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Title: An Open Verdict, Volume 3 (of 3): A Novel
Author: Braddon, M. E. (Mary Elizabeth)
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

Variable spelling and hyphenation have been retained. Minor punctuation
inconsistencies have been silently repaired. A list of the changes made
can be found at the end of the book. Formatting and special characters
are indicated as follows:

_italic_



                            AN OPEN VERDICT

                                A Novel
                           BY THE AUTHOR OF
                        ‘LADY AUDLEY’S SECRET’
                            ETC. ETC. ETC.

                           IN THREE VOLUMES

                               VOL. III.

                            [Illustration]

                                LONDON:
                         JOHN MAXWELL AND CO.
                      4, SHOE LANE, FLEET STREET,
                                 1878

                        [_All rights reserved_]



CONTENTS TO VOL. III.


  CHAP.                                                              PAGE

  I. PATERNAL DIPLOMACY                                              1

  II. MR. PIPER IS ACCEPTED                                          18

  III. A WEDDING MARCH                                               30

  IV. KENRICK’S RETURN                                               49

  V. MR. SCRATCHELL GOES TO LONDON                                   60

  VI. THE SECOND MRS. PIPER                                          74

  VII. IN THE CHURCHYARD                                             88

  VIII. KENRICK’S WEDDING DAY                                        112

  IX. JILTED                                                         122

  X. MRS. PIPER’S DAY                                                132

  XI. CAPTAIN STANDISH                                               154

  XII. AT HER CHARIOT WHEELS                                         168

  XIII. PLAYING WITH FIRE                                            183

  XIV. A TURN OF FORTUNE’S WHEEL                                     202

  XV. MR. PIPER ASSERTS HIMSELF                                      216

  XVI. CAPTAIN STANDISH CHOOSES A HORSE                              230

  XVII. VANESSA’S VISIT                                              244

  XVIII. OPENING HIS EYES                                            257

  XIX. A SHORT RECKONING                                             274

  XX. LET SILENCE BE ABOUT HER NAME                                  289

  XXI. ‘BUT PROVE ME WHAT IT IS I WOULD NOT DO’                      308

  XXII. FAIR STILL, BUT FAIR FOR NO ONE SAVING ME                    321

  EPILOGUE                                                           343



AN OPEN VERDICT.



CHAPTER I.

PATERNAL DIPLOMACY.


‘WHAT!’ roared Mr. Scratchell, scarlet of visage, ‘you are asked to
marry a man with fifteen thousand a year, and you refuse? Did anybody
ever hear of such lunacy?’

Bella sat shivering at the paternal wrath. Mrs. Scratchell was weeping
dumbly. All the younger Scratchells were ready to lift up their voices
in a chorus of condemnation. Bella’s folly in refusing Mr. Piper was,
in their eyes, a personal injury.

‘You would not ask me to marry a man I cannot love, would you, father?’
faltered Bella; ‘a man I can hardly respect.’

‘You cannot respect fifteen thousand a year?’ cried Mr. Scratchell.
‘Then, in the name of all that’s reasonable, what can you respect?’

‘He is so rough-mannered and dictatorial,’ urged Bella, ‘so stout
and puffy. And it is really dreadful to hear him murder the Queen’s
English.’

Mr. Scratchell looked round at his assembled family with a wrathful
glare, as if he were calling upon them all to behold this ridiculous
daughter of his.

‘That ever I should have bred and reared such foolishness!’ he
exclaimed. ‘What’s that fairy tale you were reading the little ones,
mother, about the Princess and the seven feather beds? She had seven
feather beds to sleep upon, one atop of the other, and couldn’t rest
because there was a parched pea under the bottom one. There’s your
proud Princess for you!’ pointing at his tearful daughter. ‘She turns
up her nose at fifteen thousand a year because the owner of it doesn’t
arrange his words according to Lindley Murray. Why, I never had much
opinion of Lindley Murray myself, and, what’s more, I never could
understand him.’

‘Father, it isn’t a question of bad grammar. If I loved Mr. Piper, or
felt that I could teach myself to love him, I shouldn’t care how badly
he talked. But I cannot love him.’

‘Who asks you to love him?’ cried Mr. Scratchell, folding and unfolding
his newspaper violently, in a whirlwind of indignation. ‘Nobody has
made mention of love--not Piper himself, I warrant. He’s too sensible a
man. You are only asked to marry him, and to do your duty in that state
of life to which it has pleased God to call you. And very grateful you
ought to be for having been called to fifteen thousand a year. Think
what you can do for your brothers and sisters, and your poor harassed
mother! There’s a privilege for you. And if Piper should take to buying
property hereabouts, and give me the collection of his rents, there’d
be a lift for me.’

Then Mrs. Scratchell feebly, and with numerous gasps and choking sobs,
uplifted her maternal voice, and made her moan.

‘I should be the last to press any child of mine to marry against her
inclination,’ she said, ‘but I should like to see one of my daughters
a lady. Bella has been a lady in all her little ways from the time
she could run alone, and I am sure she would become the highest
position--yes, even such a station as Mr. Piper, with his fortune,
could give her. If there was anything better or brighter before
her--any chance of her getting a young good-looking husband able to
support her comfortably--I wouldn’t say marry Mr. Piper. But I’m sure I
can’t see how any girl is to get well married in Little Yafford, where
the young men----’

‘Haven’t one sixpence to rub against another,’ interrupted Mr.
Scratchell, impatiently.

‘And I know what life is for those that have to study the outlay of
every penny, and to keep their brains always on the rack in order just
barely to pay their way,’ continued Mrs. Scratchell.

Bella gave a deep, despondent sigh. It was all true that these
worldly-minded parents were saying. She was no romantic girl to believe
in an impossible future. She knew that for women of the Scratchell
breed life was hard and dry, like the crusts of the stale loaves which
she so often encountered at the family breakfast-table. What was there
before her if she persisted in refusing this high fortune that was
ready to be poured into her lap? Another rebellious family to teach--an
unending procession of verbs, and pianoforte exercises, dreary
fantasias, with all the old familiar airs turned upside down, and
twisted this way and that, and drawn out to uttermost attenuation, like
a string of Indian-rubber. If nothing else killed her, Bella thought,
she must assuredly die of those hateful fantasias, the ever-lasting
triplets, the scampering arpeggios, stumbling and halting, like the
canter of a lame horse.

Mr. Scratchell heard that long sigh and guessed its meaning. He checked
his loud indignation, all of a sudden, and had recourse to diplomacy.
The girl’s own sense was beginning to argue against her foolishness.

‘Well, my dear,’ he said, quite amiably, ‘if you’ve made up your mind
there’s no use in our saying any more about it. Your mother and I would
have been proud to see you settled in such a splendid way--the envy of
all the neighbourhood--holding your head as high as the best of ’em.
But let that pass. You’d better look out for another situation. With so
many mouths as I’ve got to feed, I can’t afford to encourage idleness.
There must be no twiddling of thumbs in this family. The _Yorkshire
Times_ comes out on Saturday. There’ll be just time for us to get an
advertisement in.’

Bella gave another sigh, an angry one this time.

‘You’re very sharp with me, father,’ she said. ‘I should have thought
you’d have been glad to have me at home for a little while, with my
time disengaged.’

‘What?’ ejaculated Mr. Scratchell. ‘Haven’t you had your afternoons for
idleness? Your time disengaged, indeed! Do you think I want a daughter
of mine to be as useless as a chimney ornament, good for nothing but to
look at?’

And then Mr. Scratchell took out a sheet of paper, dipped his pen in
the ink, and wrinkled his brow in the effort of composition.

‘Governess, residential or otherwise,’ he began, pronouncing the words
aloud as he wrote, ‘competent to impart a sound English education,
French, Italian, German, music, drawing and painting, and fancy
needlework. Able to prepare boys for a public school. Has had the
entire charge of a gentleman’s family. First-rate references.’

‘There,’ exclaimed Mr. Scratchell. ‘That will cost a lot of money, but
I think it is comprehensive.’

‘I don’t know about drawing and painting,’ objected Bella, with a weary
air. ‘I never had much taste that way. I learnt a little with Beatrix,
but----’

‘Then you can teach,’ said Mr. Scratchell, decisively. ‘If you’ve
learnt you know all the technical words and rules, and you’re quite
competent to teach. When your pupil goes wrong you can tell her how
to go right. That’s quite enough. Nobody expects you to be a Michael
Angelo.’

‘I’m afraid I shall look like an impostor if I attempt to teach
drawing,’ remonstrated Bella.

‘Would not object to a school,’ wrote Mr. Scratchell, adding to the
advertisement.

‘But I would very, very, very much object, papa,’ cried Bella. ‘I will
not go into a school to please anybody.’

‘My dear, you have got to earn your bread, and if you can’t earn it in
a private family you must earn it in a school,’ explained her father.
‘I want the advertisement to be comprehensive, and to bring as many
answers as possible. You are not obliged to take a situation in a
school simply because you get one offered you--but if your only offer
is of that kind you must accept it. Hobson’s choice, you know.’

Bella began to cry.

‘The little Pipers are very hateful,’ she sobbed, ‘but I dare say
strange children would be worse.’

‘If the little Pipers were your step-children you could do what you
liked with them,’ said Mr. Scratchell.

‘Oh, father,’ remonstrated his wife, ‘she would be bound to be kind to
them.’

‘Of course,’ replied Mr. Scratchell. ‘Within certain limits. It would
be kindness to get them under strict discipline. She could pack them
off to school, and needn’t have them home for the holidays unless she
liked. Come, I think the advertisement will do. It will cost three or
four shillings, so it ought to answer. Herbert can take it with him
to-morrow when he goes to his office.’

‘Father,’ cried Bella, desperately, ‘you needn’t waste your money upon
that advertisement. I won’t take another situation.’

‘Won’t you?’ cried Mr. Scratchell. ‘Then I’m afraid you’ll have to go
to the workhouse, which would be rather disgraceful at your age. I
won’t keep you in idleness.’

‘I’d sooner marry Mr. Piper than go on teaching odious children.’

‘You’ll have to wait till Mr. Piper asks you again,’ replied her
father, delighted at having gained his point, but too diplomatic to
show his satisfaction. ‘You’ve refused him once. He may not care
to humiliate himself by risking a second refusal. However, the
advertisement can stand over for a day or two, since you’ve come to
your senses.’

Mr. Scratchell went off to his official den presently, and Mrs.
Scratchell came over to Bella and hugged her.

‘Oh, my darling, it would be the making of us all,’ she exclaimed.

‘I don’t see what good that would be to me, mother, if I was
miserable,’ Bella responded, sulkily.

‘But you couldn’t be miserable in such a home as Yafford Park, and with
such a good man as Mr. Piper. It isn’t as if you had ever cared for
anybody else, dear.’

‘No, of course not,’ said Bella, full of bitterness. ‘That makes a
difference.’

‘And think what a lady you would be, and how high you could hold your
head.’

‘Yes, I would hold my head high enough, mother. You may be sure of
that. I would have something out of life. Beatrix Harefield should see
what use I could make of money.’

‘Of course, dear. You have such aristocratic ideas. You could take the
lead in Little Yafford society.’

Bella gave a scornful shrug. The society in Little Yafford was hardly
worth leading; but Bella was of the temper that deems it better to
reign in a village than to serve in Rome. She put on her bonnet and
went to call upon Mrs. Dulcimer. That lady was in the garden, her
complexion protected by a muslin sun-bonnet, washing the green flies
off her roses. To her sympathetic ear Bella imparted the story of Mr.
Piper’s wooing and the paternal wrath.

‘My dear, I don’t wonder that your father was angry,’ cried the Vicar’s
wife. ‘Why, Mr. Piper is the very man for you. The idea occurred to
me soon after Mrs. Piper’s death. But I didn’t mention it, for fear
of alarming your delicacy. Such a good homely creature--an excellent
husband to his first wife--and so wealthy. Why, you would be quite a
little queen. How lucky I was mistaken about Cyril! What a chance you
would have lost if you had married him!’

Bella shuddered.

‘Yes, it would have been a pity,’ she said.

And then she thought how if Cyril had loved and married her, she--who
was just wise enough to know herself full of faults--might have grown
into a good woman--how, looking up at that image of perfect manhood,
she might have learned to shape herself into ideal womanhood. Yes, it
would have all been possible if he had only loved her. His love would
have been a liberal education.

Love had been denied her; but wealth, and all the advantages wealth
could give, might be hers.

‘I really begin to think that I was very foolish to refuse Mr. Piper,’
she said.

‘My love, excuse me, but you were simply idiotic. However, he is sure
to renew his offer. I shall call and see those dear children of his
to-morrow. And when he asks you again, you will give him a kinder
answer?’

‘Yes,’ said Bella, with a long-drawn sigh, ‘since everybody thinks it
would be best.’

Everybody did not include Beatrix Harefield. Bella had not
consulted--nor did she mean to consult--her old friend and playfellow.
She knew quite well that Beatrix would have advised her against a
mercenary marriage, and in spite of all her sighs and hesitations,
Bella’s sordid little soul languished for the possession of Mr. Piper’s
wealth.

Mrs. Dulcimer was delighted at the notion of conducting a new
courtship to a triumphant issue. She put on her best bonnet early in
the afternoon, and went to pay her visit to the Park, feeling that it
behoved her to bring matters to a crisis.

Mr. Piper was at home, seated on a garden chair on his well-kept lawn,
basking in the sunshine, after a heavy dinner which went by the name of
luncheon. He had a sleek, well-fed look at this stage of his existence,
which did not encourage sentimental ideas: but Mrs. Dulcimer looked at
the big white house with its Doric portico, the stone vases full of
bright scarlet geraniums, the velvet lawn and gaudy flower-beds, the
belt of fine old timber, the deer-park across the ha-ha, and thought
what a happy woman Bella would be as the mistress of such a domain. She
hardly gave one thought to poor Mr. Piper. He was only a something that
went with the Park; like a bit of outlying land, which nobody cares
about, tacked on to a large estate.

‘I hope your dear children are all well and strong,’ said Mrs.
Dulcimer, after she had shaken hands with Mr. Piper, and they had
confided to each other their opinions about the weather. ‘I came on
purpose to see them.’

‘You shall see them all presently, mum,’ replied Mr. Piper. ‘The
schoolroom maid is cleaning ’em up a bit. They’ve been regular Turks
all this blessed morning. They’ve lost their gov’ness.’

‘Why, how is that?’ cried the hypocritical Mrs. Dulcimer. ‘Bella is so
fond of them. She is always talking of her clever little pupils.’

‘She’s left ’em to shift for themselves, for all her fondness,’ said
Mr. Piper; and then, being of a candid nature, he freely confided his
trouble to the Vicar’s wife.

He told her that he had asked Bella to marry him, and she had said no,
and upon that they had parted.

‘It was better for her to go,’ he said. ‘I couldn’t abear the sight of
her about the place under the circumstances. I should feel like the fox
with the grapes. I should be always hardening my heart against her.’

‘Dear, dear,’ sighed Mrs. Dulcimer. ‘I’m afraid you were too sudden.
A woman is so sensitive about such matters. I dare say you took that
poor child by surprise.’

‘Well, mum, perhaps I may. I’d been thinking of making her an offer for
a long time, but it may have come on her like a thunderclap.’

‘Of course it did. And, being shy and sensitive, she naturally said no.’

‘Don’t you think she meant no?’ asked Mr. Piper, swinging himself
suddenly round in his garden chair, and looking very warm and eager.

‘Indeed, I do not. She was with me yesterday afternoon, and I thought
her looking ill and unhappy. I felt sure there was something wrong.

‘Now you look here, Mrs. Dulcimer,’ said the widower. ‘I’m not going to
offer myself to that young woman a second time, for the sake of getting
a second refusal; but if you are sure she won’t say no I don’t mind
giving her another chance. I’m not a proud man, but I’ve got a proper
respect for myself, and I don’t want to be humiliated. I shan’t ask her
again unless I’m very sure of my ground.’

‘Come and take tea with us to-morrow evening,’ said Mrs. Dulcimer.
‘I’ll get Bella to come too, and you’ll be able to judge for yourself.
Bring some of your dear children.’

‘Thank you, mum, you’re very kind; but I think until some of the Turk
has been flogged out of them I’d rather not take them into company. But
I’ll come myself with pleasure, and if you like to ask Bella Scratchell
I’ve no objection to meet her.’

Mr. Piper’s olive branches now appeared, newly washed and combed, and
in their Sunday clothes. Thus attired they looked a little more vulgar
than in their every-day garments. They were all angles and sharp lines,
and looked embarrassed by their finery, which, from the corkscrew curls
at the top of their heads to the tight new shoes upon their afflicted
feet, was more or less calculated to give them pain.

Naturally Mrs. Dulcimer pretended to be enraptured with them. She
discovered in one an extraordinary likeness to his papa, in another
a striking--yes, a painfully striking resemblance to her poor dear
mamma. She asked them questions about their studies and recreations,
and having completely exhausted herself in less than ten minutes’
performance of these civilities, she rose to wish Mr. Piper and his
young family good-bye.

‘At seven to-morrow, remember,’ she said.

‘I shall be there, mum,’ answered Mr. Piper.



CHAPTER II.

MR. PIPER IS ACCEPTED.


MRS. DULCIMER’S tea party was a success. Bella appeared in her
prettiest muslin gown--an embroidered Indian muslin that Beatrix had
given her, with a great deal besides, when she went into mourning. She
wore blue ribbons, and was bright with all the colour and freshness
of her young beauty. Mr. Piper felt himself very far gone as he sat
opposite her at tea. He hardly knew what he was eating, though he was a
man who usually considered his meals a serious part of life, and though
Rebecca had surpassed herself in the preparation of a chicken salad.

The evening was lovely, the sunset a study for Turner, and after tea
Mrs. Dulcimer took Mr. Piper into the garden to show him her famous
roses. Once there the worthy manufacturer was trapped. Bella was in
faithful attendance upon the Vicar’s wife, and presently Rebecca came,
flushed and breathless, to say that her mistress was wanted; whereupon,
with many apologies, Mrs. Dulcimer left Mr. Piper and Miss Scratchell
together.

‘Bella can show you the rest of the garden,’ she said as she hurried
off.

‘Take me down by the gooseberry bushes, Bella,’ said Mr. Piper. ‘It’s
shadier and more retired there.’

And in that shady and retired spot, with the rugged old plum trees
and pear trees on the crumbly red wall looking at them, and the happy
snails taking their evening promenades under the thorny gooseberry
bushes, and the luxuriant scarlet runners making a curtain between
these two lovers and the outside world, Mr. Piper--in fewest and
plainest words--repeated his offer, and this time was not refused.

‘Bella,’ he exclaimed, with a little gush of emotion, putting his
betrothed’s small hand under his elephantine arm, ‘I’ll make you the
happiest woman in the three Ridings. You shall have everything that
heart can wish. Poor Maggie never could cotton to her position. My good
fortune came too late for her. She had got into a groove when I was a
struggling man, and in that groove she stuck. She tried hard to play
the lady; but she couldn’t manage it, poor soul. She was always the
anxious hard-working housewife at bottom. There’s no rubbing the spots
out of the leopard’s hide, or whitening the Ethiopian, you see, Bella.
Now you were born a lady.’

Bella simpered and blushed.

‘I shall try not to disgrace your fortune,’ she said, meekly.

‘Disgrace it! Why, you’ll set it off by your prettiness and your nice
little ways. I mean to get you into county society, Bella. I never
tried it on with Mrs. P., for I felt she wasn’t up to it; but I shall
take you slap in among the county folks.’

Bella shuddered. The little she had seen and heard of county people led
her to believe that they were very slow to open their doors to such men
as Mr. Piper.

‘Mrs. P. never had but one hoss and a broom,’ said the widower, walking
his chosen one briskly up and down behind the curtain of scarlet
runners. ‘You shall have a pair. I think you was made for a carriage
and pair. Shall it be a landau or a b’rouche?’

Bella opined, with all modesty, that she would prefer a barouche.

‘You’re right,’ exclaimed Mr. Piper, ‘a woman looks more queenly in a
barouche. And you can have poor Mrs. P.’s brougham done up for night
work. And you shall have a chaise and the prettiest pair of ponies
that can be bought for money, and then you can drive me about on fine
afternoons. I’m getting of an age when a man likes to take his ease,
and there’s nothing nicer to my fancy than sitting behind a handsome
pair of ponies driven by a pretty woman. Can you drive?’

‘I dare say I could if I tried,’ answered Bella.

‘Ah, I’ll have you taught. You’ll have a good deal to learn when you
are Mrs. Piper, but you’re young enough to take kindly to a change in
your circumstances. Poor Moggie wasn’t. Her mind was always in the
bread-pan or the butcher’s book.’

In this practical manner were matters settled between Mr. Piper and
his betrothed. The widower called upon Mr. Scratchell next day, and
obtained that gentleman’s consent to his nuptials. The consent was
granted with a certain air of reluctance which enhanced the favour.

‘As far as my personal respect for you goes, there is no man living I’d
sooner have for a son-in-law,’ said Mr. Scratchell, ‘but you’ll allow
that there is a great disparity of age between you and my daughter.’

Mr. Piper was quite willing to allow this.

‘If I couldn’t marry a pretty girl I wouldn’t marry at all,’ he said.
‘I don’t want a housekeeper. I want some one bright and pleasant to
look at when I come home to dinner. As for the disparity, well, I
shan’t forget that in the settlement I mean to make upon Bella.’

This was exactly what Mr. Scratchell wanted. After this everything was
speedily arranged. Mr. Piper was an impetuous man, and would brook
no delay. He would like to have been married immediately, but he was
persuaded, for decency’s sake, to wait till October. Even this would
be very soon after the late Mrs. Piper’s death; but the indulgent
Mrs. Dulcimer argued that a man in Mr. Piper’s forlorn position, with
a young family running to seed in the custody of servants, might be
excused if he hastened matters.

So Bella set to work to prepare her trousseau which was by far the
most interesting part of the business, especially after Mr. Piper
had slipped a little bundle of bank-notes into her hand one evening
at parting, which bundle was found to amount to five hundred pounds.
Bella spent long afternoons shopping at Great Yafford, attended by
her mother and sisters, who all treated her with a new deference, and
were delighted to hang upon her steps and look on while she made her
purchases. She had already begun to taste the sweets of wealth. Her
betrothed showered gifts upon her, and positively overwhelmed Mrs.
Scratchell with garden stuff and farm produce. It was a time of plenty
which the little Scratchells had never imagined in their wildest
dreams. Mr. Piper tipped them all round every Sunday afternoon. His
pockets were like the silver mines of Mexico. He was a man overflowing
with new half-crowns and fat five shilling pieces--noble-looking coins
that seemed to be worth a great deal more than five meagre shillings.

Beatrix was horrified when she heard of her friend’s engagement.

‘Oh, Bella, how could you?’ she exclaimed. ‘You are sacrificing
yourself for the sake of your family.’

Bella blushed, for in her heart of hearts she knew that the interests
of her family had been very far from her thoughts when she consented to
become the second Mrs. Piper.

‘My father and mother had set their hearts upon it,’ she said.

‘But they had no right to set their hearts upon your marrying such a
man as that.’

‘He is a very good man,’ pleaded Bella.

‘Have you really made up your mind to marry him? Do you really believe
that you can live happily with him?’ asked Beatrix, earnestly.

‘Yes,’ sighed Bella, thinking of the barouche and pair, the pony
carriage, the huge barrack of a house at the end of an avenue of elms,
the dignity and importance that all these things would give her. ‘Yes,
I have quite made up my mind, Beatrix. It will be such a good thing for
my family--and I believe I can be happy.’

‘Then I will not say another word against Mr. Piper. Indeed, I will try
my best to like him.’

‘He has a very good heart,’ said Bella, ‘really a noble heart.’

‘And that is of more consequence than the kind of English a man talks.’

‘And he is very intelligent,’ said Bella, anxious to make the best of
her bargain. ‘You should hear him talk of Jeremy Bentham. Papa says it
is quite wonderful.’

‘And what about his children, Bella? Are they nice? Do you feel that
you can love them?’

Bella involuntarily made a wry face.

‘They are not very nice,’ she answered, ‘but it will be my duty to love
them, and of course I shall do so.’

This conversation took place at the Water House one afternoon at the
beginning of October. Beatrix and her companion, Madame Leonard, had
been away for nearly two months, living quietly at Whitby and other
seaside places, and Beatrix had come back improved in health and
spirits.

Sir Kenrick had been absent six months, and was likely to return at the
end of the year, unless the war continued. He would not care to leave
the army while there was any hard fighting going on, and his regiment
was in the thick of it. Mrs. Dulcimer loudly lamented this Burmese
outbreak, which made it impossible for Kenrick to sell out with a good
grace yet awhile. She was always talking to Beatrix about him, and
entreating to hear little bits of his letters. Lately there had been an
irregularity in the letters. Kenrick’s regiment had been moving about.
He had been off the track of civilization and postal facilities.

One morning in October, just a week before Bella’s wedding day, there
came a startling letter--a letter which Beatrix brought to Mrs.
Dulcimer.

‘Oh, my dear, my dear!’ cried the Vicar’s wife, ‘something dreadful has
happened to Kenrick. I see it in your face. Is he dead?’

This last question was almost a shriek, and it was evident that Mrs.
Dulcimer was prepared to go into hysterics at a moment’s notice.

‘No,’ answered Beatrix, ‘but he has been severely wounded, and he is on
his way home.’

‘Coming home,’ cried Mrs. Dulcimer, ‘how delightful! But severely
wounded! How dreadful!’

‘He writes in very good spirits, but I think though he hardly admits
as much, that he has been badly hurt, and very ill from the effects of
his wounds,’ said Beatrix. ‘He wishes you and Mr. Dulcimer to go to
Southampton with me to meet him.’

‘Dear boy, how touching! Read me a little of the letter. Do, my love.’

Beatrix complied, and read all her lover’s letter, save those little
gushes of sentiment which she would have considered it a kind of
treason to confide even to Mrs. Dulcimer.

‘It is selfish of me to ask you to take so much trouble, perhaps,’
he wrote, ‘but it would make me very happy if you would come to
Southampton to meet me. I know our good friends the Dulcimers would
bring you, if you expressed a wish to that effect. I want to see you
directly I land, Beatrix. I want your dear face to be the first to
smile upon me when the steamer touches the English shore. The journey
would be interminable if I had to wait till the end of it to see you.
I am not very strong yet, and should be obliged to travel slowly. But
if you will meet me and greet me, I think all my ills will be cured at
once. A week or so at Culverhouse, with you for my daily companion,
will make me as strong as a lion. I am bringing you home a poor little
leaflet of laurel, dear, to lay at your feet. That last skirmish of
ours brought me to the fore. Happy accidents favoured me, and our
chief has said all manner of kind things about my conduct at the
retaking of Pegu. I come back to you a major. I have not said a word
yet about selling out. That shall be as you wish; but I confess that
my own inclination points the other way. This last business has made
me fonder than I used to be of my profession. I have tasted the sweets
of success. What do you think, love? Could you be happy as a soldier’s
wife? I write this at Alexandria. The steamer leaves to-morrow, and
ought to arrive at Southampton on the 7th or 8th of November. Shall I
be so blest as to see you among the eager crowd on the quay when the
boat steams into the famous old docks, whence so many a soldier has
gone to his fate--where there have been such sad partings and joyous
meetings. Come, love, come, and let me think I do not return unlooked
for and unloved.’

‘What do you think I ought to do, Mrs. Dulcimer?’ asked Beatrix, humbly.

‘Do, my love? Why, go, of course. There isn’t a doubt about it. Clement
and I will take you.’

‘You are very good,’ faltered Beatrix. ‘Yes, I will go to meet him.’



CHAPTER III.

A WEDDING MARCH.


BELLA’S marriage was to take place on the last day of October. It
had been laid down from the beginning that it was to be a very quiet
wedding. There was a newness and brightness about that splendid
monument to the late Mrs. Piper in Little Yafford churchyard which
seemed to forbid high jinks at Mr. Piper’s second nuptials. ‘People
might talk,’ as Mrs. Scratchell said, happily ignorant that people were
talking about her daughter and Mr. Piper with all their might already.

Hardly anybody was to be invited to the wedding. This was what Mr.
Piper and everybody else concerned kept on saying; yet every day some
fresh invitation was given. Mr. Piper had a good many friends among
the manufacturing classes, innumerable middle-aged men with red faces
and expansive waistcoats, every one of whom was, according to Mr.
Piper, the oldest friend he had. These, one by one, were bidden, with
their wives and families,--‘the more the merrier.’ In no case was the
invitation premeditated, but it came naturally from Mr. Piper’s lips
when he met an old acquaintance on ‘Change, or in the club-house at
Great Yafford.

‘Never mind, my dear,’ he said, apologetically, to Bella. ‘They are all
carriage people. And they’ll make a fine show at the church door.’

‘But I thought we were going into county society,’ said Bella.

‘So we are, my pet, but we aren’t going to cut old friends. There’s Joe
Wigzell, the jolliest fellow I know, and making twelve thousand a year
out of hat linings. Mrs. Wigzell’s a perfect lady, and there’s a fine
family of grown-up daughters. You ought to know the Wigzells.’

‘I think if you want to be in county society you’ll have to give up
your Wigzells,’ said Bella. ‘They won’t mix.’

‘But they must mix,’ cried Mr. Piper. ‘I shall make it worth their
while to mix. Such dinners as I shall give will bring the two classes
together----’

‘Like oil and vinegar,’ said Bella, who was a little out of humour with
her affianced.

These invitations of Mr. Piper’s, given at random, had swelled the
wedding party into an alarming number. Poor Mrs. Scratchell was
troubled in mind as to how she should seat her guests. There was a
difficulty about the tables. But Mr. Piper made light of everything.
He would have no cutting and contriving, no humble devices of Mrs.
Scratchell’s, no home-made pastry. He went to Great Yafford and
contracted with the principal confectioner of that town to supply
everything, from the tables and decorations down to the salt spoons.
The breakfast was to be a magnificent banquet, at a guinea a head,
exclusive of wines, and Mr. Piper was to write a cheque for everything.

This arrangement pleased everybody except Bella, whose pride was keenly
wounded by it.

‘You have made a pauper of me among you,’ she cried angrily, to the
family circle, on the night before her wedding. ‘I had rather have had
the quietest, simplest breakfast that mother could have arranged, with
the Dulcimers and Beatrix Harefield for our only visitors, than all
this finery paid for by Mr. Piper.’

‘Fiddlesticks!’ exclaimed Mrs. Scratchell. ‘You weren’t ashamed to take
his money for your wedding clothes. Why should you be ashamed of his
paying for your wedding breakfast? I hate such humbug.’

‘I have a little pride left,’ said Bella.

‘Very little, I should think,’ answered her father, ‘and what you have
doesn’t become you. It’s like the peacock’s feathers on the jackdaw.
You weren’t born with it.’

‘Come upstairs and let us try on the wedding bonnets,’ said Clementina.
‘And be kind and nice, Bella. Recollect it is your last night at home.’

‘Thank God for that, at any rate,’ ejaculated Bella, piously.

The house had been transformed by an artificial and almost awful
tidiness. Everything had been put away. The swept and garnished rooms
were scarcely habitable.

‘I never saw such discomfort,’ cried Mr. Scratchell, looking
discontentedly round his office, which smelt of soft soap, and was
cleaner than he had ever seen it in his life.

His papers had all been stowed away, he knew not where. Valuable leases
and agreements might have been thrust into obscure corners where they
would be forgotten. The whole process horrified him.

‘You oughtn’t to have touched my office,’ he said, ‘business is
business.’

‘I couldn’t help it,’ pleaded Mrs. Scratchell. ‘The men from Great
Yafford said we must have a room for the gentlemen to put their hats
and things, so I was obliged to give them this. You have no idea how
they order us about. And then they asked me where they were to put your
things, and almost before I told them, and while I was so flurried I
scarcely knew what I was saying, your papers and tin boxes were all
swept off.’

‘And pray where are they?’ demanded Mr. Scratchell, furiously.

‘I--don’t be angry, Scratchell. I couldn’t help it. They’re all
safe--quite, quite safe--in the hay-loft.’

‘Where the rats are eating the Harefield leases, no doubt,’ said Mr.
Scratchell.

‘It’s for a short time, dear,’ said Mrs. Scratchell, soothingly. ‘We’ll
put everything back in its place the day after to-morrow; and I don’t
think rats like parchment.’

The wedding day dawned, and to all that busy and excited household
the sky seemed to be of another colour, and the atmosphere of another
quality than the sky and atmosphere of common days. The Scratchell
girls rose with the lark, or rather with the disappearance of the
cockroaches in the old kitchen, where those black gentlemen scampered
off to their holes, like Hamlet’s ghost, at cockcrow. The younger
sisters were in high spirits. The idea of an inordinately rich
brother-in-law opened a new hemisphere of delight. What picnics, and
carpet dances, and other dissipations Bella could provide for them
when she was mistress of Little Yafford Park! To-day they were to wear
handsome dresses for the first time in their lives; dresses of Bella’s
providing. As bridesmaids they were important features in the show.
The maid-of-all-work was no less excited. She, too, was to wear a fine
dress; and she had the prospect of unlimited flirtation with the young
men from the pastrycook’s. She brought the girls an early cup of tea,
and helped them to plait their hair. Ordinary plaits would not do for
to-day.

‘I’ll have mine plaited in ten, if you can manage it, Sally,’ said
Flora.

‘And I’ll have mine in the Grecian plait,’ said Clementina.

‘I don’t know what’s the matter with Miss Beller,’ said the faithful
Sally. ‘It’s my belief she has been crying all night. Her eyes are as
red as pickled cabbage. All I can say, if she isn’t fond of Mr. Piper
she ought to be. I never see such a free-spoken, open-handed gentleman.’

Mr. Piper was intensely popular in the Scratchell household. Nobody
considered that Bella was sacrificing herself in marrying so charming
a man. His fifty years, his puffiness, his coarse red hands, about
which Nature had made a trifling mistake, and supplied thumbs in place
of fingers, his bald head with its garnish of iron-gray bristles--all
these things went for nothing. He had won everybody’s favour, except
perhaps that of his young bride.

At a quarter to eleven everybody was ready; Mr. Scratchell in an entire
new suit, which circumstance was such a novelty to him that he felt as
if he had been changed in his sleep, like the tinker in the old story;
Mrs. Scratchell, flushed and nervous, tightly encased in a shining
purple silk gown, which made her presence felt as a mass of vivid
colour wherever she appeared, like a new stained glass window in an
old church. The bridesmaids looked bright and pretty in sky-blue, with
wreaths of forget-me-nots round their white chip bonnets. The boys wore
sleek broadcloth, like their father’s, buff waistcoats and lavender
trousers. Everything was intensely new. They all stood in the hall
waiting for the bride, and contemplating each other curiously, like
strangers.

‘I never thought father could have come out so good-looking,’ whispered
Clementina to her eldest brother. ‘I should hardly have known him.’

‘Ah!’ ejaculated Herbert, ‘money makes all the difference.’

They felt as if they were all going to be rich now. It was not Bella
only who went up in the social scale. Her family ascended with her.
Even the faithful domestic drudge, Sally, rejoiced at the change in her
fortunes. The fragments that fell to her share after the family dinner
would be daintier and more plentiful. Her scanty wages would be more
secure.

At last Bella came down, in glistening white apparel, clouded over with
lace. That delicate taste which had always been hers, the instinctive
refinement in all external things which made her mother say that Bella
had been a lady from her cradle, had regulated her wedding dress. She
looked as pure and aërial as some pale spring floweret, tremulous
upon its slender stem. Her family bowed down and worshipped her, like
Joseph’s brethren, as represented in the vision of the sheaves.

‘God bless you, my pet!’ cried her father, in an unprecedented burst
of affection. ‘It is something to have such a beauty as you in one’s
family.’

The gray old chancel was like a bed of gaudy tulips, so varied and
so brilliant were the dresses of Mr. Piper’s manufacturing friends,
waiting impatiently to behold him at the altar. Among all these bright
colours and startling bonnets, Beatrix Harefield, in her gray silk
dress and old Brussels lace, looked like a creature belonging to
another world. All the manufacturing people noticed her, and wanted to
know who that distinguished-looking young lady was. Mrs. Dulcimer and
Beatrix had the Vicarage pew all to themselves.

Presently the bride entered the porch, leaning on her father’s arm,
pale against the whiteness of her bridal dress. Mr. Piper, crimson with
agitation, and breathing a little harder than usual, hurried forward to
receive her. He offered her his arm. The four bridesmaids followed, two
and two, the organist played a spirited march, and the business of the
day began.

Bella gave the responses in a clear little voice. Mr. Piper spoke
them with gruff decision. Mr. Dulcimer read the service beautifully,
but Mr. Piper’s manufacturing friends hardly appreciated the Vicar’s
deliberate and impressive style. They would rather have had the
ceremony rattled over with modern celerity, so that they might get to
the wedding breakfast.

‘If there’s any hot _ontries_ they’ll be spoiled,’ whispered Mrs.
Wigzell, the hat-lining manufacturer’s wife, to Mrs. Porkman, whose
husband was in the provision line.

‘I’m beginning to feel quite faint,’ answered Mrs. Porkman. ‘Getting up
so early and coming so far! It’s trying for a weak constitution.’

‘Did you ever see such a young thing?’ asked Mrs. Wigzell, indicating
the bride with a motion of her head.

Mrs. Porkman’s only answer was a profound sigh.

‘What can be expected from such an unsuitable marriage?’ demanded
Mrs. Wigzell, still in a whisper. ‘After such a sensible wife as poor
Moggie, too.’

‘Oh, my dear, Moggie Piper never rose to the level of her position,’
answered Mrs. Porkman.

And now all was over, and for ever and ever--or at least for the ever
and ever of this lower world--Ebenezer Piper and Isabella Scratchell
were made one. Whatever the incongruity of the union, the thing was
done. Disgrace or death only could loosen the knot.

The organ crashed out the tremendous chords of the Wedding March,
everybody looked delighted at the near prospect of breakfast. People
crowded into the vestry to see Bella and her husband sign the register.
There was much kissing of bride and bridesmaids, while poor Mrs.
Scratchell, wedged into a corner by the vestry door, wept a shower of
hot tears over her purple dress.

‘I hope she’ll be happy,’ she ejaculated. ‘Marriage is a solemn thing.
God grant she may be happy.’

And in her inmost heart the mother prayed and feared lest all should
not be well with her daughter in this marriage which she as well as her
husband had striven so hard to bring to pass.

‘We have done all for the best,’ she told herself, ‘and Mr. Piper is a
kind, good man.’

Her maternal heart thrilled with pride presently at the church
door when she saw the manufacturing people’s carriages, the sleek
well-groomed horses, the smart liveries, the consequential coachmen
and pampered footmen. They were a long time getting away from the
church, and there was a good deal of fuss, and some offence given
to punctilious minds, in bringing the carriages to the porch. Mrs.
Porkman’s landau came before Mrs. Wigzell’s, which was wrong, as
everybody knows that hat linings rank before provisions; and the great
Mr. Timperley of the Linseed Mills--quite the most important person
present--was left with his aggrieved wife and daughter till nearly the
last. However, they all got off ultimately, and five minutes brought
them to Mr. Scratchell’s door.

The breakfast was laid on two long tables in the common parlour; the
best parlour did duty as a reception-room, and for the display of the
wedding presents, which were exhibited on a side table. Mr. Piper’s
friends had all sent offerings, scaly golden snakes with emerald or
ruby eyes, mother-o’-pearl envelope boxes, filigree bouquet holders,
lockets, fans, personal finery of all kinds. To the bride of a
gentleman in Mr. Piper’s firmly established position, no one could
think of offering the butter dishes and dessert knives, claret jugs and
fish carvers, pickle bottles and biscuit boxes, which are presented
to modest young couples just setting up in domestic business. Bella’s
presents were therefore all of a strictly useless character. Beatrix
gave her a set of pearl ornaments, Mrs. Dulcimer a dressing-case. The
Vicar’s gift was a Bible in an exquisite antique binding, and a pocket
edition of Shakespeare.

‘You need never be at a loss for something worth reading while you have
those two books, my dear,’ he told Bella when he presented them.

The breakfast was a success. The Great Yafford confectioner had
done his duty. There were perigord pies, and barley sugar temples,
hecatombs of poultry and game, highly decorated hams and tongues,
trifles, jellies, creams, hothouse fruit, ices, wafers, coffee and
liqueurs. To the minds of the young Scratchells it was the most
wonderful feast. They played havoc among all the dishes, reckless of
after-consequences. Such a banquet as that was well worth the cost of
a bilious attack. The wines had been sent from the Park, and were the
choicest in Mr. Piper’s collection.

‘There’s a bookay about that ‘ock,’ said Mr. Porkman, smacking his lips
approvingly, ‘that I don’t remember to have tasted for the last ten
years. You don’t get such ‘ock now-a-days. Money won’t buy it, no more
than it won’t buy Madeira.’

‘I hope you’ll crack many a bottle before the next ten years, Porkman,’
roared Mr. Piper. ‘It’s Skloss Johnny’s Berger that I bought out of old
Tom Howland’s cellar, after the poor old gentleman’s death. He was a
Connysewer, was Tom. I’ve got a whole bin, and it will be your fault if
you don’t punish it.’

‘And so I will, sir, for it’s real good stuff,’ answered Mr. Porkman,
blinking at the straw-coloured wine in his green glass.

The newly-married couple were to spend their honeymoon in Italy. Coarse
as he was in appearance and manners, Mr. Piper had vague yearnings
after the pleasures of refinement. He wanted to see the cities of
Italy, and the pictures and statues with which he had been informed
those cities abounded. He had not cared to travel in the first Mrs.
Piper’s time, firstly because that lady’s health had been precarious,
and secondly because she could not speak a word of any language except
her own. Mr. Piper wanted a companion who could interpret for him, and
assist him to squabble with innkeepers and hackney coachmen. Such a
companion he felt he could have in Bella, and he would take a pride in
exhibiting his pretty young wife at table-d’hôtes and in public places.
He would like to be pointed out as a comfortable well-to-do man of
middle age who had married a girl young enough to be his daughter. He
was not ashamed of the disparity. It flattered his vanity.

Bella looked very pretty by and by in a fawn coloured travelling dress
and a pale blue bonnet. There was a carriage and four to take Mr. Piper
and his bride to the railway station at Great Yafford. He had insisted
upon four horses, though two could have done the work just as well.
The postillions were an imposing spectacle--smartly clad in sky blue
jackets, with satin favours pinned upon their breasts, and slightly the
worse for beer. Happily the hired horses were of a sober breed, or Mr.
and Mrs. Piper might have come to grief on the first stage of their
journey.

They were gone--amidst the usual shower of old slippers. The wedding
guests departed immediately after. There was to be no dance, nothing
to wind up the evening, as Clementina and all her younger sisters and
brothers loudly lamented.

‘I should think you’d better all go off to your beds, after the way you
stuffed yourselves all through the breakfast,’ said Mr. Scratchell. ‘I
saw you.’

‘What was the use of leaving things?’ demanded Herbert. ‘The
pastrycook’s men will take everything back. They won’t leave us a crumb
for to-morrow.’

Herbert was right. The confectioner’s men were already sweeping off
the fragments of the feast--half-tongues--bodies of fowls--dilapidated
pies. Mrs. Scratchell stood and watched them with regretful looks. The
family might have subsisted for a week upon the savoury remains. The
small Scratchells prowled round the tables and picked little bits
out of the plates. Those manufacturing people had been delicate and
wasteful in their eating. The broken bits were daintier than anything
the little Scratchells had ever tasted before.

‘Come, clear out,’ cried the father, ‘you’ve all eaten too much
already.’

But he thought it a hard thing that the pastrycook’s men should come
down, like the locusts of Scripture, and make barrenness in the land,
after Mr. Piper had paid for everything.

The house had a desolate look when the van had driven off with all
the glass and china and long deal tables, the epergnes and artificial
flowers. Bella’s room looked unutterably dismal. It was but a poor
attic, at best, and now, in the untidiness of departure, strewed all
over with crumpled scraps of paper, ends of old ribbon, cast-off cuffs
and collars, and worn-out shoes, looked horrible. The younger sisters
explored the chamber after all was over, in the faint hope of gleaning
something valuable.

‘She hasn’t left a morsel of anything behind her,’ said Clementina.

‘I don’t think you can complain of that,’ said Flora. ‘She’s given us
all her old clothes.’

‘If she’d had a spark of generosity she’d have given us some of her
new,’ answered Clementina. ‘This is to be my room now. It’s a horrid
hole. I’m sure the furniture must have been second-hand when Noah built
the ark. Think of Bella, with her apple-green bedroom and dressing-room
at the Park--all the furniture new and her own choice--and her
barouche and pair--and her brougham for evenings. Doesn’t it seem too
ridiculous?’

Clementina went to the shabby little looking glass on the chipped
mahogany chest of drawers, and submitted her small blunt features to a
severe scrutiny.

‘I’m not particularly ugly, and I’ve Bella’s complexion, which is the
best part of her,’ she said, ‘but I don’t suppose there’s a Mr. Piper
growing for me anywhere.’

‘Oh yes, there is,’ answered the cheerful Flora. ‘Bella will give lots
of parties, and we shall meet with young manufacturers.’

‘Bella will do nothing except for her own gratification,’ said
Clementina. ‘She won’t give parties to please us.’



CHAPTER IV.

KENRICK’S RETURN.


IN the dull dark days of November Mr. and Mrs. Dulcimer took their ward
to Southampton, there to await her lover’s return. They were to spend
a week at Culverhouse with Sir Kenrick, and then he was to go with
them when they went back to Little Yafford. Mrs. Dulcimer had planned
it all. If Kenrick was ailing still--though that was not likely, Mrs.
Dulcimer said, after the sea voyage--Rebecca could nurse him. There was
no beef tea like Rebecca’s, no such calves’ foot jelly.

They went to the Dolphin Hotel at Southampton, and Mr. Dulcimer at once
descended upon the old book-shops in the High Street, like a vulture
upon carrion--very much like a vulture, since he cared only for the
dead. Mrs. Dulcimer took Beatrix for a gentle walk, which meant a
contemplation of all the shop windows. Beatrix looked pale and out of
spirits.

‘I know you are anxious about Kenrick,’ said Mrs. Dulcimer.

Beatrix blushed. Her conscience smote her for not being anxious enough
about her wounded lover. Had it been Cyril thus returning, what agonies
of hope and fear would have rent her breast! But it was only Kenrick,
the man she had promised, out of simple gratitude and esteem, to marry.
Her feeling about him, as the hour of their meeting drew nigh, was an
ever-increasing dread.

The day came for the arrival of the steamer. The weather had been
favourable, late as it was in the year, and the boat came into the
docks on the very day she was expected. Mrs. Dulcimer and Beatrix had
been walking on the platform for an hour in the afternoon, when the
Vicar came bustling up to them.

‘The steamer is just coming in,’ he cried, and they were all hurried
off to the docks.

There were a great many people, a crowd of anxious faces all looking
towards the open water across which the big steamer was cleaving her
steady way.

Who was that on the high bridge beside the captain, looking shoreward
through a glass?

‘Kenrick,’ exclaimed Mr. and Mrs. Dulcimer simultaneously.

Beatrix saw nothing. The docks and the people, the blue bright water
outside, the muddy green water inside, the big gaily painted steamer,
swam before her eyes. He was coming. He was coming to claim the
fulfilment of her promise. That weak moment in which she had yielded to
an impulse of grateful feeling now meant life-long misery.

A few minutes more and he was standing by her side, her hand clasped in
his, Mr. Dulcimer giving him hearty welcome, Mrs. Dulcimer in tears,
Beatrix dumb as a statue.

‘Oh, my poor dear Kenrick,’ cried the Vicar’s wife when she could find
a voice. ‘How changed you are--how fearfully changed!’

‘I’ve been very ill,’ he answered, quietly. ‘I didn’t want to frighten
you all, so I made rather light of it in my letter. But I’ve had a
narrow escape. However, here I am, and I don’t mean to knock under
now.’

The change was startling. The elegant and aristocratic-looking young
man, whom they had parted from less than a year ago, was transformed
into a feeble invalid, whose shoulders were bent with weakness, and
across whose cadaverous cheek there appeared the deep cicatrice of
a sabre wound. There was nothing absolutely repulsive in Kenrick’s
aspect, but there was enough to make love itself falter.

They got him into a fly and drove off to the Dolphin, while Mr.
Dulcimer stayed behind to look after the luggage.

‘Beatrix,’ said Kenrick, when they were seated opposite each other in
the fly, ‘I have not heard your voice yet, and it is your voice that I
have been hearing in my dreams every night on board the steamer.’

‘I am very sorry to see you looking so ill,’ she answered, gently.

‘My boot maker or my tailor would say as much as that. Tell me you are
glad to see me--me--even the poor wreck I am.’

There are pardonable hypocrisies in this life. Beatrix’s eyes brimmed
over with tears. She was deeply sorry for him, sorry that she could
find no love for him in her heart, only infinite pity.

‘I am very glad you are safe at home,’ she said, ‘we have all been
anxious about you.’

A poor welcome for a man who had lived through six months’ hard
fighting with brown Buddhist soldiers, for the sake of this moment.
But he could not upbraid his betrothed for unkindness just now. Mrs.
Dulcimer was there, tearful but loquacious, and he could not open his
heart before Mrs. Dulcimer.

After breakfast next morning Kenrick asked Beatrix to go for a walk on
the platform with him. They were to drive over to Culverhouse Castle in
the afternoon.

It was a dim autumnal morning, the opposite shore veiled in mist, the
water a dull gray, everything placid and subdued in colour--a morning
that had the calmness and grayness of advancing age--the dull repose
which befits man’s closing years.

‘My dearest love, your letters have been all kindness,’ said Kenrick.
‘There has not been much love in them, but I suppose I have no right
to complain of that. You did not promise to love me. Your letters have
made me happy. But yesterday I confess I was wounded by your reception
of me. You were so cold, so silent. I looked in vain for the greeting
I had foreshadowed. It seemed that you had come to meet me as a duty,
that you wished yourself away. And then I thought perhaps the change in
me was too great, that you were horror-struck at seeing so deplorable a
wreck. If this was the cause of your silence----’

‘It was not,’ cried Beatrix, eagerly. ‘Pray do not imagine anything of
the kind. The change in you makes no difference in me. I am proud to
think that you have done your duty, that you have been brave and noble,
and have won praise and honour. Do you suppose I do not like you better
for that?’

‘If I thought otherwise, Beatrix, if I fancied that you were revolted
by my lantern jaws, and this ugly gash across my cheek, I would say
at once let all be at an end between us. I would give you back your
freedom.’

‘I could not accept it on such terms. There is nothing revolting in
your appearance. If there were, if you were maimed and scarred so as
to be hardly recognisable, I would remember that you had been wounded
in the performance of your duty, and I would honour your wounds. No,
Kenrick, believe me _that_ could not make any barrier between us.’

‘Yet there is a barrier.’

She had not the cruelty to answer the cold hard truth. He was ill and
weak. He looked at her with eyes that seemed to implore any deception
rather than a reality that would crush him. He had loved her and
believed in her, when the man she loved had doubted and left her. He
was at least entitled to gratitude and regard.

‘I have promised to be your wife, and I am going to keep my promise,’
she said, gravely.

‘Then I am happy. Shall it be soon, dearest?’

‘It shall be when you like after the new year.’

‘And am I to leave the army?’

‘No,’ she answered, quickly. ‘I am proud of your profession. I should
be very sorry if for my sake you were to exchange the career of a
soldier for the stagnation of a country gentleman’s life.’

‘There would be no stagnation for me at Culverhouse; yet I had much
rather remain in the army. But is my profession to separate us? You may
not like to go to India.’

‘It will be my duty to go with you.’

‘My love, I have no words to say how happy you have made me. It would
have been a grief to give up my profession, but I would have done it
without a word, in obedience to your wish.’

‘A wife should have no wish about serious things in opposition to her
husband,’ answered Beatrix.

They were at Culverhouse Castle before dusk, and again the village
gossips were bobbing to Beatrix, this time with the assurance, derived
from Betty Mopson’s direct assertion, that she was to be their Lady
Bountiful, the source of comfort and blessing at Christmastide, and in
all time of trouble.

They spent a calm and quiet week at the castle. Beatrix liked the
gray old buildings, with their quaint mixture of ecclesiastical and
domestic uses. First a castle, then an abbey, then a good old Tudor
dwelling-house. That was the history of Culverhouse. Kenrick brought
out old county chronicles to prove what a big place it had been in its
time. How it had belonged to a warrior of the Culverhouse breed in
the days of the first crusade; how it had been afterwards surrendered
to the Church by a sinning and repenting Culverhouse; and how, after
sequestration and malappropriation under the tyrant Harry, it had come
back by marriage to the Culverhouses, in a most miraculous way.

‘Your house seems to have always been buttressed by heiresses,’ said
Mr. Dulcimer, poring over a musty parchment that Kenrick had produced
for his inspection. ‘You have been a very lucky family.’

‘Luckier than we have deserved, I fear,’ answered Kenrick, with a
glance at Beatrix.

They all went to Little Yafford at the end of the week, and Kenrick
was established at the Vicarage, under strict charge of Rebecca. That
worthy woman exercised an awful tyranny over him, feeding him with
jellies and soups with as off-hand authority as if he had been a nest
of young thrushes, or a turkey in process of fattening for Christmas.
He bore it all meekly, for was not Mrs. Dulcimer the best friend he
had, since it was she who had first suggested his winning Beatrix?

They were to be married early in the year. Everybody was talking about
it already. It would be a much more interesting marriage than Mr.
Piper’s second nuptials, though that event had kept the village gossips
alive for full six weeks. The tide of popular feeling had turned, and
Beatrix now stood high in the estimation of her neighbours. Even Miss
Coyle was silent, contenting herself with an occasional shrug of her
shoulders, or a significant elevation of her grizzled eyebrows. The
slander had died a natural death, it had expired of inanition.

Beatrix and her lover saw each other daily. Madame Leonard was
delighted with the wounded soldier, who had fought so well at Pegu.
Everybody praised him. Even Beatrix’s manner grew a shade warmer, and
she began to feel a calm and sober pleasure in her lover’s company,
such a mild regard as she might have given to an elder brother, with
whom she had not been brought up.

As Kenrick grew stronger they rode together across the wild bleak
moor, and the fierce winds blew health and power into the soldier’s
lungs. Kenrick spent some of his evenings at the dull old Water House,
in that pretty white panelled sitting-room that had been so long shut
up. Madame Leonard petted and pampered him in her cordial little way.
Beatrix was kind, and read or played to him according to the humour of
the hour. It was a placid, happy life.



CHAPTER V.

MR. SCRATCHELL GOES TO LONDON.


THE short days and fireside evenings of December, and the festivities
of Christmas, were to Sir Kenrick Culverhouse brief and fleeting as a
dream when one awakeneth. He had never been so happy in his life. To
ride across the dull brown moorland with Beatrix, looking down upon
the smiling village nestling in the hollow of the dark hills; to sit
by her side in the lamplight listening while she read or played; these
things made the sum of his delight. Life had nothing for him beyond
or above them. And thus the weeks slipped by till February, and the
10th of February was to be Sir Kenrick’s wedding day. He had improved
wonderfully in health by this time. His bent back had straightened
itself. He was able to endure the fatigue of a day’s fishing, in the
wintry wind and rain. He was altogether a changed man. Yorkshire
breezes had done much for him, but happiness had done more.

‘How he loves you!’ cried Mrs. Dulcimer to Beatrix one day, in a
rapture of admiration for her _protégée_. ‘I never saw a man so
devoted.’

‘Do you really think he is so very fond of me?’ asked Beatrix, gravely.

‘My dear, how sad and distressed you look! as if his love were a thing
to be sorry about. Yes, I do think and know so. Can you for a moment
doubt it?’

‘I have fancied that our marriage was on both sides rather one of
convenience than inclination. He can give me the protection of an
honourable name, my fortune can free his estate. We like each other
very much, and, I hope, esteem each other. But I don’t think there is
much love on either side. He makes pretty speeches, of course. That is
a compliment to my sex and my fortune. Don’t you remember Mr. Dulcimer
telling us that Solon made it a law that heiresses should be treated
with particular respect?’

‘I know nothing about Solon,’ exclaimed the Vicar’s wife, getting
angry, ‘but I know that poor young man is passionately in love with
you. Why, child, he idolizes you. One can see it with half an eye.’

‘Then I am very sorry for him,’ said Beatrix, and there was an
earnestness in her tone that startled the easy-tempered Mrs. Dulcimer.

‘Sorry that your affianced husband is devoted to you! My dear Beatrix,
you must be going out of your mind.’

‘I sometimes think I am,’ answered Beatrix, in a low voice.

This conversation occurred about a fortnight before the wedding day. It
made Mrs. Dulcimer very uncomfortable, but she said no word about it to
anybody, not even to her chosen confidante, Rebecca.

Was it possible, poor Mrs. Dulcimer asked herself, that this match, the
crowning glory of all her efforts, was going to turn out ill?

Beatrix sent for Mr. Scratchell next day, and received him alone in her
morning-room.

‘I suppose you know that Sir Kenrick’s estate is heavily encumbered?’
she said.

‘Yes,’ answered the lawyer, ‘of course that will be considered in the
settlements. It will be my care to protect your interests.’

‘Never mind my interests or the settlements, yet awhile. I want to pay
off those mortgages before there is any question of settlements.’

‘You pay them off, before you are Sir Kenrick’s wife! My dear Miss
Harefield, what an extraordinary notion!’

‘I cannot see that. My money is to release the estate sooner or later.
That is an understood thing between Sir Kenrick and me. Why should I
not do it before I am his wife? I, Beatrix Harefield, for him as my
future husband, am surely able to pay off these mortgages.’

‘As the title deeds are deposited with Sir Kenrick’s bankers, under an
engagement to execute a formal deed when requested, anybody can pay off
the mortgage,’ answered the lawyer, ‘but there is some hazard in such
a proceeding. Suppose Sir Kenrick were to die before your wedding day,
or were to offend you. Marriages are sometimes broken off, you know. At
the church door even. Then again, suppose you were married without a
settlement, and Sir Kenrick were to die without having made a will in
your favour. Failing a son of yours, the estate would go to his cousin
Cyril. Ah, I see that fact rather startles you,’ said the unconscious
lawyer, perceiving that Beatrix paled at the mention of her lost
lover’s name.

‘These are serious considerations,’ urged Mr. Scratchell. ‘I should
strongly recommend you not to touch those mortgages with your little
finger until you have two or three sons of your own. Why should you
throw away fifty thousand pounds for Mr. Cyril Culverhouse’s ultimate
benefit?’

‘It will be for Sir Kenrick’s benefit as long as he lives.’

‘Yes, but Sir Kenrick may not be a long-lived man. I don’t want to
make you unhappy about him, but I don’t think he looks like one. And
then there are the fortunes of war. He may be killed in battle. He had
a narrow escape last time. It would be absurd for you to risk fifty
thousand pounds upon such a life as his.’

‘Absurd or not, I am going to run the risk,’ answered Beatrix, with a
firmness that frightened Mr. Scratchell. In a twelvemonth I shall be of
age to do what I like with my money, without consulting anybody. You
may just as well make yourself agreeable while I am in your power, and
let me have my own way.’

Mr. Scratchell hesitated, sorely perplexed. To make himself
disagreeable to Beatrix, even in the endeavour to protect her
interests, might be fatal. Women are such self-willed, unreasonable
creatures, he argued within himself. If he thwarted her in this
ridiculous whim, she might resent his conduct all her life. In a year,
as she had reminded him, she would be sole mistress of her fortune.
She might dismiss him from his agency, which would be simple and
unmitigated ruin. He was as dependent upon the Harefield estate for
sustenance as a barnacle on a ship’s bottom. In a word he could not
afford to offend her.

‘You have another trustee to consult,’ he suggested.

‘Mr. Dulcimer? Oh, I know he will consent.’

‘Because he’s a fool.’

‘No, because he’s a generous-minded man, and would like to see Sir
Kenrick’s estate set free.’

‘Humph!’ muttered the lawyer. ‘It’s a foolish business altogether. And
pray where is the money to come from?’

‘Have I not stocks or shares, or something that can be turned into
money immediately?’

‘Yes, you have a nice little fortune in consols and railway debentures.
We might scrape up about thirty thousand that way, perhaps.’

‘Then you can mortgage the Lincolnshire estate for the other twenty
thousand.’

‘Mortgage one estate--your own--to set free your husband’s! Was there
ever anything so preposterous?’

‘I take a warm interest in one estate, and no interest in the other,’
answered Beatrix. ‘What is the good of property if one cannot do what
one likes with it?’

‘My dear Miss Harefield, that is the spendthrift’s argument.’

‘I am no spendthrift, but I want to gratify myself in this one matter.
Now, dear Mr. Scratchell, pray be agreeable. Go up to London this
afternoon--see Sir Kenrick’s bankers--sell out the stocks and shares
and things--raise the twenty thousand on the Lincolnshire land--and get
everything done by this day week.’

‘Impossible, my dear young lady.’

‘Nothing is impossible to a clever family solicitor; you can do the
preliminary act by deposit of my deeds. Remember, Mr. Scratchell, if
you accomplish this thing for me, I shall always consider myself deeply
bound to you. It is a favour I shall never forget.’

‘I don’t think I shall be serving you well in this business.’

‘You will be doing what I wish. I’ll run and put on my bonnet, and
we’ll go at once to Mr. Dulcimer to get his consent. You must catch the
two o’clock train from Great Yafford. My carriage can drive you over.’

Beatrix rang and ordered the carriage to be got ready immediately,
and to follow them on to the Vicarage. Her impetuosity bewildered
Mr. Scratchell. She ran out of the room, and reappeared in a minute
or so in her bonnet and fur jacket. He felt himself revolving in a
whirlpool. To leave his home at half an hour’s notice, and go tearing
off to London! He was rather pleased at the idea of a visit to London
at a client’s expense. Travelling, hotel charges, everything would be
paid for him on the highest level. He had not seen the metropolis for
ten years. It would be an outing such as he had never had in his life
before. He began to hope that Mr. Dulcimer would consent to his ward’s
wild scheme.

They found the Vicar in his beloved library, surrounded with bulky
folios, his feet on the fender, and his mind a thousand miles away,
with the primitive Aryan races. He was tracing the footsteps of a
nomadic Indian tribe from fertile valleys eastward of the Caspian,
through Persia and Asia Minor, to the shores of the Hellespont, where
they were to crop up by and by as the Heraclidæ.

‘My dear Beatrix,’ he said, ‘the more I ruminate upon the subject, the
more I am convinced that the Mosaic account is true, and that all the
races of men have come from one common centre--in the East.’

‘Then how do you account for the woolly-headed niggers, and the
Laplanders, and the people with pink eyes?’ inquired Mr. Scratchell.

‘Climate, my dear sir, climate. A question of atmospheric influences.’

‘Dear Mr. Dulcimer, I have come to ask you a favour,’ said Beatrix.

‘It is granted beforehand, dear child,’ said the Vicar, kissing her
hand.

The Aryan races had been particularly amenable to Mr. Dulcimer
that morning, and the Vicar, always good-tempered, was absolutely
overflowing with benevolence.

‘Oh, but this is a very serious matter,’ interposed Mr. Scratchell,
anxious to do his duty. ‘You’ll have to give it your grave
consideration.’

‘I’m all attention,’ replied Mr. Dulcimer, with one eye on the
Heraclidæ.

Beatrix explained her desire to set Sir Kenrick’s estate free.

‘Well, my love, you have always intended to pay off those charges after
your marriage, have you not?’ asked the Vicar, with a business-like air.

‘Certainly.’

‘Then I cannot see that it makes any difference whether you pay them
off before or after. Scratchell can protect your future interests in
framing your marriage settlements. Be sure you see to that, Scratchell.
It is somewhat Quixotic, my dear Beatrix, to take time by the forelock
in this way, but it can do no harm, and it will afford Kenrick another
evidence of your generous character.’

Mr. Scratchell did not feel himself called upon to explain to the Vicar
all those objections which he had already expounded to Beatrix. If
these people liked to make fools of themselves, it was not for him to
hinder them. His own interest clearly lay in pleasing Miss Harefield.
To do otherwise would be to take the bread out of the mouths of his
innocent offspring. And then there was the tempting idea of a holiday
in London, and the prospect of a longish bill of costs at the end of
all. Decidedly it would be sheer madness stubbornly to oppose this
romantic young lady’s caprice.

Miss Harefield’s carriage was waiting at the Vicarage gate.

‘It’s a quarter past twelve,’ she said, looking at her watch. ‘You
have just an hour and three quarters to pack your carpet bag and drive
to the station. Pray don’t miss the two o’clock train. You know where
to find Sir Kenrick’s lawyers?’

‘Yes.’

‘Remember, Sir Kenrick is to know nothing about what we are doing. You
are to make that a condition with his bankers. He is to know nothing
till I choose to tell him. It will not be later than our wedding-day.’

‘But the settlement?’

‘I will have no settlements,’ said Beatrix, impatiently.

‘My dear Miss Harefield, you must be mad.’

‘At any rate I will have no settlement that can interfere with my
payment of those incumbrances. That is a free gift to Sir Kenrick, as
much as if I were to give you a hundred-pound note. I never want to
hear about it, or to think about it. I look upon the fifty thousand
pounds as gone--sunk at the bottom of a well.’

‘You are a most extraordinary young lady.’

‘If you waste your time in wondering at me, you will lose the London
train.’

Mr. Scratchell got into the carriage obediently, and was driven to
his own house, where his apparition in a landau drawn by a pair of
spirited horses caused wonder and consternation in all the household.
That wonder increased when Mr. Scratchell informed his family that he
was going to London on particular business for Miss Harefield, that he
wanted a carpet bag packed with three or four shirts--his best--meaning
those that were not too conspicuously frayed at the edges of the pleats
and collars--and that his wife and children were to look sharp, and
were not to bother him with questions.

Poor Mrs. Scratchell ran off in a flutter to explore her husband’s
wardrobe, in which everything was more or less the worse for wear,
except the new suit he had bought for his daughter’s wedding. The
girls and boys meanwhile surrounded their father, like the merchant’s
daughters in the story of Beauty and the Beast, each anxious that he
should bring something from London.

‘Bring me a new dress, papa. If you are going on Miss Harefield’s
business you will get lots of money,’ pleaded Clementina.

‘Do bring me a winter bonnet, papa, black velvet lined with pink,’
asked Flora.

‘You might get us a cricket bat, father,’ said Adolphus, a boy who
always spoke of himself in the plural, as if to give prominence to his
insignificance.

‘Go and cut me some sandwiches, girls, and mix me a little weak gin and
water in a bottle,’ said Mr. Scratchell. ‘It will be night before I get
to London.’

‘And then you will go to an hotel, I suppose? Won’t you be grand!’
cried Clementina, who fancied that the people who stayed at hotels were
a splendid and luxurious race apart from the mass of mankind.

‘I shall stay at Sam’s Coffee-house in the Strand,’ said Mr.
Scratchell, with a conscientious air. ‘I am not going to waste Miss
Harefield’s money on fine hotels.’

A quarter of an hour later and Mr. Scratchell had torn himself from the
bosom of his family, and was being driven at a brisk trot towards Great
Yafford.



CHAPTER VI.

THE SECOND MRS. PIPER.


BELLA was reigning at the Park in all the glory of new-fledged royalty,
her husband fascinated and subservient, her step-children all packed
off to school, the sober old Georgian barrack transformed by new
furniture and improvements of all kinds. At his wife’s urgent desire
Mr. Piper had bought the estate from Sir Philip Dulcimer, who, never
having liked it, was very glad to turn it into money, which, carefully
invested in railway shares, might bring him in five or six per cent.,
instead of the scanty two and a half which his paternal acres had
yielded. Mr. Piper was therefore now Mr. Dulcimer’s patron, as Bella
reflected with a thrill of pride. She had ascended a good many steps
above poor Mrs. Dulcimer, who had been so patronizingly good-natured to
her in the days of her poverty.

For the brief three months of his wedded life Ebenezer Piper had been
living in a state of chronic astonishment. ‘This little woman,’ as
he called his wife, absolutely took his breath away. Her coolness,
her self-assurance, her air of having been used to the possession of
unlimited wealth from her babyhood, her insolence to people of higher
rank--Lady Jane Gowry, for instance, and the Pynsents, and all the
notabilities of Little Yafford--these things filled him with admiring
surprise. She was not at all the kind of wife he had expected to find
her. He had chosen her for her softness and pliability, and he found
her hard and bright as some sparkling gem. He had expected to rule and
govern her as easily as a little child, and behold! she was ruling and
governing him. He was too much under the spell of her fascination to
complain yet awhile; but this kind of thing was not at all what he had
intended. He held himself in reserve.

Never was there such a change in any household. A butler in solemn
black, with a powdered footman for his assistant, took the place of
the decent parlourmaid, in her starched cap and apron.

The first Mrs. Piper had never consented to have indoor men-servants.

‘My dear, why don’t you keep a man?’ Mr. Piper had sometimes inquired.
‘He’d do much better than these girls of yours, who never quite know
their business.’

‘Piper,’ his wife had answered solemnly, ‘I am not going to bring you
to ruin. The girls are bad enough, what with their extravagance and
their followers, but a man would eat us out of house and home before we
knew where we were.’

‘Please yourself, my dear,’ returned Mr. Piper, ‘and you’ll please me.’

Thus it was that the Piper establishment had been conducted upon a
strictly middle-class footing.

Now everything was on an aristocratic level. The present Mrs. Piper had
a Frenchwoman for her own maid. She had a groom in top boots to sit
behind her pony carriage. When she drove in her barouche the groom sat
beside the coachman, and the two pairs of top-boots had a dazzling
effect. Mr. Piper was rather astonished at the bootmaker’s bill.

‘My pet, here’s no end of money to pay for top-boots,’ he remarked. ‘I
can’t say I see the use of ’em. Poor Moggie got on very well without
top-boots.’

‘I hope you don’t expect me to go out with a coachman in trousers,’
exclaimed Bella. ‘I might as well have a fly from the “Crown” at once.’

‘My love, I should have thought that any kind of conveyance would have
been a novelty to you, and that you’d hardly have been so particular
about the livery,’ suggested Mr. Piper.

‘I could have gone on foot all my life,’ said Bella, ‘but if I am to
have a carriage I must have it decently appointed. I don’t want to hang
between heaven and earth, like Mahomet’s coffin.’

Mahomet’s coffin extinguished Mr. Piper. It had been flung at his head
a good many times upon his venturing to object to his young wife’s
extravagance.

‘And after all I am proud to see how well she does it,’ he said to
himself, smiling an uxorious smile. ‘She’s a regular little duchess.’

And henceforward in familiar conversation Mr. Piper was apt to speak of
his wife as the ‘Duchess.’

The house--which had now become his freehold--was made so fine that Mr.
Piper hardly knew himself in it. Persian carpets of vivid and various
hues were spread on the black and white marble of the hall, brocaded
satin curtains, violet lined with amber, veiled the doors between hall
and conservatory. The drawing-room was pale blue and gold, rich in
easy chairs and tall gilded stands supporting Sèvres vases filled with
flowers.

The chief bedroom was apple-green. Everything was radiant and smiling,
dazzling with gold and colour.

‘My word! it’s like living in a bower,’ said Mr. Piper, and he hummed a
song that was then not quite forgotten--

    ‘There’s a bower of roses by Bendemeer’s stream.’

Having made her house beautiful, Mrs. Piper’s next desire naturally was
to exhibit her splendour to the envious eyes of people with inferior
houses. She therefore began to issue invitations on as large a scale
as the neighbourhood allowed. These were not all responded to as
cordially as she would have wished. Lady Jane Gowry had honoured Bella
with a condescending call, but she flatly declined Mr. and Mrs. Piper’s
invitation to dinner, on the ground that at her age she could not
afford to extend the circle of her visiting acquaintance.

‘The people I dine with are people I have known for half a century,’
she wrote to Mrs. Piper. ‘I am too old to go out often, so I only go to
very old friends. But if you and Mr. Piper like to come and take a cup
of tea with me any Tuesday evening I shall be very happy to see you.’

‘After all, Lady Jane’s chestnut wig and violet-powdered complexion are
not much loss,’ said Bella.

‘No, they ain’t, but I should like to have taken the old woman to
dinner upon my arm, before the Porkmans and the Wigzells,’ remarked Mr.
Piper. ‘I don’t believe they ever sat down to dinner with a title in
the whole course of their natural lives. Wouldn’t old Timperley have
stared! Earls’ daughters don’t come his way often, I reckon.’

Bella found that she would have to content herself in a great measure
with the society of the Timperleys, the Porkmans, the Wigzells, and
all the ramifications of those family trees. Everybody in this set was
rich, and the chief struggle of everybody’s life seemed to be to spend
more money upon display than his or her neighbour. The men boasted of
their cellars, and vied with each other in giving high prices for their
wines. A few loftier spirits bought pictures, and talked patronizingly
of their favourite Royal Academicians. They seemed to think that Frith
and Millais had been created for them, like Holbein for Henry the
Eighth, or Vandyke for Charles the First. They all lived in brand-new
houses within a few miles of Great Yafford, houses built by themselves,
all spick and span and fresh from the builder’s hand, with not so much
as an elderly apple-tree on the premises.

The county people had been condescendingly civil to the new Mrs.
Piper; but that was all. They called upon her, and contemplated her
curiously, as if she had been something to wonder at, like the only
living gorilla. She was asked to three large dinners, at which she felt
herself less than nobody--though she wore laces and jewels enough for a
dowager of ancient lineage. Bella, clever as she was, found that these
people’s thoughts were not her thoughts, nor their ways her ways--and
that all the distance between the east and west was not wider than the
gulf between her and the county families. But this was a surmountable
difficulty, she told herself. She was quick at learning languages,
and would learn the jargon of the county families as easily as she
had learned Italian. These scraps of social slang, these continual
allusions to people she did not know, and pleasures she had never
shared, could hardly be so difficult as Dante.

Mr. Piper looked on and admired, while his young wife wasted his money,
laughed at his friends, and made light of his opinions; but he was not
altogether satisfied or easy in his mind. It would not be always so,
he thought. There would come a day! The Duchess was carrying things
with a high hand. It was perhaps just as well to let her have her
fling. She was so unaccustomed to the command of money, poor little
woman, that she might be forgiven for spending it somewhat recklessly.
And, after all, this increased expenditure was pleasanter than poor
Moggie’s carefulness and perpetual lamentations about butcher’s bills
and pounds of butter. Mr. Piper liked his new butler, and was even in
his heart of hearts not displeased with the powdered footman or the
top-booted groom, though he affected to despise those follies. He felt
himself on a level with the Timperleys in their scarlet Tudor mansion,
with its jutting windows and leaden lattices, its deep porch and
iron-studded door, its gilded vane and many gables, at once intensely
old and dazzlingly new. He was living as became his wealth and social
status, living like the Porkmans and the Wigzells, and the rest of his
purse-proud acquaintance. The first Mrs. Piper had hung upon him like a
log on a hobbled donkey, and had deprived him of all freedom, with her
ever-lasting economical scruples. He had been afraid to give a dinner
party, knowing that for a month after there would be ceaseless wailings
about the expense of the feast.

‘Piper, have you any idea what grouse were when you asked Mr. Timperley
to dinner last August?’ Mrs. Piper would demand.

‘I know the brace we had were uncommonly tough, and precious badly
cooked,’ Mr. Piper would retort.

‘They were twelve shillings a brace, Piper. Here’s the poulterer’s bill
to prove it to you. I call it sinful to eat game at such a price. You
know _you_ ordered them, Piper. I should have inquired what they were
to cost--but you never do.’

‘I wanted to give Timperley a decent dinner,’ Mr. Piper would reply.
‘Hang it, Moggie! when I go to Timperley’s he feeds me on the fat of
the land. Besides, we can afford it.’

‘Nobody can afford wanton extravagance,’ Mrs. Piper would groan; and
this kind of conversation would occur daily.

Thus it was a new thing to Mr. Piper to have his domestic life
administered with liberal-handed luxury, to hear no complaints about
the misconduct of servants or the price of provisions, not to be
awakened abruptly from his after-dinner nap to be told that bread had
gone up a halfpenny, or that Scrogfield was charging thirteen-pence for
fillet of veal.

‘Upon my word, little woman,’ he exclaimed one day, delighted with his
wife’s cleverness, ‘you have made the house a paradise.’

It was still more a paradise after Christmas, for the second Mrs.
Piper, having found out that her step-daughters were sadly in want of
dancing and calisthenics, which they could not be taught properly at
home, and would be much benefited by being transplanted to Miss Turk’s
boarding school, on the outskirts of Great Yafford, the school at which
Mrs. Dulcimer and all the best people in the neighbourhood had been
educated, under the aunts and predecessors of the reigning Miss Turk.

Mr. Piper was rather disappointed, just at first, by this idea of
Bella’s. He had hoped to have his daughters always at home. They were
troublesome, rude, and noisy, but still Mr. Piper loved them, as the
gladiator loved his young barbarians.

‘I thought you would have gone on teaching the girls, little woman,’
he said, with a chap-fallen air.

‘My dear Mr. Piper, what time should I have for society, or for you, if
I did that? Quite impossible. Besides, the girls will be a great deal
better at a first-rate school. They are too high-spirited to obey me,
and now I am their mamma they would laugh at my attempts to teach them.’

Mr. Piper sighed and submitted. The boys went to school, as a matter
of course. He had no objection to that. But he had hoped that his
daughters would stay at home, and cheer his breakfast-table with their
chubby common-place faces and small second-hand jokes, and thump their
pianoforte duets of an evening for his delectation.

One evil which Mr. Piper had feared in taking Bella for his wife had
not befallen him. He had fancied that the Park would be overrun with
Scratchells, that Bella, as an affectionate member of a large family,
would want to make his house a free warren for her father and mother,
brothers and sisters.

But this apprehension of Mr. Piper’s was in no manner realized. Bella
sent her family ceremonious invitations to her second best parties,
and made a duty call upon her mother after church every Sunday, a time
at which Mrs. Scratchell was less distracted by thoughts about the
kettle or the kitchen generally than at other periods of her existence;
for the Scratchells always had a cold dinner on the Sabbath, not so
much from piety as from a conviction of Mrs. Scratchell’s that cold
meat went further than hot.

This kind of intercourse was not what the Scratchells--especially
Clementina and Flora--had expected; but they were fain to be thankful
for the favours they received, and never carried their murmurs further
than the sacred home circle, where, sitting round the winter fire, they
discoursed at their ease upon Bella’s worldliness and want of natural
feeling.

‘I was so glad when Lady Jane refused to go to her dinner party,’ said
Clementina. ‘We weren’t asked to that party. Oh no. We were not good
enough to meet Lady Jane--nor the Timperleys either. And Lady Jane
wrote and told Bella that she only went out to dine with old friends.
Wasn’t that splendid?’

‘Did Bella tell you?’ asked Mr. Scratchell.

‘Catch her! She’s too proud to tell me she’s been snubbed. Lady Jane
told Mrs. Dulcimer, and Mrs. Dulcimer told me, and I’ve no doubt
everybody in the village knows all about it by this time.’

‘No doubt,’ sighed Mrs. Scratchell, in her doleful way. ‘It was a pity
Bella put herself so forward.’



CHAPTER VII.

IN THE CHURCHYARD.


‘MY dear,’ said Mrs. Dulcimer to Beatrix quite suddenly one evening,
when she and Kenrick were sitting round the fire in the snug
dining-room, a little while before tea, ‘Cyril must certainly assist at
your marriage.’

Happily for Beatrix, the lamp had not yet been brought in. There was
only the changeful and uncertain firelight, which just at this moment
left her face in shadow.

‘Well, yes,’ returned Kenrick. ‘I think Cyril ought to be invited. If
he were not present it would look as if there were some quarrel between
us. And we are very good friends, are we not, dear?’ he added, turning
to his betrothed.

‘Yes,’ faltered Beatrix.

‘If he were not here people would talk,’ pursued Mrs. Dulcimer. ‘You
see, Bridford is not more than thirty miles distant, and, as Kenrick’s
first cousin and Mr. Dulcimer’s late curate, it would be only natural
for Cyril to assist at the ceremony.’

‘I will write and ask him to-morrow,’ said Kenrick. ‘I ought to have
thought of it before.’

‘He has been very ill,’ suggested Beatrix. ‘He may not be strong enough
to travel.’

‘Thirty miles only, my dear. A mere nothing,’ said Mrs. Dulcimer.
‘Besides, he has quite recovered--or, at any rate, he has gone back to
his duty. Clement told me so a week ago.’

‘Kenrick,’ said Beatrix a little later, when she and her lover were
walking to the Water House together through the wintry night, ‘is it
really necessary for your cousin to be at our wedding?’

‘His absence might cause a scandal, dearest. Remember, he is my nearest
relation, known to be quite near at hand, and closely associated with
this place. Do you not think that people would say unpleasant things if
we left him out?’

‘Yes,’ sighed Beatrix, ‘people have a knack of imagining the worst.’

‘I should be very sorry if any one were to say that Cyril was absent
from my wedding because he and my wife feared to meet,’ said Kenrick,
with a sudden pang of jealousy.

‘They shall have no reason for saying anything of the kind,’ Beatrix
answered, proudly. ‘Pray invite your cousin.’

‘Now you are angry.’

‘Not with you,’ she answered, quickly. ‘I am angry with the world,
life, fate.’

‘What, Beatrix, now, after you have made me so happy, when all our life
is smiling upon us--every cloud gone?’

Beatrix’s only answer was a sigh. But Kenrick was rapt in the placid
delight of his good fortune. He loved his betrothed too well to believe
it possible that she did not love him. They had lived so happily, as it
seemed to him, for nearly four months, in each other’s society. They
had never had a dispute--or even a difference of opinion. Could he
doubt that she had grown fonder of him day by day in all that time? Her
irritation to-night was natural, he argued. It arose from her scorn of
the scandals that had darkened her young life. It was hard for her to
forget these things.

Kenrick wrote next day to his cousin:

  ‘DEAR CYRIL,--The Dulcimers say you ought to assist at my wedding,
  and I think the same. Will you come?

  ‘Yours always,
    ‘KENRICK.’

The answer was very little longer:

  ‘DEAR KENRICK,--I agree with you and the Dulcimers. I will come to
  assist in the ceremony, and to wish you and your bride all blessings
  that this life and the brighter life after can yield.

  ‘My time is closely occupied here, so my visit must be of the
  shortest. I will come on Tuesday afternoon, and must return on
  Wednesday, directly after the wedding.

  ‘Yours in all affection and good faith,
                                ‘CYRIL.’


This letter made Kenrick happy. It dispelled the one uneasiness of his
mind, the lurking notion that he had helped to spoil his cousin’s
peace. Cyril was evidently reconciled to the existing state of things.
After all it was his own doing, Kenrick thought. He had no right to
complain.

Kenrick showed the letter to Beatrix, who read it slowly and
thoughtfully, and returned it to him without a word.

‘A gentleman-like letter, isn’t it?’ asked Kenrick.

‘Very,’ she answered.

Did it please her that her former lover should write in so friendly a
tone--that he should be willing to assist in the solemn act that was to
make their severance irrevocable? No. His willingness stung her to the
quick.

‘He never loved me,’ she thought. ‘It was Bella’s pretty face that he
really cared for. But he thought my fortune would help him in doing
good, and he was willing to sacrifice his own inclination in order
to be useful to others. He liked me just well enough, perhaps, to be
reconciled to the idea of marrying me and making use of my fortune. And
then when the slander arose he drew back. Honour forbade him marrying
a woman the world suspected of a hideous crime, and whom he did not
love.’

Bitter thoughts for the bride of to-morrow! Tuesday morning had come.
Mr. Scratchell had called at the Water House to tell Miss Harefield
that everything was done according to her wish. The equitable charge on
Kenrick’s estate had been paid off. Culverhouse Castle was as free as
it had been in the reign of its wealthiest possessors.

‘I am very glad it is done,’ said Beatrix, and it was the first
gladness she had shown for some days.

Madame Leonard wanted her to be interested in her trousseau, which was
being packed by that clever little Frenchwoman and the honest unhandy
English maid. Everything had been left to Madame Leonard.

Beatrix had taken no trouble about this mountain of new clothes which
people had declared she must have, as if to mark distinctly that to get
married is to turn over a new leaf in the volume of life.

‘It is all well to let me do in these things, to choose ze colours,
and to devise ze modes, but it must be that you interest yourself
a little now that it is all achieved, or I shall think you are not
content,’ remonstrated Beatrix’s companion.

‘Dear Madame Leonard, I am more than content. But I am not very fond
of fine clothes. They do not fill my mind as they seem to do with some
people.’

‘Ah, my dear,’ cried the Frenchwoman, ‘it is all very well to be high
and mighty; but I can tell you there are times in a woman’s life when
if she did not think about her dress she would have nothing to think
of. And it is better to think of a new gown than a new lover. That
amuses. And after all it is innocent. To talk of dress does no one any
harm. It is not like scandal.’

‘Dear Madame Leonard, you are wiser than I. But never mind the
trousseau just now. Please pack my plainest dresses and wraps in one
trunk. I am not going to travel with all those huge boxes, am I?’

‘No, the biggest of those are to be sent straight to India. And the
smaller are to meet you at Brindisi.’

Sir Kenrick and his bride were to spend their honeymoon in Paris and in
Italy, travelling by easy stages to Brindisi, whence they were to start
for India early in April, a fact which Mrs. Dulcimer bitterly bewailed.

‘I thought Kenrick would sell out,’ she said, ‘and that you would
divide your lives between Culverhouse Castle and the Water House.’

‘That would have been to spoil Kenrick’s career, just as it promises
distinction,’ answered Beatrix. ‘I should regard that as a kind of
assassination.’

Upon this last day of her maiden life Beatrix was strangely absent
and troubled in manner. She shrank even from Madame Leonard’s gentle
sympathy, and while the anxious little woman was busy with the trunk
and packing-cases, the owner of all that finery paced the garden walk
by the dull gray river, reckless of the biting east wind, wrapped in
gloomy thoughts. The swollen waters were rushing under the old stone
arch, the moor was darkly purple against a sunless sky. All nature
seemed in harmony with the mind of to-morrow’s bride.

The packing business kept Madame Leonard and Mary closely occupied
all day, so Beatrix was undisturbed. Sir Kenrick had gone to Great
Yafford to get the odds and ends wanted to complete his outfit. Mrs.
Dulcimer was engaged with her dress for the wedding, which was being
made at home, a process which necessitated frequent discussions and
consultations with Rebecca and the dressmaker, and which, undertaken
from motives of economy, was likely to result in an expensive failure.
Cyril was not expected till the evening. He was to arrive in time for
the Vicarage tea, and was to occupy Mrs. Dulcimer’s second best spare
bedroom.

Beatrix had promised to call at the Vicarage some time in the
afternoon. It was a visit she would gladly have avoided in her present
frame of mind, but she thought if she did not go Mrs. Dulcimer would
be likely to come to the Water House in quest of her, and that might
prove a heavier infliction. So she put on her bonnet directly after
luncheon, and walked across the windy bridge, and up the windy street
to the Vicarage. It was between two and three o’clock, a very safe hour
at which to pay her visit, since Cyril was not expected until half-past
seven. She had seen his letter to Mrs. Dulcimer, in which he named the
train that was to bring him.

Mrs. Dulcimer was in her bedroom, with Rebecca and the dressmaker.
Beatrix went up, at the housemaid’s request, and found these three
stitching and talking, as fast as tongues and needles could be driven.
The dress had been three days in hand, but just at the last it was
found necessary to put on an extra pressure to get it finished. Mrs.
Dulcimer was sewing the braid on the skirt, Rebecca was pushing strips
of whalebone into the body, which looked as stiff as a strait-waistcoat
or a suit of plate-armour; the dressmaker was cording a flounce. The
room was strewn with snippings of silk, satin, sarcenet, and lining,
as thick as leaves in Vallombrosa. Mrs. Dulcimer looked the image of
anxiety. If she had been a beauty of seventeen preparing for her first
ball, or a young actress about to make her _début_ in London, she could
not have been more deeply concerned.

‘Oh, Beatrix, I am so glad you have come,’ she exclaimed, without
stopping her needle. ‘I long to know if you like it.’

‘It’ was the dress, now in scattered portions.

Beatrix looked puzzled.

‘My love, how absent-minded you are!’ said Mrs. Dulcimer. ‘Of course
you can’t judge of the general appearance till the flounces are on, and
it all comes together. But you can tell me what you think of the colour
and the style of trimming.’

‘Oh, you mean the dress,’ answered Beatrix, with cruel indifference. ‘I
think that silver-gray is a pretty colour.’

‘It’s the new shade,’ said Mrs. Dulcimer. ‘You are sure it’s the new
shade, are you not, Miss Killick?’ she asked, turning to the dressmaker.

‘Yes, ma’am, it’s quite the new shade,’ answered Miss Killick solemnly.

Beatrix seated herself by the fire, and idly watched the blaze,
while Mrs. Dulcimer went on working. There was not much sustained
conversation. Everybody except Beatrix was thinking of the dress. Miss
Killick and Rebecca had their mouths full of pins, and dropped a few
whenever they spoke, like the girl in the fairy tale. After half an
hour or so Beatrix rose to go, but Mrs. Dulcimer entreated her to stop
till the dress was tried on.

‘It will be ready in a quarter of an hour, won’t it, Miss Killick?’ she
inquired.

They were all sitting close together now, Rebecca sewing the body to
the skirt, the dressmaker sewing on the final flounce.

‘I don’t suppose we shall be much longer, ma’am,’ said Miss Killick.

‘And at four we are going to have a refreshing cup of tea,’ said the
Vicar’s wife, ‘so you really must stop, Beatrix.’

Beatrix could not refuse so small a favour, so she went on staring at
the fire; while the three workers hastened the finish of their task,
with their heads close together, like the three fatal sisters intent
upon the web of some particular destiny which Jove had ordered them to
hurry to its conclusion.

‘There,’ said the three simultaneously, ‘it’s done.’

Five minutes later Mrs. Dulcimer was standing before her cheval
glass, buttoned into her new gown, and trying to make it look as if
it belonged to her, every fold having the stiffness, strangeness, and
awkwardness which are characteristic of a new garment.

Beatrix had to assist at the discussion as to whether the sleeve should
not be shortened a quarter of an inch, or the shoulder seam taken up
a little, or the waist tightened, or the skirt lengthened. When she
found herself free to depart the church clock was striking the quarter
after four. The sky, which had brightened a little in the afternoon,
was yellow in the west, where the sun would soon go down behind yonder
black ridge of moor. The wind had dropped, and there was a mildness in
the air like the sweet breath of early spring.

There was a circuitous way to the Water House, through meadows that lay
behind the churchyard. It was a solitary walk, that Beatrix liked at
all times, and which particularly suited her humour just now. She went
in at the wicket gate in the angle of the churchyard, and followed the
narrow path between the crowded headstones,--commonplace memorials of
harmless uneventful lives.

The pathway took her by the side of the fine old parish church, close
by the vestry, which was curiously squeezed in at an angle between
transept and chancel, under the diamond-paned casement, beside which
the white surplices were hanging, past the sunken door.

Just as she came to the door it opened, and a man came out.

She gave a little cry, and the whole scene seemed to rock before her
eyes, the old gray wall, the crumbling tablets, the leafless elm
branches, the tall black poplars, which rose like watch-towers between
her and the sky. For a moment all seemed in tumultuous motion, as if
a whirlwind had risen. Then, with a great effort, she clasped the
railings of a tomb close by, and commanded brain and body to be still.

A hand was held out to her, and she took it with a mechanical air. Her
lips moved slowly.

‘Cyril.’

Only his name, and the ice was broken. The next instant she had burst
into passionate tears, and was hiding her face against the rusty
insensible railings, anywhere, only to be out of his sight.

Her whole frame was shaken by those sobs. He could not but perceive, he
could not even pretend not to perceive, her distress.

‘Forgive me,’ he said gently. ‘I am more than sorry that I came, if my
presence grieves you. I ought not to have come, but,’ he faltered a
little here, ‘respect for you, regard for my cousin, made it impossible
for me to refuse.’

‘Respect for me!’ she exclaimed bitterly, lifting up her head, and
choking down her sobs with a desperate effort, just as she had held
herself back from unconsciousness a few moments before. ‘Respect for
me--for a woman whom you could believe a poisoner!’

‘Beatrix, I never believed----’ he began.

‘You did not believe me innocent, or you would not have forsaken me,’
she said, confronting him with eyes that kindled as she spoke.

He could not gainsay her. She had spoken truth. No, not if all the
world had been against her, not at the scaffold’s foot, could he have
abandoned her, could he honestly have believed her guiltless.

But now that he stood face to face with her, now that he saw that
noble countenance, the splendid indignation of those eyes, he was as
convinced of her innocence as if he had never doubted her. His past
doubts seemed madness, or worse than madness, diabolical possession.

‘If I had spoken with you after your father’s death,’ he said, ‘if we
had met face to face as we meet now, I should never have gone away. I
would have borne the hardest things men could say of me, that I had
married you for the sake of your fortune--that I had been unscrupulous
because you were rich. I would have laughed such poisoned arrows to
scorn for your dear sake.’

‘You left me,’ she said, growing colder as he grew warm, gaining
strength and firmness as he showed himself weak. ‘You left me. That is
all. Perhaps you really never cared for me. Indeed, I have some reason
to know there was some one else you secretly preferred.’

‘_That_ is wholly false,’ cried Cyril. ‘I never loved but one woman,
and you are she.’

‘What does it matter? Why try to explain the past? It is all over and
done with. To-morrow will make me your cousin’s wife. And you are come
to assist at my wedding. But how is it you are here so early? You are
not expected at the Vicarage till half-past seven.’

‘I came by an earlier train than I intended, and having time to spare I
went in to look at the old church,’ he answered, hurriedly.

‘And to pray for strength to bear to-morrow’s agony,’ he might have
added, for he had been on his knees before the altar at which he had so
often officiated, praying that his burden might be lightened for him.

There was a silence. Beatrix still stood with her back to the railings
that guarded the once splendid tomb of a knight banneret of Elizabeth’s
reign. She had just strength to stand calmly there, steadily
confronting her old lover, but she had no power to drag her limbs away
from the spot. She knew that if she tried to move she must fall like a
log at his feet; so she stood there, cold and white as the marble the
tomb was made of.

‘Beatrix,’ cried Cyril, losing all mastery of himself in the
bewilderment of being alone with her, close to her, as far from the
outside world in that quiet corner of the churchyard as if they two had
been lost upon the wildest bit of moorland in the country. ‘Beatrix,
why are you going to marry Kenrick? Why have you been in such haste to
prove how utterly you had forgotten me?’

‘Are you not glad my wounds have healed so quickly? You have nothing to
reproach yourself with on my account. Not even a broken heart.’

‘And you love Kenrick?’ he asked, wonderingly.

‘He has never suspected me of a hideous crime. When every one spoke
against me, he was staunch and true. I am very grateful to him.’

‘Gratitude is not love.’

‘Perhaps not, but affection and gratitude are near akin, and Kenrick is
satisfied with affection.’

‘I would not be if I were he,’ cried Cyril, beside himself with
anger and jealousy. ‘I would have nothing less than your love, your
whole-hearted passionate love. What! be content to dwell beside the
narrow sluggish river, and never sicken for the wide wild sea? I would
not be your husband on such terms. I despise my cousin that he can
marry you, knowing, as he must know, that you do not love him.’

‘You have no right to say that. Do you think yourself so much better
than he that no woman, having once loved you, can love him?’

‘I know that no true woman ever loved truly twice. There is no such
thing as second love worth having. It is the mere ghost of feeling,
like a rose cut at midsummer to be shut up in a box and brought out at
Christmas, revived by sulphur fumes--a phantom flower, with no more
bloom or freshness than if it were made of paper. Just so much for
second love.’

If she could have stirred she would have left him, but she had still
an acute sense of her helplessness. She must stay and listen, let him
say what he would. What was this conflict of feeling in her breast?
Passionate love, passionate anger, scorn that made it sweet to wound
him, fondness that made her long to fling herself upon his breast and
cry, ‘Oh, give me shelter, give me rest! Let all the world go by. You
and I can be all the world to each other.’

The yellow wintry light faded in the west, the sky grew dull and bleak,
the headstones had a grayer look.

‘Why do you concern yourself about me?’ she asked bitterly. ‘You have
come to assist at my wedding, in order that the conventionalities may
not be outraged. That is all very right. My name has been bandied about
on people’s lips quite enough already. It is just as well to avoid the
scandal of your absence. But that ends all between us. We need never
see each other’s faces after to-morrow. Why should we say hard things,
or talk about the past? Had you not better go to the Vicarage, and let
me go quietly home?’

She was much the calmer of the two, despite that inward struggle
between love and resentment. He was mad with the pent-up feeling of
all those long dreary days and nights in which he had fought with his
passion, believing he had beaten it, only to find it now starting up in
his soul, indestructible as the principle of evil.

‘Let you go! No,’ he cried, with his strong grasp upon her wrist. He
who had been weak as a child a few short weeks ago, was strong now
with all the strength of a desperate tempted soul. ‘No, I have got you,
and I will not let you go. Oh, my love, my love, my lost and only love,
I will not let you go till I have told you something of the truth.’

His arms were round her now, her head drawn close to his breast, his
eyes looking down into hers, with fond despairing love, his words
hurrying thick and fast from lips that trembled as they spoke.

‘Yes, you shall hear me, you shall know the truth--all the mad foolish
truth. When your father died, and people began to whisper, and to shrug
their shoulders, and insinuate vile slanders against you, the devil
got into my mind, as into the minds of those village gossips, and a
horrible fear took hold of me. I thought it was just possible--just
within the compass of human error--that, maddened by your father’s
tyranny and injustice, you had blackened your soul with murder--your
fair young soul, which till that hour I had deemed stainless. I saw you
at the inquest, and I thought, God help me, that I could read guilt
in your face and manner. I struggled against the conviction--I tried
to believe you innocent, and all the world mistaken--but the more I
fought against it the stronger that conviction grew. In my darkest
hours I believed you guilty--at my best moments I was doubtful. So I
swore I would pluck your image out of my heart. How could I cherish
you, sin incarnate, and be faithful to my God? What was my individual
happiness upon this little spot of earth when weighed against duty
and honour? And so I left you, love--went away to forget you--worked
as few men have worked--strove as few have striven--prayed without
ceasing--and remembered you all the more vividly for the distance that
severed us, and loved you all the more dearly because I had lost you.
And now,’ he cried, straining her against his heart in one desperate
embrace, pressing his lips to hers in one impassioned kiss, ‘now, marry
Kenrick Culverhouse if you dare, and let the memory of me be your
curse, as it is mine to remember you.’

After that kiss he loosed his hold and let her go. She tottered a
few paces from the railing that had supported her, and then her feet
seemed to get entangled in the long grass of a neglected grave, and
she fell headlong at the foot of a gloomy old yew which stretched its
crooked branches across her as she lay, like the scraggy arms of weird
women--pointing to a foredoomed victim of Fate.

Cyril ran back to the vestry to get some water, and there happily
encountered Mrs. Pomfret, the pew-opener, who had come to dust and
garnish the church for to-morrow’s ceremony.

‘Miss Harefield has fainted,’ he cried. ‘Bring some water, and see what
you can do for her, while I go and get a fly.’

He went into the street, intending to order a carriage at the inn,
but luckily found the flyman who had brought him from Great Yafford,
refreshing his horse with a nosebag and himself with a pint of ale
before a small beer-shop over against the churchyard. He told this man
to bring his fly close up to the gate for a lady.

‘I must get back to the town directly,’ said the man.

‘I only want you to drive half a mile or so, and I’ll give you a crown
for the job.’

‘Very well, sir, I’ll do it.’

Cyril went back to the spot where he had left Beatrix. She was seated
upon a low stone tomb, supported by Mrs. Pomfret, and looking dazed and
white.

‘I have got a fly to drive her home,’ he said to the pew-opener. ‘Bring
her as soon as you can. It is getting cold here.’

The wind had risen. The tall poplars were swinging against the chill
evening sky. The old yew was groaning drearily, like a giant in pain.

Cyril waited silently, and as silently accompanied Beatrix, when she
was able to move slowly towards the gate, leaning on Mrs. Pomfret as
she went. He handed her into the fly, with Mrs. Pomfret, who was to see
her safe at home, directed and paid the driver, and waited bareheaded
till the fly was out of sight. A wild white face looked out at him from
the carriage window.



CHAPTER VIII.

KENRICK’S WEDDING DAY.


THE evening after that meeting in the churchyard was a melancholy
one for Kenrick. He had counted upon spending it with Beatrix. The
settlements were to have been signed at the Water House at nine
o’clock, the Vicar, Mr. Scratchell, and Sir Kenrick meeting there for
that purpose. When nine o’clock came Sir Kenrick and the two trustees
were assembled in Miss Harefield’s drawing-room, Mr. Scratchell’s clerk
in attendance with the documents, and ready to sign as witness whenever
required; but Miss Harefield herself was not forthcoming. They waited
some time, Sir Kenrick full of uneasiness, and then Madame Leonard came
to them, looking pale and worried.

‘I am sorry to have bad news for you, Sir Kenrick,’ she said, in her
pretty French, ‘but Miss Harefield is much too ill to sign any papers,
or to see any one to-night. Is it absolutely necessary these papers
should be signed?’

‘They must be signed before she is married,’ said Mr. Scratchell, ‘but
it can be done in the vestry, five minutes before the wedding, if she
likes.’

‘But what is the matter?’ asked Sir Kenrick. ‘She was very well--or she
seemed very well--when I was with her yesterday.’

‘She is far from well to-night. She is nervous and low-spirited. It
would be cruelty to insist upon her coming downstairs to receive you.’

‘I am not going to be cruel,’ said Kenrick, moodily. ‘Perhaps it is
cruel of me to ask her to marry me to-morrow. Her low spirits to-night
seem to indicate that the prospect is repugnant to her.’

‘Don’t be savage, Kenrick,’ said the Vicar. ‘A young lady’s nerves are
a delicate piece of mechanism, and a trifle will put them out of order.
The settlements had better stand over till to-morrow morning. We can
all meet here at ten.’

‘But I want to know why she is ill, or out of spirits,’ urged Kenrick.
‘Has Mr. Namby seen her?’ he asked abruptly of Madame Leonard.

‘No. She is hardly so ill as to need medical advice. She wants repose,
to be left to herself for a little while, not to be worried about
business matters. She wished to have no marriage settlement. The whole
thing is an annoyance to her.’

‘She wished to play the fool,’ muttered Mr. Scratchell, ‘but I wasn’t
going to let her make ducks and drakes of the whole of her property.’

They all went away after a little more talk, Kenrick in a bad temper.
This was like his welcome at Southampton, when, with a heart burning
with eager love, he had found only coldness and restraint in his
betrothed. She had been kinder, and had even seemed happy in his
society of late; but there had been moments of coldness, days on which
she had been absent-minded and fitful.

‘I am a fool to love her as I do,’ he thought, as he walked silently
back to the Vicarage, while Mr. Dulcimer chewed the cud of his
afternoon readings, and debated within himself the motive of Ovid’s
exile--a favourite subject of meditation with him, as being a key-note
to the domestic history of Augustus, and a social mystery upon which a
man might muse and argue for ever without coming any nearer an absolute
conclusion.

‘I am a fool to make myself miserable about her,’ mused Kenrick. ‘Why
cannot I think of my marriage as a mere matter of convenience--the
salvation of a fine old estate--as other people do?’

The tea party at the Vicarage had not been lively. Cyril looked ill,
and had little to say for himself.

‘You are overworked at Bridford,’ said the Vicar, decisively. ‘The
place is killing you. I must have you back here, Cyril. There is quite
work enough to be done, and you may indulge in your new-fangled ways as
much as you like, for I know you are too sensible to consider outward
fripperies an essential part of an earnest service. You shall do what
you like with the choir, and have as many services at unearthly hours
of the morning as you please. But you shall not kill yourself in that
polluted town.’

‘I am more useful there than I could ever be here,’ urged Cyril.

‘But you will be no use anywhere when you are dead. A living dog, you
know, is of more value in the world than a dead lion. If you go on
doing the lion’s work yonder you will soon be in the condition of the
dead lion, and of less use than the most insignificant live dog. They
would stuff you and put you in a glass case, no doubt--or rather they
would subscribe for a handsome tablet in the parish church, setting out
your virtues--but the tablet would be useful to no one.’

‘Your argument is forcible,’ said Cyril. ‘If I find myself really
breaking down at Bridford I will ask you to let me come back to my work
here.’

‘Be sure you do.’

The cousins were not alone together during any part of the evening. It
was between ten and eleven o’clock when the Vicar and Kenrick returned
from the Water House, and they found Mrs. Dulcimer alone in the library.

‘Poor Cyril was tired after his journey,’ she said, ‘and I persuaded
him to go to bed half an hour ago. Oh, Clement, I never saw such a
change in any young man. I’m afraid he’s going into a decline.’

‘Fiddlesticks!’ exclaimed the Vicar. ‘There’s nothing consumptive
about the Culverhouses. Cyril has the shoulders of an athlete, and the
constitution of a Spartan, reared at the public tables on the leavings
of the old men. But if he goes on working night and day in the tainted
air of Bridford, he will get himself into such a feeble state that his
next attack of fever will be fatal.’

‘I am sure I had no idea he was so seriously ill last September, or
I should have gone to Bridford to see him,’ said Mrs. Dulcimer, ‘but
he tells me he had excellent nurses, two Frenchwomen, sisters of some
charitable order. You needn’t be frightened, Clement. They were not
nuns; and they made no attempt to convert him.’

‘I would not despise them if they had made the attempt,’ answered the
Vicar. ‘Every man has a right to offer his idea of salvation to his
brother. The feeling is right, though the theology may be wrong.’

Kenrick was up soon after seven o’clock next morning, a wintry gray
morning, without a ray of sunshine to gild his hopes. He was nearly
dressed when he was startled by the sharp voice of Rebecca.

‘A letter, sir, brought by hand from the Water House. I’ve put it under
the door.’

Kenrick seized the letter, with a vague foreboding of evil. It was in
Beatrix Harefield’s hand.


  ‘Forgive me, Kenrick, forgive me, if you can, for what I am going to
  do. Oh, forgive me, my poor friend, pray forgive me for having played
  fast and loose with you. I am going away to some corner of the world,
  where neither you nor any one I have ever known can follow me or hear
  of me. I am fleeing from a marriage which could only result in misery
  to both you and me. You love me too well, you are too generous-minded
  to be satisfied with less than my true love; and that I cannot give
  you. I have prayed God to turn my heart towards you, to let me love
  you, but I cannot. There is always another whose image comes between
  me and my thoughts of you. I have tried to forget him--to thrust him
  out of my heart. I have tried to be angry with him for his doubt of
  me, but once having given him my heart I could not take it back again.

  ‘For the last few days my mind has been full of hesitation and
  perplexity. I knew that if I married you I should be doing a wicked
  thing--I should stand before God’s altar with a lie upon my lips. I
  knew that if I broke my promise I should give you pain. I have argued
  the question with myself a hundred times, but could come to no fixed
  conclusion. I have been swayed to and fro like a reed in the wind.
  I wanted to do right, to act generously and justly to you who have
  been so full of trustfulness and generosity for me. This afternoon
  I saw your cousin. The meeting was neither his seeking nor mine,
  Kenrick. Be sure of that. An accident brought us face to face in
  the churchyard. Oh, then I knew, in a moment, that I must not marry
  you--that it would be better to break a hundred promises than to be
  your wife. Before he had spoken a word, while he stood looking at me
  in silence, I knew that I had never ceased to love him, that, let
  him scorn me as he might, I must go on loving him to the end.

  ‘So there was no alternative but this which I am taking, and this
  letter is my last farewell to you and all who have ever known me in
  England.

  ‘Your estate is free from the mortgage that encumbered it. In the
  beginning of my trouble of mind--when I found myself hesitating as to
  what course I ought to take--I resolved that the home you love should
  be set free. It is done. I beg you to take this as a gift from one
  who has learned to love you very truly as a friend and brother, but
  who could never have loved you with the love you would have claimed
  from a wife.

    ‘Yours affectionately and regretfully,
                            ‘BEATRIX HAREFIELD.
  ‘_The Water House, Tuesday, Eleven o’clock._’


‘This is Cyril’s doing,’ cried Kenrick, beside himself with rage. ‘They
have plotted this between them. And she throws her money in my face.
She thinks that I am so tame a hound as to take the wealth, for which
the world would say I chose her, and let her go--the money without the
wife. They have planned it between them. It is like Cyril. “Kenrick
only cares about Culverhouse Castle,” he told her. “Set the estate
free, and he will forgive you all the rest.” But I will not forgive
either of them. I will follow both with my undying hatred. I will fling
back her pitiful gift into her false face. She let me think I had won
her love, while she meant to buy my forgiveness with her money.’

And then he flung himself face downward on the floor, and gave vent
to his passion in angry tears. He had been happier lying on the
blood-soaked ground under the walls of Pegu, with the brown Burmese
soldiers trampling upon him, and a very acute consciousness of a bullet
in his shoulder. Never had he been so wretched as at this moment, never
so angry with fate or his fellow-men.

He had to conquer his passion presently, and go calmly downstairs to
tell Mr. and Mrs. Dulcimer that there was to be no wedding.



CHAPTER IX.

JILTED.


‘NO wedding!’ screamed Mrs. Dulcimer, putting down the old silver
teapot and staring aghast into space.

‘No wedding?’ repeated the Vicar.

‘No,’ answered Kenrick, hoarsely, and with a hardness of manner which
he maintained all through that painful day. ‘Beatrix has been fooling
me all this time. She has written to tell me that she never loved
me--and--at the last--it came into her head that she ought not to marry
me without loving me. An afterthought. And she flings me fifty thousand
pounds as a peace-offering. As you throw an importunate dog a biscuit,
when you don’t want him to follow you.’

‘It is most extraordinary,’ exclaimed the Vicar. ‘She was in such a
hurry to pay off those mortgages before her marriage. I thought she
was romantically in love with you.’

‘You don’t understand,’ said Kenrick. ‘That was how she meant to make
amends to me. She valued my love, my manhood, my self-respect at fifty
thousand pounds. I am paid in full, she thinks, and I have no right to
complain.’

‘Women are an inscrutable species,’ said the Vicar.

‘I am a most unlucky woman,’ wailed Mrs. Dulcimer. ‘I took such a pride
in bringing Kenrick and Beatrix together--such an excellent match--so
well suited to each other--a large fortune--a fine position in the
county--title--everything.’

‘My love, it will not mend the matter for you to get hysterical,’
remonstrated the Vicar. ‘Where are you going, Kenrick?’ he asked, as
Kenrick moved towards the door.

‘To the Water House. Where is Cyril?’

‘He got an early cup of tea from Rebecca, and went round to see some of
his old parishioners. He promised to be at the church before eleven.’

‘A superfluous civility,’ said Kenrick. ‘No doubt he knew there would
be no wedding.’

‘Kenrick,’ remonstrated Mrs. Dulcimer, but Kenrick was gone.

He walked down to the Water House faster than he had ever walked there
in his life, though Love had lent him Mercury’s winged sandals. To-day
rage and baffled love, and gnawing jealousy, drove him as fast as if
they had been palpable scourges wielded by the Furies.

Everything looked very quiet at the old house by the river. The butler
came to the door. Miss Harefield had gone away with Madame Leonard at
six o’clock that morning. The carriage had taken them to the railway
station at Great Yafford. No one had gone with them but the coachman,
and he had not left his box. The porters had carried the luggage into
the station. Yes, there was a good deal of luggage. The big cases were
to be sent to a furniture warehouse in London.

The house was to remain in the care of the butler, and Mrs. Peters, the
housekeeper. The servants were to be on board wages. Mr. Scratchell was
to arrange everything.

Mr. Scratchell came in while Sir Kenrick was questioning the butler.
He too had received a letter from Beatrix, which he allowed Kenrick to
read.


  ‘DEAR MR. SCRATCHELL,--I am going abroad, most likely for a long
  time. Please receive the rents, as usual, attend to all repairs, and
  pay in all moneys to the bank, as heretofore. I shall be obliged if
  you will give the servants whatever allowance is liberal and proper
  for board wages. This had better be paid monthly, in advance. Please
  see that the house and grounds are kept in good order, and that all
  my subscriptions to local and other charities are regularly paid.

  ‘Mr. Dulcimer is to have any money he may require for his poor.’

  ‘Yours very truly,
    ‘BEATRIX HAREFIELD.’

‘Business-like,’ said Mr. Scratchell, ‘but I’m afraid the poor young
woman is not quite right in her mind. Do you know what she has done
about the mortgages on your property?’

‘Yes,’ answered Kenrick. ‘You don’t suppose I am going to keep the
money?’

‘I don’t suppose you’d be so demented as to give it back,’ said Mr.
Scratchell. ‘You’d better keep it. If she doesn’t make ducks and drakes
of it one way, she will another. What was your quarrel about?’

‘Quarrel,’ echoed Kenrick, and then it occurred to him that it was just
as well to let this vulgarian Scratchell believe that he and Beatrix
had quarrelled.

How could a piece of such common clay as Mr. Scratchell comprehend the
finer feelings of human porcelain? He only thought it cracked.

There was nothing more to be discovered at the Water House. Beatrix
and her companion had gone. That was all. Miss Harefield had made her
arrangements with coolness and promptitude. It might be just possible
to follow her. But to what end?

Kenrick went in quest of Cyril. After a good deal of inquiry he found
him with a bedridden old woman, listening to a doleful story of the
winter’s sufferings.

‘I want to talk to you, Cyril,’ said Kenrick, and, with a gentle
apology, Cyril cut short the dame’s rambling account of her bodily ills.

‘What is the matter, Ken?’ asked Cyril, when they were outside in the
windy road. ‘You look as pale as a ghost.’

‘There is to be no marriage. Beatrix has gone away--and you know
all about it. You planned it together yesterday when you met in the
churchyard.’

‘Upon my honour, Kenrick, I know nothing,’ answered the other, solemnly.

‘Why should I believe you? She, whom I thought the noblest of women,
has fooled and jilted me. In whose honour am I to believe after that?’

‘Kenrick, I am deeply sorry for you.’

‘Pray spare me that. Your pity would be the last drop of gall in my
cup. Will you swear to me that you do not know where she is gone--that
you had nothing to do with her going?’

‘Directly, nothing,’ answered Cyril, very pale.

His conscience smote him for that scene of yesterday. He had given
the reins to passion, he, a man who had hitherto shaped his life upon
principle. He felt himself guilty.

‘Directly, no. You are equivocating with me, as only your virtuous man
can equivocate. You are Pharisees, every one of you, straining at
gnats and swallowing camels. What about your indirect influence? It was
that which broke off my marriage.’

‘I met your betrothed wife yesterday, by accident. I was taken off
my guard. In the bewilderment of that moment I may have said foolish
things--’

‘Yes, you urged her to break off her marriage. You left her a year ago,
of your own accord. And now, finding that I had won her, it came into
your head to try and take her away from me. A manly course throughout.’

‘Kenrick, when I went away conscience was my dictator. Yesterday I let
passion master me. I confess it with deepest humiliation. But trust me,
if Beatrix did not love you, it is better--infinitely better--that you
and she should be parted for ever. No happiness would have come out of
your union----’

‘Preach your sermons to more patient listeners,’ cried Kenrick,
savagely. ‘I will have none of them.’

And so the cousins parted. Kenrick went to Great Yafford to make
inquiries at the station, but at that busy place there had been
nobody with leisure enough to particularize two ladies--one tall
and the other short--going away by the seven o’clock train. Neither
Miss Harefield’s carriage nor Miss Harefield’s person had made any
impression upon the mind of the porter who had carried her luggage into
the station.

There was a train that started for London at seven, there was another
that went northward at a quarter past. There was the Liverpool train at
7.30. She might have travelled by any one of these.

Kenrick went back to the Vicarage in a savage humour. No good could
have come from the pursuit of his lost bride, but it was hard not to
know where she had gone. Fortunately Cyril passed him unawares on the
road between the town and the village, so those two did not meet again.

‘I shall go to London to-morrow,’ Kenrick told the Dulcimers that
evening, ‘and present myself at the War Office next day.’

‘You want to go back to India directly?’ asked the Vicar.

‘Yes, I shall cut short my leave by a month or six weeks.’

‘Dear Kenrick, why not stop with us till you recover your spirits after
this cruel blow?’ urged Mrs. Dulcimer.

‘My kindest of friends, I could never recover my spirits at Little
Yafford. Forgive me for saying so, but the place has become hateful to
me. Even your kindness could not make it endurable.’

‘Kenrick is right,’ said the Vicar. ‘He has been very badly treated,
and his profession will be his best consolation.’

‘There is one thing that must be settled before I go back to India,’
said Kenrick. ‘I must give--Miss Harefield--back her money. I cannot
carry that burden away with me. You are her guardian and one of her
trustees, Vicar. You and Mr. Scratchell must manage the business
between you. I can only raise the money by a new mortgage. Would it not
be best for Miss Harefield’s trustees to take a mortgage on my estate
for the amount they have advanced? I paid the other people only four
per cent. I might pay her five.’

‘I do not think she will take a mortgage. I do not believe she will
take her money back in any form whatsoever,’ said the Vicar. ‘She has
written me a letter, which I shall show you when you are calmer and
more disposed to forgiveness. It is a very touching letter, full of
truth and generous feeling. She has treated you very badly--she has
been foolish, mistaken; but she is a noble girl, and she is much to be
pitied. You will be ungenerous if you insist on giving her back the
money. She has more than enough without it.’

‘I shall be a mean hound if I keep it,’ said Kenrick.



CHAPTER X.

MRS. PIPER’S DAY.


‘I AM not surprised,’ said Miss Coyle, when she was informed that
Beatrix Harefield had gone away, and there was to be no wedding. ‘That
unhappy young woman’s guilty conscience has driven her away. A just
punishment for Sir Kenrick. Of course he was going to marry her for her
money. He knows, as well as I do, that she poisoned her father.’

The wedding was to have been strictly private--altogether different
from the imposing ceremonial that had made Bella Scratchell the second
Mrs. Piper. There were no guests to be put off at the last moment;
there was no confusion anywhere; but there was a great deal of talk in
Little Yafford when it became generally known, through Mrs. Pomfret,
the pew-opener, that Sir Kenrick’s marriage was not to be.

There were various theories as to Beatrix Harefield’s motive for her
extraordinary conduct. ‘Guilty conscience,’ said Miss Coyle and her
party. ‘A prior attachment,’ said the more charitably inclined. ‘The
girl must be wrong in her head,’ said the matter-of-fact matrons and
middle-aged husbands, who could not understand the fits and starts of
passion.

Perhaps in all the neighbourhood there was only one person, except
the rival cousins themselves, who guessed the real cause of Miss
Harefield’s flight. That person was Mrs. Piper. She knew how deeply
Beatrix had loved Cyril, and it hardly surprised her that, at the last
moment, she should refuse to consummate a loveless bond.

‘It might have been happier for me if I had run away,’ thought Bella,
looking round her apple-green dressing-room, with all the gewgaws Mr.
Piper’s generosity had heaped upon her, ‘yet any other life than this
would be almost unbearable now.’

Time went on. Kenrick returned to India, leaving his honour in Mr.
Dulcimer’s hands. Miss Harefield’s money was to be paid back, and
without loss of time. Kenrick’s lawyers and Mr. Dulcimer were to
arrange the matter between them somehow; Kenrick did not care how; but
the thing must be done. On that point Sir Kenrick was firmly resolved.

The lawyers were as slow as most of their craft, and saw no reason
why such a business as this should be precipitated. Mr. Dulcimer was
the last man to hasten the movements of the lawyers. Happy in his
world of shadows--now digging out the forgotten temples of Nineveh and
Babylon--anon wandering with the lost tribes of Israel--he was apt to
let the actual business of life slip out of his mind altogether. Mrs.
Dulcimer had to remind him of everything, to tell him what bills he
ought to pay, what people he ought to visit--all the details of his
quiet life. Now Mrs. Dulcimer was not disposed to remind her husband of
Kenrick’s desire to refund Miss Harefield’s fifty thousand pounds. She
hoped that Kenrick might, by fair means or foul, be made to keep the
money. He had been cruelly wronged. The least atonement that could be
made to him was the liberation of his estate from its old burdens. Thus
argued Mrs. Dulcimer, while Kenrick was busy fighting the Burmese.

Before the bleak winds of March had ceased to blow their keenest
across the wide waste of withered heather and sandy barrenness, before
the last of the daffodils had faded in Mrs. Pomfret’s neat garden,
Cyril Culverhouse had come back to his old place at Little Yafford.
He had done good work at Bridford, but the work had been too much for
him. He could not be content to do half the work wanted, and leave
the rest undone. Another man in his position would have been easy
in his conscience after doing a quarter of the good that Cyril had
done in that crowded lazar-house; but the knowledge of unconquerable
evils, of cures only half wrought, weighed upon Cyril’s spirits like
an ever-present nightmare. He could not sleep for the thought of the
evils round about him--the loathsome miseries--the rampant vices--the
selfishness of the rich--the godlessness of the poor. His health broke
down under the burden. This time it was no fierce attack of fever--no
brain sickness and delirium,--but his strength went down like the sand
in a glass when the hour is nearly done--appetite failed--the power of
sleep left him, and Dr. Bolling told him, in plainest terms, that if he
wished to go on living he must leave Bridford.

Brought face to face with this solemn question of life or death, Cyril
discovered that existence was not altogether worthless. He, who a
little time ago had courted death, had now no desire to die. There
were mysteries that he wanted to solve in this life, before he went to
investigate the awful mystery beyond it. He wanted to stand face to
face with Beatrix Harefield once more. He wanted to know whether it was
indeed for love of him she had at the last moment jilted his cousin.
He wanted to find some stronger proof of her innocence than the sudden
conviction that had flashed into his mind when he looked into her
steadfast eyes, and saw scorn of his weak doubts, and fondest love for
himself, at war in her soul. While he lived there was always a chance,
however remote, of his discovering the truth. While he lived there was
always the possibility that Beatrix and he might meet. She was not his
cousin’s wife. Fate had spared him that last bitterness. He could think
of her without sin.

So he came back to Little Yafford, to his old rooms, his old friends,
his old ways, and the old quietly busy life which seemed so easy after
his vain endeavour to cleanse that Augean stable, an overcrowded
manufacturing town.

‘I never feel as if I had too much work to do, so long as it is work
that can be done,’ he said to the gentle Vicar. ‘To grapple with
impossibilities and feel one’s self being daily worsted! That is the
trial.’

There were two of his parishioners at Bridford whom Cyril could not be
content to leave behind him. Those were Emmanuel Joyce and his mother.
Emmanuel’s gratitude for the man who had risked his life to save him
had done what argument and teaching might never have accomplished.
Emmanuel was now a conscientious conforming Christian. He believed,
as the leper believed, because he had been saved. The conduct of one
Christian man opened his heart to receive the sublime mystery of a
Redeemer who was more than man. He went to the altar without one
lurking doubt. He made himself like a little child, and confessed that
all the learning he had been so proud of was nothing, when weighed
against his friend and teacher’s one act of Christian self-abnegation.

‘What was I that you should sacrifice yourself for me?’ he said. ‘When
man can be so generous I will no longer refuse to believe that God can
suffer and die for sinners.’

‘I would have you believe upon better grounds than any friendly act of
mine,’ said Cyril.

‘I have been face to face with death,’ answered Joyce. ‘Men learn
strange things on their deathbeds. A death-bed repentance may be a poor
thing, but a death-bed revelation may accomplish what a life of study
could not do.’

And then Emmanuel, being by nature an enthusiast, talked wildly of the
visions of his bed of pain--the cloud-curtain that had been lifted from
the invisible world--the wonders that he had seen and heard in that
mysterious border-land between life and death.

Cyril asked no more than a simple unquestioning belief.

It was with a thrill of joy that he saw Emmanuel kneeling before
the altar rails, meekly lifting up his hands to receive the sacred
symbols of Divine love. Could he leave his convert behind him in the
fever-tainted alley, where the sweet summertide was ever the harbinger
of death? No. He made up his mind that Emmanuel and his mother should
go with him.

‘I am doubtful if you would be able to live at Little Yafford by
shoe-mending,’ he said, when he discussed the question with Joyce
and the widow, ‘but, if I could get the schoolmaster a better berth
somewhere else, I am sure you could manage the school, with a little
help from me at the beginning.’

‘Oh, sir, it would be the very thing for him,’ cried Mrs. Joyce. ‘His
father began life as a parish schoolmaster, and he gave Emmanuel a good
plain education. He was very severe with the poor lad, but that was
partly in his anxiety to make him a thorough scholar. I don’t think
there’s any one could beat my boy in arithmetic or Bible history. I’m
sure he could teach. You’d like to teach, wouldn’t you, Emmanuel?’

‘John Milton was a schoolmaster,’ said Joyce, with his face all aglow.
‘I should like it of all things, if you think I could do it, Mr.
Culverhouse.’

‘As for book learning,’ cried the widow, ‘I don’t think there’s one in
a thousand--no, not even among the gentlefolks--has read as much as my
Emmanuel.’

‘A wide range of reading would hardly be required, though every teacher
must be the better for it,’ said Cyril, smiling. ‘But I know that
Emmanuel has been well grounded in a plain English education, and that
he now thinks rightly upon religious questions, so I fancy he might
teach well in our parish school. Of course, the first thing to be
done is to get a better place for the present man, who is a very good
master.’

Cyril did not add, as he might have done, that the present
schoolmaster’s merits were chiefly his work. He had taken infinite
pains to teach the teacher as well as the pupils.

Before Cyril had been at Little Yafford a month he contrived to get the
schoolmaster transferred to a more profitable situation forty miles
away, and to get Emmanuel Joyce accepted as master upon probation.
He was to do the work for a quarter without remuneration; and if he
succeeded in pleasing the Vicar and churchwardens, was to be engaged at
the end of that time at the handsome stipend of five-and-thirty pounds
a year, with a cottage adjoining the school, and an allowance of coals
and candles. This, in Yorkshire twenty years ago was to be passing
rich.

It is hardly possible to conceive greater happiness than that of Mrs.
Joyce and her son when they came to take possession of their cottage
at Little Yafford. The rustic beauty of the village, the grandeur of
the moor, the blue river winding capriciously through the valley, the
dark pine branches gently swaying in the April breeze, the gardens
bright with spring flowers, the silvery blackthorn in the hedges, the
primroses and dog-violets, the scattered houses, all more or less
picturesque of aspect, the sloping meadows, and orchards full of pear
blossom--all these things, to people who had lived in one of the most
loathsome corners of a manufacturing town, were as a revelation of an
earthly paradise. Could heaven itself be sweeter or fairer? Could death
ever enter here? Mrs. Joyce wondered. Was there any coffin-maker in
that peaceful village? The thread of life, spun gently in this fair
tranquillity, must surely run on for ever. What should snap it?

The four-roomed cottage seemed to the Joyces the most luxurious
mansion. Four rooms! What could they two possibly do with such a
world of space? There would be room enough for ghosts in the unused
chambers. And then Mrs. Joyce reminded her son how, before illness
crippled his father, and brought poverty and trouble, they had lived in
a four-roomed house just like this, with a scullery at the back of the
kitchen, which might be accounted a fifth room, and a little yard where
they were able to grow scarlet runners.

‘It is like old times, Emmanuel, when your father was earning his
five-and-thirty shillings a week,’ said Mrs. Joyce, ‘and my house was
the neatest and brightest in Saville’s Buildings.’

‘Wherever you lived, mother, the place would be neat and bright,’ said
her son, admiringly.

They went out to explore the garden, enraptured with everything. It
was quite an extensive garden, nearly a quarter of an acre. There were
potatoes, and apple trees, and gooseberry and currant bushes, and roses
in abundance. And there was room for scarlet runners, as Mrs. Joyce
exclaimed delightedly.

The scarlet runner is the chief of vegetables in the estimation of the
poor. That homely, useful bean will grow anywhere, and is a thing of
beauty wherever it grows.

‘We might even try some vegetable marrows, Emmanuel,’ said the widow.
‘They would look so pretty behind the rose bushes in summer-time.’

Emmanuel began his work next day, after a long conversation with Mr.
Culverhouse overnight. Cyril was going to allow him ten shillings a
week during his time of probation. It was very little, perhaps, but the
frugal widow could manage to make it serve, and it was a great deal for
Cyril to give out of his small means.

Before a week was ended everybody concerned was agreed that Emmanuel
would do. The children liked their new master. There was something in
his quiet manner which won both liking and respect. It was thought
that he knew a great deal. He had taken the trouble to explain things
to his pupils. He had enlarged upon the meagre history of England, in
which the kings and heroes, politicians and Churchmen, were the merest
shadows, and had told the boys of the greatness and power that had been
in their native land since Alfred the Saxon, warrior and poet, kindled
the light of letters amongst a barbarous people. The more intelligent
of the boys were delighted with him--even the stupid ones brightened
under his tuition. He was so keenly interested in his work. The pupils
could hardly find their lessons a burden, when the master took so much
pleasure in them.

On Sunday he sat at the end of the church, with his pupils ranged
before him on a row of benches beside the organ.

He kept them in wonderful order, and the occasional dropping of marbles
and attacks of spasmodic coughing which had been apt to disturb the
congregation under the rule of Emmanuel’s predecessor were no longer
heard.

Cyril was delighted at the success of his scheme. The Vicar and
churchwardens did not wait for the three months of probation to come
to an end, before they expressed their satisfaction. At midsummer,
Emmanuel Joyce was formally appointed schoolmaster, and his salary
began from that time. The school-house was beautifully kept by Mrs.
Joyce; the cottage and garden were a picture of neatness, unsurpassed
by any house or garden in Little Yafford. Cyril had the deep delight of
knowing that he had made two people happy.

His own life went on very quietly all this time. He was certainly
happier at Little Yafford than he ever could have been at Bridford.
He had plenty to do, and his work was successful. He saw the church
crowded on a Sunday evening, and knew that people came from far and
wide to hear him preach. Had he been vain of his power as a preacher
his vanity might have been fully satisfied. The week-day services
were well attended. The people led better lives than when he had
first come among them. There was less drunkenness, there were fewer
brawls. Over the young people his influence was powerful. He gave a
more intellectual tone to their lives. He had opened a reading-room,
which was now a self-supporting and self-governing institution, but its
committee always looked to him for advice in the choice of books.

He saw a good deal of the Dulcimers, in his occasional leisure hours,
and with the kind and genial Vicar he was always happy. The keenest
pang that he felt in all his sad memories of the past was when he
passed the Water House, and saw its darkened windows, and remembered
that she who should have reigned there as a centre of light and
happiness was a wanderer none knew where, her fair fame clouded, her
youth blighted.

He called once in a way on Mrs. Piper of the Park; not often, for the
thought of Bella had never been entirely agreeable to him after that
conversation with Mrs. Dulcimer, in which he had, in a manner, found
himself accused of having misled the young lady--or at any rate the
young lady’s friends--as to his intentions. Now that she was married he
had certainly no need to be uneasy on that score; but the recollection
was an uncomfortable one, and he had a feeling about Mrs. Piper much
too near dislike to be altogether Christian.

Bella, in all the fulness of her new powers, was not a person to be
easily kept at a distance. She wanted captives at her chariot wheels,
to make her triumph complete, and she was particularly anxious that
Cyril Culverhouse--who, according to her own idea, had scorned her
in her poverty--should see and wonder at her splendour and elegance.
She pestered him with invitations, all of which he found it impossible
to decline without marked discourtesy, more especially as Mr. and
Mrs. Piper were regular worshippers at the parish church, and liberal
subscribers to all local charities.

Bella had taken it into her head to receive her friends upon one
particular day of the week. It was quite a new thing in Little
Yafford--except for such a person as Lady Jane Gowry, who was a
privileged eccentric--and had rather a foreign flavour. At the
beginning of this institution visitors were slow to arrive, and Bella
found it rather a dull business to sit waiting for them, looking her
loveliest, in a dress just arrived from Paris, but with nobody but Mr.
Piper to admire her.

‘You look uncommon pretty, my dear,’ said that devoted husband, walking
up and down his blue and gold drawing-room, as restlessly as a polar
bear in his cage, ‘but I can’t say that I hold with this new style of
visiting. If you was to ask people to a jolly good dinner they’d be
sure to come; if you asked them to a friendly tea, I dare say they’d
come, though they might think it low. But you send ’em your pasteboard
with “Mrs. Piper, Thursdays, At home from four to six,” and I’ll lay
they don’t know what to make of it.’

‘It’s quite the right thing, Mr. Piper. In London everybody of any
importance does it. And here, where the distances people have to come
are so much longer, it is still more convenient.’

‘Then I suppose you’re not of any importance, my dear,’ said the
provoking Mr. Piper, ‘for you see nobody comes.’

‘How can you say so, Mr. Piper,’ cried Bella, reddening with anger at
this obnoxious truth. ‘Miss Coyle came last Thursday.’

‘Yes, and the Thursday before that, and the Thursday before that again.
That old lady will come anywhere for the sake of a dish of scandal and
a cup of strong tea.’

‘And Mrs. Dulcimer comes.’

‘Yes, I believe she has been once,’ said Mr. Piper, and then, anxious
to chase the thunder-cloud from his young wife’s stormy brow, he added
hastily, ‘Never mind, my lass. You’ll have a visitor this afternoon. I
met Chumney this morning when I was in Great Yafford, and I asked him
to drop in at five and pay his respects to you, and eat his chop with
me at seven.’

‘What!’ cried Bella, ‘you have invited that vulgarian, your old
cashier! Mr. Piper, I am ashamed of you. You have not a particle of
self-respect.’

‘Why, what’s amiss with Chumney? The most faithful servant a man ever
had. Why should I cast him off because I’ve got a pretty young wife?
The first Mrs. P. never made any objection to Chumney. She never said a
word about the difference in the butcher’s bill, let me bring him home
as often as I might. Why should you object to him?’

‘I don’t object to him, as a faithful servant, but let him be kept in a
servant’s place. Why bring him home here--a man who eats peas with his
knife, and bites his bread, and is always talking of the time when you
were in trade. Can’t you see that I am trying to raise the tone of your
surroundings----’

‘The tone be blowed,’ muttered Mr. Piper.

‘That I want to get you recognised by the county people; that I want
to force you into the best society in the neighbourhood. You must know
this, and yet you bring Chumney to spoil everything. He was at our last
dinner party.’

‘Well, he did no harm,’ growled Mr. Piper, waxing savage.

‘He was an eyesore. He was a blot upon the whole thing. Do you think I
shall ever rise above your Wigzells and your Porkmans, while you weigh
me down with Mr. Chumney?’

‘My Wigzells and my Porkmans are a deal pleasanter than the stuck-up
lot _you’ve_ contrived to bring about me,’ retorted Mr. Piper, ‘A
pack of shabby-genteel lawyers and parsons and half-pay captains,
that eat up my substance and stare me out of countenance, as if I
was waxwork--and never offer me bite nor sup in return. I despise
such half-and-half gentry. I’d as soon put electro-plated goods on my
table as set them down to it. And as for the county,’ cried Mr. Piper,
snapping his fingers derisively, ‘the county won’t have cut, shuffle,
or deal with us, and wouldn’t, no, not if you were to put your eyes out
upon sticks.’

This horrible expression, which Mr. Piper sometimes used when he was in
a passion, overcame Bella. She began to cry, and murmured meekly that
she wouldn’t so much mind Mr. Chumney coming if it was not her ‘day.’

‘Your day!’ cried Mr. Piper, growing bold in his scorn. ‘Your day,
be hanged! Nobody comes on your day. You might as well call it Queen
Elizabeth’s day, or Nebuchadnezzar’s day. You’ve laid yourself out
to know a parcel of arrogant people that don’t want to know you, and
you’ve turned up your nose at people that give three hundred guineas
for a pair of horses, and live in handsome houses of their own
building, and brag about the money they have earned with their own
industry, instead of bragging about their great-grandfathers. You want
to keep company with the Tudors and the Plantagenets. Nothing less than
that will satisfy you. But they won’t have you, and if you want any one
to admire your fine clothes and eat your fine dinners you’d better be
content with my friends.’

Mr. Chumney’s arrival brought the conversation to an abrupt finish.
He was a long lean man, with iron-gray hair and whiskers, thick black
eyebrows, and an intelligent expression which atoned in some measure
for his gaunt ugliness.

He loved Ebenezer Piper with the affection of a faithful dog that has
never known but one master, and with regard to all the rest of the
world he was strictly misanthropic. He was not a scandalmonger like
Miss Coyle. He generally thought the worst of people, but he always
kept his thoughts to himself. He believed every business man, except
Mr. Piper, to be an innate rogue, and on the verge of insolvency, but
he gave no expression to his doubts. He was not a lively companion, so
far as conversation goes, but he was an accomplished listener; he had
the art of looking ineffably wise, and of appearing to be able to give
an immense deal of information, if he had not preferred to withhold it.
He was like the great Lord Thurlow. Nobody ever could have been so wise
as Samuel Chumney looked.

From the hour she became acquainted with Mr. Chumney Bella had hated
him. She did not know why. It might have been his eyebrows, it might
have been his vulgarity. For some undiscovered reason he was more
obnoxious to her than any creature she had ever met. She thought him
clever, and she had a lurking idea that he was able to read her as
easily as he could read a book. She fancied that he knew everything
that was passing in her mind--that he was perfectly familiar with her
motive for marrying his old employer--that he had weighed and measured
her till he was master of her most secret thoughts. She lectured her
husband for his cultivation of Chumney; but she was wonderfully polite
to Mr. Chumney himself. She feared him too much to be discourteous to
him.



CHAPTER XI.

CAPTAIN STANDISH.


WHETHER it was that Mr. Piper’s plain speaking had its effect, or that
Bella grew wise by experience, is an open question; but soon after the
particular Thursday upon which Mr. Chumney appeared as an unwelcome
guest, the second Mrs. Piper changed her tactics altogether. She left
off besieging the county people in their impregnable fortresses,
surrounded with the moat of exclusiveness, and shut in with the
portcullis of pride. She dropped a good many of those ultra-genteel
professional people against whose impertinence Mr. Piper had protested,
and she opened her house freely to her husband’s commercial allies of
the past--the Wigzells, the Porkmans, the Timperleys, and a good many
more of the same class.

When she had made these people understand that her Thursday afternoon
reception meant something lively and sociable she was no longer
without visitors. The midsummer weather suggested a tent on the lawn,
where tea and claret cup, and strawberries and cream, might be taken
amidst the perfume of roses and warbling of blackbirds. Archery was
introduced on the long stretch of grass on the other side of the
ha-ha. Mr. Piper insisted on having American bowls for himself and his
particular friends, in an old-fashioned garden on one side of the big
square mansion, comfortably shut in by a dense holly hedge, a retreat
where a man might smoke a clay pipe and be vulgar at his ease.

The Wigzells and their compeers all came in handsome carriages, and, if
the men were somewhat given to eccentricity in their hats and collars,
the women all dressed in the latest fashion. But their highest claim
to Bella’s favour was the fact that they brought very pleasant people
in their train; officers in the regiment stationed at Great Yafford,
clever young barristers, lawyers of higher standing than the starched
solicitors who had retired to cultivate their roses and air their
self-importance in the pastoral seclusion of Little Yafford. Bella
perceived with delight that even these manufacturing people could be
useful to her.

By midsummer, Mrs. Piper’s Thursday afternoons, which had at first
been such dire failures as to provoke the sarcasms of Miss Coyle and
her set, had become so successful that Miss Coyle now found herself
a neglected atom in the crowd, and sat apart with one of her chosen
friends, breathing condemnations of this new phase of worldliness and
frivolity. Miss Coyle liked the strong tea, and unlimited pound cake,
the claret cup, and strawberries and cream, and better still did she
like the large opportunity for scandal which these gatherings afforded
her.

‘Poor dear Mrs. Piper,’ she sighed, meaning the lady reposing under the
sumptuous monument of many-coloured marbles. ‘If she could only come
back to earth for an afternoon, and look upon this scene! If!’

‘Ah!’ echoed Miss Coyle’s friend, Mrs. Namby, the doctor’s wife, ‘if
indeed! She would be surprised, poor dear, wouldn’t she?’

‘To think of the waste going on in the servants’ hall, now, my dear!’
continued Miss Coyle, with the tone of a Hebrew prophet bewailing the
follies of his misguided nation. ‘It was bad enough in the first Mrs.
Piper’s time, though there never was a more careful housekeeper. I’ve
heard her lament it many a day. WHAT must it be NOW?’

Miss Coyle opened her eyes very wide as she uttered this awful
question, and poor little Mrs. Namby, who always agreed with everybody,
but wished harm to nobody, opened hers in sympathy.

‘Ah!’ she sighed. ‘She’s very young, isn’t she? You can’t expect much
carefulness from such a pretty young thing as that.’

‘Pretty young thing, indeed,’ cried Miss Coyle, contemptuously. ‘We’ve
all been pretty young things in our day.’ This was an assertion which,
taken in conjunction with Miss Coyle’s present physiognomy, was
rather difficult to believe. ‘But did that absolve us from doing our
duty? Would that have excused us if we’d been given over to dress,
and dissipation, and----’ here Miss Coyle made a long and solemn
pause----‘FLIRTATION?’

‘Oh,’ cried poor Mrs. Namby, almost jumping off her garden chair,
‘pray don’t say that. I hope Mrs. Piper has too much respect for
herself as a young married woman to be guilty of flirtation.’

‘I say nothing,’ replied Miss Coyle. ‘Look at that, and judge for
yourself, Mrs. Namby.’

‘That’ was as pretty a living picture of light-hearted youth as a
painter of modern manners need have cared to paint. Against the green
background of beech boughs, bright with their midsummer shoots, upon a
carpet of velvet sward, stood two figures apart from the rest of the
revellers--a man in gray, tall, well made, good-looking; a woman in an
archery dress of Lincoln green, setting off a form slight and delicate
enough for one of Diana’s nymphs, a hat and feather, _à la_ Rosalind,
poised lightly on her burnished auburn hair, neat little hands in
tan gauntlets, and a tall bow that became her as a fan becomes an
Andalusian.

The man in gray was Captain Standish, the crack captain in the crack
regiment then stationed at Great Yafford. The regiment considered
itself a great deal too good for Great Yafford, and the captain
considered himself too good for the regiment. He was a man of good
family; he had large means, a handsome face, and a fine figure; he had
come off first in all athletic exercises at school and college; he had
not learnt anything else in particular--or in his own words he had not
‘gone in for’ anything else; he left it to be inferred that he could
have taken honours had he so chosen.

The lady in Lincoln green was Mrs. Piper the second. She had instituted
these archery meetings for her own pleasure as well as that of her
friends, but she had not yet learned to hit the gold. The three tall
Miss Porkmans had been beating her ignominiously in this afternoon’s
contest. Captain Standish had taken her in hand, and was giving her a
lesson in the management of her bow.

‘Well, really now I can’t see any harm,’ said Mrs. Namby. ‘He’s giving
her a lesson, don’t you see? She’s a poor hand with a bow and arrows.’

Miss Coyle gave a prolonged sniff.

‘Mr. Piper may approve of such goings on,’ she said. ‘I don’t think
I should, if I were in his place. Look at him bending down to speak
to her, and look at her, giggling and blushing like a silly school
girl. If you don’t call _that_ flirting the word must have a different
meaning from what it had in _my_ time.’

The jerk of Miss Coyle’s bonnet seemed to imply that she had done her
share of flirting in the days that were no more, and was an acute judge
of such matters.

Mrs. Namby looked at her with awe, marvelling what valiant knight of
an extinct chivalry could ever have had the courage to flirt with Miss
Coyle.

‘You really must let me ride over some morning and give you a good long
lesson. It excruciates me to see those three Porkman Gorgons getting
the best of it in this way.’

That was what Captain Standish was bending down to say, with that air
of grave reverence which from the distance looked tender. He was not
brilliant in conversation. His talent had all gone into field sports
and manly accomplishments, from foxhunting, hammer-throwing, cricket,
billiards--down to skittles. He could give any man odds at all these.
It was astonishing what respect he won from his fellow-men on account
of this gift. Had he been a second Newton or Herschel, he could not
have carried things with a higher hand, or more keenly felt his
superiority to the ruck of mankind.

Then, again, he had that calm sense of ascendency which distinguishes
the man who has never been in want of money. You can see it in his
looks. There is the tranquil arrogance of a being who has never
shivered at the rap of a dun, or quailed at opening a lawyer’s letter,
or been politely reminded by his banker that his account is overdrawn.

‘You must really allow me to teach you,’ pleaded Captain Standish. ‘I
used to win prizes at this kind of thing when I was a lad.’

His words were humble enough, but his tone meant, ‘You ought to
be intensely grateful for my condescension in offering you such a
privilege.’

It was Captain Standish’s first appearance at Little Yafford Park, and
Bella was fluttered by the triumph of getting him there--at last. His
brother officers had come very often, from the blue-nosed colonel to
the callow cornets, and had eaten and drunken and been jolly with Mr.
Piper, and voted the whole establishment ‘capital fun.’ But Captain
Standish was a different order of being, and never went anywhere till
he had made people sensible of his importance and exclusiveness, by
holding himself aloof. The Miss Porkmans and the Miss Wigzells were
rarely seen without one of the callow cornets in their train. Mr.
Porkman was on the most familiar terms with Colonel O’Shaughnessy,
the blue-nosed commanding officer, who liked the Porkman cellar and
the Porkman cook, and was not too refined to tolerate the Porkmans
themselves. But Captain Standish was not to be had so easily. Cooks
and cellars were indifferent to him. He affected a Spartan simplicity
in his diet--drank only the driest champagne, and that seldom--dined
on a slice of mutton and a tumbler of Vichy water, frankly avowed his
abhorrence of provincial dinner parties, refused five invitations out
of six, and, after accepting the sixth, disappointed his host at the
eleventh hour. Can it be wondered that, in a society of newly rich
provincials, Captain Standish was eminently popular?

His dog-cart, severely painted darkest olive, black harness, no
plating, high-stepping brown horse, neat groom in olive livery, and
unexceptionable boots, plain black hat and cockade, made a sensation
whenever it appeared in the High Street, or flashed meteor-like past
the broad plate glass windows of the villas on the London road.

Bella had heard of Captain Standish, both from his brother officers
and from the outside world, until she knew his excellences and
accomplishments by heart. She was inspired with the same desire to
cultivate his acquaintance which agitated feminine society in the
brand-new Granges, Moats, and Manors round Great Yafford. The Porkmans
had met him at a fancy ball, where he had stood out from the tinselled
King Charleses, and the spangled Black Princes, and the theatrical
brigands and troubadours, in the actual dress of a Spanish bullfighter.
He had once accepted an invitation to dine at the Porkmans’, had
disappointed them at the last moment, and had called a week after. The
Miss Porkmans had forgiven the ungracious disappointment on account of
the gracious call.

‘He looks lovely in morning dress,’ said Blanche Porkman, who was
youthful and enthusiastic. ‘If you knew him you would rave about him.’

‘I never rave about people,’ returned Bella, with dignity. ‘And I don’t
in the least care about knowing this Captain Standish.’

‘This Captain Standish!’ echoed Blanche Porkman, indignantly. ‘You
needn’t put a demonstrative pronoun before him, Mrs. Piper. There’s
nobody else like him.’

In spite of her affected indifference, Bella was bent upon bringing
Captain Standish to the Park. He had called upon the Porkmans. Was
she--with her advanced ideas of elegance and her unlimited capacity for
reading French novels--to be of less account than the Porkmans? Was
that overgrown Blanche, with her drab hair and complexion, and goggle
eyes, to boast of an acquaintance beyond Bella’s reach?

‘The next time you come, colonel, you must bring Captain Standish,’
said Mrs. Piper to the cordial O’Shaughnessy, after that gentleman had
dined copiously at Mr. Piper’s expense, and told all his tiger stories,
in which he was apt to lose the tiger in a jumble of irrelevant
parentheses.

‘Madam, if I live and he lives till next Thursday, Standish shall do
homage at the shrine of beauty and domestic excellence,’ protested
the colonel, which was merely his way of saying that Captain Standish
should come to see Mrs. Piper.

The following Thursday came, but no Standish. Another and another
Thursday, and the colonel still appeared, apologetic and disgusted.
That fellow Standish was perfectly incorrigible, he declared. But this
was the fourth Thursday, and Captain Standish was here.

‘Madam,’ said the colonel, introducing his junior, ‘I have kept my
promise. If this fellow had tried to put me off to-day I should have
lugged him here by the hair of his head.’

‘And if I had known how charming--a place I was to see, I should have
come ages ago without your interference, colonel,’ said the captain.

There was a break in the sentence, a look in the captain’s eyes that
said in plainest language, ‘If I had known what a lovely woman I was
to see, &c., &c.’ And Bella, having lately graduated in the novels of
Charles de Bernard, thoroughly understood the look and tone.

Mr. Piper also was gratified by Captain Standish’s visit. His friend
Timperley had bragged of his familiarity with the captain; his friend
Porkman had boasted of the captain’s morning call. Mr. Piper did not
wish to be behind those compeers of his. He had felt himself at a
disadvantage when they were lauding the all-accomplished Standish.

‘Well, Beller, my love,’ he said, when the guests had all departed,
and he sat down to a _tête-à-tête_ dinner with his wife, who was quite
exhausted by the cares and triumphs of the afternoon. ‘I’m glad we’ve
had Captain Standish at one of our Thursdays, since people round Great
Yafford think such a lot about him; but I don’t see that he’s anything
so wonderful. He’s very much like all the other military men I’ve
seen--extra well got-up linen--a neat-cut boot--and hair cropped as
close as a convick’s. That’s the general pattern, I take it.’

‘Oh, Mr Piper!’ cried Bella, horrified at this blasphemy. ‘Can’t you
see Captain Standish’s superiority? There is a style--an air--a _je ne
sais quoi_.’

‘I don’t know about the _junnysaker_, but I’ll allow that his clothes
are a good cut,’ said the unimpressionable Piper. ‘But why the dickens
do the Porkmans and Timperleys think so much of him? I shouldn’t have
thought he was old Timperley’s sort.’

‘My dear Mr. Piper, Captain Standish is the fashion.’

‘Oh, that’s it, is it?’ said Mr. Piper, meekly. ‘Well, I like to be in
the fashion as well as my neighbours. Suppose we ask Captain Thingamy
to dinner? He’s not the sort of chap that would want to borrow money of
one, is he, by-the-bye? It’s a way they’ve got in the army.’

‘Captain Standish borrow money!’ cried Bella. ‘Why his mother is Lady
Emmeline Standish----.’

‘That wouldn’t fill his pockets,’ interjected Mr. Piper.

‘And his father is a partner in a great bank. I forget which, but some
enormously rich bank. The Porkmans know all about it.’

‘Oh, well, if his father is rich, he may come here as often as he
likes. I’m not afraid of a rich man; but your needy fellows are always
dangerous. They’re like the serpent that warms itself at your hearth,
and then stings you. They eat your dinners, and wind up by getting you
to put your name to an accommodation bill.’



CHAPTER XII.

AT HER CHARIOT WHEELS.


CAPTAIN STANDISH did not wait to be asked to dinner. He made his
appearance at Little Yafford Park within a few days of his first visit.
This time he rode over, and his hack was a thing to wonder at.

‘I’m blest if he ain’t the first bit of horseflesh we’ve had inside
these stables!’ exclaimed Mr. Piper’s coachman, who affected to despise
the pair of bays for which his master had given three hundred guineas.

Mr. Piper was enjoying himself among his friends at Great Yafford.
There was a club in that commercial town, at which Mr. Timperley and
Mr. Porkman and their associates assembled daily to read the newspapers
and discuss the money market. They were all strong politicians,
and talked of politics as well as of the Stock Exchange, but they
contemplated all public events from one standpoint. What would be the
effect on the money market? How would this crisis in France, or this
artful move on the part of Russia, or this pretty piece of business
at Vienna affect the demand for cotton? Would Palmerston’s last great
speech steady the price of consols?

Mr. Piper went to his club oftener now-a-days than he had gone in the
first Mrs. Piper’s time. Bella was making him a man of fashion, as
he complained sometimes, with a fatuous delight in his young wife’s
frivolities. She would drive him into Great Yafford in her pony
carriage in the morning, do an hour’s shopping at Banbury’s, or get a
new novel at the circulating library, and fetch him in the afternoon
in her barouche, after making two or three calls on the commercial
aristocracy; for what is the use of having fine clothes, if you cannot
show them to somebody, or a carriage and pair if you cannot keep it
standing before somebody’s door? Bella heartily despised the Porkmans,
Timperleys, Wigzells, and all their set; but she was by nature an
actress, and must have a stage and an audience of some kind.

Thus it happened that Mr. Piper was at his club, and that Bella
received Captain Standish alone. It was a lovely afternoon, the lawn
was steeped in sunshine, the flower-beds were almost too dazzling to be
looked at, the roses were in their midsummer glory. Bella received her
visitor in the garden. She was fond of sitting out of doors. She liked
to see the width and grandeur of her domain, the fallow deer grouped
gracefully in the distance, the cool shadows of beech and oak, the tall
elms yonder where the rooks had built for the last century. Perhaps
she knew that she looked her prettiest in the garden, sitting in a low
basket chair, in the shade of spreading lime branches.

It was just the afternoon for archery. There was not a breath of wind
to blow the arrows about. The noble old beeches shaded the long stretch
of sward where the targets had been set up, and made it possible for an
enthusiastic toxophilite to endure the midsummer heat. Bella made quite
light of it.

‘I adore the summer,’ she said, when Captain Standish expressed his
fear that she might find archery too great an exertion, with the
thermometer at seventy-five in the shade. ‘I think I must belong to the
cat family, I so enjoy basking in the sun.’

‘So do I,’ said the captain, who looked as fresh and cool as if he had
just come out of a water-cure establishment; ‘and I detest the people
who go about the world mopping themselves and grumbling at the heat on
every decent summer day.’

Bella blushed. Mr. Piper had an unpleasant way of mopping his face with
a brown and yellow bandanna on warm afternoons. She felt that there
must be many habits of his that would jar on Captain Standish’s nerves,
if ever they came to be intimate.

The lesson was delightful. The captain was a first-rate master, and
after about an hour’s hard work Bella’s arrows began to fly straight
to the target, instead of taking a slanting direction and losing
themselves under the beeches. This was something gained. Once she went
within half an inch of the gold. And then, when her arm began to ache
desperately and she was obliged to give up, Captain Standish took
her bow, and in the easiest way in the world, just like that famous
marksman who drew his bow at a venture, shot three arrows in the gold,
in the neatest little triangle.

‘I could write my name on the target,’ he said. ‘It’s the simplest
thing in life when you’re used to it.’

Bella looked at her watch. Half-past four o’clock. How the afternoon
had flown! She had promised to call for her husband at his club, and
the carriage had been ordered for four. She explained her engagement to
Captain Standish, who apologized for having detained her so long.

‘I was so pleased with your progress that I forgot all about time,’
he said. ‘May I come to-morrow--a little earlier? I want you to beat
the Miss Porkmans next Thursday. You will be shooting on Thursday, I
suppose?’

‘Yes, I dare say, if they come. I find archery a great relief on my
Thursday afternoons. It is something for people to do. There is so
little to talk about in the country. You must find it very trying,
Captain Standish.’

The captain shrugged his shoulders.

‘I’m used to country quarters,’ he said. ‘And then in the very depths
of Bœotia there are always bright exceptions. But candidly, I don’t
care much for what people call society. I like to choose my friends,
and when I have chosen them I am an enthusiast in friendship. Now pray
put on your bonnet, and don’t let Mr. Piper be kept waiting through my
indiscretion in staying so long. I’ll go round to the stable for my
horse. May I ride beside your carriage part of the way, if I don’t make
too much dust?’

Bella blushed and sparkled at the idea. To have this fine flower of
the army, this glass of fashion and mould of form riding beside her
barouche was an honour to boast of when next she met the Porkmans.
He had never ridden at their chariot wheels. Cæsar’s triumph when he
brought home Vercingetorix was not grander than this.

Bella leaned back in her carriage, holding up the daintiest
lace-flounced parasol, just big enough to shelter the tip of her
nose, while the captain’s sleek bay trotted at her side, and arched
his neck, and sniffed the air, and gave himself resentful airs at
being forced to suit his pace to the jog-trot of the over-fed carriage
horses. They passed along the village street, under the cloudless
blue, and Bella felt that the eye of the world--her little world--was
upon them. Miss Coyle was clipping her solitary standard rose tree as
they went by, and stopped, scissors in hand, to stare at them. Cyril
Culverhouse was just coming out of his garden gate, with a black book
under his arm. Clementina and Flora Scratchell were flattening their
noses against the parlour window as usual. That vision of sisterly
noses always greeted Bella as she passed. This time she took care to be
looking another way. She did not want Captain Standish to know that her
‘people’ lived in the shabbiest house in the village.

The captain was far too good a horseman to keep up that ‘‘ammer,
‘ammer, on the ‘ard ‘igh road,’ of which the traditional cockney
complained. There were plenty of grassy bits by the wayside where he
was able to save his horse’s feet--stretches of open down on which
he could indulge himself with a gallop. Sometimes he dropped behind
and walked his horse for a mile or so, and then startled Bella by
descending upon her suddenly from some grassy height, fresh and cool,
and riding with a rein as light as a silken thread.

‘What a lovely horse that is!’ exclaimed Bella. ‘He seems able to do
anything.’

‘He was able to throw most of his riders before I got him,’ answered
the captain; ‘but he’s tame enough now.’

There was a roll in the animal’s eye, and a liberal display of white,
which went far to confirm this account of his antecedents.

Captain Standish was riding beside the carriage when they entered that
newly-built suburb where the plutocracy of Great Yafford had built
their habitations. They passed the Porkmans’ Grange, with its red
walls, Tudor casements, and impossible gables, the Timperley Manor
House, with its Norman sugar-loaf towers, and the Wigzells’ Italian
Gothic Villa, all white stucco, terraced walks and scarlet geraniums.
Bella, like Cæsar, felt that her triumph was complete. Captain Standish
only left her at the door of the club-house.

‘Well, little woman,’ cried Mr. Piper, when he came tumbling into the
barouche, with his white beaver hat at the back of his head, and his
brown and yellow bandanna on active service. ‘You haven’t kept me
waiting--no, not at all, neither.’

Bella told him all about Captain Standish’s visit. She was radiant with
this small social success.

‘Didn’t I tell you that I’d introduce you into tip-top society, old
woman?’ exclaimed Mr. Piper. ‘You shall hold your own with the best
of ’em. I’ll spare no expense till I see you at the top of the tree.
We must give a dinner party next week, and we’ll have Timperley, and
Wigzell, and the whole boiling.’

‘Captain Standish is always meeting them at Great Yafford. Don’t you
think we’d better ask the Dulcimers--and some of the Little Yafford
people?’ suggested Bella.

‘Well, have it your own way, my dear. I like to have the Vicar’s legs
under my mahogany. It looks respectable.’

Bella sent out her invitations for that day fortnight, carefully
excluding the manufacturing element. She impressed on Mr. Piper
that he was to give no accidental invitations. His impulsive
hospitality must not be allowed to spoil this particular party, as in
Bella’s opinion, at least, it had spoiled previous parties, by the
interpolation of ineligible guests.

‘Above all things let there be no Mr. Chumney,’ said Bella,
authoritatively.

‘Chumney’s enjoying himself at Whitby,’ replied Mr. Piper, ‘and don’t
want to be beholden to you for a dinner; but if you expect me to forget
that Chumney’s father was the first man that ever gave me a week’s
wages, you’ll find yourself disappointed. I’d take a knife and cut my
heart out, if I thought it was capable of such base ingratitude.’

‘You may remember Mr. Chumney’s father as much as you like, but you
needn’t always be talking of him, and of the time when you were glad to
earn twelve shillings a week,’ remonstrated Bella. ‘There’s no use in
harping upon such things.’

‘Yes, there is,’ answered Mr. Piper, ‘it shows that prosperity hasn’t
made me proud.’

Mrs. Piper called at the Vicarage next day to ensure the acceptance of
her invitation. Mrs. Dulcimer had seen Captain Standish riding by the
Vicarage gate, in attendance on Bella’s barouche, and had heard about
that ride of his from ever so many people already.

‘I don’t wonder people talk about him,’ said Mrs. Dulcimer. ‘He sits
his horse splendidly, and there’s a wonderful style about him. One can
see at a glance that he has always mixed in the best society.’

‘I hope you and Mr. Dulcimer can come to meet him on Wednesday week,’
said Bella.

‘Is he really coming to you?’

‘I’ve asked him.’

‘Oh, but he is so very exclusive. I hear he is quite difficult to get.
He is not at all fond of visiting. He shoots and hunts a great deal,
they say, but doesn’t care for balls or parties.’

‘I think he will come,’ said Bella. ‘Colonel O’Shaughnessy brought him
to us last Thursday, and he seemed quite to take to--Mr. Piper.’

‘And he was giving you a lesson in archery, Miss Coyle told me. You
must be very careful, my dear. I thought you were just a little
imprudent to let him ride by your carriage yesterday. A man of that
kind would get you talked about in no time.’

‘My dear Mrs. Dulcimer, I don’t the least mind being talked about.’

‘Bella!’

‘In fact, I rather like it.’

‘Bella! I don’t think I could endure my existence if I thought that
people talked about me,’ cried Mrs. Dulcimer, solemnly. ‘Of course, in
my case it would be particularly awful. A vicar’s wife is like Cæsar’s.’

‘Cæsar had so many wives,’ said Bella. ‘He could hardly expect all of
them to be respectable.’

‘My dear,’ exclaimed Mrs. Dulcimer, her whole countenance suddenly
illuminated, ‘I have such a splendid idea.’

Bella looked anything but delighted.

‘What is it, dear Mrs. Dulcimer?’

‘What a husband Captain Standish would make for your sister Clementina!
My dear, he is the very man for her. A man of high family--rolling in
money--young--handsome. WHAT a chance for that poor girl!’

‘My dear Mrs. Dulcimer, do you imagine that any man of high family
would choose a wife out of my father’s house?’

‘But he need not see her in her father’s house--at any rate not till he
is so deeply in love that he will not care a straw whether her family
are rich or poor. He will see her at the Park--elegantly dressed--with
you. He will only think of her as your sister. And if he were to
propose I feel sure that Mr. Piper would do something handsome for her.
He is the soul of generosity. You know that, Bella.’

‘He is very generous, but I cannot expect him to give all my sisters
fortunes.’

‘Not all of them, dear. No, of course not;--but he would give
Clementina something, if she were going to make such a match as that. A
man in his position would willingly make some sacrifice to have Captain
Standish for his brother-in-law. Only think, Lady Emmeline Standish
would be your--something-in-law. It would be so nice for you to have
people of high family belonging to you. It would give you the _entrée_
to county society.’

‘It would be very nice, I dare say,’ said Bella, not elated by this
brilliant perspective, ‘but it is just the most unlikely thing to come
to pass. A man so run after as Captain Standish has been is not likely
to fall in love with Clementina.’

‘I am not so sure of that,’ said Mrs. Dulcimer, sagely. ‘More wonderful
things have happened within my knowledge. Clementina is a very pretty
girl, almost as pretty as you, Bella. She has your complexion. I hope
you’ve invited her for Wednesday week.’

‘No, indeed I have not. It doesn’t do to be overrun by one’s family
always. You see I could scarcely ask Tina without asking papa and
mamma; and that is quite out of the question.’

‘You might have her to stay with you,’ suggested Mrs. Dulcimer. ‘She
would help to amuse your step-daughters.’

Elizabeth Fry and Mary Wolstencroft were coming home for their summer
vacation in a few days, a return acutely dreaded by Bella.

‘Well, dear Mrs. Dulcimer, perhaps you are right. It might be as well
to have Clementina.’

She could not be more in the way than those two troublesome
step-daughters, Bella thought.

‘If you have your sister with you it will prevent people making
disagreeable remarks when Captain Standish calls on you,’ said Mrs.
Dulcimer. ‘It must be so awkward for a young woman like you to receive
a gentleman, when your husband is out.’

‘Captain Standish is not quite a dragon,’ replied Bella, laughing. ‘I
am not afraid of him.’

‘My dear, I am told he is a very fascinating man,’ said Mrs. Dulcimer,
‘and that is the worst kind of dragon for a young married woman. He
certainly ought to marry Clementina, and if you and I exercise a little
diplomacy I believe he will do it. Look at your position. I feel proud
of that. If it hadn’t been for me you might have never been Mrs.
Piper. Poor Mr. Piper might never have repeated his offer if I had not
encouraged him.’

‘You are all that is kind and good,’ said Bella, inwardly rebelling
against this patronage and interference.

‘Now go and invite your sister to stay with you, dear. And see that
she is becomingly dressed. And you can polish her up a little in the
next fortnight. Clementina sadly wants polish. She has never had your
opportunities, you know.’



CHAPTER XIII.

PLAYING WITH FIRE.


CAPTAIN STANDISH accepted Mrs. Piper’s invitation. He rode over to
answer her note in person; and to give her another lesson in archery.
This time Clementina was with her and shared in the lesson. Captain
Standish had no objection to teach two pretty girls instead of one, but
he preferred Mrs. Piper, as the prettier and more fascinating of the
two. She possessed a great superiority too, in his eyes, as a married
woman. It was the rule of this great man’s life, when he condescended
to flirtation, to flirt with a married woman. No harm could come of
it to himself. There was always the risk of the husband being made
uncomfortable; but that was a detail. Captain Standish was not afraid
of making a husband jealous, or even unhappy; but he was very much
afraid of compromising himself by flirtation with a single woman, who
might be absurd enough to expect him to marry her, and whose friends
might make themselves disagreeable if he declined to do so.

He was therefore the very last man to walk into the silken snare that
Mrs. Dulcimer had set for him. He was kind and courteous to Clementina,
who was ready to ‘worship him’ or to ‘rave about him’--in the Porkman
phraseology--at a moment’s notice; but he reserved his tender
attentions, his thrilling looks and lowered tones, for Bella, for whom
the sweet poison, the social deadly nightshade of an unprincipled
man’s flatteries had already too great a charm. Of the extent of the
captain’s influence over her mind Bella herself was not yet aware.
Indeed, she believed herself hardened against any such influence by
the counter poison of a previous love. She had loved once, and loved
unhappily, and therefore could never love again. This she firmly
believed, and, secure in this belief, walked blindfold into danger.
Her pleasure in the captain’s society she ascribed to the triumph of
parading him before the astonished eyes of Little Yafford, the delight
of lording it over the Porkmans, the fact that Captain Standish was the
fashion.

The dinner party was a success. It was made up of the _élite_ of Little
Yafford and the surrounding neighbourhood--people who had ‘places’ of
twenty to thirty acres, and who were altogether the next best thing
to county families--Mr. and Mrs. Dulcimer, Colonel O’Shaughnessy, and
Captain Standish. Clementina looked her prettiest, and was complimented
on her likeness to her sister.

‘Bella,’ said the Vicar’s wife in a confidential tone, when the ladies
were alone after dinner. ‘You are doing a noble thing for your sister.
In my opinion Captain Standish is struck with her already.’

‘You are sanguine, dear Mrs. Dulcimer,’ answered Bella, smiling. ‘I
have not seen him particularly attentive to her.’

‘Perhaps not, but he has been particularly attentive to you. He would
naturally begin in that way.’

Bella was not quite clear upon this point; she had little faith in Mrs.
Dulcimer’s judgment. Were not the most miserable hours of her life, her
one inexcusable sin, referable to that lady’s mistake? But she found
it rather agreeable to have Clementina as a companion. The girl was
grateful, and willing to be useful, and was not in the way.

Mrs. Dulcimer was so elated at the prospect of another brilliant
match, to be brought about by her agency, that, towards the end of the
evening, she took Mr. Piper into her confidence.

‘Charming man, Captain Standish, isn’t he?’ she asked.

‘I’ve ‘eard that remark made a good many times, mum,’ he answered,
candidly, ‘but as far as my individual opinion goes I don’t see
anything remarkable about the captain that should single him out from
the ruck of military men. Perhaps his hair is cropped a trifle closer,
and his whiskers neater trimmed. I don’t deny either that there’s a
_junny serquaw_, as my wife calls it, about the cut of his clothes, and
that he has a high way with him, as if we were all upon a lower level,
which I believe is uncommonly taking for some people, though I can’t
say I ever was took by that kind of thing myself. I like a man who is
my superior and yet takes care not to remind me of it. I can feel the
superiority of that kind of man. I don’t want it put before me.’

Mrs. Dulcimer looked disappointed.

‘He is of a very high family,’ she said, ‘and enormously rich.’

‘That’s always a satisfaction to one’s mind, mum.’

‘Now don’t you think it would be a very grand thing if he were to marry
your sister-in-law Clementina?’

Mr. Piper was not enthusiastic.

‘She might like it, Mrs. Dulcimer,’ he said. ‘That’s just according
to her feelings. But it’s no business of mine to find husbands for my
wife’s sisters.’

This was disheartening, but Mrs. Dulcimer was not going to renounce her
project because Mr. Piper looked coldly upon it. Clementina stayed at
the Park, and Bella enriched her with a great many dresses and other
adornments of which she was beginning to be tired, or which were of a
fashion that had become too general for a fine lady’s wear. Generosity
in a person of Bella’s stamp is only another word for extravagance.
Bella would have as soon contemplated cutting off her right hand
as giving away anything she wanted herself. These gifts to Tina
necessitated the purchase of new things, and already the second Mrs.
Piper had begun to get into debt, and to feel that she had bills which
must be paid next year, or at some more definite period. The three
hundred a year which Mr. Piper had settled upon her in the fulness of
his heart, as an all-sufficing income for dress and pocket money, was
not nearly enough to supply the manifold wants of a young woman who had
been brought up in poverty. Bella wanted everything, for everything was
new to her. She ran riot in laces, and silks, and velvets, bric-à-brac
for her boudoir, dainty stationery, devotional books, which were seldom
read, but which looked well on her dressing-table, parasols, fans,
slippers, albums, everything of the costliest. She was surprised to
find how soon her ready money had melted away, and almost afraid to
calculate how deeply she was in debt. But the burden weighed lightly
upon her. It would be easy to get Mr. Piper to give her a cheque, when
things got desperate. He might be surprised, perhaps, that she had not
managed her allowance better; but he would not have the strength of
mind to refuse her the money.

One day poor Mrs. Scratchell ventured to ask her daughter for a little
help. The tax-gatherer was pressing, and ‘father’ had nothing put aside
for the taxes.

‘Oh, mamma,’ cried Bella, ‘what has he done with Mr. Harefield’s five
hundred pounds? That ought to have set him up for life.’

‘My dear child, you must remember, surely. Father acted with the
greatest prudence, and invested his legacy safely in railway shares. It
brings us twenty-seven pounds a year. It doesn’t make a large addition,
you see, and last year was so expensive. Bread was a penny dearer
than it has been for ten years, and potatoes were dreadfully scarce.
Altogether things have got behindhand with us----’

‘I never knew them to be beforehand,’ sighed Bella.

‘But it’s a great comfort to see you so splendidly established. I’m
sure I feel a thrill whenever I enter this house and think, “This is
my daughter’s. My child is the mistress of it all.” I feel almost as
Esther’s relations must have felt when they saw her sitting beside the
king. And now, dear, if you could let me have ten pounds----’

‘My dear mother, I haven’t ten shillings. Look, here’s my purse. You
can count the silver, if you like.’

She handed Mrs. Scratchell a toy of mother-o’-pearl and gold, lined
with rose-hued silk.

‘Oh, Bella, have you spent _all_ your last half-year’s income?’

‘Every sixpence, except what you see there.’

‘My love, you must have been very extravagant--after such a trousseau
as you had to start with.’

‘Why, mamma, there were lots of things forgotten in my trousseau. And
then the fashions are always changing, and I have given my sisters such
heaps of things. I dare say I have been extravagant in that particular.
I am sure I have dressed Tina from head to foot.’

‘You have been very good, dear; but I so counted on you for the taxes.
I thought a ten pound note would be nothing to you.’

‘That was a tremendous mistake. I assure you that for actual ready
money I have been worse off since I have been Mr. Piper’s wife than I
was as his governess. There are so many demands upon my purse. But if I
can do anything next Christmas----’

‘Thank you, dear. We must get on somehow, I suppose. We always have
struggled through our difficulties, and I suppose we always shall,
thanks to Providence; but it’s a wearing life.’

The young Pipers came home for their holidays, and ran riot amidst
the splendours and luxuries that Bella had introduced into the sober
old house. These young people liked Bella better as a stepmother than
they had liked her as a governess. She was very indulgent, so long as
they did not spoil the furniture, or annoy her with too much of their
society. She gave the girls fine dresses, and allowed them to share
all her gaieties. She let the boys ride her ponies, when she did not
want to use them. In a word she was a model stepmother, and everybody
praised her, except Miss Coyle, who never praised anybody, and Mr.
Chumney, who generally reserved his opinion as something too valuable
to be parted with except under strongest pressure.

So the briefly glorious summer hurried by, and Bella lived only for
pleasure, and to be flattered and followed by Captain Standish. She
went to a great many parties among the Wigzell, Timperley, and Porkman
section of society, and to a few among the professional classes and
landed gentry, which latter were not so splendid as the mercantile
entertainments, in the matter of eating and drinking, and were not
much more lively; for whereas the Porkmans and Timperleys talked of
nothing but money-making, the landed gentry had a language of their
own which Bella, clever as she was, had yet to learn. Captain Standish
was teaching her a great deal. Under his tuition she had learned to
look down upon her fellow-creatures as an inferior set of beings,
‘mostly fools,’ to regard mental culture as a process only valuable to
schoolmasters, college dons, clergymen, doctors, lawyers, and that
altogether subordinate race which has to earn its bread by the sweat of
its brains, to think of money as a stepping-stone to social importance,
the pleasure of the present moment as the one vital consideration, the
future as an unknown quantity, not worth serious thought.

This was the code of ethics which Bella learned from Captain Standish,
but before all and above all he taught her to despise her husband, her
husband’s children, and her husband’s surroundings, from the lordly
Timperley, swelling with the importance of the biggest mills in the
district, to the unpretending Chumney, living in modest retirement upon
an annuity of ninety pounds, the result of his laborious existence.

Of this gradual corruption of his wife’s mind honest Ebenezer Piper
had no suspicion. Her manner and conduct to him of late had been
unexceptionable. The deeper and stronger that feeling of contemptuous
aversion grew in the secret depths of her heart, the more carefully
did she regulate her outward seeming. She had never appeared sweeter,
fairer, or more guileless in her husband’s eyes than when she was most
inclined to betray him. Vivien herself, that supreme type of falsehood
in woman, employed no finer art against the enchanter Merlin than Bella
used to guard herself from the hazard of discovery.

She knew herself false to the core, not quite a subject for the divorce
court, but a creature whose good angel had long left her, shuddering
and abhorrent.

Mr. Piper had not forgotten Mrs. Dulcimer’s ideas about Captain
Standish and Clementina, and when he saw the captain and sister-in-law
together he was inclined to believe that there might be some foundation
for that inveterate matchmaker’s fancy. The captain had a knack of
being particularly attentive to Tina under Mr. Piper’s eye.

And now autumn was approaching, the russet corn was cut in the wide
shadowless fields, the ploughman’s white horses were seen moving slowly
along the upland ridges, against a cool gray sky.

Captain Standish went up into the wildest part of the moors for a
fortnight’s grouse-shooting, and to everybody’s surprise came back to
Great Yafford in three days.

He rode over to the Park on the afternoon of his return, and found
Bella alone, yawning over a novel. She started and dropped her book
when the footman announced him, and changed from pale to red, and red
to pale again.

‘You did not expect to see me so soon,’ said the captain, keeping her
little cold hand in his.

‘No,’ she faltered, unable to say more.

‘You thought I should be able to endure a fortnight’s life without you.
I was fool enough to think so too--and made all my arrangements for
staying away till the 27th. But three days were quite enough. How pale
and tired you look!’

‘I have had nothing to do, and I suppose that is the most tiring thing
in the world. Tina has gone home. I did not want Mr. Piper to think
that she was going to live here always.’

‘What does it matter what he thinks?’ said Captain Standish, with his
supercilious smile. ‘Mr. Piper was only created to be useful to you and
your relations. And so you have missed--Tina.’

‘I have been very dull.’

‘If you knew how desolate my life was in those three days you would
pity me,’ said the captain, tenderly. ‘Yes, Isabel, you would pity me
for being so weak that I cannot live without you, so miserably placed
that I am obliged to hide my love.’

And then Captain Standish went on to tell his story; the old, old
story, the familiar melody, subject to such endless variations, such
kaleidoscopic distinctions without difference, and always coming to the
same thing in the end. ‘We might have been happy had Providence willed
it. Let us defy Providence, fling honour to the winds, and be happy in
spite of fate.’

He talked and pleaded for a long time, and Bella listened with lowered
eyelids, and lowered head, and let her hand lie locked in his, and did
not answer his specious arguments by one straight outspoken denial. She
paltered with this tempter, as she had paltered with temptation all her
life, always choosing the road she liked best. She said neither yes nor
no. It was an awful thing that he was asking her to do. No more nor
less than to surrender honour, social status, everything for his sake,
to go to Italy with him, and live a gay, unfettered life there, among
people who, according to his showing, would be willing to accept her as
his wife. He painted the picture of that ideal Italian life so vividly
that all the hideousness of his proposal was lost sight of under that
bright colouring.

‘Remember, dearest, I shall have my sacrifice to make too,’ he said. ‘I
must leave the army. And I shall almost break my poor mother’s heart,
for she has plans for my marriage which she has cherished ever since I
was at Eton. But I could sacrifice a great deal more than that for your
sake.’

‘Do not talk of it any more,’ said Bella, in a frightened voice. ‘It
is too awful. I like you--yes,’ as he drew her face round to him
so that her eyes reluctantly met his,--‘yes, very much. I hardly
think’--falteringly and in tears--‘I could go on living if you went
away, and I were not to see you any more; but what you are asking is
horrible--to defy everybody--to give up everything--to be pointed at
and spoken of as something utterly lost and wretched--a thing to be
spurned by other women--women who are my inferior in everything--except
that one wicked act. Why, my very housemaids would look down upon me.
No, I could not be so degraded. I could not sink so low.’

‘I see,’ said Captain Standish. ‘You love yourself and your good
name better than you love me. You were not ashamed to sell yourself
to Piper. The world applauds that kind of bargain. But you are not
generous enough to give yourself to the man you love.’

He had let go her hand, and was walking with long quick steps backwards
and forwards across the deep bay, like a lion in a cage. Bella thought
there was something grand and noble about him in this lofty rage. She
loved him all the more for the hard things he said to her, since his
hard speeches proved the intensity of his love.

‘You are very cruel,’ she said, piteously.

‘I am very much in earnest. I thought to find in you something better
and grander than the shallow conventional woman of society who only
plays with hearts, who wants to walk through the deep waters of passion
without wetting her feet. You talk of sinking very low--of degradation.
Where is the degradation in the life I offer you--the fair sweet
unfettered life that poets have loved ever since the world began?’

‘You would be tired of an idle life in Italy,’ said Bella.

‘With you, no. But we could wander about. We should not be tied to one
spot. I would take you to Algiers--Morocco. We could ride over that
strange land together--and when we had used up the Old World we would
be off to the New. I would take you across the Rocky Mountains. I would
make you my comrade and companion--a hardy traveller--a dead shot. You
should be no slavish English wife, sitting at home while your husband
enjoyed his life. No, love, you should share every sport I had, hunt
with me--shoot--fish--row--ride with me. I would not have a pleasure in
life that you could not share.’

The picture was full of charm for a woman who, in her eagerness to
enjoy life, had already almost exhausted the pleasures of humdrum
existence. Bella felt that this would indeed be the beginning of a
new life; this would be to drain to the dregs the cup of youth and
gladness. And then worldly pride for once took the shape of a good
angel, and pointed to the view from that wide bay-window, the Park and
deer, the avenue of goodly elms, the grandeur and importance of her
position as Mrs. Piper. Was she to surrender all this, and give up
her name to be a byeword and a reproach into the bargain? No, she had
hearkened too long to the tempter, but she was not weak enough for this.

‘You must never speak to me of this again,’ she exclaimed. ‘I will try
to think there has been no serious meaning in what you have said. Let
us both forget it.’

‘I shall not forget it,’ said the captain, ‘but if you tell me to keep
silence I will obey. I would do anything rather than live out of your
society.’

‘If you ever repeat what you have said this afternoon, our friendship
will be ended.’

‘Anything sooner than that.’

He took the little hand again and kissed it tenderly. So there was a
kind of compact between them. He was to go on adoring her, but was to
say nothing about it.

Captain Standish rode back to Great Yafford in excellent humour. He had
considerably embellished the fact of his return, in his conversation
with Mrs. Piper. He had come back because the weather had been
abominable, and the birds hardly visible behind a dense curtain of
driving rain. Three days of such uncomfortable sport had been quite
enough for the captain.

‘Poor little thing,’ he mused, as he walked his horse, after a swinging
galop over a grassy waste, ‘how very weak she is! I am glad she doesn’t
want me to run away with her. It would be uncommonly inconvenient. But
when a man has flirted as desperately as I have a woman expects him
to say something serious. She’s really very pretty--quite the most
fascinating little thing I’ve met for a long time. And if she were
single--all things being equal--I don’t think I should object to marry
her.’



CHAPTER XIV.

A TURN OF FORTUNE’S WHEEL.


CYRIL CULVERHOUSE lived his useful life, full of thought and care for
others, honoured, beloved, but with a deep and settled sadness at his
heart. He could not forget the woman he loved, he could not forgive
himself for having doubted her. Both their lives were blighted by
that mistake; and yet, looking back, he knew that he had tried to do
his duty. Love seemed a snare of Satan, and he had cut himself free
from its meshes. But after that meeting in the churchyard all his
doubts vanished, his judgment wavered no longer. There is a power in
simple truth, when we meet it face to face, that is stronger than all
reasoning upon a chain of possibilities.

He was convinced for ever of her guiltlessness, in the hour when
he believed her irrevocably lost to him. Could he ever forget that
meeting--that one despairing kiss--the sight of her lying at his feet
among the rank grass that grows on graves? And she had confessed her
love for him, by flying from a loveless marriage.

Could he follow her?--search this wide world for her? How small a
penance would it be to wander over all the earth for her sake! But he
felt he had no right to pursue her. He had wronged her too deeply to
persecute her by a pursuit which no sign from her invited. It was for
her to make that sign--it was for her to pity and pardon him.

‘Let me go on doing my duty,’ he said to himself, ‘and if it is God’s
will that I am to be happy in that way, happiness will come to me. Yes,
it will come some day, when I least look for it, as the angels came to
Abraham.’

So he went on with his simple unpretending life, working with a quiet
earnestness which achieved wonders. It was one of his chief gifts to
do all things quietly. He worked almost as silently as the bounteous
fertilizing sun.

The school was thriving under Emmanuel Joyce’s care. The widow’s heart
did verily sing for joy, so sweet was her new life amidst rural sights
and sounds, after the squalid misery of the Bridford courts and alleys.

The Vicar was delighted to have his old pupil back again. All the cares
of the parish were lifted off his shoulders when he had Cyril for his
curate. He knew that, if he was luxuriating in scholarly idleness,
there was nothing being neglected. When he was wanted Cyril called upon
him, and he obeyed the call. He gave of his substance freely at Cyril’s
bidding. There could not have been a better alliance. Clement Dulcimer,
all sweetness and light, shedding smiles and kindliness upon his
parishioners, Cyril Culverhouse, the earnest worker, not withholding
reproof when it was needful. Between them they made Little Yafford a
model parish, an ideal republic, in a small way.

The Vicar had taken a great fancy to the new schoolmaster. Joyce’s
love of books was in itself a passport to Mr. Dulcimer’s favour. He
invited the young man to spend an evening with him occasionally,
and Emmanuel revelled in long hours of talk upon far-reaching
questions--conversations from which Mr. Dulcimer let himself slip
insensibly into a monologue, and poured forth his stores of curious
uncatalogued knowledge. In one thing only he was rather hard upon the
aspiring student. He set his face strongly against Emmanuel’s poetic
efforts.

‘They are as good as most of the prize poems it has been my lot to
read,’ he said, after he had conscientiously gone through Emmanuel’s
little collection of manuscript verses, ‘but then you see a prize poem
is generally the flattest thing in life. As intellectual efforts they
do you credit, and as mental training I’ve no doubt the composition
of them has been serviceable to you. But I will not be so weak as
to say go on writing verses. There are about twenty poets born in a
century, and about twenty thousand rhymesters. Shall a wise man waste
his life--his brief precious sum of days and hours--in labouring to
develop the rhymester into the poet? Why, the poet knows himself for a
poet before he is twenty. The man upon whom that mantle has fallen, the
man who is born to wear that crown, cannot be mistaken about himself.
Look at Pope, Chatterton, Shelley, Byron, Keats--boy poets all. And
is a man who has not put forth that supreme flower of genius in his
youth to go on cudgelling his brain for rhymes, in the hope that labour
will make him a poet? It is the stuff behind the rhymes that is wanting
in him. He has nothing to say. But he thinks if he can say nothing
melodiously--to somebody else’s tune--that he may make himself a poet.
Wasted labour, idle delusion. Go into philosophy, natural science,
criticism, history--anything you like, my dear young friend--the field
is wide, and in these studies a man can make himself. God makes poets.’

Emmanuel took the lesson to heart, humiliating as it was. For a long
time he had hugged the idea that he was a poet. That electro-plated
verse of his, modelled upon the verse of other singers, had for his
deluded ear the ring of genuine silver. Granted that there were only
twenty poets born in a century. It seemed to him no less hard that
he could not be one of the twenty. He had no pity for the nineteen
thousand nine hundred and ninety-nine versifiers, self-deluded like
himself, and doomed to disappointment as bitter.

It took him some time to recover from the shock which his self-esteem
had received from Mr. Dulcimer’s candour. At first it seemed to him
that if he could not be a poet he could be nothing else. Those other
fields of intellectual labour in which the Vicar invited him to work,
offered no attraction. They were all dry and barren; he saw no flowers
to be gathered there. Ambition seemed dead within him, now that a judge
in whom he believed had told him that he was not an incipient Byron.

‘You never write of an evening now, Emmanuel,’ his mother said to him,
when the shortening days of September brought them together by their
cheerful fireside. ‘I hope you haven’t grown tired of your pen?’

‘I have,’ he answered. ‘What’s the use of writing trash?’

‘Oh, Emmanuel, how can you talk so? I’m sure I never read sweeter
verses than yours.’

‘Yes, mother, you think them sweet because I am your son. You wouldn’t
care a straw for them if they were written by a stranger. Come, I’ll
read you a bit of real poetry, and you’ll see the difference.’

He opened his well-used Milton, and read the hymn on the Nativity. He
knew those noble verses by heart, and declaimed them well.

‘What do you think of that mother?’ he asked, when he had finished.

‘I don’t understand it all, dear,’ she answered meekly, ‘there are
so many heathen idols in it. But it’s poetry that rings like a great
brazen bell, and there’s more words in it than in yours.’

‘Yes, mother, that’s it. The man who wrote that was a born poet. He
could do what he liked with the language, and make it ring like sound
metal. My verse is like a poor little cracked sheep-bell, and sounds no
better than tin. And I haven’t above a quarter of the English language
in my vocabulary. I’ve read a great deal, but the words don’t come to
my finger ends in all their wealth and variety, as they did to Shelley
and Keats. No, mother, I’m no poet. Mr. Dulcimer is a good judge. If I
write anything it must be prose.’

‘I hope Mr. Dulcimer hasn’t been putting you out of conceit with
yourself, Emmanuel.’

‘He has only told me the truth, mother. That’s always good for a man
to know, though it takes him aback sometimes to hear it.’

‘I should be very sorry to see you give up your pen, dear,’ said the
mother, persistently. ‘I should be so proud if I could live to see you
an author.’

‘Well, mother, I will try to write a book, if it is only to please
you. I will write something for my pupils—a book that may be useful
and popular in schools all over England. The English history my boys
read seems to me very dull and dry. I think I’ll try my hand at a boy’s
history of England. I fancy I could make it interesting.’

‘I’m sure you could,’ said the mother, fondly.

Here at least in this quiet schoolhouse parlour was happiness almost
perfect. It was a delight to Cyril Culverhouse, when he dropped in for
half an hour on his homeward way, to see how well this one good work of
his had prospered.

A great change in Cyril’s fortune was at hand--a change that came upon
him as an almost overwhelming blow, for it gave a new colour to his
life, and made the problem of existence doubly difficult.

Walking home to his lodgings one September afternoon with Mr.
Dulcimer, Cyril met the village postman.

‘Any letters for me, Sparkes?’ asked the Vicar.

Cyril was not curious enough to inquire about his letters. He expected
no pleasant tidings. Who should write to him? He stood alone in the
world, for he did not hope that his cousin would ever regard him with
friendliness again.

‘No, sir, there ain’t none for you,’ replied Sparkes; ‘but there’s a
letter for you, Mr. Culverhouse, from Indy.’

Kenrick had written then, after all, thought Cyril, moved at the idea.
Distance and lapse of time had softened the natural bitterness of his
feelings.

And then and there, in deliberate defiance of the postal rules and
regulations, Sparkes handed the curate a thin miserable-looking letter,
in a black-edged envelope, addressed by a strange hand.

The Vicar and Cyril both looked at it, horror-struck.

‘Your cousin has been killed,’ cried Mr. Dulcimer.

Cyril felt the same apprehension. He knew no one in India except his
cousin. This letter in a strange hand must bring evil tidings.

He opened the envelope hurriedly, with a shaking hand, as he and Mr.
Dulcimer stood side by side in the quiet country road. The Vicar read
the letter over Cyril’s shoulder.

Yes, it brought the news both feared.


  ‘SIR,--It is with deep regret that I write to inform you of the death
  of your cousin, Sir Kenrick Culverhouse. He was shot in a skirmish
  with the Burmese, which took place on the night of July 27th. They
  came down upon our camp unexpectedly during the night, and were
  repulsed with considerable loss, but unhappily your cousin, who was
  always reckless in exposing himself to the enemy’s fire, received
  a fatal shot while leading his company in close pursuit of the
  retreating Burmese.

  ‘There will, I hope, be some consolation to you, as his nearest
  relative, in knowing how nobly he did his duty throughout the last
  eighteen months, and how thoroughly he won the respect of his
  regiment, from the highest to the lowest. For my own part, I feel his
  death as a personal loss, and it will be long before I shall cease to
  deplore it.

  ‘I have the honour to be
    ‘Your obedient servant,
      ‘MALCOLM DONALDSON.’


‘That is the colonel of his regiment,’ said the Vicar. ‘Poor Kenrick!
Do you know, I had a presentiment that he would never come back to us.
Hard to remember that he left us under such miserable circumstances.’

Cyril was silent for some moments, and then he said, suddenly, with
intense earnestness,--

‘Would to God that I rather than he had drawn the lot of death!’

‘The lot is cast into the lap, but the whole disposing thereof is of
the Lord,’ said the Vicar, solemnly. ‘We cannot choose our path in
life, Cyril. Fate has not been kind to Kenrick. This is a heavy blow
for both of us. For my own part, I feel as if I had lost a son. You
and Kenrick have been as sons to me.’

‘And to me he was like a brother,’ said Cyril. ‘We parted in
unkindness. _That_ is a bitter thing to remember.’

‘I do not think you can blame yourself, Cyril, because your cousin’s
engagement ended unhappily.’

‘I don’t know,’ said Cyril. ‘It is just possible I may have influenced
Beatrix at the last.’

And then he told Mr. Dulcimer, as a good Catholic might tell his
spiritual director, about that meeting in the churchyard.

‘I hardly know what I said,’ he confessed, remorsefully; ‘I was beside
myself. I knew in that moment she still loved me, that I had never
ceased to love her--that I had been mad--foolish--besotted when I
doubted her. I knew all this, and that to-morrow was to make her my
cousin’s wife. I know not what mad words I may have said to her--words
wild and strong enough to constrain her to break with Kenrick.’

‘I am not sure of that,’ said Mr. Dulcimer, thoughtfully. ‘I have
a shrewd suspicion that Beatrix was meditating breaking off her
engagement when she was so eager to redeem the Culverhouse mortgages.
If she had meant to be his wife she might just as well have waited till
they were married. But she was so impetuous, so determined. She bore
down all opposition from Scratchell. Yes, I believe that she had made
up her mind to jilt poor Kenrick, and that she meant the liberation of
his estate as an atonement.’

This was some kind of consolation to Cyril, who thought of his cousin
with a remorseful grief that was very real. And now, when those first
days of mourning for the dead were over, he began to think of his own
position, which was full of perplexity.

Kenrick’s death had made him master of Culverhouse Castle. He had new
ties, new duties. His first thought was to repay Miss Harefield the
fifty thousand pounds. The lawyers had dawdled about the matter, Mr.
Dulcimer had been careless, and Kenrick’s parting injunction had not
been obeyed.

Cyril went to Mr. Scratchell and told him that he should mortgage
the estate directly it passed into his possession, and restore Miss
Harefield’s money.

‘She meant it for my cousin Kenrick, and not for me,’ he said. ‘I
should feel myself a thief if I retained the use of her money a day
longer than I am obliged.’

It was agreed therefore that the money should be refunded as soon
as Cyril found himself in a position to raise money upon his newly
acquired estate. He was now Sir Cyril, an empty honour which he had no
intention of parading among the simple people who only knew him as ‘the
parson,’ and who might possibly think a baronet less approachable and
sympathetic in their difficulties and griefs than plain ‘mister.’



CHAPTER XV.

MR. PIPER ASSERTS HIMSELF.


‘YOU ride, of course,’ Captain Standish said to Bella, upon one of her
Thursday afternoons, in the middle of September.

Bella blushed. She had never mounted a horse in her life.

‘I am very fond of riding,’ she said.

‘Have you ever ridden to hounds?’

‘Do you mean hunted?’ she asked, naively. ‘Oh no, never.’

‘Then you must begin this winter. I’ll show you the way, and take care
of you.’

‘I don’t think Mr. Piper would let me hunt,’ said Bella, dubiously.
‘I’ve heard him abuse hunting ladies; and as he never rides himself----’

‘What has that to do with it?’ asked the captain, contemptuously.

Captain Standish had long cast off all semblance of respect in
his manner of speaking about Mr. Piper. Bella had taken that first
desperate step in a woman’s downward course which a wife takes when she
submits to hear her husband depreciated.

‘What has Mr. Piper’s taste to do with your pleasure? It would be very
difficult to find a horse that would carry him, and I suppose he would
ride in about as good form as a sack of coals. I should so like you to
hunt with me, Isabel. You must make him buy you a good hunter.’

Captain Standish was the only person who had ever called her Isabel.
He had chosen to call her thus, in their confidential moments, because
every one else called her Bella. The moment in which he had spoken that
name marked an epoch in her life. She could look back and remember.
They were standing side by side under the big beech, she leaning on her
bow, as she stopped to rest after a dozen shots, when he bent over her
to take the arrow out of her hand, and praised her for her skill in
archery.

‘I am so proud of your progress, Isabel.’

The name spoken tenderly, in a subdued voice, was as startling as a
name whispered in a sleeper’s ear.

‘You must not call me by my Christian name, Captain Standish,’ she
said, making her poor little protest, which he knew meant nothing.

‘Yes, I must. It is the only name pretty enough for you. I have a
choking sensation every time I have to call you Mrs. Piper.’

So from that time forward he had called her Isabel, whenever they found
themselves alone.

‘I don’t think Mr. Piper would let me ride, much less hunt,’ said
Bella, thoughtfully.

‘Yes, he would. You know very well that you can twist him round your
little finger.’

‘I should dearly love hunting,’ she said, with a vague idea of skimming
over ploughed fields, like a swallow, and flying over fences upon a
horse whose only desire was to jump.

‘Get Piper to give his consent to your having a horse of your own, and
let me choose one for you. I think you could trust my choice.’

‘Indeed I could,’ sighed Bella.

That idea of hunting had taken possession of her narrow little mind
already. It seemed the one thing needful to her happiness, the one
distinction necessary to raise her to the social pinnacle she was
always trying to scale. It would bring her into familiar intercourse
with the county people, and then her prettiness and pleasing manners
would do the rest. In the hunting field she would stand alone, not
borne down by Mr. Piper’s vulgarity.

‘I’ll tell you how to manage Piper,’ said the captain. ‘Say that you
are out of health, and that your doctor has ordered you to ride. You
can make your doctor order anything you like, you know. He’ll take the
hint, if he sees you’ve set your heart upon riding, and he’ll tell
Piper that it’s a matter of vital necessity.’

Bella acted upon this idea. She was not so healthy a subject as Mrs.
Piper as she had been when she was Miss Scratchell. She had languors,
and nervous headaches, and shooting pains, and divers spasmodic or
hysterical affections which were unknown to her in the days of her
poverty. Hard work and hard living are the best regimen for these
disorders. Bella had plenty of leisure now for imaginary ailments, and
really believed herself a peculiarly delicate piece of human mechanism.

She sent for Mr. Namby the day after this conversation with Captain
Standish, and told him she was feeling low and nervous, and that she
feared there must be something radically wrong, something organic.

Now if the village surgeon had been attending Miss Scratchell he would
have laughed such a notion to scorn, but this idea of organic disease
in the mistress of the Park was not to be dismissed too lightly. The
Park had been an important source of Mr. Namby’s income, in the late
Mrs. Piper’s time, and he did not want the doors to be shut upon him
now, so he smiled his most sympathetic smile, and gave a gentle sigh;
the smile to re-assure, the sigh to express fore-knowledge of every
evil the Fates had in store for his patient; and then he put his two
fingers gently upon Bella’s wrist, looking at his watch the while,
as if a beat more or less in the minute were a matter of supreme
importance.

‘Thready,’ he said, shaking his head gravely.

‘I have a weak pulse, have I not?’ asked Bella. ‘I fancy I want
exercise--open air--a more invigorating life. I drive a good deal; but
there is not much exercise in that, you know.’

‘Very little,’ assented Mr. Namby.

‘Don’t you think riding might be good for me?’

‘The very thing I was about to recommend.’

‘But I’m afraid Mr. Piper might not like me to ride,’ suggested Bella.

‘From my knowledge of Mr. Piper’s devotion to you, my dear madam, I
feel assured that he would not oppose anything likely to be of benefit
to you,’ said Mr. Namby, with conviction.

‘Then perhaps you will be kind enough to mention it to him. Stop and
take your luncheon with us. He is generally at home for luncheon. I
feel that I ought to do something, I am getting into such a low way. I
began to fancy my heart was affected.’

‘If there really were anything wrong about the heart, riding would be
dangerous.’

‘Well, I dare say it is only indigestion, caused by want of exercise.’

Mr. Namby stayed to luncheon. His practice was not so extensive
as to forbid his indulging himself with a little leisure once in a
way. He had not enjoyed himself so much for a long time; indeed, not
since Bella’s wedding breakfast, at which he had been a humble guest,
squeezed into a corner at the foot of the table, where very few people
saw him, and where some of the best dishes never penetrated.

Mr. Piper happened to be in a particularly good humour. He had been
speculating a little, by way of amusement, in woollen goods, and his
venture had turned up trumps. He opened a bottle of his best champagne
for Mr. Namby, a rose-tinted wine, that creamed and sparkled gently in
the shallow glass, and did not run over in foolish froth, like ginger
beer.

Mr. Namby took some curried lobster, and a mutton cutlet, and the
breast of a partridge, and a bit of Harrogate cheese, and a bunch of
Mr. Piper’s famous Alexandria Muscats, which had cost a small fortune
to grow, and he had a very fair share of the rose-tinted champagne;
and after being thus regaled, he declared, with conviction, that
horsemanship was the one thing needed to restore Mrs. Piper to perfect
health.

‘Why, there’s nothing the matter with her that I can see,’ exclaimed
Mr. Piper, taking his wife’s little hand, and making a sandwich of it
between two puffy paws. ‘She’s as pretty as ever, and she’s as plump as
the partridges we’ve just eaten.’

‘These nervous disorders are very insidious,’ said Mr. Namby.

‘What should make her nervous?’

‘We’ve had so many parties,’ said Bella. ‘And your Great Yafford
friends are so coarse and noisy. I always feel tired to death after
an hour or two of their society. And we have been to so many of their
wearisome dinners. Nothing wears me out like one of those stupid
dinners, where we sit three hours at table, wondering when the hired
footmen will leave off bringing round dishes that nobody wants, except
the people whose only pleasure in life is gluttony.’

‘Mrs. Piper has a very feeble pulse,’ said Mr. Namby, after a lingering
sip of Madeira. ‘She wants fresh air and vigorous exercise.’

‘She can go out walking. I dare say she has given way to laziness a bit
since she’s had three carriages at her command. It’s a new sensation
for her, poor little lass. She had to stir her stumps, trudging
backwards and forwards from here to the village every day, when she was
governess to my girls.’

Bella was dumb with disgust and indignation. To have a husband who
spoke of her thus! Who made his pompous boast of having picked a pearl
out of the gutter.

‘I don’t know about walking exercise,’ said Mr. Namby, who knew that
his patient wanted a horse, and nothing but a horse. ‘That might
possibly be too fatiguing for Mrs. Piper. Now riding is exercise
without fatigue.’

‘Well, then, I suppose she must ride,’ exclaimed Mr. Piper, with an air
of resignation. ‘If she has set her heart upon it she’ll do it, cost
what it may. Yes, at the risk of breaking her neck, and an old fool’s
heart into the bargain. There never was such a girl for having her own
way. Look at her, Namby! Wouldn’t you think she was the softest bit
of pink and white womanhood that ever mother Nature moulded, a gentle
little puss that would sit on your lap, and purr with good temper and
contentment, a lump of softness and affection that never knew what it
was to have a will of her own? That’s what I thought before I married
her. But I know better now. She’s as hard as nails, and when she wants
anything she’ll have it, if it was to cost you your fortune.’

‘I don’t think I am asking for anything very dreadful,’ said Bella. ‘A
horse which may cost you a hundred pounds----’

‘Oh, hang it!’ cried Piper. ‘We’ve horses enough. If you must ride you
can ride one of the carriage horses.’

‘A creature nearly seventeen hands high,’ exclaimed Bella,
contemptuously. ‘I don’t want to ride a camel. Pray say no more about
it. It is Mr. Namby’s idea that I ought to ride, not mine.’

‘Does she really want it?’ asked the bewildered Piper, appealing to the
surgeon.

‘I think it might give her tone. There is a decided want of tone at
present.’

‘There was no want of tone when she used to come every morning to teach
my children. She used to look as fresh as a newly opened rose.’

‘She had not the cares of a large household upon her shoulders in those
days,’ suggested Mr. Namby.

‘The household doesn’t trouble her. She isn’t like poor Moggie, who
fretted herself to fiddle-strings about sixpences. She’s a born lady,
is the duchess yonder. She sits in an easy chair and reads novels, and
lets the household take care of itself. If poor Moggie could rise from
the grave and take a peep at our servants’ hall----well, it’s a comfort
she can’t, for I’m sure she’d never go back again.’

‘Pray say no more,’ said Bella, getting up and going towards the door.
‘You have said more than enough already. I would not let you buy me a
horse now if you were to go down on your knees to beg me.’

‘Hoity, toity!’ cried Mr. Piper, but Bella had bounced out of the room,
leaving him face to face with Mr. Namby, who, alarmed at the storminess
of the domestic sky, made haste to depart.

Mr. Piper ordered the pony carriage--his wife’s pony carriage--and
drove himself to Great Yafford. This appropriation of Bella’s carriage
and ponies was an act of self-assertion on his part, and was meant as
a kind of manifesto. He felt that the time had come when he must be
master. But it was the most joyless drive he had ever taken. The very
road looked dreary, barren, and uncomfortable in the autumnal light.
How fast the leaves were falling, how dull and cold everything looked.
Yes, assuredly Summer had gone. He had hardly noticed it till now. He
loitered at his club while the ponies were being rested and fed, and
contrived to be home rather late for dinner. He expected black looks
from Bella when he went into the drawing-room, where she was waiting,
daintily dressed, with the unfailing novel open in her lap; but to his
surprise she received him as pleasantly as if nothing had happened.

This mollified him, and he made no further attempt at self-assertion
that evening.

‘I hope you didn’t want your ponies, little woman,’ he said. ‘I took
’em.’

‘My ponies,’ laughed Bella. ‘As if anything I have were really mine! I
am like the butterflies in the garden. I enjoy all the sweets, but I
don’t pay for them, and they don’t belong to me.’

‘That’s not true, Bella, and you know it,’ exclaimed Mr. Piper. ‘You
haven’t forgotten the marriage service. “With all my worldly goods I
thee endow.” I endowed you with my worldly goods, Bella, and, without
wishing to hurt your feelings, I must say that so far you’ve made
pretty free with ’em. But I see how it is, you’re offended because I
refused you a saddle-horse this morning. Well, perhaps it was rather
mean of me, especially after I’d made a little bit of money by a side
wind. But you see, we’ve been spending a lot this year, and I began to
feel it was time to pull in a bit. However, I’ve been talking to White,
and he says the carriage horses are too tall for a lady, and they might
throw themselves forward from the habit of hanging on the collar; so
never mind, my pet, you shall have a saddle-horse, and as far as a
hundred pounds will go you shall have a good one.’

‘No,’ said Bella, drawing herself up, ‘after what you said
to-day--before Mr. Namby, too, no doubt it’s all over the village by
this time--I wouldn’t let you spend another sixpence upon me. You
made me feel my dependence too keenly. You expected me to be quite
a different kind of wife, yielding, subservient, without an idea of
my own, like a Circassian slave, bought in the market-place. No, Mr.
Piper, I am not such a degraded creature.’

Mr. Piper had to supplicate before Bella would accept his offer of a
hundred guinea horse. He did not actually go down on his knees, but he
humiliated himself to the uttermost, and the dinner, which had been
perilled by his late return, was spoiled by this extra delay.

This was the end of Mr. Piper’s first attempt at self-assertion.



CHAPTER XVI.

CAPTAIN STANDISH CHOOSES A HORSE.


HAVING gained her point, and secured the promise of a saddle-horse,
Bella wasted no time in getting herself ready to ride him. She was
far too wise a little woman to exhibit herself publicly on horseback,
before she had learned how to ride. She drove to Great Yafford early
next morning, was measured for a habit by the best tailor in the town,
and from the tailor’s went to a riding school in the suburbs, where the
daughters of the plutocracy learned to sit straight in their saddles,
and to take desperate leaps over a pole two feet from the tan floor.

Here Mrs. Piper arrived early enough to attire herself in a borrowed
riding-habit, and to get an hour’s private lesson before the daily
class began.

‘It is so very long since I’ve ridden,’ she said to the master--a being
of hybrid aspect, in whom the swing and swagger of the cavalry soldier
was curiously mixed with the distinctive graces of the circus rider,
‘my husband is afraid I might feel nervous on horseback.’

‘Is it very long, ma’am?’ asked the master, with a view to the
selection of an animal of exceptional docility.

‘Well, yes,’ said Bella, who, in her present stage of being, had never
ridden anything more dangerous than a wooden rocking-horse. ‘It is
rather a long time.’

‘Tame Cat,’ roared the master to his subordinate, and in about five
minutes a horse of nondescript appearance--the kind of animal which
seems to be grown on purpose for riding-masters and flymen--a creature
with a straight neck, splay feet, and a rat tail, but gifted with an
expression of patient longsuffering which, from a moral point of view,
atoned for his want of beauty.

Bella was mounted on Tame Cat, the master mounted a tall ugly
chestnut with a white blaze on his face, and the two horses began to
circumambulate the barn-like building at a solemn walk. Then came the
exciting canter, and then the mathematical trot, which was for first
too much for even Bella’s natural aptitude at doing everything she
particularly wanted to do. At the end of the hour, however, there was a
marked improvement, and the master complimented his new pupil.

‘You were a good deal out of practice, ma’am,’ he said, ‘but you’ll get
into it again nicely in a dozen lessons.’

‘I shall come every morning for a week,’ said Bella, ‘and you must
teach me as much as you can in the shortest possible time. Suppose I
were to take a double lesson, two hours instead of one.’

‘You might find it too fatiguing.’

‘I don’t mind fatigue a bit,’ answered Bella, curiously forgetful
of her depressed state of health. ‘I shall take a two hours’ lesson
to-morrow. But, remember, you are not to tell anybody about my coming
here. It seems so foolish for a person of my age to be taking riding
lessons.’

‘Lor’ bless your heart, ma’am, there’s ladies that come here old enough
to be your grandmother. You should see them go round in the canter,
with their poor old elbows waggling.’

For six days Bella pursued this secret course of instruction. She
contrived to have particular business in Great Yafford every morning.
Once she went to carry a hamper of good things to the dear girls at
Miss Turk’s, twice to her dressmaker, once to her milliner, once to
change books at the library, once to make an early call upon Mrs.
Wigzell.

Mr. Piper accompanied her sometimes, but she dropped him at his club,
and he in no way interfered with her liberty. At the end of the week
the habit was sent home from the tailor’s, and Bella had learned to
ride. She had jumped the pole successfully at its greatest altitude,
and it seemed to her simple soul that there was nothing she could
not achieve in the hunting-field. She had learned to sit straight,
to keep her right shoulder back, to trot easily round a corner. The
riding-master dismissed her with an assurance that she was a first-rate
horse-woman, which he could very well afford to do, as she had paid him
a guinea a lesson and made him a present at parting.

‘If you really mean me to have a horse, Mr. Piper, I think Captain
Standish would be kind enough to choose one for me. You know what a
judge he is.’

‘I’ve heard people say as much,’ assented Piper, ‘and I must confess he
rides and drives pretty tidy cattle. But I don’t see why I shouldn’t
choose your horse myself. It will be my money that’ll have to pay for
it, not Captain Standish’s.’

‘My dear Mr. Piper, horses are so out of your line. You might choose
some big clumsy creature--very handsome in his way, no doubt, like the
Flemish dray horses, but quite unsuited for me. And you know when you
bought the bays you never noticed the splint in Juno’s fore-leg.’

‘It wasn’t my business,’ growled Mr. Piper. ‘I paid for a vet’s
opinion.’

‘Precisely, and got cheated in spite of him. Now Captain Standish is
not like a veterinary surgeon. He’ll get no commission. You had better
let him choose a horse for me.’

‘Well, my dear, if you like him to do so I’ve no objection. I’ve
promised you a horse, and I won’t go from my bargain. Come, I’ll tell
you what I’ll do. I’ll write you a cheque for a hundred, and you and
Standish can settle the business between you. If he’s clever enough to
get a good horse for seventy-five, you can spend the difference on a
new gown. You’re never tired of getting new gowns.’

Mr. Piper wrote the cheque and went his way, with a mind untainted
by jealousy. He trusted this pretty young wife of his with the
guardianship of his honour, as implicitly as he had trusted homely
middle-aged Mrs. Piper the first. He knew that Bella was not faultless.
He was far from feeling perfect satisfaction with all her ways. He knew
that she was spending his money like water. But the hideous idea that
she could dishonour him, were it only in thought, had not yet poisoned
his peace.

The cheque was written on a Thursday, and in the afternoon Captain
Standish appeared among the commercial aristocracy who now recognised
Mrs. Piper’s Thursday afternoons as a pleasant way of wasting a couple
of hours, airing their self-importance, and exercising their carriage
horses.

‘Has Piper consented to your hunting this season?’ asked the captain,
eagerly.

He was just so much in love as to feel that the hunting-field would be
an arid waste without Bella.

‘He has consented to my riding, and he has given me a hundred pounds
to buy a horse. Here is the cheque, and if you really don’t mind the
trouble of choosing one----’

‘You shall have the handsomest horse in Yorkshire,’ said the captain,
putting the cheque in his waistcoat pocket.

‘But a hundred pounds won’t be enough for that, will it?’ asked
Bella. ‘One hears of such extravagant prices being given for horses
now-a-days.’

‘It will be quite enough, as I shall manage.’

‘Ah, you are so clever about horse-flesh. Our coachman says the horses
you ride are something wonderful.’

‘I don’t ride screws,’ said the captain, with a well-satisfied air.

He had a lofty pity for the poor creatures who had to ride anything
they could get, and be thankful, and to dress themselves respectably
upon something under that eight hundred a year which Brummel declared
to be the lowest amount upon which a gentleman could clothe himself.

Early in the next week Bella received a little note from the captain,
written at one of his London clubs.


  ‘Dear and liege lady,’--

  ‘I have bought you a perfect hunter, the gem of Sir Lionel Hawtree’s
  stud, sold at Tattersall’s this afternoon. I shall bring him to you
  on Thursday morning. Be ready for a preliminary canter in the park.
  He is young, and full of playfulness, but without an atom of vice. He
  is quite the handsomest thing you ever saw--black as my hat, and with
  the sinews of a gladiator, as light as an antelope, and as strong as
  a lion. I long to see you mounted on him.

  ‘Yours always,
  ‘STEPHEN STANDISH.’


Bella felt pleased, but slightly doubtful as to the advantage of such
a combination of strength, playfulness, and agility. The horses she
had ridden at Mr. Hammerman’s Riding Academy had not been given to
playfulness. Nor did she feel sure that a creature with gladiatorial
sinews and leonine strength would be altogether the nicest thing to
ride. She might be tired before he was. However, she was full of pride
at the idea of having a horse of such distinguished beauty, and of
being able to lord it over the Miss Porkmans, who were very proud of
their horsemanship, and very fond of talking about their hairbreadth
‘scapes and ventures, and how they had taken it out of their horses,
which, according to their own account, were of a very wild and
dangerous breed. Bella had no doubt she would be able to take it out
of the black. She was glad he was black. There is something so common
about a bay. She could hardly rest till Thursday morning came. She went
half-a-dozen times to the stables to see that the black’s loose box was
properly prepared, with its fringes and decorations of plaited straw,
and all the newest improvements in stable fittings. She was walking
up and down the broad gravel drive in front of the portico, when the
captain appeared, riding his handsome chestnut, followed by a groom,
who led a creature so clothed and knee-capped and hooded, that nothing
was visible but checked kerseymere. He appeared, furthermore, to have a
monstrous hump, which gave him the appearance of a Bactrian camel.

‘I should have ridden him over myself, but I would not bring him to you
with the dust of the road upon him,’ said the captain, dismounting, and
shaking hands, a lingering hand-shake with a tender little pressure at
the end. ‘Now, Dobbs, off with the clothes.’

The black was stripped in a minute or two, and stood before them in all
his beauty, a glossy-coated, thoroughbred, finely moulded creature,
with a backward roll of his full eye, and an alert movement of his
delicate ear, common to horses of his high breeding.

‘Isn’t he perfect?’ asked the captain, contemplating his purchase with
the eye of pride.

‘He is lovely, and I don’t know how to thank you,’ answered Bella,
watching the black’s restless eyeball; ‘but isn’t he dreadfully
high-spirited? You know I don’t pretend to be a Diana Vernon.’

‘You could not do anything badly if you tried,’ said the captain.
‘Don’t be alarmed. Erebus has a lovely temper. With your light little
hand on his snaffle, and with a comfortable bit in his mouth, he’ll go
as gently as a Shetland pony.’

‘Is he called Erebus?’

‘Yes, he was sold under that name. You can change it if you like.’

‘No, I think it’s rather a good name,’ answered Bella, patting Erebus’s
velvet nose, a liberty which he endured with perfect affability. ‘It
isn’t common.’

The Miss Porkmans’ horses were called Prince and Daisy.

The cause of the hump-like appearance which had puzzled Bella was a
very handsome side-saddle of quilted doeskin--quite the perfection of a
saddle.

‘I ventured to have him measured for a saddle directly I decided on
buying him for you,’ explained the captain. ‘The saddlers had to work
day and night to get it finished by yesterday evening. You must please
to accept the saddle as my humble offering.’

‘Oh, I really couldn’t,’ exclaimed Bella. ‘It’s too good of you, but
I’m sure Mr. Piper would not allow----’

‘I’ll answer for Mr. Piper’s approval. And now run and put on your
habit, and try Erebus’s paces over that smooth bit of turf.’

Bella ran away and reappeared in about ten minutes, looking the
prettiest little huntress imaginable, perfectly dressed from the top
of her neat chimney-pot to the point of her morocco boot. She had
forgotten nothing.

Captain Standish lifted her into the saddle, gave her the reins, and
then mounted by her side. They walked quietly to the stretch of turf,
and then and there, the instant he felt the grass under his hoofs,
Erebus bolted with his light burden.

She sat him splendidly, feeling as if her last hour were come. After
making a wild circuit of a mile or so, he consented to be pulled up,
and stood looking the image of innocence, when Captain Standish rode
slowly up to him.

‘I hope you didn’t think me cruel for not riding after you,’ said the
captain. ‘My horse would have only made yours go faster. I saw you were
mistress of him. He suits you to a nicety. But you shouldn’t indulge
him with that kind of spurt often. It isn’t good form.’

‘N--no,’ faltered Bella, who had no more control over the black than
she had over the hastening clouds in the autumn sky.

‘Now we’ll go for a ride over the moor, and you shall take it out of
him,’ said the captain.

They went upon the moor, and the black took it out of Bella, for she
went home after a two hours ride more exhausted than she had ever felt
in her life before.

There had been no opportunity even for the captain to breathe the sweet
poison of his unhallowed love in his companion’s ear, although they
were alone together under the wide heaven. The black had absorbed the
attention of both. He was a creature of infinite resources, and of as
much variety as the serpent of old Nile. They never knew what he might
be doing next.

‘Do you really think I shall be able to hunt with him?’ asked Bella,
when she dismounted, faint and exhausted, at her own door.

‘I’m sure of it. You have a first-rate seat. It’s only your hands that
want a little more education. When we have had half-a-dozen rides
together you will be able to do what you like with Erebus. I would not
have bought him for you if there had been an atom of vice in him. But
before you ride him to hounds I’ll hunt him a day or two myself, and
see how he takes his fences.’

‘Perhaps that would be best,’ said Bella. ‘Mr. Piper is so nervous
about my riding. Certainly, Erebus is a most lovely creature. He must
be very cheap for a hundred pounds.’

‘Well, yes,’ said the captain, smiling, ‘he may fairly be called a
bargain--at that price.’



CHAPTER XVII.

VANESSA’S VISIT.


EREBUS was in due course shown to Mr. Piper, who knew so little about
horses as to be scarcely worthy to be called a Yorkshireman. His own
particular vanity in the way of horse-flesh was a fast pony that could
trot between the shafts of a light carriage for any number of hours
without rest or refreshment. Anything beyond that was out of his line.
He contemplated the black with a cool survey, and thought that there
was very little of him for the money.

‘Isn’t he lovely?’ asked Bella, patting the creature’s sleek neck.

Erebus was of a heavenly temper in his stable. It was only when
conscious of humanity on his back that he was subject to fits of
waywardness.

‘Well, he aren’t bad-looking,’ assented the unenthusiastic Piper; ‘but
if I’d chose a horse for you I should have picked one with more timber
and a better back for the saddle. I hope he’s quiet.’

‘Oh, he’s everything that’s nice,’ answered Bella, with a fluttering
of her heart at the recollection of some of Erebus’s manœuvres that
morning. ‘I shall feel as easy on him as in an arm-chair--when I get
used to him.’

‘And Captain Standish gave you a riding lesson, did he?’ inquired Mr.
Piper.

‘Yes, he went over the moor with me, just to show me how to manage
Erebus.’

‘That was very civil of him. But you mustn’t be riding about with him
often, you know, Bella. It wouldn’t do. You mean no harm, and he means
no harm. I know that, my dear. But it would set people talking--and I’m
as proud a man as Cæsar in my way. I won’t have my wife talked about.’

Bella buried her pale face in the black’s silky mane. She did not care
to meet her husband’s honest eyes just at this particular moment.

‘I would not for the world do anything you dislike,’ she said, meekly;
‘but I want to learn how to manage Erebus, and I don’t think any
one could teach me so well as Captain Standish. And, by and by, when
the foxhunting begins, if you did not mind, I should like very much
to--to----’ Here Mr. Piper glared at her with a look so awful that she
remodelled the end of her sentence--’ to see the hounds throw off.’

‘You could drive to the meet in your pony chay,’ said Mr. Piper.
‘Nobody could say there was harm in that.’

‘It would be much nicer to go on horseback,’ pleaded Bella, laying her
little white hand caressingly on Mr. Piper’s velvet collar.

‘Why, what a baby you are, little woman!’ he exclaimed, mollified
by that light touch, and the coaxing look in the Dresden china
face. ‘Yon horse is a new toy. You’ll be wanting to ride him into
the drawing-room, I shouldn’t wonder, or to have him lying on the
hearth-rug of a winter evening, like a Newfoundland.’

This, in Bella’s idea, meant permission to go to the meet, and once at
the meet it would be very easy to follow the hounds for half an hour
or so, and to declare afterwards that it was Erebus’s doing, quite an
involuntary bit of hunting on her own part. Bella was past mistress of
those small arts by which an adroit unscrupulous woman manages to get
her own way.

‘I’ll tell you what,’ said Mr. Piper presently, ‘if you want to have
company when you’re out riding, you’d better ask one of Porkman’s
girls to come and spend a week with you and bring her hoss. They’re
first-rate horsewomen, both of ’em.’

‘I should be very glad to have Vanessa,’ said Bella. ‘I think she’s the
nicest--or, at any rate, the least nasty,’ she added hastily.

Mrs. Porkman was a woman gifted with dim and uncultured aspirations
after the beautiful. She had filled her drawing-room with heterogeneous
bric-a-brac, including every variety of bad art, from Cleopatra’s
needle in Cornish serpentine to the latest monstrosity in Bohemian
glass, and she had called her two eldest daughters Stella and Vanessa,
having read of two young women of that name once in a book. She had
forgotten all about the book, and the young women, but the names had
lingered in her memory. She had her eldest daughter christened Stella,
and in due time there appeared a Vanessa to complete the pair, and to
take to Stella’s cast-off frocks.

Bella thought it would not be altogether inconvenient--nay, it would
be very convenient--to have Vanessa Porkman for her companion. With
Vanessa riding on her left side, Captain Standish might ride on her
right, without giving occasion for scandal. She was not at all afraid
of Vanessa being scandalized by anything she saw or heard. The second
Miss Porkman was so far in advance of her age, that she had in a manner
anticipated all the feminine fastness of the nineteenth century.
The skating rink, the ladies’ club of the future, contained nothing
calculated to shock Vanessa.

Miss Porkman accepted Mrs. Piper’s invitation gladly. She owned with a
charming candour that she was always glad to get away from home. She
was quite open-minded in her contempt for her own family, and never
even pretended to think them refined or well-bred. ‘Papa is simply
dreadful,’ she would declare frankly. ‘I quite wonder how any of us
put up with him. I suppose it is only because he is the family banker.
If he wasn’t, we should put him in the gardener’s barrow and wheel him
down to the edge of the river, and topple him comfortably in, and get
rid of him as quietly as the gentle Hindoos do of their parents when
they’ve lived long enough.’

Miss Porkman came. She was a florid young woman, with bold brown eyes,
an affectation of short sight, an eye-glass, and an insatiable thirst
for masculine society. Contemplated from an abstract ethnological
point of view, she was a remarkably interesting example of the depth
of deterioration to which the womanly character can descend among the
well-to-do classes; but she was an excruciating young woman to live
with.

In her mind the business of a woman’s life was flirtation. To be
admired, to agitate the hearts of men, to lure the luckless Strephon
from his legitimate Chloe, these things, in Miss Porkman’s mind,
constituted woman’s mission. She was not strong-minded, she was no
eager reformer, she didn’t care twopence about universal suffrage; but
she wanted to be the Cleopatra of her small world, to have Cæsar, and
Pompey, and Antonius, and the young Augustus, and every man of them
subjugated and adoring. She had unlimited confidence in her own good
looks, and a scornful pity for plain women, with whom nobody cared to
flirt.

The fair Vanessa had tried her hardest to entangle Captain Standish in
those flowery chains which she kept in stock for all eligible victims,
but the captain had not allowed himself to be bound. She had seen with
disgust that he was a constant guest at the Park, and that he lavished
upon Bella those attentions which she had herself unsuccessfully
invited. To flirt with a married woman was in Miss Porkman’s eyes
not so much immoral as it was cowardly. She would have excused the
immorality, but she could not forgive the cowardice. Here was evidently
a man who feared to trust himself within the range of her charms, lest
he should be caught unawares and meshed in the matrimonial net, and
who amused himself with a vapid flirtation in a quarter where he felt
himself ignobly safe.

‘He can’t care for such a little waxen image as Mrs. Piper,’ said Miss
Porkman, contemplating her Juno-like figure in her cheval-glass, ‘but
he doesn’t want to marry into the commercial classes, and he’s afraid
to trust himself with _me_.’

Vanessa came to Little Yafford Park, resolved to leave it a conqueror.
She brought her prettiest dresses. She brought her horse, and she
believed herself invincible on horseback. If Captain Standish was as
much at the Park as report said he was, Vanessa felt sure of victory.

She was not disappointed. Captain Standish came every day, and rode
every day on the moor with Bella and Miss Porkman. He taught Bella how
to manage the black, and he was sufficiently attentive to Vanessa to
keep that young lady in perpetual good humour with herself and him.

Bella’s pluck, which was undeniable, made up in a great measure for her
want of experience. In a week she was mistress of Erebus, and seemed
well able to cope with his whims and uncertainties, his disposition to
take fright at shadows, and to bolt on every inconvenient occasion.

‘I never knew any one learn to ride so quickly,’ said the captain, ‘for
upon my word, you know, frankly, you knew very little about it when you
first rode Erebus.’

Bella blushed, remembering how little she had known, how much less even
than the captain gave her credit for knowing.

Mr. Piper saw them start for their ride sometimes, and was pleased to
see his little woman happy. He could see no harm in her accepting the
captain’s escort while she had Vanessa Porkman with her, an expensively
educated, well brought up young woman, who knew what was what, and
would be sure to keep Captain Standish in his place. He praised the
black, and thanked the captain for buying that accomplished animal.

‘He’s rather too weedy for my style,’ said Mr. Piper, ‘but he looks
well-bred, and he carries my little woman beautifully.’

Captain Standish dined at the Park twice during the week, at Mr.
Piper’s particular invitation.

‘Do you know, Bella,’ said Ebenezer, one night, after Miss Porkman had
lighted her candle and left them, ‘I think Standish is smitten with
Vanessa. I shouldn’t wonder if it was to be a match. She’s an uncommon
fine girl, and old Porkman could give her twenty thousand and feel none
the poorer for it. She wouldn’t be a bad catch for the captain.’

‘Catch!’ echoed Bella, contemptuously. ‘Do you suppose Captain Standish
wants what you call a catch? Do you think he would care to take Mr.
Porkman’s twenty thousand pounds, and go down to the grave associated
with provisions? Captain Standish could not afford to marry Vanessa if
he loved her to distraction. Whenever he marries he must marry rank.
You forget that his mother is Lady Emmeline Standish.’

‘No, I don’t,’ said Mr. Piper. ‘But I can’t see that his mother’s
having a handle to her name need make Porkman’s money less acceptable.
Money can buy land, can’t it? and, in England, land means aristocracy.
Put your money into the soil, and you’re an aristocrat. That’s how I
take it. I should never have bought this place, to pay me two and a
half per cent., if I hadn’t felt that I was hooking myself on to the
landed gentry. I say,’ concluded Mr. Piper, spreading his coat tails
as he stood with his portly back to the fire, ‘I say that Vanessa
Porkman would be a capital match for Standish, and he’s a fool if he
can’t see it.’

‘Pray don’t take up Mrs. Dulcimer’s craze of match-making,’ said Bella,
scornfully.

She was indignant at the idea that any one could suppose Captain
Standish in love with Vanessa--that large middle-class Juno.

Poor Mrs. Dulcimer’s good-natured soul was perturbed by Vanessa’s
visit. She went to the Park on Thursday afternoon, and remonstrated
with Bella for her short-sightedness and want of sisterly feeling.

‘My dear, you are letting that horrid Miss Porkman cut out poor
Clementina,’ she complained. ‘This visit of hers will quite spoil
Clementina’s chance with Captain Standish.’

‘Indeed, Mrs. Dulcimer, Tina never had any chance with Captain
Standish. He is not a marrying man. I have heard him say as much.’

‘Oh, my dear, they all say that, and even think it until they are
caught. It doesn’t make the slightest difference. I am sure he admired
your sister, and it would have been such a splendid match for her,
and so nice for you to have had such aristocratic connections. Lady
Emmeline would have been your--something in-law. And now you have
spoiled it all by inviting Miss Porkman.’

‘I wanted some one to ride with me,’ said Bella. ‘Clementina can’t
ride, and hasn’t a horse.’

‘Well, it is a great pity. Everybody says that Captain Standish is in
love with Miss Porkman.’

Bella knew that Mrs. Dulcimer’s everybody usually meant herself and
Rebecca.

And now the time drew near for Bella to try her fortune in the
hunting-field. She sounded Miss Porkman, and found that young lady
eager for anything fast and furious. Vanessa had never hunted--Mr.
Porkman objecting to ladies in the field just as strongly as Mr. Piper.
But she was quite ready to hazard the paternal anger, supposing it
impossible to have a day’s sport without her father coming to hear of
it.

‘He has never actually forbidden us to hunt,’ said Vanessa, ‘but I know
he doesn’t like ladies riding to hounds. I’ve heard him say so very
often. However, he won’t know anything about it till it’s all over, and
when he does hear of it I must weather the storm somehow.’

Vanessa had weathered a good many paternal tempests since she had
emerged from the nursery, stormy winds blown up by milliner’s bills,
hurricanes provoked by too reckless flirtations, and divers other
meteorological disturbances of a domestic nature. A storm, more or
less, in Vanessa’s opinion made no difference.

Captain Standish rode the black to hounds, and pronounced him perfect.

‘There’s to be a grand meet next Thursday morning at Milvey Bridge, and
we must all go,’ he said, to Bella. ‘You can tell Piper you are going
to see the hounds throw off.’



CHAPTER XVIII.

OPENING HIS EYES.


WHILE Bella had been indulging in archery, dinner-giving, riding, and
other expensive amusements, her husband’s old friend and servant,
Samuel Chumney, had returned from his fortnight’s holiday, and had
taken his place among those insignificant and unvalued guests whom
the mistress of the Park regarded rather as lookers on, or as a kind
of human furniture, than as actual participators in her gaieties and
pleasures.

On her Thursday afternoons Mrs. Piper tolerated Chumney, as a necessary
evil. His old-fashioned shirt-collars were ridiculous, but harmless.
He was quiet, and was therefore much less vulgar than the prosperous
Porkman or the millionaire Timperley. So, as it pleased Mr. Piper to
have him there, Bella endured his presence without further complaint.

‘As long as you don’t invite him to my best dinners I don’t mind,’ she
told Mr. Piper, which was certainly a great concession from a young
lady who, a year or so before, had not always been sure of having any
dinner at all.

Mr. Chumney looked on at Bella’s career, and had his own opinion about
her, and said nothing. Miss Coyle said a great deal to him, and he let
her talk, but he never committed himself by any more direct expression
of opinion than was to be gleaned from a grave nod, or a significant
shake of the head. This dumb show of his, and the general reticence
of his manners, possessed a wonderful fascination for Miss Coyle. She
opened her mind to him freely, and felt herself in the presence of
supreme worldly wisdom.

‘If poor Mr. Piper were only like you, that foolish young woman would
not venture upon such conduct,’ said Miss Coyle, whereupon Mr. Chumney
lifted his dark eyebrows, and thrust his fingers into his waistcoat
pockets, and breathed a gentle sigh.

‘Spending all her mornings riding about with that Captain Standish, a
man of notoriously dissipated character,’ said Miss Coyle, who knew as
much about the captain as she did about the inhabitants of the moon.

‘Ha!’ groaned Mr. Chumney, as if in assent to a general proposition
which he could not confute.

‘And making a bosom friend of that flashy Miss Porkman, while she
neglects her own sisters. Birds of a feather----’

‘Flock together,’ concluded Mr. Chumney, venturing to commit himself so
far.

‘How it is that Mr. Piper doesn’t see what is going on under his very
nose is more than I can imagine.’

‘Piper is a man in a thousand, madam,’ said Mr. Chumney.

‘But so foolishly confiding. Ah, Mr. Chumney, it is trying to see the
present state of things, after having had the privilege of knowing the
first Mrs. Piper.’

‘True,’ sighed Chumney.

‘How different her habits were! She was a woman of real piety, equally
anxious about this world and the next.’

‘She never could keep her cook,’ said Chumney, doubtfully. ‘I have
seen worse cooking at Piper’s table than ever I saw in my own humble
lodging.’

‘Poor Mrs. Piper was not fortunate with her servants,’ assented Miss
Coyle, ‘but then she was such a good manager. No waste or riot in
her time. How self-denying she was! To my own knowledge she rarely
discarded a silk gown till it had been turned twice.’

Miss Coyle knew very little and talked a great deal. Mr. Chumney knew a
great deal and held his peace, waiting, with masterly patience, until
the time should come for him to speak. For the last three months he
had taken upon himself the office of a private inquirer, without fee
or reward. He had made it his business to find out all that was to be
known about Captain Standish. He had gone into all manner of company in
order to make these discoveries, but his informants had been chiefly of
the back-stairs--grooms, valets, tailors, boot-makers, horse dealers,
people of all grades, who had been honoured with the captain’s custom
or patronage.

The result of his inquiries showed that Captain Standish was an
unscrupulous, unprincipled man--a man who paid his way, simply because
he had plenty of money wherewith to gratify his desires, but who
did not shrink from a dishonourable act, or hesitate at a baseness,
where dishonourable, or base, dealing could further his aims. He had
contrived in a brief career to do as much mischief as would have earned
for a young nobleman a handsome reputation, in the days when men wore
powder and patches, and considered iniquity a distinction. Another man
in Samuel Chumney’s position might have made an immediate use of his
knowledge, and let his friend know the kind of person he had admitted
to his house; but Mr. Chumney preferred to wait for some crushing proof
of the captain’s unworthiness, and he was not disinclined to let Bella
proceed far enough in her folly to disenchant her husband.

‘It will give Piper the whip-hand over her for the rest of his days,’
he thought, ‘if he finds her out in a compromising flirtation with this
fellow Standish.’

This was the condition of affairs up to the evening before the foxhunt,
when Mr. Chumney, through one of his horsey informants, became
acquainted with the history of Captain Standish’s purchase of the black
called Erebus. This piece of information he considered it his duty to
impart to Mr. Piper, without loss of time, so he walked over to Little
Yafford next morning for that purpose.

It was the last day of October, and a lovely morning. The wind was in
the south, a wind so balmy and gentle, that it only caressed the red
and golden foliage, and hardly scattered the leaves. Here and there a
withered leaf dropped lazily down from the dark brown branches, wet and
shining with autumnal dew. The grass beside the road glistened in the
morning light. A veil of vapour shrouded the hills, and gave a look
of mystery to the distant landscape. Now and then a gleam of sunshine
pierced the mist, brightening and warming all things, and then all was
gray again.

‘A fine morning for the hounds,’ said a passing rustic by way of
salutation, but Samuel Chumney responded only with a sulky nod. He did
not care for the hounds. He looked upon all field sports as waste and
foolishness, and considered it man’s proper avocation all over the
world to sit upon a high stool in a counting-house and add up columns
of figures. He felt a half-scornful tolerance for soldiers and sailors,
as needed to protect commerce, and defend the rights of the men who sat
in counting-houses. But for all other grades of humanity he had only
contempt.

Even for Mr. Chumney’s long legs it was a two hours’ walk from the
town to the village, so, although he had started directly after his
breakfast, it was nearly eleven o’clock when he arrived at the Park.
Mr. Piper was walking up and down the lawn in front of his drawing-room
windows, smoking his morning cigar.

‘Holloa, Chum,’ he exclaimed, ‘what wind blows you this way? Come over
to have a look at the farm, have you? The pigs are doing beautifully. I
feel pretty sure of a prize for some of ’em. It’s as much as they can
do to stand already. Take anything after your walk? No? Well, I know
what a sober old file you are. Come round and have a look at the pigs.’

Mr. Piper put his arm through Chumney’s, and led him towards the farm,
which was shut off from the park and gardens by shrubberies and a fir
plantation.

‘Hang your pigs!’ cried Chumney. ‘To my eye a prize pig is the most
hideous object in creation. The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty
to Animals ought to interfere. They’re down upon a costermonger for
over-driving his donkey, but they don’t say a word against a nobleman
for making an animal’s existence a slow martyrdom, by gorging it with
oil-cake until its legs refuse to carry the weight of its overfed
carcass.’

Mr. Piper, elated with the anticipation of a prize at the Christmas
Cattle Show, was in no humour to give ear to the voice of humanity on
the lips of his old cashier.

‘Come and have a look at the pigs, Chum, and don’t you take to
preaching sermons in your old age. It ain’t oil-cake either, old boy.
It’s milk and meal, and the pork will eat as tender as a chicken and
as mellow as a William pear. Do you suppose the animals are unhappy?
Not a bit of it. They’re no more unhappy than an alderman who over-eats
himself with turtle and venison. And as to their not being able to
stand, why, I’ve seen Porkman and Timperley many a time after dinner
when they’ve not been able to stand, and they were as happy as lords.’

They had arrived at the pigsties by this time, and Mr. Chumney was
regaled with the sight of various mountains of pinky flesh, out of
whose tremulous bulk issued smothered gruntings as a sole indication of
life. Here and there something like an ear was to be seen pendent from
a hillock of bristly pinkness, but Mr. Chumney looked in vain for an
eye. The organs of sight had disappeared under pendulous ridges of fat.

‘You may call that an improving exhibition,’ protested Chumney. ‘I
don’t. And now if you will withdraw your mind from your pigs for five
or ten minutes, I’ve got something serious to say to you.’

‘Serious?’ exclaimed Mr. Piper. ‘Another failure in the wool trade, I
suppose. Well, thank goodness, they can’t touch me. My money is safe.’

‘I’m not going to talk about your money. Where’s Mrs. Piper?’

‘Gone for a ride with Vanessa Porkman.’

‘And Captain Standish, I suppose.’

‘Yes, the captain was with them. He keeps a couple of horses at the
“Crown,” so as to be handy for the hunting. They’re going to see the
hounds throw off at Milvey Bridge. I think the captain’s sweet upon
Vanessa. It would be a very good match for him, and I know the Porkmans
would jump at it. But my little woman says no. The Porkmans aren’t good
enough for him.’

They had turned out of the farmyard into the plantation, a pleasant
place for a morning walk and a friendly chat. The ground was carpeted
with fir needles, and Mr. Piper had trodden for himself a narrow track
under the trees, while he smoked his after-breakfast cigar.

‘Now, old Chum,’ he said. ‘Nobody can overhear us here. Say your say.
It’s something about yourself, I suppose?’

‘No, it isn’t. It’s something about you. Now, I think you know that
I’ve always looked up to you and honoured you, that I’d go through fire
and water for you--real fire, and real water.’

‘Yes, I know that. Go on.’

‘Now I don’t like to see the man I honour putting himself in a
false position, as you are doing every day you tolerate this fellow
Standish’s attentions to your wife.’

‘Don’t be a fool!’ cried Mr. Piper, angrily. ‘Do you suppose I don’t
know how to take care of my wife? She likes to have Standish here,
because he’s the fashion, and everybody runs after him. I like her to
have him here for the same reason. The Porkmans and the Timperleys
would give their eyes to be as intimate with Captain Standish as we
are; but they haven’t the knack of making their houses pleasant to a
man of his stamp. Bella has. She’s spent my money pretty fast, but I
don’t begrudge it to her, for she’s given me a position in society
that I never had in Moggie’s time, and I’m not too proud to own it.
Don’t you come here to insinuate anything against my wife, Chumney, or
you and me will cease to know each other,’ concluded Mr. Piper, with
dignity.

He was incensed with Chumney, but he was not in the slightest degree
moved by what Chumney had said. His faith in Bella was rooted deeply.
It was intertwined with his faith in himself, and that was invincible.

‘I couldn’t be jealous if I tried,’ he said. ‘My self-respect wouldn’t
allow me.’

‘I don’t want you to be jealous, but I want you to respect yourself,’
answered Chumney. ‘I might have spoken sooner, perhaps, but I waited
till I had good grounds for speaking. First and foremost, I’ve found
out all about Captain Standish. He’s a bad lot.’

‘He’s received everywhere in the highest society.’

‘There are a good many bad lots going about in high society, without
any brand upon ’em either. He’s not a man I’d receive in my house, if I
had a house.’

‘But you haven’t, you see,’ said Piper, testily. ‘That makes all the
difference. Perhaps if you had a big house like this, and wanted to
fill it with pleasant people, you’d lower your standard of morality
a bit. It’s all very well for Diogenes to be particular about what
company he keeps. He’s only got his tub to fill, and he can fill that
himself.’

‘Don’t let’s beat about the bush, Piper. Would you like your wife
to receive a present--something to the tune of a couple of hundred
pounds--from such a man as Captain Standish?’

‘I wouldn’t let her receive such a present from any man alive, and she
knows it. Her own sense must tell her,’ exclaimed Piper, getting warm.

‘You can’t always trust to a woman’s sense, particularly when she’s
young and pretty,’ said the cynical Chumney. ‘I say your wife has
received such a present--though I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt,
and say she doesn’t know anything about it,--and by so doing has made
you and herself the talk of the Great Yafford club.’

‘What present?’ asked Piper, pale with rage.

‘The horse she rides.’

‘That’s the biggest lie that’s been told at the club for a long time,
though I’ve known ’em to tell some jolly big ones there. The horse
my wife rides was given to her by me. I wrote a cheque for a hundred
pounds, and put it in her hand. All Standish did was to choose the
horse at Tattersall’s.’

‘Do you think such a horse as that is to be bought for a hundred
pounds? Your friends at the club know all about the horse. It was the
gem of Sir Lionel Hawtree’s stud, and sold for three hundred and thirty
guineas. The difference between your cheque and the auction price was
a gift from Captain Standish to your wife. You have boasted of getting
Erebus for a hundred pounds, and have been laughed at by men who know
all about the horse. I had heard some queer things said, but I only
learned the real state of the case last night.’

‘I don’t believe it,’ exclaimed Piper. ‘Why should Captain Standish
spend his money on a horse for my wife?’

‘I don’t know why, but I know he has done it,’ returned Chumney. ‘Read
that!’

He handed Mr. Piper a cutting from _Bell’s Life_.

‘That’s from a paper two Sundays old,’ he said, ‘but I only got it last
night.’

It was the description of a sale of hunters at Tattersall’s. The
following paragraph was marked at the side in red ink:--

‘One of the gems of the stud was Erebus, a lady’s hack, fifteen two,
rising six, black, without a white hair about him, and perfect in
every point. This horse was knocked down to Captain Standish, at three
hundred and thirty guineas, after a lively competition.’

‘How do I know it is the same horse he bought for my wife?’ asked Mr.
Piper, when he had read the paragraph.

‘I don’t see much room for doubt. It’s neither a common name nor a
common colour. Of course there may be no particular harm in a man
spending his money to eke out your gift to your wife, but I think it
puts you in a false position.’

‘Think!’ roared Mr. Piper. ‘It puts me in a position that will oblige
me to kick Captain Standish out of my house; and if I thought my wife
knew it--knew that she was riding a horse bought with that man’s
money--I would shut my doors upon her as readily as upon him. I may
be a fool about Bella, but I’m only a fool within certain limits.
There are bounds, Chumney--bounds that I shan’t overstep. But I don’t
believe she knows it--no, she could not be so ungrateful--she could
not be so base as to degrade me in any man’s eyes--after my lavishing
my money upon her--picking her out of the gutter to make a duchess
of her--giving her an honest man’s love into the bargain. No, I can
believe anything of that fellow’s audacity, but nothing against her.
Don’t ask me to think ill of her.’

‘I don’t,’ said Chumney; ‘but I think it’s high time this philandering
with Captain Standish should be put a stop to, and I fancy I’ve shown
you a good reason for stopping it. I hope you don’t think I’ve gone
beyond my duty as a friend.’

‘No, Chumney, no; you have done your duty, and I shall do mine. The
horse shall go back to Standish’s stable this afternoon, and Standish
shall never cross my threshold again. But if you hear men talk of this
at the club, be sure you tell them that my wife knew nothing about it.
She has been the victim of a fop’s impertinence--that’s all.’

‘I will, Mr. Piper. You may be sure of that.’

‘And now you’d better make yourself scarce, Chumney. I’d rather be
alone when my wife comes home from her ride.’

‘You won’t be violent!’ urged Mr. Chumney.

‘No, Chumney, I am too angry to be violent. If I laid my little finger
upon Standish it would mean murder. I feel it in me to do something
dreadful. Don’t you be frightened, Chum. I shall treat him with the
utmost civility. I shall only let him understand that his little game
is found out. Good-bye.’

Mr. Chumney would have preferred to remain. He had an idea that his
friend wanted him, in this crisis of his domestic life; but Mr. Piper
thought otherwise, and was too resolute a man to allow himself to be
overruled. So Chumney went away, unrefreshed and disheartened. He did
not go back to Great Yafford immediately, but stopped at the “Crown” to
regale himself with a temperate luncheon of bread and cheese and ale.



CHAPTER XIX.

A SHORT RECKONING.


WHEN Chumney was gone Ebenezer Piper walked up and down the narrow
track in the pine plantation, ruminating upon what he had been told.
Why should any man, however princely in his ideas, make a gift of two
hundred and thirty guineas to another man’s wife? Such a thing could
hardly happen, without implying evil design in the giver. Bella might
be innocent, but this man was guilty. This gift of the horse was one
act of many, all tending towards a villanous conclusion.

And then there came back upon Mr. Piper’s mind the whole history of
his wife’s acquaintance with Captain Standish--how this man, whose
reputation had been made by an insolent exclusiveness, had been, from
his introduction at the Park, a constant visitor. Mr. Piper had been
flattered by this distinction, and had ascribed Captain Standish’s
preference to an Epicurean appreciation of his fine house, and an
intellectual pleasure in his conversation.

Now, all at once, he saw the past in a new light, and knew that he had
been blind, and deaf, and foolish. Bella’s pretty face had been the
attraction; Bella’s winning manners had been the lure.

‘If I thought that she had encouraged him, knowing his drift, if I knew
that she had been false to me by so much as one erring thought, I would
have done with her at once and for ever. She owes me too much. No, it
is impossible. It isn’t in human nature to be so base. And that pretty
little smiling face of hers--no, that could not lie.’

This was how he argued with himself. Yet there was no assurance in his
mind. His self-respect was strong still, his belief in his own claims
and merits still unshaken; but there had appeared to him a vision of a
phenomenal falsehood, a preternatural iniquity in woman.

‘If he spent his money for that horse, and she accepted the gift
knowingly, it was not his first gift,’ he said to himself. ‘There have
been letters passing between them, perhaps. I’ll search her room, and
if I find one shred of evidence against her she shall stand condemned.
I’ll have no half-measures. Either she’s my true and honest wife, or
she’s--something that shall have no shelter under my roof. She must be
all or nothing to me.’

He went back to the house.

‘Has your missus come back?’ he asked the footman idling in the hall.

‘No, sir.’

It was nearly three o’clock, long past the usual hour for luncheon.
Mr. Piper passed the open doorway of the dining-room, through which
he could see the table laid for the mid-day meal, with that modern
elegance and glow of colour which Bella had substituted for the
commonplace arrangements that had obtained before her time. He went
upstairs with a heavy step, and walked straight to his wife’s boudoir.
It was a gem of a room at the end of the corridor, with a large
bow-window overlooking the garden, a room bright with all the luxuries
and frivolities the second Mrs. Piper had accumulated during her brief
reign, buhl, Sèvre, ormolu, tortoiseshell, ivory, malachite, celadon,
turquoise, rose Du Barry, every colour and every substance, rosebud
chintz, old lace, a carpet of velvet pile.

Mr. Piper, standing at gaze and breathing his hardest, in the centre of
this crowded toy-shop-room, looked very like the traditional bull in
the china-shop, and an infuriated bull to boot. He had come there with
a purpose, but for the moment he paused irresolute. He felt ashamed of
himself for doubting his wife ever so little. The sight of this room
reassured him.

‘Didn’t I give her every one of these things?’ he said to himself. ‘How
can she help being fond of me?’

And then, just at that moment, his eye lighted upon something which
he had not given her. A Parian statuette, on a black marble base,
Danneker’s famous Ariadne.

‘No, I didn’t give her that,’ he said, ‘and it wasn’t among her wedding
presents. That’s something from _him_.’

The table was covered with books. He took up one in cream-coloured
calf, gilt edged, tooled, an exquisite specimen of Riviere’s
binding--Alfred de Musset’s poems.

On the fly-leaf there was a name written, a name that was almost
strange to Mr. Piper, though his second wife had signed it in the
marriage register.

Isabel.

Isabel, written in a bold masculine hand, beneath it a date, and two
words in a language that Mr. Piper knew not.

  _Zum Gedächtniss._

He tossed the book aside, as if it were some reptile that had stung
him, and went on with his investigation. In front of the window there
stood an old Dutch escritoire, inlaid with many-coloured woods, a thing
of numerous drawers and recesses, and quaint hiding-places, in which to
keep secret store of money or documents. It might have been the joy of
some Dutch housewife in days gone by, or the private treasury of some
rich burgher, in the fat and fertile Low Countries, where life slides
gently by in an unostentatious prosperity.

Mr. Piper had seen his wife write her letters at this desk. The lid
was closely shut, locked. This exasperated him, though it was hardly
a circumstance to be wondered at that a lady should lock her desk. In
Mr. Piper’s present temper it seemed an evidence of guilt. He tried
to wrench open the lid by means of its delicate brass handles, and
failing in this, he took out a strong knife which he used for lopping
an occasional withered branch in his park or gardens, and prised
the lock. Within all things were neatly arranged. Packets of dainty
note-paper and envelopes, gold and ivory penholders, mother-o’-pearl
blotting-book, pigeon-holes filled with letters.

Mr. Piper emptied the pigeon-holes, and ran his eye rapidly over
their contents. The letters were all undeniably feminine. No, there
was nothing here from Captain Standish. But then these old cabinets
generally contain hidden receptacles for guilty secrets, sly nests, in
which to hatch state, or domestic, treason.

Mr. Piper seized the sandalwood beading that framed the pigeon-holes,
with both his hands, and drew them out bodily, in one piece, like a
drawer. Behind them appeared a row of neat little recesses, each with
its inlaid door.

‘This is where she would keep anything she wanted to hide,’ thought Mr.
Piper.

He was not mistaken. In one of the recesses he found some money lying
loose. A bank note and half a dozen sovereigns. In another there was
a morocco jewel-case, containing an opal cross set with diamonds, a
trinket which Mr. Piper had never seen till that moment. A third recess
was crammed with letters, this time unmistakably masculine.

Bella’s husband sat down before the desk, and read these letters one
by one, carefully. His commercial instincts came to his aid and kept
him wondrously cool. He arranged the letters according to their dates,
and after reading one, folded and endorsed it neatly before he laid
it aside, as if it had been a business document. Had he been a lawyer
preparing a case for the divorce court he could hardly have been more
deliberate.

The first ten or twelve letters were innocent enough. Courteous little
notes about archery--French novels--a volume generally accompanying
the letter that recommended it. Then the tone grew gradually more
familiar--the notes became letters; then came sentiment--as morbidly
sweet as the correspondence of Julie and her St. Preux, but happily
without Julie’s tendency to sermonizing. Then they grew still
warmer--the old, old story, abuse of the stern laws that set up the
accident of wedlock as a barrier against the divinity of passion.

There was a great deal Mr. Piper could not understand, but the gist
of all was very clear to him. He saw that to the bottom of her heart
his wife had been false, and that if she had hesitated on the brink
of criminal treason, it was because she loved Little Yafford Park and
the wealth that went along with it, not because she had one spark of
gratitude or affection for him, Ebenezer Piper.

There was no limit to her treachery. The husband saw himself ridiculed,
travestied--in the lover’s letters. His ignorance, his vulgarity, were
put forward as reasons why his wife should betray him. Such a man--to
put the insolent plea in plain words--was unworthy of pity; he was
beyond the pale of social law--the code of gentlemanly honour did not
recognise his existence. He was a cipher, like those wretched husbands
in the old feudal days, from whom the lord of the soil might take
everything, bride, honour, the right of property in a newly wedded
wife, as in the land they tilled and the harvest they reaped.

Mr. Piper made the letters up into a couple of neat bundles, and put
them in his pocket. There was a letter for every day in the week.
Captain Standish’s idleness had run into letter-writing. Then, pale to
the lips, but cold and firm, Mr. Piper replaced the pigeon-holes, shut
the escritoire, and went downstairs to see if his wife had yet come
home.

‘Home,’ he repeated. ‘No, she shall never call my house by that name
again.’

And then he remembered his first wife, with her humble dog-like
fidelity, her narrow spirit, troubled about many things, but always
true to him, reverencing him as the king of men, the epitome of wisdom.
Poor Moggie, who had been pretty and buxom once, and who had kept
his house so well in those happy days when he was beginning to grow
rich. Ah, how different from this beautiful viper, this living lie, a
creature that could smile at him and caress him while she kept those
letters in her desk!

‘She shall never cross my threshold again,’ he said to himself. ‘There
shall be no slander--no legal separation. I’ll give her a thousand a
year, and she may go to the devil her own way.’

The clock struck five as he went downstairs. A cold white mist veiled
the park, and crept into the house. The fire glowed redly on the hearth
in the hall, before which the footman sat in a Glastonbury chair,
reading the newspaper.

‘Mrs. Piper not returned yet?’ asked the master of the house.

‘No, sir.’

The man vacated the seat in his master’s favour, and went off to his
tea and toast in the servants’ hall--such buttered toast as could
never have been in the first Mrs. Piper’s time, when there were
close calculations weekly as to the pounds of butter that had been
consumed--‘made away with’ the late Mrs. Piper called it when she was
angry--during the last seven days.

Mr. Piper sat before the fire, looking straight into the glowing pile
of coal and wood, and thinking of the letters he had just read. His
mind was so full of these that the fact of his wife’s prolonged absence
troubled him not at all. It did not even strike him as strange that
she should be so long away. That other wonder, the strangeness of her
treachery, the wonder that any woman could so deceive, absorbed every
thought. He sat before the fire, meditating this great iniquity, and
with only a dreamy sense that the day had been long, and that evening
was drawing in.

So he sat, till he was startled by the sound of wheels upon the gravel
drive. He went to the door and looked out through the glass panel. A
carriage was coming slowly up the drive, followed by a man and woman
on horseback, Captain Standish and Miss Porkman. Then came a horse led
by a couple of men--a black horse, that walked lame, and hung his head
dejectedly.

Where was his wife among all these?

He opened the door and went out upon the broad stone steps. The
carriage came up at a foot pace. A man got out--little Mr. Namby, the
village surgeon.

He came up the steps to Mr. Piper. Captain Standish dismounted and
joined them.

Even in the autumn dusk Mr. Piper could see that his foe was ashy pale,
and moved by some violent agitation. Standish tried to speak, but the
words would not come.

‘You tell him,’ he said to Mr. Namby, and then turned his back upon
them both, and leant against one of the pillars of the portico, with
his face hidden.

‘My dear Mr. Piper,’ began the surgeon, tremulously, ‘something
dreadful has happened.’

‘I know it,’ answered Piper, curtly.

‘You have seen a great deal of domestic trouble--your first wife’s long
illness; but--I--I fear this is worse than anything you have had to go
through.’

‘It is,’ said Piper.

‘But how is this?’ asked the surgeon, with a puzzled air. ‘Has any
messenger come on to you? Have you heard----?’

‘Have I heard of what?’

‘The accident in the hunting-field, Mrs. Piper’s fall?’

‘Oh, she has had a fall, has she?’ said Mr. Piper, with a most
extraordinary coolness.

Mr. Namby thought he had gone suddenly mad.

‘Yes, a very bad fall. I fear it may be fatal. Will you send for her
maid, or some one? We are going to lift her out of the carriage. She is
quite helpless. She must be carried to her room.’

Vanessa Porkman had alighted from her horse, and came up the steps to
Mr. Piper.

‘Oh,’ she cried, ‘it is too dreadful--a judgment upon us for going
after the hounds without your knowledge--or pa’s. It wasn’t I who
proposed it--indeed it wasn’t, dear Mr. Piper, but I feel myself guilty
for all that. Can you ever forgive me?’

‘Oh, you’ve been hunting, have you, my wife and you--foolish of her,
for she was never on a horse till I--I beg pardon--till Captain
Standish gave her one,’--this in tones loud enough for the ear of the
Captain, who stood close by.

Then Mr. Piper went down the steps and saw his wife lifted out of
the carriage, and carried slowly and carefully into the house. There
were two doctors, Mr. Namby, and Dr. Milroyd, from Great Yafford, who
had been in the field when Erebus balked himself at a bullfinch, and
rolled into the ditch with his rider beneath him. Bella’s maid and the
butler both assisted. There was no lack of aid, but Mr. Piper stood on
the steps and saw the little lifeless figure in the dark green habit
carried past him, and offered no help.

He was on the threshold of his door when he turned and confronted
Captain Standish. All the rest had followed Bella. These two were face
to face with each other, and alone.

‘What do you want in my house?’ asked Mr. Piper, sternly.

‘I should like to stop till--till the doctors have made their
examination--to know if things are so bad as they seem to think,’
faltered the captain, thoroughly crestfallen; and then, with a sudden
burst of passion, he cried, ‘Can’t you understand that I feel myself to
blame for this? It was I that put the notion of hunting in her head. I
feel myself her murderer.’

‘Yes, I understand perfectly,’ answered Mr. Piper. ‘I’ve got your
letters in my pocket--your letters to my wife. Do you understand that,
scoundrel? First you perverted her mind, and then you killed her.
That’s enough, I should think. You can want nothing more in my house;
but when you boast of having seduced my wife, tell your friends that
among all the husbands you have injured, one, at least, left a lasting
mark upon you.’

Mr. Piper seized the captain by the collar, and with one crushing
blow from his clenched fist sent him rolling down the steps. Captain
Standish was an accomplished pugilist, but that unexpected blow carried
all the force of a strong man’s outraged honour, and might have felled
an ox. The tall slim figure swayed to and fro, swerved to the left, and
fell face downwards against the base of a stone column.



CHAPTER XX.

LET SILENCE BE ABOUT HER NAME.


BELLA was dying. The doctors had pronounced their verdict. The spine
had been fatally injured. A few hours of life--hours in which there
would be happily little or no suffering--alone remained to Mr. Piper’s
second wife. Very brief had been the story of his courtship and
marriage.

He had sent off a groom to Great Yafford on one of the carriage horses
to summon the most famous surgeon in the town, but Dr. Milroyd, who was
a physician of some standing, and the humble Mr. Namby, who was not
without experience in surgery, assured Mr. Piper that the whole college
of surgeons would be powerless to prolong Bella’s life for an hour
beyond the natural running out of the sand in a glass that had been
turned for the last time.

‘You can go and sit by her if you like,’ said Mr. Namby, kindly. ‘It
can do no harm. She would like you to be there, I dare say, poor
thing. And don’t you think her family ought to be sent for?’

‘Yes,’ answered Mr. Piper. ‘I dare say she’d like to see them.’

They were standing in the corridor outside Bella’s room. That strange
tranquillity of Mr. Piper’s impressed the doctors. They ascribed it to
the intensity of his grief. He was stunned, no doubt, poor fellow, by
the sudden calamity.

Ebenezer Piper went into the apple-green bedroom where his wife was
lying, the wife who was so soon to drift away from him down that dark
stream which led he knew not whither. The certainty of impending death
made her sacred. She was beyond punishment or upbraiding. One could
scarcely say hard things to the vilest criminal, when his hour of doom
was fixed and the rope round his neck. The final irrevocable sentence
stultifies all lesser penalties.

Bella was lying with her face turned away from the light, her lovely
auburn hair rippling over the pillows--that hair whose luxuriance
had been one of her charms. One little hand lay inert upon the satin
coverlet. How pretty she was! The sense of her beauty struck her
husband with actual pain. So lovely, so innocent-looking, and so false!

‘If she had lived I would have never seen her face again,’ he thought,
‘but now it doesn’t matter.’

He sat down in the arm-chair by her bed, and waited for her to speak.
For himself there was nothing that he could say to her. There was an
aching pity for her untimely fate in his heart, coexistent with his
burning indignation at her treachery. The fact that she was speedily
to die might touch him with compassion, but it could not lessen the
baseness of her ingratitude or make her falsehood pardonable.

She moved her head restlessly on the pillow, and gave a sigh of
weariness.

‘Who’s that?’ she asked.

‘Your husband,’ Mr. Piper answered, quietly.

‘Can you forgive me for hunting without your permission?’ she said in a
low voice. How often had that dulcet voice charmed her husband! ‘It was
very wrong, very foolish, but you see I have to pay a big price for it.’

‘Is there nothing else you have to ask forgiveness for?’ he inquired,
bitterly. ‘You had better make a clean slate while you are about it. Is
there nothing else you are sorry for--on your deathbed?’

There was a pause. Almost unawares the husband took one of those long
silken tresses and twined it round his fingers, the bright soft hair he
had loved so well.

‘Perhaps I have not been grateful enough for all your kindness,’
faltered Bella. ‘You have been very good to me--very generous. Yes, I
ought to have been more grateful.’

‘Do you really think so?’ asked Mr. Piper, with keenest bitterness.
‘Can you really find a speck or flaw in your conduct? Don’t you think
you have been a perfect wife?’

Bella began to cry.

‘I am sure I have tried to do my duty,’ she said. ‘I have tried to make
your home pleasant to you--and to improve your position in society.’

‘Yes,’ answered the husband, with an uncontrollable gust of passion.
‘You have made me acquainted with Captain Standish.’

Bella’s quiet weeping changed to hysterical sobbing. Her whole frame
was shaken.

‘Yes,’ pursued Mr. Piper. ‘You have tried very hard to improve my
position in society. You have held me up to scorn and ridicule. You
have made me the laughing stock of my old friends, as the fond deluded
husband--the middle-aged dupe of a pair of blue eyes and a rosebud
mouth. While my first wife lived I was a respectable man. You have made
me--what? A door-mat for Captain Standish.’

‘I have done nothing really wicked,’ pleaded Bella. ‘I have been
foolish, perhaps. I have let him pay me compliments--and--and--that
kind of thing. But I have not broken one of the commandments. I could
kneel in church and hear them read without feeling myself a castaway.’

‘Don’t cry,’ said Mr. Piper. ‘There’s no use in talking about it. I
have read Captain Standish’s letters to you.’

‘You have broken open my desk,’ cried Bella, in sudden alarm.

‘Yes, I have seen his presents, and read his letters, and I can guess
what he thought of you when he wrote them, and what he meant to be the
end of your acquaintance.’

‘He asked me to run away with him, and I refused,’ protested Bella.

‘That was the first time,’ said Mr. Piper, coolly. ‘You refused me the
first time, you know. The captain meant to ask again, you may be sure.’

‘I have been selfish and ungrateful,’ sobbed Bella.

‘God made you so, I think,’ answered Mr. Piper, excusingly. ‘I believe
it’s in the grain. Don’t cry, poor thing. If you had lived there must
have been a bitter reckoning between you and me--but death squares
everything. If God can forgive you, I must not stand out. He’s the
largest creditor.’

He took the little cold hand lying loose upon the coverlet, and pressed
it gently. It was not in his nature to be unmerciful. And then she was
passing away from him--she was drifting out of his jurisdiction. There
was that awe upon him which the hardest must feel in the presence of
death. At that friendly pressure Bella gave a sob of relief.

‘Oh, if you can only forgive me, I think I can die in peace,’ she
said. ‘It seems hard to die--so young--and just as life was so bright.
But I have been very wicked--to others as well as you. There is some
one to whom I must make atonement. Send for Mr. Culverhouse.’

‘Wouldn’t you rather see Mr. Dulcimer?’ asked Mr. Piper, thinking that
the Vicar ought to be a more powerful friend at this crisis.

‘No, no, Mr. Culverhouse. I cannot die in peace till I have seen him.’

‘He shall be sent for this minute, Bella. Don’t agitate yourself.’

Mr. Piper went out of the room and gave his orders, and then came back
and seated himself quietly by the bed, and kept silence. It was not
quite two years since he had sat by poor Moggie’s death-bed, and heard
her talk of heaven, and how they two were to meet there and know each
other again, and have all their children join them one by one in due
time, like an affectionate Irish family whose elders had emigrated to
America. To Moggie’s simple soul death had seemed verily emigration.

It was night when Cyril Culverhouse answered Mr. Piper’s summons. He
had been for one of his long rounds in outlying districts, and only
came home at ten o’clock, to hear of the calamity at the Park. To Bella
those hours of waiting had seemed endless.

‘If I die without seeing him, I am a lost creature,’ she said.

‘But, Bella, if there’s any weight upon your conscience, can’t you
trust your husband?’ asked Mr. Piper. ‘Surely there’s no one with a
better right to know.’

‘It’s nothing that concerns you,’ answered Bella, impatiently. ‘You
have found out the worst about me. This is a deeper wrong. This is
something wicked that I did when I was a girl. It didn’t seem much to
do, but it has weighed upon me ever since.’

Mr. Piper wondered at this confession. He had never seen any indication
of a troubled conscience in his wife’s manner or conduct.

Presently Mr. Culverhouse was announced. Mr. Piper went out into the
corridor to receive him.

‘My wife is uneasy in her mind about something,’ he said. ‘I dare say
she’d like to see you alone. Don’t be hard upon her, Mr. Culverhouse,
if she has done anything wrong. She has only a few hours to live. She
has thrown her foolish young life away to gratify the whim of the
moment.’

‘Hard upon her!’ exclaimed Cyril. ‘You need not fear.’

Cyril went alone into the apple-green bedroom. Mr. Piper walked up and
down the corridor, waiting for the interview to be over. He was passing
Miss Porkman’s door when Vanessa put her head out.

‘Oh, Mr. Piper, mayn’t I go to her?’ she asked. ‘The doctors have told
me that they can’t save her. I feel so miserable. I feel as if it were
my fault.’

‘It’s everybody’s fault,’ said Mr. Piper. ‘We’ve all been fools. I
indulged her like a fool, and she made a foolish use of my indulgence.
See what it has led to--a life thrown away.’

‘It’s too dreadful,’ said Vanessa, who had never before been face to
face with the tragedy of life.

‘How did it happen?’ asked Mr. Piper. ‘You were with her, weren’t you?’

‘Yes, I saw it all. She had set her heart upon hunting, you know.
And Captain Standish said the horse was a splendid hunter--and so he
seemed, poor foolish thing, till he took that fatal jump. We went to
the meet, and then when the hounds went off we followed them with the
rest. It was lovely, the thing I had been longing for ever since I
began to ride. For the first hour or so it was the easiest thing in
the world--riding a little, and waiting about a good deal; and then
they found the fox, and there was a rush, and we started at a splendid
pace, Bella and I side by side, and Captain Standish close to us.
She rode beautifully, and the horse behaved beautifully. The captain
praised her for her pluck. She jumped three or four low hedges--and a
ditch or two--and did it as easily as if she had been hunting all her
life--and then we came to a stretch of open country, and the horses
flew. We were among the first all through, and Bella was in raptures
with her horse--and then--and then--the rest seems like a dreadful
dream--all dimness and confusion--we came into a big ploughed field
with a bullfinch at the end. “There’s a gap,” cried somebody, and I
was just riding off with some of the others towards a corner of the
field, when Captain Standish called to Bella very loud, “Don’t try it,”
and in the next minute I saw the black lift himself up for the jump
beautifully--and then his hind feet caught in the top of the quickset
hedge, and he rolled over into the next field with Bella under him. It
was all done more quickly than I can tell it.’

There was a long pause, and then Mr. Piper gave a shuddering sigh.

‘Did you know she was following the hounds without her husband’s
knowledge or consent?’ he asked.

‘I’m afraid I did,’ answered Miss Porkman, with a contrite air. ‘But
I did not think any harm would come of it. She rode so well, and the
horse was a clever hunter. Captain Standish tried him two or three
times. It was poor Bella’s inexperience; she went straight at that tall
thick quickset hedge--an awful thing--like a wall.’

‘I don’t think it will be a particularly pleasant recollection for you
to carry about with you during the rest of your life, Miss Porkman,’
said Mr. Piper.

‘Oh, Mr. Piper, surely you can’t blame me,’ remonstrated Vanessa,
tearfully.

‘I do blame you for aiding and abetting my wife in disobedience,’ Mr.
Piper answered, severely.

While this conversation was taking place in the corridor, Cyril
Culverhouse sat in Mr. Piper’s chair by Bella’s pillow, and waited for
the departing sinner’s confession, ready with words of comfort and
exhortation.

‘I have been dreadfully wicked,’ she began, falteringly, ‘but it was
all Mrs. Dulcimer’s fault.’

‘Mrs. Dulcimer! How could Mrs. Dulcimer cause you to do wrong?’

‘She put a foolish idea into my head, and it took root there, and
poisoned my life. She told me that--I hate myself when I think how
easily I was duped--that you cared for me.’

‘Hush!’ said Cyril, gently. ‘Why talk of that now? It was foolish of
Mrs. Dulcimer. She has made a good many mistakes of that kind--out of
kindness. But the error did not last long. I told her frankly that my
heart had been given elsewhere--that you could never be more to me than
a friend whose amiability and sweetness I admired. Why recall that? You
have been happily married to a good man. He deserves all your pity in
this dark hour--your affectionate consideration. And you have to think
of God. You may have offended Him in many things. Give the short hours
He has left you to prayer and meditation.’

‘I must recall that wretched mistake,’ said Bella, feverishly. ‘I tell
you it was that which made me wicked. I have been very wicked. I have
injured my kindest friend.’

‘What friend?’ asked Cyril, very pale.

‘Beatrix Harefield!’

‘You have injured her?’

‘Yes. Do you see a jewel-case on the dressing-table over there--a large
morocco case? Take my keys from under my pillow. I have no power to
move myself--but I made the doctor put my keys under my pillow. It is
the smallest key of all,’ she went on, when Cyril obeyed her. ‘Now open
the jewel-case, and press the little gilt knob at the right side of the
tray. That opens a drawer, doesn’t it?’

‘Yes, the drawer has come out. There is a letter in it,’ said Cyril.

‘Take that letter. I found it on the table in Mr. Harefield’s library
the morning after his death. It is addressed to his daughter.’

‘And you have kept it ever since? This letter--left for his daughter to
read after his death. You are indeed a wicked woman.’

‘I did not think how wicked it was at the time,’ faltered Bella. ‘But
some devil prompted me to take it, and hide it--till--till I should
feel inclined to give it up. And then--oh, why do you make me tell you
all my wickedness? I knew that you loved her, and I thought--if--if
people believed her guilty of her father’s death, you would not marry
her. That awful suspicion would part you. The letter might have put an
end to the suspicion, perhaps. I did not know what was in the letter.
I never broke the seal, you see. Yes, I was steeped in wickedness when
I did it. I would have sold my soul to Satan to part you and Beatrix.
Do you think God will forgive me?’

‘God’s mercy is infinite, and forgives even treachery,’ answered Cyril,
coldly. He was standing by the dressing-table, holding Christian
Harefield’s letter in his hand. ‘But it is a sin that man finds it hard
to forgive. What you did was a vile and cruel act. I cannot palter
with the truth because your hours are numbered. That is the reason why
I should speak all the more plainly. If I were a stranger to Beatrix
Harefield, I should look upon your conduct with horror--but I--I--who
loved and wronged her--wronged her by a suspicion which this letter
might have set at rest for ever--how can I think of your conduct
calmly? How can you expect pardon or pity from me?’

‘I don’t expect either,’ whimpered Bella. ‘I’m glad I am going to die.
I have made a wretched use of my life. I am almost glad it is over. And
yet it seems hard to die before one is five-and-twenty.’

Her hand, straying idly in its feverish unrest, entangled itself in a
tress of auburn hair.

‘Isn’t it bright and long?’ she said, with a bitter little laugh. ‘With
most women beauty dies first. They die piecemeal, a little bit at a
time, till there is no trace left of the girl people used to admire.
That must be dreadful. To look in the glass some morning, and see the
change all at once, and cry, “Can this really be I?” I am glad I have
escaped that.’

Cyril stood with the letter in his hand, silent.

‘Why don’t you open that letter?’ asked Bella. ‘It will solve the
mystery, no doubt.’

‘Whether it can or no, I shall not break the seal,’ answered Cyril. ‘It
shall be my business to put this letter into Beatrix Harefield’s hand.’

‘And you will tell her how wicked I was, and how I hated her from the
moment I knew she had stolen your love.’

‘Her excellence commanded my love. She did not steal it. My heart never
belonged to any other.’

‘Why do you quarrel with a poor dying creature about words? To me it
seemed that she stole your heart. She came between me and the only man
I ever loved. How could I help hating her?’

‘Why will you think and talk of these things?’ pleaded Cyril, going
back to his seat by the bedside, determined, if it were possible, to
bring this frivolous soul to the contemplation of eternity. She was so
soon to be adrift on the wide ocean, and yet lingered so idly to trifle
with the shells upon the shore.

‘Remember all your past life only as a dream that you have dreamt, a
vision darkened by sin and folly. You were guilty of a great sin when
you stole that letter, for you must have known that you were injuring
a fellow-creature. You took the letter deliberately, to that end. But
the motives that prompted you to that act are of little moment now.
Think of it only as a sin to be repented of, with deep and heartfelt
contrition.’

Then he spoke to her in his sacred character, and would not again
suffer her mind to wander back to earthly things. He was with her,
reading to her, talking to her, praying with her, for a long time, and
he left her at last with a mind that was at peace with God and man.

‘You will see Beatrix,’ she said at the last. ‘Tell her that I was very
fond of her--once. That the old love comes back now that I am dying.
Tell her that it is sweet to me now to think of her being reunited to
you. Ask her to forgive me--if she can.’

Cyril promised to come again early the next morning. She should have
her husband and her family gathered round her bed, in that last sad
communion, where the prayers of the living and the dying mingle in a
solemn farewell.

But when Cyril came next morning, shortly after dawn, with Mr. and Mrs.
Scratchell, and Bella’s eldest brother and sister, they were met on the
threshold of the house by Mr. Piper, who told them all was over. She
had died very peacefully, in the chilly hour just before daybreak, with
her hand clasped in his.

‘Poor little woman!’ sighed the tender-hearted Piper. ‘She spoke to me
so sweetly just at the last.’

And Mr. Piper forgave even the treachery of an intrigue carried on
before his face. Had his wife lived, pardon would have seemed to him
almost impossible; but anger died in his heart as he stood beside the
fair marble figure, and looked at the flower-like lips that could never
speak falsehood any more.

He made Captain Standish’s worthless letters and valuable gifts into a
parcel, and had it delivered at that gentleman’s quarters. The servant
who carried it heard incidentally that the captain had had a bad fall
from his horse on the Great Yafford road on the evening after Mrs.
Piper’s fatal accident, and had gone home to be nursed.

This report caused Mr. Piper to smile, for the first time since his
discovery of his wife’s falsehood.

‘I believe I’ve put a mark upon him that he won’t get rid of very
quickly, even with her ladyship’s sick nursing,’ he said to himself.

This was true. The broken head which the captain had got that evening
in the portico left a scar that was not likely to be cured, let him
live as long as he might. But for once in his life Captain Standish
felt himself constrained to take his punishment quietly. He had no
redress against the man whose wife’s loyalty he had perverted, and whom
his folly had widowed.



CHAPTER XXI.

‘BUT PROVE ME WHAT IT IS I WOULD NOT DO.’


FROM the house of death Cyril went straight to the Vicarage, to tell
his Vicar all that had happened, and to entreat for immediate freedom.
He could not rest a day until he had given Christian Harefield’s letter
into Beatrix’s hands.

Clement Dulcimer was all indulgence, his wife all sympathy.

‘We shall miss you sorely, as we missed you before,’ said the Vicar,
‘but we shall manage to get on somehow, as we managed before, and you
will come back to us, will you not, when you have accomplished your
mission?’

‘Without fail I shall return, though it will not be to remain long with
you, dear friend. Now that my health is restored I begin to long for a
wider field.’

Then go as soon as you like, and God be with you,’ said the Vicar,
heartily. ‘But I’m afraid you will have some trouble to find the
runaway heiress.’

‘I will find her,’ said Cyril, ‘if I have to wander over all the earth
in search of her.’

‘And you will marry her, and she will be Lady Culverhouse after all,
for of course if you married you would have to take up your title,’
said Mrs. Dulcimer. ‘It may be weak-minded on my part, but I should
like Beatrix to have the title. I always used to think of her as Lady
Culverhouse. Poor Kenrick!’

‘I will take her that letter, her father’s last letter--a letter
which I cannot doubt contains a statement of his fatal intention--the
indisputable proof of her innocence. I will put that letter in her
hand, and then she shall deal with me as she likes. It must be for her
to decide my fate.’

‘Why not put an advertisement in the _Times_,’ suggested the Vicar, ‘a
carefully worded advertisement, telling her that a letter written by
her father on the night before his death has come to hand, and begging
her to come home, where it awaits her?’

‘If she is abroad she is not likely to see the _Times_,’ answered
Cyril. ‘Besides, I would not vulgarize her family secrets by putting
them in an advertisement, however enigmatically worded. No, it shall
be my business to find her. It is a small thing for me to do--a small
sacrifice, even if I were to spend seven years of my life upon the
task--a small atonement for the cruel wrong I have done her.’

‘If you think that, you may as well set out,’ said the Vicar. ‘But
I don’t believe your quest will take seven years of your life. Our
modern civilization has set its heel on knightly enterprise. Now-a-days
a man could not be chivalrous if he tried ever so hard. Railways,
post-offices, electric telegraphs, have made all things easy. Romance
is dead. Yes, Cyril, you must be content to be a common-place lover.
You remember what old Aubrey says, “The divine arts of printing and
gunpowder have frightened away Robin Goodfellow and the fairies.”’

‘You had a letter from Beatrix after she left us, Clement,’ said Mrs.
Dulcimer. ‘That might be some use.’

‘Not much, I fear,’ answered the Vicar. ‘She wrote to me from Paris
within a week of her leaving us, asking my forgiveness for all the
trouble she had caused me. My forgiveness, poor child! As if it were
not her own life she had to dispose of, and her own soul to which she
was responsible for her deeds. It was a sad sweet letter, full of
affection and good feeling, but it told me very little of her plans for
the future, except that she meant to wander about the Continent with
Madame Leonard, and that in the course of her travels she intended to
visit Italy, the scene of her mother’s youth and of her mother’s death.’

‘That would be a natural desire,’ said Cyril.

‘I cannot conceive that there can be much difficulty in finding her,’
continued the Vicar. ‘A young woman of landed estate cannot hide
herself under a bushel. She has a banker to whom she must apply when
she wants funds for her travelling expenses. He must know something of
her whereabouts.’

‘Where does she bank?’ asked Cyril.

‘At Hodge and Turner’s, at Great Yafford, the County Bank.’

‘I will go at once and see if there is anything to be learned there.’

Cyril walked to Great Yafford that afternoon, saw the bank manager, and
ascertained from him that Miss Harefield had written to the bank, from
Paris, for six hundred pounds in circular notes, almost immediately
after she left Little Yafford. She had drawn nothing since that time.
The circular notes had been obtained by Messrs. Hodge and Turner,
through their London agents, from the Temple Bar branch of the Union
Bank.

‘The circular notes would go back to the bank that issued them, would
they not?’ asked Cyril.

‘Naturally, but there is no rule as to the time of their return. The
local banker who cashed a note might hold it over until he had other
bills to transmit. A considerable time might elapse before the notes
got back to the bank that issued them.’

‘I shall go to the Union and try to find out when and where the notes
were cashed. Miss Harefield has been away more than six months. Some of
the notes, at least, must have come back to the bank. Will you give me
a letter of introduction to the manager?’

Cyril had already explained that he had a document of vital importance
to convey to Miss Harefield, that it was in her interest he sought her.

The letter was written, and Cyril started by the midday train for
London. He saw the manager of the Temple Bar branch early next day, and
from his courtesy obtained the following information:--

Three notes had been cashed in Paris on the 21st of April.

Five notes had been cashed in Florence during the months of May and
June.

A note had been cashed at Brest in August, one at Rennes in the same
month, two at St. Malo in September. There was nothing later than this.

The notes bore the address as well as the signature of the writer. On
those last notes cashed at St. Malo the address was,

  HOTEL CHATEAUBRIAND,
         ST. SERVANS.

It was the beginning of November. Cyril was in a position to trace
Miss Harefield’s movements up to the 29th of September. She might have
remained even longer at St. Malo. It was clearly there that he must go.

Happily for his impatience, which was extreme, the St. Malo boat sailed
that night from Southampton. Within twenty-four hours after he left the
Union Bank, Cyril was in the broad windy street of St. Servans.

The proprietress of the hotel perfectly remembered Miss Harefield.
They had many English visitors, but this lady was so distinguished.
She was at once so amiable and so dignified. She and her companion
had always dined in their own _salon_. They had never appeared at the
_table d’hôte_. They had engaged a carriage for their express use, and
had driven about to all the interesting places in the neighbourhood.
The landlady was obligingly communicative, but when she was asked where
Miss Harefield went upon leaving St. Servans, her information came to a
stop. There was the visitors’ book, in which Miss Harefield and Madame
Leonard had written their names, but beyond their names nothing.

‘But these ladies must surely have given instructions for their letters
being sent after them,’ said Cyril.

‘But no, Monsieur. They received no letters while they were here; they
appeared to expect none.’

‘Did you never hear them talk of where they meant to go?’

‘No, Monsieur, they were ladies of an extreme reserve--silent even--all
that there is of the most gracious--but never communicative. They left
St. Malo by the railway--that is all I can tell you. They did not leave
by the English boat.’

Cyril was at a standstill. He seemed no nearer Beatrix now, at St.
Malo, than he had been at Little Yafford. Six weeks ago she had been
an inmate of this hotel, but in six weeks she might have travelled to
the other end of Europe. She, who was as free as the wind, would hardly
care to dawdle about the quiet old towns of Brittany.

‘Was Miss Harefield well--did she seem in good spirits?’ he asked the
landlady.

‘Alas, no! she had been suffering. She came to St. Servans for the sea
baths. She needed strength. She had the air of one who had suffered
much grief. Madame Leonard was always bright and cheerful, and devoted
to the young lady; but the English miss was not happy. That showed
itself to the eye.’

‘Had she any medical attendant while she was with you?’

‘No. She mocked herself of doctors.’

Cyril thanked the kindly proprietress, and strolled idly away from
the hotel. He knew not which direction to take. The prospect was
discouraging. Perhaps, after all, he would be compelled to put an
advertisement in the _Times_, informing Beatrix, in veiled words, that
a letter of her father’s awaited her at a certain address. But even
if he did this, how could he be sure she would see the paper? He knew
of old how difficult it is to find an English newspaper in a French
provincial town. No, he must find her himself; but to his impatience
the thing seemed hopeless at the outset. He walked through the
well-remembered streets, by the ever-improving fortifications, white
stone walls looking out upon a bright blue sea. The yellow sands by the
Grand Bé were deserted by their holiday crowd. The cold autumn winds
swept over the long low shores. Everything had a desolate look.

Cyril went into St. Malo to see the churches, which he remembered
years ago. He spent a couple of hours looking at painted windows and
sculptured tombs. And then he wasted another hour strolling about the
streets and the quay, watching the boat being loaded, and wondering
what he should do next. And then he went to the railway station to
find out all about the trains, with a vague hope that some idea might
suggest itself as to Beatrix’s journey when she left St. Malo. He was
on his way to the station when a face flashed upon him in one of the
narrow streets, and passed him by before he had time to remember where
he had seen it.

Whose face could it be, and why was it so familiar?

He stopped to consider, and looked back to see if the owner of the
face was still in sight. Yes, there she was, walking briskly along the
narrow pavement, threading her way dexterously through the crowd, a
little woman, neatly dressed in a black silk gown and a gray mantle.

Dimly, as in a dream, did he remember that face. It must have been a
memory of long ago, he thought. And then in a moment he recalled the
scene to which that face belonged--his sick room at Bridford--the
old-fashioned wainscoted bedroom, with its dull brown walls, four-post
bedstead and drab hangings--the weariness of fever and delirium--the
bright black eyes peering at him from the shadow of the nun’s white
hood.

‘It is my little nurse,’ he said to himself, ‘the elder of those two
good women.’

He turned and followed the lady in the gray mantle. It was strange to
see her in a dress so different from her nun-like habit, but then she
had told him that she belonged to no conventual order. Once having
given her the start, it was not easy to gain upon her, she tripped
along so briskly, and the street here close to the market was crowded.
Cyril was almost breathless when he caught her.

‘Pray, Madame, do not deny yourself to one who is deeply indebted to
you,’ he said, hat in hand, gasping a little. ‘When you passed me just
now I recognised you as one I well remembered, but I could not for the
moment recall the circumstances of our acquaintance. I have so longed
to see you again, to be able to thank you.’

The little Frenchwoman looked at him with a most innocent stare.

‘Monsieur deceives himself,’ she said in her own language. ‘I have not
the honour of his acquaintance.’

‘Nay, Madame, you cannot forget one who owes you so much--perhaps life
itself. You cannot have forgotten your fever patient at Bridford.’

‘Bridford,’ echoed the lady, ‘what is that?’

‘Oh, Madame, you are trifling with me. It is not possible I can be
mistaken. Do you not belong to a nursing sisterhood, a band of holy
women, who, bound by no religious order, go about doing good, attending
their ailing fellow-creatures, without fee or reward?’

‘No, sir, I do not. I never even heard of such a sisterhood,’ replied
the lady, resolutely.

‘I must ask you to pardon me, then. But it is a most wonderful
likeness. I am deeply disappointed,’ said Cyril, allowing the lady to
pass, with a respectful bow.

He was more than disappointed, he was mystified. In spite of the lady’s
assertion he could not bring himself to believe that hers was not the
face which he had seen by his sick bed in those long hours of languor
and prostration, when he had nothing to do but watch his nurse’s kindly
countenance, and listen to her friendly talk.

Yet, if this was his nurse, why should she deny herself to him? Was
that one of the rules of her order? Was the order a kind of masonic
association in good works?--a secret band of holy women, who disavowed
their benevolent deeds after they were done?



CHAPTER XXII.

FAIR STILL, BUT FAIR FOR NO ONE SAVING ME.


CYRIL would have liked to follow the mysterious lady, but that would
have been too discourteous; so he wandered listlessly in the streets of
St. Malo for another hour or so, not knowing what to do with himself,
and finally came to a standstill at an office on the outskirts of the
town, whence a diligence started every afternoon for Dol.

‘Dol,’ he said. ‘What is Dol? I was never at Dol. I wonder if there is
anything worth seeing at Dol, and if it be possible that Beatrix can
have gone there?’

While he was wondering a hired fly drove up, containing the lady in
the gray mantle, and a number of parcels of different kinds and sizes.
The driver of the diligence went forward to receive the lady and her
parcels. She was evidently a frequent patron of his conveyance. He
took pains to instal her carefully in the wretched interior.

‘I’ll go to Dol,’ decided Cyril. ‘I am bent on finding out who and what
this woman is. It will be only the loss of a day, and I shall have time
to think out my plan for finding Beatrix.’

It was foolish, perhaps, he thought afterwards, to be so easily
diverted from his path; but then the fact was that he had no path
to take--he was fairly at a standstill. He could do no good by
perambulating the streets of St. Malo. Dol was a place to explore--the
chances against finding Beatrix there were as ninety-nine in a hundred
perhaps--but it would be one town checked off the map of Europe, and he
might be able to find out something about his mysterious sick nurse. So
Cyril mounted to the seat beside the driver, where he had the shelter
of an ancient leather hood to protect him from the wind, and where he
felt very easy in his mind about the lady in the gray mantle. She could
not escape him on the road.

He questioned the driver about his passenger, but the man could tell
him nothing except that the lady lived at Dol, and that she came into
St. Malo once a week to make her purchases. He could not say how long
she had lived there, as he had been only driving the diligence for a
month.

They drove through lanes and past fields and orchards which were
entirely Devonian in their aspect, halted at a village which was
quainter and more picturesque, and, sooth to say, a little dirtier
than a Devonshire village, and finally arrived, as the shades of
evening were falling, at Dol, which impressed Cyril at first sight
as the dullest town he had ever beheld. He knew Sandwich in Kent, he
had visited Stamford in Lincolnshire, he had even seen Southend out
of the Cockney season, but Dol had a more utterly deserted look than
any of these. There were some fine mediæval buildings, there was a
grand cathedral with two towers, one of which had been left unfinished
in the Middle Ages. There were interesting courts and crannies and
corners--but Melancholy had claimed Dol for her own. The country
round looked flat and depressing--the outskirts of the town were arid
and dusty--the modern houses had that intensely new and unfinished
aspect peculiar to French architecture; and all ambitious attempts at
improvement looked as if they had been nipped in the bud.

There was one rather pretty-looking house, in a small walled garden,
and before the door of this garden the diligence stopped, and the lady
in the gray mantle alighted. A French maid-servant opened the gate and
ran out to take the traveller’s parcels, and then mistress and maid
went in at the door, and the walled garden swallowed them up.

The diligence deposited Cyril at an old inn in a small square not far
from the cathedral, a good old house enough, where all things were
cleanly and comfortable, and where he found a good-natured landlady,
who was quite ready to answer his questions while he waited for the
_table d’hôte_ dinner.

He described the white house in the walled garden just outside the
town, and asked if she could tell him anything about its inmates.

It was a house which let itself garnished, she told him, the owner
being a merchant at Rennes, who only came to Dol occasionally, because
it was his birthplace. Of its present inmates Madame knew nothing. She
did not even know that it was let. It had been long unoccupied. She
excused herself for this ignorance on the ground that she went out so
seldom. The house, and then the kitchen occupied all her time, not to
speak of her two little angels, who were exacting, like all children.

Of the two little angels, one was then squalling lustily in the
adjoining kitchen, while the other hung to its mother’s gown and
scowled at the stranger.

‘Have you had many English visitors this season?’ Cyril inquired.

‘Oh yes, Monsieur, a crowd. The English love so much our Brittany--and
Dol is the first town in Brittany. It is interesting to the traveller
were it only for that reason.’

‘Naturally. Since September now--the end of September--can you recall
any English visitors, ladies, who have been with you?’

‘But no, Monsieur. After September our season is over. It is late. We
have had no English ladies since then.’

‘There are other hotels at Dol, I suppose?’

‘Yes, Monsieur, but this is the first.’

Cyril dined with a few sleepy-looking inhabitants, and a couple of
sub-lieutenants from the neighbouring barracks, and after his dinner
went to look at the cathedral, which had a shadowy grandeur by the
light of a few solitary lamps burning here and there before a shrine.

After this he was glad to go to bed, having slept very little on board
the St. Malo steamer. He put Christian Harefield’s letter under his
pillow.

He was up before daybreak next morning, and was out with the first
streak of pallid light in the east. He went first to look at the house
which had swallowed up the lady in the gray mantle. He made a circuit
of the garden-wall, but discovered nothing except that there were
poultry on the premises, a fact imparted to him shrilly by a peculiarly
energetic cock, apparently of the bantam breed, so eager was he, like
all small creatures, to assert his importance. There was no indication
of the life within to be drawn from the blank white wall, the closed
venetians of the upper windows, or the gilded vane upon the roof.
Neighbours there were none. So he left the spot no wiser than when he
had approached it.

The morning was lovely, the air balmy, despite the lateness of the
season. It was just that calm, delightful hour when earth seems as
fresh as if the Creator’s work were but newly finished. Cyril set out
on a perambulation of the neighbourhood of Dol. His hostess had talked
to him last night of a certain Mont Dol, as a thing to be seen, so he
went to see what this Mont Dol was like.

He walked for about a couple of miles through a level country, somewhat
Flemish in its character, a country that had only the charm of
rusticity to recommend it. Then he came all at once upon a raw-looking
church, of a commonplace order, a few straggling cottages, and a
steep rugged-looking hill, which rose out of the level plain with an
extraordinary suddenness. He climbed this hill by a rough road, which
dwindled by and by into a narrow winding track, and mounted in the
early sunlight to an undulating heathy hill-top looking wide over
the blue waters of the Channel. On this hill-top there was no human
habitation, only a votive chapel and the white statue of a saint,
looking down upon the quiet hillocks and hollows, the clumps of furze,
and tranquil sheep cropping the dewy grass in the sweet morning air.
He had never looked on a more pleasant scene. The world, life, and all
its cares lay far below him--the blue wood smoke was curling up from
the chimneys of many-gabled Dol, the church tower and its stunted twin
brother, the tower that had never been finished, rose darkly above all
meaner things on the level plain, white sails of passing vessels were
shining yonder against the blue horizon. He felt himself alone upon
this lonely hill, in a serener atmosphere than the air of every-day
life. A saintly hermit of old time might have passed his contemplative
days pleasantly enough in a cell adjoining the chapel yonder.

He rambled round the hill-top, lingering every now and then to look
landward or seaward, for on either side the prospect was full of
beauty. It was a spot where any man, with a genuine love of nature,
might feel that he could spend hours and days of life, alone with his
own thoughts and the peaceful beauty round him. The big bell of Dol
chimed nine, the bright autumn sun climbed higher in the blue clear
sky, a sheep-bell tinkled, an elderly lamb bleated, a little shepherd
boy sang his little nasal song, a late bumble-bee buzzed among late
furze bloom. There were no other sounds.

Cyril made the circuit of the chapel, which was closely locked against
intrusion. He looked at the statue, and turned his face idly seaward
for the twentieth time, thinking within himself how foolishly he was
wasting his day, and how little this perambulation of the Mont Dol
would help him towards the accomplishment of his mission; and as he was
thinking thus, and as he turned from the statue to the sea, he found
himself face to face with something sweeter than the glad blue sea,
dearer than all the wide bright earth, the face of the woman he loved.

She was standing before him, looking at him with a grave sad smile,
dressed in black, and thin and careworn, beautiful only for eyes that
loved her, since she had wasted the freshness of her youth and beauty
in tears and sleepless nights, and untimely cares.

‘Beatrix!’ he cried, with a rush of gladness that almost stifled him.
‘Beatrix, Providence has sent us to meet here. I had sworn to myself to
travel all over the world in search of you.’

‘Why should you want to find me?’ she asked. ‘I thought there were no
two persons on this earth with less reason to wish to meet than you and
I.’

‘I should not have presumed to follow you if I had not a motive strong
enough to excuse my audacity. I have brought you this.’

He took Christian Harefield’s last letter from his pocket, and gave it
her without a word of explanation.

‘From my father!’ she cried, looking at the address, and then tearing
open the envelope with trembling hands. ‘In heaven’s name how did you
come by this letter--from my dead father? You who suspected me----’

Tears choked her. She brushed the hot drops from her eyes, and began to
read the letter.

‘“Sunday night, December 23rd,”’ she began, falteringly.

‘Why, that was the night before his death,’ she cried. ‘Read it for me.
I cannot see the words. They swim before my eyes.’

Cyril stood by her side, reading the letter across her shoulder. He put
his arm round her to hold her up, and she leaned against him trembling,
hardly able to stand.

  ‘MY POOR CHILD,--When you open this letter you will be fatherless--a
  little loss, for I have never been a father to you in anything save
  the name. For the last ten years I have been a miserable man, too
  miserable to care for my own flesh and blood, all that was good in me
  turned to evil.

  ‘I loved your mother as women are not often loved, with an intense
  and concentrated affection that goes hand in hand with intense
  jealousy. I do not think it is possible for a man to love as I loved,
  and endure the knowledge that his love was unrequited, without having
  his nature perverted. My unrequited love engendered suspicion, evil
  thoughts, hatred of myself and the thing I loved.

  ‘By a series of fatalities, which I need not set forth here, I was
  led to believe your mother false and unworthy--a degraded woman--a
  disgrace to you as she was a dishonour to me. To-night I learn that
  she was innocent--that her only sin against me was a sin of my own
  creation. She might have loved me, as the years went on, had I shown
  myself worthy of her love by trusting her truth and honour. My
  jealousy made her life miserable, and my groundless suspicion drove
  her from me, to die alone, friendless, hidden in an Italian convent.

  ‘Knowing what I know, knowing how happiness--the purest and
  deepest--was within my reach, and that I let it go, knowing that the
  bitterest miseries of my life were engendered in my own perverted
  mind, knowing that I made the misery of the being I fondly loved--I
  feel that I can no longer support the burden of a life without hope.
  Every chain must wear out in time. Mine was worn to attenuation
  before to-night--this last blow snaps it. To-morrow, when the world
  wakes to its petty round of cares and joys, my troubles will be
  over. You will find me as calm as if my life had been all peace.
  Saint and sinner are equal in death.

  ‘God bless you, poor child. May He be kinder to you than your earthly
  father has been. Love I could not give you--but the wealth which is
  mine to bestow I give you freely. Take warning from my miserable
  fate, and do not marry without the certainty that you are beloved.
  Your fortune will mark you out as a prey for every adventurer.

  ‘Should there be an inquiry about my death you can show this letter
  to the coroner. Should things pass, as, for your sake, I hope they
  may, without comment, let these last words of mine be sacred, the one
  only confidence I have ever given to my only child.

  ‘Enclosed you will find a statement from the principal of the convent
  where your ill-used mother spent her last days. It may please you
  some day to visit her grave in that lonely spot, and to weep there
  for the injuries my love inflicted on her, as I have wept for her
  this night, tears of blood, wrung from a heart tortured by vain
  remorse.

  ‘Your erring, unhappy father,
         ‘CHRISTIAN HAREFIELD.’


‘Do you believe now that I did not murder my father?’ cried Beatrix,
turning to Cyril, with eyes that flashed indignant scorn through her
tears.

‘I never believed otherwise, after we met face to face in the
churchyard. I needed but to see you to know that you were innocent,
and pure, and true. My suspicion was a monster of my own growth--the
offspring of too much thought--and the fear that in winning your love
I should seem a worshipper of mammon. Beatrix, I have been weak and
despicable in this matter. My love should have been strong enough
to withstand even a harder trial. I confess myself unworthy of your
forgiveness, and yet I ask you to forgive me.’

‘Forgive you!’ she said, that changeful face of hers melting from
scorn to tenderness. ‘There is no moment of the past in which you
were not forgiven. I was too ready to make excuses for you. I had no
womanly pride, where you were concerned. It was only when I was made
to believe that you had never cared for me--that from the first you
had liked Bella Scratchell better than me--it was only then that I was
weak enough to listen to Kenrick’s pleading. I thought it mattered so
little what became of me, that I might as well give way. And then, when
the time for our marriage drew near, I knew that I was going to commit
a great sin, and I began to look for some way of escape. I only waited
to arrange the release of Kenrick’s estate. I had made up my mind to
run away before I saw you in the churchyard. You might have spared me
some of your bitter speeches.’

‘Forgive me, beloved, forgive me.’

His arm was round her, her head lying on his breast, his lips bent down
to hers, unreproved. There was no need of many words between them. Both
knew that this chance meeting on the hill-top above the brightening sea
meant eternal reunion. Who should part them now--these twin souls that
had been parted and buffeted by the billows of fate, and had drifted
together again at last? They clung to each other in a silent rapture,
knowing that their hour of happiness had come.

‘I have never been angry with you,’ she faltered at last. ‘Fate has
seemed unkind, not you. I have always believed you good, and true, and
noble--even when you renounced me. Even when I thought that you had
cared for Bella----’

‘Who could have told you that utter falsehood?’

‘It was Bella herself who hinted----’

‘Poor child, don’t you know that people who hint things they dare not
assert are always liars? But Bella is gone, with all her sins upon her
head. I will tell you more of her by and by. It is by her act that
you have suffered. It was she who stole your father’s letter. On her
death-bed----but I will tell you all by and by. You have had too much
agitation already. How pale you are looking! And you are shivering too.
We have been standing too long in this keen air. Let me take you home,
dearest. Do you live far from here?’

‘A good way, but I shall be better presently.’

‘Lean on my arm, love.’

And so supported, Beatrix walked slowly down the narrow track, to the
village at the foot of the hill, and by and by a faint colour came back
to her cheeks, and a happy light shone in her lovely eyes. The clock
struck ten as they passed the church.

‘I came out only for a ramble before breakfast,’ said Beatrix. ‘Poor
Madame Leonard will be wondering what has become of me.’

‘Madame Leonard? Ah, that is your companion.’

‘Yes, the dearest creature in the world. I could never tell you what a
comfort she has been to me--indulging all my caprices--consoling me in
my sorrows--a second mother. And now she and I will go together to see
my own mother’s grave--the convent where she died. I have been already
to see the place of her birth.’

‘My Beatrix, do you think I will ever let you take any journey again
without my company? A man who has lost a jewel and found it again
knows how to guard his treasure. You are mine henceforward--mine till
death--unless you tell me I have forfeited your love.’

‘I could not say anything so false. I have never left off loving you,’
she answered gently. ‘Do not let us talk of the past. Let us forget
it, if we can. When I saw the announcement of poor Kenrick’s death in
the _Times_ I felt myself free--and--I thought--perhaps--some day I
should go back to Yorkshire to see the kind Dulcimers, and my good old
servants--and then--you and I might meet. But I never thought it would
be so soon.’

‘God has been good to us, love. And now tell me, Beatrix, can you bear
to give up your liberty and share the lot of a hard-working parish
priest? Could you bear even to go with me into a busy, smoky town, full
of foulest things--if I felt that duty constrained me to take up my
abode there? Could you endure to live in such a place as Bridford, for
instance? But, I forget, you do not know Bridford.’

‘I could endure life even at Bridford with you.’

‘Ah, but you have never seen the place, love.’

‘I repeat that I could share your life and labours even at Bridford,’
she said, smiling at him.

He gave a little sigh.

‘I am afraid you hardly know what you are promising. Know then,
dearest, that I am in treaty with the Vicar of Bridford, with a view
to getting his living transferred to me. It is a charge for which
he is eminently unfitted. I began some good work there, and left it
unfinished. As vicar I could do much that I vainly attempted as curate.
I should have larger scope, better opportunities. I could get a band of
hard-working young men round me. Yes, I believe I could transform the
place.’

‘I am like Ruth,’ said Beatrix, tenderly. ‘I follow where I love. Your
duties shall be my duties, and your home my home. It shall go hard with
me if I cannot make home pleasant to you, even at Bridford.’

‘And you will be content to see your wealth applied to doing good among
a rough and often ungrateful population?’

‘I can imagine no better use for my wealth.’

‘Would you not rather that we should live at Culverhouse, in that fine
old house, in the midst of that beautiful country? Poor Kenrick’s death
has made Culverhouse mine, you know.’

‘I had rather live where your life can be most useful--noblest--and
where I can help you.’

‘My own dear love, you make me happier than words can say!’

They came to the sleepy old town of Dol, and beyond it to a house half
hidden behind a high white wall. Beatrix opened a green door leading
into a garden, and Cyril followed her, full of wonder, into the very
garden which had swallowed up the lady in the gray mantle.

That very lady came out, through an open window, to receive Beatrix.

‘My love, how you have given me a beautiful fright!’ she cried, in
French; and then, seeing Cyril, stopped and looked confused.

‘Madame Leonard, let me present Mr. Culverhouse. He will stop to
breakfast with us, I dare say, if you ask him.’

‘I begin to understand something,’ said Cyril, looking at Beatrix.
‘Madame Leonard was one of my nurses, though she denied it yesterday.’

‘Pardon!’ exclaimed Madame Leonard. ‘I said that I did not belong to a
nursing sisterhood. I did not say that I had not nursed you.’

And then the little Frenchwoman gave a joyous laugh, out of pure
satisfaction at the new aspect of things, and ran back to the house
to order certain savoury additions to the breakfast, in honour of the
unexpected guest.

‘Madame Leonard was one of my nurses,’ repeated Cyril. ‘And you were
the other. Oh, Beatrix! how could I be so blind?’

‘Dear love, you were in the dark valley of death,’ said Beatrix.
‘It was my sweetest privilege to watch and succour you. I owed all
to Madame Leonard. When I read of your dangerous illness in the
Bridford paper I was wretched at the thought of your loneliness, your
helplessness, and I longed to come to you. Then this dear Madame
Leonard suggested that we should come, in the disguise of nursing
sisters, and take care of you. I should never have dared such a thing
without her help. She arranged all--managed everything--smoothed
away every difficulty. I can never be grateful enough to her for her
goodness in that sorrowful time.’

‘And to think that I should never have guessed! When you went from me
I yearned for you, not knowing why. Your shadowy eyes haunted me, your
image stayed with me like the memory of a dream. Oh, my dearest, my
truest, how can I love you well enough for such love as this?’

They stayed in the wintry garden, talking of the past and the future,
till poor Madame Leonard began to be unhappy about her carefully
arranged breakfast. And then, after she had summoned them three times,
they went in and sat at the snug round table drinking coffee, and
making believe to eat, and arranging what was to be done next.

They were all to go back to Little Yafford together. Cyril and Beatrix
were to be quietly married in the old village church, as soon as the
Bridford living was his. The Water House was to be kept up in all its
old comfort, and Madame Leonard was to be mistress there. It would
serve as a country retreat for the Vicar of Bridford and his wife.



EPILOGUE.


TEN years later, and Sir Cyril Culverhouse and his wife are still at
Bridford, in the good old Queen Anne parsonage, not five minutes’
walk from the lodging where the two nursing sisters came to tend the
fever-stricken curate. It is a fine old house, with red brick walls,
deep-set windows, oak wainscots, broad staircase, and spacious hall
paved with black and white marble, a house which, in the eyes of
previous vicars, had been some compensation for the general smokiness
and unpleasantness of the town. There is a good old garden too, at the
back, which one would hardly expect to find in Bridford--a garden where
the apple trees flourish, and the roses struggle into bloom somehow,
in spite of the smoke, and where the young Culverhouses learn their
lessons in summer, under the direction of Madame Leonard, whom they
adore.

Every July there is a migration to the Water House, much to the
delight of Mrs. Dulcimer, who spoils Beatrix’s children, and believes
religiously that she brought about the match between Cyril and Beatrix.

‘Did I not advise you to go to France after her, Cyril?’ demands the
old lady, triumphantly, ‘and did I not set my heart upon her being Lady
Culverhouse?’

Within the ten years that are gone Cyril has done a great work in
Bridford. That town is no longer a hotbed for the generation of vice,
drunkenness, and fever. Sanitary reform, being a thing within the
scope of human handiwork, has been done by line and rule, while other
reforms, more subtle and secret, have been going on quietly, side by
side with improvements in drainage and ventilation, water service and
cottage building. Large resources have enabled Cyril to do what many
a parish priest yearns in vain to accomplish. He has built streets of
cottages, a club-house, half a dozen reading-rooms, a cottage hospital
ten miles from the town, infant nurseries in every district. Instead of
the one hard-worked curate, employed by his predecessor, he has four
energetic young fellows going about all day long among the labouring
poor, so that there is no corner of the crowded town in which the
influence of the church is not daily felt, a protection against wrong,
a succour in calamity, an incentive to cleanly living.

Once in every year, when the spring flowers are bright in the
hedgerows, and the oaks are yellow with their unfolded leaves, Sir
Cyril and his wife go with their children to Culverhouse Castle. This
is the happiest time of all the year for Beatrix and her children,
the holiday of holidays. They know the country round Culverhouse by
heart. They ride in the forest, and sail on the bright river, and
make yachting excursions to the Wight, and go back to stony-hearted
Bridford refreshed and strengthened by these simple natural pleasures.
At Culverhouse, Beatrix is adored, as poor Kenrick prophesied she would
be--but she is not more honoured or beloved there than by the rough
factory hands of Bridford, where her name is a synonym for goodness.

Mr. Piper lives his life at Little Yafford Park, and spends unheard-of
sums on the improvement of his farm buildings and hothouses. He has
not married again, but has made for himself an idol in the shape of his
farm. He goes on fattening cattle, and sacrificing generation after
generation of pigs, in spite of the denunciations of Mr. Chumney, who
continues to protest that so long as prize cattle are martyred at
the shrine of human vanity the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty
to Animals is a mockery. Poor Mr. Piper finds a consolation for
past sorrows in the fatness of his oxen and his pigs. His sons and
daughters have grown up. The sons are in different commercial houses,
learning to be merchant princes; the daughters are established at the
Park, in the rooms which Bella beautified. The chief result of an
expensive education at present to be perceived in these young ladies
is a self-sufficiency which makes them despise their father, whom
they publicly reprove for his faulty modes of speech, and his many
deviations from the strict laws of etiquette as laid down by the Misses
Turk. He is proud of his two tall, over-dressed girls, nevertheless,
though not so proud of them as of his pigs, and he endures their
youthful insolence with unvarying good temper. As the years go on he
gets stouter and more puffy, eats more, drinks more, sleeps more, and
more markedly assimilates the manners and customs of his prize porkers;
whereat Chumney shakes his head dolefully, and prognosticates that
Piper will go off some day like the snuff of a candle.

The school at Little Yafford has thriven under Emmanuel Joyce’s care,
and the widow and her son still live happily in the cottage adjoining
the school-house. Emmanuel is not solely dependent on his modest
stipend as parish schoolmaster. He has been successful in his literary
efforts. His books, all written for the young, have become immediately
popular. His style is natural and pleasing, full of life and colour.
That severe self-training he underwent in the days when he fancied
himself a poet has stood him in good stead. His reading has taken a
wider range, under the direction of Clement Dulcimer, and there is a
richness of illustration in his later books that has a charm even for
the unlearned. Mrs. Joyce’s pride in her son is boundless. She would
like to see him married, but has not yet discovered that paragon of
female excellence worthy to be his wife. While she is looking out for
that personification of all the virtues, Emmanuel grows more and more
wedded to his books, his chimney corner, his meerschaum pipe, and the
duties of that station which Providence has allotted to him.

Miss Coyle has departed this life, in the odour of sanctity, and her
memory lives in the minds of Yafford people as a highly genteel person,
who paid ready money for all her small requirements, was strict in her
attendance at the services of her church, never carried a parcel, and
was never seen out of doors without her gloves.


THE END.


J. AND W. RIDER, PRINTERS, LONDON



Corrections

The first line indicates the original, the second the correction.

p. 154

  husband’s commercial allies of the past--the Wigzell’s,
  husband’s commercial allies of the past--the Wigzells,

p. 192

  a great many parties among the Wizgell, Timperley,
  a great many parties among the Wigzell, Timperley,



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