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A Simpleton by Charles Reade

Part 8 out of 9

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Dale communicated this as delicately as he could to Staines.
Christopher was deeply grieved and wounded. He thought it unjust,
but he knew it was natural: he said, humbly, "I feel guilty myself,
Mr. Dale; and yet, unless I had possessed omniscience, what could I
do? I thought of her in all--poor thing! poor thing!"

The tears were in his eyes, and Dick Dale went away scratching his
head and thinking it over. The more he thought, the less he was
inclined to condemn him.

Staines himself was much troubled in mind, and lived on thorns. He
wanted to be off to England; grudged every day, every hour, he
spent in Africa. But Mrs. Falcon was his benefactress; he had
been, for months and months, garnering up a heap of gratitude
towards her. He had not the heart to leave her bad friends, and in
misery. He kept hoping Falcon would return, or write.

Two days after his return, he was seated, disconsolate, gluing
garnets and carbuncles on to a broad tapering bit of lambskin, when
Ucatella came to him and said, "My doctor child sick?"

"No, not sick: but miserable." And he explained to her, as well as
he could, what had passed. "But," said he, "I would not mind the
loss of the diamonds now, if I was only sure he was alive. I think
most of poor, poor Mrs. Falcon."

While Ucatella pondered this, but with one eye of demure curiosity
on the coronet he was making, he told her it was for her--he had
not forgot her at the mines.

"These stones," said he, "are not valued there; but see how
glorious they are!"

In a few minutes he had finished the coronet, and gave it her. She
uttered a chuckle of delight, and with instinctive art, bound it,
in a turn of her hand, about her brow; and then Staines himself was
struck dumb with amazement. The carbuncles gathered from those
mines look like rubies, so full of fire are they, and of enormous
size. The chaplet had twelve great carbuncles in the centre, and
went off by gradations into smaller garnets by the thousand. They
flashed their blood-red flames in the African sun, and the head of
Ucatella, grand before, became the head of the Sphinx, encircled
with a coronet of fire. She bestowed a look of rapturous gratitude
on Staines, and then glided away, like the stately Juno, to admire
herself in the nearest glass like any other coquette, black, brown,
yellow, copper, or white.

That very day, towards sunset, she burst upon Staines quite
suddenly, with her coronet gleaming on her magnificent head, and
her eyes like coals of fire, and under her magnificent arm, hard as
a rock, a boy kicking and struggling in vain. She was furiously
excited, and, for the first time, showed signs of the savage in the
whites of her eyes, which seemed to turn the glorious pupils into
semicircles. She clutched Staines by the shoulder with her left
hand, and swept along with the pair, like dark Fate, or as potent
justice sweeps away a pair of culprits, and carried them to the
little window, and cried "Open--open!"

Dick Dale was at dinner; Phoebe lying down. Dick got up, rather
crossly, and threw open the window. "What is up now?" said he
crossly: he was like two or three more Englishmen--hated to be
bothered at dinner-time.

"Dar," screamed Ucatella, setting down Tim, but holding him tight
by the shoulder; "now you tell what you see that night, you lilly
Kafir trash; if you not tell, I kill you DEAD;" and she showed the
whites of her eyes, like a wild beast.

Tim, thoroughly alarmed, quivered out that he had seen lilly master
ride up to the gate one bright night, and look in, and Tim thought
he was going in: but he changed his mind, and galloped away that
way; and the monkey pointed south.

"And why couldn't you tell us this before?" questioned Dick.

"Me mind de sheep," said Tim apologetically. "Me not mind de lilly
master: jackals not eat him."

"You no more sense dan a sheep yourself," said Ucatella loftily.

"No, no: God bless you both," cried poor Phoebe: "now I know the
worst:" and a great burst of tears relieved her suffering heart.

Dick went out softly. When he got outside the door, he drew them
all apart, and said, "Yuke, you ARE a good-hearted girl. I'll
never forget this while I live; and, Tim, there's a shilling for
thee; but don't you go and spend it in Cape smoke; that is poison
to whites, and destruction to blacks."

"No, master," said Tim. "I shall buy much bread, and make my
tomach tiff;" then, with a glance of reproach at the domestic
caterer, Ucatella, "I almost never have my tomach tiff."

Dick left his sister alone an hour or two, to have her cry out.

When he went back to her there was a change: the brave woman no
longer lay prostrate. She went about her business; only she was
always either crying or drowning her tears.

He brought Dr. Staines in. Phoebe instantly turned her back on him
with a shudder there was no mistaking.

"I had better go," said Staines. "Mrs. Falcon will never forgive
me."

"She will have to quarrel with me else," said Dick steadily. "Sit
you down, doctor. Honest folk like you and me and Phoebe wasn't
made to quarrel for want of looking a thing all round. My sister
she hasn't looked it all round, and I have. Come, Pheeb, 'tis no
use your blinding yourself. How was the poor doctor to know your
husband is a blackguard?"

"He is not a blackguard. How dare you say that to my face?"

"He is a blackguard, and always was. And now he is a thief to
boot. He has stolen those diamonds; you know that very well."

"Gently, Mr. Dale; you forget: they are as much his as mine."

"Well, and if half a sheep is mine, and I take the whole and sell
him, and keep the money, what is that but stealing? Why, I wonder
at you, Pheeb. You was always honest yourself, and yet you see the
doctor robbed by your man, and that does not trouble you. What has
he done to deserve it? He has been a good friend to us. He has
put us on the road. We did little more than keep the pot boiling
before he came--well, yes, we stored grain; but whose advice has
turned that grain to gold, I might say? Well, what's his offence?
He trusted the diamonds to your man, and sent him to you. Is he
the first honest man that has trusted a rogue? How was he to know?
Likely he judged the husband by the wife. Answer me one thing,
Pheeb. If he makes away with fifteen hundred pounds that is his,
or partly yours--for he has eaten your bread ever since I knew him--
and fifteen hundred more that is the doctor's, where shall we find
fifteen hundred pounds, all in a moment, to pay the doctor back his
own?"

"My honest friend," said Staines, "you are tormenting yourself with
shadows. I don't believe Mr. Falcon will wrong me of a shilling;
and, if he does, I shall quietly repay myself out of the big
diamond. Yes, my dear friends, I did not throw away your horse,
nor your rifle, nor your money: I gave them all, and the lion's
skin--I gave them all--for this."

And he laid the big diamond on the table.

It was as big as a walnut, and of the purest water.

Dick Dale glanced at it stupidly. Phoebe turned her back on it,
with a cry of horror, and then came slowly round by degrees; and
her eyes were fascinated by the royal gem.

"Yes," said Staines sadly, "I had to strip myself of all to buy it,
and, when I had got it, how proud I was, and how happy I thought we
should all be over it, for it is half yours, half mine. Yes, Mr.
Dale, there lies six thousand pounds that belong to Mrs. Falcon."

"Six thousand pounds!" cried Dick.

"I'm sure of it. And so, if your suspicions are correct, and poor
Falcon should yield to a sudden temptation, and spend all that
money, I shall just coolly deduct it from your share of this
wonderful stone: so make your mind easy. But no; if Falcon is
really so wicked as to desert his happy home, and so mad as to
spend thousands in a month or two, let us go and save him."

"That is my business," said Phoebe. "I am going in the mail-cart
to-morrow."

"Well, you won't go alone," said Dick.

"Mrs. Falcon," said Staines imploringly, "let me go with you."

"Thank you, sir. My brother can take care of me."

"Me! You had better not take me. If I catch hold of him, by ---
I'll break his neck, or his back, or his leg, or something; he'll
never run away from you again, if I lay hands on him," replied
Dick.

"I'll go alone. You are both against me."

"No, Mrs. Falcon; I am not," said Staines. "My heart bleeds for
you."

"Don't you demean yourself, praying her," said Dick. "It's a
public conveyance: you have no need to ask HER leave."

"That is true: I can't hinder folk from going to Cape Town the same
day," said Phoebe sullenly.

"If I might presume to advise, I would take little Tommy."

"What! all that road? Do you want me to lose my child, as well as
my man?"

"O Mrs. Falcon!"

"Don't speak to her, doctor, to get your nose snapped off. Give
her time. She'll come to her senses before she dies."

Next day Mrs. Falcon and Staines started for Cape Town. Staines
paid her every attention, when opportunity offered. But she was
sullen and gloomy, and held no converse with him.

He landed her at an inn, and then told her he would go at once to
the jeweller's. He asked her piteously would she lend him a pound
or two to prosecute his researches. She took out her purse,
without a word, and lent him two pounds.

He began to scour the town: the jewellers he visited could tell him
nothing. At last he came to a shop, and there he found Mrs. Falcon
making her inquiries independently. She said coldly, "You had
better come with me, and get your money and things."

She took him to the bank--it happened to be the one she did
business with--and said, "This is Dr. Christie, come for his money
and jewels."

There was some demur at this; but the cashier recognized him, and
Phoebe making herself responsible, the money and jewels were handed
over.

Staines whispered Phoebe, "Are you sure the jewels are mine?"

"They were found on you, sir."

Staines took them, looking confused. He did not know what to
think. When they got into the street again, he told her it was
very kind of her to think of his interest at all.

No answer: she was not going to make friends with him over such a
trifle as that.

By degrees, however, Christopher's zeal on her behalf broke the
ice; and besides, as the search proved unavailing, she needed
sympathy; and he gave it her, and did not abuse her husband as Dick
Dale did.

One day, in the street, after a long thought, she said to him,
"Didn't you say, sir, you gave him a letter for me?"

"I gave him two letters; one of them was to you."

"Could you remember what you said in it?"

"Perfectly. I begged you, if you should go to England, to break
the truth to my wife. She is very excitable; and sudden joy has
killed ere now. I gave you particular instructions."

"And you were very wise. But whatever could make you think I would
go to England?"

"He told me you only wanted an excuse."

"Oh!!"

"When he told me that, I caught at it, of course. It was all the
world to me to get my Rosa told by such a kind, good, sensible
friend as you; and, Mrs. Falcon, I had no scruple about troubling
you, because I knew the stones would sell for at least a thousand
pounds more in England than here, and that would pay your expenses."

"I see, sir; I see. 'Twas very natural: you love your wife."

"Better than my life."

"And he told you I only wanted an excuse to go to England?"

"He did, indeed. It was not true?"

"It was anything but true. I had suffered so in England; I had
been so happy here: too happy to last. Ah! well, it is all over.
Let us think of the matter in hand. Sure that was not the only
letter you gave my husband? Didn't you write to HER?"

"Of course I did; but that was enclosed to you, and not to be given
to her until you had broken the joyful news to her. Yes, Mrs.
Falcon, I wrote and told her everything: my loss at sea; how I was
saved, after, by your kindness. Our journeys, from Cape Town, and
then to the diggings; my sudden good fortune, my hopes, my joy--
O my poor Rosa! and now I suppose she will never get it. It is too
cruel of him. I shall go home by the next steamer. I CAN'T stay
here any longer, for you or anybody. Oh, and I enclosed my ruby
ring that she gave me, for I thought she might not believe you
without that."

"Let me think," said Phoebe, turning ashy pale. "For mercy's sake,
let me think!

"He has read both those letters, sir.

"She will never see hers: any more than I shall see mine."

She paused again, thinking harder and harder.

"We must take two places in the next mail steamer. I must look
after my husband, AND YOU AFTER YOUR WIFE."

CHAPTER XXV.

Mrs. Falcon's bitter feeling against Dr. Staines did not subside;
it merely went out of sight a little. They were thrown together by
potent circumstances, and in a manner connected by mutual
obligations; so an open rupture seemed too unnatural. Still Phoebe
was a woman, and, blinded by her love for her husband, could not
forgive the innocent cause of their present unhappy separation;
though the fault lay entirely with Falcon.

Staines took her on board the steamer, and paid her every
attention. She was also civil to him; but it was a cold and
constrained civility.

About a hundred miles from land the steamer stopped, and the
passengers soon learned there was something wrong with her
machinery. In fact, after due consultation, the captain decided to
put back.

This irritated and distressed Mrs. Falcon so that the captain,
desirous to oblige her, hailed a fast schooner, that tacked across
her bows, and gave Mrs. Falcon the option of going back with him,
or going on in the schooner, with whose skipper he was acquainted.

Staines advised her on no account to trust to sails, when she could
have steam with only a delay of four or five days; but she said,
"Anything sooner than go back. I can't, I can't on such an
errand."

Accordingly she was put on board the schooner, and Staines, after
some hesitation, felt bound to accompany her.

It proved a sad error. Contrary winds assailed them the very next
day, and with such severity that they had repeatedly to lie to.

On one of these occasions, with a ship reeling under them like a
restive horse, and the waves running mountains high, poor Phoebe's
terrors overmastered both her hostility and her reserve. "Doctor,"
said she, "I believe 'tis God's will we shall never see England. I
must try and die more like a Christian than I have lived, forgiving
all who have wronged me, and you, that have been my good friend and
my worst enemy, but you did not mean it. Sir, what has turned me
against you so--your wife was my husband's sweetheart before he
married me."

"My wife your husband's--you are dreaming."

"Nay, sir, once she came to my shop, and I saw directly I was
nothing to him, and he owned it all to me; he had courted her, and
she jilted him; so he said. Why should he tell me a lie about
that? I'd lay my life 'tis true. And now you have sent him to her
your own self; and, at sight of her, I shall be nothing again.
Well, when this ship goes down, they can marry, and I hope he will
be happy, happier than I can make him, that tried my best, God
knows."

This conversation surprised Staines not a little. However, he
said, with great warmth, it was false. His wife had danced and
flirted with some young gentleman at one time, when there was a
brief misunderstanding between him and her, but sweetheart she had
never had, except him. He courted her fresh from school. "Now, my
good soul," said he, "make your mind easy; the ship is a good one,
and well handled, and in no danger whatever, and my wife is in no
danger from your husband. Since you and your brother tell me that
he is a villain, I am bound to believe you. But my wife is an
angel. In our miserable hour of parting, she vowed not to marry
again, should I be taken from her. Marry again! what am I talking
of? Why, if he visits her at all, it will be to let her know I am
alive, and give her my letter. Do you mean to tell me she will
listen to vows of love from him, when her whole heart is in rapture
for me? Such nonsense!"

This burst of his did not affront her, and did not comfort her.

At last the wind abated; and after a wearisome calm, a light breeze
came, and the schooner crept homeward.

Phoebe restrained herself for several days; but at last she came
back to the subject; this time it was in an apologetic tone at
starting. "I know you think me a foolish woman," she said; "but my
poor Reginald could never resist a pretty face; and she is so
lovely; and you should have seen how he turned when she came in to
my place. Oh, sir, there has been more between them than you know
of; and when I think that he will have been in England so many
months before we get there, oh, doctor, sometimes I feel as I
should go mad; my head it is like a furnace, and see, my brow is
all wrinkled again."

Then Staines tried to comfort her; assured her she was tormenting
herself idly; her husband would perhaps have spent some of the
diamond money on his amusement; but what if he had? he should
deduct it out of the big diamond, which was also their joint
property, and the loss would hardly be felt. "As to my wife,
madam, I have but one anxiety; lest he should go blurting it out
that I am alive, and almost kill her with joy."

"He will not do that, sir. He is no fool."

"I am glad of it; for there is nothing else to fear."

"Man, I tell you there is everything to fear. You don't know him
as I do; nor his power over women."

"Mrs. Falcon, are you bent on affronting me?"

"No, sir; Heaven forbid!"

"Then please to close this subject forever. In three weeks we
shall be in England."

"Ay; but he has been there six months."

He bowed stiffly to her, went to his cabin, and avoided the poor
foolish woman as much as he could without seeming too unkind.

CHAPTER XXVI.

Mrs. Staines made one or two movements--to stop Lord Tadcaster--
with her hand, that expressive feature with which, at such times, a
sensitive woman can do all but speak.

When at last he paused for her reply, she said, "Me marry again!
Oh! for shame!"

"Mrs. Staines--Rosa--you will marry again, some day."

"Never. Me take another husband, after such a man as I have lost!
I should be a monster. Oh, Lord Tadcaster, you have been so kind
to me; so sympathizing. You made me believe you loved my
Christopher, too; and now you have spoiled all. It is too cruel."

"Oh! Mrs. Staines, do you think me capable of feigning--don't you
see my love for you has taken you by surprise? But how could I
visit you--look on you--hear you--mingle my regrets with yours;
yours were the deepest, of course; but mine were honest."

"I believe it." And she gave him her hand. He held it, and kissed
it, and cried over it, as the young will, and implored her, on his
knees, not to condemn herself to life-long widowhood, and him to
despair.

Then she cried, too; but she was firm; and by degrees she made him
see that her heart was inaccessible.

Then at last he submitted with tearful eyes, but a valiant heart.

She offered friendship timidly.

But he was too much of a man to fall into that trap. "No," he
said: "I could not, I could not. Love or nothing."

"You are right," said she, pityingly. "Forgive me. In my
selfishness and my usual folly, I did not see this coming on, or I
would have spared you this mortification."

"Never mind that," gulped the little earl. "I shall always be
proud I knew you, and proud I loved you, and offered you my hand."

Then the magnanimous little fellow blessed her, and left her, and
discontinued his visits.

Mr. Lusignan found her crying, and got the truth out of her. He
was in despair. He remonstrated kindly, but firmly. Truth compels
me to say that she politely ignored him. He observed that
phenomenon, and said, "Very well then, I shall telegraph for Uncle
Philip."

"Do," said the rebel. "He is always welcome."

Philip, telegraphed, came down that evening; likewise his little
black bag. He found them in the drawing-room: papa with the Pall
Mall Gazette, Rosa seated, sewing, at a lamp. She made little
Christie's clothes herself,--fancy that!

Having ascertained that the little boy was well, Philip, adroitly
hiding that he had come down torn with anxiety on that head,
inquired with a show of contemptuous indifference, whose cat was
dead.

"Nobody's," said Lusignan crossly. Then he turned and pointed the
Gazette at his offspring. "Do you see that young lady stitching
there so demurely?"

Philip carefully wiped and then put on his spectacles.

"I see her," said he. "She does look a little too innocent. None
of them are really so innocent as all that. Has she been swearing
at the nurse, and boxing her ears?"

"Worse than that. She has been and refused the Earl of Tadcaster."

"Refused him--what! has that little monkey had the audacity?"

"The condescension, you mean. Yes."

"And she has refused him?"

"And twenty thousand a year."

"What immorality!"

"Worse. What absurdity!"

"How is it to be accounted for? Is it the old story? 'I could
never love him.' No; that's inadequate; for they all love a title
and twenty thousand a year."

Rosa sewed on all this time in demure and absolute silence.

"She ignores us," said Philip. "It is intolerable. She does not
appreciate our politeness in talking at her. Let us arraign her
before our sacred tribunal, and have her into court. Now,
mistress, the Senate of Venice is assembled, and you must be
pleased to tell us why you refused a title and twenty thousand a
year, with a small but symmetrical earl tacked on."

Rosa laid down her work, and said quietly, "Uncle, almost the last
words that passed between me and my Christopher, we promised each
other solemnly never to marry again till death should us part. You
know how deep my sorrow has been that I can find so few wishes of
my lost Christopher to obey. Well, to-day I have had an
opportunity at last. I have obeyed my own lost one; it has cost me
a tear or two; but, for all that, it has given me one little gleam
of happiness. Ah, foolish woman, that obeys too late!"

And with this the tears began to run.

All this seemed a little too high-flown to Mr. Lusignan. "There,"
said he, "see on what a straw her mind turns. So, but for that,
you would have done the right thing, and married the earl?"

"I dare say I should--at the time--to stop his crying."

And with this listless remark she quietly took up her sewing again.

The sagacious Philip looked at her gravely. He thought to himself
how piteous it was to see so young and lovely a creature, that had
given up all hope of happiness for herself. These being his real
thoughts, he expressed himself as follows: "We had better drop this
subject, sir. This young lady will take us potent, grave, and
reverend seignors out of our depth, if we don't mind."

But the moment he got her alone he kissed her paternally, and said,
"Rosa, it is not lost on me, your fidelity to the dead. As years
roll on, and your deep wound first closes, then skins, then heals--"

"Ah, let me die first--"

"Time and nature will absolve you from that vow; but bless you for
thinking this can never be. Rosa, your folly of this day has made
you my heir; so never let money tempt you, for you have enough, and
will have more than enough when I go."

He was as good as his word; altered his will next day, and made
Rosa his residuary legatee. When he had done this, foreseeing no
fresh occasion for his services, he prepared for a long visit to
Italy. He was packing up his things to go there, when he received
a line from Lady Cicely Treherne, asking him to call on her
professionally. As the lady's servant brought it, he sent back a
line to say he no longer practised medicine, but would call on her
as a friend in an hour's time.

He found her reclining, the picture of lassitude. "How good of you
to come," she drawled.

"What's the matter?" said he brusquely.

"I wish to cawnsult you about myself. I think if anybody can
brighten me up, it is you. I feel such a languaw--such a want of
spirit; and I get palaa, and that is not desiwable."

He examined her tongue and the white of her eye, and told her, in
his blunt way, she ate and drank too much.

"Excuse me, sir," said she stiffly.

"I mean too often. Now, let's see. Cup of tea in bed, of a
morning?"

"Yaas."

"Dinner at two?"

"We call it luncheon."

"Are you a ventriloquist?"

"No."

"Then it is only your lips call it luncheon. Your poor stomach,
could it speak, would call it dinner. Afternoon tea?"

"Yaas."

"At seven-thirty another dinner. Tea after that. Your afflicted
stomach gets no rest. You eat pastry?"

"I confess it."

"And sugar in a dozen forms?"

She nodded.

"Well, sugar is poison to your temperament. Now I'll set you up,
if you can obey. Give up your morning dram."

"What dwam?"

"Tea in bed, before eating. Can't you see that is a dram? Animal
food twice a day. No wine but a little claret and water; no
pastry, no sweets, and play battledore with one of your male
subjects."

"Battledaw! won't a lady do for that?"

"No: you would get talking, and not play ad sudorem."

"Ad sudawem! what is that?"

"In earnest."

"And will sudawem and the west put me in better spiwits, and give
me a tinge?"

"It will incarnadine the lily, and make you the happiest young lady
in England, as you are the best."

"I should like to be much happier than I am good, if we could
manage it among us."

"We will manage it AMONG us; for if the diet allowed should not
make you boisterously gay, I have a remedy behind, suited to your
temperament. I am old-fashioned, and believe in the temperaments."

"And what is that wemedy?"

"Try diet, and hard exercise, first."

"Oh, yes; but let me know that wemedy."

"I warn you it is what we call in medicine an heroic one."

"Never mind. I am despewate."

"Well, then, the heroic remedy--to be used only as a desperate
resort, mind--you must marry an Irishman."

This took the lady's breath away.

"Mawwy a nice man?"

"A nice man; no. That means a fool. Marry scientifically--a
precaution eternally neglected. Marry a Hibernian gentleman, a
being as mercurial as you are lymphatic."

"Mercurial!--lymphatic!"--

"Oh, hard words break no bones, ma'am."

"No, sir. And it is very curious. No, I won't tell you. Yes, I
will. Hem I--I think I have noticed one."

"One what?"

"One Iwishman--dangling after me."

"Then your ladyship has only to tighten the cord--and HE'S done
for."

Having administered this prescription, our laughing philosopher
went off to Italy, and there fell in with some countrymen to his
mind, so he accompanied them to Egypt and Palestine.

His absence, and Lord Tadcaster's, made Rosa Staines's life
extremely monotonous. Day followed day, and week followed week,
each so unvarying, that, on a retrospect, three months seemed like
one day.

And I think at last youth and nature began to rebel, and secretly
to crave some little change or incident to ruffle the stagnant
pool. Yet she would not go into society, and would only receive
two or three dull people at the villa; so she made the very
monotony which was beginning to tire her, and nursed a sacred grief
she had no need to nurse, it was so truly genuine.

She was in this forlorn condition, when, one morning, a carriage
drove to the door, and a card was brought up to her--"Mr. Reginald
Falcon."

Falcon's history, between this and our last advices, is soon
disposed of.

When, after a little struggle with his better angel, he rode past
his wife's gate, he intended, at first, only to go to Cape Town,
sell the diamonds, have a lark, and bring home the balance: but, as
he rode south, his views expanded. He could have ten times the fun
in London, and cheaper; since he could sell the diamonds for more
money, and also conceal the true price. This was the Bohemian's
whole mind in the business. He had no designs whatever on Mrs.
Staines, nor did he intend to steal the diamonds, but to embezzle a
portion of the purchase-money, and enjoy the pleasures and vices of
the capital for a few months; then back to his milch cow, Phoebe,
and lead a quiet life till the next uncontrollable fit should come
upon him along with the means of satisfying it.

On the way, he read Staines's letter to Mrs. Falcon, very
carefully. He never broke the seal of the letter to Mrs. Staines.
That was to be given her when he had broken the good news to her;
and this he determined to do with such skill, as should make Dr.
Staines very unwilling to look suspiciously or ill-naturedly into
money accounts.

He reached London; and being a thorough egotist, attended first to
his own interests; he never went near Mrs. Staines until he had
visited every diamond merchant and dealer in the metropolis; he
showed the small stones to them all but he showed no more than one
large stone to each.

At last he got an offer of twelve hundred pounds for the small
stones, and the same for the large yellow stone, and nine hundred
pounds for the second largest stone. He took this nine hundred
pounds, and instantly wrote to Phoebe, telling her he had a sudden
inspiration to bring the diamonds to England, which he could not
regret, since he had never done a wiser thing. He had sold a
single stone for eight hundred pounds, and had sent the doctor's
four hundred pounds to her account in Cape Town; and as each sale
was effected, the half would be so remitted. She would see by
that, he was wiser than in former days. He should only stay so
long as might be necessary to sell them all equally well. His own
share he would apply to paying off mortgages on the family estate,
of which he hoped some day to see her the mistress, or he would
send it direct to her, whichever she might prefer.

Now the main object of this artful letter was to keep Phoebe quiet,
and not have her coming after him, of which he felt she was very
capable.

The money got safe to Cape Town, but the letter to Phoebe
miscarried. How this happened was never positively known; but the
servant of the lodging-house was afterwards detected cutting stamps
off a letter; so perhaps she had played that game on this occasion.

By this means, matters took a curious turn. Falcon, intending to
lull his wife into a false security, lulled himself into that state
instead.

When he had taken care of himself, and got five hundred pounds to
play the fool with, then he condescended to remember his errand of
mercy; and he came down to Gravesend, to see Mrs. Staines.

On the road, he gave his mind seriously to the delicate and
dangerous task. It did not, however, disquiet him as it would you,
sir, or you, madam. He had a great advantage over you. He was a
liar--a smooth, ready, accomplished liar--and he knew it.

This was the outline he had traced in his mind: he should appear
very subdued and sad; should wear an air of condolence. But, after
a while, should say, "And yet men have been lost like that, and
escaped. A man was picked up on a raft in those very latitudes,
and brought into Cape Town. A friend of mine saw him, months
after, at the hospital. His memory was shaken--could not tell his
name; but in other respects he was all right again."

If Mrs. Staines took fire at this, he would say his friend knew all
the particulars, and he would ask him, and so leave that to rankle
till next visit. And having planted his germ of hope, he would
grow it, and water it, by visits and correspondence, till he could
throw off the mask, and say he was convinced Staines was alive: and
from that, by other degrees, till he could say, on his wife's
authority, that the man picked up at sea, and cured at her house,
was the very physician who had saved her brother's life: and so on
to the overwhelming proof he carried in the ruby ring and the letter.

I am afraid the cunning and dexterity, the subtlety and tact
required, interested him more in the commission than did the
benevolence. He called, sent up his card, and composed his
countenance for his part, like an actor at the Wing.

"Not at home."

He stared with amazement.

The history of a "Not at home" is not, in general, worth recording:
but this is an exception.

On receiving Falcon's card, Mrs. Staines gave a little start, and
colored faintly. She instantly resolved not to see him. What! the
man she had flirted with, almost jilted, and refused to marry--he
dared to be alive when her Christopher was dead, and had come there
to show her HE was alive!

She said "Not at home" with a tone of unusual sharpness and
decision, which left the servant in no doubt he must be equally
decided at the hall door.

Falcon received the sudden freezer with amazement. "Nonsense,"
said he. "Not at home at this time of the morning--to an old
friend!"

"Not at home," said the man doggedly.

"Oh, very well," said Falcon with a bitter sneer, and returned to
London.

He felt sure she was at home; and being a tremendous egotist, he
said, "Oh! all right. If she would rather not know her husband is
alive, it is all one to me;" and he actually took no more notice of
her for a full week, and never thought of her, except to chuckle
over the penalty she was paying for daring to affront his vanity.

However, Sunday came; he saw a dull day before him, and so he
relented, and thought he would give her another trial.

He went down to Gravesend by boat, and strolled towards the villa.

When he was about a hundred yards from the villa, a lady, all in
black, came out with a nurse and child.

Falcon knew her figure all that way off, and it gave him a curious
thrill that surprised him. He followed her, and was not very far
behind her when she reached the church. She turned at the porch,
kissed the child earnestly, and gave the nurse some directions;
then entered the church.

"Come," said Falcon, "I'll have a look at her, any way."

He went into the church, and walked up a side aisle to a pillar,
from which he thought he might be able to see the whole
congregation; and, sure enough, there she sat, a few yards from
him. She was lovelier than ever. Mind had grown on her face with
trouble. An angelic expression illuminated her beauty; he gazed on
her, fascinated. He drank and drank her beauty two mortal hours,
and when the church broke up, and she went home, he was half afraid
to follow her, for he felt how hard it would be to say anything to
her but that the old love had returned on him with double force.

However, having watched her home, he walked slowly to and fro
composing himself for the interview.

He now determined to make the process of informing her a very long
one: he would spin it out, and so secure many a sweet interview
with her: and, who knows? he might fascinate her as she had him,
and ripen gratitude into love, as he understood that word.

He called, he sent in his card. The man went in, and came back
with a sonorous "Not at home."

"Not at home? nonsense. Why, she is just come in from church."

"Not at home," said the man, evidently strong in his instructions.

Falcon turned white with rage at this second affront. "All the
worse for her," said he, and turned on his heel.

He went home, raging with disappointment and wounded vanity, and--
since such love as his is seldom very far from hate--he swore she
should never know from him that her husband was alive. He even
moralized. "This comes of being so unselfish," said he. "I'll
give that game up forever."

By and by, a mere negative revenge was not enough for him, and he
set his wits to work to make her smart.

He wrote to her from his lodgings:--

DEAR MADAM,--What a pity you are never at home to me. I had
something to say about your husband, that I thought might interest
you.

Yours truly,

R. FALCON.

Imagine the effect of this abominable note. It was like a rock
flung into a placid pool. It set Rosa trembling all over. What
could he mean?

She ran with it to her father, and asked him what Mr. Falcon could
mean.

"I have no idea," said he. "You had better ask him, not me."

"I am afraid it is only to get to see me. You know he admired me
once. Ah, how suspicious I am getting."

Rosa wrote to Falcon:--

DEAR SIR,--Since my bereavement I see scarcely anybody. My servant
did not know you; so I hope you will excuse me. If it is too much
trouble to call again, would you kindly explain your note to me?

Yours respectfully,

ROSA STAINES.

Falcon chuckled bitterly over this. "No, my lady," said he. "I'll
serve you out. You shall run after me like a little dog. I have
got the bone that will draw you."

He wrote back coldly to say that the matter he had wished to
communicate was too delicate and important to put on paper; that he
would try and get down to Gravesend again some day or other, but
was much occupied, and had already put himself to inconvenience.
He added, in a postscript, that he was always at home from four to
five.

Next day he got hold of the servant, and gave her minute
instructions, and a guinea.

Then the wretch got some tools and bored a hole in the partition
wall of his sitting-room. The paper had large flowers. He was
artist enough to conceal the trick with water-colors. In his bed-
room the hole came behind the curtains.

That very afternoon, as he had foreseen, Mrs. Staines called on
him. The maid, duly instructed, said Mr. Falcon was out, but would
soon return, and could she wait his return? The maid being so very
civil, Mrs. Staines said she would wait a little while, and was
immediately ushered into Falcon's sitting-room. There she sat
down; but was evidently ill at ease, restless, flushed. She could
not sit quiet, and at last began to walk up and down the room,
almost wildly. Her beautiful eyes glittered, and the whole woman
seemed on fire. The caitiff, who was watching her, saw and gloated
on all this, and enjoyed to the full her beauty and agitation, and
his revenge for her "Not at homes."

But after a long time, there was a reaction: she sat down and
uttered some plaintive sounds inarticulate, or nearly; and at last
she began to cry.

Then it cost Falcon an effort not to come in and comfort her; but
he controlled himself and kept quiet.

She rang the bell. She asked for writing paper, and she wrote her
unseen tormentor a humble note, begging him, for old acquaintance,
to call on her, and tell her what his mysterious words meant that
had filled her with agitation.

This done, she went away, with a deep sigh, and Falcon emerged, and
pounced upon her letter.

He kissed it; he read it a dozen times: he sat down where she had
sat, and his base passion overpowered him. Her beauty, her
agitation, her fear, her tears, all combined to madden him, and do
the devil's work in his false, selfish heart, so open to violent
passions, so dead to conscience.

For once in his life he was violently agitated, and torn by
conflicting feelings: he walked about the room more wildly than his
victim had; and if it be true that, in certain great temptations,
good and bad angels fight for a man, here you might have seen as
fierce a battle of that kind as ever was.

At last he rushed out into the air, and did not return till ten
o'clock at night. He came back pale and haggard, and with a look
of crime upon his face.

True Bohemian as he was, he sent for a pint of brandy.

So then the die was cast, and something was to be done that called
for brandy.

He bolted himself in, and drank a wine-glass of it neat; then
another; then another.

Now his pale cheek is flushed, and his eye glitters. Drink
forever! great ruin of English souls as well as bodies.

He put the poker in the fire, and heated it red hot.

He brought Staines's letter, and softened the sealing-wax with the
hot poker; then with his pen-knife made a neat incision in the wax,
and opened the letter. He took out the ring, and put it carefully
away. Then he lighted a cigar, and read the letter, and studied
it. Many a man, capable of murder in heat of passion, could not
have resisted the pathos of this letter. Many a Newgate thief,
after reading it, would have felt such pity for the loving husband
who had suffered to the verge of death, and then to the brink of
madness, and for the poor bereaved wife, that he would have taken
the letter down to Gravesend that very night, though he picked two
fresh pockets to defray the expenses of the road.

But this was an egotist. Good nature had curbed his egotism a
little while; but now vanity and passion had swept away all
unselfish feelings, and the pure egotist alone remained.

Now, the pure egotist has been defined as a man who will burn down
his NEIGHBOR'S house to cook HIMSELF an egg. Murder is but egotism
carried out to its natural climax. What is murder to a pure
egotist, especially a brandied one?

I knew an egotist who met a female acquaintance in Newhaven
village. She had a one-pound note, and offered to treat him. She
changed this note to treat him. Fish she gave him, and much
whiskey. Cost her four shillings. He ate and drank with her, at
her expense; and his aorta, or principal blood-vessel, being warmed
with her whiskey, he murdered her for the change, the odd sixteen
shillings.

I had the pleasure of seeing that egotist hung, with these eyes.
It was a slice of luck that, I grieve to say, has not occurred
again to me.

So much for a whiskied egotist.

His less truculent but equally remorseless brother in villany, the
brandied egotist, Falcon, could read that poor husband's letter
without blenching; the love and the anticipations of rapture, these
made him writhe a little with jealousy, but they roused not a grain
of pity. He was a true egotist, blind, remorseless.

In this, his true character, he studied the letter profoundly, and
mastered all the facts, and digested them well.

All manner of diabolical artifices presented themselves to his
brain, barren of true intellect, yet fertile in fraud; in that, and
all low cunning and subtlety, far more than a match for Solomon or
Bacon.

His sinister studies were pursued far into the night. Then he went
to bed, and his unbounded egotism gave him the sleep a grander
criminal would have courted in vain on the verge of a monstrous and
deliberate crime.

Next day he went to a fashionable tailor, and ordered a complete
suit of black. This was made in forty-eight hours; the interval
was spent mainly in concocting lies to be incorporated with the
number of minute facts he had gained from Staines's letter, and in
making close imitations of his handwriting.

Thus armed, and crammed with more lies than the "Menteur" of
Corneille, but not such innocent ones, he went down to Gravesend,
all in deep mourning, with crape round his hat.

He presented himself at the villa.

The servant was all obsequiousness. Yes, Mrs. Staines received few
visitors; but she was at home to HIM. He even began to falter
excuses. "Nonsense," said Falcon, and slipped a sovereign into his
hand; "you are a good servant, and obey orders."

The servant's respect doubled, and he ushered the visitor into the
drawing-room, as one whose name was a passport. "Mr. Reginald
Falcon, madam."

Mrs. Staines was alone. She rose to meet him. Her color came and
went, her full eye fell on him, and took in all at a glance--that
he was all in black, and that he had a beard, and looked pale, and
ill at ease.

Little dreaming that this was the anxiety of a felon about to take
the actual plunge into a novel crime, she was rather prepossessed
by it. The beard gave him dignity, and hid his mean, cruel mouth.
His black suit seemed to say he, too, had lost some one dear to
him; and that was a ground of sympathy.

She received him kindly, and thanked him for taking the trouble to
come again. She begged him to be seated; and then, womanlike, she
waited for him to explain.

But he was in no hurry, and waited for her. He knew she would
speak if he was silent.

She could not keep him waiting long. "Mr. Falcon," said she,
hesitating a little, "you have something to say to me about him I
have lost."

"Yes," said he softly. "I have something I could say, and I think
I ought to say it; but I am afraid: because I don't know what will
be the result. I fear to make you more unhappy."

"Me! more unhappy? Me, whose dear husband lies at the bottom of
the ocean. Other poor wounded creatures have the wretched comfort
of knowing where he lies--of carrying flowers to his tomb. But I--
oh, Mr. Falcon, I am bereaved of all: even his poor remains lost,--
lost"--she could say no more.

Then that craven heart began to quake at what he was doing; quaked,
yet persevered; but his own voice quivered, and his cheek grew ashy
pale. No wonder. If ever God condescended to pour lightning on a
skunk, surely now was the time.

Shaking and sweating with terror at his own act, he stammered out,
"Would it be the least comfort to you to know that you are not
denied that poor consolation? Suppose he died not so miserably as
you think? Suppose he was picked up at sea, in a dying state?"

"Ah!"

"Suppose he lingered, nursed by kind and sympathizing hands, that
almost saved him? Suppose he was laid in hallowed ground, and a
great many tears shed over his grave?"

"Ah, that would indeed be a comfort. And it was to say this you
came. I thank you. I bless you. But, my good, kind friend, you
are deceived. You don't know my husband. You never saw him. He
perished at sea."

"Will it be kind or unkind, to tell you why I think he died as I
tell you, and not at sea?"

"Kind, but impossible. You deceive yourself. Ah, I see. You
found some poor sufferer, and were good to him; but it was not my
poor Christie. Oh, if it were, I should worship you. But I thank
you as it is. It was very kind to want to give me this little,
little crumb of comfort; for I know I did not behave well to you,
sir: but you are generous, and have forgiven a poor heart-broken
creature, that never was very wise."

He gave her time to cry, and then said to her, "I only wanted to be
sure it WOULD be any comfort to you. Mrs. Staines, it is true I
did not even know his name; nor yours. When I met, in this very
room, the great disappointment that has saddened my own life, I
left England directly. I collected funds, went to Natal, and
turned land-owner and farmer. I have made a large fortune, but I
need not tell you I am not happy. Well, I had a yacht, and sailing
from Cape Town to Algoa Bay, I picked up a raft, with a dying man
on it. He was perishing from exhaustion and exposure. I got a
little brandy between his lips, and kept him alive. I landed with
him at once: and we nursed him on shore. We had to be very
cautious. He improved. We got him to take egg-flip. He smiled on
us at first, and then he thanked us. I nursed him day and night
for ten days. He got much stronger. He spoke to me, thanked me
again and again, and told me his name was Christopher Staines. He
told me that he should never get well. I implored him to have
courage. He said he did not want for courage; but nature had been
tried too hard. We got so fond of each other. Oh!"--and the
caitiff pretended to break down; and his feigned grief mingled with
Rosa's despairing sobs.

He made an apparent effort, and said, "He spoke to me of his wife,
his darling Rosa. The name made me start, but I could not know it
was you. At last he was strong enough to write a few lines, and he
made me promise to take them to his wife."

"Ah!" said Rosa. "Show them me."

"I will."

"This moment." And her hands began to work convulsively.

"I cannot," said Falcon. "I have not brought them with me."

Rosa cast a keen eye of suspicion and terror on him. His not
bringing the letter seemed monstrous; and so indeed it was. The
fact is, the letter was not written.

Falcon affected not to notice her keen look. He flowed on, "The
address he put on that letter astonished me. 'Kent Villa.' Of
course I knew Kent Villa: and he called you 'Rosa.'"

"How could you come to me without that letter?" cried Rosa,
wringing her hands. "How am I to know? It is all so strange, so
incredible."

"Don't you believe me?" said Falcon sadly. "Why should I deceive
you? The first time I came down to tell you all this, I did not
KNOW who Mrs. Staines was. I suspected; but no more. The second
time I saw you in the church, and then I knew; and followed you to
try and tell you all this; and you were not at home to me."

"Forgive me," said Rosa carelessly: then earnestly, "The letter!
when can I see it?"

"I will send, or bring it."

"Bring it! I am in agony till I see it. Oh, my darling! my
darling! It can't be true. It was not my Christie. He lies in
the depths of the ocean. Lord Tadcaster was in the ship, and he
says so; everybody says so."

"And I say he sleeps in hallowed ground, and these hands laid him
there."

Rosa lifted her hands to heaven, and cried piteously, "I don't know
what to think. You would not willingly deceive me. But how can
this be? Oh, Uncle Philip, why are you away from me? Sir, you say
he gave you a letter?"

"Yes."

"Oh, why, why did you not bring it?"

"Because he told me the contents; and I thought he prized my poor
efforts too highly. It did not occur to me you would doubt my
word."

"Oh, no: no more I do: but I fear it was not my Christie."

"I'll go for the letter at once, Mrs. Staines."

"Oh, thank you! Bless you! Yes, this minute!"

The artful rogue did not go; never intended.

He rose TO GO; but had a sudden inspiration; very sudden, of
course. "Had he nothing about him you could recognize him by?"

"Yes, he had a ring I gave him."

Falcon took a black-edged envelope out of his pocket.

"A ruby ring," said she, beginning to tremble at his quiet action.

"Is that it?" and he handed her a ruby ring.

CHAPTER XXVII.

Mrs. Staines uttered a sharp cry and seized the ring. Her eyes
dilated over it, and she began to tremble in every limb; and at
last she sank slowly back, and her head fell on one side like a
broken lily. The sudden sight of the ring overpowered her almost
to fainting.

Falcon rose to call for assistance; but she made him a feeble
motion not to do so.

She got the better of her faintness, and then she fell to kissing
the ring, in an agony of love, and wept over it, and still held it,
and gazed at it through her blinding tears.

Falcon eyed her uneasily.

But he soon found he had nothing to fear. For a long time she
seemed scarcely aware of his presence; and when she noticed him, it
was to thank him, almost passionately.

"It was my Christie you were so good to: may Heaven bless you for
it: and you will bring me his letter, will you not?"

"Of course I will."

"Oh, do not go yet. It is all so strange: so sad. I seem to have
lost my poor Christie again, since he did not die at sea. But no,
I am ungrateful to God, and ungrateful to the kind friend that
nursed him to the last. Ah, I envy you that. Tell me all. Never
mind my crying. I have seen the time I could not cry. It was
worse then than now. I shall always cry when I speak of him, ay,
to my dying day. Tell me, tell me all."

Her passion frightened the egotist, but did not turn him. He had
gone too far. He told her that, after raising all their hopes, Dr.
Staines had suddenly changed for the worse, and sunk rapidly; that
his last words had been about her, and he had said, "My poor Rosa,
who will protect her?" That, to comfort him, he had said he would
protect her. Then the dying man had managed to write a line or
two, and to address it. Almost his last words had been, "Be a
father to my child."

"That is strange."

"You have no child? Then it must have been you he meant. He spoke
of you as a child more than once."

"Mr. Falcon, I have a child; but born since I lost my poor child's
father."

"Then I think he knew it. They say that dying men can see all over
the world: and I remember, when he said it, his eyes seemed fixed
very strangely, as if on something distant. Oh, how wonderful all
this is. May I see his child, to whom I promised"--

The artist in lies left his sentence half completed.

Rosa rang, and sent for her little boy.

Mr. Falcon admired his beauty, and said quietly, "I shall keep my
vow."

He then left her, with a promise to come back early next morning
with the letter.

She let him go only on those conditions.

As soon as her father came in, she ran to him with this strange
story.

"I don't believe it," said he. "It is impossible."

She showed him the proof, the ruby ring.

Then he became very uneasy, and begged her not to tell a soul. He
did not tell her the reason, but he feared the insurance office
would hear of it, and require proofs of Christopher's decease,
whereas they had accepted it without a murmur, on the evidence of
Captain Hamilton and the Amphitrite's log-book.

As for Falcon, he went carefully through Staines's two letters, and
wherever he found a word that suited his purpose, he traced it by
the usual process, and so, in the course of a few hours, he
concocted a short letter, all the words in which, except three,
were facsimiles, only here and there a little shaky; the three odd
words he had to imitate by observation of the letters. The
signature he got to perfection by tracing.

He inserted this letter in the original envelope, and sealed it
very carefully, so as to hide that the seal had been tampered with.

Thus armed, he went down to Gravesend. There he hired a horse and
rode to Kent Villa.

Why he hired a horse, he knew how hard it is to forge handwriting,
and he chose to have the means of escape at hand.

He came into the drawing-room, ghastly pale, and almost immediately
gave her the letter; then turned his back, feigning delicacy. In
reality he was quaking with fear lest she should suspect the
handwriting. But the envelope was addressed by Staines, and paved
the way for the letter; she was unsuspicious and good, and her
heart cried out for her husband's last written words: at such a
moment, what chance had judgment and suspicion in an innocent and
loving soul?

Her eloquent sighs and sobs soon told the caitiff he had nothing to
fear.

The letter ran thus:--

MY OWN ROSA,--All that a brother could do for a beloved brother,
Falcon has done. He nursed me night and day. But it is vain. I
shall never see you again in this world. I send you a protector,
and a father to your child. Value him. He has promised to be your
stay on earth, and my spirit shall watch over you.--To my last
breath, your loving husband,

CHRISTOPHER STAINES.

Falcon rose, and began to steal on tiptoe out of the room.

Rosa stopped him. "You need not go," said she. "You are our
friend. By and by I hope I shall find words to thank you."

"Pray let me retire a moment," said the hypocrite. "A husband's
last words: too sacred--a stranger:" and he went out into the
garden. There he found the nursemaid Emily, and the little boy.

He stopped the child, and made love to the nursemaid; showed her
his diamonds--he carried them all about him--told her he had thirty
thousand acres in Cape Colony, and diamonds on them; and was going
to buy thirty thousand more of the government. "Here, take one,"
said he. "Oh, you needn't be shy. They are common enough on my
estates. I'll tell you what, though, you could not buy that for
less than thirty pounds at any shop in London. Could she, my
little duck? Never mind, it is no brighter than her eyes. Now do
you know what she will do with that, Master Christie? She will
give it to some duffer to put in a pin."

"She won't do nothing of the kind," said Emily, flushing all over.
"She is not such a fool." She then volunteered to tell him she had
no sweetheart, and did not trouble her head about young men at all.
He interpreted this to mean she was looking out for one. So do I.

"No sweetheart!" said he; "and the prettiest girl I have seen since
I landed: then I put in for the situation."

Here, seeing the footman coming, he bestowed a most paternal kiss
on little Christie, and saying, "Not a word to John, or no more
diamonds from me;" he moved carefully away, leaving the girl all in
a flutter with extravagant hopes.

The next moment this wolf in the sheep-fold entered the drawing-
room. Mrs. Staines was not there. He waited, and waited, and
began to get rather uneasy, as men will who walk among pitfalls.

Presently the footman came to say that Mrs. Staines was with her
father, in his study, but she would come to him in five minutes.

This increased his anxiety. What! She was taking advice of an
older head. He began to be very seriously alarmed, and, indeed,
had pretty well made up his mind to go down and gallop off, when
the door opened, and Rosa came hastily in. Her eyes were very red
with weeping. She came to him with both hands extended to him; he
gave her his, timidly. She pressed them with such earnestness and
power as he could not have suspected; and thanked him, and blessed
him, with such a torrent of eloquence, that he hung his head with
shame; and, being unable to face it out, villain as he was, yet
still artful to the core, he pretended to burst out crying, and ran
out of the room, and rode away.

He waited two days, and then called again. Rosa reproached him
sweetly for going before she had half thanked him.

"All the better," said he. "I have been thanked a great deal too
much already. Who would not do his best for a dying countryman,
and fight night and day to save him for his wife and child at home?
If I had succeeded, then I would be greedy of praise: but now it
makes me blush; it makes me very sad."

"You did your best," said Rosa tearfully.

"Ah! that I did. Indeed, I was ill for weeks after, myself,
through the strain upon my mind, and the disappointment, and going
so many nights without sleep. But don't let us talk of that."

"Do you know what my darling says to me in my letter?"

"No."

"Would you like to see it?"

"Indeed I should; but I have no right."

"Every right. It is the only mark of esteem, worth anything, I can
show you."

She handed him the letter, and buried her own face in her hands.

He read it, and acted the deepest emotion.

He handed it back, without a word.

CHAPTER XXVIII.

From this time Falcon was always welcome at Kent Villa. He
fascinated everybody in the house. He renewed his acquaintance
with Mr. Lusignan, and got asked to stay a week in the house. He
showed Rosa and her father the diamonds, and, the truth must be
owned, they made Rosa's eyes sparkle for the first time this
eighteen months. He insinuated rather than declared his enormous
wealth.

In reply to the old man's eager questions, as the large diamonds
lay glittering on the table, and pointed every word, he said that a
few of his Hottentots had found these for him; he had made them dig
on a diamondiferous part of his estate, just by way of testing the
matter; and this was the result; this, and a much larger stone, for
which he had received eight thousand pounds from Posno.

"If I was a young man," said Lusignan, "I would go out directly,
and dig on your estate."

"I would not let you do anything so paltry," said "le Menteur."
"Why, my dear sir, there are no fortunes to be made by grubbing for
diamonds; the fortunes are made out of the diamonds, but not in
that way. Now, I have thirty thousand acres, and am just
concluding a bargain for thirty thousand more, on which I happen to
know there are diamonds in a sly corner. Well, of my thirty
thousand tried acres, a hundred only are diamondiferous. But I
have four thousand thirty-foot claims leased at ten shillings per
month. Count that up."

"Why, it is twenty-four thousand pounds a year."

"Excuse me: you must deduct a thousand a year for the expenses of
collection. But this is only one phase of the business. I have a
large inn upon each of the three great routes from the diamonds to
the coast; and these inns are supplied with the produce of my own
farms. Mark the effect of the diamonds on property. My sixty
thousand acres, which are not diamondiferous, will very soon be
worth as much as sixty thousand English acres, say two pounds the
acre per annum. That is under the mark, because in Africa the land
is not burdened with poor-rates, tithes, and all the other
iniquities that crush the English land-owner, as I know to my cost.
But that is not all, sir. Would you believe it? even after the
diamonds were declared, the people out there had so little
foresight that they allowed me to buy land all round Port
Elizabeth, Natal, and Cape Town, the three ports through which the
world get at the diamonds, and the diamonds get at the world. I
have got a girdle of land round those three outlets, bought by the
acre; in two years I shall sell it by the yard. Believe me, sir,
English fortunes, even the largest, are mere child's play, compared
with the colossal wealth a man can accumulate, if he looks beyond
these great discoveries to their consequences, and lets others grub
for him. But what is the use of it all to me?" said this Bohemian,
with a sigh. "I have no taste for luxuries; no love of display. I
have not even charity to dispense on a large scale; for there are
no deserving poor out there; and the poverty that springs from
vice, that I never will encourage."

John heard nearly all this, and took it into the kitchen; and
henceforth Adoration was the only word for this prince of men, this
rare combination of the Adonis and the millionnaire.

He seldom held such discourses before Rosa; but talked her father
into an impression of his boundless wealth, and half reconciled him
to Rosa's refusal of Lord Tadcaster, since here was an old suitor,
who, doubtless, with a little encouragement, would soon come on
again.

Under this impression, Mr. Lusignan gave Falcon more than a little
encouragement, and, as Rosa did not resist, he became a constant
visitor at the villa, and was always there from Saturday to Monday.

He exerted all his art of pleasing, and he succeeded. He was
welcome to Rosa, and she made no secret of it.

Emily threw herself in his way, and had many a sly talk with him,
while he was pretending to be engaged with young Christie. He
flattered her, and made her sweet on him, but was too much in love
with Rosa, after his fashion, to flirt seriously with her. He
thought he might want her services: so he worked upon her after
this fashion; asked her if she would like to keep an inn.

"Wouldn't I just?" said she frankly.

Then he told her that, if all went to his wish in England, she
should be landlady of one of his inns in the Cape Colony. "And you
will get a good husband out there directly," said he. "Beauty is a
very uncommon thing in those parts. But I shall ask you to marry
somebody who can help you in the business--or not to marry at all."

"I wish I had the inn," said Emily. "Husbands are soon got when a
girl hasn't her face only to look to."

"Well, I promise you the inn," said he, "and a good outfit of
clothes, and money in both pockets, if you will do me a good turn
here in England."

"That I would, sir. But, laws, what can a poor girl like me do for
a rich gentleman like you?"

"Can you keep a secret, Emily?"

"Nobody better. You try me, sir."

He looked at her well; saw she was one of those who could keep a
secret, if she chose, and he resolved to risk it.

"Emily, my girl," said he sadly, "I am an unhappy man."

"You, sir! Why, you didn't ought to be."

"I am then. I am in love; and cannot win her."

Then he told the girl a pretty tender tale, that he had loved Mrs.
Staines when she was Miss Lusignan, had thought himself beloved in
turn, but was rejected; and now, though she was a widow, he had not
the courage to court her, her heart was in the grave. He spoke in
such a broken voice that the girl's good-nature fought against her
little pique at finding how little he was smitten with HER, and
Falcon soon found means to array her cupidity on the side of her
good-nature. He gave her a five-pound note to buy gloves, and
promised her a fortune, and she undertook to be secret as the
grave, and say certain things adroitly to Mrs. Staines.

Accordingly, this young woman omitted no opportunity of dropping a
word in favor of Falcon. For one thing, she said to Mrs. Staines,
"Mr. Falcon must be very fond of children, ma'am. Why, he worships
Master Christie."

"Indeed! I have not observed that."

"Why, no, ma'am. He is rather shy over it; but when he sees us
alone, he is sure to come to us, and say, 'Let me look at my child,
nurse;' and he do seem fit to eat him. Onst he says to me, 'This
boy is my heir, nurse.' What did he mean by that, ma'am?"

"I don't know."

"Is he any kin to you, ma'am?"

"None whatever. You must have misunderstood him. You should not
repeat all that people say."

"No, ma'am; only I did think it so odd. Poor gentleman, I don't
think he is happy, for all his money."

"He is too good to be unhappy all his life."

"So I think, ma'am."

These conversations were always short, for Rosa, though she was too
kind and gentle to snub the girl, was also too delicate to give the
least encouragement to her gossip.

But Rosa's was a mind that could be worked upon, and these short
but repeated eulogies were not altogether without effect.

At last the insidious Falcon, by not making his approaches in a way
to alarm her, acquired her friendship as well as her gratitude;
and, in short, she got used to him and liked him. Not being bound
by any limit of fact whatever, he entertained her, and took her out
of herself a little by extemporaneous pictures; he told her all his
thrilling adventures by flood and field, not one of which had ever
occurred, yet he made them all sound like truth; he invented
strange characters, and set them talking; he went after great
whales, and harpooned one, which slapped his boat into fragments
with one stroke of its tail; then died, and he hung on by the
harpoon protruding from the carcass till a ship came and picked him
up. He shot a lion that was carrying off his favorite Hottentot.
He encountered another, wounded him with both barrels, was seized,
and dragged along the ground, and gave himself up for lost, but
kept firing his revolver down the monster's throat till at last he
sickened him, and so escaped out of death's maw; he did NOT say how
he had fired in the air, and ridden fourteen miles on end, at the
bare sight of a lion's cub; but, to compensate that one reserve,
plunged into a raging torrent and saved a drowning woman by her
long hair, which he caught in his teeth; he rode a race on an
ostrich against a friend on a zebra, which went faster, but threw
his rider, and screamed with rage at not being able to eat him; he,
Falcon, having declined to run unless his friend's zebra was
muzzled. He fed the hungry, clothed the naked, and shot a wild
elephant in the eye; and all this he enlivened with pictorial
descriptions of no mean beauty, and as like South Africa as if it
had been feu George Robins advertising that continent for sale.

In short, never was there a more voluble and interesting liar by
word of mouth, and never was there a more agreeable creature
interposed between a bereaved widow and her daily grief and
regrets. He diverted her mind from herself, and did her good.

At last, such was the charm of infinite lying, she missed him on
the days he did not come, and was brighter when he did come and lie.

Things went smoothly, and so pleasantly, that he would gladly have
prolonged this form of courtship for a month or two longer, sooner
than risk a premature declaration. But more than one cause drove
him to a bolder course; his passion, which increased in violence by
contact with its beautiful object, and also a great uneasiness he
felt at not hearing from Phoebe. This silence was ominous. He and
she knew each other, and what the other was capable of. He knew
she was the woman to cross the seas after him, if Staines left the
diggings, and any explanation took place that might point to his
whereabouts.

These double causes precipitated matters, and at last he began to
throw more devotion into his manner; and having so prepared her for
a few days, he took his opportunity and said, one day, "We are both
unhappy. Give me the right to console you."

She colored high, and said, "You have consoled me more than all the
world. But there is a limit; always will be."

One less adroit would have brought her to the point; but this
artist only sighed, and let the arrow rankle. By this means he
out-fenced her; for now she had listened to a declaration and not
stopped it short.

He played melancholy for a day or two, and then he tried her
another way. He said, "I promised your dying husband to be your
protector, and a father to his child. I see but one way to keep my
word, and that gives me courage to speak--without that I never
could. Rosa, I loved you years ago, I am unmarried for your sake.
Let me be your husband, and a father to your child."

Rosa shook her head. "I COULD not marry again. I esteem you, I am
very grateful to you: and I know I behaved ill to you before. If I
could marry again, it would be you. But I cannot. Oh, never! never!"

"Then we both are to be unhappy all our days."

"I shall, as I ought to be. You will not, I hope. I shall miss
you sadly; but, for all that, I advise you to leave me. You will
carry my everlasting gratitude, go where you will; that and my
esteem are all I have to give."

"I will go," said he; "and I hope he who is gone will forgive my
want of courage."

"He who is gone took my promise never to marry again."

"Dying men see clearer. I am sure he wished--no matter; it is too
delicate." He kissed her hand and went out, a picture of dejection.

Mrs. Staines shed a tear for him.

Nothing was heard of him for several days; and Rosa pitied him more
and more, and felt a certain discontent with herself, and doubt
whether she had done right.

Matters were in this state, when one morning Emily came screaming
in from the garden, "The child!--Master Christie!--Where is he?--
Where is he?"

The house was alarmed. The garden searched, the adjoining paddock.
The child was gone.

Emily was examined, and owned, with many sobs and hysterical cries,
that she had put him down in the summer-house for a minute, while
she went to ask the gardener for some balm, balm tea being a
favorite drink of hers. "But there was nobody near that I saw,"
she sobbed.

Further inquiry proved, however, that a tall gypsy woman had been
seen prowling about that morning; and suspicion instantly fastened
on her. Servants were sent out right and left; but nothing
discovered; and the agonized mother, terrified out of her wits, had
Falcon telegraphed to immediately.

He came galloping down that very evening, and heard the story. He
galloped into Gravesend, and after seeing the police, sent word out
he should advertise. He placarded Gravesend with bills, offering a
reward of a thousand pounds, the child to be brought to him, and no
questions asked.

Meantime the police and many of the neighboring gentry came about
the miserable mother with their vague ideas.

Down comes Falcon again next day; tells what he has done, and
treats them all with contempt. "Don't you be afraid, Mrs.
Staines," said he. "You will get him back. I have taken the sure
way. This sort of rogues dare not go near the police, and the
police can't find them. You have no enemies; it is only some woman
that has fancied a beautiful child. Well, she can have them by the
score, for a thousand pounds."

He was the only one with a real idea; the woman saw it, and clung
to him. He left late at night.

Next morning out came the advertisements, and he sent her a handful
by special messenger. His zeal and activity kept her bereaved
heart from utter despair.

At eleven that night came a telegraph:--

"I have got him. Coming down by special train."

Then what a burst of joy and gratitude! The very walls of the
house seemed to ring with it as a harp rings with music. A special
train, too! he would not let the mother yearn all night.

At one in the morning he drove up with the child and a hired nurse.

Imagine the scene! The mother's screams of joy, her furious
kisses, her cooing, her tears, and all the miracles of nature at
such a time. The servants all mingled with their employers in the
general rapture, and Emily, who was pale as death, cried and
sobbed, and said, "Oh, ma'am, I'll never let him out of my sight
again, no, not for one minute." Falcon made her a signal, and went
out. She met him in the garden.

She was much agitated, and cried, "Oh, you did well to bring him
to-day. I could not have kept it another hour. I'm a wretch."

"You are a good kind girl; and here's the fifty pounds I promised
you."

"Well, and I have earned it."

"Of course you have. Meet me in the garden to-morrow morning, and
I'll show you you have done a kind thing to your mistress, as well
as me. And as for the fifty pounds, that is NOTHING; do you hear?
it is nothing at all, compared with what I will do for you, if you
will be true to me, and hold your tongue."

"Oh! as for that, my tongue shan't betray you, nor shame ME. You
are a gentleman, and I do think you love her, or I would not help
you."

So she salved her nursemaid's conscience--with the help of the
fifty pounds.

The mother was left to her rapture that night. In the morning
Falcon told his tale.

"At two P.M. a man had called on him, and had produced one of his
advertisements, and had asked him if that was all square--no
bobbies on the lurk. 'All square, my fine fellow.' 'Well,' said
he, 'I suppose you are a gentleman.' 'I am of that opinion too.'
'Well, sir,' says he, 'I know a party as has FOUND a young gent as
comes werry nigh your advertisement.' 'It will be a very lucky
find to that party,' I said, 'if he is on the square.' 'Oh, WE are
always on the square, when the blunt is put down.' 'The blunt for
the child, when you like, and where you like,' said I. 'You are
the right sort,' said he. 'I am,' replied I. 'Will you come and
see if it is all right?' said he. 'In a minute,' said I. Stepped
into my bedroom, and loaded my six-shooter."

"What is that?" said Lusignan.

"A revolver with six barrels: by the by, the very same I killed the
lion with. Ugh! I never think of that scene without feeling a
little quiver; and my nerves are pretty good, too. Well, he took
me into an awful part of the town, down a filthy close, into some
boozing ken--I beg pardon, some thieves' public-house."

"Oh, my dear friend," said Rosa, "were you not frightened?"

"Shall I tell you the truth, or play the hero? I think I'll tell
YOU the truth. I felt a little frightened, lest they should get my
money and my life, without my getting my godson: that is what I
call him now. Well, two ugly dogs came in, and said, 'Let us see
the flimsies, before you see the kid.'

"'That is rather sharp practice, I think,' said I; 'however, here's
the swag, and here's the watch-dog.' So I put down the notes, and
my hand over them with my revolver cocked, and ready to fire."

"Yes, yes," said Rosa pantingly. "Ah, you were a match for them."

"Well, Mrs. Staines, if I was writing you a novel, I suppose I
should tell you the rogues recoiled; but the truth is they only
laughed, and were quite pleased. 'Swell's in earnest,' said one,
'Jem, show the kid.' Jem whistled, and in came a great tall black
gypsy woman, with the darling. My heart was in my mouth, but I
would not let them see it. I said, 'It is all right. Take half
the notes here, and half at the door.' They agreed, and then I did
it quick, walked to the door, took the child, gave them the odd
notes, and made off as fast as I could, hired a nurse at the
hospital--and the rest you know."

"Papa," said Rosa, with enthusiasm, "there is but one man in
England who would have got me back my child, and this is he."

When they were alone, Falcon told her she had said words that
gladdened his very heart. "You admit I can carry out one half of
his wishes?" said he.

Mrs. Staines said "Yes," then colored high; then, to turn it off,
said, "But I cannot allow you to lose that large sum of money. You
must let me repay you."

"Large sum of money!" said he. "It is no more to me than sixpence
to most people. I don't know what to do with my money; and I never
shall know, unless you will make a sacrifice of your own feelings
to the wishes of the dead. O Mrs. Staines--Rosa, do pray consider
that a man of that wisdom sees the future, and gives wise advice.
Sure am I that, if you could overcome your natural repugnance to a
second marriage, it would be the best thing for your little boy--I
love him already as if he were my own--and in time would bring you
peace and comfort, and some day, years hence, even happiness. You
are my only love; yet I should never have come to you again if HE
had not sent me. Do consider how strange it all is, and what it
points to, and don't let me have the misery of losing you again,
when you can do no better now, alas! than reward my fidelity."

She was much moved at this artful appeal, and said, "If I was sure
I was obeying his will. But how can I feel that, when we both
promised never to wed again?"

"A man's dying words are more sacred than any other. You have his
letter."

"Yes, but he does not say 'marry again.'"

"That is what he meant, though."

"How can you say that? How can you know?"

"Because I put the words he said to me together with that short
line to you. Mind, I don't say that he did not exaggerate my poor
merits; on the contrary, I think he did. But I declare to you that
he did hope I should take care of you and your child. Right or
wrong, it was his wish, so pray do not deceive yourself on that
point."

This made more impression on her than anything else he could say,
and she said, "I promise you one thing, I will never marry any man
but you."

Instead of pressing her further, as an inferior artist would, he
broke into raptures, kissed her hand tenderly, and was in such high
spirits, and so voluble all day, that she smiled sweetly on him,
and thought to herself, "Poor soul! how happy I could make him with
a word!"

As he was always watching her face--a practice he carried further
than any person living--he divined that sentiment, and wrought upon
it so, that at last he tormented her into saying she would marry
him SOME DAY.

When he had brought her to that, he raged inwardly to think he had
not two years to work in; for it was evident she would marry him in
time. But no, it had taken him more than four months, close siege,
to bring her to that. No word from Phoebe. An ominous dread hung
over his own soul. His wife would be upon him, or, worse still,
her brother Dick, who he knew would beat him to a mummy on the
spot; or, worst of all, the husband of Rosa Staines, who would kill
him, or fling him into a prison. He MUST make a push.

In this emergency he used his ally, Mr. Lusignan; he told him Mrs.
Staines had promised to marry him, but at some distant date. This
would not do; he must look after his enormous interests in the
colony, and he was so much in love he could not leave her.

The old gentleman was desperately fond of Falcon, and bent on the
match, and he actually consented to give his daughter what Falcon
called a little push.

The little push was a very great one, I think.

It consisted in directing the clergyman to call in church the banns
of marriage between Reginald Falcon and Rosa Staines.

They were both in church together when this was done. Rosa all but
screamed, and then turned red as fire and white as a ghost, by
turns. She never stood up again all the service; and in going home
refused Falcon's arm, and walked swiftly home by herself. Not that
she had the slightest intention of passing this monstrous thing by
in silence. On the contrary, her wrath was boiling over, and so
hot that she knew she should make a scene in the street if she said
a word there.

Once inside the house she turned on Falcon, with a white cheek and
a flashing eye, and said, "Follow me, sir, if you please." She led
the way to her father's study. "Papa," said she, "I throw myself
on your protection. Mr. Falcon has affronted me."

"Oh, Rosa!" cried Falcon, affecting utter dismay.

"Publicly--publicly: he has had the banns of marriage cried in the
church, without my permission."

"Don't raise your voice so loud, child. All the house will hear
you."

"I choose all the house to hear me. I will not endure it. I will
never marry you now--never!"

"Rosa, my child," said Lusignan, "you need not scold poor Falcon,
for I am the culprit. It was I who ordered the banns to be cried."

"Oh! papa, you had no right to do such a thing as that."

"I think I had. I exercised parental authority for once, and for
your good, and for the good of a true and faithful lover of yours,
whom you jilted once, and now you trifle with his affection and his
interests. He loves you too well to leave you; yet you know his
vast estates and interests require supervision."

"That for his vast estates!" said Rosa contemptuously. "I am not
to be driven to the altar like this, when my heart is in the grave.
Don't you do it again, papa, or I'll get up and forbid the banns;
affront for affront."

"I should like to see that," said the old gentleman dryly.

Rosa vouchsafed no reply, but swept out of the room, with burning
cheeks and glittering eyes, and was not seen all day, would not
dine with them, in spite of three humble, deprecating notes Falcon
sent her.

"Let the spiteful cat alone," said old Lusignan. "You and I will
dine together in peace and quiet."

It was a dull dinner; but Falcon took advantage of the opportunity,
impregnated the father with his views, and got him to promise to
have the banns cried next Sunday. He consented.

Rosa learned next Sunday morning that this was to be done, and her
courage failed her. She did not go to church at all.

She cried a great deal, and submitted to violence, as your true
women are too apt to do. They had compromised her, and so
conquered her. The permanent feelings of gratitude and esteem
caused a reaction after her passion, and she gave up open
resistance as hopeless.

Falcon renewed his visits, and was received with the mere sullen
languor of a woman who has given in.

The banns were cried a third time.

Then the patient Rosa bought laudanum enough to reunite her to her
Christopher, in spite of them all; and having provided herself with
this resource, became more cheerful, and even kind and caressing.

She declined to name the day at present, and that was awkward.
Nevertheless the conspirators felt sure they should tire her out
into doing that, before long; for they saw their way clear, and she
was perplexed in the extreme.

In her perplexity, she used to talk to a certain beautiful star she
called her Christopher. She loved to fancy he was now an
inhabitant of that bright star; and often on a clear night she
would look up, and beg for guidance from this star. This I
consider foolish: but then I am old and sceptical; she was still
young and innocent, and sorely puzzled to know her husband's real
will.

I don't suppose the star had anything to do with it, except as a
focus of her thoughts; but one fine night, after a long inspection
of Christopher's star, she dreamed a dream. She thought that a
lovely wedding-dress hung over a chair, that a crown of diamonds as
large as almonds sparkled ready for her on the dressing-table, and
she was undoing her black gown, and about to take it off, when
suddenly the diamonds began to pale, and the white satin dress to
melt away, and in its place there rose a pale face and a long
beard, and Christopher Staines stood before her, and said quietly,
"Is this how you keep your vow?" Then he sank slowly, and the
white dress was black, and the diamonds were jet; and she awoke,
with his gentle words of remonstrance and his very tones ringing in
her ear.

This dream, co-operating with her previous agitation and
misgivings, shook her very much; she did not come down-stairs till
near dinner-time; and both her father and Falcon, who came as a
matter of course to spend his Sunday, were struck with her
appearance. She was pale, gloomy, morose, and had an air of
desperation about her.

Falcon would not see it; he knew that it is safest to let her sex
alone when they look like that; and then the storm sometimes
subsides of itself.

After dinner, Rosa retired early; and soon she was heard walking

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