet as a hazel
nut. No fear of mildew this year. And now I’ll give myself a wash——’

He stopped, surprised at beholding a stranger standing by his hearth.
Maurice had risen to receive the master of the house.

Martin explained the traveller’s presence.

‘We’ve taken to lodging-letting since you’ve been out, father,’ he said,
in his easy way. ‘This gentleman wants to stay here and to look about
the country round for a few days, and as mother thought he’d be company
for me, and knew you wouldn’t have any objection, she said yes. Mr.
Clissold, that’s the gentleman’s name, is a friend of the family up
yonder.’ An upward jerk of Martin’s head indicated the Manor House.

‘Any friend of the Squire’s, or any one your mother thinks proper to
accommodate, my lad, she’s missus here,’ answered Mr. Trevanard. ‘You’re
kindly welcome, sir.’

The farmer went out to some back region, whence was immediately heard an
energetic pumping and splashing, and a noise as of a horse being rubbed
down, after which Mr. Trevanard reappeared, lobster-like of complexion,
and breathing hard after his rapid exertions.

He was a fine-looking man, with a face which might fairly be supposed to
show the blood of the Trevanards, for the features were of a patrician
type, and the broad open brow inspired at once respect and confidence.
That candid countenance belonged to a man too incapable of deceit to be
capable of suspicion; a man whom an artful child might cheat with
impunity, a man who could never have grown rich unaided.

Mr. and Mrs. Trevanard, their son, and their guest, sat down to supper
without delay; but the old blind mother still kept her seat in the
shadowy corner, and ate her supper apart. It consisted only of a basin
of broth, sprinkled with chopped parsley, which the old woman sipped
slowly, while the rest were eating their substantial meal.

Maurice had eaten nothing since noon, and did ample justice to the
lordly round of corned beef, and home-cured chine, the freshly gathered
lettuces, and even the gooseberry pie and clotted cream. He and Martin
talked all supper-time, while the house-mother carved, and the farmer
abandoned himself to the pleasures of the table, and drank strong cider
with easy enjoyment after the toilsome day.

‘There’s no place like a hay-field for making a man thirsty,’ he said,
by way of apology, after one of his deep draughts; ‘and I can’t drink
the cat-lap mother sends to the men.’

Martin talked of field sports and boating. He had a little craft of his
own, four or five tons burden, and was passionately fond of the water.
By and by the conversation drifted round to the Squire of Penwyn.

‘He rides well,’ said Martin, ‘but I don’t believe he’s over-fond of
hunting, though he subscribes handsomely to the hounds. I never knew
such a fellow for doing everything liberally. He’s bound to be popular,
for he’s the best master they ever had at the Manor.’

‘And is he popular?’ asked Maurice.

‘Well, I hardly know what to say about that. I only know that he ought
to be. People are so hard to please. There are some say they liked the
old Squire best, though he wasn’t half so generous, and didn’t keep any
company worth speaking of. He had a knack of talking to people and
making himself one of them that went a long way. And then some people
remember Mr. George, and seem to have a notion that this man is an
interloper. He oughtn’t to have come into the property, they say.
Providence never could have meant the son of the youngest son to have
Penwyn. They’re as full of fancies as an egg is full of meat in our
parts.’

‘So it seems. Mrs. Penwyn is liked, I suppose?’

‘Yes, she made friends with the poor people in no time. And then she’s a
great beauty; people go miles to see her when she rides to covert with
her husband. There’s a sister, too, still prettier to my mind.’

Martin promised to show his new friend all that was worth seeing for
twenty miles round Borcel. He would have the dog-cart ready early next
morning, directly after breakfast, in fact, and six o’clock was
breakfast-time at the farm. Maurice was delighted with the friendly
young fellow, and thought that he had stumbled upon a very agreeable
household.

Mrs. Trevanard was somewhat stern and repellent in manner, no doubt, but
she was not absolutely uncivil, and Mr. Clissold felt that he should be
able to get on with her pretty well.

She had said grace before meat, and she stopped the two young men in
their talk presently, and offered a thanksgiving after the meal. It was
a long grace, Methodistical in tone, with an allusion to Esau’s mess of
pottage, which was brought in as a dreadful example of gluttony.

After this ceremonial Mrs. Trevanard went upstairs to superintend the
preparation of the stranger’s apartment. The grandmother vanished at the
same time, spirited away by the serving wench, who led her out by a
little door that opened near her corner, and the three men drew round
the hearth, lighted their pipes, and smoked and talked in a very
friendly fashion for the next half-hour or so. They were talking merrily
enough when Mrs. Trevanard came downstairs again, candle in hand. She
had taken out one of the old silver candlesticks which had been part of
her dower, in order to impress the visitor with a proper notion of her
respectability.

‘Your room’s ready, Mr. Clissold,’ she said, ‘and here’s your bedroom
candle.’

Maurice took the hint, and bade his new friends good night. He followed
Mrs. Trevanard up the broad, bulky old staircase, and to the end of a
corridor. The room into which she led him was large, and had once been
handsome, but some barbarian had painted the oak paneling pink, and the
wood carving over the fireplace had been defaced by the industrious
knives of several generations of schoolboys; there was a good deal of
broken glass in the lattices, and a general air of dilapitude. A fire
burned briskly in the wide basket-shaped grate, and, though it
brightened the room, made these traces of decay all the more visible.

‘It’s a room we never use,’ said Mrs. Trevanard, ‘so we haven’t cared to
spend money upon it. There’s always enough money wanted for repairs, and
we haven’t need to waste any upon fanciful improvements. The place is
dry enough, for I take care to open the windows on sunny days, and
there’s nothing better than air and sun to keep a room dry. I had the
fire lighted to-night for cheerfulness’ sake.’

‘You are very kind,’ replied Maurice, pleased to see his knapsack on a
chair by the bed, ‘and the room will do admirably. It looks the pink of
cleanliness.’

‘I don’t harbour dirt, even in unused rooms,’ answered Mrs. Trevanard.
‘It needs a mistress’s eye to keep away cobwebs and vermin, but I’ve
never spared myself trouble that way. Good night, sir.’

‘Good night, Mrs. Trevanard. By the way, you’ve no ghosts here, I think
your son said?’

‘I hope both you and he know better than to believe any such rubbish,
sir.’

‘Of course; only this room looks the very picture of a haunted chamber,
and if I were capable of believing in ghosts I should certainly lie
awake on the look-out for one to-night.’

‘Those whose faith is surely grounded have no such fancies, sir,’
replied Mrs. Trevanard, severely, and closed the door without another
word.

‘The room looks haunted, for all that,’ muttered Maurice, and then
involuntarily repeated those famous lines of Hood’s,—

               ‘O’er all there hung a shadow and a fear;
                  A sense of mystery the spirit daunted,
                And said, as plain as whisper in the ear,
                  The place is haunted!’

The bedstead was a four-poster, with tall, spirally twisted posts, and
some dark drapery, shrunken with age, and too small for the wooden
framework. There was an old-fashioned press, or wardrobe, of black wood,
whose polished surface reflected the firelight. A three-cornered
wash-hand stand, and a clumsy-looking chest of drawers between the
windows, surmounted by a cracked looking-glass, completed the furniture
of the room. The boards were uncarpeted, and showed knots and dark
patches in the worm-eaten wood, which a morbid fancy might have taken
for the traces of some half-forgotten murder.

‘Not a cheerful-looking room by any means, even with the aid of that
blazing fire,’ thought Maurice.

He opened one of the casements and looked out. The night air was soft
and balmy, perfumed with odours of clover and the newly stacked hay. The
Atlantic lay before him, shining under the great red moon, which had but
just risen. A pleasanter prospect this than the bare walls of faded,
dirty pink, the black clothes-press, and funereal four-poster.

Maurice lingered at the window, his arms folded on the broad ledge, his
thoughts wandering idly—wandering back to last year and the moonlight
that had shone upon the cathedral towers of Eborsham, the garden of the
‘Waterfowl’ Inn, and the winding river.

‘Poor James!’ he mused, ‘how happy that light-hearted fellow might have
been at Penwyn Manor!—how happy, and how popular! He would have had the
knack of pleasing people, with that frank, easy kindness of his, and
would have made friends of half the county. And if he had married that
actress girl? A folly, no doubt; but who knows if all might not have
ended happily? There was nothing vulgar or low about that girl—indeed,
she had the air of one of Nature’s gentlewomen. It would have been a
little difficult for her to learn all the duties of a _châtelaine_,
perhaps—how to order a dinner, and whom to invite—the laws of
precedence—the science of morning calls. But if James loved her, and
chose her from all other women for his wife, why should he not have been
happy with her? I was a fool to oppose his fancy, still more a fool for
leaving him. He might be alive now, perhaps, but for that wild-goose
journey of mine.’

Here his thoughts took another turn. They went back to that train of
circumstances which had brought about his absence from Eborsham on the
night of James Penwyn’s murder.

It was past midnight when Maurice Clissold roused himself from that long
reverie, and prepared for peaceful slumber in the funereal bed. His fire
had burned low by this time, and the red glow of the expiring embers was
drowned in the full splendour of the risen moon, whose light silvered
the bare boards, and brought into strong relief those stains and
blotches upon the wood which looked so like the traces of ancient
murder. The bed was luxurious, for there was no stint of feathers at
Borcel End; yet Maurice wooed the god of sleep in vain. He began to
think that there must be some plumage of game birds mingled with the
stuffing of his couch, and that, soft and deep as it was, this was one
of those beds upon which a man could neither sleep nor die comfortably.

‘I ought to be tired enough to sleep on a harder bed than this,
considering the miles I’ve walked to-day,’ he thought.

It may have been that he was over-tired, or it may have been that flood
of silver light streaming through the diamond-panes of yonder lattice.
Whatever might be the reason of his restlessness, sleep came not to
straighten his unquiet limbs, or to steep his wandering thoughts in her
cool waters of forgetfulness.

He heard a distant clock—in the hall where he had supped, most
likely—strike two, and just at this time a gentle drowsiness began to
steal over him. He was just falling deep down into some sleepy hollow,
soft as a bed of poppies, when his door was opened by a cautious hand,
and a light footstep sounded on the floor. He was wide awake in a
minute, and without moving from his recumbent position, drew the dark
curtain back a little way and looked towards the door. The shadow of the
curtain fell upon him as he lay, and the bedstead looked unoccupied.

‘The ghost!’ he said to himself, with rather an awful feeling. ‘I knew
there must be one in such a room—or perhaps the house is on fire, and
some one has come to warn me.’

No; that wanderer through the deep of night had evidently no business
with Mr. Clissold—nay, was unconscious of, or indifferent to, the fact
of his existence. The figure slowly crossed the floor, with a light
step, but a little sliding noise, as of a foot ill-shod—a slipper down
at heel.

It came full into the moonlight presently, between the bedstead and the
two windows.

‘Ay, verily a ghost,’ thought Maurice, with a feeling like ice-cold
water circulating slowly through every artery in his body.

Never had he seen, or conceived within his mind, a figure more spectral,
yet with a certain wild beauty in its ghastliness. He raised himself in
his bed, still keeping well within the shadow of the curtains, and
watched the spectre with eyes which seemed endowed with a double power
of vision in the thrilling intensity of that moment.

The spectre was a woman’s form; tall, slender—nay, so wasted that it
seemed almost unnaturally tall. The face was death-pale in that solemn
light, the eyes large and dark, the hair ebon-black and falling in long
loose masses over the white garment, whose folds were straight as those
of a winding-sheet. So might the dead, risen from a new-made grave, have
looked.

The figure went straight to one of the casements—that furthest from the
bed, and at right angles with it—unfastened the hasp, and flung the
window wide open. She drew a chair close to the open window, and kneeled
upon it, resting her arms on the sill, and leaning out of the window, as
if watching for some one to come, thought Maurice, that frozen blood of
his beginning to thaw a little.

‘Those actions seem too deliberate and real for a ghost,’ he told
himself. ‘Phantoms must surely be soundless. Now I heard the slipshod
feet upon the floor. I heard the scrooping of the chair. I can see a
gentle heaving of the breast under that shroud-like garment. Ergo my
visitor is not a ghost. Who can she be? Not Mrs. Trevanard assuredly,
nor the old blind grandmother, nor the buxom lass who waited on us at
supper. I thought those were all the women kind in the house.’

A heavy sigh from that unearthly-looking intruder startled him, a sigh
so long, so full of anguish, so like the utterance of some lost soul in
pain! Difficult not to yield to superstitious fear as he gazed at that
kneeling figure, with its long dark hair, and delicate profile, sharply
outlined against the black shadow of the deep-sunk casement.

Again came the sigh, despairing, desolate.

‘Oh, my love, my love, why don’t you come back to me?’

The words broke like a cry of despair from those pale lips. Not loud was
the sorrowful appeal, but so full of pain that it touched the listener’s
heart more deeply than the most passionate burst of louder grief could
have done.

‘Dear love, you promised, you promised me. How could I have lived if I
had not thought you would come back?’

Then the tone changed. She was no longer appealing to another, but
talking to herself, hurriedly, breathlessly, with ever increasing
agitation.

‘Why not to-night? Why shouldn’t he come back to-night? He was always
fond of moonlight nights. He promised to be true to me, and stand by me,
come what might. No harm should ever come to me. He swore that, swore it
with his arms round me, his eyes looking into mine. No man could be
false, and yet look as he looked, and speak as he spoke.’

Silence for a brief space, and then a sudden cry—a sharp
anguish-stricken cry, as of a broken heart.

‘Who said he was dead and gone, dead and gone years ago? The world
wouldn’t look as bright as it does if he were dead. He loved the
moonlight. Could you shine, false moon, if he were dead?’ Again a pause,
and then a slower, more thoughtful tone, as if doubts disturbed that
demented brain. ‘Was it last year he used to come, last year when we
were so happy together—last year when——’

A sudden burst of tears interrupted the sentence. The woman’s face fell
forward on her folded arms, and the frail body was shaken by her sobs.

Maurice Clissold no longer doubted his visitant’s humanity.

This was real grief, perchance real madness. For a little while he had
fancied it a case of somnambulism. But the eyes which he had seen lifted
despairingly to that moonlit sky had too much expression for the eyes of
a somnambulist.

For a long time—or time that seemed long to Clissold’s mind—the woman
knelt by the window, now silent, motionless as an inanimate figure, now
talking rapidly to herself, anon invoking that absent one whose broken
promises were perhaps the cause of her wandering wits. Never had the
young man beheld a more piteous spectacle. It was as if one of
Wordsworth’s most pathetic pastorals were here realized. His heart ached
at the sound of those heart-broken sighs. This flesh and blood sorrow
moved him more deeply than any spectral woe. This was no ghostly
revisitant of earth, who acted over agonies dead and gone, but a living,
loving woman, who mourned a lost or a faithless lover.

At last, with one farewell look seaward, as if it were along yon moonlit
track across the waves she watched for the return of her lover, this new
Hero turned from the casement, closed it carefully and quietly, and then
slowly left the room. Maurice heard that slipshod foot going slowly
along the passage, until the sound dwindled and died in the distance.

He fancied sleep would have been impossible after such a scene as this,
but perhaps that over-strained attention of the last hour had exhausted
his wakefulness, for he fell off presently into a sound slumber, from
which he was only awakened by a friendly voice outside his door saying,
‘Six o’clock, Mr. Clissold. If you want the long round I promised you
last night we ought to start at seven.’

‘All right,’ answered Maurice, as gaily as if no uncanny visitor had
shortened his slumbers. ‘I’ll be with you in half an hour.’

He kept his word, and was down in the hall, or family sitting-room, just
in time to hear the noisy old eight-day clock strike the half-hour, with
a slow and laborious movement of its inward anatomy, as if fast
subsiding into dumbness and decrepitude. Mr. Trevanard had breakfasted
an hour ago, and gone forth to his haymakers. Mrs. Trevanard was busy
about the house, but the old blind grandmother sat in her corner, plying
those never-resting needles, just as she had sat, just as she had
knitted last night; with no more apparent share or interest in the
active life around her than the old clock had.

There was a liberal meal ready for the stranger. Last night’s round of
beef, and a Cornish ham, archetype of hams, adorned the board, but were
only intended as a reserve force in case of need, while the breakfast
proper consisted of a dish of broiled ham and eggs, and another of
trout, caught a hundred yards or so from the house that morning.
Home-baked bread, white and brown, a wedge of golden honeycomb, and a
plate of strawberries counted for nothing.

Both young men did justice to the breakfast, which they eat together,
making the best use of the half-hour allotted for the meal, and not
talking so much as they had done last night at the more leisurely
evening repast.

‘I hope you slept pretty well,’ said Martin, when he had taken the edge
off a healthy appetite, and was trifling with a slice of beef.

‘Not quite so well as I ought to have done in so comfortable a bed. My
brain was a little over-active, I believe.’

‘Ah, that’s a complaint I don’t suffer from. Father says I haven’t any
brains. I tell him brains don’t grow at Borcel End. One year is so like
another that we get to be a kind of clockwork, like poor old granny
yonder. We get up every morning at the same hour, look out of our
windows to see what sort of weather it is, eat and drink, and walk about
the farm, and go to bed again, without using our minds at all from the
beginning to the end of the business. Father and I brighten up a little
on market days, but for the rest of our lives we might just as well be a
couple of slow-going machines.’

‘There is nothing drowsy or mechanical about your mother’s nature, I
should think, in spite of the quiet life you all lead here.’

‘No, mother’s mind is a candle that would burn to waste in a dark
cellar. Her blood isn’t poppy-juice, like the Trevanards’. Do you know
that my father has never been as far as Plymouth one way, or as far as
Penzance the other way, in his life? He has no call to go, he says, so
he doesn’t go. He squats here upon his land like a toad, and would if
his life was to be threescore and ten centuries instead of as many
years.’

‘You would like a different kind of life, I dare say,’ suggested
Maurice.

The young man’s bright eye reminded him of a caged squirrel’s—a wild,
freeborn creature, longing for the liberty of forests and untrodden
groves.

‘Yes, if I could have chosen my own life, I would have been a soldier,
like George Penwyn.’

‘To die by the hands of savages.’

‘Yes, they say he had a hard death, that those copper-coloured devils
scalped him—tied him to a tree—tortured him. His soldiers went mad with
revenge, and roasted some of the miscreants alive afterwards, I believe;
but that wouldn’t bring the captain to life again.’

‘Do you remember him?’

‘Well. He used to come fishing in our water; the very stream that trout
came out of this morning. I was a little chap of eight or nine years old
when the Captain was last home, and used to catch flies for him, and
carry his basket and loaf about with him half the day through; and many
a half-crown has he given me, for he was an open-handed fellow always,
and one of the handsomest, pleasantest young men I ever remember
seeing—when I say young, I suppose he must have been past thirty at this
time, for he was the oldest of the three brothers, and Balfour, the
youngest, had been married ever so many years. But here’s the trap, and
we’d better be off; good-bye, granny.’

The old woman gave a hoarse chuckle of response, marvellously like the
internal rumbling of the ancient clock.

‘Good morning, ma’am,’ said Maurice, anxious to be civil; but of his
salutation the dame took no notice.

The horse, though clumsily built, and not unacquainted with the plough,
was a good goer. The two young men had soon left Borcel End behind them,
down in its sleepy hollow, and were driving over the fair green hills.

‘Now to fathom the mystery of last night’s adventure,’ thought Maurice,
when they were out of sight of Borcel. ‘I think I can venture to speak
pretty freely to this good-natured young man.’

He meditated a few minutes, and then began the attack.

‘When you asked me at breakfast how I rested last night, I didn’t give
you quite a straightforward answer,’ he said. ‘There was a reason for my
not getting a full allowance of sleep, which I didn’t care to speak of
till you and I were alone.’

‘Indeed,’ said Martin Trevanard, looking round at him sharply. ‘What was
that?’

There was a lurking anxiety in that keen glance of scrutiny, Maurice
Clissold thought.

‘Some one came into my room in the dead of the night—a woman,’ he said.
‘At first I almost thought she was a ghost. I was never so near yielding
to superstitious terror in my life. But I soon discovered my mistake,
and that she was only a living, suffering fellow-creature.’

‘I am very sorry such a thing should have happened,’ said Martin,
gravely. ‘She ought to be better taken care of. The person you saw must
have been my unfortunate sister.’

‘Your sister?’

‘Yes. She is ten years older than I, and not quite right in her mind.
But she is perfectly harmless—has never in her life attempted to injure
any one—not even herself, poor soul, though her own existence is dreary
enough; and neither my father nor my mother will consent to send her
away to be taken care of. Our old doctor sees her now and then, and
doesn’t call her mad. She is only considered a little weak in her
intellect.’

‘Has she been so from childhood?’ asked Maurice.

‘Oh dear no. She went to school at Helstone, and was quite an
accomplished young woman, I believe—played the piano, and painted
flowers, and was brought up quite like a young lady; never put her hand
to dairy work, or anything of the kind. She was a very handsome girl in
those days, and father and mother were uncommonly proud of her. I can
just remember her when she left school for good. I was always hanging
about her, and I used to think she was like a beautiful princess in a
fairy tale. She was very good to me, told me fairy stories, and sung to
me in the twilight. Many a time I’ve fallen asleep in her lap, lulled by
her sweet voice, when I was a little chap of eight or nine. There were
only us two, and she was very fond of me. Poor Muriel!’

‘What was it brought about such a change in her?’

‘Well, that’s a story I’ve never quite got to the bottom of. It’s a sore
subject even with father, who’s easy enough to deal with about most
things. And as to mother, you have but to mention Muriel’s name to make
her look like thunder. Yet she’s never unkind to the poor soul. I know
that.’

‘Does your sister live among you when you are alone?’

‘No, she has a little room over granny’s, with a little old-fashioned
staircase leading up to it. A room quite cut off from the rest of the
house. You can’t reach it except by going through granny’s bedroom,
which is on the ground-floor, you must understand, on account of the old
lady’s weak legs. Now one of poor Muriel’s fancies is to roam about the
house in the middle of the night, especially moonlight nights, for the
moonlight makes her wakeful. So, as a rule, granny locks her door of a
night. However, I suppose last night the old lady forgot, in consequence
of the excitement caused by your arrival, and that’s how you happened to
have such an uncomfortable time.’

‘You haven’t told me even the little you do know as to the cause of your
sister’s state.’

‘Haven’t I? All I know is what my father told me once. She was crossed
in love, it seems—loved some one rather above her in station—and never
got over it. That comes of being constant to one’s first fancy.’

‘You say she lives in a room by herself. Does she never have air or
exercise?’

‘Do you imagine us barbarians? Yes, she roams about the old neglected
garden at the back of the house, just as she pleases, but never goes
beyond. She has a pretty clear notion that that is her beat, poor girl,
and I’ve never known her break bounds. Mother fetches her indoors at
sunset, and gives her her supper, and sees that she’s comfortable for
the night, and tries to keep her clothes decent and tidy, but the poor
soul tears them sometimes when her melancholy fit is upon her.’


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



                               CHAPTER IV

                  ‘AND I SHALL BE ALONE UNTIL I DIE.’


THE image of that white-robed figure, pallid face, and ebon hair haunted
Maurice Clissold throughout the day, though his day was very pleasant,
and Martin Trevanard the most cheerful of companions. They halted at
various villages, explored old parish churches, where tarnished and
blackened brasses told of mitred abbots, and lords of the soil,
otherwise unrecorded and forgotten. Clissold was learned in church
architecture, and not a gargoyle escaped his keen eye. Martin was
pleased to exhibit the interesting features of his native land, and
listened deferentially to Maurice’s disquisitions on brasses, fonts, and
piscinæ.

They stopped at a wayside inn, lunched heartily on bread and cheese and
cider, and were altogether as companionable as young men can well be.
Martin had read about half a dozen books since he left Helstone grammar
school, but those were of the highest character, and he had them in his
heart of hearts. Shakespeare, Pope, and Byron were his poets; Fielding,
Goldsmith, and Scott his only romances.

From Shakespeare and Scott he had learned history, from Fielding and
Goldsmith he had caught the flavour of wit and humour that are dead as
the Latin classics. Thus Clissold found, not without a touch of
surprise, that the farmer’s son was no unworthy companion for a man who
had made literature his profession.

On their homeward round they pulled up at Penwyn Church, which stood
high and dry on the green hill-side, midway between the village and the
manor, and looked like a church that had fallen from the sky, so
completely was it out of everybody’s way. Tradition insisted that in the
Middle Ages there had been a village close to the church, but no trace
of that vanished settlement remained. There stood the temple,
square-towered, with crocketed finials at the four angles of the tower.
There lay its ancient slumberous graveyard on the slope of the hill, the
dead for ever basking in the southern sun, which, in this midsummer
weather, seemed to have power enough to warm them back to life again.

Here Maurice saw the resting-place of the Penwyns, almost as old as the
church itself, a vault so large that these lords of the soil seemed to
have a whole crypt to themselves. Very mouldy, and cold and dark, was
this last abode of the squires and their race. Here he saw also the
parish registers, which contained a concise synopsis of the history of
the Penwyns since the Middle Ages, how they had been christened,
married, and buried.

‘James ought to have been brought down here,’ said Maurice, when they
were in the churchyard, where the deep soft grass was full of field
flowers, and the air of sweet homely odours; not in that mouldy old
crypt with his ancestral dust, but here amongst this thymy grass, face
to face with the sun and the sea, and with the skylark singing above his
grave. ‘It would have been ever so much better than Kensal Green.’

It was eight o’clock when they drove down into the valley, where the old
white house and its numerous barns and outbuildings looked like a
village nestling in that grassy hollow. The scene looked just the same
as last night, when Maurice Clissold approached it for the first
time—the same stillness upon all things, the same low yellow light in
the western sky, the same red glow from the hall fire, the same
changeless figure of the old grandmother in her high-backed
leather-covered arm-chair, half hidden in the shadow of the corner where
she sat.

It wanted an hour to supper, and Mr. Trevanard was struggling with some
accounts at a table by one of the windows, where he had the last of the
dying daylight.

‘Hope you’ve had a pleasant day, sir,’ he said, without looking up from
his papers, or relaxing the frown with which he contemplated a long
column of figures. ‘Take a pull of that cider after your drive; it’s
only just drawn.—You might give me a hand with these accounts, Martin. I
never was a dab at figures.’

‘All right, father, we’ll soon tot ’em up.’

Martin sat down by his father, and took the pen out of his hand. Maurice
refreshed himself with a draught of cider, and then went to the porch.

‘I should like to take a look round the place between this and
supper-time, if you don’t mind, Mr. Trevanard,’ he said.

‘Look where you please, sir, you’re free and welcome. You’ll hear the
supper-bell at nine o’clock.’

Maurice lighted a cigar as he left the porch, and prepared for a
contemplative, dreamy stroll, one calm hour of solitude before the day
was done.

He avoided the stackyard, and did not honour the various families of
black and white piglings, in divers stages of infancy and adolescence,
with his attention. He made a circuit of the pond, and went round to the
back of the homestead, where lay that neglected garden which he had seen
from the distance. At this midsummer-time it was a wilderness of
verdure, and flowers ran wild. Great lavender bushes, forests of
unpruned roses, tall white lilies, syringa, carnations, weeds, and
blossoms, growing as they would. Moss-grown paths, a broken sundial
fallen across a bed of heart’s-ease and mignonnette. Beyond the
flower-garden there was a still deeper wilderness of hazel, quinces, and
alders, which drew their chief sustenance from a shallow pool, whose
dark shining surface was almost hidden by the spreading branches, the
grey old trunks, the thick screen of leaves, through which the light
came dimly even at noon.

A delightful spot for a meditative poet. Maurice was charmed with garden
and wilderness, and lighted a second cigar on the strength of his
discovery of the alder and quince grove.

It was not easy walking here by reason of the undergrowth of St.
John’s-wort, fern, and briar, which made a dense jungle, but after a
little exploration Mr. Clissold came upon a narrow footpath, evidently
well trodden, which wound in and out among the old grey trunks, and
under the hazel boughs, till it brought him to the brink of the water.

The pool was wider than he had thought, but so covered with water-lilies
that the dark water only showed in patches through that thick carpet of
shining leaves. Just such a pool as a stranger might easily walk into
unawares. Maurice pulled up in time, and seated himself on the gnarled
trunk of an alder, whose roots straggled deep down into the water, among
sedges and innocent, harmless cresses. Here he slowly pulled at his
cigar, abandoning himself to such thoughts as a poet has in such a scene
and such an hour.

The last yellow gleam of the sun shone faintly behind the low thick
trees, and through the one break in the wood the distant sea-line showed
darkly grey, just where ocean merged into sky.

‘I should write better verses if I lived here for a year,’ thought
Maurice, musing upon a certain volume which he meant to give the world
by and bye. He hardly knew whether there would be much in it worthy the
world’s acceptance. It was only the outpouring of a strong, fresh soul,
a soul that had known its share of human sorrow, and done a brave man’s
battle with care.

He was deep in a reverie that had led him very far away from Borcel End
when he heard a rustling of the branches near him, and turned quickly
round, expecting to see Martin Trevanard.

The face that looked at him from between the parted hazel boughs
startled him almost as much as that white-robed figure last night. It
was the face he had seen in the moonlight, and which he saw now with
peculiar distinctness in the clear grey light—a wan white face, with
large dark eyes—a face which once must have been most beautiful. The
dark eyes, the delicate features, were still beautiful, but the
complexion was almost ghastly in its pallor, and the eyes were
unnaturally bright. This was Muriel Trevanard.

Maurice thought she would have been frightened at sight of him, and
would have hurried away. But, to his surprise, she came a little nearer
him, cautiously, stealthily even, those restless eyes glancing right and
left as she approached. There was a curious intensity in her gaze when
her eyes fixed themselves at last upon his face, peering at him,
scrutinizing him with something of her mother’s keen look. One hand was
lifted to her head to push back the wild mass of tangled hair, and the
loose sleeve of her gown fell back from the white wasted arm. Face and
body seemed alike wasted by the mind’s consuming fire.

‘You can tell me, perhaps,’ she said, in a quick eager voice, ‘others
won’t, they’re too unkind, for they must know. You can tell me, I’m
sure. When will he come back?’

‘My poor soul, I would gladly tell you if I knew. But I don’t even know
whom you are talking of.’

‘Oh yes, you do. Mother knows. She told you, I dare say. I’m not going
to tell his name. I promised to keep that secret, whatever it cost me to
be silent, and I’m not going to break my promise. When is he coming
back?’

She paused, looking at him with beseeching expectant eyes, as if she
waited breathless for his answer.

‘Is he ever coming back?’

She waited again.

‘Indeed, Miss Trevanard, I know nothing about it.’

‘How dare you call me Miss Trevanard? That’s not my name.’

‘Muriel, then.’

‘That’s better. He called me Muriel.’

Her chin dropped on her breast, and she stood for a few moments looking
down at the water, all her face softened by some sweet sad thought.

‘He called me Muriel,’ she repeated. ‘Muriel, Muriel. I can hear his
voice now. Hear it—yes, as plainly as I can see him when I close my
eyes.’

Again a pause, and then an eager question.

‘How can he be dead when he is so near me? How can he be dead when I
hear him and see him, and can even feel the touch of his hand upon my
head, his lips upon my lips. He awakes me from my sleep sometimes with a
kiss, but when I open my eyes he is gone. Was he always a spirit?’

She seemed unconscious of Maurice’s presence as she moved a few paces
further along the water’s edge, always looking downward, in
self-communion.

‘My love, how can they say that you are dead, when I am waiting for you
so patiently, and will wait for you to the end—wait till you come to
take me away with you? It was to be little more than a year, you told
me. Oh, God, what a long year!’

The anguish in that last ejaculation pierced the listener’s heart as it
had been pierced by her wild cry of sorrow last night. He followed her
along the brink of the pool, put his arm round her shrunken form
protectingly, and tried to comfort her as best he might, knowing so
little of her grief.

‘Muriel,’ he said gently, and her name so spoken seemed to have a
softening influence upon her, ‘I am almost a stranger to this place and
to you, but I would gladly be your friend if I could. Tell me if there
is anything I can do to comfort you. Are you happy in your home, with
your poor old grandmother? or would you rather be somewhere else?’

He wanted to find out if she was suffering from any sense of ill-usage,
if she felt herself a prisoner and an alien in her father’s house.

‘No,’ she said, resolutely, ‘I must stay here. He will come and fetch
me.’

‘But you speak sometimes as if you knew him to be dead. Is it not
foolish, vain, to hope for that which cannot happen?’

‘He is not dead. People have told me so on purpose to break my heart, I
think. Haven’t I told you that I see him very often?’

‘Then why are you so unhappy?’

‘Because he will not stay with me—because he does not come to fetch me
away, as he promised, in a little more than a year—because he comes and
goes like a spirit. Perhaps they are right, and he is really dead.’

‘Would it not be better to make up your mind to that, and to leave off
watching for him, and roaming about the house at night?’

‘Who told you that?’ she asked, quickly.

‘Never mind who told me. You see I know how foolish you are. Wouldn’t it
be wiser to try and go back to the common business of life, to bind up
all that loose hair neatly, like a lady, and to try to be a comfort to
your father and mother.’

At that last word an angry cry broke from the pale lips.

‘Mother!’ echoed Muriel, ‘I have no mother. That woman yonder,’ pointing
towards the house, ‘is my worst enemy. Mother! My mother!’ with a bitter
laugh. ‘Ask her what she has done with my child?’

That question came upon Maurice Clissold like a revelation. Here was a
sadder story than he had dreamt of, a story which no word of Martin’s
had hinted at, a story of shame as well as of sorrow, perchance. He
remained silent, troubled and perplexed by this new turn of affairs. His
office of consoler, his attempt to smooth the tangled threads of a
disordered brain, came to an end all at once.

The woman turned from him impatiently, muttering to herself as she went
away. He followed her along the sinuous footpath, and across the garden,
and watched her as she entered by a low half-glass door at the back of
the house. He passed this door afterwards, and stole a glance through
the glass into a large low room, where there was a fire burning—a room
which he divined to be the grandmother’s chamber.

An old-fashioned tent bedstead, with red and white chintz curtains,
occupied one side of the room; a ponderous old arm-chair stood near the
fireplace; a huge wooden chest made at once a seat and a receptacle for
all kinds of household stores; a corner cupboard filled with crockery
ware, and a small round table near the hearth, completed the catalogue
of furniture.

Here, on the hearth-rug, sat Muriel, her wild hair falling about her
face, her hands clasped upon her knees, her eyes bent gloomily upon the
burning log.

The supper-bell rang from the porch on the other side of the homestead
while Maurice was watching that melancholy figure by the hearth.

‘She has taken away my appetite for supper,’ he said to himself, ‘and
has almost set me against Borcel End.’

That last speech of Muriel Trevanard’s troubled him—‘Ask her what she
has done with my child?’

It set him thinking of dark stories of family pride and hidden crime. It
took the flavour of enjoyment out of this rustic home, and imparted a
taint of mystery and suspicion which poisoned the atmosphere.


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



                               CHAPTER V

          ‘SURELY, MOST BITTER OF ALL SWEET THINGS THOU ART.’


MAURICE CLISSOLD keenly scrutinized Bridget Trevanard’s face as they sat
at supper that evening. Muriel’s look of horror at the mention of her
mother’s name had inspired unpleasant doubts upon the subject of his
hostess’s character. He remembered how Elspeth had told him that Mrs.
Trevanard was known as a hard woman; and he told himself that cruelty,
or even crime, might be consistent with that hard nature which had won
for the farmer’s wife the reputation of a stern and exacting mistress.
His closer examination of that face showed him no indication of lurking
evil. That square, unwrinkled brow, those dark brown eyes, with their
keen, straight outlook, denoted at least an honest nature. The firm
lips, the square jaw, gave severity to the countenance—a resolute
woman—a woman not to be turned from her purpose, thought Maurice, but a
woman whom he could hardly imagine capable of crime.

And then why give credence to the rambling assertions of lunacy? It is
the nature of madness to accuse the sane. Maurice tried to put the
thought of Muriel’s wild talk out of his mind; yet that awful question,
‘What has she done with my child?’ haunted him.

He felt less desire to prolong his stay at Borcel. The restful
tranquillity of the place seemed to have departed. Muriel’s fevered mind
had its influence upon the atmosphere. He could not forget that she was
near—wakeful, unhappy—waiting for the lover who was never to return to
her.

He took good care to lock his door that night, and his slumbers were
undisturbed. The next morning was devoted to a long ramble with Martin.
They walked to a distant hill-side, where there were some Druidic
remains well worth inspection; came back to the farm in time for the
substantial early dinner, had a look at the haymakers dining plenteously
in a great stone kitchen, and then retired to a field where the hay was
cocked, to lie basking in the sun, with their faces seaward, dreaming
away the summer afternoon.

Here Maurice told Martin the story of James Penwyn’s death, and the
brief love story which had come to so pitiful an ending.

‘Poor child,’ he said, musingly, recalling his last interview with
Justina, ‘I verily believe she loved him truly and honestly, and would
have made him a good wife. I never saw a nobler countenance than that
player girl’s. I’m sorry I thrust myself between them with so much as
one hard word.’

‘Was no one ever suspected of the murder?’ asked Martin.

‘Yes,’ replied Maurice, without taking his cigar from his lips, ‘I was
for a little while.’

This was rather startling. Martin Trevanard stared at his new
acquaintance with a curious look for a moment or so, before he recovered
himself.

‘You were?’

‘Yes. Didn’t you know? My name was in the papers, but I believe they did
me the favour to spell it wrong. Perhaps I ought to have mentioned the
fact when I was asking Mrs. Trevanard to take me in. Yes, I, his bosom
friend, was the only person they could pitch upon when they wanted to
find the assassin. Yes, I have been in Eborsham gaol under suspicion as
a murderer. The charge broke down at the inquest, and I came off with
flying colours, I believe. Still there the fact remains. The
Spinnersbury detectives put the crime down to me.’

‘It would need pretty strong proof to make _me_ suspect you,’ said
Martin, heartily.

‘I was a good many miles away from the spot when that cursed deed was
done, but it did not suit me to advertise my exact whereabouts to the
world.’

‘Why not?’

‘Because to have told the truth would have been to compromise a woman,
the only one I ever loved, as a man loves one chosen woman out of all
the world.’

Martin threw away his unfinished cigar, turned himself about upon the
haycock which he had chosen for his couch, and settled himself to hear
something interesting, with a bright eager look in his dark eyes.

‘Tell me all about it,’ he said.

‘Bah! weak sentimentality,’ muttered Maurice, ‘I should only bore you.’

‘No, you wouldn’t. I should like to hear it.’

‘Well, naming no names, and summing up the matter briefly, there will be
no harm done. It is the story of a dead and buried folly, that’s all; a
hackneyed commonplace story enough.’

He sighed, as if the recollection hurt him a little, dead as this old
foolishness might be—sighed and looked seaward dreamily, as if he were
looking back into the past.

‘You must know that when I was a year or two younger, and life was
fresher to me, I went a good deal into what people call society—didn’t
set my face against new acquaintances, dinner parties, dances, and so
forth, as I do now. I’ve a fair income for a bachelor, belong to a good
family, and can hold my own position well in a crowd. Now amongst the
houses I visited in those days there were only two or three where I went
from sheer honest regard for the people I visited. Among these was the
house of a certain fashionable physician, not a hundred miles from
Cavendish Square. He was a widower, with three daughters, the two elder
thorough women of the world, and most delightful girls to know. We were
chums from the outset. They drove me about in their barouche, made me
useful as an escort at flower shows, a perambulatory catalogue at
picture galleries, and we all three comprehended perfectly that I was
not to dream of marrying either of them.’

‘Dangerous, I should think,’ suggested Martin.

‘Safe as the Tarpeian rock. My feelings for the dear girls were of a
purely fraternal character from the first. I would as soon have bought
the winner of the last Derby for a Park hack as had one of these two for
my wife. I went shopping with them occasionally, twiddled my thumbs at
Peter Robinson’s while they turned over silks, and I knew the amount of
millinery required for their sustenance. No, Martin, there was no peril
here. Unluckily, there was the third daughter—a tender slip of a girl,
hardly out of the schoolroom—a child who had her gowns meted out to her
by her sisters, and wore perpetual white muslin for evening dress, and
brown holland for morning. Good heavens! I can see her this moment,
standing by the piano in her holland frock, with a blue ribbon twisted
through her loose brown hair, and those divine hazel eyes looking at me
pleadingly, as who should say, “Be gentle to me, you see what a child I
am.” No worldliness here—no ambition here—no avid desire of millinery—no
set purpose of making a great marriage, I said to myself. Only
innocence, and trustfulness, and childlike meekness. So I fell over head
and ears in love with my friend’s third daughter.’

‘Very natural,’ said Martin. ‘I don’t see why it shouldn’t have ended
pleasantly.’

‘I didn’t act like a sneak—make love to the girl behind her sisters’
backs, and bide my time for winning her. I went to the doctor at once,
told him what had happened, ventured to add that I thought my darling
liked me, and asked his permission to offer her my hand. He hummed and
hawed, said there was no one he would like better for a son-in-law; but
his youngest child was really not out of the nursery, any question of an
engagement was absurd. It seemed only yesterday that he had bought her a
Shetland pony. However, he gave me to understand, in a general way, that
I was free to come and go, so our intimacy knew no abatement. I still
did the walking-stick business at flower shows, and the catalogue
business at exhibitions, and made myself generally useful, seeing a good
deal of my fair blossom-like maiden in the meanwhile. We met very often,
sat together of an evening unnoticed when the room was full, and before
long we knew that we loved each other, and we had sworn that for us two
there, should be no love but this. Papa might say what he liked about
youth and foolishness and Shetland ponies. We were not impatient, we
would wait for ever so many years, if necessary, but in good time we two
should be one. Sweet and tender promises breathed in the twilight from
lips too lovely to betray, dove-like eyes lifted shyly to mine, soft
little hand resting so fondly within my arm! I laugh when I think of
you, and how it all ended.’

He did laugh bitterly, savagely almost, as he flung the stump of his
cigar across the hay-cocks towards the sea. Martin waited in respectful
silence, awed by this little gust of passion.

‘Well, we were pledged to each other and happy. This went on for a year.
Nobody took any notice of us, any more than if we had been children
playing at lovers. We lived in a foolish Paradise of our own, at least I
did. Heaven only knows what her thoughts may have been. One day, when I
had been away from town for a week or so, I called in Cavendish Square,
saw the two elder girls, and heard that my betrothed had gone for a long
visit to some friends in Yorkshire, at a place called Tilney Longford, a
fine old country seat. Papa had thought her looking pale and thin, and
had sent her off at a day’s notice. She might be away two or three
months. Lady Longford was the kindest of women, and was always asking
them to stay at her place. “We can’t go, of course,” they said, “with
our large circle; but that child has no ties, and can stay as long as
they like to keep her.”

‘This was hard upon me. The privilege of correspondence was denied us,
for I could not write my darling a clandestine letter. I went to the
doctor a second time, and told him that I had waited a year, that I was
so much deeper in love by every day of that blessed year, and urged him
to receive me as his daughter’s suitor. He treated the question rather
more seriously than before, repeated his assurance that I was the very
man he would have liked for a son-in-law, but added that he did not
consider my income sufficiently large, or my profession sufficiently
lucrative to allow of his entrusting his daughter’s happiness to my
care. “My girls have been expensively brought up,” he said. “You have no
notion what they cost me. I have been too busy to teach them prudence.
It has been easier for me to earn money for them to waste than to find
leisure to check their extravagance. We live in too fast an age for the
vulgar virtues.” I argued the point, but vainly, and told him that
whatever decision he might arrive at, his youngest daughter and I had
made up our minds to be true to each other against all opposition. “I am
sorry to hear that,” he replied, “for it will oblige me to ask you to
discontinue your visits here when my little girl comes back, a
discourtesy which goes very much against the grain.” I left him in a
white heat, went straight off to James Penwyn, and arranged a tour which
we had been talking about ever so long. We were to walk through the
north of England, and I was to coach poor Jim for his last struggle at
Oxford. London was hateful to me now that my darling had left it, and
James Penwyn’s company the only society I cared for.’

He paused, abandoned himself to the memory of that vanished past for a
little, and then went on more hurriedly.

‘It was at Eborsham, the morning before James Penwyn’s murder, that I
received the first and last letter I was ever to get from my love. She
had addressed it to me at my London lodgings, and it had been travelling
about after me for the last three weeks. Her first letter! I opened it
with such a thrill of joy, thinking how divine it was of her to be so
daring as to write to me. Such a broken-hearted letter!—telling me how a
certain rich landowner, near Lady Longford’s, had proposed to her—she
broke into a parenthesis, a page long, to assure me she had never given
him the faintest encouragement—and how everybody persuaded her to accept
him, and how her father himself had come down to Tilney to lecture her
into subjection. “But it is all useless,” she said, “I will marry no one
but my own dear love; and, oh, please, write and tell me what I am to
do.” Think what I must have felt, Trevanard, when I considered that the
letter was three weeks old, and what persecution the poor little soul
might have had to suffer in the interval.’

‘What did you do?’

‘Can you ask me? I started off without a quarter of an hour’s delay, and
got to Tilney as soon as the trains would carry me. It was an abominable
cross-country journey, and there I was eating my heart out at dismal
junctions for half the day. It was past three o’clock when I ended my
journey of something less than a hundred miles, and found myself at a
detestable little station called Tilney Road, eight miles from Tilney
Longford, and no conveyance of any kind to be had. I did the distance in
something under two hours, and entered the park gates just as the church
clock hard by was striking five.’

‘You went straight to the house?’

‘No, I didn’t want to bring trouble upon that poor child, so I prowled
about the place like a poacher, skirting the carriage roads. Luckily for
me, there was a right of way through the park, so I was able to get
pretty close to the house without attracting any one’s particular
attention. I reflected that, unless the doctor was still there—not a
likely thing for a man whose moments were gold—there was no one to
recognise me except my poor pet. As I approached the gardens I heard
laughter and fresh young voices, and a general hubbub, on the other side
of the haw-haw which divided the park from a croquet lawn. There was a
gaily striped marquee on one side of the lawn, a group of people taking
tea under a gigantic cedar, and a double set of croquet players
disporting on the level sward. My eyes were keen as a hawk’s to
distinguish my dearest in mauve muslin and an innocent little chip hat
trimmed with daisies—I observed even details, you see—busily engaged
with her attendant cavalier, and with no appearance of being bored by
his society. Her fresh young laugh rang out silver-clear—that girlish
laugh which had been one of her many charms, to my mind. “That hardly
sounds like a broken heart,” I said to myself.’

He sighed, and waited for a minute or so, and then resumed in a harder
voice,—

‘Well, I was determined to form no judgment from appearances; and I
could not stand on the other side of the haw-haw taking observations
from the covert of an old hawthorn for ever, so I went round to the back
of the house, waylaid a neat little Abigail, and asked her if she could
find Miss Blank’s maid for me. I accompanied my question with a fee
which insured compliance, and my pretty one’s handmaiden appeared
presently at the gate where I was waiting. She remembered me among the
intimates in Cavendish Square, and consented to give her mistress the
note I scribbled on a leaf of my pocket-book: “I hope I am not doing
wrong, sir,” she said, “but a young lady in my mistress’s position
cannot be too careful how she acts—” “In what position?” I asked.
“Didn’t you know, sir, my young lady is to be married the day after
to-morrow?”’

‘That was a facer!’ exclaimed Martin.

‘It wasn’t a pleasant thing to hear, was it—with that letter in my
pocket vowing eternal fidelity? The remembrance of that gay young
laughter was hardly pleasant either. The man I had seen on the croquet
lawn was a good-looking fellow enough; and then one man is so like
another now-a-days. A woman may be constant to the type whilst she jilts
the individual. I had written to my betrothed, asking her to meet me in
the park at nine o’clock, by a certain obelisk which I had observed on
my way. By nine she would be free, I fancied, in that half hour of
liberty which the women get after dinner, while the men are talking
politics and pretending to be very wise about claret.’

‘Did she come?’

‘Yes, poor, pretty, shallow-hearted thing, looking very sweet in the
moonlight, but tearful and trembling, as if she thought I should beat
her. She sobbed out her wretched little story. Papa had been so kind,
her elder sisters had badgered her. Poor Reginald, the lover, had been
so good, so generous, so self-sacrificing, and it had ended as such
things generally do end, I dare say. She was to be married to him the
day after to-morrow. “And oh, Maurice, pray give me back my letter,” she
said, “for I don’t know what would become of me if it ever fell into
Reginald’s hands.”’

‘How did you answer her?’

‘With never a word. I tore the lying letter into atoms, and threw them
away on the summer wind. I made my love a respectful bow and left her,
never, I trust in God, to see her fair, false face again.’


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



                               CHAPTER VI

               ‘WE ARE PAST THE SEASON OF DIVIDED ILLS.’


IF any one had asked Maurice Clissold why he had bared old wounds in the
dreamy restfulness of that June afternoon in the hayfield, and why he
had chosen Martin Trevanard for his father-confessor, he would have been
sorely puzzled to answer so natural a question. That inexpressible
longing to talk of himself and his own sorrows which seizes upon men now
and then had laid hold of him, and there had been a kind of bitter
pleasure, a half-cynical enjoyment in going over that story of the dead
past. There was something sympathetic about Martin, too, a man who might
have been crossed in love himself, Maurice thought, or who at least had
a latent capacity for sincerest passion. Friendship had proved a plant
of rapid growth in the utter solitude of Borcel End. Maurice felt that
he could talk to this young Trevanard very much as he had talked to
James Penwyn, knowing very well that he might not be always understood
when his flights of fancy went widest, but very sure of sympathy at all
times.

That afternoon was Saturday, and on the following morning perfect rest
reigned at Borcel End. Even the ducks seemed less noisy than usual, as
if their own voices startled them unpleasantly in the universal silence.
Mr. and Mrs. Trevanard came down to the eight o’clock breakfast,
luxurious Sabbath hour, in their best clothes, the farmer seeming
somewhat embarrassed by the burden of respectability involved in sleek
new broad cloth and a buff waistcoat starched to desperation, Mrs.
Trevanard stern and even dignified of aspect in her dark grey silk gown
and smart Sunday cap.

‘Would you like to go to church?’ Martin asked, with some faint
hesitation, lest his new friend, being something of a poet, should also
be something of an infidel.

‘By all means. You drive, I suppose, as it’s so far?’

Penwyn church, that lonely church among the hills, was the nearest to
Borcel, a good four miles off at least.

‘Yes, we drive to church and back. Mother says it goes against her to
have the horse out on the Sabbath, but the distance is more than she
could manage.’

The morning service began at half-past ten, so at half-past nine the
dog-cart was at the door, for there was a good deal of walking up and
down hill to be allowed for, driving in this part of the country being
not altogether a lazy business. The two young men, who occupied the back
seat, were continually getting up and down, and had walked about half
the distance by the time they came to the quiet old church whose single
bell clanged over the green hill-side.

‘I’m blest if the Squire and Mrs. Penwyn haven’t come back!’ cried
Martin, descrying a handsome landau and pair in front of them as they
drew near the church.

‘Are you sure that’s the Penwyn carriage? They were not expected three
days ago,’ said Maurice.

‘Quite sure. We’ve no other gentry hereabouts, except the Morgrave Park
people, and they hardly ever are at home. There is no doubt about it.
That is Mr. Penwyn’s carriage.’

‘Then I’ll renew my acquaintance with him after church,’ said Maurice.

The old grey church, which he had explored two days ago, had quite a gay
look in its Sunday guise. The farmers’ wives and daughters in their fine
bonnets—the villagers, with their sunburnt faces and Sabbath
cleanliness—the servants from the Manor, occupying two pews under the
low gallery, within which dusky recess the livery of Churchill Penwyn’s
serving-men gleamed gaily, while the bonnets of the maids, all more or
less in the last Parisian fashion, made the shadowy corner a perfect
flower-bed. And most important of all, in a large square pew in the
chancel appeared the Manor House family—Churchill, gentlemanlike and
inscrutable, with his pale, thoughtful face, and grave grey eyes—Madge,
looking verily the young queen of that western land—and Viola, fair and
flower-like, a beauty to be worshipped so much the more for that frail
loveliness which had a fatal air of evanescence.

‘I’m afraid she won’t live long,’ whispered Martin to his companion, in
one of the pauses of the service, while the purblind old clerk was
hunting for the antiquated psalm, Tate and Brady, which it was his duty
to give out.

‘Not Mrs. Penwyn? Why, she looks the picture of health,’ replied
Maurice, in a similar undertone.

Martin coloured like a schoolboy justly suspected of felonious views in
relation to apples.

‘I meant the fair one,’ he gasped, ‘her sister.’

‘She! Ah! looks rather consumptive,’ replied Maurice, heartlessly.

The Borcel End and Manor House families met in the churchyard after the
service—Borcel End respectful, and not intrusive—the Manor House kindly,
cordial even, with no taint of patronage. In sooth, Michael Trevanard
was the best tenant a landowner could have; a man who was always
improving his holding, and paid his rent to the hour; a man to take the
chair at audit dinners, and stumble through a proposal of his landlord’s
health.

‘You didn’t expect to see us so soon, did you, Mrs. Trevanard?’ said
Madge, with her bright smile; ‘but we all grew tired of town in the
middle of the season.’

‘We’re always glad to see you back,’ said Michael, screwing up his
courage, and jerking out the words as if they were likely to choke him.
‘The place doesn’t seem homelike when there’s no family at the Manor
House. You see we were accustomed to see the old Squire pottering about
the place from year’s end to year’s end, and entering into every little
bit of improvement we made; and as familiar, you know, as if he was one
of ourselves. That spoiled us a bit, I make no doubt.’

‘It shall not be my fault if you do not come to consider me one of
yourselves in good time, Mr. Trevanard,’ said Churchill kindly—kindly,
but without that real heartiness which makes a country gentleman popular
among his vassals.

Maurice was standing in the background, and it was only at this moment
that Mr. Penwyn recognised him. Something like a spasm of pain changed
his face for a moment, as if some unwelcome memory were suddenly brought
back to him.

‘Natural enough,’ thought Maurice. ‘The last time we met was at his
cousin’s funeral, and it is hardly a pleasant idea for any man that he
stands in the shoes of the untimely dead.’

That momentary flush of pain past, Mr. Penwyn welcomed the stranger in
the land with exceeding cordiality.

‘How long have you been in Cornwall, Mr. Clissold?’ he asked. ‘You ought
not to come to Penwyn without putting up at the Manor House.’

‘You are very good. I have been to the Manor House, and ventured to put
forward my acquaintance with you as a reason why your faithful old
housekeeper should let me see your house. I dare say she has forgotten
to mention the fact.’

‘There has been scarcely time. We only arrived last night. Let me
present you to my wife.—Madge, this is the Mr. Clissold of whom you have
heard me speak; Mr. Clissold, Mrs. Penwyn, her sister Miss Bellingham.’

Madge acknowledged the introduction with something less than her
accustomed sweetness. Although Churchill was so thoroughly convinced of
the man’s innocence, Madge had not quite made up her mind that he was
guiltless of his friend’s blood. He had been suspected, and the taint
clung to him yet.

Still when she looked at the dark earnest eyes, the open brow, the firm
mouth with its expression of subdued power, the countenance on which
thought had exercised its refining influence, she began to think that
Churchill must be right in this opinion as in all other things, and that
this man was incapable of crime.

So when, after questioning Mr. Clissold as to his whereabouts, Churchill
asked him to go back to the Manor House with them for luncheon, and to
bring his friend Martin Trevanard, Madge seconded the invitation. ‘If
Mrs. Trevanard can spare her son for a few hours,’ she added graciously.

Mrs. Trevanard curtseyed, and thanked Mrs. Penwyn for her condescension,
but added that she did not hold with young people keeping company with
their superiors, and thought that Martin would be better at home in his
own sphere.

‘If I had ever seen good come of it I might think differently,’ said the
farmer’s wife with a gloomy look, ‘but I never have.’

Martin looked angry, and his father embarrassed.

‘I hope you’ll excuse my wife for being so free-spoken,’ Mr. Trevanard
said, in a rather clumsy apology. ‘She doesn’t mean to be uncivil, but
there are points——’ here he came aground hopelessly, and could only
repeat in a feeble tone—‘There are points.’

‘Thanks for your kind invitation, Mr. Penwyn,’ said Martin, still
flushed with shame and anger, ‘but you see I’m not supposed to have a
will of my own yet awhile, and must do as my mother tells me.’

‘Come along, old lady,’ said Michael, and after making their salaams to
the quality, the Borcel End party retired to the dog-cart. The horse had
been tethered on the sward near at hand, browsing calmly throughout the
hour and a half service.

Maurice drove off with the Penwyns in the landau.

‘What a very disagreeable person that Mrs. Trevanard seems!’ said Madge.
‘I should think it could be hardly pleasant staying in her house, Mr.
Clissold.’

‘She is eccentric rather than disagreeable, I think,’ replied Maurice,
‘a woman with a fixed idea which governs all her conduct. I had hard
work to persuade her to let me stop at the farm, but she has been an
excellent hostess. And her son Martin is a capital fellow—one of
Nature’s gentlemen.’

‘Yes, I liked his manner, except when he got so angry with his mother.
But she was really too provoking, with her preachment about equality,
more especially as these Trevanards belong to a good old Cornish family.
Do they not, Churchill?’

‘Yes, love. By Tre, Pol, and Pen, you may know the Cornish men. I
believe these are some of the original Tres. Admirable tenants too. One
can hardly make too much of them.’

‘Do you know anything about their daughter?’ asked Maurice of Mr.
Penwyn.

‘Yes, I have heard of her, but never seen her. A poor half-witted
creature, I believe.’

‘Not half-witted, but deranged. Her brain has evidently been turned by
some great sorrow. From what I can gather she must have loved some one
superior to her in rank, and been ill-treated by him. I fancy this is
why Mrs. Trevanard says bitter things about inequality of station.’

‘An all-sufficient reason. I shall never feel angry with Mrs. Trevanard
again,’ said Madge.

The Manor House looked much gayer and brighter to-day, with servants
passing to and fro, great bowls of roses on all the tables, banks of
flowers in the windows, new books scattered on the tables, holland
covers banished to the limbo of household stores, and two pretty women
lending the charm of their presence to the scene.

Never had Maurice Clissold seen husband and wife so completely happy, or
more entirely suited to each other than these two seemed. Domestic life
at Penwyn Manor House was like an idyll. Simple, unaffected happiness
showed itself in every look, in every word and tone. There was just that
amount of plenteousness and luxury in all things which makes life smooth
and pleasant, without the faintest ostentation. A certain subdued
comfort reigned everywhere, and Churchill in no wise fell into the
common errors of men who have suffered a sudden elevation to wealth. He
neither ‘talked rich,’ nor told his friends with a deprecating shrug of
his shoulders that he had just enough for bread and cheese. In a word,
he took things easily.

As a husband he was, in Viola’s words, ‘simply perfect.’ It was
impossible to imagine devotedness more thorough yet less obtrusive. His
face never turned towards his wife without brightening like a landscape
in a sudden gleam of sunlight. There was nothing that could be condemned
as ‘spooning’ between these married lovers, yet no one would fail to
understand that they were all the world to each other.

Viola had long since altered her mind about Mr. Penwyn. From thinking
him ‘not quite nice,’ she had grown to consider him adorable. To her he
had been all generosity and kindness, treating her in every way as if
she had been his own sister, and a sister well beloved. She had the
prettiest possible suite of rooms at Penwyn, a horse of Churchill’s own
choosing, her own piano, her own maid, and more pocket-money than she
had ever had in her life before.

‘It comes rather hard upon Churchill to have two young women to provide
for instead of one.’ Viola remarked to her sister; ‘but he is so
divinely good about it—she was a young lady who delighted in strong
adverbs—that I hardly realize what a sponge I am.’

And then came sisterly embracings and protestations. Thus the Penwyn
Manor people were altogether the happiest of families.

Maurice thoroughly enjoyed his day at Penwyn. After luncheon they all
rambled about the grounds, Churchill and his wife always side by side,
so that the guest had the pretty Miss Bellingham for his companion.

‘It might be dangerous for another man,’ he said to himself, ‘but I’ve
had my lesson. No more fair soft beauties for me. If ever I suffer
myself to fall in love again it shall be with a girl who looks as if she
could knock me down if I offended her. A girl with as much character in
her face as that actress poor James was so fond of. Of the two I think I
would rather have Clytemnestra than Helen. I dare say Menelaus believed
his wife a pattern of innocence and purity till he woke one morning and
found she had levanted with Paris.’

Thus secure from the influence of her attractions Mr. Clissold made
himself very much at home with Miss Bellingham. She showed him all the
beauties of Penwyn, spots where a glimpse of the sea looked brightest
through a break in the pine grove, hollows where the ferns grew deepest
and greenest, and proved a very different guide from Elspeth.

‘I have been through the grounds before,’ said Maurice, ‘but on that
occasion my companion did not enhance the beauties of nature by the
charm of her society.’

‘Who was your companion?’

‘The granddaughter of the woman at the Lodge. Rather curious people, are
they not?’

‘Yes, I have often wondered how my brother came to pick them up, for
they are not natives of the soil, as almost every one else is at Penwyn.
But Churchill says the old woman is a very estimable person, well worthy
of her post, so one can say no more about it.’

When Maurice wanted to take leave, his new friends insisted that he
should stay to dinner, Mr. Penwyn offering to send him home in a
dog-cart. This favour, however, the sturdy pedestrian steadfastly
declined.

‘I am not afraid of a night walk across the hills,’ he said, ‘and am
getting as familiar with the country about here as if I were to the
manner born.’

So he stayed, and assisted at Mrs. Penwyn’s kettledrum, which was held
in the old Squire’s yewtree bower on the bowling-green, an arbour made
of dense walls of evergreen, cool in summer, and comfortably sheltered
in winter.

Here they drank tea, lazily enjoying the freshening breeze from the
great wide sea, the sea which counts so many argosies for her spoil, the
mighty Atlantic! Here they talked of literature and the world, and
rapidly progressed in friendliness. But not one word was said of James
Penwyn, who, save for that shot fired from behind a hedge, would have
been master of grounds and bower, manor and all thereto belonging. That
was a thought which flashed more than once across Maurice’s mind.

‘How happy these people seem in the possession of a dead man’s goods!’
he thought, ‘how placidly they enjoy his belongings, how coolly they
accept fate’s awful decree! Only human nature I suppose.’

‘“Les morts durent bien peu, laissons les sous la pierre.”’

He stayed till ten o’clock, and left charmed with host and hostess.

Churchill Penwyn had been at his best all day, a man whose talk was
worth hearing, and whose opinions were not feeble echoes of Saturday’s
literary journals. After dinner they had music, as well as conversation,
and Madge played some of Mozart’s finest church music—choice bits culled
from the Masses.

‘How long do you stay in Cornwall?’ was the question at parting.

‘About a week longer at Borcel End, I suppose. But I am my own master as
to time. I have no legitimate profession—for I believe literature hardly
comes under that head,—and am therefore something of a Bohemian: not in
a bad sense, Miss Bellingham, so please don’t look alarmed.’

‘Why not come to us instead of staying at Borcel End?’ asked Churchill.

‘You are too good. But I could hardly do that. When I offered myself to
Mrs. Trevanard as a lodger, I said I should stay for a week or two, and
she is just the kind of woman to feel wounded if I left her abruptly.
And then, Martin and I are great friends. He is really one of the best
fellows I ever met, except—except the friend I lost,’ he added, quickly
and huskily, feeling that any allusion of that kind was ill-judged here.

‘Well, you must do just as you please about it, but give us as much of
your company as you can. We shall have a dinner next week, I believe.’

‘Saturday,’ said Madge.

‘You will come to us then, of course. And as often in the meanwhile as
you can.’

‘Thanks. The dinner-party is out of the question. I travel with a
knapsack, and am three hundred miles from my dress suit. But if you will
allow me to drop in now and then between this and Saturday I shall be
delighted.’


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



                              CHAPTER VII

                 ‘THE DROWSY NIGHT GROWS ON THE WORLD.’


THE advent of the Manor House family made life all the more pleasant to
Mr. Clissold at Borcel End. It imparted variety to his existence, and
the homely comfort of the farmhouse was agreeably contrasted by the
refinement of Mr. Penwyn’s surroundings. He dined at Penwyn twice during
the week, and as he became more familiar with the interior of
Churchill’s home, only saw fresh proofs of its perfect happiness. Here
were a man and a woman who made the most and the best of wealth and
position, and shed an atmosphere of contentment around them.

With Martin for his companion, Maurice saw all that was worth seeing
within the reach of Borcel End. They drove to Seacomb, the nearest
market town, and explored the church there, which was old and full of
interest. Here, in looking over the register for some name of world-wide
renown, Maurice stumbled upon an entry that aroused his curiosity.

It was in the register of baptisms,—

‘Emily Jane, daughter of Matthew Elgood, comedian, and Jane Elgood his
wife.’ The date was just eighteen years ago.

‘Matthew Elgood. That girl’s father was Matthew,’ thought Maurice, ‘can
it be the same man, I wonder? Yes, Matthew Elgood, comedian. There would
hardly be two men of the same name and calling. His daughter must be the
age of the child baptized here, for I remember James telling me that she
was just seventeen.’

The infant was certainly recorded in the register as Emily Jane, and the
young actress’s name was Justina. But Mr. Clissold concluded that this
was merely a fictitious appellation, chosen for euphony. He made up his
mind that the child entered in these old yellow pages, and the girl he
had seen weeping for his friend’s untimely death, were one and the same.
Strange that the sweetheart of James Penwyn’s choice had been born so
near the cradle of his own race. It was as if there had been some subtle
sympathy between these children of the same soil, and their hearts had
gone forth to each other spontaneously.

‘Is there a theatre at Seacomb?’ asked Maurice, wondering how that quiet
old town could have afforded a field for Mr. Elgood’s talents.

‘Not now,’ replied Martin. ‘There used to be, some years ago. The
building exists still, but it has been converted into a chapel. It
answers better than the theatre did, I believe.’

The week came to an end. Maurice attended a second service at Penwyn
Church, and paid a farewell visit to the Manor House on Sunday
afternoon. This time he refused Mr. Penwyn’s hearty invitation to
dinner, and wished his new friends good-bye shortly after luncheon, with
cordial expressions of friendship on both sides.

He walked across the hills, ruminating upon all that had happened since
he first followed that track, with Elspeth for his guide. He had made
acquaintance with the interior of two families since then, in both of
which he felt considerable interest.

‘Churchill Penwyn must be a thoroughly good fellow,’ he said to himself,
‘or he would never have behaved so well as he has to me. It would have
been so natural for him to be prejudiced against me by that business at
Eborsham. But he has not only done me the justice to disbelieve the
accusation from the very first; he has taken pains to let me see I am in
no way damaged in his opinion by the suspicion that has attached to me.’

Maurice had made up his mind to leave Borcel End next day. He had
thoroughly explored the neighbourhood, and thoroughly enjoyed the
tranquil pastoral life at the farmhouse, and he saw no reason for
delaying his departure to fresher scenes. Mrs. Trevanard had heard of
his resolution with indifference, her husband with civil regret, Martin
with actual sorrow.

‘I don’t know how I shall get on when you are gone,’ he said. ‘It has
been so nice to have some one to talk to, whose ideas rise above
threshing-machines and surface drainage. Father’s a good old soul, but
he and I have precious little to say to each other. Now, with you, the
longest day seems short. I think you’ve taught me more since we’ve been
together than all I learnt at Helstone.’

‘No, Martin, I haven’t taught you anything. I’ve only stirred up the old
knowledge that was in you, hidden like stagnant water under duckweed,’
answered Maurice. ‘But we are not going to bid each other good-bye for
ever. I shall come down to Borcel End again, you may be very sure, if
your people will let me; and whenever you come to London you must take
up your quarters with me, and I’ll show you some of the pleasantest part
of London life.’

Maurice really regretted parting from the young man who had been the
brightest and most light-hearted of companions, and he regretted leaving
Borcel End without knowing a little more of Muriel Trevanard’s history.

He had thought a good deal upon this family secret during the past week,
though in all his wanderings about the old neglected garden, or down in
the wilderness of hazel by the pond—and he had smoked many a cigar there
in the interval—he had never again encountered Muriel. He had no reason
to suppose there was any undue restraint placed upon her movements, or
that she was unkindly treated by any one. Yet the thought that she was
there, a part of the family, yet divided from it, banished from the home
circle, yet so near, cut off from all the simple pleasures of her
father’s hearth, haunted him at all times. He was thinking of her this
afternoon during his lonely walk across the hills. She was more in his
thoughts than the people he had left.

It was past six o’clock when he entered the old hall at Borcel End, and
he was struck at once by the quietude of the place. The corner where old
Mrs. Trevanard was wont to sit was empty this evening. The hearth was
newly swept, as it always seemed to be, and the fire, not unacceptable
on this dull grey afternoon, burned bright and red. The table was laid
with a composite kind of meal, on one side a small tea-tray, on the
other the ponderous Sunday sirloin and a tempting salad, a meal prepared
for himself, Maurice felt sure. The maid-servant entered from the
adjoining kitchen at the sound of his footsteps.

‘Oh, if you please, sir, they’re all gone to tea at Limestone Farm. Mr.
Spurcombe, at Limestone, is an old friend of master’s. And missus said
if you should happen to come home before they did, would you please to
make yourself comfortable, and I was to lay tea for you.’

‘Your mistress hardly expected me, I suppose?’

‘I don’t think she did, sir. She said she thought you’d dine up at
Penwyn, most likely.’

Maurice was not long about his evening meal. Perhaps he made shorter
work of it than he might have done otherwise, perceiving that the maid
was longing for the moment when she might clear the table, and slip away
by the back door to her Sunday evening tryst. Maid-servants at Borcel
were kept very close, and were almost always under the eye of their
mistress, yet as a rule the Borcel End domestic always had her ‘young
man.’ Maurice heard the back door shut, stealthily, and felt very sure
that the kitchen was deserted. He drew his chair nearer to the hearth,
lighted a cigar, and abandoned himself to idle thought.


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



                              CHAPTER VIII

           ‘GOOD NIGHT, GOOD REST. AH! NEITHER BE MY SHARE.’


MAURICE CLISSOLD sat for some time, smoking and musing by the hearth—sat
till the light faded outside the diamond-paned windows, and the shadows
deepened within the room. He might have sat on longer had he not been
surprised by the opening of a door in that angle of the hall which was
sacred to age and infirmity in the person of old Mrs. Trevanard.

It was the door of her room which had opened. ‘Have they come back yet?’
asked her feeble old voice.

‘No, ma’am,’ answered Maurice, ‘not yet. Can I do anything for you?’

‘No, sir. It’s the strange gentleman, Mr.—Mr.——’

‘Clissold. Yes, ma’am. Won’t you come to your old place by the fire?’

‘No; I’ve my fire in here, thank you kindly. But the place seems
lonesome when they’re away. I’m not much of a one to talk myself, but I
like to hear voices. The hours seem so long without them. You can come
in, if you please, sir. My room is kept pretty tidy, I believe; I should
fret if I thought it wasn’t.’

The old woman was standing on the threshold of the door opening between
the two rooms. Maurice had risen to offer her assistance.

‘Come in and sit down a bit,’ she said, pleased at having found some one
to talk to, for it was a notorious fact at Borcel End that old Mrs.
Trevanard always had a great deal more to say for herself when her
daughter-in-law was out of the way than she had in the somewhat freezing
presence of that admirable housewife.

Maurice complied, and entered the room which he had observed through the
half-glass door, a comfortable homely room enough, in the light of an
excellent fire. Old Mrs. Trevanard required a great deal of warmth.

She went back to her arm-chair, and motioned her visitor to a seat on
the other side of the hearth.

‘It’s very kind of you to be troubled with an old woman like me,’ she
mumbled.

‘I dare say you could tell me plenty of interesting stories about Borcel
End if you were inclined, Mrs. Trevanard,’ said Maurice.

‘Ah, there’s few houses without a history; few women of my age that
haven’t seen a good deal of family troubles and family secrets. The best
thing an old woman can do is to hold her tongue. That’s what my
daughter-in-law’s always telling me. “Least said, soonest mended.”’

‘Ah,’ thought Maurice, ‘the dowager has been warned against being
over-communicative.’

Contemplating the room more at his leisure now than he had done from
outside, he perceived a picture hanging over the chimney-piece which he
had not noticed before. It was a commonplace portrait enough, by some
provincial limner’s hand, the portrait of a young woman in a gipsy hat
and flowered damask gown—a picture that was perhaps a century old.

‘Is that picture over the chimney a portrait of one of your son’s
family, ma’am?’ asked Maurice.

‘Yes. That’s my husband’s mother, Justina Trevanard.’

Justina. The name startled him—so uncommon a name—and to find it here in
the Trevanard family.

‘That’s a curious name,’ he said, ‘and one which recalls a person I met
under peculiar circumstances. Have you had many Justinas in the
Trevanard family since that day?’

‘No, there was never anybody christened after her.’

‘I met your granddaughter in the garden the other night, Mrs.
Trevanard,’ said Maurice, determined to find out whether this blind
woman was a friend to Muriel, ‘and I was grieved to see her in so sad a
condition.’

‘Muriel. Yes, poor girl, it’s very sad—sad for all of us,’ answered the
old woman, with a sigh, ‘saddest of all for her father. He was so proud
of that girl—spared no money to make her a lady, and now he can’t bear
to see her. It wounds him too deep to see such a wreck. Yet he won’t
have her away from the house. He likes to know that she’s near him, and
as well cared for as she can be—in her state.’

‘It must have been a great sorrow that so changed her?’

‘It was more sorrow than she could bear, poor child; though others have
borne harder things.’

‘She was crossed in love, her brother told me.’

‘Yes, yes—crossed in love, that was it. The young man that she loved
died young, and she was told of it suddenly. The shock turned her brain.
She had a fever, and every one thought she was going to die. She got the
better of the illness, but her senses never came back to her. She’s
quite harmless, as you’ve seen, I dare say; but she has her fancies, and
one is to think that the young man she was fond of is still alive, and
that he’ll keep his promise and come back to her.’

Maurice told Mrs. Trevanard of his first night at Borcel End, and the
intrusion which had shortened his slumbers.

‘Ah, to think that she should have happened to find her way there that
night, close as we keep her! My door is always locked, and she can’t get
out into the house without coming through this room; but I suppose that
night I must have forgotten to take the key out of the door and put it
under my pillow as I do mostly. And the poor child went roaming about
the house by moonlight. That’s an old trick of hers. The room where you
sleep was her room once upon a time, and she always goes there if she
gets the chance. It was unlucky that it should have happened the first
night of your being here!’

‘She is very fond of you, I suppose,’ said Maurice, anxious to hear more
of one in whom he felt a strong interest.

‘Yes, I think she likes me better than any one else now.’

‘Better even than her own mother?’

‘Why, yes, she does not get on very well with her mother; she has odd
fancies about her.’

‘I thought as much. I have heard her speak of a child. That was a mere
delusion, I conclude.’

‘Yes, that was one of her fancies.’

‘Has Mrs. Trevanard never consulted any medical man upon the state of
her daughter’s mind?’

‘Medical man,’ repeated the old woman, dubiously. ‘You mean a doctor, I
suppose? Yes; Dr. Mitchell, from Seacomb, has seen the poor child many a
time, and given her physic for this, that, and the other, but he says
her mind will never be any different. There’s no use worrying about
that. He gives her stuff for her appetite sometimes, for she has but a
poor appetite at the best. She’s sorely wasted away from the figure she
was once upon a time.’

‘She was a very beautiful girl, I have heard from Martin.’

‘Yes, I never saw a handsomer girl than Muriel when she came from
school. It was all along of sending her to boarding school things went
wrong.’

‘How do you mean?’

‘Oh dear me, sir, you mustn’t listen to my rambling talk, I’m a weak old
woman, and I dare say my mind goes astray sometimes, just like
Muriel’s.’

A light step sounded on the narrow stairs, a door in the paneling
opened, and the figure Maurice had first seen in the spectral light of
the moon came towards the hearth, and crouched down at the grandmother’s
knees. A slender figure, dressed in a light-coloured gown which looked
white in the uncertain flare of the fire, a pale worn face, a mass of
tangled hair.

Muriel took the old woman’s withered hand, laid her hollow cheek against
it, and kissed it fondly.

‘Granny,’ she murmured, ‘patient, loving granny. Muriel’s only friend.’

Mrs. Trevanard smoothed the dark hair with her tremulous hand.

‘How tangled it is, Muriel! Why won’t you let me brush it, and keep it
nice for you? My poor old hands can do that without the help of eyes.’

‘Why should it be made smooth or nice? He isn’t coming back yet. See
here, granny, you shall dress me the day he comes home—all in white—with
myrtle in my hair, like a bride. I would have orange blossoms if I knew
where to get any. There are some orange trees up at the Manor House.
I’ll ask him to bring me some. I was never dressed like a bride.’

‘Oh, Muriel, Muriel, so full of fancies!’

‘Ah! but there are some of them real—too real. Where is the old cradle
that my little brother used to sleep in?’

‘I don’t know, darling. In the loft, perhaps.’

‘They should have burnt it. I peeped into the loft one day, and saw it
in a corner—the old cradle. It set me thinking—such strange thoughts!’

She remained silent for a few minutes, still crouching at her
grandmother’s knees, and with her hollow eyes fixed on the low fire.

‘Didn’t you hear a child cry?’ she asked, suddenly, looking up with a
listening face first at the old woman, then at Maurice. ‘Didn’t you,
granny?’

‘No, love. I heard nothing.’

‘Didn’t you, then?’ to Maurice.

‘No, indeed.’

‘Ah, you are all of you deaf. I hear that crying so often—a poor little
feeble voice. It comes and goes like the wind in the long winter nights,
but it sounds so distant. Why doesn’t it come nearer? Why doesn’t it
come close to us, that we may take the child in and comfort it?’

‘Ah, Muriel, Muriel, so full of fancies,’ repeated the old woman, like
the burden of an ancient ballad.

The sound of doors opening, and loud voices, announced the return of the
family.

‘You’d better go back to the hall, sir. Bridget won’t like to find you
here with _her_,’ said Mrs. Trevanard in a hurried whisper, pointing to
the figure leaning against her knees.

Maurice obeyed without a word. His last look at Muriel showed him the
great haggard eyes gazing at the fire, the wasted hands clasped upon the
grandmother’s knee.

He left Borcel early next morning, Martin insisting upon bearing him
company for the first few miles of his journey. He had paid liberally
for his entertainment, rewarded the servant, and parted upon excellent
terms with Mr. and Mrs. Trevanard and the blind grandmother. But he saw
no more of Muriel, and it was with her image that Borcel End was most
associated in his mind. When he was parting with Martin he ventured to
speak of her, for the first time since that conversation in the
dog-cart.

‘Martin, I am going to say something which will perhaps offend you, but
it is something I can’t help saying.’

‘I don’t think there’s much fear of offence between you and me—at least
not on my side.’

‘I am not so sure of that; some subjects are hazardous even between
friends. You remember our talk about your sister? Well, I have seen her
twice since then, never mind how or where; and I am more interested at
her sad story than I can well express to you. It seems to me that there
is something in that story which you, her only brother, ought to know,
or, in a word, that she has need of your love and protection. Do not
suppose for a moment that I would insinuate anything against your father
and mother. They have doubtless done their duty to her according to
their lights, but it is just possible that she has need of more active
friendship, more sympathetic affection, than they can give. She clings
to her old grandmother—a fading succour. When old Mrs. Trevanard dies,
your sister will lose a natural nurse and protector. It will be your
duty to lighten that loss for her, to interpose your love between her
and the sense of desolation that may then arise. You are not angry with
me for saying so much?’

‘Angry with you? no, indeed! You set me thinking, that’s all. Poor
Muriel! I used to be so fond of her when I was a little chap, and
perhaps I have thought too little about her of late years. My mother
doesn’t like any interference upon that point—doesn’t even like me to
talk of my poor sister, and so I’ve got into the way of taking things
for granted, and holding my tongue. Honestly, if I had thought there was
anything to be done for Muriel, that she could be better off than she
is, or happier than she is, I should have been the first to make the
attempt to bring about that improvement. But my mother has always told
me there was nothing to be done except submit to the will of
Providence.’

‘Your mother may be right, Martin; it is not for me, a stranger in your
home, to gainsay her. But your sister’s case seems to me most pitiful,
and it will be long before I shall get her image out of my mind. If ever
there should come a time when you may need the advice or the assistance
of a man of the world upon that subject, be very sure my best services
will be at your disposal. And whenever you come to London on business or
on pleasure, remember that you are to make my home yours.’

‘I shall take you at your word. But you are more likely to come back to
Borcel than I to come to London, for, mind, I count upon your coming
next summer. And now you are so thick with the Manor House people you’ve
some inducement for coming,’ added Martin, with the faintest touch of
bitterness.

‘There is temptation enough for me at Borcel End, Martin, without any
question of the Manor House.’

Martin shook his head incredulously.

‘Miss Bellingham is too pretty to be left out of the question,’ he said.

‘Miss Bellingham! A mere Dresden china beauty, a very fine specimen of
human waxwork. I have told you my adventure in that line, Martin. I’m
not likely to make a second venture.’

They parted with the friendliest farewell, and Maurice felt that he was
leaving something more than a chance acquaintance behind him at Borcel
End.


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



                               CHAPTER IX

                         ‘SUCH A LORD IS LOVE.’


NOTHING could be more perfect than that serenity which ruled the
domestic life of Penwyn Manor. The judgment which Maurice Clissold had
formed of that life, as seen from the outside, was fully confirmed by
its inner every-day aspect. Mr. and Mrs. Penwyn had no company manners.
They did not pose themselves before a stranger as model husband and
wife, and settle their small differences at their leisure in the
sanctuary of the lady’s dressing-room or the gentleman’s study. They had
no differences, but lived in each other and for each other.

Yet, so impossible is perfect happiness to erring mortality, even here
there was a hitch. Affection the most devoted, peace that knew not so
much as a summer cloud across its fair horizon—these there were
truly—but not quite happiness. Madge Penwyn had discovered somehow, by
some subtle power of intuition given to anxious wives, that the husband
she loved so fondly was not altogether happy, that he had his hours of
lassitude and depression, when the world seemed to him, like Hamlet’s
world, ‘out of joint,’—his dark moments, when even she had no spell that
could exorcise his demon.

Vainly she sought a cause for these changeful moods. Was he tired of
her? Had he mistaken his own feelings when he chose her for his wife?
No, even when most perplexed by his fitful spirits, she could not doubt
his love. That revealed itself with truth’s simple force. She knew him
well enough to know that his love for her was the diviner half of his
nature.

Once, on the eve of an event which was to complete the sacred circle of
their home life, when her nature was most sensitive, and she clung to
him with a pathetic dependence, Madge ventured to speak of her husband’s
intervals of gloom.

‘I’m afraid there is something wanting even in your life, Churchill,’
she said, gently, fearful lest she should touch some old wound—‘that you
are not quite happy at Penwyn.’

‘Not happy! My dear love, if I am not happy here, and with you, there is
no such thing as happiness for me. Why should I not be happy? I have no
wish unfulfilled, except perhaps some dim half-formed aspiration to make
my name famous—an idea with which most young men begin life, and which I
can well afford to let stand over for future consideration, while I make
the most of the present here with you.’

‘But, Churchill, you know that I would not stand between you and
ambition. You must know how more than proud any success of yours would
make me.’

‘Yes, dearest, and by and by I will put up for Seacomb, and try to make
a little character in the House, for your sake,’ replied Mr. Penwyn,
with a yawn. ‘It’s a wonderful thing how ambitious a man feels while he
has his living to win, and only his own wits to help him. Then, indeed,
the distant blast of Fame’s trumpet is a sound that wakes him early in
the morning, and keeps him at his post in the night watches. But then
fame means income, position, the world’s esteem, all the good things of
life. The penniless struggler knows he must be Cæsar or nothing. Give
the same man a comfortable estate like Penwyn, and fame becomes a mere
addendum to his life, an ornament which vanity may desire, but which
hardly weighs against the delight of idle days and nights that know not
care. In short, darling, since I won fortune and you I have grown
somewhat forgetful of the dreams I cherished when I was a struggling
bachelor.’

‘Is it regret for those old dreams that makes you so gloomy sometimes,
Churchill?’

‘I do not regret them. I regret nothing. I am not gloomy,’ said
Churchill, eagerly. ‘Never question my happiness, Madge. Joy is a spirit
too subtle to endure a doubter’s analysis. God forbid that you and I
should be otherwise than utterly happy. Oh, my dear love, never doubt
me; let us live for each other, and let me at least be sure that I have
made your life all sunshine.’

‘It has never known a cloud since our betrothal, Churchill; except when
I have thought you depressed and despondent.’

‘Neither depressed nor despondent, Madge, only thoughtful. A man whose
early days have been for the most part given up to thinking must have
his hours of thoughtfulness now and then. And perhaps my life here has
smacked a little too much of the Lotus Land. I must begin to look about
me, and take more interest in the estate,—in short, follow in the
footsteps of my worthy grandfather, the old Squire; as soon as I can add
the respectable name of father to my qualifications for the post.’

That time came before the sickle had been put to the last patch of corn
upon the uplands above Penwyn Manor. The halting bell of Penwyn Church
rang out its shrill peal one August morning, and the little world within
earshot of the Manor knew that the Squire rejoiced in the coming of his
firstborn. There were almost as many bonfires in the district that
summer night, outflaring the mellow harvest moon, as at Penzance on the
eve of St. John the Evangelist. The firstborn was a son, whose advent
the newspapers, local and metropolitan, duly recorded,—‘At Penwyn Manor,
August 25th, the wife of Churchill Penwyn, Esq., of a son (Nugent
Churchill).’ The new-comer’s names had been settled beforehand.

‘The sweet thing,’ exclaimed Lady Cheshunt, when she read the
announcement in the reading-room of a German Kursaal. ‘I feel as if she
had made me a grandmother.’

And Lady Cheshunt wrote straight off to her silversmith, and ordered him
to make the handsomest thing in christening cups, and sent a six-page
letter to Mrs. Penwyn by the same post, requesting, in a manner that
amounted to a command, that she might be represented by proxy as sponsor
to the infant.

The child’s coming gave new brightness to the domestic horizon. Viola
was in raptures. This young nephew was the first baby that had ever
entered into the sum of her daily life. She seemed to regard him as a
phenomenon; very much as grave fellows of the Zoological Society
regarded the first hippopotamus born in Regent’s Park.

Madge saw no more clouds on her husband’s brow after that gentle
remonstrance of hers. Indeed, he took pains to demonstrate his perfect
contentment. His naturally energetic character re-asserted itself. He
threw himself heart and soul into that one ambition of the old Squire,
the improvement and aggrandizement of the Penwyn estate. He made a fine
road across those lonely hills, and planted the land on both sides of it
with Scotch and Norwegian firs, wherever there was ground available for
plantation. The young groves arose, as if by magic, giving a new charm
to the face of the landscape, and a new source of revenue to the lord of
the soil. Mr. Penwyn also interested himself in the mining property, and
finding his agent an easy-going, incapable sort of person, took the
collection of the royalty into his own hands, much to the improvement of
his income. People shrugged their shoulders, and said that the new
Squire was just such another as ‘Old Nick,’ meaning the late Nicholas
Penwyn. But careful as he was of his own interests, Churchill did not
prove himself an illiberal landlord or a bad paymaster. Those
plantations and new roads of his gave employment enough to use up all
the available labour of the district, and impart new prosperity to the
neighbourhood. When he suggested an improvement to a tenant he was
always ready to assist in carrying it out. He renewed leases to good
tenants upon the easiest terms, but was merciless in the expulsion of
bad tenants. He was just one of those landlords who do most to improve
the condition of an estate and the people on it, and in Ireland would
inevitably have met with a violent death. The Celts of Western England
took matters more quietly, abused him a good deal, owned that he was the
right sort of man for the improvement of the soil, and submitted to fate
which had given them King Stork, rather than King Log, for their ruler.

When the election came on, Mr. Penwyn put himself into nomination for
Seacomb, and came in with flying colours. All the trading classes voted
for him, out of self-interest. He had spent more money in the town than
any one of his name had ever expended there. Madge’s popularity secured
the lower classes. Her schools were the admiration of the district, and
she was raising up a model village between Old Penwyn and the Manor
House. ‘Madge’s Folly,’ Mr. Penwyn called the pretty cluster of cottages
on the slope of the hill, but he allowed his wife to draw upon his
balance to any extent she pleased, and never grumbled at the builder’s
bills, or troubled her by suggesting that the money she was laying out
was likely to produce something less than two per cent.

So Churchill Penwyn wrote himself down M.P., and might be fairly
supposed to have conquered all good things which fortune could bestow
upon a deserving member of Burke’s Landed Gentry. He had a fair young
wife, who won love and honour from all who knew her. His infant heir was
esteemed a model of all that is most excellent in babyhood. His
sister-in-law believed in him as the most wonderful and admirable of
husbands and men. His estate prospered, his plantations grew and
flourished. The vast Atlantic itself was as a lake beneath his windows,
and seemed to call him lord. No cloud, were it but the bigness of a
man’s hand, obscured the brightness of his sky.

Mr. and Mrs. Penwyn spent their second season in town with greater
distinction than their first. More people were anxious to know them—more
exalted invitation cards showered in upon them, and Churchill, who had
been a successful man even in the days of his poverty, felt that he had
then only tasted the skimmed milk of success, and that this which was
offered to his lips to-day was the cream. There was a subtle difference
in the manner of his reception by the same world now-a-days. If he had
been only a country gentleman, with the ability to take a furnished
house in Belgravia, the difference might have been slight enough; or,
indeed, the advantage might have been on the side of the portionless
barrister, with his way to make in life, and his chances of success
before him. But Churchill’s maiden speech had been a success. He had
developed a special capacity for committees, had shown slow-going county
members how to get through their work in about one-fifth of the time
they had been in the habit of giving to it, had proved himself a master
of railway and mining economics—in a word, without noise, or bluster, or
assumption, had infused something of Transatlantic go-a-headishness into
all the business to which he put his hand. Men in high places marked him
as a young man worth cultivating, and thus, before the session was over,
Churchill Penwyn had tasted the firstfruits of parliamentary success.

Perhaps if ever a man went in danger of being spoiled by a wife
Churchill Penwyn was that man. Madge simply worshipped him. To hear him
praised, to see him honoured, was to her of all praise and honour the
highest. She shaped all the circumstances of her life to suit his
interest and his convenience; chose her acquaintance at his bidding,
would have given up the greatest party of the season to sit by his side
in the dingy Eton Square study, copying paragraphs out of a blue-book
for his use and advantage. Churchill, on his side, was careful not to
impose upon devotion so unselfish, and was never prouder than in
assisting at his wife’s small social triumphs. He chose the colours of
her dresses, and took as much interest in her toilet as in the state of
the mining market. He never seemed so happy as in those rare evenings
which he contrived to spend alone with Madge, or in hearing some
favourite opera with her, and going quietly home afterwards to a snug
little _tête-à-tête_ supper, while Viola was dancing to her heart’s
content under the wing of some good-natured chaperon, like Lady
Cheshunt.

That friendly dowager was enraptured with her _protégée’s_ domestic
life.

‘My sweet love, you renew one’s belief in Arcadia,’ she exclaimed to
Madge, after her enthusiastic fashion. ‘I positively must buy you a
crook and a lamb or two to lead about with blue ribbons. You are the
simplest of darlings. To see how you worship that husband of yours puts
me in mind of Baucis and what’s-his-name, and all that kind of thing.
And to think that I should have taken such trouble to warn you against
this very man! But then who could imagine that young Penwyn would have
been so good-natured as to die?’

‘When are you coming to see me at the Manor, Lady Cheshunt?’ asked
Madge, laughing at her friend’s raptures. ‘You can form no fair idea of
my domestic happiness in London. You must see me at home in my Arcadia,
with my crook and flock.’

‘You dear child! I shall certainly come in August.’

‘I’m so glad. You must be sure to come before the twenty-fifth. That’s
Nugent’s birthday, you know, and I mean to give a pastoral _fête_ in
honour of the occasion, and you will see all my cottagers and their
children, and the rough miners, and discover what a curious kingdom we
reign over in the West.’

‘My dearest love, I detest poor people, and tenants, and cottagers—but I
shall come to see _you_.’


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



                               CHAPTER X

           ‘THEN STREAMED LIFE’S FUTURE ON THE FADING PAST.’


MORE than a year had gone by since Maurice Clissold had said farewell to
Borcel End, and he had not yet found leisure to revisit that peaceful
homestead. He had corresponded with Martin Trevanard regularly during
the interval, and had heard all that was to be told of Borcel and its
neighbourhood; how Mrs. Penwyn was daily becoming more and more popular,
how her schools flourished, her cottagers thrived, her cottage gardens
blossomed as the rose; and how Mr. Penwyn, though respected for his
liberality and justice, and looked up to very much in his parliamentary
capacity, had not yet found the knack of making himself popular. From
time to time, in reply to Maurice’s inquiries, Martin had written a few
words about Muriel. She was always the same—there was no change. She was
neither better nor worse, and the good old grandmother was very careful
of her, and kept her from wandering about the house at night. Nothing
had happened to disturb the even current of life at Borcel End.

This year that had gone had brought success, and, in some measure, fame,
to Maurice Clissold. He had published the long-contemplated volume of
verse, the composition whereof had been his labour and delight since he
left the university. His were not verses ‘thrown off’ in the leisure
half-hours of a man whose occupations were more serious—verses to be
apologized for, with a touch of proud humility, in a preface. They
contained the full expression of his life. They were strong with all the
strength of his manhood. Passion, fervour, force, intensity, were there;
and the world, rarely slow to appreciate youthful fire, was quick to
recognise their real power. Maurice Clissold slowly awoke to the fact
that, under his _nom de plume_, he was famous. He had taken care not to
affix his real name to that confession of faith—not to let all the world
know that his was that inner life which a poet reveals half
unconsciously, even when he writes about the shadows his fancy has
created. In the story-poem which made the chief portion of his volume
Maurice had, in some wise, told the story of his own passion, and his
own disappointment. Pain and disillusion had given their bitter flavour
to his verse; but happily for the poet’s reputation, it was just that
bitter-sweet—that sub-acid, which the lovers of sentimental poetry like.
That common type of womanhood, fair and lovable, and only false under
the pressure of circumstance, was here represented with undeniable
vigour. The modern Helen, the woman whose passive beauty and sweetness
are the source of tears and death, and whom the world forgives because
she is mild and fair, here found a powerful limner. He had spared not a
detail of that cruel portrait. It was something better than a miniature
of that one girl who had jilted him. It was the universal image of
weakly, selfish womanhood, yielding, unstable, caressing, dependent, and
innately false.

Side by side with this picture from life he had set the ideal woman,
pure, and perfect, and true, lovely in face and form, but more lovely in
mind and soul. Between these two he had placed his hero, wayward,
mistaken, choosing the poison-flower, instead of the sweet thornless
rose, led through evil ways to a tragical end, comforted by the
angel-woman only as chill death sealed his lips. Bitterness and sorrow
were the dominant notes of the verse, but it was a pleasing bitter, and
a melodious sadness.

There was a run on Mudie’s for ‘A Life Picture, and other Poems,’ by
Clifford Hawthorn. The book was widely reviewed, but while some critics
hailed the bard as that real poet for whom the age had been waiting,
others dissected the pages with a merciless scalpel, and denounced the
writer as a profligate and an infidel. The fugitive pieces, brief lyrics
some of them, with the delicate finish of a cabinet picture, won almost
universal favour. In a word Maurice Clissold’s first venture was a
success.

He was not unduly elated. He did not believe in himself as the poet for
whom the expectant age had been on the look-out. He had measured himself
against giants, and was pretty clear in his estimate of his own powers.
This pleasant taste of the strong wine of success made him only more
intent upon doing better. It stimulated ambition, rather than satisfied
it. Perhaps the adverse criticism did him most good, for it created just
that spirit of opposition which is the best incentive to effort.

Very happy was the bachelor-poet’s life in those days. He had lived just
long enough to survive the pain of his first disappointment. It was a
bitter memory still, but a memory which but rarely recurred to mar his
peace. He had friends who understood him—two or three real friends, who
with his publisher alone knew the secret of his authorship. He had an
occupation he loved, just enough ambition to give a stimulus to life,
and he had not a care.

He had visited the Penwyns in Eton Square several times during the
course of the season, but he had been careful not to go to that very
pleasant house too often. Afternoon tea in Mrs. Penwyn’s
drawing-room—the smaller drawing-room, with its wealth of flowers, was a
most delightful manner of wasting an hour or so. But Maurice felt
somehow that it was an indulgence he must not give himself too often. He
had a lurking fear of Viola. She was very fair, and sweet and gentle,
like the girl he had loved, and though he had, as yet, regarded her with
only the most fraternal feeling—nay, a sentiment approaching
indifference,—he had an idea that there might be peril in too much
friendliness.

Dropping in one afternoon at the usual hour, he was pleased to see his
own book on one of the gipsy tables.

‘Have you read this “Life Picture,” which the critics have been abusing
so vigorously?’ he asked.

‘Yes, I saw it dreadfully cut up in the _Saturday Review_, so I thought
it must be nice, and sent to the publishers for a copy,’ answered Madge.
‘I’ve had it down on my Mudie’s list ever so long, without effect. It’s
a wonderful book. Viola and I were up till three o’clock this morning
reading it together. Neither of us could wait. From the moment we began
with that picture of a London twilight, and the two girls and the young
lawyer sitting in a balcony talking, we were riveted. It is all so easy,
so lifelike, so full of vigour and freshness and colour.’

‘The author would be very much flattered if he could hear you,’ said
Maurice.

‘The author—oh, I’m afraid he must be rather a disagreeable person. He
seems to have such a bad opinion of women.’

‘Oh, Madge, his heroine is a noble creature!’ cried Viola.

‘Yes, but the woman his hero loves best is worthless.’

‘Well, I should like to know the author,’ said Viola.

‘I don’t think Churchill would get on very well with him,’ said Madge.
And that to her mind made an end of the question.

The only people she sought were people after Churchill’s own heart. This
poet had a wildness in his ideas which the Squire of Penwyn would hardly
approve.

                  *       *       *       *       *

Among Mr. Clissold’s literary acquaintance was a clever young dramatic
author, whose work was just beginning to be popular. One afternoon at
the club—a rather Bohemian institution for men of letters, in one of the
streets of the Strand—this gentleman—Mr. Flittergilt—invited Maurice to
assist at the first performance of his last comedietta at a small and
popular theatre near at hand.

They dined together, and dropped in at the theatre just as the curtain
was falling on a half-hour farce played while the house was filling. The
piece of the evening came next. ‘No Cards,’ an original comedy in three
acts; which announcement was quite enough to convince Maurice that the
motive was adapted from Scribe, and the comic underplot conveyed from a
Palais Royal farce.

‘There’s a new girl in my piece,’ said Mr. Flittergilt, on the tiptoe of
expectation, ‘such a pretty girl, and by no means a bad actress.’

‘Where does she come from?’

‘Goodness knows. It’s her first appearance in London.’

‘Humph, comes to the theatre in her brougham, I suppose, and has her
dresses made by Worth.’

‘Not the least in the world. She wore a shabby grey thing, which I
believe you call alpaca, at rehearsal this morning, and she ran into the
theatre, dripping like a naiad, in a waterproof—if you can imagine a
naiad in a waterproof—having failed to get a seat in a twopenny
omnibus.’

‘That is the prologue,’ said Maurice, with a slight shoulder-shrug.
‘Perhaps Madge was right, and that he really had a bad opinion of
women.’

He turned to the programme listlessly presently, and read the old names
he knew so well, for this house was a favourite lounge of his.

‘Is the piece really original, Jack?’ he inquired of his friend.

‘Well,’ said Mr. Flittergilt, pulling on a new glove, and making a wry
face, perhaps at the tightness of the glove—perhaps at the awkwardness
of the question—‘I admit there was a germ in that last piece at the
Vaudeville, which I have ripened and expanded, you know. There always is
a germ, you see, Maurice. It’s only from the brains of a Jove that you
get a full-grown Minerva at a rush.’

‘I understand. The piece is a clever adaptation. Why, what’s this?’

It was a name in the programme which evoked that sudden question.

‘Celia Flower, Miss Justina Elgood.’

‘Flittergilt,’ said Maurice, solemnly, ‘I know that young woman, and I
regret to inform you that, though really a superior girl in private
life, she is a very poor actress. If the fortunes of your piece are
entrusted to her, I am sorry for you.’

‘If she acts as well to-night as she did this morning at rehearsal, I
shall be satisfied,’ replied Mr. Flittergilt. ‘But how did you come to
know her?’

Maurice told the story of those two days at Eborsham. ‘Poor child, when
last I saw her she was bowed down with grief for my murdered friend. I
dare say she has forgotten all about him by this time.’

‘She doesn’t look like a girl who would easily forget,’ said the
dramatist.

The curtain rose on one of those daintily furnished interiors which the
modern stage realizes to such perfection. Flowers, birds, statuettes,
pictures, a glimpse of sunlit garden on one side, and an open piano on
the other. A girl was seated on the central ottoman, looking over a
photograph album. A young man was in a half-recumbent position at her
feet, looking up at her. The girl was Justina Elgood—the old Justina,
and yet a new Justina—so wondrously had the overgrown girl of seventeen
improved in womanly beauty and grace. The dark blue eyes, with their
depth of thought and tenderness of expression, were alone unchanged.
Maurice could have recognised the girl anywhere by those eyes.

The management had provided the costumes for the piece, and Justina, in
her white silk dress, with its voluminous frills and flouncings, looked
as elegant a young woman as one could desire to see offered up,
Iphigenia-like, on the altar of loyalty at St. James’s Palace, to be
almost torn to pieces on a drawing-room day. Celia Flower is the heroine
of the comedy, and this is her wedding morning, and this young man at
her feet is a cousin and rejected lover. She is looking over the
portraits of her friends, in order to determine which she shall preserve
and which drop after marriage.

Mr. Flittergilt’s comedy goes on to show that Celia’s intended union is
altogether a mistake, that she really loves the rejected cousin, that he
honestly loves her, that nothing but misery can result from the marriage
of interest which has been planned by Celia’s relatives.

Celia is at first indifferent and frivolous, thinking more of her bridal
toilet than of the bond which it symbolizes. Little by little she
awakens to deeper thought and deeper feeling, and here, slender as Mr.
Flittergilt’s work is, there is scope for the highest art.

Curiously different is the actress of to-day from the girl whose
ineptitude the strolling company at Eborsham had despised. There is a
brightness and spontaneity about her comedy, a simple artless tenderness
in her touches of sentiment, which show the untaught actress—the actress
whose art has grown out of her own depth of feeling, whose acting is the
outcome of a rich and thoughtful mind rather than the hard and dry
result of tuition and study, or the mechanical art of imitation. Impulse
and fancy give their bright brief flashes of light and colour to the
interpretation, and the dramatist’s creation lives and moves before the
audience,—not a mere mouthpiece for smart sayings or graceful bits of
sentiment—but a being with a soul, an original absolute creation of an
original mind.

The audience are enchanted, Mr. Flittergilt is in fits of admiration of
himself and the actress. ‘By Jove, that girl is as good as Nesbitt, and
my dialogue is equal to Sheridan’s!’ he ejaculates, when the first act
is over, and the rashly enthusiastic, without waiting for the end, begin
to clamour for the author. And Maurice—well, Maurice sits in a brown
study, far back in the box, and unseen by the actors, astride upon his
chair, his arms folded upon the back of it, his chin upon his folded
arms, the image of intense contemplation.

‘By heaven, the girl is a genius,’ he says to himself. ‘I thought there
was something noble about her, but I did not think two short years would
work such a change as this.’

At the end of the piece Justina was received with what it is the fashion
to call an ovation. There were no bouquets thrown to her, for these
floral offerings are generally pre-arranged by the friends and admirers
of an actress, and Justina had neither friends nor admirers in all the
great city to plan her triumph. She had conquered by the simple force of
an art which was spontaneous and unstudied as the singing of a
nightingale. Time and practice had made her mistress of the mechanism of
her art, had familiarized her with the glare of the lights and the
strange faces of the crowd, had made her as much at her ease on the
stage as in her own room. The rest had come unawares, it had come with
the ripening of her mind, come with the thoughtfulness and depth of
feeling that had been the growth of that early disappointment, that
first brief dream of love, with its sad sudden ending.

When the piece was over, and Justina and Mr. Flittergilt had enjoyed
their triumph, and all the actors had been called for and applauded by a
delighted audience, Maurice suddenly left the box. He had done nothing
to help the applause, but had stood in his dark corner like a rock,
while the little theatre shook with the plaudits of pit and gallery.

‘Come, I say, that’s rather cool,’ the dramatist muttered to himself.
‘He might have said something civil, anyhow; I was just going to ask him
if he’d like to go behind the scenes, too.’ The accomplished Flittergilt
had contented himself with bowing from his box, and he was now in haste
to betake himself to the green-room, there to receive the
congratulations of the company, and to render the usual meed of praise
and thanks to the interpreters of his play.

The green-room at the Royal Albert Theatre was a very superior apartment
to the green-room at Eborsham. It was small, but bright and
comfortable-looking, with carpeted floor, looking-glasses over
chimney-piece and console table, photographs and engraved portraits of
popular actors and actresses upon the gaily papered walls, a cushioned
divan all round the room, and nothing but the table and its
appurtenances wanted to make the apartment resemble a billiard-room in a
pleasant unpretentious country house.

Here, standing by the console table, and evidently quite at his ease,
Mr. Flittergilt found his friend talking to the new actress. Mr.
Clissold had penetrated to the sacred chamber somehow, without the
dramatist’s safe-conduct.

‘How did you get here?’ asked Flittergilt, annoyed.

‘Oh, I hardly know. The old man at the stage door didn’t want to admit
me. I’m afraid I said I was Miss Elgood’s brother, or something of that
kind, I was so desperately anxious to see her.’

He had been congratulating Justina on her developed talents. The girl’s
success had surprised herself more than any one else. She had been
applauded and praised by provincial critics of late, but she had not
thought that a London audience was so easily conquered. The dark eyes
shone with a new light, for success was very sweet. In the background
stood a figure that Maurice had not observed till just now, when he made
way for Mr. Flittergilt.

This was Matthew Elgood, clad in the same greasy-looking frock coat, or
just such a coat as that which he had worn two years ago at Eborsham,
but smartened by an expanse of spotless shirt-front, which a side view
revealed to be only frontage, and not an integral part of his shirt, and
a purple satin cravat.

‘How do you do, Mr. Elgood? Are you engaged here too?’ asked Maurice.

‘No, sir. There was no opening for a man of my standing. The pieces
which are popular now-a-days are too flimsy to afford an opening for an
actor of weight, or else they are one-part pieces written for some
mannerist of the hour. The genuine old legitimate school of acting—the
school which was fostered in the good old provincial theatres—is nowhere
now-a-days. I bow to the inevitable stroke of Time. I was born some
twenty years too late. I ought to have been the compeer of Macready.’

‘Your daughter has been fortunate in making such a hit.’

‘Ay, sir. The modern stage is a fine field for a young woman with beauty
and figure, and when that young woman’s talents have been trained and
fostered by a man who knows his art, she enters the arena with the
assurance of success. There was a time when the malignant called my
daughter a stick. There was a time when my daughter hated the
profession. But my fostering care has wrought the change which surprises
you to-night. A dormant genius has been awakened—I will not venture to
say by a kindred genius, lest the remark should savour of egotism.’

‘You are without occupation, then, in London, Mr. Elgood?’

‘Yes, Mr. Clissold, but I have my vocation; I am here as guardian and
protector of my innocent child.’

‘I told Miss Elgood two years ago that, if ever she came to London and
needed a friend, my best services should be at her disposal. But her
success of to-night has made her independent of friendship.’

‘I don’t know about that, Mr. Clissold. You are a literary man, I
understand, a friend of Mr. Flittergilt’s, and you have doubtless some
influence with dramatic critics. One can never have too much help of
that kind. There is a malevolent spirit in the press which requires to
be soothed and overcome by friendly influences. Beautiful, gifted as my
daughter is, I feel by no means sure of the newspapers. Our unpretending
domicile is at No. 27, Hudspeth Street, Bloomsbury, a lowly but a
central locality. If you will favour us with a call I shall be
delighted. Our Sunday evenings are our own.’

‘I shall lose no time in availing myself of your kind permission,’ said
Maurice; and then he added in a lower tone, for Mr. Elgood’s ear only,
‘I hope your daughter has got over the grief which that dreadful event
at Eborsham occasioned her.’

‘She has recovered from the blow, sir, but she has not forgotten it. A
curiously sensitive child, Mr. Clissold. Who could have supposed that so
brief an acquaintance with your murdered friend could have produced so
deep an impression upon that young mind? She was never the same girl
afterwards. From that time she seemed to me to dwell apart from us all,
in a world of her own. She became after a while more attentive to her
professional duties—more anxious to excel—more interested in the
characters she represented, and she began to surprise us all by touches
of pathos which we had not expected from her. She engaged with Mr.
Tilberry, of the Theatre Royal, Westborough, for the juvenile lead about
six months after your young friend’s death, and has maintained a leading
position in the provinces ever since. “Sweet are the uses of adversity,
which, like the toad,” &c. Her genius seemed to have been called into
being by sorrow. Good night, Mr. Clissold. I dare say Justina will be
ready to go home by this time. If you _can_ square any of the critics
for us, you will discover that Matthew Elgood knows the meaning of the
word gratitude.’

Maurice promised to do his best, and that evening at his club near the
Strand, used all the influence he had in Justina’s favour. He found his
task easy. The critics who had seen Mr. Flittergilt’s new comedy were
delighted with the new actress. Those who had been elsewhere, assisting
at the production of somebody else’s new piece, heard their brothers of
the pen enthusiastic in their encomiums, and promised to look in at the
Royal Albert Theatre on Monday.

To-night was Saturday. Maurice promised himself that he would call in
Hudspeth Street to-morrow evening. He had another engagement, but it was
one that could be broken without much offence. And he was curious to see
the successful actress at home. Was she much changed from the girl he
had surprised on her knees by the clumsy old arm-chair, shedding
passionate tears for James Penwyn’s death? He had thought her half a
child in those days, and the possibilities of fame whereof he had spoken
so consolingly very far away. And behold! she was famous already—in a
small way, perhaps, but still famous. On Monday the newspapers would be
full of her praises. She would be more immediately known to the world
than he, the poet, had made himself yet. And she had already tasted the
sweetness of applause coming straight from the hearts and hands of her
audience, not filtered through the pens of critics, and losing
considerable sweetness in the process.

                  *       *       *       *       *

The illimitable regions of Bloomsbury have room enough for almost every
diversity of domicile, from the stately mansions of Russell Square to
the lowly abode of the mechanic and the charwoman. Hudspeth Street is an
old-fashioned, narrow street of respectable and substantial-looking
houses, which must once have been occupied by the professional classes,
or have served as the private dwellings of wealthy traders, but which
now are for the most part let off in floors to the shabby-genteel and
struggling section of humanity, or to more prosperous mechanics, who ply
their trades in the sombre paneled rooms, with their tall mantel-boards
and deep-set windows.

The street lies between the oldest square of this wide district and a
busy thoroughfare, where the costermongers have it all their own way
after dark; but Hudspeth Street wears at all times a tranquil gloom, as
if it had been forgotten somehow by the majority, and left behind in the
general march of progress. Other streets have burst out into stucco, and
masked their aged walls with fronts of plaster, as ancient dowagers hide
their wrinkles under Bloom de Ninon or Blanc de Rosati. But here the
dingy old brick façades remain undisturbed, the old carved garlands
still decorate the doorways, the old extinguishers still stand ready to
quench torches that have gone to light the dark corridors of Hades.

To Maurice Clissold on this summer evening—Sunday evening, with the
sound of many church bells filling the air—Hudspeth Street seems a
social study, a place worth half an hour’s thought from a philosophical
lounger, a place which must have its memories.

No. 27 is cleaner and brighter of aspect than its immediate neighbours.
A brass plate upon the door announces that Louis Charlevin, artist in
buhl and marqueterie, occupies the ground-floor. Another plate upon the
doorpost bears the name of Miss Girdleston, teacher of music; and a
third is inscribed with the legend, Mrs. Mapes, Furnished Lodgings, and
has furthermore a little hand pointing to a bell, which Maurice rings.

The door is opened by a young person, who is evidently Mrs. Mapes’s
daughter. Her hair is too elaborate, her dress too smart, her manner too
easy for a servant under Mrs. Mapes’s dominion. She believes that Mr.
Elgood is at home, and begs the visitor to step up to the second floor
front, not troubling herself to precede and announce him.

Maurice obeys, and speeds with light footstep up the dingy old
staircase. The house is clean and neat enough, but has not been painted
for the last thirty years, he opines. He taps lightly at the door and
some one bids him enter. Mr. Elgood is lying on a sofa, smoking
luxuriously, with a glass of cold punch on the little table at his
elbow. The Sunday papers lie around him. He has been reading the records
of Justina’s success, and is revelling in the firstfruits of prosperity.

Justina is sitting by an open window, dressed in some pale lavender-hued
gown, which sets off the tall and graceful figure. Her head leans a
little back against the chintz cushion of the high-backed chair, an open
book lies on her lap. It falls as she rises to receive the visitor, and
Maurice stoops to pick it up.

His own poem.

It gives him more pleasure, somehow, to find it in her hands than he
derived from the praises of those two fashionable and accomplished
women, Mrs. Penwyn and her sister. It touches him more deeply still to
see that Justina’s cheeks are wet with tears.

‘She has been crying over some foolish poetry, instead of thanking
Providence for such criticism as this,’ said Mr. Elgood, slapping his
hand upon the _Sunday Times_.


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



                               CHAPTER XI

                ‘A MERRIER HOUR WAS NEVER WASTED THERE.’


AUGUST came—a real August—with cloudless blue skies, and scorching
noontides, and a brief storm now and then to clear the atmosphere. The
yellow corn-fields basked in the sun’s hot rays, scarce stirred to a
ripple by the light summer air. The broad Atlantic seemed placid as that
great jasper sea men picture in their dreams of heaven. The pine trees
stood up straight and dark and tall and solemn against a background of
azure sky. Ocean’s wide waste of waters brought no sense of coolness to
the parched wayfarer, for all that vast expanse glowed like burnished
gold beneath the splendour of the sun-god. The road across the purple
moor glared whitely between its fringe of plantations, and the
flower-gardens at Penwyn Manor made patches of vivid colour in the
distance. The birthday of the heir had come and gone, with many
bonfires, sky-rockets, much rejoicing of tenants and peasantry, eating
and drinking, bounties to the poor, speechifying, and general
exultation. At twelve months old Churchill Penwyn’s heir, if not quite
the paragon his parents and his aunt believed him, was fairly worth some
amount of rejoicing. He was a sturdy, broad-shouldered little fellow,
with chestnut locks cut straight across his wide, fair forehead, and
large blue eyes, dark, and sweet, and truthful, a loving,
generous-hearted little soul, winning the love of all creatures—from the
grave, thoughtful father who secretly worshipped him, to the kitten that
rolled itself into a ball of soft white fur in his baby lap.

The general rejoicings for tenants and cottagers, the public
celebration, as it were, of the infant’s first anniversary, being
happily over, with satisfaction to all—even to the Irish reapers, who
were regaled with supper and unlimited whisky punch in one of the big
barns—Mrs. Penwyn turned her attention to more refined assemblies. Lady
Cheshunt was at Penwyn, and had avowed herself actually charmed with the
gathering of the vulgar herd.

‘My dear, they are positively refreshing in their absolute _naïveté_,’
she exclaimed, when she talked over the day’s proceedings with Madge and
Viola in Mrs. Penwyn’s dressing-room. ‘To see the colours they wear, and
the unsophisticated width of their boots, and scantiness of their
petticoats, and the way they perspire, and get ever so red in the face
without seeming to mind it; and the primitive way they have of looking
really happy—it is positively like turning over a new leaf in the book
of life. And when one can see it all without any personal exertion,
sitting under a dear old tree and drinking iced claret cup—how admirably
your people make claret cup!—it is intensely refreshing.’

‘I hope you will often turn over new leaves, then, dear Lady Cheshunt,’
Madge answered, smiling.

‘And on Thursday you are going to give a dinner party, and show me the
genteel aborigines, the country people; benighted creatures who have no
end of quarterings on their family shields, and never wear a decently
cut gown, and drive horses that look as if they had been just taken from
the plough.’

‘I don’t know that our Cornish friends are quite so lost in the night of
ages as you suppose them,’ said Madge, laughing. ‘Brunel has brought
them within a day’s journey of civilization, you know. They may have
their gowns made in Bond Street without much trouble.’

‘Ah, my love, these are people who go to London once in three years, I
dare say. Why, to miss a single season in town is to fall behind one’s
age; one’s ideas get mouldy and moss-grown; one’s sleeves look as if
they had been made in the time of George the Third. To keep abreast with
the march of time one must be at one’s post always. One might as well be
the sleeping beauty at once, and lose a hundred years, as skip the
London season. I remember one year that I was out of health, and those
tiresome doctors sent me to spend my spring and summer in Germany. When
I came to London in the following March, I felt like Rip Van Winkle. I
hardly remembered the names of the Ministry, or the right use of
asparagus tongs. However, sweet child, I shall be amused to see your
county people.’

The county families assembled a day or two afterwards, and proved not
unintelligent, as Lady Cheshunt confessed afterwards, though their talk
was for the most part local, or of field sports. The ladies talked
chiefly of their neighbours. Not scandal by any means. That would have
been most dangerous; for they could hardly have spoken of any one who
was not related by cousinship or marriage with somebody present. But
they talked of births, and marriages, and deaths, past or to come; of
matrimonial engagements, of children, of all simple, social, domestic
subjects; all which Lady Cheshunt listened to wonderingly. The flavour
of it was to the last degree insipid to the metropolitan worldling. It
was like eating whitebait without cayenne or lemon—whitebait that tasted
only of frying-pan and batter. The young ladies talked about curates,
point lace, the penny readings of last winter, amateur concerts, new
music—ever so old in London—and the school children; or, grouped round
Viola, listened with awful interest to her descriptions of the season’s
dissipations—the balls, and flower shows, and races, and regattas she
had assisted at, the royal personages she had beheld, the various _on
dits_ current in London society about those royal personages, so fresh
and sparkling, and, if not true, at least possessing a richness of
detail that seemed like truth. Viola was eminently popular among the
younger branches of the county families. The sons played croquet and
billiards with her, the daughters copied the style of her dresses, and
chose their new books and music at her recommendation. Mrs. Penwyn was
popular with all—matrons and maidens, elderly squires and
undergraduates, rich and poor. She appealed to the noblest and widest
feelings of human nature, and not to love her would have been to be
indifferent to virtue and sweetness.

This first dinner after the return to Penwyn Manor was more or less of a
state banquet. The Manor House put forth all its forces. The great
silver-gilt cups, and salvers, and ponderous old wine-coolers, and
mighty venison dishes, a heavy load for a strong man, emerged from their
customary retirement in shady groves of green baize. The buffet was set
forth as at a royal feast; the long dinnertable resembled a dwarf forest
of stephanotis and tremulous dewy-looking fern. The closed venetians
excluded the glow of a crimson sunset, yet admitted evening’s refreshing
breeze. The many tapers twinkled with a tender subdued radiance. The
moon-like Silber lamps on the sideboard and mantel-piece gave a tone of
coolness to the room. The women in their gauzy dresses, with family
jewels glittering star-like upon white throats and fair round arms, or
flashing from coils of darkest hair, completed the pleasant picture.
Churchill Penwyn looked down the table with his quiet smile.

‘After all, conventional, commonplace, as this sort of thing may be, it
gives one an idea of power,’ he thought, in his half-cynical way, ‘and
is pleasant enough for the moment. Sardanapalus, with a nation of slaves
under his heel, could only have enjoyed the same kind of sensation on a
larger scale.’


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



                              CHAPTER XII

                 ‘IT WAS THE HOUR WHEN WOODS ARE COLD.’


WHILE the Squire of Penwyn surveyed his flower and fern-bedecked board,
and congratulated himself that he was a power in the land, his
lodge-keeper, the woman with tawny skin, sun-browned almost to mahogany
colour, dark brows and night-black eyes, sat at her door-step watching
the swiftly changing splendours of the west, where the sky was still
glorious with the last radiance of the sunken sun. The crimson light
glows on the brown skin, and gleams in the dusky eyes as the woman sits
with her face fronting westward.

She has a curious fancy for out-of-door life, and is not often to be
found inside the comfortable lodge. She prefers the door-step to an
arm-chair by the hearth, even in winter; nay, she has been seen to sit
at her threshold, with a shawl over her head, during a pitiless storm,
watching the lightning with those bright bold eyes of hers. Her
grandchild Elspeth has the same objection to imprisonment within four
walls. She has no gates to open, and can roam where she lists. She
avails herself of that privilege without stint, and wanders from dawn
till sunset, and sometimes late into the starry night. She has resisted
all Mrs. Penwyn’s kind attempts to beguile her along the road to
knowledge by the easy steps of the parish school. She will not sit among
the rosy-cheeked Cornish children, or walk to church with the
neatly-clad procession from the Sunday school. She is more ignorant than
the small toddlers of three or four, can neither read nor write, hardly
knows the use of a needle, and in the matter of Scriptural and
theological knowledge is a very heathen.

If these people had not been the Squire’s _protégées_ they would have
been dismissed from orderly Penwyn long ere now. They were out of
harmony with their surroundings, they made a discordant note in the calm
music of life at the Manor. While all else was neatness, exquisite
cleanliness, the lodge had a look of neglect, a slovenliness which
struck the observer’s eye disagreeably—a curtain hanging awry at one of
the lattices, a tattered garment flying like a pennant from an open
casement, a trailing branch of jessamine, a handleless jug standing on a
window-sill, a muddy door-step. Trifles like these annoyed Mrs. Penwyn,
and she had more than once reproved the lodge-keeper for her untidiness.
The woman had heard her quietly enough, had uttered no insolent word,
and had curtseyed low as the lady of the mansion passed on. But the dark
face had been shadowed by a sullen frown, and no amendment had ever
followed Mrs. Penwyn’s remonstrances.

‘I really wish you would get rid of those people at the north lodge,’
Madge said to Churchill, one day, after having her patience peculiarly
tried by the spectacle of a ragged blanket hanging to dry in the lodge
garden. ‘They make our grounds look like some Irish squireen’s place,
where the lodge-keeper is allowed a patch of potatoes and a
drying-ground for the family linen at the park gates. If they are really
objects of charity, it would be better to allow them a pension, and let
them live where they like.’

‘We will think about it, my love, when I have a little more time on my
hands,’ answered Mr. Penwyn.

He never said an absolute ‘No’ to his wife; but a request which had to
be thought about by him was rarely granted.

Madge gave an impatient sigh. These people at the lodge exercised her
patience severely.

‘Waiting till you have leisure seems absurd, Churchill,’ she said. ‘With
your parliamentary work, and all that you have to see to here, there can
be no such thing as spare time. Why not send these people away at once?
They make the place look horribly untidy.’

‘I’ll remonstrate with them,’ replied Churchill.

‘And then they are such queer people,’ continued Madge. ‘That girl
Elspeth is as ignorant as a South Sea Islander, and I dare say the
grandmother is just as bad. They never go to church, setting such a
shocking example to the villagers.’

‘My love, there are many respectable people who never go to church. I
rarely went myself in my bachelor days. I used to reserve Sunday morning
for my arrears of correspondence.’

‘Oh, Churchill!’ cried Madge, with a shocked look.

‘My dearest love, you know I do not set up for exalted virtue.’

‘Churchill!’ she exclaimed, tenderly, but still with that shocked look.
She loved him so much better than herself that she would have liked
heaven to be a certainty for him even at the cost of a cycle in
purgatory for her.

‘Come, dear, you know I have never pretended to be a good man. I do the
best I can with my opportunities, and try to be as much use as I can in
my generation.’

‘But you call yourself a Christian, Churchill?’ she asked, solemnly.
Their life had been so glad, so bright, so busy, so full of action and
occupation, that they had seldom spoken of serious things. Never till
this moment had Madge asked her husband that simple, solemn question.

He turned from her with a clouded face, turned from her impatiently
even, and walked to the other end of the room.

‘If there is one thing I hate more than another, Madge, it is
theological argumentation,’ he said, shortly.

‘There is no argument here, Churchill; a man is or is not a follower of
Christ.’

‘Then I am not,’ he said.

She shrank away from him as if he had struck her, looked at him for a
few moments with a pale agonized face, and left him without a word. She
could not trust herself to speak—the blow had been too sudden, too
heavy. She went away to her own room and shut herself in, and wept for
him and prayed for him. But she loved him not the less because by his
own lips he stood confessed an infidel. That was how she interpreted his
words of self-condemnation. She forgot that a man may believe in Christ,
yet not follow Him: believe, like the devils, and, like the devils,
tremble.

                  *       *       *       *       *

Mrs. Penwyn never spoke to her husband of the people at the north lodge
after this. They were associated with a too painful memory. Churchill,
however, did not forget to reprove the lodge-keeper’s slovenliness, and
his brief and stern remonstrance had some effect. The lodge was kept in
better order, at least so far as its external appearance went. Within it
was still a disorderly den.

The lodge-keeper’s name was Rebecca—by this name at least she was known
at Penwyn. Whether she possessed the distinction of a surname was a moot
point. She had not condescended to communicate it to any one at the
Manor. She had been at Penwyn nearly two years, and had not made a
friend—nay, not so much as an acquaintance who cared to ‘pass the time
of day’ as he went by her door. The peasantry secretly thought her a
witch, a dim belief in witchcraft and wise women still lingering in
nooks and corners of this remote romantic West, despite the printing
press and the School Board. The women-servants were half disposed to
share that superstition. Everybody avoided her. Unpopularity so obvious
seemed a matter of supreme indifference to the woman who called herself
Rebecca. Certain creature comforts were needful to her well-being, and
these she had in abundance. The sun and the air were indispensable to
her content. These she could enjoy unhindered. Her ruling vice was
slothfulness, her master passion love of ease. These she could indulge.
She therefore enjoyed as near an approach to positive happiness as mere
animal mankind can feel. Love of man or of God, the one divine spark
which lights our clay, shone not here. She had a vague sense of kindred
which made some kind of tie between her and her own flesh and blood, but
she had never known what it was to love anything. She kept her
grandchild, Elspeth, gave her food, and raiment, and shelter—first,
because what she gave cost her nothing; and secondly, because Elspeth
ran errands for her, carried a certain stone bottle to be filled and
refilled at the little inn in Penwyn village, did whatever work there
was to be done in the lodge, and saved her grandmother trouble
generally. The delicious laziness of the lodge-keeper’s days would have
been less perfect without Elspeth’s small services; otherwise it would
have given this woman little pain to know that Elspeth was shelterless
and starving.

She sat and watched the light fade yonder over the lake-like sea, and
heavy mists steal up the moorlands as the day died. Presently, sure that
no one would come to the gates at this hour, she drew a short blackened
clay pipe from her pocket, filled and lighted it, and began to
smoke—slowly, luxuriously, dreamily—if so mindless a being could dream.

She emptied her pipe, and filled again, and smoked on, happy, while the
moon showed silver-pale in the opal sky. The opal faded to grey; the
grey deepened to purple; the silver shield grew brighter while she sat
there, and the low murmur of summer waves made a soothing music—soft,
slow, dreamily monotonous. The brightening moon shone full upon that
moorland track by which Maurice Clissold first came to Penwyn Manor. In
making his road across the uplands, the Squire had not followed this
narrow track. The footpath still remained, at some distance from the
road.

Turning her eyes lazily towards this path, Rebecca was startled by the
sight of a figure approaching slowly in the moonlight, a man,
broad-shouldered, stalwart, walking with that careless freedom of gait
which betokens the habitual pedestrian, the wanderer who has tramped
over many a hill-side, and traversed many a stony road, a nomad by
instinct and habit.

He came straight on, without pause or uncertainty, came straight to the
gate, and looked in at the woman sitting on the door-step.

‘Ah!’ he said, ‘it was the straight tip Josh Collins gave me. Good
evening, mother.’

The woman emptied the ashes of her pipe upon the door-step before she
answered this filial greeting. Then she looked up at the wanderer
frowningly.

‘What brings you here?’

‘There’s a heartless question!’ cried the man. ‘What brings a son to
look after his blessed old mother? Do you allow nothing for family
feeling?’

‘Not in you, Paul, or any of your breed. What brought you here?’

‘You’d better let me in first, and give me something to eat and drink. I
don’t care about looking through iron bars, like a wild beast in
Wombwell’s show.’

Rebecca hesitated—looked at her son doubtfully for a minute or so before
she made up her mind to admit him, weighed the possibilities of the
case, and then took her key and unlocked the gate. If it had been
practicable to keep this returned prodigal outside without peril to
herself, she would have done it, but she knew her son’s disposition too
well to trifle with feelings which were apt to express themselves with a
savage freedom.

‘Come in,’ she said, sulkily, ‘and eat your fill, and go your ways when
you’ve eaten. It was an ill wind for me that blew you this way.’

‘That’s not over-kind from a mother,’ responded the nomad, carelessly.
‘I’ve had work enough to find you since you gave us the slip at
Westerham fair.’

‘You might have been content to lose me, considering the little store
you ever set by me,’ retorted Rebecca, bitterly.

‘Well, perhaps I might have brought myself to look at it in that light,
if I hadn’t heard of you two or three months ago from a mate of mine in
the broom trade, who happened to pass this way last summer, and saw you
here, squatting in the sun like a toad. He made a few inquiries about
you—out of friendliness to me—in the village yonder, and heard that you
were living on the fat of the land, and had enough to spare. Living in
service—you, that were brought up to something better than taking any
man’s wages—and eating the bread of dependence. So I put two and two
together, and thought perhaps you’d contrived to save a little bit of
money by this time, and would help me with a pound or two if I looked
you up. It would be hard lines if a mother refused help to her son.’

‘You treated me so well when we were together that I ought to be very
fond of you, no doubt,’ said Rebecca. ‘Come in, and eat. I’ll give you a
meal and a night’s lodging if you like, but I’ll give you no more, and
you’d better make yourself scarce soon after daybreak. My master is a
magistrate, and has no mercy on tramps.’

‘Then how did he come to admit you into his service? You hadn’t much of
a character from your last place, I take it.’

‘He had his reasons.’

‘Ay, there’s a reason for everything. I should like to know the reason
of your getting such a berth as this, I must say.’

He followed his mother into the lodge. The room was furnished
comfortably enough, but dirt and disorder ruled the scene. Of this,
however, the wanderer’s eye took little note as he briefly surveyed the
chamber, dimly lighted by a single tallow candle burning in a brass
candlestick on the mantel-piece. He flung himself into the high-backed
Windsor arm-chair, drew it to the table, and sat there waiting for
refreshment, his darkly bright eyes following Rebecca’s movements as she
took some dishes from a cupboard, and set them on the board without any
previous ceremony in the way of spreading a cloth or clearing the litter
of faded cabbage-leaves and stale crusts which encumbered one side of
the table.

The tramp devoured his meal ravenously, and said not a word till the
cravings of hunger were satisfied. At the rate he ate this result was
quickly attained, and he pushed away the empty dish with a satisfied
sigh.

‘That’s the first hearty feed I’ve had for a week,’ he said. ‘A snack of
bread and cheese and a mug of beer at a roadside public has had to serve
me for breakfast and dinner and supper, and a man of my stamina can’t
live on bread and cheese. And now tell me all about yourself, mother,
and how you came into this comfortable berth, plenty to eat and drink
and nothing to do.’

‘That’s my business, Paul,’ answered the woman, with a dogged air which
meant resistance.

‘Come, you needn’t make a secret of it. Do you suppose I haven’t brains
enough to find out for myself, if you refuse to tell me? It isn’t every
day in the year that a fine gentleman and a lady take a gipsy
fortune-teller into their service. Such things are not done without good
reason. What sort of a chap is this Squire Penwyn?’

‘I’ve nothing to tell you about him,’ answered the woman, with the same
steady look.

‘Oh, you’re as obstinate as ever, I see. All the winds that blow across
the Atlantic haven’t blown your sullen temper out of you. Very well,
since you’re so uncommunicative, suppose I tell you something about this
precious master of yours. There are other people who know him—people who
are not afraid to answer a civil question. His name is Penwyn, and he is
the first cousin of that poor young fellow who was murdered at Eborsham,
and by that young man’s death he comes into this property. Rather a
lucky thing for him, wasn’t it, that his cousin was shot from behind a
hedge? If such luck had happened to a chap of my quality, a rogue and
vagabond bred and born, there’d have been people in the world malicious
enough to say that I had a hand in the murder. But who could suspect a
gentleman like Mr. Penwyn? No gentleman would shoot his cousin from
behind a hedge, even though the cousin stood between him and ever so
many thousands a year.’

‘I don’t know what you mean by your sneers,’ returned Rebecca. ‘Mr.
Penwyn was over two hundred miles away at the time.’

‘Oh, you know all about him. You occupy a post of confidence here, I
see. Pleasant for you. Shall I tell you something more about him? Shall
I tell you that he has family plate worth thousands—solid old plate that
has been in the family for more than a century; that his wife makes no
more account of her diamonds than if they were dog-roses she pulled out
of the hedges to stick in her hair? That’s what I call good luck, for
they were both of ’em as poor as Job until that cousin was murdered.
Hard for a chap like me to stand outside their gates and hear about
their riches, and pass on, with empty stomach, and blistered feet—pass
on to wheedle a few pence out of a peasant wench, or steal a barn-door
fowl. There’s destiny for you!’

He emptied the beer jug, which had held a quart of good home-brewed,
took out his pipe and began to smoke, his mother watching him uneasily
all the time. Those two were alone in the lodge. The moonlight and balmy
air had lured Elspeth far afield, wandering over the dewy moorland,
singing her snatches of gipsy song, and happy in her own wild way—happy
though she knew she would get a scolding with her supper by and by.

‘They’ve got a party to-night, haven’t they?’ asked Paul. ‘Half a dozen
fine carriages passed me an hour or so ago, before I struck out of the
road into the footpath.’

‘Yes, there’s a dinner party.’

The gipsy rose and went to the open window. The lighted windows of the
Manor House shone across the shadowy depth of park and shrubberies.
Those dark eyes of his glittered curiously as he surveyed the scene.

‘I should like to see them feasting and enjoying themselves,’ he said,
moving towards the door.

‘You mustn’t go near the house, you mustn’t be seen about the place,’
cried Rebecca, following him hurriedly.

‘Mustn’t I?’ sneered the gipsy. ‘I never learnt the meaning of the word
mustn’t. I’ll go and have a peep at your fine ladies and gentlemen—I’m
not quite a fool, and I shan’t let them see me—and then come back here
for a night’s rest. You needn’t be frightened if I’m rather long. It’ll
amuse me to look on at the high jinks through some half-open window.
There, don’t look so anxious. I know how to keep myself dark.’


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



                              CHAPTER XIII

 ‘NOW HALF TO THE SETTING MOON HAVE GONE, AND HALF TO THE RISING DAY.’


THE dinner party is over, the county families have retired to their
several abodes. They are dispersed, like the soft summer mist which has
melted from the moorland with the broadening light of the harvest moon.

Madge, Viola, and Lady Cheshunt are assembled in Mrs. Penwyn’s
dressing-room, a long, low room, with a wide and deep bow-window at one
end, and three other old-fashioned windows, with broad cushioned seats
therein—a room made for lounging and pleasant idleness, and half-hours
with the best authors. Every variety of the genus easy chair is there,
chintz-covered, and blossoming with all the flowers of the garden, as
they only bloom upon chintz, large, gorgeous, and unaffected by aphides
or blight of any kind. There are tables here and there—gipsy tables,
loaded with new books and other trumpery. There is a large Duchesse
dressing table in one of the windows, and an antique ebony wardrobe,
with richly carved doors, in a convenient recess; but baths, and all the
paraphernalia of the toilet, are in a small chamber adjoining; this
large apartment being rather a morning-room, or boudoir, than
dressing-room proper.

There are water-colour landscapes and little bits of _genre_ on the
walls, by famous modern masters; a portrait of Churchill Penwyn, in
crayon, hangs over the velvet-covered mantel-board; there are dwarf
bookcases containing Madge’s own particular library, the poets, old and
new, Scott, Bulwer, Dickens, Thackeray, Carlyle; altogether the room has
just those homely lovable characteristics which make rooms dear to their
owners.

To-night the windows are all open to the soft summer air. The day has
been oppressively warm, and the breath of night brings welcome
refreshment to jaded humanity. Madge sits before her dressing-table,
slowly unclasping her jewels as she talks. Her maid has been dismissed,
Mrs. Penwyn being in no wise dependent on her Abigail’s help; and the
jewel-case, with its dark velvet lining, stands open on the wide marble
slab. Lady Cheshunt lies back in the deepest and softest of the easy
chairs, fanning herself with a big black and gold fan, a large and
splendid figure in amber satin and hereditary rose-point lace, which one
of the queens of Spain had presented to the dowager’s mother when her
husband was ambassador at Madrid. She looks like a picture by Rubens,
large and fair, and full of colour.

‘Well, my love, all dinner parties are more or less heavy, but upon the
whole your county people were better than I expected,’ remarked the
dowager, with her authoritative air. ‘I have seen duller parties in the
home counties. Your people seemed to enjoy themselves, and that is a
point gained, however dull their talk of the births, marriages, and
deaths of their belongings might be to _nous autres_. They have a placid
belief that their conversation is entertaining which is really the next
best thing to being really amusing. In a word, my dear Madge, I was not
nearly so much bored as I expected to be.—Those diamonds are positively
lovely, child; where did you get them?’

Madge had just taken her necklace—a string of large single stones—from
her neck, and was laying it in its velvet nest.

‘They are heirlooms; some of them, at least,’ she answered, ‘and came to
Churchill with the estate. They had been locked up in an old tin cashbox
at the county bank for a quarter of a century, I believe, and nobody
seemed to know anything about them. They were described in the old
Squire’s will as “sundry jewels in a tin box at the bank.” Churchill had
the stones reset, and bought a good many more to complete the set.’

‘Well, my dear, they are worthy of a duchess. I hope you are careful of
them.’

‘I don’t think it is in Madge’s nature to be careful of anything now she
is rich,’ said Viola. ‘She was thoughtful and saving enough when we
lived with poor papa, and when it was such a hard struggle to keep out
of debt. But now she has plenty of money she scatters it right and left,
and is perpetually enjoying the luxury of giving.’

‘But I am not careless about my diamonds, Viola. Mills will come
presently, and carry off this box to the iron safe in the plate-room.’

‘I never believed much in plate-rooms,’ said Lady Cheshunt. ‘A
plate-room with its iron door is a kind of invitation to burglars. It
tells them where the riches of the house are concentrated. When I am in
other people’s houses I generally keep my jewel-case on my
dressing-table, but I take care to have it labelled “Gloves,” and that
it looks as little like a jewel-case as possible. I wouldn’t trust it in
anybody’s plate-room. There, child, you are yawning, I see, in spite of
your efforts to conceal the operation.—Come, Viola, your sister is tired
after the mental strain she has undergone, in pretending to be
interested in all those people’s innumerable relations.’

The ladies kissed and parted with much affection, and Madge was left
alone, to sit by her dressing-table in a dreamy attitude, forgetful of
the lateness of the hour.

It was a sad thought which kept her musing there while the night
deepened, and the harvest moon sank lower in the placid sky. She thought
that all was not well with the husband of her love. She could not forget
that look and gesture of his when she had questioned him about his faith
as a Christian—nothing fearing his answer to that solemn inquiry when
she asked it. That darkening brow, those gloomy eyes turned upon her for
a moment in anger or in pain, had haunted her ever since. Not a
Christian! Her beloved, her idol, the dearer half of soul, and heart,
and mind. Death assumed new terrors in the thought that in worlds beyond
they two must be parted.

‘Rather let us endure a mutual purgation,’ she thought, with a wish that
was half a prayer. ‘Let me bear half the burden of his sins.’

He had gone to church with her, he had assisted in the service with
grave attention—nay, sometimes even with a touch of fervour, but he had
never taken the sacrament. That had troubled her not a little; but when
she had ventured to speak to him upon the subject, he had replied with
the common argument, ‘I do not feel my faith strong enough to share in
so exalted a mystery.’

She had been content to accept this reason, believing that time would
strengthen his faith in holy things. But now he had told her in hardest,
plainest words, that he had no right to the name of Christian.

She sat brooding upon this bitter thought for some time, then rose,
changed her dinner dress for a loose white muslin dressing-gown, and
went into her bedroom, which opened out of the dressing-room. She had
not once thought of those earthly jewels in the open box on the table,
or even wondered why Mills had not come to fetch them. The truth being
that—distracted by the abnormal gaiety which prevailed below stairs,
where the servants regaled themselves with a festive supper after the
patrician banquet—Miss Mills had forgotten her duties so far as to
become, for the time being, unconscious of the existence of Mrs.
Penwyn’s diamonds. At this moment she was sleeping comfortably in her
chamber in the upper storey, and the diamonds were left to their fate.

Lady Cheshunt was accustomed to late hours, and considered midnight the
most agreeable part of her day, so on leaving Madge’s dressing-room she
took Viola to her own apartment at the other end of the corridor, for
another half-hour or so of friendly chat, to which Viola, who was an
inveterate gossip, had not the slightest objection. They talked over
everybody’s dress and appearance, the discussion generally ending in a
verdict of ‘guy,’ or ‘fright.’ They talked over Churchill, Viola
praising him enthusiastically, Lady Cheshunt good-naturedly allowing
that she had been mistaken in him.

‘He used to remind me of Mephistopheles, my dear,’ said the vivacious
matron. ‘I don’t mean that he had a hooked nose or diagonal eyebrows, or
a cock’s feather in his hat; but he had a look of repressed power that
almost frightened me. I fancied he was a man who could do
anything—whether great or wicked—by the sovereign force of his intellect
and will: but that was before his cousin died. Wealth has improved him
wonderfully.’

At last a clock in the corridor struck one. Viola gave a little scream
of surprise, kissed her dear Lady Cheshunt for the twentieth time that
night, and tripped away. She had gone half way down the corridor when
she stopped, startled by a sight that moved her to scream louder than
she had done just now at the striking of the clock, had not some
instinctive feeling of caution checked her.

A man—a man of the vagabond or burglar species—that very man who a few
hours earlier had presented himself to Rebecca at the lodge—was in the
act of leaving Mrs. Penwyn’s dressing-room. His back was turned to
Viola, he looked neither to the right nor the left, but crept along the
corridor with stealthy yet rapid footsteps. Viola paused not a moment
ere she pursued him. Her footfall hardly sounded on the carpeted floor,
but the flutter of her dress startled the intruder. He looked at her,
and then dashed onward to the head of the staircase, almost throwing
himself down the shallow oak stairs, the flying figure in its airy white
robe closely pursuing him.

At the head of the stairs Viola gave the alarm, with a cry which rang
through the silent house. She was gaining upon the thief. At the bottom
of the stairs she had him in her grasp, the two small hands clutching
his greasy velveteen collar.

He turned upon her with a fierce oath, would have struck her to the
ground, perhaps, and marred her delicate beauty for ever with one blow
of his iron fist, had not the billiard-room door opened suddenly and Mr.
Penwyn appeared, Sir Lewis Dallas, a visitor staying in the house, at
his elbow.

‘What is the matter? Who is this man?’ cried Churchill, while he and Sir
Lewis hastened to Viola’s side, and drew her away from the ruffian.

‘A thief, a burglar!’ gasped the excited girl. ‘I saw him coming out of
my sister’s dressing-room. He has murdered her, perhaps. Oh, do go and
see if she is safe, Churchill!’

‘Hold him, Lewis,’ cried Churchill, and ran upstairs without another
word.

Sir Lewis was tall and muscular, an athlete by nature and art. In his
grip the marauder waited submissively enough till Churchill returned,
breathless but relieved in his mind. Madge was safe—Madge did not even
know that there was anything amiss.

‘Thanks, Lewis,’ he said, quietly, taking the intruder from his friend’s
hand as coolly as if he had been some piece of lumber.

‘Go upstairs to your room, Vio, and sleep soundly for the rest of the
night,’ added Churchill to his sister-in-law. ‘I’ll compliment you on
your prowess to-morrow morning.’

‘I don’t think I could go to bed,’ said Viola, shuddering. ‘There may be
more burglars about the house. I feel as if it was swarming with them,
like the beetles Mills talks about in the kitchen.’

‘Nonsense, child! The fellow has no companions. Perhaps you’d be kind
enough to see my sister as far as the end of the corridor, Lewis?’

‘Oh no,’ cried Viola, quickly. ‘Indeed, I’m not frightened. I don’t want
any escort;’ and she ran upstairs so fast that Sir Lewis lost his
opportunity of saying something sweet at the end of the corridor. His
devotion to the pretty Miss Bellingham was notorious, and Viola
apprehended some soft speech, perhaps a gentle pressure of her hand, a
fervid assurance that no peril should come near her while he watched
beneath that roof. And the portionless daughter of Sir Nugent Bellingham
was not wise enough in her generation to encourage this wealthy young
baronet.

‘Now, you sir, go in there!’ said Churchill, pushing the gipsy into his
study. ‘You needn’t wait, Lewis. I can tackle this fellow
single-handed.’

‘No! I can’t let you do that. He may have a knife about him.’

‘If he has I don’t think he’ll try it upon me. I brought this from my
dressing-room just now.’

He pointed to the butt-end of a revolver lurking in the breast-pocket of
his smoking coat.

‘Well, I’ll smoke a cigar in the billiard-room while you hold your
parley with him. I shall be within call.’

Sir Lewis retired to enjoy his cigar, and Churchill went into his study.
He found that the burglar had availed himself of this momentary delay,
and was beginning to unfasten the shutters.

‘What? You’d like to get out that way,’ said the Squire. ‘Not till you
and I have had our talk together. Let go that shutter, if you please,
while I light the lamp.’

He struck a wax match and lighted a shaded reading lamp that stood on
the table.

‘Now,’ he said, calmly, ‘be good enough to sit down in that chair while
I overhaul your pockets.’

‘There’s nothing in my pockets,’ growled Paul, prepared for his
resistance.

‘Isn’t there? Then you can’t object to have them emptied. You’d better
not be needlessly objective. I’ve an argument here that you’ll hardly
resist,’ showing the pistol, ‘and my friend who grappled you just now is
ready to stand by me.’

The man made no further resistance. Churchill turned out the greasy
linings of his pockets, but produced nothing except loose shreds of
tobacco and various scraps of rubbish. He felt inside the vagabond’s
loose shirt, thinking that he might have hidden his booty in his bosom,
but with no result. A cunning smile curled the corners of the
scoundrel’s lips, a smile that told Churchill to persist in his search.

‘Come,’ he said, ‘you’ve some of my wife’s diamonds about you. I saw the
case open, and half empty. You were not in that room for nothing. You
shall strip to your skin, my man. But first, off with that neckerchief
of yours.’

The man looked at him vengefully, eyed the pistol in his captor’s hand,
weighed the forces against him, and then slowly and sullenly untied the
rusty black silk handkerchief which encircled his brawny throat, and
threw it on the table. Something inside the handkerchief struck sharply
on the wood.

‘I thought as much,’ said Churchill.

He untwisted the greasy wisp of silk, whereupon his wife’s collet
necklace and the large single stones she wore in her ears fell upon the
table. Churchill put the gems into his pocket without a word.

‘Is that all?’ he asked.

‘Yes,’ the man answered, with an oath.

Churchill looked at him keenly. ‘You will go straight from here to
jail,’ he said, ‘so concealment wouldn’t serve you much. You are a
gipsy, I think?’

‘I am.’

‘What brought you here to-night?’

‘I came to see a relation.’

‘Here, on these premises?’

‘At the lodge. The woman you’ve chosen for your lodge-keeper is my
mother.’

‘Rebecca Mason?’

‘Yes.’

Churchill took a turn or two up and down the room thoughtfully.

‘Since you’ve been so uncommonly kind to her, perhaps you’ll strain a
point in my favour,’ said the gipsy. ‘I shouldn’t have tried to rob you
if I hadn’t been driven to it by starvation. It goes hard with a man
when he has a wolf gnawing his vitals, and stands outside an open window
and sees a lot of women with thousands of pounds on their neck, in the
shape of blessed gems that do no more real good to any one than the
beads our women bedizen themselves with. And then he sees the old ivy
roots are thick enough to serve for a ladder, and the windows upstairs
left open and handy for him to walk inside. That’s what I call
temptation. Perhaps _you_ were outside the good things of this world at
some time of your life, and can feel for a poor wretch like me.’

‘I have known poverty,’ answered Churchill, wondrously forbearing
towards this vagrant, ‘and endured it?’

‘Yes, but you hadn’t to endure it for ever. Fortune was kind to you. It
isn’t often a man drops into such a berth as this by a fluke. You’ve got
your property, and you may as well let me off easily, for my mother’s
sake?’

‘You don’t suppose your mother is more to me than any other servant in
my employ,’ said Churchill, turning upon him sharply.

‘Yes, I do. You wouldn’t go to the gipsy tents for a servant unless you
had your reasons. What should have brought you to Eborsham to hunt for a
lodge-keeper?’

The mention of that fatal city startled Churchill. Seldom was that name
uttered in his hearing. It was among things tabooed.

‘I’m sorry I can’t oblige you by condoning a felony,’ he said, in his
most tranquil manner. ‘As a justice of the peace any sentimentality on
my part would be somewhat out of character. The utmost I can do for you
is to get the case heard without delay. You may anticipate the privilege
of being committed for trial, to-morrow at noon, at the petty sessions.’

He left the room without another word, and locked the door on his
prisoner. The lock was good and in excellent order, the door one of
those ponderous portals only to be found in old manor houses and their
like.

But Mr. Penwyn seemed to have forgotten the window, which was only
guarded on the inside. He had shut one side of a trap, ignoring the
possibility of escape on the other.

He looked into the billiard-room before he went up stairs. Sir Lewis
Dallas had finished his cigar and was slumbering peacefully, stretched
at full length on one of the divans, like an uninterested member of the
House of Commons.

‘He’s nearly as well off there as in his room, so I won’t interrupt his
dreams,’ thought Churchill, as he retired.

That shriek of Viola’s had awakened several of the household. Mills had
heard it, and had descended half dressed to the corridor, in time to
meet Miss Bellingham on her way upstairs, and to hear the history of the
gipsy’s attempt from that young lady. Mills had taken the news back to
the drowsy housemaids—had further communicated it to the startled
footman, who looked out of his half-opened door to ask what was the row.
Thus by the time the household began to be astir again, between five and
six next morning, everybody knew more or less about the attempted
robbery.

‘What have they done with the robber?’ asked the maids and the odd man
and boot-cleaner, who alone among the masculine retainers condescended
to rise at this early hour.

‘I think he must be shut up in master’s study,’ answered one of the
women, whose duty it was to open the house, ‘for the door’s locked and I
couldn’t get in.’

‘Did you hear anybody inside?’ asked the cook, with keen interest.

‘Not a sound. He must be asleep, I suppose.’

‘The hardened villain. To think that he can sleep with such a conscience
as his, and the likelihood of being sent to Botany Bay in a week or
two.’

‘Botany Bay has been done away with,’ said the odd man, who read the
newspapers. ‘They’ll send him no further than Dartmoor.’


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



                              CHAPTER XIV

           ‘O HEAVEN! THAT ONE MIGHT READ THE BOOK OF FATE!’


CHURCHILL PENWYN looked something the worse for that half-hour’s
excitement overnight when the Manor House party assembled at breakfast,
between eight and nine next morning. The days began early at Penwyn, and
only Lady Cheshunt was guilty of that social malingering involved in a
chronic headache, which prevented her appearing on the dewy side of
noon. Perhaps Mr. Penwyn’s duties as host during the previous evening
might have fatigued him a little. He had a weary look in that bright
morning sunshine—a look of unrest, as of one who had slept but little in
the night hours. Madge glanced at him every now and then with
half-concealed anxiety. Every change, were it ever so slight, in that
one beloved face was visible to her.

‘I hope last night’s business has not worried you, love,’ she said
tenderly, making some excuse for carrying him his breakfast-cup with her
own hands. ‘The diamonds are safe, and no doubt the man will be properly
punished for his audacity.’

Churchill had told her all about the attempted robbery, in his clear,
passionless way, but not a word of that interview in the study, between
gentleman and vagabond. Madge, merciful to all innocent sufferers, had
no sentimental compassion for this frustrated burglar, but desired that
he should be duly punished for his crime.

‘I am not particularly worried, dear. It was rather an unpleasant ending
to a pleasant evening, that is all.’

They were still seated at the breakfast-table, and Sir Lewis Dallas was
still listening with rapt attention to Viola’s account of her feelings
at the sight of the thief, when the butler, who had left the room a few
minutes before, in compliance with a whispered request from his
subordinate, re-entered, solemn of aspect, and full of that
self-importance common to the craft.

‘The man has been taken again, sir, and is in the village lock-up,’ he
announced to his master.

Churchill rose hastily.

‘Taken again! What do you mean? I left him locked up in my study at two
o’clock this morning.’

‘Yes, sir, but he unfastened the shutters and got out of the window, and
would have got clean off, I dare say, if Tyrrel, the gamekeeper, and his
son hadn’t been about with a couple of dogs, on the look-out for
poachers. The dogs smelt him out just as he was getting over the fence
in the pine wood, and the Tyrrels collared him, and took him off to the
lock-up then and there. He fought hard, Tyrrel says, and would have been
almost a match for the two of ’em if it hadn’t been for the dogs. They
turned the scale,’ concluded the butler, grandly.

‘Imagine the fellow so nearly getting off!’ exclaimed Sir Lewis. ‘I
wonder it didn’t strike you that he would get out at the window, Penwyn.
You locked the door, and thought you had him safe. Something like the
painter fellow, who went in for the feline species, and cut two holes in
his studio door, a big one for his cat, and a little one for her kitten,
forgetting that the little cat could have got through the big cat’s
door. That’s the way with you clever men, you’re seldom up to trap in
trifles.’

‘Rather stupid of me, I confess,’ said Churchill, ‘but I suppose I was a
little obfuscated by the whole business. One hasn’t a burglar on one’s
hands every night in the week. However,’ he added, slowly, ‘he’s safe in
the lock-up; that’s the grand point, and I shall have the pleasure of
assisting at his official examination at twelve o’clock.’

‘Are the petty sessions on to-day?’ asked Sir Lewis, warmly interested.
‘How jolly!’

‘You don’t mean to say that you take any interest in that sort of
twaddle?’ said Churchill.

‘Anything in the way of crime is interesting to me,’ replied the young
man; ‘and to assist at the examination of the ruffian who frightened
Miss Bellingham will be rapture. I only regret that the old hanging laws
are repealed.’

‘I don’t feel quite so unmerciful as that,’ said Madge, ‘but I should
like the man to be punished, if it were only as an example. It isn’t
nice to lose the sense of security in one’s own house, to be afraid to
open one’s window after dark, and to feel that there may be a burglar
lurking in every corner.’

‘And to know that your burglar is your undeveloped assassin,’ added Sir
Lewis. ‘I’ve no doubt that scoundrel would have tried to murder us both
last night if it hadn’t been for my biceps and Churchill’s revolver.’

The breakfast party slowly dispersed, some to the grounds, some to the
billiard-room. Every one had letters to write, or some duty to perform,
but no one felt in the cue for performance. Nor could anybody talk of
anything except the burglar, Viola’s courage, Churchill’s coolness in
the hour of peril, and carelessness in the matter of the shutters. Lady
Cheshunt required to have bulletins carried to her periodically, while
she sipped orange Pekoe in the luxurious retirement of an Arabian bed.

Thus the morning wore on till half-past eleven, at which time the
carriage was ordered to convey Mrs. Penwyn, Miss Bellingham, and Sir
Lewis Dallas to the village inn, attached whereto was the justices’
room, where Mr. Penwyn and his brother magistrate, or magistrates, were
to meet in solemn assembly.

Viola and Sir Lewis were wanted as witnesses. Mrs. Penwyn went,
ostensibly to take care of her sister, but really because she was
acutely anxious to see the result of the morning’s work. That look of
secret care in her husband’s face had disturbed her. Looks which for the
world at large meant nothing had their language for her. She had studied
every line of that face, knew its lights and shadows by heart.

The day was lovely, another perfect August day. The shining faces of the
reapers turned towards them as they drove past the golden fields, broad
peasant faces, sun-browned, and dewy with labour’s honourable sweat. All
earth was gay and glad. Madge Penwyn looked at this fair world sadly,
heavy with a vague sense of secret care. The skylark sang his thrilling
joy-notes high up in the blue vault that arched these golden lands, and
the note of rapture jarred upon the wife’s ear.

‘I’m afraid we have been too happy, Churchill and I,’ she thought, and
then recalled two lines of Hood’s, full of deepest pathos,—

                     ‘For there is e’en a happiness
                      That makes the heart afraid.’

They had been utterly happy only a little while ago, but since that
confession of Churchill’s, the wife’s heart had been burdened with a
secret grief. And to-day she felt that hidden care keenly. Something in
her husband’s manner had suggested concealed anxieties, fears, cares
which he could not or would not share with her. ‘If he did but know how
loyal I could be to him,’ she thought, ‘he would hardly shrink from
trusting me.’

Viola was full of excitement, and quite ferociously disposed towards the
burglar.

‘I suppose to-day’s business is only a kind of rehearsal,’ she said,
gaily, ‘and that we shall have to give our evidence again at Bodmin
assizes. And some pert young barrister on the Western Circuit will
browbeat me and try to make me contradict myself, and make fun of me,
and ask if I had put my hair in papers, or had unplaited my chignon when
I ran downstairs after the burglar.’

‘I should like to see him do it,’ muttered Sir Lewis, in a vengeful
tone.

They were in Penwyn village by this time, the old-fashioned straggling
village, two rows of cottages scattered apart on the wide high road, a
tiny Methodist chapel in a field, the pound, the lock-up, big enough for
one culprit, and the village inn, attached to which there was the
justice-room, a long narrow upper chamber, with a low ceiling.

All the inhabitants of Penwyn had turned out to see the great folks. It
was like an Irish crowd, children, old women, and young matrons with
infants in their arms. The children had just turned out from the pretty
Gothic school-house, which Mr. Penwyn had built for them. They bobbed
deferentially as their patroness descended from her carriage, and a
murmur of praise and love ran through the little crowd—sweetest chorus
to a woman’s ear.

‘We ought to be happy in this fair land,’ thought Madge, as her heart
thrilled at the sight of her people. ‘It is like ingratitude to God to
keep one secret care when He has blessed us so richly.’


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



                               CHAPTER XV

             ‘QUI PEUT SOUS LE SOLEIL TROMPER SA DESTINEE?’


CHURCHILL was waiting at the inn door to receive his wife. He had ridden
across on his favourite horse Tarpan—a long-necked, raking bay, over
sixteen hands, and a great jumper—a horse with a tremendous stride, just
such a brute as Lenore’s lover might have bestridden in that awful
nightride.

‘Is the man here, Churchill?’ Madge asked, anxiously.

‘Yes, love. There is nothing to be uneasy about,’ answered her husband,
replying to her looks rather than to her words.

‘Yet you seem anxious, Churchill.’

‘Only in my magisterial capacity. Tresillian is here. We shall commit
this fellow in no time. It will only need a few words from Viola and Sir
Lewis.’

Not a syllable about the diamond necklace had Mr. Penwyn said to his
wife. He had replaced the gems in her dressing-case while she slept
peacefully in the adjoining room, and no one but himself and the burglar
knew how far the attempted robbery had gone.

They all went up the narrow little staircase, Mr. Penwyn leading his
wife up the steep stairs, Viola and Sir Lewis following. The
justice-room was full of people—or at least that end of it devoted to
the public. The other end of it was fenced off, and here at a table sat
Mr. Tresillian, J. P., and his clerk—ready for action.

‘Look, Churchill,’ whispered Madge, as her husband put her hand through
his arm and led her towards this end of the room, ‘there is the woman at
the lodge. What can have brought her here?’

Mr. Penwyn’s glance followed his wife’s for a moment. Yes, there stood
Rebecca, of the North Lodge, sullen, even threatening of aspect, or
seeming so to the eye that looked at her now. What a horrible likeness
she bore to that ruffian he had dealt with last night!

Mr. Tresillian shook hands with the two ladies. He was a tall, stout
man, with a florid countenance, who rode to hounds all the season, and
devoted himself to the pleasures of the table for the rest of the year.
It was something awful to the crowd to see him shake hands, and smile,
and talk about the weather, just like a common mortal; to see him
pretend to be so good-natured too, when it was his function—the very
rule of his being—to inflict summary punishment upon his fellow-men, to
have no compassion for pleasant social vices, and to be as hard on a
drunkard as upon a thief.

There was only one case to be heard this morning, and the thrilling
interest of that one case held the spectators breathless. Women stood on
tiptoe peering over the shoulders of the men—women who ought to have
been at their washtubs, or baking homely satisfying pasties for the
family supper.

The ruffian was brought in closely guarded by a couple of rural
policemen, and looking considerably the worse for last night’s
recapture. He had fought like a wild cat for his freedom, had given and
taken a couple of black eyes, had furthermore received a formidable cut
across his forehead, and had had his clothes torn in the scuffle.

The two Tyrrels, father and son, also in a damaged condition, were there
to relate proudly how they had pounced upon the offender just as he was
clambering over a fence. They had told their story already so many
times, in an informal manner, to curious friends and acquaintances, that
they were prepared to give it with effect presently when they should be
put upon oath.

Mr. Tresillian, who went to work in a very slow and ponderous way, was
still conferring with his clerk in a bass undertone, which sounded like
distant organ music, when Rebecca Mason pushed her way through the
crowd, and came to that privileged portion of the room where Mr. Penwyn
and his wife were sitting.

‘I want to know if you’re going to press this charge, Mr. Penwyn,’ she
asked, quietly enough, but hardily.

‘Of course he is,’ answered Madge, with a flash of anger. ‘Do you
suppose we are going to overlook such an attempt—a man breaking into our
house after midnight, and frightening my sister nearly out of her wits?
We should never feel secure at the Manor if this man were not made an
example of. Pray what interest have you in pleading for him?’

‘I’ll tell you that by and by, ma’am. I did not ask the question of you,
but of my master.’

‘Your master and I have but one thought in the matter.’

‘Do you mean to prosecute that man, Mr. Penwyn,’ asked Rebecca, looking
steadfastly at the Squire. Even while addressing Madge she had kept her
eyes on Churchill’s face. The brief dialogue had been carried on in an
undertone, while Mr. Tresillian and the clerk were still muttering to
each other.

‘The case is out of my hands. I have no power to prevent the man’s
committal.’

‘Yes, you have,’ answered Rebecca, doggedly. ‘You have power to do
anything here. What is law or justice against a great landowner, in a
place like this? You are lord and master here.’

‘Why do you bother me about this burglar?’

‘He is my son.’

‘I am sorry any servant of mine should be related to such a scoundrel.’

‘I am not proud of the relationship,’ answered the lodge-keeper, coolly.
‘Yet there are men capable of worse crimes than entering another man’s
house—criminals who wear smooth faces and fine broadcloth—and stand high
in the world. I’d rather have that vagabond for my son than some of
them.’

Churchill glanced at his wife, as if to consult her feelings. But Madge,
so tender and pitying to the destitute and afflicted, had an inflexible
look just now. Rebecca was her particular antipathy, a blot upon the
fair face of Penwyn manor, which she was most anxious to see removed;
and now this Rebecca appeared in a new and still more disagreeable light
as the mother of a burglar. It was hardly strange, therefore, that Mrs.
Penwyn should be indisposed to see the law outraged in the cause of
mercy.

‘I regret that my wish to serve you will not allow me to condone a
felony on behalf of your son, said Churchill, with slow distinctness,
and meeting that piercing gaze of the gipsy’s with as steady a look in
his own grey eyes. ‘The attempt was too daring to be overlooked. A man
breaks into my house at midnight, naturally with some evil intent.’

Still not a word about the diamonds which he had recovered from the
burglar’s person.

‘He did not break into your house,’ argued Rebecca, ‘you left your
windows open, and he walked in. He had been drinking, I know, and hardly
knew where he was going, or what he was doing. If he had had his wits
about him, he wouldn’t have allowed himself to be caught by a girl,’ she
added, contemptuously.

‘He may have been drunk,’ said Churchill, with a thoughtful look, ‘but
that hardly mends the matter. It isn’t pleasant to have a drunken
vagabond prowling about one’s house. What do you say, my queen?’ he
asked, turning to Madge, with a smile, but not quite the smile which was
wont to brighten his face when he looked at her. ‘Will you exercise your
prerogative of mercy? Shall I try what I can do to get this vagabond off
with a few days in Penwyn lock-up, instead of having him committed for
trial?’

‘I have no compassion for a man who lifted his hand against my sister,’
answered Madge, warmly. ‘Sir Lewis told me all about it, Churchill. He
saw that villain raise his clenched fist to strike Viola’s face. He
would have disfigured her for life, or killed her perhaps, if Sir Lewis
had not caught his arm. So you suppose I am going to plead for such a
scoundrel as that?’

‘Come, Mrs. Penwyn, you are a woman and a mother,’ pleaded Rebecca, ‘you
ought to be merciful.’

‘Not at the expense of society. Justice and order would, indeed, be
outraged if the law were stretched in favour of such a ruffian as your
son.’

‘You’re hard, lady,’ said the gipsy, ‘but I think I can say a word that
will soften you. Let me speak to you in the next room,’ looking towards
a half-open door that communicated with a small parlour adjoining. ‘Let
me speak with you alone for five minutes—you’d better not say no, for
his sake,’ she urged, with a glance at Churchill.

Mr. Penwyn rose suddenly with darkening brow, and seized Madge by the
arm, as if he would hold her away from the woman.

‘I will not suffer any communication between you and my wife,’ he
exclaimed. ‘You have said your say and have been answered. I will do
anything I can for you, grant anything you choose to ask for yourself,’
with emphasis, ‘but your son must take his chance.—Tresillian, we are
ready.’

‘Lady, you’d better hear me,’ pleaded the gipsy.

That plea weighed lightly enough with Madge Penwyn. She was watching her
husband’s face, and it was a look in that which alone influenced her
decision.

‘I will hear you,’ she said to the gipsy. ‘Ask Mr. Tresillian to wait
for a few minutes, Churchill.’

‘Madge, what are you thinking of?’ cried her husband. ‘She can have
nothing to say that has not been said already. She has had her answer.’

‘I will hear her, Churchill, and alone.’

That ‘I will’ was accompanied by an imperious look not often seen in
Madge Penwyn’s face—never before seen by him she looked at now.

‘As you will, love,’ he answered, very quietly, and made way for her to
pass into the adjoining room.

Rebecca followed, and shut the door between the two rooms. There was a
faint stir, and then the low hum of the little crowd sank into silence.
Every eye turned to that closed door; every mind was curious to know
what those two women were saying on the other side of it.

There was a pause of about ten minutes. Churchill sat by the official
table, silent and thoughtful. Mr. Tresillian fidgeted with the
stationery, and yawned once or twice. The ruffian stood in his place,
dogged and imperturbable, looking as if he were the individual least
concerned in the day’s proceedings.

At last the door opened, and Madge appeared. She came slowly into the
room,—slowly, and like a person who only walked steadily by an effort.
So white and wan was the face turned appealingly towards Churchill, that
she looked like one newly risen from some sickness unto death. Churchill
rose to go to her, but hesitatingly, as if he were doubtful whether to
approach her—almost as if they had been strangers.

‘Churchill,’ she said faintly, looking at him with pathetic eyes—a gaze
in which deepest love and despair were mingled. At that look and word he
went to her, put his arm round her, and led her gently back to her seat.

‘You must get this man off, Churchill,’ she whispered faintly. ‘You
must.’

He bent his head, but spoke not a word, only pressed her hand with a
grip strong as pain or death. And then he went to Mr. Tresillian, who
was growing tired of the whole business, and was at all times plastic as
wax in the hands of his brother magistrate, not being troubled with
ideas of his own in a general way. Indeed, he had expended so much
brain-power in the endeavour to out-manœuvre the manifold artifices of
certain veteran dog foxes in the district, that he could hardly be
supposed to have much intellectual force left for the Bench.

‘I find there has been a good deal of muddle in this business,’ said
Churchill to him confidentially. ‘The man is the son of my lodge-keeper,
and a decent hard-working fellow enough, it seems. He had been drinking,
and strayed into the Manor House in an obfuscated condition last
night—my servants are most to blame for leaving doors open—and Viola saw
him, and was frightened, and made a good deal of unnecessary fuss. And
then my keepers knocked the fellow about more than they need have done.
So I really think if you were to let him off with a day or two in the
lock-up, or even a severe reprimand——’

‘Yes—yes—yes—yes—yes,’ said Mr. Tresillian, keeping up a running fire of
muttered affirmatives throughout Churchill’s speech. ‘Certainly. Let the
fellow off, by all means, if he had no felonious intention, and Mrs.
Penwyn wishes it. Ladies are so compassionate. Yes, yes, yes, yes.’

Mr. Tresillian was thinking rather more about a certain fifteen-acre
wheat-field now ready for the sickle than of the business in hand.
Reapers were scarce in the land just now, and he was not clear in his
mind about getting in that corn.

So, instead of swearing in witnesses and holding a ceremonious
examination, Mr. Tresillian disappointed the assembled audience by
merely addressing a few sharpish words to the delinquent, and sending
him about his business, with a warning never more to create trouble in
that particular neighbourhood, lest it should be worse for him. The
offender was further enjoined to be grateful to Mr. and Mrs. Penwyn for
their kindness in not pressing the charge. And thus the business was
over, and the court rose. The crowd dispersed slowly, grumbling not a
little about Justice’s justice, and deeply disappointed at not having
seen the strange offender committed for trial.

‘If it had been one of us,’ a man remarked to a neighbour, ‘we shouldn’t
have got off so easy.’

‘No,’ growled another. ‘If it had been some poor devil had up for
licking his wife, he’d have got it hot.’

All was over. Viola and Sir Lewis Dallas, who had been indulging in a
little quiet flirtation by an open window, and not attending to the
progress of events, were beyond measure surprised at the abrupt close of
the proceedings, and not a little disappointed, for Viola had quite
looked forward to appearing in the witness-box at Bodmin Assize Court,
and being cross-examined by an impertinent barrister, and then
complimented upon her heroism by the judge, and perhaps cheered by the
multitude. Nothing could be flatter than this ending.

‘It’s just like Madge,’ exclaimed Viola. ‘She may make believe to be
angry for half an hour or so, but that soft heart of hers is melted at
the first piteous appeal. That horrid woman at the lodge has begged off
her horrid son.’

Madge, whiter than summer lilies, did not look in a condition to be
questioned just now.

‘See how ill she looks,’ said Viola to Sir Lewis. ‘They have worried her
into a nervous state with their goings on. Let us get her away.’

There was no need for Sir Lewis’s intervention. Churchill led his wife
out of the room. Erect, and facing the crowd firmly enough both of them,
but one pale as death.

‘Are you going to ride home, Churchill?’ asked Madge, as her husband
handed her into the carriage.

‘Yes, love, I may as well go back as I came on Tarpan.’

‘I had rather you came with us,’ she said, with an appealing look.

‘As you like, dear. Lewis, will you ride Tarpan?’

Sir Lewis looked at Viola and then at his boots. It was an honour to
ride Tarpan, but hardly a pleasant thing to ride him without straps; and
then Sir Lewis would have liked that homeward drive, with Viola for his
_vis-à-vis_.

‘By all means, if Mrs. Penwyn would rather you went back in the
carriage,’ he said good-naturedly, but with a look at Viola which meant
‘_You_ know what a sacrifice I am making.’

That drive home was a very silent one. Viola was suffering from reaction
after excitement, and leaned back with a listless air. Madge looked
straight before her, with grave fixed eyes, gazing into space. And still
there was not a cloud in the blue bright sky, and the reapers standing
amongst the tawny corn turned their swart faces towards the Squire’s
carriage, and pulled their moistened forelocks, and thought what a fine
thing it was for the gentry to be driving swiftly through the clear warm
air, lolling back upon soft cushions, and with no more exertion than was
involved in holding a silk umbrella.

‘But how white Madam Penwyn looks!’ said one of the men, a native of the
place, to his mate. ‘She doant look as if the good things of this life
agreed with her. She looks paler and more tired like than you nor me.’


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



                              CHAPTER XVI

             ‘THIS IS MORE STRANGE THAN SUCH A MURDER IS.’


THEY were in Madge’s dressing-room, that spacious, many-windowed
chamber, with its closed venetians, which was cool and shadowy even on a
blazing August day like this. They were alone together, husband and
wife, face to face, two white faces turned towards each other, blanched
by passions stronger and deeper than it is man’s common lot to suffer.

They had come here straight from the carriage that brought them back to
the Manor House, and they were alone for the first moment since Madge
had heard Rebecca Mason’s petition.

‘Churchill,’ she said slowly, with agonized eyes lifted to his face, ‘I
know all—all that woman could tell; and she showed me——’

She stopped, shuddering, and clasped her hands before her face. Her
husband stood like a rock, and made no attempt to draw nearer to her. He
stood aloof and waited.

‘I know all,’ she repeated, with a passionate sob, ‘and I remember what
I said when you asked me to be your wife. You were too poor—we were too
poor. I could not marry you because of your poverty. It was my
worldliness, my mercenary decision that influenced you, that urged you
to——Oh, Churchill, half the fault was mine. God give me leave to bear
half the burden of His anger.’

She flung herself upon her husband’s shoulder, and sobbed there,
clinging to him more fondly than in their happiest hour, her arms
clasping him round the neck, her face hidden upon his breast, with such
love as only such a woman can feel—love which, supreme in itself, rises
above every lesser influence.

‘What! you touch me, Madge! You come to my arms still; you shed
compassionate tears upon my breast. Then I am not wholly lost. Vile as I
am, there is comfort still. My love, my fond one, fortune gave me
nothing so sweet as you.’

‘Oh, Churchill, why, why—?’ she sobbed.

He understood the question involved in that one broken word, hardly
audible for the sobs that shook his wife’s frame.

‘Dearest, Fate was hard upon me, and I wanted you!’ he said, with a
calmness that chilled her soul. ‘A good man would have trusted in
Providence, no doubt, and waited unrepiningly for life’s blessings until
he was grey and old, and went down to his grave without ever having
known earthly bliss, taking with him some vague notion that he was to
come into his estate somewhere else. I am not a good man. My passionate
love and my scorn of poverty would not let me wait. I knew that, by one
swift bold act—a wicked deed if you will, but not a cruel one, since
every man must die once—I could win all I desired. Fortune had made two
men’s lots flagitiously unequal. I balanced them.’

‘Oh, Churchill, it is awful to hear you speak like that. Surely you have
repented—surely all your life must be poisoned with regret.’

‘Yes, I have felt the canker called remorse. I could surrender all good
things that earth can give—yes, let you go from these fond arms,
beloved, if that which was done could be undone. And now you will loathe
me, and we must part.’

‘Part, Churchill! What, leave you because you are the most miserable of
men? No, dearest, I will cling to you, and hold by you to the end of
life, come what will. If it was I who tempted you to sin, you shall not
bear your burden alone. Loathe you!’ she cried, passionately, looking up
at him with streaming eyes, ‘no, Churchill! I cannot think of that
hideous secret without horror; I cannot think of the sinner without
pity. There is a love that is stronger than the world’s favour, stronger
than right, or peace, or honour, and such a love I have given you.’

‘My angel—my comforter! Would to God I had kept my soul spotless for
your sake!’

‘And for our child, Churchill, for our darling. Oh, dearest, if there
can be pardon for such a sin as yours—and Christ spoke words of mercy
and promise to the thief on the cross—let us strive for it, strive with
tears and prayers, and deepest penitence. Oh, my love, believe in a God
of mercy, the God who sent His Son to preach repentance to sinners.
Love, let us kneel together to that offended God, let us sue for mercy,
side by side.’

Her husband drew her closer to his breast, kissed the pale lips with
unspeakable tenderness, looked into the true brave eyes which did not
shrink from his gaze.

‘Even I, who have had you for my wife, did not know the divinity of a
woman’s love—until this miserable hour. My dearest, even to comfort you,
I cannot add deliberate blasphemy to my sins. I cannot kneel, or pray to
a Power in which my faith is of the weakest. Keep your gentle creed,
dearest, adore your God of mercy—but I have hardened my heart against
these things too long to find comfort in them now. My one glory, my one
consolation, is the thought that, lost as I am, I have not fallen too
low for your love. You will love me and hold by me, knowing my sin; and
let my one merit be that in this dark hour I have not lied to you. I
have not striven to outweigh that woman’s accusation by some fable which
your love might accept.’

‘No, Churchill, you have trusted me, and you shall find me worthy of
your trust,’ she answered, bravely. ‘No act of mine shall ever betray
you. And if you cannot pray—if God withholds the light of truth from you
for a little while, my prayers shall ascend to Him like ever-burning
incense. My intercession shall never cease. My faith shall never
falter.’

He kissed her again without a word—too deeply moved for speech,—and then
turned away from her and paced the room to and fro, while she went to
her dressing-table, and looked wonderingly at the white wan face, which
had beamed so brightly on her guests last night. She looked at herself
thoughtfully, remembering that henceforward she had a part to act, and a
fatal secret to keep. No wan looks, no tell-tale pallor must betray the
horrid truth.

‘Madge,’ said her husband, presently, after two or three thoughtful
turns up and down the room, ‘I have not one word to say to you in
self-justification. I stand before you confessed, a sinner of the
blackest dye. Yet you must not imagine that my whole life is of a colour
with that one hideous act. It is not so. Till that hour my life had been
blameless enough—more blameless perhaps than the career of one young man
in twenty, in our modern civilization. Temptation to vulgar sins never
assailed me. I was guiltless till that fatal hour in which my evil
genius whispered the suggestion of a prize worth the price of crime.
Macbeth was a brave and honourable soldier, you know, when the fatal
sisters met him on the heath, and hissed their promise into his ear. And
in that moment guilty hope seized upon his soul, and already in thought
he was a murderer. Dearest, I have never been a profligate, or cheat, or
liar, or coward. I have concentrated the wickedness which other men
spread over a lifetime of petty sins in one great offence.’

‘And that shall be forgiven,’ cried Madge, with a sublime air of
conviction. ‘It shall, if you will but repent.’

‘If to wish an act undone is repentance, I have repented for more than
two years,’ he answered. ‘Hark, love! that is the luncheon-bell. We must
not alarm our friends by our absence. Or stay, I will go down to the
dining-room. You had better remain here and rest. Poor agonized head,
tender faithful heart, what bitter need of rest for both!’

‘No, dear, I will go down with you,’ Madge answered, firmly. ‘But let me
ask one question first, Churchill, and then I will never speak to you
more of our secret. That hateful woman—you have pacified her for to-day,
but how long will she be satisfied? Is there any fear of new danger?’

‘I can see none, dearest. The woman was satisfied with her lot, and
would never have given me any trouble but for this unlucky accident of
her son’s attempt last night. I will get the man provided for and sent
out of the country, where you shall never hear of him again. The woman
is harmless enough, and cares little enough for her son; but that brute
instinct of kindred, which even savages feel, made her fight for her
cub.’

‘Why did you bring her here, Churchill? Was that wise?’

‘I thought it best so. I thought it wise to have her at hand under my
eye, where she could only assail me at close quarters, and where she was
not likely to find confederates—where she could have all her desires
gratified, and could have no motive for tormenting me.’

‘It is best, perhaps,’ assented Madge. ‘But it is horrible to have her
here.’

‘The Egyptians had a skeleton at their feasts, lest they should forget
to make the most of their brief span of carnal pleasures. It is as well
to be reminded of the poison in one’s cup of life.’

‘And now go to our guests, Churchill. Your face tells no tale. Say that
I am coming almost immediately.’

‘My darling, I fear you are exacting too much from your fortitude.’

‘No, Churchill; I shall begin as I mean to go on. If I were to shut
myself up—if I were to give myself time for thought to-day—just at
first—I should go mad.’

He went, half unwillingly. She stood for a few moments, fixed to the
spot where he had left her, as if lost in some awful dream, and then
walked dizzily to the adjoining room, where she tried to wash the ashy
pallor from her cheeks with cold spring water. She rearranged her hair,
with hands that trembled despite her endeavour to be calm; changed her
dress—fastened a scarlet _coque_ in her dark hair, and went down to the
dining-room, looking a little wan and fatigued, but not less lovely than
she was wont to look. What a mad world it seemed to her when she saw her
guests assembled at the oval table, talking and laughing in that easy
unreserved way which seems natural at the mid-day meal, when servants
are banished, and gentlemen perform the onerous office of carver at the
loaded sideboard; when hungry people, just returned from long rambles
over hills and banks where the wild thyme grows, or from a desperate
croquet match, or a gallop across the moorland, devour a heterogeneous
meal of sirloin, perigord pie, clotted cream, fruit, cutlets, and
pastry, and drink deeper draughts of that sparkling Devonian cider,
better a hundred times than champagne, than they would quite care to
acknowledge, if a reckoning were demanded of them.

Everybody seemed especially noisy to-day—talk, flirtation, laughter,
made a Babel-like hubbub—and at the end of the table sat the Squire of
Penwyn, calm, inscrutable, and no line upon the expansive forehead, with
its scanty border of crisp, brown hair, showed the brand of Cain.


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



                              CHAPTER XVII

             ‘AH, LOVE, THERE IS NO BETTER LIFE THAN THIS.’


JUSTINA had made a success at the Royal Albert Theatre. The newspapers
were tolerably unanimous in their verdict. The more æsthetic and
critical journals even gave her their approval, which was a kind of
_cachet_. The public, always straightforward and single-minded in their
expression of satisfaction, had no doubt about her. She was accepted at
once as one of the most popular and promising young actresses of the
day—natural yet artistic—free from all trick, unaffected, modest, yet
with the impulsive boldness of a true artist, who forgets alike herself
and her audience in the unalloyed delight of her art.

A success so unqualified gave the girl extreme pleasure, and elevated
Matthew Elgood to a region of bliss which he had never before attained.
For the first time in his life he found himself supplied with ample
means for the gratification of desires which, at their widest, came
within a narrow limit. The manager of the Royal Albert Theatre had made
haste to be liberal, lest other managers, ever on the watch for rising
talent, should attempt to lure Justina to their boards by offers of
larger reward. He sprang his terms at once from the weekly three
guineas, which Matthew had gladly accepted at the outset, to double that
amount, and promised further increase if Miss Elgood’s second part were
as successful as the first.

‘With a very young actress one can never be sure of one’s ground,’ he
said, diplomatically. ‘The part in “No Cards” just fits your daughter.
I’ve no idea what she may be in the general run of business. I’ve seen
so many promising first appearances lead to nothing.’

‘My daughter has had experience, and tuition from an experienced actor,
sir,’ replied Matthew, with dignity. ‘She has a perfect knowledge of her
art, and the more you call upon her the better stuff you will get from
her. Such a part as that in “No Cards” is a mere bagatelle for her. Fits
her, indeed! It fits her too well, sir. Her genius has no room to expand
in it!’

Six guineas—by no means a large income in the eyes of a paterfamilias
with a wife, and a servant or two, and a nest-full of small children to
provide for, to say nothing of the rent of the nest to pay—seemed wealth
to Mr. Elgood, whose ideas of luxury were bounded by a Bloomsbury
lodging, a hot dinner every day, and his glass of gin and water mixed
with a liberal hand. He expanded himself in this new sunshine, passed
his leisure in spelling through the daily papers, escorting his daughter
to and from the theatre, and hanging about the green-room, where he told
anecdotes of Macready, bragged of Justina’s talents when she was out of
the room, and made himself generally agreeable.

That Bloomsbury lodging of Mr. Elgood’s, though located in the shabbier
quarter of the parish, seemed curiously near that highly respectable
street where Maurice Clissold had his handsome first-floor chambers, so
little account did Mr. Clissold make of the distance between the two
domiciles. He was always dropping in at Mr. Elgood’s, bringing Justina
fresh flowers from the glades of Covent Garden, or a new book, or some
new music. She had improved her knowledge of that delightful art during
the last two years, and now played and sang sweetly, with taste and
expression that charmed the poet.

Before Justina had been many weeks at the Albert Theatre, it became an
established fact that Mr. Clissold was to drink tea with Miss Elgood
every afternoon. The gentle temptations of the kettledrum, which he had
resisted so bravely in Eton Square, beguiled him here in Bloomsbury,
though the simple feast was held on a second floor, with a French
mechanic working sedulously at his trade below. Many an hour did Maurice
Clissold waste in careless happy talk in that second-floor sitting-room,
with its odour of stale tobacco, its shabby old-fashioned furniture, its
all-pervading air of poverty and commonness. The room was glorified for
him somehow, as he sat by the sunny window sipping an infusion of congou
and pekoe out of a blue delft teacup.

One day it struck him suddenly that Justina ought to have prettier
teacups, and a few days afterwards there arrived a set of curious old
dragon-china cups and saucers. He had not gone to a china-shop, like a
rich man, and ordered the newest and choicest ware that Minton’s factory
had produced. But he had walked half over London, and peered into all
manner of obscure dens in the broker’s shop line, till he found
something to please him. Old red and blue sprawling monsters of the
crocodile species, on thinnest opalescent porcelain, cups and saucers
that had been hoarded and cherished by ancient housekeepers, only
surrendered when all that life can cling to slipped from death’s dull
hand. The old fragile pottery pleased him beyond measure, and he carried
the cups and saucers off to a cab, packed in a basket of paper shavings,
and took them himself to Justina.

‘I don’t suppose they are worth very much now-a-days when Oriental china
is at a discount,’ he said, ‘and they cost me the merest trifle. But I
thought you’d like them.’

Justina was enraptured. Those old cups and saucers were the first
present she had ever received—the first actual gift bestowed out of
regard for her pleasure which she could count in all her life; except
the same donor’s offerings of books and music.

‘How good of you!’ she said, more than once, and with a look worth three
times as many words. Maurice laughed at her delight.

‘It was worth my perambulation of London to see you so pleased,’ he
said.

‘What, did you take so much trouble to get them?’

‘I walked a good long way. The only merit my offering has is that I took
some pains to find it. I am not a rich man, you know, Justina.’

He called her by her Christian name always, with a certain brotherly
freedom that was not unpleasant to either.

‘I am so glad of that,’ she exclaimed, naïvely.

‘Glad I’m not rich? Why, that’s scarcely friendly, Justina.’

‘Isn’t it? But if you were rich you wouldn’t come to see us so often,
perhaps. Rich people have such hosts of friends.’

‘Yes, Crœsus has generally a wideish circle—not the best people,
possibly, but plenty of them. But I don’t think all the wealth of the
Indies—the peacock throne of the great Mogul, and so on—would make any
difference in my desire to come here. No, Justina, were the chief of the
Rothschilds to transfer his balance to my account to-morrow I should
drop in all the same for my afternoon refresher, as regularly as five
o’clock struck.’

They had talked of literature and poetry, and fully discussed that new
poet whose book Justina had wept over, but by no word had Maurice hinted
at his identity with the writer. He liked to hear her speculate upon
that unknown poet—wondering what he was like—setting up her ideal image
of him. One day he made her describe what manner of man she imagined the
author of ‘A Life Picture;’ but she found it difficult to reduce her
fancies to words.

‘I cannot compliment you on the clearness of your delineation,’ he said.
‘I haven’t yet arrived at the faintest notion of your ideal poet. If you
could compare him to any one we know, it might help me out. Is he like
Mr. Flittergilt, the dramatist?’

‘Mr. Flittergilt,’ she cried, contemptuously. ‘Mr. Flittergilt, who is
always making bad puns, and talking of his own successes, and telling us
that clever remark he made yesterday!’

‘Not like Flittergilt? Has he any resemblance to me, for instance?’

Justina laughed, and shook her head—a very positive shake.

‘No, you are too light-hearted for a poet. You take life too easily. You
seem too happy.’

‘In your presence, Justina. You never see me in my normal condition,’
remonstrated Maurice, laughing.

‘No, I cannot fancy the author of that poem at all like you. He is a man
who has suffered.’

Maurice sighed.

‘And you think I have never suffered?’

‘He must be a man who has loved a false and foolish woman, and who has
been stung to the quick by remorse for his own weakness.’

‘Ah, we are all of us weak once in our lives, and apt to be deceived,
Justina. Happy the man who knows no second weakness, and is not twice
deceived.’

He said this gravely enough for poet and thinker. Justina looked at him
with a puzzled expression.

‘Now you seem quite a different person,’ she said. ‘I could almost fancy
you capable of being a poet. I know there are glimpses of poetry in your
talk sometimes.’

‘When I talk to you, Justina. Some people have an influence that is
almost inspiration. All manner of bright thoughts come to me when you
and I are together.’

‘That cannot be true,’ she said. ‘It is you who bring the bright
thoughts to me. Consider how ignorant I am, and how much you know—all
the great world of poetry, of which so many doors are barred against me.
You read Goethe and Schiller. You go into that solemn temple where the
Greek poets live in their strange old world. When you took me to the
museum the other day, you pointed out all the statues, and talked of
them as familiarly as if they had been the statues of your own friends.
While I, who have hardly a schoolgirl’s knowledge of French, cannot even
read that Alfred de Musset of whom you talk so much.’

‘You know the language in which Shakespeare wrote. You have all that is
noblest and grandest in human literature in your hand when you take up
that calf-bound, closely printed, double-columned volume yonder, from
the old Chiswick press. I think an English writer who never read
anything beyond his Bible and his Shakespeare would have a nobler style
than the man of widest reading, who had not those two books in his heart
of hearts. Other poets are poets. That one man was the god of poetry.
But we will read some of De Musset’s poems together, Justina, and I will
teach you something more than a schoolgirl’s French.’

After this it became an established thing for Maurice and Justina to
read together for an hour or so, just as it was an established thing for
Maurice to drop in at tea-time. He made his selections from De Musset
discreetly, and then passed on to Victor Hugo; and thus that more
valuable part of education which begins when a schoolgirl has been
‘finished’ was not wanting to Justina. Never was a pupil brighter or
more intelligent. Never master more interested in his work.

Matthew Elgood looked on, not unapprovingly. In the first place, he was
a man who took life lightly, and always held to the gospel text about
the day and the evil thereof. He had ascertained from good-natured Mr.
Flittergilt that Maurice Clissold had an income of some hundreds per
annum, and was moreover the scion of a good old family. About the good
old family Matthew cared very little; but the income was an important
consideration, and assured of that main fact, he saw no harm in the
growing intimacy between Justina and Maurice.

‘It’s on the cards for her to do better, of course,’ reflected Mr.
Elgood; ‘actresses have married into the peerage before to-day, and no
end of them have married bankers and heavy mercantile swells. But,
after all, Justina isn’t the kind of beauty to take the world by
storm; and this success of hers may be only a flash in the pan. I
haven’t much confidence in the duration of this blessed new school of
acting, these drawing-room comedies, with their how-d’ye-do, and
won’t-you-take-a-chair dialogue. The good old heavy five-act drama
will have its turn by and by, when the public is tired of this milk
and water. And Justina has hardly physique enough for the five-act
drama. It might be a good thing to get her comfortably married if I
was quite clear about my own position.’

That was an all-important question. Justina single and on the stage
meant, at a minimum, six guineas a week at Mr. Elgood’s disposal. The
girl handed her salary over to the paternal exchequer without a
question, and was grateful for an occasional pound or two towards the
replenishment of her scanty wardrobe.

Mr. Elgood lost no time in trying to arrive at Maurice’s ideas upon this
subject.

‘It’s a hard thing for a man when he outlives his generation,’ he
remarked, plaintively, one Sunday evening when Maurice had dropped in
and found the comedian alone, Justina not having yet returned from
evening service at St. Pancras. ‘Here am I, in the prime of life, with
all my faculties in their full vigour, laid up in port, as useless a
creature as if I were a sheer hulk, like poor Tom Bowling—actually
dependent upon the industry of a girl! There’s something degrading in
the idea. If it were not for Justina, I’d accept an engagement for the
heavies at the lowest slum in London, roar my vitals out in three pieces
a night, rather than eat the bread of dependence. But Justina won’t have
it. “I want you to bring me home from the theatre of a night, father,”
she says. And that’s an argument I can’t resist. The streets of London
are no place for unprotected innocence after dark, and cabs are an
expensive luxury. Yet it’s a bitter thing to consider that if Justina
were to marry I should have to go to the workhouse.’

‘Hardly, if she married an honest man, Mr. Elgood,’ replied Maurice. ‘No
honest man would take your daughter away from you without making some
provision for your future.’

‘Well, I _have_ looked at it in that light,’ said Matthew, reflectively,
as if the question had thus dimly presented itself before him. ‘I think
an honest man wouldn’t feel it quite the right thing to take away my
bread-winner, and leave me to spend my declining days in want and
misery. Yet, as Shakespeare has it, “Age is unnecessary.” “Superfluous
lags the veteran on the stage.” “_To have done_ is to hang—

                “Quite out of fashion, like a rusty nail,
                   In monumental mockery.”’

‘Be assured, Mr. Elgood, that if your daughter marries a man who really
loves her, your age will not be uncared for.’

‘I do not wish to be a burden upon my child,’ pursued the actor,
tearfully.

His second tumbler of gin and water was nearly emptied by this time.

‘A hundred and four pounds per annum—two pounds a week—secured to me,
would give me all I ask of luxury; my lowly lodging, say in May’s Court,
St. Martin’s Lane, or somewhere between Blackfriars Bridge and the
Temple; my rasher or my bloater for breakfast, my beefsteak for dinner;
and my modest glass of gin and water hot, to soothe the tired nerves of
age. These, and an occasional ounce of tobacco, are all the old man
craves.’

‘Your desires are very modest, Mr. Elgood.’

‘They are, my dear boy. I would bear the pang of severance from my sweet
girl, if I saw her ascend to a loftier sphere, and keep my lowly place
without repining. But I should like the two pounds a week made as
certain as the law of the land could make it.’

This was a pretty clear declaration of his views, and having thus
expressed himself, Mr. Elgood allowed life to slip on pleasantly,
enjoying his comfortable little two o’clock dinners, and his afternoon
glass of gin and water, and dozing in his easy chair, while Maurice and
Justina read or talked, only waking at five o’clock when the dragon
teacups made a cheerful clatter, and Justina was prettily busy with the
task of tea-making.

Even the old common lodging-house sitting-room began by and by to assume
a brighter and more homelike air. A vase of choice flowers, a row of
books neatly arranged on the old-fashioned sideboard, a Bohemian glass
inkstand, clean muslin covers tacked over the faded chintz
chair-backs—small embellishments by which a woman makes the best of the
humblest materials. The dragon china tea-service was set out on the
chiffonier top when not in use, and made the chief ornament of the room.
Composition statuettes of Shakespeare and Dante, which Maurice had
bought from an itinerant image-seller, adorned the chimney-piece, whence
the landlady’s shepherd and shepherdess were banished.

In a scene so humble, in a circle so narrow, Maurice spent some of the
happiest hours of his life. He remembered Cavendish Square sometimes
with a pang, the shadowy drawing-room at twilight, the flower-screened
balcony, so pleasant a spot to linger in when the lamps were lighted in
the square below, and the long vista of Wigmore Street converged to a
glittering point, and the moon rose above the gloomy roof of Cavendish
House—hours of happiness as unalloyed—dreams that were over, days that
were gone. And he asked himself whether this second birth of joy was a
delusion and a snare like the first.


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



                             CHAPTER XVIII

              ‘LOVE IS A THING TO WHICH WE SOON CONSENT.’


MAURICE CLISSOLD had not forgotten that entry in the register at Seacomb
Church, and one afternoon, when Matthew, Justina, and he were cosily
seated at the clumsy old lodging-house table drinking tea, he took
occasion to refer to his rambles in Cornwall, and his exploration of the
little out-of-the-way market town.

‘I should fancy you children of Thespis must have found life rather
difficult at such a place as Seacomb,’ he said. ‘Dramatic art must be
rather out of the line of those Nonconformist miners. I saw three
Dissenting chapels in the small town, one of them being the very
building which was once the theatre.’

‘Yes,’ said Mr. Elgood, with a thoughtful look, ‘we had a bad time of it
at Seacomb. My poor wife was ill, and if it hadn’t been for the kindness
of the people we lodged with—well, we might have had a closer
acquaintance with starvation than any man cares to make. There’s no such
touchstone for the human heart as distress, and no man knows the
goodness of his fellow-men till he has sounded the lowest deep of
misery.’

‘You had a child christened at Seacomb, had you not, Mr. Elgood?’ asked
Maurice.

The comedian looked up with a startled expression.

‘How did you know that?’ he asked.

‘I was turning over the parish register, looking for another entry, when
I stumbled across the baptism of a child of yours, whose name was not
Justina. I thought perhaps Justina was an assumed name, and that the
infant christened at Seacomb was Miss Elgood, as the age seemed to
correspond.’

‘No,’ replied Matthew, hurriedly. ‘That infant was an elder sister of
Justina’s. She died at six weeks old.’

‘Why, father,’ exclaimed Justina, ‘you never told me that you lost a
child at Seacomb. I did not even know I ever had a brother or sister. I
thought I was your only child.’

‘The only one to live beyond infancy, my dear. Why should I trouble you
with the remembrance of past sorrows? We have had cares enough without
raking up dead-and-gone griefs.’

‘Was your wife a Cornish woman, Mr. Elgood?’ asked Maurice.

‘No; she was born within the sound of Bow bells, poor soul. Her father
was a bookbinder in Clerkenwell. She had a pretty voice, and a wonderful
ear for music; and some one told her she would do very well on the
stage. Her home was dull and poor, and she felt she ought to earn her
living somehow. So she began to act at a little amateur theatre near
Coldbath Fields, and having a bright pretty way with her, she got a good
deal of notice, and was offered an engagement to play small singing
parts at Sadler’s Wells. I was a member of the stock company there at
the time, and her pretty little face and her pretty little ways turned
my stupid head somehow, and I told myself that two salaries thrown into
one would go further than they would divided; never considering that
managers would want to strike a bargain with us—lump us together on the
cheap—when we were married; or that when two people are earning no
salary it’s harder for two to live than one. Well, we married, and lived
a hard life afterwards; but I was true to my poor girl, and fond of her
to the last; and when hunger was staring us in the face we were not all
unhappy.’

‘Justina is like her mother, I suppose,’ said Maurice, ‘as she doesn’t
at all resemble you?’

‘No,’ replied Matthew, ‘my wife was a pretty woman, but not in Justina’s
style.’

‘What made you hit upon such an out-of-the-way name as Justina? Mind, I
like the name very much, but it is a very uncommon one.’

Mr. Elgood looked puzzled.

‘I dare say it was a fancy of my wife’s,’ he said. ‘But I really don’t
recollect anything about it.’

‘I’ll tell you why I ask the question,’ pursued Maurice. ‘While I was in
Cornwall, staying at a farm called Borcel End, I came across the name.’

The comedian almost dropped his teacup.

‘Borcel End!’ he exclaimed, ‘you were at Borcel End?’

‘Yes. You know the place, it seems. But that’s hardly strange, since you
lived so long at Seacomb. Did you know the Trevanards?’

‘No, I only knew the farm from having it pointed out to me once when a
friend gave me a drive across the moor in his dog-cart. A queer,
out-of-the-way place. What could have taken you there?’

‘It was something in the way of an adventure,’ replied Maurice, and then
proceeded to relate his experience on that midsummer afternoon among the
Cornish hills.

He touched lightly upon his visit to Penwyn Manor House, knowing that
this might be a painful subject for Justina. But she showed a warm
interest in his story.

‘You saw _his_ house,’ she said, ‘the old Manor House he told me about
that night at Eborsham. Oh, how like the memory of a dream it seems when
I think of it! I should like so much to see that place.’

‘You shall see it some day, Justina, if—if you will let me show it you,’
said Maurice, stumbling a little over the last part of the sentence. ‘It
is strange that you should be twice associated with that remote corner
of the land, once in your birth, a second time in poor James Penwyn’s
devotion to you.’

‘It is very strange, sir,’ said the comedian, solemnly, and then with
his grand Shakespearean manner continued,—

          “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
            Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”’

‘It was at Borcel End I heard the name of Justina,’ said Maurice, going
back to the subject most interesting to him. ‘There is an old picture
there, a portrait of the present proprietor’s grandmother, whose name
was Justina.’

‘Is the old grandmother living still?’ asked Matthew, suddenly.

‘What, blind old Mrs. Trevanard? Yes, she is still living. But you said
you did not know the Trevanards.’

‘Only by repute. I heard people talk about them. Rather a curious
family, I fancy.’

‘In some respects,’ answered Maurice, puzzled by the comedian’s manner.
It seemed as if he were affecting to know less about the family at
Borcel End than he really knew. Yet why should he conceal so simple a
circumstance as his acquaintance with the Trevanards?

When Maurice and Justina were alone together for a short time next day,
the girl questioned her companion about his visit to Penwyn Manor.

‘I want you to describe the old place,’ she said. ‘I cannot think of it
without pain. Yet I like to hear of it. Please tell me all about it.’

Maurice obeyed, and gave a detailed description of the grave old
mansion, as he had seen it that summer afternoon.

‘How happy he would have been there!’ said Justina. ‘How bright and fair
that young life would have been! I am not thinking of my own loss,’ she
said, as if in answer to an unspoken question of Maurice’s. ‘I never
forgot what you said about unequal marriages that evening at Eborsham,
when you came in and found me in my grief, and spoke some hard truths to
me. I felt afterwards that you were wiser than I; that all you said was
just and true. I should have been a basely selfish woman if I had taken
advantage of his foolish impulsive offer—if I had let the caprice of a
moment give colour to a life. But believe me, when I let myself love
him, I had no thought of his worldly wealth. It was his bright kind
nature that drew me to him. No one had ever spoken to me as he spoke. No
one had ever praised me before. It was a childish love I gave him,
perhaps, but it was true love, all the same.’

‘I believe that, Justina. I believed it then when I saw you, little more
than a child, so faithfully sorry for my poor friend’s fate. If I had
known you better in those days I should not have called his love
foolish. I should never have opposed his boyish fancy. I look back now
at my self-assertive wisdom, and it seems to me a greater folly than
James Penwyn’s unreasoning love.’

‘You must not say that,’ remonstrated Justina gently, ‘all that you said
was spoken well and wisely; and if Providence had spared him, and if he
had married me, he would have been ashamed of his actress-wife.’

‘I doubt it, Justina. A man must be hard to please who could be ashamed
of you.’

‘I suppose it is very wicked of me,’ said Justina, after a brief
silence, ‘but I cannot help grudging those people their happiness in
_his_ house. It makes me angry when I think of that cousin—Mr. Churchill
Penwyn—who gained so much by James’s death. I remember his cold calm
face as I saw it at the inquest. There was no sorrow in it.’

‘He could hardly be supposed to be sorry. He and James had seen very
little of each other; and James’s death lifted him at a bound from
poverty to wealth.’

‘Yes, I can never think of him without remembering that. He gains so
much. The murderer with his brutal greed of gain little thought that he
was helping another man to fortune—a man who in the evil wish may have
shared his guilt.’

‘You have no right to say that, Justina.’

‘It is unjust, perhaps, but I cannot be temperate when I think of James
Penwyn’s murder. Nobody thought of interrogating the man who profited so
much by his death. You were suspected because you were not at your inn
that night; but no one asked where Mr. Churchill Penwyn spent the night
of the murder.’

‘There was no ground for suspecting him.’

‘There was the one fact that he was the only gainer by the crime. He
should have been made to prove himself innocent. And now he is happy,
proud of his usurped position.’

‘So far as one man can judge another man’s life, Churchill Penwyn seems
to me completely happy. His wife is a woman in a thousand, and devoted
to him; but I shall have the pleasure of introducing you to her some
day, perhaps, Justina.’

‘Do not think of such a thing. I could never regard Churchill Penwyn as
a friend. I hope never to see him again.’

Maurice Clissold saw that this feeling about James Penwyn’s successor
was deeply rooted, and he argued the question no further. He was too
happy in Justina’s society to dwell long upon discordant notes. They had
so much to talk about, small as was the actual world in which they had
mutual interest. Maurice had undertaken to show all the glories of
London to the girl whose life hitherto had been spent in small
provincial towns. Justina had ample leisure for sight-seeing, for Mr.
Flittergilt’s original comedy proved an honest success, and there was no
new piece yet in rehearsal at the Royal Albert Theatre. Nor had Mr.
Elgood, comedian, any prudish notions about the proprieties, which might
have hindered his daughter’s enjoyment of picture galleries and museums,
abbeys and parks. He did not care for sight-seeing himself; for his love
of art, he confessed honestly, was not strong enough to counterbalance
certain gouty symptoms in his feet, which made prolonged standing a
fatigue to him.

‘Let me enjoy my pipe and my newspaper, and let Justina see the pictures
and crockery,’ he said, with reference to the South Kensington Museum.
So the two young people went about together as freely as if they had
been brother and sister, and spent many a happy hour among the national
art treasures, or in Hyde Park, in whose deserted alleys autumn’s first
leaves were falling.

Mr. Clissold went less and less to his clubs, and became, as it were, a
dead letter in the minds of his friends.

One man suggested that Clissold must be writing a novel. Another opined
that Clissold had fallen in love.

In the meanwhile Clissold was perfectly happy after his own fashion.
Never had his mind been more serene—never had his verse flowed clearer
in those quiet night hours which he gave to the Muses; never had the
notes of his lyre rung out with a fuller melody. He was writing a poem
to succeed the ‘Life Picture,’ a romance in verse, calculated to be as
popular with Mudie’s subscribers as his first venture had been. He
soared to no empyrean heights of metaphysical speculation, but in strong
melodious verse, with honest force and passion, told his story of human
joys and human sorrows, human loves and human losses.

It pleased him to hear Justina praise the ‘Life Picture,’ pleased him to
think that he would be exalted in her eyes were she to know him as its
author. But it pleased him still better to keep his secret, to hear her
frank expression of opinion, and leave her free to form her ideal fancy
of the poet.

‘The prize I seek to win must be won by myself alone,’ he thought. ‘My
literary work is something outside myself. I will not be valued for
that.’

One Sunday, that being Justina’s only disengaged evening, Maurice
persuaded Mr. Elgood to bring his daughter to dine with him in his
bachelor quarters.

‘I want to show you my books,’ he said to Justina. ‘Collecting them has
been my favourite amusement for the last five years, and I think it may
interest you to see them.’

Justina was delighted at the idea. Mr. Elgood foresaw something special
in the way of dinner, perhaps a bottle or two of champagne, so the
invitation was accepted with pleasure.

The September evenings were shortening by this time. They dined by
lamplight, and the bachelor’s room, with its dark crimson curtains and
paper, its heterogeneous collection of pictures, prints, bronzes, and
china, looked its best in the mellow light of a pair of Carcel lamps.
The inner room was lined from floor to ceiling with books, handsomely
bound most of them; for Mr. Clissold devoted all his superfluous cash to
books and bookbinding. To this study and sanctum the party adjourned for
coffee and dessert, and while Mr. Elgood did ample justice to a bottle
of old port, Maurice showed Justina his favourite authors, and
expatiated on the beauty of wide margins. Innocent, happy hours; yes,
every whit as happy as those days of delusion in Cavendish Square. And
all this time there were all manner of distinguished people anxious to
be introduced to Miss Elgood; Richmond and Greenwich dinners without
number which she might have eaten had she been so minded; diamonds,
broughams, sealskin jackets, pug-dogs, all the glories of existence
ready to be laid at her feet.


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



                              CHAPTER XIX

                     SORROW AUGMENTETH THE MALADY.


THIS happy easy-going life of Maurice Clissold’s was suddenly disturbed
by a letter from Martin Trevanard. Some time had elapsed without any
communication from the young man when this letter arrived, but Maurice,
in his new happiness, had been somewhat forgetful of his Cornish friend.
He felt a touch of remorse as he read the letter.

‘Things have been going altogether wrong here,’ wrote Martin. ‘I don’t
mean in the way of worldly prosperity. We have had a first-rate harvest,
and a good year in all respects. But I am sorry to say my mother’s
health has been declining for some time. She has been unable to attend
to the house, and things get out of gear without her. My father has
grown moody and unhappy, and, I’m afraid, puts a dash of brandy into his
cider oftener than is good for him. Muriel is much the same as usual,
and the good old grandmother holds out bravely. It is my mother gives me
most uneasiness. I feel convinced that she has something on her mind. I
have sometimes thought that her trouble is in some way connected with
poor Muriel. I only wish you were here. Your clearer mind might
understand much that is dark to me. If it were not asking too much from
your friendship, I would willingly beg you to come down here for a week
or two. It would do me more good than I can express to see you.’

Maurice’s answer to this appeal was prompt and brief.

    ‘DEAR MARTIN,—I shall be at Borcel End, all things going well,
    to-morrow night.

                   ‘Yours always,

                        ‘M. C.’

It was a hard thing for him to leave town just now. There was his new
poem, which had all the charm and freshness of a composition recently
begun. Little chance for him to continue his work at Borcel, with Martin
always at his elbow, and the family troubles and family secrets on his
shoulders. And then there was Justina—his afternoon cup of tea in the
second-floor parlour—all his new hopes and fancies, which had grouped
themselves around the young actress, like the Loves and Graces round
Venus, in an allegorical ceiling by Lely or Kneller. But friendship with
Maurice Clissold being something more than a name, he felt that he could
do no otherwise than hasten to his friend’s relief. So he took his
farewell cup of tea out of the dragon china, and departed by an early
express next morning, after promising Justina to be away as brief a span
as possible.

Borcel End looked very much as when he had first seen it, save that the
warm glow of summer had faded from the landscape, and that the old
farmhouse had a gloomy look in the autumn dusk. Maurice had chartered a
vehicle at Seacomb station, and driven five miles across country, a wild
moorland district, made awful by a yawning open shaft here and there,
marking the place of an abandoned mine.

The glow of the great hall fire shining through the latticed windows was
the only cheerful thing at Borcel. All the rest of the long rambling
house was dark.

Martin received his friend at the gate.

‘This is good of you, Clissold,’ he said, as Maurice alighted. ‘I feel
ashamed of my selfishness in asking you to come to such a dismal place
as this; but it will do me a world of good to have you here. I’ve told
my mother you were coming for a fortnight’s ramble among the moors. It
wouldn’t do for her to know the truth.’

‘Of course not. But as to Borcel being a dismal place, you know that I
never found it so.’

‘Ah, you have never lived here,’ said Martin, with a sigh; ‘and then
you’ve the family up at the Manor to enliven the neighbourhood for you.
There’s always plenty of cheerfulness there.’

‘And how is Mr. Penwyn going on? Is he getting popular?’

‘He ought to be, for he has done a great deal for the neighbourhood.
You’ll hardly recognise the road between here and the Manor when you
drive there. But I don’t believe the Squire will ever be as popular as
Mrs. Penwyn. The people idolize her. But they seem to have a notion that
whatever the Squire does is done more for his own advantage than the
welfare of his tenants. And yet, take him for all in all, there never
was a more liberal landlord.’

Martin was carrying his friend’s small portmanteau to the porch as he
talked. Having deposited that burden, he ran back and told the driver to
take his horse round to the stables, and to go round to the kitchen
afterwards for his own supper. This hospitable duty performed, Martin
opened the door, and ushered Maurice into the family sitting-room.

There sat the old grandmother in her accustomed corner, knitting the
inevitable grey stocking which was always in progress under those swift
fingers. There, in an arm-chair by the fire, propped up with pillows,
sat the mistress of the homestead, sorely changed since Maurice had last
seen her. The keen dark eyes had all their old brightness; nay, looked
brighter from the pallor of the shrunken visage; the high cheek-bones,
the square jaw, were more sharply outlined than of old; and the hand
which the invalid extended to Maurice—that honest hard-working hand,
which had once been coarse and brown—was now white and thin.

Michael Trevanard sat at the opposite side of the hearth, with a pewter
tankard, a newspaper, and a long clay pipe on the square oak table at
his elbow. These idle autumn evenings were trying to the somewhat
mindless farmer, to whom all the world of letters afforded no further
solace than the county paper, or an occasional number of the _Field_.

‘I am sorry to see you looking so ill, Mrs. Trevanard,’ Maurice said
kindly.

‘I’ve had a bad time of it this year, Mr. Clissold,’ she answered. ‘I
had an attack of ague and low fever in the spring, and it left a cough
that has stuck to me ever since.’

‘I hope my coming here while you are an invalid, will not be troublesome
to you.’

‘No,’ answered Mrs. Trevanard, with a sigh, ‘I’ve got used to the notion
of things being in a muddle; and neither Michael nor Martin seem to
mind; so it doesn’t much matter that the house is neglected. I’ve been
obliged to take a second girl, and the two between them make more dirt
than ever they clean up. Your old room’s been got ready for you, Mr.
Clissold; at least I told Martha to clean it thoroughly, early this
morning, and light a good fire this afternoon; so I suppose it’s all
right. But you might as well make up your mind that the wind was always
to blow from one quarter, as that a girl would do her duty when your
eyes are off her. If I had a daughter, now, a handy young woman to look
after the house——’

She turned her head upon her pillow with a shuddering sigh. That thought
was too bitter.

‘My dear Mrs. Trevanard,’ cried Maurice, cheerfully, ‘I feel assured
that the room will be—well not so nice as you would have made it
perhaps, but quite clean and comfortable.’

He took his seat by the hearth, and entered into conversation with the
master of the house, who seemed cheered by the visitor’s arrival.

‘And pray what’s doing up in London, Mr. Clissold?’ Michael Trevanard
asked, as if he took the keenest interest in metropolitan affairs.

Maurice told him the latest stirring events—wars and rumours of wars,
reviews, royal marriages in contemplation—to which the farmer listened
with respectful attention, feeling these facts as remote from his life
as if they had occurred in the East Indies.

He, on his part, told Maurice all that had been stirring at Penwyn;
amongst other matters that curious circumstance of the attempted
burglary, and Mr. Penwyn’s lenity towards the offender.

‘I’m rather surprised to hear that,’ said Maurice. ‘I should not have
thought the Squire a particularly easy-going person.’

‘No, he can be stern enough at times,’ answered the farmer. ‘That
business up at the justice-room caused a good bit of talk. If it had
been one of us, folks said, Squire Penwyn wouldn’t have let go his grip
like that. They couldn’t understand why he should be so lenient just
because the man was the son of his lodge-keeper. It would have seemed
more natural for him to get rid of the whole lot altogether, for they’re
a set of vagabonds to be about a gentleman’s place. That girl Elspeth,
who brought you here, is always robbing the orchards and hen-roosts
about the neighbourhood. She’s a regular pest to the farmers’ wives.’

‘That curious-looking woman is still at the lodge, then?’ asked Maurice.

‘Yes, she’s still there.’

‘Perhaps it was Mrs. Penwyn who interceded for the son.’

‘Well, it was a curious business altogether,’ answered the farmer. ‘Mrs.
Penwyn and the woman has a talk together in a room to themselves, and
then Mrs. Penwyn comes back to the justice-room looking as white as a
corpse, and says a few words to her husband, and on that he talks over
Mr. Tresillian, and then Mr. Tresillian lets the vagabond off with a
reprimand. Now why Mrs. Penwyn should intercede for the woman’s son I
can’t understand, for it’s well known, through Mrs. Penwyn’s own maid
having talked about it, that the Squire’s lady can’t endure the woman,
and is vexed with her husband for keeping such trash on his premises.’

‘I dare say there’s something more in it than any of us Cornish folks
are likely to find out,’ said Mrs. Trevanard. ‘The Penwyns were always a
secret underhanded lot; smooth on the outside; as fair as whitened
sepulchres, and as foul within.’

‘Come, Bridget, you’re prejudiced against them. You always have been, I
think. It isn’t fair to speak ill of those that have been good landlords
to us.’

‘Haven’t we been good tenants? We’re even there, I think.’

The maid-servant came in to lay the supper-table, Mrs. Trevanard’s
watchful eyes following the girl’s every movement. A good substantial
supper had been prepared for the traveller, but the old air of comfort
seemed to have deserted the homestead, Maurice thought. The sick wife,
with that unmistakable prophetic look in her face, the forecast shadow
of coming death, gave a melancholy air to the scene. The blind old
grandmother, sitting apart in her corner, looked like a monument of age
and affliction. The farmer himself had the heavy dulness of manner which
betokens a too frequent indulgence in alcohol. Martin was spasmodically
gay, as if determined to enjoy the society of his friend; but care had
set its mark on the bright young face, and he was in no wise the Martin
of two years ago.

Maurice retired to his bedroom soon after supper, conducted by Martin.
The apartment was unchanged in its dismal aspect; the dingy old
furniture loomed darkly through the dusk, Martin’s one candle making
only an oasis of light in the desert of gloom.

The memory of his first night at Borcel End was very present to Maurice
Clissold as he seated himself by the hearth, where the fire had burned
black and dull.

‘Poor Muriel,’ he thought, ‘what a dreary chamber for youth and beauty
to inhabit! And in a fatal hour the girl’s first love dream came to
illumine the gloom—sweet delusive dream, bringing pain along with it,
and inextinguishable regret.’

Martin set down the candle on the dressing-table, and poked the fire
vehemently.

‘Poor mother’s right,’ he said. ‘Those girls never do anything properly
now she isn’t able to follow them about. I told Phœbe to be sure to have
a bright fire to light up this cheerless old den, and she has left
nothing but a mass of smouldering coal.’

‘Never mind the fire, Martin. Sit down like a good fellow, and tell me
all your troubles. Your poor mother looks very ill.’

‘So ill that the doctor gives us no hope of her ever getting better.
Poor soul, she’s going to leave us. Heaven only knows how soon. She’s
been a good faithful wife to father, and a tender mother to me, and a
good mistress and a faithful servant in all things, so far as I can
tell. Yet I’m afraid there’s something on her mind—something that weighs
heavy. I’ve seen many a token of secret care, since she’s been ill and
sitting quietly by the fire, thinking over her past life.’

‘And you imagine that her trouble is in some way connected with your
sister?’

‘I don’t see what else it can be. That’s the only unhappiness we’ve ever
had in our lives. All the rest has been plain sailing enough.’

‘Have you questioned your mother about her anxieties?’ asked Maurice.

‘Many times. But she has always put me off with some impatient answer.
She has never denied that she has secret cares, but when I have begged
her to trust me or my father, she has turned from me peevishly. “Neither
of you could help me,” she has told me. “What is the use of talking of
old sores when there’s no healing them?”’

‘An unanswerable question,’ said Maurice.

‘You remember what you said to me about poor Muriel the day you left
Borcel? Well, those words of yours made a deep impression upon me, not
so much at the time as afterwards. I thought over all you had said, and
it seemed to grow clear to me that there was something sadder about my
poor sister’s story than had ever come to my knowledge. She had not been
quite fairly used, perhaps. Things had been hushed up and hidden for the
honour of her family, and she had been the victim of the family
respectability. My mother’s one fault is pride—pride in the
respectability of the Trevanards. She doesn’t want to be on a level with
her superiors, or to be thought anything better than a yeoman’s wife,
but her strong point has been the family credit. “There are no people in
Cornwall more looked up to than the Trevanards.” I can remember hearing
her say that, as soon as I can remember anything; and I believe she
would make any sacrifice of her own happiness to maintain that position.
It is just possible that she may have sacrificed the peace of others.’

‘I agree with you there, Martin. Whatever wrong has been done, great or
small, has been done for the sake of the good old name.’

‘Now it struck me,’ continued Martin, earnestly, ‘that although my
mother cannot be persuaded to confide in me, or in my father, who has
been a little dull of late, poor soul, she might bring herself to trust
you. I know that she respects you, as a clever man, and a man of the
world. You live remote from this little corner of the earth where the
Trevanards are of importance. She would feel less pain perhaps in
trusting you with a family secret than in telling it to her own kith and
kin. You would go away carrying the secret with you, and if there were
any wrong to be righted, as I fear there must be, you might right it
without giving rise to scandal. This is what I have thought—foolishly,
perhaps.’

‘Indeed, no, Martin, I see no folly in your idea; and if I can persuade
your mother to trust me, depend upon it I will.’

‘She knows you are a gentleman, and might be willing to trust in your
honour, where she would doubt any commoner person.’

‘We’ll see what can be done,’ answered Maurice, hopefully. ‘Your poor
sister lives apart from you all, I suppose, in the old way?’

‘Yes,’ replied the young man, ‘and I fear it’s a bad way. Her wits seem
further astray than ever. When I meet her now in the hazel copse, where
she is so fond of wandering, she looks scared and runs away from me. She
sings to herself sometimes of an evening, as she sits by the fire in
grandmother’s room. I hear her, now and then, as I pass the window,
singing some old song in her sad, sweet voice, just as she used to sing
me to sleep years ago. But I think she hardly ever opens her lips to
speak.’

‘Does she ever see her mother?’

‘That’s the saddest part of all. For the last year my mother hasn’t
dared go near her. Muriel took to screaming at the sight of her, as if
she was going into a fit; so, since then, mother and she have hardly
ever met. It’s hard to think of the dying mother, so near her only
daughter, and yet completely separated from her.’

‘It’s a sad story altogether, Martin,’ said Maurice, ‘and a heavy burden
for your young life. If I can do anything to lighten it, be sure of my
uttermost help. I am very glad you sent for me. I am very glad you trust
me.’

On this the two young men shook hands and parted for the night, Martin
much cheered by his friend’s coming.

No intrusion disturbed the traveller’s rest. He slept soundly after his
long journey, and awoke to hear farmyard cocks crowing in the sunshine,
and to remember that he was more than two hundred miles away from
Justina.


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



                               CHAPTER XX

                  ‘BUT OH! THE THORNS WE STAND UPON!’


MR. CLISSOLD spent the morning sauntering about the farm, and lounging
in one of the hill-side meadows with Martin. The young man was depressed
by the sense of approaching calamity; and the thought of parting with
his mother, who had been more tender to him than to any one else in the
world, was a bitter grief not to be put aside. But he did his best to
keep his sorrow to himself, and to be an agreeable companion to his
friend; while Maurice, on his side, tried to beguile Martin to
forgetfulness, by cheery talk of that wide busy world in which the young
Cornishman longed to take his place.

‘I shall have my liberty soon enough,’ said Martin, with a sigh. ‘I
could not leave Borcel during my mother’s lifetime, for I knew it would
grieve her if I deserted the old homestead. But when she is gone the tie
will be broken. Father can rub on well enough without me, if I find him
an honest bailiff to take my place. He can afford to sit down and rest
now, and take things easily; for he’s a rich man, though he and mother
always make a secret of it. And I can run down here once or twice a
year, to see how things are going on. Yes, I shall certainly go to
London after my poor mother’s death. Borcel would be hateful to me
without her. And if you can get me into a merchant’s office, I would try
my hand at commerce. I am pretty quick at figures.’

‘I’ll do my best to start you fairly, dear boy, though I have not much
influence in the commercial world. I think a year or two in London would
do you good, and perhaps reconcile you to your country life afterwards.
A little London goes a long way with some people. And now I think I’ll
walk over to Penwyn, and see how the Squire and his wife are getting on.
I shall be back at Borcel by tea-time. Will you come with me, Martin?’

‘I should like it of all things, but my mother sets her face against any
intercourse between the two families. She doesn’t even like my father to
go to the audit dinner. And just now when she’s so ill, I don’t care to
do anything that can vex her. So I’ll loaf about at home, while you go
up yonder.’

‘So be it, then, Martin. I think you’re quite right.’

The walk across the moorland was delightful in the late September
weather, a fresh breeze blowing off the land, and the Atlantic’s mighty
waves breaking silver-crested upon the rugged shore.

‘If Justina were but here!’ thought Maurice, with a longing for that one
companion in whose presence he had found perfect contentment—the
companion who always understood, and always sympathized—who laughed at
his smallest jokelet, for whom his loftiest flight never soared too
high. He thought of Justina, mewed up in her Bloomsbury parlour, while
he was gazing on that wide ocean, breathing this ethereal air, and he
felt as if there were selfishness in his enjoyment of the scene without
her.

‘Will the day ever come when she and I shall be one, and visit earth’s
fairest scenes together?’ he wondered. ‘Has she forgotten her romantic
attachment to my poor friend, and can she give me a whole heart? I think
she likes me. I have sometimes ventured to tell myself that she loves
me. Yet there is that old memory. She can never give me a love as pure
and perfect as that early passion—the firstfruits of her innocent,
girlish heart, pure as those vernal offerings which the Romans gave
their gods.’

He looked back to that summer day at Eborsham when he had seen the
overgrown, shabbily clad girl, sitting in the meadow, with wild flowers
in her lap, lifting her pale young face, and looking up at him with her
melancholy eyes—eyes which had beheld so little of earth’s brightness.
Nothing fairer than such a meadow on a summer afternoon.

‘I did not know that was my fate,’ he said to himself, remembering his
critical, philosophical consideration of the group.

Thinking of Justina shortened that moorland walk, the subject being, in
a manner, inexhaustible; just that one subject which, in the mind of a
lover, has no beginning, middle, or end.

By and by the pedestrian struck into one of Squire Penwyn’s new roads,
and admired the young trees in the Squire’s plantations, and the
thickets of rhododendron planted here and there among the stems of
Norwegian and Scotch firs. A keeper’s or forester’s lodge here and
there, built of grey stone, gave an air of occupation to the landscape.
The neatly kept garden, full of autumn’s gaudy flowers; a group of
rustic children standing at gaze to watch the traveller.

These plantations wonderfully improved the approach to Penwyn Manor
House. They gave an indication of residential estate, as it were, and
added importance to the country seat of the Penwyns; the Manor House of
days gone by having been an isolated mansion set in a wild and barren
landscape. Now-a-days the traveller surveyed these well-kept plantations
on either side of a wide high road, and knew that a lord of the soil
dwelt near.

Maurice entered the Manor House grounds by the north lodge. He might
have chosen a shorter way, but he had a fancy for taking another look at
the woman who had first admitted him to Penwyn, and who had become
notorious since then, on account of her son’s wrong doing.

The iron gate was shut, but the woman was near at hand, ready to admit
visitors. She was sitting on her door-step, basking in the afternoon
sunshine. She no longer wore the close white cap in which Maurice had
first seen her. To-day her dark hair, with its streaks of grey, was
brushed smoothly from her swarthy forehead, and a scarlet handkerchief
was tied loosely across her head.

That bit of scarlet had a curious effect upon Maurice Clissold’s memory.
Two years ago he had vaguely fancied the face familiar. To-day brought
back the memory of time and place, the very moment and spot where he had
first seen it.

Yes, he recalled the low water meadows, the tow-path, the old red-tiled
roofs and pointed gables of Eborsham; the solemn towers of the
cathedral, the crook-backed willows on the bank; and youth and careless
pleasure personified in James Penwyn.

This lodge-keeper was no other than that gipsy who had prophesied evil
about Maurice Clissold’s friend. A slight thing, perhaps, and matter for
ridicule, that dark saying about the severed line of life on James
Penwyn’s palm; but circumstances had given a fatal force to the
soothsayer’s words.

‘What!’ said Maurice, looking at the woman earnestly as she unlocked the
gate, ‘you and I have met before, my good woman, and far away from
here.’

She stared at him with a stolid look.

‘I remember your coming here two years ago,’ she said. ‘That was the
first and last time I ever saw you till to-day.’

‘Oh no, it was not—not the first time. Have you forgotten Eborsham, and
your fortune-telling days, when you told my friend Mr. Penwyn’s fortune,
and talked about a cut across his hand? He was murdered the following
day. I should think that event must have impressed the circumstance upon
your mind.’

‘I don’t know what you’re talking about,’ Rebecca Mason answered,
doggedly. ‘I never saw you till you came here. I was never at any place
called Eborsham.’

‘I cannot gainsay so positive an assertion from a lady,’ said Maurice,
ironically; ‘but all I can say is, that there is some one about in the
world who bears a most extraordinary likeness to you. I hope the fact
may never get you into trouble.’

He passed on towards the house, sorely perplexed by the presence of this
woman at Mr. Penwyn’s gates. He had no shadow of doubt as to her
identity. She was the very woman he had seen plying her gipsy trade at
Eborsham,—that woman, and no other. And what could have brought her
here? Through what influence, by what pretence, had she wormed her way
into a respectable household, and acquired so much power that her
vagabond son might attempt a burglary with impunity?

The question was a puzzling one, and worried Maurice not a little. He
remembered what Mrs. Trevanard had said about there being something in
the background, something false and underhanded in the Squire’s life.
Only the suggestion of a prejudiced woman, of course; but such
suggestions make their impression even upon the clearest mind. He
remembered Justina’s prejudice against the man who had been so great a
gainer by James Penwyn’s death.

‘Heaven help Churchill Penwyn!’ he thought. ‘It is not a pleasant thing
to succeed to a murdered man’s heritage. Let him walk ever so straight,
there will be watchful eyes that will see crookedness in all his ways.’

‘It’s a curious business about that gipsy woman, though,’ he went on,
after a pause. ‘Does Mr. Penwyn know who she is, I wonder? or has she
deceived him as to her character, and traded upon his benevolence?
Although he is not much liked here, he has done a good deal that
indicates a benevolent mind, and kindly intentions towards his
dependents. He may have given that woman her post out of pure charity.
I’ll try if I can get to the bottom of the business.’

He drew near the house. Everywhere he saw improvement—everywhere the
indication of an all-pervading taste, which had turned all things to
beauty. The gardens, whose half-neglected air he remembered, were now in
most perfect order. Additions had been made to the house, not important
in their character, but in a manner completing the harmony of the
picture. And over all there was a wealth of colour, and varied light and
shadow, which would have made most country mansions seem dull and
commonplace in comparison with this one.

‘It is Mrs. Penwyn’s taste, no doubt, which has made the place so
charming,’ Maurice thought. ‘Happy man to have such a wife. I will think
no ill of him, for her sake.’

The aspect of the house impressed Maurice as suggestive of happy
domestic life. Grandeur was not the character of the mansion—home-like
prettiness rather, a gracious smiling air, which seemed to welcome the
stranger.

Maurice entered by an Elizabethan porch, which had been added to the old
lobby entrance at one end of the house. The lobby had been transformed
into the prettiest little armory imaginable: the dark and shining oak
walls, decorated with weapons and shields of the Middle Ages, all old
English. This armory opened into a corridor with a row of doors on
either side, a corridor which led straight to the hall, now the
favourite family sitting-room, and provided with what was known as the
ladies’ billiard-table. The billiard-room proper was an apartment at the
other end of the house, with an open Gothic roof, and lighted from the
top, a room which Churchill had added to the family mansion.

Here, in the spacious old hall, Maurice found the family and guests
assembled after luncheon; Lady Cheshunt enthroned in a luxurious
arm-chair, drawn close to the bright wood fire, which pleasantly warmed
the autumnal atmosphere; Viola Bellingham deeply engaged in the
consideration of whether to play for the white or the red, her own ball
having been sent into a most uncomfortable corner by her antagonist, Sir
Lewis Dallas; Mrs. Penwyn seated on a sofa by the sunniest window, with
the infant heir on her knees, a sturdy fair-haired youngster in a dark
blue velvet frock, trying his utmost to demolish a set of Indian
chessmen which the indulgent mother had produced for his amusement;
Churchill seated near, glancing from an open Quarterly to that pleasing
picture of mother and child; two or three young ladies and a couple of
middle-aged gentlemen engaged in watching the billiard-players; and
finally, Sir Lewis Dallas engaged in watching Viola.

No brighter picture of English home life could be imagined.

Churchill threw down his Quarterly, and rose to offer the unexpected
guest a hearty welcome, which Madge as heartily seconded.

‘This time, of course, you have come to stay with us,’ said Mr. Penwyn.

‘You are too good. No. I have put up at my old quarters at Borcel End.
But I dare say I shall give you quite enough of my society. I walked
over to spend an hour or two, and perhaps ask for a cup of tea from Mrs.
Penwyn.’

‘You’ll stop to dinner, surely?’

‘Not this evening, tempting as such an invitation is. I promised Martin
Trevanard that I would go back before dark.’

‘You and that young Martin are fast friends, it seems.’

‘Yes. He is a capital young fellow, and I am really attached to him,’
answered Maurice, somewhat absently.

He was looking at Mrs. Penwyn, surprised, nay, shocked, by the change
which her beauty had suffered since he had last seen the proud handsome
face, only a few months ago. There was the old brightness in her smile,
the same grand carriage of the nobly formed head; but her face had aged
somehow. The eyes seemed to have grown larger; the once perfect oval of
the cheek had sharpened to a less lovely outline; the clear dark
complexion had lost its carnation glow, and that warm golden tinge,
which had reminded Maurice of one of De Musset’s Andalusian beauties,
had faded to an ivory pallor.

Madge was as kind as ever, and seemed no less gay. Yet Maurice fancied
there was a change even in the tone of her voice. It had lost its old
glad ring.

The stranger was presented to the guests of the house. The younger
ladies received him with something akin to enthusiasm, there being only
one eligible young man at Penwyn Manor, and he being hopelessly
entangled in the fair Viola’s silken net. Lady Cheshunt asked if Mr.
Clissold had come straight from London, and, on being answered in the
affirmative, ordered him to sit down by her immediately, and tell her
all the news of the metropolis—about that dreadful murder in the Bow
Road, and about the American comedian who had been making people laugh
at the Royal Bouffonerie Theatre, and about the new French novel, which
the _Saturday Review_ said was so shocking that no respectable woman
ought to look at it, and which Lady Cheshunt was dying to read.

Maurice stayed for afternoon tea, which was served in the hall, Viola
officiating at a Sutherland table, in the broad recess that had once
been the chief entrance.

‘So you have abandoned your ancient office, Mrs. Penwyn,’ said Maurice,
as he carried the lady of the manor her cup.

‘Madge has not been very strong lately, and has been obliged to avoid
even small fatigues,’ answered Churchill, who was standing near his
wife’s chair.

‘There is a cloud on the horizon,’ thought Maurice, as he set out on his
homeward walk. ‘Not any bigger than a man’s hand, perhaps; but the cloud
is there.’


                            END OF VOL. II.

                   J. AND W. RIDER, PRINTERS, LONDON.


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



 ● Transcriber’s Notes:
    ○ Missing or obscured punctuation was silently corrected.
    ○ Typographical errors were silently corrected.
    ○ Inconsistent spelling and hyphenation were made consistent only
      when a predominant form was found in this book.
    ○ Text that was in italics is enclosed by underscores (_italics_).





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