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A Perilous Secret by Charles Reade

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it was their only chance.

Then Mary forgot how severely she had checked him, and merely said that
was the last thing she would consent to, and bound him on his honor never
to mention to Julia Clifford that he had proposed such a thing. Walter
promised that readily enough, but stuck to his point; and as Mary's pride
was wounded, and she was a girl of great spirit though love-sick, she
froze to him, and soon after said she was very sorry, but she must not
stay too long or papa would be angry. She then begged him not to come out
of the parlor, or the servant would see him.

"That is a trifle," said Walter. "I am going to obey you in greater
things than that. Ah! Mary, Mary, you don't love me as I love you!"

"No, Walter," said Mary, "I do not love you as you love me, for I respect
you." Then her lip trembled, and her eyes filled with tears.

Walter fell on his knees, and kissed her skirt several times; then ended
with her hand. "Oh, don't harbor such a thought as that!" said he.

She sobbed, but made no reply.

They parted good friends, but chilled.

That made them both unhappy to think of.

It was only two, or at the most three, days after this that, as Mary was
walking in the garden, a nosegay fell at her feet. She picked it up, and
immediately found a note half secreted in it. The next moment it was
entirely secreted in her bosom. She sauntered in-doors, and scudded
upstairs to her room to read it.

The writer told her in a few agitated words that their fathers had met,
and he must speak to her directly. Would she meet him for a moment at the
garden gate at nine o'clock that evening?

"No, no, no!" cried Mary, as if he was there. She was frightened. Suppose
they should be caught. The shame--the disgrace. But oh, the temptation!
Well, then, how wrong of him to tempt her! She must not go. There was no
time to write and refuse; but she must not go. She would not go. And in
this resolution she persisted. Nine o'clock struck, and she never moved.
Then she began to picture Walter's face of disappointment and his
unhappiness. At ten minutes past nine she tied a handkerchief round her
head and went.

There he was at the gate, pale and agitated. He did not give her time to
scold him.

"Pray forgive me," he said; "but I saw no other way. It is all over,
Mary, unless you love me as I love you."

"Don't begin by doubting me," she said. "Tell me, dear."

"It is soon told. Our fathers have met at that wretched pit, and the
foreman has told me what passed between them. My father complained that
mining for coal was not husbandry, and it was very unfair to do it, and
to smoke him out of house and home. (Unfortunately the wind was west, and
blew the smoke of the steam-engine over his lawn.) Your father said he
took the farm under that express stipulation. Colonel Clifford said, 'No;
the condition was smuggled in.' 'Then smuggle it out,' said Mr. Bartley."

"Oh!"

"If it had only ended there, Mary. But they were both in a passion, and
must empty their hearts. Colonel Clifford said he had every respect for
you, but had other views for his son. Mr. Bartley said he was thankful to
hear it, for he looked higher for his daughter. 'Higher in trade, I
suppose,' said my father; 'the Lord Mayor's nephew.' 'Well,' said Mr.
Bartley, 'I would rather marry her to money than to mortgages.' And the
end of it was they parted enemies for life."

"No, no; not for life!"

"For life, Mary. It is an old grudge revived. Indeed, the first quarrel
was only skinned over. Don't deceive yourself. We have nothing to do but
disobey them or part."

"And you can say that, Walter? Oh, have a little patience!"

"So I would," said Walter, "if there was any hope. But there is none.
There is nothing to wait for but the death of our parents, and by that
time I shall be an elderly man, and you will have lost your bloom and
wasted your youth--for what? No; I feel sometimes this will drive me mad,
or make me a villain. I am beginning to hate my own father, and everybody
else that thwarts my love. How can they earn my hate more surely? No,
Mary; I see the future as plainly as I see your dear face, so pale and
shocked. I can't help it. If you will marry me, and so make sure, I will
keep it secret as long as you like; I shall have got you, whatever they
may say or do; but if you won't, I'll leave the country at once, and get
peace if I can't get love."

"Leave the country?" said Mary, faintly. "What good would that do?"

"I don't know. Perhaps bring my father to his senses for one thing;
and--who knows?--perhaps you will listen to reason when you see I can't
wait for the consent of two egotists--for that is what they both
are--that have no real love or pity for you or me."

"Ah," said Mary, with a deep sigh, "I see even men have their faults, and
I admired them so. They are impatient, selfish."

"Yes, if it is selfish to defend one's self against brutal selfishness, I
am selfish; and that is better than to be a slave to egotists, and lie
down to be trodden on as you would do. Come, Mary, for pity's sake,
decide which you love best--your father, who does not care much for you,
or me, who adore you, and will give you a life of gratitude as well as
love, if you will only see things as they are and always will be, and
trust yourself to me as my dear, dear, blessed, adored wife!"

"I love you best," said Mary, "and I hope it is not wicked. But I love
him too, though he does say 'wait.' And I respect _myself_, and I dare
not defy my parent, and I will not marry secretly; that is degrading.
And, oh, Walter, think how young I am and inexperienced, and you that are
so much older, and I hoped would be my guide and make me better; is it
you who tempt me to clandestine meetings that I blush for, and a
clandestine marriage for which I should despise myself?"

Walter turned suddenly calm, for these words pricked his conscience.

"You are right," said he. "I am a blackguard, and you are an angel of
purity and goodness. Forgive me, I will never tempt nor torment you
again. For pity's sake forgive me. You don't know what men's passions
are. Forgive me!"

"With all my heart, dear," said Mary, crying gently.

He put both arms suddenly round her neck and kissed her wet eyes with a
sigh of despair. Then he seemed to tear himself away by a great effort,
and she leaned limp and powerless on the gate, and heard his footsteps
die away into the night. They struck chill upon her foreboding heart, for
she felt that they were parted.

CHAPTER X.

THE GORDIAN KNOT.

Walter, however, would not despair until he had laid the alternative
before his father. He did so, firmly but coolly.

His father, irritated by the scene with Bartley, treated Walter's
proposal with indignant scorn.

Walter continued to keep his temper, and with some reluctance asked him
whether he owed nothing, not even a sacrifice of his prejudices, to a son
who had never disobeyed him, and had improved his circumstances.

"Come, sir," said he; "when the happiness of my life is at stake I
venture to lay aside delicacy, and ask you whether I have not been a good
son, and a serviceable one to you?"

"Yes, Walter," said the Colonel, "with this exception."

"Then now or never give me my reward."

"I'll try," said the grim Colonel; "but I see it will be hard work.
However, I'll try and save you from a _mesalliance_."

"A _mesalliance_, sir? Why, she is a Clifford."

"The deuce she is!"

"As much a Clifford as I am."

"That is news to me."

"Why, one of her parents was a Clifford, and your own sister. And one of
mine was an Irish woman."

"Yes; an O'Ryan; not a trader; not a small-coal man."

"Like the Marquis of Londonderry, sir, and the Earl of Durham. Come,
father, don't sacrifice your son, and his happiness and his love for
you, to notions the world has outlived. Commerce does not lower a
gentleman, nor speculation either, in these days. The nobility and the
leading gentry of these islands are most of them in business. They are
all shareholders, and often directors of railways, and just as much
traders as the old coach proprietors were. They let their land, and so do
you, to the highest bidder, not for honor or any romantic sentiment, but
for money, and that is trade. Mr. Bartley is his own farmer; well, so was
Mr. Coke, of Norfolk, and the Queen made him a peer for it--what a
sensible sovereign! Are Rothschild and Montefiore shunned for their
speculations by the nobility? Whom do their daughters marry? Trade rules
the world, and keeps it from stagnation. Genius writes, or paints, or
plays Hamlet--for money; and is respected in exact proportion to the
amount of money it gets. Charity holds bazars, and sells at one hundred
per cent. profit, and nearly every new church is a trade speculation. Is
my happiness and hers to be sacrificed to the chimeras and crotchets that
everybody in England but you has outlived?"

"All this," replied the unflinching sire, "I have read in the papers, and
my son shall not marry the daughter of a trader and cad who has insulted
me grossly; but that, I presume, you don't object to."

This stung Walter so that he feared to continue the discussion.

"I will not reply," said he. "You drive me to despair. I leave you to
reflect. Perhaps you will prize me when you see me no more."

With this he left the room, packed up his clothes, went to the nearest
railway, off to London, collected his funds, crossed the water, and did
not write one word to Clifford Hall, except a line to Julia. "Left
England heart-broken, the victim of two egotists and my sweet Mary's weak
conscientiousness. God forgive me, I am angry even with her, but I don't
doubt her love."

This missive and the general consternation at Clifford Hall brought Julia
full gallop to Mary Bartley.

They read the letter together, and Julia was furious against Colonel
Clifford. But Mary interposed.

"I am afraid," said she, "that I am the person who was most to blame."

"Why, what have you done?"

"He said our case was desperate, and waiting would not alter it; and he
should leave the country unless--"

"Unless what? How can I advise you if you have any concealments from me?"

"Well, then, it was unless I would consent to a clandestine marriage."

"And you refused--very properly."

"And I refused--very properly one would think--and what is the
consequence? I have driven the man I love away from his friends, as well
as from me, and now I begin to be very sorry for my properness."

"But you don't blush for it as you would for the other. The idea! To be
married on the sly and to have to hide it from everybody, and to be found
out at last, or else be suspected of worse things."

"What worse things?"

"Never you mind, child; your womanly instinct is better than knowledge or
experience, and it has guided you straight. If you had consented, I
should have lost my respect for you."

And then, as the small view of a thing is apt to enter the female head
along with the big view, she went on, with great animation:

"And then for a young lady to sneak into a church without her friends,
with no carriages, no favors, no wedding cake, no bishop, no proper
dress, not even a bridal veil fit to be seen! Why, it ought to be the
great show of a girl's life, and she ought to be a public queen, at all
events for that one day, for ten to one she will be a slave all the rest
of her life if she loves the fellow."

She paused for breath one moment.

"And it isn't as if you were low people. Why, it reminds me of a thing I
read in some novel: a city clerk, or some such person, took a walk with
his sweetheart into the country, and all of a sudden he said, 'Why, there
is something hard in my pocket. What is it, I wonder? A plain gold ring.
Does it fit you? Try it on, Polly. Why, it fits you, I declare; then keep
it till further orders.' Then they walked a little further. 'Why, what is
this? Two pairs of white gloves. Try the little pair on, and I will try
the big ones. Stop! I declare here's a church, and the bells beginning
to ring. Why, who told them that I've got a special license in my pocket?
Hallo! there are two fellows hanging about; best men, witnesses, or some
such persons, I should not wonder. I think I know one of them; and here
is a parson coming over a stile! What an opportunity for us now just to
run in and get married! Come on, old girl, lend me that wedding ring a
minute, I'll give it you back again in the church.' No, thank you, Mr.
Walter; we love you very dearly, but we are ladies, and we respect
ourselves."

In short, Julia confirmed Mary Bartley in her resolution, but she could
not console her under the consequences. Walter did not write a line
even to her; she couldn't but fear that he was really in despair, and
would cure himself of his affection if he could. She began to pine; the
roses faded gradually out of her cheeks, and Mr. Bartley himself began
at last to pity her, for though he did not love her, he liked her, and
was proud of her affection. Another thing, Hope might come home now any
day, and if he found the girl sick and pining, he might say this is a
breach of contract.

He asked Mary one day whether she wouldn't like a change. "I could take
you to the sea-side," said he, but not very cordially.

"No, papa," said Mary; "why should you leave your mine when everything is
going so prosperously? I think I should like to go to the lakes, and pay
my old nurse a visit."

"And she would talk to you of Walter Clifford?"

"Yes, papa," said Mary, firmly, "she would; and that's the only thing
that can do me any good."

"Well, Mary," said Bartley, "if she could be content with praising him,
and regretting the insuperable obstacles, and if she would encourage you
to be patient--There, let me think of it."

Things went hard with Colonel Clifford. He felt his son's desertion very
bitterly, though he was too proud to show it; he now found out that
universally as he was _respected_, it was Walter who was the most beloved
both in the house and in the neighborhood.

One day he heard a multitude shouting, and soon learned the reason.
Bartley had struck a rich vein of coal, and tons were coming up to the
surface. Colonel Clifford would not go near the place, but he sent old
Baker to inquire, and Baker from that day used to bring him back a number
of details, some of them especially galling to him. By degrees, and rapid
ones, Bartley was becoming a rival magnate; the poor came to him for the
slack, or very small coal, and took it away gratis; they flattered him,
and to please him, spoke slightingly of Colonel Clifford, which they had
never ventured to do before. But soon a circumstance occurred which
mortified the old soldier more than all. He was sole proprietor of the
village, and every house in it, with the exception of a certain
beer-house, flanked by an acre and a half of ground. This beer-house was
a great eye-sore to him; he tried to buy this small freeholder out; but
the man saw his advantage, and demanded L1500--nearly treble the real
value. Walter, however, by negotiating in a more friendly spirit, had
obtained a reduction, and was about to complete the purchase for L1150.
But when Walter left the country the proprietor never dreamed of going
again to the haughty Colonel. He went to Bartley, and Bartley bought the
property in five minutes for L1200, and paid a deposit to clinch the
contract. He completed the purchase with unheard-of rapidity, and set an
army of workmen to raise a pit village, or street of eighty houses. They
were ten times better built than the Colonel's cottages; not one of them
could ever be vacant, they were too great a boon to the miners; nor could
the rent be in arrears, with so sharp a hand as the mine-owner; the
beer-house was to be perpetuated, and a nucleus of custom secured from
the miners, partly by the truck system, and partly by the superiority of
the liquor, for Bartley announced at once that he should brew the beer.

All these things were too much for a man with gout in his system; Colonel
Clifford had a worse attack of that complaint than ever; it rose from his
feet to other parts of his frame, and he took to his bed.

In that condition a physician and surgeon visited him daily, and his
lawyer also was sent for, and was closeted with him for a long time on
more than one occasion.

All this caused a deal of speculation in the village, and as a system
of fetch and carry was now established by which the rival magnates also
received plenty of information, though not always accurate, about each
other, Mr. Bartley heard what was going on, and put his own
construction upon it.

* * * * *

Just when Mr. Hope was expected to return came a letter to Mary to say
that he should be detained a day or two longer, as he had a sore throat
and fever, but nothing alarming. Three or four days later came a letter
only signed by him, to say he had a slight attack of typhoid fever, and
was under medical care.

Mary implored Mr. Bartley to let her go to him. He refused, and gave his
reasons, which were really sufficient, and now he became more unwilling
than ever to let her visit Mrs. Easton.

This was the condition of affairs when one day an old man with white
hair, dressed in black, and looking almost a gentleman, was driven up to
the farm by Colonel Clifford's groom, and asked, in an agitated voice, if
he might see Miss Mary Bartley.

Her visitors were so few that she was never refused on speculation, so
John Baker was shown at once into her drawing-room. He was too much
agitated to waste time.

"Oh, Miss Bartley," said he, "we are in great distress at the Hall. Mr.
Walter has gone, and not left his address, and my poor master is dying!"

Mary uttered an unfeigned exclamation of horror.

"Ah, miss," said the old man, "God bless you; you feel for us, I'm not on
the old man's side, miss; I'm on Mr. Walter's side in this as I was in
the other business, but now I see my poor old master lying pale and
still, not long for this world, I do begin to blame myself. I never
thought that he would have taken it all to heart like this. But, there,
the only thing now is to bring them together before he goes. We don't
know his address, miss; we don't know what country he is in. He sent a
line to Miss Clifford a month ago from Dover, but that is all; but, in
course, he writes to you--_that_ stands to reason; you'll give me his
address, miss, won't you? and we shall all bless you."

Mary turned pale, and the tears streamed down her eyes. "Oh, sir," said
she, "I'd give the world if I could tell you. I know who you are; my poor
Walter has often spoken of you to me, Mr. Baker. One word from you would
have been enough; I would have done anything for you that I could. But he
has never written to me at all. I am as much deserted as any of you, and
I have felt it as deeply as any father can, but never have I felt it as
now. What! The father to die, and his son's hand not in his; no looks of
love and forgiveness to pass between them as the poor old man leaves this
world, its ambitions and its quarrels, and perhaps sees for the first
time how small they all are compared with the love of those that love us,
and the peace of God!" Then this ardent girl stretched out both her
hands. "O God, if my frivolous life has been innocent, don't let me be
the cause of this horrible thing; don't let the father die without
comfort, nor the son without forgiveness, for a miserable girl who has
come between them and meant no harm!"

This eloquent burst quite overpowered poor old John Baker. He dropped
into a chair, his white head sunk upon his bosom, he sobbed and trembled,
and for the first time showed his age.

"What on earth is the matter?" said Mr. Bartley's voice, as cold as an
icicle, at the door. Mary sprang toward him impetuously. "Oh, papa!" she
cried, "Colonel Clifford is dying, and we don't know where Walter is; we
can't know."

"Wait a little," said Bartley, in some agitation. "My letters have just
come in, and I thought I saw a foreign postmark." He slipped back into
the hall, brought in several letters, selected one, and gave it to Mary,
"This is for you, from Marseilles."

He then retired to his study, and without the least agitation or the
least loss of time returned with a book of telegraph forms.

Meanwhile Mary tore the letter open, and read it eagerly to John Baker.

"GRAND HOTEL, NOAILLES, MARSEILLES, _May_ 16.

"MY OWN DEAR LOVE,--I have vowed that I will not write again to tempt you
to anything you think wrong; but it looks like quarrelling to hide my
address from you. Only I do beg of you, as the only kindness you can do
me now, never to let it be known by any living creature at Clifford Hall.

"Yours till death, WALTER."

Mr. Bartley entered with the telegraph forms, and said to Mary, sharply,
"Where is he?" Mary told him. "Well, write him a telegram. It shall be at
the railway in half an hour, at Marseilles theoretically in one hour,
practically in four."

Mary sat down and wrote her telegram: "Pray come to Clifford Hall. Your
father is dangerously ill."

"Show it to me," said Bartley. And on perusing it: "A woman's telegram.
Don't frighten him too much; leave him the option to come or stay."

He tore it up, and said, "Now write a business telegram, and make sure of
the thing you want."

"Come home directly--your father is dying."

Old Baker started up. "God bless you, sir," says he, "and God bless you,
miss, and make you happy one day. I'll take it myself, as my trap is at
the door." He bustled out, and his carriage drove away at a great rate.

Mr. Bartley went quietly to his study to business without another word,
and Mary leaned back a little exhausted by the scene, but a smile almost
of happiness came and tarried on her sweet face for the first time these
many days; as for old John Baker, he told his tale triumphantly at the
Hall, and not without vanity, for he was proud of his good judgment in
going to Mary Bartley.

To the old housekeeper, a most superior woman of his own age, and almost
a lady, he said something rather remarkable which he was careful not to
bestow on the young wags in the servants' hall: "Mrs. Milton," says he,
"I am an old man, and have knocked about at home and abroad, and seen a
deal of life, but I've seen something to-day that I never saw before."

"Ay, John, surely; and what ever was that?"

"I've seen an angel pray to God, and I have seen God answer her."

From that day Mary had two stout partisans in Clifford Hall.

* * * * *

Mr. Bartley's views about Mary now began to waver. It occurred to him
that should Colonel Clifford die and Walter inherit his estates, he could
easily come to terms with the young man so passionately devoted to his
daughter. He had only to say: "I can make no allowance at present, but
I'll settle my whole fortune upon Mary and her children after my death,
if you'll make a moderate settlement at present," and Walter would
certainly fall into this, and not demand accounts from Mary's trustee. So
now he would have positively encouraged Mary in her attachment, but one
thing held him back a little: he had learned by accident that the last
entail of Clifford Hall and the dependent estates dated two generations
back, so that the entail expired with Colonel Clifford, and this had
enabled the Colonel to sell some of the estates, and clearly gave him
power now to leave Clifford Hall away from his son. Now the people who
had begun to fetch and carry tales between the two magnates told him of
the lawyer's recent visits to Clifford Hall, and he had some misgivings
that the Colonel had sent for the lawyer to alter his will and
disinherit, in whole or in part, his absent and rebellious son. All this
taken together made Mr. Bartley resolve to be kinder to Mary in her love
affair than he ever had been, but still to be guarded and cautious.

"Mary, my dear," said he, "I am sure you'll be on thorns till this young
man comes home; perhaps now would be a good time to pay your visit to
Mrs. Easton."

"Oh, papa, how good of you! but it's twenty miles, I believe, to where
she is staying at the lakes."

"No, no," said Mr. Bartley; "she's staying with her sister Gilbert; quite
within a drive."

"Are you sure, papa?"

"Quite sure, my dear; she wrote to me yesterday about her little pension;
the quarter is just due."

"What! do you allow her a pension?"

"Certainly, my dear, or rather I pay her little stipend as before: how
surprised you look, Mary! Why, I'm not like that old Colonel, intolerant
of other people's views, when they advance them civilly. That woman
helped me to save your life in a very great danger, and for many years
she has been as careful as a mother, and we are not, so to say, at
daggers drawn about Walter Clifford. Why, I only demand a little
prudence and patience both from you and from her. Now tell me. Is there
proper accommodation for you in Mrs. Gilbert's house?"

"Oh yes, papa; it is a farm-house now, but it was a grand place. There's
a beautiful spare room with an oriel-window."

"Well, then, you secure that, and write to-day to have a blazing fire,
and the bed properly aired as well as the sheets, and you shall go
to-morrow in the four-wheel; and you can take her her little stipend in
a letter."

This sudden kindness and provision for her health and happiness filled
Mary's heart to overflowing, and her gratitude gushed forth upon Mr.
Bartley's neck. The old fox blandly absorbed it, and took the opportunity
to say, "Of course it is understood that matters are to go no further
between you and Walter Clifford. Oh, I don't mean that you're to make him
unhappy, or drive him to despair; only insist upon his being patient like
yourself. Everything comes sooner or later to those that can wait."

"Oh, papa," cried Mary, "you've said more to comfort me than Mrs. Easton
or anybody can; but I feel the change will do me good. I am, oh, so
grateful!"

So Mary wrote her letter, and went to Mrs. Easton next day. After the
usual embraces, she gave Mrs. Easton the letter, and was duly installed
in the state bedroom. She wrote to Julia Clifford to say where she was,
and that was her way of letting Walter Clifford know.

Walter himself arrived at Clifford Hall next day, worn, anxious, and
remorseful, and was shown at once to his father's bedside. The Colonel
gave him a wasted hand, and said:

"Dear boy, I thought you'd come. We've had our last quarrel, Walter."

Walter burst into tears over his father's hand, and nothing was said
between them about their temporary estrangement.

The first thing Walter did was to get two professional nurses from
Derby, and secure his father constant attention night and day, and, above
all, nourishment at all hours of the night when the patient would take
it. On the afternoon after his arrival the Colonel fell into a sound
sleep. Then Walter ordered his horse, and in less than an hour was at
Mrs. Gilbert's place.

CHAPTER XI.

THE KNOT CUT.--ANOTHER TIED.

The farm-house the Gilberts occupied had been a family mansion of great
antiquity with a moat around it. It was held during the civil war by a
stout royalist, who armed and garrisoned it after a fashion with his own
servants. This had a different effect to what he intended. It drew the
attention of one of Cromwell's generals, and he dispatched a party with
cannon and petards to reduce the place, whilst he marched on to join
Cromwell in enterprises of more importance. The detachment of Roundheads
summoned the place. The royalist, to show his respect for their
authority, made his kitchen wench squeak a defiance from an upper
window, from which she bolted with great rapidity as soon as she had
thus represented the valor of the establishment, and when next seen it
was in the cellar, wedged in between two barrels of beer. The men went
at it hammer and tongs, and in twenty-four hours a good many
cannon-balls traversed the building, a great many stuck in the walls
like plums in a Christmas pudding, the doors were blown in with petards,
and the principal defenders, with a few wounded Roundheads, were carried
off to Cromwell himself; whilst the house itself was fired, and blazed
away merrily.

Cromwell threatened the royalist gentleman with death for defending an
untenable place.

"I didn't know it was untenable," said the gentleman. "How could I till
I had tried?"

"You had the fate of fortified places to instruct you," said Cromwell,
and he promised faithfully to hang him on his own ruins.

The gentleman turned pale and his lips quivered, but he said, "Well, Mr.
Cromwell, I've fought for my royal master according to my lights, and I
can die for him."

"You shall, sir," said Mr. Cromwell.

About next morning Mr. Cromwell, who had often a cool fit after a hot
one, and was a very big man, take him altogether, gave a different order.
"The fool thought he was doing his duty; turn him loose."

The fool in question was so proud of his battered house that he left it
standing there, bullets and all, and built him a house elsewhere.

King Charles the Second had not landed a month before he made him a
baronet, and one tenant after another occupied a portion of the old
mansion. Two state-rooms were roofed and furnished with the relics of the
entire mansion, and these two rooms the present baronet's surveyor
occupied at rare intervals when he was inspecting the large properties
connected with the baronet's estate.

Mary Bartley now occupied these two rooms, connected by folding-doors,
and she sat pensive in the oriel-window of her bedroom. Young ladies
cling to their bedrooms, especially when they are pretty and airy.
Suddenly she heard a scurry and patter of a horse's hoof, reined up at
the side of the house. She darted from the window and stood panting in
the middle of the room. The next minute Mrs. Easton entered the
sitting-room all in a flutter, and beckoned her. Mary flew to her.

"He is here."

"I thought he would be."

"Will you meet him down-stairs?"

"No, here."

Mrs. Easton acquiesced, rapidly closed the folding-doors, and went out,
saying, "Try and calm yourself, Miss Mary."

Miss Mary tried to obey her, but Walter rushed in impetuously, pale,
worn, agitated, yet enraptured at the first sight of her, and Mary threw
herself round his neck in a moment, and he clasped her fluttering bosom
to his beating heart, and this was the natural result of the restraint
they had put upon a passionate affection: for what says the dramatist
Destouches, improving upon Horace, so that in England his immortal line
is given to Moliere. "_Chassez le naturel, il revient au galop_."

The next thing was, they held each other at arm's-length, and mourned
over each other.

"Oh, my poor Mary, how ill you look!"

"Oh, my poor Walter, how pale and worn!"

"It's all my fault," said Mary.

"No; it's all mine," said Walter.

And so they blamed themselves, and grieved over each other, and vowed
that come what might they would never part again. But, lo and behold!
Walter went on from that to say:

"And that we may never part again let us marry at once, and put our
happiness out of the reach of accidents."

"What!" said Mary. "Defy your father upon his dying bed."

"Oh no," said Walter, "that I could not do. I mean marry secretly, and
announce it after his decease, if I am to lose him."

"And why not wait till after his decease?" said Mary.

"Because, then, the laws of society would compel us to wait six months,
and in that six months some infernal obstacle or other would be sure to
occur, and another would be sure to follow. I am a great deal older than
you, and I see that whoever procrastinates happiness, risks it; and
whoever shilly-shallies with it deserves to lose it, and generally does."

Where young ladies are concerned, logic does not carry all before it,
and so Mary opposed all manner of feminine sentiments, and ended by
saying she could not do such a thing.

Then Walter began to be mortified and angry; then she cunningly shifted
the responsibility, and said she would consult Mrs. Easton.

"Then consult her in my presence," said Walter.

Mary had not bargained for that; she had intended to secure Mrs. Easton
on her side, and then take her opinion. However, as Walter's proposal was
fair, she called Mrs. Easton, and they put the case to her, and asked her
to give her candid opinion.

Mrs. Easton, however, took alarm at the gravity of the proposal, and told
them both she knew things that were unknown to both of them, and it was
not so easy for her to advise.

"Well, but," said Walter, "if you know more than we do, you are the very
person that can advise. All I know is that if we are not married now, I
shall have to wait six months at least, and if I stay here Mr. Bartley
and I shall quarrel, and he will refuse me Mary; and if I go abroad again
I shall get knocked on the head, or else Mary will pine away again, and
Bartley will send her to Madeira, and we shall lose our happiness, as all
shilly-shallying fools do."

Mrs. Easton made no reply to this, though she listened attentively to it.
She walked to the window and thought quietly to herself; then she came
back again and sat down, and after a pause she said, very gravely,
"Knowing all I know, and seeing all I see, I advise you two to marry at
once by special license, and keep it secret from every one who knows
you--but myself--till a proper time comes to reveal it; and it's borne in
upon me that that time will come before long, even if Colonel Clifford
should not die this bout, which everybody says he will."

"Oh, nurse," said Mary, faintly, "I little thought that you'd be
against me."

"Against you, Miss Mary!" said Mrs. Eastern, with much feeling. "I admire
Mr. Walter very much, as any woman must with eyes in her head, and I love
him for loving of you so truly, and like a man, for it does not become a
man to shilly-shally, but I never saw him till he _was_ a man, but you
are the child I nursed, and prayed over, and trembled for in sickness,
and rejoiced over in health, and left a good master because I saw he did
not love you so well as I did."

These words went to Mary's heart, and she flew to her nurse, and hung
weeping round her neck. Her tears made the manly but tender-hearted
Walter give a sort of gulp. Mary heard it, and put her white hand out to
him. He threw himself upon his knees, and kissed it devotedly, and the
coy girl was won.

From this hour Walter gave her no breathing-time; he easily talked over
old Baker, and got him to excuse his short absence; he turned his hunters
into roadsters, and rode them very hard; he got the special license; he
squared a clergyman at the head of the lake, who was an old friend of his
and fond of fees, and in three days after her consent, Mary and Mrs.
Easton drove a four-wheeled carriage Walter had lent them to the little
hotel at the lakes. Walter had galloped over at eleven o'clock, and they
all three took a little walk together. Walter Clifford and Mary Bartley
returned from that walk MAN AND WIFE.

CHAPTER XII.

THE CLANDESTINE MARRIAGE.

Walter Clifford and Mary sat at a late breakfast in a little inn that
looked upon a lake, which appeared to them more lovely than the lake of
Thun or of Lucerne. He beamed steadily at her with triumphant rapture;
she stole looks at him of wonder, admiration, and the deepest love.

As they had nothing now to argue about, they only spoke a few words at a
time, but these were all musical with love.

To them, as we dramatists say, entered Mrs. Easton, with signs of hurry.

"Miss Mary--" said she.

"Mrs. Mary," suggested Walter, meekly.

Mrs. Mary blew him a kiss.

"Ay, ay," said Mrs. Easton, smiling. "Of course you will both hate me,
but I have come to take you home, Mistress Mary."

"Home!" said Mary; "why, this feels like home."

"No doubt," said Mrs. Easton, "but, for all that, in half an hour we
must start."

The married couple remonstrated with one accord, but Mrs. Easton was
firm. "I dreamed," said she, "that we were all found out--and that's a
warning. Mr. Walter, you know that you'll be missed at Clifford Hall, and
didn't ought to leave your father another day. And you, Miss Mary, do but
think what a weight I have taken upon my shoulders, and don't put off
coming home, for I am almost shaking with anxiety, and for sure and
certain my dream it was a warning, and there's something in the wind."

They were both so indebted to this good woman that they looked at each
other piteously, but agreed. Walter rang the bell, and ordered the
four-wheeler and his own nag.

"Mary, one little walk in that sweet garden."

"Yes, dear," said Mary, and in another moment they were walking in the
garden, intertwined like the ivy and the oak, and purring over their
present delights and glowing prospects.

In the mean time Mrs. Easton packed up their things: Walter's were
enrolled in a light rug with straps, which went upon his saddle. They
left the little inn, Mary driving. When they had gone about two miles
they came to cross-roads.

"Please pull up," said Mrs. Easton; then turning to Walter, who was
riding ridiculously close to Mary's whip hand, "Isn't that the way to
Clifford Hall?"

"It's one way," said he; "but I don't mean to go that way. How can I?
It's only three miles more round by your house."

"Nurse," said Mary, appealingly.

"Ay, ay, poor things," said Mrs. Easton. "Well, well, don't loiter,
anyway. I shall not be my own woman again till we're safe at the farm."

So they drove briskly on, and in about an hour more they got to a long
hill, whence they could see the Gilberts' farm.

"There, nurse," said Mary, pouting a little, "now I hope you're content,
for we have got safe home, and he and I shall not have a happy day
together again."

"Oh yes, you will, and many happy years," said Mrs. Easton. "Well, yes, I
don't feel so fidgety now."

"Oh!" cried Mary, all of a sudden. "Why, there's our gray mare coming
down the hill with the dog-cart! Who's that driving her? It's not papa. I
declare it's Mr. Hope, come home safe and sound. Dear Mr. Hope! Oh, now
my happiness is perfect!"

"Mr. Hope!" screamed Mrs. Easton. "Drive faster, for Heaven's sake! Turn
your horse, sir, and gallop away from us as hard as you can!"

"Well, but, Mrs. Easton--" objected Walter.

Mrs. Easton stood up in the carriage. "Man alive!" she screamed, "you
know nothing, and I know a deal; begone, or you are no friend of mine:
you'll make me curse the hour that I interfered."

"Go, darling," said Mary, kindly, and so decidedly that he turned his
horse directly, gave her one look of love and disappointment, and
galloped away.

Mary looked pale and angry, and drove on in sullen silence.

Mrs. Easton was too agitated to mind her angry looks. She kept wiping
the perspiration from her brow with her handkerchief, and speaking in
broken sentences: "If we could only get there first--fool not to teach
my sister her lesson before we went, she's such a simpleton!--can't you
drive faster?"

"Why, nurse," said Mary, "don't be so afraid of Mr. Hope. It's not him
I'm afraid of; it's papa."

"Yon don't know what you're talking about, child. Mr. Bartley is easily
blinded; I won't tell you why. It isn't so with Mr. Hope. Oh, if I could
only get in to have one word with my simple sister before he turns her
inside out!"

This question was soon decided. Hope drove up to the door whilst Mary and
Mrs. Eastern were still some distance off and hidden by a turn in the
road. When they emerged again into sight of the farm they just caught
sight of Hope's back, and Mrs. Gilbert curtseying to him and ushering him
into the house.

"Drive into the stable-yard," said Mrs. Easton, faintly. "He mustn't see
your travelling basket, anyway."

She told the servant to put the horse into the stable immediately, and
the basket into the brew-house. Then she hurried Mary up the back
stairs to her room, and went with a beating heart to find Mr. Hope and
her sister.

Mrs. Gilbert, though a simple and unguarded woman, could read faces like
the rest, and she saw at once that her sister was very much put out by
this visit of Mr. Hope, and wanted to know what had passed between her
and him. This set the poor woman all in a flutter for fear she should
have said something injudicious, and there-upon she prepared to find out,
if possible, what she ought to have said.

"What! Mr. Hope!" said Mrs. Easton. "Well, Mary will be glad. And have
you been long home, sir?"

"Came last night," said Hope. "She hasn't been well, I hear. What is the
matter?" And he looked very anxious.

"Well, sir," said Mrs. Easton, very guardedly, "she certainly gave me a
fright when she came here. She looked quite pale; but whether it was
that she wanted a change--but whatever it was, it couldn't be very
serious. You shall judge for yourself. Sister, go to Miss Mary's room,
and tell her."

Mrs. Easton, in giving this instruction, frowned at her sister as much as
to say, "Now don't speak, but go."

When she was gone, the next thing was to find out if the woman had made
any foolish admission to Mr. Hope; so she waited for him.

She had not long to wait.

Hope said: "I hardly expected to see you; your sister said you were
from home."

"Well, sir," said Mrs. Easton, "we were not so far off, but we did come
home a little sooner than we intended, and I am rare glad we did, for
Miss Mary wouldn't have missed you for all the _views_ in the county."

With that she made an excuse, and left him. She found her sister in
Mary's room: they were comparing notes.

"Now," said she to Mrs. Gilbert, "you tell me every word you said to Mr.
Hope about Miss Mary and me."

"Well, I said you were not at home, and that is every word; he didn't
give me time to say any more for questioning of me about her health."

"That's lucky," said Mrs. Easton, dryly. "Thank Heaven, there's no harm
done; he sha'n't see the carriage."

"Dear me, nurse," said Mary, "all this time I'm longing to see him."

"Well, you shall see him, if you won't own to having been a night
from home."

Mary promised, and went eagerly to Mr. Hope. It did not come natural to
her to be afraid of him, and she was impatient for the day to come when
she might tell him the whole story. The reception he gave her was not of
a nature to discourage this feeling; his pale face--for he had been very
ill--flushed at sight of her, his eyes poured affection upon her, and he
held out both hands to her. "This the pale girl they frightened me
about!" said he. "Why, you're like the roses in July."

"That's partly with seeing of you, sir," said Mrs. Easton, quietly
following, "but we do take some credit to ourselves too; for Miss Mary
_was_ rather pale when she came here a week ago; but la, young folks want
a change now and then."

"Nurse," said Mary, "I really was not well, and you have done wonders for
me, and I hope you won't think me ungrateful, but I _must_ go home with
Mr. Hope."

Hope's countenance flushed with delight, and Mrs. Easton saw in a moment
that Mary's affection was co-operating with her prudence. "I thought that
would be her first word, sir," said she. "Why, of course you will, miss.
There, don't you take any trouble; we'll pack up your things and put them
in the dog-cart; but you must eat a morsel both of you before you go.
There's a beautiful piece of beef in the pot, not oversalted, and some
mealy potatoes and suet dumplings. You sit down and have your chat,
whilst Polly and I get everything ready for you."

Then Mary asked Mr. Hope so many questions with such eager affection that
he had no time to ask her any, and then she volunteered the home news,
especially of Colonel Clifford's condition, and then she blushed and
asked him if he had said anything to her father about Walter Clifford.

"Not much," said Mr. Hope. "You are very young, Mary, and it's not for me
to interfere, and I won't interfere. But if you want my opinion, why, I
admire the young man extremely. I always liked him; he is a
straightforward, upright, manly, good-hearted chap, and has lots of
plain good sense--Heaven knows where he got it!"

This eulogy was interrupted by Mary putting a white hand and a perfect
nose upon Hope's shoulder, and kissing the cloth thereon.

"What," said Hope, tenderly, and yet half sadly--for he knew that all
middle-aged men must now be second--"have I found the way to your heart?"

"You always knew that, Mr. Hope," said Mary, softly; "especially since my
escapade in that horrid brook."

Their affectionate chat was interrupted by a stout servant laying a snowy
cloth, and after her sailed in Mrs. Gilbert, with a red face, and pride
unconcealed and justifiable, carrying a grand dish of smoking hot boiled
beef, set in a very flower bed, so to speak, of carrots, turnips, and
suet dumplings; the servant followed with a brown basin, almost as big as
a ewer, filled with mealy potatoes, whose jackets hung by a thread.
Around this feast the whole party soon collected, and none of them sighed
for Russian soups or French ragouts; for the fact is that under the title
of boiled beef there exist two things, one of which, without any great
impropriety, might be called junk; but this was the powdered beef of our
ancestors, a huge piece just slightly salted in the house itself, so that
the generous juice remained in it, but the piquant slices, with the mealy
potatoes, made a delightful combination. The glasses were filled with
home-brewed ale, sparkling and clear and golden as the finest Madeira.
They all ate manfully, stimulated by the genial hostess. Even Mary
outshone all her former efforts, and although she couldn't satisfy Mrs.
Gilbert, she declared she had never eaten so much in all her life. This
set good Mrs. Gilbert's cheeks all aglow with simple, honest
satisfaction.

Hope drove Mary home in the dog-cart. He was a happy man, but she could
hardly be called a happy woman. She was warm and cold by turns. She had
got her friend back, and that was a comfort, but she was not treating him
with confidence; indeed, she was passively deceiving him, and that
chilled her; but then it would not be for long, and that comforted her,
and yet even when the day should come for the great doors of Clifford
Hall to fly open to her, would not a sad, reproachful look from dear Mr.
Hope somewhat imbitter her cup of happiness? Deceit, and even reticence,
did not come so natural to her as they do to many women: she was not
weak, and she was frank, though very modest.

Mr. Bartley met them at the door, and, owing to Hope's presence, was more
demonstrative than usual. He seemed much pleased at Mary's return, and
delighted at her appearance.

"Well," said he, "I am glad I sent you away for a week. We have all
missed you, my dear, but the change has set you up again, I never saw you
look better. Now you are well, we must try and keep you well."

* * * * *

We must leave the reader to imagine the mixed feelings with which Mrs.
Walter Clifford laid her head upon the pillow that night, and we
undertake to say that the female readers, at all events, will supply this
blank in our narrative much better than we could, though we were to fill
a chapter with that subject alone.

* * * * *

Passion is a terrible enemy to mere affection. Walter Clifford loved his
father dearly, yet for twenty-four hours he had almost forgotten him.
But the moment he turned his horse's head toward Clifford Hall,
uneasiness and something very like remorse began to seize him. Suppose
his father had asked for him, and wondered where he was, and felt
himself deserted and abandoned in his dying moments. He spurred his
horse to a gallop, and soon reached Clifford Hall. As he was afraid to
go straight to his father's room, he went at once to old Baker, and
said, in an agitated voice,

"One word, John--is he alive?"

"Yes, sir, he is," said John, gravely, and rather sternly.

"Has he asked for me?"

"More than once or twice, sir."

Walter sank into a chair, and covered his face with his hands. This
softened the old servant, whose manner till then had been sullen
and grim.

"You need not fret, Mr. Walter," said he; "it's all right. In course I
know where you have been."

Walter looked up alarmed.

"I mean in a general way," said the old man. "You have been a-courting of
an angel. I know her, sir, and I hope to be her servant some day; and if
you was to marry any but her, I'd leave service altogether, and so would
Rhoda Milton; but, Mr. Walter, sir, there's a time for everything: I hope
you'll forgive me for saying so. However you are here now, and I was
wide-awake, and I have made it all right, sir."

"That's impossible," said Walter. "How could you make it right with my
poor dear father, if in his last moments he felt himself neglected?"

"But he didn't feel himself neglected."

"I don't understand you," said Walter.

"Well, sir," said old Baker, "I'm an old servant, and I have done my duty
to father and son according to my lights: I told him a lie."

"A lie, John!" said Walter.

"A thundering lie," said John, rather aggressively. "I don't know as I
ever told a greater lie in all my life. I told him you was gone up to
London to fetch a doctor."

Walter grasped John Baker's hand. "God bless you, old man," said he, "for
taking that on your conscience! Well, you sha'n't have yourself to
reproach for my fault. I know a first-class gout doctor in London; he has
cured it more than once. I'll wire him down this minute; you'll dispatch
the message, and I'll go to my father."

The message was sent, and when the Colonel awoke from an uneasy slumber
he saw his son at the foot of the bed, gazing piteously at him.

"My dear boy," said he, faintly, and held out a wasted hand. Walter was
pricked to the heart at this greeting: not a word of remonstrance at
his absence.

"I fear you missed me, father," said he, sadly.

"That I have," said the old man; "but I dare say you didn't forget me,
though you weren't by my side."

The high-minded old soldier said no more, and put no questions, but
confided in his son's affection, and awaited the result of it. From that
hour Walter Clifford nursed his father day and night. Dr. Garner arrived
next day. He examined the patient, and put a great many questions as to
the history and progress of the disorder up to that date, and inquired
in particular what was the length of time the fits generally endured.
Here he found them all rather hazy. "Ah," said he, "patients are seldom
able to assist their medical adviser with precise information on this
point, yet it's very important. Well, can you tell me how long this
attack has lasted?"

They told him that within a day or two.

"Then now," said he, "the most important question of all: What day did
the pain leave his extremities?"

The patient and John Baker had to compare notes to answer this question,
and they made it out to be about twenty days.

"Then he ought to be as dead as a herring," whispered the doctor.

After this he began to walk the room and meditate, with his hands
behind him.

"Open those top windows," said he. "Now draw the screen, and give his
lungs a chance; no draughts must blow upon him, you know." Then he drew
Walter aside. "Do you want to know the truth? Well, then, his life hangs
on a thread. The gout is creeping upward, and will inevitably kill him
if we can't get it down. Nothing but heroic remedies will do that, and
it's three to five against them. What do you say?"

"I dare not--I dare not. Pray put the question to _him_."

"I will," said the doctor; and accordingly he did put it to him with a
good deal of feeling and gentleness, and the answer rather surprised him.

Weak as he was, Colonel Clifford's dull eye flashed, and he half raised
himself on his elbow. "What a question to put to a soldier!" said he.
"Why, let us fight, to be sure. I thought it was twenty to one--five to
three? I have often won the rubber with five to three against me."

"Ah!" said Dr. Garner, "these are the patients that give the doctor a
chance." Then he turned to Baker. "Have you any good champagne in the
house--not sweet, and not too dry, and full of fire?"

"Irroy's Carte d'Or," suggested the patient, entering into the business
with a certain feeble alacrity that showed his gout had not always been
unconnected with imprudence in diet.

Baker was sent for the champagne. It was brought and opened, and the
patient drank some of it fizzing. When he had drank what he could, his
eyes twinkled, and he said,

"That's a hair of a dog that has often bitten me."

The wine soon got into his weakened head, and he dropped asleep.

"Another draught when he wakes," said the doctor, "but from a
fresh bottle."

"We'll finish this one to your health in the servants' hall," said honest
John Baker.

Dr. Garner staid there all night, keeping up the patient's strength with
eggs and brandy, and everything, in short, except medicine; and he also
administered champagne, but at much longer intervals.

At one o'clock next day the patient gave a dismal groan; Walter and the
others started up in alarm.

"Good!" said the doctor, calmly; "now I'll go to bed. Call me if there's
any fresh symptom."

At six o'clock old Baker burst in the room: "Sir, sir, he have swore at
me twice. The Lord be praised!"

"Excellent!" said the doctor. "Now tell me what disagrees with him most
after champagne?"

"Why, Green Chartreuse, to be sure," said old Baker.

"Then give him a table-spoonful," said the doctor. "Get me some
hot water."

"Which first?" inquired Baker.

"The patient, to be sure," said Dr. Garner.

Soon after this the doctor stood by his patient's side, and found him
writhing, and, to tell the truth, he was using bad language occasionally,
though he evidently tried not to.

Dr. Garner looked at his watch. "I think there's time to catch the
evening train."

"Why," said Walter, "surely you would not desert us; this is the crisis,
is it not?"

"It's something more than that," said the doctor; "the disease knows its
old place; it has gone back to the foot like a shot; and if you can keep
it there, the patient will live; he's not the sort of patient that
strikes his colors while there's a bastion left to defend."

These words pleased the old Colonel so that he waved a feeble hand above
his head, then groaned most dismally, and ground his teeth to avoid
profanity.

The doctor, with exquisite gentleness, drew the clothes off his feet, and
sent for a lot of fleecy cotton or wool, and warned them all not to touch
the bed, nor even to approach the lower part of it, and then he once more
proposed to leave, and gave his reasons.

"Now, look here, you know, I have done my part, and if I give special
instructions to the nurses, they can do the rest. I'm rather dear, and
why should you waste your money?"

"Dear!" said Walter, warmly; "you're as cheap as dirt, and as good as
gold, and the very sight of you is a comfort to us. There's a fast train
at ten; I'll drive you to the station after breakfast myself. Your
fees--they are nothing to us. We love him, and we are the happiest house
in Christendom; we, that were the saddest."

"Well," said the doctor, "you north countrymen are hearty people. I'll
stay till to-morrow morning--indeed, I'll stay till the afternoon, for my
London day will be lost anyway."

He staid accordingly till three o'clock, left his patient out of all
present danger, and advised Walter especially against allowing colchicum
to be administered to him until his strength had recovered.

"There is no medicinal cure for gout," said he; "pain is a mere symptom,
and colchicum soothes that pain, not by affecting the disease, but by
stilling the action of the heart. Well, if you still the action of that
heart there, you'll kill him as surely as if you stilled it with a pistol
bullet. Knock off his champagne in three or four days, and wheel him into
the sun as soon as you can with safety, fill his lungs with oxygen, and
keep all worry and disputes and mental anxiety from him, if you can.
Don't contradict him for a month to come."

The Colonel had a terrible bout of it so far as pain was concerned, but
after about a fortnight the paroxysms intermitted, the appetite
increased. Everybody was his nurse; everybody, including Julia Clifford,
humored him; Percy Fitzroy was never mentioned, and the name of Bartley
religiously avoided. The Colonel had got a fright, and was more prudent
in his diet, and always in the open air.

Walter left him only at odd times, when he could hope to get a hasty word
with Mary, and tell her how things were going, and do all that man could
do to keep her heart up, and reconcile her to the present situation.

Returning from his wife one day, and leaving her depressed by their
galling situation, though she was never peevish, but very sad and
thoughtful, he found his father and Julia Clifford in the library.
Julia had been writing letters for him; she gave Walter a deprecatory
look, as much as to say, "What I am doing is by compulsion, and you
won't like it." Colonel Clifford didn't leave the young man in any
doubt about the matter. He said: "Walter, you heard me speak of Bell,
the counsel who leads this circuit. I was once so fortunate as to do
him a good turn, and he has not forgotten it; he will sleep here the
day after to-morrow, and he will go over that black-guard's lease: he
has been in plenty of mining cases. I have got a sort of half opinion
out of him already; he thinks it contrary to the equity of contracts
that minerals should pass under a farm lease where the surface of the
soil is a just equivalent to the yearly payment; but the old fox won't
speak positively till he has read every syllable of the lease. However,
it stands to reason that it's a fraud; it comes from a man who is all
fraud; but thank God I am myself again."

He started up erect as a dart. "I'll have him off my lands; I'll drag him
out of the bowels of the earth, him and all his clan."

With this and other threats of the same character he marched out of the
room, striking the floor hard with his stick as he went, and left Julia
Clifford amazed, and Walter Clifford aghast, at his vindictive fury.

CHAPTER XIII.

THE SERPENT LET LOOSE.

Walter Clifford was so distressed at this outburst, and the prospect of
actual litigation between his father and his sweetheart's father, that
Julia Clifford pitied him, and, after thinking a little, said she would
stop it for the present. She then sat down, and in five minutes the
docile pen of a female letter-writer produced an ingratiating composition
impossible to resist. She apologized for her apparent insincerity, but
would be candid, and confide the whole truth to Mr. Bell. Then she told
him that Colonel Clifford "had only just been saved from death by a
miracle, and a relapse was expected in case of any great excitement or
irritation, such as a doubtful lawsuit with a gentleman he disliked would
certainly cause. The proposed litigation was, _for various reasons_, most
distressing to his son and successor, Walter Clifford, and would Mr. Bell
be so very kind as to put the question off as long as possible by any
means he thought proper?"

Walter was grateful, and said, "What a comfort to have a lady on
one's side!"

"I would rather have a gentleman on mine," said Julia, laughing.

Mr. Bell wrote a discreet reply. He would wait till the Assizes--six
weeks' delay--and then write to the Colonel, postponing his visit. This
he did, and promised to look up cases meantime.

But these two allies not only baffled their irascible chief; they also
humored him to the full. They never mentioned the name of Bartley, and
they kept Percy Fitzroy out of sight in spite of his remonstrances, and,
in a word, they made the Colonel's life so smooth that he thought he was
going to have his own way in everything, and he improved in health and
spirits; for you know it is an old saying, "Always get your own way, and
you'll never die in a pet."

And then what was still a tottering situation was kept on its legs by the
sweet character and gentle temper of Mary Bartley.

We have already mentioned that she was superior to most women in the
habit of close attention to whatever she undertook. This was the real key
to her facility in languages, history, music, drawing, and calisthenics,
as her professor called female gymnastics. The flexible creature's limbs
were in secret steel. She could go thirty feet up a slack rope hand over
hand with wonderful ease and grace, and hang by one hand for ten minutes
to kiss the other to her friends. So the very day she was surprised into
consenting to marry Walter secretly she sat down to the Marriage Service
and learned it all by heart directly, and understood most of it.

By this means she realized that now she had another man to obey as well
as her father. So now, when Walter pressed her for secret meetings, she
said, submissively, "Oh yes, if you insist." She even remarked that she
concluded clandestine meetings were the natural consequence of a
clandestine marriage.

She used to meet her husband in the day when she could, and often for
five minutes under the moon. And she even promised to spend two or three
days with him at the lakes if a safe opportunity should occur. But for
that she stipulated that Mr. Hope must be absent.

Walter asked her why she was more afraid of Mr. Hope than of her father.

Her eyes seemed to look inward dimly, and at first she said she
didn't know. But after pondering the matter a little she said,
"Because he watches me more closely than papa, and that is
because--You won't tell anybody?"

"No."

"Not a soul, upon your honor?"

"Not a soul, dearest, upon my honor."

"Well, then, because he loves me more."

"Oh, come!" said Walter, incredulously.

But Mary would neither resign her opinion nor pursue a subject which
puzzled and grieved her.

We have now indicated the peaceful tenor of things in Derbyshire for a
period of some months. We shall have to show by-and-by that elements of
discord were accumulating under the surface; but at present we must leave
Derbyshire, and deal very briefly with another tissue of events,
beginning years ago, and running to a date three months, at least, ahead
of Colonel Clifford's recovery. The reader will have no reason to regret
this apparent interruption. Our tale hitherto has been rather sluggish;
but it is in narrative as it is in nature, when two streams unite their
forces the current becomes broader and stronger.

Leonard Monckton was sent to Pentonville, and after some years
transferred to Portland. In both places he played the game of an old
hand; always kept his temper and carnied everybody, especially the
chaplain and the turnkeys. These last he treated as his only masters; and
if they gave him short weight in bread or meat, catch him making matters
worse by appealing to the governor! Toward the end of his time at
Pentonville he had some thought of suicide, but his spirits revived at
Portland, where he was cheered by the conversation of other villains.
Their name was legion; but as he never met one of them again, except Ben
Burnley, all those miscreants are happily irrelevant. And the reader need
not fear an introduction to them, unless he should find himself garroted
in some dark street or suburb, or his home rifled some dark and windy
night. As for Ben Burnley, he was from the North country, imprisoned for
conspiracy and manslaughter in an attack upon non-union miners. Toward
the end of his time he made an attack upon a warder, and got five years
more. Then Monckton showed him he was a fool, and explained to him his
own plan of conduct, and bade him observe how popular he was with the
warders, and reaped all the favor they dared to show him.

"He treated me like a dog," said the man, sullenly.

"I saw it," said Leonard. "And if I had been you I would have said
nothing, but waited till my time was out, and then watched for him till
he got his day out, and settled his hash. That is the way for your sort.
As for me, killing is a poor revenge; it is too soon over. Do you think I
don't mean to be revenged on that skunk Bartley, and, above all, on that
scoundrel Hope, who planted the swag in my pockets, and let me into this
hole for fourteen years?" Then, with all his self-command, he burst into
a torrent of curses, and his pale face was ghastly with hate, and his
eyes glared with demoniac fire, for hell raged in his heart.

Just then a warder approached, and to Burnley's surprise, who did not see
him coming, Monckton said, gently, "And therefore, my poor fellow, do
just consider that you have broken the law, and the warders are only
doing their duty and earning their bread, and if you were a warder
to-morrow, you'd have to do just what they do."

"Ay," said the warder, in passing, "you may lecture the bloke, but you
will not make a silk purse out of a sow's ear."

That was true, but nevertheless the smooth villain Monckton obtained a
great ascendency over this rough, shock-headed ruffian Burnley, and he
got into no more scrapes. He finished his two sentences, and left before
Monckton. This precious pair revealed to each other certain passages in
their beautiful lives. Monckton's were only half-confidences, but Burnley
told Monckton he had been concerned with others in a burglary at
Stockton, and also in the death of an overseer in a mine in Wales, and
gave the particulars with a sort of quaking gusto, and washing his hands
nervously in the tainted air all the time. To be sure the overseer had
earned his fate; he had himself been guilty of a crime--he had been true
to his employer.

The grateful Burnley left Portland at last, and promised faithfully to
send word to a certain friend of Monckton's, in London, where he was,
and what he was doing. Meantime he begged his way northward from
Portland, for the southern provinces were a dead letter to him.

Monckton's wife wrote to him as often as the rules of the jail permitted,
and her letters were full of affection, and of hope that their separation
would be shortened. She went into all the details of her life, and it was
now a creditable one. Young women are educated practically in Germany;
and Lucy was not only a good scholar, and almost a linguist, but
excellent at all needlework, and, better still, could cut dresses and
other garments in the best possible style. After one or two inferior
places, she got a situation with an English countess; and from that time
she was passed as a treasure from one member of the aristocracy to
another, and received high stipends, and presents of at least equal
value. Being a German, she put by money, and let her husband know it. But
in the seventh year of her enforced widowhood her letters began to
undergo subtle changes, one after another.

First there were little exhibitions of impatience. Then there were signs
of languor and a diminution of gush.

Then there were stronger protestations of affection than ever.

Then there were mixed with these protestations queries whether the
truest affection was not that which provided for the interests of the
beloved person.

Then in the eighth year of Monckton's imprisonment she added to remarks
of the above kind certain confessions that she was worn out with
anxieties, and felt her lonely condition; that youth and beauty did not
last forever; that she had let slip opportunities of doing herself
substantial service, and him too, if he could look at things as coolly
now as he used to; and she began to think she had done wrong.

This line once adopted was never given up, though it was accompanied
once or twice with passionate expressions of regret at the vanity of
long-cherished hopes. Then came a letter, or two more in which the fair
writer described herself as torn this way and that way, and not knowing
what to do for the best, and inveighed against Fate.

Then came a long silence.

Then came a short letter imploring him, if he loved her as she loved him,
to try and forget her, except as one who would always watch over his
interests, and weep for him in secret.

"Crocodile!" said Monckton, with a cold sneer.

All this showed him it was his interest not to lose his hold on her. So
he always wrote to her in a beautiful strain of faith, affection, and
constancy.

But this part of the comedy was cut short by the lady discontinuing the
correspondence and concealing her address for years.

"Ah!" said Monckton, "she wants to cure me. That cock won't fight, my
beauty. A month before he was let loose upon society came a surprise--a
letter from his wife, directing him to call at the office of a certain
solicitor in Serjeant's Inn, Fleet Street, when he would receive L50 upon
his personal receipt, and a similar sum from time to time, provided he
made no attempt to discover her, or in any way disturb her life. 'Oh,
Leonard,' said she, 'you ruined me once. Pray do not destroy me again.
You may be sure I am not happy; but I am in peace and comfort, and I am
old enough to know their value. Dear Leonard, I offer them both to you.
Pray, pray do not despise them, and, whatever you do, do not offend
against the law again. You see how strong it is.'"

Monckton read this with calm indifference. He did not expect a woman to
give him a pension unconditionally, or without some little twaddle by way
of drawback. He called on the lawyer, and sent in his name. He was
received by the lawyer in person, and eyed very keenly. "I am directed
to call here for L50, sir," said he.

"Yes, Mr. Monckton. I believe the payment is conditional."

"No, sir; not the first L50. It is the future payments that are to depend
upon my conniving at my wife's infidelity;" and with that he handed him
the letter.

The lawyer perused it, and said: "You are right, sir. The L50 shall be
paid to you immediately; but we must request you to consider that our
client is your friend, and acts by our advice, and that it will not be
either graceful or delicate to interpret her conduct to her discredit."

"My good sir," said Monckton, with one of his cynical sneers, "every time
your client pays me L50, put on the receipt that black is white in
matters of conjugal morality, and I'll sign the whole acknowledgment."

Finding he had such a serpent to deal with, the lawyer cut the dialogue
short, and paid the money. However, as Monckton was leaving, he said:
"You can write to us when you want any more, and would it be discreet of
me to ask where we can address you?"

"Why not?" said Monckton. "I have nothing to conceal. However, all I can
tell you at present is that I am going to Hull to try and find a couple
of rogues."

To Hull he went, breathing avarice and vengeance. This dangerous villain
was quite master of Bartley's secret, and Hope's. To be sure, when Hope
first discovered him in Bartley's office, he was puzzled at the sudden
interference of that stranger. He had only seen Hope's back until this,
and, moreover, Hope had been shabbily dressed in black cloth hard worn,
whereas he was in a new suit of tweed when he exposed Monckton's
villainy. But this was explained at the trial, and Monckton instructed
his attorney to cross-examine Hope about his own great fraud; but counsel
refused to do so, either because he disbelieved his client, or thought
such a cross-examination would be stopped, or set the court still more
against his client.

Monckton raged at this, and, of course, said he had been bought by the
other side. But now he was delighted that his enemies' secret had never
been inquired into, and that he could fall on them both like a
thunder-bolt.

He was at Hull next day, and rambled about the old shop, and looked in at
the windows. All new faces, and on the door-plate, "Atkinson & Co."

Then he went in, and asked for Mr. Bartley.

Name not known.

"Why, he used to be here. I was in his employ."

No; nobody knew Mr. Bartley.

Could he see Mr. Atkinson?

Certainly. Mr. Atkinson would be there at two o'clock.

Monckton, after some preamble, asked whether he had not succeeded in this
business to Mr. Robert Bartley.

No. He had bought the business from Mrs. Duplex, a widow residing in this
town, and he happened to know that her husband had taken it from
Whitaker, a merchant at Boston.

"Is he alive, sir?"

"I believe so, and very well known."

Monckton went off to Whitaker, and learned from him that he had bought
the business from Bartley, but it was many years ago, and he had never
heard of the purchaser since that day.

Monckton returned to London baffled. What was he to do? Go to a
secret-inquiry office? Advertise that if Mr. Robert Bartley, late of
Hull, would write to a certain agent, he would hear of something to his
advantage? He did not much fancy either of these plans. He wanted to
pounce on Bartley, or Hope, or both.

Then he argued thus: "Bartley has got lots of money now, or he would not
have given up business. Ten to one he lives in London, or visits it. I
will try the Park."

Well, he did try the Park, both at the riding hour and the driving hour.
He saw no Bartley at either time.

But one day in the Lady's Mile, as he listlessly watched the carriages
defile slowly past him, with every now and then a jam, there crawled
past him a smart victoria, and in it a beautiful woman with glorious
dark eyes, and a lovely little boy, the very image of her. It was his
wife and her son.

Monckton started, but the lady gave no sign of recognition. She bowed,
but it was to a gentleman at Monckton's side, who had raised his hat to
her with marked respect.

"What a beautiful crechaar!" said a little swell to the gentleman in
question. "You know her?"

"Very slightly."

"Who is she? A duchess?"

"No; a stock-broker's wife, Mrs. Braham. Why, she is a known beauty."

That was enough for Monckton. He hung back a little, and followed the
carriage. He calculated that if it left the Park at Hyde Park corner, or
the Marble Arch, he could take a hansom and follow it.

When the victoria got clear of the crowd at the corner, Mrs. Braham
leaned forward a moment and whispered a word to her coachman. Instantly
the carriage dashed at the Chesterfield Gate and into Mayfair at such a
swift trot that there was no time to get a cab and keep it in sight.

Monckton lighted a cigarette. "Clever girl!" said he, satirically. "She
knew me, and never winked."

The next day he went to the lawyer and said, "I have a little favor to
ask you, sir."

The lawyer was on his guard directly, but said nothing.

"An interview--in this office--with Mrs. Braham."

The lawyer winced, but went on his guard again directly.

"Client of ours?"

"Yes, sir."

"Braham? Braham?" said the lawyer, affecting to search the caverns of
professional memory.

"Stock-broker's wife."

"Where do they live?"

"What! don't you know? Place of _business_--Threadneedle Street. Place of
_bigamy_--Portman Square."

"I have no authority to grant a personal interview with any such person."

"But you have no power to hinder one, and it is her interest the meeting
should take place here, and the stock-broker be out of it."

The lawyer reflected.

"Will you promise me it shall be a friendly interview? You will never go
to her husband?"

"Her stock-broker, you mean. Not I. If she comes to me here when I
want her."

"Will that be often?"

"I think not. I have a better card to play than Mrs. Braham. I only want
her to help me to find certain people. Shall we say twelve o'clock
to-morrow?"

The lawyer called on Mrs. Braham, and after an agitated and tearful
interview, persuaded her to keep the appointment.

"Consider," said he, "what you gain by making our office the place of
meeting. Establish that at once. It's a point of defense."

The meeting took place in the lawyer's private room, and Mrs. Braham was
so overcome that she nearly fainted. Then she was hysterical, and finally
tears relieved her.

When she came to this point, Monckton, who had looked upon the whole
exhibition as a mere preliminary form observed by females, said,

"Come, Lucy, don't be silly. I am not here to spoil your little game, but
to play my own. The question is, will you help me to make my fortune?"

"Oh, that I will, if you will not break up my home."

"Not such a fool, my dear. Catch me killing a milk-cow! You give me a
percentage on your profits, and I'm dumb."

"Then all you want is more money?"

"That is all; and I shall not want that in a month's time."

"I have brought L100, Leonard," she said, timidly.

"Sensible girl. Hand it over."

Two white hands trembled at the strings of a little bag, and took out ten
crisp notes.

Leonard took them with satisfaction.

"There," said he. "This will last me till I have found Bartley and Hope,
and made my fortune."

"Hope!" said Mrs. Braham. "Oh, pray keep clear of him! Pray don't attack
_him_ again. He is such an able man!"

"I will not attack him again to be defeated. Forewarned, forearmed.
Indeed, if I am to bleed Bartley, I don't know how I can be revenged on
Hope. _That is the cruel thing_. But don't you trouble about my business,
Lucy, unless," said he, with a sneer, "you can tell me where to find
them, and so save me a lot of money."

"Well, Leonard," said Lucy, "it can't be so very hard to find Hope. You
know where that young man lives that you--that I--"

"Oh, Walter Clifford! Yes, of course I know where _he_ lives. At Clifford
Hall, in Derbyshire."

"Well, Leonard, Hope saved him from prison, and ruined you. That young
man had a good heart. He would not forget such a kindness. He may not
know where Mr. Bartley lives, but surely he will know where Hope is."

"Lucy," said Leonard, "you are not such a fool as you were. It is a
chance, at all events. I'll go down to that neighborhood directly. I'll
have a first-rate disguise, and spy about, and pick up all I can."

"And you will never say anything or do anything to--Oh, Leonard, I'm
a bad wife. I never can be a good one now to anybody. But I'm a good
mother; and I thought God had forgiven me, when he sent me my little
angel. You will never ruin his poor mother, and make her darling
blush for her!"

"Curse me if I do!" said Leonard, betrayed into a moment's warmth. But he
was soon himself again. "There," said he, "I'll leave the little bloke my
inheritance. Perhaps you don't know I'm heir to a large estate in
Westmoreland; no end of land, and half a lake, _and only eleven lives
between the estate and me_. I will leave my 'great expectations' to that
young bloke. What's his Christian name?"

"Augustus."

"And what's his father's name?"

"Jonathan."

Leonard then left all his property, real and personal, and all that
should ever accrue to him, to Augustus Braham, son of Jonathan Braham,
and left Lucy Braham sole executrix and trustee.

Then he hurried into the outer office, signed this document, and got it
witnessed. The clerks proposed to engross it.

"What for?" said he. "This is the strongest form. All in the same
handwriting as the signature; forgery made easy are your engrossed
wills."

He took it in to Mrs. Braham, and read it to her, and gave it her. He
meant it all as a joke; he read it with a sneer. But the mother's heart
over-flowed. She put it in her bosom, and kissed his hand.

"Oh, Leonard," said she, "God bless you! Now I see you mean no ill to me
and mine. _You don't love me enough to be angry with me_. But it all
comes back to _me_. A woman can't forget her first. Now promise me one
thing; don't give way to revenge or avarice. You are so wise when you are
cool, but no man can give way to his passions and be wise. Why run any
more risks? He is liberal to me, and I'm not extravagant. I can allow you
more than I said, and wrong nobody."

Monckton interrupted her, thus: "There, old girl, you are a good sort;
you always were. But not bleed that skunk Bartley, and not be revenged on
that villain Hope? I'd rather die where I stand, for they have turned my
blood to gall, and lighted hell in my heart this many a year of misery."

He held out his hand to her; it was cold. She grasped it in her warm,
soft palm, and gave him one strange, searching look with her glorious
eyes; and so they parted.

Next day, at dusk, there arrived at the Dun Cow an elderly man with a
large carpet-bag and a strapped bundle of patterns--tweed, kersey,
velveteen, and corduroys. He had a short gray mustache and beard, very
neat; and appeared to be a commercial traveller.

In the evening he asked for brandy, old rum, lemons, powdered sugar, a
kettle, and a punch-bowl. A huge one, relic of a past age, was produced.
He mixed delicious punch, and begged the landlady to sit down and taste
it. She complied, and pronounced it first-rate. He enticed her into
conversation.

She was a rattling gossip, and told him first her own grievances. Here
was the village enlarging, and yet no more custom coming to her because
of the beer-house. The very mention of this obnoxious institution moved
her bile directly. "A pretty gentleman," said she, "to brew his own beer
and undersell a poor widow that have been here all her days and her
father before her! But the Colonel won't let me be driven out altogether,
no more will Mr. Walter: he do manage for the old gentleman now."

Monckton sipped and waited for the name of Hope, but it did not come.
The good lady deluged him with the things that interested her. She was
to have a bit of a farm added on to the Dun Cow. It was to be grass
land, and not much labor wanted. She couldn't undertake that; was it
likely? But for milking of cows and making butter or cheese, that she
was as good at as here and there one; and if she could have the custom
of the miners for her milk. "But, la, sir," said she, "I'll go bail as
that there Bartley will take and set up a dairy against me, as he have a
beer shop."

"Bartley?" said Monckton, inquiringly.

"Ay, sir; him as owns the mine, and the beer shop, and all, worse
luck for me."

"Bartley? Who is he?"

"Oh, one of those chaps that rise from nothing nowadays. Came here to
farm; but that was a blind, the Colonel says. Sunk a mine, he did, and
built a pit village, and turns everything into brass [money]. But there,
you are a stranger, sir; what is all this to you?"

"Why, it is very interesting," said Monckton. "Mistress, I always like to
hear the whole history of every place I stop at, especially from a
sensible woman like you, that sees to the bottom of things. Do have
another glass. Why, I should be as dull as ditch-water, now, if I had not
your company."

"La, sir, I'm sure you are welcome to my company in a civil way; and for
the matter of that you are right; life is life, and there's plenty to be
learned in a public--do but open your eyes and ears."

"Have another glass with me. I am praised for my punch."

"You deserve it, sir. Better was never brewed."

She sipped and sipped, and smacked her lips, till it was all gone.

This glass colored her cheeks, brightened her eyes, and even loosened her
tongue, though that was pretty well oiled by nature.

"Well, sir," said she, "you are a bird of passage, here to-day and gone
to-morrow, and it don't matter much what I tell you, so long as I don't
tell no lies. _There will be a row in this village_."

Having delivered this formidable prophecy, the coy dame pushed her glass
to her companion for more, and leaning back cozily in the old-fashioned
high-backed chair, observed the effect of her thunder-bolt.

Monckton rubbed his hands. "I'm glad of it," said he, genially; "that is
to say, provided my good hostess does not suffer by it."

"I'm much beholden to you, sir," said the lady. "You are the
civilest-spoken gentleman I have entertained this many a day. Here's your
health, and wishing you luck in your business, and many happy days well
spent. My service to you, sir."

"The same to you, ma'am."

"Well, sir, in regard to a row between the gentlefolks--not that I call
that there Bartley one--judge for yourself. You are a man of the world
and a man of business, and an elderly man apparently."

"At all events, I am older than you, madam."

"That is as may be," said Mrs. Dawson, dryly. "We hain't got the parish
register here, and all the better for me. So once more I say, judge for
yourself."

"Well, madam," said Monckton, "I will try, if you will oblige me with
the facts."

"That is reasonable," said Mrs. Dawson, loftily, but after some little
consideration. "The facts I will declare, and not a lie among 'em."

"That will be a novelty," thought her cynical hearer, but he held his
tongue, and looked respectfully attentive.

"Colonel Clifford," said Mrs. Dawson, "hates Bartley like poison, and
Bartley him. The Colonel vows he will have him off the land and out
of the bowels of the earth, and he have sent him a lawyer's letter;
for everything leaks out in this village, along of the servants'
chattering. Bartley he don't value a lawyer's letter no more than
that. He defies the Colonel, and they'll go at it hammer and tongs at
the 'Sizes, and spend a mint of money in law. That's one side of the
question. But there's another. Master Walter is deep in love with
Miss Mary."

"Who is she?"

"Who is she? Why, Bartley's daughter, to be sure; not as I'd believe it
if I hadn't known her mother, for she is no more like him in her looks or
her ways than a tulip is to a dandelion. She is the loveliest girl in the
county, and better than she's bonny. You don't catch _her_ drawing bridle
at her papa's beer-house, and she never passes my picture. It's 'Oh, Mrs.
Dawson, I _am_ so thirsty, a glass of your good cider, please, and a
little hay and water for Deersfoot.' That's her way, bless your silly
heart! _She_ ain't dry; and Deersfoot, he's full of beans, and his coat's
like satin; but that's Miss Mary's way of letting me know that she's my
customer, and nobody else's in the town. God bless her, and send her many
happy days with the man of her heart, and that is Walter Clifford, for
she is just as fond of him as he is of her. I seen it all from the first
day. 'Twas love at first sight, and still a-growing to this day. Them old
fogies may tear each other to pieces, but they won't part such lovers as
those. There's not a girl in the village that doesn't run to look at
them, and admire them, and wish them joy. Ay, and you mark my words, they
are young, but they have got a spirit, both of them. Miss Mary, she looks
you in the face like a lion and a dove all in one. They may lead her, but
they won't drive her. And Walter, he's a Clifford from top to toe.
Nothing but death will part them two. Them's the facts, sir, without a
lie, which now I'm a-waiting for judgment."

"Mrs. Dawson," said Monckton, solemnly, "since you do me the honor to ask
my opinion, I say that out of these facts a row will certainly arise, and
a deadly one."

"It must, sir; and Will Hope will have to take a side. 'Tis no use his
trying to be everybody's friend this time, though that's his natural
character, poor chap."

Monckton's eyes flashed fire, but he suppressed all appearance of
excitement, and asked who Mr. Hope was.

Mrs. Dawson brightened at the very name of her favorite, and said, "Who
is Will Hope? Why, the cleverest man in Derbyshire, for one thing; but he
is that Bartley's right-hand man, worse luck. He is inspector of the mine
and factotum. He is the handiest man in England. He invents machines, and
makes fiddles and plays 'em, and mends all their clocks and watches and
wheel-barrows, and charges 'em naught. He makes hisself too common. I
often tell him so. Says I, 'Why dost let 'em all put on thee so? Serve
thee right if I was to send thee my pots and pans to mend.' 'And so do,'
says he, directly. 'There's no art in it, if you can make the sawder, and
I can do that, by the Dick and Harry!' And one day I said to him, 'Do
take a look at this fine new cow of mine as cost me twenty-five good
shillings and a quart of ale. What ever is the matter with her? She looks
like the skin of a cow flattened against the board.' So says he, 'Nay,
she's better drawn than nine in ten; but she wants light and shade. Send
her to my workshop.' 'Ay, ay,' says I; 'thy workshop is like the
church-yard; we be all bound to go there one day or t'other.' Well, sir,
if you believe me, when they brought her home and hung her again she
almost knocked my eye out. There was three or four more women looking on,
and I mind all on us skreeked a bit, and our hands went up in the air as
if one string had pulled the lot; and says Bet Morgan, the carter's wife,
'Lord sake, gie me a bucket somebody, and let me milk her!' 'Nay, but
thou shalt milk me,' said I, and a pint of fourpenny I gave her, then and
there, for complimenting of my cow. Will Hope, he's everybody's friend.
He made the Colonel a crutch with his own hands, which the Colonel can
use no other now. Walter swears by him. Miss Mary dotes on him: he saved
her life in the river when she was a girl. The very miners give him a
good word, though he is very strict with them; and as for Bartley, it's
my belief he owes all his good luck to Will Hope. And to think he was
born in this village, and left it a poor lad; ay, and he came back here
one day as poor as Job, seems but t'other day, with his bundle on his
back and his poor little girl in his hand. I dare say I fed them both
with whatever was going, poor bodies."

"What was she like?"

"A poor little wizened thing. She had beautiful golden hair, though."

"Like Miss Bartley's?"

"Something, but lighter."

"Have you ever seen her since?"

"No; and I never shall."

"Who knows?"

"Nay, sir. I asked him after her one day when he came home for good. He
never answered me, and he turned away as if I had stung him. She has
followed her mother, no doubt. And so now she is gone he's well-to-do;
and that is the way of it, sir. God sends mouths where there is no meat,
and meat where there's no mouths. But He knows best, and sees both worlds
at once. We can only see this one--that's full of trouble."

Monckton now began to yawn, for he wanted to be alone and think over the
schemes that floated before him now.

"You are sleepy, sir," said Mrs. Dawson. "I'll go and see your bed is
all right."

He thanked her and filled her glass. She tossed it off like a man this
time, and left him to doze in his chair.

Doze, indeed! Never did a man's eyes move to and fro more restlessly.
Every faculty was strung to the utmost.

At first as all the _dramatis personae_ he was in search of came out one
after another from that gossip's tongue, he was amazed and delighted to
find that instead of having to search for one of them in one part of
England, and another in another, he had got them all ready to his hand.
But soon he began to see that they were too near each other, and some of
them interwoven, and all the more dangerous to attack.

He saw one thing at a glance. That it would be quite a mistake to settle
a plan of action. That is sometimes a great advantage in dealing with the
unguarded. But it creates a stiffness. Here all must be supple and fitted
with watchful tact to the situation as it rose. Everything would have to
be shot flying.

Then as to the immediate situation, Reader, did ever you see a careful
setter run suddenly into the middle of a covey who were not on their feet
nor close together, but a little dispersed and reposing in high cover in
the middle of the day? No human face is ever so intense or human form
more rigid. He knows that one bird is three yards from his nose, another
the same distance from either ear, and, in short, that they are all about
him, and to frighten one is to frighten all.

His tail quivers, and then turns to steel, like his limbs. His eyes
glare; his tongue fears to pant; it slips out at one side of his teeth
and they close on it. Then slowly, slowly, he goes down, noiseless as a
cat, and crouches on the long covert, whether turnips, rape, or clover.

Even so did this designing cur crouch in the Dun Cow.

The loyal quadruped is waiting for his master, and his anxiety is
disinterested. The biped cur was waiting for the first streak of dawn to
slip away to some more distant and safe hiding-place and sally-port than
the Dun Cow, kept by a woman who was devoted to Hope, to Walter, and to
Mary, and had all her wits about her--mother-wit included.

CHAPTER XIV.

THE SERPENT.

Monckton slipped away at the dawn, and was off to Derby to prepare
first-rate disguises.

At Derby, going through the local papers, he found lodgings offered at a
farm-house to invalids, fresh milk and eggs, home-made bread, etc. The
place was within a few miles of Clifford Hall. Monckton thought this
would suit him much better than being too near. When his disguises were
ready, he hired a horse and dog-cart by the month, and paid a deposit,
and drove to the place in question. He put some shadow under his eyes to
look more like an invalid. He had got used to his own cadaverous tint, so
that seemed insufficient.

The farmer's wife looked at him, and hesitated.

"Well, sir," said she, with a blush, "we takes 'em in to cure, not to--"

"Not to bury," said Monckton. "Don't you be alarmed. I have got no time
to die; I'm too busy. Why, I have been much worse than this. I am
convalescent now."

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