Part 2 out of 9
young neophyte in the awful mysteries of medical science, and by no
means the sort of man to whom one would have imagined Philip Sheldon
appealing for help, when he found his own skill at fault. But then it
must be remembered that Mr. Sheldon had only summoned the stranger in
compliance with what he considered a womanish whim.
"He looks very young," Georgina said regretfully, after the doctor's
"So much the better, my dear Mrs. Halliday," answered the dentist
cheerfully; "medical science is eminently progressive, and the youngest
men are the best-educated men."
Poor Georgy did not understand this; but it sounded convincing, and she
was in the habit of believing what people told her; so she accepted Mr.
Sheldon's opinion. How could she doubt that he was wiser than herself
in all matters connected with the medical profession?
"Tom seems a little better this morning," she said presently.
The invalid was asleep, shrouded by the curtain of the heavy
old-fashioned four-post bedstead.
"He is better," answered the dentist; "so much better, that I shall
venture to give him a few business letters that have been waiting for
him some time, as soon as he wakes."
He seated himself by the head of the bed, and waited quietly for the
awakening of the patient.
"Your breakfast is ready for you downstairs, Mrs. Halliday," he said
presently; "hadn't you better go down and take it, while I keep watch
here? It's nearly ten o'clock."
"I don't care about any breakfast," Georgina answered piteously.
"Ah, but you'd better eat something. You'll make yourself an invalid,
if you are not careful; and then you won't be able to attend upon Tom."
This argument prevailed immediately. Georgy went downstairs to the
drawing-room, and tried bravely to eat and drink, in order that she
might be sustained in her attendance upon her husband. She had
forgotten all the throes and tortures of jealousy which she had endured
on his account. She had forgotten his late hours and unholy
roisterings. She had forgotten everything except that he had been very
tender and kind throughout the prosperous years of their married life,
and that he was lying in the darkened room upstairs sick to death.
* * * * *
Mr. Sheldon waited with all outward show of patience for the awakening
of the invalid. But he looked at his watch twice during that half-hour
of waiting; and once he rose and moved softly about the room, searching
for writing materials. He found a little portfolio of Georgina's, and a
frivolous-minded inkstand, after the semblance of an apple, with a gilt
stalk and leaflet. The dentist took the trouble to ascertain that there
was a decent supply of ink in the green-glass apple, and that the pens
were in working order. Then he went quietly back to his seat by the
bedside and waited.
The invalid opened his eyes presently, and recognised his friend with a
"Well, Tom, old fellow, how do you feel to-day--a little better I hear
from Mrs. H.," said the dentist cheerily.
"Yes, I think I am a shade better. But, you see, the deuce of it is I
never get more than a shade better. It always stops at that. The little
woman can't complain of me now, can she, Sheldon? No more late hours,
or oyster suppers, eh?"
"No, no, not just yet. You'll have to take care of yourself for a week
or two when you get about again." Mr. Halliday smiled faintly as his
friend said this.
"I shall be very careful of myself if I ever do get about again, you
may depend upon it, old fellow. But do you know I sometimes fancy I
have spent my last jolly evening, and eaten my last oyster supper, on
this earth? I'm afraid it's time for me to begin to think seriously of
a good many things. The little woman is all right, thank God. I made my
will upwards of a year ago, and insured my life pretty heavily soon
after my marriage. Old Cradock never let me rest till that was done. So
Georgy will be all safe. But when a man has led a careless, godless
kind of a life,--doing very little harm, perhaps, but doing no
particular good,--he ought to set about making up his account somehow
for a better world, when he feels himself slipping out of this. I asked
Georgy for her Bible yesterday, and the poor dear loving little thing
was frightened out of her wits. 'O, don't talk like that, Tom,' she
cried; 'Mr. Sheldon says you are getting better every hour,'--by which
you may guess what a rare thing it is for me to read my Bible. No,
Phil, old fellow, you've done your best for me, I know; but I'm not
made of a very tough material, and all the physic you can pour down
this poor sore throat of mine won't put any strength into me."
"Nonsense, dear boy; that's just what a man who has not been accustomed
to illness is sure to think directly he is laid up for a day or two."
"I've been laid up for three weeks," murmured Mr. Halliday rather
"Well, well, perhaps this Mr. Burkham will bring you round in three
days, and then you'll say that your friend Sheldon was an ignoramus."
"No, no, I shan't, old fellow; I'm not such a fool as that. I'm not
going to blame you when it's my own constitution that's in fault. As to
that young man you brought here just now, to please Georgy, I don't
suppose he'll be able to do any more for me than you have done."
"We'll contrive to bring you round between us, never fear, Tom,"
answered Philip Sheldon in his most hopeful tone. "Why, you are looking
almost your old self this morning. You are so much improved that I may
venture to talk to you about business. There have been some letters
lying about for the last few days. I didn't like to bore you while you
were so very low. But they look like business letters; and perhaps it
would be as well for you to open them."
The sick man contemplated the little packet which the dentist had taken
from his breast-pocket; and then shook his head wearily.
"I'm not up to the mark, Sheldon," he said; "the letters must keep."
"O, come, come, old fellow! That's giving way, you know. The letters
may be important; and it will do you good if you make an effort to
"I tell you it isn't in me to do it, Philip Sheldon. I'm past making
efforts. Can't you see that, man? Open the letters yourself, if you
"No, no, Halliday, I won't do that. Here's one with the seal of the
Alliance Insurance Office. I suppose your premium is all right."
Tom Halliday lifted himself on his elbow for a moment, startled into
new life; but he sank back on the pillows again immediately, with a
"I don't know about that," he said anxiously; "you'd better look to
that, Phil, for the little woman's sake. A man is apt to think that his
insurance is settled and done with, when he has been pommelled about by
the doctors and approved by the board. He forgets there's that little
matter of the premium. You'd better open the letter, Phil. I never was
a good hand at remembering dates, and this illness has thrown me
altogether out of gear."
Mr. Sheldon tore open that official document, which, in his benevolent
regard for his friend's interest, he had manipulated so cleverly on the
previous evening, and read the letter with all show of deliberation.
"You're right, Tom," he exclaimed presently. "The twenty-one days'
grace expire to-day. You'd better write me a check at once, and I'll
send it on to the office by hand. Where's your check-book?"
"In the pocket of that coat hanging up there."
Philip Sheldon found the check-book, and brought it to his friend, with
Georgy's portfolio, and the frivolous little green-glass inkstand in
the shape of an apple. He adjusted the writing materials for the sick
man's use with womanly gentleness. His arm supported the wasted frame,
as Tom Halliday slowly and laboriously filled in the check; and when
the signature was duly appended to that document, he drew a long
breath, which seemed to express infinite relief of mind.
"You'll be sure it goes on to the Alliance Office, eh, old fellow?"
asked Tom, as he tore out the oblong slip of paper and handed it to his
friend. "It was kind of you to jog my memory about this business. I'm
such a fellow for procrastinating matters. And I'm afraid I've been a
little off my load during the last week."
"Nonsense, Tom; not you."
"O yes, I have. I've had all sorts of queer fancies. Did you come into
this room the night before last, when Georgy was asleep?" Mr. Sheldon
reflected for a moment before answering.
"No," he said, "not the night before last."
"Ah, I thought as much," murmured the invalid. "I was off my head that
night then, Phil, for I fancied I saw you; and I fancied I heard the
bottles and glasses jingling on the little table behind the curtain."
"You were dreaming, perhaps."
"O no, I wasn't dreaming. I was very restless and wakeful that night.
However, that's neither here nor there. I lie in a stupid state
sometimes for hours and hours, and I feel as weak as a rat, bodily and
mentally; so while I have my wits about me, I'd better say what I've
been wanting to say ever so long. You've been a good and kind friend to
me all through this illness, Phil, and I'm not ungrateful for your
kindness. If it does come to the worst with me--as I believe it will--
Georgy shall give you a handsome mourning ring, or fifty pounds to buy
one, if you like it better. And now let me shake hands with you, Philip
Sheldon, and say thank you heartily, old fellow, for once and for
The invalid stretched out a poor feeble attenuated hand, and, after a
moment's pause, Philip Sheldon clasped it in his own muscular fingers.
He did hesitate for just one instant before taking that hand.
He was no student of the gospel; but when he had left the sick-chamber
there arose before him suddenly, as if written in letters of fire on
the wall opposite to him, one sentence which had been familiar to him
in his school-days at Barlingford:
_And as soon as he was come, he goeth straightway to him, and saith,
Master, master; and kissed him._
* * * * *
The new doctor came twice a day to see his patient. He seemed rather
anxious about the case, and just a little puzzled by the symptoms.
Georgy had sufficient penetration to perceive that this new adviser was
in some manner at fault; and she began to think that Philip Sheldon was
right, and that regular practitioners were very stupid creatures. She
communicated her doubts to Mr. Sheldon, and suggested the expediency of
calling in some grave elderly doctor, to supersede Mr. Burkham. But
against this the dentist protested very strongly.
"You asked me to call in a stranger, Mrs. Halliday, and I have done
so," he said, with the dignity of an offended man. "You must now abide
by his treatment, and content yourself with his advice, unless he
chooses to summon further assistance."
Georgy was fain to submit. She gave a little plaintive sigh, and went
back to her husband's room, where she sat and wept silently behind the
bed-curtains. There was a double watch kept in the sick-chamber now;
for Nancy Woolper rarely left it, and rarely closed her eyes. It was
altogether a sad time in the dentist's house; and Tom Halliday
apologised to his friend more than once for the trouble he had brought
upon him. If he had been familiar with the details of modern history,
he would have quoted Charles Stuart, and begged pardon for being so
But anon there came a gleam of hope. The patient seemed decidedly
better; and Georgy was prepared to revere Mr. Burkham, the Bloomsbury
surgeon, as the greatest and ablest of men. Those shadows of doubt and
perplexity which had at first obscured Mr. Burkham's brow cleared away,
and he spoke very cheerfully of the invalid.
Unhappily this state of things did not last long. The young surgeon
came one morning, and was obviously alarmed by the appearance of his
patient. He told Philip Sheldon as much; but that gentleman made very
light of his fears. As the two men discussed the case, it was very
evident that the irregular practitioner was quite a match for the
regular one. Mr. Burkham listened deferentially, but departed only half
convinced. He walked briskly away from the house, but came to a dead
stop directly after turning out of Fitzgeorge-street.
"What ought I to do?" he asked himself. "What course ought I to take?
If I am right, I should be a villain to let things go on. If I am
wrong, anything like interference would ruin me for life."
He had finished his morning round, but he did not go straight home. He
lingered at the corners of quiet streets, and walked up and down the
unfrequented side of a gloomy square. Once he turned and retraced his
steps in the direction of Fitzgeorge-street. But after all this
hesitation he walked home, and ate his dinner very thoughtfully,
answering his young wife at random when she talked to him. He was a
struggling man, who had invested his small fortune in the purchase of a
practice which had turned out a very poor one, and he had the battle of
life before him.
"There's something on your mind to-day, I'm sure, Harry," his wife said
before the meal was ended.
"Well, yes, dear," he answered; "I've rather a difficult case in
Fitzgeorge-street, and I'm anxious about it."
The industrious little wife disappeared after dinner, and the young
surgeon walked up and down the room alone, brooding over that difficult
case in Fitzgeorge-street. After spending nearly an hour thus, he
snatched his hat suddenly from the table on which he had set it down,
and hurried from the house.
"I'll have advice and assistance, come what may," he said to himself,
as he walked rapidly in the direction of Mr. Sheldon's house. "The case
may be straight enough--I certainly can't see that the man has any
motive--but I'll have advice."
He looked up at the dentist's spotless dwelling as he crossed the
street. The blinds were all down, and the fact that they were so sent a
sudden chill to his heart. But the April sunshine was full upon that
side of the street, and there might lie no significance in those
closely-drawn blinds. The door was opened by a sleepy-looking boy, and
in the passage Mr. Burkham met Philip Sheldon.
"I have been rather anxious about my patient since this morning, Mr.
Sheldon," said the surgeon; "and I have come to the conclusion that I
ought to confer with a man of higher standing than myself. Do you think
Mrs. Halliday will object to such a course?"
"I am sure she would not have objected to it," the dentist answered
very gravely, "if you had suggested it sooner. I am sorry to say the
suggestion comes too late. My poor friend breathed his last half an
BOOK THE SECOND.
THE TWO MACAIRES.
A GOLDEN TEMPLE.
In the very midst of the Belgian iron country, under the shadow of
tall sheltering ridges of pine-clad mountain-land, nestles the
fashionable little watering-place called Foretdechene. Two or three
handsome hotels; a bright white new pile of building, with vast windows
of shining plate-glass, and a stately quadrangular courtyard; a tiny
street, which looks as if a fragment of English Brighton had been
dropped into this Belgian valley; a stunted semi-classic temple, which
is at once a post-office and a shrine whereat invalids perform their
worship of Hygeia by the consumption of unspeakably disagreeable
mineral waters; a few tall white villas scattered here and there
upon the slopes of pine-clad hills; and a very uncomfortable
railway-station--constitute the chief features Foretdechene. But right
and left of that little cluster of shops and hotels there stretch deep
sombre avenues of oak, that look like sheltered ways to Paradise--and
the deep, deep blue of the August sky, and the pure breath of the warm
soft air, and the tender green of the young pine-woods that clothe the
sandy hills, and the delicious tranquillity that pervades the sleepy
little town and bathes the hot landscape in a languorous mist, are
charms that render Foretdechene a pleasant oasis amid the lurid woods
and mountains of the iron country.
Only at stated intervals the quiet of this sleepy hollow is broken by
the rolling of wheels, the jingling of bells, the cracking of whips,
the ejaculations of drivers, and supplications of touters: only when
the railroad carries away departing visitors, or brings fresh ones, is
there anything like riot or confusion in the little town under the
pine-clad hills--and even then the riot and confusion are of a very
mild order, and create but a transient discord amongst the harmonies of
And yet, despite the Arcadian tranquillity of the landscape, the drowsy
quiet of the pine-groves, the deep and solemn shade of those dark
avenues, where one might fondly hope to find some Druidess lingering
beneath the shelter of the oaks, there is excitement of no common order
to be found in the miniature watering-place of Foretdechene; and the
reflective and observant traveller, on a modern sentimental journey,
has only to enter the stately white building with the glittering
plate-glass windows in order to behold the master-passions or the human
breast unveiled for his pleasure and edification.
The ignorant traveller, impelled by curiosity, finds no bar to his
entrance. The doors are as wide open as if the mansion were an hotel;
and yet it is not an hotel, though a placard which he passes informs
the traveller that he may have ices and sorbets, if he will; nor is the
bright fresh-looking building a theatre, for another placard informs
the visitor that there are dramatic performances to be witnessed every
evening in a building on one side of the quadrangle, which is a mere
subsidiary attachment to the vast white mansion. The traveller, passing
on his way unhindered, save by a man in livery, who deprives him of his
cane, ascends a splendid staircase and traverses a handsome
antechamber, from which a pair of plate-glass doors open into a
spacious saloon, where, in the warm August sunlight, a circle of men
and women are gathered round a great green table, gambling.
The ignorant traveller, unaccustomed to the amusements of a Continental
watering-place, may perhaps feel a little sense of surprise--a
something almost akin to shame--as he contemplates that silent crowd,
whose occupation seems so much the more strange to him because of their
silence. There is no lively bustle, none of that animation which
generally attends every kind of amusement, none of the clamour of the
betting-ring or the exchange. The gamblers at Foretdechene are terribly
in earnest: and the ignorant visitor unconsciously adapts himself to
the solemn hush of the place, and steps softly as he approaches the
table round which they are clustered--as many sitting as can find room
round the green-cloth-covered board; while behind the sitters there are
people standing two or three rows deep, the hindermost watching the
table over the shoulders of their neighbours. A placard upon the wall
informs visitors that only constant players are permitted to remain
seated at that sacred table. Perhaps a third of the players and a third
of the lookers-on are women. And if there are lips more tightly
contracted than other lips, and eyes with a harder, greedier light in
them than other eyes, those lips and those eyes belong to the women.
The ungloved feminine hands have a claw-like aspect as they scrape the
glittering pieces of silver over the green cloth; the feminine throats
look weird and scraggy as they crane themselves over masculine
shoulders; the feminine eyes have something demoniac in their steely
glare as they keep watch upon the rapid progress of the game.
Half a dozen moderate fortunes seem to be lost and won while the
traveller looks on from the background, unnoticed and unseen; for if
those plate-glass doors swung suddenly open to admit the seven angels
of the Apocalypse, carrying the seven golden vials filled with the
wrath of God, it is doubtful whether the splendour of their awful
glory, or the trumpet-notes that heralded their coming, would have
power to arouse the players from their profound abstraction.
Half a dozen comfortable little patrimonies seem to have changed hands
while the traveller has been looking on; and yet he has only watched
the table for about ten minutes; and this splendid _salon_ is but an
outer chamber, where one may stake as shabby a sum as two francs, if
one is shabby enough to wish to do so, and where playing for half an
hour or so on a pleasant summer morning one could scarcely lose more
than fifty or sixty pounds. Another pair of plate-glass doors open into
an inner chamber, where the silence is still more profound, and where
around a larger table sit one row of players; while only here and there
a little group of outsiders stand behind their chairs. There is more
gilding on the walls and ceiling of this chamber; the frescoes are more
delicate; the crystal chandeliers are adorned with rich clusters of
sparkling drops, that twinkle like diamonds in the sun. This is the
temple of gold; and in this splendid chamber one may hazard no smaller
stake than half a napoleon. There are women here; but not so many women
as in the outer saloon; and the women here are younger and prettier and
more carefully dressed than those who stake only silver.
The prettiest and the youngest woman in this golden chamber on one
particular August afternoon, nine years after the death of Tom
Halliday, was a girl who stood behind the chair of a military-looking
Englishman, an old man whose handsome face was a little disfigured by
those traces which late hours and dissipated habits are supposed to
leave behind them.
The girl held a card in one hand and a pin in the other, and was
occupied in some mysterious process, by which she kept note of the
Englishman's play. She was very young, with a delicate face, in whose
softer lines there was a refined likeness to the features of the man
whose play she watched. But while his eyes were hard and cold and gray,
hers were of that dense black in which there seems such an unfathomable
and mysterious depth. As she was the handsomest, so she was also the
worst-dressed woman in the room. Her flimsy silk mantle had faded from
black to rusty brown; the straw hat which shaded her face was sunburnt;
the ribbons had lost their brightness; but there was an air of
attempted fashion in the puffings and trimmings of her alpaca skirt;
and there was evidence of a struggle with poverty in the tight-fitting
lavender gloves, whose streaky lines bore witness to the imperfection
of the cleaner's art. Elegant Parisians and the select of Brussels
glanced at the military Englishman and his handsome daughter with some
slight touch of supercilious surprise--one has no right to find
shabbily-dressed young women in the golden temple--and it is scarcely
necessary to state that it was from her own countrywomen the young
person in alpaca received the most chilling glances. But those Parthian
arrows shot from feminine eyes had little power to wound their object
just now. The girl looked up from her perforated card very seldom; and
when she raised her eyes, it was always to look in one direction--
towards the great glass doors opening from the outer saloon. Loungers
came and went; the doors swung open and closed again as noiselessly as
it is possible for well-regulated doors to open and shut; footsteps
sounded on the polished floors; and sometimes when the young person in
alpaca lifted her eyes, a passing shadow of disappointment darkened her
face. A modern Laurence Sterne, on a new Sentimental Journey, might
have derived some interest from the study of the girl's countenance;
but the reflective and observant traveller is not to be encountered
very often in this age of excursionists; and Maria and her goat may
roam the highways and byways for a long time before she will find any
dreamy loiterer with a mind attuned to sympathy.
The shabbily-dressed girl was looking for some one. She watched her
father's play carefully--she marked her card with unfailing precision;
but she performed these duties with a mechanical air; and it was only
when she lifted her eyes to the great shining plate-glass doors which
opened into this dangerous Paradise, that any ray of feeling animated
her countenance. She was looking for some one, and the person watched
for was so long coming. Ah, how difficult for the arithmetician to
number the crushing disappointments, the bitter agonies that one woman
can endure in a single half-hour! This girl was so young--so young; and
already she had learnt to suffer.
The man played with the concentrated attention and the impassible
countenance of an experienced gamester, rarely lifting his eyes from
the green cloth, never looking back at the girl who stood behind him.
He was winning to-day, and he accepted his good fortune as quietly as
he had often accepted evil fortune at the same table. He seemed to be
playing on some system of his own; and neighbouring players looked at
him with envious eyes, as they saw the pile of gold grow larger under
his thin nervous hands. Ignorant gamesters, who stood aloof after
having lost two or three napoleons, contemplated the lucky Englishman
and wondered about him, while some touch of pity leavened the envy
excited by his wonderful fortune. He looked like a decayed gentleman--a
man who had been a military dandy in the days that were gone, and who
had all the old pretensions still, without the power to support them--a
Brummel languishing at Caen; a Nash wasting slowly at Bath.
At last the girl's face brightened suddenly as she glanced upwards; and
it would have been very easy for the observant traveller--if any such
person had existed--to construe aright that bright change in her
countenance. The some one she had been watching for had arrived.
The doors swung open to admit a man of about five-and-twenty, whose
darkly-handsome face and careless costume had something of that air
which was once wont to be associated with the person and the poetry of
George Gordon Lord Byron. The new-comer was just one of those men whom
very young women are apt to admire, and whom worldly-minded people are
prone to distrust. There was a perfume of Bohemianism, a flavour of the
Quartier Latin, about the loosely-tied cravat, the wide trousers, and
black-velvet morning coat, with which the young man outraged the
opinions of respectable visitors at Foretdechene. There was a
semi-poetic vagabondism in the half-indifferent, half-contemptuous
expression of his face, with its fierce moustache, and strongly-marked
eyebrows overshadowing sleepy gray eyes--eyes that were half hidden, by
their long dark lashes; as still pools of blue water lie sometimes
hidden among the rushes that nourish round them.
He was handsome, and he knew that he was handsome; but he affected to
despise the beauty of his proud dark face, as he affected to despise
all the brightest and most beautiful things upon earth: and yet there
was a vagabondish kind of foppery in his costume that contrasted
sharply with the gentlemanly dandyism of the shabby gamester sitting at
the table. There was a distance of nearly half a century between the
style of the Regency dandy and the Quartier-Latin lion.
The girl watched the new-comer with sad earnest eyes as he walked
slowly towards the table, and a faint blush kindled in her cheeks as he
came nearer to the spot where she stood. He went by her presently,
carrying an atmosphere of stale tobacco with him as he went; and he
gave her a friendly nod as he passed, and a "Good morning, Diana;" but
that was all. The faint blush faded and left her very pale: but she
resumed her weary task with the card and the pin; and if she had
endured any disappointment within those few moments, it seemed to be a
kind of disappointment that she was accustomed to suffer.
The young man walked round the table till he came to the only vacant
chair, in which he seated himself, and after watching the game for a
few minutes, began to play. From the moment in which he dropped into
that vacant seat to the moment in which he rose to leave the table,
three hours afterwards, he never lifted his eyes from the green cloth,
or seemed to be conscious of anything that was going on around or about
him. The girl watched him furtively for some little time after he had
taken his place at the table; but the stony mask of the professed
gambler is a profitless object for a woman's earnest scrutiny.
She sighed presently, and laid her hand heavily on the chair behind
which she was standing. The action aroused the man who sat in it, and
he turned and looked at her for the first time.
"You are tired, Diana?"
"Yes, papa, I am very tired."
"Give me your card, then, and go away," the gamester answered
peevishly; "girls are always tired."
She gave him the mysteriously-perforated card, and left her post behind
his chair; and then, after roaming about the great saloon with a weary
listless air, and wandering from one open window to another to look
into the sunny quadrangle, where well-dressed people were sitting at
little tables eating ices or drinking lemonade, she went away
altogether, and roamed into another chamber where some children were
dancing to the sound of a feeble violin. She sat upon a velvet-covered
bench, and watched the children's lesson for some minutes, and then
rose and wandered to another open window that overlooked the same
quadrangle, where the well-dressed people were enjoying themselves in
the hot August sunshine.
"How extravagantly everybody dresses!" she thought, "and what a shabby
poverty-stricken creature one feels amongst them! And yet if I ask papa
to give me a couple of napoleons out of the money he won to-day, he
will only look at me from head to foot, and tell me I have a gown and a
cloak and a bonnet, and ask me what more I can want, in the name of all
that is unreasonable? And I see girls here whose fathers are so fond of
them and so proud of them--ugly girls, decked out in silks and muslins
and ribbons that have cost a small fortune--clumsy awkward girls, who
look at _me_ as if I were some new kind of wild animal."
The saloons at Foretdechene were rich in monster sheets of looking-glass;
and in wandering discontentedly about the room Diana Paget saw herself
reflected many times in all her shabbiness. It was only very lately she
had discovered that she had some pretension to good looks; for her
father, who could not or would not educate her decently or clothe her
creditably, took a very high tone of morality in his paternal teaching,
and, in the fear that she might one day grow vain of her beauty, had
taken care to impress upon her at an early age that she was the very
incarnation of all that is lean and sallow and awkward.
THE EASY DESCENT
Amongst the many imprudences of which Horatio Paget--once a cornet in
a crack cavalry regiment, always a captain in his intercourse with the
world--had been guilty during the course of a long career, there was
none for which he so bitterly reproached himself as for a certain
foolish marriage which he had made late in his life. It was when he
had thrown away the last chance that an indulgent destiny had given
him, that the ruined fop of the Regency, the sometime member of the
Beef-steak Club, the man who in his earliest youth had worn a silver
gridiron at his button-hole, and played piquet in the gilded saloons of
Georgina of Devonshire, found himself laid on a bed of sickness in
dingy London lodgings, and nearer death than he bad ever been in the
course of his brief military career; so nearly gliding from life's
swift-flowing river into eternity's trackless ocean, that the warmest
thrill of gratitude which ever stirred the slow pulses of his cold
heart quickened its beating as he clasped the hand that had held him
back from the unknown region whose icy breath had chilled him with an
awful fear. Such men as Horatio Paget are apt to feel a strange terror
when the black night drops suddenly down upon them, and the "Gray
Boatman's" voice sounds hollow and mysterious in the darkness,
announcing that the ocean is near. The hand that held the ruined
spendthrift back when the current swept so swiftly oceanward was a
woman's tender hand; and Heaven only knows what patient watchfulness,
what careful administration of medicines and unwearying preparation of
broths and jellies and sagos and gruels, what untiring and devoted
slavery, had been necessary to save the faded rake who looked out upon
the world once more, a ghastly shadow of his former self, a penniless
helpless burden for any one who might choose to support him.
"Don't thank _me_," said the doctor, when his feeble patient whimpered
flourishing protestations of his gratitude, unabashed by the
consciousness that such grateful protestations were the sole coin with
which the medical man would be paid for his services; "thank that young
woman, if you want to thank anybody; for if it had not been for her you
wouldn't be here to talk about gratitude. And if ever you get such
another attack of inflammation on the lungs, you had better pray for
such another nurse, though I don't think you're likely to find one."
And with this exordium, the rough-and-ready surgeon took his departure,
leaving Horatio Paget alone with the woman who had saved his life.
She was only his landlady's daughter; and his landlady was no
prosperous householder in Mayfair, thriving on the extravagance of
wealthy bachelors, but an honest widow, living in an obscure
little street leading out of the Old Kent-road, and letting a
meagrely-furnished little parlour and a still more meagrely-furnished
little bedroom to any single gentleman whom reverse of fortune might
lead into such a locality. Captain Paget had sunk very low in the
world when he took possession of that wretched parlour and laid
himself down to rest on the widow's flock-bed.
There is apt to be a dreary interval in the life of such a man--a
blank dismal interregnum, which divides the day in which he spends his
last shilling from the hour in which he begins to prey deliberately
upon the purses of other people. It was in that hopeless interval that
Horatio Paget established himself in the widow's parlour. But though he
slept in the Old Kent-road, he had not yet brought himself to endure
existence on that Surrey side of the water. He emerged from his lodging
every morning to hasten westward, resplendent in clean linen and
exquisitely-fitting gloves, and unquestionable overcoat, and varnished
The wardrobe has its Indian summer; and the glory of a first-rate
tailor's coat is like the splendour of a tropical sun--it is glorious
to the last, and sinks in a moment. Captain Paget's wardrobe was in its
Indian summer in these days; and when he felt how fatally near the
Bond-street pavement was to the soles of his feet, he could not refrain
from a fond admiration of the boots that were so beautiful in decay.
He walked the West-end for many weary hours every day during this
period of his decadence. He tried to live in an honest gentlemanly way,
by borrowing money of his friends, or discounting an accommodation-bill
obtained from some innocent acquaintance who was deluded by his
brilliant appearance and specious tongue into a belief in the transient
nature of his difficulties. He spent his days in hanging about the
halls and waiting-rooms of clubs--of some of which he had once been a
member; he walked weary miles between St James's and Mayfair,
Kensington Gore and Notting Hill, leaving little notes for men who were
not at home, or writing a little note in one room while the man to whom
he was writing hushed his breath in an adjoining chamber. People who
had once been Captain Paget's fast friends seemed to have
simultaneously decided upon spending their existence out of doors, as
it appeared to the impecunious Captain. The servants of his friends
were afflicted with a strange uncertainty as to their masters'
movements. At whatever hall-door Horatio Paget presented himself, it
seemed equally doubtful whether the proprietor of the mansion would be
home to dinner that day, or whether he would be at home any time next
day, or the day after that, or at the end of the week, or indeed
whether he would ever come home again. Sometimes the Captain, calling
in the evening dusk, in the faint hope of gaining admittance to some
friendly dwelling, saw the glimmer of light under a dining-room door,
and heard the clooping of corks and the pleasant jingling of glass and
silver in the innermost recesses of a butler's pantry; but still the
answer was--not at home, and not likely to be home. All the respectable
world was to be out henceforth for Horatio Paget. But now and then at
the clubs he met some young man, who had no wife at home to keep watch
upon his purse and to wail piteously over a five-pound note
ill-bestowed, and who took compassion on the fallen spendthrift, and
believed, or pretended to believe, his story of temporary embarrassment;
and then the Captain dined sumptuously at a little French restaurant
in Castle-street, Leicester-square, and took a half-bottle of chablis
with his oysters, and warmed himself with chambertin that was brought
to him in a dusty cobweb-shrouded bottle reposing in a wicker-basket.
But in these latter days such glimpses of sunshine very rarely
illumined the dull stream of the Captain's life. Failure and
disappointment had become the rule of his existence--success the rare
exception. Crossing the river now on his way westward, he was wont to
loiter a little on Waterloo Bridge, and to look dreamily down at the
water, wondering whether the time was near at hand when, under cover of
the evening dusk, he would pay his last halfpenny to the toll-keeper,
and never again know the need of an earthly coin.
"I saw a fellow in the Morgue one day,--a poor wretch who had drowned
himself a week or two before. Great God, how horrible he looked! If
there was any certainty they would find one immediately, and bury one
decently, there'd be no particular horror in that kind of death. But to
be found _like that_, and to lie in some riverside deadhouse down by
Wapping, with a ghastly placard rotting on the rotting door, and
nothing but ooze and slime and rottenness round about one--waiting to
be identified! And who knows, after all, whether a dead man doesn't
_feel_ that sort of thing?"
It was after such musings as these had begun to be very common with
Horatio Paget that he caught the chill which resulted in a very
dangerous illness of many weeks. The late autumn was wet and cold and
dreary; but Captain Paget, although remarkably clever after a certain
fashion, had never been a lover of intellectual pursuits, and
imprisonment in Mrs. Kepp's shabby parlour was odious to him. When he
had read every page of the borrowed newspaper, and pished and pshawed
over the leaders, and groaned aloud at the announcement of some wealthy
marriage made by one of his quondam friends, or chuckled at the record
of another quondam friend's insolvency--when he had poked the fire
savagely half a dozen times in an hour, cursing the pinched grate and
the bad coals during every repetition of the operation--when he had
smoked his last cigar, and varnished his favourite boots, and looked
out of the window, and contemplated himself gloomily in the wretched
little glass over the narrow chimney-piece,--Captain Paget's
intellectual resources were exhausted, and an angry impatience took
possession of him. Then, in defiance of the pelting rain or the
lowering sky, he flung his slippers into the farthest corner--and the
farthest corner of Mrs. Kepp's parlour was not very remote from the
Captain's arm-chair--he drew on the stoutest of his varnished boots--
and there were none of them very stout now--buttoned his perfect
overcoat, adjusted his hat before the looking-glass, and sallied forth,
umbrella in hand, to make his way westward. Westward always, through
storm and shower, back to the haunts of his youth, went the wanderer
and outcast, to see the red glow of cheery fires reflected on the
plate-glass windows of his favourite clubs; to see the lamps in
spacious reading-rooms lit early in the autumn dusk, and to watch the
soft light glimmering on the rich bindings of the books, and losing
itself in the sombre depths of crimson draperies. To this poor worldly
creature the agony of banishment from those palaces of Pall Mall or St.
James's-street was as bitter as the pain of a fallen angel. It was the
dullest, deadest time of the year, and there were not many loungers in
those sumptuous reading-rooms, where the shaded lamps shed their
subdued light on the chaste splendour of the sanctuary; so Captain
Paget could haunt the scene of his departed youth without much fear of
recognition: but his wanderings in the West grew more hopeless and
purposeless every day. He began to understand how it was that people
were never at home when he assailed their doors with his fashionable
knock. He could no longer endure the humiliation of such repulses, for
he began to understand that the servants knew his errand as well as
their masters, and had their answers ready, let him present himself
before them when he would: so he besieged the doors of St. James's and
Mayfair, Kensington Gore and Netting Hill, no longer. He knew that the
bubble of his poor foolish life had burst, and that there was nothing
left for him but to die.
It seemed about this time as if the end of all was very near. Captain
Paget caught a chill one miserable evening on which he returned to his
lodging with his garments dripping, and his beautiful varnished boots
reduced to a kind of pulp; and the chill resulted in a violent
inflammation of the lungs. Then it was that a woman's hand was held out
to save him, and a woman's divine tenderness cared for him in his dire
The ministering angel who comforted this helpless and broken-down
wayfarer was only a low-born ignorant girl called Mary Anne Kepp--a
girl who had waited upon the Captain during his residence in her
mother's house, but of whom he had taken about as much notice as he had
been wont to take of the coloured servants who tended him when he was
with his regiment in India. Horatio Paget had been a night-brawler and
a gamester, a duellist and a reprobate, in the glorious days that were
gone; but he had never been a profligate; and he did not know that the
girl who brought him his breakfast and staggered under the weight of
his coal-scuttle was one of the most beautiful women he had ever looked
The Captain was so essentially a creature of the West-end, that Beauty
without her glitter of diamonds and splendour of apparel was scarcely
Beauty for him. He waited for the groom of the chambers to announce her
name, and the low hum of well-bred approval to accompany her entrance,
before he bowed the knee and acknowledged her perfection. The Beauties
whom he remembered had received their patent from the Prince Regent,
and had graduated in the houses of Devonshire and Hertford. How should
the faded bachelor know that this girl, in a shabby cotton gown, with
unkempt hair dragged off her pale face, and with grimy smears from the
handles of saucepans and fire-irons imprinted upon her cheeks--how
should he know that she was beautiful? It was only during the slow
monotonous hours of his convalescence, when he lay upon the poor faded
little sofa in Mrs. Kepp's parlour--the sofa that was scarcely less
faded and feeble than himself--it was then, and then only, that he
discovered the loveliness of the face which had been so often bent over
him during his delirious wanderings.
"I have mistaken you for all manner of people, my dear," he said to his
landlady's daughter, who sat by the little Pembroke-table working,
while her mother dozed in a corner with a worsted stocking drawn over
her arm and a pair of spectacles resting upon her elderly nose. Mrs.
Kepp and her daughter were wont to spend their evenings in the lodger's
apartment now; for the invalid complained bitterly of "the horrors"
when they left him.
"I have taken you for all sorts of people, Mary Anne," pursued the
Captain dreamily. "Sometimes I have fancied you were the Countess of
Jersey, and I could see her smile as she looked at me when I was first
presented to her. I was very young in the beautiful Jersey's time; and
then there was the other one--whom I used to drink tea with at
Brighton. Ah me! what a dull world it seems nowadays! The King gone,
and everything changed--everything--everything! I am a very old man,
He was fifty-two years of age; he felt quite an old man. He had spent
all his money, he had outlived the best friends of his youth; for it
had been his fate to adorn a declining era, and he had been a youngster
among elderly patrons and associates. His patrons were dead and gone,
and the men he had patronised shut their doors upon him in the day of
his poverty. As for his relations, he had turned his back upon them
long ago, when first he followed in the shining wake of that gorgeous
vessel, the Royal George. In this hour of his penniless decline there
was none to help him. To have outlived every affection and every
pleasure is the chief bitterness of old age; and this bitterness
Horatio Paget suffered in all its fulness, though his years were but
"I am a very old man, Mary Anne," he repeated plaintively. But Mary
Anne Kepp could not think him old. To her eyes he must for ever appear
the incarnation of all that is elegant and distinguished. He was the
first gentleman she had ever seen. Mrs. Kepp had given shelter to other
lodgers who had called themselves gentlemen, and who had been pompous
and grandiose of manner in their intercourse with the widow and her
daughter; but O, what pitiful lacquered counterfeits, what Brummagem
paste they had been, compared to the real gem! Mary Anne Kepp had seen
varnished boots before the humble flooring of her mother's dwelling was
honoured by the tread of Horatio Paget, but what clumsy vulgar boots,
and what awkward plebeian feet had worn them! The lodger's slim white
hands and arched instep, the patrician curve of his aquiline nose, the
perfect grace of his apparel, the high-bred modulation of his courteous
accents,--all these had impressed Mary Anne's tender little heart so
much the more because of his poverty and loneliness. That such a man
should be forgotten and deserted--that such a man should be poor and
lonely, seemed so cruel a chance to the simple maiden: and then when
illness overtook him, and invested him with a supreme claim upon her
tenderness and pity,--then the innocent girl lavished all the treasures
of a compassionate heart upon the ruined gentleman. She had no thought
of fee or reward; she knew that her mother's lodger was miserably poor,
and that his payments had become more and more irregular week by week
and month by month. She had no consciousness of the depth of feeling
that rendered her so gentle a nurse; for her life was a busy one, and
she had neither time nor inclination for any morbid brooding upon her
She protested warmly against the Captain's lamentation respecting his
"The idear of any gentleman calling hisself old at fifty!" she said--
and Horatio shuddered at the supererogatory "r" and the "hisself,"
though they proceeded from the lips of his consoler;--"you've got
many, many years before you yet, sir, please God," she added piously;
"and there's good friends will come forward yet to help you, I make no
Captain Paget shook his head peevishly.
"You talk as if you were telling my fortune with a pack of cards," he
said. "No, my girl, I shall have only one friend to rely upon, if ever
I am well enough to go outside this house; and that friend is myself. I
have spent the fortune my father left me; I have spent the price of my
commission; and I have parted with every object of any value that I
ever possessed--in vulgar parlance, I am cleaned out, Mary Anne. But
other men have spent every sixpence belonging to them, and have
contrived to live pleasantly enough for half a century afterwards; and
I daresay I can do as they have done. If the wind is tempered to the
shorn lamb, I suppose the hawks and vultures take care of themselves. I
have tried my luck as a shorn lamb, and the tempest has been very
bitter for me; so I have no alternative but to join the vultures."
Mary Anne Kepp stared wonderingly at her mother's lodger. She had some
notion that he had been saying something wicked and blasphemous; but
she was too ignorant and too innocent to follow his meaning.
"O, pray don't talk in that wild way, sir," she entreated. "It makes me
so unhappy to hear you go on like that."
"And why should anything that I say make you unhappy, Mary Anne?" asked
the lodger earnestly.
There was something in his tone that set her pale face on fire with
unwonted crimson, and she bent very low over her work to hide those
painful blushes. She did not know that the Captain's tone presaged a
serious address; she did not know that the grand crisis of her life was
close upon her.
Horatio Paget had determined upon making a sacrifice. The doctor had
told him that he owed his life to this devoted girl; and he would have
been something less than man if he had not been moved with some
grateful emotion. He was grateful; and in the dreary hours of his slow
recovery he had ample leisure for the contemplation of the woman to
whom he owed so much, if his poor worthless life could indeed be much.
He saw that she was devoted to him; that she loved him more truly than
he had ever been conscious of being loved before. He saw too that she
was beautiful. To an ugly woman Captain Paget might have felt extremely
grateful; but he could never have thought of an ugly woman as he
thought of Mary Anne Kepp. The end of his contemplation and his
deliberation came to this: She was beautiful, and she loved him, and
his life was utterly wretched and lonely; so he determined on proving
his gratitude by a sublime sacrifice. Before the girl had lifted her
face from the needlework over which she had bent to hide her blushes,
Horatio Paget had asked her to be his wife. Her emotion almost
overpowered her as she tried to answer him; but she struggled against
it bravely, and came to the sofa on which he lay and dropped upon her
knees by his side. The beggar-maid who was wooed by a king could have
felt no deeper sense of her lover's condescension than that which
filled the heart of this poor simple girl as she knelt by her mother's
"I--to be your wife!" she exclaimed. "O, surely, sir, you cannot mean
"But I do mean it, with all my heart and soul, my dear," answered the
Captain. "I'm not offering you any grand chance, Mary Anne; for I'm
about as low down in the world as a man can be. But I don't mean to be
poor all my life. Come, my dear, don't cry," he exclaimed, just a
little impatiently--for the girl had covered her face with her hands,
and tears were dropping between the poor hard-working fingers--"but
lift up your head and tell me whether you will take a faded old
bachelor for your husband or not."
Horatio Paget had admired many women in the bright years of his youth,
and had fancied himself desperately in love more than once in his life;
but it is doubtful whether the mighty passion had ever really possessed
the Captain's heart, which was naturally cold and sluggish, rarely
fluttered by any emotion that was not engendered of selfishness.
Horatio had set up an idol and had invented a religion for himself very
early in life; and that idol was fashioned after his own image, and
that religion had its beginning and end in his own pleasure. He might
have been flattered and pleased by Miss Kepp's agitation; but he was
ill and peevish; and having all his life been subject to a profound
antipathy to feminine tearfulness, the girl's display of emotion
"Is it to be yes, or no, my dear?" he asked, with, some vexation in his
Mary Anne looked up at him with tearful, frightened eyes.
"O, yes, sir, if I can be of any use to you, and nurse you when you are
ill, and work for you till I work my fingers to the bone."
She clenched her hands spasmodically as she spoke. In imagination she
was already toiling and striving for the god of her idolatry--the
GENTLEMAN whose varnished boots had been to her as a glimpse of another
and a fairer world than that represented by Tulliver's-terrace, Old
Kent-road. But Captain Paget checked her enthusiasm by a gentle gesture
of his attenuated hands.
"That will do, my dear," he murmured languidly; "I'm not very strong
yet, and anything in the way of fuss is inexpressibly painful to me.
Ah, my poor child," he exclaimed, pityingly, "if you could have seen a
dinner at the Marquis of Hertford's, you would have understood how much
can be achieved without fuss. But I am talking of things you don't
understand. You will be my wife; and a very good, kind, obedient little
wife, I have no doubt. That is all settled. As for working for me, my
love, it would be about as much as these poor little hands could do to
earn me a cigar a day--and I seldom smoke less than half a dozen
cigars; so, you see, that is all so much affectionate nonsense. And now
you may wake your mother, my dear; for I want to take a little nap, and
I can't close my eyes while that good soul is snoring so intolerably;
but not a word about our little arrangement, Mary Anne, till you and
your mother are alone."
And hereupon the Captain spread a handkerchief over his face and
subsided into a gentle slumber. The little scene had fatigued him;
though it had been so quietly enacted, that Mrs. Kepp had slept on
undisturbed by the brief fragment of domestic drama performed within a
few yards of her uneasy arm-chair. Her daughter awoke her presently,
and she resumed her needlework, while Mary Anne made some tea for the
beloved sleeper. The cups and saucers made more noise to-night than
they were wont to make in the girl's careful hands. The fluttering of
her heart seemed to communicate itself to the tips of her fingers, and
the jingling of the crockery-ware betrayed the intensity of her
emotion. He was to be her husband! She was to have a gentleman for a
husband; and such a gentleman! Out of such base trifles as a West-end
tailor's coat and a West-end workman's boots may be engendered the
purest blossom of womanly love and devotion. Wisely may the modern
philosopher cry that the history of the world is only a story of old
clothes. Mary Anne had begun by admiring the graces of Stultz and Hoby,
and now she was ready to lay down her life for the man who wore the
* * * * *
Miss Kepp obeyed her lover's behest; and it was only on the following
day, when she and her mother were alone together in the dingy little
kitchen below Captain Paget's apartments, that she informed that worthy
woman of the honour which had been vouchsafed to her. And thereupon
Mary Anne endured the first of the long series of disappointments which
were to arise out of her affection for the penniless Captain. The widow
was a woman of the world, and was obstinately blind to the advantages
of a union with a ruined gentleman of fifty. "How's he to keep you, I
should like to know," Mrs. Kepp exclaimed, as the girl stood blushing
before her after having told her story; "if he can't pay me regular?--
and you know the difficulty I have had to get his money, Mary Anne. If
he can't keep hisself, how's he to keep you?"
"Don't talk like that, mother," cried the girl, wincing under her
parent's practical arguments; "you go on as if all I cared for was
being fed and clothed. Besides, Captain Paget is not going to be poor
always. He told me so last night, when he----"
"_He_ told you so!" echoed the honest widow with unmitigated scorn;
"hasn't he told me times and often that I should have my rent regular
after this week, and regular after that week, and have I _ever_ had it
regular? And ain't I keeping him out of charity now?--a poor
widow-woman like me--which I may be wanting charity myself before long:
and if it wasn't for your whimpering and going on he'd have been out of
the house three weeks ago, when the doctor said he was well enough to
be moved; for I ast him."
"And you'd have turned him out to die in the streets, mother!" cried
Mary; "I didn't think you was so 'artless."
From this time there was ill-feeling between Mrs. Kepp and her
daughter, who had been hitherto one of the most patient and obedient of
children. The fanatic can never forgive the wretch who disbelieves in
the divinity of his god; and women who love as blindly and foolishly as
Mary Anne Kepp are the most bigoted of worshippers. The girl could not
forgive her mother's disparagement of her idol,--the mother had no
mercy upon her daughter's folly; and after much wearisome contention
and domestic misery--carefully hidden from the penniless sybarite in
the parlour--after many tears and heart-burnings, and wakeful nights
and prayerful watches, Mary Anne Kepp consented to leave the house
quietly one morning with the gentleman lodger while the widow had gone
to market. Miss Kepp left a piteous little note for her mother, rather
ungrammatical, but very womanly and tender, imploring pardon for her
want of duty; and, "O, mother, if you knew how good and nobel he is,
you coudent be angery with me for luving him has I do, and we shall
come back to you after oure marige, wich you will be pade up honourabel
to the last farthin'."
After writing this epistle in the kitchen, with more deliberation and
more smudging than Captain Paget would have cared to behold in the
bride of his choice, Mary Anne attired herself in her Sabbath-day
raiment, and left Tulliver's-terrace with the Captain in a cab. She
would fain have taken a little lavender paper-covered box that
contained the remainder of her wardrobe, but after surveying it with a
shudder, Captain Paget told her that such a box would condemn them
"You may get on sometimes without luggage, my dear," he said
sententiously; "but with such luggage as _that_, never!"
The girl obeyed without comprehending. It was not often that she
understood her lover's meaning, nor did he particularly care that she
should understand him. He talked to her rather in the same spirit in
which one talks to a faithful canine companion--as Napoleon III. may
talk to his favourite Nero; "I have great plans yet unfulfilled, my
honest Nero, though you may not be wise enough to guess their nature.
And we must have another Boulevard, old fellow; and we must settle that
little dispute about Venetia; and we must do something for those
unfortunate Poles, eh--good dog?" and so on.
Captain Paget drove straight to a registrar's office, where the new
Marriage Act enabled him to unite himself to Miss Kepp _sans facon_, in
presence of the cabman and a woman who had been cleaning the door-step.
The Captain went through the brief ceremonial as coolly as if it had
been the settlement of a water-rate, and was angered by the tears that
poor Mary Anne shed under her cheap black veil. He had forgotten the
poetic superstition in favour of a wedding-ring, but he slipped a
little onyx ring off his own finger, and put it on the clumsier finger
of his bride. It was the last of his jewels--the rejected of the
pawnbrokers, who, not being learned in antique intaglios, had condemned
the ring as trumpery. There is always something a little ominous in the
bridegroom's forgetfulness of that simple golden circle which typifies
an eternal union; and a superstitious person might have drawn a
sinister augury from the subject of Captain Paget's intaglio, which was
a head of Nero--an emperor whose wife was by no means the happiest of
women. But as neither Mary Anne nor the registrar, neither the cabman
nor the charwoman who had been cleaning the door-step, had ever heard
of Nero, and as Horatio Paget was much too indifferent to be
superstitious, there was no one to draw evil inferences: and Mary Anne
went away with her gentleman husband, proud and happy, with a happiness
that was only disturbed now and then by the image of an infuriated
Captain Paget took his bride to some charming apartments in
Halfmoon-street, Mayfair; and she was surprised to hear him tell the
landlady that he and his wife had just arrived from Devonshire, and
that they meant to stay a week or so in London, _en passant_, before
starting for the Continent.
"My wife has spent the best part of her life in the country," said the
Captain, "so I suppose I must show her some of the sights of London in
spite of the abominable weather. But the deuce of it is, that my
servant has misunderstood my directions, and gone on to Paris with the
luggage. However, we can set that all straight to-morrow."
Nothing could be more courteously acquiescent than the manner of the
landlady; for Captain Paget had offered her references, and the people
to whom he referred were among the magnates of the land. The Captain
knew enough of human nature to know that if references are only
sufficiently imposing, they are very unlikely to be verified. The
swindler who refers his dupe to the Duke of Sutherland and Baring
Brothers has a very good chance of getting his respectability accepted
without inquiry, on the mere strength of those sacred names.
* * * * *
From this time until the day of her death Mary Anne Paget very seldom
heard her husband make any statement which she did not know to be
false. He had joined the ranks of the vultures. He had lain down upon
his bed of sickness a gentlemanly beggar; he arose from that couch of
pain and weariness a swindler.
Now began those petty shifts and miserable falsifications whereby the
birds of prey thrive on the flesh and blood of hapless pigeons. Now the
dovecotes were fluttered by a new destroyer--a gentlemanly vulture,
whose suave accents and perfect manners were fatal to the unwary.
Henceforth Horatio Cromie Nugent Paget flourished and fattened upon the
folly of his fellow-men. As promoter of joint-stock companies that
never saw the light; as treasurer of loan-offices where money was never
lent; as a gentleman with capital about to introduce a novel article of
manufacture from the sale of which a profit of five thousand a year
would infallibly be realized, and desirous to meet with another
gentleman of equal capital; as the mysterious X.Y.Z. who will--for so
small a recompense as thirty postage-stamps--impart the secret of an
elegant and pleasing employment, whereby seven-pound-ten a-week may be
made by any individual, male or female;--under every flimsy disguise
with which the swindler hides his execrable form, Captain Paget plied
his cruel trade, and still contrived to find fresh dupes. Of course
there were occasions when the pigeons were slow to flutter into the
fascinating snare, and when the vulture had a bad time of it; and it
was a common thing for the Captain to sink from the splendour of
Mayfair or St. James's-street into some dingy transpontine
hiding-place. But he never went back to Tulliver's-terrace, though
Mary Anne pleaded piteously for the payment of her poor mother's debt.
When her husband was in funds, he patted her head affectionately, and
told her that he would see about it--i.e. the payment of Mrs. Kepp's
bill; while, if she ventured to mention the subject to him when his
purse was scantily furnished, he would ask her fiercely how he was to
satisfy her mother's extortionate claims when he had not so much as a
sixpence for his own use.
Mrs. Kepp's bill was never paid, and Mary Anne never saw her mother's
face again. Mrs. Paget was one of those meek loving creatures who are
essentially cowardly. She could not bring herself to encounter her
mother without the money owed by the Captain; she could not bring
herself to endure the widow's reproaches, the questioning that would be
so horribly painful to answer, the taunts that would torture her poor
Alas for her brief dream of love and happiness! Alas for her foolish
worship of the gentleman lodger! She knew now that her mother had been
wiser than herself, and that it would have been better for her if she
had renounced the shadowy glory of an alliance with Horatio Cromie
Nugent Paget, whose string of high-sounding names, written on the cover
of an old wine-book, had not been without its influence on the ignorant
girl. The widow's daughter knew very little happiness during the few
years of her wedded life. To be hurried from place to place; to dine in
Mayfair to-day, and to eat your dinner at a shilling ordinary in
Whitecross-street to-morrow; to wear fine clothes that have not been
paid for, and to take them off your back at a moment's notice when they
are required for the security of the friendly pawnbroker; to know that
your life is a falsehood and a snare, and that to leave a place is to
leave contempt and execration behind you,--these things constitute the
burden of a woman whose husband lives by his wits. And over and above
these miseries, Mrs. Paget had to endure all the variations of temper
to which the schemer is subject. If the pigeons dropped readily into
the snare, and if their plumage proved well worth the picking, the
Captain was very kind to his wife, after his own fashion; that is to
say, he took her out with him, and after lecturing her angrily because
of the shabbiness of her bonnet, bought her a new one, and gave her a
dinner that made her ill, and then sent her home in a cab, while he
finished the evening in more congenial society. But if the times were
bad for the vulture tribe--O, then, what a gloomy companion for the
domestic hearth was the elegant Horatio! After smiling his false smile
all day, while rage and disappointment were gnawing at his heart, it
was a kind of relief to the Captain to be moody and savage by his own
fireside. The human vulture has something of the ferocity of his
feathered prototype. The man who lives upon his fellow-men has need to
harden his heart; for one sentiment of compassion, one touch of human
pity, would shatter his finest scheme in the hour of its fruition.
Horatio Paget and compassion parted fellowship very early in the course
of his unscrupulous career. What if the pigeon has a widowed mother
dependent on his prosperity, or half a dozen children who will be
involved in his ruin? Is the hawk to forego his natural prey for any
such paltry consideration as a vulgar old woman or a brood of squalling
Captain Paget was not guilty of any persistent unkindness towards the
woman whose fate he had deigned to link with his own. The consciousness
that he had conferred a supreme honour oh Mary Anne Kepp by offering
her his hand, and a share of his difficulties, never deserted him. He
made no attempt to elevate the ignorant girl into companionship with
himself. He shuddered when she misplaced her h's and turned from her
peevishly, with a muttered oath, when she was more than usually
ungrammatical: but though he found it disagreeable to hear her, he
would have found it troublesome to set her right; and trouble was a
thing which Horatio Paget held in gentlemanly aversion. The idea that
the mode of his existence could be repulsive to his wife--that this
low-born and low-bred girl could have scruples that he never felt, and
might suffer agonies of remorse and shame of which his coarser nature
was incapable--never entered the Captain's mind. It would have been too
great an absurdity for the daughter of plebeian Kepps to affect a
tenderness of conscience unknown to the scion of Pagets and Cromies and
Nugents. Mary Anne was afraid of her elegant husband; and she
worshipped and waited upon him in meek silence, keeping the secret of
her own sorrows, and keeping it so well that he never guessed the
manifold sources of that pallor of countenance and hollow brightness of
eye which had of late annoyed him when he looked at his wife. She had
borne him a child--a sweet girl baby, with those great black eyes that
always have rather a weird look in the face of infancy; and she would
fain have clung to the infant as the hope and consolation of her
joyless life. But the vulture is not a domestic bird, and a baby would
have been an impediment in the rapid hegiras which Captain Paget and
his wife were wont to make. The Captain put an advertisement in a daily
paper before the child was a week old; and in less than a fortnight
after Mary Anne had looked at the baby face for the first time, she was
called upon to surrender her treasure to an elderly woman of fat and
greasy aspect, who had agreed to bring the infant up "by hand" in a
miserable little street in a remote and dreary district lying between
Vauxhall and Battersea.
Mary Anne gave up the child uncomplainingly, as meekly as she would
have surrendered herself if the Captain had brought a masked
executioner to her bedside, and had told her a block was prepared for
her in the adjoining chamber. She had no idea of resistance to the will
of her husband. She endured her existence for nearly five years after
the birth of her child, and during those miserable years the one effort
of her life was to secure the miserable stipend paid for the little
girl's maintenance; but before the child's fifth birthday the mother
faded off the face of the earth. She died in a miserable lodging not
very far from Tulliver's-terrace, expiring in the arms of a landlady
who had comforted her in her hour of need, as she had comforted the
ruined gentleman. Captain Paget was a prisoner in Whitecross-street at
the time of his wife's death, and was much surprised when he missed her
morning visits, and the little luxuries she had been wont to bring him.
He had missed her for more than a week, and had written to her twice--
rather angrily on the second occasion--when a rough unkempt boy in
corduroy waited upon him in the dreary ward, where he and half a dozen
other depressed and melancholy men sat at little tables writing
letters, or pretending to read newspapers, and looking at one another
furtively every now and then. There is no prisoner so distracted by his
own cares that he will not find time to wonder what his neighbour is
The boy had received instructions to be careful how he imparted his
dismal tidings to the "poor dear gentleman;" but the lad grew nervous
and bewildered at sight of the Captain's fierce hook-nose and
scrutinising gray eyes, and blurted out his news without any dismal
note of warning.
"The lady died at two o'clock this morning, please, sir; and mother
said I was to come and tell you, please, sir."
Captain Paget staggered under the blow.
"Good God!" he cried, as he dropped upon a rickety Windsor chair, that
creaked under his weight; "and I did not even know that she was ill!"
Still less did he know that all her married life had been one long
heart-sickness--one monotonous agony of remorse and shame.
"HEART BARE, HEART HUNGRY, VERY POOR."
Diana Paget left the Kursaal, and walked slowly along the pretty
rustic street; now dawdling before a little print-shop, whose contents
she knew by heart, now looking back at the great windows of that temple
of pleasure which she had just quitted.
"What do they care what becomes of me?" she thought, as she looked up
at the blank vacant windows for the last time before she left the main
street of Foretdechene, and turned into a straggling side-street, whose
rugged pavement sloped upward towards the pine-clad hills. The house in
which Captain Paget had taken up his abode was a tall white habitation,
situated in the narrowest of the narrow by-ways that intersect the main
street of the pretty Belgian watering-place; a lane in which the
inhabitants of opposite houses may shake hands with one another out of
the window, and where the odour of the cabbages and onions so liberally
employed in the _cuisine_ of the native offends the nose of the
foreigner from sunrise to sunset.
Diana paused for a moment at the entrance to this lane, but, after a
brief deliberation, walked onwards.
"What is the use of my going home?" she thought; "_they_ won't be home
for hours to come."
She walked slowly along the hilly street, and from the street into a
narrow pathway winding upward through the pine-wood. Here she was quite
alone, and the stillness of the place soothed her. She took off her
hat, and slung the faded ribbons across her arm; and the warm breeze
lifted the loose hair from her forehead as she wandered upwards. It was
a very beautiful face from which that loose dark hair was lifted by the
summer wind. Diana Paget inherited something of the soft loveliness of
Mary Anne Kepp, and a little of the patrician beauty of the Pagets. The
eyes were like those which had watched Horatio Paget on his bed of
sickness in Tulliver's-terrace. The resolute curve of the thin flexible
lips, and the fine modelling of the chin, were hereditary attributes of
the Nugent Pagets; and a resemblance to the lower part of Miss Paget's
face might have been traced in many a sombre portrait of dame and
cavalier at Thorpehaven Manor, where a Nugent Paget, who acknowledged
no kindred with the disreputable Captain, was now master.
The girl's reflections as she slowly climbed the hill were not
pleasant. The thoughts of youth should be very beautiful; but youth
that has been spent in the companionship of reprobates and tricksters
is something worse than age; for experience has taught it to be bitter,
while time has not taught it to be patient. For Diana Paget, childhood
had been joyless, and girlhood lonely. That blank and desolate region,
that dreary flat of fenny waste ground between Vauxhall and Battersea,
on which the child's eyes had first looked, had been typical of her
loveless childhood. With her mother's death faded the one ray of light
that had illumined her desolation. She was shifted from one nurse to
another; and bar nurses were not allowed to love her, for she remained
with them as an encumbrance and a burden. It was so difficult for the
Captain to pay the pitiful sum demanded for his daughter's support--or
rather it was so much easier for him not to pay it. So there always
came a time when Diana was delivered at her father's lodgings like a
parcel, by an indignant nurse, who proclaimed the story of her wrongs
in shrill feminine treble, and who was politely informed by the Captain
that her claim was a common debt, and that she had the remedy in her
own hands, but that the same code of laws which provided her with that
remedy, forbade any obnoxious demonstration of her anger in a
gentleman's apartment. And then Miss Paget, after hearing all the
tumult and discussion, would be left alone with her father, and would
speedily perceive that her presence was disagreeable to him.
When she outgrew the age of humble foster-mothers and cottages in the
dreariest of the outlying suburbs, the Captain sent his daughter to
school: and on this occasion he determined on patronising a person whom
he had once been too proud to remember among the list of his kindred.
There are poor and straggling branches upon every family tree; and the
Pagets of Thorpehaven had needy cousins who, in the mighty battle of
life, were compelled to fight amongst the rank and file. One of these
poor cousins was a Miss Priscilla Paget, who at an early age had
exhibited that affection for intellectual pursuits and that
carelessness as to the duties of the toilet which are supposed to
distinguish the predestined blue-stocking. Left quite alone in the
world, Priscilla put her educational capital to good use; and after
holding the position of principal governess for nearly twenty years in
a prosperous boarding-school at Brompton, she followed her late
employer to her grave with unaffected sorrow, and within a month of the
funeral invested her savings in the purchase of the business, and
established herself as mistress of the mansion. To this lady Captain
Paget confided his daughter's education; and in Priscilla Paget's house
Diana found a shelter that was almost like a home, until her kinswoman
became weary of promises that were never kept, and pitiful sums paid on
account of a debt that grew bigger every day--very weary likewise of
conciliatory hampers of game and barrels of oysters, and all the flimsy
devices of a debtor who is practised in the varied arts of the
The day came when Miss Paget resolved to be rid of her profitless
charge; and once more Diana found herself delivered like a parcel of
unordered goods at the door of her father's lodging. Those are
precocious children who learn their first lessons in the school of
poverty; and the girl had been vaguely conscious of the degradation
involved in this process at the age of five. How much more keenly did
she feel the shame at the age of fifteen! Priscilla did her best to
lessen the pain of her pupil's departure.
"It isn't that I've any fault to find with you, Diana, though you must
remember that I have heard some complaints of your temper," she said,
with gentle gravity; "but your father is too trying. If he didn't make
me any promises, I should think better of him. If he told me frankly
that he couldn't pay me, and asked me to keep you out of charity,"--
Diana drew herself up with a little shiver at this word,--"why, I might
turn it over in my mind, and see if it could be done. But to be
deceived time after time, as I've been deceived--you know the solemn
language your father has used, Diana, for you have heard him--and to
rely on a sum of money on a certain date, as I have relied again and
again, after Horatio's assurance that I might depend upon him--it's too
bad, Diana; it's more than any one can endure. If you were two or three
years older, and further advanced in your education, I might manage to
do something for you by making you useful with the little ones; but I
can't afford to keep you and clothe you during the next three years for
nothing, and so I have no alternative but to send you home."
The "home" to which Diana Paget was taken upon this occasion was a
lodging over a toyshop in the Westminster-road, where the Captain lived
in considerable comfort on the proceeds of a Friendly and Philanthropic
But no very cordial welcome awaited Diana in the gaudily-furnished
drawing-room over the toyshop. She found her father sleeping placidly
in his easy-chair, while a young man, who was a stranger to her, sat at
a table near the window writing letters. It was a dull November day--a
very dreary day on which to find one's self thrown suddenly on a still
drearier world; and in the Westminster-bridge-road the lamps were
already making yellow patches of sickly light amidst the afternoon fog.
The Captain twitched his silk handkerchief off his face with an
impatient gesture as Diana entered the room.
"Now, then, what is it?" he asked peevishly, without looking at the
He recognised her in the next moment; but that first impatient
salutation was about as warm a welcome as any which Miss Paget received
from her father. In sad and bitter truth, he did not care for her. His
marriage with Mary Anne Kepp had been the one grateful impulse of his
life; and even the sentiment which had prompted that marriage had been
by no means free from the taint of selfishness. But he had been quite
unprepared to find that this grand sacrifice of his life should involve
another sacrifice in the maintenance of a daughter he did not want; and
he was very much inclined to quarrel with the destiny that had given
him this burden.
"If you had been a boy, I might have made you useful to me sooner or
later," the Captain said to his daughter when he found himself alone
with her late on the night of her return; "but what on earth am I to do
with a daughter, in the unsettled life I lead? However, since that old
harridan has sent you back, you must manage in the best way you can,"
concluded Captain Paget with a discontented sigh.
From this time Diana Paget had inhabited the nest of the vultures, and
every day had brought its new lesson of trickery and falsehood. There
are men--and bad men too--who would have tried to keep the secret of
their shifts and meannesses hidden from an only child; but Horatio
Paget believed himself the victim of man's ingratitude, and his
misdoings the necessity of an evil destiny. It is not easy for the
unsophisticated intellect to gauge those moral depths to which the man
who lives by his wits must sink before his career is finished, or to
understand how, with every step in the swindler's downward road,
the conscience grows tougher, the perception of shame blunter, the
savage selfishness of the animal nature stronger. Diana Paget had
discovered some of her father's weaknesses during her miserable childhood;
and in the days of her unpaid-for schooling she had known that his most
solemn promises were no more to be relied on than the capricious breath
of a summer breeze. So the revelations which awaited her under the
paternal roof were not utterly strange or entirely unexpected.
Day by day she grew more accustomed to that atmosphere of fraud and
falsehood. The sense of shame never left her; for there is a pride
that thrives amidst poverty and degradation, and of such pride Diana
Paget possessed no small share. She writhed under the consciousness
that she was the daughter of a man who had forfeited all right to the
esteem of his fellowmen. She valued the good opinion of others, and
would fain have been beloved and admired, trusted and respected; for
she was ambitious: and the though that she might one day do something
which should lift her above the vulgar level was the day-dream that
had consoled her in many an hour of humiliation and discomfort.
Diana Paget felt the Captain's shame as keenly as her mother had felt it;
but the remorse which had agonised gentle Mary Anne, the tender
compassion for others which had wrung that fond and faithful heart,
had no place in the breast of the Captain's daughter.
Diana felt so much compassion for herself, that she had none left to
bestow upon other people. Her father's victims might be miserable, but
was not she infinitely more wretched? The landlady who found her
apartments suddenly tenantless and her rent unpaid might complain of
the hardness of her fortune; but was it not harder for Diana, with the
sensitive feelings and keen pride of the Pagets, to endure all the
degradation involved in the stealthy carrying away of luggage and a
secret departure under cover of night?
At first Miss Paget had been inclined to feel aggrieved by the presence
of the young man whom she had seen writing letters in the gloomy dusk
of the November afternoon; but in due time she came to accept him as a
companion, and to feel that her joyless life would have been drearier
without him. He was the secretary of the Friendly and Philanthropic
Loan Society, and of any other society organised by the Captain. He was
Captain Paget's amanuensis and representative--Captain Paget's tool,
but not Captain Paget's dupe; for Valentine Hawkehurst was not of that
stuff of which dupes are made.
The man who lives by his wits has need of a faithful friend and
follower. The chief of the vultures must not be approached too easily.
There must be a preparatory ordeal, an outer chamber to be passed,
before the victim is introduced to the sanctuary which is irradiated by
the silver veil of the prophet. Captain Paget found an able coadjutor
in Valentine Hawkehurst, who answered one of those tempting
advertisements in which A. B.C. or X. Y. Z. was wont to offer a salary
of three hundred a year to any gentlemanly person capable of performing
the duties of secretary to a newly-established company. It was only
after responding to this promising offer that the applicant was
informed that he must possess one indispensable qualification in the
shape of a capital of five hundred pounds. Mr Hawkehurst laughed aloud
when the Captain imparted this condition with that suave and yet
dignified manner which was peculiar to him.
"I ought to have known it was a dodge of that kind," said the young man
coolly. "Those very good things--duties light and easy, hours from
twelve till four, speedy advancement certain for a conscientious and
gentlemanly person, and so on--are always of the genus _do_. Your
advertisement is very cleverly worded, my dear sir; only it's like the
rest of them, rather _too_ clever. It is so difficult for a clever man
not to be too clever. The prevailing weakness of the human intellect
seems to me to be exaggeration. However, as I haven't a five-pound note
in the world, or the chance of getting one, I'll wish you good morning,
There are people whose blood would have been turned to ice by the stony
glare of indignation with which Horatio Paget regarded the man who had
dared to question his probity. But Mr. Hawkehurst had done with strong
impressions long before he met the Captain; and he listened to that
gentleman's freezing reproof with an admiring smile. Out of this very
unpromising beginning there arose a kind of friendship between the two
men. Horatio Paget had for some time been in need of a clever tool; and
in the young man whose cool insolence rose superior to his own dignity
he perceived the very individual whom he had long been seeking. The
young man who was unabashed by the indignation of a scion of Nugents
and Cromies and Pagets must be utterly impervious to the sense of awe;
and it was just such an impervious young man that the Captain wanted as
his coadjutor. Thus arose the alliance, which grew stronger every day,
until Valentine took up his abode under the roof of his employer and
patron, and made himself more thoroughly at home there than the
unwelcome daughter of the house.
The history of Valentine Hawkehurst's past existence was tolerably well
known to the Captain; but the only history of the young man's early
life ever heard by Diana was rather vague and fragmentary. She
discovered, little by little, that he was the son of a spendthrift
_litterateur_, who had passed the greater part of his career within the
rules of the King's Bench; that he had run away from home at the age of
fifteen, and had tried his fortune in all those professions which
require no educational ordeal, and which seem to offer themselves
invitingly to the scapegrace and adventurer. At fifteen Valentine
Hawkehurst had been errand-boy in a newspaper office; at seventeen a
penny-a-liner, whose flimsy was pretty sure of admission in the
lower class of Sunday papers. In the course of a very brief career
he had been a provincial actor, a _manege_ rider in a circus, a
billiard-marker, and a betting agent. It was after having exhausted
these liberal professions that he encountered Captain Paget.
Such was the man whom Horatio Paget admitted to companionship with his
only daughter. It can scarcely be pleaded in excuse for the Captain
that he might have admitted a worse man than Valentine Hawkehurst to
his family circle, for the Captain had never taken the trouble to sound
the depths of his coadjutor's nature. There is nothing so short-sighted
as selfishness; and beyond the narrow circle immediately surrounding
himself, there was no man more blind than Horatio Paget.
* * * * *
It was dusk when Diana grew tired of the lonely pathways among the
hills, where the harmonies of a band stationed in the valley were
wafted in gusts of music by the fitful summer breeze. The loneliness of
the place soothed the girl's feverish spirits; and, seated in a little
classic temple upon the summit of a hill, she looked pensively downward
through the purple mists at the newly-lighted lamps twinkling faintly
in the valley.
"One does not feel the sting of one's shabbiness here," thought Miss
Paget: "the trees are all dressed alike. Nature makes no distinction.
It is only Fortune who treats her children unfairly."
The Captain's daughter walked slowly back to the little town in the
deepening dusk. The lodging occupied by Horatio Paget and his household
consisted of four roomy chambers on the second story of a big rambling
house. The rooms were meanly furnished, and decorated with the tawdry
ornamentation dear to the continental mind; but there were long wide
windows and an iron balcony, on which Diana Paget was often pleased to
She found the sitting-room dark and empty. No dinner had been prepared;
for on lucky days the Captain and his _protege_ were wont to dine at
the _table d'hote_ of one of the hotels, or to feast sumptuously _a la
carte_, while on unlucky days they did not dine at all. Diana found a
roll and some cream cheese in a roomy old cupboard that was flavoured
with mice; and after making a very indifferent meal in the dusky
chamber, she went out upon the balcony, and sat there looking down upon
the lighted town.
She had been sitting there for nearly an hour in the same attitude,
when the door of the sitting-room was opened, and a footstep sounded
behind her. She knew the step; and although she did not lift her head,
her eyes took a new brightness in the summer dusk, and the listless
grace of her attitude changed to a statuesque rigidity, though there
was no change in the attitude itself.
She did not stir till a hand was laid softly on her shoulder, and a
The speaker was Valentine Hawkehurst, the young man whose entrance to
the golden temple had been so closely watched by Captain Paget's
She rose as he spoke, and turned to him. "You have been losing, I
suppose, Mr. Hawkehurst," she said, "or you would not have come home?"
"I am compelled to admit that you are right in your premise, Miss
Paget, and your deduction is scarcely worth discussion. I _have_ been
losing--confoundedly; and as they don't give credit at the board of
green cloth yonder, there was no excuse for my staying. Your father has
not been holding his own within the last hour or two; but when I left
the rooms he was going to the Hotel d'Orange with some French fellows
for a quiet game of _ecarte_. Our friend the Captain is a great card,
Miss Paget, and has a delightful talent for picking up distinguished
There are few daughters who would have cared to hear a father spoken of
in this free-and-easy manner; but Diana Paget was quite unmoved. She
had resumed her old attitude, and sat looking towards the lighted
windows of the Kursaal, while Mr. Hawkehurst lounged against the angle
of the window with his hands in his pockets and a cigar in his mouth.
For three years Valentine Hawkehurst had lived in constant
companionship with the Captain's daughter; and in that time his manner
to her had undergone considerable variation. Of late it had been
something in the manner of an elder brother, whose fraternal breast is
impervious to the influence of a sister's loveliness or a sister's
fascination. If Diana Paget had been a snub-nosed young person with red
hair and white eyelashes, Mr. Hawkehurst could scarcely have treated
her with a more friendly indifference, a more brotherly familiarity.
Unhappily this line of conduct, which is perhaps the wisest and most
honourable plan that a man can pursue when he finds himself thrown into
a dangerously familiar association with a beautiful and unprotected
woman, is the very line of proceeding which a beautiful woman can never
bring herself to forgive. A chivalrous stiffness, a melancholy dignity,
a frozen frigidity, which suggest the fiery bubbling of the lava flood
beneath the icy surface,--these are delightful to the female mind. But
friendly indifference and fraternal cordiality constitute the worst
insult that can be offered to her beauty, the most bitter outrage upon
the majesty of her sex.
"I suppose it will be midnight before papa comes home, Mr. Hawkehurst,"
Diana said abruptly, when her companion had finished his cigar, and had
thrown the end of it over the balcony.
"Past midnight more likely, Miss Paget. May I ask how I have become Mr.
Hawkehurst all of a sudden, when for the last three years I have been
usually known as Valentine--or Val?"
The girl turned her head with a gesture in which the carelessness of
his own manner was imitated. She stole a rapid look at him as she
answered, "What does it matter whether I call you by one name or
"What does anything matter? I believe Mr. Toots was an unconscious
philosopher. There is nothing in the world of any consequence, except
money. Go and look at those poor devils yonder, and you will see what
that is worth," he cried, pointing to the lighted Kursaal; "there you
behold the one great truth of the universe in action. There is nothing
but money, and men are the slaves of money, and life is only another
name for the pursuit of money. Go and look at beauty yonder fading in
the light and heat; at youth that changes to age before your eyes; at
friendship which turns to hate when the chances of the game are with my
friend and against me. The Kursaal is the world in little, Diana; and
this great globe of ours is nothing but a gigantic gaming-table--a
mighty temple for the worship of the golden calf."
"Why do you imitate those people yonder, if you despise them so
"Because I am like them and of them. I tell you that money is the
beginning and end of all things. Why am I here, and why is my life made
up of baseness and lies? Because my father was an improvident
scoundrel, and did not leave me five hundred a year. I wonder what I
should have been like, by the bye, if I had been blest with five
hundred a year?"
"Honest and happy," answered the girl earnestly. She forgot her
simulated indifference, and looked at him with sad earnest eyes. He met
the glance, and the expression of his own face changed from its cynical
smile to a thoughtful sadness.
"Honest perhaps; and yet I almost doubt if anything under five thousand
a year would have kept me honest. Decidedly not happy; the men who can
be happy on five hundred a year are made of a duller stuff than the
clay which serves for a Hawkehurst."
"You talk about not being happy with five hundred a year!" Diana
exclaimed impatiently. "Surely any decent existence would be happiness
to you compared to the miserable life you lead,--the shameful, degraded
life which shuts you out of the society of respectable people and
reduces you to the level of a thief. If you had any pride, Valentine,
you would feel it as bitterly as I do."
"But I haven't any pride. As for my life,--well, I suppose it is
shameful and degraded, and I know that it's often miserable; but it
suits me better than jog-trot respectability, I can dine one day on
truffled turkey and champagne, another day upon bread and cheese and
small beer; but I couldn't eat beef and mutton always. That's what
kills people of my temperament. There are born scamps in the world,
Diana, and I am one of them. My name is Robert Macaire, and I was
created for the life I lead. Keep clear of me if you have any hankering
after better things; but don't try to change my nature, for it is
"Valentine, it is so cruel of you to talk like that."
"Cruel to whom?"
"To--those--who care for you."
It was quite dark now; but even in the darkness Diana Paget's head
drooped a little as she said this. Mr. Hawkehurst laughed aloud.
"Those who care for me!" he cried; "no such people ever lived. My
father was a drunken scoundrel, who suffered his children to grow up
about him as he would have suffered a litter of puppies to sprawl upon
his hearth, only because there was less trouble in letting them lie
there than in kicking them out. My mother was a good woman in the
beginning, I know; but she must have been something more than a mortal
woman if she had not lost some of her goodness in twelve years of such
a life as she led with my father. I believe she was fond of me, poor
soul; but she died six months before I ran away from a lodging in the
Rules, which it is the bitterest irony to speak of as my home. Since
then I have been Robert Macaire, and have about as many friends as such
a man usually has."
"You can scarcely wonder if you have few friends," said Miss Paget,
"since there is no one in the world whom you love."
She watched him through the darkness after saying this, watched him
closely, though it was too dark for her to see the expression of his
face, and any emotion to which her words might have given rise could be
betrayed only by some gesture or change of attitude. She watched him in
vain, for he did not stir. But after a pause of some minutes he said
"Such a man as I cannot afford to love any one. What have I to offer to
the woman I might pretend to love? Truth, or honour, or honesty, or
constancy? Those are commodities I have never dealt in. If I know what
they are, and that I have never possessed them, it is about as much as
I do know of them. If I have any redeeming grace, Diana Paget, it lies
in the fact that I know what a worthless wretch I am. Your father
thinks he is a great man, a noble suffering creature, and that the
world has ill-used him. I know that I am a scoundrel, and that let my
fellow-men treat me as badly as they please, they can never give me
worse usage than I deserve. And am I a man to talk about love, or to
ask a woman to share my life? Good God, what a noble partner I should
offer her! what a happy existence I could assure her!"
"But if the woman loved you, she would only love you better for being
"Yes, if she was very young and foolish and romantic. But don't you
think I should be a villain if I traded on her girlish folly? She would
love me for a year or two perhaps, and bear all the changes of my
temper; but the day would come when she would awake from her delusion,
and know that she had been cheated. She would see other women--less
gifted than herself, probably--and would see the market they had made
of their charms; would see them rich and honoured and happy, and would
stand aside in the muddy streets to be splashed by the dirt from their
carriage-wheels. And then she would consider the price for which she
had bartered her youth and her beauty, and would hate the man who had
cheated her. No, Diana, I am not such a villain as the world may think
me. I am down in the dirt myself, and I'm used to it. I won't drag a
woman into the gutter just because I may happen to love her."
There was a long silence after this--a silence during which Diana Paget
sat looking down at the twinkling lights of the Kursaal. Valentine
lighted a second cigar and smoked it out, still in silence. The clocks
struck eleven as he threw the end of his cigar away; a tiny, luminous
speck, which shot through the misty atmosphere below the balcony like a
"I may as well go and see how your father is getting on yonder," he
said, as the spark of light vanished in the darkness below. "Good
night, Diana. Don't sit too long in the cold night air; and don't sit
up for your father--there's no knowing when he may be home."
The girl did not answer him. She listened to the shutting of the door
as it closed behind him, and then folded her arms upon the iron rail of
the balcony, laid her head upon them, and wept silently. Her life was
very dreary, and it seemed to her as if the last hope which had
sustained her against an unnatural despair had been taken away from her
Twelve o'clock sounded with a feeble little _carillon_ from one of the
steeples, and still she sat with her head resting upon her folded arms.
Her eyes were quite dry by this time, for with her tears were very
rare, and the passion which occasioned them must needs be intense. The
night air grew chill and damp; but although she shivered now and then
beneath that creeping, penetrating cold which is peculiar to night air,
she did not stir from her place in the balcony till she was startled by
the opening of the door in the room behind her.
All was dark within, but Diana Paget was very familiar with the
footstep that sounded on the carpetless floor. It was Valentine
Hawkehurst, and not her father, whose step her quick ear distinguished.
"Diana," he called; and then he muttered in a tone of surprise, "all
dark still. Ah! she has gone to bed, I suppose. That's a pity!" The
figure in the balcony caught his eye at this moment.
"What in goodness' name has kept you out there all this time?" he
asked; "do you want to catch your death of cold?"
He was standing by the mantelpiece lighting a candle as he asked this
unceremonious question. The light of the candle shone full upon his
face when Diana came into the room, and she could see that he was paler
"Is there anything the matter?" she asked anxiously.
"Yes; there is a great deal the matter. You will have to leave
Foretdechene by the earliest train to-morrow morning, on the first
stage of your journey to England. Look here, my girl! I can give you
just about the money that will carry you safely to London; and when you
are once there, Providence must do the rest."
"Valentine, what do you mean?"
"I mean, that you cannot get away from this place--you cannot dissever
yourself from the people you have been living with, too soon. Come,
come, don't shiver, child. Take a few drops of this cognac, and let me
see the colour come back to your face before I say any more."
He poured the dregs of a bottle of brandy into a glass, and made her
drink the spirit. He was obliged to force the rim of the glass between
her set teeth before he could succeed in this.
"Come, Diana," he said, after she had drunk, "you have been a pupil in
the school of adversity so long, that you ought to be able to take
misfortunes pretty quietly. There's a balance struck, somehow or other,
depend upon it, my girl; and the prosperous people who pay their debts
have to suffer, as well as the Macaire family. I'm a scamp and a
scoundrel, but I'm your true friend nevertheless, Diana; and you must
promise to take my advice. Tell me that you will trust me."
"I have no one else to trust."
"No one else in this place. But in England you have your old friend,--
the woman with whom you were at school. Do you think she would refuse
to give you a temporary home if you sued to her _in forma pauperis?_"
"No, I don't think she would refuse. She was very good to me. But why
am I to go back to London?"
"Because to stay here would be ruin and disgrace to you; because the
tie that links you to Horatio Paget must be cut at any hazard." "But
"For the best or worst of reasons. Your father has been trying a trick
to-night which has been hitherto so infallible, that I suppose he had
grown careless as to his execution of it. Or perhaps he took a false
measure of the man he was playing with. In any case, he has been found
out, and has been arrested by the police."
"Arrested, for cheating at cards!" exclaimed the girl, with a look of
unspeakable disgust and horror. Valentine's arm was ready to support
her, if she had shown any symptom of fainting; but she did not. She
stood erect before him, very pale but firm as a rock.
"And you want me to go away?" she said.
"Yes, I want you to disappear from this place before you become
notorious as your father's daughter. That would be about the worst
reputation which you could carry through life. Believe me that I wish
you well, Diana, and be ruled by me."
"I will," she answered, with a kind of despairing resignation. "It
seems very dreary to go back to England to face the world all alone.
But I will do as you tell me."
She did not express any sympathy for her father, then languishing under
arrest, whereby she proved herself very wicked and unwomanly, no doubt.
But neither womanly virtues nor Christian graces are wont to flourish
in the school in which Diana Paget had been reared. She obeyed
Valentine Hawkehurst to the letter, without any sentimental
lamentations whatever. Her scanty possessions were collected, and
neatly packed, in little more than an hour. At three o'clock she lay
down in her tawdry little bed-chamber to take what rest she might in
the space of two hours. At six she stood by Valentine Hawkehurst on the
platform of the railway station, with her face hidden by a brown gauze
veil, waiting till the train was wade ready to start.
It was after she was seated in the carriage that she spoke for the
first time of her father.
"Is it likely to go very hard with him?" she asked.
"I hope not. We must try to pull him through it as well as we can. The
charge may break down at the first examination. Good bye."
"Good bye, Valentine."
They had just time to shake hands before the train moved off. Another
moment and Miss Paget and her fellow-passengers were speeding towards
Mr. Hawkehurst drew his hat over his eyes as he walked away from the
"The world will seem very dull and empty to me without her," he said to
himself. "I have done an unselfish thing for once in my life. I wonder
whether the recording angel will carry that up to my credit, and
whether the other fellow will blot out any of the old score in
consideration of this one little bit of self-sacrifice."
BOOK THE THIRD.
HEAPING UP RICHES.
A FORTUNATE MARRIAGE.
Eleven years had passed lightly enough over the glossy raven locks of
Mr. Philip Sheldon. There are some men with whom Time deals gently, and
he was one of them. The hard black eyes had lost none of their fierce
brightness; the white teeth flashed with all their old brilliancy; the
complexion, which had always been dusky of hue, was perhaps a shade or
two darker; and the fierce black eyes seemed all the blacker by reason
of the purple tinge beneath them. But the Philip Sheldon of to-day was,
taken altogether, a handsomer man than the Philip Sheldon of eleven
Within those eleven years the Bloomsbury dentist had acquired a higher
style of dress and bearing, and a certain improvement of tone and
manner. He was still an eminently respectable man, and a man whose
chief claim to the esteem of his fellows lay in the fact of his
unimpeachable respectability; but his respectability of to-day, as
compared with that of eleven years before, was as the respectability of
Tyburnia when contrasted with that of St. Pancras. He was not an
aristocratic-looking man, or an elegant man; but you felt, as you
contemplated him, that the bulwarks of the citadel of English
respectability are defended by such as he.
Mr. Sheldon no longer experimentalised with lumps of beeswax and
plaster-of-paris. All the appalling paraphernalia of his cruel art had
long since been handed over to an aspiring young dentist, together
with the respectable house in Fitzgeorge-street, the furniture,
and--the connexion. And thus had ended Philip Sheldon's career as a
surgeon-dentist. Within a year of Tom Halliday's death his disconsolate
widow had given her hand to her first sweetheart, not forgetful of her
dead husband or ungrateful for much kindness and affection experienced
at his hands, but yielding rather to Philip's suit because she was
unable to advance any fair show of reason whereby she might reject him.
"I told you, she'd be afraid to refuse you," said George Sheldon, when
the dentist came home from Barlingford, where Tom Halliday's widow was
living with her mother.
Philip had answered his brother's questions rather ambiguously at
first, but in the end had been fain to confess that he had asked Mrs.
Halliday to marry him, and that his suit had prospered.
"That way of putting it is not very complimentary to me," he said,
drawing himself up rather stiffly. "Georgy and I were attached to each
other long ago, and it is scarcely strange if----"
"If you should make a match of it, Tom being gone. Poor old Tom! He and
I were such cronies. I've always had an idea that neither you nor the
other fellow quite understood that low fever of his. You did your best,
no doubt; but I think you ought to have pulled him through somehow.
However, that's not a pleasant subject to talk of just now; so I'll
drop it, and wish you joy, Phil. It'll be rather a good match for you,
I fancy," added George, contemplating his brother with a nervous
twitching of his lips, which suggested that his mouth watered as he
thought of Philip's good fortune.
"It's a very nice thing you drop into, old fellow, isn't it?" he asked
presently, seeing that his brother was rather disinclined to discuss
"You know the state of my affairs well enough to be sure that I
couldn't afford to marry a poor woman," answered Philip.
"And that it has been for a long time a vital necessity with you to
marry a rich one," interjected his brother.
"Georgy will have a few hundreds, and----"
"A few thousands, you mean, Phil," cried Sheldon the younger with
agreeable briskness; "shall I tot it up for you?"
He was always eager to "tot" things up, and would scarcely have shrunk
from setting down the stars of heaven in trim double columns of
figures, had it seemed to his profit to do so.
"Let us put it in figures, Phil," he said, getting his finger-tips in
order for the fray. "There's the money for Hyley Farm--twelve thousand
three hundred and fifty, I had it from poor Tom's own lips. Then
there's that little property on Sheepfield Common--say seven-fifty,
eh?--well, say seven hundred, if you like to leave a margin; and then
there are the insurances--three thou' in the Alliance, fifteen hundred
in the Phoenix, five hundred in the Suffolk Friendly; the total of
which, my dear boy, is eighteen thousand five hundred pounds; and a
very nice thing for you to drop into, just as affairs were looking
about as black as they could look." "Yes," answered Mr. Sheldon the
elder, who appeared by on means to relish this "totting-up" of his
future wife's fortune; "I have no doubt I ought to consider myself a
very lucky man."
"So Barlingford folks will say when they hear of the business. And now
I hope you're not going to forget your promise to me."
"That if you ever did get a stroke of luck, I should have a share of
Mr. Sheldon caressed his chin, and looked thoughtfully at the fire.
"If my wife lets me have the handling of any of her money, you may
depend upon it I'll do what I can for you," he said, after a pause.
"Don't say that, Phil," remonstrated George. "When a man says he'll do