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Title: A Righted Wrong, Volume 3 (of 3) - A Novel.
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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Transcriber's Note:
     1. Page scan source: web archive;
        https://archive.org/details/rightedwrongnove03yate/page/n4
       (Library of the University of Illinois)



A RIGHTED WRONG.



A RIGHTED WRONG.
A Novel.


BY
EDMUND YATES,
AUTHOR OF
"BLACK SHEEP," "THE FORLORN HOPE," "BROKEN TO HARNESS," ETC.


IN THREE VOLUMES.
VOL. III.


LONDON:
TINSLEY BROTHERS, 18 CATHERINE ST., STRAND.
1870.

[_All rights reserved_.]



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



CONTENTS OF VOL. III.

CHAP.
I.      Twenty Years after.
II.     Robert Meredith.
III.    Time and Change.
IV.     The Heiress of the Deane.
V.      The "Raccroc de Noces."
VI.     The First Moves in the Game.
VII.    Drifting.
VIII.   The Mine is sprung.
IX.     The Righting of the Wrong.



A RIGHTED WRONG.


CHAPTER I. ]
TWENTY YEARS AFTER.


An unusually beautiful day, in an exceptionally beautiful summer, and
a grand old mansion, in all its bravery, wearing its best air of
preparation and festivity. Even in the merest outline such a picture
has its charms; and that which the sunshine lighted up on one
particular occasion, about to be described, merited close attention,
and the study of its every detail.

Sheltered by a fine plantation, which, in any other than the land of
flood and fell, might have been called a forest, and situated on the
incline of a conical hill, the low park land, picturesquely planted,
stretching away from it, until lost in the boundary of trees
beneath,--a large, imposing house, built of gray, cut stone, presented
its wide and lofty façade to the light. The architecture was
irregular, picturesque, and effective; and now, with its numerous
windows, some sparkling in the sunshine, others thrown wide open to
admit the sweet air, the Deane had an almost palatial appearance.
Along the front ran a wide stone terrace, from which three flights of
steps, one in the centre, and one at either end, led down to an
Italian garden, intersected by the wide avenue.

Large French windows opened on this stone expanse, and now, in the
lazy summer day, the silken curtains were faintly stirring, and the
sound of voices, and of occasional low laughter, came softly to the
hearing of two persons, a man and a woman, who were seated on a garden
bench, in an angle of the terrace. The countless sounds of Nature,
which make a music all their own, were around them, and the scene had
in it every element of beauty and joy; but these two persons seemed to
be but little moved by it, to have little in common with all that
surrounded them and with the feelings it was calculated to suggest.

They were for the most part silent, and when they spoke it was sadly
and slowly, as they speak upon whom the memory of the past is strong,
and who habitually live in it more than in the present. There was a
deference in the tone and manner of the woman, which would have made
an observer aware that though the utmost kindliness and unrestraint
existed in her relations with her companion, she was not his equal in
station; and her manner of speaking, though quite free from all that
ordinarily constitutes vulgarity, would have betrayed that difference
still more plainly.

She was a tall woman, apparently about forty years old, and handsome,
in a peculiar style. Her face was not refined, and yet far from
common; the features well formed, and the expression eminently candid
and sensible. Health and content were plainly to be read in the still
bright complexion and clear gray Irish eyes. She wore a handsome silk
dress, and a lace cap covered her still abundant dark hair, and in her
dress and air were unmistakable indications of her position in life.
She looked what she was, the responsible head of a household,
authoritative and respected.

We have seen her before, many years ago, on board the ship which
brought Margaret Hungerford to England, Margaret Hungerford, who has
slept for nearly twenty years under the shade of the great yew in the
churchyard, which is not so far from the Deane but that sharp eyes can
mark where the darker line of its solemn trees crosses the woods of
the lower park land. The years have set their mark upon the handsome
Irish girl, who had won such trust and affection from the forlorn
young widow, who had done with it all now, all love and fear, all
sorrow and forlornness, and need of help, for ever. Not only for ever,
but so long ago, that her name and memory were mere traditions, while
the trees she had planted were still but youngsters among trees, and
the path cut through the Fir Field by her directions was still known
as the "new" road.

There, on the spot where she had often sat with Baldwin and talked of
the future, which they were never to see, Margaret's friend, humble
indeed, but rightly judged and worthily trusted, sat, this beautiful
summer's day, in the untouched prime of her health and strength and
comeliness, and talked of the dear dead woman; but vaguely, timidly,
as the long dead are spoken of when they are mentioned at all to one
from whom the years had not obscured her, though they had gathered the
dimness which age brings around every other image of the past and of
the future.

He with whom Rose Doran talked was an old man, but older in mind and
in health than in years, of which he had not yet seen the allotted
number. Of a slight, spare figure always, and now so bowed that the
malformation of the shoulders was merged in the general bending
weakness of the frame, and the stooped head was habitually held
downwards, the old man might have been of any age to which infirmity
like his could attain. Even on this warm day he was wrapped in a cloak
lined with fur, and his white transparent face looked as if warm blood
had never coloured the fine closely-wrinkled skin, on which the
innumerable lines were marked as though they had been cunningly drawn
by needles. He wore a low-crowned, wide-leaved soft hat, and scanty
silver locks showed under the brim; but if the hat had been removed it
would have been seen that the head which it had covered was almost
entirely bald, and of the same transparent ivory texture as the face.

It would be difficult to imagine anything more fragile-looking than
the old man, as he sat, wrapped in his cloak, his bowed shoulders
supported by the angle of the terrace, and his hands, long, white, and
skeleton-like, placidly folded on his knees. The only trace of vigour
remaining in him was to be found in the eyes, and here expression,
feeling, memory yet lingered and sometimes gave forth such gleams of
light and purpose as seemed to tell of the youth of the soul within
him still.

A crutch stood against the wall by his side, and a thick stick, with a
strong ivory handle, lay upon the bench. These were unmistakable signs
of the feebleness and decay which had come to the old man, but they
would not have told a close observer more than might have been learned
by a glance at his feet. They were not distorted, none of the ugly
shapelessness of age and disease was to be seen there. They were slim,
and shapely, and neatly attired, in the old-fashioned silk stocking
and buckled shoe of a more polite and formal period, but they were
totally inexpressive. No one could have looked at the old man's feet,
set comfortably upon a soft lambskin rug, but remaining there quite
motionless, without seeing that they had almost ceased to do their
work. With much difficulty, and very slowly, by the aid of the crutch
and the stick, they would still carry him a little way from the sunny
sitting-room on the ground floor to the sunny corner of the terrace,
for the most part--but that was all.

He was not discontented that it should be all, for he suffered little
now in his old age--perhaps he had suffered as much as he could before
that time came; and was no more irritable or peevish. A little tired,
a little wondering betimes that he had so long to wait, while so many
whose day had promised to be prolonged and bright in its morning had
passed on, out of sight, before him: but a happy old man, for all
that, in a quiet, musing way, and "very little trouble to any one."

Yes, that was the general opinion of Mr. Dugdale, old Mr. Dugdale, as
the household, for some unexplained reason, called him, and few things
vexed the spirit of Gertrude Baldwin so nearly beyond bearing, as the
assurances to that effect which her aunt, Mrs. Carteret, was in the
habit of promulgating to an inquisitive and sympathising
neighbourhood. For Mrs. Carteret (she had been the eldest Miss Crofton
a great many years ago) was not of a very refined nature, and it is
just possible that when she commented on Mr. Dugdale's reduced and
sometimes almost deathlike appearance, to the effect that any one "to
see him would think he could die off quite easily," she rather
resented his not availing himself of that apparent facility without
delay. He did not, however; and Mrs. Carteret was the only person who
ever found the gentle, kindly man in the way, and she never dared to
hint to her husband that she did so.

Her niece inherited from her dead mother all the quick-sightedness
which made her keen to see and to suffer, where her affections were
concerned, and the first seeds of dissension had been sown some years
before, between the aunt and the niece, by the girl's perceiving that
"old" Mr. Dugdale was not considered by Mrs. Carteret as such an
acquisition to the family party at the Deane as its fair and gentle,
but high-spirited, young mistress held him to be. It was on that
occasion that Gertrude had contrived, very mildly and very skilfully,
but still after a decided and unmistakable fashion, to remind her aunt
of the fact that she, and not Mrs. Carteret, was the lady of the house
in which the old man had been found _de trop_; and thence had
originated a state of things destined to produce most unforeseen
consequences.

The immediate result, however, had been an increased observance in
manner, and an additional dislike in reality, to Mr. Dugdale, on the
part of Mrs. Carteret, which the old man perceived--as indeed he
perceived everything, for his powers of observation were by no means
enfeebled--but which it never occurred to him to resent. What could it
possibly signify to him that Mrs. Carteret did not like him, and
wished it might be in her power to get rid of him? It was not in her
power; it was not within the compass of any earthly will to separate
him from Margaret's child; and as for Mrs. Carteret herself, it is to
be feared that old Mr. Dugdale, after the saturnine fashion of his
earlier years, cherished a quiet contempt for that lady, while he
readily acknowledged that she was a good sort of woman in her way. It
was not in his way, that was all.

Mrs. Doran was especially devoted to Mr. Dugdale, to whom she owed the
prosperous position which she had held in the household at the Deane
for so many years now, that she was as much a part of the place to the
inhabitants as the forest trees or the family portraits. Consequently
she was not particularly attached to Mrs. Carteret, and presumed
occasionally to criticise that lady's proceedings after a fashion
which, had she been aware of it, would have gone far to fortify her in
one of her favourite and most frequently-expressed opinions, that it
was a great mistake to keep servants too long. "They always presume
upon it, and become impertinent and troublesome."

But Mrs. Carteret would never have ventured to include Mrs. Doran
among the "servants" otherwise than in her most private cogitations.
Rose was a privileged person there, by a more sacred if not a stronger
right than that of Mrs. Carteret herself.

But on this bright, beautiful day, when the old man had come out upon
the terrace to bask awhile in the genial sunshine, why was Rose Doran
with him? Ordinarily he had younger, fairer companions, in whose faces
and voices there were many happy, sad memories for him, and whose love
and care brightened the days fast going down to the last setting of
the sun of his life. They were absent to-day, and the two to whom, of
all the numerous household at the Deane, the day had most of
retrospective meaning were alone together.

"It's wonderful how well I remember her, sir," Rose was saying;
"sometimes that is. There's many a day I disremember her entirely, but
when I do think about her--as to-day--I can see her plain. And I'm
glad, somehow, I never saw her in her grandeur; for if I did, an'
 all the years that have gone by since then, I couldn't but think no
one else had a right to it."

"I understand what you mean, Rose, and when I remember her, sometimes,
as you say, it isn't in her grandeur, but as she was when you and she
came home first;

"Yes, sir, and you saw us goin' in at the door of the little
inn--who'd ever think there'd be a hotel as big as Morrison's, and a
deal cleaner, in the very same place now?--and you not knowin' us, and
she seein' you in a minute. Isn't it strange, Mr. Dugdale, to remember
it after twenty, ay, more than twenty years? How long is it then, sir,
rightly?"

"Twenty-three years and some months, Rose."

"True for you, sir. And now Miss Gerty's to be her own mistress, and
no one to say by your leave or with your leave to her, the darling!
The master would have been a proud man, rest his soul! this day."

The old man did not notice her remark. But after a little while, as if
he had been thinking over it, he bowed the bent head still lower, and
moved the thin white hands, and sighed.

"Are you chilly at all, sir?" asked his quickly-observant companion.
"The sun is shifting a little; would you like to go in?"

"No," he replied; and then asked, after a pause, "How are they getting
on?"

"Beautifully," Rose answered. "The house is a picture; and as to the
ball-room, nothing could be more beautiful. Miss Eleanor has it all
done out with flowers, and I'm only afraid she'll be tired before the
time comes for the dancing. Do you think you'll be able to sit up to
see it, sir?"

"I don't know, Rose; but I will try. Gerty seems to wish it so much,
foolish child; as if it could make any difference to her that an old
man like me should be there to see her happy and admired."

"An' why shouldn't she?" remonstrated Rose in a tone almost of
vexation. "Do you think the children oughtn't to have some nature in
them? If Miss Gerty was no better nor a baby when the mistress--the
Lord be good to her!--was taken, and Miss Eleanor never saw the smile
of her mother's face at all, sure they know about her all the same,
and it's more and not less they think about her, the older they grow,
and the better they know the want of a mother, through seeing other
people with mothers and fathers and friends of all kinds, and no one
to dare to deny them--not that I'm sayin' or thinkin' there's any one
would harm innocent lambs like them, nor try to put between them--but
the world's a quare world, Mr. Dugdale, and they're beginnin' to find
it out, and the more they know of it, the more they miss the mother
they never knew at all, and the father they did not know much
about--and the more they cling to them that did know, and can tell
them. Many's the time, Mr. Dugdale, that Miss Gerty has said to me,
'Isn't it odd that uncle James remembers mamma much better than uncle
Carteret or aunt Lucy remember her, and can tell us much more about
our father?--and yet they were all young people together, and near
relations, and he wasn't.' And it was only the other day, when you
told Miss Gerty she was to have the poor mistress's picture for her
comin' of age, she says to me, 'There's uncle and aunt Carteret
couldn't tell me whether it's like her or not; and there's uncle James
knows all about it, and can tell when I'm like her and when Nelly is,
and yet they say old people forget everything.' Beggin' your pardon,
sir, for saying you're old, but the dear child said the very words.
An' so, if she didn't want you to-night to see her in her glory, and
to be like the smile of the father and mother that's in heaven upon
her, I wouldn't think much of her, Mr. Dugdale, 'deed I wouldn't
then."

"Well, well. Rose, it seems the children are of your opinion, for they
have made me promise to sit up as late as possible; and I have heard
as much about their dresses as either their maids or yourself, I'll be
bound."

"An' beautiful they'll look in them, Mr. Dugdale, particularly Miss
Gerty. Don't you think she grows wonderfully like her mother? Not that
I ever saw her look bright and happy like Miss Gerty; but I think she
must have been just like her, after she was married to the poor
master. You know I went away before that, sir; but perhaps you
disremember."

"No, no, Rose, I remember. I remember it all very well, because she
told me if she wanted you and could not send for you herself I was to
do so, because Mr. Baldwin did not know you. No, no; it is a long time
ago, a very long time, but I don't forget, I don't forget."

"An' you see the likeness, sir?"

"Yes, I see the likeness, I see it very plainly; as we grow old, time
seems so much shorter that it does not appear at all strange to me
that I should remember her so well. There were many years during which
I could hardly recall her face even when I was looking at the picture,
but all that dimness seems to have cleared away now, and all my memory
come back. Gerty is wonderfully like her, only more placid; her manner
is more like her father's."

They were silent for a time, during which Rose Doran knitted
diligently,--her fingers were never idle, and her subordinates in the
household said the same of her eyes and ears,--and then she began to
talk again.

"It'll be a fine ball, sir. They say the beautifulest, except the
Duke's, that ever was in this part of the country. And sure, so it
ought, for where's there the like of Miss Baldwin of the Deane for
beauty or for fortune either? An' what could be too good in the way of
a ball for _her?_"

There was a note of challenge in the Irishwoman's voice. Mr. Dugdale
observed it with amusement, and replied,

"I daresay it will go off very well. Mrs. Carteret is a good hand at
this kind of thing."

"She is," said Rose shortly; "and as it's Miss Gerty's money it's all
to come out of, she'll have no notion of saving anything."

This was the nearest approach to a frank expression of her
not-particularly-exalted opinion of Mrs. Carteret on which Rose had
ever ventured, and Mr. Dugdale did not encourage her to pursue it by
any remark; but, observing that the girls had said they would come out
to him, and were after their time, and that he would go and look for
them, he began to make slow preparations for a change of place.

Rose's steady arm aided him, and he was soon proceeding slowly along
the terrace, his crutch under his left arm and his stick in his right
hand, while Rose walked by his side. As he slowly and apparently
painfully dragged himself along--only apparently, for he rarely
suffered pain now--Mr. Dugdale presented a picture of decrepitude
which contrasted strangely with a picture which any observer, had
there chanced to be one upon the terrace that day, might have seen,
and which he and Rose stood still to look at with intense pleasure.

Through the open windows of a large room upon the terrace the interior
was to be seen. The apartment was of splendid dimensions, and the
richly-decorated walls and ceiling were ornamented with classical
designs appropriate to the festive purposes of a ball-room. A bank of
flowers was constructed to enclose a space designed for an orchestra,
and several musical instruments were already arranged in their places.

A grand piano was in the middle, and a lady was seated before it,
whose nimble fingers were flying over the keys, producing the strains
of a brilliantly provocative and inspiriting valse. The lady was not
alone. In the centre of the room, whose polished floor was almost as
bright and slippery as glass, stood two young girls, the arms of each
around the waist of the other, their heads thrown back, their eyes
beaming with laughter, and their hearts beating with the exertion of
the wild dance they had just concluded.

As Mr. Dugdale and Rose drew near the window, the pause for breath
came to a conclusion, the music gushed forth, more than ever inviting,
and the dancers were off again, spinning round and round in their
girlish glee in a boisterous exaggeration of the figure of the dance,
irresistibly merry and attractive. They flew down the length of the
room, crossed to its extremity, and came whirling up to the central
window. There stood Mr. Dugdale with uplifted threatening stick, and
Rose, with her knitting dropped, fascinated with admiration. Then they
checked their headlong career, and, with some difficulty, came to a
stop opposite the pair on the terrace, laughingly shaking their heads
in imitation of the pretended rebuke they were conveying.

"A rational way to rehearse for your ball, Gerty," said Mr. Dugdale,
as he stepped, with the assistance of the young girl's ready hand,
into the room, followed by Rose. "And a capital plan for you, Nelly,
who are so easily tired. You silly children, don't you think you will
have enough dancing to-night?"

"Not half enough," replied one of the girls, "not quarter; none of the
people will stay after five or six at the latest."

"I should hope not, indeed," said Mr. Dugdale. "And you are resolved
to begin punctually at ten; you _are_ unconscionable."

"And then you know, uncle James," said the girl whom he had called
Gerty, "we cannot dance together to-night; we are grown up, you know,
hopelessly grown up; it's awful, isn't it? and besides--besides aunt
Lucy tempted us with her beautiful playing--and the floor is so
delightful; and now don't you really, really think it will be a
delightful ball?"

"I have not the smallest misgiving about it, Gerty, though I don't
know much of balls. But I am sure Mrs. Carteret will join me in urging
you not to tire yourselves any more just now."

Mrs. Carteret left the piano, and joined the girls, who immediately
entered on a discussion of the measures already taken for the
beautification of the ball-room, and the possibility of still farther
adorning it, which was finally pronounced hopeless, everything being
already quite perfect, and the party adjourned to luncheon.


So the years had sped away, and all the fears, and hopes, and sorrows
they had given birth to had also come to their death, according to the
wonderful law of immutability, and were no more. The mother in her
marble tomb beneath the yew-tree, the father in his unmarked grave in
the desert, but united in the country too far off for mortal ken or
comprehension, were well-nigh forgotten here; and their children were
women now.

The little party assembled at the Deane on this occasion--the
twenty-first anniversary of Gertrude Baldwin's birth--had but little
sadness among them, and were visited with but slight recollections of
the far distant past. Twenty years is a long time. No saying can be
more trite and more true; yet there are persons and circumstances,
and, more than all, there are feelings which are not forgotten,
ignored, killed in twenty years.

There were two unseen guests that day at the table--at whose head Mrs.
Carteret, who was in a gracious, not to say gushing mood, insisted on
Gertrude's taking her place for the first time--whose presence Mr.
Dugdale felt, though he was an old man now, and his fancy was no
longer active. He had his place opposite to Gertrude, and from it he
could see, hanging on the wall behind her chair, her father's
portrait. It was a fine picture, the work of a first-rate artist,
and the face was full of harmony and expression. The graceful lines,
the rich colouring of youthful manhood were there, and the sunny
blue eyes smiled as if they could see the gay girls, the handsome,
self-conscious, self-important woman, the wan and feeble old man. From
the portrait Mr. Dugdale's glance wandered to the girlish face and
figure before him and just under it; and a pang of exceeding keen and
bitter remembrance smote him--ay, after twenty years.

Gertrude Meriton Baldwin was a handsomer girl than her mother had
been, but wonderfully like her. No trouble, no care, no touch of
degradation, humiliation, concealment, bitterness of any kind, had
ever lighted on the daughter's well-cared-for girlhood, which had been
permitted all its natural expansion, all its legitimate enjoyment and
careless gladness. No passion, unwise and ungoverned, had come into
her life to trouble and disturb it too soon--to fill it with vain
illusions, and the sure heritage of disappointment. A happy childhood
had grown into a happy girlhood, and now that happy girlhood had
ripened into a womanhood, with every promise of happiness for the
future.

She was taller than her mother, and had more colour; but the features
were almost the same. The brow was a little less broad, the lips were
fuller, but the eyes were in no way different, so far as they had been
called upon for expression up to the present time; they had looked
like Margaret's, and no doubt would so look in every farther
development of life, circumstance, and character.

Eleanor, who amused herself during the luncheon,--at which Mr. Dugdale
was unusually silent, and Mrs. Carteret occupied herself rather
emphatically, on the plea that dinner was a doubtful good when a ball
was in preparation,--was not in the least like her father, her mother,
or her sister. She was very small, delicately formed, and fragile in
appearance, with a clear dark complexion, large black eyes, and a
profusion of glossy black hair, which, especially when in close
contrast with the clear gray eyes and soft brown hair of her sister,
gave her a foreign appearance, of which she was quite conscious and
rather proud.

Hitherto there had been no difference in the lot of the sisters. The
childish joys and sorrows of the one had been those of the other, and
girlhood had brought to them no separate fortune. Nor were things
materially altered now. The independence of action which Gertrude
attained upon this day would be Eleanor's in a very short time, and in
point of wealth they were nearly equal. For each there had been a long
minority. Eleanor Davyntry had not long survived her brother, and all
her disposable fortune was her younger niece's. Apart from their
orphanhood, no girls could have had a more enviable lot than the two
who were in such wild spirits on that summer's day, which invested one
of them with all the dignity of legal womanhood, and all the
responsibility of a great heiress.

Eleanor was of a different temperament from that of Gertrude, more
vehement, more passionate, less self-reliant, less sustained. Hitherto
the difference had shown itself but seldom and slightly, and there had
been little or nothing to develop it. But a shrewd observer would have
noticed it, even in the manner in which each regarded the promised
pleasure of the evening, in the easy joyousness of the one, and the
passionate eagerness of the other.

When luncheon had nearly reached a conclusion, the sounds of wheels
upon the drive sent Eleanor rushing to the window. A stylish dog-cart,
in which were seated a tall, fine-looking, rather heavy middle-aged
man and an irreproachable groom, was rapidly approaching the house.

"It is uncle," said Eleanor; "now we shall know for certain who's
coming from Edinburgh. What a good thing you thought of the telegraph,
aunt!"

"Yes," said Mrs. Carteret. "When one has to put people up for the
night, it is better to know exactly how many to expect."

In a few minutes Haldane Carteret was in the room, and had handed an
open telegraphic despatch to Gertrude.

"They're all coming, you see," he said good-humouredly; "and _you'll_
be glad to hear, Lucy, there's no doubt about Meredith. He has got
that troublesome business settled, as he always does get everything
settled he puts his mind to, and he will be down by the mail, and here
by eleven."

"That is delightful," said Gertrude, with frank outspoken pleasure.
"You have brought nothing but good news, uncle."

"And the programmes--isn't that what you call them? I hope they're all
right."

"I'm sure they are.--Aunt, what room are you going to give Mr.
Meredith?"

Then ensued a domestic discussion, in which Gertrude and Mrs. Carteret
took an active share; but Eleanor stood looking out of the window, and
did not utter a word.



CHAPTER II.
ROBERT MEREDITH.


The twenty years which had rolled over the head of Robert Meredith,
the anxiously expected guest, since last we saw him, may be thus
briefly recapitulated. The school selected by James Dugdale for his
protégé's education was the now celebrated, but then little heard-of
Grammar-school of Lowebarre. Not that the _alumni_, as they delight to
call themselves, recognise their old place of education by any such
familiar name. To them it is and always will be the Fairfax-school;
they are "Fairfaxians," and the word Lowebarre is altogether ignored.

The _fons et origo_ of these academic groves, pleasantly situate in
the immediate vicinity of the metropolis, was one Sir Anthony Fairfax,
a worthy knight of the time of Queen Elizabeth, who, having lived his
life merrily, according to the fashion of the old English gentlemen of
those days, more especially in the matter of the consumption of sack
and the carrying out of the _droits de seigneurie_, thought it better
towards his latter days to endeavour to get up a few entries on the
other side of the ledger of his life, and found the easiest method in
the doing a deed of beneficence on a large scale. This was nothing
less than the foundation of a school at Lowebarre, where a portion of
his property was situate, for the education of forty boys, who were to
be gratuitously instructed in the learned languages, and morally and
religiously brought up. How the scheme worked in those dark ages it
is, of course, impossible to say.

But ten years before Robert Meredith was inducted into the _arcana_ of
the classics the Fairfax school was in a very low state indeed, and
the Fairfaxians themselves were no better than a set of roughs. The
head master, an old gentleman who had been classically educated,
indeed, but over whose head the rust of many years of farming had
accumulated, took little heed of his scholars, whose numbers
consequently dwindled half-year by half-year, and who, as they
neglected not only the arts but everything else but stone-throwing and
orchard-robbing had no manners to soften, and became brutal.

This state of affairs could not last. One of the governors or
trustees acting under the founder's will saw that not merely was the
muster-roll of the school diminishing, but its social _status_ was
almost gone. He called a meeting of his coadjutors, impressed upon
them the necessity of taking vigorous steps for getting rid of the
then head master, and of at once procuring the services of a man ready
to go with the times. Advertisements judiciously worded were sent to
all the newspapers, inviting candidates for the head-mastership of the
Fairfax school, and dilating in glowing terms on the advantages of
that position; but time passed, and the post yet remained open. Those
who presented themselves were too much of the stamp of the existing
holder of the situation to suit the enlarged views of the trustees,
and it was not until Mr. Warwick, the governor who had first suggested
the reform, busied himself personally in the matter, that the fitting
individual was secured.

The Rev. Charles Crampton, who, having taken a first-class in classics
and a second in mathematics, having been Fellow of his college and
tutor of some of the best men of their years, had finally succumbed to
the power of love, and subsided into a curacy of seventy-five pounds a
year, was Mr. Warwick's selection. He brought with him testimonials of
the highest character; but what weighed most with Mr. Warwick was the
earnest recommendation of James Dugdale, who had been Mr. Crampton's
college friend.

Poor Charles Crampton, when he sacrificed his fellowship for love, had
little notion that he would have to pass the remainder of his life in
grinding in a mill of boys. To study the Fathers, to prepare two or
three editions of his favourite classic authors, to play in a more
modern and refined manner the part of the parson in the "Deserted
Village," had been his hope. But though the old adage was not
followed, though when Poverty came in at the door (and she did come
speedily enough, not in her harshest fiercest aspect it is true, but
looking quite grimly enough to frighten an educated and refined
gentleman). Love did not fly out of the window, yet Charles Crampton
had suffered sufficiently from _turpis egestas_ to induce him at once
to accept the offer.

The salary of the Fairfax head-mastership, though not large,
quintupled his then income; the position held out to him was that of a
gentleman, and though he had not any wild ideas of the dignity and
responsibility of a school-mastership, the notion of having to battle
in aid of a failing cause pleased and invigorated him, more especially
when he reflected that, should he succeed, the _kudos_ of that success
would be all his own.

So the Reverend Charles Crampton was installed at Lowebarre, and the
wisdom of Mr. Warwick's selection was speedily proved. Men of position
and influence in the world, who had been Mr. Crampton's friends at
college; others, a little younger, to whom he had been tutor; and the
neighbouring gentry, when they found they had resident among them one
who was not merely a scholar and a man of parts, but by birth and
breeding one of themselves,--sent their sons to the Fairfax school,
and received Mr. and Mrs. Crampton with all politeness and attention.

By the time that Robert Meredith arrived at Lowebarre the school was
thoroughly well known; its scholars numbered nearly two hundred; its
"speech-days" were attended, as the local journals happily expressed
it, "by lords spiritual and temporal, the dignitaries of the Bar, the
Bench, and the Senate, and the flower of the aristocracy;" while,
source of Mr. Crampton's greatest pride, there stood on either side of
the Gothic window in the great school-hall, on a chocolate ground, in
gold letters, a list of the exhibitioners of the school, and of the
honours gained by Fairfaxians, at the two universities.

To a boy brought up amidst the incongruities of colonial life the
order and regularity of the Fairfax school possessed all the elements
of bewildering novelty. But with his habitual quietude and secret
observation Robert Meredith set himself to work to acquire an insight
into the characters both of his masters and his school-fellows, and
determined, according to his wont, to turn the result of his studies
to his own benefit.

The forty boys provided for by the beneficence of good old Sir Anthony
Fairfax--"foundation-boys," as they were called--were now, of course,
in a considerable minority in the school. They were for the most part
sons of residents in the immediate neighbourhood; but for the benefit
of those young gentlemen who came from afar, the head master received
boarders at his own house, and at another under his immediate control,
while certain of the under masters enjoyed similar privileges.

The number of young gentlemen received under Mr. Crampton's own roof
was rigidly limited to three; for Mrs. Crampton was a nervous little
woman, who shrunk from the sound of cantering bluchers, and whose
housekeeping talent was not of an extensive order. The triumvirate
paid highly, more highly than James Dugdale thought necessary; and
Hayes Meredith was of his opinion. The boy would have to rough it in
after life, he said,--"roughing it" was a traditional idea with
him,--and it would be useless to bring the lad up on velvet. So that
Robert found his quarters in Mr. Crampton's second boarding-house,
where forty or fifty lads, all the sons of gentlemen of modern
fortune, dwelt in more or less harmony out of school-hours, and were
presided over by Mr. Boldero, the mathematical master.

On his first entry into this herd of boys, Robert Meredith felt that
he could scarcely congratulate himself on his lines having fallen in
pleasant places. He had sufficient acuteness to foresee what the
lively youths amongst whom he was about to dwell would reckon as his
deficiencies, and consequently would select and enter upon at once to
his immediate opprobrium. That he was colonial, and not English born,
would be, he was aware, immediately resented with scorn by his
companions, and regarded as a reason for overwhelming him with
obloquy. It was, therefore, a fact to be kept most secret; but after
the lapse of a few days it was inadvertently revealed by the "chum" to
whom alone Robert had mentioned the circumstance. When once known it
afforded subject for the keenest sarcasm; "bushranger," "kangaroo,"
"ticket-of-leave," were among the choice epithets bestowed upon him.

It would not be either pleasant or profitable to linger over the story
of Robert Meredith's school-days. They have no interest for us beyond
this, that they developed his disposition, and insensibly influenced
all his after life. He regarded his schoolmates with scorn as
unbounded as it was studiously concealed, and he cultivated their
unsuspecting good-will with a success which rendered him in a short
time, in all points essential to his comfort, their master. He made
rapid progress in his studies, and kept before his mind with
steadiness which was certainly wonderful at his age--and, had it been
induced by a more elevated actuating motive, would have been most
admirable--the purpose with which he had come to England.

When the end of his schoolboy life drew near, and the much longed-for
University career was about to begin, Robert Meredith took leave of
Mr. Crampton with mutual assurances of good-will. If the conscientious
and reverend gentleman had been closely questioned with regard to his
sentiments concerning his clever colonial pupil, he must have
acknowledged that he admired rather than liked him. But there was no
one to dive into the secrets of his soul, and in the letter which Mr.
Crampton addressed to Mr. Dugdale on the occasion, he gave him, with
perfect truth, a highly favourable account of Robert Meredith, of
which one sentence really contained the pith. "He is conspicuous for
talent," wrote the reverend gentleman; "but I think even his abilities
are less marked than his tact, in which he surpasses any young man
whose character has come under my observation."

"So in argument, and so in life--tact is a great matter." Behold the
guiding spirit of Robert Meredith's career, even in its present
fledgling days. It was tact that made him eschew anything that might
look like "sapping," or rigidity of morals, as much as he eschewed
dissipation and actual fast life while at college. It was tact that
made his wine-parties, though the numbers invited were small, and the
liquids by no means so expensive as those furnished by many of his
acquaintances, the pleasantest in the university. It was tact that
took him now and then into the hunting-field, that made him a constant
attendant at Bullingdon and Cowley Marsh, where his bowling and
batting rendered him a welcome ally and a formidable opponent; and it
was tact which allotted him just that amount of work necessary for a
fair start in his future career.

Robert Meredith knew perfectly that in that future career at the bar
the honours gained at college would have little weight--that the
position to be gained would depend materially upon the talent and
industry brought to bear upon the dry study of the law itself, upon
the mastery of technical details; above all, upon the reading of that
greatest of problems, the human heart, and the motives influencing it.
To hold his own was all he aimed at while at college, and he did so;
but some of his friends, who knew what really lay in him, were
grievously disappointed when the lists were published, and it was
found that Robert Meredith had only gained a double second. George
Ritherdon grieved openly, and refused to be comforted even by his own
success, and by the acclamations which rang round the steady reading
set of Bodhamites when it was known that George Ritherdon's name stood
at the head of the first class.

The two friends were not to be separated--that was Ritherdon's
greatest consolation. Mr. Plowden, the great conveyancer of the Middle
Temple, had made arrangements to receive both of them to read with
him; and in the very dingy chambers occupied by that great professor
of the law they speedily found themselves installed. A man overgrown
with legal rust, and prematurely drowsy with a lifelong residence
within the "dusty purlieus of the law," was Mr. Plowden; but his name
was well known, his fame was thoroughly established; many of his
pupils were leading men at the bar; and the dry tomes which bore his
name as author were recognised text-books of the profession.

Moreover, James Dugdale had heard, from certain old college chums,
that underneath Mr. Plowden's legal crust there was to be found a keen
knowledge of human nature, and a certain power of will, which,
properly exercised, would be of the greatest assistance in moulding
and forming such a character as Robert Meredith's. It was, therefore,
with a comfortable sense of duty done that James Dugdale saw the young
man established in Mr. Plowden's chambers, and, from all he had heard,
he was by no means sorry that Robert was to have George Ritherdon as
his companion.

There are certain persons who seem to be specially designed and cut
out by nature for prosperity, and with whom, on the whole, it does not
seem to disagree. They bear the test well, they are not arrogant,
insolent, or apparently unfeeling, and they make more friends than
enemies. Such people find many true believers in them, to surround
them with a sincere and heartfelt worship, to regard all their good
fortune as their indisputable right, and resent any cross, crook, or
turning in it as an injustice on the part of Providence, or "some
one." We all know one person at least of this class, for whose "luck"
it is difficult to account, except as "luck," and of whom no one has
anything unfavourable to say, or the disposition to say it.

Robert Meredith was one of this favoured class of persons. He had the
good fortune to possess certain external gifts which go far towards
making a man popular, and under which it is always difficult,
especially to women, to believe that a cold heart is concealed. The
handsome lad had grown up into a handsomer man, and one chiefly
remarkable for his easy and graceful manners, which harmonised with an
elegant figure and a voice which had a very deceptive depth,
sweetness, and impressiveness of intonation about it.

The ardent admirer, the unswerving true believer in Meredith's case
was, as we have seen, George Ritherdon; and it would have been curious
and interesting to investigate the extent and importance of the
influence of this early contracted and steadily maintained friendship
on the lives of both men, and on the estimation in which Meredith was
held by the world outside that companionship.

He would have been very loth to believe that any particle of his
importance, a shade of warmth in the manner of his welcome anywhere,
an impulse of confidence in his ability, leading to his being employed
in cases above his apparent mark and standing, were the result of an
unexpressed belief in George Ritherdon, a tacit but very general
respect and admiration for the earnest, honest, irreproachable
integrity of the man, who was clever, indeed, as well as good, but so
much more exceptionally good than exceptionally clever, that the
latter quality was almost overlooked by his friends, who were numerous
and influential. Wherever George's influence could reach, wherever his
efforts could be made available, Meredith's interests were safe,
Meredith's ambition was aided.

Naturally of a frank and communicative disposition, liking sympathy
and the expression of it, fond of his home and his family, and ever
ready to be actively interested in all that concerned them, there was
not an incident in his history, direct or indirect, with which he
would not have made his "chum" acquainted on the least hint of
the "chum's" desiring to know it; and, in fact, Robert Meredith,
who had too much tact to permit his friend to perceive that his
communicativeness occasionally bored him, was in thorough possession
of his friend's history past and present.

But this was not reciprocal, except in a very superficial scale.
Robert Meredith was perhaps not intentionally reticent with George
Ritherdon, and it occurred very seldom to the latter to think his
friend reticent at all, but he was habitually cautious. The same
quality which had made him a taciturn observer in the house at
Chayleigh, able to conceal his dislike of Mr. Baldwin, and to
appreciate thoroughly without appearing to observe the tie which bound
James Dugdale to his old friend's daughter, now in his manhood enabled
him to win the regard of others, and to learn all about them, without
letting them either find out much about him, or offending them, or
inspiring them with distrust by cold and calculated reserve.

As a matter of fact, George Ritherdon knew very much less of his
friend than his friend knew of him, and of one portion of his life he
was in absolute ignorance. It was that which included his residence at
Chayleigh, and his subsequent relations with the families of Carteret
and Baldwin. George had heard the names in casual mention, and he knew
that when Meredith went for a fortnight or so to Scotland in the
"long" he went to a place called the Deane, where a retired officer of
artillery, named Haldane Carteret, lived, who kept a very good house,
and gave "men" some very capital shooting.

But George did not shoot; and had he been devoted to that manly
pursuit, he would never have thought it in the least unkind or
negligent in Meredith to have omitted to share his opportunities in
that way with him; he would never have thought about it at all indeed;
so the Deane was quite unknown territory, even speculatively, to this
good fellow. He knew nothing of the young heiress and her sister. No
stray photograph or missish letter, left about in the careless
disarray of bachelor's chambers, had ever excited George's curiosity,
or led to "chaff" on his part upon Meredith's predilection for
travelling north, whenever he could spare the time to travel at all,
upon his indifference to "the palms and temples of the south." George
was not an adept in the polite modern art of "chaff," and few men
could have been found to offer less occasion for its exercise than
Robert Meredith.

It had sometimes occurred to George to wonder why a man so popular
with women, so "rising" as Robert Meredith, a man who had undoubtedly,
in default of some untoward accident, a brilliant professional career
and all its concomitant social advantages before him, had not married;
but this was a matter on which he would not have considered that even
their close friendship would have justified him in putting any
questions to Meredith.

The _tu quoque_ which might have been Meredith's reply was of easy
explanation. George Ritherdon had had a disappointment in his youth,
and had never thought seriously about marriage since. The
disappointment had taken place in his early imprudent days, when no
connection, even distantly collateral, existed in his mind between
money and marriage, and he had long since arrived at the conviction
that, even if it did come into his head or heart to fall in love
again, he could not afford to marry, and therefore must, acting upon
the gentlemanly precepts which had always governed him, resist any
such inclination as dishonourable to himself and ungenerous towards
its object.

The world had "marched" to a very quick step indeed since the days of
George's almost boyhood, when the beautiful but penniless Camilla
Jackson had fascinated him "into fits" at a carpet dance in the
neighbourhood of his father's house, and he had forthwith set to work,
in the fervent realms of his imagination, to fit up, furnish, and
start a most desirable and charming little establishment, to be
presided over by that young lady in the delightful capacity of wife.
Of course the beautiful Camilla was always to be attired in the
choicest French millinery and the clearest white muslins. Laundresses'
bills had no place, nor had those of the _modiste_, in the
unsophisticated imagination of the young man, and breakages were as
far from his thoughts as babies.

George had lived and learned since then, and he dreamed no more
dreams now; he knew better. Unless some tremendous, wholly unexpected,
and extravagantly-unlikely piece of good luck should come in his
way--something about as probable as the adventures of Sindbad or
Prince Camaralzaman, in which case he would immediately look about for
an eligible young lady to take the larger share of it off his
unaccustomed hands--George would now never marry.

Camilla had disdained the white muslin and the millinery regardless of
the washing bill, of which indeed she had early been taught by an
exemplary and fearfully managing mother to be ceaselessly reminiscent;
and George not unfrequently saw her now in a carriage, the mere
varnish whereof told of wealth of perfectly aggressive amount, in a
carriage crammed with healthy, clean, rich-looking children, and
gorgeously arrayed in velvets and furs of great price.

That Meredith was not a marrying man was the conclusion at which
George Ritherdon arrived, when he discussed with himself the oddity of
the coincidence which threw them together, and speculated upon how
long the engagement would last.

In one respect the friends were very differently circumstanced. George
Ritherdon had "no end" of relations, cousins by the score, aunts and
uncles in liberal proportions. But Robert Meredith was a lonely man.
His colonial origin explained that. He had never sought to renew any
of the ties of family connection broken by his father when he left
England; he had found friends steady and serviceable, and he wisely
preferred contenting himself with them to cultivating dubiously
disposed relatives. Boy though he was, he made a correct hit in this.

"If they were likely to be any use to me, my father would have put me
in some kind of communication with them; he certainly would have
looked them up when he came home, which he never did."

Therefore Robert never troubled himself more about any of the family
connections on this side of the world, and, indeed, troubled himself
very little about those on the other. As time went by he was
accustomed to say to himself that he knew they were all getting on
well, and that was enough for him. Sometimes he wondered whether he
should ever see them again; whether, if he did not "see his way" here,
he might not go in for colonial practice; whether one or more of his
brothers, children when he saw them last, might not take the same
fancy which he had taken for seeing the old world. But nothing of all
this happened.

Robert Meredith had neared the end of his college career when
intelligence of his father's death reached him, and caused him
genuine, if temporary, suffering. His thoughts went back then to the
old home and the old times, and he did feel for a time a disinterested
wish that he had been with his mother--how she had loved him, how she
loved him still, through all those years of separation!--when this
calamity came upon her. The necessity for a large correspondence with
his brothers, and the feeling, always a terrible one in cases where a
long distance lies between persons affected by the same event, that
his father's death had taken place while he was quite unconscious of
it, and was already long past when he heard of it, touched chords
dulled if not silenced.

The account which he received of family affairs was prosperous: one of
his sisters was already married, the other would follow her example
after a due and decorous lapse of time. His brothers were to carry on
Hayes Meredith's business, in whose profits his father left him a
small share. Altogether, apart from feeling--and it was unusual for
Robert Meredith to find it difficult to keep any matter of
consideration apart from feeling--the position of affairs was
eminently satisfactory, and the young man, ambitious, industrious, and
self-reliant, felt that he and his were well treated by fate.

He felt the blank which his father's death created a good deal. He had
corresponded with him very regularly, and the freshness and vigour,
the plain practical sense and shrewdness of the older man's mind had
been pleasant and useful to the younger. He had not expected the
event, either. Hayes Meredith was a strong, hale, athletic man, and
his son had always thought of him as he had last seen him. No bad
accounts of his health had ever reached Robert, and he had never
thought of his father's death as a probable occurrence.

On the whole, this was the most remarkable event, and by many degrees
the most impressive, which had befallen in Meredith's life, and its
influence upon him was decidedly injurious. He had always been hard,
and from that time he became harder--not in appearance, nothing was
more characteristic of the young man than his easy and sympathetic
manner, but in reality he felt more solitary now that the one bond of
intellectual companionship between him and his home was broken, and
this solitude was not good for him. As for his mother, he was apt to
think of her as a very good woman in her way--an excellent woman
indeed. A man must be much worse than Robert Meredith before he ceases
to believe this of his own mother; but she knew nothing whatever of
the world--of the old world particularly--and could not be made to
understand it. He wrote to her--he never neglected doing so; but there
was more expression than truth of feeling in his letters, and the
mail-day was not a pleasant epoch.



CHAPTER III.
TIME AND CHANGE.


While Mr. Carteret lived, Robert Meredith had been a frequent visitor
to Chayleigh. The quiet, eccentric old gentleman had remained in the
old house, and had faithfully guarded his beloved collection to the
last. But that emporium of curiosities had not received many additions
after Mrs. Baldwin's death. The old man had taken, after a time, a
little feeble pleasure in it, it is true; but only because those about
him had acted on the hint which Margaret herself had given them, after
the death of Mrs. Carteret, and persuaded him to resume his care of
the collection because his daughter had been so fond of it.

Always quiet, uncomplaining, and kind to every one, the old man would
have had rather a snubbed and subdued kind of life of it, under the
rule of Haldane's bouncing Lucy, but for the vigilance of James
Dugdale. That silent and unsuspected sufferer sedulously watched and
cared for the old man, and Mrs. Haldane, who by no means liked him, so
far respected and feared him that she never ventured to dispute any of
his arrangements for Mr. Carteret's welfare.

He continued to like Lucy "pretty well," and to regard Robert Meredith
with special favour, though he lived long enough to see Robert pass
quite out of the category of exceptional boys. Indeed, so much did he
like him, that at one time he entertained an idea of bequeathing to
him the famous collection, after the demise of James Dugdale, who was
to have a life interest in its delights and treasures; but on the old
gentleman's broaching the subject to him one day, Robert Meredith put
the objections to the scheme so very strongly to him, that he
acknowledged the superior wisdom of his young friend, bowed to his
decision, and liked him more than ever for his disinterestedness.

Robert represented to him that, though the possession of the
collection must afford to any happy mortal capable of appreciating it
the purest and most lasting gratification, not so much the pleasure of
the individual as the preservation, the dignity, and the safe keeping
of the collection itself ought to be considered. Unhappily, he, Robert
Meredith, was not likely to possess a house in which the treasure
might be conveniently and suitably lodged, and it was a melancholy
fact that neither Haldane nor his wife appreciated the collection;
and, when the present owner of Chayleigh should be no more, and his
bequest should have come into operation, there would arise the
grievous necessity of dislodging the collection.

Under these circumstances--stated very carefully by Robert Meredith,
who knew that his particular friend Mrs. Haldane would bundle both
James and the collection out of doors with the smallest possible delay
on the commencement of her absolute reign, unless indeed some very
valuable consideration should attach itself to her not doing so--he
suggested that Mr. Carteret would do well to conquer his objection to
the "merging" of the collection. That it should be "merged" after his
death was a less painful contingency to contemplate than that it
should be destroyed or materially injured. The best, the most
effectual plan would be, that Mr. Carteret should bequeath the
collection, on James Dugdale's death, to his granddaughter, the
heiress of the Deane, with the request that it might be transferred
thither, there to remain as an heirloom for ever. The old gentleman
submitted with a sigh; and this testamentary arrangement was actually
made.

The friendship between Robert and Mrs. Haldane, which had commenced in
his boyish admiration of her, and her keen appreciation of the
sentiment, remained unabated, which, considering that the pretty and
vivacious Lucy was not conspicuous for steadiness of feeling, was not
a little remarkable. Perhaps the lady believed in her secret soul, as
the years wore on, that she could have explained Robert's not being a
marrying man.

A strictly proper and virtuous British matron was Mrs. Haldane
Carteret--a very dragon of propriety indeed, and a lady who would not
have received her own sister, if she had been so unlucky as to "get
talked of"--and therefore this insinuation must be fully explained, in
order to prevent the slightest misapprehension on the subject. Lucy
would have been unspeakably shocked had it ever been said or thought
by any one that Robert Meredith entertained any feeling warmer than
the most strictly regulated friendship for her; but she did not object
to a secret sentiment on her own part, which sometimes found
expression in reverie, and in a murmured "poor boy," in a little
genial sense of satisfaction as the time went by and Robert did not
marry, and was not talked of as likely to marry--when his polite
attention to her underwent no alteration, and she still felt she
enjoyed his confidence. Mrs. Haldane was a little mistaken in the
latter particular. She did _not_ enjoy the confidence of Robert
Meredith; but neither was any other person in possession of that
privilege, though it was one of the charms, or rather the
achievements, of his manner, that he could convey the flattering
impression to any one he pleased.

When Haldane and his wife were put, by the death of Mr. Carteret, in
possession of Chayleigh--an event which occurred seven years after
Margaret's decease, and four years later than that of Mr.
Baldwin--James Dugdale continued to reside in the old house, which had
been his home for so many years, only until the return of Lady
Davyntry and her orphan nieces to England. Haldane Carteret, a "good
fellow" in all the popular acceptation of the word, was rather a weak
fellow also, especially where his pretty wife's whims or feelings were
concerned; and not all his sincere and grateful regard for his old
friend could prevent his feeling relieved, when James told him he
could not resist Lady Davyntry's pressing entreaty that he should take
up his abode with her and "the children." Every one spoke of the
orphan girls as "the children," and their fatherless and motherless
estate was wonderfully tempered to them.

The Deane had been let by Mr. Baldwin's executors for a long term of
years; but James Dugdale applied to the tenant in possession for
permission to have the collection transferred thither, and received
it. Thus Mrs. Haldane was disembarrassed within a very short period of
her father-in-law and his incomprehensible curiosities and of James
Dugdale. To do her justice, Mrs. Haldane was sorry for the gentle,
quiet old man; and it certainly was not with reference to him that she
expressed her satisfaction, when all the flittings had been
accomplished, in "being at last the mistress of her own house." There
must have been a good deal of the imaginative faculty about Mrs.
Haldane Carteret when she rejoiced in her freedom from trammels; for
it never could have occurred to anybody that she had not been
thoroughly and indisputably the mistress of Chayleigh from the day of
her arrival there. But there is a great deal in imagination, and Mrs.
Haldane knew her own business best.

When James Dugdale left Chayleigh, as a residence, for ever, the
passion-flower which embowered the window of the room which had once
been Margaret's, and had ever since been his, was in the full beauty
and richness of its bloom. He cut a few twigs and leaves, and one or
two of the grand solemn flowers, and took his leave of the room and
the window and the tree. It was very painful, even after all those
years--more painful than those to whom life is full of activity and
change could conceive or would believe. But so thoroughly was this a
final parting, and so truly did James Dugdale feel it so, that when,
some time afterwards, Mrs. Haldane, having read in some new medical
treatise that "green things"--as she generally termed everything that
grew, from the cedar of Lebanon to the parsley of private life--were
unwholesome on the walls of a house, had the passion-flower and the
trellis cleared away, and the wall above the verandah neatly
whitewashed, it hardly gave him a pang.

In all the chancres which befell the family at Chayleigh, Robert
Meredith had a certain share. Mr. Carteret never ceased to like him,
to look for his coming, to enjoy, in his quiet way, the adaptive young
man's society. James never permitted the interest he had taken in him
for his old friend's sake--his old friend dead and gone now, like all
the rest--to flag or falter. Perhaps he held by that feeling all the
more conscientiously that he had never been much drawn towards Robert
Meredith individually. The feeling towards him which he and Margaret
had shared at the first had remained with him always, like all his
feelings; for it was part of the constitution of his mind, a part
powerful for suffering, that he did not change.

When Lady Davyntry went abroad with "the children" James Dugdale's
life had become more than ever solitary; and, though conscious that he
derived very little pleasure from Robert's presence, he encouraged the
visits which Mrs. Haldane was ever ready to invite.

But a day of still greater change came--a sad and heavy day to James
Dugdale, and of tremendous loss and evil to the orphan girls. Lady
Davyntry died--not suddenly, but unexpectedly--and the full
responsibility of the guardianship of Gertrude and Eleanor Baldwin was
thrown upon Haldane Carteret and James Dugdale. Davyntry, in which Mr.
Baldwin's sister had only a life interest, passed into the possession
of the young man who had succeeded to the title on the death of Sir
Richard Davyntry; and the choice of the guardians to the young girls,
as to the future home of their wards, lay between Chayleigh and the
Deane, of which it became possible for them to resume possession
shortly after Lady Davyntry's death.

When the decision which assigned the Deane to the young heiresses as
their future abode had been reached and acted upon, Robert Meredith
naturally ceased to have much intercourse with the Carterets and with
James Dugdale.

Haldane was very much pleased with the kind of life he led at the
Deane. He made a first-rate "country gentleman," an ardent sportsman,
a pleasant companion, hospitable, kind-hearted, _insouciant_, fond of
the place and of everything in it, devoted to his wife--"absurdly so,"
as the spinsters of the neighbourhood, a remarkably numerous class
even for Scotland, declared--and most indulgent and affectionate to
his nieces. This latter quality the aforesaid spinsters accounted for
satisfactorily on the double grounds, that it was not likely he would
be anything but indulgent to such rich girls--of course he expected to
be well recompensed when they came into "all their property"--and
that, as he had no children of his own, he might very well care for
his "poor dear sister's fatherless girls."

The worthy ex-captain of artillery knew little and cared less how
people accounted for the strange phenomena of his fulfilling carefully
and conscientiously a sacred duty. He was a good, happy, unsuspicious
man, and "the children" loved him better than any one in the world,
except James Dugdale and Rose Doran.

Mrs. Carteret was in the habit of "going south" much more frequently
than Haldane did so; she liked a few weeks in London in the season,
and she scrupulously visited her own family, by whom she was regarded
with much affection and admiration, not quite unmingled with awe.

The eldest Miss Crofton's "match" had "turned out" much better than
the family had expected, and Lucy Carteret shone very brilliantly
indeed in the reflected light shed upon her by the wealth and station
of her husband's nieces and wards. On the occasion of her visits to
England she always saw a good deal of Robert Meredith; and so--owing
to the convenience of modern locomotion, Mrs. Carteret's former home
had been brought within easy reach of London--Robert was a not
unfrequent guest of old Mr. Crofton's when his daughter was sojourning
there. Chayleigh had been advantageously let by Haldane for some years
beyond the term of his nieces' minority.

On the last occasion of her "going south" Mrs. Carteret had been
accompanied by Eleanor Baldwin, whose health, always delicate, had
recently occasioned her uncle and aunt some anxiety. She had enjoyed
her trip, and Robert had been very much with both ladies. Never had
Mrs. Carteret been more thoroughly convinced that he was one of the
most charming of men; never had the secret suspicion, that she could,
if she chose, explain the reason of his having remained up to his
present age unmarried, presented itself so frequently and so strongly
to her mind.

Robert Meredith had been told by Mrs. Carteret that Haldane intended
to celebrate the attainment of her majority by the heiress of the
Deane in splendid style, and he had received from her a pressing
invitation to be present on the occasion. The time of year made it
difficult for him to feel sure of being able to leave town; but he
promised that he would go to the Deane on that auspicious and
delightful occasion, then six months in perspective, if he could
possibly manage it.

It was during this visit of Mrs. Carteret to London that George
Ritherdon made her acquaintance, and saw for the first time one of
"the Baldwin children," of whom he had heard occasional casual
mention. Robert Meredith's "chum" pleased Mrs. Carteret much,
especially when he did the honours of the Temple Church to her and
Eleanor; and while explaining all the objects of interest and their
associations, did so with a happy and successful assumption of merely
refreshing their memory, which was indicative of the nicest tact. The
general result was that, when Robert Meredith received a formal
reminder of his promise to come to the Deane for Gertrude's birthday,
the letter enclosed a pressing invitation to George Ritherdon to
accompany his friend.

"Of course you'll come. There's much less to keep you in town than
there is to keep me, for that matter, so you can't pretend to object,"
said Meredith, as the friends were discussing their letters and their
breakfast simultaneously.

"I should like it very much indeed," said Ritherdon; "but--"

"Very well, of course you'll do it." interrupted Meredith; and was
about to say something more, when the entrance of their "mutual"
servant suspended the conversation.

The man addressed himself to Robert, with the information that a
person was then waiting in the passage, who urgently requested to be
admitted to see him; that the person was an old man, not of remarkably
prosperous appearance; and that he had replied to the servant's
remonstrance, on his presenting himself at such an unseemly hour, that
he was sure Mr. Meredith would see him, for he came from Australia,
and from his own "people" there.

Surprised, but by no means discomposed, Robert Meredith made no reply
to the servant, but said to George Ritherdon,

"It sounds odd. I suppose I ought to see him."

"I think so, old fellow; and I'll clear off;" which he did.

"Show the old person from Australia in, Wilham." said Meredith to the
servant, and added to himself, "I wonder what he has got to say to
me--nothing I need mind. I should have had bad news by post, if there
was any to send."



CHAPTER IV.
THE HEIRESS OF THE DEANE.


"Are you nearly ready, girls?" asked Mrs. Haldane Carteret of her
nieces, as she entered the large dressing-room which divided the
bedrooms occupied by Gertrude and Eleanor Baldwin, and was joint
territory, common to them both.

This apartment was very handsomely proportioned, and furnished in a
sumptuous style. It abounded in light and looking-glasses, and the two
young girls then under the hands of their respective maids had the
advantage of seeing themselves reflected many times in mirrors fixed
and mirrors movable. Their ball-room toilette was almost complete, and
the smaller supplementary articles of their paraphernalia of adornment
were strewn about the room in pretty profusion.

"We are very nearly ready, aunt Lucy," replied Eleanor; "are there any
people come yet?"

"Yes, the Congreves, and Rennies, and Comrie of Largs; they always
make a point of being the first arrivals and the last departures
everywhere," said Mrs. Carteret, as she profited by the long mirror
which formed the reverse of the door by which she had entered to
rearrange the folds of her remarkably becoming dress of blue satin and
silver. "Pray make haste, Gerty. It does not so much matter about
Nelly, but you really must be in the reception-room before any more
people come. Just imagine your not being there when Lord and Lady
Gelston arrive, or even Sir Maitland and Lady Cardeness."

Mrs. Haldane Carteret was a woman of perfectly well-proportioned mind.
She knew how to define the distinctions of rank as accurately as a
king-at-arms, and could balance the comparative turpitude of a slight
to a baron with that of a slight to a baronet with quite a
mathematical nicety of precision.

"Almost ready, aunt Lucy. Only my gloves and bracelets to put on, and
then I am ready. But I certainly shall not go down without Nelly; she
would get on much better without me than I should without her" (here
the girl smiled as her mother had smiled in the brief days of her
happy and contented love). "We should have been ready sooner, but that
we took a final scamper off to the guests' rooms to see how Rose had
disposed of Mr. Meredith and Mr. Ritherdon."

"Ah, by the bye, I suppose they have arrived," said Mrs. Carteret; "I
must go and see them. I will come back again, and I hope you will both
be ready."

In a few minutes the preparations were complete, and the two young
girls were receiving the unequivocal compliments of their maids and
their mirrors. Happy, joyous, hopeful, handsome creatures they looked,
as they stood, their arms entwined, surveying their lithe, graceful,
white-robed figures with natural pride and very pardonable vanity. The
glance of the elder girl dwelt only passingly upon herself; it turned
then to dwell upon her sister with delight, with exultation.

"How beautiful you look, my darling Nelly! I am sure no one in the
room will be able to compare with you to-night."

"Not you, Gertrude? Are you not the queen of the ball in every sense?
Depend upon it, no one will have eyes to-night for any one except the
heiress of the Deane."

"Then every one will be blind and foolish," returned Gertrude, as she
gave the speaker a sisterly push; "and there are a few whom I don't
think that of, Nelly. Don't you dread the idea of the speech-making at
supper? I do, and uncle Haldane does, because he will have to return
thanks for me; and I'm sure everybody else does, because Lord Gelston
is so frightfully long-winded and historical, and so tremendously well
up in the history of all the Meritons and all the Baldwins, and who
married, and whom, and when they did it, and there's no stopping him
when he starts; however, we must think of the dancing and the fun, and
not remember the dreadful speeches until they come to be made."

"I daresay you won't mind them so much when the time comes." said
Nelly, with the least touch of something unpleasant in her voice; "at
all events, I need not--they will not make any speeches about _me_,
that's a comfort!"

"My darling Nelly! as if I thought about it for _myself_. If you must
listen and look pleased at tiresomeness, what does it matter of what
is _apropos_? and where is the difference between you and me?"

"Very present, very perceptible, after this day," said Nelly; "no one
will fail to keep it in mind. Did you not notice what aunt Lucy said?
My being ready or not did not matter, but the presence of 'the heiress
of the Deane' was indispensable."

"I did hear it," said Gertrude, turning a flushed cheek and a
deprecatory glance upon her sister; "and did you not hear what I said?
But here come aunt Lucy and Rose."

The entry of Rose Doran was the signal for enthusiastic comments on
the appearance of the two young girls, and the little cloud which had
threatened for a moment to gather over the sisters was joyously
dissipated. Mr. Dugdale wished to see them in his sitting-room, Rose
said, before they went downstairs, and she had come to bring them to
him.

"You'll have time enough to let the old gentleman have a peep at you,
my darlings," said the good woman, whose eyes were moist with the
rising tears produced by many associations which almost overpowered
the admiration and delight with which she regarded the girls; "though
there's a dale o' quality come, they're all in the study, makin' sure
of their cloaks and things, or drinkin' coffee and chattin' to one
another. So go to the old man, my girls; he won't keep ye a minute."

"He surely won't disappoint us," exclaimed Gertrude; "he promised to
come down, and he _must_!"

"So he will, alanna," said Rose, using the same term of endearment,
and in the same soothing tone, with which she had been wont to assuage
Gertrude's griefs in her childhood--"never you fear, so he will, when
the room is full, and he can get round behind the people to his own
chair in the corner; only he wants a look at you all to himself
first."

"Then I will go on," said Mrs. Haldane in rather a vexed tone. "You
will find me in the morning room; and pray, Gerty, make no delay."

Then Mrs. Haldane walked majestically away, her blue and silver train
rustling superbly over the crimson-velvet carpet of the long, wide
corridor, which, like the grand staircase, was of polished oak.

Mr. Dugdale's rooms at the Deane were in a quiet and secluded part of
the spacious house, attainable by a small staircase which was
approached by a curtained archway opening off the corridor into which
the girls' rooms opened. The rooms were handsome, though not large,
and were luxuriously furnished, but they were chiefly remarkable for
the numerous evidences of feminine care, taste, and industry in their
arrangement. The comfortable and the ornamental were dexterously
united in these rooms, in which needlework abounded, and whose most
prized decorations were the work of the pencils of the two girls.

The apartments consisted of three rooms--bedroom, dressing-room, and
sitting-room, the latter lined with books, and bearing many
indications that the studies, tastes, and habits which had occupied
James Dugdale's youth and manhood had lightened the burden of his
infirmities, and taken the deadly sting out of his sorrows, were not
abandoned now in his old age. And in truth this was the case; the
feebleness which had invaded the delicate and sensitive frame more and
more surely with each succeeding year, had not touched the mind. That
was strong, active, bright, full of vitality still, promising
extinction or even dimness only with the dissolution of the frame.

In his frequent fits of thinking about himself, and yet out of
himself--as though he were contemplating the problems presented by the
existence, and pondering the future, of another--James Dugdale was
wont to wonder at his own tenacity of life. Ever since his youth he
had been a sufferer in body, and had sustained great trials of mind;
he had been always more or less feeble, and of the nervous febrile
temperament which is said (erroneously) to wear itself out rapidly.
But he had lived on and on, and the young, the strong, the prosperous,
the happy, had passed before him, and been lost in the dimness of the
separation of death.

He had been carefully dressed by his servant for the festivities of
the evening, and had laid down upon the couch beside the windows of
his sitting-room, from which a beautiful view was to be had in the
daytime, through which the summer moonlight was streaming now, and had
fallen into a reverie. His mind was singularly placid, his memory was
singularly clear to-night, as he lay still, listening to the stir in
the house, his face turned from the light of the candles which burned
on the tables and the mantelpiece; and passing in mental review the
persons and the events of long years ago.

How perfectly distinct and vivid they were to-night--his parents, his
boyhood, the time when it was first discovered that he must never
expect to be a healthy, vigorous man--his student days and their
associations, the friends of that period of his life! Hayes Meredith
was a young man--how curiously his memory reproduced him; and then his
cousin Sibylla, his sole kinswoman and his steady friend--the old man
who had loved him so well, and the sad dark episode of Margaret's
marriage. How plainly he could see Godfrey Hungerford, and how
distinctly he could recall the instinctive dislike, suspicion,
repulsion he had caused him, and which he early learnt to know was
bitter jealousy! Baldwin and Lady Davyntry, that kind, sympathising
friend of later days--she whom he still mourned with a poignancy which
time had blunted in the case of the others;--it was hard to
understand, very wonderful to realise, that they were dead and he
alive--he went on with his ordinary life betimes, and did not think
about it much, but to-night it seemed impossible.

The wonderful incompleteness, the unmeaningness of life, the
phantasmagoria of fragmentary existences occupied him, while all
around him were preparations for a festival. Lastly came the image of
Margaret, back in all the freshness of her youth, beauty, and
happiness, as she had been twenty years ago, and the old man wondered
at the strange distinctness of his memory.

Twenty years! a long, long time even at an earlier period of life, a
wonderfully long time at his, to keep the memory green. He had had and
lost many friends, but only one love; yes, that was the explanation;
that was why she, who had died young long ago, never to grow old,
never to have any withering touch of time laid upon her beauty, she
who was to be remembered as a radiant creature always, had never had a
predecessor, a successor, or a rival in his heart; so there was no
other image to trouble or confuse hers. The circumstances which had
killed her, as he felt, as surely as disease had ever killed,--they,
too, returned freshly to his memory; he seemed to live through those
old, old days again, and in some degree to realise once more their
keen anxiety and distress.

How it had all passed away--how little it had really mattered--how
little anything really mattered, after all, except the other world,
and the reunion there, without which life, the most renowned as much
as the meanest, would indeed be "a tale told by an idiot," and, in the
multitude of the ages, and the spanlike brevity of its own duration,
"signifying nothing"! It seemed like a dream, and yet it was all real:
she had lived and suffered, feared, foreseen, and died under this very
roof, beneath which he dwelt, and from which its master went forth a
patient, but none the less a broken-hearted man, to die afar off, to
lie in the solemn dust of the grand old world.

Were they, the two whom he remembered so well in their youth and love
and happiness, any nearer to him than the most ancient of the ancient
dead? Was there any difference or degree in all that inconceivable
separation? Who could tell him that? Who could still the pang, which
time can never lessen, which comes with the immeasurable change? We
are in time and space, and they, the dead, are, as we say, beyond
their bounds, set free from them. What, then, is their share with us?

He was thinking of these things, which indeed were wont to occupy his
mind when he was very peaceful and alone, and thinking also how very
brief all our uncertainty is--how short a time the Creator keeps His
creatures in ignorance and suspense, and that he was very near to the
lifting of the curtain--when Gertrude and Eleanor Baldwin came into
the room, and gaily challenged his admiration of their ball-dresses,
their wreaths, their bouquets, and their general appearance.

With the keenly strong remembrance of Margaret which he had been
dwelling upon freshly before him, James Dugdale was struck by the
likeness which Gertrude presented to her mother. Her face was more
strictly handsome, her figure promised to be fuller and grander, but
the resemblance in feature, in gesture, in voice, in all the subtler
affinities which constitute the truth of such resemblances, was,
complete. Had she stood thus, in her white dress, flower crowned, by
his couch, alone, James Dugdale might have thought the spirit world
had unbarred its portals for a little to give him a glimpse of
Margaret in her eternal youth; but her arm was linked in that of her
sister, and the old man's gaze included them both.

"Do I like you, you witches?" said Mr. Dugdale; "what a question! I
think you are both incomparably perfect, and among all the compliments
you will hear to-night, I don't think you will have a more
satisfactory one than that. I see you are wearing your pearls,
Nelly.--Where are your diamonds, Miss Baldwin?"

Gertrude blushed, and looked a little uncomfortable.

"I would rather not wear them," she said; "pearls don't matter much,
but diamonds would make too much difference between Nelly and me. I
asked uncle Haldane, and he said I certainly need not wear them unless
I liked; indeed, he said it is better taste for an unmarried woman,
while she is very young, not to wear diamonds; so they are undisturbed
in all their grandeur."

"Isn't she ridiculous?" said Eleanor. "I am sure if I were in her
place I should wear my diamonds, especially to-night."

"I am quite sure you would do no such thing, Nelly," said Miss
Baldwin; "and we must go now, or aunt Lucy will be put out.--Mind you
come down soon; I shall be looking out for you."

Then the two girls kissed the old man affectionately and left him.
There was some trouble in James Dugdale's mind when the light forms
disappeared, and he listened to the murmur of their voices for a few
moments, before it died away when they reached the grand staircase.

"If Eleanor were in Gertrude's place!" The girl's words had struck a
chord of painful remembrance in the old man's mind. The time had come
now when the wrong done to the younger by the elder, the wrong done to
the children by the parents in all unconsciousness, was to bear its
first fruits. As the years had gone by, and especially since Lady
Davyntry's death had left James Dugdale sole possessor of the
knowledge of the truth, he had remembered it but seldom.

When the news of Mr. Baldwin's death had reached England, he and Lady
Davyntry had spoken together much and solemnly of the mysterious
dealings of Providence with the family. They had silently accepted
his resolution--never to give Margaret a successor in his heart and
house--and, in view of that determination, they had regarded the
arrangement which he had made of his property as in every respect wise
and commendable. But they had secretly hoped that time, whose
unfailing influence, however disliked or even struggled against, they
both had too much experience of life to doubt or dispute, would modify
and finally upset Mr. Baldwin's resolution on that point, and that the
girls might eventually be removed from what they wisely regarded as a
perilous and undesirable position. Wealth and station would always be
theirs, even if a second marriage should give a male heir to the
Deane.

But these hopes were not destined to be realised. Mr. Baldwin never
returned from his journey to the East, and the heavy weight of
heiress-ship fell upon his daughters in their childhood. Of late years
the secret of which he alone was in possession had begun to appear
dreamlike and mythical to James Dugdale. It had been a terrible thing
in its time, but that time was past and its terror with it, and it was
only an old memory now--an old memory which Nelly's words had
awakened, just when he did not care to have it evoked, just when it
was as painful as it ever could be any more. The old man rose from his
couch and went to a bookcase with glass doors, which faced the
mantelpiece in his sitting-room. On one of the lower shelves, within
easy reach of his hand, lay a large blue-velvet casket. He took it
out, set it on the table, and opened it. It contained a picture--the
portrait of Margaret with her infant in her arms, which she had had
painted for him at Naples twenty years before. The portrait was
surrounded by a frame of peculiar design. It consisted of a wreath of
passion-flowers, the stems and leaves in gold, the flowers in white
enamel, with every detail of form and colouring accurately carried
out. This was the only jeweller's work which had ever been done by
James Dugdale's order; this was the most valuable article in every
sense in his possession. He placed the picture on the table, and sat
down before it and looked at it intently, studying in every line the
likeness which had impressed him so deeply to-night; and then he
replaced it in the casket, which he reconsigned to the bookcase. This
done, he rang for his servant and went down to the ball-room, whence
delightful strains of brilliant music were issuing, blended with the
sound of voices and the tread of dancing feet.

The scene was a beautiful one. All that money, taste, and goodwill
could accomplish to render the fête given in celebration of Gertrude's
birthday successfully charming, had been done, and the result was
eminently satisfactory. Many of the guests had come from distances
which in England would have been regarded as invincible
obstacles--would indeed have rendered the sending of invitations a
meaningless, or according to our amiable insular phrase a "French,"
compliment--but which in Scotland were regarded as mere matters of
course. An unusual number of pretty girls adorned the ball-room, and
they danced with pleasure and animation also peculiarly Scotch.

Gertrude had gone through the ordeal of congratulation very well; and
now, very much relieved that that part of the business had come to a
conclusion, was dancing a surprisingly animated quadrille with Lord
Gelston, while Lady Gelston was talking superlatives to Haldane
Carteret, who had wisely decided, some years before, on coming to live
in Scotland, that there was more to be gained than lost by being
understood at once to be excluded from the category of dancing men.

The room, much longer than its width, and beautifully decorated and
lighted, was amply occupied without being overfilled; and the splendid
many-coloured dresses, the moving figures, the soft sound of speech
and laughter, the indescribable joyous rustle which pervades an
assemblage where youth and beauty are in the majority, made up a scene
to whose attraction James Dugdale's nerves vibrated strangely. He had
been present on few similar occasions in his life, and he looked about
him with the pleased curiosity of a child. The military contingent had
duly arrived from Edinburgh, Leith, and Hamilton, and were enjoying
their accustomed popularity.

Of the many faces in the room there were few known to James Dugdale,
with the exception of those of the near neighbours to the Deane.
Before he had time to become familiar with the movement and the
glitter of the unaccustomed scene, a pause occurred in the dancing,
and the group nearest to him broke up and moved away. Then he saw
Eleanor Baldwin talking to a gentleman whose figure seemed very
familiar to him, though he could not see his face. Eleanor was looking
up at the gentleman, her face full of light and animation, a rich
colour in her cheeks, her dark eyes sparkling with pleasure. Almost as
soon as he saw her, she saw him, and said:

"O, there's uncle James, let us go and speak to him."

She walked quickly across the room, followed by her companion, who
was, as James Dugdale then perceived, Robert Meredith. The old man and
the man no longer young indeed, but still and ever a boy to him,
greeted each other warmly.

"When did you come, Robert? Why have I not seen you before?"

"We came down by the mail, sir, and found the ladies gone to dress;
and Mrs. Doran said you were resting, in preparation for the fatigue
of the evening, so we would not disturb you. I am glad to see you
looking so well, sir."

"Thank you, Robert--where's Ritherdon?"

"He has gone in chase of Gerty, uncle James," said Eleanor; "he wants
to know what dances she can spare him, I believe; but I fancy he has
not much chance--_even I_ could only promise positively for one."

Robert Meredith looked at her narrowly as he said:

"Ritherdon has pluck, I must say. I never dreamed of such a privilege
as dancing to-night with the lady of the Deane. But I did calculate
upon a _raccroc de noces_ for to-morrow--I suppose that's safe?"

"I suppose so," said Eleanor.

"_You_ kept a few dances for me, didn't you?" he asked.

"Yes, I did, but I am nobody, you know."

"This is one of them," said Meredith, and then, as he led her away
into the throng, again set in motion by the music, he said meaningly,
"and I do not know,--at least, _I do_."

His arm was round her now, and he had whirled her into the circle of
waltzers, and the girl felt that the bright scene was brighter, the
music sweeter and more inspiriting, the dance more delightful, because
of the words and the tone in which he had spoken them.

George Ritherdon had been quite as unsuccessful in his quest as
Eleanor had foreseen, and as soon as Gertrude had convinced him of his
ill-fortune, by permitting him to read the record of the pretty little
ivory and silver _carnet_ which hung at her waist, he, in his turn,
made his way to Mr. Dugdale's chair. There he remained until Nelly's
one dance should be "due," talking with the old man, who was
wonderfully bright and unwearied of things in general, and of the
young ladies in particular.

It was an unfashionable peculiarity of George Ritherdon's that he was
always deferential towards age, even when age was much less venerable
and less intelligent, much more _arrière_ than in the case of Mr.
Dugdale. Therefore, let the subjects on which the old gentleman had
chosen to talk with him have been as dull and uninteresting to him as
possible, he would have exerted himself to converse about them
pleasantly, and with the air of attention and interest which is the
truest conversational politeness.

But in the present instance no effort was required. Ritherdon felt a
sincere and growing interest in the "children," as Mr. Dugdale soon
began to call them in talking to him, and found something which
appealed to his heart--strangely soft, pure, and upright in its
impulses, considering the length of time it had pulsated amid the
world,--in the long-enduring, constant family friendship which bound
the old man's life up with that of these young people, who were no kin
of his. The ball was the gayest, the most successful, in George
Ritherdon's opinion, at which he had ever "assisted," the night a
happy and memorable one in his life; but no part of it was more
thoroughly enjoyable to him than the time he passed seated by the old
man's side, their conversation interrupted only by the people who came
up to speak to Mr. Dugdale, and by the girls, who paid him flying
visits.

Robert Meredith and his friend saw little of each other during the
night, until after James Dugdale had retired, which he did when supper
was announced. That sumptuous entertainment was as terrible an ordeal
as Gertrude had expected. Lord Gelston was as inexorably long-winded,
as overwhelmingly genealogical as usual; and if anything could have
made her more uncomfortable than the ponderous congratulations of the
noble lord, and the marked attentions of Lady Gelston and the
Honourable Mr. Dort, the eldest son of the distinguished but by no
means wealthy pair, it would have been the kindly but inartistic
efforts of her uncle Haldane, who was neither a ready thinker nor an
adept at speaking, to express how far short of her personal qualities
fell the gifts of wealth and station allotted to her.

A very decent amount of general attention was bestowed upon Lord
Gelston and Haldane Carteret, and the speeches of both were received
with all proper enthusiasm; but there was one listener who heard them
with more than the attention of politeness, and with a smile on his
lips which, if "the children's" dead mother saw it, must have reminded
her of one she had known and disliked in earthly days long ago. But
even the speeches were over at last, and the younger guests left the
banquet and returned to the ball-room, and dancing recommenced.
Nothing equals in vigour and perseverance Scotch dancing, no
entertainment is capable of such preternatural prolongation as a
Scotch ball. The institution might be the modern successor of the
feasts of the Norsemen in the Bersekyr days.

"Do these people ever intend to leave off, do you think?" George
Ritherdon asked of Robert Meredith, when the external light had become
difficult of exclusion, and all the dowagers had given over talking
and taking refreshment, except that of slumber.

"I don't know indeed; doesn't look like it; but there's no reason why
we shouldn't," returned Meredith; "let us say good-morning to Mrs.
Carteret, and decamp."

A masterly manoeuvre, which they put into instant execution,
unobserved by any one but Eleanor Baldwin. She had danced several
times with Meredith during the night, and had contrived to give
Ritherdon "one more" in addition to the promised valse; she had been
very gay, happy, and animated; much admired and fully conscious of it;
but now she grew tired, and began to wish the ball were over. People
were unreasonable to keep it up so late; this was making a toil of a
pleasure; no, she really could not join in this interminable cotillon.
She wondered whether aunt Lucy would mind her leaving the room; she
would find her and ask her. So she did find Mrs. Haldane Carteret, who
was looking, rather yellow and elderly in the mixed intrusive light,
and Mrs. Haldane answered her rather snappishly,

"Yes, yes, of course you may go. It is really absurdly late; no wonder
you're tired; I am sure I am. Gerty must remain of course, but you may
go."

Eleanor had got the permission she desired, and she left the room, but
not gladly. The manner of that permission did not please her; many
little things of the same kind had hurt her lately; and as she slowly
mounted the stairs her face was dark, and she muttered to herself,

"Gerty must of course remain, but you may go."


An hour later, when the morning had fairly asserted its sway, when the
latest lingering of the guests not staying in the house had departed,
fortified by hot strong coffee against the fatigue of their homeward
route, when to those staying in the house welcome announcement had
been made that breakfast was to be served at twelve, and continued for
an indefinite time,--Gertrude Baldwin entered her dressing-room. She
had desired that her maid should not remain up, and having glanced
into Eleanor's bedroom and seen that she was asleep, she took off
her ball-dress, set the windows wide open, and sat down in her
dressing-gown, letting the sweet morning air play upon her face to
calm the hurry of her spirits and to think.

This had been an eventful day for that young girl; indeed, the whole
preceding week, during which her guardians, Haldane Carteret and James
Dugdale, had explained to her in resigning their trust all the
particulars of her position, had been of great moment in her life.
Previously she had known, vaguely, that she was very rich, and she had
had a tolerably clear notion of the origin and ordering of her wealth,
but she fully understood it now. Her uncle had wished her to give her
attention to the accounts of the estate, as he explained them to her,
and she had complied with his wish. In the course of these
transactions, she had been shown her father's will, and had been made
acquainted as minutely with her sister Eleanor's position as with her
own.

The time up to that day had been so full of business, and all the
hours of the day and night just gone had been so full of pleasure,
that she felt strongly the need of a little leisure and solitude now.
She was glad Nelly was asleep, glad she had not been obliged to talk
over the ball with her--glad to put the ball itself out of her
thoughts for a little, although she had enjoyed it with all the
unaffected zest of her age.

Gertrude was not tired; she had danced incessantly, and the emotions
of the day had been many and various; but she was strong and very
happy, in all the unruffled peace of her girlhood, which had only
progressed hitherto in prosperity, and she rarely felt fatigue. The
fresh morning air, the calm, the solitude, were better for her than
sleep. Presently a delicious stillness fell on everything; no more
doors were shut or opened, no desultory footsteps loitered about; the
birds' music only filled the air with the most beautiful of the sounds
of morning.

There came with the day to Gertrude a sense of change. She realised
her womanhood now--she realised her position, and it appeared to her a
very solemn and responsible one. Her uncle had told her, in answer to
her request, that he would continue to exercise the functions from
which the attainment of her majority formally discharged him--that he
would do so provided she would take an active part in the conduct of
the estate, urging the necessity which existed for her duly qualifying
herself for the independent administration of her affairs in the
future. He reminded her that she could only hold the property in trust
for her children, if she were destined to become a wife and mother,
and must therefore learn how to save from her large income.

"You see, my dear," Haldane had said to her, "everything not included
in the entail is left absolutely to Nelly, and in this respect she is
better off than you are. She is not indeed so rich, but she can
dispose of her property, by settlement and by will, just as she
pleases, whereas you cannot dispose of a shilling. Your eldest son, or
your eldest daughter, if you have no son, must inherit all. The estate
is chargeable for the benefit of younger children to a very small
extent. I will show you how and how much presently. The fortune your
grandfather gave to to your aunt, Lady Davyntry, and which Eleanor
inherits from her, was almost entirely derived from accumulations and
other extraneous property. So, you see, Nelly's money is more
absolutely hers than yours is yours; but though you have not so much
freedom, there is one advantage in your position. If you fall into bad
hands, which God forbid, and we will take all possible care to
prevent--yes, Gerty, don't look so horrified, my child, all the men in
the world are not good, as your poor mother could have told you--your
money will be safe; no man can beggar _you_; whereas Eleanor would be
quite helpless in such a case. There is nothing to protect her; her
husband, if he could only persuade her to marry without a strict
settlement, could make ducks and drakes of her money, if he chose."

"But surely she never would be persuaded to do anything so foolish and
so unprincipled," said Gertrude, with a pretty air of dignity,
woman-of-the-worldishness, and landed proprietor combined, and feeling
already as if she had the deepest appreciation of the rights,
privileges, and duties of property.

"I don't know that, my dear," said Haldane; "women are easily
persuaded to folly, and there are men who have a knack of persuading
you that imprudence is generosity, and self-sacrifice proved by
endangering other people's peace and prosperity--as your poor mother
could also have told you. However, we need not make ourselves
prematurely uncomfortable about Nelly. Let us hope her choice may be
wise and happy, and that she may use the freedom her father and her
aunt left her with discretion."

The discussion then turned upon other matters of business, and this
part of the subject was abandoned.

It returned to Gertrude Baldwin's thoughts as she looked pensively
abroad on her wide domains in the early morning, and it troubled her.

"We were both so little when he left us," she thought, "that I don't
think my father could have preferred Nelly very much to me, and my
mother only saw her for a minute before she died. Rose told me she had
scarcely strength to hold the baby to her breast, and not strength
enough to speak a word to it, so she cannot have loved her more than
me; I was with her for a little time--it is very strange. What care
has been taken to give her all he could give; and nothing left to me
for my own self, on account of my own self! And how strange uncle
James looked when I said so! I am sure he understands that I feel it
and wonder at it.

"How little I know of my mother, and I so like her, he says! Perhaps I
am old enough now for them to tell me more about her and that first
marriage of hers, which I am sure must have been something dreadful. I
will ask uncle James some day when he is very well. Aunt Lucy has
never told us anything but that she and mamma were great friends, and
mamma was 'a dear thing.' Somehow I don t like to hear our dear dead
mother spoken of as 'a dear thing'--absurd, I daresay, but I do not;
and dear aunt Eleanor never talked of her as anything but papa's
wife--his idolised wife.

"How well I remember when I first began to understand that he died of
her loss in reality, though it took time to kill him, because he was
good and patient and tried to be resigned! But he could not live
longer without her, and God knew it and did not ask him. I remember so
well when aunt Eleanor told me that, and seemed to know it so well,
that she could better bear to know that he was dead than to know that
he was still wandering about, because there was no home for him here.
I wonder was he very fond of us--or perhaps he was not able to be. I
am sure he tried. Ah, well! this we can never, never know until we are
orphan children no longer; and any doubt dishonours him.

"To think that I am so important a personage, the owner of a great
estate, the employer of so many of my fellow-creatures,--with so much
power in my weak woman's hands for good or for evil,--and that I am
all this solely because of great misfortune--solely because I am an
orphan! If they were living, there might indeed have been rejoicing
here to-day, for our pleasure and our parents' pride: but no more. It
is wonderful to think of that,--wonderful to think of what might have
been. Shall I be a good woman, I wonder? Shall I be a faithful
steward? I don't know--I am so ignorant: but for uncle James, I am so
lonely. At least I will try--for my father's sake, and mamma's, and
his, and for my own sake and for God's; but O, I wish, I wish I could
have found in my father's will anything, however trifling, which he
desired to come to me from him, for my own sake."

Tears were standing in the dark, clear gray eyes of the young lady of
the Deane, and she had forgotten all about the birthday ball.



CHAPTER V.
THE "RACCROC DE NOCES."


The breakfast-table at the Deane was but scantily furnished with
guests at noon on the day after the ball, and only among the younger
portion of that restricted number did the spirit of "talking it over"
prevail. The gentlemen, with the exception of George Ritherdon,
discussed their breakfast and their newspapers, and the matrons were
decidedly sleepy and a little cross. George was in high spirits. He
had very thorough notions on the subject of enjoying a holiday, and he
included among them the delight of escaping from the obligation of
reading newspapers.

"Look at your friend, Mr. What's-his-name, of some queer place, like
Sir Walter Scott's novels," he whispered to Gertrude. "The idea of
coming on a brief visit to Paradise, and troubling your head about
foreign politics and the money-market! There he goes--Prussia, indeed!
What a combination of ideas--Bochum Dollfs and the Deane!"

Gertrude laughed. The pleasant unaffected gaiety of his manner pleased
her. She had not been prepared to find George Ritherdon so light of
heart, so ready to be amused, and to acknowledge it. She knew that he
was younger than his chum Robert Meredith; but she had fancied there
would be some resemblance between them, when she should come to know
them better, in a few days' close association with them. But there was
no resemblance; the friendship between them, the daily companionship
had brought about no assimilation, and there was one circumstance
which set Gerty thinking and puzzling to find out why it should be so.
She had known Robert Meredith for years; her acquaintance with George
Ritherdon was of the slightest; and yet, when the day after the ball
came in its turn to a conclusion, and she once again set her mind to
the task of "thinking it over," she felt that she knew more of George
Ritherdon, had seen more certain indications of his disposition, and
could divine more of his life than she knew, had seen, or could divine
in the case of Robert Meredith. The girl was of a thoughtful
speculative turn of mind, an observer of character, and imaginative.
She pondered a good deal upon the subject, and constantly recurred to
her first thought. "How odd it is that I should feel as if I could
tell at once how Mr. Ritherdon would act in any given case, and I
don't feel that in the least about Robert Meredith!"

"I was horribly ill-treated last night," George said, after he and
Gertrude had exchanged ideas on the subject of newspapers in vacation
time. "You ask me to a ball. Miss Baldwin, and then don't give me a
dance. I call it treacherous and inhospitable."

"I couldn't help it," said Gerty earnestly, with perfect simplicity.
"I had to 'dance down the set,' as they say in the country dances--to
begin at the beginning of the table of precedence, and go on to the
end."

"A very unfair advantage for the fogeys," said George Ritherdon, not
without having made sure that none of Gertrude's partners of last
night were at the table.

"The Honourable Dort would be grateful if he heard you, Ritherdon,"
observed Meredith.

"I suppose one couldn't reasonably call _him_ a fogey," returned
George.

Gertrude laughed; but Eleanor said sharply,

"No, he is only a fool."

Meredith was seated next her, and while the others went on talking, he
said to her in a low tone,

"Do you think him a fool? I don't. He knows the value of first
impressions, and being early in the field, or I am much mistaken."

If Robert Meredith had made a similar remark to Gertrude, she would
simply have looked at him with her grave gray eyes, in utter ignorance
of his meaning; but Nelly understood him perfectly.

"He _is_ an admirer of Gerty's," she said.

"And a more ardent admirer of the Deane," said Meredith. "Do you like
him?"

"Not at all. Not that it matters whether I do or not; but Gerty does
not either. I daresay Lord and Lady Gelston think it would be a very
good thing."

"No doubt they do. Nothing more suitable could be devised; and as
people of their class usually believe that human affairs are strictly
regulated according to their convenience, and look upon Providence as
a kind of confidential and trustworthy agent, more or less adroit, but
entirely in their interests, no doubt they have it all settled
comfortably. There was the complacent ring of such a plan in that
pompous old donkey's bray last night, and a kind of protecting
mother-in-law-like air about the old woman, which I should not have
liked had I been in your sister's place."

Eleanor's cheek flushed; the tone, even more than the words, told upon
her.

"What detestable impertinence!" she said. "The idea of people who are
held to be nobler than others making such calculations, and
condescending to such meanness for money!"

"Not in the least surprising; as you will find when you know the world
a little better. That the wind should be tempered to the shorn lambs
of the aristocracy by the intervention of commoner people's money,
they regard as a natural law; and as they are the most irresponsible,
they are the most shameless class in society. As to their
condescending to meanness for money, you don't reflect--as, indeed,
how should you?--that money is the object which best repays such
condescension."

There was a dubious look in Nelly's face. The young girl was flattered
and pleased that this handsome accomplished man of the world--who was
so much more _her_ friend, in consequence of their association in
London, than her sister's--should talk to her thus, giving her the
benefit of his experience; and yet there might be something to be
said, if not for Mr. Dort's parents, for Mr. Dort himself. Her colour
deepened, as she said timidly,

"How well _you_ must know the world, to be able to discern people's
motives and see through their schemes so readily! But perhaps Mr. Dort
really cares for Gertrude."

"Perhaps he does. She is a nice girl; and if her fortune and position
don't spoil her, any man might well 'care for her,'as you call it,
for herself. But the disinterestedness of Mr. Dort is not affected, to
my mind, by the fact that the appendage to the fortune he is hunting
does not happen to be disagreeable. Supposing she had not the
fortune, or supposing she lost it, would Mr. Dort care for--that is,
marry--your sister then?"

"I don't suppose he would," said Eleanor thoughtfully.

"And I am sure he would not," said Meredith. Then, as there was a
general rising and dispersion of the company, he added in a whisper,
and with a glance beneath which the girl's eyes fell, "The privilege
of being loved for herself is the proudest any woman can boast, and
cannot be included in an entail."


"Mr. M'llwaine wants to see you for half an hour, Gertrude, before he
returns to Glasgow," said Haldane Carteret to his niece as she was
leaving the breakfast-room, accompanied by Nelly and two young ladies
who formed part of the "staying company" at the Deane.

"Does he?" said Gertrude. "What for? It won't take me half an hour to
bid him good-bye."

"Business, my dear, business." said her uncle. "You are a woman of
business now, you know, and must attend to it."

"I wonder how often I have had notice of that fact," said Gerty.
"I will go to Mr. M'llwaine now, uncle; but you must come too,
please.--And, Nelly, will you take all the people to the
croquet-ground? I will come as soon as I can."

Gertrude went away with her uncle, and Nelly led the way to an
anteroom, in which garden-hats and other articles of casual equipment
were to be found.

"It is to be hoped Captain Carteret will not keep on reminding Miss
Baldwin of her duties and dignities," whispered Meredith to Eleanor,
as the party assembled on the terrace. "It will be embarrassing if he
does, though she carries it off well, with her pretty air of
unconsciousness."

Eleanor said nothing in answer, but her face darkened, and the first
sentence she spoke afterwards had a harsh tone in it.

The day was very fine, the summer heat was tempered by a cool breeze,
and the glare of the sun was softened by flitting fleecy clouds. The
group collected on the beautifully-kept croquet-ground of the Deane
was as pretty and as picturesque as any which was to be seen under the
summer sky that day. Mrs. Haldane Carteret, who was by no means "a
frisky matron," but who enjoyed unbroken animal spirits and much
better health than she could have been induced to acknowledge, was
particularly fond of croquet, which, as her feet and ankles were
irreproachable, was not to be wondered at. She was an indefatigable, a
perfectly good-humoured player, and owed not a little of her
popularity in the neighbourhood to her ever-ready willingness to get
up croquet-parties at home, or to go out to them.

Haldane too was not a bad or a reluctant player; and, on the whole,
the Deane held a creditable place in the long list of country houses
much devoted to this popular science.

Miss Congreve and her sister "perfectly doated on" croquet, and all
the young men were enthusiasts in the art, except George Ritherdon,
who played too badly to like it, and had never gotten over the painful
remembrance of having once caused a young lady, whose face was fairer
than her temper, to weep tears of spite and wrathfulness by his
blunders in a "match."

"How long is this going to last?" George asked Meredith, when the game
was fairly inaugurated, and the animation of the party proved how much
to their taste their proceedings were.

Meredith did not answer until he had watched with narrow and critical
interest the stroke which Nelly was then about to make. When the ball
had rolled through the hoop, and it was somebody else's turn, he said,

"Until such time as, having breakfasted at twelve with the prospect of
dining at seven, we can contrive to fancy that we want something to
eat, I suppose."

"Well, then, as I don't play, and cannot flatter myself I shall be
missed, I shall go in, write some letters, and have a stroll. You will
tell Miss Baldwin I don't play croquet, if she should do me the honour
to remark my absence?"

"Certainly," said Meredith; and as George turned away, he said to
Eleanor,

"I will tell your sister, if she likes, that George does not play
croquet or any other game."

She looked up inquiringly.

"No," he said; "he is the most thoroughly honest--indeed, I might say
the only thoroughly honest--man, who has not any brains, of my
acquaintance. _He_ won't lay siege to the heiress, and have no eyes
for anybody else, no matter how superior; and yet a little or a good
deal of money would be as valuable to George as to most men, I
believe."

"I thought Mr. Ritherdon seemed very much taken with Gertrude," said
Nelly, who had ceased for the moment to perform the mystic evolutions
of the noble game--in a confidential tone, into which she had
unconsciously dropped when speaking to Meredith.

"No doubt, so he is; but if she imagines he is going to be an easy
conquest--to propose and be rejected--she will be mistaken."

A little while ago, and who would have dared to speak in such a tone
of her sister to Eleanor Baldwin? Whom would she have believed, who
should have told her that she could have heard unmoved insinuations
almost amounting to accusations of that sister's vanity, pride, and
coquetry? The sweet poison of flattery was taking effect, the deadly
plant of jealousy was taking ready root.

"I suppose," she said, "every man who comes to the house will be set
down as a _pretendant_ of Gertrude's--that is to be expected. If any
man of our acquaintance has real self-respect, he will keep away."

"Indeed!" said Meredith. "Would you make no exceptions to so harsh a
rule?--not in favour of those to whom Miss Baldwin would be nothing,
except your sister?"

"Nelly, Nelly, what are you about? You are moonstruck, I think!"
exclaimed Mrs. Haldane Carteret, whose superabundant alertness could
not brook an interval in the game; and Eleanor was absolved by this
direct appeal from any necessity to take notice of the words spoken by
Meredith.

No immediate opportunity of again addressing Eleanor arose, so
Meredith divided his attentions, in claiming her due share of which
Mrs. Carteret was very exacting, among the party in general, which was
shortly reinforced by the arrival of a number of visitors from the
"contagious countries," and, conspicuous among them, Mr. Dort. This
honourable young gentleman, though all his parents and friends could
possibly desire, in point of fashion, was perhaps a little less than
people in general might have desired in point of brains. Indeed, he
possessed as little of that important ingredient in the composition of
humanity as was at all consistent with his keeping up his animal life
and keeping himself out of an idiot asylum.

In appearance he was rather prepossessing; for he had a well-bred
not-too-pretty face, "nice" hair (and a capital valet, who rarely
received his wages), a tolerably good figure, and better taste in
dress than is usually combined with fatuity. He never talked much,
which was a good thing for himself and his friends. He had a dim kind
of notion that he did not get at his ideas, or at any rate did not put
them in words, with quite so much facility as other people did, and
so, actuated by a feeble gleam of common sense, he remained tolerably
silent in general. As he naturally enjoyed the aristocratic privilege
of not being required to exert himself for anybody's good or
convenience, he experienced no sort of awkwardness or misgiving when,
on making a call, after the ordinary greeting of civilised life (with
all the _r_'s eliminated, and all the words jumbled together), he
remained perfectly silent, in contemplation of the chimneypiece,
except when a dog was present, then he pulled its ears, until the
conclusion of his visit. He was very harmless, except to tradespeople,
and not unamiable--rather cheerful and happy indeed than otherwise,
though his habitual expression was one of vapid discontent. He would
have made it sardonic if he could, but he couldn't; he had too little
nose and not enough moustache for that, and his strong-minded mamma
had advised him to give it up.

"I know your cousin Adolphus does it," Lady Gelston said indulgently;
"but just consider his natural advantages. Don't do it, Matthew; you
_can't_ sneer with an upper lip like yours; and, besides, why _should_
you sneer?"

"There's something in that, ma'am, certainly," returned her admiring
son, with his usual deliberation. "I really don't see why I should;
because, you see, I ain't clever enough for people to expect it:"
which was the cleverest thing the Honourable Matthew had ever said, up
to that period of his existence.

The young ladies in the neighbourhood rather liked Mr. Dort. He was a
good deal in Scotland, chiefly because he found an alarming scarcity
of ready money was apt to set in, after he had made a comparatively
short sojourn in London, and each time this happened he would remark
to his friends, in the tone and with the manner of a discoverer,

"And there are things one must have money for, don't you know? one
can't tick for everything--cabs, and waiters, and so on, don't you
know?"

This unhappy perversity of circumstances brought the Honourable
Matthew home to his ancestral castle earlier, and caused him to remain
there longer, than was customary with the territorial magnates; and
Lord and Lady Gelston were, also for sound pecuniary reasons,
all-the-year-rounders, and very good neighbours with every family
entitled to that distinction. The young ladies, then, liked Mr. Dort.
He was useful, agreeable, and "safe." Now this peculiar-sounding
qualification was one which, however puzzling to the uninitiated, was
thoroughly understood in the neighbourhood, and its general
acceptation made things very pleasant.

The young ladies might like Mr. Dort, and Mr. Dort might and did like
the young ladies, without any risk of undue expectations being
excited, or female jealousies and rivalries being aroused. Every one
knew that Mr. Dort's parents intended their son to marry an heiress,
and that Mr. Dort himself was quite of their opinion. When the
appointed time and the selected heiress should come, the young ladies
were prepared to give up Mr. Dort with cheerfulness. Perhaps they
hoped the chosen heiress might be ugly, and certainly they hoped she
would "behave properly to the neighbourhood," but there their
single-minded cogitations stopped. A good deal of the feudal spirit
lingered about the Gelston precincts, and if the son of the lord and
the lady, the heir of the undeniably grand, if rather out-at-elbows,
castle, had been a monk, or a married man, he could hardly have been
more secure from a design on the part of any young lady to convert
herself into the Honourable Mrs. Dort.

The pleasantest unanimity of feeling prevailed in the community
respecting him, and all the married ladies declared they "quite felt
for dear Lady Gelston," in her natural anxiety to "have her son
settled." Her son was not particularly anxious about it himself, but
then it was not his way to be particularly anxious about anything but
the "sit" of his garments, and the punctuality of his meals, and this
indifference was normal. Local heiresses were not plentiful in the
vicinity of Gelston, but Lady Gelston did not trust to the home
supply. She had long ago enlisted the sympathies and the services of
such of her friends as enjoyed favourable opportunities for "knowing
about that sort of thing," and who either had no sons, or such as were
happily disposed of. She was a practically-minded woman, and fully
alive to the advantage of securing as many resources as possible.

Lady Gelston would have been perfectly capable of the insolence of
considering her son's success in the case of the local heiresses--_par
excellence_, Miss Baldwin--perfectly indubitable, but of the folly she
was not capable. He would have a very good chance, she felt convinced,
and she was determined he should try it as soon as it would be
decently possible for him to do so.

"Matt is not the only young man of rank she will meet, even here,"
said the lady, when she condescended to explain her views to her
acquiescent lord.

Who, be it observed, was quite as well convinced of the advantages of
the alliance, and quite as anxious it should take place, as his wife;
but who preferred repose to action, gave her ladyship credit for
practical ability and a contrary taste, and entertained a general idea
that scheming in all its departments had better be left to a woman.

"Matt's chance will be before she goes to London," continued her
ladyship; "and I really think it is a good one. She likes him, and
that goes a great way with a girl"--said as if she were gently
compassionating a weakness--"and I think the Carterets are sensible
people, likely to see their own advantage in her marrying into a
family who are on good terms with them, and can make it worth their
while to behave nicely. Then there's the advantage to _her_ of the
connection. Our son, my dear, living _here_, is a better match for her
than Lord Anybody's son, living elsewhere, and unconnected with her
people. Really, nothing could be more--more providential, I really
consider it, for her." And Lady Gelston nodded approvingly, as if the
power alluded to had been present, and could have appreciated the
polite encouragement.

"Well, my dear, you seem to have taken everything into consideration,
and I have no doubt you are right. I hope _they_ will see it in the
same light."

"I hope so; but if they don't--and that's why I am anxious Matt should
not lose time"--Lady Gelston had a trick of parenthesis--"I shall see
about that Treherne girl--Mrs. Peile's niece, you know. Lady John
Tarbett sent me a very satisfactory account of her the other day. And
by the bye, that reminds me I must go and answer her letter."

Had Lady Gelston been conscious that all her acquaintances were
thoroughly aware of the projects which she cherished in reference to
Gertrude Baldwin, she would not have been in the least annoyed. The
matter presented itself to her mind in a practical common-sense
aspect, much as his designs with regard to the "middle-aged lady"
presented themselves to the mind of Mr. Peter Magnus. "Husband on one
side, wife on the other;" fortune on one side, rank on the other;
mutual accommodation, excellent arrangement for all parties--a little
condescending on the part of the Honourable Matthew perhaps, but then
the girl was really very rich, and that was all about it. Any one
ordinarily clear-sighted, and with any knowledge of the world at all,
must recognise the advantages to all parties. If the Carterets and
Miss Baldwin were insensible to them--well, it would be provoking, but
there were other heiresses, and certain conditions of heiress-ship
were tolerably frequent, in which an Honourable Matthew would be a
greater prize than to Miss Meriton Baldwin of the Deane.

When Mr. Dort made his appearance on the Deane croquet-ground, there
was not an individual present who did not know that he was there with
a definite purpose, and in obedience to the orders of Lady Gelston,
and they all watched his proceedings with curiosity. The fates were
not propitious to the Honourable Matthew, who had been preparing, on
his way, certain pretty speeches, which he flattered himself would be
effective, and would help towards "getting it over," which was his
periphrastic manner of alluding, in his self-communings, to the
proposal appointed to be made to Miss Baldwin. Gertrude was not
present, and everybody was intent upon croquet.

"Where is your sister?" he asked Eleanor, after they had exchanged
good-morrows, and agreed that the ball of the previous night had been
a successful festivity.

The droll directness of the question was too much for Nelly; she
laughed outright.

"I really cannot tell you," she replied; "she ought to have been here
long ago; but no doubt she will come now."

"I hope so," said Mr. Dort with fervent seriousness. "I should think
she would soon come."

And then he retired modestly to a garden-seat and softly repeated the
phrases, which he began to find it desperately difficult to retain in
his memory.

Robert Meredith had adhered with some tenacity to the croquet-party,
and had been a witness to this little scene. The amusement, just a
little dashed with pique, which Eleanor displayed did not escape him.

"He is an original, certainly," said Meredith, "which, for the sake of
humanity, it is to be hoped will not be extensively copied. I fancy he
will propose to-day."

"Very likely," said Nelly; "every one knows he, or his mother, has
intended it for a long time. In fact, Gerty rather wants to have it
over, as Mr. Dort is not a bad creature, and the sooner he understands
that, though she has no notion of marrying him, he may come here all
the same, the pleasanter it will be for all parties."

"Of course she _has_ no notion of marrying him?"

"Mr. Meredith, you are insulting! Gerty marry Matt Dort--an idiot like
that!"

"An idiot with an old title and a castle to match, in not distant
perspective, combination of county influence, &c. &c. &c.," said
Meredith, smiling; "not so very improbable, after all."

"So Lady Gelston thinks," replied Nelly; "and won't it be a sell--the
slang is delightfully expressive--when she finds it is not he."

"And wouldn't it be a sell for her ladyship if it were? thought
Meredith.

"I suppose it will, indeed." was his reply. "Though all this is very
amusing, I fancy I should consider it very humiliating if I were a
woman. I cannot see anything enviable in a position which exposes one
to such barefaced speculation."

"Nonsense!" returned Eleanor, with a forced smile; "depend on it, if
you were a woman, you would like very well to be in Gertrude's
position, and have every one making much of you."

As she spoke she threw down her mallet, and declared herself tired of
croquet.

"Here is Gertrude at last," said Mrs. Haldane Carteret, and all the
party looked in the direction of the house. There was Gertrude, coming
along the terrace, and with her George Ritherdon, supporting on his
arm Mr. Dugdale.

"Let us go and meet them," said Eleanor, "and tell Gerty to put the
Honourable Matthew out of pain as soon as possible."

"He is to be here this evening, I suppose," said Meredith, as they
moved off the croquet-ground.

"Yes," answered Eleanor; "Lady Gelston carefully provided for that
last night--not that it was necessary, for he would have invited
himself, and come under any circumstances."

When Eleanor and Meredith joined Miss Baldwin and her escort, George
Ritherdon said to his friend:

"I will ask you to take my place. I find the post-hour here is
horribly early, and I must really let my mother know where I am."

"What on earth have you been doing?" said Meredith, as he offered his
arm to Mr. Dugdale. "You went away two hours ago to write letters,
you said."

"I think we are to blame," said Gerty. "Mr. Ritherdon found us in the
morning room--found uncle James and me, I mean--and we got talking, as
Miss Congreve says, and--"

"And I had an opportunity of finding out how much Ritherdon is to be
liked," interposed Mr. Dugdale, George being now out of hearing. "I
congratulate you on your companion, Robert."

Meredith replied cordially, and the party advanced towards the lawn.
The two girls preceded Mr. Dugdale and Meredith, and as the sound of
their voices reached the latter, he correctly divined that they were
amusing themselves at the expense of Mr. Dort. On the approach of Miss
Baldwin, the Honourable Matthew promptly abandoned the garden bench,
from which no blandishments had previously availed to entice him, and
repeated the phrases which had occasioned him so much trouble, with
very suspicious glibness, to the undisguised amusement of the two
girls. Mr. Dort was not in the least abashed. He had no sense of
humour and not a particle of bashfulness, and, if he had reasoned on
the subject at all, would have imputed their hilarity to the natural
propensity of women to giggle, rather than have entertained any
suspicion that he had made himself ridiculous. But he never reasoned,
and he was always perfectly comfortable.

The afternoon passed merrily away, and a pleasant dinner-party
succeeded. George Ritherdon had become quite a popular person before
the promised dance--not at all splendid, in comparison with the ball
of the preceding evening--began, and he confided to Meredith his
surprise at finding himself "getting on so well," he who was such a
bad hand at "society business."

Gertrude gave him several dances that evening--Miss Congreve thought
rather too many,--and she gave Mr. Dort one, and a tolerably prolonged
audience in the ante-room, after which it was generally observed that
the expression of discontent habitual to his features was more marked
than usual. He left the Deane long before the party broke up, and
found his lady mother still up, and ready to receive his report of
proceedings.

"Well, Matt, how have you got on?" was her ladyship's terse question.

"I haven't got on at all," replied the Honourable Matthew. "She said
'No' almost before I'd asked her, and was so infernally pleasant about
it, that, hang it! I couldn't get up anything like the proper thing
under the circumstances,--you know, mother,--the 'may not time--can
you not give me a hope?' business."

"Excessively provoking," said Lady Gelston, turning very red in the
face, and speaking in a tone which was the peculiar aversion of her
son: "she is a stupid perverse girl, and I'm certain you mismanaged
the affair."

"No, I didn't," said the Honourable Matt; "there ain't much management
about it, that I can see. I said, 'Will you marry me?'--that's flat, I
think,--and she said, 'Certainly not;' _that's_ flat, I think;--a
perfect flounder, in my opinion."

"Well, well, it can't be helped," said Lady Gelston, with a glance at
her son which might have meant that she had arrived at a comprehension
of what a fool he really was. "There, go away, and let me get to bed.
It's too bad; but there's no help for it. We must only try elsewhere."
she continued, as if speaking to herself.

"Stop a bit, mother," interposed the Honourable Matt, without the
least impatience or any change of expression, "I want to consult you
about something. Don't you think what I particularly want is ready
money--money that isn't tied up, I mean--not the entail business,
don't you know, but the other thing?"

"I think you want money in any way and in any quantity in which it can
be had," returned Lady Gelston impatiently. "How can you ask such
foolish questions?"

"I'm not. I heard all about Nelly Baldwin's money to-night. Captain
Carteret was talking about it to old Largs, and he's so deaf that the
Captain had to roar all the particulars; and I'll tell you what,
mother,--by Jove, I'll go in for Nelly."

Robert Meredith and George Ritherdon were to remain a week at the
Deane. The three days which succeeded their arrival were passed in
the ordinary pleasurable pursuits of a luxurious and hospitable
country-house, and were unmarked by any events which made themselves
at all conspicuous. Nevertheless they were days with a meaning, an
epoch with a history, and their course included two incidents. The
sisters had a quarrel, which they kept strictly to themselves; and
George Ritherdon received a long letter, which he read with profound
amazement, which he promptly destroyed, and concerning whose contents
he said not a word to any one.



CHAPTER VI.
THE FIRST MOVES IN THE GAME.

Some time passed away, after the memorable fête which had celebrated
the majority of Miss Meriton Baldwin of the Deane, during which, to an
uninitiated observer, the aspect of affairs in that splendid and
well-regulated mansion remained unchanged. County festivities took
place; and the importance of the young ladies at the Deane was not a
better established fact than their popularity.

With the comic seriousness which distinguished him, the Honourable
Matthew Dort had "gone in for Nelly." He visited at the Deane with
tranquil regularity, he played croquet imperturbably; only that he now
watched Eleanor's balls, and was as confident she would "croquet"
everybody as he had formerly been free from doubt about Gertrude's
prowess; he rehearsed his speeches, and uttered them with entire
self-possession. In due time he proposed to Eleanor, in the exact
terms in which he had already done Gertrude that honour: and he was
refused by her quite as definitively, but less politely than he had
been refused by her sister. On this occasion also he went home to his
mother, and related to her his defeat with a happy absence of
embarrassment.

Lady Gelston was very angry. She really did not know what the
world--and especially the young women who were in it--was coming to;
she wondered who the Baldwin girls expected to get. But of one thing
she was convinced--Matthew must have made a fool of himself somehow,
or he could not have failed in both instances. The accused Matthew did
not defend himself. Very likely he had made a fool of himself, but it
could not be helped. Neither Gertrude nor Eleanor would marry him, and
it was quite clear he could not make either of them do so. His mother
had much better not worry herself about them; and when the shooting
was over, or he was tired of it, he would "look-up that girl of Lady
Jane Tarbert's."

With this prospect, and with the intention of snubbing the Baldwins,
Lady Gelston was forced to be content. But the snubbing, though her
ladyship was an adept in the practice, did not succeed. The Baldwins
declined to perceive that they were snubbed, and the neighbourhood
declined to follow Lady Gelston's lead in this particular. The Deane
was the most popular house in the county, and the Baldwins were the
happiest and most enviable people.

This fair surface was but a deceitful seeming; at least, so far as the
sisters were concerned. An estrangement, which had had its
commencement on Gertrude's birthday, and had since increased by
insensible degrees, had grown up between them; an estrangement which
not all their efforts--made in the case of Eleanor from pride, in that
of Gertrude from wounded feeling--could hide from the notice of their
uncle and aunt, from James Dugdale and Rose Doran; an estrangement
which made each eagerly court external associations, and find relief,
in the frequent presence of others, from the constant sense of their
changed relation. James Dugdale saw this change with keen sorrow; but
when he attempted to investigate it, he was met by Gertrude with an
earnest assurance that she was entirely ignorant of its origin, and an
equally earnest entreaty that he would not speak to Eleanor about it.
It would be useless, Gertrude said, and she must put her faith in time
and her sister's truer interpretation of her.

Appeal to Eleanor was met with flat denial, and an angry refusal to
submit to interference, which in itself betrayed the evil root of all
this dissension. Gertrude was supreme, the angry sister said; _she_
was nothing. Gertrude of course could not err; all the good things of
this world were for Gertrude, including the absolute subservience of
her sister. But she might not, indeed she should not, find it quite so
easy to command _that_.  A good deal of harm was done by Mrs.
Carteret, not intentionally, but yet after her characteristic fashion.
She much preferred Eleanor to Gertrude, and she made herself a
partisan of the former, by pitying her, because _she_ only could know
how little she was really to blame. Haldane treated the matter very
lightly. He regarded it as a girlish squabble, which would resolve
itself into nothing in a very short time, and at the worst would be
dissipated by a stronger feeling. So soon as a lover should appear on
the scene, their good-humoured uncle believed it would be all
right,--provided indeed they did not happen to fall in love with the
same man, and quarrel desperately about him.

Rose Doran regarded the state of things with anger and horror.

"It's just the devil's work, sir," she said to Mr. Dugdale; "puttin'
jealousy and bitterness between them two, fatherless and motherless as
they are, and no one to show them the only kind of love in which
there's no room for more or less. It's just the devil's work, and he's
doing it bravely; and Miss Nelly's to his hand, for that jealousy was
always in her; not but there's somebody behindhand, I'm sure of it,
puttin' coals on the fire."

Rose was at first disposed to suspect Mrs. Carteret of this
supererogatory work, but she did not continue to suspect her. She knew
the girls so thoroughly, she was in no doubt respecting the amount of
influence their aunt could exert over them, and in Nelly's case she
was aware this was much less than in that of Gertrude. Besides, Mrs.
Doran's practical wisdom controlled her feminine suspicion; she could
not discern an adequate motive, and she therefore exonerated aunt
Lucy. But she was no less convinced that, in this unhappy matter,
Eleanor was not left alone to the unassisted promptings of her
disposition, in which Rose had early perceived the terrible taint of
jealousy. And her acute observation guided her aright before long; it
guided her to an individual whom she had instinctively distrusted in
his boyhood--to Robert Meredith.

Though she had hardly seen him for many years past, and though, in her
position in the household at the Deane, she had not come into any
contact with him of late. Rose Doran had never got over the dislike of
Robert Meredith which she had conceived at the terrible time of her
beloved mistress's death. On that occasion James Dugdale had obeyed
Margaret's instructions so faithfully and promptly, that Rose Moore
had reached the Deane in time to kneel beside her unclosed coffin, and
whisper, on her cold lips, the promise on which she had instinctively
relied,--the promise that her children should be henceforth Rose's
sacred charge and care. Among the mourners at the funeral of Mrs.
Baldwin were Hayes Meredith and his son; the former entirely absorbed
in grief for the event, and in thoughts of the future, as his secret
knowledge forced him to contemplate it; the latter, with ample leisure
of mind to look about him, to observe and admire, and with the
pleasant conviction that every one was too much occupied to take any
notice of him. He conducted himself with propriety at the funeral, and
afterwards, while he was in sight of the family; and he was far from
supposing that Rose Moore was watching his looks and his manner, on
other occasions, with mingled disgust and curiosity, and that she said
to herself, "The Lord be good to us! but I believe, upon my soul and
faith, _the boy is glad she's taken_."

Rose had never deliberately recalled this impression during all the
years which had witnessed her faithful fulfilment of her vow, but she
had never lost it; and the conviction which now came to her, during
Robert Meredith's stay at the Deane, and which gained strength with
every day which ensued on his departure, had its origin in it. Had it
needed confirmation, it would have obtained it from the utter and
peremptory rejection of her good offices, on Nelly's part, and the
burst of angry disdain with which the infatuated girl met her
suggestion, that Mr. Meredith was no friend of Gertrude's. Eleanor
Baldwin had travelled no small distance on the thorny road of evil,
when she rewarded Rose's suggestion with a haughty request, which
fired Rose's Irish blood, but with a flame quickly quenched in healing
waters of love and pity,--that she would in future remember, and keep,
_her place_.

"It's because I never forget my place, the place your mother put me
in, Miss Nelly, that I warn you," said her faithful friend.

Then Eleanor felt ashamed of herself; but pride and anger and deadly
jealousy carried the day over the wholesome sentiment, and she turned
away hastily, leaving Rose without a word.

In much more than its external meaning was that festival time of deep
importance to Gertrude and Eleanor Meriton Baldwin. It was fraught
with the fate of both. While Robert Meredith and his friend remained
at the Deane, the relation of the sisters was unchanged in appearance.
It seemed as if their mysterious quarrel had had no lasting effect.
The after estrangement was, however, its legitimate fruit, as well as
the consequence of the pernicious ideas which Robert Meredith had set
himself assiduously to cultivate in the mind of Nelly. An explanation
of the state of mind of Robert Meredith, at the termination of his
visit to the Deane, will sufficiently elucidate the quarrel of the
sisters, and its distressing results.

Robert Meredith had arrived at the Deane full of one purpose, which
had been vaguely present to his mind for some years, but to which
certain circumstances had of late lent consistency, fixedness, and
urgency. This purpose was to make himself acceptable in the eyes of
Miss Baldwin. He had hitherto troubled himself but little about the
young lady. When she should have reached her majority, his time should
have come. It had arrived; and not Mr. M'llwaine himself--who had gone
to the Deane, accompanied by the huge mass of papers to which Haldane
Carteret had found it difficult to induce his niece to give reasonable
attention--had proceeded thither with a more strictly business-like
purpose in view than that which actuated the handsome barrister.
Robert would have despised himself as sincerely, and almost as much,
as he was in the habit of despising his neighbours, if he had been
capable of permitting sentiment to influence him in so grave an affair
as that of securing his fortune for life,--which was precisely his
purpose; and he had formed his plans totally irrespective of
Gertrude's attractions, or their possible influence upon himself. He
had two schemes in his mind, both, in his belief, equally practicable;
and he determined to be guided by circumstances as to which of the two
he should adopt. If the second should present itself as the more
advisable, an indispensable preliminary to the secure playing of the
long game it would involve was the alienation of the sisters. It could
do no harm, in any case, to make an immediate move in that direction;
and therefore Robert Meredith made it.

When Eleanor Baldwin made her escape from the ballroom on that
memorable night, leaving her sister to the cares which her superior
importance devolved upon her, Robert Meredith's eager words of
admiration, and still more expressive looks, had filled the girl's
heart--already dangerously trembling towards him--with a strange
tumultuous joy, contending with the jealous bitterness he had
contrived to implant in it. But when he and George Ritherdon bade one
another good-night at the door of George's room, after a brief
commentary upon the beauty of the morning, he had enough that was ever
in his thoughts to keep him from sleep. The comparative advantages of
the first of his plans over the second had immensely increased in his
estimation.

The beauty, the simplicity, the tender pathetic grace of Gertrude, had
struck with a strange attractive freshness upon his palled sense, and
he had awakened, with a delicious consciousness, to the conviction
that he might combine the utmost gratification of two passions by the
successful prosecution of his scheme. To make that delicate, refined,
lovely girl love him as passionately, as foolishly, as the dark
beauty, her sister, would love him, if it suited his purpose to
encourage the dawning feeling he had seen in her eyes, and felt in
every movement and word of hers during the evening, would indeed be
triumph, adding a delicious flavour to the wealth and station which
should be his. He understood now what the charm was which Gertrude's
mother, whom he had hated, had had for men,--the charm of a pure and
refined intellectuality, with underlying possibilities of intense and
exalted feeling,--these were to be divined in the depths of the clear
gray, unabashed eyes, and in the sensitive curves of a mouth as
delicate as her mother's, but less ascetic.

Had he made a favourable impression on Gertrude? Had she learned from
her sister's report to regard him with favour, and had he confirmed
that report? He did not feel comfortably certain on this point.
Gertrude had not given him any indication beyond the additional
attention which he claimed as Mr. Dugdale's particular friend. But
Robert Meredith did not trouble himself much on this point; he had
time before him, and he knew perfectly well how to use it. But it was
characteristic of the man that, though he dwelt, to his last waking
moment, upon Gertrude's beauty and charm, he thought, just as he fell
asleep, "If she thwarts me, it will all add zest to the revenge which
Miss Eleanor's eyes tell me is secure in any case."

The story of the remainder of Robert Meredith's visit may be briefly
told. Gertrude did thwart him. Not intentionally; for she, being the
most candid of girls, was wholly incapable of understanding his
double-dealing policy. She frankly regarded him as her sister's
admirer, and she unreservedly regretted that he should be so. She did
not like Robert Meredith; between him and her there was an absolute
absence of sympathy, and she shrank with an inexplicable repugnance
and fear from his looks--covert and yet bold--and from the admiration
which he insinuated, the understanding which he attempted to imply,
whenever he could take or contrive an opportunity of doing so,
unobserved and unheard by Eleanor. She avoided him whenever it was
possible, and she never remained alone with him.

Robert Meredith was a vain man--but vanity was not his ruling passion,
one or two others had precedence of it--therefore he did not fail to
see, or hesitate to confess to himself, that Gertrude had thwarted
him, that there would not be room, in the accomplishment of his
scheme; for the delicious gratification of two passions at once, and
that he would do well to fall back upon the second game, for playing
which he had the cards in his hand. It was not without intense
mortification he made this avowal to himself. He was a man to whom
failure was indeed bitter; but he speedily found consolation in musing
upon the perfection of a certain revenge which he meditated.

"If she would marry me, in ignorance," he said to himself, "I should
be the Deane's master and hers; but, if she would not marry me under
any circumstances, to escape any penalty--and I begin to think that is
certain now--I have her in my power, and _all, all, all_ will be
mine."

These reflections, made by Robert Meredith during the week which was
to conclude his stay at the Deane, led him to take a certain
resolution, whose execution was fraught with immediate results to the
sisters.

A small but very animated dancing-party had taken place at the Deane;
and Robert had closely studied the demeanour of Gertrude and Eleanor
to him and to each other. The estrangement of the sisters had not then
become manifest; but he detected and exulted in it. On Gertrude's part
there was a nervous anxiety to put Eleanor forward, to consult her, to
defer to her in everything; on Eleanor's there was an affectation of
indifference, an assumption of deference, a giving of herself the
appearance of being a guest, which was in extremely bad taste, but
thoroughly delightful to Robert Meredith. If a servant asked Eleanor a
question, she pointedly referred him to her sister; she professed an
entire ignorance of Miss Baldwin's plans for the evening; she divided
herself from her in innumerable little expressive ways, which Gertrude
noted with a sick heart and a manner which betrayed painful
nervousness; and she abandoned herself to the influence of the
flattery and the insidious suggestions of the tempter to a degree
which justified him in believing that he might be entirely sure of
her, whether the pursuit of his purpose should lead him to break her
heart by marrying her sister, or crown her hopes by marrying herself.

It was Gertrude's custom to resort to the library every morning after
breakfast, and there to occupy herself with her drawing, at a table
beside a large window which opened on the lawn. She was usually
undisturbed, as Mr. Dugdale remained in his own rooms all the morning,
her uncle frequented the stable and farmyard, Eleanor devoted the
morning hours to music, and Mrs. Carteret had no attraction towards
the library. George Ritherdon had sometimes found his way thither; and
Gertrude had, on those occasions, found it not unpleasant to lay aside
her pencil, and discuss with her guest some of the contents of her
amply-stored bookshelves. But George was engaged in writing letters on
the morning which followed the before-mentioned dancing-party; and
Robert Meredith found Miss Baldwin, as he expected, alone. Gertrude
tried hard to receive him in the most ordinary way, but her
embarrassment was distressingly apparent; and he coolly showed her
that he perceived it. After a few words--she could hardly have told
what words--she collected her drawing-materials, and said something
confusedly about being waited for by Mrs. Carteret, as she rose to
leave the room. But Robert Meredith, with a bold fixed look, which, in
spite of herself, she saw and felt in every nerve, detained her; and
gravely informing her that he had purposely selected that opportunity
of finding her alone, in order to make a communication of importance
to her, requested her to listen to him. His manner was not loverlike,
it was even, under all the formality of his address, slightly
contemptuous; but she knew instantly what it was she had to listen to,
and a prayer arose in her heart by a sudden inexplicable impulse. She
resumed her seat, and leaning her arm on the table which divided her
from Robert Meredith, she shaded her eyes with her hand, and prepared
to listen to him.

It was as her instinctive dread had told her. In set phrase, and
with his bold covetous eyes fixed upon her, Meredith told her his
errand,--told her he loved her, and asked her to marry him--made
mention too of her wealth, and the risk he ran of being misinterpreted
by the world, of having base motives imparted to him--a risk more than
counterbalanced by his love, and his faith in his ability to make her
understand and believe that she was sought by him for herself alone.

Robert Meredith spoke well, and with fire and energy; but, as Gertrude
listened to him, her distress and embarrassment subsided, and she
removed the sheltering hand from her eyes. When he urgently entreated
her to reply, she said very gently:

"I should feel more pain, Mr. Meredith, in telling you that I cannot
return the preference with which you honour me, if I did not feel so
convinced that your love for me is only imaginary. Had it been real,
you would not have remembered my wealth, or cared about the opinion of
the world."

This answer staggered the man to whom it was addressed more than any
indignation could have done. He burst out into renewed protestations;
but Gertrude, with grave dignity, begged him to desist, and again
asserting that as her guardian's friend he should ever be esteemed
hers, assured him it was useless to pursue his suit. Then she rose,
and moved towards the door.

"Is this a final answer, Miss Baldwin?" asked Meredith.

"Quite final, Mr. Meredith."

"Stay a moment. May I hope you will not add to the mortification of
this refusal the injury of making it known to Mr. Dugdale or Mrs.
Carteret, indeed to any one? I confess I could hardly endure the
ridicule or the compassion which must attend a rejected suitor of the
heiress of the Deane."

There was a devil's sneer in his voice and on his face; but Gerty took
no heed of it, as she replied, with quiet dignity,

"We have a code of honour also, we women, Mr. Meredith; and you may be
quite sure I shall never so far offend against it as to mention this
matter to _any one_." Then she added, with a sweet smile, in which her
perfect incredulity regarding his professions was fully though
unconsciously expressed:

"I will leave you now; and I hope you will forget all this as soon and
as completely as I shall."

Robert Meredith followed her with his eyes as she left the room, and
passing along the terrace, went down into her flower-garden, and
lingered there, utterly oblivious of him; and a deadly feeling of
hatred, such hatred as springs most profusely from baffled passion,
arose in his heart, and blossomed into sudden strength and purpose.

"Yes," he muttered; "you have taken up the thread of your mother's
story, and you shall spin it out to some purpose. A little while, and
Eleanor will be of age; and then, my fine heiress of the Deane,
then we shall see who has won to-day. A little while, and if I
can only keep Oakley quiet till then, I am safe. Safe! more than
safe,--triumphant, victorious!"

It was on the next day that Nelly, intoxicated by the artful
flatteries of Robert Meredith, and tortured by the jealousy which he
had fostered, taunted her sister with the powerlessness of money to
purchase love. The taunt fell harmlessly on Gertrude's pure and
upright heart; but it startled her, uttered by her sister. How had
Nelly come by such knowledge, and why did she apply it to her? She
hastily asked her why; and to her astonishment was answered, that in
one treasure at least Nelly was richer than she was--the treasure of a
brave and true man's love! The reply shook Gertrude like a reed. There
was indeed one man who answered to this description; there was one man
to win whose love would be the most blissful lot which Heaven could
bestow. There was one man, who never, by word or deed or look, had
implied to Gertrude Baldwin that such a lot might be hers--had her
sister won _him_? Well indeed might she exult, if she were so
supremely blest, and hold not Gertrude only, but all womankind her
inferiors. Pale and breathless, she awaited the complete elucidation
to be expected from Eleanor's taunting wrath, and it came. It came,
not as her fearful shrinking heart had foreboden, but in the avowal
that Eleanor spoke of Robert Meredith.

With the passing away of the great pang of terror that had clutched at
her heart, Gertrude was again calm and clear-sighted; but she was
deeply grieved. She felt how unworthy was the man her sister loved,
how baseless her belief that she possessed his affections. She was far
from being able to comprehend such a nature as that of Robert
Meredith; but she had a vague consciousness that, in his binding her
to secrecy respecting his proposal to her, there had been a
treacherous intent; and though she would not break her promise, she
appealed to her sister on grounds and terms which a little more
knowledge of human nature would have taught her must be in vain. Then
came the inevitable result, a bitter and lasting quarrel, and an
ineradicable belief on Eleanor's part that Gertrude's refusal to
credit Meredith's love for her sister arose from the most despicable
motives--pride, envy, and jealousy. Where was the sisterly love, where
was the unbroken confidence of years now? Blasted by the fierce breath
of passion, poisoned by the insidious art of the tempter.

So a treacherous appearance of calm and happiness existed at the Deane
during the months which succeeded the departure of the friends, and
none but those concerned were aware of two circumstances which had
entirely changed the lives of the bright and beautiful sisters. One
was the fact that Eleanor Baldwin was secretly betrothed to Robert
Meredith, with the understanding that on her coming of age she would
marry him, with or without the consent of her relatives. The other was
that the plodding industrious barrister George Ritherdon, who carried
back to his chambers in the Temple more than one unaccustomed
sensation, had taken with him, unconsciously, the unasked heart of the
young mistress of the Deane.



CHAPTER VII.
DRIFTING.


With the commencement of the season, Major and Mrs. Carteret and their
nieces followed the multitude to London. This proceeding was but
little in accordance with the wishes of Gertrude Baldwin, who loved
her home and her dependents, the pleasant routine of her country
duties and recreations; but she could not oppose herself to the
general opinion that it was the right thing to do, in which even Mr.
Dugdale, her great support and ally, agreed with the others. In her
capacity of woman of fashion, Mrs. Carteret was quite shocked that
Gertrude should have passed her twenty-first year without coming out
in proper style in London; but in that of chaperone, or, as she called
it, maternal friend to a great heiress, she had recognised the wisdom
and propriety of permitting her to attain to years of discretion
before she should be formally delivered over to the wiles of the
fortune-hunters and the perils of the "great world." Not but that
there were fortune-hunters in Scotland, witness the Honourable Matthew
Dort; but Gertrude was not likely to be bewildered by their devices in
the sober atmosphere of her home.

Miss Baldwin's mind had not changed on the subject of the superiority
of her Scottish home to anything which a London residence could offer,
and which would certainly wear an air of triumph for her, however
false that air might be. Gertrude was by no means worldly wise. She
had none of the cynical foresight leading her to see in every one who
approached her a covetous idolater of her wealth. She would have
regarded herself with horror if she had lost her faith in love or
friendship; and indeed she had been so accustomed to the presence of
wealth all her life, that she did not understand its effect on others,
and had no mental standard by which to estimate its value, either
material or moral. It was not, therefore, from any unwomanly disdain
of the motives of those whom she was to sojourn amongst in London that
Gertrude took the prospect coolly, showing none of the excitement and
exultation to which Eleanor gave unrestrained expression, and which
made her amiable to Gertrude to an extent unparalleled for many months
past. The truth was that there was a secret in Gertrude's heart, a
preoccupation of Gertrude's mind, to which everything beside, so far
as she was individually concerned, had to yield. This pervading
sentiment did not render her selfish, she was as ready with her
sympathies for others as ever, but it did make her absent and
indifferent.

Robert Meredith and his friend had passed a fortnight at Christmas at
the Deane, and there the plans of the family for the coming season had
been discussed. Gertrude had learned with surprise and discomfiture
that her living in London, where he lived, would not imply her seeing
very much of George Ritherdon. She fancied he had been at some pains
to make her understand this, and the consciousness rendered her
uneasy. Why had he dwelt upon the busy nature of his life, the
diversity between his occupations and hers? Why had he drawn a merry
sketch for her of the wide difference between the society, such as it
was, in which alone he had a footing, and the gilded saloons which
were to throw their doors open for her? He had not offended her by
cynicism, which was as far from his happy and loyal nature as from
hers; but he had made her thoughtful and uncomfortable by an
insistence upon this point, which she could but refer to a wish to
make her understand that she must not expect him to contribute to the
anticipated pleasures of her sojourn in London. And with this
conviction vanished all such anticipations from Gertrude's fancy.

That was an enchanted fortnight. The hours had flown, and a beautiful
new world had opened itself to the girl's perception. She had been too
happy to be afraid of Robert Meredith, or ungracious to him. She had
utterly forgotten the rule of action she had laid down for herself, in
consideration of her sister's perverse jealousy and alienation. She
had determined to treat Meredith with cold politeness, to show him and
Eleanor that she imputed to his sinister influence the state of things
which occasioned her so much pain. But she forgot the pain; she was
happy, and the sunshine of her content spread all around her.

Robert Meredith had a difficult game to play at this time, but he
played it with skill and success. It is not a light test of skill when
an elderly coquette is persuaded by a _ci-devant_ admirer to abandon
the conquering for the confidential _rôle_, and this was precisely the
test which Robert Meredith applied to his _savoir faire_. The secret
betrothal between himself and Eleanor placed them on so secure a
footing, that he was able, without annoying Eleanor, notwithstanding
her exacting disposition, to devote much of his time to Mrs. Carteret,
towards whom his tone modified itself from the slightly vulgar,
somewhat obtrusive gallantry which had been wont to characterise it,
to the very perfection of deferential observance and highly-prized
intimacy. He had appealed to some of Eleanor's best feelings in order
to induce her to consent to the secrecy of their engagement--to her
disinclination to produce family discord, to her duty of avoiding the
rendering of her aunt's position as between her and Gertrude
difficult, and to her noble confidence in his judgment and fidelity,
which it should be his loftiest aim in life to justify and reward.

He had not only poisoned Eleanor's mind against her sister, but he had
succeeded in undermining the grateful affection which the misguided
girl had once entertained for Mr. Dugdale. He had made her remark the
preference which, in many small ways, the old man showed for
Gertrude--a preference of whose origin and justification Eleanor had
no knowledge to enable her to understand it aright--and assured her
that in him too, in deference to that universal baseness which
dictated subservience to her sister's wealth, Eleanor would find a
bitter opponent to her love, a ruthless adversary of her happiness.
His wicked counsels prevailed. Something romantic in the girl's
disposition responded to the idea of a persecuted passion; and the
demon of jealousy, now thoroughly awakened in her, wrought
unrestrained all the mischief her human evil genius desired. Meredith
counselled Eleanor to soften her manner towards Gertrude, for the
better security of their secret against the danger of her awakened
suspicions; and she obeyed him. He forbade her to tell Mrs. Carteret
all the truth, lest it might hereafter compromise her with her husband
and Mr. Dugdale, but told her to cultivate her good graces in every
way, so that in the time to come her aid might be sure; and she obeyed
him. The result of all this was much more peace for Gertrude; and as
Meredith kept himself out of her way, devoting himself to Mrs.
Carteret and Eleanor, and leaving George Ritherdon to her society, it
had the additional effect of increasing and consolidating her
attachment to George.

Major Carteret was habitually unobservant; his wife confined her
attention to Robert Meredith, of whose wishes she was the delighted
confidante, and Eleanor, whom she did not at present suspect of more
than an incipient inclination towards Robert. Mr. Dugdale,--whose
health had declined considerably since the autumn, did not leave his
rooms, and saw the different members of the family singly,--was
totally unconscious of the drama being played out so near him. Things
were better between the sisters, and he rejoiced at that. The
favourable impression which George Ritherdon had made upon him on his
first visit to the Deane was deepened during his second, and he
greatly enjoyed his society. Gertrude passed many happy hours, working
or drawing, beside her old friend's sofa, while the two men talked
with mutual pleasure and sympathy. When that happy fortnight ended and
the friends had returned to London, Gertrude found her greatest
consolation in Mr. Dugdale's frequent allusions to George, and in the
eulogiums which he pronounced on his mind and his manners, the latter
being a point on which the old gentleman was difficult and fastidious.

During and since that time, Gertrude, who was singularly free from
vanity and quite incapable of pretence, had frequently asked herself
whether she had not given her heart to one who did not love her. Even
if it had been so to her indisputable knowledge, she would not have
striven to withdraw the gift. She loved him, once and for ever, and
she would, sanctify that love in her heart, if he were never to be
more to her than the truest and most valued of friends. She was
utterly sincere and candid in this resolution; she had no
foreknowledge of the difficulty, the impossibility of maintaining it.
She was content, ay, even happy, in her uncertainty, which was
sometimes hope, but never despair. Such a possibility as that George
should love her and refrain from telling her so, because of her
wealth, literally never occurred to her, any more than that, if he
loved her, and told her so, the most unscrupulous calumniator in the
world could accuse him of caring for that wealth, of even remembering
it. It had no place in her thoughts at all. She lived her dream-life
happily; sometimes her dreams were brighter, sometimes more sombre;
but their glitter did not come from her gold, their shadow was not
cast by cynical doubt, by worldly-wise suspicion.

When the time came for their journey to London, Gertrude was more sad
than elated. Her best friend, the one on whom she leaned with the
trusting reliance of a daughter, from whom she had ever experienced
the fond indulgence of a parent, was to remain at the Deane. Mr.
Dugdale's health rendered it impossible for him to accompany the
family, and Mrs. Carteret and Eleanor did not regret his absence.
Their feelings were in accord on every point connected with the
expedition. Eleanor foresaw no impediment to her frequent enjoyment of
Robert Meredith's society, under the auspices of Mrs. Carteret, who,
on her part, had great satisfaction in the prospect of partaking in
the gaieties of a London season, for which she still retained an
unpalled taste, and maintaining a splendid establishment at the
expense of her niece.

More than half the interval which had to elapse between Gertrude's
attainment of her majority and Eleanor's reaching a similar period had
now elapsed, and Robert Meredith's successful prosecution of his
schemes with respect to the Baldwins was uncheckered by any reverse.
In other respects things were not progressing quite so favourably with
him. He had been negligent in his professional business of late, since
his mind had been full of the mysterious game he was playing, and the
inevitable, inexorable result of this negligence was making itself
felt. George Ritherdon, on the contrary, was getting on rapidly for a
barrister, and was beginning to be talked about as a man with a name
and a standing. The relations between the two had insensibly relaxed,
as was only natural, considering that the strongest tie between them,
their common industry, their common ambition, had so considerably
slackened. Nothing approaching to a quarrel had taken place; but they
were tired of one another, and each was aware of the fact. The
sentiment dated from their second visit to the Deane, whence each had
returned preoccupied with his own thoughts, his own preferences, and
profoundly conscious that no sympathy existed between them.

Little had been said between the two relative to the Baldwins' sojourn
in London; and when George Ritherdon, made aware of their arrival by
the _Morning Post_, asked his friend when he intended to present
himself at their house in Portman-square, he was disagreeably
surprised by the cold brevity of Meredith's reply that he had been
there already, had indeed seen the ladies on the very day of their
arrival, and was going to dine with them the same evening.

George made no remark upon this communication, and left a card for
Major Carteret on the following day. An invitation to dinner followed,
and on his mentioning the circumstance to Meredith, George was
surprised and offended by his manner. He laughed unpleasantly, and
said something about the futility of George's expecting to be received
on the same footing as he had been in the country, which made him
decidedly angry.

"I don't understand you, Meredith," he said. "You brought me to the
Deane, I owe the acquaintance entirely to you, and now you talk as if
you resented it."

"Nonsense, old fellow," returned Robert with good humour, which cost
him an effort; "I only discourage your going to the Baldwins, because
I do not want to hear you talked of as an unsuccessful competitor for
the heiress's money-bags, and because I know, if you have any leaning
in that direction, it will be quite useless. The young ladies fly at
higher game than you or I."

A deep flush overspread George Ritherdon's face as he replied:

"I beg you will not include me, in your own mind, in the category of
fortune-hunters; as for what other people think or say, you need not
trouble yourself."

"As you please. I only warn you that Gertrude Baldwin is an interested
coquette, determined to make the most of her money,--to buy rank with
it, at all events, but by no means averse to numbering her thousands
of victims in the mean time."

"You speak harshly of this girl, Meredith, and cruelly."

"I speak candidly, because I am speaking to _you_. You don't suppose I
would put another fellow on his guard. I might have got bit myself,
you know, if I had not understood her in time. However, we had better
not talk about it. Forewarned, forearmed, they say, though I can't say
I ever knew any good come of warning any one."

Thereupon Meredith pretended to be very busy with his papers, and the
subject dropped. But it left a very unpleasant impression on George's
mind. "An interested coquette!" No more revolting description could be
given of any woman within the category of those whom an honest man
could ever think of marrying. Had George Ritherdon thought of marrying
Gertrude? No. Did he love her? He knew in his heart he did; but he did
not question for a moment his power of keeping the fact hidden from
the object of his love, and every other person. He would have regarded
the declaration of his feelings to an inexperienced girl, who had had
no opportunity of choice, of seeing the world, of forming her judgment
of character, to whom the language of love was utterly unknown, on the
eve of her entrance upon a scene on which she ought to enter perfectly
untrammelled, as in the highest degree dishonourable. He would have
held this opinion concerning any woman whose wealth should have made
her position so exceptionally difficult as that of Gertrude; but in
her particular instance he had an additional motive for his strict
self-conquest and reticence, which, if it ever could be explained,
must remain concealed for the present.

George Ritherdon had no coxcombry or conceit about him, and he had not
made up his mind by any means that Gertrude loved him, or was likely
to be brought to love him in the future, should he find that the
ordeal to which she was about to be exposed had left her still
fancy-free, and his own circumstances be such as to enable him to
believe he might try for the great prize of her heart and hand without
dishonour. He did not deceive himself as to the obstacles and the
rivals he might have to encounter; he gave all the fascinations of the
new sphere in which Gertrude was about to shine their full credit and
importance, and he contented himself with this conclusion:

"If, when she has had full experience, ample time, when she knows her
position and her own mind perfectly, I can be sure that she prefers me
to all the world beside, I will win her, and marry her, without
bestowing a thought on her fortune, or caring a straw for any one's
interpretation of my motives, caring only for _hers_."

Steadily acting upon the plan he had laid down for himself, George
Ritherdon frequented Gertrude's society not often enough to make his
visits a subject of comment, not sufficiently seldom to induce her to
think him indifferent or estranged. She and Eleanor were going through
the ordinary routine of the life of London in the season; he rarely
participated in its more tumultuous and irrational pleasures. But he
kept a tolerably strict watch upon Gertrude for all that; and he had
no reason to believe, at the end of the second month of her stay in
London, that any one of the numerous admirers with whom rumour and his
own observation had accredited her, had found the slightest favour
with the young lady of the Deane.

Before the end of that second month, Robert Meredith and George
Ritherdon had parted company. The former could perhaps have given a
plain and conclusive reason for his desire that so it should be; but,
in the case of the latter, the actuating motive was more vague. George
felt that they did not get on together. The Baldwins were hardly ever
mentioned between them, though each knew the terms on which the other
stood with the family, and they not unfrequently met at the house in
Portman-square. The dissolution of the old arrangement, once so
pleasant to them both, was plainly imminent to each before it actually
occurred, and it might have come about after a disagreeable fashion
but for a fortunate accident. The gentleman who had been George's
university tutor, and with whom he had always maintained intimate
relations, died, and bequeathed to George his numerous and valuable
library. What was he to do with the books? Their joint chambers would
not accommodate them. George took a large set in another building, and
the difficulty was solved, to their mutual relief, without a quarrel.

The season was a brilliant one, and Gertrude and Eleanor Baldwin had
their full share of its glories and its pleasures. They enjoyed it,
after their different fashions, but Gertrude more than Eleanor. In the
heart of each there was indeed a disquieting secret; but in the one
case there was no self-reproach, no misgiving, while in the other that
voice would occasionally make itself heard. As time passed over,
Gertrude felt more and more hopeful that George Ritherdon loved her,
though for some reason which she could not penetrate, but to which it
was not difficult for her docile nature to submit, he did not at
present avow the sentiment. Her happiness was not lost, it was only
deferred; she would be patient, and then she could always comfort
herself with the knowledge that her love for him--pure, lofty, with no
element of torment in it--could never die, or be taken from her, while
she lived.

Eleanor's lot was by no means so favoured, and she proved more
difficult to manage than Robert Meredith had foreseen. She chafed
under the restraint of her position, and suffered agonies of suspicion
and jealousy. The evil passion which he had been quick to see and
skilful to cultivate, for his own purposes, was easily turned against
him, a contingency which with all his astuteness he had failed to
apprehend; and Eleanor's daily increasing imperiousness and distrust
made him tremble for the safety of his secret and the success of his
plans.

Nothing made Eleanor so suspicious of the falsehood of his
professions, nothing exasperated her so much, as Robert Meredith's
imperviousness to the feeling which had obtained so fearful a dominion
over her. If she could but have roused his jealousy, as she
ceaselessly endeavoured to do, by such reckless flirtations as brought
her into trouble with even her careless uncle, and furnished plentiful
food for ill-natured tongues, she would have been more easy, less
unhappy, more convinced. But Robert would not be made jealous, and his
easy tranquil assumption of confident power, not laid aside even
during the stolen interviews in which he bewildered her with his
passionate protestations and caresses, sometimes nearly drove her mad.
An instinct, which it had been well for her if she had heeded, told
her that this man was not true to her. But she loved him madly.
He had changed her whole nature, it seemed to her, in the few
seldom-recurring moments in which she saw clearly into the past, and
strained fearful eyes into the future; he had ruined the peace and
happiness of her home, he had estranged her from her sister, he had
taught her lessons of scorn and suspicion towards all her kind. But
she loved him, him only in all the world.

Towards the close of the season, Haldane Carteret grew extremely
impatient. He had been, he considered, quite an unreasonable time on
duty, and he declared his intention of at once returning to the Deane.
The men-servants would suffice for an escort for Mrs. Carteret and her
nieces; or, if they did not like that arrangement, he was sure
Meredith, who was coming down for the shooting at all events, would
make it convenient to leave town a week or so sooner, and take care of
them on the journey. No one had any objection to urge against this
proposal; and Major Carteret took himself off, hardly more to his own
satisfaction than to that of his wife, who declared herself worn out
by his "crossness," and disgusted with his selfishness.

On the following evening Robert Meredith had a guest at his chambers,
who, to judge by the moody and impatient expression of his host's
countenance, was anything but welcome. Meredith had dined at
Portman-square, where he had met George Ritherdon, to whom Miss
Baldwin, with her simplest and yet most dignified air, had given, in
her own and her uncle's name, an invitation to the Deane for the
shooting season. This incident was highly displeasing to Meredith,
who, distracted by an uneasy suspicion that his friend had found him
out to a certain extent, desired nothing less than his presence during
any part of the critical time which must elapse before he could make
his _coup_. Robert had returned to his chambers in a sullen and
exasperated temper, which was intensified by the spectacle which met
his view. An old man, shabby of aspect, and anything but venerable in
appearance or bearing--an old man with bleared watery eyes, bushy gray
eyebrows, and dirty gray hair--was seated in an arm-chair by the open
window, smoking a churchwarden pipe and drinking hot brandy-and water.
The mingled odours of tobacco and spirits perfumed the room after a
fashion which harmonised ill with the sweet autumnal air and the
flowers which adorned the sitting-room, in accordance with one of the
owner's most harmless tastes.

"What, you here, Oakley!" said Meredith, in a tone which did not
dissemble his disgust. "What are you doing here? What has brought you
up from Cheltenham?"

"Business," replied the unvenerable visitor quietly, without rising or
making any attempt at a salutation of his reluctant host. "Business,"
he repeated with an emphatic nod.

"With me?" Meredith threw his hat and gloves upon a table, and sat
down, sullenly facing his visitor.

"With you. Look here, I'm tired of all this. You see, I am not so
young as you are, and at my time of life I can't afford to play a
waiting game. You can't, if you would, make it worth my while to do
it; and as the case actually stands, you _don't_ make it worth my
while to play any game at all--of yours, I mean. Of course I should,
in any case, play mine."

"I don't understand you," said Meredith, making a strong effort to
keep his temper and speak with indifference. "I have kept the terms I
made with you to the letter. What do you mean by _your_ game, as apart
from mine?"

"Just this. I have no interest whatever in your marrying this girl
rather than in any other man's marrying her. It does not matter to me
where my price comes from; I'm sure of it from her husband, whoever he
may be, and I don't believe you're sure that she _will_ marry you. You
have tried to keep me dark, and in the dark, cunningly enough; but I
have found out more about them than you think for, for all that; and I
know she has more than one string to her bow, and at least one of them
more profitable to play upon than you are. If you can't persuade the
girl to marry you before she's of age, and raise money for me upon her
expectations, or if you can't in some way make things more
comfortable, I shall try whether I cannot carry my information to a
better market. Indeed, I am so tired of living respectably upon a
pittance, paid with a dreary exactitude which is distressingly like
Somerset House, I have been seriously contemplating an affecting visit
to my relative Mrs. Carteret, and a family arrangement to buy me off
at once at a long price."

"And _my_ knowledge of the affair; what do you make of _that_, in your
rascally calculation?

"Not quite so much as _you_ make of it in _your_ rascally calculation,
my good friend; for it is not knowledge at all, it is only guesswork;
and you have not an atom of proof without my evidence, which I am
quite as willing to withhold as to give, for Mr. Trapbois' omnipotent
motive--a consideration."

For all answer, Robert Meredith rose, opened an iron safe let into the
wall of the room, and hidden by a curtain--greedily followed the while
by the old man's eyes, which watched for the gold he hoped he had
extorted--and took out a red-leather pocket-book, with a clasp of
brass wirework. He came up to the old man's side, and opening a page
of the memorandum-book, pointed to an entry upon it.

"No evidence, I think you said. Not so fast, my faithful colleague.
What is _that?_"

"Initials, a date,--a guess, Meredith, a mere surmise, not an atom of
proof."

"And this?" Robert Meredith took an oblong slip of paper out of a
pocket in the book, and held it up to the old man's eyes. "An attested
copy of the marriage-register is evidence, I fancy."

"Yes," said Mr. Oakley reluctantly; "that's evidence of one part of
the story, to be sure; but not of the material part, the only part
that's profitable to _you_. You can't do without me--you can't indeed;
but I can do very well without you. You will save time and trouble by
acknowledging the fact, and acting on it."

"What the d--l do you want me to do?" said Meredith fiercely, as he
threw the pocket-book back into the safe and locked the doors in a
rage. "I can't marry the girl till she is of age. I tell you I am
perfectly sure of her. Do you think I am such a fool as to allow any
doubt to exist on that point? But I don't choose to change my plans,
and _I won't_ change them, let you threaten as you will. You old
idiot! you would ruin yourself by thwarting me. You don't know these
people--_I do_; and you could as soon induce them to join you in
robbing a church as to buy you off in the way you propose. You had
much better stick to the bargain you've made, and have patience. I
think if _I_ can find patience, _you_ may."

Mr. Oakley reflected for some minutes, his bushy gray eyebrows meeting
above his frowning eyes. At last he said:

"Then I'll tell you what it is, Meredith. You shall give me 20_l_.
extra now, to-night, and introduce me at once, to-morrow, to the
family, and we'll go on playing on the square again."

"No," said Meredith; "it won't do. I can't give you 20_l_.; I can't
spare the money. I'll give you 10_l_., on condition you don't show
yourself here until I send for you. And as to introducing you to the
family just yet, it is out of the question. It would only embarrass
our proceedings, and do you no good."

"What do you mean?" said Oakley furiously. "Why should you not
introduce me to my own relative? I choose to partake of the advantages
of her capital match. I intend to be Mrs. Carteret's guest at the
Deane this autumn, whether the prospect be agreeable to you or not."

Meredith smiled, a slow exasperating smile, carefully exaggerated into
distinctness for the old man's dimmed vision, as he said:

"_I_ could have no objection to do my good friend Mrs. Carteret the
kindness of reuniting her with a long-severed member of her family,
and to introduce you as a visitor at Portman-square, during the few
days they will be in town, would not be any trouble to me; but as for
your being invited to the Deane, the idea is _too_ absurd."

"And why?"

"Because Miss Baldwin, and not your relative, is the mistress of that
very eligible mansion; because you are not the style of person Miss
Baldwin admires; and because, you may take my word for it, you will
never set your foot within those doors while the Deane belongs to Miss
Baldwin."

The old man's face turned a fiery red, and the angry colour showed
itself under his thin gray hair.

"While the Deane belongs to Miss Baldwin!" he repeated low and slowly.
"Well, then, there's no use talking about it. Hand over the 10_l_.,
and I'll be off."

In a few minutes Robert Meredith was alone, and as he listened to Mr.
Oakley's heavy tread upon the stairs, he muttered:

"It's a useful study, that of the ruling passions of one's
fellow-creatures. An expert finds it tolerably easy to work them to
his advantage. Avarice and pride! eh, Mr. Oakley? and pride the
stronger of the two. You won't give me much more trouble. No danger of
your being bribed to abstain from saying or doing anything that can
harm Miss Baldwin."



CHAPTER VIII.
THE MINE IS SPRUNG.


Time sped on, and no fresh obstacle opposed itself to Robert
Meredith's designs. His venerable colleague gave him no farther
trouble. He had calculated with accuracy on Gertrude's nobility and
delicacy of mind preventing her seeking to prejudice his friends in
the household at the Deane against him, leading her to keep her
promise of secrecy in its most perfect spirit. Thus, he pursued his
design against her undisturbed, under her own roof, and with all the
appearance of a good understanding existing between them.

Meredith was, however, mistaken in supposing that Gertrude was
ignorant of her sister's attachment to him. She was much too
keen-sighted where her affections were concerned to be deceived as to
the state of Eleanor's mind, even had it not painfully revealed itself
in the altered relations between them. She knew her sister's
infatuation well, and she deplored it bitterly. The sorrow it caused
her was all the more keen, because it was the first of her life in
which she had not had recourse to Mr. Dugdale for advice, sympathy,
and consolation. Now, she asked for none of these at his hands. She
could not have claimed them without divulging the secret she had
pledged herself to keep, and grieving the old man by changing his
regard for the son of his dead friend into distrust and dislike.
So Gertrude suffered in silence; and as she became more and more
isolated--as she felt the sweet home ties relaxing daily--she clung
all the more firmly to the hope, the conviction that George Ritherdon
loved her; though for some reason, which she was content to take on
trust, to respect without understanding, he was resolved not to tell
her so yet.

George Ritherdon passed three weeks, that autumn, at the Deane; but
Meredith avoided him--making an excuse for selecting the period of his
visit for fulfilling another engagement. During those three weeks the
regard and esteem of old Mr. Dugdale and George Ritherdon for each
other so increased by intimacy, that Gertrude had the satisfaction of
seeing them occupy the respective positions which she would most
ardently have desired had her dearest hopes been realised. When
George's visit had reached its conclusion, Mr. Dugdale took leave of
him as he might have done of a son, and the young man left his old
friend's rooms deeply affected. Gertrude was not much seen by the
family that day, and it was understood Mr. Dugdale had requested her
to pass the afternoon with him.

"Why does he say nothin', when any one that wasn't as blind as a bat
could see he dotes on the ground she walks on?" asked Mr. Dugdale's
faithful friend and confidante, Mrs. Doran, when they compared notes
in the evening, after Gertrude had pleaded fatigue and left them.

"I don't know, indeed," was Mr. Dugdale's answer. "I suppose he thinks
she has not had a fair chance of choosing yet."

"Hasn't seen enough of grand young gentlemen just dyin' to put her
money in their pockets, and spend it on other people, maybe!" said
Mrs. Doran ironically. "Bad luck to it, for money it's the curse of
the world; for you don't know which does the most harm--too little of
it, or too much! However, it's only waiting a bit, and they'll find
each other out. Sure, he's a gentleman born and bred, and every inch
of him, and made for her, if ever there was a match made in heaven."

So Gertrude's best friends were silently waiting for the fulfilment of
her hope. Mr. Dugdale had asked George Ritherdon to write to him
frequently,--a request to which the young man had gratefully acceded;
and his latest letter had informed Mr. Dugdale that he found himself
obliged to leave London, for an indefinite period and at much
inconvenience, owing to his mother's illness.

The time was now approaching when Eleanor should attain her majority,
and Gertrude had resolved that the event should be celebrated with all
the distinction which had attended her own.

To Eleanor and to Mrs. Carteret the birthday-fête had the surpassing
attraction of a charming entertainment, rendered still more delightful
by the presence of the lover of the one and the particular friend of
the other. To Gertrude, though she strove to be bright and gay, and
though she sought by every means in her power to evince her affection
for the sister who turned away with steady coldness from all her
advances, the occasion was a melancholy one. It furnished a sad
contrast to the fête which had welcomed her own coming of age in every
respect,--above all, in that one which had become most important to
her: George was not present.

Robert Meredith caused his manner to be remarked on this occasion by
more than one of the guests at the Deane. To Miss Baldwin he was
scrupulously but distantly polite; with Mrs. Carteret he assumed a
tone of intimacy which she seconded to the full; but to Eleanor he
bore himself like an acknowledged and triumphant lover. Every one saw
this, including Mr. Dugdale, during his brief visit to the scene of
the festivities, and Haldane Carteret, not remarkable for quickness of
observation. The fact made both these observers uneasy, but they did
not make any comment to one another upon their suspicions.

The sisters, who had each been dancing nearly all night, did not meet
on the conclusion of the ball. The old familiar habit of a long talk,
in one of their respective dressing-rooms, after all the household had
retired, had long been abandoned; and when, on this occasion,
Gertrude--resolved to make an effort to break through the barrier so
silently but effectually reared between them--went to her sister's
room, she found the door locked, and though she heard Eleanor moving
about, no answer to her petition for admittance was returned. Full of
care and foreboding, Gertrude returned to her room, and it was broad
day before she forgot her grief, and the presentiment of evil which
accompanied it, in sleep.

The ladies did not appear at breakfast the next morning, and the party
consisted only of Major Carteret, Robert Meredith, and two harmless
individuals who were staying in the house, and in no way remarkable or
important. On the conclusion of the meal Robert Meredith requested
Major Carteret to accord him an interview, which the latter agreed to
do with some hesitation. They adjourned to the library, and there
Meredith, with no circumlocution, and in a plain and business-like
manner, informed Major Carteret that he had proposed to his niece
Eleanor Baldwin, been accepted by her, and that she had requested him
to communicate the fact to Major Carteret.

Eleanor's uncle received the intelligence with awkwardness rather than
with actual disapprobation, and acquitted himself not very well in
replying. Something of unpleasantly-felt power in Meredith's tone
jarred upon him as he used a perfectly discreet formula of words in
making the announcement. Haldane Carteret did not dislike or distrust
Meredith, and he was not an interested man. He had married for love
himself, and he knew his niece had sufficient fortune to deprive her
conduct of imprudence, if she chose to do the same. It was not fair to
take it for granted that Meredith was not attached to Eleanor, that he
was actuated by interested motives; and yet Haldane Carteret, an
honest man, if not bright, felt that all was not straightforward and
simple feeling in this matter. He said something about disparity of
age; then admitted that, in referring Meredith to him, his niece had
merely treated him with dutiful courtesy, as his guardianship and
authority had terminated; and finally, on being pressed by Meredith,
said he perceived no objection, beyond the evident one that his niece
might have looked for more decided worldly advantages in her marriage,
and that he thought the proceeding had been somewhat too precipitate
for the best interests of both. All this Haldane Carteret said,
because his native honesty obliged him to say it; but heartily wishing
he could bring the interview to a close, or hand Meredith over to his
wife, who would probably be delighted.

Meredith received Major Carteret's remarks with calm politeness, but
hardly thought it necessary to combat them. He could not see the
disparity in age in any serious light, and he ventured to assure his
Eleanor's uncle he and she had understood one another for some time;
there was no real precipitation in the matter. As for the advantages
which such a marriage secured to him, he was most ready to acknowledge
them, and to admit their effect on the general estimate of his
motives, but he did not mind that. Secure against an unkind
interpretation by Eleanor and her relatives, he was indifferent to any
other opinion. He flattered himself Mrs. Carteret would learn the news
with satisfaction. This was ground on which Major Carteret could meet
him with cordial assent; and he got over his difficulties by referring
the happy lover to Mrs. Carteret; and having summoned her to the
library to receive Meredith's communication from himself, he left them
together.

Mrs. Carteret was expansively and enthusiastically delighted. She
declared she felt herself quite a girl again in contemplating the
happiness of her beloved niece and her old friend; and it may be
assumed that Robert Meredith had evinced very nice tact and discretion
in the method by which he conveyed the information to her.

It was no small portion of the suffering which Gertrude Baldwin had to
undergo at this time, that she heard the news of her sister's
engagement--not from Eleanor herself, not in any kindly sisterly
conference, but from Mrs. Carteret, whose light gleeful manner of
imparting the information to Gertrude was far from conveying any sense
of its importance to the agitated girl; and who filled up the measure
of her congratulations to everybody concerned, by remarking that in
"poor dear Eleanor's invidious position, it was most desirable that
she should marry early, and before Gerty had made her choice." This
speech chilled Gertrude into silence, and she left her aunt--having
uttered only a few commonplace words--with the well-founded conviction
that Eleanor would believe her either envious, indifferent, or
prejudiced against her and Meredith. Gertrude was quite alone in her
distress of mind, as she purposely avoided Mr. Dugdale--being
unwilling to awaken a suspicion in his mind of its cause--and Mrs.
Doran, who she instinctively knew would penetrate and share her
feelings.

In the course of the day both those members of the family were made
aware of Eleanor's engagement. Old Mr. Dugdale took the intimation
very calmly, as it was his wont to take all things now, since he had
ceased to feel keenly save where Gertrude was concerned. Mrs. Doran
heard it, with a sad foreboding heart and a gloomy face. She had never
liked, she had never trusted Robert Meredith; and she could not forget
that the man her dear dead mistress's daughter was about to marry was
the same who, as a boy, had hated Margaret.

Robert Meredith and Gertrude did not meet alone. They mutually and
successfully avoided each other, and the elder sister was pointedly
excluded by Eleanor and Mrs. Carteret from all the discussions which
ensued relative to the arrangements for the marriage, which was to
take place soon. Gertrude heard that her aunt and her sister purposed
to go to London, to purchase Eleanor's _trousseau_, to select
Eleanor's house, without a word of comment. But when something was
said about the marriage taking place in London, she interposed, and in
her customary sweet and yet dignified way remonstrated. Eleanor, she
said, ought to leave no house for a husband's, but her own.

"Mine!" said Eleanor. "I presume you mean yours--you are talking of
the Deane."

"I am talking of our mutual home, Eleanor, where once no such evil
thing as a divided interest ever had a place.--Uncle,"--here she
turned to Major Carteret, and laid her hand impressively upon his
arm,--"speak for me in this. Tell Eleanor I am right, and that
our parents--I, at least, have never felt their loss so bitterly
before--would have had it so."

"I'm sure I don't know what to say," replied Haldane Carteret
forlornly. "I can't conceive what has come between you two girls; but
I must say I do think Gerty is in the right in this instance.--Lucy,
my dear, the wedding must be at the Deane."

So that was settled; and afterwards, until Eleanor and Mrs. Carteret,
accompanied by Robert Meredith, went to London, things were better
between the sisters. There was not, indeed, any renewal of the
intimate affection, the unrestrained cordiality of other times; and
Gertrude felt mournfully that a complete restoration could never
be--the constant interposition of Meredith would render that
impossible. Under ordinary circumstances, the marriage of one by
involving separation from the other must have loosened the old bonds;
but this marriage was indeed fatal. They were young girls, however,
and the evil influence which had come between them had not yet
completely done its work, had not spoiled all their common interest in
the topics which fittingly engage the minds of young girls. Gertrude
strove to forget her own wounded feelings, to conquer her
apprehensions, and to disarm the jealous reticence of her sister by
frank interest and generous zeal. She succeeded to some extent, and
the interval between the declaration of the engagement and the
departure of Mrs. Carteret and Eleanor was the happiest time, so far
as she was individually concerned, that Gertrude had known since the
first painful consciousness of division had come between the sisters.

Everything went on quietly on the surface of life at the Deane when
Eleanor and her aunt had left home. Mr. Dugdale was a little more
feeble, perhaps; his daily airing upon the terrace was shorter, his
period of seclusion in his own rooms was lengthened; but he was very
cheerful, and seemed to desire Gertrude's presence more constantly
than ever.

The visit to London was as prosperous as its purpose was pleasant.
Mrs. Carteret's letters were quite exultant. Never had she enjoyed
herself more, she flattered herself Eleanor's _trousseau_ was
unimpeachable, and Robert Meredith was the most devoted of lovers and
the most delightful of men. She had had an agreeable surprise, too,
since she had been in London. She fancied she had chanced to mention
to Gertrude that a distant relative of hers, whom she had only seen as
a very young child--a Mr. Oakley--had gone out to Australia, and, it
had happened oddly enough, had there known Robert Meredith's father
and their beloved Margaret's first husband; indeed, he had known
Gertrude's dear mother herself. This gentleman--a fine venerable old
man, "quite a Rembrandt's head, indeed," Mrs. Carteret added--was now
in London, having made an honourable independence; and he naturally
wished to find friends and a little social intercourse among such of
his relatives as were still living. Mr. Meredith had brought him to
see her, and the dear old gentleman had been much gratified and deeply
affected by the meeting. Mrs. Carteret went on to say that, knowing
dear Gertrude's invariable kindness and wish to please everybody, and
also taking into consideration her characteristic respect for old age
combined with virtue and respectability,--so remarkably displayed in
the case of their dear Mr. Dugdale,--she had ventured to promise Mr.
Oakley a welcome to the Deane, on behalf of Miss Baldwin, on the
approaching auspicious occasion.

To this letter Gertrude replied promptly, expressing her pleasure at
having it in her power to gratify Mrs. Carteret, and enclosing a
cordially-worded invitation to the Deane to the venerable old
gentleman with the Rembrandt head; who received it with a chuckle, and
a muttered commendation of the long-sightedness which had made Robert
Meredith defer his introduction to Miss Baldwin until the present
truly convenient season.

On her side, Gertrude was making preparations on a splendid scale for
the celebration of her sister's marriage in her ancestral home.
Nothing that affection and generosity could suggest was neglected by
the young heiress, whose own tastes were of the simplest order, to
gratify those of Eleanor. She lavished gifts upon her with an
unsparing hand, and, indeed, valued her wealth chiefly because it
enabled her to obey the dictates of a most generous nature.

Mrs. Carteret and Eleanor returned to the Deane, attended by Mr.
Oakley. Robert Meredith was to follow the day before that fixed for
the wedding. The old gentleman did not impress Gertrude particularly
as being venerable, as distinguished from old, in either person or
manner; and she quickly perceived that Mrs. Carteret was aware and
ashamed of his underbred presuming manners. This perception, however,
was only another motive to induce Gertrude to treat him with the
utmost courtesy and consideration. She must shield her aunt from any
unpleasantness which might arise in consequence of her relative's
evident unfitness for the society into which she had brought him. At
all events, it would only be putting up with him for a short time, and
he certainly could do no harm. So Gertrude was perseveringly kind and
gentle to Mr. Oakley, and actually so far impressed the old gentleman
favourably, that he believed Robert Meredith to have lied in imputing
disdainful pride to her, and almost regretted the part he had
undertaken to play. There was no help for it now, however; he might as
well profit by the transaction, which it was altogether too late to
avert. Thus did the faint scruples called into existence in Mr.
Oakley's breast, by the unassuming and graceful goodness of the girl
he had undertaken to injure, fall flat before the strength of
interested rascality.

The wedding of Eleanor Meriton Baldwin presented a striking contrast
to that of her mother, which had excited so much contemptuous comment
among the "neighbours" in the old, old times at Chayleigh. People of
rank, wealth, and fashion assembled in gorgeous attire to behold the
ceremonial, which was rendered as stately and imposing as possible.
The dress of the bride was magnificent, and her beauty was the theme
of every tongue. The bridegroom was rather less insignificant than the
bridegroom generally is, and looked happy and contented; as well he
might look, the people said, getting such a fortune. Miss Baldwin's
own husband would not be so lucky in some respects; for this gentleman
might do as he pleased with Miss Nelly's money--she _would_ have it
so, and she could leave him the whole of it--whereas in Miss Baldwin's
case it would be different.

The wedding-guests were splendidly entertained; all agreed that the
whole affair had been exceptionally prosperous. The leave-taking
between the sisters was not witnessed by any intrusive eyes; and in
the final hurry and confusion no one noticed that Robert Meredith did
not shake hands with Miss Baldwin, that he spoke no word to her.
Gertrude noticed the omission, and with pain. It was over now, and she
would fain have made the best of it--have been friends with her
sister's husband, if he would have allowed her to be so. That he
should have been thus vindictive on his wedding-day, that he should
have had place in his heart for any thought of anger or ill-will,
boded evil to Eleanor's peace, her sister thought. But it never
occurred to her to fear that it might also bode evil to her own,
otherwise than through that sister whom she loved.

In Scottish fashion a ball wound up the festivities of the Deane, and
proved, in its turn, a successful entertainment. Miss Baldwin, indeed,
looked tired and pale; but that was only natural, after so much
excitement and the parting with her sister. The dreamy look that came
over her at times was easily explicable, without any one's being
likely to divine that the absence of one figure from that brilliant
crowd had anything to do with its origin. And yet, as the hours wore
on, Gertrude forgot the fresh pang the day had brought her--forgot
Meredith and her forebodings, forgot all save George Ritherdon and
that he was not there.


Three weeks had elapsed since Eleanor Baldwin's marriage. Mrs.
Carteret had received two short letters from the bride, but Mrs.
Meredith had not written to her sister. Mr. Oakley was still at the
Deane, where his presence had become exceedingly unpleasant not only
to Miss Baldwin, but to Major and Mrs. Carteret, to whom he had
dropped one or two hints relative to Meredith's character and probable
treatment of Eleanor, which had made them vaguely, though unavowedly,
uncomfortable. Gertrude was keenly distressed, and had found it
impossible to keep the knowledge of her trouble and its cause from Mr.
Dugdale. Some unnamed undefinable evil seemed to be brooding over the
Deane. It was not known exactly where the newly-married pair were.
Eleanor had given no address in her last letter, and Gertrude and Mrs.
Carteret (the latter most unwillingly) admitted that it seemed
constrained and strangely reticent.

The fourth week had begun, when one morning, as the family party were
dispersing after breakfast, a servant announced the arrival of a
gentleman from London, who desired to see Miss Baldwin on urgent
business. He placed a card in his mistresses hand as he delivered the
message.

"Mr. Sankey!" read Gertrude aloud; "I don't know the name. What can
his business be with me?"

"_I_ know the name," said Mr. Oakley hurriedly, "and I fear I know the
business he comes on too. Meredith has sent him.--Major Carteret, you
had better see this gentleman first--you had, indeed. Miss Baldwin
cannot be spared _much_; but do you come with me and see him, and let
us spare her all we can."



CHAPTER IX.
THE RIGHTING OF THE WRONG.


Some years have passed since the blow fell on Gertrude Baldwin which
deprived her of wealth and station, which struck away from her her
home, and left her to face the curiosity, the ill-will, the evil
report of the world which had envied and flattered her, as best she
might. The story of the interval does not take long in the telling,
and, considering its import to so many, has but few salient points.

No resistance was made by Gertrude or counselled by her advisers; no
resistance to the hard cold terms of Robert Meredith's claim on his
wife's behalf. It was all true: Gertrude was an illegitimate child and
Eleanor the rightful heir. The proofs--consisting of Mr. Oakley's
evidence concerning Godfrey Hungerford's death, and the attested
certificate of the date of that occurrence, and the testimony of the
certificate of the second marriage ceremony performed between Mr.
Baldwin and Margaret--were as simple as they were indisputable, and
Gertrude made unqualified submission at once.

She suffered, no doubt, very keenly, but much less than her friends
Mr. Dugdale and Rose Doran suffered for her. So much was made plain to
her, so much was cleared-up to her now. She knew now why it was her
father had left her nothing by his will; she understood now from what
solicitude it had arisen that he and her aunt, whose loving care she
remembered so well, had bequeathed everything within their power to
Eleanor. Thus they had endeavoured to atone for the unconscious
unintentional wrong done to the legitimate daughter and heiress. And
all their efforts, all their care, had failed; the invincible
inexorable truth had come to light, and the result of all these
efforts was that Eleanor had everything--yes, everything. The young
girl who had risen that morning absolute mistress of the splendid
house and the broad acres of the Deane, and the large fortune which
could so fittingly maintain them, stood in that stately house the same
night a penniless dependent on the sister who had placed herself and
all she possessed in the power of Gertrude's only enemy.

It was long before Miss Baldwin, or indeed any of the party, realised
this--long before the full extent of the truth presented itself to
their minds; but when it came, it came with terrible conviction and
conclusiveness. There was nothing for Gertrude. Her father's loving
care had indeed been her undoing. The situation was a dreadful one,
escape from it impossible. Robert Meredith had no longer anything to
gain by either dissimulation or temporising; on the contrary, he now
felt it to be his interest that every one concerned should be cured of
all their illusions concerning him as soon and as effectually as
possible, and should arrive at a clear comprehension of his powers,
motives, and intentions. He assumed at once the name that his marriage
with the heiress of Mr. Meriton Baldwin imposed upon him; and his
letter to Haldane Carteret was simply a reference to the bearer as
qualified to give all needful explanations and proofs, and in the
event, which he took for granted, of the young lady known as Miss
Baldwin not disputing the facts, he begged it might be understood that
she could be suffered to remain at the Deane only a very short time.
He hoped no farther communication on this subject might be required.
The young lady would best consult her own interest by abstaining from
making any such communication necessary.

It is unnecessary to dwell on this portion of the trial appointed to
Gertrude. Its bitterness came from Eleanor, not from her triumphant
enemy. Her sister made no sign--not a word of kindness, of sympathy,
of regret came from her whose life had been almost identical with that
of Gertrude for so many years. Even Mrs. Carteret--who, the first
shock and surprise over, was characteristically disposed to keep on
good terms with the new Mr. Meriton Baldwin, and in reality an extreme
partisan, endeavoured to get credit for impartial fairness, and a "no
business of mine" bearing--even Mrs. Carteret was indignant with
Eleanor. Her shallow nature did not comprehend the growth and force of
such evil feelings as she had nurtured in the mind of her niece.
Gertrude suffered fearfully, but anger had little share in her pain. A
deadly fear for her sister possessed her; a fear which suggested
itself speedily, when she found that Eleanor made no sign, and which
grew into conviction under the influence of Rose Doran's manifest
belief in its reason and validity. Eleanor's silence was her husband's
doing; she was under his influence and dominion, she was afraid of
him. When Gertrude, who had striven to hide her feelings on this point
from Mr. Dugdale, could not hide them from Rose Doran, that faithful
friend said sadly,

"It's true for you. Miss Gerty; she's in the grip of a bad man, my
poor child, and she's not to be blamed."

Then Gertrude, in the depth of her love and pity for her sister,
forgave her freely, and never did blame her more, but mourned for her,
as she might have done had she been dead and laid beside their mother
beneath the great yew-tree, only more bitterly. All it is necessary to
record here is, that Eleanor's silence remained unbroken--unbroken,
when her sister, with Mr. Dugdale and Mrs. Doran left the Deane for
ever, turning away from all the associations and surroundings which
had been mutually dear to them--unbroken, when some time after
Gertrude wrote to her to tell her that she was well and happy, and
more than reconciled to all that had befallen her, except only her
alienation from her sister's heart.

Much time had now gone over, and Eleanor's silence still remained
unbroken. There was absolutely no communication between the sisters.
Major and Mrs. Carteret were living at Chayleigh, in a style which at
first Lucy had found it not easy to adopt after the pleasant places of
the Deane. But she had hit upon a consolation which, if imaginary, was
likewise immense; this was the notion of independence. To be her own
mistress, the mistress of her own house, her own servants, and her own
time was discovered by Mrs. Carteret to be a blissful state of things.
Besides this consolation, she had soon "brought round" Major Carteret
to an acquiescent form of mind respecting the state of things at the
Deane, and they made frequent visits there; but not even in this
indirect way was the separation between the sisters modified. Mrs.
Carteret was given to understand on the first occasion of her meeting
Mr. and Mrs. Meredith Baldwin--and a very awkward meeting it was--that
it would be for her own interest to abstain from speaking of Gertrude
to Eleanor, and, indeed, that her retaining the valuable privilege of
an _entrée_ at the Deane was contingent on her strict obedience to
this hint. Mrs. Carteret proved worthy of her old friend's confidence;
and the former life at the Deane might never have had existence for
any reminiscence of it that was to be traced now.

The intelligence which reached Gertrude of her sister through her
uncle and aunt was too vague to satisfy her. Eleanor was very popular,
very much admired; Eleanor's entertainments were splendid; and Mrs.
Carteret felt convinced she and Meredith Baldwin lived fully up to
their income, large as it was. She really could not say whether
Eleanor was _happy_, according to dear Gertrude's strange exaggerated
notions. She had at least everything which ought to make her so, and
she was always in very high spirits. She was rather restless and fond
of change, and no doubt Meredith was a good deal away from her; and
then poor dear Eleanor had always had a strong dash of jealousy in her
disposition, and she never was remarkably reasonable. No doubt she did
occasionally make herself unpleasant and ridiculous if her husband
stayed away when she thought he ought to be with her; but she got over
it again, and it did not signify. As to Meredith's ill-treating
Eleanor, Mrs. Carteret begged Gertrude not to be so silly as to
believe anything of the kind, if such ill-natured reports should reach
her. Why, everybody knew Meredith was no fool; and if Eleanor (who was
very delicate--and no wonder, considering her restless racketing) did
not make a will in his favour, he would have nothing at all in case of
her death. There was no heir to the Deane--two infants had been born,
but each had lived only a few hours--and Mrs. Carteret knew positively
that Eleanor had made no will. Meredith was not likely (supposing him
to have no better motive--which Mrs. Carteret, though her tone had
become greatly modified of late in speaking of her quondam admirer,
could not endure to suppose) to endanger his chance of future
independent wealth by ill-treating the person who could confer it on
him.

This was poor comfort; but it was all Gertrude could get, and she was
forced to be content with it. The old life at the Deane had faded
away; no change could bring her back the past; she never could have
any interest in it. She sometimes speculated upon whether it would add
to her grief, if her sister died, to think of her father's property,
her own old home, in the possession of total strangers. She had hardly
ever heard anything of the next heir--a bachelor, already a rich man,
living in England. This gentleman's name was Mordaunt, and he had a
younger brother, who had assumed another name on his marriage, and to
whose children the Deane, failing direct heirs of Eleanor, would
descend. The sisters knew nothing more of these distant connections,
nor had there ever been any acquaintance between them and Fitzwilliam
Baldwin.

Though Gertrude sometimes pondered on these things it must not be
supposed that she brooded on them, or that the irrevocable past filled
an undue place in her practical and useful life. The misfortune which
had befallen her had from the first its alleviations; and there came a
day when Gertrude would have eagerly denied that it was a misfortune
at all--a day when she would have declared it was the source of all
her happiness, the providential solution of every doubt and difficulty
which had beset her path. What that day was the reader is soon to
know.

The first act of Mr. Dugdale when the truth was made known to
him--when he clearly understood that once more the foreboding of the
woman he had loved and mourned with such matchless and abiding
constancy had been fulfilled so many years after its shadow had
darkened her day--was to declare his intention of immediately leaving
the Deane, and forming a new home for Gertrude. How devoutly he
thanked God then for the life at whose duration he had been sometimes
tempted to murmur, the length of days which had enabled him to profit
by the impulse which had prompted him to decline to add to the ruin
which, in their blindness, they had all accumulated to heap in
Gertrude's path! When he explained this to her, and made her see how
her father and mother had loved her, great peace came to Gertrude, and
much happiness in the perfect confidence between her and her aged
friend, owning no exception now. In his zeal for Margaret's child, Mr.
Dugdale seemed to find strength which had not been his for years. He
bore the journey to the neighbourhood of London, whither Mrs. Doran
had preceded them for the purpose of engaging a house for them, well;
and he settled into his new home as readily as Gertrude did.

In a neat small house in a western suburb of London, George Ritherdon
found Mr. Dugdale and her whom he had last seen in all the lustre of
wealth and station, when he returned from the long absence which had
been occasioned by his mother's illness and subsequent death. George
was perfectly conscious that neither his voice nor his manner, when he
was introduced by the faithful Rose with manifest satisfaction,
conveyed the impression which might have been considered suitable to
the occasion, whether regarded from their point of view or from his.
He knew his eyes were bright and his cheek flushed; he knew his voice
was thrilling with pleasure, with happiness, with hope; and he
abandoned any attempt to express a sadness he did not feel, to affect
to grieve for a change in Gertrude's circumstances and position which
rendered him exquisitely happy, and for which he, though by no means a
presumptuous man, felt an inward irresistible conviction he should be
able to console her.


In less than a year from the falling of the long-planned blow on
Gertrude Baldwin's defenceless head, the day before alluded to had
dawned upon her--the day on which she recognised the seemingly
insurmountable misfortune of her life as its greatest blessing and the
source of all its happiness. It was her wedding-day. There was no need
for waiting longer for equality in their fortunes; there was no need
to think of what the world might say of George or of her. The world
she had lived in had ceased to remember and to talk of her; the world
he lived in would respect him, as it had ever done, and welcome her.
Theirs was a quiet happy courtship, a peaceful hopeful time, blessed
with their old friend's earnest approval and loving presence. A
rational prospect of the best kind of content this world can give was
opening before them--a prospect of neither poverty nor riches, of no
distinction in mere name--the meaningless legacy of others--but of a
position to be worthily won. Mutual love, confidence, and respect, and
such experience of life as, leaving them the power of enjoying its
good, should save them from its illusions--such was the dowry with
which these two began their married life.

Major and Mrs. Carteret attended the quiet wedding, at which they and
two friends of George Ritherdon's were the only guests. Gertrude had
hoped that Mrs. Carteret would have been the bearer to her of some
communication from her sister, that the barrier, which she felt no
doubt had been interposed by Meredith's authority, would on this
occasion be broken down. But Eleanor still made no sign; and Mrs.
Carteret could tell Gertrude no more than that Eleanor had heard the
news of her sister's intended marriage with agitation, but in silence,
and that she was then in London, _en route_ for the Continent, where
she was to pass the winter. This was a cloud; but it was the only one
upon the brightness of Gertrude's wedding-day, and it soon passed
over. It had quite passed when the bride and bridegroom were bidding
farewell to Mr. Dugdale, before they went away on their brief
wedding-trip. It was to be very brief; for they would not leave him
alone for any length of time; and in the mean time Mr. Dugdale was to
remove into the larger house in the same neighbourhood which was to be
the home of George and Gertrude.

The farewell words had been spoken, and Gertrude had risen from her
kneeling position beside the old man's chair, when the servant entered
and handed Gertrude a parcel addressed to her by the name not three
hours old, addressed to her in Eleanor's hand. She broke the seal, and
the contents proved to be a flat case containing a suit of beautiful
pearls. A scrap of paper lay among the jewels. Gertrude seized it
eagerly and read:

"_Wear these, darling, for the sake of old times, and of me. Forgive
me, and make your husband forgive me, and love me a little even yet
and after all, as I love you forever and better than all_."

As Gertrude's tears fell fast upon the precious words, and George and
Mr. Dugdale looked at her, distressed and yet glad, Rose Doran came to
her side, and said, while she dried her eyes as if she were still the
child she had nursed:

"There, there, alanna, didn't I tell you it wasn't _her_ fault at all,
but _his_? and now you see for yourself it's true, and you'll go away
with an easier mind. And, mark my words, it's coming right--it's
coming right by degrees, and it will all come right in the end."

Mr. Dugdale still kept late hours, as he had done all his life. Mrs.
Doran left him at the usual hour in more than his accustomed spirits,
and not apparently fatigued by the unusual emotion of the day. When he
was alone, the old man passed some time in reading; then he closed his
book and gave himself up to thought. His thoughts were seemingly very
peaceful, and not sad; for there was a calm and patient smile upon the
worn face, to which old age had brought a serene dignity. His large
deeply-cushioned arm-chair moved easily upon its castors, and, after a
period of profound stillness, he rolled himself in the chair towards a
writing-table, on which a lamp was burning. He unlocked a deep drawer,
the lowest of a set on his right-hand, and took out two objects. One
was his will, which he spread out upon the table and read attentively.
Then muttering to himself, "A few kind words to Nelly,--God help her,
poor child!" he wrote half-a-dozen lines on the reverse of one of the
pages of the document, and appended his initials in a clear and steady
hand. This done, he replaced the paper in the drawer, and turned his
attention to the other object he had taken out.

It was the portrait of Margaret, in its beautiful setting of
passion-flowers in jeweller's work of enamel and gold. There was
reverential tenderness in the old man's touch as he placed the picture
upright before him, opened the screens of golden filigree, and
"fell to such perusal" of it as had been familiar to him since the
coffin-lid had closed over the face it feebly shadowed forth. The
minutes fled by as he gazed upon the likeness of the beautiful
spiritual face which had gone down to the grave in untouched
loveliness; and a glass upon his dressing-table alongside reflected
his bowed head, sunken features, bent shadowy figure, and thin gray
hair. Now and then a few unconnected murmurs escaped his lips, but
rarely; while his gaze remained fixed, and a solemn peacefulness
spread over his face.

"The same eyes in heaven," he whispered, "the same smile. How many
years have I looked for them, and longed for them--how many, many
years! I shall go to _her_; but she has not been waiting and watching
for _me_. No, no; heaven has been full enough to her all this time
with _him_ there."

He changed the position of the picture slightly, and leaned his head
back against the cushion in his chair, looking at the face from a
greater distance; then stretched out his folded hands and rested them
upon the table.

"A long, long time--but nearly over, I think--and I have not murmured
overmuch, for your sake, Margaret. But now, now I think I may make the
_Nunc dimittis_ my evensong."

A little longer the old man's gaze remained fixed upon the picture;
and then his form settled down amid the cushions, his hands fell
gently from the edge of the table upon his knees, and his eyes closed
softly. Through the hours of the night the lamp burned, and lighted up
the picture with its golden trellised covers unclosed, and lighted up
the old man's serene face. But with the morning the flame in the lamp
flickered and died, and the sunshine came in, and gleamed upon the
walls and the floor. Voices and footsteps stirred in the house, and
soon Mrs. Doran came to Mr. Dugdale's room, as she did every morning.
Then she knew, when she looked at the old man and touched his passive
hands, still clasped and resting on his knee,--so gentle had been the
parting between the body and the spirit,--that his sleep was never to
know waking until the resurrection morning.


The blinds are closely drawn in Gertrude Ritherdon's house, and she
sits alone, dressed in deep mourning. There is a touch of sadness upon
her beauty; but she is more beautiful than she was in her girlhood,
and for all the sorrow in her face today, one can see she is a happy
woman. She is so. A happy wife, loved, trusted, honoured; her
husband's companion and his friend. A proud and happy mother too,
untroubled, when she watches her boy's baby glee and hears his
laughter, with any remembrance of a great inheritance which was once
to have been the birthright of her first-born son. A happy woman in
her house, and popular with her friends; one whose life is full of
blessings and void of bitterness. It is not for her faithful old
friend Gertrude Ritherdon wears mourning to-day. That wound has long
been healed, and she and her husband have none but sunny happy
thoughts of him. Death has come nearer to Gertrude this time even than
he came when Mr. Dugdale answered his summons--they have received
formal notice of Eleanor's decease. The event has been long looked
for, and Gertrude has well known that life has had nothing desirable
in it for Eleanor. The sisters have never met, and of late Eleanor has
lived abroad altogether, her husband being rarely with her; but
Gertrude knows that her sister's former feelings have long ago
returned, and there is sorrow, but not anguish, in this definitive
earthly parting.

George Ritherdon has been summoned to Naples, where Eleanor Baldwin
died, by Major Carteret, and Gertrude is now expecting his return. Her
thoughts have been busy with the past; and when they have rested upon
Robert Meredith, it has been without any anger for herself, but with
some wonder as to how he will take the passing away to a stranger of
all the wealth and luxury he bought at such a price, and enjoyed for
so comparatively short a time. He will be a rich man, no doubt, with
all Eleanor had to bestow on him; but he will have to see a stranger
in the place he filled so pompously, and to feel himself once more a
person of no importance. For Eleanor has died childless, and the Deane
passes away to the eldest son of the late brother of that Mr. Mordaunt
who was the next in the entail, and who, strange to say, died only two
days before the death of Mrs. Meredith Baldwin occurred. Gertrude has
heard this vaguely, in the hurry of George's departure, and during the
first bewilderment which death brings with it.

A carriage stops, and Gertrude lifts the end of a blind and looks out.
Two gentlemen enter the house, and in a few seconds she is clasped in
her husband's arms, and sees, standing behind him, her uncle. Major
Carteret. She greets him affectionately, and then loses her composure
and bursts into tears. The two men allow her to give vent to her
feelings without remonstrance, and when she is again calm, they talk a
little of their journey, and then approach the subject of Eleanor's
death. Gertrude knows the particulars of the event, and they go on to
speak of the will.

"I thought it better to tell you than to write about it," says George.
"You must prepare for a surprise, Gertrude. Eleanor has left her
entire fortune--it is much wasted, but still large--to you."

"To me!" exclaimed Gertrude, "to me! And what has she left to
Meredith?"

"Nothing," replied Major Carteret. "Precisely what he deserved. She
makes no mention of him, his name does not occur in the will. She
probably explains her motives and tells the sad story of her life in a
letter which she left directed to me, that I may give it unopened into
your hands. You shall have it, but hear first what we have to tell
you. She has left you everything in her power to bequeath, and left it
all at your absolute disposal."

Gertrude seemed stupefied. At length she said slowly:

"What must he feel? What did he say?"

"I don't know what he felt," replied Major Carteret. "What he said
quickly deprived me of all inclination to pity him, the scoundrel! I
hope we have all heard and seen the last of him. His worthy associate,
Oakley, made me understand his character long ago; but while poor
Nelly lived it would have served no purpose to resent it, and we had
nothing to gain by exposing him. Now it turns out she has avenged
herself and us all, and we can afford to dismiss him from our minds.
You must allow me to congratulate you, Gertrude, on poor Nelly's
handsome legacy, and then on something much more important still."

Gertrude looked from her husband to her uncle nervously, and her lips
trembled.

"What is it? I can't bear much more."

George put his arm firmly round her, and placing her on a sofa, took
his place by her side. At this moment Mrs. Doran came quietly into the
room and approached the group. Haldane made her a sign to be silent,
while George spoke to his wife:

"While I was staying at the Deane, when I first went there for your
birthday, Gertrude, my mother wrote to me, and told me it was a
curious circumstance that I should be a visitor at Miss Baldwin's
house. Why? Can you guess?"

Gertrude silently shook her head.

"Because, as I then learned for the first time, my father's old
bachelor brother, Mr. Mordaunt, was in the entail of the Deane, and in
the very improbable event of there being no direct heir, that which
has come to pass might come to pass. Do you understand what has
happened now, my darling?"

"No," stammered Gertrude; "I--I do not."

"This is what has happened: my uncle, Mr. Mordaunt, is dead. I am his
heir. My father took my mother's name in consequence of a family
quarrel about his marriage, and, as you know, he died some years ago.
I am the next in the entail, and Eleanor's dying without a child,
makes me the possessor of the Deane. You now know why I did not ask
you to be my wife when I believed you to be the lawful owner of the
property; you now know how doubly joyfully I made you my wife when you
lost it. Gertrude, my darling, I think you will prize your old name
and your old home more than ever now that it is your husband who gives
them back to you."

"I said it would all come right, Miss Gerty, didn't I, alanna?"
exclaimed Rose Doran, as she in her turn caught Gertrude in her strong
arms, and rocked her to and fro like an infant. "But I never thought
it could come so right. Honest people and rogues have got their due in
_this_ world, once in a way, anyhow."



THE END.


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





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