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Title: Broken to Harness - A Story of English Domestic Life
Author: Yates, Edmund
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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BROKEN TO HARNESS:

A
Story of English Domestic Life.


BY EDMUND YATES,
AUTHOR OF "THE ROCK AHEAD," "BLACK SHEEP," ETC. ETC.


"Mit dem Gürtel, mit dem Schleier,
Reisst der schöner Wahn entzwei."



_NEW EDITION_.



LONDON:
TINSLEY BROTHERS, 8 CATHERINE ST., STRAND.
1873.



LONDON:
ROBSON AND SONS, PRINTERS, PANCRAS ROAD, N.W.



Inscribed

TO
THE MARQUIS CLANRICARDE, K.P.

IN REMEMBRANCE
OF
CONSTANT KINDNESS.



CONTENTS.

CHAP.

         I. Mr. Churchill's Ideas are Monastic.
        II. Down at Bissett.
       III. Starting the Game.
        IV. The Commissioner's Views are Matrimonial.
         V. "There's Nothing half so sweet in Life."
        VI. The Commissioner's Shell Explodes.
       VII. Touching a Proposal.
      VIII. Touching another Proposal.
        IX. "A little proud, but full of Pity."
         X. At the Tin-Tax Office, No. 120.
        XI. With the Secretary.
       XII. Where Mr. Pringle went to.
      XIII. Mr. Prescott's Proceedings.
       XIV. Miss Lexden on Matrimony.
        XV. Mother and Son.
        XV. "For better, for worse."
      XVII. Mining Operations.
     XVIII. The Schröders at Home.
       XIX. The Old or the New?
        XX. Churchill's at Home.
       XXI. The Flybynights.
      XXII. Mr. Simnel at the Den.
      XXIII. Mr. Beresford in Pursuit.
       XXIV. Barbara's first Lesson in the Manege.
        XXV. A Garden-party at Uplands.
       XXVI. Showing Who Were "Pigott and Wells."
      XXVII. Weaving the Web.
      XVIII. Tightening the Curb.
       XXIX. Mr. Scadgers pays a Visit.
        XXX. After the Storm.
       XXXI. The Paper Bullet.
      XXXII. Half-revealed.
     XXXIII. The House of Mourning.
      XXXIV. Et tu Brute!
       XXXV. Balthazar.
      XXXVI. "Be sure Your Sin will find you out."
     XXXVII. Ministering Angels.
    XXXVIII. Under Pressure.
      XXXIX. "We kissed again with Tears."
         XL. Going Home.
        XLI. The Day after.
       XLII. And last.



BROKEN TO HARNESS.



CHAPTER I.
MR. CHURCHILL'S IDEAS ARE MONASTIC.


The office of the _Statesman_ daily journal was not popular with the
neighbours, although its existence unquestionably caused a diminution
of rent in its immediate proximity. It was very difficult to
find--which was an immense advantage to those connected with it, as no
one had any right there but the affiliated; and strangers burning to
express their views or to resent imaginary imputations cast upon them
had plenty of time to cool down while they wandered about the adjacent
lanes in vain quest of their object. If you had business there, and
were not thoroughly acquainted with the way, your best plan was to
take a sandwich in your pocket, to prepare for an afternoon's
campaign, and then to turn to the right out of Fleet Street, down any
street leading to the river, and to wander about until you quite
unexpectedly came upon your destination. There you found it, a queer,
dumpy, black-looking old building,--like a warehouse that had been sat
upon and compressed,--nestling down in a quaint little dreary square,
surrounded by the halls of Worshipful Companies which had never been
heard of save by their own Liverymen, and large churches with an
average congregation of nine, standing mildewed and blue-mouldy, with
damp voters'-notices peeling off their doors, and green streaks down
the stuccoed heads of the angels and cherubim supporting the dripping
arch over the porch, in little dank reeking churchyards, where the
rank grass overtopped the broken tombstones, and stuck nodding out
through the dilapidated railing.

The windows were filthy with the stains of a thousand showers; the
paint had blistered and peeled off the heavy old door, and round the
gaping chasm of the letter-box; and in the daytime the place looked
woebegone and deserted. Nobody came there till about two in the
afternoon, when three or four quiet-looking gentlemen would drop in
one by one, and after remaining an hour or two, depart as they had
come. But at night the old house woke up with a roar; its windows
blazed with light; its old sides echoed to the creaking throes of a
huge steam-engine; its querulous bell was perpetually being tugged;
boys in paper caps and smeary faces and shirt-sleeves were perpetually
issuing from its portals, and returning, now with fluttering slips of
paper, now with bibulous refreshment. Messengers from the Electric
Telegraph Companies were there about every half-hour; and cabs that
had dashed up with a stout gentleman in spectacles dashed away with a
slim gentleman in a white hat, returning with a little man in a red
beard, and flying off with the stout gentleman again. Blinds were down
all round the neighbourhood; porters of the Worshipful Companies,
sextons of the congregationless churches, agents for printing-ink and
Cumberland black-lead, wood-engravers, box-block sellers, and the
proprietors of the Never-say-die or Health-restoring Drops, who held
the corner premises,--were all sleeping the sleep of the just, or at
least doing the best they could towards it, in spite of the
reverberation of the steam-engine at the office of the _Statesman_
daily journal.

On a hot night in September Mr. Churchill sat in a large room on the
first-floor of the _Statesman_ office. On the desk before him stood a
huge battered old despatch-box, overflowing with papers--some in
manuscript, neatly folded and docketed; others long printed slips,
scored and marked all over with ink-corrections. Immediately in front
of him hung an almanac and a packet of half-sheets of note-paper,
strung together on a large hook. A huge waste-paper basket by his side
was filled, while the floor was littered with envelopes of all sizes
and colours, fragments cut from newspapers, ink-splashes, and piles of
books in paper parcels waiting for review. A solemn old clock,
pointing to midnight, ticked gravely on the mantelpiece; a small
library of grim old books of reference, in solemn brown bindings, with
the flaming cover of the Post-Office Directory like a star in the
midst of them, was ranged against the wall; three or four speaking
tubes, with ivory mouthpieces, were curling round Mr. Churchill's
feet; and Mr. Churchill himself was reading the last number of the
_Revue de Deux Mondes_ by the light of a shaded lamp, when a heavy
hand was laid on his shoulder, and a cheery voice said,

"Still at the mill, Churchill? still at the mill?"

"Ah, Harding, my dear fellow, I'm delighted to see you!"

"I should think you were," said Harding, laughing; "for my presence
here means a good deal to you,--bed, and rest, and country, eh? Well,
how have you been?--not knocked up? You've done capitally, my boy!
I've watched you carefully, and am more than content." (For Mr.
Harding was the editor of the _Statesman_, and Churchill, one of his
principal contributors, had been taking his place while he made
holiday.)

"That's a relief," said Churchill. "I've been rather nervous about it;
but I thought that Tooby and I between us had managed to push the ship
along somehow. Tooby's a capital fellow!"

"Yes, yes," said Mr. Harding, seating himself; "Tooby is a capital
fellow, and there's not a better 'sub' in London. But Tooby couldn't
have written that article on the Castle-Hedingham dinner, or shown up
the _Teaser's_ blunders in classical quotation, Master Frank. _Palman
qui meruit_. Who did the Bishops and the Crystal Palace?"

"Oh, Slummer wrote those. Weren't they good?"

"Very smart; very smart indeed. A thought too strong of Billingsgate,
though. That young man is a very hard hitter, but wants training.
Where's Hawker?"

"Just gone. He's been very kind and very useful, so have Williams and
Burke, and all. And you--how have you enjoyed yourself?"

"Never so much in my life. I've read nothing but the paper. I've done
nothing but lie upon the beach and play with the children."

"And the children--are they all right? and Mrs. Harding?"

"Splendid! I never saw the wife look so well for the last six years.
She sent all kind remembrances to you, and the usual inquiry."

"What! if I was going to be married? No, no; you must take back my
usual answer. She must find me a wife, and it must be one after her
own pattern."

"Seriously, Frank Churchill, it's time you began to look after a wife.
In our profession, especially, it's the greatest blessing to have
some one to care for and to be petted by in the intervals of
business-strife. There used to be a notion that a literary man
required to be perpetually 'seeing life,' which meant 'getting drunk,
and never going home;' but that's exploded, and I believe that our
best character-painters owe half their powers of delineation to their
wives' suggestions. Women,--by Jove, sir!--women read character
wonderfully."

"Mrs. Harding has made a bad shot at mine, old friend," said
Churchill, laughing, "if she thinks that I am in any way desirous to
be married. No, no! So far as the seeing life is concerned, I began
early, and all that has been over long since. But I've got rather a
queer temper of my own. I'm not the most tolerant man in the world;
and I've had my own way so long, that any little missy fal-lals and
pettishness would jar upon me horribly. Besides, I've not got money
enough to marry upon. I like my comforts, and to be able to buy
occasional books and pictures, and to keep my horse, and my club,
and--"

"Well, but a fellow like you might pick up a woman with money!" said
Harding.

"That's the worst pick-up possible,--to have to be civil to your
wife's trustees, or listen to reproaches as to how 'poor papa's money'
is being spent. No, no, no! So long as my dear old mother lives, I
shall have a decent home; and afterwards--well, I shall go into
chambers, I suppose, and settle down into a club-haunting old fogey."

"Stuff, Frank; don't talk such rubbish. Affectation of cynicism and
affectation of premature age are two of the most pernicious cants of
the day. Very likely now at the watering-place to which you're going
for your holiday, you'll meet some pretty girl who--"

"Watering-place!" cried Frank, shouting with laughter; "I'm going to
my old godfather's country place for some partridge-shooting; and as
he's an old bachelor of very peculiar temper, there's not likely to be
much womankind about."

"Ho, ho! A country place, eh? and partridge-shooting? Hum, hum! We're
coming out. Don't get your head turned with grand people, Frank."

"Grand people!" echoed Churchill. "Don't I tell you the man's my
godfather? There will probably be half a dozen men staying in the
house, whose sole care about me will be that I carry my gun properly,
and don't hit them out in the stubble."

"When do you go?"

"To-morrow, by the midday express. I've some matters to settle in the
morning, and can't get down before dinner-time."

"Well, then, get to bed at once. I've got to say a few words to Tooby;
and I'll see Marks when he comes up with the statement, and take care
that all's straight. You've seen your own proofs? Very well, then; God
bless you! and be off, and don't let us see your face for a month."

They shook hands warmly; and as Churchill left the room, Harding
called after him, "Two things, Frank: look out for a nice wife, and
don't get your head turned with what are called 'swells.'"

Throughout London town there breathed no simpler-minded man than
George Harding. At College, as in after-life, he had lived with a very
small set, entirely composed of men of his own degree in the world;
and of any other he had the vaguest possible notion. His intellectual
acquirements were great, and his reading was vast and catholic; but of
men and cities he had seen literally nothing; and as, except in his
annual vacation, when he could go down with his family and potter
about the quietest of watering-places, he never went any where save
from his home to the _Statesman_ office, and from the _Statesman_
office to his home, he was not likely to enlarge his knowledge of
life. Occasionally, on a Saturday night in the season, he would get
the Opera-box from the musical critic, and would take Mrs. Harding to
Her Majesty's; but there his whole attention would be absorbed in
contemplating the appearance and manners of the "swells,"--the one
word not to be found in the dictionary which he sometimes indulged in.
Slightly Radical in his opinions was George Harding; and that he was
not much gratified by his observation of these specimens of the upper
ten thousand, was to be traced in certain little pungencies and
acerbities in his leading articles after these Opera visits. He
worshipped his calling, in his own honest, simple, steadfast way, and
resented, quietly but sturdily, any attempts at what he considered
patronage by those of higher social rank. The leaders of his political
party, recognisant of the good service done to them by Harding's pen,
had, on several occasions, essayed to prove their gratitude by
little set civilities: huge cards of invitation to Lady Helmsman's
Saturday-evening reunions had found their way to the _Statesman's_
deep-mouthed letter-box; carriage-paid hampers of high-flavoured black
game sped thither from the Highland shooting-box, where the Foreign
Secretary was spending his hard-earned holiday; earliest intimation of
political changes, in "confidential" covers, were conveyed there by
Downing-Street messengers. But George Harding never appeared at
Protocol House; his name was never seen low down amongst those of the
Foreign-Office clerks and outer selvage of fashion, chronicled with
such urbanity by Mr. Henchman of the _High-Life Gazette_; and no
attention or flattery ever made him pander to a shuffle, or register a
lie. He had a very high opinion of Churchill's talents and honour; but
he knew him to be fond of praise, and, above all, greatly wanting in
discretion. Harding had seen so many men full of promise fall into the
dreary vortex of drink and debt and pot-house dissipation, that he had
hailed with delight the innate decency and gentlemanly feeling which
had kept Frank Churchill out of such dirty orgies; but now he feared
lest the disinfectant might prove even worse than the disease itself;
and lest the aristocratic notions, which his friend undoubtedly
possessed, might lead him into society where his manliness and proper
pride might be swallowed up in the effulgency of his surroundings.

So mused George Harding, bending over the dingy old grate at the
_Statesman_ office, and gazing vacantly at the shavings with which it
was filled, while waiting for Mr. Marks, the head printer, to bring
him the "statement," showing the amount required to fill the paper.
Meanwhile Churchill, cigar in mouth, was striding through the deserted
streets, rejoicing in the thought of his coming holiday, and inwardly
chuckling over his friend's warnings. At last he stopped at a door in
a dull respectable street leading out of Brunswick Square, let himself
in with a latch-key, drank a tumbler of soda-water, and glanced at the
addresses of some letters in his little dining-room, exchanged his
boots for slippers at the bottom of the staircase, and crept slowly up
the stairs. As he arrived at the second floor, he paused for a minute,
and a voice said, "God bless you, Frank!"

"God bless you, mother!" he replied; "good night, dear;" and passed
into his room.

Then he sat himself on the side of his bed, and began leisurely to
undress himself, smiling meanwhile.

"Bring back a wife, and beware of swells, eh? That is the essence of
Harding's advice. No, no my darling old mother; you and I get on too
well together to change our lives. An amusing time a wife would have
with me,--out half the night at the office, and she shivering in the
dining-room waiting my return. Wife, by Jove! Yes; and thick fat
chops, and sixteen-shilling trousers, and the knifeboard of the
omnibus instead of the cob to ride on! No; I think not. And as for
swells--that old republican, Harding, thinks every man with a handle
to his name is an enemy to Magna Charta. I should like to show him my
old godfather walking into an idiotic peer of the realm!"

And, very much tickled at the idea, Churchill put out his candle and
turned in.



CHAPTER II.
DOWN AT BISSETT.

At the very first sign of the season's breaking up, Sir Marmaduke
Wentworth was in the habit of leaving his town-house in Curzon Street,
and proceeding to his country-seat of Bissett Grange. Gumble, his
butler and body-servant, was the first person officially informed of
the intended flight; but long before his master spoke to him, that
far-seeing man had made up his mind, and arranged his plans
accordingly. "Flitherses gone to-day, eh!" he would say to himself,
as, in the calm, cool evening, he lounged against the jams of the
street-door (Gumble was never seen in the area) and looked up to the
opposite house. "Shutters up, and Flitherses hoff! Some German bath or
other, no doubt; elber-shakin' for the old man, and forrin' counts for
the young ladies. Lord Charles leff last week; he'll be takin' his
rubber at Spaw now as natural as at the Club. The old Berrin has been
sent away somewheres; and I'll bet a pound in two days my guv'nor says
Hoff!" And he would have won his bet. So soon as there was the
slightest appearance of a move among the people of his circle; so soon
as he found "shall have left town" given as an answer to an invite to
one of his cosey little dinners; before Goodwood afforded the
pleasantest excuse for the laziest of racing and the happiest of
lunching; while flannel-clad gentlemen yet perspired copiously at
Lord's, defending the wickets of Marylebone against the predatory
incursions of "Perambulators" or "Eccentrics;" when Finsburyites were
returning from their fortnight at Ramsgate, and while Dalstonians yet
lingered on the pier at Southend,--old Marmaduke Wentworth would give
his household brigade the order to retreat, and, at their head, would
march down upon Bissett Grange.

And he was right; for there was not a nobler old house, nor prettier
grounds, in the broad county of Sussex, where it stood. Contrast is
the great thing, after all: tall men marry short women; the most
thickset nursery-maids struggle a-tiptoe to keep step with the
lengthiest members of the Foot-Guards; Plimnims the poet, who is of
the Sybarite-roseleaf order, sighs for Miss Crupper the _écuyère_, who
calls a horse an oss, and a donkey a hass; and so you, if you had been
staying at Brighton, and had gone on an excursion at half-a-crown an
hour into the inner country, would have fallen in love with Bissett
Grange. For, weary of the perpetual hoarse murmur of the sea, now
thundering its rage in tremendous waves, now shrieking its lamentation
in long hissing back currents; sick of the monotony of the
"long-backed bushless downs," so cold and bare and wind-swept, echoing
to the eternal plaint of the curlew, and shutting off the horizon with
a dreary never-ending shoulder-blade of blank turf,--you, if you were
lucky in your choice, and had a driver with a soul beyond the Steine
and aspirations exceeding the Lewes Road, would have come upon, at a
distance of some five miles from Brighton, a little one-storied
porter's lodge, nestling in ivy so deep that the dear parasite had it
in its embrace, chimneys and all. Big, heavy, and wooden were the
lodge-gates; none of your pretty, light, elegant Coalbrookdale
innovations. Gates, in Sir Marmaduke Wentworth's idea, were things to
keep impertinent prying people out; and as such they could not be made
too cumbrous or too opaque for his pleasure. They were very high as
well as very heavy; so, if you had come with your 'cute driver in your
fly excursion, you would have seen nothing but the quaint twisted
chimneys; and even for that view you must have mounted unto the box.
Save the friends of the owner, no one, in Marmaduke Wentworth's time,
had ever passed the lodge, or rather, I should say, reached the house.
Visitors to. Brighton and Worthing, dying of _ennui_, had besieged the
lodge' and implored permission to walk in the grounds; artists had
asked to be allowed to sketch the house; a "gentleman engaged upon the
press" had written to say that he was sure there must be a legend
connected with some chamber, if he might only be permitted to explore
the mansion; and one man, a photographer, bribed the lodge-keeper's
grand-daughter with a piece of elecampane, and, in the absence of the
legitimate portress passed the gate. He had proceeded about a couple
of hundred yards up the avenue, when he was met by Sir Marmaduke, who
had just turned out for his leisurely afternoon ride. The sight of the
itinerant professor with his travelling camera roused the old
gentleman in an instant; he set spurs to his cob, hurried off to the
intruder, and tapped him smartly on the back with his whip. One
instant's glance revealed to him the whole affair: it was _not_ a
travelling Punch, whom he would have sent into the kitchen; it was
_not_ a man from the Missionary Society, whom he would have had ducked
in the pond; it was--_tant soit peu_--an artist; and for art of any
kind, however humble, old Marmaduke had a regard. So when the
trembling man looked up, and, divided between a notion of "cheeking
the swell," or being impudent, and running away, or being cowardly,
hit upon a middle course, and, guarding his head, at which nothing had
been aimed, exclaimed, "Now, then! What are you at? Who's hurting
you?" all the old gentleman did was to bend from his saddle, to seize
the intruder by the lobe of his ear, to turn him completely round,
and, pointing to the gate, to utter in a hissing whisper the phrase
"Go away, man!"

When the photographer attempted to explain, the ear-pressure was
intensified, and the "Go away, man!" uttered more loudly; at the third
repetition, the photographer wrung his ear from the old gentleman's
fingers, and ran away abjectly.

"Collodion and Clumpsoles; or, the Homes of the British Aristocracy in
the Camera: being Reminiscences of a Peripatetic Photographer,"
therefore, contained no view of Bissett Grange; which was to be
regretted, as neither The Hassocks, the Rector's residence, nor The
Radishes, the seat of Sir Hipson Hawes, the lord of the manor, both of
which figured extensively in the photographic publication, was to be
compared with Marmaduke Wentworth's ancestral mansion. The elm-avenue
extended from the lodge to the house,--nearly half a mile,--and
through the trees you saw the broad expanse of the park, covered with
that beautiful soft turf which is in the highest perfection in Sussex,
and which afforded pasture for hundreds of dappled deer, who would
raise their heads at the sound of approaching footsteps or
carriage-wheels, and, after peering forward earnestly with
outstretched necks at the intrusion, would wheel round and start off
at a peculiar sling trot, gradually merging into the most graceful of
gallops.

Immediately in front of the porch, and only divided from it by the
carriage-sweep, was an enormous flower-bed, sloping towards the sides,
and culminating in the centre,--the pride of the head-gardener's soul.
Right and left of the house were two arches, exactly alike. Passing
through that to the left, you came upon the stables and coach-houses,
of which there is little to be said, save that they were
old-fashioned, and what the helpers called "ill-conwenient;" and that
the fine London grooms who came down with their master's hacks and
carriage-horses in the autumn--Sir Marmaduke was never at Bissett
during the hunting season--used to curse them freely as a set of
tumbledown old sheds, fit only for jobs and fly-'osses. And yet the
old quadrangle, environed by the stable-buildings, with their
red-tiled roofs and their slate-coloured half-hatch doors, each duly
bearing its horse-shoe and its hecatomb of mouse and stoat skeletons,
was picturesque, more especially of an evening, when the setting
sun gleamed on the quaint old clock-turret, ivy-covered and
swallow-haunted, and steeped in a rich crimson glow the pretty cottage
of old Martin, erst head-groom, now a superannuated pensioner Martin,
who was never so happy as when babbling of bygone days, and who
"minded the time" when the stables were full of blood horses, and when
Master Marmaduke (the present proprietor) rode Saucy Sally over all
the raspers in the county.

Through the other arch you came upon the gardens of the Grange.
Immediately before you lay a broad expanse of lawn,--such smooth, soft
turf as is only met with in England, and only there in well-to-do
places. Short, crisp, and velvety was the grass, kept with the
greatest care, and rolled and mown with the most undeviating
punctuality; for Sir Marmaduke was proud of his lawn, and liked to sit
out there in his high-backed rustic seat on the hot August evenings,
placidly smoking his cigar, and occasionally raising his head to be
fanned by the soft sea-breeze which came blowing over the neighbouring
downs. He would as soon have thought of allowing a servant to take a
liberty with him as of permitting any one to drive a croquet-iron into
that lawn, or to attempt to play any game on it. Between the house and
the lawn ran a broad gravelled walk, passing down which you came upon
the orchard and upon the fig-garden, which was the glory of the
county, and was enclosed with an old red-brick wall, which itself
looked ripe and ruddy. To the right lay the kitchen-garden,--a fertile
slope of land in the highest state of cultivation, dotted every here
and there with huge lights and frames, and spread nets, and overgrown
cucumbers, and bursting marrows; for though Sir Marmaduke cared but
little for flowers, he was a great fruit-grower, and, next to seeing
his pines and melons on his own table (where, glowing on the old
ancestral Wentworth plate, they looked like a study for Lance), his
great gratification was to bear away with them the prizes from the
Horticultural Shows in the neighbourhood. Beyond the orchard was a
large field, known as the Paddock, whither thee croquet-players and
the archers were relegated, and where the turf was almost as smooth as
that of the sacred lawn itself. Over all,--house, lawn, orchard,
kitchen-garden, and paddock, and far away across the surrounding
downs--there was a delicious sense of calm and quiet; a feeling which
was heightened rather than lessened by the inhabitants of a rookery
established in the tall elm-trees bordering the Paddock, and who, as
they sailed over the grounds of the Grange, would express their
approbation by one single solemn caw.

The house faced the avenue, and was a queer, odd, square block, by no
means picturesque, but quaintly ugly something like an old-fashioned
child, whose decidedly curious features, out of all drawing and
impossible to be admired, yet have something humorously lovable in
their expression. A staring red-brick house of Queen Anne's time, that
ought to have been formal, and perhaps had been at some period or
other, but which had undergone so many changes--had had so many gables
put on here, and windows let in there, and rooms added on wherever
they were wanted--as to lose all trace of its original design, and to
have become of a composite style of architecture which would have
driven Mr. Ruskin mad. It was the only gentleman's seat for miles
round which was built of red brick, and not that gray stone which
always looks weather-beaten and time-worn; instead of which, the
Grange had a jolly, cheery, comic expression, and when the sun gleamed
on its little diamond-shaped, leaden-casemented windows, they seemed
to twinkle like the eyes of a genial red-faced old gentleman at some
good joke or pleasant dish. A comfortable old house in every sense of
the word, with an enormous number of rooms, large airy spacious
chambers, queer little nooks and snuggeries, long passages with
pannelled partitions dividing them from other passages, partitions
with occasional square windows or round eyelet-holes cut in them, wide
straggling staircases with broad steps and broad balustrades, which
no boy had ever yet been known to pass without sliding down them on
his stomach. A couple of queer turreted chambers, like the place where
the yard-measure lives in old-fashioned work-boxes, and a set of
attics, low-roofed, and rather worm-eaten and mouldy-smelling. These
were not inhabited, for the servants had their own quarters in the
western wing; a bit of eccentric building, which had been thrown out
long after the original structure, and gave to the old mansion, from
the back view, a comical lopsided appearance; and when the rest of the
house was filled, the bachelors were sent to what was known as the
Barracks, or the Kennel, a series of jolly little rooms shut out from
the respectable portion of the building by a long passage, where they
kept up their own fun till a very late hour of the night, where there
was always an overhanging smell of tobacco, and whence, in the early
mornings, there came such a roaring and clanging of shower-baths, and
such a sound of hissing and sluicing and splashing, that you might
have fancied yourself in the vicinity of an army of Tritons.

Two o'clock on a hot afternoon at the end of September; and, with the
exception of a few sportsmen, who are now reclining under a high hedge
and lighting pipes, after a succulent repast of game-pie, cold
partridge, and bitter beer, all the party at the Grange is assembled
round the luncheon-table in the dining-room. That is Marmaduke
Wentworth, the tall old man standing on the hearthrug, with his back
towards the empty fire-grate. His head is perfectly bald and shining,
and has but a fringe of crisp white hair; his features are what is
called "aristocratic," well-shaped, and comely; his eyes are cold,
clear, gray; his lips slightly full, and his teeth sound and regular.
He is in his invariable morning dress,--a blue coat with brass
buttons, a buff waistcoat, and gray trousers with gaping dog's-eared
pockets, into which his hands are always plunged. Looking at him now,
you would scarcely recognise the _roué_ of George the Fourth's time,
the Poins to the wild Prince, the hero of a hundred intrigues and
escapades. In heat and turmoil, in drinking, dicing, and dancing,
Marmaduke Wentworth passed his early youth; and from this debauchery
he was rescued by the single passion of his life. The object of that
passion--his cousin, a lovely girl, whose innocence won the dissipated
roisterer from his evil ways, and gave him new notions and new
hopes--died within three months of their engagement; and from that day
Wentworth became another man. He went abroad, and for ten years led a
solitary studious life; returning to England, he brought with him his
bookworm tastes; and it was long before he emerged from the seclusion
of Bissett Grange, which he had inherited, and returned once more to
London life. Even then, he sought his society in a very different set
to that in which he had previously shone. George the Great was dead;
sailor King William had followed him to the grave; and the new men
fluttering round the court of the new Queen, setting fashions and
issuing social ordinances, had been cradled children when Marmaduke
Wentworth had copied Brummel's cravats, or listened to Alvanley's
_bons mots_. Even had he continued a "dandy," he would have been
displeased with the "swells" to whom the dandies had given place; and
now, changed as he was into a disappointed elderly gentleman, with a
bitter tongue and an intolerant spirit, his unsocial cynicism bored
the new men, while their slangy flippancy disgusted him. So, in the
phrase of the day, he "went in for a new excitement;" and, though his
name and his appearance were as well known in London as those of the
Duke of Wellington, there were but few people of his own status or
time of life who were retained on an intimate footing. Some few old
friends, who themselves had suffered heart-shipwreck, or seen their
argosies of early feelings go down in sight of port, claimed
companionship with the querulous, crotchety companion of their youth,
and had their claims allowed. His odd, quaint savagery, his utter
contempt for the recognised laws of politeness, his free speaking, and
his general eccentricity, had a great charm for young people of both
sexes; and if they had any thing in them to elevate them above the
ordinary run of yea-and-nay young persons, they invariably found their
advances responded to. Then there was a great attraction for young
people in the society which they met at one of Marmaduke's
dinners--men whose names were before the world; an occasional
cabinet-minister sweetening the severities of office with a little
pleasant relaxation in company where he might take the mask from his
face and the gag from his mouth; authors of note; rising artists;
occasionally an actor or two,--all these were to be found round
Wentworth's table. The old gentleman was in London from January to
July. During that time he gave four dinner-parties a week (one of
them, I regret to say, and generally the pleasantest, on a Sunday),
and during the other three days dined out. He was a member of the
True-Blue and the Minerva Clubs, but seldom went to either; he was
admissible by the hall-porter of every theatre in London, and
sometimes strayed behind the scenes and took possession of the
green-room hearthrug, whence he vented remarkably free and
discriminating criticisms on the actors and actresses surrounding him.
He had one special butt, an old German baron of fabulous age, who was
supposed to have been a page to Frederick the Great, who had been for
thirty years in England, and had only acquired the very smallest
knowledge of its language, and whose power of placidly enduring savage
attacks was only equalled by the vigour of his appetite. The Baron was
never brought down to Bissett; but, as we have heard from Gumble, was
sent off to some seaside place to recruit his digestion; whence he
invariably turned up again in Curzon Street in January, with the same
wig, the same dyed beard, the same broken English, and an appetite, if
any thing, improved by his marine sojourn.

There is a strange medley now collected at the Grange. That tall girl,
seated at the far end of the table, with her chin leaning on her hand,
is Barbara Lexden. Three years ago, when, at nineteen, she was
presented, she created a _furore_; and even now, though her first
freshness is gone, she is even more beautiful--has rounded
and ripened, and holds her own with the best in town. More
_distingué_-looking than beautiful, though, is Barbara. Het face is a
little too long for perfect oval; her nose is very slightly aquiline,
with delicately curved, thin, transparent nostrils; her forehead
marked with two deep lines, from a curious trick of elevating her
eyebrows when surprised, and shaded with broad thick masses of
dark-brown hair, bound tightly round her head, taken off behind her
ears,--small, and glistening like pink shells,--and terminating in a
thick plaited clump; sleepy, greenish-gray eyes, with long drooping
lashes; a tall, undulating, pear-shaped figure, always seen to best
advantage in a tight-fitting dress, with a neat little collar and
nun-like simple linen cuffs; a swimming walk; feet and ankles beyond
compare; and hands--ah, such hands!--not plump, slender, with long
fingers, and rosy filbert nails; such hands as Ninon de l'Enclos might
have had, but such as, save on Barbara, I have only seen in wax, on
black velvet, under a glass case, modelled from Lady Blessington's,
and purchased at the Gore-House Sale. Blue was her favourite colour,
violet her favourite perfume, admiration the longing of her soul. She
was never happy until every one with whom she was brought into contact
had given in their submission to her. No matter of what age or in what
condition of life, all must bow. Once, during a Commemoration Week at
Oxford, she completely turned various hoary heads of houses, and
caused the wife of an eminent Church dignitary, after thirty years of
happy marriage, to bedew her pillow with tears of bitter jealousy at
seeing how completely the courteous old dean was fascinated by the
lovely visitor; and she would laugh with saucy triumph as she heard
the blunt, outspoken admiration of working-men as she sat well forward
in the carriage blocked up in St. James's Street on a Drawing-room
day, or slowly creeping along the line of vehicles which were "setting
down" at the Horticultural-Gardens gates.

With the exception of flirtation, in which she would have taken the
highest honours, her accomplishments were neither more nor less than
those of most women of her position. She played brilliantly, with a
firm, dashing touch, and sang, perhaps not artistically, but with an
amount of feeling thrown into her deep contralto that did frightful
execution; her French was very good; her German passable, grammatical,
and well phrased, but lacking the real rough accent and guttural
smack. At all events, she had made the most of what schooling she had
had, for it was desultory enough. Her father, the youngest son of a
good family, ran away with the black-eyed, ruddy-cheeked daughter of
the Herefordshire parson with whom he went to read during the Long
Vacation; was immediately disinherited by his father; left the
University, and by the influence of his family got into a Government
office; where, by his own exertions, he got into bad company, into
debt, and into prison. On his deathbed he commended his wife and
daughter to the care of his elder sister, who had never married, but
lived very comfortably on the property which ought to have been his.
Miss Lexden came once to see her brother's widow and orphan in the
lodgings which they had taken in Lambeth to be near the King's Bench
Prison. But years of trouble had not changed the poor mother for the
better, and her stately sister-in-law regarded her with horror. In
truth, the colour had faded from her rosy cheeks, and the light died
out of her black eyes long ago, and had left her a dowdy, silly, fussy
little woman, with nothing to say. So Miss Lexden thought she could
best fulfil her brother's charge with least trouble to herself by
allowing the bereaved ones fifty pounds a year; and on this, and what
she could make by working for the Berlin-wool and fancy-stationery
shops, the widow supported herself and her child for some twelve
years, when she died. Miss Lexden then took the child to the dull,
stately old house in Gloucester Place, Portman Square; where, with the
aid of a toady, the daily visit of a smug physician, an airing in a
roomy old carriage drawn by a couple of fat horses, a great deal of
good eating and drinking, and a tolerable amount of society, she
managed to lead a jolly godless old life. She found her niece, then
fourteen years old, less ignorant and more presentable than she had
imagined; for Barbara had received from her mother a sound English
education, and had, on the pea-and-pigeon principle, picked lip a
little French and the rudiments of music. She looked and moved like a
lady, and moreover had an insolence of manner, a _de haut en bas_
treatment of nearly every body, which the old lady hailed as a true
Lexden characteristic, and rejoiced over greatly. So Barbara was sent
to Paris for three years, and came back at seventeen finished in
education, ripened in beauty, and a thorough coquette at heart. Of
course she had already had several _affaires_: several with the
professors attached to the Champs-Elysées _pension_; one with an
Italian count, who bribed the ladies'-maid to convey notes, and who
was subsequently thrashed and instructed in the _savate_ by the
Auvergnat porter of the establishment; and one with an English
gentleman coming over from Boulogne; and her aunt used to encourage
her to tell of these, and would laugh at them until the tears came
into her eyes.

At nineteen she was presented, made her _coup_, and now for two
seasons had been a reigning belle. Offers she had had in
plenty,--youthful peers with slender incomes; middle-aged commoners,
solemn, wealthy, and dull; smug widowers, hoping to renew the sweets
of matrimony, and trusting to bygone experience to keep clear of its
bitters. But Barbara refused them all; played with them, landed
them,--giving them all the time the most pleasurable sensations of
encouragement, as old Izaak used to tickle trout,--and then flung them
back, bruised and gasping, into that muddy stream the world. She told
her aunt she was playing for a high stake; that she did not care for
any of these men; that she did not think she ever should care for any
one; under which circumstances she had better make the best bargain of
herself, and go at a high price. There are plenty of women like this.
We rave against cruel parents and sordid Mammon-matches; but very
often the parents are merely passive in the matter. There are plenty
of girls who have walnuts, or peach stones, or something equally
impressible, where their hearts should be, who have never experienced
the smallest glimmer of love, and who look upon the possession of a
carriage and an Opera-box, and admission into high society, as the
acme of human enjoyment.

Sitting next to Barbara is Fred Lyster, a slim, dark man, with small
regular features and a splendid flowing black beard. He was educated
at Addiscombe, and was out in India under Gough and Outram; did good
service, was highly thought of, and was thoroughly happy; when his old
godfather died, and left him heir to a property of three thousand a
year. He returned at once to England, and became the most idle,
purposeless, dreamiest of men. He had tried every thing, and found it
all hollow. He had travelled on the Continent, been on the turf,
gambled in stocks and railways, kept a yacht, and was bored by each
and all. He had thought of going into Parliament, and went for two
nights into the Speaker's Gallery; but did not pursue the idea,
because he found that "the fellows talked so much." His plaintive
moans against life were sources of intense amusement to his friends;
and when he discovered this--which he did at once, being a very long
way from a fool--he was not in the least annoyed, but rather lent
himself to the idea, and heightened his expressions of _ennui_ and
despondency. He liked to be with Sir Marmaduke; for the old
gentleman's brusque manners and general intolerance afforded him real
amusement, and he laid himself open to attack by always being more
than ever drawling and inane when in his company. The baronet, who had
a quick perception of character, knew Lyster's real worth, and often
talked to him seriously about having some purpose in life; and when he
only got vague and dreamy replies, he would burst out into a torrent
of invective, in the middle of which Lyster would run, shrieking with
laughter, from the room.

Next to Captain Lyster sits Miss Lexden, Barbara's aunt; a fat,
placid-looking old lady, in a flaxen front, which, with a cap covered
with ribbons and flowers, seemed skewered on to her skull by a couple
of large pins, the knobs of which presented themselves like bosses on
her temples. She was a cousin of Sir Marmaduke's, and the elder sister
of the old man's one love, so that there was a great link of
confidence between them; and she liked coming to Bissett, where the
living was always so good, and where she met people who amused her.
That pretty girl talking to her is Miss Townshend,--a delicious
creature in a country-house, who can ride across country, and play
croquet and billiards, and sing little French _chansons_, and dance,
and who even has been known on occasions to drive a dog-cart and smoke
a cigarette. To secure her, entails inviting her father, an intensely
respectable, dreary old gentleman--that is he, in the starched check
cravat and the high coat-collar; a City magnate, who confines his
reading to the City article, and has to be promptly extinguished when
he attempts to talk about the "policy of Rooshia." He is endeavouring
just now to strike up a conversation with his neighbour Mr. Vincent,
the member for Wessex, and Chairman of the Dinner-Committee of the
House of Commons; but Mr. Vincent is deep in the discussion of a
cheese-omelette, and is telegraphing recommendation thereof to Mrs.
Vincent, a merry, red-faced looking little woman, who, with her
husband, passed her whole life in thinking about good eating. Sir
Marmaduke's solicitor, Mr. Russell, a quiet old gentleman, clad in
professional black, who was always trying to hide his soft wrinkled
hands under his ample coat-cuffs; and Sir Marmaduke's factotum,
Major Stone, otherwise Twenty Stone, a big, broad-chested, jovial,
bushy-whiskered, moneyless freelance,--completed the party.



CHAPTER III.
STARTING THE GAME.


"Halloa!" suddenly shouted Sir Marmaduke from his vantage-ground on
the rug.

Every body looked up.

"Halloo!" shouted the old gentleman again, plunging his hands over the
wrists in his trousers-pockets, and bringing to the surface a couple
of letters. "By Jove! I forgot to tell Mrs. Mason or any of them that
more people were coming down! Here, Stone--somebody--just ring that
bell, will you? Here are two men coming down to-day--be here by
dinner, they say; and I forgot to order rooms and things for them!"

"Who are they, Sir Marmaduke?" asked Lyster languidly.

"What the deuce is that to you, sir?" roared the old gentleman.
"Friends of mine, sir! That's enough, isn't it? Have you finished
lunch."

"I haven't had any," said Lyster. "I never eat it. I hate lunch."

"Great mistake that," said Mr. Vincent, wiping his mouth. "Ought
always to eat whenever you can. 'Gad, for such an omelette as that I'd
get up in the middle of the night."

"Perhaps, Lyster," said Major Stone, coming back from ringing the
bell, "you're of the opinion of the man who said that lunch was an
insult to your breakfast and an injury to your dinner?"

"He was a confounded fool, whoever he was," broke in Sir Marmaduke. "I
hate those fellows who talk epigrams. Halloa, Gumble, is that you?
Tell Mrs. Mason two gentlemen are coming down to stop. She must get
rooms ready for them, and that sort of thing."

"Yes, Sir Marmaduke," said Gumble. "In the Barracks, Sir Marmaduke?"

"God bless my soul, sir! how should I know?" said his master testily.
"What do I keep a housekeeper for, and a pack of lazy servants, who do
nothing but eat, if I'm to be worried about things like this? Tell
Mrs. Mason, sir! Do as you're told!"

And exit Gumble, whose admirable training and long experience only
prevented him from bursting into a guffaw.

"Though you refused Captain Lyster, I don't think you'll mind telling
me who these gentlemen are, Sir Marmaduke?" said Barbara, leaving the
table, and advancing to the rug.

"No, my dear; I'll tell you any thing. Besides, they'll be here
to-night. One is Mr. Beresford, and the other a learned professor.
There, I've thrown them among you to worry their reputations before
they arrive; and now I'll be off to my study. And don't any of you
come and bother me; do you hear? If you want any thing, ask Stone for
it. Come, Russell."

And, followed by the lawyer, the old gentleman left the room, after
patting Barbara's head with one hand, and shaking his clenched fist,
in a serio-comic manner, at the rest of the company.

"What very strange people my cousin does get hold of!" said Miss
Lexden, commencing the onslaught directly the door was closed. "Which
Mr. Beresford is it, do you suppose?"

The question was general, but Mr. Townshend answered it, by saying
pompously,

"Perhaps it's Mr. Beresford, one of the Directors of the Bank of
England, who--"

"God forbid!" broke in Lyster, suddenly.

"Amen to that sweet prayer," said Barbara, in a low voice. Then
louder: "Oh, dear, let's hope it's not an old gentleman from the
City."

"No, no; don't fear," said Major Stone, laughing. "You all know him.
It's Charley Beresford, from the Tin-Tax Office."

"What! the Commissioner?" exclaimed little Miss Townshend, clapping
her hands. "Oh, I _am_ so glad! He is _such_ fun!"

"Oh, every body knows Mr. Beresford," said Vincent; "capital judge of
cooking; on the committee of the Beauclerk."

"I'm afraid I'm nobody, then," said old Miss Lexden; "what age is he?"

"Oh, same age as every body else," drawled Lyster. "I find every
body's the same age,--seven-and-twenty. Nobody ever goes beyond that."

"You know Mr. Beresford, aunt," said Barbara. "He's a favourite horror
of yours. You recollect him at Hawley last year?"

"Oh, the odious man who carried on so shamefully with that rich
woman,--the grocer's widow!" said the old lady. "Well, wasn't it a
grocer?--merchant, then, if you like,--something to do with the City
and the West Indies, I know. Oh, a dreadful person!"

"Charley Beresford's not a bad fellow, though," said Lyster. "Who did
Sir Marmaduke say the other man was? Professor something."

"Perhaps Major Stone knows him," chimed in Mrs. Townshend.

"Who's the Professor that's coming down, Stone?" asked Lyster.

"I _don't_ know. I only know two professors: Jackman the
conjuror,--Jacquinto he calls himself,--and Holloway the ointment-man;
and it's neither of them. This is some scientific or literary great
gun that Sir Marmaduke was introduced to lately."

"Oh, dear!" said Barbara, plaintively, "what a dreadful idea! Probably
an old gentleman, with gold spectacles and a bald head, covered all
over with the dust of the British Museum, and carrying dead beetles
and things in his pockets!"

"A professor!" said Miss Townshend; "we had one at Gimp
House--a French one! I'm sure he'll take snuff and have silk
pocket-handkerchiefs."

"And choke at his meals," added Barbara. "This is too horrible."

"I trust he won't come from any low neighbourhood," said Mrs. Vincent;
"the small-pox is very bad in some districts in London."

"The deuce! I hope he won't bring it down here," drawled Lyster.

"There's not the slightest fear of infection, if you've been
vaccinated," said Mr. Townshend.

"Oh, but I haven't," replied Lyster. "I wouldn't be--at least without
chloroform; it hurts one so."

"What nonsense, Captain Lyster!" laughed Barbara. "Why, I was
vaccinated, and it didn't hurt me the least."

"Did it hurt as much as sitting for your photograph?" asked the
Captain, rising. "Because I'll never sit for my photograph again,
except under chloroform."

"Well, small-pox or not, you'll see the old gentleman at dinner," said
Stone; "and you mustn't chaff him, mind, Lyster; for he's a favourite
of Sir Marmaduke's."

And so the luncheon-party broke up. Old Miss Lexden and Miss Townshend
drove out in a pony-phaeton, with the intention of falling in with the
shooting party; Mrs. Vincent retired to her room, to allow the process
of digestion to take place during her afternoon nap; Mr. Vincent
walked leisurely across the fields to the neighbouring village, and
had an interview with a fisherman's wife, who had a new method of
dressing mackerel; Mr. Townshend took out a pamphlet on the Bank
Charter, and, having placed it before him, went straight off to sleep;
Major Stone mounted his sure-footed cob and rode round the farm,
looking after broken fences, and dropping hints as to the expediency
of all being ready with the Michaelmas rent; and Barbara and Captain
Lyster wandered into the Paddock, with the intention of playing
croquet.

But they had played only very few strokes, when Lyster, leaning on his
mallet, looked across at his companion, and said gravely,

"I assure you, Miss Lexden, I pity you from the bottom of my soul."

As she stood there, her complexion heightened by the exercise, the
little round hat admirably suiting the classic shape of her head, and
the neatest little foot tapping the mallet, she didn't look much to be
pitied; and she tossed her head rather disdainfully, as she asked,

"Pity me, Captain Lyster! and why?"

"Because you are so horribly bored here! I've been such a terrible
sufferer from _ennui_ myself, that I know every expression on those
who have it; and you're very far advanced indeed. _I_ know what it is
that beats you, and I can't help you."

"And what is it, pray?"

"You know what Cleopatra says in the _Dream of Fair Women_: 'I have no
men to govern in this wood!' Pardon me; I'm a singular person; not
clever, you know, but always saying what I think, and that sort of
thing; and you're dying for a flirtation."

"Surely _you_ have no cause to complain. I've never tried to make you
my 'Hercules, my Roman Antony,' Captain Lyster."

"No; you've been good enough to spare me. You've known me too long,
and think of me, rightly enough perhaps, as the 'dull, cold-blooded
Cæsar;' and there's no one here that's at all available except Stone,
and his berth with Sir Marmaduke is like a college-fellowship--he'd
have to resign all income if he married. It's an awful position for
you! Oh, by Jove, I forgot the two men coming! I'm afraid Charley
Beresford's no go; but you might make great running with the
Professor."

"_Que d'honneur!_" said Barbara, laughing at his serious face. "That
is a compliment, especially after our notions of what he will be
like;" and then, after a minute's reflection, she added, with a proud
gesture, "It would be a new field, at all events, and not a bad
triumph, to win a steady sage from his books and--"

"Vivien over again, by Jove!" said Lyster, in the nearest approach
he had ever made to a shout; "Vivien divested of all impropriety;
only look out that Merlin does not get you into the charm.
They've no end of talk, these clever fellows. I knew a professor at
Addiscombe--deuced ugly bird too--who ran off with an earl's daughter,
all through his gab--I beg pardon, his tongue."

"_Gare aux corbeaux!_ I flatter myself I can hold my own with the old
crows," said Barbara; "however, this is mere nonsense. No more
croquet, thank you, Captain Lyster. I must go in and reflect on your
words of wisdom."

And dropping him a little curtsey of mock humility, she moved off
towards the house.

"I'd lay long odds she follows up the idea," said Lyster to himself,
as he sat down on the twisted roots of an old elm and lit a cheroot.
"She's a fine creature," he added, looking after her; "something in
the Cheetah line,--fine and swervy and supple, and as clever as--as
old boots. How awfully old I'm growing! I should have gone mad after
such a girl as that once; and now--she doesn't cause me the slightest
emotion. There's that little Townshend, now,--ah, that's quite another
matter!"

Had Barbara really any notion of following out Lyster's sportive
notion, and of playing Vivien to an aged Merlin? of winning from his
goddess Study a man whose whole life had been passed at her shrine,
and of lighting with as much fire as yet remained to him eyes dimmed
with midnight researches? I know not. But I do know that she spent
more time that evening over her toilet than she had done during her
stay at the Grange, and that she never looked lovelier than in her
rich blue dinner-dress, trimmed with black lace, and with a piece of
velvet passing through her hair, and coquettishly fastened at one side
by a single splendid turquoise. Perhaps some thought of her
conversation with Lyster flitted across her brain; for she smiled
saucily as she stepped down the wide old staircase, and she had
hardly composed her countenance by the time she had passed into the
drawing-room, where the party was assembled. The room was lighted only
by the flickering blaze of a wood-fire (for the evenings were already
chilly), and she could only indistinctly make out that the gentleman
whom Sir Marmaduke introduced as "Professor Churchill," and who was to
take her in to dinner, was tall, had no spectacles, and was apparently
not so old as she had anticipated. But when she looked at him in the
full light of the dining-room, she nearly uttered an exclamation of
surprise when she saw, as the embodiment of her intended Merlin,
a man of six feet in height, about thirty years of age, with short
wavy brown hair, hazel eyes, a crisp dark beard, and a genial,
good-humoured, sensible expression. All this she took in in covert
glances; and so astonished was she, that after a few commonplaces she
could not resist saying,

"And are you really a professor, Mr. Churchill?"

He laughed heartily--a clear, ringing, jolly laugh--as he replied,
"Well, I am,--at least I stand so honoured on the books of old Leipzig
University, and our good host here always will insist on dubbing me
with my full title. But I don't generally sport it. I always think of
dancing, or calisthenics, or deportment,--Turveydrop, you know,--in
connexion with the professorship. I can't help noticing that you look
astonished, Miss Lexden; I trust I haven't rudely put to flight any
preconceived notions of yours as to my dignity?"

"No--at least--well, I will frankly own my notions were different."

"There, you see, I had the advantage; with the exception of flatly
contradicting the late Mr. Campbell in his assertion about distance
lending enchantment, &c., my ideas of you are thoroughly realised.
But--I had seen you before."

"You had!" said Barbara, feeling a pleasurable glow pass over her
cheek at something in his tone.

"Oh, yes; several times. The first time ten years ago, when I saw you
in company with your father--"

"My father! Where?" interrupted Barbara.

"Where? oh, at an hotel,--Burdon's Hotel. You won't remember it, of
course." (Barbara never knew why Major Stone, who was sitting near
them, grinned broadly when Mr. Churchill said this.) "You were a
little child then. And recently I have seen you at the Opera, and
ridden past you in the Row."

At this juncture Sir Marmaduke called out to Churchill from the other
end of the table, and the conversation became general. Barbara watched
Mr. Churchill as he took a leading part in it, his earnest face lit
up, and all listening attentively to his remarks. What a clever,
sensible face it was! And he went to the Opera, and rode in the Park!
What about Vivien and Merlin now?



CHAPTER IV.
THE COMMISSIONER'S VIEWS ARE MATRIMONIAL.


Mr. Charles Beresford, Junior Commissioner of the Tin-Tax Office, who
was expected down at Bissett, did not leave London, as he had
intended, on the day which witnessed Mr. Churchill's arrival at that
hospitable mansion. His portmanteau and gun-case had been taken by his
servant to the Club, where he was to call for them on his way to the
station; and he had arranged with one of his brother-commissioners to
undertake his work of placing his initials in the corner of various
documents submitted to him. He had stayed in town longer than his
wont; and as he looked out into the dreary quadrangle of Rutland
House, in a block of which the Tin-Tax Office was situate, and gazed
upon the blazing flags, and the dull _commissionnaires_ sitting on
their bench outside the principal entrance and winking in the heat,
and upon the open windows opposite,--whereat two clerks were
concocting an effervescent drink in a tumbler, and stirring it round
with a paper-knife,--he cursed the dulness, and expressed his delight
that he was about to rusticate for a lengthened period.

Nobody heard this speech; or if indeed, the words fell upon the ear of
the soft-shod messenger who at that moment entered the room, he was
far too dexterous and too old an official to let his face betray it.
He glided softly to Mr. Beresford's elbow, as that gentleman still
remained at the window, vacantly watching the powder-mixing clerks,
and murmured,

"Letter, sir."

"Put it down," aid Beresford, without turning round. "Official, eh?"

"No, sir, private. Brought just now by a groom. No answer, sir."

"Give it here," said Beresford, stretching out his hand. "Ah, no
answer! That'll do, Stubbs."

And Stubbs went his way to a glass-case, in which, in the company of
four other messengers and twenty bells, his official days were passed,
and gave himself up to bemoaning his stupidity in having taken his
fortnight's leave of absence in the past wet July instead of the
present sultry season.

Mr. Beresford looked at the address of the letter, and frowned
slightly. It was a small note, pink paper, with a couchant dog and an
utterly illegible monogram on the seal, and the superscription was
written in a long scrawly hand. There was an odour of patchouli, too,
about it which roused Beresford's ire, and he muttered as he opened
it, "Confounded stuff! Who on earth is she copying now, with her
scents and crests and humbug? I thought she'd more sense than that!"
And he ran his eye over the note. It was very short.


"Dear Charley,--What has become of you? Why do you never come near The
Den? It is nearly three weeks since you were here. I'm off to
Scarborough on Tuesday; a lot of my pupils are there and want me, so I
can carry on my little game of money-making, get some fresh air, and
perhaps pick up some fresh nags to sell before the hunting season, all
'under vun hat,' as Tom Orme fasechous--facesh (I don't know how to
spell it)--says. Come up and dine to-night at seven. There are two or
three good fellows coming, and I want to talk to you and to look at
your old phiz again, and see how much older you've grown during your
absence, and how much _balder_; for, you know, you're growing _bald_,
Charley, and that will be awful hard lines to such a _swell_ as you.
Seven sharp, mind.

     "Always yours,

     "K. M.

"P.S. Charley, if you don't come, I shall think you've grown _proud_;
and it'll be a great shame, and I shall never speak to you again.

"K.M."

Now lest, after a perusal of this letter, any one should think ill of
its writer, I take leave to announce at once that Kate Mellon was a
virtuous woman; pure in heart, though any thing but simple; without
fear, but not without as much reproach as could possibly be heaped
upon her by all of her own sex who envied her good looks, her high
spirits, and her success. There are, I take it, plenty of novels in
which one can read the doings, either openly described or broadly
hinted at, of the daughters of Shame under many a pretty alias; and it
is because one of these aliases describes the calling of which Kate
Mellon was the most successful follower, that I am so desirous of
clearing her good name, and immediately vindicating her position with
my readers. Kate Mellon was a horsebreaker, a _bonâ-fide_
horsebreaker; one who curbed colts, and "took it out of" kickers and
rearers, and taught wild Irish horses and four-year-olds fresh from
Yorkshire spinneys to curvet and caper prettily in the Park. She
taught riding, too; and half the Amazons in the Row owed their
tightness of seat and lightness of hand to her judicious training. She
hunted occasionally with the Queen's hounds and with the Pytchley, and
no one rode straighter or with more _nonchalance_ than she. Give her a
lead, that was all she wanted; and when she got it, as she invariably
did from the boldest horseman in the field, she would settle herself
in her saddle, left hand well down, right hand jauntily on her hip,
and fly over timber, water, no matter what, like a bird. In social
life her great pride was that there "was no nonsense" about her; she
was not more civil to the great ladies who sent their horses to her
establishment to be broke, and who would occasionally come up and
inspect the process, than she was to the stable-helpers' wives and
children, who all worshipped her for her openhanded generosity. Tommy
Orme who was popularly supposed to be a hundred and fifty years old,
but who lived with the youth of the Household Brigade and the Foreign
Office and the _coryphées_, and who knew every body remarkable in any
one way, never was tired of telling how Kate, teaching the Dowager
Lady Wylminster to drive a pair of spirited dun ponies, had, in the
grand lady's idea, intrenched upon her prerogative, and was told that
she was a presuming person, and desired to remember her place.

"Person, indeed!" said Kate; "person yourself, ma'am! My place isn't
by you after that, and now get the duns home the best way you can;"
with which she sprang from the low phaeton, struck off across the
fields, and left the wretched representative of aristocracy "with a
couple of plunging brutes that soon spilt the old woman into the
hedge, broke the trap all to pieces, and rushed away home with the
splinter-bar at their heels--give you my word!" as Tommy used to
narrate it.

Her manner with men was perfectly frank and open, equally devoid of
reticence or coquetry. She called them all by their Christian names if
they were commoners, by their titles if they were lords. She answered
at once when addressed as "Kitty," or "Old Lady," or "Stunner;" by all
of which appellations she was known. She would lay her whip lightly
across the shoulders of any particular friend as a token of
recognition at the meet; would smoke a cigarette on her way home after
the kill; and always carried sherry and sandwiches in a silver
combination of flask and box. Her grammar was shaky, and her aspirate
occasionally misplaced; she never read any thing but _Bell's Life_ and
books on farriery, and she laughed a loud, ringing, resonant shout;
but her speech was always free from bad words, and no man ever tried a
_double entendre_ or a blasphemy twice in her presence. Living the odd
strange life she did, defiant of all society's prejudices, it was yet
strange that even London slander had left her unassailed. They did say
that she was very much taken by Bob Mayo's sabre-scar when he returned
from the Crimea, and that Barker, the steeple-chase rider, half
gentleman, half jock, was engaged to her; but nothing came of either
of these two reports. Early in her London career, very soon after she
came to town, and when men were first beginning to inquire who was the
dashing horsewoman who rode such splendid cattle with such pluck and
skill, De Blague, the Queen's messenger, assumed to know all about
her, and at Limmer's, one night, threw out certain hints by no means
uncomplimentary to himself, and eked out with many nods and winks; but
two days after that, as De Blague, with two other Foreign-Office men,
was leaning over the rails in the Row, Miss Mellon rode up, and
denouncing him as a "bragging hound," slashed him with her by no means
light riding-whip severely over the head and shoulders. After that day
no one cared to say much against Kate Mellon.

Who was she, and where did she come from? that no one positively knew.
When The Den at Ealing (she so christened it; it was called Myrtle
Farm before) was to let, the neighbours thought the landlord would
stand out of his rent for many years. The house was a little, long,
one-storied building, cut up into small rooms; old, dilapidated, and
damp. The stables were rotting with decay; the barns untiled and
tumbling down; the twenty or thirty acres of land attached were swampy
and unproductive. The place stood untenanted for half a year. Then,
one morning, an old gentleman arrived in a four-wheeled cab, went all
over the premises, had an interview with the proprietor, announced
himself as Mr. Powker, of the firm of Powker and Beak, of Lincoln's
Inn, and within a fortnight the lease was assigned to Miss Kate
Mellon, spinster. The house was papered and painted, and put in order;
the stables were entirely altered and renovated, and fitted with
enamel mangers, and tesselated pavements, and bronze devices for
holding the pillar-reins, and all the newest equine upholstery; some
of the barns were converted into carriage-houses, and one of the
largest into a tan-strewn riding-school; the land was thoroughly
drained and laid out in paddocks, where there were tan-rides and all
kinds of jumps, and an artificial brook, and every thing for a horse's
proper tuition. Miss Mellon did not receive visits from the
neighbouring gentry, principally lawyers and merchants, who went
regularly to business, and always stared hard at her when their wives
were not with them; nor did she attend the parish-church; but she gave
largely to all the parochial charities, and in the winter had a
private soup-kitchen of her own. I believe that occasionally gin was
dispensed in small glasses to the soup-recipients; but all was done
under the superintendence of Freeman, the staid stud-groom, who had
followed her from Yorkshire, where she said "her people" lived. But
she never said any thing more about them; and you would as soon have
got a comic song out of an oyster as a word from Freeman. And she
prospered wonderfully. She had to make large additions to the stables,
and to build rooms for an increased force of grooms; and even then
there were always half a score of horses waiting on her list for
admission, either for training or cure. She made money rapidly, and
kept it: no better woman of business ever breathed; in a big ledger
she scrawled her own accounts, and, as she boasted, could always tell
to a farthing "how she stood." With all this she was generous and
hospitable; paid her grooms good wages, and gave frequent
dinner-parties to her friends,--dinner-parties which scandalised her
solemnly pompous neighbours, who would look aghast at the flashing
lamps of the carriages dashing up the little carriage-drive to fetch
away the company at the small hours, or would listen from beneath
their virtuous bedclothes to the shouts of mirth and snatches of
melody which came booming over the hushed fields.

One of these dinner-parties--that to which she had invited
Beresford--is just over. The French windows in the long, low
dining-room are open; the table is covered with the remains of
dessert, and some of the guests have already lighted cigars. Kate
Mellon heads her table still; she never leaves the room to the
gentlemen,--"It's slow," he says; "women  alone fight or bore;" so she
remains. You can catch a good glimpse of her now under that shaded
swinging moderator-lamp; a little woman, with a closely-knit figure,
long violet eyes, and red-gold hair, taken off over her ears, twisted
in a thick lump at the back of her head, and secured with a pink coral
comb of horse-shoe shape. She is dressed in white spotted muslin,
fastened at the throat and waist with coral brooch and clasps. Her
nose is a little too thick for beauty; her lips full; her mouth large,
with strong white teeth; her hands are white, but large and sinewy;
and the tones of her voice are sharp and clear. She is shouting with
laughter at a song which a jolly-looking young man, sitting at the
little cottage-piano at the end of the room, has just finished; and
her laugh makes the old rafters ring again.

"I always yell at that song, Tom," she says. "I haven't heard it since
last winter, the day that 'Punch' Croker dined here, and we gave him
an olive to taste for the first time."

"He's tremendous fun, is Punch," said the singer. "Why didn't he dine
here to-day? Is he out of town?"

"He's got a moor with Penkridge," said Beresford, who was sitting next
the hostess. "By Jove, how bored Penkridge will be before he's done
with him!"

"Punch has not got much to say for himself," said a tall man, in a
dark beard. "I've had him down to dine with me when I've been on guard
at the Bank, and, 'pon my soul, he's never said a word the whole
night!"

"He was at Baden with us last year," said Beresford; "and when we used
to sit and smoke our weeds after dinner in front of the Kursaal, he
used to bore us so with staring at us and saying nothing, that we used
to pay him to go away. Subscribe five francs, or thalers--according to
our means, you know--and send him to play at the tables to get rid of
him."

"He's not a bad fellow, though, Punch Croker," said Kate. "And what I
like in him is, he never lets out that he don't know every thing!"

"No, that's just it!" said the tall guardsman. "Just after the Derby,
I was confoundedly seedy, and my doctor told me I wanted more ozone."

"What's that, Jack?" asked the man at the piano.

"Well, it's some air or stuff that you don't get by sitting up all
night, and lying in bed till three. From the doctor's I went to the
Rag, and found Meaburn there; and we'd just agreed to dine together,
when Punch Croker came in. I told Meaburn to hold on, and we'd get a
rise out of Punch. He asked us if we were going to dine, and we said
yes, and that he might dine too, if he liked. And I told him I'd got
some ozone, and asked him his opinion, as a sort of fellow who knew
those things, how it should be cooked. He thought for one moment, and
then said, perfectly quietly, 'Well, if you have it before the cheese,
it should be broiled.' Never let on that he didn't know what it was;
never changed a muscle of his face,--give you my word!"

They all laughed at this, and then the tall guardsman said, "It's a
great bore, though, to get a reputation for stupidity. It's as bad as
being supposed to be funny. People are always expecting you to say
stupid things, and sometimes it's deuced hard to do."

"Poor old Charleville!" said Beresford; "we all sympathise with you,
old fellow, though no one can imagine you ever found any difficulty in
being stupid. Comes natural, don't it, old boy?"

Captain Charleville didn't seem to relish this remark, and was about
to reply angrily, when Tom Burton, the man who had been singing,
struck in hastily with, "Well, it's better to be or to seem stupid,
than to be stupid and have the credit of being clever. Now there's
Northaw, only said one decent thing in his life; and because that has
been told about, fellows say that he's a deuced clever fellow, and
that there's more in him than you'd think."

"What was the one good thing he did say?" asked Kate.

"Well, it was one day when he was out with the Queen's last season.
Stradwicke was there, and Pattan, and Bellairs, and a lot of men; and
Northaw was in a horrid bad temper,--had got up too soon, or
something, and was as rusty as Old Boots; so while he was fretting and
fuming about, and blackguarding the weather, and his stirrup-leathers,
and every thing else, Tom Winch rode up to him. You know Tom Winch,
son of great contractor, timber-man, builds bridges, and that sort of
thing. 'Morning, my lord!' says Tom Winch. 'Morning,' says Northaw, as
sulky as a bear. 'What do you think of my new horse, my lord?'
says Tom Winch. 'Ugly brute,' says Northaw, looking up; 'ugly,
wooden-legged brute; _looks as if he'd been made at home_."

Burton rose during the laugh that followed his story, and rang the
bell. "I must be off," he said; "I've rung to have the phaeton round,
Kitty. Charleville, you'll come with me? I can find room for you,
Beresford."

"No; thanks," said Beresford; "I rode down. Oh, tell them to bring my
horse round too," he added to the servant.

"Wait five minutes, Charley," said Kate Mellon in an undertone; "let
us have a quiet talk after they're gone. I've got something to say to
you."

"Well, good night, Kate; good night, old lady. If you pick up any
thing good in Yorkshire, let's how, there's a Stunner! I've promised
to mount my sister next season, and she sha'n't ride any thing you
don't warrant. Good night, Beresford; good night, old lady;" and with
hearty hand-shakes to Kate, and nods to Beresford, Captain Charleville
and Tom Burton took themselves off.

"Now, Charley," said Kate, leaning forward on the table while
Beresford lit a fresh cigar and threw himself back in his
chair,--"now, Charley, tell us all about it."

"About what?" asked Beresford, rolling the leaf of his cigar round
with his finger. "That is good, by Jove! You say you want to talk to
me, and you begin by asking me to tell you all about it!"

"I mean about yourself. You're horribly low, and dull, and slow, and
wretched. You've scarcely spoken all the evening, and you ate no
dinner, and you drank a great deal of wine."

"You're a pretty hostess, Kitty! You've checked off my dinner like the
keeper of a _table-d'hôte_."

"Well, you know you might drink the cellar dry, if you liked. But
you're all out of sorts, Charley; tell me all about it, I say!"

"You certainly are a strange specimen, Stunner," said Beresford, still
calmly occupied with his cigar-leaf; "but there's a wonderful deal of
good in you, and I don't mind telling you what I wouldn't say to any
one else. I'm done up, Kitty; run the wrong side of the post;
distanced, old lady. I've been hit frightfully hard all this year; my
book for the Leger looks awful; I owe pots of money, and I am very
nearly done."

"My poor Charley!" said the girl, bending forward, with deep interest
in her face. "That certainly is a blue look-out," she continued,--for
however earnest was her purpose, she could not but express herself in
her slang metaphor. "Is there nothing to fall back upon?"

"Nothing; no resource, save one--and that I'm going to look after at
once--marriage!"

"Marriage!"

"Yes; if I could pick up a woman with money, I'd settle down into a
regular quiet humdrum life. I'd cut the turf, and ride a bishop's cob,
and give good dinners, and go to church, and be regularly respectable,
by Jove! I should make a good husband, too; I think I should;
only--the worst of it is, that these women with money, by some
dispensation of nature, are generally so frightfully hideous."

"Yes," said the girl, who had pushed her hands through her hair, and
then clenched them tightly in front of her, and who was looking at him
with staring, earnest eyes. "I can't fancy you married, Charley;
that's quite a new view of matters; and, as you say, the rich women
are not generally pretty. You can't have every thing, Charley?"

"No," said Beresford, gloomily. "I know that; and it would be deuced
hard lines to have to take a Gorgon about with you, and to have to
glare at a plain-headed woman sitting opposite you for the rest of
your life. But need must--what am I to do?"

"Charley," said the girl, suddenly tilting her chair on to its front
legs, and drumming with her right hand upon the table; "look here. You
can't have every thing, you know, and it's better to make the running
over open ground, no matter how heavy, than to dash at a thick hedge
where there may be water and Lord knows what on the other side. Don't
hurry it so, Charley; you'll get pounded without knowing it, and then
there'll be nothing to pull you through. You can't expect every thing
in a wife, you know, Charley. If you got money, you couldn't look for
rank, you know, eh?"

"Why, how you do talk about it, old lady!" said Beresford, flicking
the ash off his cigar. "No; I'm not exacting. I wouldn't care about
her pedigree, so long as she was well weighted."

"That's right; of course not, Charley! I should think you'd find some
one, Charley; not grand, you know, but good and honest, and all that.
Not very beautiful either, perhaps, but not ugly, you know; and one
who'd love you, Charley, and be true to you, and take care of you, and
make you a good wife."

"Yes, I know, and all that sort of thing; but where is she to come
from?"

"You might find such a one, Charley, where you never looked for it,
perhaps; one who could bring you a little fortune, all honest money,
and who could tell you of her past life, which you never dreamed of,
and need not be ashamed of. There might be such a one, Charley!"

She had slid from her chair to the ground, and knelt, with her hands
on his knees, looking eagerly into his face. Her eyes gleamed with
excitement  she had pushed her hair back from her forehead, and her
lips were parted in eager anticipation of his words. They came at
length, very slowly. At first he turned pale, and caught his breath
for an instant; then gently lifted her hands, and muttered between his
teeth, "It's impossible, Kate; it can't be!"

"Impossible!"

"It can't be, I tell you. What would--there, you don't understand
these things, and I can't explain. It's impossible! I was a fool to
start the subject. Now I must go. Good-by, child; write me a line
from Scarborough; they'll forward it from the office. Won't you say
good-by?"

He gripped her cold, passive hand, and two minutes afterwards she
heard the sound of his departing horse's feet on the carriage-drive.

For a while Kate Mellon stood motionless, then stamped her foot
violently, and sank into a chair, covering her face with her hands,
through which the tears welled slowly. Rousing herself at length,
she hurried to a writing-table, pulled out a gaudily-decorated
_papier-mâché_ blotting-book, and commenced scrawling a letter. She
wrote hurriedly, passionately, until she had covered the sheet,
running her gold pen-holder through the tangled mass of hair at the
back of her head, and twisting a stick of sealing-wax with her teeth
the while. The letter finished, she skimmed through it hastily, put it
in an envelope, and directed it to "F. Churchill, Esq., _Statesman_
Office, E.C."



CHAPTER V.
"THERE'S NOTHING HALF SO SWEET IN LIFE."


Four days had slipped away since Churchill's first arrival at Bissett
Grange, and he had begun to acknowledge to himself that they had
passed more pleasantly than any previous time in his recollection. The
mere fact of getting out of business was a great relief to him; he
revelled in the knowledge that he had nothing to do; and, in odd times
and seasons,--as he lay in bed of nights, for instance,--he would
chuckle at the thought that the coming morrow had for him no work and
no responsibilities in store; and when he went up to dress himself for
dinner, he would settle down into an easy-chair, or hang out of the
open window, and delight in the prospect of a good dinner and
delightful society, of music and conversation, from which no horrid
clock-striking would tear him away, and send him forth to dreary rooms
and brain-racking until the small hours of the morning. Society,
music, and conversation! It is true that he enjoyed them all; and yet,
when he came to analyse his happiness, he was fain to admit that they
all meant Barbara Lexden. As in a glass darkly, that tall majestic
figure moved through every thought, and sinuously wound itself round
every impulse of his heart. At first he laughed at his own weakness,
and tried to exorcise the spirit, to whose spells he found himself
succumbing, by rough usage and hard exercise. There is probably
nothing more serviceable in getting rid of a sharp attack of what is
commonly known as "spooniness"--when it is accidental, be it
remembered, not innate--than the eager pursuit of some healthy sport.
Men try wine and cards; both of which are instantaneous but fleeting
remedies, and which leave them in a state of reaction, when they are
doubly vulnerable; but shooting or hunting, properly pursued, are
thoroughly engrossing while they last, and when they are over
necessitate an immediate recourse to slumber from the fatigue which
they have induced. In the morning, even should opportunity offer, the
"spoony" stage is at its lowest ebb; it is rarely possible to work
oneself up to the proper pitch of silliness immediately after
breakfast, and then some farther sporting expedition is started, which
takes one out of harm's way. But in Churchill's case even this remedy
failed; he was not much of a sportsman; not that he shot badly, but
that he was perpetually _distrait_, and when reminded of his
delinquencies by a sharp, "Your bird, sir!" from one of his
companions, would fire so quickly, and with so much effect, as to
mollify the speaker, and lead him to believe that it was
shortsightedness, and not being a "Cockney"--that worst of imputations
amongst sportsmen--that led the stranger to miss marking the rise of
the covey. And yet Churchill displayed no lack of keen vision in
making out the exact whereabouts of a striped petticoat and a pair of
high-heeled Balmoral boots which crossed a stile a little in advance
of the servants bringing the luncheon; but these once seen, and their
wearer once talked to, sport was over with him for the day, and he
strolled back with Miss Lexden, at a convenient distance behind Miss
Townshend and Captain Lyster, who led the way.

"You are soon tired of your sport, Mr. Churchill," said Barbara; "I
should have thought that you would have followed ardently any pursuit
on which you entered."

"You do me a great deal too much honour, Miss Lexden," replied
Churchill, laughing; "my pursuits are of a very desultory nature, and
in all of them I observe Talleyrand's caution,--_Point de zèle_."

"And you carry that out in every thing?"

"In most things. Mine is a very easy-going, uneventful, unexcitable
life; I live thoroughly quietly; _da capo_--all over again; and it is
seldom that any thing breaks in upon the routine of my humdrum
existence."

"Then," said Barbara, looking saucily up at him from under her
hat--"then you do not follow the advice which your favourite
Talleyrand gave to the ambassadors whom he was despatching, _tenez
bonne table, et soignez les femmes_."

Churchill looked up, and for an instant caught her glance; then he
laughed lightly, and said,

"Well, not exactly; though the dinners at the club, even the modest
joint and the table-beer, are not by any means to be despised; and as
for the rest of it, not being a diplomatist, Miss Lexden, I have no
occasion to play the agreeable to any one save in my own house, and,
being a bachelor, the only woman I have to see to as properly
_soignée_ is my old mother, and I _do_ like her to have the best of
every thing."

"Your mother lives with you?"

"Yes, and will, so far as I can see, until the end of the chapter."

"She--you must be very fond of her!" said Barbara, as by a sudden
impulse, looking up at his kindling eyes and earnest face.

"I am very proud of her," he replied; "she is more like my sister than
my mother; enters into all my hopes and fears, shares all my
aspirations, and consoles me in all my doubts."

"More like your wife, then," said Barbara, with a slight sneer. "You
have in her a rare combination of virtues."

"No," said Churchill; "not rare, I am disposed to think. I don't
suppose that, in your class,--where maternity means nothing in
particular to sons, and merely chaperonage, or the part of buffer, to
ward off paternal anger for bills incurred, to daughters,--such
characters flourish; but in mine they are common enough."--("A little
touch of old Harding's Radicalism in that speech, by Jove!" thought he
to himself.)

"I don't exactly fallow your reference to my class as distinct from
your own. I suppose we mix amongst pretty much the same people, though
as individuals we have not met before. But," added Barbara, with a
smile, "now that that great occurrence has taken place, I don't think
we need enter into lengthy disquisitions as to the charms and duties
of maternity; indeed, we will not, for I shall ask you to observe the
only conditions which I require from my friends."

"And they are--?" asked Churchill.

"_Qu'on exécute mes orders_, as Louis Napoleon said when asked what
should be done on the Second of December. So long as my commands are
obeyed, I am amiability itself."

"And suppose they were disobeyed?" asked Churchill again.

"Then--but I won't tell you what would happen! I don't think you'll
ever have the chance of knowing; do you think you shall? Not that I
like amiable people generally--do you? Your blue-eyed girls, with
colourless hair like blotting-paper, and--but I forgot I was talking
to an author. I suppose you're making fun of all I say?"

"On the contrary," said Churchill, struggling to keep his gravity, and
producing a small memorandum-book, "I purpose making a note of that
description for use on a future occasion. There is a spiteful
simplicity in that phrase about 'blotting-paper hair' which is really
worth embalming in a leader."

"Now I know you're laughing, and I hate to be laughed at--"

"By no means; I subscribe the roll. I am now one of the _âmes
damnées_, sworn to obey the spell of the sorceress; and the spell
is--?"

"Nothing. Never mind. You will know easily enough when it is once
uttered. Now they're coming back to us, and I've lost my glove. Have
you seen it? How very absurd!"

As she spoke, they came up with Lyster and Miss Townshend, who were
waiting for them at a gate leading into the Grange lands.

"How slowly you walk, Miss Lexden!" said Lyster; "Miss Townshend
thought you never would come up with us."

Miss Townshend, with much curl-tossing and laughter, declared she had
never said any thing of the kind.

"Quite otherwise," replied Barbara; "from the earnest manner in which
you were carrying on the conversation, there could be no doubt that it
was you who were going ahead."

"I?--I give you my word I was merely talking of scenery, and telling
Miss Townshend how much I should like to show her Rome."

"And promising, when there, to enter into the spirit of the proverb,
and do as the Romans--eh, Captain Lyster?"

"Oh, ah,--yes! I see what you mean. That's not so bad, eh, Mr.
Churchill? You might use that in some of your thingummies, eh? Though
I don't know that there's much difference between Rome and any other
place, after all. It's rather like London, I think."

"Is it?" said Churchill. "I confess my short sojourn there gave me a
very different idea."

"Well, I don't know; it's mouldier and more tumbledown, certainly, but
there are some parts of it that are uncommonly like the unfinished
streets in the new part of Belgravia. And people walk about, and eat
and drink, and flirt, you know, just as they do in town. There's a
Colosseum at Rome, too, as well as in London, only the one in Rome
isn't in such good repair."

This was said in perfect good faith; and the others shouted with
laughter at it, in the midst of which they came to a stile, joining
upon the Paddock, and here they parted into couples again, only this
time Churchill and Barbara took the lead.

"I think she's made another _coup_," said Lyster, looking at them, as
they immediately fell into earnest conversation. "She certainly is
wonderful,--never misses fire!"

"If I were Barbara, I should be careful about any flirtation with Mr.
Churchill. They're dreadful people, these poets, you know,--at least
so I've always heard; and if you give them any encouragement, and then
won't marry them, they cry out, and abuse you terribly in books and
newspapers."

"That would be awful!" said Lyster; "as bad as having your letters
read out in a breach-of-promise case, by Jove! Never could understand
how fellows wrote such spoony letters to women,--never could fancy how
they thought of all the things they said."

And yet I think, if Captain Lyster had been rigorously cross-examined,
he must needs have confessed that he himself had never, throughout the
whole course of his previous life, gone through so much actual
thinking as since he knew Miss Townshend. There was, perhaps, no
species of flirtation in which he was not an adept, for he had
sufficient brains to do what he called the "talkee-talkee;" while his
natural idleness enabled him to carry on a silent _solitude à deux_,
and to make great play with an occasional elevation of the eyebrow or
touch of the hand. He had run through a thorough course of garrison
hacks, and had seen all the best produce of the export Indian market;
he had met the beauties of the season at London balls and in country
houses, and his listlessness and languor had hitherto carried him
through scot-free. But now he was certainly "fetched," as his friends
would call it, and began to feel an interest in Miss Townshend which
he had never felt for any other person. There had been a two days'
flirtation between him and Barbara Lexden; but they were so utterly
unsuited, that, at the end of that time, they, as it were, showed
their hands to each other, and then, with a laugh, threw up their
cards. The flirtation was never renewed; but a curious, strange
friendship,--exhibited in the conversation about the coming
professor,--and always half raillery on both sides, existed between
them. But "this little Townshend girl," as he thought of her in his
dreamy reveries, was quite another matter; she was so jolly and
good-tempered, and so approachable, and never gave herself any airs,
and never wanted talking to or that sort of thing, but could amuse
herself always, as chirpy as a bird, by Jove! And these attributes had
an immense amount of weight with taciturn Fred Lyster, who, moreover,
had recently discovered a bald spot about the size of a sixpence at
the top of his back-parting, and who immediately perceived imminent
age, determined on marriage, and even thought of making his will. And
little Miss Townshend walks by his side, and prattles away, and
laughs, saucily tossing her curls in the air, and is as merry as
possible; save when, stealing an occasional glance from under her hat,
she detects her companion's eyes very earnestly fixed upon her, and
then a serious expression will settle on her face for an instant, and
something like a sigh escape her.

We are a strange race! Here are two couples engaged in the same
pursuit, and yet how different is the process! While Lyster is
strolling idly by Miss Townshend's side, and listening to her little
nonsense, Churchill and Barbara are stepping ahead, thoroughly
engrossed in their conversation. He is talking now, telling her of a
German adventure of his; how, with some other students, he made the
descent of the Rhine on one of the timber-rafts; how they came to
grief just below the Lôrely, and were all nearly drowned. He tells
this with great animation and with many gestures, acting out his
story, as is his wont; and throughout all he has a sensation of
pleasure as he catches glimpses of her upturned earnest face, lighting
up at the special bits of the narrative, always eager and attentive.
His earnestness seems infectious. She has dropped all her society
drawl, all her society tricks and byplay, and shows more of the real
woman than she has for many a day. They talk of Germany and its
literature, of Goethe and Schiller and Heine; and he tells her some of
those stories of Hoffmann which are such special favourites with
_Bürschen_. Thus they pass on to our home poets; and here Barbara is
the talker, Churchill listening and occasionally commenting. Barbara
has read much, and talks well. It is an utter mistake to suppose that
women nowadays have what we have been accustomed, as a term of
reproach, to call "miss-ish" taste in books or art. Five minutes'
survey of that room which Barbara called her own in her aunt's house
in Gloucester Place would have served to dispel any such idea. On the
walls were proofs of Leonardo's "Last Supper" and Landseers "Shoeing
the Horse;" a print of Delaroche's "Execution of Lady Jane Grey;" a
large framed photograph of Gerome's "Death of Cæsar;" an old-fashioned
pencil-sketch of Barbara's father, taken in the old days by D'Orsay
long before he ever thought of turning that pencil to actual use; and
a coloured photograph--a recent acquisition--of a girl sitting over a
wood-fire in a dreamy attitude, burning her love-letters, called
"L' Auto da Fé." On the bookshelves you would have found Milton,
Thomas à-Kempis, _David Copperfield_, _The Christmas Carol_, a
much-used Tennyson, Keats, George Herbert's Poems, Quarles' _Emblems_,
_The Christian Year_, Carlyle's _French Revolution_, Dante, Schiller,
_Faust_, Tupper (of course! "and it is merely envy that makes you
laugh at him," she always said), _The Newcomes_, and a quarto
Shakespeare. No French novels, I am glad to say; but a fat little
Béranger, and a yellow-covered Alfred de Musset are on the
mantelpiece, while a brass-cross-bearing red-edged Prayer-Book lies
on the table by the bed. Barbara's books were not show-books; they all
bore more or less the signs of use; but she had read them in a
desultory manner, and had never thoroughly appreciated the pleasure to
be derived from them. She had never lived in a reading set; for when
old Miss Lexden had mastered the police intelligence and the
fashionable news from the _Post_, her intellectual exercises were at
an end for the day; and her friends were very much of the same
calibre. So now for the first time Barbara heard literature talked of
by one who had hitherto made it his worship, and who spoke of it with
mingled love and reverence--spoke without lecturing, leading his
companion into her fair share of the talk, mingling apt quotation with
caustic comment or enthusiastic eulogy, until they found themselves,
to Barbara's surprise, at the hall-door.

I am glad that it is my province as historian to discourse to my
readers of the thoughts, impulses, and motives influencing the
characters in this story, else it would be difficult for me to convey
so much of their inner life as I wish to be known, and which yet would
not crop out in the course of the action. In writing a full-flavoured
romance of the sensational order, it is not, perhaps, very difficult
to imbue your readers with a proper notion of your characters'
character. The gentleman who hires two masked assassins to waylay his
brother at the foot of the bridge has evidently no undue veneration
for the Sixth Commandment; while the marchioness who, after having
only once seen the young artist in black velvet, gives him the gold
key leading to her secret apartments, and makes an assignation with
him at midnight, is palpably not the style of person whom you would
prefer as governess for your daughters. But in a commonplace story of
every-day life, touching upon such ordinary topics as walks and
dinners and butchers' meat, marrying and giving in marriage, running
into debt, and riding horses in Rotten Row,--where (at least; so far
as my experience serves) you find no such marked outlines of
character, you must bring to your aid all that quality of work which
in the sister art is known by the title pre-Raphaelitic, and show
virtue in the cut of a coat and vice in the adjustment of a cravat.
Moreover, we pen-and-ink workers have, in such cases, an advantage
over our brethren of the pencil, inasmuch as we can take our readers
by the button-hole, and lead them out of the main current of the
story, showing them our heroes and heroines in _déshabille_, and,
through the medium of that window which Vulcan wished had been fixed
in the human breast--and which really is there, for the novelist's
inspection--making them acquainted with the inmost thoughts and
feelings of the puppets moving before them.

When Barbara went to her room that night and surrendered herself to
Parker and the hair-brushes, that pattern of ladies'-maids thought
that she had never seen her mistress so preoccupied since Karl von
Knitzler, an _attaché_ of the Austrian Embassy,--who ran for a whole
season in the ruck of the Lexden's admirers, and at last thought he
had strength for the first flight,--had received his _coup de grâce_.
In her wonderment Parker gave two or three hardish tugs at the hair
which she was manipulating, but received no reproof; for the inside of
that little head was so busy as to render it almost insensible to the
outside friction. Barbara was thinking of Mr. Churchill--as yet she
had not even thought of him by his Christian name, scarcely perhaps
knew it--and of the strange interest which he seemed to have aroused
in her. The tones of his voice yet seemed ringing in her ears; she
remembered his warm, earnest manner when speaking from himself, and
the light way in which he fell into her tone of jesting badinage.
Then, with something like a jar, she recollected his suppressed sneer
at the difference in their "class," and her foot tapped angrily on the
floor as the recollection rose in her mind. Mingled strangely with
these were reminiscences of his comely head, white shapely hands,
strong figure, and well-made boots; of the way in which he sat and
walked; of--and then, with a start which nearly hurled one of the
brushes out of Parker's hand, she gathered herself together as she
felt the whole truth rush upon her, and knew that she was thinking too
much of the man and determined that she would so think no more. Who
was he, living away in some obscure region in London among a set of
people whom no one knew, leading a life which would not be tolerated
by any of her friends, to engross _her_ thoughts? Between them rolled
a gulf, wide and impassable, on the brink of which they might indeed
stand for a few minutes interchanging casual nothings in the course of
life's journey, but which rendered closer contact impossible. And
yet--but Barbara determined there should be no "and yet;" and with
this determination full upon her, she dismissed Parker and fell
asleep.

And Churchill--what of him? Alas, regardless of his doom, that little
victim played! When old Marmaduke gave the signal for retiring,
Churchill would not, on this night, follow the other men into
the smoking-room. The politics, the ribaldry, the scandal, the
horsey-doggy talk, would be all more intolerable than ever; he wanted
to be alone, to go through that process, so familiar to him on all
difficult occasions, of "thinking it out;" so he told Gumble to take a
bottle of claret to his room, and, arrived there, he lit his old
meerschaum, and leant out of the window gazing over the distant
moonlit park. But this time the "thinking it out" failed dismally;
amid the white smoke-wreaths curling before him rose a tall, slight
grateful figure; in his ear yet lingered the sound of a clear low
voice; his hand yet retained the thrill which ran through him as she
touched it in wishing him "good night." He thought of _her_ as he had
never thought of woman before, and he gloried in the thought: he was
no love-sick boy, to waste in fond despair, and sicken in his longing;
he was a strong, healthy man, with a faultless digestion, an earnest
will, a clear conscience, and a heart thinking no guile. There was the
difference in the rank, certainly--and in connexion with this
reflection a grim smile crossed his face as he remembered Harding, and
his caution about "swells"--but what of that? Did not good education,
and a life that would bear scrutiny, lift a man to any rank? and would
not she--and then he drew from his pocket a dainty, pearl-gray glove
(Jouvin's two-buttoned, letter B), and pressed it to his lips. It
_was_ silly, ladies and gentlemen, I admit; but then, you know, it
never happened to any of _us_; and though "the court, the camp, the
grove" suffer, we have the pleasure of thinking that the senate, the
bar, the commerce of England, and the public press, always escape
scot-free.


Breakfast at Bissett Grange lasted from nine--at the striking of which
hour old Sir Marmaduke entered the room, and immediately rang the bell
for a huge smoking bowl of oatmeal porridge, his invariable matutinal
meal--until twelve; by which time the laziest of the guests had
generally progressed from Yorkshire-pie, through bacon, eggs, and
Finnan haddies, down to toast and marmalade, and were sufficiently
refected. Barbara was always one of the last; she was specially late
on the morning after the talk just described; and on her arrival in
the breakfast-room found only Mr. and Mrs. Vincent, who always
lingered fondly over their meals, and who, so long as the cloth
remained on the table, sat pecking and nibbling, like a couple of old
sparrows, at the dishes within reach of them; Captain Lyster, who
between his sips of coffee was dipping into _Bell's Life_; and Sir
Marmaduke himself, who had returned from a brisk walk round the
grounds and the stables and the farm, and was deep in the columns of
the _Times_. But, to her astonishment, the place at table next hers
had evidently not yet been occupied. The solid white breakfast-set was
unused, the knives and forks were unsoiled; and yet Mr. Churchill, who
had hitherto occupied that place, had usually finished his meal and
departed before Barbara arrived. This morning, however, was clearly an
exception; he had not yet breakfasted, for by his plate lay three
unopened letters addressed to him. Barbara noticed this--noticed
moreover that the top letter, in a long shiny pink envelope, was
addressed in a scrawly, unmistakably female hand, and had been
redirected in a larger, bolder writing. As she seated herself, with
her eyes, it must be confessed, on this dainty missive, the door
opened, and Churchill entered. After a general salutation, he was
beginning a half-laughing apology for his lateness as he sat down,
when his eye lit on the pink envelope. He changed colour slightly;
then, before commencing his breakfast, took up his letters and placed
them in the breast-pocket of his shooting-coat.

"This is horrible, Miss Lexden," he said, "bringing these dreadful
hours into the country; here--where you should enjoy the breezy call
of incense-breathing morn, the cock's shrill clarion, and all the rest
of it--to come down to your breakfast just when the bucolic mind is
pondering on the immediate advent of its dinner."

"Be good enough to include yourself in this sweeping censure, Mr.
Churchill," said Barbara. "I was down before you; but I accepted my
position, nor, however late I might have been, should I have
attempted--"

"I congratulate you, sir," interrupted Mr. Vincent, dallying with a
lump of marmalade on a wedge of toast,--"I congratulate you, Mr.
Churchill, on a prudence which but few men of your age possess."

"You are very good, but I scarcely follow you."

"I saw you--I saw you put away your letters until after breakfast. A
great stroke that! Men generally are so eager to get at their letters,
that they plunge into them at once, before meals little thinking that
the contents may have horrible influence on their digestion."

"I am sorry to say that I was influenced by no such sanitary
precautions. My correspondence will keep; and I have yet to learn that
to read letters in the presence of ladies is--"

"Pray, make no apologies, as far as I am concerned," said Barbara,
with a curl of her lip and an expansion of nostril; "if you have any
wish to read your doubtless important correspondence--"

"I have no such wish, Miss Lexden. _Litera scripta manet_; which,
being interpreted, means, my letters will keep. And now, Mr. Vincent,
I'll trouble you for a skilful help of that game-pie."

Churchill remained firm; he was still at breakfast, and his letters
remained unopened in his pocket, when Barbara left the room to prepare
for a drive with Miss Townshend. As they reëntered the avenue after a
two hours' turn round the Downs, they met Captain Lyster in a
dog-cart.

"I have been over to Brighton," he explained; "drove Churchill to the
station. He got some news this morning, and is obliged to run up to
town for a day or two. But he's coming back, Miss Lexden."

"Is he, indeed!" said Barbara. "What splendid intelligence! I should
think, Captain Lyster, that, since the announcement of the fall of
Sebastopol, England has scarcely heard such glorious news as that Mr.
Churchill is coming back to Bissett." And, with a clear, ringing
laugh, she pulled the ponies short up at the hall-door, jumped from
the carriage, and passed to her room.

"She don't like his going, all the same,--give you my word," said
Lyster, simply, to Miss Townshend.

And she did not. She coupled his sudden departure with the receipt of
that pink envelope and the address in the feminine scrawl. Who was the
writer of that letter? What could the business be to take him away so
hastily? With her head leaning on her hand, she sits before her
dressing-table pondering these things. It certainly _was_ a woman's
writing. Is this quiet, sedate, self-possessed man a flirt? Does he
carry on a correspondence with-- And if he does, what is it to her?
She is nothing to him--and yet--who _can_ it be? It was a woman's
hand! She wonders where he is at that moment; she would like to see
him just for an instant.

If she could have had her wish, she would have seen him by himself in
a railway-carriage, an unheeded _Times_ lying across his knee, and in
his hand a little pearl-gray kid-glove.



CHAPTER VI.
THE COMMISSIONER'S SHELL EXPLODES.


When the party assembled for dinner on the day of Mr. Churchill's
hurried departure from the Grange, they found they had an addition in
the person of Mr. Commissioner Beresford, who arrived late in the
afternoon, and did not make his appearance until dinner-time. A man of
middle height and dapper figure, always faultlessly dressed; slightly
bald, but with his light-coloured hair well arranged over his large
forehead; with deep-sunk, small, stony-gray eyes, a nose with the
nostrils scarcely sufficiently covered, and a large mouth, with long
white teeth. He had small white--dead-white--hands, with filbert
nails, and very small feet. There was in the normal and ordinary
expression of his face something sour and mordant, which, so far as
his eyes were concerned, occasionally faded out in conversation,
giving place to a quaint, comic look; but the mouth never changed; it
was always fox-like, cruel, and bad. There was no better-known man in
London; high and low, rich and poor, gentle and simple, all had heard
of Charley Beresford. Citizen of the world, where was he out of place?
When there was a tight wedge on the staircase of Protocol House on the
Saturday nights when Lady Helmsman received; when at a foot-pace the
fashionable world endured hours of martyrdom in procession to the
shrine which, once reached, was passed in an instant, according as
sole trophy the reminiscence of a bow,--Mr. Beresford was to be seen
leaning over the stoutest of dowagers, and looking fresh and
undrooping even when pressed upon by the pursiest of diplomatists.
When the noble souls of the Body Guards were dismayed within the huge
carcasses which contained them because it was whispered that the 180th
Hussars intended to wear white hats on their drag to the Derby, and to
deck their persons and their horses with blue rosettes--both which
insignia had hitherto been distinctive of the Body Guards--it was
Charley Beresford who was applied to on the emergency; and who, on the
Derby morning, turned the tables completely by bringing the Body
Guards from Limmer's straw-thatched and amber-rosetted to a man. The
180th and their blue were nowhere; and "Go it, yaller!" and "Brayvo,
Dunstable!" were the cries all down the road. When Mr. Peter
Plethoric, the humorous comedian of the Nonpareil Theatre, wanted some
special patronage for his benefit, "Charley, dear boy!" was his
connecting link with that aristocracy whose suffrages he sought. He
went into every phase of society: he had an aunt the widow of a
cabinet minister, who lived in Eaton Square; and an uncle a bishop,
who lived in Seamore Place; and he dined with them regularly two or
three times in the season, lighting his cigar within a few yards of
the house, and quietly strolling down to the Argyll Rooms, or to the
green-room of the theatre, or to the parlour of a sporting-public
to get the latest odds on a forthcoming fight. He turned up his
coat-collar of late when he visited these last-named places, and the
pugilistic landlords had orders never to pronounce his name, but to
call him "Guv'nor;" it would not do for an official high in her
Majesty's service to be recognised in such quarters. Before his
aristocratic friends obtained for him his commissionership, his name
was one of the most common current amongst the Fancy; but since then
he had eschewed actual presence at the ring, as he had blue bird's-eye
handkerchiefs, cigars in the daylight, and nodding acquaintance with
broughams in the park. "_Il faut se ranger_," he used to say; "it
would never do for those young fellows down at the Office to think
that I was or ever had been a fast lot; and those confounded Radical
papers, they made row enough about the appointment, and they'll always
be on the look-out to catch me tripping." He little knew that his fame
had preceded him to the Tin-Tax Office; that all the old clerks were
prepared to receive him with something between fear and disgust, all
the young ones with unmingled admiration; that daily bulletins of his
dress and manners were circulated amongst the juniors, and that those
who could afford it dressed at him to a man.

He was four-and-thirty when he got his appointment, and he had held it
about two years. There was even betting that the promotion would "go
in the office;" that Mr. Simnel, the secretary, a very clever man,
would get it; that the vacancy would not be filled up; and various
other rumours. But the Chancellor of the Exchequer felt that Mr.
Simnel had been going a little too much ahead lately, acting on his
own responsibility; and as the widow of the cabinet minister (who
owned a borough in Devonshire) and the bishop concurrently attacked
the Premier, that nobleman gave way, and Charles Beresford exchanged
the dreariness of Bruges, in which dull Belgian city of refuge he had
been for some months located, for a seat in the board-room at Rutland
House. His uncle and aunt, through their respective solicitors, bought
up his outstanding debts, and settled them at a comparatively low rate
(his Oxford ticks had been settled years ago out of his mother's
income); and he came into a thousand a year, paid quarterly, free and
unencumbered. A thousand a year, in four cheques on the Bank of
England in January, April, July, and October, ought to be a
sufficiency for an unmarried man; but with Charles Beresford, as with
a good many of us, the mere fact of the possession of money gave rise
to a wild desire for rushing into unlimited expense. To belong to
three clubs--the Beauclerk in Pall Mall, aristocratic and exclusive;
the Minerva (proposed thereat by the bishop), literary and solemn; the
Haresfoot, late and theatrical;--to have capital rooms in South Audley
Street; to keep a mail-phaeton and pair, with a saddle-horse and a
hunter during the season; to give and join in Greenwich and Richmond
dinners; to be generous in the matter of kid-gloves and jewelry; to
have a taste (and to gratify it) in choice wines; to make a yearly
excursion to Baden, and when there to worship extensively at the
shrine of M. Benazet; to be a connoisseur in art, and a buyer of
proofs before letters, and statuary, and tapestry, and antiques; to be
miserable without the possession of an Opera-stall; all these
vagaries, though pleasant, are undeniably expensive; and at the end of
his second year of office Charles Beresford found that he had spent
every farthing of his income, and owed, in addition, between three and
four thousand pounds.

He could not compound with his creditors; he dared not go through the
Court, for "those rascally papers" would then have been down on him at
once, and his official appointment might have been sacrificed. The
Government just then had two or three black sheep, about whom people
had talked, among their subordinates; and Beresford might have been
the Jonah, sacrificed to allay the storm of virtuous public
indignation. Besides, though his great soul might have been won over
to include in his schedule Messrs. Sams and Mitchell, Mr. Stecknadel,
the tailor of Conduit Street, and Hocks, with whom his horses stood at
livery, he could not inscribe the names of the Irrevocable Insurance
Company, to whom for the money borrowed he had given the names of two
substantial friends as sureties; or of Mr. Parkinson, solicitor, of
Thavies Inn, who "did his paper," but required another signature on
the back. So Mr. Charles Beresford was forced to confess himself "done
up," "cornered," and "tree'd;" and only saw one way out of his
difficulties--a good marriage. There was no reason why his final
chance should not succeed, for he was a very pleasant, agreeable
fellow when he chose; had a capital tenor voice, and sang French and
German songs with sparkling effect and irreproachable accent; acted
well in charade; talked all sorts of styles,--could be earnest,
profound, sentimental, flippant, literary, or ribald, as occasion
presented; waltzed with a gliding, long, swinging step, which was the
envy of all the men who saw him; was sufficiently good-looking, and
had something like a position to offer.

Behold him, then, seated at Sir Marmaduke's table next to Miss
Townshend, and with Barbara Lexden immediately opposite to him. He has
been rattling on pleasantly enough during dinner, but has never
forgotten the object of his life; he is aware that Barbara for him is
not an available _parti_, with position certainly, but without money,
and with extravagant notions; but he has some recollection of having
heard that Mr. Townshend was something approaching to a
_millionnaire_, and he determined to satisfy himself upon the point
without delay.

"Not at all," he says, referring to something that has gone before;
"not at all. It's all very well for you, Sir Marmaduke, whose lines
have been cast in pleasant places, to talk so; but for us poor fellows
who have to work for our living, this rest is something delightful."

"Work for your living!" growls out the old gentleman. "A pack of lazy
placemen. Egad! the fellow talks as though stone-breaking were his
occupation, and he'd just straightened his back for five minutes. Work
for your living! Do you call sticking your initial to the corner of a
lot of figures that you've never read, work? Do you call scrawling
your signature at the bottom of some nonsensical document, to prove
that you're the 'obedient, humble servant,' of some idiot whom you've
never seen, work? Do you call reading the--"

"Now stop, Sir Marmaduke," said Beresford, laughing; "I bar you there.
You mustn't repeat that _rococo_ old rubbish about reading the
newspaper and poking the fire as the sole work in a Government office.
That _is_ slander."

"I am bound to say," said Mr. Townshend pompously, "that when, in my
capacity either as one of the directors of the East-India Company, or
Prime Warden of the Bottle Blowers' Company, I have ever had occasion
to transact business with any of the Government establishments, I have
always found myself well treated."

"I am delighted to hear such testimony from you, sir," said Beresford,
with some apparent deference, and inwardly thinking that the two
positions named looked healthy as regards money.

"God bless my soul!" bawled Sir Marmaduke. "Here's a man drives up in
a big carriage, with a powdered-headed jackass to let down the steps,
and then he 'testifies' that he gets a messenger to take in his name
and that he isn't insulted by the clerks. I wish with all my heart,
Townshend, that you were a poor man with a patent to bring out, or a
grievance to complain of, or an inquiry to make, and you'd devilish
soon see the reception you'd get."

"I hear," said Mr. Vincent, with a mind to turn the conversation
"that a new system of refreshment-supply has recently been
introduced into some of our public departments. I have a nephew in the
Draft-and-Docket Office, whom I called upon about one o'clock the
other day, and I found him engaged upon some very excellent
_cotelettes à la Soubise_, which he told me were prepared in the
establishment. That appears to me a most admirable arrangement."

"Very admirable," growled Sir Marmaduke "for the public, who are
paying the young ruffians for eating their Frenchified rubbish. By
heavens! a clerk at ninety pounds a year, and a made-dish for lunch!"

"Quite right, Mr. Townshend," said Stone; "they feed stunningly now,
and don't drink badly either. By the way, Beresford, I'm agent for
Goupil's house at Bordeaux, and I could put in a capital cheap claret
into your place, just the thing for your fellows in the hot weather.
The tenders are out now, and a word from you would serve me."

"But, surely," said Barbara, laughing, "if, as Sir Marmaduke says, you
don't work now, Mr. Beresford, you'll be less inclined than ever after
M. Goupil's claret."

"Sir Marmaduke is an infidel, Miss Lexden," said Charley. "Send in
your tender, Stone, and Goupil's Medoc shall be a fresh incentive to
the virtuous Civil Servants!"

"Let him rave, my dear!" said Sir Marmaduke; "let him rave,
as your idol Mr. Tennyson says. What he calls work, I call
make-believe humbug. What I call work, is what my godson--what's his
name---Churchill (what the deuce has he gone away for?) does, night
after night, grinding his headpiece--that sort of thing."

"What Churchill is that, sir?" asked Charley.

"Mr. Churchill is a literary man, I believe," said Miss Townshend;
"wonderfully clever--writes, you know, and all that."

"Oh, Frank Churchill! I know him," replied Beresford. "Has he been
down here?"

"Yes; he only left this morning."

"He seems a very good sort of fellow," said Lyster generously, for he
didn't quite like the tone of Beresford's voice, and did not at all
like the manner in which the Commissioner was paying quiet attention
to Miss Townshend. "He's made himself a general favourite in a very
short time."

"Yes, that he has," said Miss Townshend; "he's very clever, and not at
all conceited, and--oh! he's so nice."

Barbara said nothing.

"I had a few words with him about the money-article yesterday," said
Mr. Townshend; "but I must say his views were scarcely so defined as I
could have wished."

Beresford had listened attentively to these remarks. He thought he
perceived a certain _tendresse_ in Miss Townshend's manner of speaking
of Churchill, which did not at all accord with his present views. So
he said,

"No, Mr. Townshend; that's not Churchill's peculiar line. He's a poor
man, though, as you say, Miss Townshend, a clever one. And he has some
object in working hard, for he's going to be married."

"To be married?" exclaimed Miss Townshend, looking across at Barbara.

"To be married?" exclaimed Barbara, flushing scarlet. The next instant
she turned deadly cold, and could have bitten her tongue out for
having spoken.

"Well, well!" said old Miss Lexden, who up to this time had been
engaged in a confidential culinary chat with Mrs. Vincent; "that's
always the way. Poor thing: I pity the young woman. These sort of
persons always stay out all night, and ill-treat their wives, and all
that kind of thing."

"Dear, dear!" said Mrs. Vincent; "leg-of-mutton _ménage_ and
batter-pudding, perhaps; no soup or fish. Dear, dear! what unwholesome
things these love-marriages are!"

"But nobody said that it is a love match," said Miss Townshend.
"Perhaps the lady is an heiress, whom Mr. Churchill has captivated by
his talent."

"Yes," growled Sir Marmaduke, with a sardonic grin; "an heiress who
has been struck with his articles on the Reformatory question, or has
become completely dazzled by the lucidity of his views on the Maynooth
Grant. A leader-writer in a daily newspaper is just the romantic youth
that heiresses fall in love with."

"Now do be quiet, Sir Marmaduke, with your horrid sarcasm, and let us
hear what the lady is like. Do tell us, Mr. Beresford," said Miss
Townshend.

"Oh, I have no idea of her personal appearance," replied Beresford.
"Every body says she's very nice, and that the marriage is coming off
at once--that's all I know."

"Your curiosity will soon be gratified, with a very little trouble,"
interrupted Lyster. "You can ask Mr. Churchill himself--he's coming
back to-morrow."

"Coming back!" exclaimed Beresford.

"Yes, to-morrow," replied Lyster, and added, between his teeth, "your
little plot will soon be spoilt, my boy."

Shortly afterwards, when the ladies left the table, Barbara did not
accompany the rest, but went straight to her own room. There she
seated herself at the open window, which looked out upon the lawn and
upon the high downs beyond, over which the yellow-faced moon was
rising in solemn beauty. And Barbara nestled into the great
easy-chair, which she had pulled forward, and rested her chin on her
hand, and looked upon the grand picture of varied light and shade with
eyes that saw nothing of the beauty, and with a heart that
comprehended it not. Down in the hollow lay a little farm, gray and
cold and stony, as are such buildings in Sussex, and containing at
that time a sleeping, snoring family; for the farmer, a thrifty man,
had to be up betimes, and candlelight might as well be spared, and
hard-working folk must rest. He did not think much about the moon,
this Sussex farmer, nor did his hinds, two of whom were then snoring
in the red-tiled barn just on the shoulder of you hill; but the
glorious lamp of night was as much in their thoughts as she was in
those of Barbara Lexden, who had copied out "The moon is up, by
Heaven! a lovely eve," from _Childe Harold_, and knew Alfred de
Musset's wild lines on the same subject by heart, and had gone in for
the romantic business about it, and done some very effective bits of
flirtation, in which the goddess Luna was made good use of. But the
moon was nothing now to Barbara, whose mind was full of a far more
worldly object, and whose foot was tapping impatiently on the floor.
Going to be married? Then it was all accounted for--that letter with
the feminine _griffe_, which he had pocketed immediately and read
apart, and his hurried departure for town. Going to be married! What
business had he, then, to come down there, and talk and act as though
no engagement fettered him--to talk, indeed, as though no notion of
matrimony had ever crossed his mind? Could he--? No; that was
impossible. He could not have been playing with her--making a fool of
her? What was that he had said about difference of class in marriage?
Ay, that settled the question; the _fiancée_ was probably some dowdy
woman, who could make a pie, and mend his clothes, and keep their
maid-of-all-work in order. Well, the man was nothing to her--but she
hoped he might be happy. It was getting very dull at Bissett, and she
should suggest their departure to her aunt. They had invitations for
several nice houses; and General Mainwaring's was not far off, and
Boyce Combe was there, and Harvey Grenville; so that she should be
sure of plenty of fun. She had not seen Boyce Combe since the last
Woolwich ball, and then he had been so horribly absurd, and had talked
such ridiculous nonsense. He was so amusing, Major Combe; and--and
then Major Combe's handsome, vacuous, simpering countenance, which for
a moment had risen in Barbara's mind, faded again, and in its place
there came a genial, clever, sensible face, with merry eyes and
laughing mouth, and Major Combe's "ridiculous nonsense" seemed
wretched balderdash as contrasted with Frank Churchill's pleasant
talk.

A knock at the door, following which promptly little Miss Townshend
glides into the room. A nice little girl, as I have remarked; a
charming little being, bright and winning, but not the sort of person
for a companion when one is in that state so well described as "out of
sorts." Who, I wonder, is pleasant company for us in a real or fancied
trouble? Certainly not the enthusiastic gusher who flings his or
herself upon our necks, and insists upon sharing our sorrow,--which is
a thorough impossibility. Certainly not the pseudo-moralist who tells
us that all is for the best, and quotes Scripture, and suggests that,
though we have had to retire from Palace Gardens and live in Bedford
Row, there are many outcasts then sleeping on the steps of Whitechapel
Church; and that, though our darling's life may be trembling in the
balance, there are fever-courts and pestilence-alleys, in no house of
which "there is not one dead." Certainly not the lively friend who
thinks that "rallying" is the best course for binding the broken heart
and setting at rest the perturbed spirit, and who accordingly indulges
in one perpetual effervescence of mild sarcasm and feeble teasing.
Miss Townshend belonged to this latter class; and entered the room
with a little skip and a long slide, which brought her to Barbara's
side.

"Oh, ho! and so we're annoyed, are we, and won't come among our
friends? We sit and sulk by ourselves, do we?"

"I cannot possibly imagine what you mean, Alice," said Barbara coldly.
"Take care, please; you're standing on my dress."

"Oh, of course not, poor darling, she can't imagine! But, without any
joking, Barbara, it _is_ too bad."

"What is too bad, Alice?" asked Barbara, without moving a muscle. She
had a tremendous power over her face, and, when she chose, looked as
impassible as the Sphynx, "staring straight on with calm eternal
eyes."

"Now, don't be silly, Barbara dear," exclaimed Miss Townshend, who was
getting rather annoyed because her friend had not gone off into
hysterics. "You know well enough what I mean; and it is a shame, a
horrible shame! Who would have thought that that learned clever man
could have been such an incorrigible flirt? There now," putting up her
hands, "you know perfectly well who I mean. And he did carry on with
you in the most shameful manner--and going to be married all the time!
Not that I'm sure you're not rightly served, Barbara. It's just the
sort of thing you've been doing all your life, you know; but, still,
one doesn't expect it in a man, does one, dear? I wonder--"

"_I_ wonder when you'll have common sense, Alice. It's time, if what
you told me this morning be true."

"O Barbara darling! O Barbara! don't remind me of it. Oh, how
miserable you've made me! And you--you don't care one pin, when you
know I'm so wretched." And putting her handkerchief to her eyes,
little Miss Townshend hurried out of the room.

And what of the girl who "didn't care one pin"? who had just been
rallied upon having been made a fool of by a man--a man, moreover, for
whom every hour of her life proved to her that she cared? Pride, love,
vexation, doubt,--all these had influence on that throbbing heart; and
she flung herself on her bed in a flood of tears.



CHAPTER VII.
TOUCHING A PROPOSAL.


When Captain Lyster rose on the following morning, he had made up his
mind to the commission of a very serious deed. A long course of
reflection as he lay awake in the watches of the night, and the
discovery, real or imaginary, of a further diminution of hair on the
crown of his head, had determined him upon asking Miss Townshend to
become his wife without any further delay. There was something in her
fresh, cheery, pleasant manner that specially appealed to this _blasé_
cynic; she was so unlike the women he had been accustomed to mix with
in society, who were generally weak imitations of Barbara Lexden, or
opinionless misses, who held "yea" and "nay" to be the sole
ingredients necessary in their conversation; in fact, this chattering
girl, who said every thing uppermost in her mind, who had capital
spirits perennially flowing, and who was natural without being either
arrogant or "miss-ish," had completely enslaved him. He might have
pottered on in silent admiration for some time longer, but that he had
been greatly annoyed by Beresford's manner to Miss Townshend on the
preceding evening; there was something in the Commissioner's easy
familiarity, both during dinner and afterwards, which signally raised
Lyster's wrath. He had towards Beresford that singular feeling, that
compound of distrust, detestation, contempt, and fear, which we
experience instinctively for any rival; and his love for this girl was
far too serious a matter to permit any tampering with his plans. A
good fellow, Fred Lyster; a kind-hearted, straightforward, honourable
man, with very little guile; lazy, to a certain extent selfish, and
considerably spoilt; but with an innate sense of right carrying him
through many difficulties, and with a stout heart and a clear brain to
support him under any trials.

He loved this girl, and he wanted to know whether his love was
returned. To get at this information he saw but one way--a proposal. I
have before said that he knew every trick and turn of flirtation; but
this was something of far deeper import than a flirtation; means which
he had previously used to ascertain "how he stood" with the temporary
object of his affections, and which had elicited the satisfactory
glance, hand-pressure, or word, he would have now deemed degrading
both to himself and to her. His regard for her had been growing
throughout the past season, and was rapidly culminating. He had
watched her attentively, and studied all her movements, with a
satisfactory result. He felt that she was a little fast, certainly;
but that fastness he was convinced resulted from the mere overflow of
animal spirits, and not from any desire to please in men's eyes by
affectation of men's ways. That she was an heiress he didn't care one
bit about--he had plenty for both; and if she came to him, any thing
that she had should be settled on herself. But how to ask her? Ah, how
long did that pair of hair-brushes remain suspended over his head,
while he gazed vacantly into the dressing-glass before him as this
question rose in his mind! How often did he fling himself on the
ottoman, nursing his foot and biting his lip in a perplexity of doubt!
He could not go down on his knees, and offer his hand and heart, as
they did on the stage; he could not write to her, either formally or
spasmodically--he had a wholesome horror of committing himself on
paper; he could not arrive at the knowledge he required through any
third person; in fact (here the hair-brushes went to work again),
there was no way but to take advantage of an opportunity, and propose.
He must know his position, too, at once. He could not bear to see that
fellow Beresford hanging about her as he had been the previous night.
He'd do it that very day. His whole frame, which had been pleasantly
cooled by his shower-bath, tingled again at the mere thought; and a
faint empty feeling, something like that which he experienced when
insulted in the Engineers' mess-room at Salem by Poker Cassidy, came
over him. Would he get as well out of this as out of that encounter?
Then he held his own; and Cassidy, neatly drilled by a pistol-bullet
through his ankle, limps with a crutch to this day. But this was a
very different matter.

It was a dull breakfast that morning. Barbara sent down intelligence
of a headache, and remained in her room; Miss Townshend had red rims
to her pretty eyes, had no smile for any one, looked miserable, and
sat silent; her papa had donned his very stiffest check cravat, and
was, if possible, more pompous than usual; Sir Marmaduke had had his
porridge early, had gone out, and not returned; old Miss Lexden always
breakfasted in bed; and Mr. and Mrs. Vincent were utterly upset by a
burnt omelette, about which they conveyed dismay to each other by
eyebrow telegraph across the table. Only Major Stone was himself; and
he bustled about, and made tea, and passed dishes, and joked and
rallied in a way that ought to have been of service, but which
signally failed. When Mr. Beresford entered the room, which was not
until nearly all the others had finished their meal, he seemed for a
few moments staggered by the gravity of the assemblage; but gliding
into a vacant seat by Miss Townshend's side, he soon recovered his
spirits, and commenced a conversation in his accustomed bantering
tone. His neighbour seemed to brighten at once, and responded in her
usual cheery manner, greatly to the disgust of poor Fred Lyster,
sitting opposite, who, over his cold partridge, was still hard at work
on the same problem which had occupied him when over his hair-brushes,
and who knew as little how to attain his end as ever. He was glad when
he heard Beresford say that business would require him to ride into
Brighton before luncheon, and that he must afterwards go round to the
stables and see whether his hack was all right after her journey down.
His joy toned down a little when Miss Townshend asked if said hack had
ever carried a lady, but rose again when Beresford declared that he
should be sorry to see any female friend of his on Gulnare's back.

"It isn't that she's vicious," he explained; "there's not an ounce of
vice in her. But there are so many things she can't bear--dirty
children, and puddles, and stone heaps in the road; and when she sees
any of these she stands bolt upright for two minutes on her hind-legs,
and then starts off with her head between her forelegs, and nearly
pulls your arms out of their sockets."

So Miss Townshend declared with much laughter, and with many
shoulder-shrugs and exclamations of fright, that she could never think
of mounting "any thing so dreadful;" and Lyster, to his immense
delight, saw Beresford leave the room, light a big cigar on the steps,
and clear off in the direction of the stables. Stone had already
departed on his various errands; Mrs. Vincent had fetched a
cookery-book from the library, and with her husband had retired to
study it in the embrasure of the window; and Miss Townshend, left the
last at table, was playing with a fragment of toast. Lyster knew her
habits--knew that she was in the habit of skimming the _Post_ to learn
the whereabouts of her friends; and accordingly retreated quietly to
the library.

Such a pleasant room, this! Not a bit of the wall to be seen for the
dark oak bookshelves, which, crammed with books, extended from floor
to ceiling on every side. A capital collection of books, in sober calf
bindings (Sir Marmaduke once said that brilliant bindings and glazed
book-cases always reminded him of a man with his hair parted down the
middle, and could not understand what Barbara meant by asking hi
Mrs. Nickleby had been a Wentworth): theology, politics, books of
reference, poetry, drama, and history, all regularly ranged and
properly catalogued. Fiction had a very moderate compartment allotted
to it; but the round table in the middle of the room, and the ottoman
at the far end, were liberally strewn with volumes bearing the
omnipresent yellow ticket of Mudie. Immediately in front of the big
bow-window, which was shaded by a sun-blind, and through which you
gazed over a lovely expanse of down, stood a huge writing-table, on
which was an inkstand that might have held half a pint, a large
blotting-pad, an oxydised-silver owl with ruby eyes erect on a
paperweight, and a bundle of quill pens, half split up, and all very
much bitten at the tops; for Sir Marmaduke, who was the principle
occupant of the cane writing-chair, was apt to get very energetic in
his correspondence. Here, too, the old gentleman indulged in the one
literary occupation of his life--certain translations of Horace, which
he altered and polished year after year, intending some time or other
to show them to an old college friend, and then have a gorgeous
edition printed on toned paper for private circulation. Here, in a
huge iron safe, were kept big ledgers, and account-books of rents,
rates, and expenditure on the estates which gave three days' solemn
investigation every quarter to Sir Marmaduke and Major Stone; whereat
there was much head-rubbing, many appealing looks to the ceiling, and
much secret checking of fingers under the table, and reference to a
ready-reckoner on the part of both gentlemen. And here in a secret
draw of the writing-table, lay a little packet, which the old man
would take out occasionally, would open, and sit gazing for half an
hour together at the contents. They were not much,--a faded blue
ribbon, once worn, with a little locket attached to it, round the
throat of his old love at the Bath Assemblies, where he first met her;
a curl of hair, cut from her head after death; and an ivory miniature,
by Stump, of a dark girl, with big brown eyes, and her hair banded
tight to her forehead, and gathered into a large bow at the top of the
head. After an inspection of this drawer the old gentleman would walk
to the looking-glass, and glaring at his own reflection therein, would
shake his head in a very solemn manner; he would be very mild and
quiet, and, as Gumble noticed, would drink an extra bottle of claret
during the evening.

When Lyster entered the room, he was annoyed to see that it was
occupied. Old Mr. Russell, the lawyer, was at the writing-table; and
Mr. Townshend was seated in an easy-chair close by, listening to the
narration of some thick parchment deed which the lawyer was going
through. Their business was apparently at an end, though; for Mr.
Townshend said, "Then it's satisfactory, Mr. Russell?" to which the
old gentleman, with nothing but his finger-tips visible below his
cuffs, replied, "I think we may assume so;" and both gentlemen rose
and left the room. Being in a highly nervous state, Lyster did not
like these proceedings a bit. He wondered what that portentous-looking
parchment was about--whether it had any reference to old Townshend's
testamentary disposition; whether it had any thing to do with Miss
Townshend. He thought he rather hated that old Russell, though he had
not much idea why. His time was coming on now; he wondered how much
longer before Miss Townshend would fetch the _Post_. Here it was, on
the round table, with the other papers. He took one up and looked at
it; but the type all ran together before his eyes, so he laid it down
again, and walked up to the mantelshelf, and glared at the big black
clock in the middle, and pulled the spear through the perforated fist
of the bronze Diana on the top, and pushed it backwards and forwards;
and then walking to the writing-table, lit a Vesta-match and blew it
out. He plunged his hands into his pockets, and looked down at his
boots, apparently intently scrutinising their make, in reality not
seeing them in the least; then he took up a hare's-foot-handled
paper-knife and tapped his teeth with it, threw it down, and commenced
a Polar-bear-like promenade of the room.

The clock ticked solemnly on, and Captain Lyster was still pacing up
and down, when the door opened and Miss Townshend entered. She seemed
surprised to see any one in the room, and declared that she would not
remain a minute, and that she would take the greatest care not to
disturb the Captain, who, she said with a smile, was evidently, from
his perturbed expression, engaged upon the composition of an epic poem
or other intense literary effort. At this remark the Captain grinned
feebly, and besought the young lady not to mind his eccentricities, as
he was full of them, though he was bound to confess he had never been
mad enough to contemplate writing a poem. And then Miss Townshend
smiled again, and seated herself at the round table, and taking up the
_Post_ turned to the "Fashionable intelligence," and was at once
engrossed in the study of who was where, and at what country seats
"select circles" were being "hospitably entertained." Lyster went to
the writing-table, and began ornamenting the blotting pad with many
spirited sketches, wondering all the time whether he should get any
better chance for his contemplated announcement, or whether he should
plunge into it at once. At last he thought he had an opportunity. Miss
Townshend suddenly exclaimed, "Oh, Captain Lyster, here's news for
you! You recollect Mary Considine? Yes, I should think you did. Those
private theatricals at the Fenton's, where you and she--oh, I haven't
forgotten it. Well, there's something about her here; listen: 'We
understand that a matrimonial alliance will shortly take place between
the Honourable Mary Considine, youngest daughter of Lord Torraghmore,
and Major Burt, of the Life Guards.' That's Harry Burt, the
straw-coloured one, isn't it? Poor Captain Lyster! doomed to wear the
willow."

The chance, the chance at last!

"Surely, Miss Townshend," he commenced, "you cannot imagine that I
ever seriously entertained any regard for Miss Considine. A very
pleasant young lady, full of spirits, and highly amusing, but not
possessing the qualities which one would look for in a wife. And
you--can you imagine that in a house where _you_ were--where I was in
the habit of seeing _you_--. Done, by Jove!"

The last sentence, uttered under his breath, was evoked by the opening
of the door, and the entrance of Mr. Townshend, who looked more like
the Ace of Clubs than ever when he saw the couple in apparently close
conversation. He at once approached his daughter, and asked her if she
had "written that letter?" She said, with some tremulousness, "No."
Mr. Townshend then raised his voice, and said he must beg--and with
him "beg" sounded marvellously like "insist"--that she would do it at
once. So the young lady, albeit with tears in her eyes, went dutifully
off to obey her father's behests; the old gentleman sat down to the
_Times_, while Lyster glared at him from behind a book, and wondered
whether one could possibly call a man to account for interrupting
one's conversation with his daughter.



CHAPTER VIII.
TOUCHING ANOTHER PROPOSAL.


Mr. Beresford meanwhile had strolled round to the stables, ascertained
that, with the exception of the loss of a little hair from her
off-hock, Gulnare seemed none the worse for her journey (horses never
travel by rail without a something), ordered his groom to bring her
round in half an hour's time, and made a cursory inspection of the
other horses while finishing his cigar. At the time appointed he
mounted and rode away into Brighton, starting at first over the Downs
in a brisk canter, but gradually subsiding into a checked walk, which
ill suited Gulnare's fiery disposition, and made her rider break the
current of his thoughts by several behests of "Steady now!" "Quiet,
old lady;" and such like. Indeed, Mr. Beresford had quite enough
subject-matter for reflection. He, too, had been turning over in his
mind the expediency of proposing to Miss Townshend, and had almost
determined upon its being the right thing to do. The objection which
he had urged in his discussion with Kate Mellon, that money and
ugliness generally went together, would not hold good here. Miss
Townshend was pretty and presentable; she was not clever, certainly;
but so long as she was able to talk about Shakespeare and the musical
glasses, that was all which the world would require of her in the way
of conversation, and that sort of jargon would be easily picked up.
She knew passably sufficient of the accomplishments of society, and
was, as times went, in a very good set. Her people belonged to the
plutocracy; but Beresford liked that rather than otherwise,
recollecting how far pleasanter than the sham state and starveling
magnificence of some of his aristocratic friends were the town-houses
and country places of City magnates and merchant princes, where every
thing, from the sleek porter in the hall to the new and massive
salt-spoons on the table, spoke of wealth. To ascertain whether his
venture was a safe one was the object of Beresford's visit to
Brighton. He had known so many mushroom magnates, who, after a couple
of seasons of full-blown pride, had collapsed and tumbled into the mud
from which they sprung, that he took no man's monetary position on
hearsay. He had met Mr. Townshend at capital houses, and had seen his
name in many apparently excellent City ventures; but, then, had he not
met at the Duke of Banffshire's Mr. Poyntz, the great railway
contractor, who two months afterwards smashed for a million and a
half? and did not half the peerage welcome as a friend and respect as
a banker the great Mr. Shoddy, who was at that moment engaged in
oakum-picking in expiation of his fraudulent practices? There must be
no mistake on this head; it would be a pretty thing if he, Charles
Beresford, were not merely to find himself after a year or two with a
penniless wife upon his hands, but were also to have the world talking
about his _mésalliance_. As to the idea of rejection, that had
scarcely entered his head. He was generally liked by women, and
thought Miss Townshend no exception to the rule. Her father perhaps
might look for money, and then he should have to square him as best he
could. But Beresford argued to himself: these _nouveaux riches_
generally look for position; and if they cannot get rank for their
girls, they like a good official connexion. Did not Petter marry the
daughter of old Dunkel, the West-India merchant (by the by, she was a
little woolly, though), simply through his being Secretary to
the Lakes and Fisheries Department? And a Commissioner at the
Tin-Tax ranked higher than that. Walbrook delighted to talk of
"my son-in-law's connexion with the Government;" and Dowgate Hill
rejoiced in seeing a fourth-rate Cabinet Minister or occasional
Secretaries of Foreign Legations, much beribboned, at his daughter's
drums. As to whether he cared for the girl, it scarcely entered into
his mind to inquire; they would get on well enough; he would let her
have her own way, so long as she did not interfere with him; he should
keep up his hunting, but cut play of every kind; and if he got at all
bored, why then he would go into Parliament. Fortunately, he thought,
he was not like most men: he could get married without its interfering
with any body; there was no "establishment" to break up; no inhabitant
of a Brompton villa to tear her hair and use strong language until a
liberal settlement was made; no jealous girls to upbraid and-- As the
thought of Kate Mellon and the recollection of his last interview with
her flashed into Beresford's mind, he started involuntarily, and
touched the mare with his spur. Gulnare jumped into the air, and
started off like an arrow. By the time he pulled her up, he was at the
top of St. James's Street, Brighton; and as he leisurely rode down the
hill, he revolved in his mind the means of arriving at an immediate
knowledge of his intended father-in-law's stability.

He was not long in arriving at his determination. Of all the men he
knew, Simnel, the secretary at the Tin-Tax Office, was the most
knowing; and he and Beresford were on the most intimate terms. Had
Beresford been in town, he would have consulted Simnel personally
about this marriage business; as it was, he thought that the secretary
was the likeliest man to get for him the information he required. This
information must be had at once; as, once satisfied, he would not give
another evening's chance to Lyster or that man Churchill, in whose
wheel he had put so neat a spoke, but would commence immediately to
clear the course on which he hoped to win. So he turned into the Old
Steine, and leisurely dismounting at the door of the telegraph-office,
resigned Gulnare into the hands of a passing boy, to whom he was so
intent on giving instructions as to walking her gently up and down,
that he did not observe "that man Churchill" pass him in an open fly,
the driver of which must have been stimulated by the prospect of a
large reward, as his horse was proceeding at a pace very rarely
undertaken by Brighton fly-cattle. But perfectly ignorant of the
propinquity of the gentleman with whose family history he had recently
manifested so intimate an acquaintance, Mr. Beresford entered the
telegraph-office, and taking up one of the printed slips, wrote the
following message:


"_C. B., Brighton to Robert Simnel, Tin-Tax Office,
     Rutland House, London_.

"_Non olet pecunia_. Whether a round game with Townshend of Queensbury
Gardens would repay the necessary illumination. Reply; figures, if
possible."


The clerk counted the words and grinned. When Beresford, after saying
that he would call for the answer, paid and walked out, the clerk
carried the paper into the inner room where the manipulator was busy
with his ever-clicking needles, and read the message out to him,
grinning again; whereupon they both expressed opinion that it was a
"rum start," and another of those "games" which supplied the
interesting youths employed by the Electric Telegraph Company with so
many topics of conversation.

Mr. Beresford put up his horse at a livery-stable, and then walked
down towards the sea to while away the time until the answer should
arrive. He knew Brighton thoroughly. He was a regular visitor from
Saturday till Tuesday during November and December, when he stayed at
the Bedford, and generally dined at the cavalry mess; but he had never
seen the place in its autumnal aspect. Those who only know Brighton in
the winter would scarcely recognise her in September, when she has
more the aspect of Ramsgate or Margate. In place of the dashing
carriages, flys at half-a-crown an hour crawl up and down the King's
Road, the horses, perfectly accustomed to the dreary job, ambling
along at their own sleepy pace; the riding-masters are still to the
fore, but for pupils, instead of the brilliant _écuyères_, they have
heavy, clumsy girls in hired habits and hideous hats. All the officers
of the cavalry regiment who can get leave, take it; and those who
cannot, devote themselves to tobacco in the solitude of their
barrack-rooms. The Esplanade is thronged with fat people from the
metropolitan suburbs, gorgeous Hebrews with their families from the
Minories, and lawyers' clerks with a week's holiday. The beach is
covered with children stone-digging and feet-wetting; with girls who
have just bathed, with their hair down their backs, and girls who are
waiting for machines; with men selling shell-toys, and women imploring
purchase of crochet-dolls; with hilarious men throwing sticks for
their dogs to swim after; with contemplative men reading books, and
gazing off them vacantly across the sea; with drowsy men, supine, with
their hats shading their faces from the sun. The whole place is
changed; the rich hotel and shopkeepers have gone inland (Tunbridge
Wells is a favourite place of theirs) for relaxation, and their
substitutes, goaded into madness by the unchanging blue sky and
burning brick pavement, are bearish and morose; men wear plaid
shooting-coats of vivid patterns in the afternoon, and women, in
flapping hats with draggled feathers, promenade in the Pavilion;
Brill's swimming-bath shuts up for painting and decoration; and there
are people seen walking on the Chain Pier.

In this abnormal state of affairs Mr. Beresford found himself any
thing but happy. He went to Mutton's and had some soup, and to
Folthorp's and read the papers; he strolled down the King's Road, and
inspected the evolutions of various young ladies who were disporting
in the waves, and indulging the passers-by with the gambols of
Bloomsbury-super-Mare. Then he put his legs up on a bench on the
Esplanade, and smoked a cigar, and stared at the passers-by; and
then, after the lapse of a couple of hours, he walked back to the
telegraph-office, where he found a reply waiting for him. It was from
Mr. Simnel, and merely said:


"_Olet_. Three stars in Leadenhall Street and Director of L. B. and S.
C. meaning ten thou. Plated heavily. If with good hand, play game."



CHAPTER IX.
"A LITTLE PROUD, BUT FULL OF PITY.*"
(*Ben Jonson.)


Although only twenty-four hours absent from Bissett, Frank Churchill
during that short period had undergone more mental conflict than is
often suffered by many men in a course of years. He had had full time
for reflection, and had availed himself of it to the utmost. While
within the charmed circle he was necessarily under fascination; but
now, although the witch was any thing but exorcised, he felt
sufficiently himself to collect his thoughts, and he saw the absolute
necessity of coming to some fixed determination as to his future
conduct before he returned. Often before had he had occasion to weigh
matters almost as important as this, though of course of a different
character; and he was not the man to blink one jot of the attendant
difficulties, or to over-persuade himself as to the feasibility of his
designs simply because he wished them carried out. He was in love with
this girl, then; he supposed that must be granted? at all events, by
analysis and comparison, that was easily ascertained. Though, as
the world goes, his life had been tolerably pure, he had in his
student-days, and in the time immediately subsequent, had his
_amourettes_ and flirtations like the rest; but when he remembered
what had been his feelings for Gretchen, the fat and fair daughter of
Anton Schütz, the beery saddler; for Ernestine, the sentimental
heiress of the Graf von Triebenfeld; for Eugénie and Olympe, vestals
of the Quartier Latin; or for any of the half-hundred young ladies
with whom during the earlier portion of his London career he
had gone through the usual bouquet-sending, cotillon-dancing,
Botanical-Fête-meeting flirtation,--he recognised at once that this
was a very different matter. Breakers ahead and all round! As for
Barbara, he felt conscious of no vanity in avowing to himself his
perception of having excited her interest, but whether sufficiently to
induce her to listen to an offer he could not imagine. Possibly,
probably, she looked to making a brilliant marriage: her beauty and
accomplishments were her capital, and should be turned to good
purpose; and yet, as this idea passed through his mind, he had an
instinctive feeling that Barbara's proud spirit would revolt from any
such match, however much it might be pressed on her by her relations.
Her relations! ay, even granting the girl's acquiescence, _there_
would be one of the grand sources of difficulty: old Miss Lexden,
rich, selfish, and narrow-minded, would doubtless oppose such a
marriage in every possible way; and how would Sir Marmaduke look upon
him, having come an invited and a welcome guest, and then brought this
discord into the family? And even suppose it arranged somehow, she
consenting and her friends satisfied, what was to be done with his
mother, with whom and in whose house he then resided? how and where
was the rest of her life to be passed? He could not live far from the
office, where, thrice a week always, and occasionally more frequently,
he was engaged till past midnight; and how would the brilliant beauty
of the West be able to exist in the dreary fastnesses of Great Adullam
Street, or the arid desert of Tiglath-Pileser Square? And then the
narrow income--competence for one, a bare sufficiency for two! His
horse must be given up, but that he would not so much mind; his Club
(the Retrenchment) must be kept on, for business purposes, though he
should of course never spend any money there; and he must take to
sixteen-shilling trousers, and that sort of thing; all easy enough.
But for her?--no brougham (and fancy those tiny high-heeled _bottines_
over the villanous Mesopotamian pavement!), only an occasional
Opera-box obtained from the _Statesman_ (situation high, surroundings
queer, _claqueurs_ and _amis des artistes_), two or three balls
in the season, and perhaps one dinner-party at home, with the
inevitable side-dishes and attendant carpet-beater. Ay, and worse
beyond!--children born and reared in that dingy atmosphere, further
expenditure to be met, perhaps sickness to be struggled through, and
all the household gods dependent on him,--on the soundness of his
health and the clearness of his brain, which failing, what had they to
look to? _Aïe de me!_ that last thought settled the question. Let it
fade out, pleasant dream that it was; or rather let him crush it for
ever! It was impossible, and so let it pass. Down go the Spanish
castles, away melt the aerial estates; Duty's foot kicks away
Alnaschar's basket, and there is the hard, dry, unsympathetic,
work-a-day world before him! He will go back to Bissett, but only for
a day, just to get his traps together and to make some plausible
excuse, and then will start off. This first week of his holiday has
been any thing but rest, and rest he requires. He will go to
Scarborough--no! not there, for reasons; but to some watering-place,
and pitch pebbles into the sea and lie fallow until he is compelled to
return to work. Yes, that is the right course--he determines on it
finally as the train nears the Brighton station; hopes must be
crushed, and Duty must be obeyed. Duty has won the day for once--and
where is the pearl-gray glove now? At his lips, of course! Frank
Churchill has resolved upon doing his duty, and, like the drunkard in
the old story, is "treating resolution."

Anxiety to test his newly-farmed determination must be strong, for he
ordered the flyman to drive as hard as he could to Bissett; but,
cooling a little, dismissed the man at the lodge-gates, and strolled
through the avenue towards the house. The leaves yet held their own;
scarcely the slightest autumnal tint had fallen on them; and the grand
old avenue looked magnificent. The weather was splendid; the sun shone
brightly, while the air was clear and bracing; deer bounded in the
brushwood; and as Churchill stood rejoicing in the lovely view, a cart
laden with game, and driven by little Joe Lubbock, the head-keeper's
boy, emerged from the Home Copse, and made a pleasant feature in the
landscape. All around told of wealth and peace and English comfort;
and as Churchill surveyed the scene, he felt (as he had often felt)
how great were the enjoyments of those born to such heritage, and (as
he had never felt) how well-disposed he should be for the sake of
those enjoyments to undertake the necessary responsibilities. His
Radicalism was of the very mildest nature; the free and independent
electors of Brighton or of Southwark would have scorned the feebleness
of his ideas as to the requirements of the people; he had no wish to
alter the laws of primogeniture, nor to see the furniture designed by
Gillow or Holland emblazoned with the "swart mechanic's bloody
thumbs;"--indeed, it must be confessed that he thought the "swart
mechanic," when out of his place and wrong-headed through false
leading, a very objectionable person. But he was in love, and wanted
money and position to enable him to forward his suit; and as the
thought of some who had both and did good with neither flitted across
him, he stamped impatiently on the gravel, and the fair view and all
the sweet excellence of nature faded out before his eyes.

He walked hurriedly on for a few paces, and then bethought him that
somewhere close in the neighbourhood was the gate leading to the
fir-plantation in which he had recently walked with Barbara on their
return from the shooting-party. He had the whole afternoon to do
nothing in, and it would be pleasant to renew the remembrance of that
happy jesting talk. Memory, he thought rather bitterly, was a luxury
which it did not require either rank or riches to enjoy. He struck
across the dry crisp turf, and arrived at the gate; it opened on a
short gravelled walk, with low palings on either side, terminating in
a rustic stile, on the other side of which lay the fir-plantation. As
Churchill entered the path he saw a figure seated on the stile at the
other end, and in an instant knew it to be Barbara Lexden. Her head
was bent, and she was leaning forward, idly tracing figures on the
turf with the point of her parasol. Churchill advanced with a strange
fluttering of his usually regular-beating heart; but she did not
appear to hear his footstep until he was close behind her, when she
suddenly turned round, and their eyes met. It was a trying time for
both, but Barbara was the first to speak.

"So soon back, Mr. Churchill? We--that is, Sir Marmaduke was led to
believe that you would not return until the end of the week."

"Fortunately, Miss Lexden, my business in town was soon finished"
("Question of settlement with the lawyer, or naming the day with the
lady," thought Barbara), "and I got back as quickly as I could. How
lovely this place looks! Perhaps it seems doubly beautiful after
twenty-four hours in London; but it appears to me even fresher,
calmer, and more peaceful than when I left it."

"That, I suspect, is your poetic imagination, Mr. Churchill. You were
praising Dryden the other night, and can now quote him to your own
purposes. You know he says:


   'Winds murmured through the leaves his short delay,
    And fountains o'er their pebbles chid his stay;
    But, with his presence cheered, they cease to mourn,
    And walks seem fresher green at his return.'"


"Aptly quoted, though the lines were addressed to a lady, and for
'his' read 'your.' I don't think that even the fountains in Trafalgar
Square would be weak enough to 'chide my stay.' But, apropos of poetic
imagination, I am afraid I disturbed you from some deep reverie."

"You never were more mistaken," said Barbara, with a short laugh.
"I--I came out on a much more unromantic expedition. I lost a glove a
day or two ago, and--and fancied I might have dropped it somewhere
here."

"Is this it?" asked Churchill suddenly, taking from his pocket a
morocco-leather case, and producing from it the much-prized
pearl-gray.

"Yes," said Barbara, glancing quickly at him from under her drooping
eyelids; "that is it. How very fortunate!"

"I picked it up," said Churchill, "as we returned from the
shooting-party the other day, and intended restoring it sooner, but
forgot it. I am glad to be able to do so now." He handed her the
glove, looked her straight in the face, and walked on silently by her
side.

"We have had a new arrival here since you left," said Barbara, after a
pause, swinging the glove slowly to and fro; "a Mr. Beresford. You
know him?"

"Beresford? Oh, of the Tin-Tax Office! I have met him."

"You are on intimate terms?"

"I--I have not that honour. Mr. Beresford moves in a different set to
mine."

"That question of 'sets' seems to be one of paramount importance with
you, Mr. Churchill. How frequently you harp upon it!"

"It is a question which we must necessarily bear in mind, Miss
Lexden," said Churchill, with emphasis; then smiling, added,--"_Suum
cuique_, which is Latin, and unintelligible; 'the cobbler and his
last,' which is English and vernacular. But why did you ask?"

"Simply because he seems amusing, and likely to be popular here. I am
sorry we shall not have the opportunity of profiting by his high
spirits, as aunt and I will probably be leaving on Thursday."

One quick glance told her that this shot, if intended for mischief,
had signally failed. With perfect calmness Churchill replied,

"And I also must manage to survive the loss of Mr. Beresford's
conversation, as I go to-morrow."

"To-morrow!" exclaimed Barbara; then, in her ordinary tone, "Ah, to be
sure, you have of course so much to do."

"Well," said Churchill, smiling, "for a month I hope to do little
beyond mooning on the beach and throwing pebbles into the sea."

"Yes," said Barbara quickly; "that is, I believe, the usual thing
under the circumstances. And the place? the Isle of Wight, or
Devonshire, of course?"

"Under the circumstances!" he echoed. "I beg your pardon, Miss Lexden,
but I fear we are at cross purposes. Under what circumstances?"

("He braves it out to the last," thought Barbara; "who would have
thought that he could have stooped to a shuffle, or degrade the woman
he was engaged to, by tacitly ignoring the fact?") Then she said,
curling her lip, and tossing the glove with a lightly contemptuous
gesture,

"Good news travels fast, Mr. Churchill. The fact of your forthcoming
marriage is known at Bissett."

"_My_ forthcoming marriage? It's a joke, Miss Lexden?"

"We have heard it as a fact."

"And _you_ believed it?" said Churchill, turning white, while his lip
trembled visibly as he spoke.

"Why should I not?" After a pause, and in a low voice, "Then you are
not going to be married?"

"Married, no! Miss Lexden, you must now listen patiently to what I
should otherwise have kept secret, knowing the folly I have been
guilty of. If ever I marry, Barbara Lexden will be my wife!"

She started, and seemed about to speak.

"One moment more," said he. "You know how completely I understand the
difference in our position?" (An impatient gesture from Barbara.) "My
sensitiveness, pride--call it what you will--would have kept me
silent. Now I have spoken, and--Barbara--you must not keep me in
suspense. Could it ever be possible?"

Perfectly colourless, she leant against the stile, but said nothing.

"Miss Lexden, you _must_ end this doubt."

Silently she placed the little glove in his hand.

"Barbara! _my_ Barbara!" and she was folded to his heart.



CHAPTER X.
AT THE TIN-TAX OFFICE, No. 120.


The Tin-Tax Office, as I have before had occasion to remark, is
situated in a wing of Rutland House; that noble building so well known
to most Englishmen, whence are issued those concise documents relating
to unpaid arrears of public imposts, and where the mulcting of the
nation is carried on. The Tin-Tax is by no means a bad office, as
times go; though it is rather looked down upon by the men in the Check
and Counter-Check Department, and the Navigation Board, who have
offices in the same building. It used to be a great point of humour
with the wits of twenty years since to say that the appointments in
the Tin-Tax Office were given to sons of the faithful butlers of
patriotic peers, and to those eager constituents for whose placing-out
in life the Members for Irish boroughs are always petitioning with
energy and perseverance worthy of the horse-leech's daughters. And,
indeed, the manners and customs of some of the middle-aged clerks bear
testimony to the truth of this report. They were good enough fellows
in their day--blundered on at their offices from ten till four; dined
cheaply at Short's, or Berthollini's, or the Cock; went half-price to
the Adelphi; occasionally supped at the Coal-Hole or the Cider
Cellars; and went home to their garrets in Islington with the perfect
idea that they were roystering dogs, and that the world did not
contain many men who had drained pleasure's goblet more thoroughly to
the dregs than themselves. Most of them married betimes--occasionally
the landlady of their lodgings; more frequently the pallid daughter of
some fellow-clerk, after a flirtation begun over a round game or "a
little music;" most frequently some buxom lass met at seaside
boarding-house, or in the old paternal home, where they spent their
leave of absence. But we have changed all that; and junior clerks of
the present day are thoroughly and entirely different from their
predecessors: the establishment of the Civil-Service Commission, and
the ordination of promotion by merit, have sent quite a different
class of men into the public service, and the subordinate appointments
of the Tin-Tax Office are held by men who have taken their degrees at
Oxford; who can turn "Vilikins and his Dinah" into Greek iambics; who
can tell you where Montenegro is, and what it wants; who have
thoroughly mastered the Schleswig-Holstein question; who are well up
in the theory of thermo-dynamics; and who dip into Jean Paul Richter
for a little light reading;--all excellent accomplishments, and
thoroughly useful in the Tin-Tax Office.

It is half-past twelve on a fine Saturday morning in the beginning of
October, and the six occupants of room No. 120 are all assembled, and
all at work; that is to say, four of them are writing, one is looking
vacantly out of the window, and one is reading the _Times_. No. 120 is
at the top of the building; a pleasant room when you reach it, looking
on to the river, but up four flights of steep stone stairs. No. 120
has always its regular number of occupants; for when the chief clerk
learns that a young gentleman has an undue number of friends calling
upon him during official hours, he causes the popular man to be
removed to No. 120, and after two trials of the stairs the visitors
prefer meeting their friend in the evening at some less Alpine
retreat. So also, when a young gentleman is in the habit of being
perpetually waited upon by duns, he makes interest to get moved into
No. 120, and finds that his creditors simultaneously urge their
demands not in person, but through the medium of the Post-Office. The
head of the room is Mr. Kinchenton, that tall man with the rounded
shoulders, and grizzled head ever bent over his desk. Hard work has
bowed Mr. Kinchenton's back and silvered his hair; for he has been in
the Tin-Tax Office since he was sixteen years old, and though promoted
under the old system of seniority and length of service, no one could
ever say that he had not fairly won every step he got. Before he was
sixteen, he was the hope and pride--the prize scholar--of the
Heckmondike Grammar-School, his father being head-keeper to Lord
Heckmondike, who placed the boy on the foundation of the school, and,
finding him apt and studious, obtained for him his appointment from
the Government of the day. No Adelphi at half-price, no Cider Cellars
or Coal-Hole, for young Kinchenton, who had a little bedroom in a
little terrace close by Kennington Common, where he was to be
found every night, book in hand, and happy as a prince. A poor
little bedroom enough!--a wretched little bedroom, with a
white-dimity-covered tester-bed, two rush-bottomed chairs, a painted
chest of drawers, a rickety washhand-stand, and a maddening square of
looking-glass hanging against the wall. But to that garret came Sancho
Panza and the gaunt Don his master; came Gil Blas, and the beggar with
his arquebuse, and the Archbishop of Grenada; came cringing Tartuffe,
and preposterous Sganarelle; came wandering Rasselas and sage Imlac;
came Ferdinand Count Fathom, swearing Tom Pipes, and decorous Mr.
Blifil. There the hard-working clerk laughed over Falstaff's lovemaking
and Malvolio's disgrace, or wept over Sterne's dead ass and Le Fevre's
regained sword; while his comrades Mace and Flukes were ruining each
other at billiards, and Potter and Piper were hiccuping noisy applause
to indecent songs.

When Mr. Kinchenton was forty years old, his income had reached the
bewildering amount of four hundred a year, and he thought he might
indulge in the luxury of a wife; so he took to himself a pretty little
soft-eyed girl, the daughter of an old gentleman who was a traveller,
in the straw-bonnet line, and who, when he was not driving about in a
very high four-wheeled trap which did its best to look like a
mail-phaeton and signally failed in the attempt, lived in the little
terrace next door to Kinchenton's lodgings. After his daughter's
marriage, the old gentleman, who was a widower, gave up travelling,
retired upon his savings, and went to live with his son-in-law in a
little house which Kinchenton had taken in Camden Town, where the
birth of a son crowned Kinchenton's happiness. His adoration of this
child was his weakest point: he was always narrating its wonderful
deeds to every body; and the men in the office, with whom the little
fellow was really a favourite, knew they could always get late
attendance overlooked or half-holiday granted if they asked after
little Percy, and sent him some trifling present.

It is well for the junior clerks of No. 120 that Mr. Kinchenton is the
head of the room; for the next in seniority, Mr. Dibb, is by no means
a pleasant person. Harsh, stiff, sectarian bigotry lurks in his
coarse, close-cropped black hair, and in the plaited folds of his huge
white neckcloth; he invariably wears a black dress coat, waistcoat,
and trousers, creaking boots, and damp cloth gloves. He is always
ailing, and invariably changing his medical system: now vaunting the
virtues of blue-pill, now swearing by homoeopathy; he has been rubbed
and cracked and shampooed and galvanised; and once he tried
hydropathy, but came back in a week from Malvern no better, and
apparently no cleaner, than before his visit to Dr. Gully. He was one
of the first-fruits of the noble system of promotion by merit, having
been transferred to Rutland House from some provincial stronghold of
the Tin-Tax Office, and report said that he had originally been a
schoolmaster in Bilston. He was hated by nearly all his juniors, but
respected by the heads for his conscientiousness and power of work;
and he was located in No. 120 to neutralise, to some extent, Mr.
Kinchenton's excess of good nature. The rank and file of No. 120
consisted of Mr. Prescott and Mr. Pringle, junior clerks; Mr. Boppy,
an old gentleman with a bald head and a double eyeglass, who had
arrived, through dint of long service, at a good income, who was
utterly useless, and who had no characteristic save his intense dread
of his wife; and Mr. Crump, who had been for twenty years an extra
clerk, and who, owing to an invincible stutter, had never been able to
interest any one sufficiently to procure him an appointment.

"Devilish hot!" said Mr. Pringle, a short, good-humoured-looking young
man, laying down his _Times_ and opening his waistcoat; "devilish hot!
Crump, there's a good fellow, open the door."

Mr. Crump looked up from his work, and said appealingly, "I've got a
st--a st--a st--" he would have said "stiff neck;" but long before he
could reach the word, Pringle interrupted him--

"Strong hand; you've got a strong hand, I know, and the door sticks;
that's why I asked you. Boppy, my boy, I've not yet had time to ask
you how you are."

"Well, Pm well in health, thank you, Mr. Pringle," said Mr. Boppy,
depositing his pen on the desk, and rubbing his bald forehead; "but
I'm rather worried in my mind."

"What troubles my Boppy? Has the Bank reduced its rate of discount, so
that my Boppy's ingots are not worth quite so much per cent as they
were yesterday; or is it love that is sending him to grief? Has my
Boppy been sporting with Amaryllis in the shady side of Brompton Row,
and has Mrs. B. found it out? Oh, Bop!"

"Nonsense, Mr. Pringle! I--"

"I must say that such remarks as those," interrupted Mr. Dibb, "appear
to me to be very bad jokes."

"Very likely, Mr. Dibb," retorted Pringle; "but that's because you're
the quintessence of humour yourself. We can't all hope to make
ourselves as thoroughly genial and pleasant as you--can we, Crump?"

"I d--decline to s--to s--to say--"

"To say ditto to Dibb! Of course: you're my friend, and I knew you'd
never desert me. Now, Boppy, you were about to say something when you
were interrupted in that gentlemanly manner by our friend J. Miller;
what was it?"

"Oh, I was merely thinking that I'd try and take that dog home this
afternoon, and I'm rather doubtful as to how my wife will receive it,
You see, I bought him a week ago, and Simmons, the hall-porter here,
has kept him for me in the coal-cellar since then. He's a white
Pomeranian dog, and the coal-cellar don't suit him somehow; but I
daren't take him to Putney until I'd somewhat prepared Mrs. B.'s mind.
So last night I read her several anecdotes of dogs, where they were
all faithful and friendly and clean, you know; and this afternoon I
shall take Spitz home, and--and say you gave him to me, I think, Mr.
Pringle, if you've no objection."

"Certainly, if you like it, I don't mind; any thing you please, Boppy,
my boy. Dogs as many as you like, and things of that sort; only, if
Mrs. B. ever finds white-kid gloves, or locks of hair, or
patchouli-scented pink notes, don't say they come from me--you
understand? By the way, that reminds me. Prescott! p'st! Prescott!"

A tall, good-looking man of two or three-and-twenty, who was leaning
his head on one hand and staring out of the window, turned round and
said dreamily, "What?"

"What an amusing companion you are!" said Mr. Pringle; "what a
charming remark that was when you last spoke, an hour and twenty
minutes ago! What was it?"

"Don't be an idiot, Pringle!"

"No, it wasn't that; to be told to avoid an impossibility would have
struck me as novel. Never mind; I was going to ask who that was I saw
you speaking to at the King's Cross Terminus yesterday."

"At King's Cross?" said Prescott, colouring; "oh, that was a friend of
mine, a clergyman."

"Ah!" said Pringle, quietly, "I thought so. He had on a blue bonnet
and a black-lace shawl. Neat foot he's got; those parsons are always
so particular about their stockings!"

"Don't be an ass, George!" growled Prescott, in an undertone.

"All right, old boy!" said Pringle, in the same key. "Forgot we
weren't alone. Nobody heard, I think; but I'll soon change the
subject;" and he commenced whistling _Il Bacio_, loud and shrill.

"Mr. Pringle! Mr. Pringle!" screamed Mr. Dibb.

Mr. Pringle held up his hand as if deprecating interruption until he
had come to the end of the bar, when he said, with mock politeness,
"Sir to you!"

"How often have I begged you, sir, not to whistle during official
hours? It is impossible for me to write my minutes while you're
whistling."

"Write your minutes!" said Mr. Pringle. "Sir, we have the authority of
A. Tennyson, Esquire, the Poet of the Age, if my honourable friend in
the Isle of Wight will so permit me to call him, for saying that


     'Lightlier move the minutes fledged with music.'


Though that even my whistling could make your minutes move lightly,
with due respect to Alfred, I doubt."

"Mr. Kinchenton," cried Mr. Dibb, now a dirty white with rage, "I must
request you, as head of this room, to call upon Mr. Pringle not to
forget himself."

"My dear sir," said Pringle, "there's no one I think of so much."

"George," said Mr. Kinchenton quietly, "pray be quiet!"

"Certainly, Padre; I'm dumb! Thank Heaven and the Early Closing
Association, to-day's a half holiday, and we cut it at two."

"Ah, to be sure!" said Kinchenton, anxious to atone for even the
slight show of authority which his previous words might have
suggested; "there are grand doings this afternoon at the Eyres', at
Hampstead. I'm going to take my Percy there. Athletic sports, running,
leaping, and all the rest of it."

"Ha! ha!" said Pringle; "at the Eyres', eh?

     'The merry brown Eyres come leaping,'

as Kingsley has it. What a pity they haven't asked me!"

"You're going, Prescott, I suppose?" asked Kinchenton. "The Eyres are
friends of yours--you're going to their fête?"

"I! no, Padre," was the reply; "I'm not going."

"Oh, he's very bad!" said Pringle, in a whisper, "He's got it awfully,
but he'll get better."


'Now he has turned himself wholly to love and follows a damsel,
 Caring no more for honour, or glory, or Pallas Athené.'


Kingsley again--hem!"

"I wonder, Mr. Pringle," said Mr. Dibb, "that you do not attempt to
form some more permanent style of reading than the mere poetry, scraps
of which you are always quoting. For my own part, I consider poetry
the flimsiest kind of writing extant."

"I'm surprised at that, now," said Pringle placidly. "I should have
thought that you would have been a great appreciator of the gloomy and
Byronic verse. To understand that properly, you must have lost all
digestive power; and you know, Mr. Dibb, that your liver is horribly
out of order."

A general laugh followed this remark, in which even Mr. Kinchenton
joined, and at which Mr. Dibb looked more savage than ever. In the
midst of it the clock struck two, and at the last sound Mr. Crump
closed his blotting-book, put on his hat, and vanished, saying
"G-good" as he passed through the door; two minutes afterwards,
fragments of the word "d-day" were heard reverberating in the passage.
Simultaneously Mr. Boppy struck work and went to look after his dog,
Mr. Dibb started off without a word, and Mr. Prescott took off his
coat to wash his hands previous to departure. When he emerged from the
washing cupboard, he found Pringle waiting for him: both the young men
shook hands with their chief, sent their loves to Mrs. Kinchenton and
the boy, and turned out into the Strand.

They had not gone far when Pringle asked his companion whither he was
bound. Prescott was too absorbed to hear the question, but, on its
repetition, muttered something about an "engagement out Kensington
way."

"Ah!" said Pringle, with the nearest approach to a sigh, "ride a cock
horse, eh? the old game! Look here, Jim, old fellow. I'm not clever,
you know, but I know how many blue beans make five; and I'm not
strait-laced or pious or any thing of that sort, but I'm very fond of
you, and I tell you this won't do!"

"What won't do?" asked Prescott, with a flaming face.

"Why, this Kate Mellon business, Jim. It's on hot and strong, I know.
You've been down in the mouth all the time she was away; you met her
at the station yesterday, and probably you're going up to her place
to-day. Now you know, Jim, I've seen more of life than you, and I tell
you this is all wrong."

"Why, you don't imagine that there's any thing--?"

"I don't imagine any thing at all. I haven't got any imagination, I
think. I'm the most matter-of-fact beggar that ever walked; but I know
you're confoundedly spooney and hard hit, and in a wrong quarter. Now,
Jim, pull yourself together, old man, and cut it."

"I can't, George," groaned Prescott, raising his hat and tossing the
hair back from his forehead; "I can't. You don't know how I love that
woman, old fellow. I'd die for her; I'd go out and be shot at once, if
it would save her a pang. I hate any one to come near her, and I'm
always thinking of her, and longing to be with her."

"I felt just like that once for a female tobacconist in Briggate, at
Leeds," said Mr. Pringle after a pause. "Deuced nice girl she was too,
and what thundering bad cigars she sold! I'm very glad I didn't die
for her, though. I got my appointment just in time, and came up to
town without asking her to fly with me to distant climes. She wouldn't
have known what 'climes' meant, I think. Now, look here, Jim; you'd
better do something of the same sort. Apply for sick-leave (Glauber
will give you a certificate), and go home and have some shooting, and
stay with your people, and you'll come back cured. Only cut it at
once. Don't go there to-day; come with me. I've got a little business
to do that won't take half an hour, and then I'm going to spar with
Bob Travers, and you shall see me polish him off with a new 'Mendoza
tip' that I learnt last night. Now, you'll come, won't you, Jim?"

"Not to-day, George. I know you're right in every word you say; and
yet I can't give it up yet--at all events to-day. I must see her,
I've got something special to say to her, and the time's getting on.
Good-by, old fellow; I know you mean well; and I'll come out all right
yet. God bless you, old boy! Hi! Hansom!" and Mr. Prescott jumped into
a cab, murmured an inaudible address to the driver, and was whirled
away.

Mr. Pringle remained on the kerb-stone, shaking his head and looking
after the departing Hansom. "James Prescott is in for it," said he to
himself; "is decidedly in for it. So, by the way, is George Pringle.
If I don't pay Wilkins that twenty pounds to-night, I shall be
County-Courted, as safe as houses. I never have put my hand to any
bill before; but needs must, I suppose. So I'll just step up and see
old Scadgers." And Mr. Pringle struck across the Strand, in a
northerly direction.



CHAPTER XI.
WITH THE SECRETARY.


If, instead of ascending the broad staircase immediately on entering
the Tin-Tax Office, you were to proceed straight forward, you would
come to the messengers' lobby, which is the outpost, protecting the
penetralia where the Commissioners and the Secretary are enshrined.
The principal duty of these messengers, besides answering bells and
carrying about official papers, was to protect the august personages
just referred to from being intruded upon by "the public;" and as one
learnt from his Scripture History that the term "Gentiles" meant "all
nations except the Jews," so, after a very little official experience,
one became aware that "the public" meant every body who did not hold
an appointment in the Tin-Tax Office. The duties incumbent upon
certain emissaries of the Office, in regard to the collection of
revenue, made the head-quarters at Rutland House a grand resort of the
"public," who generally came here with very belligerent intentions,
and who either referred to printed documents in their hands and wished
to see Mr. Simnel the Secretary (whose name appeared attached to the
documents) or occasionally even demanded an interview with the Chief
Commissioner, the great Sir Hickory Maddox, himself. It is needless to
say that these wishes were never gratified: the messengers of the
Tin-Tax Office were men to whom, in the discharge of his favourite
accomplishment, Ananias could not have held a candle; men with
imperturbable faces and ready tongues, who took the "public's" measure
in an instant, and sent him to whatsoever clerk they thought would
most readily dispose of his grievance. "I wish to see the Chief
Commissioner," would exclaim a Briton, red in face, dripping in head,
and bursting with indignation. To him calm, majestic Mr. Potts, the
chief messenger, a fat man with a big forehead, a large stomach, flat
feet in low shoes, and a general butlerish appearance--"Sir 'Ickry is
with the Chanclr of Schequer, sir, on most important bisness." "The
Secretary, then." "The Seckittary have gone with Sir 'Ickry,
sir;--what is your bisness, sir?" "Why, I've been overcharged--" "Ah,
thought so, sir! Rebate on prop'ty dooty. Walker, show the gentleman
to number 15,"--and away down the loud-resounding passages, or up the
mountainous stairs, would the unfortunate "public" be hurried.

The superior rooms lay up a little passage to the right of the
messengers' lobby, and were three in number. First came the
Board-room, a large and solemn salmon-coloured apartment, where the
Commissioners sat when for despatch of business assembled. A big,
dull-faced clock ticked on the mantelshelf; solemn green maps of
distant countries, from year's end to year's end undisturbed, curled
themselves round in dusty layers on the walls; and a large red-leather
sofa, on which Mr. Beresford, in the absence of the other
Commissioners, and after a hard night's waltzing, had enjoyed hours of
pleasant repose, filled up a recess. In the centre of the room stood a
heavy writing-table, with pads of blotting-paper, pools of black ink,
and bundles of quill-pens distributed at regular intervals. At the
head of this table always stood a red-leather arm-chair, and this
arm-chair always on business occasions contained the sacred person of
the Chief Commissioner, Sir Hickory Maddox. A little man, Sir Hickory,
with a parchment face, a blue eye like a bit out of a china plate,
stiff gray hair brushed into a point on the top of his head, and
formal little gray whiskers: always dressed in a little black
frock-coat, and little gray waistcoat and trousers; wearing too a
heavy gold-set cornelian seal, and a cumbrous old-fashioned watch-key,
just projecting from his fob,--buoys to show whereabouts his thick
gold chronometer was sunk, in some unknown depths. A kind-hearted,
fussy, hard-working man, whose family had been for generations in the
public service, who had himself worked for years in the Draft and
Docket Office, had risen and distinguished himself there, and had
finally been rewarded with the Chief-Commissionership of the Tin-Tax,
and with being created a K.C.B. His official position he esteemed one
of the most enviable in the kingdom; he thought of nothing but
official matters; and when, being of a hospitable turn, he had solemn
dinners at his house in Wimpole Street, all the guests were magnates
of other offices or--for he was a kind chief in that respect--juniors
of the Tin-Tax. And invariably, just as the cloth was drawn, the
butler would appear at his master's elbow, bearing a salver, on which
lay an enormous red-leather official despatch-pouch. The little man
would smile feebly at his guests, would shrug his shoulders, and
saying, "Our labours follow us even here," would unlock the pouch,
glance at its contents (probably the _Globe_, and private note), and
relocking it, say, "Lay it on the library-table, Benson. I must go
into the matter before I sleep. However, _nunc vino pellite curas!_
Port, sherry, madeira, and claret!"

Between Sir Hickory Maddox the senior, and Mr. Beresford the junior,
there were two other Commissioners. One was the Honourable Morris
Peck, who had been a Gentleman Usher at Court,--at whose name years
ago young ladies used to blush, and matrons to gather themselves
together in brood-hen fashion for the protection of their chicks,--a
roysterer at Crockford's, a friend of Pea-Green Payne and the Golden
Hall and that lot,--a "devil of a fellow, sir!" but who was now merely
a hook-nosed old gentleman in a high coat-collar and a curly-brimmed
hat; wearing false teeth, dyed hair, and blacked eyebrows; who always
slept peacefully until his signature was required, when he gave it in
a very shaky schoolboy scrawl. The other was Mr. Miles O'Scardon, an
Irish gentleman of ancient family, but limited means, who had
represented Ballyhogue in Parliament for years, and who had obtained
his appointment for the fidelity with which he had always obeyed the
summons of the ministerial whip. Beyond the Board-room lay the sanctum
of the Chief-Commissioner's private secretary, a young man always
chosen for his good looks, his good clothes, and his gentlemanly
bearing, who was envied by his brother juniors, but who had to answer
Sir Hickory's bell, and was consequently taunted by the epithet
"Jeames." And beyond that, though unconnected with it, lay the
Secretary's room.

A large, light, airy room, far away from the noise and bustle, and
looking on to the river. Round the walls are huge oak-presses, filled
with tied-up bundles of confidential papers, secret reports of the
out-door agents of the Tin-Tax Office, which, if published, would have
astonished the world by throwing quite a new light on the incomes of
several of its idols. Maps were there too, and framed tables of
statistics, and the Stationers' Almanac; and over the mantelpiece hung
a proof-before-letters engraving of the portrait of Sir Hickory
Maddox, after Grant, with an exact likeness of that great official's
favourite inkstand and quill-pen, and with a correctness in the fit of
the trousers such as was never achieved by the great original. There
was a round table in the middle of the room, divided into two equal
portions by a line of books of reference--Guide-books, M'Culloch's
Commercial Dictionary, Haydn's Dates, the Post-Office Directory,
Bradshaw, and other light reading: one side of the line of demarcation
was bare (save at one o'clock, when it bore the little tray containing
the Secretary's light luncheon); on the other lay the Secretary's
blotting-book, pen-stand, and paper-case.

About the time when the conversation recorded in the last chapter was
going on between his clerks, Mr. Simnel, the Secretary, sat in his
official room, signing his name to printed papers, which he took one
by one from a large heap at his right hand, and, after signing,
dropped at his feet. It was plain that his thoughts were otherwise
absorbed; for as the sheets fell from his hand and fluttered to the
ground, he never looked after them, but would occasionally pause in
his occupation, lay down his pen, nurse his right leg with both hands,
and rock himself quietly to and fro. As he moved here and there in the
sunlight, you might have perceived that his limbs were long and
ungainly; that he had big broad hands with thick corrugated veins, and
finger-nails strong, hard, and cut to a point; that he was very bald,
and that such fringe of hair as remained was of a dull red; that he
had a large sensual face, big projecting brown eyes, thick clumsy
nose, full scarlet underlip, heavy jowl, and large massive chin. You
could have noticed, too, that, in certain lights, this face was worn
and jaded and almost haggard, traversed here and there with deep
furrowed lines, marked with crow's-feet and wrinkles and deep
indentations. As you gazed, perhaps, all this faded away, the face
beamed forth happy, jolly, sensual as ever; but you felt that the
wrinkles were there, and that so soon as the flicker passed away, they
would be seen again.

Not in the discharge of his easy labours at the Tin-Tax Office had Mr.
Simnel acquired these lines and wrinkles. The calm direction of that
engine of the State had only come upon him of late years, and never
had caused him any trouble. But Mr. Simnel had compressed a great many
years' experience into forty years of life, and the crow's-feet and
indentations were the result of brain-labour, worry, and anxiety. Mr.
Simnel's first recollection of any thing found him a little boy, in a
skeleton-suit, at the grammar-school of Combcardingham,--a city which
every body save the envious inhabitants of its rival Dockborough
allowed to be the metropolis of the north. Little Bob Simnel did not
know whose son he was, or how his schooling was paid for; all he knew
was, that he boarded with an old lady, the widow of a tax-collector,
who was very kind to him, and that he soon found out the best thing he
could do was to stick to his book. To his book he stuck manfully;
walked through all the classes of the grammar-school, one by one,
until he became junior boy of the sixth form, until he became senior
boy of the sixth form, until the visiting examiner, the Bishop of
Latakia, New Zealand, declared that he had the greatest pleasure
in naming Mr. Robert Simnel as the gainer of the exhibition of
seventy-five pounds a year; and added, as he shook hands with said
Robert, that whichever University he might prefer would be honoured by
his choice. Young Mr. Simnel, however, did not go to either Oxford or
Cambridge: after a lengthened interview with the head-master, the Rev.
Dr. Barker, Mr. Simnel gracefully resigned the exhibition in favour of
Swetter, _major_, who "proxime accessit," and entered as the articled
clerk of Messrs. Banner and Blair, accounted the sharpest lawyers in
Combcardingham, and known through all the county as great
electioneering agents for the Liberal party. A few years passed on;
Mr. Simnel had finished his articles had become the junior partner of
Messrs. Banner and Blair, and was working steadily and well, when an
event happened which insured his success for life.

It was this: Combcardingham, for the three last general elections, had
returned the same two members--Sir Thomas Prodd and Mr. Shuttler; both
local magnates, employing hundreds of hands, supporting local
charities, known throughout the county, and Liberal to the backbone.
One morning news sped to London that Mr. Shuttler was dead; and that
evening a tall, thin gentleman, with a hare-lip, arrived by afternoon
express in Combcardingham, and engaged the Waterloo Hotel as the
head-quarters of Mr. Farquhar, the Conservative candidate. Blue bills
on a dead-wall unpleasantly proclaimed this fact to M. Simnel as he
was shaving himself the next morning; and he perceived that young
Woofham, the hope of the Liberal party, would not be brought in
without a struggle. So he, metaphorically, took off his coat and set
to work; canvassed, intrigued, cajoled, went through all the dirty
round of electioneering tactics, but found he did not make much way;
found, in truth, that the hare-lipped man seemed to have Fortunatus's
purse somewhere about him, and that young Woofham was a miserly young
hunks, who did not see the borough as a proper investment for his
ingots. What was to be done? To lose the borough would be a tremendous
blow to the Government, who had always looked upon it as their own,
and to whom it was always supposed to owe allegiance. But the money?
The night before the nomination, Mr. Simnel, with his face muffled in
a huge handkerchief, despatched the following telegraphic message to
Mr. Weal, the Government whip, at the Retrenchment Club: "No. 104 is
putting on the steam at Combcardingham. If No. 102 does not do
likewise, up goes the sponge." While No. 102 Mall-Pall is the
Retrenchment Club, No. 104 is, it is needless to say, the No Surrender
(familiarly known as the Wig and Whiskers), the head-quarters of the
Conservative party. By the early morning express a messenger, with a
letter from Mr. Weal, arrived at Mr. Simnel's office, and during the
day the doubts under which many of the electors suffered were
satisfactorily explained away, and at the close of the poll Mr.
Woofham's name stood well ahead of his rival. Mr. Weal and his party
did not forget their telegraphing friend at Combcardingham. After the
election was over, Mr. Simnel was summoned to London, had an interview
with certain of the _Dii majors_, and at the end of six months was
inducted into the Secretaryship of the Tin-Tax Office, then vacant.

They did not like him at first at the Tin-Tax; they thought Bingham
ought to have succeeded to the berth; and Bingham--who was a very
gouty old gentleman, who took a great deal of snuff, and swore a great
deal, and kept a pocket-dictionary in the right-hand top-drawer of his
desk wherewith to correct his orthography--thought so too. But Sir
Hickory Maddox, who was not merely very popular, but very much
respected by his men, showed such thorough appreciation of Mr.
Simnel's talents, and so thoroughly endorsed all the Secretary's acts,
that the men began to waver in their allegiance to the Bingham
faction; to think that Bingham was little better than an old idiot;
that "new blood" in the secretariat might probably not only improve
the status of the Tin-Tax Office, but get a new and improved scale for
the clerks; and when they found that, after a couple of years, the new
Secretary actually did accomplish this feat, the new Secretary was
popular for ever. Popular officially, not privately. The juniors at
the Tin-Tax had been in the habit of chaffing their late lamented
secretary; of bribing him, by gifts of game and hothouse fruits, to
grant them odd days and even weeks of leave of absence; of chatting
with him familiarly on current events. Mr. Simnel's manners
effectually checked all that kind of thing. With the Commissioners he
might unbend; with the juniors he was adamant. But if he met one of
his men in society, in the Opera lobby, or at a Botanical Fête, he
would make a point of shaking hands with him as though they hadn't
seen each other for ages, and of talking with him of every subject
possible--except the Tin-Tax Office.

The pile of papers for signature had melted to one solitary document,
the floor was strewn with the evidences of Mr. Simnel's handiwork, and
Mr. Simnel himself sat nursing his leg and swaying himself gently to
and fro in meditation. Occasionally he would pass his disengaged hand
through his fringe of hair, and smile quietly to himself, then make a
few figures on his blotting-pad, add them, and set-to rocking again.
In the midst of this occupation he heard his door open, and looking
up, saw Mr. Beresford.

"Why, what the deuce does this mean?" he exclaimed, in surprise. "I
thought you were on Tom Tiddler's ground, picking up unlimited gold
and silver, wooing heiresses, and settling a Belgravian ménage; and
you turn up in this dingy old barrack. Is it all over?--has the lady
succumbed? and do you want me to help you to choose fire-irons and
window-curtains?"

Mr. Beresford did not reply for a minute; then he said, shortly and
decisively, "I've been sold!"

Mr. Simnel gave one short, loud whistle, and said interrogatively,
"Wouldn't?"

Mr. Beresford, seating himself on the edge of the table, looked up at
Mr. Simnel, who had taken up his position on the rug, with his back to
the empty fireplace, and said, "No chance; booked beforehand!"

Whereupon Mr. Simnel gave a louder whistle, and said, "Tell!"

"You know how I stand, Simnel, well enough," said Mr. Beresford; "and
this looked a very safe _coup_, I thought, specially after I got your
telegram. There were two or three fellows staying down at Bissett who
I thought were on, too. Man named Lyster; do you know him?--tall man,
dark beard, yaw-haw beast, from Indian army."

"I know him!" was all Mr. Simnel's reply to this flattering sketch.

"And another man, newspaper man, belongs to the 'Retrenchment' and the
'Fly-by-night;' Churchill, you know."

"_I_ know Churchill. Was he going in for an heiress?"

"No, not exactly; at least I thought so, but it turned out not. But I
didn't like these fellows hanging about; specially Lyster--romantic
party, sigh and that sort of business. So, when I found from you it
was all right, I made up my mind to see where I was."

"Well; and Miss Townshend wouldn't have it?"

"Not at all! We were sitting after dinner, when the women had gone to
the drawing-room, the very day I got your telegram, and old Wentworth
told us there was a man coming down the next day,--Schrötter, or
Schröder, a German merchant in Mincing Lane--"

"I know him," interrupted Simnel: "Gustav Schröder; elderly man. What
took him to Bissett?"

"Love, sir--love! he's engaged to be married to Miss Townshend!"

"Whew!" said Mr. Simnel, with his longest and shrillest whistle. "The
deuce he is! That _is_ news! How does the young lady like it?"

"Well, not much. She couldn't, of course, be expected to feel very
enthusiastic about a short, stout, gray-headed German, who talks the
most infernal jargon, and hasn't got a sound tooth in his head. Took
him out shooting once, but he made the most awful mess of it; devilish
near shot the beaters, and sprained his ankle leaping a half-foot
ditch. The girl seemed horribly ashamed of him, and of his clumsy
compliments and elephantine gambols; but she's evidently booked--her
father takes care of that."

"Ah, ha!" said Mr. Simnel, nursing his knee, rocking himself to and
fro, and rapidly going off into an absent fit; "ah, ha!"

"I hate to hear you say 'ah, ha,' Simnel!" said Mr. Beresford, with
some asperity. "You're always up to some plottings and plans when you
utter those seemingly benevolent grunts. I suppose you suspect old
Townshend of some grand _diablerie_ in this affair. I never could make
out what it is that you know about that old gentleman."

"Know about him?" said Simnel, rousing himself with a laugh; "that he
gives capital dinners and has plenty of money; that he's about to
marry his daughter to one of the richest men in the City. What more
need one know about a man? I don't know what church he goes to, or
what peculiar shade of religion he affects; whether he's a good father
or a bad one; whether he rules his daughter, or is ruled by her. But I
_do_ know that he drinks Tod-Heatly's champagne, and banks at the
London and Westminster. This news looks fishy for your business,
Beresford!"

"Simply a case of stump," said Mr. Beresford, rising from the table,
plunging his hands into his trousers-pockets, and striding up and down
the room.

"What do you mean to do?"

"Borrow two hundred pounds more of you," exclaimed Beresford, stopping
short on the edge of the rug, and confronting Mr. Simnel.

"And then?" asked the latter gentleman, smiling calmly.

"God knows!" said Beresford, with something like a shudder. "Something
must turn up; the Bishop must die or Lady Lowndes, and there'd be a
safe something from them; or there'll be some girl--"

"Ye-es," interrupted Mr. Simnel drily, seating himself at his desk,
and unlocking a draw therein. "You're the most marvellously sanguine
fellow, perfectly Micawberish in your notions of something turning up,
and your making a _coup_. But--suppose t'other! suppose it didn't come
off! Now you owe me,"--looking at a paper which he took from the
drawer,--"six hundred pounds already, and I've only got insurance
policies for security."

"You get your interest," growled Beresford.

"A mild six;" said Mr. Simnel, with a shrug of his shoulders and his
pleasant smile. "A mild six; just what I should get in Bombay
Preference, or Great Luxembourg Centrals, or a dozen other safe
investments. However, you shall have this two hundred; but I should be
glad to see your way in the future. Is there no girl with money whom
you think you could propose to speedily?"

"Not one," said Beresford, stopping in his walk and reseating himself
on the table. "Oh, by Jove, I forgot to tell you that."

"What?"

"About Kate Mellon,--tremendous scene just before I left;" and Mr.
Beresford proceeded to recount the dialogue between him and Kate
Mellon, which was recorded in the fourth chapter of this story. He
told the tale honestly throughout, and when he had finished he looked
up in Mr. Simnel's face, and said, "Deuced awkward position, wasn't
it?"

Mr. Simnel had not lost one word of the story; on the contrary, he had
listened to it with the greatest eagerness and interest, but he did
not answer Mr. Beresford's final query. He had fallen into his old,
leg-nursing attitude, and was rocking himself silently to and fro.

"Devilish unpleasant, wasn't it?" reiterated Mr. Beresford.

"Eh!" said Mr. Simnel in a loud high key. "Yes, most unpleasant, of
course. We'll talk more about that; but you must be off now. To-day's
only half a day, you know; and I've got all sorts of things to do
before I go. You shall have that two hundred on Monday, all right.
Good-by! see you on Monday," and the Secretary shook hands with the
Commissioner until the latter was fairly outside the door.

Then Mr. Simnel returned to his desk, and took up his leg again.

"It seems to be coming on now," he said to himself, "and all together
too. The old man always meant little Alice for a Duke, and now to let
her go to such carrion as old Schröder; that looks like smash. He
holds heavily in Pernambucos, in Cotopaxis, and other stuff that's run
down like water lately; and he must have dropped at least ten thousand
in that blessed Bird-in-the-Hand insurance. I think the time has come
to put the screw on, and I don't think"--turning to a drawer and
taking from an envelope a paper yellow with age--"that he'll dishonour
this. What an awful time ago it seems! There,"--replacing the
paper,--"go back till you're wanted. You've kept so long that--Ah, by
Jove! the other business! To be married, eh? To be married, Kate?"
releasing his leg and plucking at his lips. "To be married to Master
Charley Beresford! not while I live, my child! not while I live, and
have power to turn a screw on in your direction too!"



CHAPTER XII.
WHERE MR. PRINGLE WENT TO.


It has been notified in a previous chapter that Mr. Pringle was in
some mental anxiety touching the acquisition of a certain twenty
pounds which he required for immediate disbursement. This position he
held in common with many of his colleagues at the Tin-Tax Office, and
indeed with most junior clerks in the Civil Service. "The truth is,"
says Captain Smoke, in Douglas Jerrold's comedy, _The Bubbles of the
Day_, "I want a thousand pounds." "My dear Smoke," says his friend,
"there never was a man yet that did _not_ want a thousand pounds." The
truth of the axiom is undeniable; only in the Civil Service the amount
is much diminished. Twenty pounds, familiarly known as a "twentyer,"
is generally the much-desiderated sum among the junior slaves of the
Crown; and it was for a "twentyer" that Mr. Pringle now pined. A
hosier who some two years before had sued for Mr. Pringle's custom,
nor sued in vain,--who had supplied him with under-linen of fine
texture and high price, with shirts of brilliant and variegated
patterns, with boating jerseys and socks so vivid in stripe that his
legs resembled those of the functionary in the opening of the
pantomime who by the boys in the gallery is prematurely recognised as
the future clown, owing to the resplendent beauty of his ankles,--at
length, after repeated transmissions of his "little account," and
after mystic hints that he had not yet seen the colour of Mr.
Pringle's money, brought into action the terrible engines of the law,
and summoned his debtor to the County Court.

It was at the very latter end of the quarter when this legal ukase was
placed in Mr. Pringle's hands, and that gentleman, examining his
capital, found it consist of thirty-seven shillings, a silver
threepence, and a penny,--which sums were to provide his dinners,
cigars, and general pleasures for a fortnight. Clearly, then, out of
this no compromise could be effected; he could not even go through
that performance so dear to the hard-pressed debtor, which is
temporarily so soothing and in the end so futile, known as paying
"something on account." A five-pound note has the same effect on a
tradesman to whom twenty pounds are owing as a wet brush on a very bad
hat,--it creates a temporary gleam of comfort, _but nothing more_. Mr.
Pringle had not even this resource: if he were summoned to the County
Court, and if the investigation were reported, as it was sure to be,
in _The Dalston Dreadnought and De Beauvoir Town Looker-on_, he should
get horribly chaffed by his comrades, perhaps pitched into by the
Board, and it would bring all his other creditors down on him. So
something must be done, and cash must be raised at once. Mr. Pringle
did not know where to turn: he had never been a borrower, and hated
the idea of asking money favours from his friends; moreover, in real
truth, he would not have known whom to turn to, had he been so
minded. Prescott, his Pylades, was by no means overburdened with
money--indeed, Kinchenton's income only sufficed for the keeping up of
his modest establishment and for the schooling of Percy; while Dibb,
Crump, Boppy, or any of the other office men, were utterly
impracticable in such a case. Finally, he determined that he must "do
a bill;" an act of which he had hitherto been innocent, and towards
the proper accomplishment of which he thought it best to take the
advice of Mr. Rittman.

In nearly every Government office there is one impecunious black
sheep,--one clerk who is always hovering on the edge of the precipice
of insolvency, over which he finally tumbles, to creep out with life
indeed, but with scars and bruises which last him during the remainder
of his official existence. This character was in the Tin-Tax Office
played by Mr. Rittman, who for years had been "in difficulties," and
was thoroughly versed in every species of money-borrowing, were it the
loan-simple from a friend, the loan-complex on a bill with a friend's
name, the life-insurance facile, the loan-office ruinous, the bill of
sale advertised, or the pawnbroker low. As yet no learned Commissioner
had sat in judgment on Mr. Rittman's pecuniary transactions, but he
had been in sponging-houses, in Whitecross Street, and in the Queen's
Bench; and though his end was rapidly approaching (for he had a couple
of sons verging on manhood, and apparently inheriting all their
father's frailties), he was never despondent, but maintained a
creditable appearance and a cheerful manner. To him Mr. Pringle had
gone, on the day before that on which we first made his acquaintance;
and Mr. Rittman, from the young man's manner on entering the room, at
once guessed the object of his visit.

"How do, Rittman?" commenced Mr. Pringle.

"Good morning, my dear sir--good morning!" said the gentleman
addressed, laying down his pen and bowing pleasantly. He had on a
voluminous white waistcoat, a great show of shirt-wristband, and
before him, in a tumbler, stood some choice flowers. "Seldom you
come down to this part of the building; keep to the more aristocratic
end--eh?" and Mr. Rittman smiled, and showed a good set of teeth.

"No! I don't know--the truth is--I want some advice, and I think
you're the man to give it to me."

"My dear sir, I shall be delighted. What is it?" (this thrown off at a
tangent to a messenger who appeared in the doorway, saying, "Ere's
Brown's man agen, Mr. Rittman"). "Ah! Brown's man; well, you'd
better say I've not yet returned from Jersey, but you expect me on
Tuesday.--And now, my dear sir; you were saying--some advice?"

"Well, the fact is, Rittman, I'm hard up, and I want to borrow some
money; and I thought you could--"

"Not lend you any? that would be almost too delicious, my dear sir.
You didn't think I could lend you any?" and Mr. Rittman screamed with
laughter at the absurdity of the idea.

"No, no, of course not; but I thought you might tell me where I could
get it."

"Oh, that's a totally different thing; of course I can. I rather pique
myself upon knowing more about such matters than most men. Of course I
can. Now, let me see--what security can you give?"

"Eh?" asked Mr. Pringle.

"Security for the repayment? If you borrow from the Rainy. Day or
Amicable Nest-Eggs Insurance Office, you must give two sureties,
householders, and insure for double the amount of the loan. If you go
to the Helping Hand or the Leg-up Loan Office, you must give three
sureties, householders, and pay a lot for office-fees and inquiries,
which are made by a dirty-faced man at a pound a week. If you give a
bill of sale on your furniture--"

"My good sir," said Pringle testily, "I've got no furniture. And
surely all this bother can't be necessary for the sum I want--only
twenty pounds."

"Twenty pounds! twenty pounds! a fleabite, a mere fleabite!" said Mr.
Rittman (he had three and sevenpence in his pocket at the moment, and
did not know in the least where to turn for more). "I hoped you were
going to call my generalship into play; for I may say, without
boasting, that when it's not for myself, I am fertile in resources.
But--twenty pounds--I'll give you the address of a man who'll let you
have it at once."

"There won't be any names wanted, or any thing of that sort, will
there?" asked Pringle, rather doubtful of this promptitude.

"Nothing of the kind; merely your acknowledgment. Here's the
address--Scadgers, Newman Street. You'll find Mr. Scadgers a curious
man, but very pleasant; and when you say you come from me, he'll be
very polite. And, Mr. Pringle, let me give you one word of advice--Be
firm in the matter of Madeira."

"In the matter of Madeira?"

"Yes, awful; you can't stand it. Ostades are bad enough, or a
Stradivarius fiddle; and perhaps, as you're a single man in
apartments, a key-bugle mightn't do, as likely to be objected to by
the other lodgers--but any of them rather than the Madeira."

In the middle of Newman Street stands a paintless door, in the centre
of which gleams a brass-plate, bearing the word "Scadgers," in fat
Roman capitals. Nothing else. No "Mr.;" no description of Scadgers'
profession; nothing to break the charm. "Scadgers" stands an oasis of
shining brass in a desert of lustreless deal, and winks knowingly at
the double-faced portrait, one half dirty, the other half clean, at
the picture-restorer's over the way. Scadgers' door differed from its
fellows in having but one bell-handle; for Scadgers had quite enough
business to occupy the whole house, and to demand ramifications in the
neighbourhood. All we have to do, in the course of this story, is to
deal with Scadgers as Scadgers; but my private belief is that Scadgers
was the Universal Philanthropic Man's a Man for a' that Loan Office,
held at the Blue Pig and Toothache in Wells Street; that he was "Cash
promptly advanced on furniture without removal, freehold and leasehold
property, legacies, reversions, warrants, and all other securities.
Sheriffs' executions and rent-distraint immediately paid out" (_vide_
advertisement);--that he was "Methuselah's Muffin-Powder, or Never say
Die" patent medicine, and proprietor-in-chief of "The Hob," a domestic
Miscellany, which commenced with weak romance, and failed, but has
since achieved an enormous success for itself, and a fortune for its
spirited proprietor, by the publication of "Baby Clarence; or, My Life
at Brompton." Certainly you could not have guessed Scadgers'
occupation from the outside of his residence, which looked like a
dirty lodging-house, like a third-rate boarding-house, like those
melancholy houses occupied by those most melancholy people on earth,
third-rate piano-sellers; like a house let in rooms to people who
lithograph fashion-plates; like any thing but what it was--a house
where more money was made than in nine-tenths of the houses in London.

When Mr. Pringle arrived on the Scadgerian steps, he looked for a
knocker, and finding none, he pulled the Scadgerian bell. A responsive
click and the partial unlatching of the door invited him to push; the
door yielded, and he found himself in a large and empty hall, on one
side of which was a glass door, with the word "Office" in faded gilt
letters on a white ground. This glass-door being open, Mr. Pringle
walked straight through, and found himself in the "office." He had
seen a good many offices in his time, but never one like this. He had
never seen an office with musical instruments in it before; and here
were four or five pianos standing ranged against the wall, to say
nothing of harps in leather cases leaning drunkenly in corners, and a
few cornets-à-piston in green boxes, and a guitar or two with blue
ribbons to hang them round your neck by, just as if they had come
fresh from the necks of Spanish _donnas_. And there were
slack-baked-looking old pictures in heavy Dutch-metal frames--fine
specimens of old masters--saints with skulls and Bibles in front of
them, and very ascetic cheek-bones and great phrenological development
of talent and courage; Dutch boors standing on one leg and drinking
glasses of ale, and yawning youths with an effect of shaded
candlelight on their faces. There were modern pictures, too,
of lakes and Thames scenery, and girls with fair hair, which, when
compared with the old ones, looked as if they had been painted in
milk-and-water; and there were three driving-whips in one corner, a
set of harness across a chair, and the leather cushions of a brougham
under it. There was a bronze umbrella-stand, formed by a dog holding a
whip in his mouth, a big French clock, and a couple of chemist's
bottles, red and green; and in the midst of all this confusion stood a
little shrivelled old man, with very white hair and a very red face--a
dirty little old man dressed in a rusty suit of black, who addressed
Mr. Pringle in a rusty creaking voice, and wanted to know "his
pleasure."

"I--I wish to speak to Mr. Scadgers," said Mr. Pringle, with a modesty
and hesitation altogether strange to him.

"Ah!" said the little old man; "deary me! yes!" and then he seated
himself on the edge of a wine-hamper, and began to count his fingers
with great interest, as though not quite sure of the number he really
possessed.

"Mr. Scadgers!" said Pringle, after a minute or two.

"Ah, yes! I'll call him," said the little old man, and rang a bell
which lurked in the corner of the chimney-piece.

A great creaking of uncarpeted stairs under heavy boots followed this
bell-ringing, and presently Mr. Scadgers entered the room. Mr.
Scadgers' appearance partook of the charming amenities of the
prize-fighter and the undertaker: his hair was black and
close-cropped, his face white, his nose red, one eye was considerably
larger than the other, and one corner of his mouth had a peculiar
upward twist. He was dressed in black, with a pair of dull leather
boots reaching half-way up his thighs; and as he came through the
door, he took a red silk pocket-handkerchief from the crown of his
hat, and mopped his head.

"Servant, sir!" said Mr. Scadgers, surveying Mr. Pringle with his
gleaming black eyes, and reckoning him up in a moment. "What may you
want?"

"Well," said Mr. Pringle, "I wanted a few minutes' conversation; but
private, if you please--"

"Oh!" interrupted Mr. Scadgers, "don't mind Jinks; he's safe
enough--knows all my affairs--thoroughly to be trusted."

"Well, then," said Mr. Pringle, hesitating; then, with a desperate
rush, "look here!--fact is--want money!"

"Ah!" said Mr. Scadgers, with something like admiration in his tone,
"got it out with a rush, didn't you? That's the only way! Who told you
to come to me?"

"Mr. Rittman, of the--"

"I know--Tin-tax Office. Do you belong to it? Thought so. Wretched
office; lost a mint of money in that office. What salary do you get?"

Mr. Pringle mentioned that he was in the receipt of ninety pounds
a-year.

"Ah! twenty-one eighteen and nine on the 5th of every third month--I
know all about it! Now" mopping his head, "how much do you want?"

"Twenty pounds."

"Lor' bless me! and when do you want it?"

"At once!"

"Can't be done, sir! can't be done!" Violent mopping. "Haven't got any
money in the house. Can't you look in next week, and I might let you
have ten?"

Mr. Pringle roundly asserted that this would not do at all, and turned
round towards the door.

"Stop, sir!" shouted Mr. Scadgers, making tremendous play with
the red-silk handkerchief. "What a hasty young man you are! Look
here,"--taking out his purse,--"here's a ten-pound note that I
promised to young Stephens of the Wafer Office; he was to have been
here by two; now its getting on for three, and he's not come. I might
let you have that!"

"But that's only ten!" said Mr. Pringle.

"_Only_ ten! what a way to speak of money! Wait, sir, wait; let us see
what we can do. Any one likely to look in this afternoon to pay any
interest, Jinks?"

"Too late now!" said Jinks, with brevity.

"Ah! too late--I dessay! Just look in the cash-box, Jinks, and see
what's there; though I'm afraid it's not much. I should say there
wasn't more than three pounds, Jinks!"

Mr. Jinks peered into a little cash-box on the desk before him, and
answered, "Just three pound!"

"Ah! bring 'em out, Jinks; give 'em here. Let's see--ten and three's
thirteen; and that only leaves me seven-and-six to go on with till
Monday! Never mind: you could have thirteen, Mr.--"

"But I want twenty!"

"Ah, so you do! Pity you don't want some wine! I've got some Madeiry
as would--but wine ain't money, is it? There's a splendid picture,
now--a Murillo: you might take that."

"Pictures are not more money than wine; are they?"

"Ain't they? That Murillo's worth ten pound, and any one would give
you that for it. Ain't there no one you could sell it to? You see
you're in such a hurry for the money, or you might offer it to the
National Gallery, or some swell collecting of pictures might buy it,
but you're so pressed. Tell you what you might do, though," said Mr.
Scadgers, as though struck by a sudden inspiration: "you might pawn
it."

"How the deuce could I go lugging that picture about the streets to
pawn it?" said Pringle testily.

"No, to be sure! Stay, look here! I dare say Jinks wouldn't mind
pawning it for you. Jinks, look here; just run with this round the
corner, will you? Get as much as you can, you know." And without more
ado, Mr. Jinks put on a reddish-black napless hat, tucked the picture
under his arm, and started off.

While he was gone, Mr. Scadgers asked Mr. Pringle what his name was,
how long he had been in the office, where he lodged, and other
home-thrusting questions; and presently Mr. Jinks returned without the
picture, but with three sovereigns and a printed ticket, which he
delivered to his master, saying, "Wouldn't do no more than three."

"Three!" said Mr. Scadgers. "Well, that's nearer to twenty than we
was, isn't it? Now, Mr. Pringle,"--taking a slip of stamped paper from
his pocketbook--"just you sign your name at the bottom here. All
correct, you see. Fifth of next month,--promise to pay,--value
received,--and all the rest of it; and I'll hand you over sixteen
pounds and the ticket; and when you get that picture out, you'll have
a treasure."

"Oh, curse the picture!" said Pringle ruefully.

"Ah," said Mr. Scadgers, grinning, "that's what they all says. Cuss
the picture! Well, if that ticket ain't any use to you, I don't mind
giving you half a pound for it."

"I thought you had only seven-and-sixpence left?"

"No more I have, myself; but I might borrow half a pound from Jinks.
What do you say? Ah, I thought so. Here, Jinks, put this little
dockyment along with your other valuables. Here's the half pound, sir.
Now let's look at your signature. George Townshend Pringle! Very nice.
No relation to Mr. Townshend, of Austin Friars--the great Townshend?"

"He's my uncle," said Pringle. "I'm named after him."

"Indeed! named after him A very capital connexion. Good morning, sir!
good morning! I'll look in upon you on the fifth."

But after Mr. Pringle had gone, Mr. Scadgers still stood with the bill
fluttering between his fingers, muttering to himself: "Sing'ler that!
very sing'ler! For years I hadn't seen the Runner until yesterday,
when I came across him in Cheapside; and now to-day I hear of him
again. I wonder," added Mr. Scadgers, with a very sinister smile,
"whether that little account between me and the Runner will ever be
wound up? I've owed him one this many a year."



CHAPTER XIII.
MR. PRESCOTT'S PROCEEDINGS.


The Hansom cab conveying Mr. Prescott went at a rapid pace along the
Strand, through the Pall-Mall district, and by divers short cuts into
Piccadilly. There was nothing to stop it; there were no blocks or
stoppages; and as it was the dead season of the year, and every one
was out of town, the Commissioners of Sewers were good enough to leave
the roads alone; reserving until the traffic was in full play their
right to erect gigantic, hideous hoardings in the most crowded
thoroughfares. The streets were deserted, the public buildings shut
up, dust and straw and dirty paper whirled about in the eddying gusts
of the autumnal wind, and the entire appearance of London was dull and
wretched. People had evidently been in doubt what to do about dress;
and while some were in the faded gaiety of the just-departed summer,
others were putting on an even shadier appearance in the creased and
awkward garments of the previous winter. The doctors' carriages and
the hack-cabs had the thoroughfares to themselves; the occupants of
the former, always on the watch for the recognition of some favoured
patient, sat back in their vehicles, engaged either in the perusal of
some medical work, or in happy day-dreams of increased practice, studs
of wearied horses, noble introductions, enormous fees,--all
culminating, perhaps, in baronetcies and appointments at Court.

Of the hack-cabs seen about, but few were Hansoms; for at that season
men who want to go quickly, and don't mind paying a shilling a mile,
are at a discount. Now and then a sun-tanned swell, whose portmanteau
atop nearly obstructed the driver's sight, and who himself was but
dimly visible among gun-cases, hat-boxes, and railway-rugs, might have
been encountered, passing from one terminus to another; but the
"reg'lar riders,"--the lawyer's clerk, with the tape-tied bundle of
papers, who charges his cab to "the office;" the lounging swell; the
M.P. dashing down to the House; the smug-faced capitalist, whose brain
is full of calculation, and who sits the whole way to the City smiling
at all and seeing none; the impecunious speculator, who rides in a cab
because he cannot afford to be seen in an omnibus,--all these were away
from London. And the four-wheelers, though laden, had but dreary
burdens: the fortnight at Margate is over; no more morning dips, no
more afternoon rambles on the sands, no donkey-backs, no
pleasure-boats, no Pegwell Bay now! Paterfamilias is once more Hobbs
and Motchkin's out-door at thirty shillings a week; the eight-roomed
house in Navarino Terrace, Camden Town, resumes its wonted appearance;
the children return to the "curriculum" of education at Miss Gimp's in
the Crescent; and save the sand-covered little wooden spades which hang
from the hat-pegs in the passage, naught remains of their maritime
excursion.

Dreary, dreary, every where! Dreary down in old country mansions,
where, while the men are pheasant-shooting in the woods, the ladies
look dismally on what was lately the croquet-ground, where the
gardeners are now busy sweeping up the leaves, and pressing them into
huge barrows, and wheeling them away; where the trees stand out gaunt
and brown, and where the evergreens bordering the pleasant walks
rustle with the autumnal winds; where the cracks, and flaws, and
dampnesses of old country mansions begin to make themselves
unpleasantly conspicuous; and where the servants, town-bred, commence
to be colded, sniffy, to have shivers and "creeps." Dreary at the
seaside, where the storm-soaked, worm-eaten jetty, lately echoing to
the pattering feet of children, or the sturdy tread of the visitor
taking his constitutional, is now given over to its normal
frequenters--tarry-trousered men in blue jerseys and oilskin
sou'-wester hats, who are always looking out for some boat that never
arrives, or some storm which always comes when they do not expect it;
bills are stuck on the pleasant plate-glass bow windows so lately
filled with pretty girls, rosy children, and parents who dined at two
o'clock, and enjoyed their nuts and port-wine "looking over the sea;"
and the proprietors of the lodging-houses, who have lived in damp
back-kitchens since June, are once more seen above-ground. Dreary in
Continental towns, where home-returning English are finding out that
they have spent too much money on their trip, and bewailing the
Napoleons left as a tribute to the managers of the Homburgh Bank;
where the discomforts of the return sea-passage first assert
themselves, and where couriers and innkeepers are going in for their
last grand turn of robbery and swindle. Dreary, dreary, every where!
but specially dreary in Hyde Park, at the Piccadilly gates, at which
Mr. Prescott leaves his Hansom, and strolls into Rotten Row.

A blank desert of posts and rails and dry dusty gravel; a long strip
of iron-enclosed sand and grit, with half a dozen figures in the
three-quarter mile range to break the dull monotony. As Prescott
mooned drearily along, at five-minute intervals he would hear the
sound of a horse's hoofs, and turning rapidly, would find some
easy-going steed doing its quiet sanitary business for its owner, a
man who, either from circumstances or disposition, never quitted
London, but was to be seen at some time or other of the day in the
Row, no matter what might be the time of year. Interspersed with these
were grooms, riding in that groomy undress of wide-awake hat, short,
stiff shirt-collar, and tight-fitting, yellow-clay-coloured trousers,
trying the wind and bottom of some that were meant to be flyers in the
approaching hunting-season; beasts with heavy, strong quarters, long
backs, short, sharp heads, and rolling eyes, with a preponderance of
white always showing. Country-bred Mr. Prescott, and cannot therefore
divest himself of a certain canniness in the matter of horseflesh: now
and then he leans over the rail to follow the progress of a horseman
flying past, with his hands well down, and every muscle of his steed
brought into splendid play; or the healthy gymnastics of a
valetudinarian, who had learned exactly the utmost amount of exercise
to be derived from his horse as compared with the least amount of
discomfort to be endured by himself. But these do not rivet his
attention; and he passes on until he is nearly abreast of the
Serpentine, when, looking back, he sees a blue skirt fluttering in the
wind, and in an instant recognising its wearer, pulls up by the rails
and waits her advent.

It does not take long for that chestnut mare to cover the distance,
albeit she is being ridden from side to side, and is evidently
receiving her "finishing" in the elegancies of the _manège_ In less
than two minutes she is pulled up short by the rails where Prescott is
standing, and her rider, Kate Mellon, with the colour flushing in her
cheeks, with her eyes aglow, with her hair a trifle dishevelled from
the exercise, is sitting bolt upright, and with the handle of her
riding-whip giving the young gentleman a mock salute.

"Servant, colonel!" says she.

"How do you do, Kate?" says Prescott, leaning forward and touching the
neat little white cuff on her wrist; "I thought I should find you
here."

"More than I thought of you!" says the lady. "Why ain't you counting
up those figures, and adding and subtracting, and all the rest of it
you do in your office, eh?"

"To-day's a half-holiday, Kitty--Saturday, you know," says Prescott,
with rather a grim smile; for he does not like that rough description
of his official duties.

"Oh, ah!" says the lady, with great simplicity; "Saturday, ah!
Confounded nuisance sometimes! Lost my net veil one Saturday afternoon
here in the Row; went to Marshall and Snelgrove's on my way home; all
shut up tight as wax!"

"You're better than you were yesterday, at the station?"

"Oh, yes; I'm all right; I shall do well enough! Wo-ho! steady, old
lady!" (this to the mare). "I'm always better in town. Don't let's
stand here; I can't hold this mare quiet, and that's the truth; she
frets on the curb most awful."

"Most awfully, Kitty, not most awful. I've told you of that a hundred
times."

"Well, most awfully, if you like it better. Steady, Poll! Walk along
by my side. Who are you, I should like to know, to pull me up about my
talking? What right have you to lecture me about my grammar and that?"

"What right?" asks Prescott, suddenly turning white; "none, save the
fact of my loving you, Kitty. You know it well enough, though I've
never told you in so many words. You know that I _do_ love you! You
can't have seen me hanging about you during the last season, making
excuses to come to your place, first there and last to go, hating
every man who had more chances of talking to you than I had,--you
can't have seen all this without knowing that I loved you, Kitty!"

The mare is pulled suddenly up; there is no one near them in the blank
desert of the Row; and her rider says, "And suppose I _did_ know
it,--what then?"

Prescott shrugs his shoulders and looks upon the ground, but does not
reply.

"Have you ever had one word of encouragement from me? Have you ever
seen a look of mine which has led you on? Can you say that, suppose I
tell you to let me hear no more of this,--as I do tell you at once and
for ever,--I have deceived or thrown you over in any one way?"

"Never!"

"Thank God for that!" says the girl, with some bitterness; "for that's
a chalk in my favour, at least. Now look here! I know you, James
Prescott; and I know that you're too good a man--too well brought up
and fond of home and that sort of thing--to hint any thing but what's
right towards me."

"Kitty!"

"There--I know it. Don't break a blood-vessel with your emotion," she
added, gently tapping him on the shoulder with her riding-whip. "All
right. Well, suppose we were married, you'd feel very jolly, wouldn't
you, while you were down at your office doing your sums and things,
which you got so riled when I spoke of just now, to think that Tom
Orme, and Claverhouse, and De Bonnet, and a whole lot of fellows, were
mooning about this place with me?"

"I'd wring all their necks!" says honest Jim Prescott, looking
excessively wobegone.

"Exactly. But you see, if you wrung their necks, they would not send
their wives and sisters and daughters to be taught riding at The Den;
they would not commission me to look out for ladies' hacks, to break
them, and bring them into order; and my trade would be gone. And we
couldn't live on the twopence-halfpenny a-year you get from your
office, Jim, old fellow."

"I know that, Kitty," said poor Prescott; "I know all that; but--"

"Hold on half a second!" interrupted Kate; "let us look the thing
straight in the face, and have it out, Jim, now and for ever. I know
you--know you're a thoroughgoing good fellow, straight as an arrow,
and know that if you married me, you'd stick to me till you dropped.
But you'd have a hard time, Jim--an awful hard time!"

"I should not mind that, Kitty. I'd work for you--"

"Oh, it isn't in that way I mean. But how would you stand having to
break off with your own people for your wife's sake? How could you
take me down to your governor's parsonage, and introduce me there? How
would my manners and my talk please your mother and sisters? It's
madness, Jim,--it's worse than madness,--to talk of such a scheme.
Shake hands, and let's be always good friends--the best of friends. If
you ever want a good turn that I can do, you know where I'm to be
found. God bless you, old boy; but never mention this subject again!"

James Prescott gave a great gulp at a lump which was rising in his
throat, and warmly grasped Kate Mellon's proffered hand. As she raised
her eyes he noticed her colour fade, and saw a troubled expression in
her face.

"Good by, Jim," the said hurriedly. "Just strike down that path, will
you? Get away quickly; here's some one coming; and--and I don't want
to be seen talking to you. Quick! there's a good fellow. Good by."

She touched her horse with her slight whip, and cantered off at once.
Prescott looked in the direction she had indicated, and saw Mr.
Simnel, mounted on a handsome thoroughbred, calmly curveting up the
Row.

What could there be between Kate Mellon and Robert Simnel?



CHAPTER XIV.
MISS LEXDEN ON MATRIMONY.


After that episode at the stile, which, as it happened, formed such a
crisis in their destinies, Barbara Lexden and Frank Churchill did not
move towards the house, but quietly turned into that fir plantation
through which they had strolled some days previously on their return
from the shooting party. At first neither spoke; Barbara walked with
her eyes downcast, and Churchill strolled idly by her side; then,
after a few paces, he took her unresisting hand and placed it in his
arm. She looked, up into his face with calm, earnest, trustful eyes,
and he bowed his head until, for the first time in his life, his lips
touched hers, and as he withdrew them he murmured, "My darling! my own
darling! thank God for this!" His arm stole round her waist, and for
an instant he held her tightly clasped; then gently releasing her, he
again passed her hand through his arm, covered it with his other hand,
and walked on quietly by her side. There was no need of speech; it was
all known, all settled, all arranged; that restored glove, that one
fervent sentence, that one look in which each seemed to read the
secrets of the other's soul, had done it all. This was first love,
undisturbed by the fact that on either side there had probably been
some half-dozen attacks of that spurious article, that saccharine
bliss, that state of pleasant torture which reveals itself in
sheep-like glances and deep-drawn sighs, in a tendency to wear tight
boots and to increase the already over-swollen tailor's bill, to groan
and be poetical, and to shrink from butchers' meat. Although the
existent state of Barbara and Churchill had none of these
characteristics, it was still first love.

Marvellous, marvellous time! so short in its duration, but leaving
such an indelible impress on the memory! A charming period, a
_hasheesh_-dream impossible ever to be renewed, a prolonged
intoxication scarcely capable of realisation in one's sober moments. A
thing of once, which gone never comes again, but leaves behind it
remembrances which, while they cause the lips to curl at their past
folly, yet give the heart a twinge in the reflection that the
earnestness which outbalanced the folly, the power of entering into
and being swayed by them, the youth--that is it, after all; confess
it!--the youth is vanished for ever and aye. What and where was the
glamour, the power of which you dimly remember but cannot recall? Put
aside the claret-jug, and, with your feet on the fender, as you sit
alone, try and analyse that bygone time. The form comes clearly out of
the mist: the dark-brown banded hair, the quiet earnest eyes the
slight lissome figure and delicate hands; and with them a floating
reminiscence of a violet perfume, a subtle, delicate essence, which
made your heart beat with extra vigour even before your eyes rested on
what they longed for. Kisses and hand-clasps and ardent glances were
the current coin of those days; one of either of the former missed,
say at parting for the night, for instance, made you wretched; one of
the latter shot in a different direction sent you to toss sleepless
all night on your bed, and to rise with the face of a murderer, and
with something not very different from the mind of one. There were
heartaches in those days, real, dead, dull pains, sickening longings,
spasms of hope and fear; dim dread of missing the prize on the
attainment of which the whole of life was set, a psychical state which
would be as impossible to your mind now as would the early infantile
freshness to your lined cheek, or the curling locks of boyhood to your
grizzled pate. It is gone, clean gone. Perhaps it snapped off short
with a wrench, leaving its victim with a gaping wound which the
searing-iron of time has completely cicatrised; perhaps it mellowed
down into calm, peaceful, conjugal, and subsequently paternal
affection. But tell me not, O hard-hearted and worldly-minded
bachelor, intent on the sublimation of self, and cynically enough
disposed to all that is innocent and tender,--tell me not, O husband,
however devoted to your wife, however proud of your offspring,--tell
me not that a regret for that vanished time does not sometimes cross
your mind, that the sense of having lost the power of enjoying such
twopenny happiness, ay, and such petty misery, does not cost you an
occasional pang. It still goes on, that tragi-comedy, the same as
ever, though the actors be different, though our places are now in the
cushioned gallery among the spectators instead of on the stage, and we
witness the performance, not with envy, not with admiration, but with
a strange feeling of bewilderment that such things once were with
us,--that the dalliance of the puppets, and the liquid jargon which
they speak, once were our delight, and that we once had the pass-key
to that blissful world whose pleasures and whose sorrows now alike
fail to interest us.

So in the thorough enjoyment of this new-found happiness, in all
tranquillity and repose, as in a calm haven after tempest, three or
four days passed over Barbara and Churchill. Their secret was their
own, and was doubly dear for being known but to themselves. No one
suspected it. Churchill joined the shooting-party on two occasions;
but as he had previously been in the habit of detaching himself after
luncheon, no one remarked his doing so now, and no one knew that the
remainder of the day until dinner-time was spent with Barbara alone.
After dinner Barbara would sometimes sing, and then Churchill would
hover round the piano, perhaps with more _empressement_ than he had
previously shown (because, though fond, as every man of any
sensitiveness must be, of music, he was by no means an enthusiast, and
was racked wofully with smothered yawns during the performance of any
elaborate piece), yet by no means noticeably. And during all the time
each had the inward satisfaction of knowing that their words and
actions were appreciated by the other, and that the "little look
across the crowd," as Owen Meredith says, was full of meaning to and
thoroughly understood by the person it was intended to reach. At
length, about the fourth day after the proceedings at the stile, their
conversation took a more practical turn. They had been wandering
slowly along, and had at length stopped to rest on a grass-covered
bank which was screened from the sight of the distant house by a thick
belt of evergreens, while far away in front of them stretched a
glorious prospect of field and woodland. As sometimes happens in
October, the sun seemed to have recovered his old July force, and
blazed so fiercely that they were glad to sit under the friendly
shade. Barbara had removed the glove from her right hand, and sat
looking down at her lover, who lay by her side, idly tracing the
course of one of the violet veins in the little hand which rested in
his own broad palm. Suddenly he looked up and said:

"Darling, this lotus-eating is rapidly coming to an end. It would be
sweet enough, thus 'propped on beds of amaranth and moly,' to remain
and dream away the time together; but there's the big world before us,
and my holiday is nearly finished."

"And you must go back to town?" and the little fingers tightened round
his, and the shapely head was bent towards his face.

"Yes, pet; must. But what of that? When I go, it is but to prepare for
thee, my heart's darling; but to set things straight for your
reception. You're determined, child, to share my lot at once? You've
reflected on what I said the other night, about waiting a year to see
whether--"

"No, Frank, no! those long engagements are utterly hateful. There will
you be, I suppose" (and she glanced slyly at him), "moping by
yourself, and there shall I be with another round of that horrible
season before me, thinking of you, longing for you, and yet having to
undergo all the detestable nonsense of balls and parties and _fêtes_,
which I so thoroughly despise--for what? At the end to find ourselves
a year older, and you perhaps a few pounds richer. As though riches
made happiness!" said poor Barbara, who, since she had come to what
are called years of discretion, had never known what it was to have a
whim unindulged.

Churchill raised himself on his elbow, and smiled as he smoothed her
glossy hair.

"My child," said he, "have you never heard of the philosopher who,
when told that poverty was no crime, rejoined, 'No; no crime; but it's
deuced inconvenient'? Recollect, furnished lodgings in Mesopotamia,
hack cabs to ride in, no Parker to dress your hair, no Rotten Row--by
Jove, when I think of it, I feel almost inclined to rush off and never
see you again, so horrible is the change to which holding to me must
lead you!" and a dark shadow passed across his face.

"Do you?" asked Barbara, bending so closely over him that he felt her
warm breath on his cheek; "do you?" she repeated with such a dash of
earnest in her jesting tone that Churchill thought it necessary to
slip his arm round her, and press his lips to her forehead in
reassurance. "Why, you silly boy, you forget that when I was a child
at home with papa, I knew what poverty was; such poverty as would make
what you speak of wealth by comparison. Besides, shall we not be
together to share it? And you'll buy me a--what do they call it?--a
cookery book, and I'll learn all kinds of housekeeping ways. I can do
some things already; Guérin, the Morrisons' _chef_--who was a little
struck with me, I think, sir--showed Clara Morrison and me how to make
an omelette; and Maurice Gladstone--my cousin Maurice, you know; when
we were staying at Sandgate, he was quartered at Shorncliffe--taught
me to do bashawed lobster, and he says my bashawed lobster is as good
as Sergeant Pheeny's. And you know all the Guards are mad to get asked
to sup with Sergeant Pheeny, who's a lawyer, you know, and not a
soldier-sergeant."

And she stopped quite out of breath.

"'You know' and 'you know,'" said Churchill, mocking her; "I do know
Sergeant Pheeny, as it happens, and his bashawed lobster, and that
dish and omelettes will doubtless be our staple food; and you shall
cook it, and clean the saucepans afterwards, you little goose.
However, I tell you candidly, darling, though it sounds selfish, I
_dare not_ run the risk of losing you, even with all these
difficulties before us. As you say, we shall share them together,
and--"

"Now, not another word!" said Barbara, placing her hand upon his lips;
"there are to be no difficulties, and all is to be arranged at once.
And I think the first thing to be done is for me to speak to my aunt."

"Ay," said Churchill, with rather a dolorous expression of face; "I am
afraid that will be what your friend Captain Lyster would call a
'teaser.' Talking about no difficulties--we shall find one there!"

"I do not think so. I am sure, Frank, my aunt has shown special
politeness to _you_."

"Yes, darling, politeness of a certain kind to people in my position.
Don't frown; I have long since dropped that distinction as between
ourselves. But I mean so far as the outer world is concerned, to
people in my position--authors, artists, and 'professional people' of
all kinds--mixing in society, there are always two distinct varieties
of politeness. One, which seems to say, 'You are not belonging to
_nous autres_; you are not a man of family and position; but you bring
something which is a distinction in its way, and which, so far as this
kind of acquaintance goes, entitles you to a proper reception at our
hands.' The other, which says as plainly, 'You don't eat peas with your
knife, or wipe your lips with the back of your hand; you're decently
dressed, and will pass muster; while at the same time you're odd,
quaint, amusing, out of the common run, and you present at my house a
sort of appanage to my position.' I think Miss Lexden belongs to the
latter class, Barbara."

"I am afraid that old feeling of class-prejudice is a monomania with
you," said Barbara, a little coldly: "however, I will see my aunt, and
bring matters to an issue there at once."

"All luck go with you, child! There is one chance for us. The old
proverb says, '_Femme savante est toujours galante_.' Miss Lexden is a
clever woman; perhaps has had her own love-affairs, and will feel pity
for ours. But, Barbara, in case she should be antagonistic--violently,
I mean--you will not--"

"_Monsieur_," said Barbara, with a little inflated _moue_, "_la garde
meurt, mais ne se rend pas_, as Cambronne did _not_ say. No, no; trust
in me. And now give me your arm, and let us go home."

It was a point of honour with old Miss Lexden to have the best room in
every house where she visited; and so good was her system of tactics,
that she generally succeeded. Far away in northern castles, where
accommodation was by no means on a par with the rank of their owners,
duchesses had been worse lodged and infinitely worse attended to than
this old commoner, whose bitter tongue and incapacity for reticence
did her yeoman's service on all possible occasions; not that she was
ever rude, or even impolite, or said any thing approaching to actual
savagery; but she had a knack of dropping hints, of firing from behind
a masked battery of complacency, and of roughly rubbing "raws," which
was more effective than the most studied attacks. As spent balls, when
rolling calmly along, as innocuous, apparently, as those "twisters" of
Hillyer's, which evade the dexterous "dip" of the longstop on the
smooth short sward of the Oval, have been known, when attempted to be
stopped, to take off a foot, so did old Miss Lexden's apparently
casual remarks, after to all appearance missing their aim, tear and
wound and send limping to the rear any one who rashly chanced to
answer or gainsay her. Women, with that strange blundering upon the
right so often seen among them, seemed to guess the diabolical power
of the old lady's missiles, and avoided them with graceful ease,
making gentle _détours_, which led them out of harm's way, or cowering
for shelter in elegant attitudes under projecting platitudes; but men,
in their conscious self-strength, would often stand up to bear the
brunt of an argument, and always came away worsted from the fight. So
that old Miss Lexden generally had her own way amongst her
acquaintance, and one important part of her own way was the
acquisition of the greatest comfort wherever she stayed.

Of course, in an easy, regulated household like that of Sir Marmaduke
Wentworth, there was no need of special strategy. Years ago, on her
first visit, she had selected her apartments, and had had them
reserved for her ever since. Pleasant apartments they were, large,
airy, and with a glorious look-out across the garden over the
surrounding downs. When the windows were open, as they always were
when practicable during Miss Lexden's tenancy,--for the old lady was a
great lover of fresh air,--the rooms were filled with the perfume of
the flowers, occasionally mixed with fresh, healthy sea-smell. These
had been the state-rooms in the Grange, in bygone times; and when Miss
Lexden first came there, there was a huge bed, with nodding plumes at
the foot, and a great canopy, and high-backed solemn chairs, and a big
wardrobe like a family mausoleum but the old lady had all these
cleared away, and persuaded Sir Marmaduke to refurnish the rooms with
a suite of light maple and moss-rosebud chintz, with looking-glass let
into the panels of the wardrobe, and snug little low chairs scattered
about; and then with a chintz paper, and water-colour drawings in
light frames, the place was so changed that the old housekeeper, who
had been in the family for years, scarcely knew it again, and was loud
in her lamentations over the desecration.

Miss Lexden was a lazy old lady, who always breakfasted in bed, and
when staying on a visit at a country house generally remained the
greater portion of the day in her room. She was accustomed to say with
great freedom that she did not amuse the young people and they
certainly did not amuse her, and that she hated all old people except
herself. She was a great correspondent of all kinds of people, wrote
lengthy epistles in very excellent French to all kinds of refugees,
who were perpetually turning up in different parts of Europe, and
working the oracle for their own purposes; wrote lengthy epistles to
American statesmen on the slavery question, to English lecturers on
subjects of political economy, and to her special friends on all
points of domestic scandal. I fear that, with the exception of the
last, her correspondence was not much regarded, as she never sent to
refugees any thing but her blessing and her prayers; and these, even
though coming from an English _miladi_, were not discountable at any
_Geld-wechsel Comptoir_ on the Continent. But her _Chronique
Scandaleuse_ was delicious; it was bold in invention, full in detail,
and always written in the most pointed and epigrammatic style. There
were people who obtained autumn invitations, on the sheer strength of
their being recipients of Miss Lexden's correspondence. Extracts from
her letters were read publicly at the breakfast-table, and created the
greatest delight. "Good as a book, by Jove!" was a frequent comment on
them; "full of humour, and that kind of thing; sort of thing that
fellow writes and people pay money for, by Jove! ought to send it to
_Punch_, that she ought." (For it is a thing to be noted, that if the
aristocracy of this great country ever permit themselves to be amused,
they invariably think that the thing which amused them, no matter of
what kind it be, ought to be sent to _Punch_.) Miss Lexden also was a
great reader of French novels; she subscribed regularly to Rolandi's,
and devoured all that sound sense, morality, philosophy, and extensive
knowledge of the world, which yearly issued from the Parisian
publishers. In bygone times she had laughed heartily over the farcical
humour of M. Paul de Kock; now that her palate had somewhat dulled.
Fortune had sent her the titillating works of M. Gustave Flaubert, M.
Xavier de Montepin, M. Ernest Feydeau, and others of that modern
school which delights in calling a spade a spade, with the broad
theories of M. Proudhon to be her political guide, and the casuistries
of M. Renan for her Sunday reading. She read all, but liked the novels
best; and had been seen to weep over a yellow-covered volume in
which an elegant marquis, all soul and black eyes, a _membre du
Jockei-Club_, and altogether an adorable person, had to give
satisfaction to a brute of a husband who objected to being
dishonoured.

With one of these yellow-covered volumes on her lap, Miss Lexden was
sitting placidly in the easiest of chairs at the open window on the
afternoon when Barbara and Churchill held the conversation just
narrated. She was a pleasant-looking old lady, with a fat,
wrinkleless, full face, like an old child, with a shiny pink-and-white
complexion, and with hair which defied you to tell whether it had been
wonderfully well preserved, or admirably dyed, arranged under a
becoming cap. She was dressed in a rich brown moiré-antique silk, and
with a black-lace shawl thrown over her ample shoulders; her fat,
pudgy little hands, covered with valuable rings, were crossed over the
book on her lap; and she was just on the point of dropping off into a
placid slumber, when there came a knock at the door, immediately upon
which Barbara entered the room.

"Well, Barbara," said the old lady, stifling a yawn; "is it time to
dress? I've done nothing since luncheon but read this ridiculous book,
and I was very nearly dropping asleep, and I've no notion of the time;
and Withers is always gadding about in this house with that steward,
and never comes near me till the last moment."

"It is quite early, aunt; scarcely six o'clock yet; and I came up to
you on purpose to have a quiet _cause_ with you before you dressed. I
think I have news which will keep you awake. You've not asked me of my
flirtations lately."

"My dear child, why should I ask? I interested myself about Lord
Hinchenbrook because he was the _parti_ of the season, and because to
have carried him off from that odious doll, that Miss Musters, as you
could easily, would have been a triumph to us both; but you refused. I
interested myself about young Chaldecott because our families had long
been intimate, and the largest property in Yorkshire is worth
interesting oneself about; but you refused. You know your own mind
best, Barbara, and _I_ know that you have too much good sense and real
notion of what is right to do a foolish thing; so I leave you to
yourself, and don't worry you with any questions."

"Thanks, aunt, for your good opinion," said Barbara, playing with a
sprig of scarlet geranium which she had taken from a vase on the
table; "but I shall give you no further trouble. I am going to be
married."

"Sir Charles Chaldecott has written?" said the old lady, putting aside
the book, and sitting upright in her chair; "has written; and you--?"
and in her anxiety Miss Lexden smiled so unguardedly that, for the
first time in her life, the gold-settings of her false teeth were seen
by a looker-on.

"I--we shall not hear any more of Sir Charles Chaldecott, aunt," said
Barbara hesitatingly; "no; I am going to be married to a gentleman now
staying in this house."

Miss Lexden's face fell; the gold teeth-settings disappeared from view
entirely; and she shrugged her shoulders as she said, "Very well, my
dear; I feared something of the sort. If you like to settle on three
thousand a year, and to take a man whose constitution is ruined by the
Indian climate, I can only say--it is your affair."

Barbara bit her lips to avoid betraying a smile as she replied, "You
are wrong again, aunt. Captain Lyster has never done me the honour of
an offer." Then seriously, "I am going to be married to Mr.
Churchill."

"_What?_" shrieked the old lady, surprised out of all decorum; "what?"
Then, after an instant's pause, "I beg your pardon, Barbara; did I not
understand you to say that you were going to be married to Mr.
Churchill, the--the gentleman now staying in this house?"

"You did so understand me, aunt, and it is the fact."

"Then," said Miss Lexden, in rather a low, flat key, "I'll trouble you
to ring the bell for Withers. It must be time for me to dress for
dinner."

Barbara looked astonished, and would have spoken; but her aunt had
risen from her chair and turned her back on her, moving towards the
dressing-table. So she mechanically rang the bell, and left the room.

With the result of this conversation Churchill was made acquainted
as he and Barbara bent together over a large stereoscope in the
drawing-room before dinner. In a few hurried words, interspersed with
ejaculations of admiration at the views, uttered in a much louder
tone, Barbara conveyed to her lover that their project would meet with
no assistance from her aunt, even if that old lady did not actively
and violently oppose it. Churchill shrugged his shoulders on hearing
this, and looked somewhat serious and annoyed; but as she rose to go
in to dinner, Barbara pressed his hand, and looking into her face, he
saw her eyes brighten and her lip curl with an expression of triumph,
and he recognised in an instant that her energy had risen at the
prospect of opposition, and that her determination to have her own way
had strengthened rather than lessened from her aunt's treatment.

There was an accession to the dinner-table that day in the person of
Mr. Schröder, a German long resident in England, and partner in the
great house of Schröder, Stutterheim, Hinterhaus, and Company, bankers
and brokers, which had branches and ramifications in all the principal
cities of the world. No one would have judged Gustav Schröder to have
been a keen financier and a consummate master of his business from his
personal appearance. He was between fifty-five and sixty years old,
heavy and dull-looking, with short, stubbly, iron-gray hair, dull
boiled eyes, and thin dry lips, which he was constantly sucking. He
was clumsy in his movements, and very taciturn; but though he spoke
little, even to Miss Townshend, by whom he was seated, he seemed to
derive intense satisfaction in gazing at her with a proprietorial kind
of air, which nearly goaded Lyster, sitting directly opposite to them,
to desperation. Upon his evidently uncomfortable state Captain Lyster
was rallied with great humour by old Miss Lexden, who, however much
she may have been inwardly annoyed, showed no signs of trouble. She
opined that Captain Lyster must be in love; that some shepherdess on
the neighbouring downs, some Brighton _poissarde_, must have
captivated him, and she was delighted at it, and it would do him good;
and in spite of Lyster's protestations--which, however, he soon gave
up when he found he had the trouble of repeating them--the old lady
launched out into a very unusual tirade on her part in favour of early
marriages, of love-matches made for love's sake alone, which
frequently turned out the happiest, "didn't they, Mr. Churchill?" At
which question, Churchill, who was dreamily looking across the table,
and thinking how artistically Barbara's head was posed on her neck,
and what a lovely ear she had, stammered an inarticulate and
inappropriate reply.

But when dinner was over, and the post-prandial drink finished, and
the coffee consumed in the drawing-room, and the "little music"
played, and the ladies had retired to rest (Barbara, in her good night
to Churchill, giving one reassuring hand-pressure, and looking as
saucily triumphant as before), and the men had exchanged their
dress coats for comfortable velvet lounging-jackets, and had, in most
cases, dispensed with their white cravats; when Sir Marmaduke had
nodded his farewell for the night, Churchill, instead of joining the
party in the smoke-room, made his way to the old gentleman's quarters,
and knocked at the dressing-room door. Bidden to come in, he found Sir
Marmaduke in his dressing-gown and slippers, seated before a fire (for
the evenings were beginning to be chilly), with a glass of cold
brandy-and-water on a little table at his right hand, and the evening
paper on his knee.

"Holloa!" was the old gentleman's salutation; "what's in the wind now?
There must be something the matter when a young fellow like you,
instead of joining in the nonsense downstairs, comes to hunt out an
old fogey like me. What is it?"

"Business, Sir Marmaduke," commenced Churchill; "I want five minutes'
business talk with you."

"God bless my soul!" growled Sir Marmaduke; "business at this time of
night, and with _me!_ You can't talk without something to drink, you
know. Here, Gumble; another tumbler and the brandy for Mr. Churchill.
Why don't you talk to Stone, my dear fellow? he manages all my
business, you know."

"Yes, yes, Sir Marmaduke; but this is for you, and you alone. I came
to tell you that I am going to be married."

"Ay, ay! no news to me, though you think it is. What's his name,
Beresford, told us all about it. Well, well, deuced risky business;
wish you well through it, and all that kind of thing. Don't
congratulate you, because that's all humbug. But why specially
announce it to _me?_"

"Simply because it is your due. I met the lady in this house, and the
first introduction was through you. I don't know what nonsense Mr.
Beresford may have been spreading, but the real fact is that I am
going to be married to Barbara Lexden. Now you see my motive."

"I'm obliged to you, sir," said the old man, rising from his chair,
and extending his hand; "you've acted like a gentleman, by Jove! like
a gentleman and a man of honour. God bless my soul! how I recollect
your father, Frank, and how like you are to him! And so you're going
to marry little Barbara! not little Barbara now, though. How time
flies! A good girl, sir; and a deuced fine girl, too, for the matter
of that. What does her aunt say to that? She meant her for much higher
game than you, young fellow. What does her aunt say? Does she know of
it?--Does Miss Lexden know of it? I'll wager there'll be 'wigs upon
the green,' as poor Dick Burke used to say, when she hears of it."

"Miss Lexden has heard of it, sir," said Churchill, smiling; "and I'm
afraid she did not receive the news very auspiciously; but we shall
endeavour to gain her consent, and if we fail--well, we must do
without it. And now I won't keep you from your paper any longer. I
thought it my duty to tell you, and having done so, I'll say good
night."

"One minute, Frank Churchill; wait one minute. I'm a queer, useless
old fellow--an old brute, I often think, for I'm not unconscious of
the strange life I lead, and the odd--but, however, that's neither
here nor there. Your father and I were boon companions--a wild,
harum-scarum chap he was--and _such_ company--and I've a regard for
you, which is strengthened by your conduct to-night. My old cousin,
Miss Lexden--well, she's an old lady, you know, and she meant Barbara
for a marquis, at least; and then old women hate to be disappointed,
you know, and she'll be savage, I've no doubt. But when you're once
married, she won't be difficult to deal with, and so far as I can help
you, I will. And now, God bless you, and good night; and--give Barbara
a kiss for me in the morning."


About the same time, another conversation on the same great topic was
going on under the same roof. Barbara had scarcely been five minutes
in her room, and had been leaning thoughtfully, with her arms upon the
window-sill, gazing out into the moonlit park, and utterly oblivious
of Parker, who was preparing the instrument of torture for her
mistress's hair, when Withers arrived with a message that Miss Lexden
wished to speak to her niece. Obedient to the summons, Barbara crossed
the landing, and found the old lady, resplendent in a dark-blue
cashmere dressing-gown, seated before her fire. Withers dismissed _pro
tem._, Miss Lexden said:

"I'll not detain you long, Barbara. I merely wished to know whether
what you said this evening about your intended marriage with Mr.
Churchill was jest or earnest."

"Thorough earnest," replied Barbara, regarding her stedfastly.

"As to marriage, I mean?" asked the old lady; "not as to a temporary
flirtation, which, _faute de mieux_, with a pleasant man in a dull
country house, is well enough, and not likely to tell against one's
interests. But as to marriage?"

"What I said before, aunt," said Barbara slowly, never dropping her
eyes, "I repeat. Mr. Churchill has done me the honour to ask me to
become his wife. I have consented, and I mean to keep my word."

"Very well," said Miss Lexden, drawing a long breath; "I only wished
to know. You are your own mistress, and control your own actions, of
course. You have made your choice, and will abide by it. I don't seek
to influence you one jot. But, recollect one thing: if I were to see
you with broken health, with broken spirits, ill-used, deserted,
starving--as is likely enough, for I know these people--I would not
lift one finger to help you, after your degradation of me. I have said
it, and you know I keep my word. That is all; we will have no quarrel,
and give no occasion for shoulder-shrugs and scandal. The sooner your
arrangements permit of your quitting my house, the better pleased I
shall be. Now, good night. Withers, I am ready now. See Miss Lexden to
her room. Good night, dear."

The old lady proffered her enamelled cheek, against which Barbara laid
the tip of her nose. And so the aunt and niece separated for the
night.



CHAPTER XV.
MOTHER AND SON.


At the drawing-room window of a house in Great Adullam Street,
Macpelah Square, in that district of London whilom known as
"Mesopotamia," a lady had been sitting from an early hour in the
afternoon until now, when twilight falls upon the neighbourhood. This,
I am aware, does not particularly fix the hour, because twilight falls
upon the Mesopotamian neighbourhood earlier than on any other with
which I am acquainted. You leave Oxford Street in a blaze of sunlight,
which bit by bit decreases as you progress through the dingy streets
and the dull, vast, second-rate squares, until when you enter upon the
confines of Great Adullam Street you find the glory of the day
departed, a yellow fog settling gloomily down, and the general aspect
suicidal. At the time of which I am speaking, the twilight had been a
settled thing for at least an hour,--it was approaching six o'clock.
The lamps were lighted, and the inhabitants of the neighbouring houses
had pulled their blinds down and settled in for the night; but still
at No. 57 the lady sat in the drawing-room window, staring out into
the yellow fog. The street lamp flickering on her showed her to be a
woman of about sixty years old, with clean-cut regular features,
intelligent but sweet expression, and with gray hair--almost
white--arranged in broad bands on either side her face. Her dress was
black silk, with a soft white-muslin cape pinned across her breast,
and on her head she wore a plain white-muslin cap with a little
crimped border. On her hands she had black-lace mittens, and she wore
a few old-fashioned but valuable rings. A glance at her would have
proclaimed her a lady to the most casual observer, a woman of taste
and refinement and sensibility to the physiognomist; and a further
study would have shown the latter deeply-indented traces of mental
anxiety and suffering.

Indeed, Eleanor Churchill's life had not been a particularly happy
one. Daughter of a country clergyman near Bath, she lost both her
parents before she was eighteen, and remained in the school where she
was being "finished" after their death, giving her services as teacher
for her board and lodging. Here she was seen and admired by Vance
Churchill, who attended the school as drawing-master; a wild young
fellow, full of talent, who worked (at intervals) like a horse, and
whose splendid method of touching-up the pupils' drawings, so as to
make them look all their own, redeemed many of his shortcomings, and
caused him to be continued in favour at Minerva House. But when he
fell in love with the pretty teacher, and muttered love to her as he
was sharpening pencil-points, and was seen by the writing-master--an
old person of seventy, who was jealous of his young _confrère_--to
hand her a note in a copy of the _Laws of Perspective_, and on being
taxed with his crime acknowledged it and gloried in it, it became
impossible for the Miss Inderwicks, as the girls called them, or the
Misses Inderwick, as they called themselves, to stand it any longer.
So both the delinquents were discharged; and having nothing to live
upon, they at once got married, and came up to London. Once there,
Vance Churchill set to work with a will: he drew on wood, he
lithographed, he drew languishing heads for the music-shops, and
caricatures political and social; he finished several elaborate
sketches in water-colour and in oil; but he sold scarcely any thing.
There was not that demand for art in those days there is now, and
consequently not that chance of livelihood for its possessors; and
Vance Churchill and his young wife were very near to starvation
indeed, and had buried one little girl-baby, who, had luxuries been
provided for her, might have lived, when a small picture of Lady
Macbeth, which had found a place in the Somerset-House Exhibition, was
seen and purchased by Sir Jasper Wentworth, our old friend Sir
Marmaduke's uncle and his predecessor in the baronetcy. From that time
Vance Churchill's fortune was looked upon as made; for Sir Jasper, who
had a nice eye for art, took him up, introduced him right and left,
and got him commissions without end. Young Marmaduke, a free-spoken,
jolly young man, coeval with the artist, took an immense fancy to him,
and was never happy save in his society; money was, if not plentiful,
always to be had,--and Eleanor Churchill was more wretched than she
had ever been in the days of her direst poverty.

For though Vance Churchill could struggle against poverty, neglect,
and hardship, he could not withstand ease, comparative wealth, and the
attractions of society. He was eminently a "social" man; a big, jolly
jovial fellow, with bright blue eyes, large brown whiskers, and a
splendid set of teeth. He had capital lungs, and sang a capital song
in a deep baritone voice, and he had nice feeling in his singing,
which so seldom accompanies correct musical execution; but when Vance
Churchill sang "Farewell, my trim-built Wherry," or "Tom Bowling," all
the female portion of his audience was in tears, while the men felt
husky and uncomfortable. He became the rage in a certain set of fast
young men about town, and in that pleasant Upper Bohemia wherein so
many literary men, artists, and actors of that day used to spend their
time; not a Bohemia of taprooms and sanded floors, of long clay-pipes
and spittoons and twopennyworths of gin, nor of Haymarket night-houses
and drunken trulls, nor of blind-hooky and _vingt-et-un_ parties in
dingy chambers; but a Bohemia of green-rooms and _coulisses_, of
sparkling little suppers afterwards at Vauxhall, where wit would flow
as fast as the champagne, where jokes would be more telling than the
hot punch, and whence the mad party would not unfrequently dash away
in their carriages to breakfast at the Star and Garter at Richmond, or
to drink fresh milk and eat fresh butter in a Hampstead farmhouse. A
Bohemia, the denizens of which always would have good clothes and fine
linen on their backs, gold watches in their pockets, and guineas in
their purses, let who would pay for it; and who roared with laughter
at the astonishment of the world at their vagaries, increasing their
eccentricities, and saying of the world as Balzac's actress said,
"_Qu'importe? donne leur des grimaces pour leur argent, et vivons
heureux!_"

Petted and fêted by the style of society in which he revelled, Vance
Churchill had yet the grace not to attempt to force his wife to join
it; indeed he had good reason for keeping her away. For the ladies
liked Vance Churchill vastly, and Vance returned the compliment, and
behaved just as though there were no moral and legal ties binding him
to any one in particular. He loved his wife sincerely all the time,
and in his quiet moments would tear his hair, and stamp upon the
ground, and curse his own weakness and folly, and his treatment of
that angel who sat patiently at home attending to and teaching their
little boy, and who never reproached him save by her pale face and
broken spirit; and then, as evening came round, Marmaduke Wentworth
would call for him, or the servant would bring him a dainty little
note, written in a very scrawly hand, which she would hold in the
corner of her dingy apron, and which Vance would seize from her, and
after reading it he would sally out, and commence his vagaries _da
capo_.

Preaching before Mary Queen of Scots and her maids of honour, old John
Knox is reported to have said: "Oh, how beautiful, how charming, how
pleasurable would be this life, _if it would only last!_" These were
Mr. Vance Churchill's sentiments, but he soon found that it would not
last. What the writers of those ghastly impositions, bacchanalian
ditties, call "wine and women," or "beauty and the bowl," don't agree
with hard work; and if you go to bed at five a.m. after orgies, you
will not be able to paint your pictures next day, or to write your
book, or mould your clay, or study your part. It is astonishing how
slow people are to believe this, and how, year after year, we see
friends and acquaintances still determined, not merely upon burning
the candle at both ends, but lighting any bit of wick that may
protrude in the middle, and quite astonished when they see the
flame flicker and feel the whole affair about to collapse. Vance
Churchill had plenty of commissions for pictures from first-rate
people,--noblemen, connoisseurs, and patrons of art,--but he did not
give himself the chances of painting them: his brain was never clear
enough for conception, his hand never steady enough for execution; and
the result was, that his financial affairs became desperate. His noble
patrons never dreamed of parting with their money until the work was
done--and in truth not often then; and there were in those days no
middle-men, no bland picture-dealers, to advance large sums on
untouched canvases; and even if there had been, they would have been
far too wise to let Vance Churchill have any money on the strength of
"working it out." So the money dwindled and dwindled, and then Vance
began borrowing of his friends until he found averted faces and
buttoned pockets, and then he faded straight away out of his grand
society, and took lodgings at Chelsea, and tried once again to work
for his livelihood. He painted one picture, which showed but few
traces of his old force and promise. It was plain that the mischief
was done; and then Vance Churchill, after steadily drinking for four
days, was found one morning with an empty laudanum-phial in his
clenched fingers, and a heartbreaking letter to his wife by his side.

Then Eleanor Churchill--who, while perfectly conscious of her
husband's frailties and imperfections, had never ceased worshipping
him--fairly broke down; and had she not been attended by a skilful
physician, and perseveringly nursed night and day by the girl who had
been "scrub" at Miss Inderwick's school, and had left when Eleanor
left to follow her fortunes, little Frank would have been motherless
as well as fatherless. As it was, she recovered, and went away, as
soon as she was able to move, to a little fishing-village in Devon, of
which an old friend of her father's was vicar. Her income was a mere
pittance; contributions from old friends of her husband's family and
her own grudgingly yielded; but her expenses were trifling, and the
old parson took the boy's education under his own charge, and gave him
an excellent classical groundwork. The vicar died when Frank was about
fifteen, and left the whole of his little savings--some seven hundred
pounds--to Eleanor Churchill, "for the furtherance of her son's
education;" and then the widow carried out her long-cherished plan of
sending her son to some foreign university, where, in addition to his
Classics, he could perfect himself in some of the modern languages.
Frank was absent at Leipzig nearly four years, during which period he
paid two flying visits to England, at the second of which he was
introduced to his godfather, Sir Marmaduke Wentworth, who had
succeeded to the family title on his uncle's death. Frank little
thought that one of Sir Marmaduke's first acts on coming into his
property had been to settle two hundred a year on Mrs. Churchill for
her life; he would hear of no refusal. "It is merely an act of
reparation," said he; "and but a scanty one. It was my folly, my bad
example, that led poor Vance astray; and I should never rest if I
thought that those he left behind him were in want, while I had
means." But one condition was attached to this gift, and that was that
Frank should never know of it. "I recollect Vance's spirit in his best
days," Marmaduke said; "and if the boy is like him, he'd fling my
money at my head."

After taking his degree, Frank was fortunate enough to render himself
so agreeable to young Fortinbrass, the son of the great Indian
pale-ale brewer, that that young plutocrat insisted on taking him with
him as half-secretary, half-bear-leader, in his tour through Europe
and the East; and as they stopped at every place where there was any
thing to be done, and a good many at which there was nothing to be
done, and as they had the usual share of quarantine, and as
Fortinbrass took ill at Smyrna and had to lay up for four months, it
was, full three years before Frank returned to England. Then he
determined to settle down and get to work in earnest; and after a few
rebuffs and discouragements, philosophically encountered, he made his
mark in the press world, and obtained constant and fairly remunerative
employment. Then the house in Great Adullam Street was taken, as handy
to the _Statesman_ office, Frank's head-quarters, and furnished partly
with the best of the Devonshire furniture, and partly with odds and
ends bought cheap at sales, for the joint income was but small, and
Eleanor had a wholesome horror of debt. And then the full tide of
Eleanor Churchill's happiness flowed in: she had loved her husband;
she had worshipped his memory in her holy of holies; she had preserved
his image, and had bowed down before it; with his death vanished all
his shortcomings, but his better qualities--the early affection,
kindness, and chivalry--were remembered. But now that her son was with
her, the old image faded and rapidly paled. Here was one uniting the
excellences of his father with virtues which his father never
possessed, tempering high spirits and ardent affection with
earnestness, industry, and honour; no mawkish sentimentalist, no
prudish Pharisee; a man of passions and impulse, yet a Christian and a
gentleman, and above all--her own boy. That was the touchstone; that
was the grand secret. He had his flirtations, of course; his
intrigues, perhaps; but he was her son, her companion, and she was his
honoured mother, but she was also his trusted friend. All his hopes
and fears, all the fun and gossip of the day, were brought by him to
her; he talked to her on books and art and social questions; he read
to her and with her; he advised her on her own reading, and he brought
home with him men of European fame and name, and introduced her to
them, and made much of her before them. _If it would only last!_
Beware of that, Eleanor Churchill! Some one must reign after you, and
with her uprising must be your downsetting. It was ever so. Ask not
why tarry the wheels of his chariot, for the news that he brings with
him will wring and torture your fond, trusting heart.

The old lady's face, which had grown somewhat worn and rigid in
watching, brightened as she heard the sound of wheels in the distance,
and as she saw a hansom cab come plunging and rattling over the uneven
stones, to be finally pulled up with a jerk before the door.

As Frank Churchill sprang out, he looked up to the window and waved
his hand. In a minute he had run upstairs and was in his mother's
arms.

"Why, my boy, how late you are!" said Mrs. Churchill, as she relaxed
her embrace. "You must be famished for your dinner, my poor fellow!"

"Excursion-trains, mother, your favourite doctrine of health and
change for your old _protégé_ the working-man, you know, have
contributed to your anxiety and my delay. We were stopped at Forest
Hill for a train full of people, with drooping hats and feathers and
banners and bands and general tomfoolery, who had been having a day at
the Crystal Palace."

"Well, so long as you're here and all safe, that's all the old
mother cares about, Frank. Dinner, Lucy, now, at once; Mr. Frank's
half-starved. Let me look at you, my boy, and see whether the trip's
done you any good. Eh, you're certainly tanned, and a little stouter,
Frank, I think."

"Perhaps so, mother, though I've been taking more exercise than usual
too. Any news? I saw a pile of letters on the study-table as I rushed
past, but I didn't stop to look at them. Any body been?"

"Mr. Harding was here yesterday, to see if you had returned from among
the 'swells,' as he called them. I think he's a little envious of your
going into such society; eh, Frank?"

"Not a bit of it, mother; nothing would take old George Harding beyond
his own set. But he's afraid of my getting my head turned."

"No fear of that in my boy," said Mrs. Churchill somewhat gravely;
"there is the difference between you and your poor father, Frank. And
now, how is Sir Marmaduke? and what sort of people were staying there?
and was he kind and friendly to you? and how did you enjoy yourself?"

As Mrs. Churchill finished speaking, Lucy the old servant entered the
room and announced dinner. She was a tall gaunt woman, with a hard
unpleasant face, which did not soften much when Churchill, looking up,
said, "Well, Lucy, back at home, once again, you see."

"Yes, I see, Master Frank," the woman replied coldly. "We've been
waiting dinner until we must be faint, I should think."

"Bat it wasn't Mr. Frank's fault, Lucy," said Mrs. Churchill; "the
train was late. Now, my boy, come; you must be starved in earnest;"
and they went downstairs.

"We've not got such a dinner for you as you've been having lately,
maybe," said Lucy, as she uncovered the dishes. "But you can't be
always among lords and ladies, Master Frank."

"Lucy, you silly thing!" said Mrs. Churchill, half-laughing, but
looking half-ashamed.

"I've not been among them at all, Lucy, for the matter of that," said
Churchill good-humouredly, though his brow began to cloud.

"Well," said the woman, leisurely handing the dishes, "it's not for
the want of wishing. Here we are, left at home, in the hot autumn
weather; while you--"

"Lucy!" exclaimed Mrs. Churchill.

"Be good enough to leave the room," said Churchill; "this minute!" he
said, bringing his hand heavily down on the table, as the woman
lingered, looking towards her mistress. "Why, mother darling, what is
this?" he asked, when they were alone; "that woman's tongue was always
free, and her manner always familiar; but this is quite a new
experience."

"It is, my child," said poor Mrs. Churchill; "I don't know how to
excuse her, except that it is all done out of excess of affection for
me, and--"

"That's quite enough excuse for me, mother," said Churchill, rising,
and kissing her. "There, now we'll change the conversation;" and they
talked merrily enough on indifferent topics throughout dinner.

When the cloth was removed, and after Frank had produced his old
meerschaum, and had drawn up his chair to the newly-lighted bit of
fire, he said to his mother, "I've some news to tell you, mum."

"Tell it, my boy!" said the old lady, settling her gold-rimmed glasses
on her nose, and beginning to make play with a portentous piece of
knitting; "what is it, Frank?"

"Well, it's news that concerns both of us," said Churchill, slowly
puffing at his pipe, "but me more especially. The fact is, mum--I'm
going to be married."

It had come at last! that news which she had dreaded so many years
past, that news which spoke to her of separation from all she loved,
which heralded to her the commencement of a new existence--had come at
last! Her heart seemed to give one great bound within her breast as
the words fell upon her ears, and her eyes were for an instant dimmed;
then recovering herself, she smiled and said, "To be married? that is
news indeed, my boy!"

"Ay, mother, my turn has come at last. I thought I had settled down
into a regular old bachelor, but I believe that is just the state of
mind in which one is most liable to infection. However that may be, I
have caught it, and am in for it, as badly as any young lad of
twenty."

Mrs. Churchill had risen from her seat, and crossed the room to Frank.
Putting her hand lightly on his head, she then flung her arms round
him and kissed him warmly, saying, "God bless you, my darling boy, and
grant you happiness! God bless you, my son, my own son!" and she
fairly broke down, and the tears coursed down her cheeks.

"Why, mum!" said Churchill, gently caressing her; "why, mum!"
continued he, stroking her soft gray hair with one hand, while the
other was wound round her. "You must not do this, mum. And here's a
mother for you! I declare she has never yet asked who or what the lady
is!"

"That will come presently, darling; just now I am only thinking
of you--thinking how different it--how, after so long--how
strange--there, come now, and tell me all about it;" and with one
great effort Mrs. Churchill composed herself, and sat down by her
son's side to hear his story.


That story lasted far into the night. Frank told of all his
hesitation; of his determination not to propose; of the accident that
brought about the great result of his happiness; and of the manner in
which the affair was viewed by old Miss Lexden. He then said that he
and Barbara were determined upon getting married at once, and that he
had come up to town principally with the view of looking out some
lodgings which he could take in the neighbourhood for them to return
to after their honeymoon. His mother listened patiently throughout,
with her calm, earnest eyes fixed upon his face, and only now and then
commenting in a low tone; but when he finished, she laid her hand on
his and said quietly:

"You will bring your bride _here_, Frank, and I will go into the
lodgings. Henceforth this house is yours, my boy! You are the head of
our family now, and I--so long as I'm near you and can see you from
time to time, what more do I want? So long as you are happy, I am
happy, and--"

"But you don't imagine, mother, I'm going to turn you out, and--"

"There's no turning out in the case, my darling. Lucy and I could not
occupy the house by ourselves, and we shall be much better in
lodgings. Besides, we won't have any one say that you had not a house
of your own to bring your wife to. I shall see her soon, Frank? Do you
think she'll like me, my darling? When she knows how I love you, I am
sure she will; and yet I am not certain of that. You'll come and see
me often, won't you, Frank? and--oh, my boy, my own darling boy!" and
she fell on his neck and wept bitterly.



CHAPTER XVI.
"FOR BETTER, FOR WORSE."


When Churchill returned to Bissett, he found that a considerable
change had taken place in the aspect of affairs there. Beresford and
Lyster had departed, and old Miss Lexden was on the point of starting
that very afternoon, her natty boxes in their leather cases lining the
hall; for the old lady was calmly implacable, and never altered one
jot of her original determination. After his talk with Frank
Churchill, Sir Marmaduke had determined on using his best efforts
towards restoring peace, and setting affairs on an amicable footing;
so the next morning, when he was closeted with Major Stone discussing
various points of business, the old gentleman gradually wore round to
the matter perplexing him, took Stone into his confidence, and
finished by commanding the major immediately to seek a conference with
Miss Lexden, to inform her of Sir Marmaduke's views, and use his best
efforts to bring her at least to a compromise. The gallant warrior
received the commission with a very ill grace. He hinted that to look
after his friend's rents and tenants, farm and live-stock, servants
and money-matters, was all well enough; but to have to collogue with a
parcel of old cats who--however, since it was to be done, he supposed
he must do it; and he would "tackle" the old lady at once. But the old
lady carried far too many guns for this blundering half-pay Major, and
before he had been in her company five minutes made him feel
exceedingly sorry that he had asked for the interview. Miss Lexden
received him in the pleasantest manner, talked lightly of the weather,
praised in the highest terms Major Stone's admirable management of Sir
Marmaduke's estate, could not imagine how Sir Marmaduke would get on
without his "other self;" and then, when Stone's flattered vanity led
him to disclose the real object of his visit, Miss Lexden pulled up
short, and in her most dignified and icy manner declared that "these
were family matters, which allowed of no intervention by a third
person, especially one entirely unconnected with either side, and
therefore incapable of appreciating the delicacies of the position;
what, for instance, would Sir Marmaduke have thought of her if she had
sent Withers to enter into negotiations!" and thus having completely
upset the Major, Miss Lexden summarily dismissed him.

When he returned to his principal, and gave him a full account of his
treatment, the old gentleman was very wrath, and took a speedy
opportunity of waiting personally upon Miss Lexden.

After exchanging ordinary civilities, their conversation was short and
sharp.

"Susan! you're behaving sillily, worse than sillily, in this matter of
Barbara and Frank Churchill; and I've come to tell you of it!"

"It's not the first time, Marmaduke, that you have come to me on a
fool's errand."

First blood to Miss Lexden the old man thought of the days of his
courtship, when he owed but little to Susan Lexden's assistance, and
winced.

"Thank you! You're kind and generous as ever! But it was not to talk
of bygone times that I came here. Take my word, Susan, you're wrong in
your treatment of this business."

"As how, pray?"

"You've played for a big stake with Barbara, and she won't have it!
She's fallen in love, in real desperate love; no make-believe humbug,
but regular love!"

Miss Lexden shrugged her shoulders, raised her eyebrows, and tattooed
impatiently with her foot.

"God knows she's to be envied," said the old gentleman; "how many
girls are there, do you think, who are booked for marriage before next
spring, who would give their ears to feel to their future husbands as
Barbara does to hers? It's not about her I'm come to preach, it's
about you. You're behaving like an idiot, Susan,--worse than an
idiot,--in thus refusing your countenance to the match."

"You're growing horribly coarse in your language, Marmaduke, and unfit
for me to listen to. But since you've broached the topic, hear me: I
shall leave Bissett at once; and once gone, I shall never see Barbara
again. I shall not give her one sixpence for her _trousseau_, or make
one addition to her wardrobe. I will not allow her a penny, and I will
strive to forget that I ever knew there was such a person on earth.
She has grievously disappointed me, and been selfish and ungrateful;
but I shall not cast her off, or do any thing melodramatic or
nonsensical; I shall simply ignore her existence, and live on as
though she had never been."

Sir Marmaduke retired, boiling over with rage. An hour afterwards he
sent for Barbara to the library and placing a cheque for 100_l_. in
her hands, told her he had arranged with Mrs. Vincent to accompany her
to town and get the requisite articles for her _trousseau_ at once.
Her aunt was about to leave, he said; but Mrs. Vincent had promised to
stop and act _chaperon_, and Miss Townshend would be bridesmaid. Let
the wedding take place at once, since both the young people wished it,
and let it be from Bissett. There would be no fuss, no tomfoolery; but
no one should be able to say in future that there was any thing
underhand or secret about her marriage, or that it was not properly
countenanced by some of the family. If her aunt chose to be an old
fool, that was her look-out, not his. And then the old gentleman
kissed her on the forehead, and told her that while he lived she and
Frank should never want a friend.

Miss Lexden left on the evening of the day on which Churchill
returned, without seeing him or taking farewell of any of the
household. Mr. Townshend would have liked to go too, but his daughter
strongly objected, determining to remain with Barbara; a determination
in which she was well supported by Mr. Schröder, who had taken great
interest in Barbara's "love-affair" ever since it had been made
public--as apparently seeing therein an excess of romance which might
cast a halo over his own somewhat meagre and prosaic wooing. Mrs.
Vincent, too, entered into the affair with great spirit, principally
incited thereto by her hatred of old Miss Lexden, who had been
particularly rude about Mr. Vincent's little gastronomical tastes; and
Sir Marmaduke seemed for a time to have eschewed his eccentricity, and
to have become perfectly humanised. Of course Major Stone was in great
force, rallying the lovers with much subtle humour, and looking after
all the preparations for the wedding with as much interest as though
he were a person principally concerned.

The day arrived, and the weather did its very noblest for the young
people. The sky was cloudless, and the sun brilliant, if not warm.
Barbara was in the finest health and spirits, and never looked more
lovely than in her plain white silk dress and Brussels lace--the
latter an old family relic. The wedding took place at the little
parish-church, where three bells rang a somewhat abbreviated but merry
peal, while the villagers thronged the churchyard and did proper
obeisance and gratulation to a party coming from "the Grange."
Afterwards there was a breakfast, at which no one save the clergyman
and the house-inmates were present, where there was only one speech of
four words,--"God bless them both!" from Sir Marmaduke; and then,
kisses and hand-shakings done, they departed. As Churchill shook hands
with the old gentleman, the latter left an envelope in his godson's
hands, which, on opening, he found to contain a banknote for fifty
pounds, with the words "For the honeymoon" in the envelope. Nor had
Barbara been without her presents. On the previous evening she had
received a packet containing a necklace of ivy-leaves in dead
deep-coloured gold, with earrings to match, and in the case Captain
Lyster's card, with "With all good wishes" written on it; while a
splendid enamel and diamond bracelet came to her as the joint gift of
Mr. Schröder and Alice Townshend.


While the happy couple were honeymooning it in the north of Devon,
unconsciously standing as capital models of posed figures to several
artists who had lingered beyond most of their fraternity in those
pleasant quarters, old Mrs. Churchill, having engaged a tolerably neat
lodging not far from her old abode, devoted herself and some of her
savings to the embellishment of the house in Great Adullam Street,
which was newly painted outside, and revived within to the extent of
new carpeting and a general polishing of the furniture. Intelligence
of these triumphs had been duly conveyed in letters to Frank, who in
return, thanked his mother, and sent a postscript by Barbara, who,
addressing her as "her dear mother," begged her not to over-fatigue
herself in their service; which little message, signed "Your
affectionate daughter, B. C.," brought tears of delight into the old
lady's eyes, and had the effect of causing her to redouble her
exertions. At last the day for their return arrived, and the rain,
which had been threatening for nearly a week past, broke through the
yellow canopy of fog hanging over London, and came down heroically. It
was not favourable weather in which to make one's first acquaintance
with Great Adullam Street, which required a good deal of sunlight to
do away with its normal ghastliness; and as the evening twilight,
drear and dim, came rolling up, Eleanor Churchill, sitting at the
window of her lodgings on the look-out for the cab, which must pass
her door, felt her heart sink within her with a strange, indefinable
sensation of dread. Her delicacy had prevented her being present on
her new daughter's first arrival at her home; but she now almost
regretted that she had not gone round to welcome her among her new and
strange surroundings. Great Adullam Street very seldom had a cab
rattling over its ill-set stones; there was a large gate at one end
(as is frequently the case in the neighbourhood), where every public
vehicle was stopped, and sent by a different route, at the mandate of
a very sullen gate-keeper, unless it happened to be bound to some
house in the street. So that when Mrs. Churchill heard the creaking
gates open, followed by the noise of wheels, she knew that her
children had arrived, and looking out, saw by the lamplight Barbara's
handsome face at the cab-window. "Handsome, very handsome and
patrician-looking," thought the ow lady; "but what a strange look of
bewilderment on it!"

The cab stopped, and Churchill jumped out and handed Barbara into the
house. Lucy, old Mrs. Churchill's servant, stood within the door, and
gave a very grim bow as Barbara passed; the two newly-hired servants
were smirking in the passage. Frank hurried past them, and led Barbara
into the little dining-room. She was very tired with her journey, and
at once sat down.

"Who was that horrid person, Frank, at the door,--with the strange
sour look, I mean?"

"Oh, my mother's servant, old Lucy; been with her since her girlhood.
She has not prepossessing manners, but she's a faithful creature.
You'll make much of her, dearest."

"Nothing, I should hope; she's too horrible! What a disagreeable
colour this paper is, and what a horribly prim carpet! I'll take off
my things, Frank, at once, and come down to dinner; I'm rather faint."

Churchill lit a candle, and preceded her up the stairs--at the carpet
on which Barbara made a despairing shrug--to the best bedroom, erst
his mother's, where stood the heavy four-post bed, the old-fashioned
mahogany wardrobe, the dingy pictures of sacred subjects--all the
furniture just as he recollected it for years. It was rather a ghastly
room, certainly; and when Frank had left her, to go down and pay the
cabman and see about the luggage, she glanced nervously round, and
burying her face in her hands, burst into a flood of tears.

Thus her husband found her when he returned. He a once rushed up to
her, and asked her what was the matter; but she replied that she was a
little over-fatigued, and would be better after the dinner and rest.

"That's well," said Frank cheerfully; "you must not give way now,
darling; recollect you're _at home_."

At which words, strange though it may appear, Barbara's sobs were
redoubled.



CHAPTER XVII.
MINING OPERATIONS.


No sooner was the Churchills' wedding safely over than all further
reason for keeping on the establishment at Bissett Grange was at an
end, and the party broke up at once. Sir Marmaduke went straight
to Paris, and took up his quarters at Meurice's, according to his
annual custom, to the disgust of Gumble, who detested all things
"forring" with that pious horror always to be found in the British
serving-class. The old gentleman knew Paris better perhaps than he
knew London, and was thoroughly well known in the best circles of
Parisian society; his eccentricity, _quelque chose bizarre_, which
distinguished him from the ordinary run of English visitors, made him
popular with the young people, while his perfectly polished manner to
women, the unmistakable not-to-be-acquired high-breeding of the true
gentleman, combined with his ready wit and biting sarcasm, both
expressed in perfect French, rendered him a favourite with his
coevals. To the Faubourg and its inhabitants, however, his visits were
principally confined; he had never yielded allegiance to the Imperial
Court, and used to speak of it and its august head in a very
disparaging manner. "Gad, sir!" he would say in the smoke-room of
Meurice's, after his return from the Français or from some grand
reception,--"Gad, sir! I've a very low opinion of your what d'ye call
him?--your Emperor! met him often when he was in England,--at Gore
House, and two or three other places; always found him a silent,
moody, stupid fellow--that's it! a stupid fellow, by Jove!--tries to
make out that he holds his tongue to think the more; like the monkey,
you know. My belief is, that he's so deuced quiet because he's got
nothing to say. And his surroundings, my dear fellow! his
surroundings, awful! De Rossignol, who was a billiard-marker or a
singer at a _café chantant_, or something of that kind; Oltenhaus, the
financier, who is a Polish Jew, of the worst stamp; and O'Malley, the
Marshal, a mere Irish adventurer! That is not the sort of stuff for
Courts, sir!--the sweepings of the Boulevard theatres, the Juden-Gasse
at Frankfort, and the long-sword, saddle, bridle, whack-fol-de-rol,
and all the rest of it, of the bold dragoon! _Vieille école bonne
école_ is a good maxim, by Jove! They mayn't be clever; but they're
gentle-people at least, and that's not saying a little for them!"

So the old gentleman growled to the little select circle round him,
enjoying himself meanwhile in the highest degree. Perhaps one of the
most gratifying results of his sojourn in Paris he could not have
explained, though at the same time he was, however unconsciously,
keenly sensible of it; it was that he had Gumble at his mercy. So
desolate, so bored, so completely used up was that great man, that he
looked forward to the time of his master's retiring for the night, and
getting up in the morning, as the only two happy periods in his
Parisian existence. All the toilet-ceremonies, before held by him in
deep disgust, were now lingered over with the utmost fondness, and
every scrap of gossip was brought forward in the chance of its
provoking a discussion, and protracting the period when the valet
should be again relegated to the company of the French and German
waiters and pert ladies'-maids, who scoffed at Gumble's old-fashioned
ways and stories. Of course there were other gentlemen's gentlemen
installed with their masters at Meurice's; but they were all much
younger than Gumble; and when their "governors" were not expected home
till late, beguiled the weary hours with pleasant dances at the Salle
Valentino, or suchlike resorts. But Gumble was a little too old, and
a great deal too insular, to enjoy these recreations. Once indeed he
had been persuaded into attending one of these public balls; but the
sight of his deep white choker, straight-brushed whiskers aid solemn
old mug, had such an effect on the dancers,--Jules utterly missing his
great bound in the _cavalier seul_, and Eulalie failing to touch her
_vis-à-vis_ shoulder with her toe in the _en avant deux_,--that he was
requested to confine his _tristesse_ to some other place; and as he
was really not amused, he willingly consented. So, after that, he
remained at Meurice's, generally sitting solitary in a crowd of
chattering French servants, beguiling the time sometimes by
speculating how long his master would live, and what he would leave
him at his death; whether a greengrocer's or a public-house would be
the most profitable business to undertake with Sir Marmaduke's legacy;
whether he could get any thing for the recipe of some wonderful
boot-varnish which he alone possessed; sometimes by reading a shilling
novel of fashionable life, or nodding dreamily over the _Times_ of the
previous day. One night, as he was attending his master to bed, he
brought forth a special bit of news which he had reserved.

"House full here, sir," said he, as he was mixing the old gentleman's
evening draught.

"Ah!" growled Sir Marmaduke. "God bless my soul, pack of people come
over by the rail devilish cheap, and all that sort of thing. Poor dear
old diligences kept the place dear; that was one comfort. Full, eh?
Any body I know?"

"Capting Currer, from the Forring Office, come in to-night, sir; saw
he had a white shammy-leather bag with him, sir--"

"Ah! Queen's messenger off to-morrow morning to Smyrna or Kamschatka,
or some infernal place. Any body else?"

"Miss Lexden come, sir; but we was full here, just full; so she have
gone next door to the Windsor, sir. Only Withers with her, sir; no one
else. Must miss Miss Barbara, sir--Mrs. Churchill, sir--I shouldn't
think, sir."

"What the devil business is it of yours? What right have you to think
about it? There now; be off! Good night."

"Bless my soul!" said the old gentleman, when he was left alone. "I'm
deuced glad Susan didn't get in here, or she'd have led me a pretty
life. I suppose I must call on her to-morrow morning. Deuced
unpleasant 'talk there'll be--Barbara, and all the rest of it. Poor
girl! Susan--too hard--come round at last;" and musing in this way Sir
Marmaduke fell asleep.

When, in the course of the next day, he called upon Miss Lexden, he
found that lady in the highest spirits. "I knew you were here, Sir
Marmaduke," said she. "I've had Cabanel here;--you recollect little
Cabanel? Spanish-looking little fellow with black eyes; was an attaché
when the Walewskis were in London; and he saw you at the duchess's
last week. You're going there to-morrow of course? How well you look!
that's the climate, you know, and the style of life; so much better
than in that wretched old island of ours."

"What news do you bring from that wretched old island of ours?" asked
the old gentleman.

"News? none; not a scrap, positively not a scrap; nobody in town, not
a soul. I didn't wait there above a day, but came through at once."

"You did not stop long enough to see the Churchills, I suppose?"

"The--eh? I beg your pardon, I did not catch the name."

"The Churchills."

"Churchills!" echoed Miss Lexden, with the greatest deliberation;
"Churchills! I have not the least idea who you mean."

"Ah!" said Sir Marmaduke, through his closed teeth. "No, of course
not; you don't recollect your own brother's child, even when there's
no one in town. If it had been in the season, I could not have
attempted to suggest any thing so horribly low; but I thought perhaps,
that when there was not a soul in town, as you said, you might have
thought of the girl who is of your blood, and who has been, as it
were, your daughter for ten years." And the old gentleman stamped his
stick on the floor, and looked fiercely across at his cousin.

"O--h!" said Miss Lexden, perfectly calmly. "I didn't follow you at
first; now I see. It seems strange to me that a man with your
knowledge of the world, Marmaduke Wentworth,--more especially with
your knowledge of me, derived in times past, when you had full
opportunity of making yourself acquainted with my character,--should
have imagined that I should for an instant have altered in my purpose
as regards my niece Barbara. What is there to induce me to swerve one
atom from--"

"What?" interrupted Sir Marmaduke; "What? Old age, Susan Lexden! You
and I are two old people, who ought to be thankful to have been left
here so long; and not to bear malice and all sorts of miserable hatred
in our old age, more especially to our own kindred. You're vexed with
Barbara, not unnaturally, as you'd set your heart upon seeing her
married to a rich man; but that's over now, and so make the best of
it. Her husband's a good fellow and a gentleman; so what more do you
want?"

"What more!" exclaimed the old lady; "what more! Freedom from this
style of conversation; permission to go my own way without comment or
impertinent suggestion. I use the adjective advisedly; I claim my
right to visit those whom I like, to ignore those whom I dislike,
without such remarks from those who I distinctly say have no right to
make them. And, however old I may be, I am not yet sufficiently in my
dotage to show affection, kindness, no, nor even recognition, to those
who have wilfully disregarded my desires."

So Sir Marmaduke retired worsted from the conflict, and contented
himself with writing a letter to Major Stone, bidding that worthy:
take the first opportunity of a visit to town to ascertain how
Churchill and Barbara were getting on.

     *     *     *     *     *

Mr. Beresford, after leaving Bissett, went for a short visit to a
bachelor friend with a shooting-box in Norfolk; and after enjoying
some excellent sport, and nearly boring himself to death, in the
company of his host and a few hard-drinking sporting squires of the
neighbourhood, returned to town--to his lodgings in South Audley
Street, and to his daily routine of life. He did not at all dislike
London in the autumn, when he had no calls to make; when he could wear
out his old clothes; could smoke in the streets at any hour without
loss of dignity; could get a little quiet reading and a little quiet
play-going; and need not fear the admonitory missives of duns, who
concluded that all their customers were, or ought to be, out of town
at that dull season. Moreover, he had not spent all of the last two
hundred pounds he had borrowed, and had received his October quarter's
salary; so that, on the whole, he was in very good case, and came
smiling radiantly into Simnel's room on the first morning after his
return. Mr. Simnel, as usual, had a pile of papers before him; but he
pushed them aside at Beresford's entrance; rose up, welcomed him; and
placing his back against the mantelpiece, at once entered into
conversation.

"Well, Mr. Commissioner," he commenced; "so you've got back to the
hive, eh? and now I suppose you mean to remain and let one of the
other hard-worked members of the Board have a little rest, eh?"

"Yes," replied Beresford; "I'm a fixture now for a long time; I must
take to the collar, and stick to it; but you, old fellow,--do you mean
to say you've been here all this blessed time?"

"I've not moved away yet," said Simnel; "some one must do the work,
you know," he added with a meaning grin.

"Yes, I knew, of course; and a deuced hard grind you've had of it. But
you'll go away now, I suppose?"

"No; I shall run down to Leicestershire and get a little hunting next
month perhaps  that is, if I can get away; and I might take a
fortnight in Paris at Christmas, just to avoid the 'God bless yous!'
and 'Happy years!' and other jackass congratulations, which I hate and
abominate."

"Genial creature!" said Beresford, regarding him with great
complacency  "what's the news?"

"That's just what I should ask you," retorted Simnel; "there's no news
here. Sir Hickory has been to the Lakes, and 'my lady' was much
pleased with Ullswater; which is more, I should think, than Ullswater
was with 'my lady,' always supposing Ullswater to have any taste. Old
Peck has slept as much as usual but has not devoted as much time as he
generally does to his get-up, and has consequently been rather red and
rusty about his beard. O'Scanlon has been dying for your return, that
he may get away; and the men in the Office are just the same as ever.
Oh, by the way, I see that marriage has come off?"

"Which marriage?"

"That man Churchill, who was staying with you at old Wentworth's, has
married that dashing girl--what was her name--?--Lexden!"

"Yes; and the _other_ marriage has come off. Old Schröder is one flesh
now with Miss Townshend; that's a nice thing to think of, isn't it?"

"Ay, I heard of that too; saw it in the paper of course; but beyond
that, one of the young fellows here, Pringle, had cards; he's a
connexion, or something of the sort."

"Yes; they've taken a thundering big house in Saxe-Coburg Square,--in
the new South-Kensington district, you know,--and are coming out
heavily. There's a dinner there on Thursday, to which I'm asked; and a
reception afterwards. It's a bad time of year; but there _may_ be some
new fillies trotted out, you know."

"Ah! you've done nothing more in that matter, I suppose? no one on
hand just now! no combination of money and beauty, as Jack Palmer
says, when he rides with Schwarzchild into the City?"

"None! I've had no chance; but I should think this wouldn't be a bad
opening. They are a tremendously well-tinned set at Schröder's; and
he's safe to ask no women who are not enormously ingotted. With such
girls, unaccustomed to any thing but what was Paddington and is now
Tyburnia, one might have a chance, for they've seen nothing decent
yet, you know. Your stock-brokering gent is a hopeless beast!" And Mr.
Beresford shrugged his shoulders, and then looked down at his feet, as
though Capel Court lay beneath them.

"You're going to the dinner?" asked Simnel.

"Going, my dear fellow! if you had been staying for the last month, as
I have, with Jim Coverdale, you wouldn't ask the question. No better
fellow than Jim breathes, and there's always capital sport to be got
at his place; but the cooking is something indescribably atrocious.
One always feels inclined, when he asks you what you'd like for
dinner, to use the old _mot_, and say, '_Chez vous, monsieur, on
mange, mais on ne dîne pas_.' After a month's experience of
Coverdale's cook, I am looking forward with eager anticipation to the
performances of such an artist as Schröder will probably employ."

"I should think," said Mr. Simnel, after a minute's pause--"I should
think it probable that Mr. Townshend will be there."

"First dinner after his daughter's marriage," said Beresford. "Duty,
by Jove Of course he will."

"If he is there, I want you to do me a favour," said Simnel, quietly.

"And that is--?" asked Beresford, in whose ears the word 'favour'
always rang with a peculiar knell.

"A very slight one, and involving very little trouble to you; else,
you may take your oath, I know you too well to expect you'd grant it,"
said Simnel, with some asperity. "No! I merely want you, in the course
of conversation, and when you have fully secured Mr. Townshend's
attention, to introduce, no matter how, the name of a firm--Pigott and
Wells."

"Pigott and Wells!" repeated Beresford, mechanically.

"Pigott and Wells. Should he ask you any thing farther, you will
remember that it is the name of a cotton firm in Combcardingham; and
take care that it fits into your story. That's all!"

"It won't get me into any row, will it?" asked the cautious
commissioner; "you're such a tremendously sly old _diplomate_, such an
infernal old Machiavel, that I am always afraid of your getting me
into a mess."

"Sweet innocent! you need not fear. There's no harm in the name. Of
course, it depends upon yourself how you bring it in."

And Mr. Beresford, with a vivid recollection of owing eight hundred
pounds to Mr. Simnel, undertook the commission.

About the same time Mr. Schröder's domestic arrangements were being
discussed under the same roof, in No. 120.

"What are you going to do on Thursday night, Jim?" asked Mr. Pringle
of Mr. Prescott.

"Nothing," said Mr. Prescott.

"Then don't," said Mr. Pringle. "It don't answer and it don't pay.
I've got a card for a party in Saxe-Coburg Square, and I'll take you
if you like to come."

"But I don't like to come. I'm sick of all your parties, with the same
grinning and bowing nonsense, the same bosh talked, the same wretched
routine from first to last. Who are the people?"

"Now, what a duffer you are!" said Mr. Pringle; "first you declaim in
the strongest virtuous indignation against all parties, and then you
ask who the people are! Well; they are connexions of mine. Old
Townshend, my godfather, who's an old beast, and who never gave me any
thing except a tip of half-a-crown once when I was going to school,
has married his daughter--deuced pretty girl she is too--to a no-end
rich City party--Schröder by name. And Mrs. Schröder is 'at home' on
Thursday evening, 'small and early;' and I've got a card, and can take
you. There's a dinner-party first, I hear, but I'm not asked to that."

"What a pity!" said Prescott; "your true philosopher only goes to
dinners. Balls and receptions are well enough when one is very young;
but they soon pall. There is in them an insincere glitter, a spurious
charm, which--"

"Yes, thank ye," interrupted Mr. Pringle; "for which see _Pelham
passim_, or the collected works of the late Lord Byron. Much obliged;
but I subscribe to Mudie's; and would sooner read the sentiments in
the original authors. What I want to know is, whether you'll come?"

"No, then."

"Yes, you will. I know you, you old idiot, and all the reason for your
moping,--as though that would advance the cause one bit. Yes, you
will. We'll dine at Simpson's; have a quiet weed in my chambers; dress
there; and go into the vortex together."



CHAPTER XVIII.
THE SCHRÖDERS AT HOME.


Mr. Beresford was thoroughly well-informed when he announced Miss
Townshend's marriage with M. Gustav Schröder. That event took place
almost immediately after the break-up of the party at Bissett Grange,
and Sir Marmaduke attended it on his way through to Paris. The wedding
was a very grand affair, and created quite a sensation in the dead
time of the year. A bishop, who in his private capacity held some land
which he had sold to a railway company numbering Mr. Townshend among
its directors, was entrapped for the ceremony, which, of course, took
place at St. George's, Hanover Square. There was such a gathering of
carriages, and such a champing and stamping of horses in George
Street, that two men who were sleeping at Limmer's, on their way
through town, were actually induced to shake off dull sloth so early
as eleven A.M., and to peer out of the window at the cavalcade;
satisfying themselves with a very short glance, however, and returning
to their couches again with great alacrity. Very great magnates in the
banking world, the brokering world, the colonial-export world, and the
shipping world, were present; as were M. Heinrich Schröder,
representative of the house at Frankfort, a bent shrivelled old
gentleman, with marked Jewish profile; thin hands always plucking at
his thin lips, and a very small knowledge of the English language;--M.
Louis Schröder, who represented the house at Paris, a man of forty,
short, stout, genial, and jolly; speaking all languages with equal
ease; with a keen eye for making money, but enjoying nothing better
than spending it; drinking very little, but fond of high-living and
high-play; and showing general sensuality in his thick scarlet lips
and short pudgy hands; more Schröders, male and female, from Hamburg,
from Mainz from Florence; and one--very much burnt up--who had just
returned from losing his liver, and gaining his fortune at Ceylon. Mr.
Townshend contributed the eminent personages in City firms above
mentioned, but none of his family were present; and it was remarked by
some of the guests, that none of his family had ever been seen by any
body,--any body meaning, of course, any body in their society; but,
owing to its being the dull season of the year, Miss Townshend's list
was not as brilliant as it might have been. For instance, ever since
as a child she married her doll to a resplendent individual in a soft
scarlet-cloth coat, a cocked hat, and a pair of linen trousers
(supposed to be of the male sex, but really another doll in disguise,
as proved by the lump of painted hair projecting behind), she had
always intended having eight bridesmaids; but Clara Hamilton and Kate
Brandon were away with their people and in their places she had asked
the Melville girls, people, whom, as she afterwards found, her trump
card, her prettiest bridesmaid Carry Seaward, did not speak. So that
the cards had all to be shuffled again, and eventually she got four
very pretty attendants to the altar. Barbara and her husband were away
honeymooning; and she didn't like to ask Captain Lyster, having a
perfect recollection of that morning in the library at Bissett, and
thinking that his presence on such an occasion would probably render
them both extremely uncomfortable.

But altogether the wedding went off with success; for the bishop was
not only impressively solemn during the ceremony, but was pleasantly
jocose afterwards, cracked tepid little jokes with infinite gusto; and
a tepid jokelet from a bishop is worth more than a brilliant _mot_
from a professional wit. And the company, though not very brilliant in
intellect, was quite brilliant enough to laugh when a bishop said a
good thing; and every body was very well dressed; and the wedding
presents, duly set out on a side-table, made a splendid show. The
Schröders were to the fore in the matter of wedding presents; the City
magnates of the Townshend connexion did pretty well, so far as silver
tea-services, and wine-coolers, and ice-pails, and fish knives and
forks, and splendidly-carved ivory tankards with massive silver
covers, were concerned, and in all the usual wedding-gift nonsense of
butter-dish and card-bowl; but the Schröders gave diamond-necklaces
and sets of turquoises and opals in old-fashioned filigree settings,
and tiny watches from Leroy's, costing 3000 francs, and Barbedienne's
rarest bronzes, and the choicest carvings from the Frankfort Zeil. Mr.
Schröder, too, had taken his bride elect, two days before the
marriage, to Long Acre, and shown her the neat little single brougham,
and the elegant open carriage; and then had driven on to Rice's, and
had had trotted out the fast trotters and the elegant steppers which
had been reserved for them. And Alice Townshend thought of all these
things as she stood at the altar beside the elderly gentleman with the
small eyes and the stubbly gray hair; and the shudder which passed
through her, as she solemnly vowed to honour and obey him, was a
little mitigated by the recollection of his wealth, and her consequent
future position.

The honeymoon was spent partly at Brussels, partly at Paris, and then
the newly-married couple came home to their house in Saxe-Coburg
Square. Fifteen years ago, just before the first Great Exhibition
(_the_ Great Exhibition! we who had _gelebt und geliebt_ before '51
know how poor the other one was in comparison to it!), the tract of
land whereon Saxe-Coburg, Gotha, Coleraine, and Dilkington Squares,
Adalbert Crescent, and Guelph Place now stand, was known as Grunter's
Grounds, and was tenanted by an honest market-gardener, who found a
very remunerative market in Covent Garden for his cabbage cultivation.
But Hodder, the great builder, marked the army of luxury marching
rapidly west; and knowing that quarters must be found for it, saw in
Grunter's Grounds the exact place for the erection of those squares,
crescents, terraces, and places, of which his architect, Palladio
Hicks, had so elaborately shown the elevation on paper, but had
erected so few. Mr. Hodder discovered that the nurseryman was in the
last eighteen months of his lease, and that Grunter's Grounds belonged
to a charity, the trustees of which were always quarreling among
themselves. This was enough for Hodder; he soon wormed his way into
the confidence of some of the trustees; and eventually succeeded in
getting the renewal of the lease refused to the market-gardener, and
the ground made over to him, on building lease, at a very cheap rate.
Now do you wonder why Mrs. Hodder drives one of the most stylish
equipages in the Park; or why, in her amateur theatricals, she manages
to get hold of all that extraordinary histrionic genius, which, by an
odd concurrence of events, always accompanies the possession of a
clerkship in the Treasury? That was a splendid speculation for Mr.
Hodder. There are thirty-six houses in Saxe-Coburg Square, for
instance; and each of them lets at 320_l_. a-year. They are all, as
Mr. Thackeray said of the Pyramids, "very big," and very ugly; great
gaunt stuccoed erections, bow-windowed, plate-glassed, and porticoed
after the usual prevalent pattern, with a small square courtyard
looking into a mews behind, and Mr. Swiveller's prospect, "a
delightful view of--over the way," in front. But they let wonderfully;
it is the thing to live in that quarter; and hangers-on to the selvage
of fashion, clerks in public offices, who have married into
aristocratic poor families, and suchlike, will be found bargaining for
a ghastly little hole in Adalbert Crescent or Guelph Place, when they
could get a capital roomy house at Highgate or Hampstead, with a big
garden, in which their "young barbarians" could be "all at play" from
morning till night, for far less money. Mr. Schröder's house was
furnished very expensively, and, considering all had been left to the
upholsterer, in not bad taste. The dining-room was in light oak,
carved high-backed chairs in green morocco; a large massive
round-table in the centre, with half-a-dozen swinging moderator-lamps
over it; Wardour-Street Rubenses and apocryphal ancestors on the
walls. Behind this the library in dark oak, splendid writing-table,
quaint old carved Davenport desk from a Carmelite monastery; wonderful
collection of books, the result of the blending of two library sales
at Hodgson's,--one the gathering of a bibliomaniacal _virtuoso_, the
other of a sporting nobleman,--and before-letter proofs, after
Landseer. The drawing-rooms I should utterly fail in endeavouring to
describe, so content myself by remarking that they were halls of
dazzling light,--allowed by their worst enemies, the critics, to be
"delicious;" by their most captious, to be "effective,"--splendidly
furnished, and opening on to conservatories and boudoirs and
canvas-covered balconies.

Mr. Schröder was not the man to hide his candle under a bushel; nor,
having spent a vast amount of money on his house and its decorations,
to keep them solely for the contemplation of himself and his wife: so
it was at his suggestion that the dinner-party and reception were
organised. Mrs. Schröder at once gave her acquiescence; indeed, just
at this period of her life, she was in too dazed a state to do any
thing more than follow suit. She knew her father to be wealthy, and
always had lived in good style; but she also knew that her parent was
a great tyrant--one of those "stern" persons so popular in novels; and
she had had many visions of resisting him; of flying from his roof
with some young lover not overburdened with riches; of love in a
cottage, and other maniacal ideas of the same description; and now she
found that the time had come and passed; that she had not resisted at
all; and that she was settled down with a gray-headed, elderly
husband, who was one of the richest men in London. It was not her
childhood's dream, perhaps; but it was by no means uncomfortable; and
Mrs. Schröder wisely determined, to accept the riches, and to forget
the grayness of the head; and went in for the dinner-party with
spirit.

Husband and wife furnished about an equal complement of friends to the
banquet, which was very splendid, but at first rather dull. Old
Heinrich Schröder, who had not yet returned to Frankfort, was present;
and as he spoke scarcely any English, he did not enliven the
conversation; which, however, was often polyglot. The magnates from
the City and their wives ate a good deal, and talked very little;
while some of the younger and more aristocratic people brought in by
Mrs. Schröder were silent as becomes "swells," and only occasionally
worked eyebrow or shoulder telegraphs to each other, in silent wonder
at, and depreciation of, their neighbours. Mr. Beresford began to be
awfully bored, and tried topic after topic without meeting with the
least success. At last, however, he seemed to have stumbled on one
that awoke a certain amount of general interest.

"Seen your newly-elected brother-director of the Terra-del-Fuego
Company yet, Mr. Schröder?" he asked.

"Colonel Levison?" said Mr. Schröder; "no, not yet; we've had no
board-day since his election."

"Man of mark, sir," said an old gentleman, who had painted his chin
and shirt-front with turtle-soup.

"What Levison is it, Beresford?" asked Captain Lyster, who was seated
near Mrs. Schröder.

"Jack Levison; you know him. Wonderful life he's had!"

"Has he?" said Mrs. Schröder, on whom the dulness had settled like a
pall. "Oh, do tell us about it, Mr. Beresford; that is, if you may."

"Oh, yes, I may," laughed Beresford; "though it's nothing much to
tell. Jack was in the 9th, and came into five thousand pounds at his
father's death; sold out; speculated in cotton, and made it twenty;
speculated in hides, and lost every sixpence. Went out to Australia on
the first discovery of gold; was a boot-black in Melbourne; actually
had a stand and brushed boots, you know; afterwards was cad to the
Ballarat omnibus; fact, give you my word! At last got up to the
diggings; worked with varying luck, until at last turned up monster
nugget, and hit upon a splendid vein; stuck to it quietly, and made a
fortune. Realised; came back to England, and has doubled it. Curious
life, isn't it?"

"How very odd!" said Mrs. Schröder, trying to extract a remark from a
very gorgeous lady on her right; "fancy, blacking boots!"

"And what do you call 'em to a bus?" said the lady, who, though
gorgeous, was Clapham-born, and still possessed her native dialect.

"Must be clayver man," hazarded a tall, thin gentleman, a light of the
Draft and Docket Office, who was very short-sighted, and perpetually
kept in his eye a glass, with which he endeavoured to focus somebody
into conversation; hitherto hopelessly.

"Oh, yes," said his neighbour, a bald man, with cinnamon whiskers,
whose life was passed in saying the wrong thing in the wrong
place--"oh, yes; but don't you know he's Boswell Levison's brother.
He's a Jew!"

Every body looked involuntarily at old Heinrich Schröder, about whose
origin there could be no doubt, and who had that face which you may
see repeated by hundreds in the Frankfort Juden-Gasse.

"Ha! ha!" said the old gentleman, catching the last word, and finding
himself the centre of attraction; "was Chew! ya, zo; Chew ist goot."

Mr. Schröder turned a dull lead colour, and a general awe-struck
silence fell upon the company, which was broken by Beresford, who,
again coming to the rescue, said:

"You knew Levison, Monkhouse? We stayed together in his uncle's house
two years ago."

The man with the eyeglass made a vain attempt to focus Beresford, and
said, "Did we?"

"Yes, of course we did. You recollect, at Macarum's, near Elgin?"

Mr. Monkhouse dropped his glass from his eye, and looked up to the
ceiling for inspiration; then, re-fixing it, said, "Oh, ah! Elgin! I
know!--where the marble comes from?"

The Levison subject now being evidently exhausted, and the
conversation becoming hopelessly-idiotic, Captain Lyster strikes in at
a tangent, and asks Mrs. Schröder whether she has seen any thing
recently of her friend, Mrs. Churchill,--Miss Lexden that was.

Mrs. Schröder replies in the negative, adding that she had called upon
Barbara "in, oh, such a strange street!" but had not found her at
home: the Churchills had been asked to dine there that day, but had
declined on account of Mr. Churchill's engagements. It was, however,
probable that they might come in the evening. Hearing the name of
Churchill mentioned, Mr. Beresford chimes in.

"Ah, by the way, the Churchills! friends of yours, Mrs. Schröder? How
are they getting on? Love-match, and all that kind of thing, hey?
Clever man, Churchill; but should have kept to his own set; married
the daughter of his printer or publisher, or some fellow of that sort;
not taken away one of our stars."

"What do you mean by his own set, Mr. Beresford?" said Lyster, rousing
himself. "Mr. Churchill, I take it, is a gentleman in every sense of
the word. I don't know whom you have been accustomed to associate
with, but I never saw a better-bred man."

Mr. Beresford pauses for a moment, startled at the attack; then a
smile passes over his face as he says, "I didn't impugn your friend's
breeding, Captain Lyster; but I suppose even such a Corydon as you
would allow the folly of a love-match with no money on either side?"

It is probable that Captain Lyster might have replied, even seeing,
clearly as he did, that the tendency of the conversation was towards
an argument in which he would have to exert himself; but the
cinnamon-whiskered man, who had been waiting for an opportunity of
speaking, now saw his chance, and burst forth--"Love-match!" said he;
"no money on either side! What then? Do you imagine that two people,
young, attached to each other, who risk a--a--what d'ye call
um?--fight in the great battle of life"--looking round and repeating
"in the great battle of life--are not much happier than those who
make, what you may call, sordid matches? Thus, for the sake of
argument, an elderly man marries a young girl; nothing in common
between them; she simply married for position, or to oblige her
parents; and he--well, I think we know the contemptible figure he
cuts; a case of buying and selling, as you would say in the City,
eh, Schröder?" and the cinnamon-coloured man, who was great at a
debating-society, looked in triumph at his host.

Mr. Schröder, more leaden-coloured than ever, said, "Certainly." Mrs.
Schröder, who had been looking down at the table, and playing with her
dessert-knife, rose with the rest of the ladies, and left the room.
After their departure, the West-end section, including Beresford,
Lyster, and Monkhouse, seemed to get silent and abstracted; while Mr.
Schröder's particular friends from the City, the bank-directors and
public-company men, re-invigorated themselves with port, and discussed
the politics of Threadneedle Street and the chances of change in
the discount rate in hoarse whispers. Solemn dulness fell upon the
West-end division: Lyster dropped into a semi-dose; Mr. Monkhouse
tried to focus the talkers one by one, but failing, fell to polishing
his eyeglass and admiring his nails; the cinnamon-whiskered man cut
into the conversation once in the wrong place, and, having plainly
showed himself to be an idiot, was promptly extinguished; and
Beresford fell into a dreamy state, in which his liabilities ranged
themselves in horrible array before him, and he went into wild
speculations as to how they might be met. While in this state, he
became conscious of old Mr. Townshend's voice, laying down the law, in
most imperative style, on matters of finance, and suddenly he
remembered his promise to Simnel. He waited for his opportunity when
Mr. Townshend ceased for an instant, and then said: "My dear Mr.
Schröder, you can't tell how horrible it is for us impecunious people
to listen to this tremendously ingotted talk. We look upon you as a
dozen Sinbad the Sailors, each having found his own peculiar treasure
in the Valley of Diamonds. Ah! if it were only given to me to fathom
the secret of money-making!"

The City section were pleased at this concession, and took the remarks
as complimentary. Mr. Schröder smiled, and said sententiously:
"Business has its cares as well as its pleasures." Mr. Townshend
nodded his head, saying, "You gentlemen despise our prosaic ways and
business routine; with you--"

"Business routine!" exclaimed Beresford. "Why, you make a fortune by
the arrival of a telegram, by the nod of a cabinet-minister's head.
I'm not so ignorant of these mercantile matters as you may fancy. When
I was in the habit of staying with my intimate friend Pigott, of the
firm of Pigott and Wells--"

"What name did you say?" asked Mr. Townshend, with a blanched face.

"Pigott and Wells," repeated Beresford slowly, looking at him
stedfastly; "merchants of Combcardingham. Do you know the firm?"

"No, not at all. That is--I--" and Mr. Townshend's teeth chattered as
he gulped down a bumper of port and cowered in his chair, as a
tremendous knock, reverberating through the house, announced the
arrival of the first guests for the reception.

The reception. _Item_, Herr Klavierspieler, the celebrated _pianiste_,
who was so fall of soul, and so mysterious, and so thin, and so
long-haired, and so silent. All sorts of stories afloat about Herr
Klavierspieler,--that he communed with spirits; that he was a ghoule;
that he was consuming away under an unrequited passion for an Austrian
countess of excessive haughtiness; whereas in real truth he was the
son of a saddler in the Breite Strasse of Dresden, and his liver was
deranged, perhaps by his eating five heavy meals a day, and, save when
he was playing in public, never being without a pipe in his mouth.
_Item_, M. Bloffski, the Pole, _the_ violincellist of the world, a fat
man in spectacles, who perspired a great deal, breathed through his
nose, had a red-cotton pocket-handkerchief, and played his instrument
divinely. _Item_, Mr. Schrink, musical critic of the _Statesman_
newspaper, a little man with a hump-back and a frightfully sensitive
ear; a little man who would cower and, shrink under false notes, and
stamp and growl under bad singing; a little man whom every one hated,
and who did not particularly like himself. _Item_, Fräulein Wünster,
one of those German young ladies who, ever since Jenny Lind's success,
have been imported into England under the firm idea that they were
"going to do it," and who, having filled up gaps in the Hanover Square
and St. James's Hall concerts, have returned to _Vaterland_ without
having made the smallest mark. Mr. Dabb, fashionable artist, whose
portrait of Mr. Schröder decorated the walls, was there; as was Mr.
Fleem, the author of _Fashion and Satire_--a young gentleman who,
for a cynic, seemed on remarkably good terms with himself and his
fellow-creatures. Mr. Pringle and Mr. Prescott arrived together; and
just after the gentlemen came up from the dining-room, Mr. and Mrs.
Churchill were announced.

If Mrs. Churchill had been the Empress of Austria or the Queen of the
Cannibal Islands, she could not have entered the room more haughtily,
or created a greater effect. She was dressed in a plain dark-gray
silk, with a bunch of scarlet geraniums in her hair, and a black-lace
shawl over her shoulders. Her little head was erect, her delicate
nostrils distended, and her eye seemed to challenge any unpleasant
remark. Frank Churchill was, as usual, quiet and sedate; but it was
evident he marked the impression which his wife made, and was pleased
thereby. Was he pleased with the expression of her face, as he marked
it contracted for an instant, though immediately afterwards the
features resumed their calm statuesque immobility? Was he pleased with
the tone of her voice, which became a little hard and metallic,
instead of that soft whispering which he knew as hers? Barbara's trial
was on her at that instant: she had returned to that society in which
she had all her life lived; those luxuries, which had been in daily
use, were around her, after she had been for weeks absent from them;
the mere size of the rooms, the lighting, the perfume, the presence of
guests,--all seemed to render the events of the past months as a
dream; and she had to bring her presence of mind into play to argue
with herself.

Mrs. Schröder rushed up to her at once; no doubt of the _empressement_
of her manner! affection a little too palpable, as Barbara thought.

"Oh, Barbara darling! so glad you're come! I thought you'd
disappointed us. How late you are!"

"Frank was detained; as I expected, Alice; make him explain himself."

"No occasion for that, I hope? Mrs. Schröder," said Churchill; "the
slaves of the lamp, you know!"

"Oh, there! that horrible business! your constant excuse; you're all
alike. Gustav! Gustav! here's Mr. Churchill excusing himself from
being late, and pleads business; take him away, and discuss the
wretched subject together. I want to talk to Barbara,--a long talk.
No, Gustav! I don't care what you say about my duties as hostess: I
_will_ talk to my old friend!" So Schröder and Churchill went off, and
Alice and Barbara seated themselves in a far window.

"Now, Barbara dear, tell me every thing. I needn't ask you if you're
happy; that's a matter of course. Do you like your house? Is the
boudoir in pale-green silk, as we always said we'd have it? Mine's in
rose-colour; but that's Gustav's taste; I always liked your notion
best."

"My boudoir, Alice? you forget."

"Oh, so I do. How ridiculous! But look here, Barbara darling; you'll
come out for a drive with me whenever I fetch you?"

"Oh, thanks, Alice; I'm too far out of your way to be fetched often."

"Not a bit, Barbara; what else have the horses to do? though it is a
difficult place to find out. Edwards--the coachman, I mean--had never
heard of it, though he knows all sorts of short cuts; and we had to
ask our way perpetually."

Barbara had something on the tip of her tongue, but it was never
framed into words. She contented herself with saying, "the situation
is handy for my husband, you know. I should not like the thought that
he had far to come late at night."

"Oh! is he ever out late at night? How dreadful! how dull you must be!
how wretched for you! I should make my maid sit up and read me to
sleep."

"There has been no need for any such violent measures at present,"
said Barbara, with a slight smile. "Frank has managed to do his work
at home, hitherto; but of course there may be occasions when he will
be obliged to be out."

"You must come to us then. Promise! won't you, Barbara dear? You'll
like Mr. Schröder; at least I think you will. He's very quiet; but so
kind-hearted and thoughtful. Oh, Captain Lyster! how you startled me!"

"Very sorry, Mrs. Schröder," drawled the Captain, creeping leisurely
towards them; "wouldn't have put you out for the world; but this is
scarcely fair, you know; two ladies monopolising each other when we're
dying to talk to them; and we're left to listen to that horrible
hirsute wretch who's thumping the piano."

"Klavierspieler a horrible wretch! Did you hear that, Barbara? Well,
Captain Lyster, I won't monopolise Mrs. Churchill any more, and you
shall have a chat with her;" and Mrs. Schröder walked off, laughing.
Barbara had been looking at Mr. Schröder, who was standing in the
doorway talking with Frank Churchill; and had noticed his face fall as
Lyster approached them. When Mrs. Schröder moved away, her husband
seemed relieved.

Captain Lyster sat down by Barbara, and talked long, and for him
earnestly. She saw at once that he wanted to be numbered among her
friends; and in a score of little delicate sentences he conveyed to
her his appreciation of her conduct in marrying a man whom she loved,
in spite of the opposition of her friends, his respect for her
husband's character and talents, and his desire to serve them. Then he
turned the conversation upon Mrs. Schröder; and Barbara noticed that
his manner changed; that he hesitated, and kept his eyes down, as he
wondered whether she were happy; whether she loved he husband; whether
it had really been her duty to obey her father's will, and not consult
her own inclinations, as people said had been the case. For the first
time a light broke upon Barbara, and she knew Captain Lyster's story
as plainly as if he had told it to her in so many words. Following his
glance as he stopped speaking, she saw that it rested on Alice
Schröder, to whom Mr. Beresford was now talking, bending over her
chair with great apparent devotion; and looking from them to Mr.
Schröder, Barbara remarked that the gloom had returned to his face,
while Frank Churchill himself looked somewhat annoyed.

It was not without a very great deal of trouble that Mr. Pringle had
induced his friend Prescott to accompany him to Saxe-Coburg Square.
Even after that gentleman had given a reluctant consent he withdrew
it, and on the very morning of the reception Mr. Pringle was not aware
whether or not he should have to go alone. For Mr. Prescott was very
much in love with Kate Mellon still: that interview in the Park had by
no means had the effect of curing him of his passion; although, being
a sensible young fellow, he saw that there was not the slightest use
in giving way to it.

"He's a thoroughly changed buffer, is Jim, sir!" Mr. Pringle would
remark of him; "he used to be the cheeriest of birds; always good for
going out some where, and no end of fun; always in tip-top spirits,
and the best chap out. But now he sits in his chambers, and smokes his
pipe, and grizzles himself to death, pretty near; wishing he'd got
more money, and all sorts of things. That won't do, you know! He must
be picked up and trotted out; and the man for that line of business is
yours truly." In pursuance of which determination Mr. Pringle opened a
system of attack on his friend, and in the first place insisted that
they should go together to Mr. Schröder's reception. Even at the last,
when Prescott gave in his final consent, it was under strong protest.
"I shall be dreary, old boy; and you'll be sorry you took me. You know
I'm not very good company just now, George. I've not got over--"

"All right; I know. 'Tell me, my heart, can this be?' &c. But we'll
have some dinner at Simpson's, and a bottle of old port; and that'll
set you up, and make you see life under a different aspect, as they
say in novels."

The dinner was very good; and finding his friend still silent and
low-spirited, Mr. Pringle exerted himself to rouse him. He was very
well known at the dining-rooms, and called the waiters by their
Christian names, and asked after their families, and little events in
their private lives.

Mr. Prescott could not help laughing at the absurdities perpetrated
by his friend, and gradually his spirits revived. After dinner
they went to Mr. Pringle's chambers, and smoked and had some hot
whisky-and-water, which, coming after the port-wine, had a very
hilarious effect upon Mr. Pringle, who then wanted to "go out some
where," and not to go to the Schröders at all; but Mr. Prescott
overruling this, they dressed and went. Mr. Pringle--and especially
Mr. Pringle after half a bottle of port-wine and a couple of tumblers
of whisky-punch--was a trying person to go about with, and Prescott
had to call him to order several times. When they arrived at the
house, and were asked their names, he gave them as the Duke of
Wellington and Mr. Babbage; and on the servant's being about gravely
to repeat them, he stopped him, saying they did not wish their names
announced, as they were detectives come on very private business. On
the staircase he feigned a wild terror at the powdered heads of the
footmen; asked "how they came so white;" by nature or not? and
altogether so behaved himself, that Mr. Prescott declared he would not
enter the room with him.

Once in the room, Mr. Pringle toned down visibly, and conducted
himself like an ordinary mortal. He was very friendly with Alice
Schröder, and expressed poignant regret at Mr. Townshend's sudden
indisposition (for that worthy gentleman declined to come upstairs
after dinner; Beresford's mention of Pigott and Wells had been too
much for him), though secretly Mr. Pringle was pleased at missing his
godfather, whom he was accustomed to regard as the essence of
sternness; and he was introduced to Churchill, of whom he spoke
the next day at the office as a "deuced clever fellow, a literary
bird;" and he listened for a few minutes to Klavierspieler's
pianoforte-fireworks; and, then went down and got some refreshment. He
endeavoured to induce Mr. Prescott to accompany him; but that
gentleman not merely absolutely declined, but addressed his friend in
strong words of warning, and declared that as for himself he was
thoroughly happy where he was.

Indeed, once more in society, surrounded by well-looking, well-dressed
people, listening to music and conversation in a splendidly-appointed
home, Mr. Prescott began to think to himself that the solitary
pipe-smokings in dreary chambers, the shutting himself away from the
world, and giving himself up to melancholy, was rather a mistake. Of
course the grand cause of it all remained unaltered,--he never could
get over his passion, he never would give up thinking of Kate,--and
just then he started as he heard a light, musical, girlish voice
behind him say, "it is James Prescott!" He turned rapidly round, and
saw two or three people standing by him; one of whom, a very pretty,
fresh-coloured buxom girl, stepped forward, laughed as he made a
rather distant bow, and said, "You don't recollect me! Oh, what a
horridly bad compliment!"

"It is excessively absurd, to be sure, on my part, I know. I cannot,
by Jove! Emily Murray!" Prescott burst out as the face recurred to his
memory.

"Emily Murray, of course!" said the young lady, still laughing; "Why,
what ages since we've met! not since you left Havering; and how's the
dear Vicar and the girls? which of them are married? I should so like
to see them; and you--you're in some Government Office we heard; which
is it? and--"

"I must come to Mr. Prescott's rescue, Emily, if you'll introduce me.
You've stunned him with questions," said an elderly lady standing by.

"Oh, aunt, how can you say so! James--Mr. Prescott,--I don't know
which I ought to say; but I always used to say James,--this is my
aunt, Mrs. Wilmslow, with whom we're staying. I say we, for papa is in
town; but his gout was threatening; so he wouldn't come to-night."

"My brother will be very pleased to see you, though, Mr. Prescott,"
said Mrs. Wilmslow; "I know he has the kindliest recollection of your
father at Havering. Will you come and lunch with us to-morrow?"

Mr. Prescott accepted with thanks, and Mrs. Wilmslow moved back to her
party; but Emily Murray stayed behind, and they had a very long
conversation; during which he settled not merely that he would lunch
in Portland Place on the next day, but that he would afterwards
accompany Miss Murray and some of her friends in their subsequent
ride. As Miss Murray departed with her friends, Mr. Pringle came up
and apologised for having left his friend so much alone. "Very sorry,
old fellow, but I got into an argument with an old German buffer
downstairs. Very good fellow, but spoke very shy English. Told me he
was nearly eighty years old; and that he accounted for his good health
by having been always in the habit of taking a walk past dinner. Took
me full ten minutes to find out he meant _after_ dinner. But I say,
old fellow, I'm really sorry; you must have had a very slow evening."

"On the contrary," said Mr. Prescott, "I've enjoyed myself amazingly."

Mr. Pringle looked hard at his friend, and whistled plaintively.



CHAPTER XIX.
THE OLD OR THE NEW?


Thirty years before the date of my story, Braxton Murray and Alan
Prescott were college friends. Braxton was a gentleman commoner of
Christchurch; Alan, a scholar of Wadham. Braxton had four hundred
a-year allowance from his father, and the direct succession to one of
the richest estates in Kent. Alan had his scholarship, seventy pounds
a-year exhibition from a country foundation-school, and another fifty
allowed him by his uncle. The disparity between the positions of the
two young men was vast, but they were thoroughly attached to each
other; and when Braxton had succeeded his father, and the old vicar of
Havering died, Braxton Murray sent for Alan Prescott, then doing duty
as a curate and usher in a suburban school, and presented him with the
vicarage of Havering. That was a happy time in both their lives; the
income of the Vicar was small, certainly, but so was the parish, and
the duties were light; and having only himself, his wife, and a son
and daughter to provide for, and being constantly in the receipt of
presents from his friend and patron, the Rev. Alan Prescott did very
well indeed. Situate in the heart of Kent, no prettier spot than
Havering can be found; and Brooklands, the squire's place, is the gem
of the county. In the bay-window of the old dining-room, overhanging
the fertile valley through which the Medway lies like a thread of
silver, the two men would sit drinking their claret, discussing old
university chums or topics of the day, and pausing occasionally to
look at the gambols of the Vicar's son, Jim, and the Squire's only
daughter, Emily, who were the merriest of little lovers. But as years
went by, and the Vicar's family steadily increased,--first by twin
girls, then by a bouncing boy, and finally by a little crippled
girl,--and as, each year, expenses grew heavier, Alan Prescott was
somewhat put to it to obtain the necessary connexion of those two
ends, the means of bringing which together puzzles so many of us all
our lives; and when the governors of the foundation-school where he
had been usher, remembering his abilities, wrote to offer him the
vacant headmastership, he was too poor to refuse it. Duff borough, a
big, staring, gaunt, manufacturing town, perched on one of the
bleakest of the northern hills, was a bad exchange for beaming little
Havering, with its smiling orchards and glorious hop-gardens; and the
society of the purse-proud, cold, stuck-up calico-men was
heartbreaking after the ease and warmth of Braxton Murray's
companionship. But Alan Prescott felt the spurs of need, and buckled
to his work like a man. An active correspondence was kept up between
him and the Squire of Havering; and occasionally,--once in the course
of four or five years, perhaps,--he had spent a week at Brooklands;
but it was too expensive to remove his family; and consequently, until
that evening in Saxe-Coburg Square James Prescott had not seen Emily
Murray since they were children together, playing out in the old
dining-room at Brooklands.

Emily Murray had been a pretty child; had become a beautiful girl.
There was no doubt about her; one look into those honest brown eyes
would have convinced you that she was thorough. A plump rosy-rounded
bud of woman; a thoroughly English girl, void of affectation, conceit,
and trickery; clean, clear, honest, wholesome, and loving. As she
talked to James Prescott of the old days at Havering, she spoke out
freely, referring to bygone gambols and fun with frank laughter and
many a humorous reminiscence; and when she suggested his joining their
riding-party the next day, she looked him straight in the face without
the smallest shadow of entanglement or guile. To her own brother her
manner had not been different, Prescott thought, as, after they had
parted, he recalled every word, every glance; and he wished for a
moment that there had been something different in it, a trifle more
tenderness, a hand-pressure, a sly upward glance, or--and then he
flung such nonsense behind him, and was delighted to remember the
warmth of her recognition, the cheeriness of her chat. She was nothing
to him, of course; his doom was fixed; he had loved, and--and yet how
pretty she was! how perfectly gloved! how charmingly dressed! what a
pleasure it was to feel that you were talking to a lady! to know that
no slanginess would offend the eye, no questionable _argot_ grate upon
the ear; to feel that--and then Mr. Prescott remembered how the idol
of his soul had called him "Jim," ay, and "old buffer;" how she had
smoked cigars, and used maledictions towards refractory animals; how
there had been all kinds of odd discussions about all kinds of odd
people before her; and how he had seen men take wine without stint,
and smoke cigars in her face, and wear their bats before her, without
the smallest self-restraint. And, smoking a final pipe before turning
into bed, Mr. Prescott pondered on these things long and earnestly.


Mr. Prescott found a warm welcome awaiting him. Mrs. Wilmslow had been
impressed with his manners and appearance, and old Mr. Murray had a
yearning for the friend of his youth, and longed to receive that
friend's son with open arms. A hale pleasant gentleman, Mr. Murray,
with that wonderful cleanliness which is never seen out of England,
with polished bald head fringed with iron-gray hair, ruddy complexion,
keen little blue eyes, and brilliant teeth. He wore a slipper on his
right foot, but hobbled forward, nevertheless, and gave the young man
a hearty shake of the hand.

"Glad to see you, Jim! Little Jim you were; but, by Jove! I should
not like to carry you on my back now, as I have done many a time.
Very glad to see you! Old times come again, by George! Trace every
feature of your face, and can almost see Magdalen tower behind your
back--you're so like your father. How's the Vicar, eh? I'll drag him
out of that infernal spinning-jenny place yet, and give him a breather
across the home-copse at Havering before next season's over."

Prescott said that his father was well and jolly, but scarcely up to
shooting now, he had had so little practice lately.

"So much the more reason we should give it him, then! He used to be a
crack shot; one of the few men I've seen shoot a brace of woodcock
right and left! And walk! by George, he'd walk me into--has he had any
gout?"

"Not yet, sir;--a threatening last year."

"Bravo!" roared the old gentleman; "I've got some 20-port that shall
bring that threatening to real effect, if he'll only drink enough of
it. And to think that Pussy should have found you out!"

"Pussy?" said Mr. Prescott.

"Emily, of course! a wayward gentle puss who never shows her claws!"
and at that moment Emily entered the room, and advanced towards
Prescott with frank smile and outstretched hand.

Luncheon passed off pleasantly enough. The old gentleman rattled on
incessantly, and availed himself of Prescott's presence, and Mrs.
Wilmslow's distracted attention consequent thereupon, to take three
bumpers of dry sherry, instead of that one half-glass to which, by
doctor's orders, he was so strictly relegated. Mrs. Wilmslow was
thoroughly charmed with Prescott, led him on to talk of his home-life,
of his office friends, and seemed to regard him with real interest.
Emily was less talkative than she had been the previous evening, and
seldom looked up from the table; but she joined readily in the
conversation, and none were too pleased when the horses were
announced.

"Got a horse, Jim?" asked the Squire. "That's right! hope it'll carry
you all right, though one never knows any thing about these hired
hacks. You might have ridden the cob, if I'd known you'd been coming
earlier! This is his third day's rest, and the cob will be about as
fresh as paint when I get across him again. Not that I care much for
your Rotten-Row riding--dull work that, up and down, up and down! The
Vicar and I--we used to go to work in a little more business-like
fashion than that! I suppose he never gets a day's run now? Ah!
thought not! Those spinning-jenny locals would think it unprofessional
for a parson to follow hounds, eh? There, bless you, pussy! good-by,
child! and good-by to you, young Jim! Call here again in a day or two,
and we'll settle about your coming to Havering in the vacation--and
the Vicar too, d'ye hear?"

"I'm getting rather nervous about my responsibility, Miss Murray,"
said Prescott, as they passed through into the hall. "I don't think
I've forgotten my old knack of mounting. You needn't fear my not
lifting you high enough, or jerking you over the side, I mean; but
I've never seen your amazonship yet, and if any thing should happen--"

"Oh, don't fear that, James--Mr. Prescott, I mean!" said Emily with a
clear ringing laugh. "You'll mount me rightly enough, I know:
and as for looking after me afterwards, I forgot to tell you my
riding-mistress would be with us."

"Your riding-mistress!" but as he spoke, the footman threw open the
street-door; and the first thing that met his glance was a well-known
figure sitting erect on a black thoroughbred. Kate Mellon! no one
else. James Prescott had watched too often the rounded outline of that
compact figure, the fall of that dark-blue skirt, the _pose_ of that
neat little chimney-pot hat, under which the gold-shot hair was massed
in a clump behind, not to recognise them all at the first glance. Kate
Mellon, by all that was marvellous! Two young ladies, also mounted,
were with her; and a groom was leading another horse, with a
side-saddle on it for Emily Murray, and another groom was leading the
very presentable hack which Prescott had engaged from Allen's. As she
caught sight of Prescott, Kate gave one little scarcely-perceptible
start, and then saluted Miss Murray with uplifted whip. Prescott swung
Emily to her saddle, and the cavalcade started.

"You see I have brought a cavalier, Miss Mellon," said Emily, with a
smile; "though I don't know whether such an encumbrance is
permissible; but this is Mr. Prescott, whom I have known for a very
long time. James, this is Miss Mellon, who is good enough to
superintend my clumsiness on horseback, and who is the very star of
horsewomen herself."

Kate started a little at the "James," but merely repeated the whip
salutation, and said, "Mr. Prescott and I have met before, Miss
Murray. Besides, you're coming it too strong about yourself! you're
quite able to take care of yourself now, and have no clumsiness left,
whatever you might have had at first. This has relieved me of some of
my charge; for these two young ladies will want all my eyes, and
another to spare, if I had it. Perhaps you'll not mind my riding
forward with them, and you and Mr. Prescott can follow us; you're both
of you to be trusted--with your horses, I mean!" and she smiled
shortly, and cantering on, joined the anonymous young ladies in front.

You see it is perfectly right to tell a man who is desperately smitten
with you that he is on the wrong tack; that though you have a great
regard for him as a friend, you cannot reciprocate his love-passion;
and that the whole affair is ill-judged, and should properly be put a
stop to at once. But when you come upon him suddenly, within three
weeks, evidently consoling himself by dangling at the heels of another
woman--well, there is something provoking in it, to say the least!
Kate Mellon was thoroughly honest during all that last interview with
Prescott in Rotten Row, but she scarcely expected _this_.

So they rode on in two divisions; and the young ladies in front, who
were the daughters of a picture-dealer who had recently risen from
nothing, and who were in the greatest state of fright at the
unaccustomed exercise, were surprised to find a tone of asperity at
first tinging their mistress's instructions at being told of their
rounded shoulders and their heavy hands, in far plainer terms than had
been hitherto employed. But this severity gradually subsided as they
went on, and as Kate thought to herself how all was for the best, and
how, instead of being annoyed, she ought to do every thing she could
to help the fortunes of one who had been so staunchly gallant to her,
until he was repulsed. As for the couple behind, they got on
splendidly; Emily looked to the greatest advantage on horseback; and
Prescott could scarcely take his eyes from her as he watched the
graceful manner in which she sat her horse, and as he listened
to the encomiastic remarks which her appearance extracted from the
passers-by. He talked to her of the old days, and she answered without
an ounce of coquetry or affectation; and she spoke of her father, of
her happiness in her home, of the little simple duties and pleasures
in their village, and of other little suchlike matters, in an honest
way that touched James Prescott deeply, and sent purer, calmer
thoughts into his heart than had found lodging there for many months.

After a couple of hours in the Row the party returned to Mrs.
Wilmslow's, where Emily bade them farewell, and Prescott also
alighted, giving up his horse to the groom waiting for it. Kate Mellon
saw her other pupils to their home close by, and then turned into the
Row again, intending to have one final gallop on her way to The Den.
She was at full speed when she heard the dull thud of a horse's hoofs
close behind her, and turning saw Mr. Simnel. In a minute he was by
her side.

"How d'ye do, Kate?" said he, reining-in his big hunter; "I came on
the chance of seeing you here."

"How do, Simnel?" said Miss Mellon, shortly; "what do you want?"

"I want you to say when I can come up to The Den and have
half-an-hour's chat with you, Kate."

"And I tell you, never! as I've told you before. Look here, Simnel,"
said she, pulling up short; "let's have this out now. I don't like
you; I never did, and I never shall! and I don't want you at my place.
Do you understand?"

"Perfectly," said Simnel, with a hard smile; "and yet I think I must
come. I want to say something specially particular to you."

"What about? What you've said before? About yourself?"

"No," said Simnel, smiling as before; "I never say things twice over.
I want to talk to you about a friend of ours--Charles Beresford."

"Charles Beresford?--what of him?"

"That's just what I propose to come and tell you."

Their eyes met. The next instant Kate cast hers down as she said, "I
shall be at home on Friday from two till six. You can come then."

"You may depend on me," said Simnel; "I'll not bore you any longer."
He raised his hat with perfect politeness, turned his horse, and rode
slowly away.



CHAPTER XX.
THE CHURCHILLS AT HOME.


Three months' experience sufficiently indoctrinated Barbara Churchill
into her new life. At the end of that time she could scarcely have
been recognised as the Barbara Lexden who had held her own for three
seasons, and done undisputed havoc among the detrimentals: not that
she was changed in appearance; that grand _hauteur_, that indefinable
something of delicacy, breeding, and refinement, was even more
noticeable than ever; if any thing, her nostrils were more frequently
expanded, her lips more constantly in their curve; nor had her eyes
lost their brightness, her figure its trim form, her walk its grace
and elegance. Though Parker had long since served under another
mistress Barbara's hair had never been more artistically arranged than
by her own hands; and though her dress had been modified from the
nearest approach to excess in the prevailing fashion which good taste
would permit to the merest simplicity, she had never, even in the
height of her queendom, been more becomingly attired than in the plain
silk dresses and simple linen collars and cuffs which she donned in
Great Adullam Street. Where was the change, then? whence the source of
the alteration? In truth she herself could scarcely tell; or if the
idea ever rose in her mind she thrust it out instantly, arguing within
herself, in a thousand unimpressive, undecisive, unsatisfactory ways,
that she did _not_ feel as she had imagined, and that she was merely
"a little low."

That phrase was Frank Churchill's bane. He would return from the
_Statesman_ Office, where, after the regular daily consultation, he
had remained and written his leader (Harding always hitherto had
managed to free his friend from night-work), and would find his wife
with red-rimmed eyelids and the final traces of a past shower. At
first he was frightened at these manifestations, would tenderly caress
her, and ask her what had happened, Nothing! always nothing! no cross,
no domestic anxiety, no special trouble. But then something must have
happened. Frank's logical spirit, long trained, refused to accept an
effect without a cause; and at length, after repeated questioning, he
would learn from Barbara that she was "a little low" that day. A
little low! What on earth had she had to be a little low about? And
then Frank would imagine that there were more things in women than
were dreamt of in his philosophy; and would pet her and coax her
during dinner, and restore her somewhat to herself, until he took up
his review or his heavy reading, when the "little low" fit would come
on again; and after half an hour's contemplation of the coals Barbara
would burst into sobs and retire to bed. And then Frank, laying down
his book and pondering over his final pipe, would first begin to think
that he was badly treated; to review his conduct, and see whether any
act of his during the day could have caused the "little lowness;" to
imagine that Barbara was making mountains of molehills, and was losing
that spirit which had been one great attraction to him; then gradually
he would soften, would take into consideration the changes in the
circumstances of her life; would begin to accuse himself of neglecting
her, and preferring his reading at a time when she had a fair claim on
his attention; and would finally rush off to implore her forgiveness,
and pet her more than ever.

An infatuated fellow, this Frank Churchill; so happy in the possession
of his wife, in the knowledge that she was his own, all his own, that
nothing, not even the fact that she was occasionally a "little low,"
had power to damp his happiness for more than a very few minutes. He
would sit at dinner of an evening, when she was engaged with her work,
and he had a book in front of him, in company, when he could steal a
minute from the general conversation, looking at her in rapt
admiration; not one point of her beauty was lost upon him; the shape
of her head; its _pose_ on her neck; her delicate hands with that pink
shell-like palm; those long tapering fingers and filbert nails; her
rounded bust and slim waist,--all her special excellences impressed
him more now than they had when he had first seen her; but, above all,
he revelled in her "bred" appearance, in that indefinable something
which seemed to lift her completely out of the set of people with
which he saw her surrounded, and to show her by right the denizen of
another sphere. If you could have persuaded Frank Churchill that
another man held such opinions as these; that another man had such
feelings with regard to his wife; and that through holding them he was
induced to regard somewhat intolerantly those among whom he had
hitherto moved, and from whom he had received the greatest kindness
and friendship,--what words would have been scathing enough to have
expressed Frank Churchill's disgust!

Yet such was undoubtedly the case. Churchill's most intimate friend
was George Harding,--a man whom he reverenced and looked up to, but
whom he, since his marriage, had often found himself pitying from the
bottom of his soul. Not on his own account: loyal to his craft and
steadfast in his friendship, Churchill thought there were few more
desirable positions than the editorship of the _Statesman_, when as
free from influence or partisanship as when Harding held the berth. It
was because his friend was Mrs. Harding's husband that Churchill
pitied him; though, indeed, Mrs. Harding was a very fair average kind
of woman. A dowdy little person, Mrs. Harding! the daughter of a
snuffy Welsh rector, who had written a treatise on "Aorists," and with
whom Harding had read one long vacation,--a round-faced old-maidish
little woman, classically brought up, who could construe Cicero
fluently, and looked upon Horace (Q. Flaccus, I mean) as rather a
loose personage. In the solitude of Plas-y-dwdllem, George Harding was
thrown into the society of this young female. He did not fall in love
with her--they were neither of them capable of any thing violent of
that nature; but--I am reduced to the phraseology of the servants'
hall to express my meaning--they "kept company together;" and when
George took his degree and started in life as leader-writer for the
_Morning Cracker_ (long since defunct), he thought the best thing he
could do for his comfort was to go for a run to Wales and bring back
Sophia Evans as his wife. This he did; and they had lived thoroughly
happily ever since. Mrs. Harding believed intensely in the
_Statesman_; read it every day, from the title to the printer's name;
knew the name of every contributor, and could tell who had done what
at a glance. Her great pride in going out was to take one of the cards
sent to the office, and observe the effect it made upon the receiving
attendant at operas, flower-shows, or conversazioni. She always took
care that the tickets for these last were sent to her; and her
head-dress of black-velvet bows with pearl-beads hanging down behind
was well to the fore whenever a mummy was unrolled, the fossil jawbone
of an antediluvian animal was descanted on, or some sallow missionary
presented himself at Burlington House, to be congratulated by hundreds
of dreary people on having escaped uneaten from some place to which he
never ought to have gone. She herself was fond of having occasionally
what she called "a social evening." This recreation was held on a
Saturday, when there was no work at the _Statesman_ office, when the
principal members of the staff would be bidden, and when the
condiments provided would be brown-bread and butter rolled into
_cornets_, tea and coffee and lemonade, while the recreation consisted
in conversation (amongst men who had met for every night during the
past twelve months), and in examining photographs of the city of
Prague. The ribald young men at the office spoke of Mrs. Harding as
"Plutarch," a name given to her one night when Mr. Slater, the
dramatic critic, asked her what novel she was then reading, and she
replied, "Novel, sir! Plutarch's Lives!" But they all liked her,
notwithstanding; and for her sake and their dear old chief's did
penitential duty at the occasional "social evenings" in Decorum
Street.

Of course this little body had nothing in common with Mrs. Frank
Churchill, and neither understood the other. George Harding had been
so anxious that his wife should pay all honour to his friend's bride,
that Mrs. Harding's was the first visit Barbara received. They did not
study the laws of etiquette in Mesopotamia, or Mrs. Harding thought
she would break the ice of ceremony with a friendly call; so the
arrived one morning at 11 A.M. dressed for the occasion, and having
sent up her card, awaited Barbara's advent in the drawing-room. No
sooner had the servant shut the door and Mrs. Harding found herself
alone than she minutely examined the furniture, saw where new things
had replaced others with which she had been acquainted, mentally
appraised the new carpet, and took stock generally. The result was not
satisfactory; an anti-macassar which Barbara had been braiding lay on
the table, with the needle still in it. Mrs. Harding took it up
between her finger and thumb, gazed at it contemptuously, and
pronounced it "fal-lal;" she peeped into the leaves of a book lying
open on the sofa, and shut them up with a sigh of "Novels! ah!" she
turned over the music lying on the little cottage-piano which Frank
had hired for his wife, and again shrugged her shoulders with an
exclamation of distaste. Then she sat herself down on a low chair with
her back to the light (an old campaigner, Mrs. Harding, and seldom to
be taken at a disadvantage), pulled out and smoothed her dress all
round her, settled her ribbons, made a further incursion into the
territories of a refractory thumb in her cowskin puce-coloured glove,
which had hitherto refused submission to the invader, and awaited the
coming of her hostess.

She had not long to wait. Frank had gone out on business; but he had
so often spoken of Harding as his dear friend, that Barbara, though by
no means gushing by nature,--indeed, if truth must be told, somewhat
proud and reserved,--had made up her mind to be specially friendly to
Mrs. Harding; so she came sailing into the room with outstretched hand
and a smile on her face. Mrs. Harding gave one glance at the full
flowing figure, the rustling skirts, and the outstretched hand; she
acknowledged the superior presence, and then suddenly maxims learned
in her youth in the still seclusion of Plas-y-dwdllem rose in her
mind,--maxims which inculcated a severe and uncompromising deportment
as the very acme of good breeding. So, instead of coming forward to
meet Barbara and responding to her apparent warmth, the little woman
stood up for a quarter of a minute, crossed her hands before her,
bowed, and sank into her seat again. For an instant Barbara stopped,
and flushed to the roots her hair; then, quickly perceiving it was
merely ignorance which had caused this strange proceeding on Mrs.
Harding's part, she advanced and seated herself near her visitor.

"You are a stranger in this neighbourhood?" commenced Mrs. Harding.

Barbara, feeling that the admission would be what policemen call "used
against her," answered in the affirmative.

"It's very healthy," said Mrs. Harding.

Barbara again assented.

"Do you like it?" asked Mrs. Harding.

"I can scarcely say. I have had so little opportunity of judging. It
is very convenient for where my husband has to go, and all that; but
it is a long way from that part of London which I know."

Two or three things in this innocently-intended speech jarred
dreadfully on Mrs. Harding's feelings. That worthy matron had all the
blood of Ap-somebody, a tremendously consonanted personage of
Plas-y-dwdllem in old times, and she was irritable in the highest
degree. But she made a great gulp at her rage, and only said, "Oh, you
mean the _Statesman_ office; yes, of course I ought to know where that
is, considering Mr. Harding's position there! We think this a very
nice situation; but, of course, when you've been brought up in
Grosvenor Square, it's different! What does Vokins charge you?"

"I--I beg your pardon!" said Barbara. "Vokins?"

"Yes; Vokins the butcher!" repeated the energetic little woman.
"Sevenpence or sevenpence-halfpenny for legs? Your mother-in-law was
the only woman in the neighbourhood who got 'em for sevenpence, and
I'm most anxious to know whether he hasn't raised it since you came
here."

"I'm sorry I'm unable to answer you," said Barbara; "but hitherto my
husband has paid the tradesmen's bills. I've no doubt" she added, with
a half-sneer, "that it shows great shortcomings on my part; but it is
the fact. I have hopes that I shall improve as I go on."

"Oh, no doubt," said Mrs. Harding, faintly. "Live and learn, you
know." But she gave up Barbara Churchill from that time out. She, who
had known the price of every article of domestic consumption since she
was fourteen years old, and had fought innumerable hand-to-hand
combats with extortionate tradesmen, looked upon this _insouciance_ of
Barbara's as any thing but a venial crime. A few other topics were
started, feebly entered into, and dropped; and then Mrs. Harding took
her leave, with faintly-expressed hopes of seeing her new-made
acquaintance soon again.

That afternoon George Harding, returning home to dinner, was told by
his wife that she had called on Mrs. Churchill.

"Ay!" said the honest old boy; "and what did you make of her, Sophy?
I'd trust your judgment in a thousand; and Frank has a high opinion of
it, I know. Is she pretty, and clever, and managing, and all the rest
of it?"

"Well, as to prettiness, George, she's not one of my style of
beauties," said Mrs. Harding. "She's a tall slip of a woman, with
straight features, such as you see on the old coins; and she's very
stand-offish in her manners; and, as to managing--well, she's too fine
a lady to know her tradespeople's names, or what she pays them."

George Harding whistled softly, and then plunged into his hashed
mutton. He made but one remark, but that he repeated twice. "I told
him to beware of swells. God knows I warned him. I told him to beware
of swells."

That same night Mrs. Churchill told her husband of the visit she had
had.

"I'm so glad!" said Frank. "I knew old George would send his wife
first. Well, what do you think of Mrs. Harding, Barbara?"

"Oh, I've no doubt she meant every thing kindly, Frank," said Barbara,
"She's--she's a right-meaning kind of woman, Frank, no doubt; but
she's--she's not my style, you know."

Frank was dashed. "I don't exactly understand, dear. She was perfectly
friendly?"

"Oh, perfectly! But she asked me all sorts of curious questions about
the tradespeople, and the housekeeping, and that. So strange, you
know."

"I confess I don't see any thing strange so far. She offered you the
benefit of her experience, did she? Well, that was kind; and what was
wanted, I think."

"Oh, I'm sorry you think it was wanted," said Barbara. "I didn't think
any thing had gone wrong in the house."

"No, my darling, of course not," said Frank  "nothing--all is quite
right. But, you know, housekeeping is Mrs. Harding's strong point; and
young beginners like ourselves might learn from her with advantage. I
think we must lay ourselves out for instruction in several matters,
Barbara darling, from such persons as Mrs. Harding and my mother."

And Barbara said, "Oh, yes, of course." And Frank did not notice that
her little shoulders went up, and the corners of her little mouth went
down, and her eyes sparkled in a manner which did not promise much
docility on the part of one of the pupils thus to be instructed.

It took but a very short time for Barbara to discover that she and her
mother-in-law were not likely to be the very best friends. On their
first meeting the old lady was very much overcome, and welcomed her
new daughter-in-law in all fulness of heart. And perhaps--though
Barbara never knew it--it was at this first meeting that a feeling of
disappointment was engendered in Mrs. Churchill's heart. For long
brooding over the forthcoming events of that day, ere the new-married
couple had returned to town, Mrs. Churchill had settled in her own
mind that there were to be no jealousies between her and the new
importation into the small family circle as to the possession of
Frank, and that to that end the right plan would be to receive Barbara
as her daughter, and to make her part recipient of that affection
which had hitherto only been lavished on Frank. This idea she
forthwith carried into execution, kissing Barbara with great warmth,
and addressing her as her dear child. Unimpulsive Barbara, though
really pleased at her reception, accepted the caresses with becoming
dignity, offered her cheek for the old lady's warm salute, and
addressed her mother-in-law in tones which, though by no means lacking
in reverence, certainly had no superfluity of love. The old lady
noticed it, and ascribed it to timidity, or the natural shyness of a
young girl in a strange position; she noticed specially that Barbara
invariably spoke to and of her as "Mrs. Churchill;" and before they
parted she said:

"My dear, you surely don't always intend to speak to me in that formal
manner. I am your mother now, Barbara; won't you call me so?"

"No, dear Mrs. Churchill--no, if you please! I have never called any
one by that name since I lost my own mother, and--and I cannot do so,
indeed."

Mrs. Churchill simply said, "Very well, my dear." But in what
afterwards became a gaping wound, this may be looked upon as the first
abrasion of the skin. That gave the old lady a notion that her
daughter-in-law's tactics were to be purely defensive, that there was
to be no compromise, and that she, the old lady, was clearly to
understand that her position was on the other side of the gabions and
the fascines, the stone walls and the broad moat; that by no means was
the key of the citadel to be considered as in her possession.

When relations of this kind in one family begin to be _à tort et à
travers_, there is no end to the horrible complications arising out of
them. Mrs. Churchill attempted to initiate Barbara into the mysteries
of housekeeping, and the art of successfully combating nefarious
tradesmen; but the success which attended the old lady's efforts may
be guessed from Barbara's interview with Mrs. Harding. She tried to
get Barbara to walk out with her; but Barbara had not been accustomed
to walk in London streets, and was timid at crossings,--which made the
old lady irate; and was frightened at the way in which men stared, and
on some occasions spoke out unreservedly their opinions of her beauty.
She had liked the outspoken admiration of the crowd, as she sat well
forward in the carriage on drawing-room days; but then she knew that
she had Jeames with his long cane in reserve in case of need; though I
doubt whether Jeames would have been more useful in case of actual
attack than old Mrs. Churchill, who invariably resented these
unsolicited compliments to her daughter-in-law with a snort of
defiance, and who usually carried a stout umbrella with a ferule at
the end, which would have made a very awkward weapon, and which she
would have wielded with right good will. Misunderstandings were
constant: after the first few occasions of their meeting, Barbara did
not ask Mrs. Churchill to the house for fear of appearing formal;
whereupon the old lady, when Frank called at her lodgings, asked what
she had done to be exiled from her son's house. Pacified and settled
as to this point, the old lady, to show her forgiveness, called in so
frequently, that Barbara told her husband she knew her housekeeping
was not perfection; but that she had not expected a system of
_espionnage_, which was evidently kept on her by his mother. When Mrs.
Churchill dined at their house, Barbara, for fear of appearing
extravagant, would have a very simple joint and pudding; whereupon the
old lady would afterwards tell Mrs. Harding, or some other friend,
that "Heaven alone knew where Frank's money went--not on their
dinners, my dear, for they're positively mean."

Nor with her husband's friends did Barbara make a very favourable
impression. They admired her, of course; to withhold that tribute was
impossible; but they were so utterly different in manner and
expression, had such different topics of conversation and such totally
opposite opinions to any thing she had ever seen or heard, that she
sat in silence before them; uttered vague and irrational replies to
questions put to her while her thoughts were far away, smiled feebly
at wrong times, and so conducted herself, that Mr. M'Malthus, a clever
Scotchman, who was worming his way into literature, and was at that
time getting a name for blunt offensive sayings (an easily earned
capital, on which many a man has lived for years), was reported to
have remarked that "a prettier woman or bigger fool than Mrs.
Churchill was not often seen."

There were others who, while they allowed that she had plenty of
common-sense (and indeed on occasion, in a cut-and-thrust argument,
Barbara showed herself cunning of fence, and by no means deficient in
repartee), would call her stuck-up and proud; and there were some,
indeed, who repudiated the mere fact of her having lived in a
different class of society to which they were not admitted, as in
itself an insult and a shame. And even those who were disposed to
soften all defects and to exaggerate all virtues--and they were by no
means few in number--failed to what they call "get on" with the new
Mrs. Churchill. They had no subjects of conversation in common; for
even when literary subjects were introduced, they frightened Barbara
by their iconoclastic tendencies; deliberately smashing up all those
gods whom she had hitherto been accustomed to reverence, and erecting
in their stead images inscribed with names unknown to her, or known
but to be shuddered at as owned by Radicals or free-thinkers. They
were men who outraged none of the social _convénances_ of life; about
whose manner or behaviour no direct complaint could be made; and often
she thought herself somewhat exacting when she would repeat to
herself, as she would--oh, how often!--that they were not gentlemen:
not her style of gentlemen; that is to say, not the style of men to
whom she had been accustomed. When, for instance, would a man have
dared to address his conversation to any other man in preference to
her, she being present? When could a man have permitted her to open a
door, or place a chair for herself, in that set amongst which she had
previously moved? Respect her! Her husband's friends would ignore her
presence; saying in reply to a remark from her, "Look here, Churchill,
you understand this;" or would prevent her interrupting them (a
favourite practice of hers) by putting up their hands and saying,
"Pardon-me while I state my case," continue their argument in the most
dogged manner.

What most amazed Barbara was the calm manner in which all her sallies,
however bitter or savage, were received by her husband's intimates,
and laughed away or glossed over by Frank himself. At first her notion
was to put down these persons by a calm haughty superiority or a
studied reticence, which should in itself have the effect of showing
her opinion of them: but neither demeanour had the smallest effect on
those whom it was intended to reprove. The first time she ever
perceived that any one was the least degree inclined to oppose her
sway or dispute her authority, was one Saturday night, when
Churchill's study was filled with several of his old friends, smoking
and chatting. Barbara was there too, with her embroidery. She could
stand tobacco-smoke perfectly; it did not give her a headache, or even
worse than that, redden her eyelids and make her wink; and there was a
small amount of "fastness" in it which pleased her. Moreover her
presence prevented the gathering in the _tabagie_ from quite sinking
into a bachelor revel, the which Barbara, as a young married woman,
held in the deepest abomination. The conversation was in full swing
about books, authors, and publishers.

"Chester's going to bring out a volume of poems," said Mr. Bloss, an
amiable young man with fluffy hair, who always had a good word for
every one. "Says he should have published them before, but he's so
many irons in the fire."

"Better put his poems where his irons are," laughed Mr. Dunster, a
merry little old gentleman with light-blue eyes, who could take the
skin off your back and plant daggers in your heart, smiling all the
time in the pleasantest manner. "Chester's next door to an idiot;
lives close by you, by the way, Bloss, doesn't he?"

All the men laughed; and even Barbara, after a look of amazement,
could not help smiling.

"He's dreadfully frightened of the critics," said another man sitting
by. "You must notice him in the _Statesman_ yourself, Churchill, eh?"

"Or I'll speak to Harding. Poor Chester! he mustn't be allowed to come
to grief. What are his verses like? has any one seen them?"

"I have," said Mr. Bloss. "They're really--they're--well--they're not
so very bad, you know."

"What a burst of candour!" said Mr. Dunster. "Bloss, you are a young
reviewer, and I must caution you against such excessively strong
statements."

"Chester's most afraid of the _Scourge_," said the man who had spoken
before; "he thinks it will flay him."

"He should mollify them by saying that his verses were written at 'an
early age,'" laughed Churchill.

"That wouldn't do for the _Scourge_; they would say the verses were
too bad even to have been written by a child in arms," said Mr.
Dunster.

"How _very_ nice! What an old dear you are, Dunster!" said a gentleman
sitting in a corner of the fireplace exactly opposite Barbara, with
his legs stretched out on a stool, and his body reclining on an
easy-chair. This was Mr. Lacy, an artist, who, as it was, made a very
good income, but who might have taken the highest rank had his
perseverance been on a par with his talent; a sleepy, dreamy man, with
an intense appreciation of and regard for himself.

"What do you think of all this, Mrs. Churchill?" asked Bloss; "they
are any thing but compassionate in their remarks."

"They may be or not," said Barbara, wearily. "It is all Greek to me:
while these gentlemen talk what I believe is called 'shop,' I am
utterly unable to follow the conversation."

Frank looked uneasily across at his wife, but said nothing.

"What shall we talk about, Mrs. Churchill?" said Mr. Dunster, with an
evil twinkle of his blue eyes. "Shall it be the last ball in the
Belgravia, or the new _jupe_; how Mario sang in the _Prophète_, or
whether bonnets will be worn on or off the head?"

Churchill frowned at this remark, but his brow cleared as Barbara said
with curling lip:

"You need not go so far for illustrations of what you don't
understand, Mr. Dunster. Let us discuss tolerance, domestic
enjoyments, or the pleasure of being liked by any one,--all of which
axe, I am sure, equally strange to you."

Mr. Dunster winced, and the fire faded out of his blue eyes: he did
not understand being bearded. Frank Churchill, though astonished at
seeing his wife defiant, was by no means displeased. Old Mr. Lacy,
fearing a storm, which would have ruffled him sadly, struck in at
once:

"It's a mistake, my dear Churchill; I'm convinced of it. We're not fit
for these charming creatures, we artists and writers, believe me.
We're a deucedly irritable, growling, horrible set of ruffians, who
ought to be left, like a lot of Robinson Crusoes, each on a separate
island. I can fully enter into Mrs. Churchill's feelings; and I've no
doubt that Mrs. Lacy feels exactly the same. But what do I do? I'm
compelled to shut the door in Mrs. Lacy's face--to lock Mrs. Lacy out.
She's a most excellent woman, as you know, Churchill; but she always
wants to talk to me when I ought to be at work; now, on a sky-day, for
instance! There are very few days in the year in this detestable
climate, my dear Mrs. Churchill, which permit of one's seeing the sky
sufficiently to paint it. When such a day does happen, I go to my
studio and lock the door; but I've scarcely set my palette, before
they come and rap, and want to talk to me--to ask me about the
butcher, or to tell me about the nurse's sister, or something; and I'm
obliged to whistle or sing to prevent my hearing 'em, or I should get
interested about the nurse's sister, and open the door, and then my
day's work would be spoilt."

"You're right, Lacy," said Dunster: "men who've got work to do should
remain single. They'll never--"

"Come, you're polite to my wife," said Frank. "This is flat blasphemy
against the state into which we've just entered."

"Oh, pray don't let the conversation, evidently so genial, be stopped
on my account. I'm tired, and am just going;" and with a sweeping bow
Barbara sailed out of the room.

An hour afterwards, when Frank looked in from his dressing-room, he
saw in the dim light Barbara's hair streaming over the pillow, and
going to her found traces of tears on her cheeks. Tenderly and eagerly
he asked her what had happened.

"Oh, Frank, Frank!" she exclaimed, bursting into fresh sobs; "I see it
all now! What those horrid men said is too true! We were worse than
mad to marry. Your friends will never understand me, while I shall
interfere with your work and your pleasure; and, oh! I am so very,
very miserable myself!"



CHAPTER XXI.
THE FLYBYNIGHTS.


To such of womankind as knew of its existence there were few places in
London so thoroughly unpopular as the Flybynights Club. And yet it was
an unpretending little room, boasting none of the luxury of decoration
generally associated in the female mind with notions of club-life, and
offering no inducement for membership save that it was open at very
abnormal hours, and that it was very select. The necessary
qualification for candidature was that you should be somebody; no
matter what your profession (provided, of course, that you were a
gentleman by position), you must have made some mark in it, shown
yourself ahead of the ruck of competitors, before you could have been
welcome among the Flybynights. Two or three leading advocates,
attached for the most part to the criminal bar; half-a-dozen landscape
and figure painters of renown; half-a-dozen actors; a sporting man or
two, with the power of talking about something else besides Brother to
Bluenose's performances; two or three City men, who combined the most
thorough business habits with convivial tastes in the "off" hours; a
few members of Parliament, who were compelled to respect the room as a
thoroughly neutral ground; a few journalists and authors, and a
sprinkling of nothing-doing men about town,--formed the corporate body
of the club. What was its origin? I believe that certain members of
the Haresfoot Club, finding that establishment scarcely so convivial
as report had led them to believe; that the _Dii majores_ of the house
were a few snuffy old gentlemen, without an idea beyond the assertion
of their own dignity and the keeping up of some dreary fictions and
time-worn conventionalities; that the delights of the smoking-room, so
much talked of in the outer world, in reality consisted in sitting
between a talkative barrister and a silent stockbroker, or listening
to the complaints against the management of the club by the committee;
finding, in fact, that the place was dull, bethought them of
establishing another where they could be more amused. Hence the
Flybynights.

The Flybynights had no house of their own; they merely occupied a room
on the basement of the Orpheus tavern,--a dull sombre old room, with
big couches and lounges covered with frayed leather, with a smoky
old green-flock paper, and with no ornament save a battered old
looking-glass in a fly-blown frame. Occasionally roisterers new to
town, on their way to the big concert-room of the Orpheus, where they
were to be enchanted with the humour of Mr. Bloss's "Dying Cadger's
Lament," or the pathos of Mr. Seeinault's "Trim-built Wherry," would
in mistake push open the green-baize door leading to the Flybynights
sanctum, and immediately withdraw in dismay at the dinginess of the
room and the grim aspect of its occupants. That grimness, however, was
only assumed at the apparition of a stranger; when the members were
alone among themselves, perfect freedom from restraint was the rule.
And if, on the next morning, the jurymen who listened with awe to the
withering denunciations which fell from the lips of the learned
counsel for the prosecution,--the bank-directors who nodded approval
to the suggestions of certain shrewd financiers,--the noble sitters
who marked the brows of the artists engaged on their portraits,
"sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought,"--nay, even the patients
who gazed with eager eyes to glean something from the countenances of
the physicians then clutching their pulses,--had seen counsel,
financiers, artists, and physicians on the previous evening at the
Flybynights, they could not have recognised them for the same men. The
fame of the club spread; anecdotes and _bon-mots_ ran round town more
quickly, and were better received, when they had the Flybynight stamp.
It was rumoured that O'Blank and Macaster, the great authors, were
occasionally to be seen there in the flesh, conversing like ordinary
mortals; heavy swells found out that it was open as late as Pratt's,
and asked each other, in elliptic phraseology, "Whether 'twasn't good
kind place, eh? met 'musing kind fellahs there; made laugh'n, that
kind thing?" But though they made various attempts at election, they
never got beyond an occasional visit to the club; friendly attempts to
smuggle them in as members were dead failures; and at every ballot,
generally held at midnight, the strident voice of Rupert Robinson,
author and dramatist, could be heard asking, at the mention of any
candidate's name, "Who is he? what can he do? what has he done?"
questions which, unless satisfactorily answered, caused the immediate
pilling of the pretender to association with the Flybynights.

A few weeks after the Schröders' reception, Beresford and Simnel, who
had been dining together, strolled into the club soon after midnight.
Beresford was a member; Simnel came as his guest; the latter would
have been safe of election, as his tact and shrewdness were very
generally known and highly esteemed amongst the men, but he always
refused to be put in nomination. "It's all very well for Beresford,"
he would say; "he's a Commissioner, and can do as he likes; I'm an
upper servant; and though you're a deuced pleasant set of fellows, you
haven't got a great name for respectability with the B.P., or British
Public, whom I serve. It's horribly virtuous, is the B.P., and is
always in bed before you sweet youths meet in this bower of bliss. So
that though I'm delighted to come occasionally with Charley and pay
you a visit, I must be in a position, if called upon, to swear that
I'm not an affiliated member of your sacred brotherhood." The other
men understood all this, and liked Simnel better for his candour; and
there was no visitor at the Flybynights more welcome than he. It was a
great occasion at the Flybynights; one of the members, Mr. Plinlimmon
the poet, had that day been giving a lecture "On Sentiment, its Use
and Abuse," at St. Cecilia's Hall, and had had great success. For Mr.
Plinlimmon was not a mere common poet who made verses and sold
them; he was cousin to Lady Heritage, whose husband was the Lord
Privy-Purse; and he was very well off, and wrote only for his
amusement, and consequently was the very man to be patronised.
Moreover, he wrote weak little verselets, like very-much-diluted
Wordsworth, abounding in passages quotable for Academy pictures of
bread-and-butter children; and he was much taken up by Mr.
Spicklittle, the editor of the _Boomerang Magazine_, so soon as it was
understood that he stood well with the fashionable world. And there
had been a very fashionable audience at St. Cecilia's Hall to hear Mr.
Plinlimmon on "Sentiment," and the stalls had been filled with what
was afterwards stated in the public prints to be the rank and flower
of the land; and high-born women had complimented him on the
conclusion of his labours, and had voted his lecture charming; all of
which thoroughly consoled the lecturer, and enabled him to forget the
rude conduct of certain rough-spoken critics in the body of the hall,
who had loudly cried "Bosh!" at his finest passages, and gone out with
much shuffling of thick boots and dropping of heavy walking-sticks
long before his peroration. And after dining with a countess, Mr.
Plinlimmon thought that the right thing was to go down and show
himself at the Flybynights Club, of which he was a member; and he had
entered the room just before Beresford and Simnel arrived.

"Hail, Plinlimmon!" shouted Mr. Magnus the historian, with kindly
glances beaming through his spectacles; "hail, bard of the
what-d'ye-call-it! How air you, colonel?"

"Hallo, Plinlimmon!" shouted Mr. Rupert Robinson; "been giving a show,
haven't you? what sort of house did you have? who looked after your
checks? you were very well billed, I noticed."

Plinlimmon shuddered.

"Lecturing, haven't you?" asked Mr. Slater, critic of the _Moon_.

"Yes," said Plinlimmon, "I have been giving a lecture."

"Ah!" said Mr. Schrink, critic of the _Statesman_, "if I'm not wrong,
Dr. Johnson defines the verb to lecture as to 'instruct insolently and
dogmatically.' You're quite capable of that, Plinlimmon."

"What was your subject, sir?" asked Mr. Mugg, low comedian of the
Sanspareil Theatre.

"Sentiment, sir!" said Mr. Plinlimmon, fiercely; it began to dawn on
him that he was being chaffed.

"Deary me!" said Mr. Mugg, with feigned wonder and uplifted hands;
"sentiment, eh? them's my sentiments!"

"Silence, you ribalds!" said Mr. Magnus. "You had a large attendance,
I hear, Plinlimmon; more women than men, though, I suppose? Men don't
come in the daytime."

"There was a great gathering of the female aristocracy," said
Plinlimmon, perking up his head.

"One old woman jawing always brings together a lot of others,"
growled Mr. Dunster, beneath his breath. He had been apparently
dozing in a far corner of the room, but had roused up at the word
"aristocracy,"--as sure an irritant to him as a red rag to a
bull,--and his bright blue eyes were gleaming.

"I didn't think much of your delivery, Plinlimmon," said Mr. Slater.

"It was as slow as a midday postman's, and not so sure," said Mr.
Schrink; "you got uncommonly drowsy and bag-pipy at times."

"I'll tell you what it is Plinlimmon," said Mr. Dunster; "you are
uncommonly dreary! You're a swell, and you can't help it; but you were
horribly slow. I'll tell you what it is, my young friend; you're far
too dull by yourself,--_you want a piano_."

During the roar which followed this remark, Beresford felt a light
touch on his arm, and turning round saw Dr. Prater.

Not to be known to Dr. Prater was to confess that the "pleasure of
your acquaintance" was of little value; for assuredly, had it been
worth any thing, Dr. Prater would have had it by hook or by crook. A
wonderful man, Dr. Prater, who had risen from nothing, as his
detractors said; but however that might be, he had a practice scarcely
excelled by any in London. Heart and lungs were Dr. Prater's
specialities; and persons imagining themselves afflicted in those
regions came from all parts of England, and thronged the doctor's
dining room in Queen-Anne Street in the early forenoons, vainly
pretending to read Darwin _On the Fertilisation of Orchids, the Life
of Captain Hedley Vicars_, or the Supplement of yesterday's _Times_;
and furtively glancing round at the other occupants of the room, and
wondering what was the matter with them. That dining-room looked
rather different about a dozen times in the season, of an evening,
when the books were cleared away, and the big bronze gas-chandelier
lighted, and the doctor sat at the large round-table surrounded by a
dozen of the pleasantest people in London. Such a mixture! Never
was such a man for "bringing people together" as Dr. Prater. The
manager of the Italian Opera (Dr. Prater's name was to all the
sick-certificates for singers) would be seated next to a judge, who
would have a leading member of the Jockey Club on his other hand, and
a bishop for his _vis-à-vis_. Next the bishop would be a cotton-lord,
next to him the artist of a comic periodical, and next to him a rising
member of the Opposition, with an Indian colonel and an American
comedian, here on a starring engagement, in juxtaposition. The dinner
was always good, the wines excellent, and the doctor was the life and
soul of the party. He had something special to say to every one; and
as his big protruding eyes shone and glimmered through his gold-rimmed
spectacles, he looked like a convivial little owl. A very different
man over the dinner-table to the smug little pale-faced man in black,
whom wretched patients found in the morning sitting behind a
leather-covered table, on which a stethoscope was conspicuously
displayed, and who, after sounding the chests of consumptive curates
or struggling clerks, would say, with an air of blandness, dashed with
sorrow, "I'm afraid the proverbially treacherous air of our climate
will not do for us, my dear sir! I'm afraid we must spend our winter
at Madeira, or at least at Pau. _Good_ day to you;" and then the
doctor, after shaking hands with his patient, would slip the tips of
his fingers into his trousers-pockets, into which would fall another
little paper-package to join a number already there deposited, while
the curate or clerk, whose yearly income was perhaps two hundred
pounds, and who probably had debts amounting to twice his annual
earnings, would go away wondering whether it was better to endeavour
to borrow the further sum necessary at ruinous interest, or to go back
and die in the cold Lincolnshire clay parish, or in the bleak Northern
city, as the case might be. On one thing the doctor prided himself
greatly, that he never let a patient know what he thought of him. He
would bid a man remove his waistcoat with a semi-jocund air, and the
next instant listen to a peculiar "click" inside his frame, which
betrayed the presence of heart-disease liable at any moment to carry
the man off, without altering a muscle of his face or a tone of his
voice. "Hum! ha! we must be a little careful; we must not expose
ourselves to the night-air! Take a leetle more care of yourself, my
dear sir; for instance, I would wear a wrap round the throat--some
wrap, you know, to prevent the cold striking to the part affected.
Send this to Bell's, and get it made up, and take it three times a-day;
and let me see you on--on Saturday. _Good_ day to you." And there
would not be the smallest quiver in the hard metallic voice, or the
smallest twinkle in the observant eye behind the gold-rimmed glasses,
although the doctor knew that the demon Consumption, by his buffet,
had raised that red spot on the sufferer's cheek, and was rapidly
eating away his vitality.

But if Dr. Prater kept a strict reticence to his patients as regarded
their own ailments, he was never so happy as when enlarging to them on
the diseases of their fellow-sufferers, or of informing esoteric
circles of the special varieties of disorder with which his practice
led him to cope. "_You_ ill, my dear sir!" he would say to some puny
specimen; then, settling himself into his waistcoat after examination,
"_you_ complain of narrow-chestedness,--why, my dear sir, do you know
Sir Hawker de la Crache? You've a pectoral development which is
perfectly surprising when contrasted with Sir Hawker's. But then he,
poor man! last stage,--Madeira no good,--would sit up all night
playing whist at Reid's Hotel. Algiers no good,--too much brandy,
tobacco, and _baccarat_ with French officers--nothing any good. _You_,
my dear sir, compared to Sir Hawker--pooh, nonsense!" Or in another
form: "Any such case, my dear madam? any such case?"--turning to a
large book, having previously consulted a small index--"a hundred
such! Here, for instance, Lady Susan Bray, now staying at Ventnor,
living entirely on asses'-milk--in some of our conditions we must live
on asses'-milk--left lung quite gone, life hanging by a thread. You're
a Juno, ma'am, in comparison to Lady Susan!" There was no mistake,
however, about the doctor's talent; men in his own profession, who
sneered at his _charlatanerie_ of manner, allowed that he was
thoroughly well versed in his subject. He was very fond of young men's
society; and, with all his engagements, always found time to dine
occasionally with the Guards at Windsor, with a City Company or two,
or with a snug set _en petit comité_ in Temple chambers, and to visit
the behind-scenes of two or three theatres, the receptions of certain
great ladies, and occasionally the meetings of the Flybynights Club.
To the latter he always came in a special suit of clothes on account
of the impregnation of tobacco-smoke; and when coming thither he left
his carriage and his address, in case he was required, at the Minerva,
with orders to fetch him at once. It would never have done for some of
his patients to know that he was a member of the Flybynights.

Such was Dr. Prater, who touched Beresford on the arm and said, "Not
again, my dear sir! I will not be balked of the opportunity of saying,
'how d'ye do?' to you again."

"Ah, doctor," said Beresford with that apparent frankness and
_bonhomie_ to which he owed so much of his popularity, "delighted to
see you! But what do you mean 'balked of the opportunity'? Where was
that?"

"A few weeks since, just before I left town;--I've been away, and Dr.
Seaton has kindly attended to my practice;--we met at the house of our
charming friend Mrs. Schröder; but I could not catch your eye. You
were too well engaged; there was, as somebody--I don't know who, but
somebody that every one knows--has said, there was metal more
attractive. Ha! ha! A charming woman, Mrs. Schröder! a very charming
woman!"

"Very charming," echoed Mr. Beresford shortly, not particularly caring
about finding himself thoroughly focussed by the doctor's sharpest
glances concentrated through his spectacles. "By the way, don't you
know our secretary, Mr. Simnel, Dr. Prater?"

The gentlemen bowed. "I have the pleasure of being well acquainted
with Mr. Simnel by name, and of being at the present moment engaged in
a correspondence with him in reference to a certificate which I have
given. And, by the way, my dear sir," turning to Simnel, "you really
must give young Pierrepoint his six weeks. You must indeed!"

"If it rested with me, doctor, I'd give him unlimited leave; confer on
him the order of the 'sack,'" said Simnel, bluntly--"an idle stuck-up
young hound!"

"Harsh words, my dear sir; harsh words! However, I will leave our
young friend's case with you and Mr. Beresford; I am sure it could not
be in better hands. You were not in Saxe-Coburg Square the other
night, I think? De-lightful party!"

"No," said Simnel, "I'm not a great evening-party man myself; it's
only your butterflies of fashion, like our friend here, who enjoy
those light and airy gaieties. My pleasures are of a more substantial
kind. By the way, doctor, how's Kitty Vavasour's cough?"

The doctor's eyes twinkled as he replied, "Oh, much better--very much
better. Horrible draught down that first entrance, my dear sir, as she
perhaps told--I mean, as you probably know. Dreadful draught! enough
to kill half the _coryphées_ in London. I've spoken to Grabb about it,
but he won't do any thing; and when I hinted at the drapery, asked
me if I thought he was going to let his ballet-girls dance in
bathing-gowns. Very rude man, Grabb."

"Very good style they did that in the other night," said Beresford,
cutting in--"in Saxe-Coburg Square, I mean--very good, wasn't it? I
suppose it was the lady's taste; but when they get hold of a woman
with any notion of arrangement and effect, these _parvenu_ fellows
from the City certainly don't grudge the money for their fun. And in
the way the Schröders are living, the establishment must cost a pretty
sum, I should imagine."

"A pretty sum indeed, my dear sir," said the doctor. "However, I
understand on all sides that Mr. Schröder can perfectly afford it. I
hear from those who ought to know" (a great phrase of Dr. Prater's,
this) "that his income is princely!" And then the doctor looked at the
other two and repeated "princely!" and smacked his lips as though the
word had quite a nice taste in his mouth.

"It's a good thing to be a Polish Jew," growled Mr. Simnel. "This
fellow's ancestors lent money to long-haired Grafs and swaggering
Electors, and got their interest when they could; and thought
themselves deuced lucky not to get their teeth pulled out when they
asked for a little on account, or not to be put on the fire when they
presented their bill. Their descendant lives in pleasanter days; we've
given up pulling out their teeth, worse luck! And that neat little
instrument, 'Victoria, by the grace,' is as open to Jews as
Christians. I always thought there was something wrong in that."

"This Schröder is a tremendously lucky fellow, by Jove!" said
Beresford. "He's got a very pretty wife and an enormous fortune; and
though he's not young, to judge from all appearances, has a
constitution of iron, and will live for years to enjoy his good
fortune."

"Ah, my dear sir," said Dr. Prater in a low and solemn voice, "I'm
afraid you're not correct in one particular; not correct in one
particular!" and the little man shook his head and looked specially
oracular.

Simnel glanced up at him at once from under his heavy eyebrows; but
Beresford only said, "Why, doctor, you're not going to try and make me
believe any envious disparagement of Schröder's riches?"

"Not for the world, my dear sir; not for the world! Such rumours have
been spread! but, as you say, only among the envious and jealous, who
would whisper-away Coutts's credit, and decline to intrust their
miserable balance to Barings'! No; my doubts as to Schröder relate to
another matter."

"His health?" said Simnel, who had kept his eyes on the solemn little
man, and was regarding him keenly.

"Pre-cisely!" said the doctor. And he stepped aside for an instant,
helped himself to a pinch of snuff from a box on a neighbouring table,
and returned to his companions, gazing up at them with a solemn steady
stare that made him look more like an owl than ever.

"His health!" exclaimed Beresford, "why there's surely nothing the
matter with that! He has the chest of a horse and the digestion of an
ostrich. I don't know a man of his age to whom, to look at, you'd give
a longer life."

"Right, my dear sir," replied the doctor, "right enough from a
non-professional view. But Mr. Schröder, like the gentleman of whom I
have heard, but whose name I can't call to mind, has that within which
passeth show. I _know_ the exact state of his condition."

"This is very interesting," said Mr. Simnel, drawing closer to the
doctor on the ottoman; "very interesting, indeed; yours is a wonderful
profession, doctor, for gaining insight into men and things. Would it
be too much to ask you to tell us a little more about this particular
case?"

"Well, you know, I don't often talk of these matters; there are men in
our profession, my dear sir, who gossip and chatter, and I believe
make it pay very well; but they are men of no intellect, mere quacks
and charlatans--quacks and charlatans! But with gentlemen like
yourselves, men of the world, I don't mind occasionally revealing a
few of the secrets of the--the--what d'ye call 'em?--prison-house. The
fact is--" and the doctor lowered his voice and looked additionally
solemn,--"that Mr. Schröder's life hangs by a thread."

Both his listeners started, and Mr. Simnel from between his set teeth
said, "The devil!"

"By a thread!" repeated the doctor, holding out his finger and thumb
as though he actually had the thread between them. "He may go off at
any moment; his life is not certain for an hour; he's engaged, as you
know, in tremendous transactions, and any sudden fright or passion
would be his certain death."

"Ah, then his disease is--"

"Heart, my dear sir, heart!" said the doctor, tapping himself on the
left side of his waistcoat; "his heart's diseased,--one cannot exactly
say how far, but I suspect strongly,--and he may go out at any moment
like the snuff of a candle."

"Have you known this long?" asked Beresford.

"Only two days: he came to me two days ago to consult me about a
little worrying cough which he described himself as having; and in
listening at his chest I heard the death-beat. No mistaking it, my
dear sir; when you've once heard that 'click,' you never forget it."

"By Jove, how horrible!" said Simnel.

"Poor devil! does he know it himself?" asked Beresford.

"Know it, my dear sir? Of course not. You don't imagine _I_ told him?
Why the shock might have killed him on the spot. Oh, dear, no! I
prescribed for his cough, and told him specially to avoid all kind of
excitement: that was the only warning I dare give him."

As the doctor said this, Mr. Simnel rose. "It's a horrible idea," said
he with a shudder--"horrible!"

"Very common, my dear sir, very common. If you knew how many men there
are whom I meet out at dinner, in society, here and there, whom I know
to be as distinctly marked for death as if I saw the plague-spot on
their breasts!"

"Well, you've completely frightened me," said Beresford. "I'll get
home to bed, and try and forget it in sleep. Are you coming, Simnel?
Good night, doctor." And the two gentlemen went out together, leaving
the little doctor already sidling up to another group.

When they were out in the street, and had started on their homeward
walk, Simnel said to his companion:

"That was strange news we've just heard."

"Strange, indeed," replied Beresford. "Do you think the doctor's
right?"

"Not a doubt of it; he's a garrulous idiot; as full of talk as an old
woman; but I have always heard very skilful in his profession, and in
this special disease I believe there are none to beat him. Oh, yes,
he's right enough. Well, you always held winning cards, and now the
game looks like yours."

"Simnel," said Beresford, stopping short and looking up into his face,
"what the devil do you mean?"

"Mean!" echoed Simnel; "I'll tell you when you come on; it's cold
stopping still in the streets, and the policeman at the corner is
staring at you in unmitigated wonder. Mean!" he repeated, as they
walked on; "well, it's not a very difficult matter to explain. You
hear that Schröder has heart-disease--that at any moment he may die.
You always had a partiality for Mrs. Schröder, I believe; and if there
be any truth in what I gather from yourself and others, you stand very
well with her."

"Well?"

"Well! You're dense to-night, Master Charley. Well? Why, you've as
great a chance as man ever had before you. You've only to wait until
what Prater told us of happens,--and if he's right, it won't be
long,--and then marry the widow and start as a millionaire."

"By Jove, it _is_ a great chance!" said Beresford, looking at his
friend.

"And yet you didn't see it until just now. Why, it opened straight up
in front of me the instant that chattering medico mentioned the fact.
If you play your cards well, you're all right; but remember,
flirtation and courtship are two different things, and must be managed
differently. And recollect it's for the latter you're now going in.
Now, here's my street, so adieu. Sleep on this matter, and we'll talk
of it to-morrow morning."


"It's a tremendous fluke," said Mr. Simnel, as he leisurely undressed
himself; "but it will serve my purpose admirably. That eight hundred
pounds of mine lent to Master Charley looks much less shaky than it
did, and what a trump-card to play with Kate!"



CHAPTER XXII.
MR. SIMNEL AT THE DEN.


Two days after the events recorded in the last chapter, Mr. Simnel
left the Tin-Tax Office a couple of hours earlier than his usual time
of departure, and taking a cab, hurried off to his apartments in
Piccadilly. Overlooking the Green Park, sufficiently lofty to be
removed from the immediate noise of the traffic, and situate in that
part of the street which was macadamised, there were, perhaps, no more
delightful chambers in town than those occupied by the Tin-Tax
secretary. They consisted but of three rooms--sitting-room,
bed-chamber, and bath-room; but all were lofty and well-proportioned,
and were furnished in a thoroughly luxurious manner. A big bookcase,
with its contents admirably selected, covered one side of the
sitting-room, on the walls of which hung Raphael Morghen prints, and
before-letter proofs after Landseer, Leslie, and Stanfield; a round
table, over which were suspended three swinging moderator-lamps, with
white-china shades and crimson-silk fringe; a sofa and numerous
easy-chairs, all in crimson velvet and walnut-wood; rich spoils of
Bohemian glass, standing in odd corners on quaint oak cabinets; two
Sèvres china dogs, in begging attitude, mounting guard on either end
of the mantelshelf; and a flying female figure suspended across the
looking-glass;--such were among the incongruous contents of the room.
On the table, two yellow-paper covered French novels, a Horace,
and M'Culloch's Commercial Directory lay side by side; in the
looking-glass, cards for evening-parties and dinners were jostled by
tickets soliciting vote and interest in approaching elections of
charitable societies, remindings of gatherings of learned bodies, and
small bills for books or boots. It was Mr. Simnel's pleasure to keep
up this _mélange_; his time was generally fully occupied; he chose
people to consider that he had not a moment to himself; he wished
those who called on him on business to see the invitations, in order
that they might judge therefrom of his position in society; and he
took care that the attention of those idle droppers-in, who came on a
Sunday morning, for instance, or late at night, to have a chat, should
be directed to the business-cards, to give them a notion of his
standing in the money-making, business world. Since Mr. Simnel assumed
the reins at the Tin-Tax Office, two or three hundred men had sat with
their legs under that round table, discussing an excellent dinner, and
meeting pleasant people; but not one of them had ever left the room
without Mr. Simnel's feeling that his coming had been productive of
benefit to his host, and that the invitation had fully answered its
intent. Baron Oppenhardt, the great financier, never could tell what
made him accept Simnel's invitation, save that he knew his host was
connected with Government and had a long head of his own; yet he never
refused. And little Blurt, whose "connexion with the press" was of a
limited nature, never could understand why, biennially, he sat under
those shaded moderator-lamps in Piccadilly, and consumed Pommery Greno
out of bell-shaped glasses. But Simnel knew why he had them to dinner,
and took their value out of both Oppenhardt and Blurt.

A long-headed man, Mr. Simnel, and, to judge from the strange smile on
his face on that particular day, full of some special scheme, as he
emerged from his bedroom and looked out into Piccadilly. Any thing but
a vain man, and long past the age when the decoration of one's person
enters largely into account, Mr. Simnel had yet paid special attention
to his toilette during the short interval which had elapsed since his
arrival at home from the Tin-Tax Office. He was got up with elaborate
care and yet perfect simplicity; indeed, there was a touch of the old
school in his drab riding-trousers, white waistcoat, blue cut-away
coat, and blue bird's-eye neckerchief, with small stand-up collars. A
glance into the street showed him that his horses were ready, and he
descended at once. At the door he found his groom mounted on a
knowing-looking gray cob, short, stiff, and sturdy, and leading a
splendid thoroughbred bright bay with black points. This Mr. Simnel
mounted and rode easily away.

Through Decimus Burton's archway he turned into Hyde Park and made at
once for the Row. There were but few men lounging about there at that
time of the year, but Simnel was known to some of them; and after nods
had been exchanged, they fell to comparing notes about him and his
horse and his style of living, wondering how it was done, admiring his
cleverness, detracting from his position--talking, in fact, as men
will do of another who has beat them in this grand struggle for place
which we call life. The Row was very empty, and Simnel paid but little
attention to its occupants: now and then he occasionally raised his
whip mechanically in acknowledgment of some passing salute, but it is
to be doubted whether he knew to whom he was telegraphing, as his
thoughts were entirely fixed on his mission. However, he wore a
pleasant smile on his face, and that was quite enough: grinning, like
charity, covers a multitude of sins; and if you only smile and hold
your tongue, you can pass through life with an _éclat_ which excellent
eloquence, combined with a serious face, would fail to give. So Mr.
Simnel went smiling along at the easiest amble until he got clear of
the Row and the town, and then he gave the bay his head, and never
drew rein until he turned up a country lane immediately on passing
Ealing Common.

Half way up this lane stood The Den, and evidences of Kate Mellon's
calling began to abound so soon as you turned out of the high-road. In
the fields on either side through the bare hedges one could see a
string of horses in cloths and head-pieces, each ridden by a groom,
skirting the hedges along which a proper riding-path had been made;
occasionally a yellow break, driven by a veteran coachman, with a
younger and more active coadjutor perched up behind, and standing with
his eyes on a level with the coach-box observing every motion of the
horses, would rumble by, while the clay-coloured gig containing Mr.
Sandcrack the veterinary surgeon, who, in his long white cravat,
beard, and tight trousers, looked a pleasant compound of a
dissenting-minister, a horse-jockey, and an analytical chemist, was
flying in and out of the lane at all times and seasons. Mr. Simnel
seemed accustomed to these scenes and thoroughly well known amongst
them, the grooms and breaksmen touched their hats to him, and he
exchanged salutations with Mr. Sandcrack, and told him that the bay
had got rid of all his wind-galls and never went better in his life.
So straight up the lane until he arrived at the lodge, and then,
before his groom could ride up, his cheery cry of "Gate!" brought out
the buxom lodge-keeper, and she also greeted Mr. Simnel with a curtsey
of recognition, and received his largesse as he rode through; so down
the little carriage-drive, past the pigeon-house elevated on a pole,
and the pointers' kennels, and the strip of garden cultivated by the
lodge-keeper, and in which one of the lodge-keeper's dirty chubby
children was always sprawling; past the inner gates, through which
could be caught glimpses of the circular straw-ride, and the stable
and loose boxes, and the neatly gravelled courtyard, up the sweep and
so to the house-door. Freeman, the staid stud-groom from Yorkshire,
had seen the visitor's entry from the stable, where he was
superintending, and hurried up to meet him. Before Mr. Simnel's own
groom had come alongside, Freeman was at his horse's head.

"Mornin', sir," said he, touching his hat. "Missis is oop at
Fouracres, close by, givin' lesson to a young leddy, just by t' water
soide: joompin' brook, oi think. Howsever she'll be in d'rackly, oi
know."

"All right, Freeman," said Mr. Simnel, leisurely dismounting. "Horses
all well? Fine weather for horseflesh, this!"

"Ay, ay, it be, sir!" said the old man. "Stood be pratty well, oi'm
thinkin': coughs and colds, and that loike, as is allays case this
toime o' year."

"Don't hurry Miss Mellon on my account, Freeman," said Mr. Simnel; "I
can wait. I'll go into the house, and you can let her know that I'm
here, when she comes in. By the way, Freeman, I haven't seen you since
Christmas: here's for old acquaintance' sake."

Freeman touched his hat gratefully, but not submissively, as he
pocketed the half-sovereign which Mr. Simnel slipped into his
capacious palm, and moved off towards the stables with the groom and
the horses.

"Good man, that," said Simnel to himself, as he went into the house.
"Straightforward, conscientious sort of fellow, and thoroughly devoted
to _her_. Proper style of man to have in an establishment: thoroughly
respectable--do one credit by his looks. If it ever comes off, I
certainly should keep Mr. Freeman on."

Mr. Simnel passed on into the long low dining-room, where he found the
table spread for luncheon, with a very substantial display of cold
roast beef, fowls, and tongue, sherry, and a tall bottle of German
wine. He smiled as he noticed these preparations, and then leisurely
walked round the room. He paused at an oil-painting of Kate with a
favourite horse by her side. The artist evidently knew much more about
the equine than the human race. The horse's portrait was admirable,
but poor Kitty, with vermilion cheeks and glaring red hair, and a blue
habit with long daubs of light in it, like rain-streaks on a window,
was a lamentable object to look on. Only one other picture decorated
the walls, a portrait of the Right Hon. the Earl of Quorn, aged 61,
founder of the Society for the Relief of Incapacitated Jobmasters and
Horse-dealers, dedicated to him by his faithful servants the
publishers; representing a hale old gentleman, remarkable principally
for his extraordinary length of check-neckcloth, seated on a
weight-carrying cob, and staring intently at nothing. On a side-table
lay a thick book, _Youatt on the Horse_, and a thin pamphlet,
_Navicular not Incurable_, a _Little Warbler_ (poor Kitty!), and a kind
of album, into which a heterogeneous mixture of recipes for
horse-medicines, scraps of hunting news, lists of prices fetched at
the sales of celebrated studs, and other sporting memoranda had been
pasted. Simnel was looking through this, and had just come upon a slip
of printed matter, evidently cut from a newspaper, announcing the
appointment of Mr. Charles Beresford to be a commissioner of the
Tin-Tax Office, in place of Cockle pensioned--a slip against which
there were three huge deep pencil-scorings--when the door opened and
his hostess entered.

Although her habit was draggled and splashed, and her hair disarranged
and blown about her face, Kate Mellon never had looked, to Simnel's
eyes at least, more thoroughly charming than she did at that instant.
The exercise she had just gone through had given her a splendid
colour, her eyes were bright and sparkling, her whole frame showed to
perfection in the tight-fitting jacket; and as she came into the room
and removed her hat, the knot of hair behind, loosened from the comb,
fell over her shoulders in golden profusion. She wound it up at once
with one hand, advancing with the other outstretched to her guest.

"Sorry I'm late, Simnel," said she; "but I had a pupil here, and
business is business, as you know well enough. Can't afford to throw
away any chance, so I gave her her hour, and now she's off, and I am
all the better by a guinea. I didn't stop to change my habit because I
heard you were waiting, and I knew you wouldn't mind."

"You couldn't look more enchanting than you do now, Kate," said
Simnel.

"Yes, yes; I know," said Kitty; "all right! But I thought you knew
better than that. This is the wrong shop for flummery of that sort, as
you ought to have learnt by this time. Have some lunch?"

They sat down to the table, and during the meal talked on ordinary
subjects; for the most part discussing their common acquaintance, but
always carefully avoiding bringing Beresford's name forward. When they
had finished, Kate said, "You want to smoke, of course. I think I
shall have a puff myself. No, thank you; your weeds are too big for
me; I've got some Queens here that old Sir John Elle sent me after I
broke that roan mare for his daughter. By George, what a brute that
was! nearly killed me at first, she did; and now you might ride her
with a pack-thread."

Simnel did not reply. Kate Mellon curled herself up on an ottoman in
the window with her habit tucked round her; lit a small cigar; and
slowly expelling the smoke said, as the blue vapour curled round her
head, "And now to business! You wanted to talk to me, you said; and I
told you to come up to-day. What's it all about?"

"About yourself, Kate. You know thoroughly well my feelings to you;
you know how often I have--"

"Hold on a minute!" said Kate; "I know that you've been philandering
and hanging on about me,--or would have been, if I'd have let
you,--for this year past. I know that well enough; but I thought there
was to be none of this. I thought I'd told you to drop that subject,
and that you'd consented to drop it. I told you I wouldn't listen to
you, and--"

"Why would not you listen to me, Kate?" said Simnel earnestly.

"Why? Because--"

"Don't trouble yourself to find an excuse; I'll tell you why," said
Simnel. "Because you were desperately bent on a fruitless errand;
because you were beating the wind and trying to check the storm;
because you were in love,--I must speak plainly, Kitty, in a matter
like this,--in love with a man who did not return your feeling, and
who even now is boasting of your passion, and laughing at you as its
dupe!"

"What!" cried the girl, throwing away the cigar and starting to her
feet.

"Sit down, child," said Simnel, gently laying his hand on her arm;
"sit down, and hear me out. I know your pluck and spirit; and nothing
grieves me more, or goes more against the grain with me, than to have
to tell you this. But when I tell you that the man to whom you so
attached yourself has spoken lightly and sneeringly of your
infatuation; that amongst his friends he has laughingly talked of a
scene which occurred on the last occasion of his visit to this house,
when you suggested that he should marry you--"

"Did he say that?" asked the girl, pushing her hair back from her
face,--"did he say that?"

"That and more; laughed at the notion, and--"

"O my God!" shrieked Kate Mellon, throwing up her arms. "Spare me!
stop, for Heaven's sake, and don't let me hear any more. Did he say
that of me? Then they'll all know it, and when I meet them will grin
and whisper as I know they do. Haven't I heard them do it of others a
thousand times? and now to think they'll have the pull of me. O good
Lord, good Lord!" and she burst into tears and buried her face in her
handkerchief. Then suddenly rousing, she exclaimed: "What do you come
and tell me this for, Simnel? What business is it of yours? What's
your motive in coming and smashing me up like this?"

"One, and one only," said Simnel in a low voice. "I wanted to prevent
your demeaning yourself by ever showing favour to a man who has
treated you so basely. I wanted you to show your own pride and spirit
by blotting this Beresford from your thoughts. I wanted you to do
this--whatever may be the result--because--I love you, Kate!"

"That's it!" she cried suddenly--"that's it! You're telling me lies
and long stories, and breaking my heart, and making me make a fool of
myself, only that you may stand well with me and get me to like you!
How do I know what you say is true? Why should Charley do this? Why
did Charley refuse what I offered him? I meant it honestly enough, God
knows. Oh, why did he refuse it?" and again she burst into tears.

"Oh, he did refuse it?" said Simnel, quietly. "So far, then you see I
am right; and you will find I am right throughout. I'll tell you why
he acted as he did to you. Because he's full of family pride, and
because he never cared for you one rush. At this very moment he is
desperately in love with a married woman, and is only awaiting her
husband's death to make her his wife!"

"Can you prove that?" asked Kate eagerly.

"I can! you shall have ample opportunity of satisfying yourself--"

"Does the husband suspect?"

"Not in the least."

"That's right!" said the girl with sudden energy--"that'll do! Only let
me prove that, and I'll give him up for ever."

"If I do this for you, Kitty, surely my love will be sufficiently
proved. You will then--"

"Yes, we'll talk of that afterwards. I'll see you next week, and
you'll tell me more of this new love-affair of--of _his!_ Don't stop
now. I'm all out of sorts. You've upset me. I wasn't in condition.
I've been doing a little too much work lately. Go now, there's a good
fellow! Good-by." Then stopping suddenly--"You're sure you're not
selling me, Simnel?"

"I swear it!" said Simnel.

"I wish to heaven you had been," said the poor girl; "but we'll see
about the new business next week. I think we'll spoil that pretty game
between us, eh? There, good-by." And she set her teeth tight, and
rushed from the room.

"So fax so good," said Mr. Simnel, as he rode quietly home. "She's
taken it almost a little too strongly. My plan now is to soften her
and turn her to me. I think I have a card in my hand that will win
that trick, and then--the game's my own!"



CHAPTER XXIII.
MR. BERESFORD IN PURSUIT.


The idea suggested by Simnel, after the interview with Dr. Prater at
the Flybynights, came upon Mr. Beresford with extraordinary force. It
opened up to him a new train of thought, gave a complete turn to his
intended course of life, afforded him matter for the deepest study and
reflection. As we have already seen, he was a man with a faultless
digestion, and without a scrap of heart--two qualities which had
undoubtedly greatly conduced towards his success in life, and towards
making him a careless, easy-going worldly philosopher. When he first
saw Miss Townshend at Bissett Grange, he remembered her as a cheery
little flirt whom he had met during the previous season; and finding
her companionable and amusing, determined to carry on a flirtation
which should serve as a pastime, and, at the break-up of the party, be
consigned to that limbo already replete with similar _amourettes_. The
presence of Captain Lyster, and the unmistakable evidence of his
passion for the young lady, gave Mr. Beresford very little annoyance;
he had a notion that, save in very exceptional cases, of which indeed
he had had no experience, women had a horror of an earnest lover; that
watchings and waitings, hangings on words, deep gazings into eyes, and
all outward signs of that passion which induces melancholy and affords
themes for poets, were as much _rococo_ and out of date as carrying a
lady's glove in your hat and perpetually seeking a fight with some one
on her account. He thought that women hated "dreary" lovers, and were
far more likely to be won by rattle, laughter, and raillery than by
the deepest devotion of a silent and sighing order. Moreover, as he
was only going in for flirtation, he would make his running while it
lasted, and leave the Captain to come in with the weight-carrying
proprieties after he had gone.

So far at first. Then came the recollection of his straitened
position, the reflection that Miss Townshend was an heiress, and the
determination to go in seriously for a proposal--a determination which
was very short-lived, owing to the discovery of the lady's engagement
to Gustav Schröder. From the time of her marriage, Mrs. Schröder was
by Beresford mentally relegated to a corps which included several
married ladies of his acquaintance; for the most part young and pretty
women, whose husbands were either elderly, or immersed in business,
or, what was equally available, immersed in pleasure, and more
attentive to other men's wives than to their own; ladies who required
"notice," as they phrased it, and who were sufficiently good-looking
to command it from some men, between whom and themselves there existed
a certain understanding. Nothing criminal, nor approaching to
criminality; for despite the revelations of the Divorce Court, there
is, I take it, a something, whether it be in what is called our
phlegmatic temperament, whether it be in the bringing-up of our
English girls,--bringing-up of domesticity utterly unknown to
Continental-bred young ladies, which hallows and keeps constantly
present the image of the doting father and the tender mother, and all
the sacred home-associations,--a something which strengthens the weak
and arrests the hand of the spoiler, and leaves the sacrifice
incomplete. The necessity for "notice," or for "being understood," or
"for having some one to rely on" (the husband engaged in business or
in the House being, of course, utterly untrustworthy), has created a
kind of society which I can only describe as a kind of solid
bread-and-butter _demi-monde_--a _demi-monde_ which, as compared with
that state of existence known in France under the title, is as a club
to a tavern, where the same things are carried on, but in a far more
genteel and decorous manner. The relations of its different members to
each other are as free from Wertherian sentimentalism as they are from
Parisian license, and would probably be considered severely correct by
that circle of upper Bohemians, of whose lives the younger Dumas has
constituted himself the chronicler.

Having, then, mentally appointed Mrs. Schröder a member of this
society, Mr. Beresford took upon himself the office of her cavalier,
and behaved to her in due form. When they were in company together, he
sedulously kept his eyes upon her, strove to anticipate her wishes,
and let her see that it was she who entirely absorbed him; he always
dropped his voice when he spoke to her, even though it were about the
merest trifle; and he invariably took notice of the arrangements of
her dress, hair, and appearance in general, and made suggestions
which, being in excellent taste, were generally approved and carried
out. Then he found out Mrs. Schröder's romantic side, a little bit of
nineteenth-century sentiment, dashed with drawing-room cynicism, which
found its exponent in Mr. Owen Meredith's weaker verses; and there
they found plenty of quotations about not being understood, and the
"little look across the crowd," and "what is not, might have been,"
and other choice little sentiments, which did not tend to elevate Mr.
Gustav Schröder, then hard at work in the City, in his wife's good
opinion. Indeed, being a very weak little woman, with a parasitical
tendency to cling for support to something, and being without that
something, which she had hitherto found in Barbara, free from the
dread which her father's presence always imposed upon her, and having
no companion in her husband, Mrs. Schröder began to look forward with
more and more eagerness to her opportunities of meeting Charles
Beresford, to take greater and greater delight in his attentions and
his conversation, and to substitute a growing repugnance for her
hitherto passive endurance of Mr. Schröder. Charles Beresford was
gradually coming to occupy the principal position in her thoughts, and
this that gentleman perceived with mingled feelings of gratified
vanity and annoyance. "She's going a little too fast!" he had said to
himself; "this sort of thing is all very well; but she's making it a
mile too palpable! People will talk, and I'm not in a position to
stand any public scandal; and as for bolting, or any thing of that
sort, by Jove, it would be sheer ruin and nothing less." In this frame
of mind, it had more than once occurred to Mr. Beresford to speak to
Mrs. Schröder, and caution her as to her bearing towards him; but
fortunately for him, so thoroughly void of offence had been all their
relations hitherto, that he scarcely dared to hint at what he intended
to convey, without risking the accusation of imputing evil by his very
advice. And in the mean time, while he hesitated what course to take,
came Dr. Prater's information, which at once changed all his plans.

The day after the conversation at the Flybynights, Mr. Beresford left
town and remained away for a week. The first day after his return, he
went into Mr. Simnel's room at the Office, and found that gentleman as
usual surrounded with work. Contrary, however, to his general custom,
Simnel no sooner looked up and saw Beresford than he threw down the
pen which he was plying, rose, and advancing shook his friend heartily
by the hand.

"Glad to see you back, Charley!" he said; "I was afraid you were off
for a ramble by your leaving no message and no address. Some of the
old games, eh? You must give them up now, Master Charley, and live
circumspectly; by Jove, you must."

"Nothing of the sort," replied Beresford. "Gayford, who was chief here
before Maddox, was an old friend of our family; and he's ill, poor old
boy, so I went out of charity to stay with him. He's got a place at
Berkhampstead, and there's deuced good hunting-country round there. I
had three capital days; Gayford's daughters were out; clipping riders,
those girls; good as Kate Mellon any day!"

"Indeed!" said Mr. Simnel, wincing a little at the name: "I should
think flirting with any body's daughters, be they ever so 'clipping,'
as you call it, would be time wasted for you just now, wouldn't it?"

"What do you mean?" asked Beresford, knowing perfectly, but anxious
that the declaration should come from his companion.

"Mean!" said Simnel, somewhat savagely. "What ant I likely to mean?
That you ought to stick to your duties here and earn your salary; that
Sir Hickory has heard that you go to the Argyle Rooms, and is going to
speak to Lord Palmerston about it; that you're hurting your health or
spoiling your complexion by keeping late hours,--is that why I'm
likely to tell you to live circumspectly? What rubbish it is fencing
with me in this way! You know that the last time we met was at that
nightclub of yours; that we had a talk there with Dr. Prater; and that
you determined--"

"I know," interrupted Beresford with a start--"I know," he continued,
looking round, "I'm not over particular; but I confess this plotting
for a dead man's shoes seems to me infernal rascality."

"What do you mean by 'plotting,' Charles Beresford? _I_ am plotting
for no dead man's shoes. _I_ have no hope of marrying a pretty widow,
and having a splendid income; and as for rascality--"

"There, I didn't mean it; I only thought--"

"Nor, on the other hand," pursued Mr. Simnel, relentlessly, "am _I_
over head and ears in debt, pressed by Jews, horribly impecunious,
and--"

"Leave me alone, Simnel, can't you? I know all this; and as you must
be perfectly certain, I've turned this Schröder affair over in my mind
a hundred times already."

"And what have you decided?"

"To go in for it at all hazards."

"I think you're right," said Simnel quietly; "it seems to me your last
chance; and though it's not strictly a very nice business, there are
hundreds of men holding their heads up before the world, which very
much esteems them, who have made their money in far worse
transactions. You'll require an immense amount of patience and tact."

"The former undoubtedly. Prater said he might go at any moment
if--what was it?--any thing excited or annoyed him. Question is what
does excite a fellow of that sort--Muscovadoes being high, or
gray-shirtings scarce, or pig-iron in demand, or some of those things
one sees in the paper--banks breaking or stocks falling, eh? As for
the tact, I don't think that will be required now."

"How do you mean--_now?_"

"Because it's all squared already," said Beresford complacently.
"I've only to go in and win whenever I like I imagine. To tell the
truth--though a man doesn't talk of these things, of course--I've
being fighting shy of it lately, rather than pressing it on."

"Yes, yes, of course," said Simnel impatiently; "I know all about
that; but don't you see that the greatest tact will be required
because your plan of operations must be entirely changed? You have
been carrying on a very animated flirtation within certain limits; but
now you are going in for a totally different thing. You are going
in--sit down, and let us talk this over quietly, it's rather
important: I know you've great experience in such matters; but just
listen to my humble advice, it may be worth hearing,--you are going in
to make sure of marrying a woman after her husband's death; an event
likely to occur at any time. To insure success there are two ways--one
by compromising her--"

"By Jove, Simnel!" exclaimed Beresford through his shut teeth.

"Be quiet, and don't interrupt--I'm not going to brush the down off
your virtue! As I said, by compromising her, by which you gain a hold
upon her which she cannot shake off, and must always acknowledge and
bow to, when required. But this, besides being wrong and unjust, and
all that sort of thing--which I don't so much mind--is risky, which I
dislike; and if detected, brings the whole fabric to the ground. So we
may put that on one side."

"Ah!" said Beresford, with a sigh of relief; "and the other?"

"The other is a totally different method, and unlike any thing you
have ever tried, I suspect, with any one. It is simply by professing
hopeless, unswerving, unconquerable spooniness. You have
hitherto--pardon the question--merely looked and sighed, &c.? Ah, I
thought so; that gesture was quite satisfactory as to the amount of
tenderness. Well now, then, you must declare yourself. Quietly, of
course, and, if you please, without any manifestations, which would
entirely spoil our plan, the essence whereof is virtue. You declare
yourself to this effect: that you are so completely smitten that you
can keep silence no longer; that previous to going away for a
lengthened period (for you believe that expatriation is the only thing
that will afford temporary relief), you have determined on speaking to
her, fearing she might think your absence strange, or hear its cause
wrongly explained by somebody else; that yours is not like the feeble
sentiment of the butterflies who flutter around her, &c. &c.; but a
deep and stedfast passion, which will only cease with life. You know
all that business. Then, that your respect for her is so great, that
you will not give scandal the smallest chance of a whisper. Had you
met in happier times--oh! you did, eh? Well, then, had you been in a
position, when you first met, to have offered, &c.; but now, too late!
love for ever; but leave for ever--foreign climes."

"Yes; but you know well enough I can't go abroad, and--"

"My dear fellow, she'll never dream of your doing any thing of the
sort. If I've any knowledge of women, she'll be deeply affected, as
she ought to be by your deucedly romantic story. She'll say a good
deal about 'if,' in reference to former years; she'll state her full
determination to do nothing approaching the smallest shadow of wrong;
but she'll avow she should be miserable at the idea of being the cause
of your banishment, and therefore she'll entreat you to stop in
England and be her brother."

"Be her brother?"

"Ay, and a first-rate position you'll have of it as her brother.
There'll be an immense amount of sentiment in the connexion; she'll
defer to you in every thing; your presence will always keep every body
else off, and she'll never dream of carrying on with any one but you.
How could she expect again to meet with such delicacy as you've shown?
And if any thing _should_ happen, you're safe to be first in the field
and to carry off the cup. Now do you see the line of country?"

"Oh, yes, I see it fast enough, and I've no doubt I can manage it.
It's rather a duffing business altogether; however, needs must, and I
musn't risk any more flukes. One thing I _am_ curious about, Simnel."

"What's that?"

"Why you take such an interest in this business? You first put me on
to it, and you've evidently given it some of your precious time in
thinking it out while I've been away. Be frank for once in your life,
and say--"

"Why does it interest _me?_" said Simnel, nursing his leg, and giving
a grin which showed all his big teeth. "Well, Master Charley, your
memory has never been good, but you might occasionally recollect that
you owe me eight hundred pounds!"

"Yes," said Beresford, "I know that well enough; but it isn't for that
alone. You'll be safe to get that, if I marry and come into money; but
there's something more in it than that, I know. It's that business
with the name of that firm that you made me say to old Townshend,
isn't it now, eh?"

"What, Pigott and Wells!" said Simnel, rocking to and fro--"Pigott and
Wells of Combcardingham? Well, perhaps that has something to do with
it; who knows? Meantime, stick to what I've told you; begin at once,
and in a month's time come to me with a good report."

And so ended the colloquy between this precious pair.


     *     *     *     *     *


Pursuing his instructions with a certain amount of relish, and all the
experience of an accomplished and versatile actor, Mr. Beresford threw
himself into his new character with spirit, and made a decided hit in
it. All the raillery and nonsense, all the smiles and laughter, had
vanished. Owen Meredith had been exchanged for Lord Byron; and Mr.
Beresford as a nineteenth-century London-made Giaour was doing
terrible execution to that feeble little bit of Mrs. Schröder's
anatomy which she called her heart. There was no one to say a kind
word, to give proper advice, to the poor little woman in her need.
Barbara was absolutely lost to her: she had been two or three times to
Great Adullam Street, and Barbara had returned the call; but there was
evident restraint on both sides. The outside show of friendship
remained, but there was no animating spirit; none such, at least, as
to call for the kind of confidence which Alice Schröder would gladly
have made, had she received the slightest invitation. But Barbara was
not the Barbara of old days: she looked worn and anxious, was
constantly preoccupied, and answered at random; she confined herself,
moreover, to the merest commonplaces in her conversation, so that
Alice got no help from her. Nor from her father had she any
supervision: strict to a fault before her marriage, Mr. Townshend,
having once settled his daughter, imagined that his duty in life was
done, and that henceforth he might devote himself entirely to
pleasure, consisting in haunting the City by day and the whist-tables
at the Travellers by night. And it began to be noticed that this
hitherto model British merchant drank a great deal of wine with his
dinner, and a great deal of brandy after it; and there were ugly
rumours running about 'Change and drifting through Garraway's; and
Townshend's clerks were rather in request at the Bay Tree, and were
manifestly pumped as to whether there was any thing wrong with their
governor, under the guise of being requested to "put a name" to what
they would like to drink. It may be imagined, therefore, that under
this state of circumstances Mr. Townshend had neither time nor
inclination to bestow any advice upon that daughter, who, as he was in
the habit of saying, "had made such a splendid alliance." With her
husband Alice had, as has before been said, nothing in common. He
was a cold, proud, well-meaning man, who gloried as much as a
white-blooded elderly person can be said to glory in his riches and
his state, and who liked to have a pretty, elegant, well-dressed woman
before him at table, in the same way that he liked to have a stout
big-whiskered butler in a white waistcoat behind him. He liked his
wife, when he had time to think about her; but he had been brought up
in business, and that absorbed his whole attention by day; while
giving or going to parties, in which he could spend the result of what
he had attained by business, occupied him at night. But he had the
highest opinion of Mrs. Schröder's conduct, which he imagined was on a
par with every thing else in the establishment--real and genuine; and
he paid her bills, and presented her with cheques, with lavish
generosity. Only he was not exactly the man on whose bosom a wife
could lay her head and confess that she was tempted beyond her
strength.

There was a man who, without being much mixed up with this little
episode in the great drama of human life, overlooked some of the
scenes, and saw the dangers to which one of the characters was rapidly
exposing herself. That man was Fred Lyster, the one sentiment of whose
life--his love for Alice Townshend--was as fresh and as green and as
pure as ever. The announcement of her engagement was a great shock to
him, and he had taken care only to meet her face to face once or twice
since her marriage. The meeting upset him; and though she was
apparently unconscious of any feeling in the matter, it did her no
good; and there was no earthly reason why it should be. But he went
every where where she went, and watched her in the distance; his ears
were always on the alert whenever her name was mentioned in club
smoke-rooms and suchlike haunts of gossip; and he found, as he had
dreaded with fatal prescience, at Bissett, that Beresford was on the
trail. Long and earnestly he deliberated with himself as to what
course he should pursue. Should he pick a quarrel on some other topic
with Beresford, and shoot him? Shooting had gone out of fashion; and
if he killed his man, he should be exiled from England; if he didn't
kill him, where was the use of challenging him? Should he speak to Mr.
Townshend? or was there no female friend to whom he could apply? Yes;
Barbara Churchill. In Barbara Churchill he had the greatest
confidence, and to her he would go at once.



CHAPTER XXIV.
BARBARA'S FIRST LESSON IN THE MANÈGE.


For some few months after the events just described, the lives of
those who form the characters of this little drama passed evenly on
without the occurrence of any circumstance worthy of special record on
the part of their historian. Mr. Beresford, implicitly following Mr.
Simnel's advice, proceeded to lay siege to Mrs. Schröder in the manner
agreed upon, and found his advances received very much after the
fashion predicted by his astute friend. In all child-like simplicity
Mrs. Schröder firmly believed in the baneful influence which she had
unconsciously exercised over her admirer, and strove to make him
amends by a charitable and sentimental pity. She could perfectly
appreciate all his feelings; for was not she herself misunderstood?
had her girlhood's dream been realised? what was wealth, what was
position, to her? was she not mated with one who, &c.? So she not
merely permitted but encouraged Mr. Beresford's fraternal sentiments;
though she by no means eschewed the world and its frivolity, and gave
herself up to solitary romance. On the contrary, she went out a great
deal into society, and had frequent receptions at home; Beresford
being her constant but always unobtrusive companion. It is difficult
to say what motive about this time prompted a considerable change in
Mr. Schröder's manner towards his wife; but some such change
undoubtedly took place. It may possibly have been that the
insufficiency of money as a source of happiness may have dawned upon
him, steeped as he was to his very lips in constantly-increasing
wealth. It may have been that he suddenly awoke to the fact that he
was expected to lavish something more than generosity on the young
girl whom he had made the head of his house, and who, as he thought,
conducted herself with so much propriety. This new feeling may have
had its germ one night when they were sitting in their grand-tier box
at the Italian Opera, during the performance of _Der Freischütz_; and
as the old familiar strains rang through the house, Gustav Schröder's
memory travelled back for five-and-thirty years, and he saw himself a
lad of seventeen, seated in the pit of a little German theatre by the
side of a plump little girl, who wore a silver arrow through the great
knot of her flaxen hair, and down whose cheeks tears were rolling as
she listened to the recital of Agatha's woes. He had loved that plump
little Kätchen, loved her with a boy's pure and ardent passion; and
when sent to his uncle's counting-house at Frankfort, they had parted
with bitter tears, and with the exchange of very cheap and worthless
love-tokens. He wondered what had become of that five-groschen piece
with the hole drilled through it, and the bit of red ribbon. He
wondered why he had never loved since those days. And then he looked
up and saw his pretty, elegant little wife, whom every one admired and
praised; and it flashed upon him that he had never tried to break
through the outer crust of staid formality with which business and the
world had covered him; and he determined to try to love and be loved
once more. And so Mrs. Schröder, beginning to be dreadfully frightened
at the incantation scene, was astonished to find her hand gently taken
in her husband's, and on looking up to find his eyes fixed on hers.
From that time out Gustav Schröder was a changed man; he took frequent
holidays from business; he strove in every way to let his wife see how
anxious he was for her happiness; and she saw it, and was to a certain
extent touched by his conduct. It needed all Mr. Beresford's
sophistry, all his attention and quotation, the employment of all the
art in which he had been indoctrinated by his friend Simnel, to make
head against the influence which Gustav Schröder's quiet watchfulness
and fatherly affection were attaining; for the affection was, after
all, more fatherly than conjugal in its display. Mr. Schröder was far
too much a man of the world to affect to ignore his age or the result
of his life-habits; and no one was better pleased than he to see his
wife happy among younger and livelier companions.

A happy influence properly exercised at this time would have been
immediately beneficial to Alice Schröder, and have brought matters
back into the right course. For instance, ten minutes' walk with
Barbara Churchill would have settled the question; for Barbara was to
Alice that one grand idol whom we all of us (although we change them
at different periods of our lives) set up and worship. And Barbara had
not derogated one whit from her high position in Alice's estimation by
her marriage. It was exactly the thing that she imagined a girl of her
friend's high spirit would do, if pressed to it; there was something
romantic in it, savouring of the legends of the high dames of old, who
gave themselves to poets after scorning kings; and the whole process
entirely agreed with certain of the _dicta_ of Mr. Owen Meredith, who,
as has been explained, was poet-laureate at the Schröder court. And
Alice called on Barbara, and petted her and praised her, and in her
silly little way did every thing possible to prevent the smallest
_rapprochement_ between them. And then Alice went away, and cried in
the carriage on her way home, and declared that Barbara was cruel and
unkind and unjust, and had utterly changed in every thing.

Were these assertions correct? I fear that at all events they had a
certain proportion of truth. The spirit which had induced Barbara
Lexden to marry a man without money, and of, as her friends thought,
inferior position; which had made her scorn the threats of being cast
off by those among whom her life had hitherto been placed, and to hold
to one whom she knew but little, yet trusted much,--this same spirit
made her brave the fate to which she had resigned herself, and
determined that if she repined, it should be in secret and unheard. It
_was_ a mistake; _that_ she had already confessed to herself with
bitter tears many and many a time; done in haste, repented at
leisure--the old, old story, the old seductive myth, which will find
believers for ever and aye. How often, brooding in the solitude of her
chamber, had she gone over the whole business in her mind, linking bit
to bit, and endeavouring to find out where the reality had fallen short
of the anticipation!

They were poor. Well! had she not expected poverty; had not Frank told
her plainly and honourably of his position before he made any
declaration? Yes; but she did not understand poverty exactly as she
had found it. She knew that they would not be able to give parties,
nor to go to the Opera, nor that kind of thing; but she certainly
thought that they would go out sometimes, and that she should not be
stuck at home for ever. Of course the people who gave parties had a
great deal of expense; but those who went to them had none; and it was
not expected that any newly-married people living in a small way
should entertain in return. But then Frank, after positively refusing
to go out a third night running, had given way; but had shaken his
head, and looked so serious over a glove-bill which he happened to see
on her dressing-table, that she threw on her dressing-gown, and bade
him go by himself. She did not care about going out; but if she went,
she would be decent; she had always been considered to have a
reputation for good taste, and nothing on earth should make her a
dowdy now. She would sooner stay at home always; indeed there was
little enough to go out for, having to be jolted in those horrible
cabs, that crawled along the streets, with no room for one's dress,
and with the certainty of being covered with dust or straw, or some
dreadful stuff, when you got out; and then the insolence of the
driver!

And her home? It was small, and dull, and dreary; but had she been led
to anticipate any thing else? No; she supposed not. And yet she wore
herself out in those gaunt dark rooms, and chafed in her prison like a
bird in its cage. She had always been a bad correspondent, and since
her marriage had scarcely written any letters at all; but she would
sit mooning over the pages of a novel, or over the stitches of her
embroidery, until book or work would fall from her hand; and there she
would remain, looking intently at nothing, staring vacantly before
her. Frank caused her to be supplied regularly with a copy of the
_Statesman_, and in it she tried to read his articles--an honest
attempt in which she dismally failed. Her aunt had been somewhat of a
keen politician, and Barbara was sufficiently well informed on the
position of English parties to bear her share in a dinner-table
dialogue; but foreign affairs principally occupied Frank's pen
in the _Statesman_; and after an attempted course of reading about
Moldo-Wallachia, Schleswig-Holstein, and the Principalities, including
an immense amount of virtuous indignation, the reason for which she
did not comprehend, and the object of which she could not make out,
poor Barbara gave it up in despair. She was in the habit of glancing
occasionally at that portion of the paper in which Mr. Henchman
chronicled the doings of the fashionable world, and recorded the names
of those present at great entertainments; and sometimes when Barbara
would raise her eyes from the paper and look down the hot vista of
frowning houses in Great Adullam Street, where dust and straw were
blowing in a penetrating cloud, and whence the dismal howling of
itinerant hucksters fell upon the ear, she, remembering what part she
had recently played among those of whom she had been reading, and
contrasting it with her then life, would bite her lip until the blood
started, and sob bitterly.

Where was her spirit, do you ask? Has she not been represented as a
girl of special spirit and pluck? Did not the early-narrated incidents
of her career, her very marriage, prove this? and is it natural that
she should break down before petty annoyances such as these? These
questions have been asked; and all I can reply is, that I paint
according to my lights and to my experience of life; and I believe
that there are hundreds of women of spirit who would bear the
amputation of a finger with more fortitude than the non-arrival of a
bonnet, and who suffer less in separation from those they dearly love
than in the necessity for a daily inspection of the bread-pan.

And Frank, what of him? Had Barbara been deceived in him? had she
misjudged his heart, his truth, his love? Not one whit; and yet how
different he seemed! Throughout his life, Frank Churchill had acted on
impulse, and had generally pulled through with extraordinary success.
We have seen how, in the railway-journey back to Bissett, he had
argued with himself, had persuaded himself into the determination of
leaving the place and flying from temptation, and how on the impulse
of a moment he settled the career of his life. To say he had repented
of that step, would have been untrue; equally false would it have been
to say that he had not been seriously disappointed in its result. The
great charm of Barbara Lexden in his eyes had been her dissimilarity
from other women. In the quiet circles in which he moved, there was no
one kin to her; she stood out in bold relief among the fussy wives and
meek colourless daughters of his friends, seeming a being of another
sphere. And now, strange to say, this very contrast which had so
captivated him, was his bane. What though the wives were fussy; they
attended to their households with the utmost regularity, investigating
the smallest matters of domestic detail, keeping down expenses here,
making shift there, and having a comfortable home ready for their
husbands wearied out with their work. What though the daughters were
meek and colourless, without a fragment of taste in dress, without a
spark of spirit, without one atom of dash; they were ready to strum
the piano, or to play endless games of whist or picquet, when called
upon, to enjoy thoroughly such little society as they had among
themselves, and, in fact, to make themselves generally amiable. "Their
girls did not lollop on the sofa and read trashy novels all day tong,
my dear!" as Mrs. Harding more than once remarked; "they were not
aristocrats, and couldn't jabber Italian; but they didn't lie in bed
to breakfast, or be always fiddling with their hair, or dressing or
undressing themselves twenty times a day. If those were aristocratic
manners, the less she had of them the better."

All this talk, and there was much of it perpetually current, reached
Frank Churchill's ears through his mother, and if it did not render
him actually unhappy, at least dashed his spirits and checked his
joys. He would sit for hours pondering over these things, thinking of
his past, when he had only himself and his old mother to care for,
wondering what would have been his future, supposing he had married
one of the daughters of Mesopotamia, and settled down into the snug
humdrum life pursued by those colonists. And then sometimes Barbara
would break in upon his reverie, and, looking so brilliantly handsome,
would come up and kiss his forehead, and say a few loving words
untinged by regret or complaint; and he would rejoice in the choice he
had made, and thank that fortune which had thrown such a treasure in
his way.

There is no doubt that, without in the least degree intending it
(indeed, what sacrifice had she not made, would she not make, for her
son?), old Mrs. Churchill was a fruitful cause of the petty
dissensions which took place between Barbara and her husband. Devoted
to Frank, to her natural anxiety for his happiness was superadded an
invincible jealousy of the woman who had supplanted his mother in his
regard, or at least had pushed her from the highest position therein.
Against the actuations of this feeling the old lady strove with all
her strength, and made great way; but, like many other intending
victors, she imagined the day gained before the enemy had been
thoroughly repulsed, and then, neglecting her outposts, laid herself
open to an irresistible attack. At first Frank laughed away all these
remarks, telling his mother that the difference of age between her and
Barbara, the difference of their lives and bringing up, the difference
in the style of the present time and the days when Mrs. Churchill
lived in the world, caused her to think the young wife's proceedings
singular, and her demeanour odd. But _saepe cadendo_, by constant
trituration the old lady's notions got grafted into his brain, and
most of the weary self-communings and self-torturings which Frank had,
sprung from his mother's unintentional planting.

One day about noon old Mrs. Churchill knocked at the door of Frank's
little study, and entering found her son hard at work on an article he
was preparing for a review. The old lady seemed in great spirits,
kissed her son most affectionately, and said: "Busy as ever, Frank my
darling? As I often used to say, you'll grow to your desk one day, you
stick at it so--at least you used to when I lived with you; I don't
know much of what you do now;" and she gave a little sigh, made doubly
apparent by an attempt to stifle it, as she sat down.

"Why, mum, what nonsense!" said Frank; "you see as much of me as any
body now--as much as Barbara, at all events."

"Oh, by the way, how is Barbara?"

"Well, not very brilliant this morning; she's got one of her
headaches, and I persuaded her to breakfast in bed."

"Ah, she didn't take much persuading, I fancy. The young girls
nowadays are very different from what I remember them; but she'd be
tired, poor child, waiting up for you last night."

"She did no such thing, I'm delighted to say," said Frank, smiling,
"as I had to write upon the result of the debate, and didn't get home
until nearly three o'clock. Poor Barbara was sound asleep at that
time, and had been so for some hours."

"Ah, ever since her visitor went away, I suppose?"

"Her visitor? What visitor?"

"Didn't she tell you? How odd! I called in last evening for a volume
of _Blunt on the Pentateuch_, and found Captain Lyster here chatting.
How odd that Barbara didn't mention it!"

"She was too sleepy both last night and this morning, I imagine," said
Frank: "she has frequently told me of his visits."

"Oh, yes, he calls here very often."

"He's a very pleasant fellow," said Frank.

"Is he?" said the old lady, in rather acrid tones. "I didn't think you
knew him."

"Not know him!" exclaimed Frank; "why, mother dear, how on earth
should he call here if I didn't know him?"

"He might be a friend of your wife's, my dear."

"But my wife's friends are mine, are they not?"

"It does not always follow, Frank," said the old lady calmly;
"besides, I thought if he had been a friend of yours, he would have
called _sometimes_ when you were at home."

Frank looked up quickly with a flushed face; then said, "What
nonsense, mum! the man is an old friend of Barbara's, and comes at
such times as are most convenient to himself. You don't understand the
set of people he lives with, mum."

"Very likely not, my dear; and I'm sure I'm not sorry for it; for they
seem strange enough; at least to a quiet old-fashioned body like
myself, who was taught never to receive male friends when my
husband--however, that's neither here nor there." And Mrs. Churchill
bustled out.

When Barbara came down to luncheon, Frank said to her, "I hear you had
Captain Lyster here, last night, Barbara."

"Oh, yes," she replied, "I forgot to tell you; he sat here some time."

"He comes pretty frequently, doesn't he?"

"I don't know," said Barbara, looking up; "I never counted the number
of times; you always hear when he has been."

"I wish you'd do something for me, Barbara," said Frank.

"Well, what is it?"

"Just tell Lyster it would be better if he could contrive to call when
I'm at home."

"Why?" asked Barbara pointedly.

"Why--well--upon my word--I scarcely know why--except that people
talk, you know; and it's better--eh? don't you think?" stammered
Frank. He had acted on impulse again, and felt confoundedly ashamed of
himself.

"I distinctly decline to do any thing of the sort. I wonder Frank,
you're not ashamed to propose such a thing to me; but I can see what
influence has been at work."

"There has been no influence at all; only I choose--"

"And _I_ choose that you should find a fitter person than your wife to
deliver insulting messages to your friends!"

"Barbara suppose I were to insist upon your not receiving this man
again?"

"You had better not, Frank," said she, moving towards the door; "you
don't know whom you have to deal with." And she swept out of the room.

And this was Barbara's first lesson in the _manège_.



CHAPTER XXV.
A GARDEN-PARTY AT UPLANDS.


Although it was only in the first days of July, it had become
thoroughly evident that the London season was on the wane. After a
lengthened period of inaction, there had been a fierce parliamentary
struggle brought about by that rising young gladiator Mr. Hope
Ennythink, who had impeached the Prime Minister, brought the gravest
charges against the Foreign Secretary, accused the Chancellor of the
Exchequer of crass ignorance, and riddled with ridicule the
incompetence of the First Lord of the Admiralty. As Mr. Hope
Ennythink spoke with a certain amount of cleverness and a great
amount of brass, as he was thoroughly up in all the facts which he
adduced,--having devoted his life to the study of Hansard, and being a
walking edition of that popular work,--and as he was warmly supported
by the Opposition, whose great leaders thought highly of the young
man, he ran the Government very hard, and gave the Treasury-whips a
great deal of trouble to secure even the slight majority which pulled
them through. But immediately the fight was over, it was evident that
the session was on the point of closing. There was no more excitement;
it was very hot weather; and the session and the season were
simultaneously doomed. However, the wives and daughters of the members
were determined to die hard; there would be at least a fortnight
before the prorogation of Parliament, and during that fortnight
dinners, balls, fêtes, and opera-visitings were carried on with
redoubled activity. To a good many, condemned to autumnal pinchings
and scrapings in a dull country-house, it was the last taste of
pleasure until next spring.

Upon the gentlemen attached to the room No. 120, in the Tin-Tax
Office, the general state of affairs was not without its effect. Mr.
Kinchenton was away for his holiday--he generally chose July as the
best month for little Percy's sea-bathing--and he rung the changes
between Worthing, Bognor, and Littlehampton, in one of which places he
would be found in an entire suit of shepherd's-plaid, and always with
a telescope slung round him. Mr. Dibb, his liver in a worse state than
ever with the hot weather, had felt himself compelled to quit the
pleasant environs of Clapton, where he ordinarily resided, and had
taken a bedroom at Windmill-Hill, Gravesend, whence he came up to his
office every morning, having immediately established sworn animosity
with every guard and regular passenger on the North-Kent Railway, and
having regular hand-to-hand combats with the man who sat opposite to
him, as to whether the window should be up or down--combats commencing
at Gravesend and finishing at New Cross. Upon Mr. Boppy had come a new
phase of existence, he having persuaded Mrs. Boppy, for the first time
since their marriage, to go on a visit to some country friends, thus
leaving him his own master _pro tem_. And Mr. Boppy availed himself of
this opportunity to give a bachelor-party, cards and supper, at which
Mr. Pringle was the master of the revels, and they all enjoyed
themselves very much, and talked about it afterwards to Mr. Boppy;
little thinking of the unrevealed misery that wretched convivialist
was enduring on account of his being unable to rid the window-curtains
of the smell of tobacco-smoke, by which Mrs. B. would learn of the
past symposium, and would "warm" her husband accordingly. Mr. Prescott
and Mr. Pringle had been going on much the same as usual; and Mr.
Crump never went out of town because his pay was stopped when he was
absent from his office, and he never had any friends who wished to see
him.

It was a very hot morning, the sun blazed in through the windows of
No. 120, aid upon the head of Mr. Pringle, who was copying items of
account on to a large ruled sheet of paper.

"Item, every horse for draught or burden--item, each dog, sheep,
swine--I'll be blowed if I'll do any more of it," said Mr. Pringle,
casting down his pen and rubbing his head. "I must have some
soda-water! Prescott, James, was there too much lemon in
Quartermaine's punch last night, or was it that the whitebait are
growing too large to be wholesome? Something was wrong, I know! Crump,
my boy, you're nearest the cellar; just hand me a bottle of the
corrective."

Mr. Crump certainly was nearest the cellar, which was in fact the
cupboard which should have been his property, but which had been
appropriated by Messrs. Pringle and Prescott as a soda-water store.

"That's a good fellow; now you're up, would you mind just handing me a
bit of ice out of the basin? Thanks! What a good Crumpy it is! What's
the matter, Mr. Dibb?"

"Can't you be silent for an instant, Mr. Pringle? You are perpetually
gabbling. Can't you let us have a moment's peace?"

"I can generally," said Mr. Pringle, with an affectation of great
frankness; "but, somehow, not this morning. I seem to be inspired by
this delicious fluid. I think I shall write a book called Songs of
Soda-water, or Lays of the Morning after. That wouldn't be a bad
title, would it, Dibb?"

Mr. Dibb took no notice of this beyond glaring at Mr. Boppy, who had
laughed; and there was silence for a few minutes, broken by Mr.
Prescott, who said, "When do you go on leave, George?"

"In September, sir," replied Pringle. "That's the genial month when
the leaves come off."

"Where are you going?"

"That depends upon how much tin I've got. It strikes me, from the
present look-out, that the foreign watering-place of Holloway is
about as far as I shall be able to get. There's a tightness in the
money-market that's most infernal."

"Why don't you apply to your godfather, old Townshend? He's always
treated you with kindness."

"Yes; with un-remitting kindness! wouldn't send me a fiver to save me
from gaol. Oh, no! I'll manage somehow. When are you going?"

"Well, I wanted a few days in September myself, if I could get away.
I've some shooting offered me at Murray's."

"Murray's? Oh, ah! the parent of that nice little girl! je twig. And
the Paterfamilias is a jolly old bird, isn't he, and likes his drink,
and has plenty of money? in which case pater-familiarity does not
breed contempt."

"They are old friends of my people, you know; and the old gentleman's
been very civil to me."

"Ah! and the young lady hasn't been rude, has she?--at least I judged
not, from 'what I saw. She rides deuced well; but what a long time she
takes to mount! and when you had swung her to the saddle, I noticed
that her reins took an immense deal of arranging!"

"Don't be an idiot, George! you're always fancying things."

"And you're always fancying girls, and my life's passed in keeping you
out of scrapes."

"By the way, do you ever see any thing of--"

"Of _the other?_ Ah, base deceiver! fickle as the wind, or the what's
his name! Yes, I've met poor Kitty once or twice, and, without any
nonsense, she looked thoroughly seedy and worn."

"Poor dear Kitty, I'm so sorry! I--"

"Oh, yes, we know all about it; 'he loves and he rides away,' and all
the rest of it. But, joking apart, Master Jim, it's a very good thing
that business is over. I was really 'afraid at one time you were going
to grief. But--hollo! for me?" These last words thrown off at a
tangent to a messenger who entered the room with a letter.

"No, sir; for Mr. Prescott."

"Ah! I don't like letters generally; but that's not a blue one, and
looks tolerably healthy. What's it about, James?"

"Read for yourself;" and Mr. Prescott tossed the letter over to him.

"Mrs. Schröder--garden fête--Uplands," said Pringle, reading. "Oh, ah!
I knew all about that, but I didn't mention it, because I wasn't sure
that you'd be asked; and as a certing persing is going, you'd have
been as mad as a hatter at losing the chance of meeting her."

"What's Uplands?" asked Prescott.

"Uplands is no end of a jolly place which Schröder has taken for the
summer and autumn. He has got some tremendous operation in the mines,
or the funds, or some of those things that those City fellows get so
brutally rich with; and he must be in town two or three times a week.
So instead of going to Switzerland, as he intended, he has rented
Uplands, which is about seven miles from town, and might be seventy.
Out north way, through Whittington; stunning Italian villa, fitted up
no end, with conservatories, and big grounds, and a lake, and all
sorts of fun. Belonged to another City buffer, who's over-speculated
himself and gone to Boulogne. That _is_ a comfort; they do go to smash
sometimes; but even then they've generally settled as much as the
Chief Commissioner's income on their wives. Schröder heard of this;
pounced upon it at once; and this is to be Mrs. Schröder's first
garden-party."

"I'm very glad I'm asked, if--"

"Glad you're asked! I should think so; it'll be a first-rate party.
There'll be no shy ices or Cape cup; Gunter does the commissariat; the
Foreign Office has been instructed to send a lot of eligible Counts;
and Edgington will supply the marquee."

"I was going to say, when you were kind enough to interrupt me, that
I'm glad I'm asked, if Miss Murray is to be there."

"She'll be there, sir, fast enough; and you shall devote yourself to
her, and be the Murray's Guide; and I'll be your courier, and go
before you to see that all is square. I mean to enjoy myself that day,
and no mistake."


"This is the place, Jim!" said Mr. Pringle, as on the day of the party
they drove in a hansom along a meadow-bordered road some two miles the
country side of the little village of Whittington. "That's the house,
that white building with the high tower; no end of a smoke-room that
tower makes! it's fitted up with lounges and Indian matting; all the
windows hook outwards, and there's a view all over every where! What a
lot of traps, too!--like the outside of the Star and Garter on a
Sunday afternoon. That's the Guards' drag, I suppose; I know there was
a lot of them coming down--"

"And there's old Murray's carriage; I'd know that any where,"
interrupted Prescott.

"Is it? well, then, you'll be all right. Easy, cabby; we don't want to
be thrown into the very midst of the aristocracy; we'll get out here,
and walk quietly up."

Mr. Pringle had by no means given an exaggerated description of the
beauties of Uplands. The house stood on the brow of the hill, under
which nestled the little village of Whittington, the only cluster of
buildings within a couple of miles' range. All round it lay large
meadows, through which flowed, in tiny silver thread, the river Brent;
while far away on the horizon lay a thick heavy cloud betokening the
position of Babylon the Great. In the house the rooms, though somewhat
low, were large and cheerful, and the grounds were laid out in every
variety of exquisite taste. There were broad lawns, whereon the
croquet-players loved to linger; and noble terraces where the elderly
people sat, sheltered alike from the sun and the wind; and dark
winding shady walks, down which, at the close of evening, couples
would be seen stealing, and being questioned on their return, would
declare that they had been to see the syringa,--a statement which was
invariably received with derision, or, as the poet hath it, "Doubts
would be muttered around, and the name be suggested of Walker." And
there was a large lake with a real Venetian gondola upon it, very
black and gloomy, and thoroughly realising the notion of a "coffin
clapt in a canoe," and a large light shallop with an awning, and a
couple of outriggers and a water-quintain for those people who
preferred athletics to ease, and sunstrokes to comfort.

"This is the right sort of thing, isn't it, my boy?" said Mr. Pringle,
as they passed along. "I suppose you could put up with a crib like
this, couldn't you? What a lot of people! every body in London here!
How do, doctor? Dr. Prater, very good little party; took me behind the
scenes at the Opera once, and gave me a certificate when I wanted
sick-leave. See that tall man in the fluffy white hat? Mincing-Lane
fellow merchant; named Hill; capital fellow, but drops his _h_'s
awfully. They call him the _Malade Imaginaire_, because he calls
himself 'ill when he isn't. That's his wife in the black dress with
white spots on it, like change for a sovereign. Those two tall fellows
are in the Second Life-Guards. Look at the nearest one to us, that's
Punch Croker; don't he look like an ape? I always long to give him a
nut: the other man's Charley Greville, a very good fellow; they tell a
capital story about him. His uncle was a tremendous old screw, who
left Charley his heir. When the will was read, the first clause
contained the expression of a hope that his debts would not be paid.
Charley had a copy of this clause sent round to all the creditors,
with an indorsement that he, as executor, would religiously fulfil the
desire of the deceased. There was a terrible scrimmage about it, and
the lawyers are at it now, I believe."

"Isn't this our man--Beresford?"

"Of course it is, and there's Mr. Schröder close by him. We'll go up
and make our salaams."

So the young men wound through the crowd, and were very cordially
received by Mrs. Schröder, and indeed by Mr. Beresford. For the
Commissioner knew his popularity in the Office and was pleased at it,
and was always glad to meet decent-looking men belonging to it in
society. "It improved the tone of the confounded place," he used to
say. Talking to Mrs. Schröder was Mr. Sergeant Shivers, one of the
ornaments of the Old-Bailey bar; a tremendously eloquent man in the
florid and ornate style, with a power of cross-examination calculated
to turn a witness inside out, and a power of address able to frighten
the jury into fits; but who scorned all these advantages, and was
never so happy as when talking of and to great people. He was on his
favourite topic when Prescott and Pringle arrived.

"Ah, my dear Mrs. Schröder," he was saying, "isn't it sad? The duchess
herself sent for me, and said, 'Now, Mr. Sergeant, speak to him
yourself. You have experience of life; above all, you have experience
of our order. Tell Philip what will be the result of this marriage
with Lady Di!' I promised her grace I would; and I did. I spoke not
only to Lord Philip, but to Lord Ronald and Lord Alberic, his
brothers. But it was no good; the marriage has come off, and now the
poor duchess is in despair. Ah! there's Lady Nettleford! I must go and
condole with her on the affair;" and the learned sergeant bowed
himself off.

"Ah! 'Good-by to the bar and its  moaning,' as Kingsley says,"
remarked Mr. Pringle. "What a dreary bird! Now I see you're fidgetting
to be off, Jim; and I know perfectly well why; so we'll go and look
after the Murray. What a pity she's not got up in red, like her
namesakes! then we could recognise her a mile off."

"There she is!" suddenly exclaimed Mr. Prescott. "There! just crossing
the end of the croquet-ground. I'm off, George. I shall find you in
plenty of time to go together;" and Mr. Prescott strode away in great
haste.

"Very good," said Mr. Pringle; "'and she was left lamenting.' I
believe I am in the position of the daughter of the Earl of Ellin; if
not, why not? There's no fair young form to hang upon me; man delights
me not nor woman either; so I'll see if there's any moselle-cup
handy."

Among those present at the Uplands _fête_ were Frank Churchill and
Barbara. Alice Schröder had made a great point of their coming; and
though at first Barbara refused, yet her husband so strongly seconded
the invitation, that she at length gave way and consented. It was a
trying time for Barbara: she knew she would there be compelled to meet
many of the members of that old set amongst which her youth had been
passed, and which she had so sedulously avoided since her marriage,
and she was doubtful of her reception by them. Not that that would
have distressed Barbara one jot; she would have swept past the great
Duchess of Merionethshire herself with uplift eyebrows and extended
nostrils; but she knew that Frank was horribly sensitive, and she
feared lest any of his sympathies should be jarred. Moreover, she felt
certain that Captain Lyster would be at the Uplands; and though since
the day of the little outbreak his name had not been mentioned, and
all having been made up with a kiss had gone smoothly since, Barbara
had an inward dread that the sight of him would arouse Frank's wrath
and lead to mischief. However, they came. Barbara was very charmingly
dressed; and if her face were a little pale and her expression
somewhat anxious, her eye was as bright and her bearing as proud as
ever. Alice Schröder received her in the warmest manner, kissed her
affectionately, and immediately afterwards without the slightest
intention planted a dagger in her breast, by expressing delight at
"seeing her among her old friends again." "These old friends"--_i.e_.
persons whom she had been in the habit of constantly meeting in
society, and who had envied and hated her--were gathered together in
numbers at Uplands, and all said civil things to Barbara; indeed, the
great Duchess of Merionethshire actually stepped forward a few
paces--a condescension which she very rarely granted,--and after
welcoming Barbara, begged that Mr. Churchill might be presented to
her, "as a gentleman of whom she had heard so much." Barbara rather
opened her eyes at this; but after the presentation it was explained
by the duchess saying, "My son-in-law, Lord Halley, has often
expressed his recognition of the services rendered to him by your pen,
Mr. Churchill." For Lord Halley was Foreign Secretary at that time,
and certainly gave Churchill plenty of opportunities of defending
him. And as they moved away, Barbara heard the duchess say, "What a
fine-looking man!" and Mr. Sergeant Shivers, who was thoroughly
good-natured, began loudly blowing the trumpet of Frank's abilities.
So that Barbara was happier than she had been for some time; and her
happiness was certainly not decreased by seeing that the cloud had
left Frank's brow, and that he looked in every way his former self.

"Now, Barbara," said Alice Schröder, approaching them, "we are getting
up two new croquet sets, and want members for each. You'll play, of
course? I recollect how you used to send me spinning at Bissett--oh,
by the way, have you heard? poor dear Sir Marmaduke, so ill at Pau, or
somewhere--"

"Ill? Sir Marmaduke ill?"

"Yes, poor dear! isn't it sad? And Mr. Churchill will play too; but
not on the same side. I can't have you on the same side; you're old
married people now; and both such good players too! Let me see;
Captain Lyster, will you take Mrs. Churchill on your side?"

Captain Lyster bowed, shook hands, and expressed his delight. Frank
Churchill shook hands with Lyster; but as he did so, a flush passed
over his face.

"Now, then, that set is full," said Mrs. Schröder; "who is the captain
of the other set, playing at the other ground? oh, you, Mr. Pringle!
Will you take Mr. Churchill away with you; you only want one, I
think?"

"No, madam," said Pringle, with a serio-comic sigh; "I only want one;
but I shall want that one all my life. Come along, Mr. Churchill." And
he and Frank started off to the lower lawn together.

Barbara had always been very fond of croquet. She played well; relying
more upon the effectiveness of her aim than the result of her
calculations. She had a perfect little foot; and she croqueted her
adversaries far away with as much science as malice. She enjoyed the
game thoroughly, as, not having played for months, she rejoiced at
finding that she retained all her skill; but she could not help
perceiving that Captain Lyster was dull and preoccupied, and that he
attended so little to the game as to require perpetual reminding when
it was his turn to play. Indeed, despite all Barbara's exertions, they
might have lost the game--for their opponents were wary and
persevering--had it not been for the steady play of their coadjutors,
Mr. Prescott and Miss Murray, who evinced a really remarkable talent
for keeping close together, and nursing each other through all the
difficult hoops. At length they won with flying colours, and were
going to begin a new game, when Captain Lyster said, "Mrs. Churchill,
I should be so grateful for a few minutes' talk with you on a really
important subject. Please, don't play again, but let us stroll."
Barbara had all faith in Fred Lyster's truth and honour; she had known
him for years, and more than half-suspected the secret of his early
attachment to Alice; so that she had no hesitation in saying,
"Certainly, Captain Lyster, if you wish it;" then adding with a smile,
"You will not miss us much, will you, Mr. Prescott?" she and the
Captain strolled away.

Then, as they walked, Fred Lyster talked long and earnestly. He told
Barbara that he addressed her as one who, he knew, took the deepest
interest in Alice Schröder's welfare; indeed, as one who had been as
her sister in times past. He touched lightly on the disparity in age
between Alice and her husband, and upon the difference in all their
habits, tastes, and opinions; he said that she was thus doubtless
driven to her own resources for amusement, and that her utter
simplicity and childishness made her the easy prey of designing
people. Then, with the utmost delicacy, he went on to point out that
for some time Beresford's attentions to Mrs. Schröder had been most
marked; that his constant presence at their house, or in attendance on
her when she went out, had attracted attention, and that at length it
had become common club-gossip. Only on the previous night he had heard
that it had been publicly discussed in the smoke-room of the Minerva;
that an old gentleman, an old friend of the family, had announced his
intention of speaking to Mr. Schröder about it. What was to be done?
He (Lyster), deeply pained at it all, had no authority, no influence,
no right, to mix himself with the matter. Would not Mrs. Churchill, in
pity for her friend, talk seriously with Mrs. Schröder about it? She
was all-potential. Mrs. Schröder believed implicitly in her, and would
undoubtedly follow her advice. Would not Mrs. Churchill do this, for
pity's sake?

Barbara was very much astonished and very much shocked. She had always
known Alice to be weak and vain and silly; she knew that her marriage
with Mr. Schröder had been one made solely at her father's
instigation; but having lived entirely out of the set for the last few
months, she had no idea of the intimacy with Mr. Beresford, whose
acquaintance she considered was by no means desirable. She was
entirely at a loss what to do, being of opinion that her influence
over Alice had all died out. However, if Captain Lyster thought
otherwise, and if he counselled and urged her taking such a step, she
would not refuse; she would take an early opportunity of seeking an
interview with Alice, and giving that silly girl--silly, and nothing
more, she was certain--a very serious talking to; "and then, Captain
Lyster, let us trust that this horrible gossip will be put a stop to."
As Barbara said this, she smiled and put out her hand. Poor Fred bent
over it, and when he raised his head to say, "Mrs. Churchill, you will
have done an angel's work!" there were tears in his eyes.

Meantime Frank Churchill, with doubt and distrust at his heart,
engendered by having to leave Barbara in company with Captain Lyster,
went away with Pringle to the lower croquet-ground, where they and
others played a succession of games with varying success, in all of
which Frank distinguished himself by ferocious swiping, and Mr.
Pringle came to grief in an untimely manner. At length, when they were
tired, Frank and Pringle walked away together--the former on the
look-out for his wife, the latter listening with great deference to
such scraps of his companion's conversation as he was treated with;
for Mr. Pringle had a great reverence for "people who write books,"
and, in common with a great many, looked upon the production of a
something printable as an occult art. "It always seems such a rum
thing to me," said he ingenuously, "how you first think about it, and
then how you put it down! You write leaders, Mr. Churchill, eh? Oh
yes, we heard of you at our office, the Tin-Tax, you know! That
article in the _Statesman_ about old Maddox and his K.C.B.'ship, they
all declared it was you."

As Churchill only said "Indeed!" in an absent manner, and was still
looking about him, Pringle proceeded: "Oh, of course you won't let it
out it was your work--we understand that! but it must be jolly to be
able to give a fellow one for himself sometimes! a regular bad one,
enough to make him drink! I should think that was better fun than
novel-writing; though novel-writing must be easier, as you've only got
to describe what you see. I think I could do that--this afternoon, for
instance, and all the swells and queer people about. The worst of it
is, you must touch it up with a bit of love, and I'm not much of a
hand at that; but I suppose one could easily see plenty of it to study
from. For instance, do you see those two at the end of this walk,
under the tree? I suppose that's a spooning match, isn't it? How he is
laying down the law! and she gives him her hand, and he bends over
it--"

"Damnation!" exclaimed Churchill.

"Hollo!" said Pringle, "what's the matter?"

"Nothing!" said Churchill; "I twisted my foot, that was all!"


Barbara tried several times that evening to meet Frank; but he avoided
her; and it was not until they were in the fly, that she had an
opportunity of speaking to him.

"Where on earth have you been, Frank, all day? I hunted and hunted for
you, but never succeeded in finding you."

He looked up at her: her eyes were sparkling, her cheek flushed; she
was thoroughly happy. The escape from Mesopotamia and its dreariness,
the return to scenes similar to those which she had been accustomed
to, had worked immediate change. She looked so radiantly beautiful
that Frank was half-tempted to spare her; but after a second's pause,
he said,

"I walked all over the grounds. I was in the shrubbery close by you
when Captain Lyster kissed your hand."

"What!" exclaimed Barbara, with a start. "It is beneath me to repel
such a calumny; but to satisfy your absurd doubt, I tell you plainly
you were wrong."

"Will you tell me," asked Frank, in a sad voice, "that he did not walk
with yop and talk with you apart? Can you deny it?"

"No!" returned Barbara. "He did both walk and talk with me; he had
something very special to say to me, and he said it."

"And it was--?"

"I cannot tell you; it was told to me in confidence; it concerns the
reputation of a third person, and I cannot mention it, even to you."

"Then, by the Lord, I'll have an end to this!" said Frank, in a sudden
access of passion. "Listen here, Barbara; I'll have no captains, nor
any one else, coming to repose confidences with which I'm not to be
made acquainted, in my wife! I'll have no shrubbery-walks and
whisperings with you! Such things may be the fashion in the circles in
which you have lived; but I don't hold with them!"

He could have bitten his tongue out the next instant, when Barbara
said, in an icy voice, "It may be the fashion in the circles in which
_you_ have lived to swear at one's wife, and shout at her so that the
coachman hears you; but I don't hold with it, nor, what's more, will I
permit it!"

She never spoke again till they reached home, when she stepped
leisurely out of the carriage, ignoring Frank's proffered arm, and
went silently to bed.



CHAPTER XXVI.
SHOWING WHO WERE "PIGOTT AND WELLS."


Mr. Simnel, the secretary, sat at his desk, hard at work as usual, but
evidently tempering the dulness of the official minutes with some
recollections of a lively nature, as now and then he would put down
his pen, and smile pleasantly, nursing his knee the while. "Yes," he
said softly to himself, "I think I'll do it to-day. I've waited long
enough; now I'll put Kitty on to the scent, and stand the racket.
_Ruat caelum!_ I'll ride quietly up there this afternoon;" and he
touched the small handbell, with which he summoned his private
secretary. In response to this bell,--not the private secretary, who
was lunching with a couple of friends and discussing the latest
fashionable gossip,--the door was opened by Mr. Pringle, who begged to
know his chief's wishes.

"Eh?" said Simnel, raising his head at the strange voice; "oh,
Grammont at lunch, I suppose?--how do you do, Mr. Pringle? I want all
the letters brought in at once, please; I'm going away early to-day."

"Certainly, sir," said Mr. Pringle, who objected on principle to
interviews with great official swells, such interviews being generally
connected in his mind with rebukes known as "carpetings." "I'll see
about it, sir."

"Thank you, Mr. Pringle. How are all your people? bow is Mrs.
Schröder? who is your cousin, I think."

"Yes, my cousin. She's all right; but I'm sorry to say my uncle Mr.
Townshend is very ill; so ill that he leaves town for the Continent
to-night, and is likely to be away some time."

"Dear me! Pm very sorry to hear that."

"Fact, indeed, sir! I was thinking, sir," said Mr. Pringle, who never
missed a chance, "that as Mrs. Schröder may perhaps be rather dull
to-morrow after her father's gone, I might perhaps have a day's leave
of absence to be with her."

"Certainly; by all means, Mr. Pringle! Now send in the letters,
please." And Mr. Pringle retired into the next room, where he indulged
in the steps of a comic dance popular with burlesque-actors, and known
as a "nigger break-down."

"Going out of town, eh? likely to be abroad some time! very unwell!"
said Mr. Simnel, nursing his leg; "then I must alter my arrangements.
I'll go and see him at once, and bring that matter to a head. I can
deal with Kitty afterwards." And when Mr. Simnel had signed all the
letters brought in to him, he unlocked his desk and took out a paper
which he placed in his pocketbook; then carefully locking every thing
after him, he departed.

In the Strand he called a cab, and was driven to Austin Friars, where
he dismounted, and walked up the street until he came to a large door,
on the posts of which were inscribed the words, "Townshend and Co."
There was no Co., there never had been; Mr. Townshend was the entire
concern; he was the first of his name who had been known in the place,
and no one knew his origin. He first made his mark in the City as a
daring money-broker and speculator; two or three lucky hits
established his fame, and he then became cautious, wary,
well-informed, and almost invariably successful.. The name of
Townshend was highly thought of on 'Change; its owner had been invited
to a seat in the Bank Direction, and had been consulted by more than
one Chancellor of the Exchequer; he had been a member of the Gresham
Club, there made acquaintances, who introduced him into the True Blue
and the No-Surrender, for Mr. Townshend was intensely conservative;
and by the time his daughter was fit to head his table (his wife had
died years since), he had a set of ancestors on his walls in Harley
Street dating from warriors who fought at Ramillies and Malplaquet,
down to the "civil servant of the Company," who shook the pagoda-tree
in the East, and from whom, as Mr. Townshend said, his first start in
life was derived. It is doubtful--and immaterial--whether Mr. Simnel
knew or not of the non-existence of the Co. He asked for Mr.
Townshend, whether Mr. Townshend was in; and he put the question to
one of four young gentlemen who were writing at a desk, which, if it
must be called by its right name, was a counter. After a great deal of
fencing with this youth, who was reading out wild commercial
documents, such as "Two two four nine, Lammas and Childs on National
of Ireland--note for dis.," and who declined to be interrupted until
he had completed his task,--Mr. Simnel at length got his name sent in
to Mr. Townshend, and was shown into the great man's presence.

Mr. Townshend was seated at a large desk covered with papers, which
were arranged in the most precise and orderly fashion. He was dressed
with great precision, in a blue body-coat and a buff waistcoat with
gilt buttons; his thin hair was brushed up over his temples, and his
face was thin and pale. He received his visitor somewhat pompously,
and made him a very slight bow. Mr. Simnel returned the salute much in
the same fashion, and said, "You will wonder what has brought me to
call on you, Mr. Townshend?"

"I--I am not aware what can have procured me the honour of a visit,
Mr.--Mr.--" and the old gentleman held up Mr. Simnel's card at
arm's-length, and looked at it through his double eyeglass.

"Simnel's my name! I daresay it conveys to you no meaning whatsoever?"

"Oh, I beg your pardon! On the contrary, your name is familiar to me
as that of the secretary of the Tin-Tax Office. I am glad to make your
acquaintance, sir. I often have communication with official men. What
can I do for you?"

"It's in a private capacity that I've come to see you," said Mr.
Simnel. "I heard you were going out of town, and I had something
special to talk over with you."

"I must trouble you to be concise and quick," said Mr. Townshend, by
no means relishing the easy manner of his visitor. "As you say, I am
going out of town,--for the benefit of my health,--and every moment is
precious."

"I shall not detain you very long," said Simnel, who had begun to
nurse his leg, to Mr. Townshend's intense disgust. "I suppose we're
private here? You'll excuse me; but you'll be glad of it before I've
done. I may as well be brief in what I have to say; it will save both
of us trouble. To begin with: I'm not by origin a London man. I come
from Combcardingham; so do you."

Mr. Townshend's cheeks paled a little as he said, "I came from
Calcutta sir."

"Yes; last, I  know; but you went to Calcutta, and from
Combcardingham."

"I never was in the place in my life."

"Weren't you indeed? then it must have been your twin-brother. I know
a curious story about him, which I'll tell you."

"If you are come here to fool away my time, sir!" said Mr. Townshend,
rising.

"By no means, my dear sir. You don't know me personally; but I'll
pledge my official reputation that the story is worth hearing. I think
when I mention the names of Pigott and Wells--"

Down at last--sunk down cowering in his chair, just as at the
Schröders' dinner, when he heard those dreadful names.

"Ah, I thought you would remember them. Well, Pigott and Wells were
wool-merchants of old standing in Combcardingham. Pigott had long been
dead; but Wells carried on the business of the firm under the old
name. His solicitors were Messrs. Banner and Blair. One day Mr. Banner
came to their articled clerk, and said to him, 'Robert, I have got an
awkward business on hand; but you're a sharp fellow and can be
trusted. Old Wells is coming here presently with some one else. I
shall want a signature witnessed; but I'll get Podmore to do that. All
you have to do is to keep your eyes against that window,' pointing to
a pane hidden behind a curtain; 'and mark all you see, specially
faces. It may be a lesson to you on a future occasion.'"

"Well, sir?" interrupted Townshend.

"Well, sir, the clerk placed himself as directed, and saw old Mr.
Wells and a thickset, dissipated-looking man shown into the room.
Banner told Mr. Wells he was prepared for him, and produced a paper
for signature; the signer of which, in consideration of Mr. Wells
consenting to forego prosecuting him for the forgery of a bill of
120_l_. attached to the document, promised to leave England and never
to return. You're interested now; I thought you would be. Podmore was
called in, and witnessed the dissipated young man sign the paper; but
he knew nothing of its contents. Then old Wells, raising his shaking
forefinger, said, 'For your poor mother's sake, sir; not for yours!'
and the dissipated-looking man drew a long breath, as though a great
weight were off his mind, and strode out. The articled clerk saw all
this, and marked the features of the forger; he did not see him again
for many years. He sees him now!"

"What do you mean?"

"Simply, that you were the forger, I the clerk!"

"But that paper--that horrible confession, and the bill, they are
destroyed! Wells swore he would destroy them before his death!"

"He intended to do so but he died suddenly, poor old man; and in going
through his desk I found them. I've got them here!"

"And what use are they to you? What harm are they to me? I shall
swear--"

"Stop a minute! Podmore is alive; he's got Banner and Blair's business
in Combcardingham now; he would verify his signature any day, and
yours too. No; I fairly tell you I've thought of it all for several
years, and I don't see your loophole. I think I've got you tight!" And
Mr. Simnel smiled pleasantly as he squeezed his thumb and forefinger
together, as though he were choking a rabbit.

Mr. Townshend was cowering in his chair, and had covered his face
with his hands. When he raised it, he was livid. "What do you
want?--money?"

"No," said Simnel, "not exactly. Oddly enough, I want nothing at
present! I merely wanted, as you were going out of town, to set
matters straight, and let us understand each other before you left.
I'll let you know when I really require you to do something for me,
and you'll not fail, eh?" These last words rather sharply.

"In all human--I mean--in a--" and the old man stammered, broke down,
and threw himself back in his chair, sobbing violently.

"Come, come!" said Simnel; "don't take on so! You'll not find me hard;
but you know in these days one must utilise one's opportunities.
There, good-by! you won't forget my name; and I'll write here when I
want you."

And he touched, not unkindly, the shrinking old man's shoulder, and
went out.



CHAPTER XXVII.
WEAVING THE WEB.


In his well-deserved character of prudent campaigner, Mr. Simnel took
no immediate steps to avail himself of the signal advantage which he
had gained in his interview with Mr. Townshend. That eminent
British merchant went abroad, and his name was recorded among
a choice sprinkling of fashionables as honouring the steamship
_Baron Osy_, bound for Antwerp, with their presence, and, on the
"better-day-better-deed" principle, selecting the Sunday as the day of
their departure. Mr. Simnel read the paragraph with a placid smile; he
had seen sufficient of Mr. Townshend in that interview to guess that
his illness was merely the result of care and worry, and that there
was no reason to apprehend his proximate death. Antwerp--doubtless
thence Brussels, the Rhine, and perhaps Switzerland--would make a
pleasant tour; and as for any idea of escape, he knew well enough that
that thought had never crossed Mr. Townshend's mind. The old gentleman
knew he would have to pay the possessor of his secret heavily in one
way or another, but in what he was as yet totally ignorant; besides,
his business engagements in London utterly prevented all chance of his
retiring in any sudden manner. And so Mr. Simnel remained quietly at
his post at the Tin-Tax Office, apparently not taking any notice of
any thing save the regular business routine, but in reality intent on
his earnest cat-like watching of all around him, and always ready to
pull any string at what he considered the proper opportunity.

He kept his eyes on Mr. Beresford, and knit his eyebrows very much as
he contemplated that gentleman's proceedings. Whether prompted by
anxiety for the fate of his eight-hundred pounds loan or by some other
occult reason, Mr. Simnel had been specially watchful over the
Commissioner, and urged upon him to bring the speculation in which he
had embarked to a prosperous close. With this view he had dissuaded
Beresford from going to Scotland, whither, as usual, he was bound on
his autumnal excursion; representing to him that he had of late been
very lax in his attendance; that he had had much more leave of absence
than any of his brother commissioners; that Sir Hickory Maddox had
once or twice referred to the subject in any thing but a complimentary
manner; and that the best thing he could do to stave off an impending
row would be to volunteer to stop in town, and let the other members
of the board have a chance of running away in the fine weather. At
this suggestion Mr. Beresford looked very black and waxed very wroth,
and couldn't see why the deuce, and on his oath couldn't tell the
necessity, &c.; but relented somewhat when his friend pointed out to
him that there was no necessity for his attending more than twice a
week at the office, just to sign such papers as were pressing; and
that instead of remaining in his South-Audley-Street lodgings, he
could go out and take rooms at a beautiful little inn in the village
of Whittington, where there was a glorious cook, a capital cellar,
beautiful air, splendid prospect, and above all, which was twenty
minutes' canter from the Uplands, Schröder's summer place. To this
plan Mr. Beresford consented; and after asking for a further loan of
fifty, and getting five-and-twenty, from Simnel, Beresford and his
mare Gulnare were domesticated at the Holly Bush, and he prepared to
make play.

But somehow the state of affairs did not please Mr. Simnel. One day,
when he and Mr. and Mrs. Schröder were Beresford's guests, he seemed
specially annoyed; and on the next occasion of his friend's visiting
the office, he took the opportunity of speaking to him.

"I want to say a word to you, Master Charles," said he, entering the
board-room and addressing Beresford, who was stretched on the sofa
reading the _Post_, and envying the sportsmen whose bags were recorded
therein. "I want to know how you're getting on."

"Getting on! in what way?" asked Beresford, putting down the paper and
lazily looking round; "as regards money, do you mean? because, if so,
I could take that other five-and-twenty from you with a great amount
of satisfaction."

"You're very good," said Simnel, with a sardonic grin; "but I'd rather
not. I'm afraid you've been trying some of Dr. Franklin's experiments
with kites again recently; at all events, I've seen several letters
addressed to you in Parkinson's--of Thavies Inn, I mean--handwriting;
which looks any thing but healthy. However, I didn't mean that; I
meant in the other business--the great venture."

"Oh," said Beresford, "that's all right."

"I'm glad to hear it. Satisfactory, and all that sort of thing, eh?"

"Perfectly. Why do you ask?"

"Well, to tell you the truth," said Simnel, with that kind of honest
bluntness, that inexpressible frankness, generally assumed by a man
who is going to say something disagreeable, "I had an idea that it was
quite the opposite. When we dined with you the other day,--deuced good
dinner it was too; I was right to recommend you there, wasn't I? I
haven't tasted such spitchcocked eels for years; and that man's
moselle has a finer faint flavour of the muscat than any I know in
England,--when we dined with you, as I say, I fancied things were all
wrong with the lady. I talked to the old boy, as in duty bound, and
listened to all his platitudes about the influence of money--as though
I didn't know about that, good lord! But the whole time I was
listening, and chiming in here and there with such interjections as I
thought appropriate, I kept my eye on you and madam; and from what I
saw, I judged it wasn't all plain-sailing. I was right; wasn't I?"

"Well," said Mr. Beresford, between his teeth, "you were, and that's
the truth. We've come to grief somehow; but how, I can hardly tell. It
was going on splendidly; I had followed all your instructions to the
letter, and, in fact, I was thoroughly accepted as her brother, when
she suddenly veered round; and though I can't say she's been unkind,
yet she has lost all that warmth that so pleasantly characterised her
regard; and now, I think, rather avoids me than otherwise."

"You've not overdone it, have you? Not been lapsing into your old
style of flirtation, and--"

"No; on my honour, no. I rather think some of her friends have been
putting the moral screw on. You recollect a Miss Lexden--Mrs.
Churchill that is now?"

"Perfectly! But _she_ would not be likely to object to a flirtation."

"Not as mademoiselle, but as madame she has rangéed herself, and I
believe her husband is a straight-laced party. She was up at Uplands
for a couple of days, and rather snubbed me when I presented myself
there in my fraternal character. I've been putting things together in
my mind, and I begin to think that Mrs. Schröder's coldness dated from
Mrs. Churchill's visit."

"Likely enough. I daresay Mrs. Churchill goes in tremendously now for
all the domestic virtues. If a reformed rake makes the best husband, a
penitent flirt ought to make the best wife; and, by all accounts, Miss
Barbara Lexden was a queen of the art. I hear that she and her husband
lead a perpetually billing-and-cooing existence, like a pair of
genteelly-poor turtles, in some dovecot near Gray's Inn."

"That man Lyster's been a good deal to the house lately, too. I always
hated that fellow, and I know he hates me; he looks at me sometimes as
though he could eat me. Schröder seems to have taken a fancy to him;
and I sometimes half fancy that he has a kind of spoony attachment to
Mrs. Schröder--if you recollect, I told you I thought he was after her
when we were all down at Bissett--though I don't think very much of
that. I'll tell you what it is, Simnel," continued Mr. Beresford, in a
burst of confidence, straggling up into a sitting position on the
sofa, and beating his legs with the folded newspaper as he spoke, "I'm
getting devilish sick of all this dodging and duffing, and I've been
thinking seriously of calling my creditors together, getting them to
take so much a-year, and then going in quietly and marrying Kate
Mellon after all."

Mr. Simnel's face flushed but for an instant; it was its normal colour
when he said,

"You're mad! You, with the ball at your foot, to think of such a
course! So much a-year, indeed! Butchers and bakers do that sort of
thing, I believe, when they've been let in; but not forty-per-cent
men; not money-lending insurance-offices. Breathe a hint of your
state, and they'd be down upon you at once, and sell you up like old
sticks. Besides, you couldn't come to any arrangement with your
creditors without its leaking out somehow. It would get into those
infernal trade-circulars, or protection-gazettes, or whatever they're
called; and if the Bishop or Lady Lowndes heard of it, all your
chances of inheriting in either of those quarters would be blown to
the winds. As to--to Kate Mellon, you may judge how your alliance with
her would please either of the august persons I have named."

"Jove! you're right," said Beresford, biting his nails.

"Right, of course I am; and here you've only to wait, and an
heiress--a delightful little creature to boot--is absolutely thrown
into your arms. You're a child, Charley, in some things,--you clever
men always have a slate off somewhere, you know,--and in business
you're a positive child. Can't you see that yours must be a waiting
race?--that you mustn't mind being hustled, and bothered, and cramped,
at the beginning, but must always keep your eyes open for your chance,
and then make the running? The least impetuosity, such as you hint at,
would throw away every hope, and destroy a very excellently planned
scheme. Oh, you needn't wince at the word; we are all schemers in
love, as well as in every thing else, if we only acknowledged it."

"Then you counsel my keeping on still, and endeavouring to regain my
influence?"

"Certainly; by all means. It will come back, never fear. And look
here, Charley; don't fall into that horribly common and vulgar error
of abusing the people who are supposed to be thwarting your plans. Be
specially kind, on the contrary, in all you say of them. This Captain
Lyster, for instance, I should proclaim, if I were you, a thorough
gentleman--a prolix chevalier of a type now seldom seen--a man
evidently smothering an unhappy passion for--for--any body but Mrs.
Schröder. Wouldn't the other one do? Mrs. Churchill, I mean."

"Do! What do you mean? There used certainly to be a flirtation between
them at one time, and--"

"Quite enough. Only keep Mrs. Schröder from the notion that Lyster is
spooning her; for that's enough at once to turn her silly little
thoughts to him. Speak kindly of every one; and don't show the
smallest signs of weariness, depression, or discouragement."


When Mr. Simnel returned to his own room, he settled himself down into
his chair, and fell to nursing his leg and thinking, with the old
sinister smile on his face.

"He's not the easiest fellow in the world to deal with--Beresford! At
least, he'd be difficult to some; but I think I've got him in hand.
Wants every thing to run slick off the reel at once, the idiot! As
though any great coup had ever been pulled off, save by waiting, and
watching, and patience. Marry Kate Mellon, indeed!" and here Mr.
Simnel's fingers, intertwined across his knee, cracked as he pulled at
them--"marry Kate Mellon, and with such a damned air of patronage too!
No, my young friend, never! You held a trump-card there, and you
neglected to play it; and in my game there's no revoking. I must see
Kitty, and look how the land lies. I think I've stalled Master Charley
off for some little time; and it's no use bringing about an
éclaircissement of the Schröder business; which Kitty would be safe to
do as soon as she had any tangible proof. Then I should lose my eight
hundred pounds in Charley Beresford's general and helpless smash.
But I'd sooner drop them than miss my chance of Kitty. Slippery,
though--slippery as the deuce!" and Mr. Simnel put his elbow on his
knee, and his face into his hand, and sat plucking at his chin
"hankers after Beresford, no doubt,--I think has a liking for that
young Prescott; but that I'll put a stop to to-day,--and I suppose
only thanks me for my kindness. And yet I can put the finishing stroke
to the whole thing in one moment; only want the one connecting-link
and the story's complete; and then I'll take my oath she'll have me.
I'll ride up there this afternoon, and just see how the land lies."

In accordance with this determination, Mr. Simnel that afternoon
mounted his thoroughbred and cantered off to The Den. He found the
mistress of the house at home, seated on a rustic seat, in a little
grass-plot in front of the drawing-room window, with a carriage-whip
in her hand, with which she was flicking the heads off such flowers as
were within reach. She had evidently just come in from a drive, for
she still wore her bonnet and black-lace shawl, though the former was
perched on the top of her head, to keep off the sun, while the latter
hung trailing down her back. She had altered in appearance, and not
for the better: her eyes were unnaturally bright; her cheeks sunken,
and marked here and there with hectic patches. Simnel gave his horse
to a groom, and walked up the garden-path. Kate Mellon looked up at
the sound of his advancing footsteps; at first vacantly enough, but
when she recognised him, she roused herself, and got up to meet him.

"How are you Simnel?" she said, with outstretched hand. "I was
thinking of you only to-day, and wondering what had become of you.
It's ages since you've been up here."

"I've been very busy, Kate, and been unable to come. You know my wish
is to come as frequently as possible; oh, you needn't shake your head,
because you are quite certain of it; but that's neither here nor
there. I keep to my portion of the contract, and shall not bore you
about myself until I've shown you I've a right to ask you to listen to
me. And now, how are you, and what are you doing? To tell truth, I
don't think you look very bonny, young woman: a little dragged, eh?
End of the season, perhaps?"

"Oh, I'm all right!" said Kate, hurriedly; "never better in health,
and jolly; that's the great point, isn't it, Simnel, eh? I'm learning
to look after number one, you know; and when you can do that, you're
all right, ain't you? Have some lunch? No? then look here; I've got
something you must taste,--some wonderful Madeira. Oh, all right; I
know it'll put some colour into your cheeks, and do you good."

She called to a passing servant, and the wine was brought,--rare old
tawny, full-bodied, mellow Madeira,--such wine as is now to be met in
about a dozen houses in the land, and utterly different from the
mixture of mahogany-shavings and brandy which is sold under its name.
Simnel poured out two half-glasses; but Kate took the decanter from
him, filled her glass to the brim, and nodding to him, drank off half
its contents.

"Ah!" said she, with a long-drawn inspiration; "that's the stuff! No
nonsense in that, you know; doesn't pretend to be what it isn't, and
can't deceive you. Tom Gillespie sent me a lot of that: found no end
of it in the cellars of his old uncle, the East-India Director, whose
tin he came in for. I find it does me good, steadies my nerve, and
gives me fresh life. What are you shaking your head at?"

"It's dangerous tipple, Kate. I don't like to hear you talk like that.
Your nerves used to be as strong as steel, without any steadying. I
say, Kitty," said Mr. Simnel with a grave face; "you're not giving way
to this sort of thing for--"

"For what?" interrupted Kate, with a discordant laugh; "for comfort?
Oh, no, thank you; I don't want that yet: I don't want to drown my
sorrows in the bowl. I haven't got any sorrows, and I shouldn't do
that with them if I had. By the way, Simnel, how is that affair going
on,--you know what I mean? You promised to let me know."

"I believe it stands very much the same as it did," said he.

"Then it hasn't worn out yet? he isn't tired of it, eh?" she asked
eagerly.

"No; it still goes on."

"You promised to tell me the woman's name, Simnel; why haven't you
done so? You pretend friendship for me, and then you keep things from
me that I ought to know; and you don't come and see me, and,--There, I
don't believe in you a bit!"

"I keep things from you until the proper time for you to know them. I
don't come and see you, because all the leisure time I have had has
been devoted to your interests; and, by the way, Kate, that brings me
to the occasion of my present visit. I suppose you give me credit for
sincerity--"

"Oh, ah; well, what then?"

"I mean that you believe in me sufficiently to think that any step I
should take, any question I should ask, would not be out of mere idle
curiosity; but because I thought they would be beneficial to you?"

She nodded her head, and stretched her hand towards the decanter; but
seeing Simnel frown, she stopped short, took up the whip which lay
close by, and commenced flicking the flowers again.

"I want to ask you about your people,"--the girl started;--"who they
are; where you came from; what you know of them."

"You know all that fast enough,--from Yorkshire,--you've heard me say
before. What more's wanted to be known? I pay my way, don't I, and who
does more? I'm not required to show my christening certificate to
every one that wants a horse broke, I suppose?"

"What a fiery child it is!" said Simnel. "No one has a right to ask
any thing at all about it,--I least of all; but I think,--and I am not
sanguine, you know--that I shall be able, if you will confide in me,
to help you very greatly in the most earnest wish of your life."

"Stop!" exclaimed Kate; "do you know what that is?"

"I think I do," said Simnel, looking at her kindling eyes, quivering
nostril, and twitching lips.

"If not, I'll tell you; I don't mind telling you: revenge on Charles
Beresford! revenge! revenge!" and at each repetition of the word she
slashed savagely at the tall flowers near her.

"Well, I think I might say I could help you in that," said Simnel
quietly; "but you must be frank. You know I'm a man of the world; and
I've made it my business to go a little into this question. So now
tell me your life, from the first that you can remember of it."

"You're a cool hand, Simnel  but I know you mean running straight, so
I don't mind. First thing of all I can recollect is being held out at
arm's length by Phil Fox, as the child in his great trick-act of
Rolla, or the something of Peru. The circus belonged to old Fox,
Phil's father; and I used to live with the Foxes,--the old man and
woman and Bella Fox, and Phil and his wife. Bad lot she was: had been
a splendid rider, but fell and broke her leg; and was always vicious
and snappish, and that irritating, I wonder Phil could put up with
her. They were very kind to me, the Foxes, and I was quite like their
own child; and I played fairies, and flower-girls, and columbines, and
such like, all on horseback, in all the towns we went circuit. I used
to ask the old man sometimes about myself; but he never would say more
than that I was his little apprentice, and I should find it all right
some day. And so I went on with them till I grew quite a big girl, and
used to do the barebacked-steed business, and what I liked better, the
riding-habit and the highly-trained charger dodge, until old Fox
declared there was no better rider in England than me. I was just
nineteen, when he sent for me one night,--it was at Warwick, I
recollect, and we'd had a stunning house,--and I found him with two
gentlemen standing with him. He pointed to one of them, and he said to
me: 'Express'--that's the name he used to call me,--'Express, this is
the gentleman that bound you 'prentice to me ever so many years ago.
He's come to take you away now, and make your fortune.' I cried, and
said I didn't want my fortune made, and that I wouldn't go; but after
a long talk full of business, I saw it would be for my good, and I
agreed. So this place was bought for me in my name, and here I've been
ever since."

"And who were those gentlemen?"

"That's exactly what I can't tell you."

"Can't tell?"

"Won't, if you like it better. There, don't look vexed. I'll tell you
this much, one of them was my uncle,--my real uncle, I firmly
believe,--though on which side you must find out."

"And the other?"

"The other I love dearer than any one on earth."

"Dearer than you loved--"

"I know who you're going to say; infinitely dearer! but in--there;
there's enough of that. One thing more I'll tell you: up to this hour
I've never been told my father's name or rank in life."

"And this benevolent uncle did it all? Quite like a play, by Jove!
Well, I've not learned much; but I may be able to make something of
it--something that will be good for us both."

"That's all right! and now your business is finished?"

"Yes, entirely--no, not quite, by the way; I wanted to say one word to
you on another subject. You know I'm not likely to be jealous Kitty--"

"So far as I'm concerned, you've no right to be."

"I know, of course; but still one doesn't like these things. There's a
young man named Prescott, who is in my office. I notice that he's
constantly in your company; I've met you with him half-a-dozen times,
and I hear frequently from others of his being with you."

"What of that?" she asked, with flushing cheek; "are you to settle my
company for me?"

"Not at all--not at all; but I'm speaking both for your good and his.
He's a young fellow of good abilities; but he's thoughtless and
foolish, and, what's worse than all, he's poor. Now this riding about,
horse-hiring and that sort of thing, necessarily leads him into
expense; and from what I hear, he's going a great deal too fast. I
hear all sorts of things about the young fellows who are under me,
and I'm told that your friend Mr. Prescott is getting involved in
money-matters; in fact, that he's  mixed up in bill-transactions to an
amount which, for him, is heavy, with a blood-sucking rascal named
Scadgers, who is one of the pests of society in general, and
government offices in particular."

"Scadgers!" replied Kate; "what a funny name! Scadgers, eh?"

"A good many people have found it any thing but a funny name, Kitty.
Now, though I don't suppose there's any thing between you and Mr.
Prescott--"

"Don't you trouble any more about that; perhaps you've never noticed
that Mr. Prescott never is with me except when one of my pupils is
there too: now do you understand?"

"There was no pupil nor any one else with you when I saw him talking
to you in the Row some twelve months since; and he scuttled off as I
rode up: however, I thought I'd warn you about him. He's on the
downward road, and unless he pulls up, he'll come to grief; and it
wouldn't do for you to be mixed up in any thing of that sort."


He sat some time longer talking of ordinary matters, and rattling on
in his best style. In every thing he said there was a tinge of
attention almost bordering on respect to his companion, which she did
not fail to notice, and which decidedly impressed her in his favour.
Indeed, Kate Mellon never had imagined that Mr. Simnel could have made
such progress in her good graces as he did this day. They never
recurred to any serious topic until his horse was brought, when just
as he was mounting she touched him on the shoulder, and said, "You'll
not forget to keep me up to the mark about that business?" then, with
a half-shuddering laugh, "I'm still interested, you know, in that
young man's progress." Simnel wheeled round and looked at her steadily
under his bent eyebrows. "You shall be made acquainted with any thing
that happens, depend upon it. Adieu!" and he sprang to the saddle,
raised his hat, and rode slowly off.

"Not half cured yet," said he to himself, "not half; and yet so savage
at his slight, that she'd do him any bad turn on the spur of the
moment, and repent of it instantly. She was telling truth about
Prescott, I know; but it was best to break up that instantly. How
lovely she looked! a little flushed, a little excited; but that only
added to her charm. I didn't like that Madeira being so handy, by the
way; I must look after that. By Jove, what a fairy it is! where's
there one to compare to her? so round and plump and well put together!
And if I can only square this family history--uncle, eh? who the deuce
can that have been? That's an important link in the chain. And
somebody she loves, too; what the deuce does that mean? Ah, well, it's
coming to a head now: another month ought to enable me to pull up the
curtain on the last act of the drama."


And Kate returned to her garden-chair as the sound of the horse's
hoofs died away in the distance; and throwing herself back, and
drumming with her fingers upon the little table, went off into a
reverie. She thought of her devotion to Beresford; how the passion had
first grown when he first knew her; how she had given way to it; and
how the nourishment of it was one of the brightest phases in her
strange odd life. She remembered the first time she saw him, the first
compliment he paid her; the way in which his easy jolly behaviour
struck her as compared with the dreary vapidity, or, what was worse,
the slangy fastness of the other men of her acquaintance. And then
she thought of that eventful evening when she had knelt at his feet
and--she dashed her clenched fist upon the table as she remembered
that, and shuddered and bit her lips when she thought that a
description of that scene had been given amid ribald shouts. Mr.
Simnel had not so much share of her thoughts as probably he would have
wished; but she pondered for a few moments on his eagerness to obtain
particulars of her early life, and wondered what scheme he had in
hand. She had a very high opinion of his intellect, and felt sure he
was using it just then in her service; but she could not conceive to
what end his labours were tending. And then she remembered what he had
said about Mr. Prescott; and her face grew a little sad.

"Poor Jim!" she said to herself; "poor fellow! going to grief, is he?
in debt and dropping his money, like a young fool as he is. And that
nice girl, too, so fresh and jolly and countrified and innocent! Lord
help us! What are you at, Kitty, you idiot why should those things
give you a twinge? Steady, now; it's not often your heart buck-jumps
like that. They'll go all right, those though, if Jim can only be put
square. And that he shall be! What's the use of my hoarding in my old
stocking; it'll never be any good to me; and so I may as well have the
pleasure of helping somebody else. Scadgers, that was the name; I'll
get that put right at once. Scadgers! I wonder where he lives.
However, that'll be easily found out. Poor Jim! what a good husband
he'll make that rosy-faced girl!"

What was it that made Kate Mellon's head drop on her hands, and the
tears ooze through the fingers covering her eyes? Not the thought of
Mr. Prescott's marrying some one else surely, for had she not
resolutely snubbed his proposals? Certain it is that she remained with
her head bowed for full ten minutes, and that when she looked up, her
face was tear-dabbled and her eyes red and swollen. She took no heed
of her appearance, however, but walked into the house, and pulling out
her gaudy blotting-book, she scrawled a long letter, which, when
finished, she addressed to "E. Churchill, Esq., _Statesman_ Office,
E.C."



CHAPTER XXVIII.
TIGHTENING THE CURB.


The garden-party at Uplands had a serious effect on the household in
Great Adullam Street. Of course the actual disturbance, the state of
warfare engendered by what Frank Churchill imagined he had seen take
place between his wife and Captain Lyster in the shrubbery, did not
last long. When Barbara swept up to her bedroom from the hired
brougham, Frank retreated into his little snuggery and lit his old
meerschaum-pipe, and sat gazing vacantly through the smoke-wreaths,
and pondering on the occurrences of the day. He could scarcely realise
to himself what had passed; he could scarcely imagine that the woman
to whom, twelve months since, he had sworn fealty, whose lightest
whisper caused his pulse to throb, and who, on her part, had changed
the whole style and current of her life for the sake of fulfilling her
determination to be his and his alone, could have so far repented of
that great crisis in her career as to listen to the compliments of
another man, to receive, with evident satisfaction, his unqualified
admiration, and to fly off in a rage, with fire in her eyes and bitter
words on her lips, when her husband remonstrated with her on her
conduct. Here were they, that "twain one flesh," that mysterious
two-in-oner sitting under the same roof indeed, but in separate rooms;
each thinking hard thoughts of the other, each with anger rife against
the other, and with harsh words applied to each other yet ringing in
their ears. Great Heavens! thought Frank, was this what he had fondly
pictured to himself? Was this the quiet haven of repose, the lodge in
the vast wilderness of Mesopotamia, with one fair spirit for his
minister, on which he had so rashly reckoned? Was the lodge to be a
divided territory? and was the fair spirit to be equally fair to some
other man, and to be a minister of the blatant, reviling, Boanerges
class? Instead of the quiet and rest on which he had calculated, and
which were so necessary to him after his exciting hard work, was his
mind to be racked by petty jealousies, his peace invaded by wretched
squabbles, the sunshine of his existence overclouded with gloom and
doubt? Was his wife to be an adversary instead of a helpmate? were
her-- And then abruptly he stopped in his self-torturing, as he
thought of her,--how friendless and unprotected she was, how he alone
was her prop and stay in the world; and then he turned the whole
matter in his mind, and it occurred to him that that horribly
irritable temper of his might have led him again into mischief,
causing him to see things that really might not have happened, and to
use language far stronger than there was any necessity for, and to
render him violent and undignified and absurd, and so completely to do
away with the force accruing from his right position. For undoubtedly
he was in the right position; for had he not seen with his own
eyes--what? They were walking together, certainly; but there was no
reason why that should not be: fifty other couples were promenading
the same grounds at the same time, and--no! on reflection, he did not
see Lyster kiss her hand; it was that young idiot who was gabbling to
him the whole time, and who said something about it. Perhaps nothing
of the kind had occurred. Barbara had denied it instantly; and when
had she ever breathed a falsehood to him? She was not the style of
woman to equivocate; her pride would save her from that; and--it must
have been all fancy! some horrible mistake, out of which had arisen
this wretched scene and his worse than wretched rage. And now there
was something between them, some horrible misunderstanding which must
be at once set right. If--if any thing were to happen to either of
them, and one were to die while there was enmity, or something like
it, existing between them! and this thought caused the meerschaum to
be laid aside unfinished, and sent Frank striding up, four stairs at a
time, to his bedroom.

He found Barbara sitting in her white dressing-gown, arranging her
hair before the looking-glass. Her face was very white, her eyelids a
little red and puffed, and her lips were tightly pressed together. She
took no notice of the opening of the door, but went calmly on with her
toilet. Frank was a little disconcerted by this; he had calculated on
a tender look of recognition, a few smothered words of explanation,
and a final tableau in each other's arms. But as Barbara, with the
greatest serenity, still appeared completely immersed in the intricate
plaiting evolutions she was performing with a piece of her hair and a
stalwart hair-pin, Frank advanced gently, and standing behind her
chair, touched her shoulder, and said softly, "Darling!"

There was no reply; but the hands occupied in the plaiting manoeuvre
perhaps shook a little.

"My darling," repeated Frank, "won't you notice me?"

"Were you speaking to me?" asked Barbara in an icy voice, and looking
up at him with a calm rigid blank face.

"To whom else should I be speaking? to whom else should I apply that
term?"

"Really I can't say. The last time you spoke to me, you were good
enough to swear; and as I know you pride yourself on your consistency,
I could not imagine you could so soon alter your tone."

"No; but, Barbara dearest, you should not throw that in my teeth; you
know that I was vexed; that I--"

"Vexed, Frank! Vexed! I wonder at you! You accuse me of something
utterly untrue, in language such as I have never listened to before;
and then, as an excuse, you plead that you were vexed!"

"I was foolish, Barbara, headstrong and horrible, and let my
confounded temper get the mastery over me; but then, child, you ought
to forgive me; for all I did was from excess of love for you. If I did
not hang upon every word, every action, of yours, I should be far less
exacting in my affection. You should think of that, Barbara."

His voice was broken as he spoke, and she noticed that the hand which
was upon her chair-back shook palpably.

"You _could_ not have meant what you said in the brougham, Frank,"
said she in a softened tone. "You could not have imagined that I
should have permitted--there, I cannot speak of it!" she exclaimed
abruptly, placing her handkerchief to her swimming eyes.

"No, my darling, I will not. I could not--I never--of course--fool
that I am!" and then incoherently, but satisfactorily, the question
was dismissed.

Dismissed temporarily, but by no means forgotten, by no means laid
aside by either of them. Captain Lyster called the next day while
Frank was at the office, eager to see whether Mrs. Churchill had
repented of the task she had undertaken in counselling and warning
Alice Schröder; and Barbara told her husband on his return of the
visit she had had, and mentioned it with eyes which a desire not to
look conscious rendered somewhat defiant, and with cheeks which
flushed simply because it was the last thing they ought to have done.
Heaven knows Barbara Churchill had nothing to be ashamed of in being
visited by Captain Lyster. She never had the smallest sign of a
feeling stronger than friendship for him, and yet she felt somewhat
guilty, as she acknowledged to herself that his visit had given her
very great pleasure. The truth was that the garden-party at Uplands
had completely upset the current of Barbara's life. When, in the first
wild passion of her love for him who became her husband, she had
willingly forfeited all that had hitherto been the pleasure of her
life,--the luxury and admiration in which she had been reared, the
pleasant surroundings which had been hers since her cradle,--she had
found something in exchange. She had given up half-a-hundred
friendships, which she knew to be hollow and empty; but she had
consoled herself with one vast love, which she believed to be lasting
and true, and which, after all, was a novelty.

As has been said, Barbara had had her flirtations innumerable, but she
had never known before what love was; and having a very sensitive
organisation, and going in heart and soul for the new passion, she had
not in any great degree, at all events felt the alteration in her
position. Although every thing was different and inferior, every thing
was in some degree connected with him, who was paramount in her idea
to any thing she had ever known. She might feel the dulness of the
neighbourhood, the smallness of the house, the difference in the
society and in her own occupations and amusements; but all these were
part and parcel of that sun of her existence--her husband; that great
luminary, in whose brilliant rays all little gloom-spots were
swallowed up and merged. Even when the glamour died away, and the
blacknesses stood out in bold relief, she had been so dazed by the
brightness, and, owing to the thorough change, the events of her past
life seemed so far away, as to awaken but very little remorse or
regret. She was beginning to bear with something like patience the
prosiness of her mother-in-law, the spiteful criticisms of Mrs.
Harding, the hideous vulgarity of some of her other neighbours. But
the visit to Uplands came upon her as a terrific shock. Once more
mixing in her old society, hearing the fashionable jargon to which she
had been accustomed from her youth up; meeting those who had always
looked up to her as their superior in beauty, and consequently in
marketable value; listening to soft compliments; seeing her wishes,
ever so slightly hinted, obeyed with alacrity; breathing once more
that atmosphere in which she was reared, but from which she seemed to
have been long estranged,--Barbara felt more and more like Barbara
Lexden, while Barbara Churchill faded hazily away. The dull, dull
street,--the dead, dead life,--the poverty which prescribed constant
care in the household management,--the dowdy dresses and second-hand
manners of the inhabitants of the quarter,--the daily vexations and
cares and wrong-way rubbings, seemed all to belong to some hideous
dream, while the real existence passed into the former life with a
pleasant addition in the person of Frank. The pleasure was brief
enough, and she woke to all the horrors rendered doubly bitter by the
short renewal of bygone joys. The clock had struck twelve, the
ballroom had vanished, and she was again Cinderella with haunting
memory for her glass-slipper. The prince remained, certainly; but he
was no longer a prince; he had bad tempers, and was peevish and
jealous, and thoroughly mortal. She had returned to the dust and
dreariness of Great Adullam Street, and the rattling cabs, and Mrs.
Churchill in her old black-silk dress, and the Hebrews opposite
smoking their cigars at the open windows in the hot summer evenings.
She could scarcely fancy that there was a world where people dressed
in full muslin, and pink-crape bonnets, or bewitching hats; where
business was unknown, and work never heard of; where there were
perpetual croquet-parties and picnics and horticultural fêtes; where
there were night-drives homeward in open carriages after Richmond
dinners; and where the men talked of something else than when Brown
was going to bring out his poems, or what a slating Smith's novel had
had in the _Scourge_. In that brief respite from her weary life, she
had heard those around her talking of their plans to be carried out on
the then occurring break-up of the season; she had heard girls talk
with rapture of their approaching visits to German Spas and Italian
lakes; she had heard arrangements made for meeting in English
country-houses, where she had formerly been an eagerly sought-for
guest; or at fashionable seaboards, where she had been the reigning
belle. And she came back with the full knowledge that a fortnight's
run to some cockney watering-place, handy of access to London, where
she could live in cheap lodgings and play, a very undistinguished
part, would be all the relaxation she could possibly hope for. And all
this sunk into her soul, and made her wretched and discontented, and
formed the wandering isles of night which dashed the very source and
fount of her day.

It was wrong, undoubtedly. She had chosen her course, and must run it;
as the Mesopotamians would have expressed themselves, she had made her
bed, and must lie upon it. She had her husband to think of, and should
have struggled womanfully to bear up against all these small crosses
and disquietudes for his sake; she should have met her fate with a
brave heart, and striven to prevent his having any suspicion of the
longings and disappointments by which she was racked. Barbara should
have done all this, as we in our different way should have done so
much, which we have resolutely omitted,--paid that bill, for instance;
avoided that woman; not bought that horse; helped that old friend;
denied ourselves that fling in print at Jones. She should have done;
but, like us, she didn't. Her character was any thing but perfect; and
the very pride on which she so much prided herself, and which should
have left her straight, now turned against herself, and, "like a
hedgehog rolled the wrong way," pricked her mercilessly. She did
indeed struggle to contend with the feelings which were conquering
her, and which were the "little low" sensations renewed with tenfold
force; but without success. A dead dull despair, a loathing and
detestation of all the circumstances of her life, a horror of the
people round her, and a wild regret for what had gone before never to
return,--these were the demons which beset Barbara's daily path. And
with them at one time came the first threatenings of another feeling
which would have been more destructive to all chance of present or
future happiness than any other, had not Providence in its mercy
counteracted its effect by a passion, bad indeed, torturing, and
hurtful, but nothing like so deadly as the other. Weighed down by her
real or fancied misery, constantly repining in secret, and comparing
her present with her past life, Barbara might have been tempted to
think of Frank as the agent of her wretchedness, as the primary mover
in the chain of events which had made her exchange Tyburnia for Great
Adullam Street, luxury for comparative poverty, and happiness for
despair; she might have done this, but she became jealous. She noticed
that lately Frank's manner had been strange and preoccupied; that he
was away from home very much more frequently than when they were first
married; that from what she gathered when she heard him talking with
his friends, he evidently sought work which took him out, and on two
or three occasions had gone on country trips in the interest of the
journal--duty which did not fall to his lot, and which he had never
undertaken before. His manner to her, she thought, was certainly very
much changed, and she did not like the alteration. He was courteous
always, and gentle; but he had gradually lost all that petting
fondness which, from its very rarity in a man of his stamp, was so
winning at first; and with his courtesy was mingled a grave sad air,
which Barbara understood to mean reproach, and which galled her
mightily. I do not know that Barbara at first really felt jealous of
her husband: had she examined the foundation of her jealousy and
sifted its causes, there is very little doubt that the natural sense
which she undoubtedly possessed would have shown her that her
suspicions were absurd. But the truth is, she all unwittingly rather
encouraged the passion, as a relief from the monotonous misery of her
life, without a thought of how rapidly it grew, or what proportions it
might eventually assume. It was a change to think differently of
Frank, to take a feverish interest in his proceedings and in the
proceedings of those with whom he was brought into contact; and Frank
himself was surprised to find how the "little low" fits had been
succeeded by a more sprightly demeanour--a demeanour which showed
itself in sharp glances and bitter words.

And Frank, was he happy? In truth, not one whit happier than his wife,
though his wretchedness sprang from a different cause and was shown in
a different way. He felt that he had clutched the great prize, and
found it to be a Dead-Sea apple; that he had reached the turning-point
of his career, passed it, and found the rest of his course all
down-hill; he had played the great stake of his life and lost it; and
henceforward his heart's purse was empty, and he was bankrupt in
affections. It had come upon him, gradually indeed, but with
overwhelming force: at first he had ascribed Barbara's pettishness to
the mere vagaries of a girl, and had looked upon her caprices as
relics of that empire which had been hers so long, and from which she,
naturally enough, was unwilling to part. He had seen, not without
annoyance, indeed, but still without any deep or lasting pang, that
there was an uncomfortable feeling, based either upon rivalry or some
other passion equally unintelligible to him, between his wife and his
mother; but he had hoped this would pass away. He had noticed that his
old friends, though they spoke with warm admiration of Barbara's
beauty, deemed to shirk any question of liking or being pleased with
her; and that, let them meet her however often, she scarcely seemed to
make any progress in their regard; but he thought this was as much
their fault as hers, and that the estrangement would wear off. It was
not until his mother had dropped her hint as to the frequency of
Captain Lyster's visits, that Frank's mind began to be seriously
disturbed; it was not until the scene at Uplands, of which he had been
an unwilling spectator, and the subsequent scene with Barbara in the
brougham, that he began to feel that his marriage had been a horrible
mistake. Then all Barbara's "low" fits, all her silence, all the tears
which he could see constantly welling up into her eyes, and kept back
only by a struggle as palpable as the tears themselves; then the
complaints of dulness and monotony--all poor Barbara's shortcomings,
indeed, and they were not a few--were ascribed to one source. She had
known this man in former days; he was of her society and set, and had
probably made love to her, as had hundreds before; and Frank ground
his teeth as he thought how Barbara's reputation as a flirt, and her
attractive qualities as a coquette, had been kindly mentioned to him
by more than one of her old friends. Some quarrel had probably
occurred between them; during which he Frank had crossed her path, had
fallen at her feet,--dazed idiot that he was!--and she had raised him
up, and out of pique had married him. That was the story, Frank could
swear to it! he turned it over and over in his mind until he believed
it implicitly, and conjured up the different scenes and passages,
which made his blood boil and sent him, with set teeth and scowling
brow, stamping through the long-echoing Mesopotamian squares, to the
intense wonder of the policeman and the few passers-by in those dreary
thoroughfares. Only when he was quite alone, however, did he in the
least give way to his emotions. When he was at home--where he and
Barbara would now sit for hours without exchanging a word, and where
the occasional presence of a third person rendered matters more
horrible, compelling them to put on a ghastly semblance of
affectionate familiarity--when he was at home, or down at the
_Statesman_ Office, where he could be thoroughly natural, he was
moody, stern, and silent. His manner had lost that round jollity which
had always characterised it, and his appearance was beginning to
change: he was thinner; there were silver lines in the brown hair, and
two or three deep lines round the eyes.

Of course his friends noticed all this, as friends notice every thing.
Madly and blindly people go through life, imagining that their
thoughts and actions are--some of them, at least--known but to
themselves alone; whereas all of them--all such, at least, as they
would prefer keeping secret--are public property, and as thoroughly
patent as if they had been proclaimed from the market-place cross. You
may go on in London living for years next door to a neighbour whose
name you are unacquainted with, and whom you have never seen; but make
him an acquaintance, give him some interest in you, and without your
in the least suspecting it, he will find out the whole story of your
life, will know all about the young lady with the fair hair in
Wiltshire, the hundred pounds borrowed from Robinson, the
disappointment at Uncle Prendergast's will--all the little things, in
fact, which you thought were buried in your own bosom; and will sit
down opposite you at table with an innocent ingenuous face, as though
your affairs were the very last things with which he would trouble
himself. We all do this, day by day, with the noblest hypocrisy, and
receive from our dear intimate statements of facts which we know to be
false, and warpings of statements which we know to be perverted, with
"Indeeds!" and "Reallys?" and head-noddings of outward acquiescence
and mocking incredulity in our hearts. Barbara Churchill had been the
one grand subject of conversation for the Mesopotamian gossips ever
since her marriage: they had lived upon her, and found that she
improved in flavour. Her appearance, her dress, her manners; what they
were pleased to term her "stand-offishness;" her shortcomings as a
housekeeper; her ignorance in the matter of mending under-linen; her
novel-reading and piano-playing--all these had been toothsome morsels,
far more enjoyable than the heavy pies, the thick chops, and the
sardines which figured in that horrible Mesopotamian meal known as "a
thick tea;" and had been picked to the very bone. And then, when it
began to be whispered about--as it very soon did--that there were
dissensions in the Churchill camp, that all did not go as smoothly as
it should, and that, in fact, quarrels were rife--then came the
crowning delight of the banquet, and the female portion of the
Great-Adullam-Street community was nearly delirious with excitement.
Although old Mrs. Churchill, from her kind-heartedness and simplicity,
had always been a great favourite with her neighbours, she had no idea
of the extent of her popularity until this period. Her little rooms
were literally beset with female friends; and she had invitations to
tea-parties three-deep. To these invitations--to as many of them, at
least, as was possible--she invariably responded. By nature the old
lady hated the character of a gossip, and would have been highly
indignant had she been charged with any propensity for chattering; but
easily impressible by those with whom she was brought into contact,
she had acquired a little of the prevalent failing of the region, and
moreover, she thought it her duty to tell all she knew about the then
favourite subject, in order, as she phrased it, "that poor Frank's
position might be set right." But if poor Frank's position was
properly looked after, it must be acknowledged that poor Barbara
received her meed of popular disapprobation. Not that her
mother-in-law ever said one direct word of condemnation; old Mrs.
Churchill was far too good a Christian willingly to start or give
currency to harsh criticism, more especially on one so closely allied
to her. But, it was very difficult to absolve her son from blame
without shifting the onus of the avowed quarrel on to the shoulders of
her daughter-in-law; and when the ladies surrounding the tea-table,
groaning over "poor Mr. Churchill's" domestic woes, shook their
cap-strings in virtuous indignation at her who had caused them, the
old lady made but a feeble protest, which speedily closed in a string
of doleful ejaculations. In the minds of the members of this
Mesopotamian Vehmgericht, of which Mrs. Harding might be considered
president, Barbara stood fully convicted of the charge which they had
themselves brought against her. Her indolence, her carelessness, her
"fal-lal ways," her pride and squeamishness had brought--only rather
sooner than was expected--their natural result; and "isn't it better,
my dear, to have a little less good looks and a little less fondness
for jingling the piano and reading trashy novels, and keep a tidy
house over your head and live happily with your husband?"

The stories of all that passed in Churchill's house, collected with
care from old Mrs. Churchill and her servant Lucy,--whose habitual
puritanical taciturnity was melted by the course of events, and who
gave way to that hatred against Barbara which she had felt from the
first moment of seeing her,--and duly dressed, illustrated, and
annotated by Mrs. Harding, who had a special talent in that way, of
course before long reached Mr. Harding's ears.

It is difficult to explain how that good fellow was affected by the
news. He had the warmest personal regard for Frank, loving him with
something of paternal fondness; he had always impressed him with the
propriety of marriage, and had looked forward with real anxiety to the
time when he should see his friend settled for life. Not until then,
he thought, would those talents which he knew Frank possessed enable
him to take his proper position in the world: what he did now was well
enough; but it was merely the evanescent sparkle of his genius.
Soberly settled down with a woman worthy of him, the real products of
his intellect and his reading would come forth, and he would step into
the first rank of the men of his time. And now it had all come to
this! Frank was married; but he had made a wrong selection, and was a
moody, discontented, blighted man. The aspect of affairs was horrible;
and when told of their real condition by his wife, George Harding
determined that he would exercise his prerogative of friend, and speak
to Churchill on the subject.

Accordingly the next day when he saw Frank at the usual consultation
at the office, Harding waited until the other man had left the room,
and then, placing his hand affectionately on his friend's shoulder,
said: "I want two minutes with you, Frank."

"Two hours, if you like, Harding; it's all the same to me," replied
Churchill wearily.

"I want you to tell me what ails you,--what has worked such a complete
change in you, physically and morally; or rather, I don't want you to
tell me, for I know."

Churchill looked up defiantly with flushed cheeks, as he exclaimed,
"What do you know? are my private affairs topics for the tittle-tattle
of--there, God help me! I'm weak as water. Now I want to quarrel with
my best friend!"

"No, you don't, old man; and you would get no quarrel out of me, if
you wished it ever so much. But I can't bear this any longer; I can't
bear to see you losing your health and your spirits; and wearing
yourself out day by day as you are, without coming to the rescue. Let
us look the matter boldly in the face at once. You're--you're not
quite happy at home, Frank, eh?"

"Happy!" he echoed, with a strange hollow laugh; "no, not entirely
perhaps."

"Well, that's a bad thing; but it's curable. At all events, giving way
to moping and misery won't help it. Many men have begun their married
life in wretchedness, and emerged, when they least expected it, into
sunshine. Here are two young people who have not known each other
above a couple of months, both of whom have very possibly been spoiled
beforehand, and they arrive each with their own particular stock of
whims and fancies, which they declare shall be carried out by the
other. It takes time to rub down all the angles and points, and to
provide for the regular working of the machinery; and it is never done
by a jump. You've fine material to work upon too; if Mrs. Churchill
were vulgar or uneducated, or did not care for you, you would have
great difficulties to contend with. But as she is exactly the reverse
of all this, she ought to be easily managed. Don't you understand that
in these matters one or the other must have the upperhand? and that
one should be the husband! The supremacy once asserted, all works
well; not until then, and generally the struggle, though sharp, is
very short. Every thing is wrong, and the whole machine is out of
gear. You've let her have her own way too much, my friend. You must
tighten the curb and see the result."

"If you were a horseman, Harding," said Frank with a dreary smile,
"you would know that tightening the curb sometimes produces the worst
of rebellious vices--rearing!"

"Oh, no fear of that; no fear of that. Try it! You really must do
something, Frank; I can't bear to see you giving way like this. You
must assert yourself, my good fellow, and at once; for though it may
be bad now, it will be ten times worse hereafter, and you'll bitterly
rue not having taken my advice."

And George Harding went home and told, his wife what he had done, and
assured her that she would find matters speedily set to rights in
Great Adullam Street now.

And Frank Churchill walked home, pondering on the advice he had just
received and finally determining within himself to adopt it. He
supposed he had been weak and wanting in proper self-respect. Harding
was always the reflex of his wife's sentiments, and doubtless that
whole set of wretched tabbies had been pitying him as a poor
spiritless creature. He would take Harding's advice and bring the
matter to an issue at once.

He went into his little study and had just seated himself at his desk
to commence his work when Barbara entered the room. She was dressed in
her bonnet and shawl; her eyes were swollen and there were traces of
recent tears still on her cheeks; the muscles round her mouth were
working visibly, and her whole frame was quivering with excitement. As
she closed the door behind her, she seemed to control herself with one
great effort, then walking straight to the desk she said, in a broken
and trembling voice, "I want you to answer me a question."

"Barbara!" said Frank, whose intended firmness had all melted away
before her haggard appearance, "Barbara!" and he rose and put out his
hand to draw her to him.

"Don't touch me!" she screamed, starting back. "Don't lay one finger
upon me until until you have answered my question. This morning you
left this envelope on the dressing-table; tell me who is the writer
and what were the contents."

She tossed an envelope on to the desk as she spoke, and leant with one
hand against the wall.

"That envelope," said Frank, speaking very slowly, "is mine. I utterly
deny your right to ask me any thing about it; I utterly refuse to
satisfy your curiosity."

"Curiosity! it is not that; God knows it is not that feeling merely
that prompts me: This is the second time you have, to my knowledge,
received letters in that writing. The first time was at Bissett, when
you left suddenly, immediately after its receipt. I suspected then,
but had no right to ask; now I have the right, and I demand to know!"

"I can only repeat what I said before: I most positively decline to
tell you."

"Beware, Frank! You ought to know me by this time; but you don't. If
you don't satisfy me on this point, I leave you for ever."

"You have your answer," said Frank; "now let me get to my work."

"You still refuse?"

"You heard what I said."

She drew herself up and left the room; the next minute he heard the
street-door shut, and, running to the dining-room window, saw her hail
a cab and get into it.

"There's the first lesson, at all events," said he to himself. "When
she comes back to dinner, she will be cooler, and more amenable to
reason."

He finished his work, and walked down with it to the _Statesman_
Office. On his return he found a commissionaire in the hall talking to
his servant. He asked the latter where her mistress was, but the girl
said she had not come in, at the same time handing him a letter. It
was very brief; it merely said:

"You have decided; and henceforth you and I never meet again. Mrs.
Schröder, with whom I am staying, will send her maid for a box which I
have left ready packed. I hope you may be more happy with your
correspondent, and in your return to your old life, than you have been
with        B. C."

As Frank Churchill read this, the lines wavered before his eyes, and
he reeled against the wall.



CHAPTER XXIX.
MR. SCADGERS PAYS A VISIT.


Those who had been most intimately acquainted with Mr. Scadgers of
Newman Street had never known him under any circumstances devote a
portion of his valuable time to sacrificing to the Graces. He was
popularly supposed to sleep in his clothes; and as those garments were
seldom entirely free from fluff or "flue," there were probably some
grounds for the supposition; but he could not have slept in his big
high-boots, though no one had ever seen him without them, save Jinks.
Jinks had more than once seen his master with slippered feet, and
trembled; for Mr. Scadgers' boots were to him what those other
Ingoldsby-celebrated boots were to the Baron Ralph de Shurland, what
his hair was to Samson, what his high-heels were to Louis Quatorze.
Without his boots, Mr. Scadgers was quite a different man; he talked
of "giving time," of "waiting a day or two," of "holding-off a bit;"
this was in his slippers: but when once his boots were on, in speaking
of the same debtor he told Jinks to "sell him up slick, and clear off
all his sticks." He always seemed to wear the same suit of black, and
all the washing that he was ever known to indulge in was by smearing
himself with the damp corner of a towel, which he kept in the office
between the chemist's bottles, one of which held the water; while
his toilette was completed by running a pocket-comb through his
close-cropped hair, and then smoothing it down with the palms of his
hands, whisking his boots with his red-silk pocket-handkerchief,
and putting sharp spiky points to his nails by the aid of a
vicious-looking buck-handled penknife.

Thoroughly accustomed to his patron's appearance, Jinks was, then,
struck with wonderment on beholding him one morning enter the office
in comparatively gorgeous array. Through the folds of a white
waistcoat there protruded a large shirt-frill, certainly of rather a
yellow hue, and not so neat in the plaits as it ought to have been,
but for all that an undeniable frill, such as adorned the breasts of
the dandies of the last generation; his usual napless greasy hat had
been discarded for a very elegant article in white beaver, which had
apparently been the property of some other gentleman, and acquired
by its present owner in that species of commercial transaction known
as a "swop," as it was much too large for Mr. Scadgers, and
obliterated every sign of his hair, while a corner of the red-silk
pocket-handkerchief fell out gracefully over the back of his head. In
his hand Mr. Scadgers carried one damp black-beaver glove, and a thick
stick like an elongated ruler, with a silver top and a silk tassel.
Mr. Jinks was so overpowered at this apparition that he sat gazing
with open mouth at his master, unable to speak a word; he had one
comfort, however,--Mr. Scadgers had his boots on, so that under all
this frivolity there lurked an intention of stern business.

Mr. Scadgers took no notice of his subordinate's astonishment; but
placing the glove and the stick on his desk, taking off the white hat,
and having a thorough mopping with the red-silk pocket-handkerchief,
looked through his letters, and proceeded to indorse them, for Jinks
to answer, in his usual business way. Some of his correspondence
amused him, for he smiled and shook his head at the letter in a
waggish way, as though the writer were chaffing him; in glancing over
another he would lay his finger alongside his nose and mutter, "No,
no, my boy! not by no means, no how!" while at others his larger eye
would gleam ferociously, the upper corner of his mouth would twist
higher than ever, and he would shake his fist at the paper and utter
words not pleasant to hear. His mental emotions did not, however,
interfere with his business habits: as he finished each letter he
wrote the substance of his reply on the back for Jinks to copy, drew
three or four cheques, which he also handed over to his factotum, and
locked away some flimsy documents which had formed the contents of
certain of the letters, in his cash-box. Some of the letters received
by that morning's post had contained bank-notes, and these Mr.
Scadgers examined most scrupulously before putting them away, holding
them between his eyes and the light to examine the water-mark,
carefully scrutinising the engraving, and finally comparing the
numbers, dates, and ciphers, with the list contained in a printed bill
pasted against the inside of his desk-lid headed "Stolen." Over one of
the notes, after comparing it with this list, Mr. Scadgers chuckled
vastly.

"90275 LB January 12! there you are correct to a T. I thought they'd
turn up about this time. I say, Jinks, here's one of the notes as was
stolen from Robarts's; you recollect? Come up from Doncaster in
renewal-fee from Honourable Capting Maitland. He took it over the
Leger, no doubt: they always thought at Scotland Yard that that was
the way those notes would get put off; and they was right. Send
this back to the capting, Jinks,--he's gone back to Leeds barracks
now,--and tell him all about it; we can't have that, you know; might
get us into trouble; and if he wants a renewal, he must send another.
He won't know where he got it from, bless you! reg'lar careless cove
as ever was; he ain't due till Friday, and he's sent up to-day in a
reg'lar fright. You must step round to Moss's and tell 'em to proceed
in Hetherington's matter. There's a letter there from Sir Mordaunt,
askin' for more time, and promisin' all sorts of things; but I'm sick
of him and his blather. Tell Moss to put the screw on, and he'll pay
up fast enough. Write a line to young Sewell, and tell him he can have
125_l_., and the rest in madeiry. He's in Scotland; you'll find his
address in the book,--Killy-something; say the wine can be sent to the
Albany; but I won't do it in any other way. Any one been in this
morning?"

"Only Sharp, from Parkinson's," said Mr. Jinks, who was already deep
in letter-writing.

"Well," said his principal, "what did he want?"

"He came to know if you'd be in another two hundred for Mr.
Beresford," replied Jinks, looking up from his work. "He's been hit at
Doncaster, and wants the money most immediate."

"Then he won't get it from me," said Mr. Scadgers; "I won't have no
more of his paper, at no price. He's up to his neck already, is Mr.
Beresford; and that old aunt of his don't mean dying yet, from all I
hear."

"There's the bishop," suggested Jinks.

"Oh, blow the bishop! He might be bled on the square, but he'd turn
precious rusty if he thought it was stiff he was paying for. No, no;
Master Beresford's taking lodgings in Queer Street, I fancy; Parkinson
holds more of his paper than you think of, and if he wants to go
deeper, he must go by himself; I won't be in it."

"All right," said Jinks; "I'll put a cross against his name in the
books. Rittman's boy looked in to see if his father could have two
pounds till Saturday. I told him to call again this afternoon."

"Till Saturday," said Scadgers with a grin. "You never see such a
Saturday as that'll be, Jinks. Poor devil! there's nothing but the
carcass left there; and he's worked well too, and brought us plenty of
custom, though not of the best sort. Let the boy have a sovereign when
he comes, Jinks, and tell him if his father don't pay, I'll put him in
prison; not that he'll mind that one dump. Oh, by the way, give me all
the paper of young Prescott's that you've got by you."

Mr. Jinks opened a large iron safe let into the wall just behind his
stool, and from a drawer therein took out a bundle of tape-tied
papers. From this he selected four, and as he handed them over to his
principal, said, "Here they are; two with Pringle, one with Compton,
and one IOU.,--total, one seventy-five. I was going to ask you what
you intended to do about them. The young feller was here yesterday
wanting to see you, and looking regularly down upon his luck."

"Ah," said Scadgers, "there's something up about them--what, I don't
know; but I'm a-goin' on that business now. I shall be away for an
hour or two, Jinks."

"You ain't a-goin' to get married, are you, Mr. Scadgers?" asked the
little old man with a look of alarm; "it would never do to bring a
female into the concern."

Scadgers laughed outright. "Married! no, you old fool, not I. Can't a
man put on a bit of finery"--here be smoothed the yellow shirt-frill
with his grimy fingers--"without your supposing there's a woman in
the case? However, I'm goin' to call upon a lady, and that's the
truth; but all in a matter of business. Hand over them bills of
Prescott's, and don't expect me till you see me."

So saying, Mr. Scadgers took the bills from Jinks and placed them
in his fat pocketbook, which he buttoned into the breast-pocket
of his frock-coat, gave himself a good mopping with the red-silk
pocket-handkerchief before throwing it into the big white hat, and
placing that elegant article on his head, took up the one damp glove
and the ruler-like stick, and went out.

A consciousness of the shirt-frill, or the hat, or both, pervaded Mr.
Scadgers' mind as he walked through the streets; and gave him an air
very different from that which usually characterised his business
perambulations. He seemed to feel that he was calling upon the
passers-by for observation and notice; and certainly the passers-by
seemed to respond to the appeal. Ribald boys stuck the red-covered
books of domestic household expenditure which they carried into their
breasts, and swaggered by with heads erect; others openly expressed
their opinion that it was "all dicky" with him; while a more impudent
few suggested that he had stolen the "guv'nor's tile," or borrowed his
big brother's hat; nor were the suggestions that he was a barber's
clerk out for a holiday wanting on the youthful populace. In an
ordinary way Mr. Scadgers was thoroughly proof against the most
cutting chaff: the most terrific things had been said about his boots,
and he had remained adamant; drunken men had requested permission to
light their pipes at his nose, and he had never winced; in allusion to
his swivel-eye, boys had asked him to look round the corner and tell
them what o'clock it was, without ruffling his temper in the smallest
degree. But in the present instance he felt in an abnormal state; he
knew that there was ground for the satire which was being poured out
upon him, and he fled into the first omnibus for concealment. He rode
to the utmost limits of the omnibus-journey, and when he alighted he
had still a couple of miles to walk to his destination. He inquired
his way and set out manfully. The weather was magnificent; one of
those early October days when, though the sun's rays are a little
tempered of their burning heat, and the air has a freshness which it
has not known for months, the country yet wears a summer aspect. Mr.
Scadgers' way lay along a high-road, on either side of which were
fields: now huge yellow patches shorn of their produce, and, while
awaiting the ploughshare, looking like the clean-shaved faces of
elderly gentlemen; now broken up into rich loam furrows driven through
by the puffing snorting engine which has supplanted the patient
Dobbin, the handle-holding labourer, and whip-cracking boy of our
childhood, and against which Mr. Tennyson's Northern farmer inveighed
with such bitterness. Far away on the horizon lay a broad wooded belt,
broken in the centre, where two tall trees, twining their topmost
branches together, formed a kind of natural arch, and beyond which one
expected--absurdly enough--to find the sea. The road was quiet enough;
a few carts, laden with farm-produce or manure, crept lazily along it;
now and then a carrier's wagon, drawn by a heavily-trotting horse with
bells on his collar, jolted by, or the trap of a town-traveller
returning from the home-circuit, driven by an ill-dressed hobbledehoy
with the traveller nodding by his side, and the black-leather apron
strapped over the back seat, to make the trap look as much like a
phaeton as possible, rattled townward. But when in obedience to the
directions on a finger-post, Mr. Scadgers turned out of the high-road
up a long winding lane, fringed on either side by high hedges, on
which "Autumn's fiery finger" had been laid only to increase their
beauty a thousand-fold, where not a sound broke the stillness save his
own footfall and the occasional chirping of the birds, he seemed for
the first time to awake to the beauty of the scene. Climbing to the
top bar of a gate in the hedge on the top of a little eminence, he
seated himself, took off the big hat, mopped himself violently with
the red-silk handkerchief, and looked round on the panorama of meadow
and woodland, with tiny silver threads of water here and there
interspersed, until his heart softened and he had occasion to rub the
silver head of the ruler-like stick into his eyes.

"Lor' bless me!" he muttered to himself; "it's like Yorkshire, and yet
prettier than that; softer and quieter like. More than twenty years
since I've seen any thing like this. And poor Ann! Daisy-chains we
used to make in Fairlow's mead, just like that field there, when we
was little children; daisy-chains and buttercups, and--poor Ann! And
to think what I'm now a-goin' to--Lord help us! well, it _is_ a rum
world!" with which sage though incoherent reflections Mr. Scadgers
resumed the big hat, dismounted from the gate, and continued his walk.

As he proceeded up the lane, he began to take particular notice of the
objects by which he was more immediately surrounded; and on hearing
the tramp of hoofs he peered through the hedge, and saw strings of
horses, each mounted by its groom, at exercise. At these animals Mr.
Scadgers looked with a by no means uncritical eye, and seemed
satisfied, for he muttered, "Good cattle and plenty of 'em too; looks
like business that. Wise head she has; I knew it _would_ turn out all
right." When he arrived at the lodge, he stopped in front of the gates
and looked scrutinisingly about him, then rang the bell, and stared
hard but pleasantly at the buxom woman who stood curtseying with the
gate in her hand. Inside, Mr. Scadgers noticed that every thing looked
neat and prosperous; he did not content himself with going straight up
the carriage-drive, but diverged across the lodge-keeper's garden, and
peered into the little farmyard, where the mastiff came out of his
kennel to scan the stranger, and where two or three helpers, lounging
on the straw-ride, or polishing bits as they leant against the
stable-doors, mechanically knuckled their foreheads as he passed by.
Arriving at the house, Mr. Scadgers found the front-door open; but a
pull at the bell brought a staid, middle-aged woman (Kate Mellon, for
it was The Den which Mr. Scadgers was visiting, never could stand what
she called "flaunting hussies," as servants), by whom he was ushered
into the pretty little hall, hung with its antlers, its foxes'
brushes, and its sporting picture, and into the dining-room. There he
was left by himself to await the coming of the owner of the house.

Now Mr. Scadgers, though by no means a nervous or impressible man,
seemed on this occasion to have lost his ordinary calm, and to be in a
very excitable state. He laid the big hat carefully on the table,
refreshed himself with a thorough mop with the red-silk handkerchief,
and rubbed his hands through his stubbly black hair; then he walked
up and down the room, alternately sucking the silver head of the
ruler-like stick, and muttering incoherencies to himself, and ever and
anon he would stop short in his perambulations and glance at the door
with an air almost of fright. The door at length was opened with a
bang, and Kate Mellon entered the room. The skirt of her dress was
looped up, and showed a pair of red-striped stockings and large,
though well-shaped, thick Balmoral boots; she had a driving-whip in
one hand and on the other a strong dogskin gauntlet, stretched and
stained. Her face was flushed, her eyes bright, and the end of her
hair was just escaping from the light knot into which it had been
bound. With a short nod to her visitor, at whose personal appearance
she gave a glance of astonishment, she began the conversation by
asking what his pleasure was.

If Mr. Scadgers' behaviour had been somewhat peculiar before her
entrance, it was now ten times more remarkable. At first he stood
stock-still with his mouth open, gazing at her with distended eyes;
then he fell to nodding his head violently and rubbing his hands as if
thoroughly delighted, and then looked her up and down as though he
were mentally appraising each article of dress.

"What's the man up to?" said Kate, after undergoing a minute of this
inspection; "come, none of this tomfoolery here. What do you want?"

Recalled to himself by the sharp tone in which these words were
uttered, Mr. Scadgers fell into his usual state, bowed, and said he
had called by appointment.

"By appointment?" said. Kate; "oh, ah, I recollect now. You
overcharged me for two horses and a dog in the list for last year. I
filled up your form-thing fairly enough; why didn't you go by that?"

"Two horses and a dog!" repeated Mr. Scadgers. "There's some mistake,
miss; my name's Scadgers."

"Lord, that is a good 'un!" said Kate, dropping the whip and clapping
her hands in an ecstasy of laughter. "I thought you were the man about
the taxes that I've sent for to come to me, too. So your name's
Scadgers, is it? I've heard of you, sir; you get your living in a
queer way."

"Pretty much the same as you and the rest of the world, I believe,"
said Scadgers, pleasantly;--"by the weakness of human natur'!"

"Which you take a pretty considerable advantage of, eh?"

"Well, I don't know: a gent wants money and he hears I've got it, and
he comes to me for it. I don't seek him,--he seeks me; I tell him what
he'll have to pay for it, and he agrees. He has the money, and he
don't return it; and when he goes through the Court and it all comes
out, people cry, 'Oh, Scadgers again! oh, the bloodsucker! here's
iniquity!' and all the rest of the gammon. If people wants luxuries,
miss, they must pay for 'em, as you know well enough."

This was not said in the least offensively, but in a quiet earnest
manner, as though the man had real belief in what he stated, and saw
no harm in the calling he was defending. Kate, who had a pretty shrewd
knowledge of character, saw this at once, and felt more kindly
disposed to her new acquaintance than she had at first.

"Well," she said, "what's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander,
they say; and it's not my business to preach to you, and you wouldn't
heed it it I did. I got you to come here on business. You hold some
acceptances of Mr. James Prescott's?"

"That's true, miss; I've got 'em here in my pocketbook."

"What's the amount?"

"The total, one seventy-five; cab-hire and loss of time, say one
seventy-five ten six."

"Hand them over, and I'll write you a cheque."

"Well," said Mr. Scadgers, slowly, "we don't generally take cheques
in these matters,--it ain't business; they mightn't be paid, you
know,--but I don't mind doing it for you."

Something in the tone of this last sentence which struck oddly on Kate
Mellon's ear,--a soft tender tone of almost parental affection; a tone
which seemed to bring back memory of past days. She looked up
hurriedly, but Mr. Scadgers' swivel-eye was fixed on the wall above
her head; and in the rest of his countenance there was no more emotion
visible than on the face of a Dutch clock. Kate Mellon took out her
desk and wrote the cheque.

"There!" she said, handing it to him,--"there's your money; hand
over the bills. All right! Now, two things more. One, you'll swear
never to let Mr. Prescott know who paid this money. Good! The other,
if ever he comes to you for help again--I don't think he will, mind;
but if he does--you'll refuse him, and let me know."

"That's what they all say," said Mr. Scadgers, "if they come again,
refuse 'em;' and they do come again, and I don't refuse 'em,--that is
if I think they're good for the money,--but I'll swear I'll do it for
you."

"I believe you," said Kate, simply. "Now, have some lunch before you
go."

"No, thank you," said Scadgers, "no lunch; but I should like a glass
of wine to drink your health in."

"You shall have it, and welcome," said she, ringing the bell; "and
I'll have one with you, for I was at the dumb-jockey business when you
came in, and it rather takes it out of one."

When the wine was brought, Kate filled two glasses, and, taking up
one, nodded to Mr. Scadgers. "Here's luck," said she, shortly. Mr.
Scadgers took his glass, and said; "The best of luck to you in every
thing, and God bless you, my--miss, I mean! And now, I've heard a lot
about your stable and place--would you mind my going round them,
before I go?"

"Mind!" said Kate; "I'll take you myself." And they walked into the
farm together.


"It was as much as I could do," said Mr. Scadgers to himself, as, half
an hour afterwards, he walked down the lane on his way back to
town--"it was as much as I could do to prevent throwing my arms round
her neck and telling her all about it. What a pretty creetur' it is;
and what spirit! I suppose she's nuts on young Prescott, and they'll
be gettin' married. Lord! that would be a rum start if he ever
knew--but he won't know, nor any of 'em; we shall never let on. Woman
of business too; keeps accounts I noticed, when she opened her desk;
and all the place in such order; kept as neat as a drawing-room those
stables. Well, that's one thing you did right, John Scadgers, and one
you won't be sorry for some day."

"That's a queer customer," said Kate to herself, as she stood in the
lane by the lodge-gate, looking after his receding figure. "A very
queer customer. What a grip he gave my hand when he said good-by! My
fingers ache with it still. And there was no nonsense about him; I
could see that in a minute. Where have I seen him before? I've some
sort of recollection of him; but I can't fit it to any thing
particular--he's not in the horse-line, and he's not a swell; so I
don't see where I can have come across him. Glad he looked in this
morning, for I was precious dull: I can't make out what this weight is
that's hanging over me for the last few days, just as though something
was going to happen. I think another glass of Madeira would do me
good; but I promised Simnel I'd knock that off. I wonder what's come
of Simnel for the last few days. That old Scadgers seemed to know
something about this place, noticed the alterations in the five-acre
meadow; and when I asked him, said he remembered the place when it was
Myrtle Farm. I must ask Simnel about him, he--Lord, how depressed and
stupid I feel again!" She turned back and fastened the gate after her.
One of the gatekeeper's chubby children came running out to meet her,
and she caught the little thing up in her arms, and carried it into
the lodge. As she was putting it down she heard the tramp of horses'
feet, and raising her head, looked through the window. The next
instant her cheeks flushed scarlet; she dropped the child into a
chair, and rushing to the gate, threw it open, and stood gazing down
the road.

Yes, it was he! no mistaking his figure, even if she had, not
recognised the horse. It was he riding so close to the lady by his
side, bending over her and looking down, into her upturned face. So
preoccupied that he never even bestowed a glance upon the place so
well known to him, so frequently visited in bygone days. And she, who
was she? Kate could see that she was slim, could see her fair hair
gathered in a knot beneath hat,--it must be the woman of whom Simnel
had spoken. And Kate Mellon gave a loud groan, and clenched her nails
into the palms of her hands, and stood looking after them with
quivering lips and a face as pale as death.

Just at that moment two grooms came riding round the corner, side by
side. The sound of their horses' feet recalled Kate to herself. She
looked up, and in one of them recognised Beresford's man. She
collected herself by a great effort, and beckoned to him. The man saw
her, touched his hat, and rode up at once, leaving his companion to
proceed by himself.

"William," said Kate, "who's that lady riding with your master?"

"Mrs. Schröder, miss; Saxe-Coburg Square. Mr. Schröder drives pair of
chestnuts, miss, in mail-pheayton, plain black harness. May have
noticed 'em; often in the Park, miss."

"Ah! No; I think not. Schröder,--Saxe-Coburg Square, you said?"

"Yes, miss. Beg pardon, miss," added the man, who had himself been
formerly in Kate's service, and by whom, as by all of his fraternity,
she was adored,--"beg pardon, miss; but nothing wrong, is there? You're
looking uncommon ill, miss."

"No," said Kate, with a ghastly smile. "I'm all right, thank you,
William. Good-day: ride on!" and William, touching his hat, clapped
spurs to his horse, and rode off.


That night the mail-cart was waiting outside the little village
post-office and the old woman was just huddling the letters into the
bag, when a groom came up at a hand-gallop, and dismounting, gave in a
letter, saying,

"Just in time, Mrs. Mallins, I think!"

The old woman peered at him over her spectacles.

"Oh, it's you, Thomas, is it? Well, I'll take a letter from your
mistress, though I'm not bound to do it by the reg'lations. You're
after time, Thomas."

"I know, Mrs. Mallins; but Miss Kate said 'twere most particular. And
I were to tell you so, and--"

"Air you comin' with that bag?" growled the mail-cart driver, putting
his head into the shop.

"All right, my man! all right!" said the old lady, handing him the
bag. "There it is. Thomas, you can tell your lady she was in time."


Half an hour afterwards Kate Mellon's servant looked into the
dining-room. There was no light, and she was about to withdraw, when
she heard her mistress's voice say, "What is it?"

"Oh, nothing, ma'am; only Thomas says the letter was in time."

"Very well," said Kate. Then, when the door was shut again, she
muttered between her clenched teeth: "It's done now, and can't be
undone! Now, Master Charley, look out for yourself!"



CHAPTER XXX.
AFTER THE STORM.


As you sit in the bow-window of your comfortable lodging at your
favourite watering-place during your annual autumn holiday, your
breakfast finished and the _débris_ removed, the newspaper rustling
idly on your knees, and the first and pleasantest pipe of the day
between your lips, you look up and see the aspect of affairs in the
little street below very much changed from its normal state. The
pleasure-boats--the _Lively Nancy_, which sails so regularly at
eleven A.M. with a cargo of happy excursionists, and which arrives in
port at irregular intervals varying from one to three, laden with
leaden-coloured men and hopelessly-bedraggled fainting women; the
_William and Ellen_, in which you go out to catch codling and plaice;
and all the other little craft usually stationed on the beach--have
been bodily removed, their owners and touters are drinking rum and
smoking shag-tobacco in evil-smelling little public-houses, and their
customers have no notion of putting them into requisition. The
bathing-machines,--those cumbrous vehicles in which you have so often
made that dread journey into the ocean, after being bidden to "stand
by" while the horse gives his first awful jerk and afterwards dashes
you against the sides of your travelling-prison, while you catch
horribly-distorted glimpses of your wretched countenance in the
miserable little sixpenny looking-glass pendant from the rusty
nail and swinging here and there like a live thing convulsed,--the
bathing-machines have all been dragged from the spot where they
ordinarily stand like a row of hideous guardians of the coast, and
have defiantly taken possession of one side of the little main street.
The place where the German band subsidised by the town usually pours
forth its perpetual iteration of the "Faust" waltz is now covered with
roaring plunging waves, thick brown walls of water rearing their white
crests a hundred yards off, as if in survey of their ultimate goal,
tearing madly onward, gathering in size and strength at every stride,
and at length discharging themselves with a thunder-crash in a
blinding avalanche of spray. These 'waves, this roaring seething mass
of trembling turgid water, is the great attraction to-day. In vain the
monkey on the three-legged table clashes his cymbals, or plies the
ramrod of his gun with frantic energy; in vain the good-looking
Italian boy, his master, shows his gleaming teeth or touches his hat
to attract attention; in vain the Highlander blows discord into his
bagpipes until all the neighbouring dogs possessing musical ears are
howling in misery. Nobody cares for anything but the sea to-day; the
little parade is thronged with visitors all gazing seaward, all rapt
in attention on the boiling waters; at one point, where the waves dash
in and sweep over the solid masonry, boys rush in between the ebb and
flow, returning happy if they have escaped, happier if they have been
soaked by the spray. People look out all round and scan the horizon to
see if there be any craft in sight, inspired with that singular
feeling which only Rochefoucauld has dared to define, the feeling
which sends crowds to watch Blondin's walk upon the high-rope, or the
performances of a lion-tamer,--the feeling which, in a lesser extent,
originates the sensation-loving element in us, and which is about the
lowest in degraded human nature. Far away, at the end of the
worm-eaten sea-besoaked jetty, is a little cluster of fishermen in
dreadnaught and sou'-westers, patiently watching the weather, which to
them is no toy nor amusement, but that on which hang their hopes of
daily bread; and they will tell you if you ask them, that these big
breakers thundering on to the shore are the result of some great storm
that has taken place far away in the heart of the Atlantic; and that
though the tempest is probably over now, these creations of its fury,
these evidences of its wrath, will continue to roll and surge and foam
for days to come.

So it was with the Adullam-Street household and its surroundings. The
storm that had swept through it had been short, sharp, and decisive;
but the traces of its wrecking power were visible long, long after it
had past.

At first it seemed quite impossible for Frank Churchill to understand
the extent of the misery which had fallen upon him. However roseate
might have been the dreams, in which he had indulged, of the blisses
of matrimony, he had lived too long in the world not to know that few
indeed were the couples whose lives were not checkered by some
occasional difference. These, he had been told, generally occurred in
the early portion of a matrimonial career, while the two persons were
each unaccustomed to the peculiarities of the other, and while
ignorance was, to a great extent, supported and backed up by obstinacy
and pride. The unwillingness of each to give way would eventually
result in a clash, whence would arise one of those domestic
differences popularly known as "tiffs," in which the actors, though
horribly wretched in themselves and disagreeable to each other, were
supremely ridiculous to the rest of the world, which either affected
to be blind or sympathising, and in either case was sniggering
in its sleeve at the absurdity of the scene. But these little
sparring-matches were usually of short duration; and though a constant
repetition of them might have a triturating effect upon the original
foundation of love and constancy, yet Churchill had noticed that long
before such a fatal result occurred, the sharp angles and points had
generally become gradually rounded off and rubbed down, and the
machine had begun to work harmoniously and with regularity. At all
events no open scandal took place. That open scandal, if not an actual
healer of wounds, is a rare anodyne to impulsive spirits and hearts,
thumping painfully against the tightened chain which day by day, with
corroding teeth, is eating its way into their core. Exposure,
publicity in the press, Mrs. Grundy--these are the greatest enemies of
the Divorce-Court lawyers; heavy though the list of cases standing
over for hearing may be, it would be fifty times heavier could the
proceedings be kept secret. Hundreds of couples now living together,
hating each other "with the hate of hell;" scowling, carping,
badgering, wearing, maddening, to desperation driving, from the hour
they rise till the hour they retire to rest and fall asleep,--the one
cursing his life, the other feebly bemoaning her fate, or openly
defiant, "each going their own way;" a state of being more horrible,
loathsome, and pitiable even than the other,--would be disunited, were
it not for the public scandal. "For the sake of the children," for the
scandal which would be entailed on their offspring, Mrs. Emilia will
not leave Mr. Iago; and so they continue to live together, while the
children are daily edified spectators of the manner in which their
father treats their mother, and listen to the constantly-renewed
expression of Mrs. Emilia's wish in reference to the possession of
that whip with which to lash the rascal (their father) naked through
the world.

The exposure--the public scandal! To no one had these words more
terror in their sound than to Frank Churchill. All his life he had
shrunk from every chance of notoriety: had gloried in being able to
work anonymously; not for the sake of shirking any responsibility, not
from the slightest doubt of the right and truth and purity of whatever
cause he might be advocating: but because, when he had shot his bolt,
and hit his mark, as he generally did, he could stand calmly by and
mark the result, without being deafened by empty pans or sickened by
false flattery. His horror of publicity had been extreme; he had
invariably refused all details of his history to contemporary
biographers, and had never been so deeply disgusted as when he saw
some of his work tracked home to its author by the gossipping
correspondent of a provincial paper. It was good work, too--work
creditable to his brain and his heart; yet had it been penny-a-lining
written to order, he could not have been more annoyed at being
accredited with it. And now the full garish eye of day was to be let
into the inmost recesses of his heart's sanctuary! "Break lock and
seal, betray the trust!" let the whole world revel in the details. A
domestic scandal, and one besmirching a man who, despite of himself,
had made some name in the world, and a woman whose triumphs had
rung through society, was exactly the thing which the "many-headed
beast" would most delight in prying into and bandying about. The
details?--there were no details; none, at least, which the world would
ever hear of, or which would give the smallest explanation of the
result. There was the fact of the separation, and nothing more; what
led to it must be the work of conjecture, and people would invent all
kinds of calumny about him; and--great Heaven!--about her. The lying
world, with its blistering tongue, would be busy with her name,
warping, twisting, inventing every thing--perhaps imputing shame to
her, to her whose shield he should have been, to her whom he should
have protected from every blow.

And here must be exhibited one of the flaws in Frank Churchill's
by-no-means-perfect character. His wife had taken a step which nothing
could excuse, had given way to her passion; and, in obedience to the
promptings of rage and jealousy, had done him an irreparable wrong,
and covered them both with a reproach which would cling to them for
life,--all this without any thing like adequate provocation on his
part; so that he had been shamefully treated, and, had he been
properly heroic, would have a fair claim upon your compassion, if not
your admiration. But the truth is he was anything but a hero;
notwithstanding the manner in which his hopes had been blighted and
his life wrecked, notwithstanding his having been deserted in that
apparently heartless way by his wife,--he loved her even then with a
passionate devotion; and when he thought of her, perhaps vilified and
calumniated, without her natural protector, wretched and perhaps
solitary, he had almost determined to fling his pride--nay, what he
knew to be his duty--to the winds, to rush after her and implore her
to come back to his home, and to do with him what she would. Of course
nothing could have been more degrading to him than such a proceeding,
and it was fortunate that good advice was coming to him in the person
of his mother.

Coming in to pay her usual afternoon visit, the old lady walked
straight to the study, and after tapping lightly at the door with her
parasol-handle, she opened it and went in. She found her son seated at
his desk, his head buried in his hands, which were supported by the
projecting arms of the chair. His legs were stretched out before him,
and he seemed lost in thought. He did not change his position at his
mother's entrance, not until she addressed him by name; when, on
raising his head, she saw the dull whiteness of his cheeks, and the
bistre rings round his eyes. She noticed too that his hands shook, and
on touching them they were hot and dry.

"My boy," said the old lady, gently, "you're not well, I'm afraid!
what's the matter with you? too much of this horrid work, or--why,
good God, Frank, there are marks of tears on your face! What _is_ the
matter,--what _has_ happened?"

"Nothing, mother--nothing to me at least,--don't be alarmed, dearest;
I'm all right enough."

"Then Barbara's ill!" said Mrs. Churchill, rising from the seat she
had taken. "I'll go to her at once, poor thing--"

"You wouldn't find her, mother!" said Frank, in a very hollow voice.
"She's not upstairs; she's gone!"

"Gone! Gone where?" asked the old lady.

"Gone away--left me--gone away for ever!" and as the thought of his
desolation broke with renewed force upon him, his voice nearly failed
him, and it was with great difficulty that he prevented himself from
breaking down.

"Left you--gone away--eloped!" cried the old lady, in whose mind there
suddenly arose a vision of a yellow post-chaise, with four horses and
two postillions, and Barbara inside, with Captain Lyster looking out
of the window.

"No, no; not so bad as that," said Frank; "though horrible enough, in
all conscience;" and he gave his mother a description of the scene
which had occurred.

As Mrs. Churchill listened, it was plain to see that she was greatly
moved; her hands trembled, and tears burst from her eyes and stole
down her cheeks. As the story proceeded, two feelings were struggling
for the mastery within her--one, pity for her son; the other,
indignation at her son's wife. The old lady, although now so quiet and
retiring and simple, had lived in the world, and knew the ways and
doings, the ins and outs, of its denizens. She had had tolerable
experience of man's inconstancy, of his proneness to sin, of his
exposure to flattery, and liability to temptation. Had Frank confessed
some slight flirtation with a pretty girl, some beneficence towards a
female acquaintance of bygone times, she would have thought that
Barbara had acted with worse than rashness in taking so decided a
step; but now, when Frank told her that the letter which had provoked
the final eruption was one which--had he not been pledged by its
writer to be silent concerning, pledge given long before he had made
Barbara's acquaintance--might have been read before the world, she
believed her son fully, and could form no judgment too severe on
Barbara's conduct. She was no vain-glorious Pharisee, to tell of the
tithes she had given, the good she had done; no humbler-minded sinner
poured out a nightly tale of shortcomings and omissions to the Great
Father: but when she thought of her own married life, when she
recollected all Vance Churchill's frailties, all his drinking bouts
and intrigues, all his carelessness and idleness, his neglect of his
wife his pettish waywardness, and constant self-indulgence; when she
compared all this with Frank's calm, steady, laborious, good life, and
recollected that under all her provocation her husband had scarcely so
much as a harsh word from her, she felt that Barbara's conduct had
been outrageous indeed.

She said nothing at first, though her heart was full. With the tears
rolling down her cheeks, she rose from her chair, and, taking up her
position by her son, fell to smoothing his hair and passing her hand
lightly over his brow, as she had done--oh, how many thousand
times!--when he was a child; muttering softly, "My poor boy! oh, my
poor boy!" The gentler spirit which had taken possession of Frank just
before his mother's entrance grew and expanded under her softening
touch. He felt like some swimmer who, after a prolonged buffet with
the angry waves, feels his feet, and knows that a few more strokes
will bring him rest and home. There was a chance of nipping this
wretched scandal in its bud, which was much; there was a chance of
bringing his beloved to his side once more, which was all in all.
After a time he broke the silence, cautiously sounding the depths.

"Do you think there's any chance of this horrible business being put
straight, mother?" he asked.

"We are in the hands of God, my boy," replied the old lady, fervently.
"Time is the great anodyne. HE may think fit to have it all set right
in the course of time."

"Yes; but--I mean--you don't think it could be settled at
once--to-night, I mean?"

"If she were to come back to-night, which she will not, and confess
that her miserable pride and jealousy had driven her forth in a mad
fit, and were to ask pardon, and be as she ought to be--God
knows--humble and contrite, I would say let there be an end of it;
forget it all, and strive to live happier for the future. But if she
remains away to-night--well, I don't know what to say;" and the old
lady heaved a very intelligible sigh--a sigh which meant that in such
an event the worst had arrived.

"Yes," said Frank; his mind still dwelling on the little course he had
proposed to himself;--"yes, of course, you don't think it would be
right, then, to go to her--"

"Go to her!" echoed the old lady.

"Yes, go to her, and tell her how utterly wrong she had been--that
there was not the slightest foundation for her suspicions; and that
she had acted most unjustifiably in quitting her husband's house in
the manner she has done; and--"

Old Mrs. Churchill had been sitting as if petrified, with her lips
wide apart, during the delivery of this sentence; at this point she
thawed into speech.

"Are you mad, Frank? has your misfortune turned your brain? You
propose to go to her,--this woman, who has brought contempt on you--
and not only on you, on me and all our name,--and sue to her to come
back, and box her ears playfully, and tell her what a naughty girl she
has been! Do you imagine that this affair is any longer a secret, that
it has not been talked over already between Mrs. Schröder's maid and
your servants, between your servants and the tradespeople? Don't you
know that if your wife is absent from your house to-night, the doubt
will become a certainty, and that to-morrow the whole neighbourhood
will be ringing with it? No!" continued the old lady; "it has come,
and we must bear it. If that wicked girl--for I can't help feeling and
saying that she is wicked in her present course--sees her error and
repents, it will be your duty to forgive her and to take her back; but
as to your humbling yourself by going to her and asking her to return,
it's not to be thought of for a moment."

"I suppose you're right, mother," was all that Frank said--"I suppose
you're right: we'll wait and see whether she comes back to-night."

So they waited, mother and son, through that long evening. The day
died out, and the dusk came down, and the lamps were lighted in the
streets, and the pattering feet grew fewer and fewer; and still those
two sat without speaking, without moving, immersed in their own
thoughts; and still no Barbara returned. At length Mrs. Churchill,
remembering that her son had had no dinner that day, grew tenderly
solicitous about his health, and, crossing to him, raised his head and
pressed her lips to his, and begged him to rouse himself and eat. And
Frank, who felt himself gradually going mad with the one sad strain
upon his thoughts, said:

"No, mother--not here, at all events. I must shake this off, if only
for a few minutes, or I shall go out of my mind. I'll take a turn in
the air; and if I feel faint or to want any thing, I'll go to the Club
and get it. You go home and to bed, dearest; for you must be
thoroughly knocked up with all my worries, which you are compelled to
share; she won't come back to-night--it's all over now; and to-morrow
we must face the future, and see what we're to do with the rest of our
lives."

So they kissed again, and then went out together: Frank with a dead,
dull, wearying pain at his heart; and his mother, sad enough to see
him so sad, but with some little consolation mingled with her grief at
the feeling that this event was not unlikely to bring her and her son
more together again; to give her the chance of being in more frequent
and more affectionate communication with that being whom she
worshipped next to her Creator; of enjoying that to her inexpressible
delight, of having her son "all to herself" again.

Leaving the old lady at the door of her lodgings, Frank strode on at a
rapid pace, neither looking to the right nor to the left, seeing none
of the people by whom he passed, thinking of nothing but his lost
love. At length the long fasting he had undergone began to tell upon
him, he felt sick and faint, and determined to go to his Club to get
some refreshment,--not to the Flybynights; he could not have borne the
noisy racket, the bewildering chaff, of that circle of free-lances; so
he strode steadily down to Pall Mall, and turned into the
Retrenchment. Even that solemn temple of gastronomy and politics was
far too lively for him in his then mood. The coffee-room was filled
with a number of men who had dined late, many of whom, just returned
from their autumnal expeditions, and not having met for a couple of
months, had "joined tables," and were loudly talking over their
holiday experiences. All was light and lively and jolly; and Frank
felt, as he sat in the midst of them, like the death's-head at the
banquet. At one table close by his four men were sitting over their
wine, one of the number being rallied by the rest about his
approaching marriage. "You're a lucky fellow, by Jove, Hope!"
Frank heard one of them say; "I always said Miss Chudleigh was the
prettiest girl out since the Lexden's year." "What's become of the
Lexden--didn't she get married or something?" asked another. "Oh,
yes!" answered the first--"married a man who's a member here. I don't
know him; but a cleverish fellow, I believe. No tin--regular case of
spoons, they said it was." "Mistake that!" said the _fiancé_, whose
future father-in-law was a wealthy brewer; "spoons is all very well,
but it wants something to back it." "Ah, but it's not every one
that has your luck," said old Tommy Orme, who just then joined the
party--"nor, I will say, Hope it isn't every one that deserves it, by
Jove!" and on the Hope of that speech, old Tommy determined to borrow
a ten-pound note from his friend on the first opportunity. Frank
shuddered as he listened, and bent his head over his cutlet. "Was
there any thing in what those men had said?" he asked himself, as he
walked home. Could it have been that the state of comparative poverty
into which he had brought his wife had soured her temper, rendered her
jealous and querulous, and so disgusted her as to cause her to avail
herself of the first excuse which presented itself for returning to
her former life? It might be so, indeed. If a were, Frank was not
disposed to think of her very uncharitably: he knew the whole wealth
of love which he had bestowed upon her; but he thought that her
bringing-up might perhaps have rendered her incapable of appreciating
it; and he went to his solitary bed with a feeling of something more
than pity for his absent wife, after imploring peace to and pardon for
them both in his prayers.

The evening of the next day, however, found him in a very different
frame of mind. Not one word had been heard from Barbara; and the fact
of her absence, and the manner of her departure, had been thoroughly
well discussed throughout the neighbourhood. Early in the morning,
Frank, with the conviction that all must eventually be known, had
removed the seal from his mother's lips; and the old lady's
circumstantial account, softened as much as her conscience would
allow,--for she felt really more strongly than she had admitted about
Barbara's defection,--was detailed to various knots of fa-miller
friends throughout the day. The astonishment of the Mesopotamians was
immense; immense their horror, deep the condemnation they poured upon
the peccant one. The good women of the district could not realise what
had occurred. If Barbara had eloped, they would have had some slight
glimmering of it; though an elopement was a thing which in their idea
only occurred in highly aristocratic families. They had heard through
the medium of the newspapers, stories of post-chaise followed by
post-chaise speeding along the northern road, guilty wife and "gay
Lothario" (Mesopotamian phrase for cavalier villany varying from
seduction to waltzing) in the one, injured husband in the other. But
how a woman could take herself off, leave her home and her husband,
and send a servant for her things afterwards, my dear, as cool as if
she were going by the railway train,--that beat them altogether. But
though they could not understand, they could condemn, and did, in most
unmeasured terms. Whatever the motive might have been, and the most
energetic among them could not find in what was said any thing
particularly damnifying ("in what is said, my dear; but I'm sure there
must be something behind all this that we don't know of, but which
will come out some day"),--whatever the motive might have been, there
was the fact; that could not be got rid of or explained away: Mrs.
Frank Churchill had left her home and was not living with her husband.
What more or less could you make of that? Some of them had seen it in
her from the first.

There was something--one section said, in her eye, another in her
manner--which showed discontent, or worse. "Something" in her walk
which displeased many of them greatly--"as though the ground she trod
upon was not good enough for her," they said. And she who had held her
head so high, for whom none of them were good enough, had come to
this. Well, if being a fine lady and being brought up amongst great
people led to _that_, thank goodness they were as they were.

Mrs. Harding had been one of the earliest to receive old Mrs.
Churchill's confidence, and had been so much astonished and impressed
by what she heard, that she at once returned home and proceeded to
rouse her husband, then peacefully sleeping off his hard night's work.
It must have been something quite out of the common to have prompted
such a step, as George Harding was never pleased at having his
hard-earned rest broken in upon; but on this occasion his wife thought
she had a complete justification. So she went softly into the closed
room, undrew the curtains and let in the full morning sun; then she
shook the sleeper's shoulder and called "George!" Harding roused
himself at once and demanded what was the matter; he always had an
idea, when suddenly awakened from sleep, that something had happened
to the paper, either an Indian mail omitted, or a leader of the wrong
politics inserted, or something equally dreadful in its result; and he
had scarcely got his eyes fairly open, when his wife said, "Oh, my
dear, such a terrible thing for poor Churchill!"

"What do you mean?" asked George, broad-awake in an instant; "nobody
ill?"

"Oh, no, my dear; much better if it were. She's gone, my dear!"

"Who's gone; what on earth do you mean?" and then his wife told him
the story circumstantially. And after hearing it George Harding
dressed himself at once and went out to see his friend.

He found Churchill sitting in his little study, looking vacantly
before him. There were no signs of work on the desk, no book near him;
he had evidently been sitting for some time in a state of semi-stupor.
He was very pale; but he looked up at the opening of the door and
smiled faintly when he saw who it was. There was something so cheery
in dear old George Harding's presence, that it shed light wherever he
went, no matter how dark the surroundings: men who, as they knelt by
the coffins of their wives, had prayed to God to take them then and
there,--men who, contemplating the ruin sweeping down upon them,
had horribly suggestive thoughts of the laudanum-bottle or the
pistol-barrel,--had felt the dark clouds pass away at the sound of his
genial voice and the sight of his hopeful face. But there were tears
in George Harding's gray eyes as he took his friend's hand, and his
voice shook a little as he said, "My dear old Frank! my poor dear
fellow!"

"I'm hard hit, Harding, and that's the truth. You've heard all about
it, of course?" Frank asked nervously, fearing he might have again to
recount the miserable history.

"Yes, my wife has told me,--she heard it from your mother, I
believe,--and I came on at once. Do you know I'm horribly afraid,
Frank, that it was from your taking my advice that this quarrel took
place?"

"Your advice?"

"Yes, about tightening the curb. I told you, if you recollect, that I
thought there should be a greater amount of firmness and decision in
your manner to Mrs. Churchill, and--"

"Oh, you need not be anxious on that score; it must have come sooner
or later; and it's come sooner, that's all!"

"And what are you going to do?"

"Do? what do sensible men do when they have troubles? Grin and bear
them, don't they? And so shall I. I can't live alone; so I shall
instal my mother here again, and, I suppose, all will--will be pretty
much as it was eighteen months ago."

"I was afraid from what my wife said, that I should find you in some
such mood as this," said Harding sternly. "One would think you were
mad, Frank Churchill, to hear you talk such stuff. Don't you know that
Mrs. Churchill is as much your wife before God and man as she ever
was? Don't you feel that she has done nothing for which even the
wretched laws which we in our mighty wisdom have chosen to frame would
justify you in treating her in this way? I can understand it all;
you've been worked upon by the chatter and magging of these silly
women until you've lost your own calm common-sense. But don't you feel
now, Frank, that I'm right? Don't you feel that a fit of rage, a mere
wretched passing temper, is not the thing to separate those whom--you
know I use it in no canting sense--those whom God has joined together?
Don't you feel that it is your duty to go to her, or to send--I'll go
if you like, though it's not a very pleasant office--to point out to
her the miserable folly of this course, and to bring her back to her
proper place--her home?"

"My dear Harding," said Frank quietly, "I know you are sincere in your
advice, but it is impossible for me to take it. My wife has subjected
me to a very great outrage; and until that is explained and atoned
for, I will never look upon or speak to her."

Harding would have said something more, but Churchill raised his hand
in deprecation, and then changed the subject.



CHAPTER XXXI.
THE PAPER BULLET.


Like the man and woman in the toy weather-house, Mr. Schröder's two
houses never were "to the fore" at the same time. When the one was
lighted, the other was gloomy; when the one was tenanted, the other
was empty; when the one was decorated, the other was comfortless. As
the second breath of summer came floating over Kensington Gardens,
after the may- and apple-blossoms had disappeared, but long before
dust and drouth had settled down on the greensward and the umbrageous
walks of the parks; when there was evinced among young men a perpetual
desire to dine at the Star-and-Garter at Richmond, and an undying
hatred of passing the Sunday within the metropolis; when Mr.
Quartermaine began to wonder where he should stow all his visitors,
and Mr. Skindle of the Orkney Arms began to think of building; when
fashionable people thought it no more harm to sit in their carriages
outside Grange's, than to call diamonds 'dimonds,' or ribbon 'ribbin;'
when the Sunday-afternoon attendance at the Zoological Gardens began
to exceed the week-day; when green-peas began to have some taste, and
asparagus to be something else beside stalk and stick,--then the glory
of the Saxe-Coburg-Square establishment showed strong symptoms of
waning. The usual amount of solemn dinner-party had been gone through;
every body necessary had been asked to balls, music, and
_conversazioni_; Mrs. Schröder's taste and Mr. Schröder's wealth had
been exhibited constantly at the Opera and at some of the most
fashionable gatherings in London; and one, if not both, of them longed
for a little quiet. This resulted in the renting of Uplands, when
blank misery fell upon the establishment in Saxe-Coburg Square. All
the ornaments and nicknacks were removed and put away; the chandeliers
were shrouded in big holland bags; the shutters were put up; and the
spurious Schröder ancestors scowled dimly from the wall over a great
desert of dining-table, no longer shining with snowy damask or
sparkling silver and glass. The staff of servants,--the French cook
and the Italian confectioner; the ponderous butler, so frequently
mistaken by Mrs. Schröder's West-end friends for a City magnate; the
solemn footman, large-whiskered, large-calved, ambrosial, and most
offensive; the lady's-maid and the buttons,--all, down to the
kitchen-maid, who lived in a perpetual state of grease and dripping,
and who was preparing herself for "plain cook, good," in the
_Times_ column of 'Want Places,'--all went away into what the said
kitchen-maid was heard to designate "that rubbiging country;" and an
old woman, weird, puffy, dusty, with old black silk stitched about her
head where her hair should have been, and with bits of beard sticking
on her chin, came and took up her abode in the housekeeper's room and
"kep' 'ouse" herself.

But when October was well set in, and the days grew short, and the
showers not unfrequent; when, even if there were no showers, the heavy
mists of morn and dews of night left the ground moist and dank and
plappy; when weird night-winds rose and sighed Banshee-like over the
hushed fields; when the lawn lost its soft verdure and grew brown and
corrugated; when the trees, which during the summer had so
picturesquely fringed the lawn and framed the distance, now gaunt and
dismal, swayed mournfully to and fro, drearily rattling their stripped
limbs,--then a general inclination to return back to the comfort of
London began to be manifested by all the inhabitants of Uplands. It
was all very pleasant when Mr. Schröder had spun his chestnuts up the
leafy lanes, or over the breezy hills, in the summer; but it was a
very different thing when he had to come the same road from town in a
close carriage, with the rain pattering against the windows, and with
no gas for the last three miles of the journey. It was dull work for
Mrs. Schröder and whatever female companion she might happen to have,
with nothing to do but yawn over novels, or listlessly thrum the
piano, or watch the gardeners filling their high barrows with dead
leaves and unceasingly sweeping the lawns and paths. She could have
relieved her tedium by a little shopping, she thought; but there were
no shops--at least what she called shops--within miles of Uplands. As
to the servants, they all hated the place; there were no military for
the females, and the policemen were all mounted patrols, who "just
looked round at night on 'orseback, and never had no time for a
gossip, or a bit of supper, or anythink friendly;" while the male
domestics were removed from their clubs and all the other delights
which a town-life afforded. So, to the great joy of all, the word was
given to march; and the whole establishment descended on Saxe-Coburg
Square leaving Uplands to the care of the Scotch gardener, who removed
his wife and family up from one of the lodges, and encamped in the
kitchen and adjacent rooms.

Mrs. Schröder was by no means ill-pleased at the return to town. The
moving gave her no trouble; she had merely to walk into her rooms and
find every thing arranged for her; and she was in hopes that a
salutary change would be effected in at least one arrangement which
was beginning to worry her. The truth is, that during the last week of
their stay at Uplands it had begun to dawn upon Mrs. Schröder that
Charles Beresford's attentions were not what they should be. She had
more than once endeavoured to think out the subject; but her
intellects were none of the brightest, and she got frightened, and
either began to cry, or let every thing go by the board in the grand
certainty that "it would be all right in the end." But of late she had
felt the necessity of taking some steps to bring the acquaintance
between her and her admirer to some proper footing. This had not come
on her entirely of her own accord. She had noticed that her husband
(whose attentions to her increased day by day from the time when his
heart seemed to soften so suddenly and so strangely towards her)
seemed to regard the presence of the Commissioner with obvious
impatience. Mr. Schröder never, indeed, said any thing to his wife on
the subject; but he evidently chafed when Beresford was in the house:
and if Mrs. Schröder and Beresford were at all thrown together apart
from the general company, they were sure to see Mr. Schröder's eyes
fixed upon them. Others of her friends had not been so reticent.
Captain Lyster had hinted once or twice, what Barbara Churchill had
several times roundly spoken out--that Beresford was a _vaurien_,
whose attentions were compromising to any married woman; and that if
he had the smallest spark of gentlemanly feeling in him, he would
desist from paying them. So Mrs. Schröder, who was nothing but a very
silly weak little woman (there are few women who are really bad, even
among those who have erred: the Messalinas and the Lady Macbeths are
very exceptional cases), and who really had a sincere affection for
her husband, had made up her mind that she was behaving badly, and had
determined to break gradually, but uncompromisingly, with Mr.
Beresford and his attentions. She had been so completely hoodwinked by
the fraternal relations which, at Mr. Simnel's suggestion, the
Commissioner had cultivated, that it was not until immediately
previous to their quitting Uplands that she saw the danger she had
been running, and felt horribly incensed with Mr. Beresford for his
part in the affair.

They had been back for some days in Saxe-Coburg Square, and Alice
Schröder was nestling in her easy-chair after luncheon, wondering when
the opportunity would occur in which she could plainly point out to
Mr. Beresford that he must altogether alter his conduct for the
future, when Mrs. Churchill was announced, and Barbara entered the
room.

She was very pale, walked very erect, and held out her two hands to
Alice as she advanced.

"Why, Barbara! Barbara darling!" said impulsive little Alice, "I'm so
delighted to--why, what's the matter, dear? how strange and odd you
look!"

"I want you to have me here for a few days, Alice, if you will."

"Why, of course, dear! I'm so glad you've come at last; it wasn't for
the want of asking, you know. And Mr. Churchill will be here to
dinner, dear, at seven, eh?"

"Mr. Churchill will not come at all, Alice," said Barbara very
gravely. "I am here alone."

"But he knows you've come here, doesn't he?"

"You don't understand me yet, Alice. I have left my husband."

"Left your husband! oh, Barbara, how dreadful! how could you!" and
Alice Schröder's face exhibited such signs of unmistakable terror,
that for the first time the magnitude of the step she had taken, and
the apparent impossibility of its recall, seemed to flash upon
Barbara. A rush of tears blinded her eyes; and she held out her hands
appealingly, as she said, "You--you don't shrink from me, Alice?"

Astonishment, nothing more, had caused Mrs. Schröder's trepidation; in
an instant she had rushed forward and wound her arms round Barbara's
neck, saying, "Shrink from you, my darling? why, what madness to
suppose such a thing! Where should you come but to my house, in such a
case? Besides, it's nothing, darling, I suspect, but a temporary
little foolish quarrel. Mr. Churchill will be here to dinner, and take
you home with him afterwards."

But Barbara shook her head and burst into tears, saying that it was a
matter which admitted of no compromise and no amicable settlement. And
then, between floods of crying, she told Alice the outline of the
quarrel; dwelling specially upon Frank's refusal to give up the letter
he had received, or to say who was his correspondent. Alice seemed
deeply impressed with the atrocity of Frank's conduct, though she
doubted whether she herself would have had the courage to take such a
decided step as leaving her home ("You always said I was wanting in
spirit, Barbara; and indeed I should not have known where to go to").
She recollected Barbara's having been upset at a letter which had come
to Frank at Bissett, before they were engaged; and she was full of "O
my's!" and general wonderment, as to who could have written both these
mysterious epistles.

"Very odd," she said--"very odd, and very unpleasant. You're sure it
was a woman's hand, dear? People do make such mistakes about that
sometimes. Most dreadful, indeed! Well, that's one blessing, I've
often thought, with Gustav, and is some compensation for his grayness
and his being so much older, and that sort of thing. For grayness is
better than jealousy, isn't it, dear? and I'm sure it's pleasanter
to think of your husband at whist than waltzing, as some of them
do--whirling about the room as though there were no such thing as the
marriage service And letters too, that's awful! I'm so glad you came
here, Barbara darling; and so will Gustav be, when he comes in. We
must tell him all about it. I tell him every thing now, he is _so_
kind."

He was _very_ kind, this heavy-headed elderly German merchant. When
he came in, his wife at once told him what had occurred; and when he
met Barbara in the drawing-room, before dinner, he took her hands in
both of his, and pressed his lips gravely on her forehead, and bade
her welcome, and told her to consider his house as her home. For Mr.
Schröder had, in his strange old-fashioned way, a very keen sense of
honour and of the respect due to women; and he felt, from the story
that had been told to him, that Barbara's feelings had to a certain
extent been outraged. He had never held much good opinion of the
literary craft: he could not understand a calling which did not employ
clerks and keep ledgers and day-books, which did not minister to any
absolute requirement, and which only represented something visionary
and fanciful. He shared in a very widespread notion that the _morale_
of people engaged in that and similar pursuits was specially liable to
deterioration; and he took what he understood to be Frank Churchill's
defection from the paths of propriety as an indorsement of his idea,
and a proof that he had been right in its adoption. He happened to let
fall some remark to this effect, a few words only, and not strongly or
savagely put, but they had immense weight with Barbara Churchill.

For they immediately recalled to her recollection her several
interviews with her aunt, Miss Lexden, when she first announced the
engagement with Frank, and she remembered the acrimony with which the
old lady had spoken of the class to which her intended husband
belonged. The very words her aunt had used were ringing in her ears.
"If I were to see you with broken health, with broken spirits,
ill-used, deserted--as is likely enough, for I know these people,--I
would not lift one finger to help you after your degradation of me!"
"For I know these people!" Too well she knew them, it appears, when
she predicated what had actually occurred. Not deserted, though; that
at least could never be cast in her teeth. It was she who had taken
the initiative:--she who had broken the bonds and--what could the
world say to that? Would it not denounce her conduct as strange,
unwomanly, and unwifelike? And if it did, what did she care? Her
pride, her spirit, had often been spoken of; and she felt in no way
ashamed of having permitted herself to be swayed by them in this great
trial of her life. There must be many who would thoroughly understand
her conduct, and sympathise with her; and even if there were none, she
had the courage and the determination to stand alone. That she must to
a great extent have right on her side--that what she had done could
not be looked upon as extravagant or unjustifiable--was proved, she
argued to herself, by the kind reception she had met with at the hands
of Mr. Schröder, a man who, as she judged from all she had heard and
seen of him; would not be likely lightly to pass over any breach of
decorum. How or where the rest of her life was to be passed engrossed
very little of her attention at first. She knew that there was no
chance of reconciliation with her aunt; nor did she wish it. She had
quarrelled with her husband, certainly, and would never be induced to
live with him again; but her cheek flushed when she remembered what
insults had been heaped upon Frank by her aunt; and she thought almost
tenderly of him as she decided that after these insults nothing would
induce her to humiliate herself to Miss Lexden's caprices. The thought
of writing to Sir Marmaduke Wentworth crossed her mind; but Alice
Schröder had told her that Sir Marmaduke was laid up with a dangerous
illness in the Pyrenees; it would be very inopportune to worry him,
then, with domestic dissensions; and moreover Barbara was in very
great doubt as to whether the old gentleman, were he able, would not
take an active part in promoting a peace, and whether he would not
strongly disapprove of, and openly condemn, the course she had taken.
He had a very high opinion of Frank Churchill, who was his godson;
and unless it could be distinctly proved that he had committed
himself--unless it could be distinctly proved--could it? what proof
was there? had not her pride and spirit involved her in a snare? how
could she make her case good before an unbiassed judge? There was the
letter, and the letter in the same handwriting which he had received
at Bissett; but she had no actual proofs that they were not such as
should have been sent to any properly-conducted man. Great Heaven, if
she had been too precipitate! if she had brought about an _exposé_ by
rashness and wretched jealousy; if she had wrongly suspected that kind
and generous soul, and cruelly stabbed him without hearing his
defence! As Barbara turned these matters in her mind, sitting in her
bedroom on the first night of her arrival in Saxe-Coburg Square, she
felt the whole current of her being setting towards Frank; and she
covered with her tears and kisses his miniature which hung in a
locket at her watch-chain. Must this be the end of it? could her
fatal folly--if folly it were--darken the rest of her life? Oh, no!
she could never acknowledge her error,--that would be impossible; her
pride would never permit her to take the first steps towards a
reconciliation: but Frank would come--she knew it; he would come and
ask her to return; and she would go; and the rest of their life should
be unclouded happiness.

But Frank did not come; and the next morning when Barbara found the
hours wearing very slowly by, and no solution of her wretchedness
arrived at; when little Alice Schröder's well-meant chatter
--well-meant, intended to be consolatory, but still chatter after
all--had utterly failed in giving the smallest consolation; when
Captain Lyster had called, and having been properly prepared by Mrs.
Schröder before he saw Barbara, had evidently the greatest difficulty
in assuming ignorance and unconcern; when the day had worn on, and no
progress had been made by her in any one way,--the bitter spirit rose
in her more strongly than ever, and she felt more and more impressed
as to the righteousness of her cause. The fact that Frank had not come
to her, crying "peccavi," and imploring her to return, had, to a very
great extent, convinced her that he must have been grievously in the
wrong. Fully prepared not merely to forgive him what he had not done,
but to be generous enough to meet him half way in an advance which
ought to have been made by her alone, she was annoyed beyond
description at his making no sign; and each hour that passed over her
head strengthened her obstinacy and deepened her misery.

So several days went by. Barbara resolutely refused to go out; nothing
could induce her to be seen in public, and none were admitted to the
house save the intimate male friends of the family. Barbara
stipulated, at once, that no women should be let in, and Alice, who
believed in the most marvellous degree in Barbara, agreed to it. She
did, indeed, suggest one female name, the name of a lady in whom she
was sure, she said, Barbara would find great comfort; but Barbara, who
had some acquaintance with the person in question, hissed out, "Cat!"
with such ferocity, that little Alice never dared again to open the
question. The men-friends were restricted to two or three, among whom
Barbara was glad, for Alice's sake, to find Captain Lyster, and
equally glad not to find Mr. Beresford. She remembered Lyster's
confidence to her at Uplands (she had reason to remember it, she
thought with bitterness), and that confidence, though accidentally
distressing to herself, had impressed her with a high notion of the
Captain's truth and honour. She felt as though she would have liked to
have talked to him about her own troubles; but she did not know how to
start the subject, and Lyster never gave her the smallest chance.

On the fourth day after Barbara's arrival, Mrs. Schröder asked her
guest, as usual, if she would drive out after luncheon, and having
received the usual negative, declared that she could not stand it any
longer, but that air she must have. Barbara would excuse her? Of
course Barbara would; nothing she liked so much as being left alone.
Then Mrs. Schröder determined on riding, and ordered her horse and
groom round to the door, and went out for a ride.

She though& she would go for a stretch round the suburban lanes; it
was better and more fitted for an unaccompanied lady than the Park. So
turning in at Queen's Gate, she skirted the Row, and riding over the
Serpentine bridge turned up towards Westbourne Terrace, at the end of
which, leisurely riding along, she saw Mr. Beresford. He saw her too,
and in an instant was at her side; sitting his horse to perfection,
and bowing with perfect ease and grace. He asked her where she was
riding, and begged to be allowed to accompany her. She had a refusal
on the tip of her tongue; then recollected that she might never have
another chance of speaking to him as frankly and decidedly as she had
made up her mind to speak. So she consented. During the ride, she
spoke earnestly and well; Beresford tried sophistry and special
pleading; but they had little chance with her, so thoroughly in
earnest was she. It was while in the height of his argument that they
passed the lodge-gates of The Den, and were seen by Kate Mellon.

Mrs. Schröder rode home that evening in a happier frame of mind than
she had been in for months. She felt that she had effectually settled
all Mr. Beresford's pretentious, and that she might meet her husband
without the smallest shadow on her brow. Her joy was a little dashed
by the receipt of a letter from her husband, which was put into her
hand as she alighted from her horse. It said that an Egyptian prince,
with whom the house had large transactions, had arrived at
Southampton, and that he, Gustav, as representing the house, was
compelled to go down and do the honours to him; that he had
telegraphed to his brother to relieve him as soon as possible; and
that he hoped to be back the next day.

Mrs. Schröder's hopes were realised. In the course of the next
afternoon a cab drove up to the door in Saxe-Coburg Square, and Mr.
Schröder descended from it. His wife, who had rushed to the balcony at
the sound of wheels, noticed that his step was slow, and that--a thing
she had never seen him do before--he leant upon the cabman's arm. When
he entered the room she rushed to him, and, embracing him, asked him
how he was.

"I am well, my darling," he answered; "quite well, but that I have
rheumatism, or something like it. A curious pain--dead, dull, stupid
pain--in my left arm and shoulder. Rheumatism, of course! And you,
Barbara, my dear; you are well? That's right; no news with you, of
course? Ah! I have been thinking much about you in the train, and we
will talk to-morrow of your affairs. Well, Alice, what news? Did you
persuade Barbara to drive yesterday?"

"No, she refused again; so I went out on horseback."

"Ah, ah! that was right. Alone?"

"I went alone; but I met Mr. Beresford."

"Beresford! I hate that name; he is a bad man. Bad! bad!"

And Mr. Schröder shook his hand in the air, and was obviously very
much excited.

"Gustav," said Mrs. Schröder, "I'm very sorry that--"

"Ah, you don't know! More of this Beresford another time. A bad man,
my dear! Now I must look through my letters. Dinner at seven, eh?"

And with a bow, Mr. Schröder descended to his library.


The clock had struck seven, the gong had boomed through the house, and
Alice and Barbara were standing at the dining-table; the place at the
head being vacant.

"You had better tell your master, Pilkington," said Mrs. Schröder to
the great butler; "he is probably in his dressing-room."

The great butler condescended to inform his mistress that he did not
think his master had left the libery.

Mrs. Schröder then bade him find his miter, and tell him they were
waiting dinner.

The butler left the room, and the next moment came running back, with
a face whiter than his own neckcloth. Barbara saw him ere he had
crossed the threshold; in an instant she saw that something had
happened; and motioning the butler to precede her, walked to the
library, followed by Mrs. Schröder.

Fallen prone on his face, across the library-table, lay Mr. Schröder,
dead, with an open letter rustling between his stiffening fingers.



CHAPTER XXXII.
HALF-REVEALED.


As Kate Mellon had soliloquised, some time had elapsed since Mr.
Simnel had visited The Den. A wary general, Mr. Simnel; a man who,
like the elephant, never put his foot forward without first carefully
feeling the ground in front of him, and trying whether it would bear;
a man who, above all, never was in a hurry. He had not gone through
life cautiously and with his eyes wide open without remarking how
frequently a little impulse, a little over excitement or yielding to
headstrong urging, had led to direful results.

"No hurry" was one of his choicest maxims: to sleep upon an idea; to
let information just received mellow in his mind until he saw the very
best way to utilise it; to brood over the most promising projects,
carefully sifting the chaff from the grain; to wait patiently until
the two or three shadowy alternatives had, after due inspection,
resolved themselves into one broad path, impossible to be shrunk
from--that was Mr. Simnel's way of doing business. He never allowed
the iron to be overheated. So soon as it was malleable, he
struck--struck with irresistible force and sure aim; but he never
dallied with the half-heated metal, or tried warpings with pincers, or
blind struggles with solid resistance. If he had a fault in his
worldly dealings, it was that he delighted in hiding the power which
he was able to wield, even beyond the legitimate time for its
manifestation. There are men, you will have observed, who, in playing
whist and other games of chance and skill,--long-headed calculators,
far-seers, sticklers for every point of Hoyle,--yet cannot resist the
temptation of withholding their ace until the best time for its
production is long past, solely for the sake of causing a sensation,
for the sake of creating a feeling of astonishment among their fellow
players that the great card has been all that time in hand. So it was,
to a certain extent, with Robert Simnel.

He had known nothing of love, this man, during his youth. He had had
no time for the cultivation of any tender passion. He had been brought
up roughly, with his own way to make, with his own living to get. He
was not pretty to look at, and no ladies felt an interest in smoothing
his hair or patting his cheeks. The matron at the Combcardingham
grammar-school,--a sour blighted old maid, a poor sad old creature,
who yet retained some reminiscences of hope in her forlorn frame; in
whom head-washing and looking after linen had not obliterated all
traces of feminine weakness, and who remembered early days, when she
dreamed that some day some one might make her some kind of a marriage
offer, dreams which had never been fulfilled,--this weird sister had
her favourites among the boys; but Simnel was not of them. They were
mostly fat-headed, sleek-faced boys, apply, rubicund, red-lipped, and
shiny; boys with reminiscences of home, who kissed Miss Wardroper as a
kind of bad substitute for Ma, and who traded on their blowing beauty
to be let off easily on tub-night, and to have advances of pocket
money before the regular day. Robert Simnel had no share in these
pettings; he was what Miss Wardroper considered an "uncomfortable
lad;" he was "nothing to look at;" and preferred lying on his stomach
under trees with a book between his elbows, on which his face was
resting, or sitting bolt upright, trying to catch on his page the
glimmer from the school-fire, to all the cossettings of the
housekeeper's room. In immediate after-life his course of conduct was
pretty much the same. Combcardingham was not a moral town. Many of the
pretty girls who worked hard all day dressed in great finery in the
evenings, and proceeded to the theatre, to the gardens, to the
_al-fresco_ entertainments with which the suburbs of the town were
studded, attended by the youth of the place. The conveyancing-clerk of
Messrs. Banner and Blair, the common-law ditto, and the Chancery
manager, were accustomed to speak of Annie, and Emmy, and Fanny, as
though the establishment of those eminent lawyers had been the
Hotel-Dieu, and they the interlocutors had been Parisian students
instead of provincial lawyers; the very copying-clerk, who served
writs, and fetched beer for the gentlemen in the inner office, had
been seen to wink his eye, and heard to mention some such article as
"a bit of muslin." But Robert Simnel had remained adamant. They dared
not chaff him; there was something in his manner which forbade any
approach to familiarity. Some of the ribalds had once set some of
their female friends to get a rise out of the quiet studious
shame-faced young man; but the girls had been met with perfect
politeness, mixed with such studied coldness, that the game was given
up in despair. From that time until he came up to London, Simnel was
left unworried.

His life in town was equally cold and celibate. He moved very little
in the female society of his own class; not that he was unwelcome, but
that he disliked it. It bored him; and that was the worst thing that
could happen to him when once his foot was fairly set on the ladder.
In the old days he had endured men, women, parties, society,--all
utterly repugnant to his feelings and tastes; and he had vowed that,
should he ever have the power, the severance of such obligatory ties
would be the first luxury in which he would indulge; and he kept his
word. "My lady," would chirp little Sir Hickory Maddox,--"my lady has
bid me bring you this note of invitation to dine with us next
Wednesday, Simnel. Formal, you perceive; for you are such a well-known
stickler for formalities, that we fain must treat you à la Grandison;"
and then Sir Hickory, who prided himself on the construction of his
sentences, would double up his little head into his ample cravat, and
bow in a mock heroic manner. But Mr. Simnel managed to find an excuse
for not attending the solemn dinners of his chief; nor did he ever
attend the pleasant _réunions_ of Mrs. Gillotson and Mrs. Franks,
wives of the senior officers of his department, to which he was
bidden. Of course, as a bachelor, it was not supposed that he should
receive lady visitors; and though his rooms in Piccadilly had
witnessed certain scenes which their proprietor described as _petits
soupers_, but which the mother-in-law of the serious saddler who held
the shop below openly proclaimed as "orgies," at which certain
distinguished _coryphées_ of Her Majesty's Theatre were present, and
there was lots of fun and laughter and champagne, and an impromptu
galop after supper,--no one could tax Simnel with any decided
flirtation. He had been very polite to, more than that, very jolly
with every body, thoroughly hospitable, genial, and kind; but when
they broke up, and Punter Blair put Fanny Douglas into a cab, and Sis
Considine walked away with Kate Trafford and her sister Nelly, and the
whole party turned out laughing and singing into the street, Robert
Simnel went round the rooms and put out the wax-lights, and picked up
bits of lobster-shell and cracker-paper from the floor, and, yawned
confoundedly, and was deuced glad it was over.

So he went on his way through life, with that way unillumined by one
spark of love until he first saw Kate Mellon. How well he recollected
every circumstance connected with the first glimpse of her! It was on
a glorious spring afternoon at the beginning of the season; he was
walking with Beresford (with whom he was just beginning to be
intimate) through the Row, when he noticed the heads of the
promenaders all turned one way; and following the direction, he saw a
mounted female figure coming at a rapid pace down the ride. The horse
she sat was a splendid black barb, an impetuous tearing fellow, who
had not yet learned that he was not to have his own way in life, and
who was making the most desperate struggle to recover such submission
as he had been compelled to yield. In and out, in and out, from side
to side, he bounded, obedient to the light hand, the scarcely tapping
whip and the swerving body of his rider; but his foam-flecked chest
and his sweat-rippled neck showed how unwillingly he accepted his
lesson. At length, on catching sight of Beresford, who left Simnel's
arm and walked to the rails, Kate drew rein, and, while she gave one
hand to her acquaintance, she relaxed the other until the horse had
full play for his stretching neck. Simnel stood amazed at her beauty
and at the perfect outline of her supple figure. She was just exactly
his style. Mr. Simnel had no admiration for Grecian features or
classic mould. Ebon tresses and deep dreamy eyes were little regarded
by him; his taste was of the earth, earthy; piquancy of expression,
plumpness of form, was what he, to use his own expression, "went in
for." He would not have bestowed a second glance upon Barbara
Churchill; but Kate Mellon was exactly to his taste. He filled his
eyes and his heart with her as she sat talking to Beresford that day;
the sweeping lines of her habit, the dainty little handkerchief
peeping out of the saddle-pocket, the dogskin gauntlets, the
neat chimney-pot hat, the braided hair, the face flushed with
exercise,--all these lived vividly in his remembrance, and came in
between his eyes and letters for signature to irascible correspondents
and long accounts of indebted tax-payers. He was not long in obtaining
an introduction to his idol; and then he saw at once, with his innate
sharpness, that he had but little chance of pressing his suit. Long
before that _éclaircissement_ which Beresford had described to him,
Simnel saw the state of affairs in that direction, and knew what Kate
Mellon fondly hoped could never be realised. He did not think that the
girl ever would have the chance of so plainly stating the position of
affairs; but he knew Beresford well enough to be certain that moral
cowardice would prevent his availing himself of the position offered
to him. Nor did Simnel blame him in this; that far-seeing gentleman
knew perfectly that for any man in society to ally himself in
matrimony to a woman with a reputation which was equivocal simply from
her profession, no matter how excellent the individual herself might
be, was sheer madness. "It isn't," he argued to himself, "as though I
were a landed proprietor or a titled swell, who could throw the aegis
of my rank and position over her, and settle the question. Heaps of
them have done that; dukes have married actresses of queer names and
women of no name at all, and all the past life has been elegantly
festooned over with strawberry-leaves. I'm a self-made man, and they
hate me for that, though my status is now such that they can't deny
it; but then they'd immediately begin to ask questions about my wife;
and if there were a chance of flooring us there, we should be done
entirely."

So when Mr. Beresford had told the story of his adventure with Kate
Mellon, Mr. Simnel, who had very much slacked off the scent, purely
from want of encouragement and a chance of seeing his way, returned to
the charge with renewed vigour. Beresford had faithfully repeated to
his Mentor every word of Kate's wild outburst; and in that sudden
revelation Simnel, nothing amazed thereby, had found a strong
incentive to farther exertion. Kate had hinted at relatives of whom
her future husband need not be ashamed. Who were they? That was one of
the first points to be found out, He wisely looked upon Charles
Beresford as now cleared out of his way. It was not for nothing that
Mr. Simnel had read at the Combcardingham grammar-school of the
_spretae injuria formae_; and he knew that the Commissioner had
probably committed himself for ever in the eyes of the lady of The
Den. Nevertheless, to make assurance doubly sure, he at once used all
his influence towards turning Beresford's views in another direction;
thus farther irritating Kate's pride, and preventing any chance of a
reconciliation; for this apparently phlegmatic man of business, this
calm, calculating, long-headed dry chip of an official, loved the
little woman with his whole heart and strength, and determined to miss
no opportunity of so winning her regard by his devotion to her cause,
and by the tangible results springing therefrom. That must tell in the
end, he thought. She is now heart-sore about Beresford; she has
discovered the foundation of sand on which her first little castle was
built; and now she will not touch the ruins or lay another stone.
There is but one way to arouse in her any new life,--the keynote to be
touched is ambition. If there be any truth in her assertion that the
is sprung from a race of which she can be proud, one may work it
through that. So Mr. Simnel worked away. He speedily found that Kate's
own knowledge of her origin was cloudy in the extreme; but he
possessed, in a rare degree, the faculty of putting two and two
together and making four of them very rapidly; and he had not been
very long chewing the cud of poor Kitty's stories of the circus, and
the uncle, and all the rest of it, before he saw a clue which sent him
spinning far into Northumberland by express-train to a place where he
saw the circus which Kate had named was advertised in those wonderful
column _Era_ as then performing.

No one accompanied Mr. Simnel on that journey; no one knew what he did
or what he heard; but as the chronicler of these mild adventures, I
may state that though not in the least astonished at what was--after a
free pecuniary disbursement--imparted to him, he came back to London
radiant. The clerks in the Tin-Tax Office did not know what to make of
him; some of the young ones thought he had got married; but at that
suggestion the older men shook their heads. That was the last thing,
they opined, to cause an access of animal spirits. He might have come
in for a legacy, or taken the change out of some body whom he hated;
that was all they could see to account for his cheerfulness. Two or
three of the men, Mr. Pringle of course among the number, improved the
occasion by asking for a day or two's leave of absence; a request at
once granted by the smiling secretary, who, on the day after his
return, announced his intention of making a half-holiday, and wound
his way towards The Den. He rode through the lodge-gate, and exchanged
salutations with the rosy porteress; but as he turned into the
carriage-drive he perceived Freeman, the old stud-groom, standing at
the entrance to the stables, alert and expectant. As soon as the old
man recognised Simnel, he advanced towards him, and motioned him
towards the farmyard. Simnel turned his horse's head in that
direction, and when he arrived inside the gates and on the straw-ride,
old Freeman held his bridle as he dismounted.

"A word wi' you, sir," said the old man, putting his finger on his lip
and nodding mysteriously.

Mr. Simnel looked astonished, but said nothing, as the old groom
called to a helper, to whose care he relinquished the horse; then
taking Simnel into a little room and planting him in the midst of a
grove of girths and stirrups, the saddles of which formed an alcove
above him, the old man produced a short set of steps, and motioning to
Simnel to seat himself on the top of them, took up his position
immediately in front of him, and said, in a voice intended to be low,
but in reality very hissingly sonorous,--

"Waät be matther?"

It was seldom that Mr. Simnel was nonplussed, but this was beyond him.
He had only caught one word, and that he thought better to repeat. So
he merely ejaculated "matter?"

"Ay, matther!" echoed the old man, this time in rather an angry tone.
"Waät be matther down yon?" jerking his head towards the house. Mr.
Simnel thought that the man was presuming on his position to take
liberties, a very terrible crime in his eyes, so he simply elevated
his thick eyebrows and echoed, "Down yon?"

"Thou knowst waät a mean, sir, weel enow. Waät be matther wi' my
leddy? waät be matther wi' my bright lassie ai've tended this ever so
long?" and the old man's face puckered up into wrinkles, and he
produced from his hat a cotton handkerchief, with which he rubbed his
eyes.

"What do you mean. Freeman? I didn't follow you until this instant.
Is--is your mistress ill?" asked Simnel.

"No, not ill; that's to say waät folks call ill; always greetin', that
waät she is,--thinkin' of something yon,--givin' no heed to waät goes
on close to her face. Eyes lookin' far away out into the distance; no
thowt of the stock such as she had; hasn't been into the farrier's
shop these three weeks,--blister here, singe there, do as 't loikes;
Miss never says nay now, and that's bad sign; for a more thrifty body
never stepped."

"Ah, she doesn't take such interest, you mean, in what goes on here as
she did."

"Int'rest! She cares nowt aboot it!" said the old man. "Ther' soommut
oop, soommut wring! that's what thee is. Ther' can't have been no one
a philanderin' wi' her, on and off like,--you understand?"

"I should think not," said Mr. Simnel, with a face as solid as a rock.

"If I'd thowt that," said old Freeman, "and I'd found 'em out, I'd
beat 'ems brains out as if it were a stoat!" and as he spoke he struck
the palm of his hand with the handle of his hunting-whip in an
unmistakably vicious manner. "Dunno waät's coom to her to-day," he
continued, after a pause; "haven't set eyes on her all the morning.
Hasn't been in t'yard, hasn't been in t'staäbles, hasn't moved out of
t'house."

This latter part of Freeman's speech seemed to arouse Mr. Simnel's
fading attention; he looked up sharply, and said,

"Not been out of the house all the morning! what does that mean? Who
was here yesterday?"

"Yesterday," said the old man slowly considering; "there were
Sandcrack coom oop about Telegram's navicular,--no more navicular than
I am; nowt but a sprain;--and Wallis from Wethers's wi' a pair o' job
grays; and old Mr. Isaacson as tried some pheayton 'osses; and--"

"Yes, yes," said Mr. Simnel; "no young man; no one in the habit of
coming here?"

"Not one," said Freeman.

"That's devilish odd," said Mr. Simnel, half to himself; "what the
deuce has happened to upset her? I'll go in and see. Good-day,
Freeman; I've brought some good news for your mistress, and I hope we
shall soon see her herself again."

The old man touched his hat, as Simnel walked off to the house, where
he found Kate's servant, and learnt from her that her mistress had
kept her room all the morning, complaining of headache. From this
domestic Mr. Simnel had a repetition of old Freeman's story. Not only
had she seemingly lost all interest in her business, which formerly so
thoroughly engrossed her attention, but for the last few months she
had been in every respect a thoroughly changed woman.

"I've been with her four year," said the woman, holding her hands
clasped in front of her, and beating time with them at the conclusion
of each sentence; "four year I've been with her, and never see no
megrims. A cheerfuller lighter-hearteder lady there were not, so long
as you was quick. Every thing must be done directly minute, and all
was right. But latterly there's been nothink but megrims and lowness
of sperrits, and no caring for what we wears or what we eats, or
whether we eats at all, indeed." This and much more to the same
effect, only cut short by Simnel's requesting the woman to take his
name to her mistress, and say he was anxious for a few words with her.

He sat down in the dining-room and took up a _Bell's Life_ which lay
on the table; but had hardly glanced at it when the door was hurriedly
thrown open and Kate entered. She was perfectly colourless and
trembled violently. As she gave her cold hand to Simnel, she asked at
once,

"What's the matter, Simnel? what's brought you here? Something
particular to say, they tell me. What is it?"

Though Mr. Simnel was in reality very much shocked at the change which
had taken place in her personal appearance, he did not betray it by
look or word. There was not a break in his voice as, retaining her
hand between his, he said,

"Why, Kate, is this your hospitality? is this the way you receive
visitors, demanding their business in this pistol-to-the-head fashion?
Suppose I were to say that my pressing business was to look at and to
talk to you..

"No, no, Simnel; no nonsense. At least not now, please; as much as you
like when you've answered me. There hasn't been a--I mean he
hasn't--you haven't--confound it, Simnel, why don't you help me?" and
she stamped her foot upon the floor in rage.

"Kate, Kate," said he, still quietly, though this little evidence of
her excited state touched him very deeply, "I can't tell what is the
matter with you to-day. I've come to talk to you and to tell you a
little news about yourself--that's all."

"About myself? not about--I mean about no one else? Nothing has
happened? nothing--"

"Nothing that I know of. I only arrived in town late last night, and I
have seen no one this morning. What on earth did you expect? Now
you're flushing again! My dear Kate, you're not well, child; you
must--"

"I'm all right now," said she, withdrawing her hand; "I'm all right
again. It was only some stupid nonsense; I'm a bit nervous, I think..
I'll have some change of air, and see what that will do. I'm as
nervous as a cat. Had a girl here for a lesson yesterday. Fine girl,
sister of Dick Hamilton's--Dirty Dick's, you know; and she wanted to
see me put her horse at the brook. The brute refused, and I couldn't
put him at it the second time--lost my pluck--funked it myself--fancy
that! First time such a thing ever happened to me!"

"You want change and rest, Kitty," said Simnel, kindly. "And you want
rest of mind much more than mere respite from bodily fatigue. Your
life lately has been past in a series of storms, in which you have
been tossed about, and whirled here and there, in a manner which is
now beginning to tell upon you. Now, all these starts and flushes and
tremors to-day are the result of some fresh worry. What happened
yesterday?"

"Happened yesterday?" echoed Kate, flushing deeply as she spoke;
"nothing."

"Who was here?" asked Simnel, in a mild tone of voice, but fixing his
eyes full on her.

"Here? who? How dare you question me in this way? Who are you to come
worming and prying into my affairs? I never asked you to come, and I
sha'n't be sorry how soon you go!"

He was not an atom moved at this outburst of rage, at these taunts; at
least he did not appear so. He only shook his head, and said
sorrowfully,

"Unfair, Kitty; horribly unfair. I've just come back from a journey of
hundreds of miles, undertaken for the object of what you are pleased
to term 'worming and prying into your affairs;' and this is all the
thanks I get."

She seized his hand, and pressed it warmly. "There, there! forget it:
it's all part and parcel of my nervousness, that I was telling you
about. Now you shall know who was here yesterday. Beyond the usual
business-people, only one man--Scadgers the money-lender!"

"Scadgers! The deuce he was! What brought him? Did he come to--no,
that's impossible. What did bring him?"

"Now it's you that are muttering to yourself, Simnel," said Kate.
"Make your mind easy; a letter from me brought him here. I wanted a
little assistance."

"Stuff, Kitty! What on earth--oh, I see now. You little flat! you've
been paying young Prescott's bills for him."

"Well, what if I have? You don't mind."

"Mind! not I. I love you better for it. Oh, I see you smile; but I've
been making a few inquiries at the Office since I was here last, and I
find that it is a case with your pupil and him. He's a fine young
fellow, and will do well." It is astonishing how, when we are no
longer jealous of a man, his good qualities crop out.

"He is a good fellow; a thoroughly good fellow; a gentleman in every
thought," said Kate; "and it was only right to give him a clean start
again. All young men--all who are worth any thing--kick up their heels
at first; and then some fools pull them in tight, and they get sulky
and vicious, and never run straight afterwards. But if they're held
straight in hand, and have just enough rein given them, they right
themselves very soon, and go as square as a die. You'll see now that
James Prescott will marry, and settle down into a regular humdrum
life, and be as happy as the day. That's the only existence, Simnel.
Lord help us! They talk of the pleasures of excitement,--the miserable
fools, if they only knew!" and Kate heaved a deep sigh, and buried her
face in her hands.

"Come, come, Kitty," said Simnel, "this will never do. Nothing that
you've said can reasonably be applied to your own case. You've had the
enjoyment of one style of life, and now let us hope the joys of the
other are rapidly coming upon you. You shake your head again. What on
earth is the matter with you, child?"

"I can't tell, Simnel," said the girl, raising her tear-blurred face.
"I can't tell. I've a horrible weight here," placing her hand upon her
heart,--"a something hanging over me; a presentiment of something
about to happen,--and I haven't the least notion what,--that never
leaves me. I'm as flat as a bad bottle of champagne. By the way, I
think I'll try whether a glass of that Madeira wouldn't--"

"No, no, Kitty; for heaven's sake keep off that! The lift given by
that is only temporary, and you're twice as down as you were before,
when it subsides. You've never asked me one word about my journey
yet."

"Your journey! What journey? Oh, to be sure, you said you'd been away,
and on my business. Where did you go to?"

"To Newcastle-on-Tyne. To Norton's Fields, just beyond the town;
where--"

"Norton's Fields! Newcastle! Why that's where we used to make our
pitch with old Fox's Circus, and--"

"And that's exactly the place where old Fox's Circus is pitched at
this moment."

"Did you go to it?"

"Why, Kitty, can't you understand that, after what you told me the
other day, to visit it, and glean information from its people, was the
sole cause of my journey?"

"And did you see them all? Is old Fox still alive; and Madam, with her
deep voice and big bony hands; and Lucette and Josephine--big girls
now, and doing the _haute-école_ business, I suppose; and Brownini,
the clown, is he with them yet? and Thompson the barebacked-rider--a
conceited beast, he was!--and old Bellars the band-leader? Lord, Lord
what happy times those were! happier than I shall ever see again, I
know."

"Nonsense, Kate. Your life is just now at its turn. All those horrid
days of grinding labour in the circus, all the hard work you've done
here, shall be to you like a dream. You shall be a swell, and hold
your own with the best of them. Ay, and not merely in money,--I
offered you that long since,--but I wanted to prove a position for
you, and I _have_ proved it, Kitty, my darling!" and Mr. Simnel's
usually pale cheeks glowed, and his eyes glistened, and he squeezed
Kate's hand in the excitement of his feelings.

"You've found out whose child lam, Simnel?" asked Kate.

"Every thing! I've only got to see your father, and wring from him
the confession,--and I have the means of doing that, as safe as
houses--and you shall be put in your proper position at once, Kitty,
and a capital position it is, too. Your father is a man of great
wealth, very highly thought of, moving in the best circles, and
eminently respectable."

"And his name?"

"Ah, that I mustn't tell you till next time we meet. It's due to him
to let him know how much we have learned, and to give him the option
of behaving properly. If he refuse, I can put such a screw on him as
will compel him at once to do as we wish. And then, Kitty," continued
Simnel, dropping his voice, and looking at her fondly from under his
bushy eyebrows "when all my work for you is satisfactorily finished, I
shall come to you and ask for my reward."

"You shall have it, Robert," she said simply, placing her hand in his.
It was the first time she had called him by his Christian name, and as
he heard it a thrill of delight ran through him.


Mr. Simnel had ridden away homeward, and Kate had thrown herself on a
sofa in the dining-room, and was vacantly watching the purple gloom
creeping up and ingulphing the landscape. Vacantly, I say; for though
her eyes were fixed on it, she heeded it not. Simnel's description of
his visit had awakened in her a thousand memories of old days. The
smell of the stables, the tan, and the sawdust of the ring; the lamps,
and the orange-peel in the marquee; the way in which the tent-poles
would strain and crack in a high wind, and the audience would look up,
as though expecting the crazy edifice to descend on their heads; the
swinging naphtha-burners flaring in the draught; the dull flopping
sound of the first drops of a thunder-shower on the tent roof, causing
an immediate consternation and whispering among the non-umbrellaed
spectators,--all these rose before her mind. She recollected all the
different stages of her own novitiate; heard old Fox's thin piping
voice cursing her freely for "missing her tip" in clearing the
garters, or sticking in the silver-papered hoop; and his wife's hoarse
growling at her extravagance in tarlatan skirts and rose-pinked
stockings. Then, pursuing this train of thought, she remembered what
Simnel had said about her parentage; and stung with a sudden idea she
sat upright on the sofa, unconsciously tapping her teeth with her
nails. Could it not all be made straight? That was what she thought.
Her father was a man of position, a man highly thought of and
esteemed--so Simnel had said; he could be forced to recognise her as
his daughter,--Simnel swore he should do this. What, then, stood in
the way of her being reconciled to, of her being married to Charles
Beresford? She had plenty of money as it was, and if her father were
rich as stated, could have the command of more. It was her position,
the horse-breaking business, that had floored Charley; she saw that at
once; but now here she was a recognised swell, bar the illegitimacy;
and Charley wouldn't mind that with money, and above all with
love--oh, such love!--for him. He would give up every one else for
her; he would give up that fair-haired woman--Ah, good God! the
letter! that fatal letter, which she wrote in her mad passion of
yesterday! that wild wicked letter was fatal! it would be shown to
him; her handwriting would be recognised, and there would be an end to
all her hopes.

When the servant came in with the dinner-tray she found her mistress
in a swoon.



CHAPTER XXXIII.
THE HOUSE OF MOURNING.


Dead! had been dead for half an hour!--so said the first man with an
approach to medical knowledge who was called in, and who indeed was a
worthy chemist who lived in the neighbourhood, and who, on the
strength of a square shop fitted with an oil-cloth floor, with a
little fountain in the centre (in the basin of which half-a-dozen
bottles of aerated water were always cooling), of a counter bearing
glazed cases of scents and cosmetics, of a nest of drawers labelled
with illegible half-words, and of three large shining coloured bottles
in the window, was regarded by the servants in the vicinity as a weird
practitioner indeed. A servant had been despatched in a cab for Dr.
Prater; but in the interval pending that luminary's arrival, Mr.
Canthar, of the Medical Hall, was master of the position, and all
those who were left with the body hung upon his words. It--it had
already come to be called "it"--still lay in the library, where it had
been found. Mrs. Schröder, who had hurried in close behind Barbara,
had, at the very first glimpse of the state of affairs, gone off into
a violent fit of hysterics, and had been removed to her room, whither
Barbara had followed her, and where the latter was now in close
attendance upon her stricken friend. When Mr. Canthar arrived (he had
stripped off his black-calico apron and thrown it into the cork-drawer
on being summoned, and completed his toilette _en route_ by running
his fingers through such hair as remained on the sides of his head),
he found Mr. Schröder's body stretched out on the sofa in the library,
and attended solely by the kitchen-maid and by a page-boy, who, partly
from love to the kitchen-maid, partly from gratitude to his employers,
bore her company. The other servants had declined having any thing to
do with such horrors, as not coming within their engagements. The
great butler had retired to the housekeeper's room, taking with him a
bottle of brown sherry, and there these supreme functionaries sat,
discussing future prospects; the French cook had gone out to announce
to a friend of his, who was steward at a crack club, that he was now
open to an engagement; the two footmen, great hulking masses of
ignorance and vanity, with faces whiter than the powder on their
heads, sat in the pantry, shaking over one glass of hot gin-and-water,
and solemnly glozing over the probability of a suggestion made by one
of them that "he" (they had never named him) had died of "spuntanus
kymbustium." When Mr. Canthar's sharp ring came at the bell, they both
trembled violently, and went up together to open the door. The
announcement that their master was dead,--an announcement made by Mr.
Canthar after a very cursory examination,--utterly failed in
reassuring them; on the contrary, it produced the liveliest symptoms
of fright, and they incontinently hurried down stairs to the pantry
again. Mr. Canthar required but a very short examination to arrive at
his verdict. He placed his finger on the pulse, his ear to the
waistcoat; then he took a candle from the attendant kitchen-maid, and
looked for an instant into the half-closed glazed eyes. Gently
depositing the hand, he said, "Dead! quite dead! been dead for
half-an-hour, I suppose. I'm not called upon to state to you my
opinion of the cause of death; indeed, it would be quite useless;
and as no member of the family has done me the honour to be
present,--well, no matter, never mind." Then, in a whisper, "I'd
put a cloth round the jaws, don't you know? just bind it together,
because--ugly appearance, you understand, Martha--good-night;" and Mr.
Canthar tripped out of the house, and devoted the remainder of the
evening to working out a composition for the nutriment of the hair,
which, under the name of Canthar's Crinibus, has an enormous
circulation over the infant heads of Albertopolis.

Half-an-hour after he had received the message from the servant who
had been despatched for him, Dr. Prater spun up in his little low
carriage,--hung on C springs to prevent the doctor's highly sensitive
organisation being disturbed by bumps or jolts over the horrible
pavement,--and drawn by a pair of little bays, which might have been
the property of any _millionaire_ in the land. The great butler
condescended to leave the society of the housekeeper, and to rouse
himself so far as to hold open the drawing-room door for the doctor's
entrance; also to produce a decanter and a couple of glasses; and
placing them at the doctor's elbow, to croak out, "Our '20, sir!" and
to fill a wine-glass.

"Ah, thank ye, Pilkington," said the little doctor, taking up the
glass, and holding it between his eye and the candle; "this is a
dreadful thing, Pilkington."

"Yes, sir," said the butler, shortly; "it's ill-conwenient. Do you
find the wine agreeable to your taste, sir?"

"Yes, yes, thank ye. I want you now to show me--ah, here's some one
coming;" and the door opened, and Barbara Churchill entered the room.

"Mrs. Schröder is very ill, doctor; you must see her before you go, if
you please; in her absence I will conduct you. Pilkington--oh, there
are lights, I suppose?--this way, doctor;" and she led the way to the
library. This had been Barbara's first experience of death, and it was
a severe trial for her, broken down as she was with her other
miseries; but she saw how utterly helpless poor little Alice Schröder
was, and she determined to help to bear the misery of her sudden
misfortune. So she preceded Dr. Prater to the library; and when she
had opened the door, she beckoned to the kitchen-maid and page-boy, who
were sitting bolt upright on the edge of their chairs, and let the
doctor enter by himself, she returning to the dining-room. In a very
few minutes she was joined by the little doctor, who had in the
passage composed his face to its usual aspect by this time. "Not the
slightest hope, my dear madam,--not the slightest hope. If I had been
here the minute after, I could not have been of the least assistance.
Must have been instantaneous, my dear madam,--instantaneous,--disease
of the heart,--under which I long knew he laboured; but I never told
him. What was the need? I've said to myself fifty times, 'Prater, you
should tell Mr. Schröder of his danger;' and then, again, I've said to
myself, 'What's the use? Mr. Schröder's not a man to relax those
gigantic enterprises in which he is engaged, on the mere word of a
theorist like myself. He'll only be annoyed at my interference.' There
was no cause for any excitement, any special excitement, my dear miss?
Pardon me; to whom have I the pleasure of speaking?"

"I am Mrs. Churchill,--I was Miss Lexden,--a very intimate friend of
Mrs. Schröder's before her marriage."

"Ay, ay, ay! of course! how very remiss of me not to bear it in mind!
Pleasure of including your husband, Mrs. Churchill, among my
distinguished literary friends. I hope he's quite himself. Ay, ay;
Miss Lexden that was, eh? Think I've had the pleasure of meeting you,
before you took rank as a matron, in the house of my dear old friend
Sir Marmaduke Wentworth? Ah! I thought so. Ill now, poor dear
fellow,--ill in the Pyrenees; hum, ha! And no cause for any special
excitement in the present lamentable case, you say, my dear Mrs.
Churchill?--hum! Well, well; death from natural causes, of course. I
can testify as to his heart-disease. Still, I'm afraid, my dear madam,
there'll have to be a horrible--what we call a _post-mortem_. The
ridiculous laws of this country are not satisfied with a professional
man's word in such cases, and though--of course I'll take care there's
no annoyance. Bad thing for Mrs. Schröder,--very! I'll go up and see
her directly. By the way, my dear Mrs. Churchill," added the little
doctor, edging himself very close to Barbara, and looking more than
ever like an owl; "here's a paper which I picked off the floor of the
library when I went in to see our poor late friend just now. I haven't
looked at it myself, of course; but perhaps it might be well to put it
away, and not to let Mrs. Schröder see it just yet; and," continued
the doctor, examining with great attention the pattern of the Turkey
carpet, "I don't see that there's any necessity to mention its
existence before the coroner's people,--no one else seems to have seen
it,--and these things are better kept quiet;" and the doctor handed
Barbara a folded paper, which she at once placed in her pocket, and
bowed himself out.

Then there fell upon that house confusion, and silence, and sadness,
and a general mistiness and ignorance. No one spoke above their
breath; no one knew what day of the month it was, or what day of the
week, or what length of time had elapsed since the occurrence of the
event which had given rise to this state of affairs. All normal laws
were suspended; the _carte_ for the proposed dinner did not go up as
usual in the morning; the great butler suspended his customary
inspection of the plate and reviews of the china and glass; the young
lady really born in Picardy, but passing current as a Parisian, who
was called "Mumzell" by the other servants, and who was attached as
special retainer to Mrs. Schröder, had no interviews with her lady on
toilet subjects, and found her health undoubtedly improved by being
relieved from mental anxiety on the subject of the perpetual invention
of new styles of head-dress. The tradesmen seemed to take Mr.
Schröder's dying out of the season as a kind of personal affront. Had
it happened when every thing was in full swing, the poulterer had
remarked, and when parties had the greatest worrit in supplying what
parties ordered, why parties might have been glad of a lull; but now,
in the slack time of year, when there was few families in town, and
what was mostly supplied with game from friends as had shooting, to
have a large and reg'lar customer's orders suddenly stopped, as might
be said, in this way, was not what parties expected and might be said
to look for. Perhaps the retainers attached to the stable-department
took the pleasantest view of matters. It were a bad business, they
allowed; but, after all, there muss be money left, and the
establishment wouldn't be broke up; and besides, a missis were easier
to serve than a master, and couldn't pry; not that any thing of that
sort could be said of their late guv'nor, for a more innocenter man
never breathed. He were a bad whip, always a tuggin' at the 'orses'
mouths; but a good master. Meanwhile 'orses must be kep' exercised;
and so Mrs. Edwards the coachman's wife, and Nancy and Billy her young
'uns, and Susan Gilbert, what was keeping company with Strapper the
under-coachman, and one or two convivial friends, had two or three
very pleasant days at Richmond and Hampton, proceeding thither in what
they called a "weggynet," borrowed from the corn-chandler at the
corner of the mews, and drawn now by the chestnuts which Mr. Schröder
used to spin along in his mail-phaeton, now by the iron-grays which
concentrated attention on Mrs. Schröder's equipage in the ring. And in
every department of the servants' hall and in the outlying regions
connected therewith, there seemed to be an impression of the
over-weening necessity for going in for good eating and drinking, as
if to counteract the baleful effect of the calamity which had
occurred. In the house itself, the kitchen-maid, relieved from
attendance in that dread library, gave herself up to the cooking of
mighty joints for discussion at the "one-o'clock dinner." The
housekeeper and the great butler had little refections, washed down
with brown sherry, in the still-room; while one of the two-gallon
stone jars of brown brandy,--originally ordered for preserve-purposes,
and of a very different quality from the eau-de-vie-de-cognac in the
tapering bottles--was apportioned by the butler to the nightly grog of
the servants' hall. Then it was that Rawbert, one of the six-foot
Johns, and son of an Oxford scout, first showed his remarkable talent
for brewing punch; under the influence of which the assemblage grew so
jolly, that some of them were only restrained from breaking into
harmony by the representation of others as to what was lying upstairs.

What was lying upstairs had been moved from the library to a spare
bedroom, had been handed over to the charge of such horrible ghoulish
women as only appear at such dread times, and had been left all placid
and composed and cold and statuesque by itself. What was lying
upstairs had had visitors. The coroner--a fat man with a red face,
smeared black clothes, beady black eyes, and boots slit here and there
as a necessary accommodation for gout--had visited it; had stood at
the head of the bed where it lay, and had it not been for thick
carpeting and double doors, would have sent his opinion of it clanging
to the ears of her whom it once cherished as its own heart's blood.
The jury had visited it (some of them at least, nearly half were too
frightened to come beyond the bedroom-door), and had said, "Oh!" and
"Deary me!" and had looked at the coroner and gone away again to the
Coburg Arms; and then and there, over hot brandy-and-water,
administered as a corrective, and strongly recommended by the coroner,
had found a verdict of "Death from natural causes." Then it had other
visitors--men in black, who took off their coats at the door and left
their boots outside, putting on list slippers, and who had foot-rules,
and who whistled to themselves softly as they went about their ghastly
work. These men came again at night with others, blundering up the
stairs under the weight of a horrible burden, and the room assumed a
different aspect, and what lay therein seemed further removed from
humanity and less kin to any thing it had hitherto claimed kinship
with. And after that, it had yet another visitor; a white-robed woman,
who stole in at night and knelt at the side of its black prison-house,
and implored pardon for past waywardness and thoughtlessness and
girlish follies, and prayed for strength and succour and support; then
rising, pressed her lips on its cold forehead, and was led from the
room in a half-hysterical state.

Yes; Alice Schröder had begun to wake to the realities of life, to
find that opera-boxes and drums and sealskin cloaks and equipages and
money, all good things in their way, were powerless against Death; and
that Death was not merely the bugbear which he had been always
painted, but had other qualities horrific in their nature, which she
at least had never imputed to him. He was a thought-compeller, and up
to that time little Alice had never known what thinking was. But now
she thought long and earnestly. She thought of her earlier days, long
before she had received her father's orders as to her marriage; she
thought of her school-girl flirtations and hopes and fears and
intentions as to matrimony; recalling the cavalry cornet, the
light-whiskered curate, and the Italian singing-master vividly in her
memory. Then she had a vague recollection of her coming-out and her
town-life, through all which there loomed a shadowy presentment of
Captain Lyster, standing specially boldly out in her remembrance of
her stay at Bissett Grange; and than came Mr. Townshend's imperative
decision, and her acceptance of her dead husband's offer. Had she
behaved well to that dead husband, who had behaved so kindly to her?
Ah, how painfully, as though with an actual sting, came back the
recollection of his kindness, of his lavish generosity; how with
clumsy action and ill-chosen words, but showing in the highest degree
the warmth of his affection and the delicacy of his mind, he had
loaded her with gifts, and had endeavoured to forestall her every
wish! How, with an evident straggle,--for had he not been matured to
it from his youth up?--yet successfully, he had weaned himself from
the cares of business (at one time his greatest pleasure), and learnt
a new life in the society of his wife, and in manifesting his devotion
to her. Had she brought him such wealth of affection as he had
showered upon her? Had she even met him half-way? When she was a girl,
she was fond of being considered "highly romantic" by her companions;
she thought herself the essence of romance; and yet what was her
romance compared to that shown by that elderly gray-headed German
merchant, who had changed the whole tenor of his life for a woman's
love? And had he possessed that love? that was the bitterest
question of all. Respect, yes; honour, yes; but did she respect Mr.
Beresford,--she certainly did not honour him,--who had so often been
her companion during her husband's lifetime? had she not had a warmer
feeling towards that accomplished cavalier? had she not permitted him
to speak in somewhat slighting terms, to which she by her silence had
given tacit approval of the dead man; ridiculing his age and habits,
unfitting him for finding favour in ladies' eyes, and protesting
against the hard fate which cast such pearls before such swine? All
this came up clear and fresh in Alice Schröder's memory; and as it
rose she hated Beresford with all her strength; and, struck with
deepest remorse, wished--oh, how she wished!--that the time would come
over again, that she might dower her husband with her love, and show
how she appreciated his devotion to her.

Then what was lying there lay no longer. There came a morning when the
boys in the neighbouring mews, who had been on the look-out for some
little time, passed the word to each other that it was all right for
that day, and forthwith coming trooping out, took up their positions
in available spots close by. The mutes in their preposterous scarves,
and bearing their hideous banners, mounted guard at the door; and the
hearse and the mourning-coaches pulled-up close by; and the red-nosed
men got ready the trays of feathers, and the long staves, and the
velvet trappings, and all the funeral insignia, which would be
ridiculous were they not disgusting. And the company arrived at the
house: there were two of the dead man's brothers, representing the
firm respectively in Hamburg and Paris; uncles and cousins, pillars of
the London Exchange; the clerk from the office, who had acted as the
dead man's private secretary, and who was a very presentable young
man, the delight of the evening-party-givers of Surbiton; Mr.
M'quiddit from Bedford Row, who was met on the door-step by his clerk,
who presented him with an oblong packet, which the lawyer deposited in
the library before joining the rest of the company; and little Dr.
Prater, looking preternaturally solemn and wise,--all these gathered
together to see Gustav Schröder to his grave. On the dining-room table
were cold fowls (already cut up, and tied together with pieces of
black crape) and cold viands; but save Mr. M'Quiddit, who had come up
from his country-house at Datchet and was hungry, no one tasted food.
The decanters, however, were put into requisition; and the great
butler took occasion to whisper in Dr. Prater's ear a recommendation
of some Vino di Pasta as being something special. Then came that most
horrid time of all, when there was a bumping and a scuffling on the
stairs, and a creaking of the bannisters. Every body knew what caused
it and what it meant; and there was an involuntary silence which made
the talk, when they began again to talk, seem more hollow and forced
than it had been before. Then, draped in bilk scarves, and wearing
hats swaddled in crape, the mourners ascended the coaches, walking to
them through a lane of boys, and were borne off to Kensal Green; on
alighting at the gates of which dismal necropolis, they were
marshalled into proper order by the head undertaker, and so marched in
procession to the grave. There a gentleman, who really could not be
complained of when it was remembered that he had done duty four times
already that day, and expected to do it three times again, half
drawled, half cantered through the most beautiful service of the
Church, that for the burial of the dead, without the smallest atom of
expression, and apparently without knowing what he was about; then
he shut his book, and the bystanders one by one looked into the
grave--and all was over. The mourning-coaches, which had come so
slowly, went merrily back; the Schröders went to the City house, and
sent telegrams and read share-lists, and talked of how soon Gustav's
share in the concern ought to be realised; the uncles and cousins did
much the same; the presentable clerk had a holiday, and met a few lady
friends at the Zoological Gardens; Dr. Prater lunched at a rich
patient's, where he told the story of Mr. Schröder's death, and dined
at another rich patient's where he told it again; and Mr. M'Quiddit
had an interview with the widow and gave her a short abstract of the
will, which was eminently satisfactory.


It had been proposed by the deceased gentlemen's brothers, who
were his executors, that the widow should leave town for a few
weeks,--should run down to Brighton or Tunbridge Wells,--and thus, in
change of scene, shake off the excess of grief under which they found
her to be really labouring. But under a strange state of feeling which
is scarcely describable, but which originated in an idea that her
determination to do her duty to the utmost would not be properly
carried out, were she to allow herself any thing like indulgence, poor
little Alice decided upon stopping in Saxe-Coburg Square and
thenceforward entering upon the useful state of life which she had
proposed to herself. Perhaps in this decision she was a little guided
by her feeling for Barbara: the regard which had always existed
between them (regard on Barbara's side mingled with a sense of
superiority leading to pity, the regard which a grand Scotch deerhound
might feel for a little thin-limbed Italian greyhound pet) had very
much increased since the recent calamity. Alice had experienced a
sisterly tenderness at Barbara's hands which she had never thought
Barbara capable of feeling; Barbara had seen in Alice a fixed
propriety of purpose such as she had never given Alice credit for. And
Alice was by no means so selfish or so thoroughly wrapped up in her
own grief as not to see that, although Barbara pretended to look upon
her own married career as entirely at an end, yet in reality she had
by no means given up all hope of a happy reconciliation with Frank. A
sudden peal at the bell would make her cheek flame; her nervousness at
the sight of Pilkington entering the room with letters was
unmistakable; and in a thousand other ways she gave evidence of he
heart's yearnings. So Alice felt that while this unsettled state of
affairs lasted, Barbara's home must be with her, and that a removal
from town would be highly antagonistic to any chance of a settlement
which might transpire; and as this entirely coincided with her own
views, she elected to remain in town.

Mr. Schröder's will had been made a few months before his death, and
was in accordance with the general tenor of his married life. It
ordered that his share in the City firm should be realised at the
earliest favourable opportunity, and that it and all his other
investments should be lodged in the name of trustees for his wife's
use and disposal. As this represented a very large annual income, and
as the details of the will soon became public through the medium of
the press, the "kind-inquiries" cards began to shower down in
Saxe-Coburg Square. You, who are rich, find these amicable condolences
sent in at once, in such times. You, who are poor, know that in
general there is a little hanging fire until it is understood what
will be the future position of the family. In the present day the vast
proportion of middle-class people occupy a factitious position in
society; factitious, that is to say, thus far--that its existence
depends entirely on the life of the father, husband, breadwinner. So
long as his good income is made, so good; but when he dies, despite
all his attempts at laying-by, his precautions in insuring his life,
the whole thing changes; all the little luxuries have to be given up,
and the family sinks into a decidedly lower circle of society. That is
why the great law-giver Society waits to hear the will read before he
nods approval on visits of condolence being paid. In this case there
could be not much doubt about money; but there were some peculiar
features,--"a sudden death, my dear, and that sort of thing;" and it
was thought better by Mrs. Grundy, and her set, to wait a little,
until there could be no possible doubt on the matter: After a little
time, the intimates of the house were admitted. Old Mr. Townshend was
still away on the Continent; and there never seemed to have been any
other member of the Townshend family; but the Schröders came down in
flocks. The wives of the brothers, and the sisters, and the daughters'
nieces, and cousins twice removed,--who so kind as they in time of
trouble? Their husbands and fathers might be money-grubbers in the
City of London; in them was nothing but the good old German spirit of
kindness, of brotherhood and sisterhood, of honest help and
openhanded affection, which had first flourished when they were all
poor stragglers in the Frankfort Judengasse, which had lasted until
they were among the most opulent of the earth. And Dr. Prater was
there, of course, every day, chirrupping softly about the house, and
going from thence up and down and into the ends of the London world,
and talking of the enormous wealth left by his poor deceased friend
Mr. Schröder to his interesting patient Mrs. Schröder. And Captain
Lyster came, sending up his card, and proffering his services in any
manner in which they might be required; and then Barbara saw him; and
after a little time Alice saw him; and his services were brought into
requisition, and proved to be eminently useful. For when Fred Lyster
chose to shake off his drawl, and to apply himself, there were few men
with a quicker or a keener appreciation of what ought to be; and in
settling affairs, there were numerous cases arose in which a  lady
could not possibly interfere, and in which the intervention of some
one prompt, clear-headed, and business-like, was indispensable. And as
Fred Lyster had never any thing to do, he had full leisure to attend
to these matters, and entered into them with an eagerness and a
perseverance which astonished all who saw him--save Barbara, who
perhaps might have made a shrewd guess as to the mainspring of his
actions. Poor George Pringle had called too. He had been a good deal
cut up by the death of Mr. Schröder, whom he had been accustomed to
describe as "a good old cock, sir; a worthy old party; kind-hearted
and all that, and giving no end good feeds;" and he had, in his rough
way, great sympathy for his cousin Alice,--"a poor little thing, sir;
left alone, with nothing to console her."

With consolation-end in view, Mr. Pringle arrived one Sunday afternoon
at the door of the house in Saxe-Coburg Square, in a hansom cab,
whence he extracted a smooth English white terrier, with a black patch
over one eye. Taking this animal under his arm, he, after making due
inquiries after Mrs. Schröder's health, transferred it to the
frightened grasp of Pilkington, requesting that it might be
at once carried upstairs with his love. Pilkington was horribly
frightened,--he "never could abide dawgs;" and so no sooner was the
door closed than he set the animal down in the hall, where, catching
sight of the well-fed calves of Rawbert the footman, it presently
began to lick its lips, and growled in a very ominous manner.

Mr. Beresford called three times: once immediately after the
announcement of the death, when he simply left his card; once on the
day after the funeral, when, besides his card, he left a warm message
of inquiry; once a fortnight after, when "he hoped he might be
permitted to see Mrs. Schröder." Barbara was with Alice in her boudoir
when this message arrived; and she noticed that the poor little woman
went deadly white as she listened, and then flushed deeply.

"Oh, no, no!" she exclaimed; "I cannot see him. Barbara darling, I
never will see him again. I hate the mention of his name; it jars upon
me now; I cannot tell you how--oh, no, no!" And so Barbara framed a
polite reply in Alice's name, and Mr. Beresford went away.

That night, as Barbara sat in her own room, feeling very weary and
worn, and with an irrepressible yearning towards her husband and her
home, the tears rose in her eyes; and, determined not to indulge in
the luxury of "a good cry," she drew out her handkerchief, and with it
a paper, which fell to the ground at her feet. Looking down at it as
it lay there, she recognised the paper which had been found in the
library, and handed to her by Dr. Prater, on the night of Mr.
Schröder's death, and which had ever since entirely escaped her
recollection. She picked it up from the carpet, and opened it; but no
sooner had her eyes fallen on the inside than she gave a start of
astonishment, and uttered a low cry. The same!--unquestionably the
same handwriting! The circumstances connected with both previous
occasions of her having seen it far too deeply impressed it on her
mind to allow of her being mistaken. It was that long scrawly
handwriting--unmistakably that of a woman only partially educated--in
which the letters to Frank Churchill--that delivered at Bissett, and
the envelope found in the dressing-room--had both been addressed. If
Barbara's heart beat fast when her eyes first fell upon the lines, how
much more disturbed was she when she read their contents, as follows:


"Your wife is false to you, and is carrying on with a Mr. Beresford.
They meet every day, ride together, and deceive you. Watch them, and
you will find this out. It has been going on for some time--for
months. It is a thing that Beresford has meant for a long time; and he
always carries out what he means. I know him well.

"A FRIEND."


It was, then, the receipt of this letter which had had such fatal
effect on poor Mr. Schröder. He had fallen, pierced to the heart by
this anonymous stab. Any excitement, any worry, or anxiety, coming
suddenly on him, might have ended his life at any time, Dr. Prater had
said; and so--Dr. Prater? It was he who had picked up this paper from
the library-floor, on to which it had fallen from the dead man's hand.
The doctor had asked her whether there had been any cause for sudden
excitement; had suggested that the paper should not be shown to Mrs.
Schröder; that its existence need not be mentioned before the coroner.
He had read it, then. Barbara had no need to think twice to assure
herself on that point. That the imputations on Alice which the
anonymous letter conveyed were unfounded, Barbara had not the smallest
doubt. She knew that her friend, though thoughtless, had never, even
in thought, been guilty; and knew that she now bitterly repented her
levity and silliness. It would be worse than cruel to let her know of
the existence of this document; it must be kept from her at all
hazards. Alice's horror of Mr. Beresford was now so great as to
require no fanning; and Barbara was certain that of her own free will
the widow would never see him again. But in the event of Mr.
Beresford's demanding an interview, what was to be done then? Poor
Barbara found it impossible to answer this self-proposed question; and
there was no one to whom she could apply for advice. Captain Lyster
had been her mainstay in several cases; but this was a delicate
matter, which it was impossible to make him acquainted with. Oh, if
she only had Frank to turn to! and that sent her thoughts reverting to
the handwriting. Whose could it be?--who could be the owner of that
fatal _griffe_, which seemed to bring desolation with it wherever it
arrived? And at the end of her reverie, finding herself no clearer in
her suspicions than she was at first, Barbara locked the note into her
desk, and determined to leave to chance the use she might eventually
make of it.



CHAPTER XXXIV.
ET TU BRUTE!


On the morning succeeding the day on which Mr. Schröder died, Mr.
Simnel sat in his room in the Tin-Tax Office, deep in a reverie. The
newspaper lay on the floor at his feet; he was slowly rubbing the knee
from which it had just fallen, and his other hand supported his chin.
The news had come upon him suddenly; and he was calmly thinking to
what results the occurrence might tend. Had he been at his club the
night before, he would have heard the whisper which, thanks to Dr.
Prater, was then permeating the West End; but on his return from Kate
Mellon's, Mr. Simnel had quietly dined in his own rooms, and there
remained for the rest of the evening, arranging his plans. Thus the
first intimation which he had received of the event was from the
columns of the newspaper then lying at his feet; in which a paragraph
headed "Sudden death of a City-merchant" had speedily claimed his
attention. Matters of weighty importance had Mr. Simnel to filter
through his mind in the course of that reverie. He was a
worldly-minded man, but by no means a bad man at heart; and the fact of
the rich man's death at that particular time struck him as specially
touching and softening. The newspaper described the anguish of the
dead man's widow as "inexpressible;" and though Simnel, from his
experience, was not inclined to lay much stress on the exactness of
that statement, yet he felt that in all probability the little woman
of whom he had heard so much, would probably be very much distressed.
From all he had learned, he believed that of late the relations
between her and her husband had been very much deepened and
strengthened. He guessed somewhat of this from the fact that Beresford
had been more than infrequent and shy in his allusions to that
_ménage_, and to the pursuit he was engaged in in that quarter.
Beresford? By Jove! then his chance was come much sooner than either
of them had anticipated! the great obstacle was removed, and he had
the course clear before him. No, not exactly clear; the manner of her
husband's death, the suddenness of it, would create a great revulsion
in Mrs. Schröder's mind, and greatly imperil Mr. Beresford's chances,
however strong they might be. Whether they were strong or not was a
matter of doubt in Mr. Simnel's mind; he had a great contempt for
Beresford's word, knowing him to be possessed of a happy inability to
speak truth; and sometimes he doubted whether his colleague had really
made any play worth mentioning at the house in Saxe-Coburg Square.
Then Mr. Simnel began rubbing his knee more violently than ever, as he
thought that the whole affair from first to last was very
disreputable, and one which redounded to the credit of no one engaged
in it. Would it not be better to drop Mr. Beresford altogether, and
leave him to fight his own way in the matter? It certainly would be
more honourable and satisfactory in every way; but then--why then, if
Mr. Beresford did not marry some rich woman (and Mrs. Schröder was his
best chance), he would go to the dogs; and then what would become of
his, Simnel's, eight hundred and twenty five pounds? Worse still, if
Beresford did not succeed with Mrs. Schröder, he might suddenly veer
round, and on the impulse of the moment, and under the pressure of
creditors, go up and declare for Kate Mellon's hand. And Simnel was by
no means certain that that young woman would decline such an offer,
even after all that had occurred; on the contrary, being naturally
suspicious, and on the present occasion jealous and in love, the
thought sent such a twinge through him, that he shrugged his
shoulders, and made up his mind that things must take their course.

As he sat there, rubbing his leg much more calmly after arriving at
this determination, the door opened, and Mr. Beresford entered the
room. He nodded airily, and, pointing to the newspaper on the floor,
said, "You've seen it, of course? That chattering doctor-fellow was
right, you see. What do you think of it?"

"Of it? of what? of Mr. Schröder's death, do you mean? I think it a
very sad thing."

"The devil you do!" said Mr. Beresford with a sneering laugh; "the
door's shut, Simnel; don't you think you'd better drop that innocence
when you and I tire alone together?"

He was a cur, this man, and instinctively a cad; he had been as
miserable as possible for weeks; but he thought he saw the breaking-up
of the dark clouds now, and immediately began to swagger and hector on
the strength of it.

"Be good enough to understand, Mr. Beresford, that that is language
which I don't permit _any body_ to use to me!" said Simnel, through
his shut teeth, and with a very white face; "I repeat that I think Mr.
Schröder's death a very sad thing. Why do you choose to sneer when I
say so?"

"No, no, not sneer: hang it, old fellow! you take one up so infernally
sharp. Bad thing, of course it is, for him, poor devil; but good thing
for me; and as you know rather more of me than you did of him, I
fancied I should have had your congratulations."

"Oh, I see," said Simnel; "you fancy you ought to have received my
congratulations: on what, may I ask?"

"Look here, Simnel!" said Beresford, turning savagely round; "drop
this infernal nonsense; it doesn't do here, and it's ill-timed. Don't
come the _non-mi-ricorde_ business, after having been arch-conspirator
and suggested every thing. Plainly, the death of this unfortunate man
is in my favour, because he was the principal obstacle in my way to
the success of our scheme; and he is removed."

"Well; looking at it in that way--"

"In that way! in what other way would you look at it? It's in a
remarkably _£ s.d_. kind of way that it presents itself to me, I can
tell you. I don't mind mentioning now, Simnel, what I shouldn't have
let on otherwise; that I'm tremendously dipped; in for--ay, I daresay,
three thousand more than you know any thing about; and here's the
chance come just in the nick of time."

"Where did you get in for this? and where did you get the money?"

"Get in for it? Doncaster, the Cæsarewitch, the Cambridgeshire! each
infernal thing went to the bad. I stood a cracker on the first; then
tried a pull through with the other two; and was all wrong with the
lot. Scadgers, Parkinson, and a new man, Barnett, of Stamford Street,
over the water, did the advances; but I should have looked very blue,
if this hadn't come off, I can tell you."

"You're a little sanguine, are you not? It _hasn't_ come off yet, has
it?"

"What a wet blanket you are, Simnel! No, of course not. Indeed there's
been a strong element of virtue and duty, and all that sort of thing,
introduced of late. But now there's no necessity for that. The actual
fancy and liking always existed, I flatter myself; and now all that
can be indulged in without the slightest suspicion of vice."

"To be sure, to be sure," muttered Mr. Simnel, ruminating; "you'll
have to proceed very cautiously; but that you'll of course
understand." Mr. Beresford, by this time half way to the door, nodded
his head and went out.

Some few days afterwards Mr. Simnel was again honoured by a visit in
his room from the Commissioner. The latter gentleman looked worn and
tired; he threw himself into a chair and began beating his boot with
his cane, and seemed altogether out of sorts. Mr. Simnel noticed all
this, and was tolerably prepared for what was coming. "What's the
matter, sir?" he asked quietly; "have you had too many papers to sign;
or are you annoyed at having to come down to this plebeian part of the
town so early as two o'clock; or haven't you had your lunch; or what
is it?"

"Don't chaff Simnel; I'm not in the humour for chaff just now. I'm
afraid I'm getting into a hole at last."

"What's the matter now?"

"Oh, these infernal fellows are putting on the screw--lawyer's
letters, writs, and all that rascally machinery; and I don't see a
chance of staving them off. If I could have said any thing about a
rich marriage now--"

"That's exactly what I was coming to. How about Saxe-Coburg Square?"

"Well, fishy, very fishy. I've called there three times; the last time
sending in specially and particularly to say that I wanted to speak to
her; and still the same answer--compliments--not kind regards, you
know--compliments, and utterly unable to see me. No hint of a future
opportunity--nothing!"

"That looks badly, certainly. What do you intend to do?"

"Do! Go there again. Have it out by hook or by crook. By Jove, I will
see her! I'll remind her that--"

"Doesn't this strike you as devilish low behaviour? Don't you see that
to thrust yourself in where you are evidently not wanted, to break in
upon the privacy of a lady, who is in the beginning of her first great
sorrow--"

"Oh, drop that, please. Doesn't it strike you that I owe you nearly
nine hundred pounds, and other people a great deal more; and that if
they're not paid, I shall be arrested and sold up? And don't you see,
therefore, that I _must_--No, by Jove! I don't see why I should;
you're quite right; it is an ungentlemanly business, and I'm sick of
all this dodging and duffing and forcing myself down the throat of a
woman whose liking for me seems to have gone off. But there's one who
would still seem to care about me, Simnel, my boy, I'll wager any
money; and one whom I've been a fool not to think of before--Kate
Mellon!"

385

"Kate Mellon?" echoed Mr. Simnel with scowling brows.

"Yes, Kate Mellon! She's got ready-money enough to pay off all my
ticks and set me square; and then I could keep square. I'm sure she'd
forget all that stupid business of which I told you; though I've never
seen her since. I could put that right in a minute; and--"

"I don't think it would do," said Mr. Simnel earnestly--"I don't think
it would do. Miss Mellon's status in society would be fatal to all
your hopes of advancement. Your aunt Lady Lowndes and the bishop would
cut you dead; and remember," added he, after a pause, and with an
attempt at a smile, very ghastly and gummy and forced, "I am
interested in this matter to the extent of eight hundred pounds, and I
don't think it would do. I'm disposed to recommend you to hold to the
other, which appears to me to want only a little patience, and--if I
understand from you the security of your position--an undoubted
declaration to bring to a favourable issue."

"And what would you advise?"

"A letter. I will draft you what I should suggest; and if you approve,
you can copy it, or embody it in any thing else you have to say to
Mrs. Schröder;" and Mr. Simnel sat down at once at his desk and began
to write. Mr. Beresford sat watching him the while. Not a change in
Simnel's face, not an inflexion of his voice, had escaped him; and he
wondered what it all meant, and in what Kate Mellon's fortunes could
have influence over the impassible secretary of the Tin-Tax Office.


Two days after this interview, Mr. Beresford called in Saxe-Coburg
Square and sent up his card, requesting an interview with Mrs.
Schröder. The usual message of excuse being returned to him, he gave
the servant a letter which he had brought with him, and begged that
the man would take it to his mistress; he would await the answer. Mrs.
Schröder, seated in her boudoir, read the note, seemed greatly
disturbed, told the man that she would send an answer downstairs by
her maid, and immediately rushed off to the adjacent bedroom, where
Barbara Churchill was lamenting all that had happened, and wondering
what was to be the end of her life.

"O Barbara, Barbara darling, what shall I do?" exclaimed the poor
little woman; "here is Mr. Beresford come again, and he wanted to see
me, and I said no, as we had determined, and then he sent me up this
dreadful letter! Oh, what shall I say to him, dear? oh, do help me,
there's a darling."

Barbara took the letter from Alice's shaking hand and read it. It was
not a pleasing composition; it began in an injured tone, and then grew
mysterious, and then almost threatening. The writer demanded an
interview, and justified his demand by referring to certain bygone
circumstances which the reader would readily remember; and the whole
tone was sentimentally prurient and offensive and objectionable in the
highest degree. Poor little Alice had not seen any thing of this kind
in it; she had merely found it "horrid" and "impertinent;" but
Barbara's cheek flamed as she perused it, and the tone of her voice
was rather sharp as she said, "Is the man still here, Alice?"

"What man, dear? Mr. Beresford?"

"Of course!--is there any other? Oh, he is here. Very well, then,
leave me this letter, and I will go down and speak to him about it."

"You'll see him, Barbara?"

"Yes," said Barbara, who was already opening her desk and looking for
something therein. "It will be the best way. You'll find he won't
trouble you any more." She kissed Alice at the door, and walking down
stairs and into the drawing-room, confronted Mr. Beresford.

That gentleman was seated near the window with book of photographs, at
which he was not looking, in his hand. He rose as he heard the door
open, and advanced rapidly when he saw the female figure: the room was
somewhat darkened by heavy curtains, and he could not clearly make out
who it was. When Barbara, stopping, pulled herself to her fall height,
he stopped, too, disappointed; he expected some one far less majestic.

"You wished to see Mrs. Schröder, I believe, Mr. Beresford," said
Barbara, after the first salutation: "I come as her representative."

"I am very sensible of the honour you do me, Mrs. Churchill," replied
Beresford; "but I fear that no representative will do. I want to speak
to Mrs. Schröder herself."

"That is impossible," said Barbara, calmly.

"Impossible is a very strong word, Mrs. Churchill. I sent Mrs.
Schröder a letter--"

"Oh, yes, here it is; it is about this letter that I have come to you.
You'll sit, Mr. Beresford, please; for this is likely to be a
prolonged talk. Now you know that I am Mrs. Schröder's oldest and most
intimate friend, and as such I am deputed to answer this letter."

"Pardon me, I have no grounds for believing the latter part--"

"Except my word; and you won't doubt that? No! I thought not! Now, Mr.
Beresford, I am about to  speak very plainly to you, always relying on
you as a gentleman. Mrs. Schröder is very young, and rather
thoughtless and not too much gifted with brains. Since you have been
acquainted with her, both before and after marriage, you have paid her
small attentions, such as no woman dislikes. They were attentions such
as the rigidly-censorious might shake their heads at; but which no
woman, knowing her own rectitude and conscious of the proper
understanding existing between her husband and herself, need have been
afraid of. But the case is altered now! Poor Alice is unfortunately
in the position of having no husband as her guide and safeguard,
and--these attentions must cease!"

"You speak as Mrs. Schröder's mouthpiece, Mrs. Churchill?"

"Precisely! In this letter which I have here, there is a tone which I
am sure you did not intend to convey; but about which it is my duty to
speak to you plainly. Under present circumstances Mrs. Schröder feels
it necessary to limit her knowledge of you to that of the merest
acquaintance. There is no other footing on which you can know each
other. If you were not what I know you to be, a gentleman, I should
point out that there is not, nor ever has been, any thing between you
which could lead you to any other supposition--no letters, no any
thing which ill-natured persons could lay hold of--you follow me?"

"Ye-es, ye-es!" said Beresford, feeling that he was outwitted.

"That is right--so, as you are a gentleman, I don't mind telling you
the urgent necessity for the adoption of this course. Notwithstanding
the absence of any such evidence as I have spoken of, the world has
chosen to talk."

"Ah, ah!" said Mr. Beresford, with a smile of returning satisfaction.

"Yes, in its usual base and unfounded manner. Here is an anonymous
letter which was addressed to the late Mr. Schröder."

"Let me look at it!" said Beresford, eagerly.

"It is here;" and Barbara handed to him the paper picked off the
library-floor by Dr. Prater.

Mr. Beresford took the letter from her hand. The instant his eye fell
on the handwriting, Barbara, who was looking at him steadfastly, saw
his colour change and his hand shake. But he read it through without
saying a word, and returned it to her with a bow.

"You will see now, Mr. Beresford, the utter impossibility of Mrs.
Schröder's permitting her acquaintance with you to continue," said
Barbara. "You will see that the note which you addressed to her can
have no answer but that which I have already given you; and that
henceforth, as a gentleman, you are bound in honour not to--"

"Of course! of course!" replied Beresford; "it is of the other letter
I am thinking now." And he set his teeth and struck his ungloved hand
violently with his cane. "You have introduced a new element into the
discussion, Mrs. Churchill, and you must pardon me if I close it here.
What my future course may be, circumstances must determine: I make no
promise, as I make no threats; but--"

"We will close the discussion at once, sir, if you please!" said
Barbara, haughtily.

"At once," said Beresford, with a bow. "Believe me that the advocacy
of that anonymous person--whose handwriting I recognise--though useful
perhaps, as time may prove--is by no means flattering."

He bowed again and left the room. "By no means flattering!" echoed
Barbara after he had gone; "it is, then, as I suspected, some horrible
wretch who has east this shadow over my life!"



CHAPTER XXXV.
BALTHAZAR.


Mr. Simnel sat calmly over his breakfast in his rooms in Piccadilly,
little dreaming of all that had occurred on the previous day in
Saxe-Coburg Square. He skimmed the newspaper; he dallied with his
toast; he laid down his knife and fork and paused in his meal, smiling
to himself with the air of a man who had reason for self-gratulation.
Such reason had Mr. Simnel. He had fought a very long and arduous and
up-hill fight--a fight in which the odds were all against him, and
which he had won entirely by patience and excellent generalship. And
now the difficulties were surmounted; the land lay straight before
him; and he was just about to clutch the prize which, with so much
trouble, he had won. "You shall have it, Robert!" those were the last
words which she had said to him; words which haunted his memory, which
he found himself repeating over and aver again. The woman he had loved
so long and so quietly, who at one time appeared far beyond the power
of his grasp, had succumbed; he had won her honestly, and by his own
tact and perseverance; and she would be his own! There would be a bar
sinister in her escutcheon, but what of that? Against herself, against
the propriety of her conduct, no one had ever dared to drop a hint.
Her father should make such a settlement on her as, coupled with his
own money, would relieve her from the necessity of pursuing her then
occupation, of doing any thing but play her part as mistress of her
house, and enjoy herself. What a fool was Beresford!--ah, that opened
up a fresh vein of thought! He had said yesterday that, failing in his
pursuit of Mrs. Schröder, should fall back on Kate Mellon, and try and
patch up that severed alliance. Simnel's heart beat loudly as this
recurred to his mind; he knew how deep had been the attachment which
Kate had formed for Beresford, and he was not sure that she would not
be even yet willing to listen to proposals of peace. She must not have
the chance--that was what he determined; and he rang his bell
hurriedly, and sat biting his nails until it was answered.

"You saw Mr. Scadgers?" he demanded of his servant.

"Yes, sir; he will be at your office at one o'clock."

"Good; now go over at once to Austin Friars to Mr. Townshend's office.
Tell the head-clerk," said he, taking a telegraphic despatch from his
pocket, "that his master will arrive at London Bridge at half-past
one, and that he must send some one to meet him. Say that I shall be
with Mr. Townshend at three sharp. You understand?" The valet answered
in the affirmative and left the room, returning in a few minutes and
ushering in Mr. Beresford. That gentleman looked any thing but happy;
his face was of a dull leaden hue, his eyes were dull and red-rimmed,
and the tell-tale muscles of his mouth were working visibly. He flung
himself into, a chair, and as soon as the door closed, said: "Here's a
devil of a go!"

"What's the matter, man?" asked Simnel. "Look here--you're all out of
sorts--lips going and hands shaking--just steady yourself before you
speak. Here!" and he unlocked a sideboard and placed a liqueur-stand
before his friend.

"That's better!" said Beresford, draining a wine-glass of brandy. "I am
all wrong, and enough to make me! Thought I'd catch you here before
you went down to work. I've no end to tell you--"

"Tell on!" said Mr. Simnel; and, so encouraged, Beresford narrated
every thing that had occurred between him and Barbara the preceding
day, respecting the anonymous letter and the conversation that had
ensued thereanent, word for word.

As Mr. Simnel listened his heart sunk within him, and it was with the
greatest difficulty that he prevented himself from displaying his
emotion. He succeeded, however, so admirably, that though the colour
of his face might have gone a shade or two paler, not a muscle of it
moved, and when Beresford stopped, he said, without a tremor in his
voice, "What do you intend to do?"

"To do!" screamed Beresford--"well, upon my soul, Simnel, you are a
wonderful man! I tell you this tremendous story, which, for heartless
villany, beats any thing I ever heard--and done by a woman too!--and
all you ask is, what I intend to do! Do!--I intend to punish that
she-devil, cost what it may! to--"

"Steady, sir! you're using strong language--"

"Oh! what! Kate Mellon, I mean; not Mrs. Schröder--my mind's made up
with regard to her! I shall--"

"Look here, Beresford; did you come here to rave and storm before me,
or to ask my advice?--which?"

"I don't know what the deuce you mean by raving and storming! You'd do
the same if you'd been treated in this way by a--there, never mind,
I'll take your advice if--"

"If it agrees with your own plans! generous creature! Now look here;
you're in a horrible state of rage and fever, in which you can do no
good. My advice to you is, to go away straight at once. Go out of town
somewhere for a fortnight, and then come back and see how the land
lies."

"And so lose every chance I've got! No, thank ye. You know all that
business yesterday was Mrs. Churchill, not Mrs. Schröder. I don't
believe the widow knows a word about that cursed letter; and there may
be a chance of getting over her yet, though that Churchill woman is as
deep as the Whissendine. She and I always hated each other, I think,
and I don't intend to let her beat me now; no! I've sent a line to
Mrs. Schröder marked private, without any flummery of former days, or
any thing of that sort,--simply begging her to meet me in the Row this
afternoon and give me five minutes' talk. If she does that, I think I
can put matters square; and if not--"

"And if not?"

"Well, if not, by George, Simnel, up goes the sponge, and no mistake.
There are three writs out against me, and I fancy some of Sloman's
people are on. There have been some fellows hanging about my door in
South Audley Street; and I fancy, from what Stephens says, they were
any thing but the right sort. What are you thinking about?"

"I was thinking," said Mr. Simnel slowly, "that if this Schröder
business does not come off,--and I don't think it will,--you'd better
send in a certificate from Prater or some one, and get away to the
Continent for six months."

"Well, we'll wait and see what to-day brings forth, at all events. If
it don't do, I'll very likely take your advice."

After Mr. Beresford had gone, Mr. Simnel sat with his feet on the
fender, slowly rubbing his knee. "It must be hurried through at once,"
he said to himself. "I'll square the settlement to-day; and if
Beresford fails with Mrs. Schröder, he must be got out of town and
abroad. Vengeance, eh? no, not quite that, my fine fellow. Long before
you come back, there'll be somebody with a right to interfere, if any
thing like vengeance is threatened."


And how fared it with Kate Mellon all this while? what had happened to
the pivot on which so many schemes of love and hate, of worship and
revenge, were turning? In a bad way was Kate Mellon mentally and
thence physically. The news of Mr. Schröder's death, which she
had read accidentally in an "odds and ends" column of a cheap
sporting-paper, had come upon her with a terrific shock. She had
compared dates, and found that it had happened on the day after the
despatch of her letter; and though there was nothing to create any
connexion between the circumstances, she felt a kind of horrible
impression that by her act she had hastened his end. This preyed upon
her mind; and as she had no one in whom to confide--(had Simnel come
up in the interval, it is probable that she would have told him all,
for the sake of getting a scrap of consolation, of advice--of mere
talk--so weightily did the retention of the secret lie on her),--she
fretted and worried herself, and each day grew more feverish, more
unsettled, more discontented. One horrible thought she had, which
swallowed up all the rest--might not she unconsciously have helped her
rival to her happiness! If this fair-haired woman cared for Charley,
as had been stated (and as she had seen with her own eyes), she could
not have cared for her husband. He was now removed, and there was
nothing to prevent a marriage between them. Here was a phantom which
nothing could lay; a spectre which would haunt her day and night, ever
mocking and gibing at her; and she tossed in ceaseless torture, and
grew paler and thinner, and took less interest in her business every
day.

On the day on which Mr. Beresford and Mr. Simnel had the conversation
just narrated, Kate Mellon lay on the sofa in her little drawing-room,
listless and drowsy, as was her wont nowadays, and with her head
buried in her hands. She roused herself at a loud knock at the door,
and bade the person enter. It was old Freeman, the stud-groom.

"Here's Hockley, miss, just coom down from town staäbles. Black harse
from Ireland, 'raived last neet."

"What horse, Freeman?"

"Waät harse, eh? Mai bairn, thee'rt gangin' daft wi' soommut; ai
heeard not waät! Waät harse? why, black harse we bought of Markis
Clonmel--black hoonter which Johnson wrote aboot last week."

"Ay, ay, I recollect! What does Hockley say of him?"

"Hockley says he's tearer! groom as browt him to steamer said as nowt
could hold him! I'se warrant we teach him manners!"

"Yes; I'll do that myself, and at once too! I want a little rousing.
Put a pair into the wagonette, Freeman, and drive me down to Down
Street. I'll give this horse a turn at once!"

Besides her establishment at The Den, Kate Mellon had a set of stables
near Piccadilly, which were mainly devoted to the reception of new
arrivals from the country, and as temporary resting-places for the
horses required for Rotten-Row pupils. These stables were equally
perfectly appointed with The Den; and when the wagonette containing
Kate and her head-groom drove in, she found a portion of her staff
ready to receive her.

"What's this new Irish horse like, Tanner?" said she to her town
manager.

"A bad 'un, miss; a rank bad 'un as ever stepped! Good 'oss, fine-made
'oss jump any think; good slopin' shoulders, and henormous quarters;
but the temper of--savin' your presence--the devil! He pinned one of
the men when he was a-dressin' him this morning, and his hi rolls
fearful;" and Mr. Tanner, who, though a thorough horseman, was an
undeniable Cockney, led the way towards the loose box where the new
arrival was standing. "They calls 'im Balthazar," said he; "and if
that means a out-an'-out bad 'un, they're right."

They found him in a loose box at the end of the yard, a big
brown-black horse, sixteen and a half, six off, with a long lean head,
deep neck, round barrel, deep chest, low back, short forehand, big
broad foot. As the door of the box opened he turned his eye round,
showing an inflamed white, put back his ears, and lashed out savagely.

"Hold on, mon!" said old Freeman; "steady, boy; let's look at thee;"
and the old man went fearlessly up to the horse's head, and placing
his hand in the head-collar, commenced turning him about.

"Send one of your men for my saddle, Tanner, and put No. 3 bridle on
him. Is No. 3 the one with the deep port? Yes, that's it," said she,
touching it with her whip. "I'll just see what he's made of in the
Row."

"Miss," said old Freeman, coming up close to her, and whispering,
"better wait till t'see waät's made of oop in tan-ride at
whoom--naästy brute, I'm thinkin' 't 'ill prove."

"Ah, never mind, Freeman; there's room in the Row to give him a very
good bucketing. Bring him out."

He came out with a bound, and backed and reared and kicked when any
one approached him, so that fully five minutes had elapsed before
Kate, with all her readiness and agility, found herself on his back.
Once mounted he started off at once, pelting over the uneven stones,
and slipping about in a manner that made old Freeman hold up his hands
and curse the Paving Commissioners, with even more than his usual
energy.

Down one incline of Piccadilly and up the other went Balthazar, now
and then trying his chance of a buck-jump, occasionally manifesting
his inclination to rear. So through the Arch and into the Row. There
Kate thought he might have his fling; there was no one within sight;
and "to take it out" of a brute like this was a feat in which at one
time she would have taken infinite pleasure; even now it promised some
excitement. So quietly drawing the curb and simultaneously touching
him with her heel, she felt the big brute give one tremendous plunge
and snort, and then dart off like lightning. And now Kate's colour
came again, and her heart leapt within her as she felt once more the
ecstasy of tearing speed. Away he goes, easy as a chair when once he
has settled into his stride, and with more real go in him than she has
felt in any horse she has ridden for months. Bravo, Balthazar! Whoop,
boy! get along! and the blue habit floats behind, and the gravel flies
round her, and she is going the real pace now, and no mistake! Who is
this rider creeping out across her path from beneath the trees?
Steady, boy, steady! by Jove, he's got the bit between his teeth, and
there's no stopping him! Soho, soho, man! a shake--another; that's
done it! the bit's free, and she pulls him up easily; and to her
pulling him rides up a man, flushed, with working lips and scarlet
face--Charles Beresford. She stares at him with starting eyes and
compressed lips, through which comes the word "Charley!"

"It _is_ you, you she-devil, is it?" said Beresford: "I thought it
must be. This is fate that has sent you here to hear me curse you. I
know what you've done, fast enough. You thought you could stab in
secret, did you, you Jezabel? and without its being known where the
blow came from! But I saw your infernal hand, and when I saw it, I
cursed you as I curse you now!"

"Charley! Charley! oh, for God's sake; oh, if ever you cared for me--"

"Cared for you! I never did! I told you so--told you at least as
plainly as a man could tell a woman; and then in sheer revenge--in
dirty, low, mean revenge--you do this; but I'll be even with you.
I'll--stand off, curse you! take your hand off, I say--"

She had laid her hand on his arm. He shook it off roughly, and in
shaking it off raised his whip-hand spasmodically, and struck
Balthazar sharply in the mouth. The Irish horse reared up on end
straight as a dart, forced to his feet, plunged for an instant,
and then started off in a mad gallop. Kate sat like a rock,
pulling--pulling without the slightest effect. Then looking down she
saw he had his eye turned back towards her, and held the bit in a firm
grip between his teeth. This time the shake was no use; he would not
loose his grip, and the bit was useless. They are nearing the end of
the Row, and she remembers, shudderingly, the heavy iron gates,
between which it would be impossible to steer him. If she could but
turn him into the Drive, and so head up towards the Serpentine bridge!
A touch with her leg and a sharp tug at the rein; the Irish horse
rises like a bird at the iron bars, but touches them with his
fore-feet, and falls headlong into the Drive, rolling over on to his
rider, who lies there crushed and motionless.



CHAPTER XXXVI.
"BE SURE YOUR SIN WILL FIND YOU OUT."


When Mr. Scadgers walked into the lobby of the Tin-Tax Office soon
after noon on the day on which Mr. Beresford had announced to Mr.
Simnel his intention of taking some decisive step in the Schröder
business, he asked to be shown to Mr. Simnel. The abruptness and
audacity of this demand struck dismay into the breasts of the
attendant messengers; they could scarcely believe their ears. Mr.
Scadgers was not unknown in the classic regions of Rutland House: in
all the various departments of that grand governmental hive he drove a
roaring trade; and though it was mostly carried on by correspondence,
or through agents, yet he occasionally appeared in person on the
scene, notably on Quarter-days, for the purpose of "bouncing" an
instalment out of recalcitrant debtors. So, had he inquired for any of
the junior clerks, or for any recognised black sheep of higher
standing, he would have been quietly shown into the waiting-room
apportioned for the reception of the public, and a light-heeled
Mercury would have been torn from the perusal of the newspaper, and,
with his tongue in his cheek, have been started off to summon the
indebted one. But when Mr. Simnel's name was mentioned, it was quite a
different thing. The head messenger, who had never before attended to
Mr. Scadgers, condescended to listen to what he had to say, at the
same time deadening any hopes which might have been entertained with a
chilling shoulder-shrug. "I'll see, sir," said he,---"I'll see; but I
think the Seckittary is partic'lar engaged just now: if you'll take a
seat, sir, I'll let him have your name; but--" "That's all; you tell
him I'm here," said Mr. Scadgers, simply; "I'll stand the racket about
his seeing me or not." The chief messenger shook his head as he walked
slowly towards the secretarial apartment: he knew that no business in
Mr. Scadgers's peculiar line could be on foot between that worthy and
Mr. Simnel; for did not he, the chief messenger, take the Secretary's
pass-book to the bank; did he not pay-in moneys, and get cash for his
master's cheques; and was he not consequently aware that a very
capital balance was always standing in Mr. Simnel's name? What could
it be? The chief messenger's astonishment was increased when he
received his orders to show the "party of the name of Scadgers" in at
once to the secretarial presence; was at its height when, bidden to
send for a cab, he saw the Secretary and Mr. Scadgers drive away
together.

Arrived at Austin Friars, Mr. Simnel bade his companion wait in the
outer office, while he himself was shown into the sanctum. He found
Mr. Townshend somewhat aged and broken, but invested with all such
relics of his former haughtiness as he could command. He received his
visitor with studied cold politeness, pointed him to a chair, and
waited for him to speak.

"I was sorry," began Simnel, "to be compelled to ask you to return
home; but the fact is that the business was urgent, and I had no
alternative. You comprehend?"

"I comprehend, sir," answered Mr. Townshend, "that the last time I saw
you you proved yourself possessed of a secret, on the keeping of which
depends my--almost my life! The possession of this secret enables you
to dictate terms to me at your own convenience. Your convenience is
now. You ordered me to come here to hear your terms, and I am here.
Isn't that so?"

"You put matters a little harshly, Mr. Townshend; as, when you have
heard what you are pleased to call my terms, I think you will allow. I
do not come merely to dictate terms to you, as I at one time thought I
should. There are wheels within wheels in my scheme; and I must take
off the front, and show you the whole scheme at work before you will
be able to see the mechanism of it. The last time I had the pleasure
of talking with you, you asked me what I wanted; I told you nothing.
Since then I have made up my mind. I want justice!"

"Justice!" echoed the old man, turning deadly white; "justice!"

"Justice!" said Simnel; "not _on_ any one though, merely _for_
somebody. Pardon my again asking about that door. Nobody to listen,
eh? All right! Last time I was here I had a notion in my head, which
has since resolved itself into a certainty, and into the pivot on
which all my action turns. I must bore you with old memories once
more, I'm afraid. You recollect that, while you were at Combcardingham
with our old friends Piggott and Wells, you formed an acquaintance
with a very pretty girl--a 'hand' in one of the factories? You shake
your head, eh? it _is_ a long time since, and these sort of things get
pushed from one's mind by other affairs, and--however, I think you'll
recollect her when I mention her name. Does the name Ann Moore convey
to you--Ah! I thought so! I'll wait a minute, if you please; there's
no hurry."

"Go on, sir; go on!" said Mr. Townshend, whose face was hidden in, and
supported by, his hands.

"An attachment sprung up between you and Ann Moore, I think, which was
the cause of great distress to her only relation, a brother, with whom
she lived. This brother and you exchanged words--if not blows--on this
subject, and the result was that the girl left her brother and went to
live with you. Did you speak?"

If he had spoken, he did not repeat what he had said, but sat there
still and silent.

"She had been living with you for about a year when that unfortunate
affair of the acceptance happened. You were obliged to leave
Combcardingham; but you were not obliged, so far as I can make out, to
leave it as you did--without giving her the least notion of your
intention; without leaving her one shilling to support herself or your
little child! She could not go back to the factory; she had not been
there since the child's birth; and she was weak and ill, and unable to
do the work. So she and the child starved."

"Great God!" cried the old man, looking up in horror--"starved?"

"Well--for all you had to do with it! You're just as much a murderer
as if they actually had perished of want, leaving them as you did But
they didn't. Neighbours found them out only just in time; found out
her brother; and he, when he found you'd gone off, came round and took
his sister to his heart again. He was a printer just starting for
himself, and he took his sister--she'd always been his favourite--to
his new home; and there she died three weeks after her arrival."

"Died? Ann died? not of--"

"No, not of starvation, if you mean that; they said she died of a
broken heart at having been deserted by the man she worshipped; but we
know by medical science that that's an impossibility--don't we? At all
events, she died; and then the printer, who was a rising man, looked
after the little girl. He looked after her in an odd way. He had a
foster-brother, who was a rider in a circus; and when the little girl
was six years old he placed her with the circus-people, where she
remained until he started her in life on her own account."

"She lived, then?"

"Oh dear, yes; lived considerably; lives now and flourishes, and does
extremely well. You have heard of a riding-mistress and horsebreaker,
Miss Kate Mellon?"

"I have heard of such a person; and I have not heard--"

"Steady, please! Kate Mellon is Ann Moore's daughter. I need not point
out her relationship to you. You shake your head. Proofs of course you
want? I've taken the liberty of ringing the bell. Be good enough,"
added Mr. Simnel, to the clerk who appeared, "to tell that person who
is waiting outside to step in. Do you recognise him?" he asked of Mr.
Townshend, as Scadgers entered the room.

Mr. Townshend, shading his eyes with his hand, looked long at the
new-comer, and then said, "It is George Moore!"

"Right enough, sir," said Mr. Scadgers; "though it's many a long day
since we met; and we're neither of us so young as then. Lord bless me!
when I look at the Runner--we used to call him the 'Runner' because of
Townshend of Bow Street, which was a nickname for him," added he,
turning to Mr. Simnel,--"when I look at the Runner, and think how long
it is since I left my mark on him about--"

"We won't trouble you for details," interrupted Mr. Simnel; "this
gentleman acknowledges you as George Moore. Will you state whether you
are the brother of Ann Moore; and if so, what became of her and her
child?"

"Ann Moore was my sister," said Scadgers in a low voice, "as this man
knows well enough. After he left the town suddenly and without giving
her any notice, without leaving her any money, without--there, though
it's so long ago, it makes me mad now when I think of it. When he left
her starving and penniless, I took such care of her and the little one
as best I could. Then--poor Ann died, and the child came to me. Young
Phil Fox was my foster-brother; and he saw the little girl, and his
wife took a sort of fancy to her, having none of their own. So I
apprenticed her to old Fox, and she was with him for years, until I
had got on in life and made some money; and then I thought I'd do what
was right by the child, not letting myself be known in the matter, for
I couldn't get over poor Ann's disgrace; and I fetched her away and
had her put to business for herself."

"You didn't have her called by her mother's or her father's name, I
believe?"

"No; her mother's name was shame to me; her father's would have been
worse; so I called her Kate Mellon, after my mother's people; and by
that name she's gone ever since."

"Thank you. You hear this testimony, Mr. Townshend; you--"

"I hear! I hear!" said the old man testily. "I hear what may possibly
be a clever story arranged between two men for the purposes of
extortion--"

The black cloud settled on Mr. Simnel's face; but before he could
speak, Scadgers burst in: "Extortion: if I'd wanted any thing of you,
Mr. George Townshend, shouldn't I have had it years ago? I've known
where you've been and what money you've been making for the last
eighteen years; and if I'd wanted any thing of you, I could have come
down on you at any time. But I scorned it for me or for my sister's
flesh and blood, just as I scorn it now! Extortion! why--"

"There! you're very naturally annoyed and excited, my good sir; but I
think we shall bring Mr. Townshend to reason," said Mr. Simnel. "I
don't think I need detain you any longer. I shall see you in a very
short time, and, I hope, have some satisfactory news to communicate.
Good-day!" and Mr. Simnel shook hands with Mr. Scadgers, who made a
very curt bow to Mr. Townshend, and departed. Then Simnel turned to
the old man, and said, "I make every allowance for your annoyance in
this matter, Mr. Townshend; but you can no longer really doubt the
truth of this statement."

"And suppose I admit it, sir; what then? To what end have you hunted
up this story and--and the other, which you hold _in terrorem_ over
me? What views of yours am I to meet: What price am I to pay for past
follies?"

"Follies is an easy word," said Simnel, with a grim smile; "but I
don't think my proposition is a hard one. I am attached to Miss
Moore--Kate Mellon--call her what you like--your daughter, I
mean--honourably attached to her; but you, as a man of the world, will
see that it would be impossible for me to marry a girl who is simply
known for her eccentricity and her daring; who has no position in
society--no relations--no any thing which the world demands, save
money, and even of that she has not sufficient. You follow me?"

"Yes, sir, yes," said Mr. Townshend, who had again buried his face in
his hands.

"Well, then, what I propose," said Simnel, who was getting annoyed at
the old man's manner, "and what, moreover, I intend, by means of the
hold which I have over you, to carry out, is this: you must
acknowledge this young lady as your daughter; take her to your house,
and let her live there for a month or two; let our wedding--a formal
wedding, with all friends invited--take place from there; and you must
give her ten thousand pounds."

"I refuse!" said Mr. Townshend; "I entirely refuse; I--"

"Oh, no, you don't," interrupted Mr. Simnel; "you'll think better of
it. Why shouldn't you? You gave Mrs. Schröder, who didn't want it at
all, twenty thousand; but you're not so well off just now, I know."

"How do you know that, you who are so well-informed on all my
affairs?"

"Well, I think I know pretty nearly every shilling you have out," said
Simnel, rubbing his knee; "and Cotopaxis and Tierra del Fuegos have
gone down like water lately. No; as matters stand, I'll be content
with ten thousand."

"I did not so much mean about the money. I do not say that I would not
pay the sum you name to be rid of the annoyance; but I will never
undergo the humiliation of acknowledging that connexion."

"Better that than the humiliation of standing in the Old-Bailey dock!
Better that than stone-quarrying at Portland at your time of life,
sir, I can tell you, besides humiliation. Nonsense! It is not as if
the acknowledging this daughter would hurt the prospects of the other.
She has done with you now. If she marries again, it will be as Mr.
Schröder's widow, without reference to you. Don't you understand?"
("He didn't like that allusion to Portland," said Simnel to himself.
"I distinctly heard his teeth chatter as I said the word.")

"I did not so much mean about the money. I do not say that I would not
pay the sum you name to be rid of the annoyance; but I will never
undergo the humiliation of acknowledging that connexion."

"Better that than the humiliation of standing in the Old-Bailey dock!
Better that than stone-quarrying at Portland at your time of life,
sir, I can tell you, besides humiliation. Nonsense! It is not as if
the acknowledging this daughter would hurt the prospects of the other.
She has done with you now. If she marries again, it will be as Mr.
Schröder's widow, without reference to you. Don't you understand?"
("He didn't like that allusion to Portland," said Simnel to himself.
"I distinctly heard his teeth chatter as I said the word.")
"And suppose I were to consent to this proposition, sir," said the old
man in a tremulous voice, "what guarantee have I that you might not
come upon me at some future time for more money, or the gratification
of some other wish; and that, on my refusal, you might not betray that
horrible secret which you hold?"

"Now, my dear sir, there your usual sound common-sense has for once
deserted you. Is it likely that, when once you are my father-in-law, I
should proclaim a gentleman whose connexion with me I had taken so
much pains to make public, as--pardon me--as a felon?"

Mr. Townshend cowered back in his chair, as Simnel, leaning forward to
impart additional earnestness to his manner, uttered these last words.
For a minute or two there was a dead silence; then the old-man, with a
terrible effort at collecting himself, asked, "When do you require an
answer to this demand?"

"An answer? Immediately! I cannot conceive that there can be any
question as to the answer to be returned. I am sure that you, my good
sir, could not be mad enough to object to what is, under all the
circumstances, really a very reasonable proposition. I merely
want you to pass your word to agree to what I have placed before you,
and we will then settle the time for carrying the arrangement into
effect."

"What delay will you grant me?"

"Now, upon my word, Mr. Townshend," said Simnel, in a semi-offended
tone, "this is scarcely polite. You ask for delay, as though you were
ordered for execution, instead of having what might have been a very
unpleasant affair settled in a thoroughly satisfactory manner."

"You must pardon me, sir," said Mr. Townshend; "I am an old man now. I
am broken with illness; and this interview has been too much for me.
Pray end it as speedily as possible." Indeed he looked as wan and
haggard as a corpse.


"Poor devil!" thought Simnel, "I pity him thoroughly. But there must
be no shrinking now, and no delay, or that Schröder-Beresford business
may fall through; and then--" "I must get you to act at once, then,
Mr. Townshend, if you please," he said aloud. "Your daughter had
better come to you at once, and we can then be married in a month or
six weeks' time."

Mr. Townshend bowed his head. "As you please, sir; perhaps you will
see me again to-morrow, or the day after. Just now I can settle
nothing; my head is gone." And so the interview ended.

"I must keep him to it, by Jove!" soliloquised Mr. Simnel; "and pretty
tight too, or it will fall through yet. He looked horribly ill, and
he'll be going off the hooks without any recognition or any
settlement, and then we should be neatly in the hole; for, of course,
not one single soul would believe the story of Kitty's birth, though
told by me and sworn to by Scadgers. And now I must let her know the
whole truth, and ask for the reward. It's been a hard fight, and it
isn't won yet."



CHAPTER XXXVII.
MINISTERING ANGELS.


A crowd gathered round her in an instant. A nursery-maid, with her
shrieking, frightened, inquisitive charges; a man who had been reading
a book, and who still retained it open in his hand; a Life-guardsman
who, jauntily striding along with a cane under his arm, had seen the
horse jump and fall, and had him by the bridle so soon as he staggered
to his feet, after rolling; a few vagrant boys, who came whooping from
under the trees where they had been at play; and two old gentlemen,
who had been silently pacing up and down together. Flecked with foam,
covered with gravel, and bleeding at the knees and mouth, Balthazar
stood trembling all over; and now and then looking down in wonder at
his mistress who lay there, her head supported on a man's knee, her
face deadly white, with one small thread of blood trickling down her
forehead. The man on whose knee she lay passed his hand rapidly down
her side and in the region of her heart. He was a park-keeper--a big
brown-bearded man, whose decorated breast showed what deadly service
he had seen--a stalwart giant with the heart of a child, for the tears
were in his eyes, and his voice was any thing but steady as he looked
up and said, "It beats yet!" It was to the guardsman he said it--the
guardsman, who gave Balthazar's bit a wrench, and who muttered hearty
curses on the horse for spoiling the beauty of such a comely lass.

"All your fault, you blunder-headed brute, it was! The lady sat him
like a bird, but he got the bit between his teeth and came bolting
down the Row; and when she tried to turn him over the rails, he jumped
short, the beast, and went slap on to his head. Yarr!" and he gave the
horse another chuck in the mouth, and looked as if he would have liked
nothing so well as to punish him on the spot.

As he spoke, a carriage drawn by a pair of horses came whirling down
the Drive. It contained two ladies, one of whom, seeing the crowd, sat
up, and pointed it out to her companion. Then they both looked eagerly
out, and checked the coachman just as they reached the spot. By his
mistress's orders the footman descended, inquired what had happened,
and returned to the carriage to report. The next minute Alice
Schröder, closely followed by Barbara Churchill, was kneeling by Kate
Mellon's side.

What was it?--how had it happened?--who was the lady?--did any one
know her?--had a doctor been sent for? These questions were asked in a
breath, and almost as speedily answered. The story of the accident, so
much of it at least as had been witnessed, was narrated. The
park-keeper knew the lady by sight as a constant rider in the Row,
always splendidly mounted, generally with other ladies, who, he
thought, were pupils like; real ladies, the latter, and no doubt
about it; for he thought he saw a glimmer of distrust in Barbara's
eye; and this poor lady regularly like one of themselves. Poor lady!
always so affable, giving "Good morning" to him and the other
park-keepers--never knew her name, no; but no harm in her--one of the
right sort, take his word for it. Had a doctor been sent for? Yes; two
of the vagrant boys had been started off by the man with the book to
fetch the nearest surgeon; but in the mean time several other persons
had come up; among them a tall thin gentleman on an old white horse.
This gentleman dismounted at once, quietly pushed his way through the
crowd, knelt down by poor Kate Mellon's senseless body, and placed his
finger on her pulse; then, looking up with a grave, thoughtful,
professional smile into Mrs. Schröder's face, said:

"You are a friend of this lady's?"

"Only in my desire to serve her," said poor little Alice, who was the
best-hearted little creature in the world, and who was bursting with
philanthropy. "Why do you ask?"

"Simply that she must be moved to the nearest house as quietly and as
quickly as possible. I am Dr. B.," continued the gentleman, naming a
well-known physician; "but this is a surgeon's case, and should be
seen by a surgeon at once. I fear St. George's is almost too far off."

"St. George's!" said Alice. "Oh, she must not go to an hospital;
she--"

"My dear lady," said the old physician, "she could not go to any place
so good; but it is a little far off."

"Then let her go to my house," said Alice. "I live close here--in
Saxe-Coburg Square--just through Queen's Gate. Let us take her there
at once, and--"

"My dear young lady," said Dr. B., "you scarcely know what trouble you
are entailing on yourself. This poor girl is in a very bad way, I am
sure, from the mere cursory examination I have been able to make.
And--and, pardon me," he added, glancing at Alice's widow's-cap, "but
you, surely, have seen enough trouble already for one so young."

"Will you be kind enough to superintend her being lifted into the
carriage?" was all Alice said in reply. And the doctor bowed, and
looked at her with a wonderfully benevolent expression out of his keen
gray eyes.

Where had Barbara been during this colloquy? Where, but at the side of
the prostrate figure, staunching the little stream of blood that welled
slowly from the wound in the forehead, and bathing the deadly-cold
brow and the limp hands with water that had been fetched from the
neighbouring Serpentine. And then, at the doctor's suggestion, the
park-keeper fetched a hurdle from the enclosure, and this they
stretched across the seats of the carriage, and, covering it with
Shawls and cloaks and wraps, lifted on to it the prostrate form of
Kate Mellon, and with Alice and Barbara attendant on her, and the
doctor riding close by, they drove slowly away.

Informed by the doctor that it would be dangerous to attempt to carry
the patient upstairs, Mrs. Schröder had sent the footman on with
instructions; and by the time they arrived at the house they found
that a bed had been prepared in the library, a room on the ground
floor, unused since Mr. Schröder's death. As they passed through
Queen's Gate Dr. B. had cantered off, promising to return in a minute,
and they had scarcely laid poor Kitty on the bed before he appeared,
followed by a handsome bald-headed man, with a keen eye and a smile of
singular sweetness, wham he introduced as Mr. Slade, the celebrated
surgeon of St. Vitus's.

"I thought I recognised Slade's cab standing at a door in
Prince's Terrace. He drives the most runaway horse in the most easily
over-turned vehicle in London; but I suppose he thinks he can set his
own neck when he breaks it, which he is safe to do sooner or later; so
I rode round, and fortunately caught him just as he was coming out. And
now I'll leave the case in his hands; it would be impossible to leave
it in better." And so saying, Dr. B. bowed to the ladies, exchanged a
laugh and a pinch of snuff with his brother-professional, and took his
leave.

Mr. Slade then approached the bed, and made a rapid examination of the
patient, the others watching him anxiously. His face revealed nothing,
nor did he speak until he sent one of the servants for a small square
box, which was, he said, in his carriage. While waiting for this,
Alice took heart to speak to him, and ask him if the case was very
serious.

"Very," was his quiet reply. "Could scarcely be worse."

"But there _is_ hope?"

"There is always hope," said the old man, his lace lighting up with
his sweet grave smile; "but this is a very bad case. The poor girl's
ribs are severely fractured, and there is concussion here," pointing
to the head, "which causes her insensibility. The box--thank you. Now,
ladies, will you kindly leave the room, and I will join you
presently."

When he came into the drawing-room, he said, "It is a compound
fracture, and of a very bad kind. I fear she will never pull through;
if she does, she must never dream of work again. I presume you ladies
have been pupils of hers?"

"Pupils!" said Alice; "no, indeed; was she a governess?"

"We do not even know this poor lady's name," said Barbara; "we saw the
accident, and Mrs. Schröder had her brought here at once."

"Mrs. Schröder is an angel of mercy," said Mr. Slade, with an
old-fashioned bow. "This poor girl lying downstairs is Miss Mellon, a
riding-mistress; a most correct and proper person, I've always heard,
and one who had a great deal to do in breaking and training horses.
I've often seen her in the Park; she rode splendidly; and I cannot
conceive how this accident occurred."

"Do you think her senses will return--that she will be able to express
any wishes--before--"

"I should think so," said Mr. Slade, not permitting Barbara to finish
the sentence; "I think she will probably recover from the concussion,
and then she will be sensible. It is the fracture I fear. I'll send a
man to her place in Down Street, to let them know where she is, and
I'll look round again this evening."

SO there Kate Mellon lay helpless, senseless, motionless, watched over
unconsciously by two women, one of whom she hated deeply, and by the
other of whom she was held in the greatest detestation. There she lay
through the dreary afternoon, through the long evening,--when Mr.
Slade came again bringing with him one of the hospital-nurses,--and
through the dead solemn night. Very early the next morning, between
seven and eight, Barbara, on her way from her bedroom to the library,
was surprised to see Mr. Slade enter the hall, and expressed her
surprise.

"Well, it _is_ early," said the kind-hearted surgeon; "but, my dear
Mrs. Churchill, I've taken a great interest in this poor girl; and as
I always take a constitutional round the Park before breakfast, I
thought I'd just run across and see her.--Well, nurse, what news?
None, eh? Just raise that curtain the least bit--that'll do. Hm!
she'll get rid of the concussion; but--hm! well, well, not our will,
but Thine; hm, hm! Any body come after her yesterday?"

"An old bailiff or stud-groom," said Barbara, "came down in the
evening, and entreated to be allowed to see his Mistress. I told him
that was impossible, and explained the state of things to him myself.
Poor fellow, he was dreadfully overcome, the tears rolled down his
cheeks, and he bemoaned his mistress's fate most bitterly."

"Hm! right not to let him see her then; could have done no good. But
she'll probably come to her senses during the day, and then, if she
asks to see any body--well, send for them. The refusal might irritate
her, and--and it can make very little difference."

"You think then she is--in danger?" asked Barbara.

"My dear young lady," said he, taking her hand, "in the greatest
danger. If inflammation of the lungs sets in, as I much fear it will,
nothing can save her.--Nurse, I'll write a prescription for a cordial.
If she speaks, and sends for any one, give it to her just before they
come. It will revive her for a time."

About midday, when Alice had gone out for a little air, and Barbara
was left alone with the nurse and the patient, there came a groan from
the bed, and running up together, they found Kate with her eyes open,
staring vaguely before her. After a few minutes she spoke, in a hoarse
strange voice.

"What's this?" she said. "Have I missed my tip at the ribbons and had
a spill? Lord, how old Fox will give it me! A-h, my side! This must
have been a bad cropper, eh? Hollo! I was fancying I was at the old
circus, again. Where am I? who are you? what has happened?"

"You are, with friends," said Barbara, kneeling by the bed; "you have
had an accident, and--"

"Ah, now I recollect! the Irish horse bolted and blundered at the
rails! How long ago was it?"

"Yesterday, about this time."

"And I was brought here--to your house! What a kind voice you've got!
and I'm bad, eh? I know I must be from the pain I'm in; my side
hurts me most awful. Has the doctor seen me? what doctor?"

"Mr. Slade: you've heard of him?"

"Oh, yes, seen him often; drives a rat-tailed bay in a D'Orsay cab;
goes the pace; often wondered he didn't break his neck. What does
he--oh! my side!" She groaned deeply, and while groaning seemed to
drop off into a heavy stertorous slumber.

When she roused again Mr. Slade was standing over her holding her
pulse. "Well," he asked in a gentle voice, "you know me? Ah, of course
you do! I've seen you taking stock of my old rattletrap, as you've
spun by me, and laughing at my nag. Pain still? kind of pressure, eh?
Yes, yes, my poor lass, I know what you mean; so dreadfully weak too;
yes, yes. What, danger? Wen, my dear, there's always danger in these
cases; and one never knows. Not afraid? no, my brave girl, I know your
courage; but--well, there's no harm in settling any little matters
which--eh? if in God's will we come all right, there's no harm done,
and,---yes, yes; rest now a bit; I'll see you again to-night." And Mr.
Slade hurried into his carriage, blowing his Rose very loudly indeed
with his red-silk pocket-handkerchief, and with two large tears on his
spectacle-glasses..

When the door had shut behind him, Kate called the nurse in a feeble
voice, and bade her send for the lady to whom she had previously
spoken. In answer to this call, Barbara was speedily by the bedside.

"You--you don't mind my sending for you! do you, dear?" asked Kate, in
a low tremulous voice.

"Mind, my poor child,--mind! of course not. What is it, dear?"

"I want you to--do you mind, giving me your hand? I can't reach it
myself--so, dear; thank you. I want you to do something for me. I--I'm
dying, dear--oh, don't shrink from me--I know it; he tried to hide it
from me, that kind old man, and bless him for it! but I saw how he
looked at the nurse, and I heard her whispering to him behind the
screen. I don't fear it, dear. I know--well, never mind! I want to see
two people before I go; and I want you to send for them and let them
come here, and let me talk to them--will you, dear?"

"Why, of course, of course," said Barbara, the tears streaming down
her cheeks; "but you mustn't talk in this way,--you mustn't give way
so--no one can tell how this will turn out."

"_I_ can," said Kate quietly. "I seemed to know it when I heard the
click of that horse's shoes against the iron railing. It all rose
before me in an instant, and I knew I was a dead woman. You can't
conceive--I haven't said much--but you can't conceive what torture I'm
going through with my side. It burns and burns, and presses--there! I
won't say any more about it. Now, dear, will you put down the names of
the people who are to be sent to?"

"I shall recollect them; tell me now."

"Well, Mr. Simnel, Tin-Tax Office, Rutland House--"

"Yes; and--"

"And Frank Churchill, Esq.--oh, how your grasp tightens on my hand!
Frank Churchill, Esq., _Statesman_ newspaper-office--in the City
somewhere--they'll find it. What is the matter, dear? You heard me?"

"Yes," said Barbara faintly; "they shall be sent for at once."

"At last," said she to herself when she had regained her own room,
after despatching the messenger--"at last I shall be enabled to fathom
this horrible mystery, and to show those who have doubted, that I was
not wrong, after all, in taking the decisive step which I did. If this
wretched creature prove to be--as I suppose she will--Frank's
correspondent both at Bissett and at home; if--and yet Mr. Slade said
he believed her to be a perfectly correct and proper person, else he
would not have permitted her to be received here. Mr. Slade's
belief--what is that worth? Is it possible that--no! Here is a woman,
poor creature, believing herself to be on her deathbed, and sending
for my husband,--a woman of whose existence I have never heard, who is
obviously not a person of society, and yet who--great Heavens, if it
be proved!--if the worst that I have dared to imagine be proved! And
yet lately I have felt that that is impossible, in thinking over
Frank's character and ways of life, in thinking over all he has said
of dishonour and deception, I have felt certain that--and yet here is
this woman sending for him not to his private house,--'_Statesman_
office, somewhere in the City--they'll find it.' _Statesman_ Office!
That's where the first letter was addressed, and redirected to
Bissett; and the second letter,--the envelope, I mean,--now I think of
it, was sent to the same place. It _must_ be the same. And yet how
sweet, and patient, and resigned she is! how quiet and calm,
and--Frank Churchill, Esq.--no mistake in both the names! Who is the
other man, I wonder? Frank Churchill! what an extraordinary fate has
planned this for us! I'll see their interview, and hear all that she
has to say; and then if--of course it can't be otherwise--what other
solution can there be? If Frank has intrigued with this--and she going
to die too; lying there at the point of death, and looking up into my
face with so much gratitude and affection--oh, Heaven direct me! I'm
at my wits'-end!" and Barbara threw herself on her bed and wept
bitterly.

The short dim twilight had faded into dusk before the cab containing
the messenger and the two gentlemen whom he had been sent to fetch
arrived at the house. They were ushered at once into the dining-room,
where they were received by Pilkington the butler, who produced
refreshment. That being declined, they were shown into the library. In
the middle of the room stood the bed in deep shadow; across the far
end of the room stood a large folding screen, almost hidden by which
was a woman with her back to them, bending over a table and apparently
engaged in compounding some medicine or drink. A shaded lamp placed on
a table between the bed and the screen shed a dim light throughout the
room. As the door opened, Mr. Simnel entered first, with a faltering
step, strode swiftly to the bedside, and then dropped on to his knees,
burying his face in his hands. Kate moved her arm with great
difficulty until her hand rested on his head, and then she said, half
trustingly, half reproachfully, "Robert!" There was no spoken reply,
but the man's big strong frame heaved up and down convulsively, and
the tears came rushing thick as rain through his closed fingers.

"Robert, my poor fellow! you must not give way so; you'll break me
down. I hadn't a notion you--and yet how faithfully you've served! I
saw it, Robert; I knew it long ago, when--ah, well, all over now; all
over now, Robert, eh?--What, Guardy, you here too! That's well. Ah, I
feel so much more composed now I see your dear solemn old face. You
came at once."

"Came at once, my poor child--my poor dear child--" and Churchill's
voice failed him and he stopped.

"Now, Guardy, come! You won't have much more trouble with your
bothering charge, and you must be steady now. It gives me fresh
courage, I declare, to hear your solemn voice and to know that you're
at my very side for all sorts of serious advice.--Now, Robert, you
know that I'm in a bad way; that I'm going to--no, no, be a man,
Robert; you'll upset me, if you give way so,--Guardy, this gentleman,
Mr. Simnel, has been very, very kind to me for a long, long time. He
wanted to marry me, Guardy; and wanted me to have a proper place as
his wife, and so he's been hunting up all about my friends and my
birth and that, and he's found out a lot. But he doesn't know about
you, Guardy; and as I wanted to tell him about that, and to settle one
other thing, I sent for you both to-night. The--the medicine!--ask
nurse--I'm a little faint!"

Both men rose; but Simnel was nearest, and it was into his hand that
the woman behind the screen placed the glass. When Kate had swallowed
the cordial, she said, in firmer tones:

"I told you, Robert, that when I left old Fox's circus I was fetched
away by two gentlemen, an old fellow and another. This is the other.
When we got to the hotel that night, the old man said to me, 'Never
you mind who I am, my lass; you won't see me any more after I've once
started you in town; but you will see this gentleman, and you'll have
to send to him whenever you want advice or any thing else. He's your
guardian,' he said, 'and he'll look after you.' I recollect I laughed,
and said he looked very young, and giggled out some girl's nonsense;
but he--I can see you now, Guardy!--put his hand on my head and told
me he was much older than I, and that he'd had plenty of experience to
teach him the ways of the world. I've never seen the old man since;
but, oh, how often I've sent for Guardy! I've worried him day and
night, written to him whenever I wanted to know any thing: how to
treat swells who wouldn't pay, or who were getting troublesome in
other ways; when I wanted the landlord seen, or fresh land bought;
when--good Lord! when I lost heart over--something--and thought of
giving the place up, and selling off and going away, he's kept me as
straight as a die; he's never shown the least ill-temper with all my
worryings and fidgettings; he's always shown me what to do for the
best--and has been my kindest and least selfish and best friend."

"You say too much, Kate," said Churchill; "any thing I have done you
have repaid long since by your good sense and docility."

"You could never be repaid, sir, I see plainly enough," said Simnel;
"there are few men who would have so acquitted themselves of each a
charge, and I shall ever honour and esteem you for it. But may I ask
how you came to be known to the other person of this story, who from
some knowledge I guess to be Scadgers the bill-discounter?"

"It is easily explained. When I arrived in London from Germany, and
determined to make my bread by literature, I wrote where I could, and
for what I could get. Some article of mine was seen by Mr. Scadgers.
who then owned, amongst other lucrative speculations, a weekly
newspaper and a cheap periodical. Pleased with what he had read--or
had recommended to him more likely--he sent for me, and after a little
discussion, made me editor and manager of both his literary
speculations. He paid liberally, and seemed pleased with all I did;
then wanted me to undertake the management of others of his affairs,
which I declined. But one night in his office he told me the story of
this girl--incidentally, as a suggestion for a tale for the paper, I
believe; and so interested me that I suggested his removing her from
the life she was then leading, and giving her a chance of doing
something for herself. After some discussion he agreed, on the
understanding that he should never appear in the matter; but that if
he provided the necessary funds, I would manage the whole business and
undertake a kind of guardianship of the girl. I hesitated, until I saw
her at the circus; then, being somewhat of a physiognomist, and
thinking I saw in her face promise of what was wanted--honesty,
endurance, and a power of keeping straight in front of adverse
circumstances--I consented. The rest you know."

"Will you take my hand, Mr. Churchill?" said Simnel in a low voice;
"God Almighty bless you for--for your kindness and your trust!"

"That's right!" said Kate on whom the action had not passed
unobserved--"shake hands, you two, good fellows both of you! And now
look here--but one word! I didn't catch all you said, Guardy, but you
and Robert seem to have made it all right. And now I want to tell you
about something--about--when I'm gone, you know--oh, you silly fellow,
Robert, how can I speak if you go on so!--I've put away some money,
you know; and I want you to have it, Guardy. You're married, some one
told me; and you'll want all that; and you won't despise it, eh? You
know it's all honestly come by, and you've seen how it's been made--my
accounts, you know, you used to say they were very decently kept; and
there'll be no shame in taking it--your wife, I mean, and that sort of
thing; you can tell her about it. I wonder what she's like. I should
have liked to have seen her, Guardy, though perhaps she wouldn't have
cared for such as I. Oh, poor old Freeman and the men at The Den--let
them have a year's wages; I've put it all regular in a will which I
made last year; you'll find it in the desk; and sell the stud--high
prices, most of them. I--my side's awful now; don't go yet; let me
have a little--just a little rest. I'm faint, and in such--such
dreadful pain!"

She fell back exhausted. Simnel still knelt by the bedside convulsed
with grief; but Frank Churchill looked round the screen to summon the
nurse. No one was there, so he went to the door and called softly. The
nurse responded at once and passed by him; but as he turned back he
saw the butler, who beckoned to him.

"Will you please to step this way, sir?" said the man; "you're wanted
in the dining-room."

Churchill followed him; and as the dining-room door shut behind him,
found himself face to face with his wife.



CHAPTER XXXVIII.
UNDER PRESSURE.


The dulness of the autumnal season causing a heavy depression every
where, by no means relaxed its maleficent influence in room No. 120 of
the Tin-Tax Office. The gentlemen therein located had each, as has
every man in the world, his own private griefs, anxieties, and
worries; and these never blossomed into such full vigour as in the
autumn. In the first place, there was no more leave of absence to look
forward to, which was, in itself, a dreadful thing; and then there was
looming in the future the approach of Christmas, a dread season which
each of the different denizens of No. 120, for different reasons,
regarded with dismay. To kind genial Mr. Kinchenton the coming
Christmas was specially fearful; for after a long struggle between
inclination and duty, a struggle resulting in the victory of the
latter, he had decided upon sending his boy Percy, the apple of his
eye, to school after the Christmas holidays; and in the shadow of that
coming event he was sitting moping and melancholy. Mr. Dibb was always
bad in the autumn; his liver, always rebellious, was thoroughly
intractable at that season known as the "fall of the leaf," and
remained perfectly quiet, declining to perform any one of the
functions intrusted to it, and calmly spurning any attempt to call it
into action. So Mr. Dibb's complexion grew more and more like that of
the cover of a well-worn school-copy of Ainsworth's Dictionary; and
Mr. Dibb's temper became so cranky, that Mr. Crump, the extra-clerk,
lived in a perfect cyclone of torn-up letters and accounts to "do over
again;" so that said Crump bemoaned his hard fate, and expressed
himself as perfectly certain that he should have an earlier attack of
chilblains than usual that year. Mr. Boppy too had his private grief,
in the shape of a visitor at his establishment, Mrs. Boppy's mamma, a
lady of vast size from the manufacturing districts, who had arrived on
a month's visit, had monopolised the best portion of Mr. Boppy's
house, and who demanded to have life shown to her. So Mrs. Boppy had
instructed Mr. Boppy to convey her and her mamma to the Thames Tunnel,
the top of the Monument, the Crypt of St. Paul's, to the Tower, to
Madame Tussaud's wax-work, and other exhibitions much sought after by
country people, but seldom visited by Londoners; and had moreover
stimulated her husband to ask for various half-holidays, which Mr.
Kinchenton would readily have granted, but which were never obtained
without a hand-to-hand combat with Mr. Dibb. "Very well, Mr.
Kinchenton," he would say, "Mr. Boppy must go, sir, if you say so, of
course. You're the head of this room, I believe; though how the work's
to be got through with Mr. Prescott absent on leave, Mr. Crump next to
useless, and Mr. Pringle, who always takes three-quarters of an hour
to his lunch--"

"What's that you're saying about me, Mr. Dibb?" Mr. Pringle would ask
from over the top of his desk.

"Says you take three-quarters of an hour for your lunch," would repeat
the revengeful Boppy.

"All right! better do that than make yourself a wretched
hypochondriac, like some people. Let digestion wait on appetite, and
health on both, Boppy! Mr. Dibb's got none of the three; doesn't know
what any of them mean; so we must excuse him." And then Mr. Boppy
would get his leave, and go away and do dismal duty with his
relatives.

Nor was Mr. Pringle in any thing like his usual flow of spirits. He
was very mercurial, tremendously affected by the weather; and black
skies, cold winds, and empty streets sent him down to zero. Moreover
his other-half, his chum, his bosom-friend, Mr. Prescott, was away on
leave, paying his long-promised visit to old Mr. Murray of Brooklands;
and so Mr. Pringle was left to himself, and sat in his chambers
smoking solitary pipes, and learning whole pages of the Comic
Song-Book, and perpetually falling asleep over the first page of the
volume of Boswell's _Life of Johnson_. For Mr. Kinchenton, who took
great interest in honest George, had told him that no man was worth
any thing unless he read something besides trashy novels and Little
Warblers; and Mr. Pringle, determining to "go-in for something heavy,"
had selected the life of Dr. Johnson, whose ._Rasselas_ he had read as
a child, remembering it as "the adventures of a young cove and an old
cove, with a doosid good bit about a bridge, or something, in it."
Moreover George Pringle was by no means comfortable as to the state of
his friend's money-matters. He had himself "ignored," as he phrased
it, all his own transactions with Scadgers; but he was in with
Prescott on one bill, and he knew that his friend had involved himself
with several other pieces of stamped paper in the hands of the same
worthy. And George had a strange notion that some of these were
overdue; and knowing that the Long Vacation was rapidly drawing to a
close, and that Term-time was coming on, he feared that the mighty
engines of the law might be set to work, and come a general smash. He
had written to Prescott about it; but had only received a couple of
lines in reply, to say that he was very jolly, and that the things
would be all right; so that all he could do was patiently to await his
friend's return to town.

That happened one night, when Pringle and Boswell had had a severe
disagreement, and Pringle had let Boswell drop into the fender, and
had gone to sleep with his pipe in the corner of his mouth. There came
a heavy bang at the oak, and Pringle, starting up and opening it,
found himself face to face with James Prescott,--rosy, stout, jolly,
and beaming, with a big portmanteau in his hand.

"Hallo! old man!"

"Hallo! old man! been asleep, eh? lazy old beggar! wanted me to rouse
you up! give us a hand to the portmanteau, George, and help him in!
that's it! Well," taking off his coat and making a dive at his friend,
and catching him by the shoulders, and peering inquiringly into his
face, "and how goes it? what's the news? how are all the buffers at
the shop? any body dead? any body got the sack? no promotion? always
our luck!"

"Things are much the same, I think; no news any where; they'll be glad
to see you back, for they've been grumbling about the work--not that
you'll be much help at that, though. And what have you been doing? had
a good time?"

"Good time? stunning!" and Mr. Prescott kissed his fingers and waved
them in the air. "Never put in such a time in my life. Old boy was
splendaceous, did every mortal thing one wanted,--good nag to ride,
good shooting, capital cellar, let you smoke where you like--no end!
My old governor was there too, as happy as a bird!"

"And the young lady--Miss Murray?"

"Oh, Emily! oh, I can't tell you how good that has turned out! She's
out and away nicer than any thing that ever was; no nonsense about
her; quiet, ladylike, sweet, affectionate little thing! You know,
George, there are some women--"

"Yes," interrupted Mr. Pringle--"I know there are! and there are some
men who want a glass of grog--and I'm one; and there are others who
are mad spoony--and you're another! I'll mix for you, and we'll light
our pipes, and then I shall be in a better frame of mind to listen to
jour dilation on Miss Murray's excellences."

Mr. Prescott, so soon as their glasses were before them, their pipes
in their mouths, and they were established one on either side of the
fireplace, lost no time in availing himself of his friend's
permission, and plunged into those amatory raptures which we have all
of us suffered under at our friends' hands. The singular difference of
the young lady to, and her superiority over, every one else, the
mixture of sense and sensibility which she displayed, the clever
things she said and did, her delicacy, firmness, bashfulness, presence
of mind,--all these were dilated on at full length by one gentleman,
and listened to with becoming patience by the other. At last, when his
friend fairly stopped for want of breath, Mr. Pringle asked,

"And have you put it all right, Jim? of course you're not carrying on
this kind of thing without meaning it; have you squared it with them
all?"

"Well, Emily and I understand each other thoroughly; and it's all
arranged between us, I think. I mean that I haven't said anything, you
know; but people don't say any thing now in such cases. There's a kind
of a--a--"

"Yes," interrupted Pringle--"yes; I suppose there is. But what about
her father?"

"I haven't spoken to the old boy yet. Not that I think he'd make much
objection, turn rusty, or any thing of that sort, for he's
tremendously kind and jolly; but I don't like to talk to him while
I've got these infernal debts hanging over me. I don't think it's
fair; and yet--Have you heard any thing from old Scadgers, George?"

"No, I haven't heard any thing; but--Never mind, we'll talk about him
to-morrow, when you've had a rest, and we're both clearer and cooler
than we are now. Now turn in and get a sleep, old man; good-night!"

The next morning, however, when Mr. Pringle introduced the subject of
Mr. Scadgers and the acceptances which he held, Mr. Prescott showed a
remarkable alacrity in changing the conversation, an alacrity which he
exhibited on two or three subsequent occasions. He was in the habit,
Pringle observed, of receiving every morning with the greatest
regularity a pink-coloured note with a country postmark, and after
reading its contents he became very much absorbed, slightly ethereal,
and generally indisposed to converse on mundane matters. But honest
George Pringle, who had no such pleasant distractions, knew perfectly
well that time was running on, and that some positive step must be
taken; so on the fourth morning after his friend's return he tackled
him resolutely.

"I say, Jim, about those bills? No good fencing about the business any
longer; we _must_ go into it, or we shall come to grief. I've a notion
that some of them are overdue already, and I wonder Scadgers hasn't
been here pressing for either a settlement or a renewal."

"To tell you the truth, George, I'm in a funk about them myself. I saw
a very suspicious-looking Jew outside the office as I came in this
morning,--a fellow in rusty black, with a blazing nose; and when he
came towards me my heart jumped into my mouth. However, he only asked
me which was Mr. Beresford's office--"

"Mr. Beresford's?"

"Yes, our swell Commissioner, you know; so I got off easy."

"What's the entire figure that you're liable for--including mine, and
all the rest of them, I mean?"

"The entire figure? well, it can't be far off a couple of hundred. I
had to spend such a lot when Emily was in town; pit-stalls whenever
she went to the Opera, to be near her, and hire of horses, and my
share of two or three Greenwich dinners, and all that, walked into no
end of tin. I don't know where the deuce I'm to get it, and that's the
fact."

"Do you owe any thing else? tailors or boot-makers, or any fellows of
that sort?"

"Not a sixpence! I cleared what little bills I had of that kind with
part of old Scadgers' money. And since I got that rise here last
month, I could go on as straight as possible on what I get. But it's
the infernal millstone of a back debt round my neck. I don't know what
to do! I can't go and ask the dear old governor to advance; he's got
quite enough to do with his income, and he'd be awfully knocked over
to hear I was in for such a lot."

"Of course you can't. Now, look here; I'll tell you what you must do.
You must first pledge your word to me and to yourself--not that any
thing can be raised upon it, but it's the right thing to do--that you
won't borrow another sixpence. And then you must go to old Scadgers
and tell him that you're in a fix; that you can't pay him in a lump:
but that you'll let him have so much every quarter of the principal,
and pay decent interest until it's cleared off. You must draw-in your
horns a little, and live quietly on the remainder. I'll go security
for you to old Scadgers."

"You're a trump, George; but do you think he'll do it?"

"Do it? he must. He makes far too good an income out of the fellows in
this place and other government-offices to have any public row made
about him and his goings-on. If it got blown, they'd have a leader on
him in the _Scourge_ that would take the skin off his old back, and,
worse than that, stop his business entirely. No, no; he'll do it fast
enough. But we must go to him in a regular business manner. Now what
are the dates and amounts of these different things?"

"I've got a memorandum of them in my desk, that I made at the time.
I'll get it out. Hallo!" said Prescott, opening his desk, and taking
therefrom a sealed letter; "what's this?" holding it up.

"Oh, by Jove, I forgot to tell you! that came while you were away, and
I put it in your desk, thinking to name it to you directly you
returned. Nothing particular, I hope?"

"I don't know; it's very thick, and I don't know the hand. It cannot
be a writ, eh?" and Prescott turned very pale.

"Writ, nonsense! they don't send writs by post. Don't you know the
handwriting? it's not round enough for a lawyer's. Open it, man; open
it at once!"

And so, wanting to know the contents of the letter, they actually
thought of opening it.

As Prescott opened the envelope he drew from it a thick roll of
papers, and unfolding them, looked at them with wonder. Pringle,
looking over his shoulder, started; and, taking them from his friend's
hand, exclaimed,

"Bills, by Jove! cancelled bills look here, the signature torn off and
hanging. The very bills you gave to Scadgers; mine, Compter's, your
IOU, and the lot! You've been chaffing me, Jim--getting a rise out of
me all this time, eh?"

"What do you mean by getting a rise? I'm as innocent in this matter as
yourself."

"But do you mean to say that you didn't pay them?"

"I mean to say that I've never paid Scadgers one individual sixpence!"

"Then I mean to say that you're a devilish lucky fellow; for somebody
else has."

"Are these bills paid, then?"

"Oh, don't be so preposterously green, Jim. Are the bills paid? Of
course they are! paid and returned to you to put in the fire, or do
what you like with; you can never be called on for another penny.
Well, you're a lucky fellow. No one ever paid any thing for me. Who
the deuce can have done this for you?"

"I haven't the remotest idea. It couldn't be Scadgers himself?"

"N--no!" said Mr. Pringle, grinning from ear to ear. "No, I don't
think it was Scadgers; he's not entirely in that line. Who is there
that knew you were in a fix?"

"No one, not a soul but yourself, and--"

"No, old fellow; I've not paid them, I'll take my oath. Should have
been delighted to help you, but hadn't the wherewith."

"Then I'm done. I haven't a notion who can have helped me."

"Well, it doesn't matter, so long as it's done. You're in luck's way,
my boy. All this horrible excitement and doubt brought to an end, and
you free as air. I say, how about the keeping quiet and not launching
into any extra expense, now? Will you hold to it?"

"I'll swear I will. And, what's more, now I am free, I'll strike while
the iron's hot. To-day's Friday; to-morrow a half-holiday. I'll go down
to Brooklands by the 2.40 train."

"I think you're right, Jim," said Pringle, quietly. "You've had your
fling, and you seem to have a chance of settling well in life just
now. Tell the old father all about yourself--your income and your
chances, I mean,--and don't give him the opportunity of flinging any
thing in your teeth hereafter. Well, whoever paid that amount of stuff
for you did you a good turn, and no mistake. I wonder who it could be.
No use asking Scadgers, he'd be as close as death about it; indeed, if
there were any hanky-panky, any mystery, I mean, he'd always swear he
was out whenever one called, for fear it should be bullied out of
him."

Indeed, Mr. Pringle, not being of a very impulsive temperament, and
not having very much to think about, bestowed far more wonderment on
the question as to who could have been Mr. Prescott's anonymous
benefactor than did Mr. Prescott himself. That gentleman, in love over
head and ears, simply thought of the transaction as a means to an end;
in any other position he would have bestowed upon it a certain amount
of astonishment, but now all he cared for was to avail himself of the
chance it had opened up to him. He had determined that, so soon as he
found himself unfettered by debt, he would inform Mr. Murray of his
attachment to his daughter, and ask the old gentleman's consent to
their getting married. He knew well enough that his own official
salary was by no means sufficient to maintain a wife--notably a wife,
the daughter of a rich country squire--in the manner to which she had
been accustom; but he knew equally well that the rich country squire
would, in all probability, make a handsome settlement on his daughter;
and to this he thoroughly looked forward. Not that there should be
urged against him the least suspicion of an _arrière pensée_; he loved
the girl with all his heart and soul and strength; but as in these
days he would never have thought of riding forth into Fleet Street and
proclaiming her beauty and virtue, and challenging all who might feel
inclined to gainsay them to single combat,--in like manner, in these
days would he never have thought of marrying a woman without money.
And this was the youth who would have taken Kate Mellon in her
unrecognised position, and, so far as he knew, penniless! Yes, but
Kate Mellon was his first love; those were his earliest salad days; he
has had much experience of the world since then, and is not honester
or fresher from the contest.

There was, however, no doubt about his love for Miss Murray and his
desire to see her, so he started off by the first train after
business-hours on the next day, and was whirled off to Havering
Station. One may suppose that he had found time to communicate the
fact of his intended arrival; for he had scarcely proceeded a few
paces up the steep hill which leads from the railway to the village
before he saw coming spinning towards him a low basket-chaise drawn by
a pair of roan galloways in plain black harness. And seated in the
basket, driving the roans, was a young lady in the prettiest little
round hat, and with the nicest short sealskin jacket and the daintiest
dogskin driving-gauntlets, who gave the knowingest salute with her
whip when she saw Prescott, while the groom behind her jumped down and
relieved the young gentleman of his portmanteau.

"Punctual, sir, I think!" was the young lady's salutation after
she had rescued the right-hand dogskin gauntlet from a prolonged
pressure--"punctual, I think! I say, James, what on earth has brought
you down again so quickly? You didn't give a hint in your note."

"You, of course," said Mr. Prescott, looking at her with the greatest
delight.

"No, but really! Papa, when he read your note, said he was delighted
to have you again, and that he supposed you must have obtained some
farther leave of absence. But I knew that was not likely, and I felt
certain you were coming on some special business. Oh, James, there's
no bad news, is there?"

"No, my darling pet, no bad news,--good, splendid, excellent news! I'd
tell you what it is now, but I can't, because it's news that's
impossible to be told except with action; and if I were to take
action, I should astonish the worthy person who is sitting behind us,
and who is taking such care of my portmanteau."

"Oh, James, how can you! You'll drive, of course. I can't fancy any
thing more horrible than seeing a gentleman driven by a lady. Now,
Bagshaw, all right. And so you won't tell me, James?"

"Not yet, Emily, not yet; and yet I don't see why on earth I
shouldn't. Bagshaw seems to be paying the greatest attention to the
landscape, and, moreover, has established a wall of portmanteau
between us and him of the most satisfactory. So I don't mind telling
you, that I have come down to propose for you to your father, and to
ask his consent to our marriage."

"Oh, James, I never did! And ask papa's consent, indeed! Do you know
that you've never asked mine, sir?"

"Haven't I? Well, then, darling, I'll ask it now. No, no what
nonsense! Bagshaw can't see under the rug, and I can hold the ponies
perfectly with one hand: give it me! So; and now about papa; what do
you think? what do you advise?"

"I--I think he won't make any fuss, James; he's always fall of your
praises, and he's not like those horrid fathers in books, who never
will let their daughters marry the people they love--I didn't mean to
say that--I meant the people who love them! But I think I'd speak to
him after dinner."

"After dinner?"

"Yes, you know, when you're left alone together. He's pleasanter then,
I think. And then you can come to me in the drawing-room and tell me
all about it."

Mr. Murray received James Prescott with the greatest cordiality; and
when dinner was over, and the cloth was removed, the old gentleman
instructed Banks the butler to bring up a bottle of the '20 and some
devilled biscuits. Banks, an old and faithful retainer, muttered
something in his master's ear as to what Dr. Harwood had said; on
which his master told him to go to the devil, and mind his own
business. So the '20 was brought; and Miss Murray had half a glass,
and then retired to the drawing-room; and Mr. Murray bade his guest
pull his chair round to the fire and prepare for serious drinking.

Then James Prescott knew that the crisis of his fate was approaching,
so he filled a bumper of port, drank half of it, looked the old
gentleman steadily in the face, and said, "I wanted to speak to you,
sir."

"All right!" said the old gentleman, helping himself; "speak on."

"About your daughter, Miss Murray, sir," said Prescott, beginning to
feel himself all aglow,--"about Miss Murray, sir."

"All right!" said the old gentleman, with perfect calmness--"what
about her?"

"Well, sir--I--the truth is--that I--I've formed an attachment to her,
sir--she's--she's a most delightful girl, sir," said Prescott, falling
into hopeless bathos at once.

"She is, James," said the old gentleman,--like the sphynx, 'staring
straight on with calm eternal eyes,'--"she is."

"She is, indeed, sir. I believe I may say that Miss Murray is aware of
my entertaining this notion, sir--and that--that she's not displeased
at it."

"Of course not, of course not, James; what girl would be displeased at
the notion that a young fellow found her delightful?"

"Confound it! he won't give me a leg up, any how," said poor Prescott
to himself. Then aloud, "If I could gain Emily's--Miss Murray's
consent, sir, would you have any objection to me for her husband?"

"Ah, ha! ah, ha! James," laughed the old gentleman in great
delight--"got it out at last, eh, my boy?--been beating about the bush
this ten minutes. I saw you, I knew what was coming, but I wouldn't
help you. You're not so good at this kind of business as your father
would have been. The vicar would have had it all out in a minute; and
if the girl's father had said no, he'd have run away with her that
night. Desperate fellow Alan is--was, I mean; we're all stupid enough
now! And so you want to marry Emily? and you say, if she consents,
will I? If she consents?--nonsense, James Prescott! do you think I've
forgotten that alphabet? or that it has changed during the last forty
years? It's just the same as it was, sir, and I recollect every letter
of it. You and Emily have understood each other this long time. No,
I've no objection to make. I'd sooner your father's son would marry my
daughter than any duke in the land. You've not much money, but I've
plenty, and none to care for but her. One thing, how much are you in
debt?"

"Not a sixpence."

"On your honour?"

"On my honour."

"That's enough for me! Your father knows of this."

"Not yet, sir. I haven't mentioned it to him; but--"

"But I have! We talked it all over when he was here. So you see we old
people are not so blind as you think us. Now, you're dying to go to
Emily, and I'm dying to have a nap. Let us oblige each other."

Mr. Prescott did not need a repetition of the hint. In the course of
the next two minutes he was in the drawing-room; and the selections
from _Lucia_, with which the piano was resounding, were suddenly
stopped, and were heard no more until the advent of the old gentleman
caused a necessity for candles and calm propriety. I do not think it
is necessary for me to reproduce the dialogue which was carried on
during the interval. It was very silly and very pleasant; perfectly
easy to be imagined, and ought never to be described. Only one bit of
it is worth preservation.

"Were you ever in love before, James?"

"Once, dearest; only once in my life." (If he had  been the age of old
Parr instead of six-and-twenty, he could not have said it with more
earnestness.)

"And why did you not marry her?"

"It would not have done, darling. She was not of our grade in life. It
would have been a wretched business. She felt that, and told me so."

"Poor girl, poor girl!" said little Emily; "I wonder where she is
now!"

Prescott did not answer. He was too full of his present happiness to
think of his former love, who was at that moment lying with her life's
breath ebbing fast away.



CHAPTER XXXIX.
"WE KISSED AGAIN WITH TEARS."


As Frank Churchill advanced into the dining-room in the fading light,
he saw Barbara standing by the mantelpiece. Her face was turned
towards him, but her eyes were dropped to the ground. She did not
raise them as her husband entered, but remained in the same attitude,
while he stopped short as the butler closed the door behind him. Frank
Churchill was not entirely taken by surprise; he knew that his wife
had been staying with her friend Mrs. Schröder, and this fact flashed
across him when he first received Kate Mellon's summons: but he
thought that she might have left the house; that she might have gone
probably to her aunt Miss Lexden--at all events, that there was no
earthly reason to prevent him from obeying that summons, and going to
one who had always understood that she had a claim upon him. If his
wife were there, it was not likely that he would come across her. She
had now been absent some weeks from her home, and during that time she
had not made the slightest sign, had not shown the least contrition,
the least desire for a reconciliation; had not made the smallest
advance in any one shape or way; consequently, she would be as opposed
to any interview as he could be, and would take care to prevent it. As
opposed as he could be? Yes; that was giving it a very definite range;
he felt that he could trust himself now under any influence. All that
had been ductile within him had gradually been growing hard and rigid;
all his love and tenderness, his devotion to and pride in his wife had
gradually died out; his very nature seemed to have changed: where he
had been trusting, he had become sceptical, where he had been hopeful,
he had become doubtful; where he had been generous, he had become
cynical. All his good aspirations, his domestic virtues, seemed to
have deserted him. What his mother had fondly hoped, when the
separation between husband and wife came,--that her son would be
restored to her as he was before his marriage,--never had been
realised. For the first few days, fearing the gossip of the world, he
came home regularly to the house in Great Adullam Street, where the
old lady had been reinstalled; dined, and remained at home during the
evening, until he went down to see the proof of his article at the
_Statesman_ office. But while at home, he was any thing but his old
self. In the bygone days he had been full of chat and rattle, keeping
his mother alive to all the current gossip of the day, talking to her
of new books, new men, new opinions. Now he sat moody and silent over
the dinner-table--moody and silent over his meerschaum-pipe after
dinner over the fire, resting his chin on his hand, dreaming vaguely
of the past, vaguely of the future. Then, after a little time, he
began to tire of the sameness, to want excitement and variety, and he
commenced to dine at the Retrenchment night after night, sitting long
over his wine in the coffee-room, then going up and sitting in the
smoke-room until late hours of the night. He never joined tables with
any one at dinner; he never gave or accepted any further courtesy with
his friends than the interchange of a short nod; but occasionally at
night he would launch out into conversation in the smoke-room, where
he began to gain some renown as a sayer of harsh sayings and bitter
jests.

Yes, this was what remained of the genial, kind-hearted, easy-going
Frank Churchill. His friends were in despair. His mother, poor old
lady, felt that the state of things now was infinitely worse than when
Barbara was in the home; for then, though she only saw her son
occasionally, she believed him to be happy; but now she scarcely ever
saw him at all, and knew him to be thoroughly wretched. She had no
satisfaction in keeping house for him; there was no use in ordering
dinner which he did not eat; in "tidying" a house which he did not
look at; in hunting up and hustling into order servants who might have
been as servile as Eastern slaves, or as insolent as American helps,
for all their master cared. The old lady's occupation was gone, and
she knew it; she felt even more than ever that her position was lost,
that she could not hope to supply the place of her who was absent now,
however well she and her son might have got on before his marriage;
and she was proportionably miserable and disappointed. George Harding
too was greatly annoyed at Frank's conduct. His loyal soul allowed
that his friend had been hardly dealt by; but he contended boldly that
since Barbara's first false step, Frank had been entirely in the
wrong. He contended that the husband should have gone to seek his
erring wife, and should have endeavoured, by every means in his power,
to bring her back to his home. When you talked of pride and that sort
of thing to George Harding in a matter of this kind, he snapped his
fingers loudly and said, "stuff!" There was no hint at any crime, at
even any lightness of conduct, was there? Well then, there was but one
course to pursue. When Frank distinctly refused to follow this advice,
Harding shrugged his shoulders and left him to himself; but when he
saw the dreary, vapid, aimless life that his friend was pursuing, the
change that had come over him in every way, he prayed for an
opportunity of once more taking him to task in an affectionate and
friendly spirit. This opportunity had not been given, and Harding
could find no chance of fault-finding in his friend's work, which,
though horribly bitter and slashing, was cleverer than ever.

The noise of the closing door rang drearily through the room, and
Barbara keeping silence, Churchill felt it incumbent on him to speak.
His throat was quite dry, his lips parched and quivering; but he made
an effort, and the words came out. "You sent for me?" he said.

"I did," replied Barbara, still keeping her head bent and her eyes
downcast: "I wished to speak with you."

"I am here," said Churchill coldly.

"I wished to tell you that--that I have learned a bitter lesson. I
wished to tell you that, only to-night, only within the last few
minutes, I have discovered that I have been deceived in--in certain
matters that have passed between us--that I have done you--done you
wrong."

Churchill merely bowed his head.

"I was present in the next room when what has just passed there took
place. I was present, and I heard every word. It was by no chance, by
no accident, I heard it; I was there intentionally and for the
purpose. When that poor girl now lying there sent for you, I felt
assured that I should gain the key to that mystery which ruined our
married happiness; I felt assured that I should arrive at a solution
of that mystery; and now it is solved. You, who know my pride, may
judge what fearful interest that question must have had for me when I
descended to such means to gain my ends."

Churchill bowed again, but said not a word.

"I have heard it," continued Barbara--"heard the story from first to
last. That poor stricken creature lying there, on what we both know to
be her deathbed, is ignorant even of my name far more of my
relationship to you. From her lips I stand convicted of my mistake;
from her lips I learn that I have done you an injustice. I asked you
to come in here that I might acknowledge this to you." For the first
time during the interview, she raised her eyes; they met those of her
husband, which were cold and pitiless.

"You are very good; but don't you think your admission comes rather
late? Pardon me one minute,"--Barbara had made a sign as though about
to speak,--"I'll not detain you more than one minute. I wooed you as
humbly as any rightminded man could, more humbly than some would think
fit and proper; but let that pass. Before I asked you to share my
life, I showed you plainly what that life was; I did not withhold one
jot of its difficulties, its restrictions, its poverty, if you will. I
pointed out to you plainly and unsparingly the sacrifices you would
have to make, certain luxuries--little perhaps in themselves, but
difficult to do without, from constant use--which you would have to
give up. I put before you what I knew would prove (as it has proved)
the fact, that, if you married me, the set of people amongst whom you
had always lived would consider you had demeaned yourself, and would
give you up. I pointed all this plainly out to you,--did I not?"

"You did."

"And you, having heard it all, and weighed it as much as women with
any thing like heart in them do weigh such matters, agreed to link
your lot with mine. Good. We married, and I brought you to your home;
not a brilliant home by any means, not a fairy bower likely to catch
the fancy of a young girl, but still, I make bold to say, a
comfortable enough home, and one out of which, mind you, my
mother--one of the common-minded, commonplace people so sneered at by
your superior race--removed, of her own free will, in order that you
might be its sole mistress. You follow me?" he asked, for her head had
drooped again and he could not see her face.

She murmured some indistinct answer, and as he looked across he
thought he saw the trace of tears upon her cheeks.

"What was the result?" he continued. "From that time out, you began to
change. There were great allowances to be made for you, I grant. The
place was dull, the house small, the furniture meagre; the persons
amongst whom you were thrown strange and entirely different from any
you had previously mixed with. But the house was your own; the
furniture sufficient for our wants; the people anxious to receive you
kindly and hospitably, to make you feel welcome, to do any thing for
you for my sake. My mother, in some respects a peculiar woman, came
out of the semi-seclusion in which she had lived for years, to show
her regard for you; she wanted you to share in that wealth of
affection which she lavished on me; she wanted you to be as much her
daughter as I was her son. Did you respond to this in any way? No. Did
you try to content yourself with the lot which you had accepted? No.
Did you, knowing full well how all were striving for you, endeavour to
accommodate yourself to, and make the best of, circumstances? No, no,
no! You sit moping and indolent in your house, leaving things to go on
as they best can; nursing your grief and disappointment and rage until
you see every thing through a distorted medium; you alienate my
friends by your undisguised contempt; you affront my mother by openly
spurning her proffered affection. All this you do, wilfully or
foolishly ignoring the fact that in each and every act you inflict a
stab on me--on me, slaving for you, loving you, adoring you!"

"Oh, Frank, Frank!"

"Yet one minute, if you please; I will not detain you longer; I should
never have sought this opportunity,"--Barbara winced,--"but having it,
I must in self defence avail myself of it to the utmost. Not merely do
you pursue the line of conduct I have just described, but you forget
yourself and annoy me in a far greater degree. I am told of your
constantly receiving visits from a gentleman during the hours of my
absence from home. I mention this mildly, and beg you to hint to him
to call at some other time. You are offended at this; and after a
discussion, I acknowledge I may have been hasty, and the subject is
dropped. I take you to a party where you meet some of your old
friends; your spirits revive; you are more like your old self than you
have been since your marriage; and you walk off; away from all the
rest of the party, with this same gentleman, with whom I myself see
you in singularly earnest conversation. I again speak to you on this
point; you deny that I have any occasion for complaint, and I again
give way. And now what return do you make me for my kindness, my
trust, my confidence? You accuse me of receiving letters, which as
your husband I should not receive: and you demand to know the purport
of the letters, and the name of the writer. I give a general denial to
your suspicions; but as to telling you what you require, my pride--"

"Oh, even you have pride, then?" said Barbara, with a half-sneer.

"Proper pride! my honour, if you will,--for my honour was pledged
in the matter--forbade it. Then, acting on a wild and miserable
impulse,--without one thought or care for me, for yourself, for our
name and reputation,--you took a step which has brought misery on my
life. You left my house, your home,--left it and left me to be the
talk, the object of the gossip, and the pity of all who heard the
wretched story. Not content with that, you come to this house, and I
am given to understand that, since you have been here, you have been
constantly visited by the man I have before spoken of--Captain
Lyster!"

No drooping head now! Barbara is standing erect as a dart. Her cheeks
dead white, her lips compressed, her eyes flaming fire.

"You have been told lies!" she said; "lies which, were it not to cure
your madness, and to show you how weak you are, and how mercilessly
you have been played upon, I would scorn to answer! So these dear
delightful people have started that story about me, have they; have
tried to degrade me in my husband's eyes by such a miserable
concoction as that; and my husband has believed them. It is only on a
par with the rest of the generous sympathy they have shown me, and
like all the rest of their wretched machinations, it has some slight
shadow of a foundation. Captain Lyster _has_ been here; has been here
frequently,--oh, you need not raise your eyebrows,--it was not to see
me he came. I will tell you, in self-defence, what I would not have
mentioned otherwise. Ever since Mrs. Schröder's trouble, Captain
Lyster has been her kindest and most active friend. Before she was
married he took the greatest interest in her; and it was only her
father's incontrovertible desire that she should marry as she did,
that prevented him from proposing for her. More; when you saw us
walking together at that garden-party at Uplands, it was of Alice he
was speaking; it was to tell me of how her reputation had been
imperilled by false and cowardly reports, that he had sought me out;
and it was to ask my advice and assistance, to enlist me on her side,
that he was so urgent."

"How can I be sure of this?"

"How can you be sure of it! Did I ever tell you a falsehood in my
life? You know perfectly well,--you would know, at least, if you had
not been blinded by ridiculous jealousy, springing from suspicions
artfully sown,--that I am incapable of deceiving you in any way."

"What brought Captain. Lyster so frequently to my house, in the early
days,--before the garden-party at Uplands, I mean,--and why did he
always come when I was away?"

"Shall I tell you what I believe brought Captain Lyster so frequently
to your house, Frank Churchill? I did not intend to mention it; I
intended to have spared you. Mind you, he never said as much to
me,--he is too true and too honourable a gentleman to cast a slur on
any one; but I honestly believe that Captain Lyster's visits to me
were paid through sheer pity."

"Pity!"

"Ay, pity! He is a keen observer, a shrewd man of the world, for all
his vapidity and his drawl; and I firmly believe that he pitied me
from his soul. He had known me in other days, recollect; he had seen
me when--well, there is no vanity in saying it; you know it as well as
I do--when I was thought and made much of; when the world was to me a
very light and pleasant place, in which I moved about as one of the
favoured ones; when I did not know what it was to be checked or
thwarted, and when all paths were made smooth for me. He found me
solitary, dull, wretched; in a dreary quarter of the town, which was
utterly unknown to me; my only acquaintance, people with whom I had
not one single thing in common,--people looking with horror on all I
had been accustomed to enjoy, and enjoying all I had heartily
detested. He found me _triste_ and low; he thought I was becoming
dejected and unhappy; not that I ever told him so, of course,--my
pride is as great as his; but he is, as I have said, no fool, and he
found it out. What did he do? In the most delicate manner possible, he
tried to rouse me, and to show me what source of happiness I had in my
new position and in your love. He was the only link between my old and
my new life; the only person I used to see, who went among the people
with whom I had formerly lived. Was it very extraordinary for a girl
to ask news of those with whom the whole of her life had been spent? I
used to ask Captain Lyster for such news; and he would give it me,
always in the gentlest and most delicate manner; telling me, of
course, of gaieties that had taken place, but pointing out how silly
they were, and how happy the most fêted girls at them would be to
settle down into a calm happy love, such as--such as he thought I
possessed."

"Did he say all this?"

"He did; and more--much more. Since I have been here, Alice Schröder
has told me that on several occasions when your name has been freely
commented upon, Captain Lyster has defended you with the utmost
warmth, and with a spirit which one can scarcely imagine so naturally
indolent a man to be capable of exercising. More than this: when the
unhappy story of our separation became public scandal, I, having
hitherto refrained from speaking to Captain Lyster about it, but
knowing that he must now have heard all, was about one day to ask his
advice. He stopped me at once. 'Pardon me, my dear Mrs. Churchill,' he
said; 'this is a topic on which I cannot and must not enter. The time
will come when--when it will be all happily settled again; and you
would then very much regret having discussed the subject with me. If
it should ever be my luck to be married, and I had--as undoubtedly I
should have--a dispute with my wife, I would lock the door until we
had settled it, and returned to our usual equable state. Not one
living soul should ever be able to jeer me about a matrimonial
quarrel.'"

"He was right; God knows he was right!" said Churchill, bitterly.

"And yet this is the man whom you have chosen to misrepresent in such
a matter. Believe me, that people unfortunately situated as we are,
could have found very few friends with the kind heart, the tact, and
delicacy of Captain Lyster."

And then Barbara, heated and fatigued with her defence, stopped, and
her head drooped again, and she was silent. There was an awkward
pause; then Churchill said,

"You sent for me to--"

"As I have told you--to confess that I had heard the statement made in
the next room, and to admit that I was in error in imagining that
those letters came from an improper source."

Now was Frank Churchill's time. One kind word from him, and the misery
of his life was at an end. But with that strange perversity which not
unfrequently is a characteristic of good and clever men, he fell into
the snare of saying and doing exactly what he should not.

"And you are prepared to come home--" he commenced, in a hard voice.

"Not if invited in that tone," broke in Barbara abruptly.

"To come home," continued Churchill, not noticing the
interruption,--"to come home confessing that you were entirely in the
wrong, and that you had no shadow of excuse for leaving as you did.
To come home--"

"Stop, Frank!" burst out Barbara, unable any longer to control
herself; "this is not the way to win a person of my temperament to
agree to any measures which you may propose. To come home, confessing
this and acknowledging that,--why, you know perfectly that you
yourself were equally to blame in the preposterous jealousy which you
showed of Captain Lyster! I will confess and acknowledge nothing. I
will come home to you as your wife,--to be the first in your
regard,--to devote myself to you; but I will make no pledges as to
accepting other people's interference, or submitting to--"

"In fact," said Frank, "as to being any thing different from what you
were. Now that will not do. Much as--as I may have loved you"--his
voice broke here--"I would sooner live away from you than undergo the
torture of those last few weeks at home again. It would be better for
us both that--well, I will not say more about it. God's will be done!
One thing, I shall be able to make you now some definite allowance, on
which you can live comfortably without being a burden on your
relatives or friends. Sir Marmaduke Wentworth is dead; and I
understand from his lawyer that I am a legatee, though to what extent
I do not yet know. I had hoped that--"

He was interrupted by a soft knock at the door. Presently the door
opened, and the nurse put in her head, with an alarmed expression of
face. "Come, come!" said she; "quickly! both of you!" and withdrew.

Frank stopped, and motioned Barbara to pass before him.

"Oh, no!" she exclaimed wildly, clasping her hands and looking
piteously into his face; "not into the presence of Death!--we cannot
go into the presence of Death with these wild words on our lips, this
wicked rage at our hearts! Frank, Frank, my darling! fancy if either
of us were summoned while feeling so to each other. It is a horrible
madness, this; a wild inexplicable torture; but let it end--oh, let it
end! I will pray for forgiveness; I will be humble; I will do all you
wish! Oh, Frank, Frank, take me once more to yourself!"

His strong arms are round her once again; once more her head is
pillowed on his breast; while between his sobs he says, "Forgive you,
my darling! Oh, ought not I also to implore your forgiveness!"



CHAPTER XL.
GOING HOME.


The room lay in deep shadow, the lamp having been moved behind the
screen. On its handsome bracket the Louis-Quatorze ormolu clock ticked
solemnly away, registering the death of each minute audibly, and
indefinably forcing itself upon the attention of those sitting by, in
connexion with the rapidly-closing earthly career of the sufferer on
the bed. She lay there, having again fallen into deep heavy slumber,
broken occasionally by a fitful cry, a moan of anguish, then relapsing
once more into stertorous breathing and seemingly placid rest. In a
large arm-chair close by the head of the bed sat Robert Simnel, his
eyes tear-blurred, his cheeks swollen and flushed, his lips
compressed, his hands stretched straight out before him and rigidly
knit together over his knee. This was the end of it, then; the result
of all his hopes and fears, his toiling and his scheming. Just as the
prize was in his grasp, it melted into thin air. Bitter, frightfully
bitter, as were his reflections at that moment, they were tinged with
very little thought of self. Grief, unspeakable grief, plucked at his
heartstrings as he looked upon the mangled wreck of the only thing he
had ever really cherished in the course of his busy life. There lay
the beautiful form which he had seen, so round and plump, swaying from
side to side in graceful inflections, wit every movement of her horse,
now crushed out of shape and swathed with bandages and splints. The
fair hair, which he recollected tightly knotted under the comely hat,
lay floating over the pillow dank with death-dew; the strong white
hands, against the retaining grasp of which the fieriest horses had
pulled and plunged in vain, lay helpless on the coverlet, cut and
scored by the gravel, and without an infant's power in them. A fresh
burst of tears clouded Robert Simnel's eyes as he looked on this sad
sight; and his heart sunk within him as he felt that his one chance in
life, his one chance of love and peace and happiness, was rapidly
vanishing before him. Then the expression of his face changed, his
eyes flashed, he set his teeth, and drove his nails into the palms
of his hands; for in listening to poor Kate's incoherent exclamations
and broken phrases, Simnel had gathered sufficient to give him
reason to suspect that she had met Beresford, and that he had
somehow or other,--whether intentionally or not, Simnel could not make
out,--been connected with, if not the primary cause of, the accident.
And then Simnel's chest heaved, and his breath came thick, and he
inwardly swore that he would be revenged on this man, who, to the
last, had proved himself the evil genius of her who once so fondly
loved him.

When Barbara and Frank entered the room together, Simnel looked up,
and the bad expression faded out of his face. He, in common with the
rest of the world, had heard some garbled story of the separation, and
he saw at a glance that poor Kitty's accident had been the means of
throwing them together again, and of effecting a reconciliation. What
he had just heard from the girl's month of Churchill had inspired in
him a sense of gratitude and regard; and as he noticed Barbara
clinging closely to her husband's arm, as she threw a half-frightened
glance towards the bed, he felt himself dimly acknowledging the
mysterious workings of that Providence, which, in its own good time,
brings all things to their appointed end.

Frank and Barbara, after casting a hurried look at the bed, had seated
themselves on the other side; the nurse, tired out with watching, had
drawn her large chair close to the fire and fallen into that horrible
state of nodding and catching herself up again, of struggling with
sleep, then succumbing, then diving forward with a nod and pulling
herself rigid in an instant--a state so common in extra-fatigue; and
Simnel had dropped into his old desolate attitude. So they sat, no one
speaking. Ah, the misery of that watching in a sick-room! the solemn
silence scarcely broken by the ticking of the clock, the crackling of
the fire, the occasional dropping of the coals, the smothered hum of
wheels outside; the horrible thoughts that at such times get the
mastery of the mind and riot in full sway,--thoughts of the sick
person there being watched, doubts as to the chances of their
recovery, wonderings as to whether they themselves are conscious of
their danger, as to whether they are what is commonly called
"prepared" to die. Then a dreamy state, in which we begin to wonder
when we shall be in similar extreme plight; and where? Shall we have
had time for the realisation of those schemes which now so much occupy
us, or shall we be cut off suddenly? Shall we outlive Tom and Dick and
Harry, who are now our intimates; or will they eat cake and wine
before they step into the mourning-coach, and canvass our character,
and be tenderly garrulous on our foibles? Shall we be able to bear it
calmly and bravely when the doctor makes that dread announcement, and
tells us that if we have any earthly affairs to settle, it were best
to do it at once; for it is impossible to deny that there is a certain
amount of danger, &c. &c. And the boys, with life before them, and no
helping, guiding hand to point out the proper path? Ah, Tom and Dick
and Harry, our old friends, boon-companions, trusted intimates, they
surely would have the heart to look after the children? And the wife,
dearest helpmate, true in all her wifely duties, but ah how unfitted
to combat with the world, to have the responsibilities of the
household to bear alone? And then the end itself!--the Shadow-cloaked
from head to foot! the great hereafter! "Behold, we know not any
thing!" Happy are we to arouse from that dismal reverie at the sound
of the wheels of the doctor's carriage, and gaze into his eyes,
trusting there to read a growing hope.

The reflections of the four persons assembled round poor Kate Mellon's
sick-bed were not entirely of this kind. The minds of Frank and
Barbara were naturally full of all that had just occurred, in which
they were most interested; full of thoughts of past storms and future
happiness--full of such pleasurable emotions, that the actual scene
before them had but a minor influence. Simnel was pondering over his
shattered idol and his dreams of vengeance; while the nurse, when for
a few seconds' interval between her naps she roused herself
sufficiently to think at all, was full of a cheering consciousness of
earning eighteenpence a-day more in her present place than in one in
which she had been previously. And then came the sound of the wheels
and the smothered knock, and then the gentle opening of the door, and
Mr. Slade's pleasant presence in the room.

He approached the bed, and surveyed the sleeper; crossed the room with
the softest footsteps, and asked a few whispered questions of the
nurse; then turned quietly back, and seated himself by Frank and
Barbara.

"How do you find her?" asked the latter.

Mr. Slade simply shook his head, without making any verbal reply.

"The nurse summoned us hurriedly about half-an-hour ago," whispered
Churchill; "but when we came in, we found her in the state in which
you now see her; she has not moved since, scarcely."

"Poor child! poor child!" said Mr. Slade, plying his
pocket-handkerchief very vigorously; "she'll not move much more."

"Is she--is she very bad to-night?" asked Barbara.

"Yes, my dear," said the old gentleman, taking a large pinch of snuff
to correct his emotion; "yes, my dear, she is very bad, as you would
say. There is a worn pinched look in her face which is unmistakable.
She is going home rapidly, poor girl!"

The sense of the last observation, though he had not heard the words,
seemed to have reached Mr. Simnel's ears, for he rose hurriedly, and
crossing to Mr. Slade, took him by the arm and led him on one side.

"Did you say she was dying?" he asked in a hoarse whisper, when they
had moved some distance from the rest.

"I did not say so, though I implied it," said the old man; then
peering at him from under his spectacles, "May I ask are you any
relation of the lady's?"

"No, no relation; only I--I was going to be married to her, that was
all." He said these words in a strange hard dry voice; and Mr. Slade
felt him clutch his wrist tight as he went on to say, "Is there no
position; but still in some cases, a second opinion--if there is any
thing that money can do--"

"My dear sir," said Mr. Slade "I understand perfectly what you mean;
and God knows if there were any thing to be done, I wouldn't stand in
the way; but in this case, if you had the whole College of Surgeons
before you, and the gold-fields of Australia at your back, there could
be but one result."

Mr. Simnel bowed his head, while one great shiver ran through his
frame. Then he looked up and said, "And when?"

"Immediately--to-night; in two or three hours at most. She will
probably rouse from this lethargy, have some moments of consciousness,
and then--"

"And then?"

Mr. Slade made no direct answer, but he shrugged his shoulders and
turned on his heel. Silently he shook hands with Barbara and
Churchill, then with Simnel, placing one hand on his shoulder, and
gripping him tightly with the other; then he walked to the bed, and
bent over it, peering into poor Kitty's puckered face, while two large
tears fell on the coverlet. Then he stooped and lightly kissed the
hand which lay outstretched, and then hurried noiselessly from the
room. Mr. Slade saw several patients that night before going to a
scientific _conversazione_ at the Hanover-Square Rooms--a noble lord,
who had softening of the brain, and who passed his days in a big
arm-chair, and made a moaning noise, and wept when turned away from
the fire; a distinguished commoner, who had given way to brandy, and
was raving in delirium; and a young gentleman, who, in attempting to
jump the mess-room table after dinner, had slipped, and sustained a
compound fracture of his leg. But at each of these visits he was
haunted by the pallid tortured face of the dying girl. At the
_conversazione_ it got between the microscope and a most delicious
preparation; and was by his side as he drew on his nightcap and
prepared for his hard-earned slumbers.

Slowly, slowly wore away the night: Simnel still sat rigid and erect;
but the nurse was sound asleep, and Barbara's head had drooped upon
Frank's shoulder, when suddenly the room rang with a shrill startling
cry. In an instant all rushed to the bedside. There lay Kate awake,
but still under the influence of some dreadful dream.

"Keep him off! keep him off!" she cried. "It's unfair, it's cowardly,
Charley! I'm a woman and you hit so hard! Oh, Robert," she exclaimed,
vainly endeavouring to drag herself towards Simnel, "you'll keep him
off! you'll defend me!"

"There's no one there, Kate," said Simnel, dropping on his knees by
the bedside, and taking her hand; "there's no one to hurt you, my
child."

"I was dreaming then," said Kate; "oh, such a horrid dream! I thought
I---- Who are these?" she exclaimed, looking at Barbara and Frank.
"I'm scarcely awake yet, I think. Why, it's Guardy, of course! and
you, dear, who were so kind to me. But how are you here together? I
can't make that out."

"This is my wife, Kate," said Churchill; "my wife, of whom you were
speaking this evening."

"Your wife! ah, I'm so glad; I never thought of that; I never thought
of asking her who she was; I only knew she was, oh, so kind and so
affectionate with me; and it was because she was your wife, eh? Will
you kiss me again, dear? So; and again! What a sweet soft face it is!
Ah, he's been so good to me dear, this husband of yours; and I've
given him such trouble for so many years. So grave and so steady he's
always been, that I've looked upon him as quite an old fellow, and
never thought of his marrying. I--I'm much weaker to-night, I think;
the pain seems to have left my side; but I feel so weak, as though I
couldn't raise a finger. You're there Robert?"

"Yes, dear."

"Ay, I feel your hand-grip now! You must not mind what I'm going to
say, Robert; you took on so before; but you'll be brave now, eh,
Robert? I--I know I'm going home--to my long home, I mean; and I want
to say how happy, and peaceful, and grateful to the Lord, I am. I've
often thought of this time--often and often; and wondered--and I've
often thought it would be like this, and yet not quite in this way.
You used to talk to me about my rashness, Guardy,--in riding, I mean."

"Yes, dear Kate; and you always promised, and you never did, my
headstrong child!"

"No, Guardy, I didn't, and yet I tried hard; but I hadn't much
pleasure elsewise, had I? Robert knows that; and I _did_ so enjoy my
work! I've often thought it might come when I was with the hounds, and
that would have been dreadful! All the business and bother in the
field, and carried away somewhere, to some wretched place, where
there'd have been no one near to care for me; and now I've you all
here, and that kind old doctor; and, oh, thank God for all!"

There was a little pause, and then she asked in, if any thing, a
weaker voice, "What's become of the horse? does any one know?--the
horse, I mean, that did this?"

"He was taken home, Kate; so Freeman said. He's good deal cut; but--"

"Oh, don't let him come to grief, Robert! It wasn't fault, poor
fellow! He was startled by the--ah, well; it's all over now! Don't
frown so, Robert; I ought to have known better. Lord Clonmel always
said he had a temper of his own; but I thought I could do any thing,
and--Some of them will crow over this, won't they? Those Jeffrey
girls, who always said I was a park-rider, and no good at fencing, eh?
Well, well, that's neither here nor there. You know all about the
will, Guardy,--in the desk, you know? and what I said about your
having--and Freeman--and the men's wages; and--"

As she spoke she sunk back, and seemed to fall asleep at once. The
nurse, who had been hovering round, advanced and looked anxiously at
her, laying her finger on her pulse, and peering into her face.
Reassured, she retired again; and the others, save Simnel, who still
remained kneeling by the bed, resumed their places. Then, stretched
supine, and without addressing herself to any one, Kate Mellon began
to talk again. Fragmentary, disconnected, incoherent sentences they
were that she uttered; but, listening to them, Simnel and Frank
Churchill managed to make out that her head was wandering, and that
she was running through passages of her earlier life.

"Ready!" she said. "All right, Dolphin! Now, band!--why don't they
play up? No hoop lit yet! Get along, Dolphin! Ribbons now! Stand up,
man!--why doesn't that man stand up? So; give him his head--that's it!
Chalk; more chalk!--this pad's so slippery, I shall never stand on it;
and--that's better. Now we go--one, two, three! All right, sir; all
right, madam; told you I should clear it. Ah, Charley! Hold the hoop
lower--lower yet. What's he at? I shall miss it--miss it! and
then--Slacken your curb, miss, or she'll rear! So; that's it--easy
does it. Courage now,--head and the heart up; hand and the heel down!
Oh, he's jumped short!--he's over! he's over!"

She gave a sharp cry, and half-raised herself on to the pillow. The
nurse was by her in an instant; so were they all. Her eyes opened at
first dreamily; then she looked round and smiled sweetly. "Kiss me,
dear," she said to Barbara. "Guardy! Robert, Robert! kindest, dearest
Robert, I'm--going home!"

Then, with tears streaming from both their eyes, Frank led Barbara
away; while, haggard and rigid, Simnel knelt by the bedside firmly
clutching a dead hand.



CHAPTER XLI.
THE DAY AFTER.


When Mr. Simnel woke on the morning succeeding the night of Kate
Mellon's death, he felt a numbness in his limbs, a burning, throbbing
pain in his head, and a general sensation of prostration. He made an
attempt at getting up, thinking he would string himself into vigour
with his cold bath; but he found his head whirling--his legs shaking;
and, after a severe shivering fit, he was fain to forego the attempt,
and to get into bed again. Then he rang his bell, and told his servant
to ask Dr. Prater to step round at once, and then to go on to Mr.
Scadgers, whom he was to bring back with him. The servant despatched,
Mr. Simnel lay back in bed, and endeavoured to give himself up to
reflection. But the events of the last twenty-four hours had been far
too exciting for that; still lay stretched before his eyes the crushed
and mangled figure of his loved one; still her last broken words rung
upon his ears.

"'Dearest, kindest Robert!' she called me that--my darling called me
that with her last breath. 'Dearest kindest Robert!'--the last words!
never to see her any more--never to hear her voice again! All over
now; all--No, not all; one thing to be done, and done at once
--a settlement with Charles Beresford!"

Simnel smiled very grimly as this idea came into his mind. It was not
the first time that the idea had occurred to him. As, bit by bit, he
gleaned poor Kitty's incoherent story, as he knelt by her bed, he had
rapidly framed his course of action, and indeed carried it out in his
mind. He saw himself thrashing Beresford in the streets--saw the row
that would take place thereon consequent, the desperate confusion at
the Tin-Tax Office; and, through the perspective, had a distant vision
of a long stretch of sand on the Calais coast--he and Beresford
fronting each other as principals, a couple of soldiers from the
neighbouring _caserne_ as seconds, and an army medical man looking on.
He knew that Beresford was a man of courage; but he thought that he
would probably refuse to fight in such an affair as this; therefore
Simnel determined that no option should be given. He would not have a
friend of his wait on Beresford with a challenge. He (Simnel) would
pick a quarrel with him on some frivolous pretext, and insult him in
the street. That was what he had made up his mind to do, and that was
what he had intended to do that very day, if his sudden indisposition
had not prevented him.

Little Dr. Prater found his patient very restless and tolerably
impatient. "Well, my dear sir, and how are we? Glad I was at home, and
able to come round at once. A fortunate chance to catch me, for there
is a _great_ deal of sickness just now amongst the upper classes. The
tongue? Thank you. The pulse? Ah; dear me, dear me! as I feared--a
galloping pulse, my dear sir, and a high state of fever! Have you
now--have you had any cause for excitement?"

"Yes," said Simnel, shortly; "I was last night at the deathbed of one
very dear to me."

"To be sure, my dear sir; how came I to forget it!--Miss Kate
Mellon's. Oh, my dear sir, of course I heard of it,--I hear every
thing,--at least, I heard of her being very ill--impossible to live.
Slade attended, didn't he? Ah, couldn't have a better man. One of the
rough diamonds of our profession, my dear sir; not polished, but--all
here!" and the little doctor laid his forefinger on his forehead. "And
so she's gone, poor young lady! Well, well! Now, my dear sir, it's my
duty to prescribe for you the utmost quietude. The least bit of
excitement may be highly prejudicial; in fact, I would not answer for
the consequences."

"When shall I be able to go out?" asked Simnel impatiently.

"Go out, my dear sir! Not for several days--perhaps longer. I will
send in a nurse to look after you; for you must be carefully watched,
and have your medicines at stated times; and I'll look in this
evening. Mind, my dear sir, perfect quiet."

After letting out the doctor, the servant returned to his master.

"Mr. Scadgers is here, sir," said he.

"Then show him in," said Simnel, from the bed. "Beg your pardon, sir;
but the doctor's last words to me was that you was to see nobody but
the nuss."

"Are you the doctor's servant, or mine, sir? Show him in!" and in Mr.
Scadgers was shown.

"Hallo, sir!" said that worthy, regarding Mr. Simnel; "this is bad
news to find you ill."

"There's worse than that, Scadgers; a good deal worse; as you'll hear.
Your niece,--Kate Mellon, you know,--about whom we've had all the talk
lately--"

"Ay, I know; at the Runner's--I know--well?"

"Dead."

"Dead!" repeated Scadgers, with a blanched face--"dead! how? when?"

"Last night; thrown from her horse; had some row with a man named
Beresford in the Park; horse was frightened; bolted, and fell with
her. It was this cursed Beresford's fault, and--"

"What Beresford is it?"

"Charles Beresford of my office,--Commissioner, you know. I'll make
him remember that day's work; I'll post him at his club; I'll
horsewhip him in the street; I'll--I'd have done it to-day, but for
this--this cold."

"Charles Beresford, eh? And it's him that killed my niece, is it?
Horsewhip him, eh? you won't be able to leave your room yet; it's more
than a cold you've got, if I may judge by the look of your face and
the hot feel of your hands. Charles Beresford, eh? Ay, ay! ay, ay!"

"I'm afraid you're right, Scadgers," said Simnel. "I begin to feel
deuced bad, much worse than when I woke. And to be lying here while
that scoundrel will be getting safe away--out of my reach!"

"What do you mean, getting away?"

"Why, he's off to the Continent! I myself recommended him to go there,
to lie quiet until his difficulties blew over; and he'll be off at
once,--to-night or to-morrow."

"Will he, by Jove! no, no! don't you flurry yourself, sir. I'll put a
stopper on that. Charles Beresford shall be here whenever you want
him, I'll take my oath. Excuse me now; look in and see you to-morrow."
And despite Mr. Simnel's calling to him, Mr. Scadgers rushed off at
the top of his speed.

Mr. Scadgers, albeit of a stout figure, and ill-adapted for exercise,
never ceased running until he ran into his own office in Berners
Street, when he sat himself down and fairly panted for breath. When he
had recovered a little, he called to him the wondering Jinks, and
said, "How does Beresford--Charles Beresford--stand with us?"

The little man thought for a minute, and then said, "About a
hundred-and-thirty-seven on renewal; due the fifteenth next month."

"What's his figure with Parkinson?"

"Between eight and nine hundred; dessay more'an a thousand--renewals,
judges' orders, all sorts of things in that lot. Parkinson's clerk was
here yesterday, talking about it amongst other things."

"Very good. Now look here, Jinks; you jump into a cab, and bowl away
to Parkinson's as hard as you can split. Tell him the game's up; that
I've just learnt Master Beresford's going to hook it abroad. Let
Parkinson, or his chief clerk, ran down and swear this before the
judge in chambers,--affidavy, you know,--and then let him instruct
Sloman's people to collar Master Beresford at once."

"You want this done?"

"Most certainly I do; and rely on you to have it done at once. Look
here, Jinks, you know me: Beresford must be quodded to-night!"

"All right; look upon it as settled."

"And more than that: learn, if you can, who holds his paper besides
Parkinson, and to what amount; and bring me a list. Tell Parkinson
that I've a feeling in this beyond mere business, and he'll
understand. And bring me the list of the others."

Mr. Jinks nodded acquiescence and departed. As he went out of the
door, Mr. Scadgers rubbed his grimy hands together, and muttered,
"Better than all your horsewhippings and shootings. Master Beresford's
broke up root and branch,--stock, lock, and barrel. I'll never leave
him now until I've crushed him out. Insult my poor niece, did he?
better have put his head in the fire at once!"

That afternoon, as Mr. Beresford walked jauntily from the Tin-Tax
Office, he was arrested on the _ne-exeat-regno_ affidavit of William
Parkinson, gentleman, attorney-at-law, and conveyed to the mansion of
Mr. Sloman in Cursitor Street, at which pleasant house detainers to
the amount of nearly five thousand pounds were lodged in the course of
the following day.

Mr. Scadgers, going to communicate his cheering intelligence to Mr.
Simnel, found the portion of Piccadilly opposite that gentleman's door
thickly strewn with tan, and asking Dr. Prater, whom he met on the
threshold, for news of his patient, was informed that Mr. Simnel had a
severe attack of brain-fever, and that at that moment the doctor would
not answer for the result.


According to appointment, Frank Churchill presented himself at Mr.
Russell's offices in Lincoln's Inn; Mr. Russell, whose firm had been
solicitors to the Wentworths from time immemorial, and who himself had
enjoyed all the confidence of the late baronet. The old gentleman,
clad in his never-varying rusty black, and still as desirous as ever
to hide his hands under his coat-sleeves, received Frank in his usual
icy manner, and bade him sit down. "I have here," said he, "a letter
for you from the late Sir Marmaduke Wentworth, with the contents of
which I am not acquainted; but which refers, I believe, to the will, a
copy of which I also have here. Be good enough to read it, and see
whether you require any information."

Frank broke the seal, and read the following, written in a trembling
hand:


"_Pau, Pyrenees, October_.

"My Dear Professor,

"Two lines, to tell you two things: I'm dying--that's one; I've always
honoured and respected, and recently I've liked, you--that's the
other. They tell me you're a deuced-clever fellow--which is nothing to
me. I've proved you to be a gentleman--which is every thing. I wish
you were my son and my heir; but I can't make you either. I haven't
got any son, and my heir is my nephew--I've no doubt a very
respectable fellow; a parson, who collects sea-anemones and other
fifths, in dirty water and a glass-bowl--a harmless fellow enough, but
not in my line. All I've been able to do is to leave you five thousand
pounds, which Russell, or some of them, will see that you're paid.
Don't be squeamish about taking it. I owe it you. I never gave you a
mug when you were christened. My love to your dear wife. God bless
you!

"Marmaduke Wentworth."


When he had finished the reading of this characteristic epistle, he
told Mr. Russell of its purport; and heard from the old gentleman that
the legacy named therein had been provided for by the will. Then Frank
returned to Saxe-Coburg Square, and settled with Mrs. Schröder and
Barbara that they should at once leave for Brighton, whither, after
poor Kitty's funeral, he would follow them.



CHAPTER XLII.
AND LAST.


Mr. Simnel was very ill indeed. Dr. Prater looked monstrous grave, and
began to talk about 'responsibility;' so they summoned other two
physicians high in esteem, who exchanged snuff-boxes, and looked out
of window together, and examined Dr. Prater's prescriptions through a
gold double-eyeglass and a pair of spectacles, and agreed that his
treatment of the case was every thing that could be wished, and
declined to commit themselves to any opinion as to whether the patient
might get better or not. Frank Churchill remaining in town until after
the funeral of poor Kate Mellon, and expecting some suggestions from
Mr. Simnel as to how and where the last rites should be performed,
called on that gentleman at his chambers in Piccadilly, and discovered
the state of affairs. Then Churchill, while he remained in London,
took to coming every day to see Mr. Simnel, and to learn whether any
thing was required for him; and, coming in to pay a farewell visit
after he had seen poor Kitty laid in the grave, he met Dr. Prater, and
heard from his lips that in all human probability the actual danger
was past, but that it might be months before the patient would be
himself again, so dreadfully had he been weakened and pulled down. So
Churchill went away in better spirits, leaving his address at
Brighton, in case Mr. Simnel required any thing done which Churchill
could do for him. Indeed Frank wanted a little rest and repose. As
though his own domestic worries had not been enough for him, he had
had to supervise the whole of the mortuary and testamentary
arrangements of poor Kate Mellon; and one other bit of business he had
had to perform, of a somewhat more pleasing character.

In coming back in all humility to her husband's arms, Barbara had made
no stipulations; but when, holding her clasped in his strong embrace,
he was talking of her return home, she looked up imploringly in his
face, and said,

"Oh, if possible, not to the old street! oh, Frank, let us retrench in
any way, but do let us leave that horrible neighbourhood!"

All things considered, he too thought it better; and as Sir
Marmaduke's legacy had materially increased his income, he felt
himself justified in looking out for some pretty suburban place, and
half his days had been spent at house-agents' offices, and in
explorations of houses to which he had been remitted.

Mr. Simnel's illness did not concern himself alone, but reflected
immediately on the Tin-Tax Office. For at that eminent establishment
things had been so long dependent on the one man, that so soon as he
was taken away, unmistakable symptoms of collapse began to show
themselves, and it seemed impossible that the business could be
carried on. For in the discharge of the business of the Tin-Tax Office
the grand thing was for every body to refer to every body else,
until the whole onus of setting the machine in gear, of supplying
steam-power, and starting the engine, fell upon Mr. Simnel; and when
he was not there to start it, it went off in a very lame and one-sided
manner. This was perceived by "one of the public," one of those
wondrous persons who, with nothing to do, are always on the look-out
to see Achilles' heel uncovered, or to spy the joints in Atrides'
armour; and the person in question, who had been overcharged
eighteenpence in a matter of tin-tax, and who had received, in reply
to an appeal, a letter from the Office in which the relative ignored
the existence of an antecedent, and the verb positively declined any
connexion with the nominative case sent the letter to the _Daily
Teaser_, where it was found so charming, that a leading article in the
richest and fullest-flavoured style of that journal was specially
devoted to it. This article was much quoted; and at the end of the
week the subject was honoured by the _Scourge_ with a yet more
ferocious attack. The _Scourge_ article happened to be read by the
Treasury Secretary on Sunday morning as he was dressing, and that
astute official at once saw that something was wrong. Early the next
morning his private secretary called at the Tin-Tax Office and learnt
of Simnel's illness--learned moreover that he had applied for six
months' leave of absence, thorough and entire rest and change being
reported as absolutely necessary in the certificate. The next man, a
political nominee, was worth nothing; and of the Commissioners none
of them had the least notion of business save Sir Hickory Maddox, who
was past his work, and Mr. Beresford, who had--well, there was no
doubt about it, all town was ringing with it--gone entirely to the bad
on racing matters, and was at that very time in Whitecross-Street
Prison. The Treasury Secretary was in a fix; he saw that the matter
was becoming serious; that the Tin-Tax--an important department--was
going to grief; that some member was safe to ask a question about the
mismanagement in the first week of the session; and that therefore
what he the Treasury Secretary had to do--and a deuced unpleasant job
it was, too--was to tell the Chancellor of the Exchequer how matters
stood, and wait for orders. The Chancellor of the Exchequer received
the news with a very bad grace; he was a nervous man and hated
newspaper-attacks; he was a strictly moral man and hated looseness of
any kind. He told the Treasury Secretary that Mr. Beresford must be
written to to resign his situation at once, or he would be removed;
and he stated that he was thoroughly sick of nepotism and 'influence'
in the choice of nominees, and that a man must be selected to fill
Beresford's berth, on whom they might really depend for the working of
the department during Simnel's absence.

It was the result of these instructions that George Harding found
himself in Downing Street, in obedience to a strongly-worded
invitation, glaring over an old red despatch-box at the Treasury
Secretary, and receiving from him the offer of that vacant berth. It
was the result of his own honesty and straightforwardness that he
declined it. "It wouldn't do, Sir George; it wouldn't do. I'm cut out
for a newspaper-man, and nothing else; though I deeply feel the honour
you've done me. No; I must decline; but I know a man who would be
exactly what you require; who--"

"Pardon me, Mr. Harding; I was only instructed to sound you as to
yourself; and--"

"Pardon _me_, you know the man of whom I am speaking well enough; he
wrote those articles on the Russian question, for which Lord Hailey
supplied the material, and with which he was so pleased."

"Ah, to be sure; I recollect; what's his name? one may make a note of
him, at any rate."

"His name is Churchill. You'll find no better clearer-headed man."

Then George Harding went away, and for the first and last time in his
life exerted his influence, and requested the return of favours which
he had frequently granted. He must have been well satisfied with the
result of his work. Three days after Harding's interview with the
Treasury Secretary, Churchill, idling at Brighton, was telegraphed for
to Downing Street. The next week the _London Gazette_ contained the
appointment of Francis Churchill, Esquire, to be one of the
Commissioners appointed for levying her Majesty's Tin-Tax, _vice_
Charles Beresford, Esquire, retired.


Mr. Beresford, pursued with the most unrelenting animosity by
Scadgers, found himself opposed at every step,--even when, in sheer
despair, he petitioned the Court,--and opposed so successfully, that
he was remanded for two years. This period he passed in prison, and in
cultivating the mysteries of racket, _écarté_ and _piquet_, in the two
last of which he became a great proficient. It is to be hoped that
they will be of service to him on the Continent, whither, having
eventually obtained his release, he has repaired; and where his
gentlemanly bearing and knowledge of the world will probably enable
him to earn a very decent income from the innocent young Englishmen
always to be picked up in travelling.

Mr. Prescott married Miss Murray, and, for a time, lived in London,
and attended his office with great regularity. But the old squire
found he could not live without his daughter, and simultaneously
discovered that it was absolutely necessary that his estate should be
more closely looked after than it had been. So, at his father-in-law's
desire, Mr. Prescott resigned his appointment, and took up his
quarters at Brooklands, where he and his wife are thoroughly happy;
and where he discharges his duties of shooting, fishing, and hunting,
to his own and his wife's great satisfaction. They have two sturdy
children; a girl Kate, to whom Mr. Simnel is sponsor, and a boy Jim,
who, under the guidance of his godfather Mr. Pringle, is already being
indoctrinated into all kinds of mischief.

Dear honest old George Pringle is still single. "Time, sir," he
sometimes says to Prescott, "has bereft me of charms once divine,"
laying his hand on a bald place about the size of a shilling on the
crown of his head; "but I defy him. I and Madame Rachel are the only
people who are beautiful for ever." He is very happy, having risen
well in his office, and he still hates Mr. Dibb with all the intensity
of former years.

Mr. Simnel, after some months, came back cured of his illness, but
quite an altered man; his hair had become quite white, and his back
was bowed like that of a very old man. Occasionally he goes down to
see his colleague Mr. Churchill, or to spend Saturday and Sunday with
Mr. Prescott's family; but his ordinary life is a very quiet one, and
seems divided between his office and the True-Blue Club, in the
card-room of which he is to be found every night prepared to hold his
own at whist against all comers.

Mr. Scadgers still pursues his trade; but I hear that he is now
considering the advances of a joint-stock company, who wish to buy his
business, under the title of The Government-Clerks' Own Friend and
Unlimited. Advance Company (limited), and who propose to make Jinks
manager with a large salary.

There is no Mrs. Schröder now, and no house appertaining to any one of
that name in Saxe-Coburg Square. Captain and Mrs. Lyster live in a
large house at Maidenhead, known to their friends as "The Staircase,"
from the enormous size of the _escalier_, but really known as
Wingroves,--a fine old-fashioned Queen-Anne mansion, facing the river,
where they are thoroughly happy. Their son Fred is supposed by his
parents to be a prodigy, and is really a healthy pleasant boy.

Near them is a little cottage with a trim garden, passing by which in
the summer you will generally see a white-haired old lady, on a rustic
seat, reading a book and enjoying the sunlight.

Then comes a shout, a clanging of the garden-gate, an irruption of
children, wild cries of "Granny!" and the old lady is hustled away to
find fruit or play at games. This is old Mrs. Churchill, who has never
been so happy in her life.

And Barbara and Frank? They live close by in a charming house, with a
lawn sloping to the Thames. Barbara has her brougham again; and all
her old acquaintance have called on her, and expressed their delight
at her husband's good fortune with great enthusiasm. Miss Lexden, now
resident in Florence, and a confirmed invalid, is perhaps the only one
of her old set who has not so acted. But Barbara has not cared to
renew the old connexions. Thoroughly happy in her husband, doting on
her three children, her chief pleasure is in her home, of which she is
now the comfort and the pride.



THE END.





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