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Birds of Prey by M.E. Braddon

Part 3 out of 9

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what he can for you, it's a sure sign he means to do nothing.
Friendship and brotherly feeling are at an end when it comes to a
question of 'ifs' and 'cans.' If your wife lets you have the handling
of any of her money!" cried the lawyer, with unspeakable derision;
"that's too good a joke for you to indulge in with me. Do you think I
believe you will let that poor little woman keep custody of her money a
day after she is your wife, or that you will let her friends tie it up
for her before she marries you?"

No, Phil, you didn't lay your plans for that."

"What do you mean by my laying plans?" asked the dentist.

"That's a point we won't discuss, Philip," answered the lawyer coolly.
"You and I understand each other very well without entering into
unpleasant details. You promised me a year ago--before Tom Halliday's
death--that if you ever came into a good thing, I should share in it.
You have come into an uncommonly good thing, and I shall expect you to
keep your promise."

"Who says I am going to break it?" demanded Philip Sheldon with an
injured air. "You shouldn't be in such a hurry to cry out, George. You
take the tone of a social Dick Turpin, and might as well hold a pistol
to my head while you're about it. Don't alarm yourself. I have told you
I will do what I can for you. I cannot, and I shall not, say more."

The two men looked at each other. They were in the habit of taking the
measure of all creation in their own eminently practical way, and each
took the other's measure now. After having done which, they parted with
all cordial expressions of good-will and brotherly feeling. George went
back to his dusty chambers in Gray's Inn, and Philip prepared for his
return to Barlingford and his marriage with Georgina Halliday.

For ten years Georgy had been Philip Sheldon's wife, and she had found
no reason to complain of her second choice. The current of her life had
flowed smoothly enough since her first lover had become her husband.
She still wore moire-antique dresses and gold chains; and if the
dresses were of more simple fashion, and the chains were less
obtrusively displayed, she had to thank Mr. Sheldon for the refinement
in her taste. Her views of life in general had expanded under Mr.
Sheldon's influence. She no longer thought a high-wheeled dog-cart and
a skittish mare the acme of earthly splendour; for she had a carriage
and pair at her service, and a smart little page-boy to leap off the
box in attendance on her when she paid visits or went shopping. Instead
of the big comfortable old-fashioned farmhouse at Hyley, with its
mysterious passages and impenetrable obscurities in the way of
cupboards, she occupied an intensely new detached villa in Bayswater,
in which the eye that might chance to grow weary of sunshine and
glitter would have sought in vain for a dark corner wherein to repose

Mr. Sheldon's fortunes had prospered since his marriage with his
friend's widow. For a man of his practical mind and energetic
temperament, eighteen thousand pounds was a strong starting-point. His
first step was to clear off all old engagements with Jews and Gentiles,
and to turn his back on the respectable house in Fitzgeorge-street. The
earlier months of his married life he devoted to a pleasant tour on the
Continent; not wasting time in picturesque by-ways, or dawdling among
inaccessible mountains, or mooning about drowsy old cathedrals, where
there were pictures with curtains hanging before them, and prowling
vergers who expected money for drawing aside the curtains; but rattling
at the highest continental speed from one big commercial city to
another, and rubbing off the rust of Bloomsbury in the exchanges and on
the quays of the busiest places in Europe. The time which Mr. Sheldon
forbore to squander in shadowy gothic aisles and under the shelter of
Alpine heights, he accounted well bestowed in crowded cafes, and at the
public tables of noted hotels, where commercial men were wont to
congregate; and as Georgy had no aspirings for the sublimity of Vandyke
and Raphael, or the gigantic splendours of Alpine scenery, she was very
well pleased to see continental life with the eyes of Philip Sheldon.
How could a half-educated little woman, whose worldly experience was
bounded by the suburbs of Barlingford, be otherwise than delighted by
the glare and glitter of foreign cities? Georgy was childishly
enraptured with everything she saw, from the sham diamonds and rubies
of the Palais Royal, to the fantastical bonbons of Berlin.

Her husband was very kind to her--after his own particular fashion,
which was very different from blustering Tom Halliday's weak
indulgence. He allotted and regulated her life to suit his own
convenience, it is true; but he bought her handsome dresses, and took
her with him in hired carriages when he drove about the strange cities.
He was apt to leave Georgy and the hired carriage at the corner of some
street, or before the door of some cafe, for an hour at a time, in the
course of his peregrinations; but she speedily became accustomed to
this, and provided herself with the Tauchnitz edition of a novel,
wherewith to beguile the tedium of these intervals in the day's
amusement. If Tom Halliday had left her for an hour at a street-corner,
or before the door of a cafe, she would have tortured herself and him
by all manner of jealous suspicions and vague imaginings. But there was
a stern gravity in Mr. Sheldon's character which precluded the
possibility of any such shadowy fancies. Every action of his life
seemed to involve such serious motives, the whole tenor of his
existence was so orderly and business-like, that his wife was fain to
submit to him, as she would have submitted to some ponderous infallible
machine, some monster of modern ingenuity and steam power, which cut
asunder so many bars of iron, or punched holes in so many paving-stones
in a given number of seconds, and was likely to go on dividing iron or
piercing paving-stones for ever and ever.

She obeyed him, and was content to fashion her life according to his
will, chiefly because she had a vague consciousness that to argue with
him, or to seek to influence him, would be to attempt the impossible.
Perhaps there was something more than this in her mind--some
half-consciousness that there was a shapeless and invertebrate
skeleton lurking in the shadowy background of her new life, a dusky
and impalpable creature which it would not be well for her to examine
or understand. She was a cowardly little woman, and finding herself
tolerably happy in the present, she did not care to pierce the veil of
the future, or to cast anxious glances backward to the past. She
thought it just possible that there might be people in the world base
enough to hint that Philip Sheldon had married her for love of her
eighteen thousand pounds, rather than from pure devotion to herself.
She knew that certain prudent friends and kindred in Barlingford had
elevated their hands and eyebrows in speechless horror when they
discovered that she had married her second husband without a
settlement; while one grim and elderly uncle had asked her whether she
did not expect her father to turn in his grave by reason of her folly.

Georgy had shrugged her shoulders peevishly when her Barlingford
friends remonstrated with her, and had declared that people were very
cruel to her, and that it was a hard thing she could not choose for
herself for once in her life. As to the settlements that people talked
of, she protested indignantly that she was not so mean as to fancy her
future husband a thief, and that to tie up her money in all sorts of
ways would be to imply as much. And then, as it was only a year since
poor dear Tom's death, she had been anxious to marry without fuss or
parade. In fact, there were a hundred reasons against legal
interference, and legal tying-up of the money, with all that dreadful
jargon about "whereas," and "hereinafter," and "provided always," and
"nothing herein contained," which seems to hedge round a sum of money
so closely, that it is doubtful whether the actual owner will ever be
free to spend a sixpence of it after the execution of that formidable
document intended to protect it from possible marauders.

George Sheldon had said something very near the truth when he had told
Philip that Mrs. Halliday would be afraid to refuse him. The
fair-haired, fair-faced little woman did in some manner fear the first
lover of her girlhood. She had become his wife, and so far all things
had gone well with her; but if misery and despair had been the necessary
consequences of her union with him, she must have married him all the
same, so dominant was the influence by which he ruled her. Of course
Georgy was not herself aware of her own dependence. She accepted all
things as they were presented to her by a stronger mind than her own.
She wore her handsome silk dresses, and was especially particular as to
the adjustment of her bonnet-strings, knowing that the smallest
impropriety of attire was obnoxious to the well-ordered mind of her
second husband. She obeyed him very much as a child obeys a strict but
not unkind schoolmaster. When he took her to a theatre or a racecourse,
she sat by his side meekly, and felt like a child who has been good and
is reaping the reward of goodness. And this state of things was in
nowise disagreeable to her. She was perhaps quite as happy as it was in
her nature to be; for she had no exalted capacity for happiness or
misery. She felt that it was pleasant to have a handsome man, whose
costume was always irreproachable, for her husband. Her only notion of
a bad husband was a man who stayed out late, and came home under the
influence of strong liquors consumed in unknown localities and amongst
unknown people. So, as Mr. Sheldon rarely went out after dinner, and
was on all occasions the most temperate of men, she naturally
considered her second husband the very model of conjugal perfection.
Thus it was that domestic life had passed smoothly enough for Mr.
Sheldon and his wife during the ten years which had elapsed since their

As to the eighteen thousand pounds which she had brought Philip
Sheldon, Georgy asked no questions. She knew that she enjoyed luxuries
and splendours which had never been hers in Tom Halliday's lifetime,
and she was content to accept the goods which her second husband
provided. Mr. Sheldon had become a stockbroker, and occupied an office
in some dusky court within a few hundred yards of the Stock Exchange.
He had, according to his own account, trebled Georgy's thousands since
they had been in his hands. How the unsuccessful surgeon-dentist had
blossomed all at once into a fortunate speculator was a problem too
profound for Georgy's consideration. She knew that her husband had
allied himself to a certain established firm of stockbrokers, and that
the alliance had cost him some thousands of Tom Halliday's money. She
had heard of preliminary steps to be taken to secure his admission as a
member of some mysterious confraternity vaguely spoken of as "the
House;" and she knew that Tom Halliday's thousands had been the seed
from which had sprung other thousands, and that her husband had been
altogether triumphant and successful.

It may be that it is easier to rig the market than to induce a given
number of people to resort to a certain dull street in Bloomsbury for
the purpose of having teeth extracted by an unknown practitioner. It is
possible that the stockbroker is like the poet, a creature who is born,
and not made; a gifted and inspired being, not to be perfected by any
specific education; a child of spontaneous instincts and untutored
faculties. Certain it is that the divine afflatus from the nostrils of
the god Plutus seemed to have descended upon Philip Sheldon; for he had
entered the Stock Exchange an inexperienced stranger, and he held his
place there amongst men whose boyhood had been spent in the offices of
Capel-court, and whose youthful strength had been nourished in the
chop-houses of Pinch-lane and Thread-needle-street.

Mrs. Sheldon was satisfied with the general knowledge that Mr. Sheldon
had been fortunate, and had never sought any more precise knowledge of
her husband's affairs. Nor did she seek such knowledge even now, when
her daughter was approaching womanhood, and might ere long need some
dower out of her mother's fortune. Poor Tom, trusting implicitly in the
wife he loved, and making his will only as a precautionary measure, at
a time when he seemed good for fifty years of life and strength, had
not troubled himself about remote contingencies, and had in no wise
foreseen the probability of a second husband for Georgy and-a
stepfather for his child.

Two children had been born to Mr. Sheldon since his marriage, and both
had died in infancy. The loss of these children had fallen very heavily
on the strong hard man, though he had never shed a tear or uttered a
lamentation, or wasted an hour of his business-like existence by reason
of his sorrow. Georgy had just sufficient penetration to perceive that
her husband was bitterly disappointed when no more baby-strangers came
to replace those poor frail little lives which had withered away and
vanished in spite of his anxiety to hold them.

"It seems as if there was a blight upon _my_ children," he once said
bitterly; and this was the only occasion on which his wife heard him
complain of his evil fortune.

But one day, when he had been particularly lucky in some speculation,
when he had succeeded in achieving what his brother George spoke of as
the "biggest line he had ever done," Philip Sheldon came home to the
Bayswater villa in a particularly bad humour, and for the first time
since her marriage Georgy heard him quote a line of Scripture.

"Heaping up riches," he muttered, as he paced up and down the room;
"heaping up riches, and ye cannot tell who shall gather them."

His wife knew then that he was thinking of his children During the
brief lives of those two fragile boy-babies the stockbroker had been
wont to talk much of future successes in the way of money-making to be
achieved by him for the enrichment and exaltation of these children.
They were gone now, and no more came to replace them. And though Philip
Sheldon still devoted himself to the sublime art of money-making, and
still took delight in successful time-bargains and all the scientific
combinations of the money-market, the salt of life had lost something
of its savour, and the chink of gold had lost somewhat of its music.



The little villa at Bayswater was looking its brightest on a
resplendent midsummer afternoon, one year after Diana Paget's hurried
hegira from Foretdechene. If the poor dentist's house in dingy
Bloomsbury had been fresh and brilliant of aspect, how much more
brilliant was the western home of the rich stockbroker, whose gate was
within five minutes' walk of that aristocratic Eden, Kensington
Gardens! Mr. Sheldon's small domain was called The Lawn, and consisted
of something over half an acre of flower-garden and shrubbery, a
two-stall stable and coach-house, a conservatory and fernery, and a
moderate-sized house in the gothic or mediaeval style, with mullioned
windows in the dining-room and oriels in the best bedroom, and with a
great deal of unnecessary stone-work and wooden excrescence in every

The interior of Mr. Sheldon's dwelling bore no trace of that solid
old-fashioned clumsiness which had distinguished his house in
Fitzgeorge-street. Having surrendered his ancestral chairs and tables
in liquidation of his liabilities, Philip Sheldon was free to go with
the times, and had furnished his gothic villa in the most approved
modern style, but without any attempt at artistic grace or adornment.
All was bright, and handsome, and neat, and trim; but the brightness and
the neatness savoured just a little of furnished apartments at the
seaside, and the eye sought in vain for the graceful disorder of an
elegant home. The dining-room was gorgeous with all the splendour of new
mahogany and crimson morocco; the drawing-room was glorified by big
looking-glasses, and the virginal freshness of gilt frames on which the
feet of agile house-fly or clumsy blue-bottle had never rested. The
crimsons, and blues, and greens, and drabs of the Brussels carpets
retained the vivid brightness of the loom. The drops of the chandeliers
twinkled like little stars in the sunshine; the brass birdcages were
undimmed by any shadow of dulness. To Georgy's mind the gothic villa
was the very perfection of a dwelling-place. The Barlingford
housekeepers were wont to render their homes intolerable by extreme
neatness. Georgy still believed in the infallibility of her native
town, and the primness of Barlingford reigned supreme in the gothic
villa. There were no books scattered on the polished walnut-wood tables
in the drawing-room, no cabinets crammed with scraps of old china, no
pictures, no queer old Indian feather-screens, no marvels of Chinese
carving in discoloured ivory; none of those traces which the footsteps
of the "collector" leave behind him. Mr. Sheldon had no leisure for
collecting; and Georgy preferred the gaudy pink-and-blue vases of a
Regent-street china-shop to all the dingy _chefs-d'oeuvre_ of a
Wedgwood, or the quaint shepherds and shepherdesses of Chelsea. As for
books, were there not four or five resplendent volumes primly disposed
on one of the tables; an illustrated edition of Cowper's lively and
thrilling poems; a volume of Rambles in Scotland, with copper-plate
engravings of "Melrose by night," and Glasgow Cathedral, and Ben Nevis,
and other scenic and architectural glories of North Britain; a couple
of volumes of _Punch_, and an illustrated "Vicar of Wakefield;" and
what more could elevated taste demand in the way of literature? Nobody
ever read the books; but Mrs. Sheldon's visitors were sometimes glad to
take refuge in the Scottish scenery and the pictorial Vicar during that
interval of dulness and indigestion which succeeds a middle-class
dinner. Georgy read a great many books; but they were all novels,
procured from the Bayswater branch of a fashionable circulating
library, and were condemned unread by Mr. Sheldon, who considered all
works of fiction perfectly equal in demerit, and stigmatised them, in a
general way, as "senseless trash." He had tried to read novels in the
dreary days of his Bloomsbury probation; but he had found that the
heroes of them were impracticable beings, who were always talking of
honour and chivalry, and always sacrificing their own interests in an
utterly preposterous manner; and he had thrown aside story after story
in disgust.

"Give me a book that is something like life, and I'll read it," he
exclaimed impatiently; "but I can't swallow the high-flown prosings of
impossibly virtuous inanities."

One day, indeed, he had been struck by the power of a book, a book
written by a certain Frenchman called Balzac. He had been riveted by
the hideous cynicism, the supreme power of penetration into the vilest
corners of wicked hearts; and he flung the book from him at last with
an expression of unmitigated admiration.

"That man knows his fellows," he cried, "and is not hypocrite enough
to conceal his knowledge, or to trick out his puppets in the tinsel and
rags of false sentiment in order that critics and public may cry, 'See,
what noble instincts, what generous impulses, what unbounded sympathy
for his fellow-creatures this man has!' This Frenchman is an artist,
and is not afraid to face the difficulties of his art. What a scoundrel
this Philippe Bridau is! And after wallowing in the gutter, he lives to
bespatter his virtuous brother with the mire from his carriage wheels.
That is _real_ life. Tour English novelist would have made his villain
hang himself with the string of his waistcoat in a condemned cell,
while his amiable hero was declared heir to a dukedom and forty
thousand a year. But this fellow Balzac knows better than that."

The days had passed when Mr. Sheldon had leisure to read Balzac. He
read nothing but the newspapers now, and in the newspapers he read very
little more than the money articles and such political news as seemed
likely to affect the money-market. There is no such soul-absorbing
pursuit as the race which men run whose goal is the glittering Temple
of Plutus. The golden apples which tempted Atalanta to slacken her pace
are always rolling _before_ the modern runner, and the greed of gain
lends the wings of Hermes to his feet. Mr. Sheldon had sighed for
pleasures sometimes in the days of his Bloomsbury martyrdom. He had sat
by his open window on sultry summer evenings, smoking his solitary
cigar, and thinking moodily of all the pleasant resting-places from
which other men were looking out at that golden western sky, deepening
into crimson and melting into purples which even the London smoke could
not obscure. He had sat alone, thinking of jovial parties lounging in
the bow-windows of Greenwich taverns, with cool green hock-glasses and
pale amber wine, and a litter of fruit and flowers on the table before
them, while the broad river flowed past them with all the glory of the
sunset on the rippling water, and one black brig standing sharply out
against the yellow sky. He had thought of Richmond, and the dashing
young men who drive there every summer in drags, with steel chain and
bar clanking and glittering in front of the team, and two solemn grooms
with folded arms seated stiff and statue-like behind. He had thought of
Epsom, and the great Derby mob; and all of those golden goblets of
pleasure which prosperous manhood drains to the very dregs. He had
fancied the enjoyments which would be his if ever he were rich enough
to pay for them. And now he was able to afford all such pleasures he
cared nothing for them; for the ecstasy of making money seemed better
than any masculine dissipation or delight. He did sometimes dine at
Greenwich. He knew the _menus_ of the different taverns by heart, and
had discovered that they were all alike vanity and indigestion; but he
never seated himself at one of those glistening little tables, or
deliberated with an obsequious waiter over the mysteries of the wine
_carte_, without a settled purpose to be served by the eating of the
dinner, and a definite good to be achieved by the wine he ordered. He
gave many such entertainments at home and abroad; but they were all
given to men who were likely to be useful to him--to rich men, or the
toadies and hangers-on of rich men, the grand viziers of the sultans of
the money-market. Such a thing as pleasure or hospitality pure and
simple had no place in the plan of Mr. Sheldon's life. The race in
which he was running was not to be won by a loiterer. The golden apples
were always rolling on before the runner; and woe be to him who turned
away from the course to dally with the flowers or loiter by the cool
streams that beautified the wayside.

Thus it was that Mr. Sheldon's existence grew day by day more
completely absorbed by business pursuits and business interests. Poor
Georgy complained peevishly of her husband's neglect; but she did not
dare to pour her lamentations into the ear of the offender. It was a
kind of relief to grumble about his busy life to servants and humble
female friends and confidantes; but what could she say to Philip
Sheldon himself? What ground had she for complaint? He very seldom
stayed out late; he never came home tipsy. He was quite as cool and
clear-headed and business-like, and as well able to "tot up" any given
figures upon the back of an envelope after one of those diplomatic
little Greenwich dinners as he was the first thing after breakfast. It
had been an easy thing to tyrannise over poor Tom Halliday; but this
man was a grave inscrutable creature, a domestic enigma which Georgy
was always giving up in despair. But so completely did Mr. Sheldon rule
his wife, that when he informed her inferentially that she was a very
happy woman, she accepted his view of the subject, and was content to
believe herself blest.

In spite of those occasional grumblings to servants and female friends,
Mrs. Sheldon did think herself happy. Those occasional complaints were
the minor notes in the harmony of her life, and only served to make the
harmony complete. She read her novels, and fed a colony of little
feeble twittering birds that occupied a big wire cage in the
breakfast-parlour. She executed a good deal of fancy-work with beads
and Berlin-wool; she dusted and arranged the splendours of the
drawing-room with her own hands; and she took occasional walks in
Kensington Gardens.

This was the ordinary course of her existence, now and then interrupted
by such thrilling events as a dinner given to some important
acquaintance of Mr. Sheldon's, or a visit to the school at which
Charlotte Halliday was completing her education.

That young lady had been removed from the Scarborough boarding-school
to a highly respectable establishment at Brompton, within a few months
of her mother's marriage with Mr. Sheldon. She had been a rosy-cheeked
young damsel in pinafores at the time of that event, too young to
express any strong feeling upon the subject of her mother's second
choice; but not too young to feel the loss of her father very deeply.
Tom Halliday had been fondly attached to that bright-eyed, rosy-cheeked
damsel of nine years' growth, and the girl had fully reciprocated his
affection. How often they had talked together of the future, which was
to be so delightful for them both; the new farm, which was to be such a
paradise in comparison to Hyley; the pony that Charlotte was to ride
when she should be old enough to wear a habit like a lady, and to go
about with her father to market-towns and corn-exchanges! The little
girl had remembered all this, and had most bitterly lamented the loss
of that dear and loving father.

She remembered it all to this day; she regretted her loss to this day,
though she was nearly of age, and on the point of leaving school for
ever, after having prolonged her school-days considerably beyond the
usual period, at the express wish of her stepfather. To say that she
disliked Mr. Sheldon is only to admit that she was subject to the
natural prejudices of humanity. He had usurped the place of a beloved
father, and he was in every way the opposite of that father. He had
come between Charlotte Halliday and her mother, and had so absorbed the
weak little woman into himself, as to leave Charlotte quite alone in
the world. And yet he did his duty as few stepfathers do it. Charlotte
admitted that he was very kind to her, that he was an excellent
husband, and altogether the most conscientious and respectable of
mankind; but she admitted with equal candour that she had never been
able to like him. "I daresay it is very wicked of me not to be fond of
him, when he is so good and generous to me," she said to her chosen
friend and companion; "but I never can feel quite at home with him. I
try to think of him as a father sometimes, but I never can get over the
'step.' Do you know I have dreamed of him sometimes? and though he is
so kind to me in reality, I always fancy him cruel to me in my dreams.
I suppose it is on account of his black eyes and black whiskers," added
Miss Halliday, in a meditative tone. "It is certainly a misfortune for
a person to have blacker eyes and whiskers than the rest of the world;
for there seems something stern and hard, and almost murderous, in such
excessive blackness."

Charlotte Halliday was a very different creature from the mother whom
Mr. Sheldon had absorbed into himself. Georgy was one of the women who
have "no characters at all," but Georgy's daughter was open to the
charge of eccentricity rather than of inanity. She was a creature of
fancies and impulses She had written wild verses in the secrecy of her
own chamber at midnight, and had torn her poetic effusions into a
thousand fragments the morning after their composition. She played and
sang very sweetly, and danced admirably, and did everything in a wild
way of her own, which was infinitely more charming than the commonplace
perfection of other women. She was not a beauty according to those
established rules which everybody believes in until they meet a woman
who sins against them all and yet is beautiful. Miss Halliday had thick
black eyebrows, and large gray eyes which people were apt to mistake
for black. She had a composite nose, and one of the sweetest mouths
that ever smiled upon enraptured mankind. Nature had given her just a
little more chin than a Greek sculptor would have allowed her; but, by
way of make-weight, the same careless Nature had bestowed upon her a
throat which Phidias himself might have sought in vain to improve upon.
And Nature had planted this young lady's head upon her shoulders with a
grace so rare that it must needs be a happy accident in the workmanship
of that immortal artist. Indeed it seemed as if Charlotte Halliday owed
her charms to a series of happy accidents. The black eyebrows which
made her face so piquant might have been destruction to another woman.
The round column-like throat needed a fine frank face to surmount it,
and the fine frank face was rendered gracious and womanly by the wealth
of waving dark hair which framed it. The girl was one of those bright
happy creatures whom men worship and women love, and whom envy can
scarcely dislike. She was so infinitely superior to both father and
mother, that a believer in hereditary attributes was fain to invent
some mythical great-grandmother from whom the girl's graces might have
been derived. But she had something of her father's easy good-nature
and imprudent generosity; and was altogether one of those impulsive
creatures whose lives are perpetual difficulties and dilemmas. More
lectures had been delivered for her edification than for any other
young lady in the Brompton boarding-school, and yet she had been the
favourite and delight of everybody in the establishment, from the
mistress of the mansion down to the iniquitous boy who cleaned the
boots, and who was hounded and hunted, and abused and execrated, from
dewy morn to dusky eve.

"I allus puts plenty of elbow-grease on your boots, Miss 'Allundale,
though cook does heave saucepan-lids at my 'ed and call me a lazy
wiper," this incorrigible imp protested to Charlotte one morning, when
she had surprised him in tears and had consoled his woes by a donation
of pence.

"All things love thee, so do I," says the lover to his mistress; and it
is almost impossible not to adore a young lady who is universally
beloved, for the simple reason that this general affection is very
rarely accorded to any but a loving nature. There is an instinct in
these things. From all the ruck of Cheapside a vagrant dog will select
the man who has most toleration for the canine species, and is most
likely to give him shelter. A little child coming suddenly into a
circle of strangers knows in which lap it may find a haven, on which
bosom it may discover safety and comfort. If mistress and
schoolfellows, servants and shoeblack, dogs and cats, were fond of
Charlotte Halliday, their affection had been engendered by her own
sweet smiles and loving words, and helping hands always ready to give
substantial succour or to aid by active service.

She had been at the Brompton gynaeceum nearly eleven years--only leaving
it for her holidays--and now her education was finished, and Mr.
Sheldon could find no excuse for leaving her at school any longer, so
her departure had been finally agreed upon.

To most damsels of twenty-one this would have been a subject for
rejoicing; but it was not so with Charlotte. She did not like her
stepfather; and her mother, though very affectionate and gentle, was a
person whose society was apt to become wearisome any time after the
first half-hour of social intercourse. At Hyde Lodge Charlotte had a
great deal more of Lingard and condensed and expurgated Gibbon than was
quite agreeable; she had to get up at a preternatural hour in the
morning and to devote herself to "studies of velocity," whose monotony
became wearing as the drip, drip, drip of water on the skull of the
tortured criminal. She was very tired of all the Hyde-Lodge lessons and
accomplishments, the irregular French verbs--the "braires" and
"traires" which were so difficult to remember, and which nobody ever
could want to use in polite conversation; the ruined castles and
dilapidated windmills, the perpetual stumpy pieces of fallen timber and
jagged posts, executed with a BBB pencil; the chalky expanse of sky,
with that inevitable flight of crows scudding across it:--why must
there be always crows scudding across a drawing-master's sky, and why
so many jagged posts in a drawing-master's ideal of rural beauty?
Charlotte was inexpressibly weary of all the stereotyped studies; but
she liked Hyde Lodge better than the gothic villa. She liked the
friendly schoolfellows with their loud talk and boisterous manners,
the girls who called her "Halliday," and who were always borrowing
her reels of crochet-cotton and her pencils, her collars and
pocket-handkerchiefs. She liked the free-and-easy schoolgirl talk
better than her mother's tame discourse; she preferred the homely
litter of the spacious schoolroom to the prim splendours of Georgy's
state chambers; and the cool lawn and shrubberies of Hyde Lodge were a
hundred-fold more pleasant to her than the stiff little parterre at
Bayswater, wherein scarlet geraniums and calceolarias flourished with
an excruciating luxuriance of growth and an aggravating brilliancy of
colour. She liked any place better than the hearth by which Philip
Sheldon brooded with a dark thoughtful face, and a mind absorbed by the
mysteries and complications of the Stock Exchange.

On this bright June afternoon other girls were chattering gaily about
the fun of the breaking-up ball and the coming delights of the
holidays, but Charlotte sighed when they reminded her that the end of
her last half was close at hand.

She sat under a group of trees on the lawn, with a crochet antimacassar
lying in her lap, and with her friend and favourite, Diana Paget,
sitting by her side.

Hyde Lodge was that very establishment over which Priscilla Paget had
reigned supreme for the last seventeen years of her life, and among all
the pupils in a school of some forty or fifty girls, Diana was the one
whom Charlotte Halliday had chosen for her dearest companion and
confidante, clinging to her with a constancy not to be shaken by
ill-fortune or absence. The girl knew very well that Diana Paget was a
poor relation and dependant; that her bills had never been paid; that
all those incalculable and mysterious "extras," which are the martyrdom
of parents and the delight of schoolmistresses, were a dead letter so
far as Diana was concerned. She knew that "poor Di" had been taken home
suddenly one day, not in compliance with any behest of her father's,
but for the simple reason that her kinswoman's patience had been worn
out by the Captain's dishonesty. It is doubtful whether Priscilla Paget
had ever communicated these facts in any set phrase, but in a
boarding-school such things make themselves known, and the girls had
discussed the delinquencies of that dreadful creature, Captain Paget,
very freely in the security of their dormitories.

Charlotte knew that her dearest friend was not a person whom it was
advantageous to know. She had seen Diana depart ignominiously, and
return mysteriously after an absence of some years, very shabby, very
poor, very sombre and melancholy, and with no inclination to talk of
those years of absence. Miss Halliday had known all this, and had asked
no questions. She took the returned wanderer to her heart, and
cherished her with an affection which was far beyond the average
measure of sisterly love.

"I thought I should never see you again, dear," she cried when she and
Diana had retired to a corner of the schoolroom to talk confidentially
on the morning of Miss Paget's return; "and I missed you so cruelly.
Other girls are very nice and very kind to me. There is a new girl,
Miss Spencer--that girl with flaxen hair, standing by the big
Canterbury--whom I get on with delightfully; but there is no one in the
world like you, Di. And where have you been all this time? With your
papa, I suppose."

"Yes," answered Miss Paget gloomily; "I have been with my father. Don't
ask me anything about the last three years, Lotta. I have been utterly
wretched and miserable, and I can't bear to talk about my misery."

"And you shan't talk of it, darling," cried Charlotte, pursing up her
mouth for a kiss in a manner which might have been distraction to a
masculine mind of average susceptibility. "You shan't talk of anything
or think of anything the least, least, least bit unpleasant; and you
shall have my gold pencil-case," added Miss Halliday, wrenching that
trinket suddenly from the ribbon by which it hung at her side. Perhaps
there was just the least touch of Georgy's childishness in this
impulsive habit of giving away all her small possessions, for which
Lotta was distinguished. "Yes, you must, dear," she went on. "Mamma
gave it me last half; but I don't want it; I don't like it; in point of
fact, I have had it so long that I positively loathe it. And I know
it's a poor trumpery thing, though mamma gave two guineas for it; but
you know she is always imposed upon in shops. Do, do, do take it,
darling, just to oblige me. And now, tell me, dear,--you're going to
stop here for ever and ever, now you've come back" asked Charlotte,
after having thrust the gold pencil-case into Diana's unwilling hand.

"I don't know about for ever and ever, dear," Miss Paget replied
presently; "but I daresay I shall stay here till I'm tired of the place
and everybody about it. You won't be here very long, you know, Lotta;
for you'll be twenty next birthday, and I suppose you'll be leaving
school before you're twenty-one. Most of the girls leave at eighteen or
nineteen at latest; and you've been here so long, and are so much
farther advanced than others are. I am not going to be a pupil again--
that's out of the question; for I'm just twenty-two, as you know. But
Priscilla has been good enough to let me stay as a kind of second
teacher for the little ones. It will be dull work going through the
stupid abridgments of history and geography, and the scrappy bits of
botany and conchology, with those incorrigible little ones; but of
course I am very grateful to my cousin for giving me a home under any
conditions, after papa's dishonourable conduct. If it were not for her,
Lotta, I should have no home. What a happy girl you are, to have a
respectable man for your father!"

Charlotte's brow darkened a little as her friend said this.

"He is not my own father, you know," she said gravely, "and I should be
a great deal happier if mamma and I were alone in the world. We could
live in some dear little cottage on wide open downs near the sea, and I
could have a linsey habit, and a pony, and ride about all day, and read
and play to mamma at night. Of course Mr. Sheldon is very respectable,
and I daresay it's very wicked of me; but O, Diana, I think I should
like him better if he were not _quite_ so respectable. I saw your papa
once when he came to call, and I thought him nicer than my stepfather.
But then I'm such a frivolous creature, Di, and am always thinking what
I ought not to think."

* * * * *

Nearly a year had passed since Diana's return, and the girl's life had
been very monotonous during that time. She had stuck bravely to the
abridgments and the juvenile scraps of --ologies, and had been
altogether a model of propriety, sewing on such a number of strings and
buttons during the period as can only be compassed by the maternal
mind. Her existence had been by no means as joyless or desolate as such
an existence is generally represented by the writer of fiction. There
was plenty of life and bustle in the big prosperous boarding-school, if
there was not much variety. There were small scandals and small
intrigues; departures and arrivals; wonderful hampers of cake and wine
to be divided among the elect of a fashionable dormitory--for there is
as wide a difference between the tone and status of the bedrooms in a
ladies'-school as between the squares of Berkeley and Bedford. There
were breaking-up parties, and the free-and-easy idleness of the
holidays, when a few dark-complexioned girls from the colonies, a
yellow-haired damsel from the remote north of Scotland, and Miss Diana
Paget, were wont to cluster round the fire in the smaller of the
schoolrooms to tell ghost-stories or talk scandal in the gloaming.

It was a life which, taken with all its small hardships and petty
annoyances, should have been as the life of Paradise compared to that
which Diana had led with her father and Mr. Hawkehurst. Whether the
girl fully appreciated the change from the Bohemianism of her late
existence to the respectability of Hyde Lodge was a question which no
one had asked of her. She had fits of despondency now and then, even in
the midst of her duties, and was apt to fall into a sombre reverie over
one of the abridgments, whereby she was neglectful of her pupils'
aspirates, and allowed Henry the Second to be made the poorer by the
loss of an H, or Heliogabalus to be described by a name which that
individual himself would have failed to recognise.

There were times when, in the midst of that shrill Babel, the
schoolroom, Diana Paget heard the summer winds sighing in the
pine-woods above Foretdechene, and fancied herself standing once more
in that classic temple on whose plastered wall Valentine had once cut
her initials with his penknife in a fantastical monogram, surmounted by
a death's-head and encircled by a serpent. She thought of that familiar
companion very often, in spite of her juvenile pupils and the sewing-on
of tapes and buttons. He had seemed to her a perpetual enigma and
mystery when she was with him; and now that she was far away from him,
he was more than ever an inscrutable creature. Was he altogether vile,
she wondered, or was there some redeeming virtue in his nature? He had
taken trouble to secure her escape from shame and disgrace, and in
doing this he surely had performed a good action; but was it not just
possible that he had taken this opportunity of getting rid of her
because her presence was alike wearisome and inconvenient? She thought
very bitterly of her fellow Bohemian when this view of his conduct
presented itself to her; how heartlessly he had shuffled her off,--how
cruelly he had sent her out into the hard pitiless world, to find a
shelter as best she might!

"What would have become of me if Priscilla had refused to take me in?"
she asked herself. "I wonder whether Mr. Hawkehurst ever considered

* * * * *

More than one letter had come to Diana from her old companion since her
flight from the little Belgian watering-place. The first letter told
her that her father had "tided over _that_ business, and was in better
feather than before the burst-up at the Hotel d'Orange." The letter was
dated from Paris, but gave no information as to the present
arrangements or future plans of the writer and his companion. Another
letter, dated from the same place, but not from the same address, came
to her six months afterwards, and anon another; and it was such a
wonderful thing for Captain Paget to inhabit the same city for twelve
months together, that Diana began to cherish faint hopes of some
amendment in the scheme of her father's life and of Valentine's, since
any improvement in her father's position would involve an improvement
in that of his _protege_.

Miss Paget's regard for her father was by no means an absorbing
affection. The Captain had never cared to conceal his indifference for
his only child, or pretended to think her anything but a nuisance and
an encumbrance--a superfluous piece of luggage more difficult to
dispose of than any other luggage, and altogether a stumbling-block in
the stony path of a man who has to live by his wits. So perhaps it is
scarcely strange that Diana did not think of her absent father with any
passionate tenderness or sad yearning love. She thought of him very
often; but her thoughts of him were painful and bitter. She thought
still more often of his companion; and her thoughts of him were even
more bitter.

The experiences of Diana Paget are not the experiences which mate a
pure or perfect woman. There are trials which chasten the heart and
elevate the mind; but it is doubtful whether it can be for the welfare
of any helpless, childish creature to be familiar with falsehood and
chicanery, with debt and dishonour, from the earliest awakening of the
intellect; to feel, from the age of six or seven, all the shame of a
creature who is always eating food that will not be paid for, and lying
on a bed out of which she may be turned at any moment with shrill
reproaches and upbraidings; to hear her father abused and vilified by
vulgar gossips over a tea-table, and to be reminded every day and every
hour that she is an unprofitable encumbrance, a consumer of the bread
of other people's children, an intruder in the household of poverty, a
child whose heritage is shame and dishonour. These things had hardened
the heart of Captain Paget's daughter. There had been no counteracting
influence--no fond, foolish loving creature near at hand to save the
girl from that perdition into which the child or woman who has never
known what it is to be loved is apt to fall. For thirteen years of
Diana's life all love and tenderness, endearing words, caressing
touches, fond admiring looks, had been utterly unknown to her. To sit
in a room with a father who was busy writing letters, and who was wont
to knit his brows peevishly if she stirred, or to mutter an oath if she
spoke; to be sent to a pawnbroker's in the gloaming with her father's
watch, and to be scolded and sworn at on her return if the money-lender
had advanced a less sum than was expected on that security--do not
compose the most delightful or improving experiences of a home life.
But Diana could remember little of a more pleasant character respecting
her existence during those brief periods when she was flung back upon
her father's hands, and while that gentleman was casting about for some
new victim on whom to plant her.

At Hyde Lodge, for the first time, the girl knew what it was to be
loved. Bright, impulsive Charlotte Halliday took a fancy to her, as the
schoolgirl phrase goes, and clung to her with a fond confiding
affection. It may be that the softening influence came too late, or
that there was some touch of natural hardness and bitterness in Diana's
mind; for it is certain that Charlotte's affection did not soften the
girl's heart or lessen her bitter consciousness of the wide difference
between her own fortunes and those of the happier daughters whose
fathers paid their debts. The very contrast between Charlotte's
position and her own may have counteracted the good influence. It was
very easy for Charlotte to be generous and amiable. _She_ had never
been hounded from pillar to post by shrewish matrons who had no words
too bitter for their unprofitable charge. _She_ had never known what it
was to rise up in the morning uncertain where she should lie down at
night, or whether there would be any shelter at all for her hapless
head; for who could tell that her father would be found at the lodging
where he had last been heard of, and how should she obtain even
workhouse hospitality, whose original parish was unknown to herself or
her protector? To Charlotte these shameful experiences would have been
as incomprehensible as the most abstruse theories of a metaphysician.
Was it any wonder, then, if Charlotte was bright and womanly, and fond
and tender--Charlotte, who had never been humiliated by the shabbiness
of her clothes, and to whom the daily promenade had never been a shame
and a degradation by reason of obvious decay in the heels of her boots?

"If your father would dress you decently, and supply you with proper
boots, I could almost bring myself to keep you for nothing," Priscilla
had said to her reprobate kinsman's daughter; "but the more one does
for that man the less he will do himself; so the long and the short of
it is, that you will have to go back to him, for I cannot consent to
have such an expensive establishment as mine degraded by the shabbiness
of a relation."

Diana had been obliged to listen to such speeches as this very often
during her first residence at Hyde Lodge, and then, perhaps, within a
few minutes after Priscilla's lecture was concluded, Charlotte Halliday
would bound into the room, looking as fresh and bright as the morning,
and dressed in silk that rustled with newness and richness. Keenly as
Diana felt the difference between her friend's fortune and her own, she
did nevertheless in some manner return Charlotte's affection. Her
character was not to be altered all at once by this new atmosphere of
love and tenderness; but she loved her generous friend and companion
after her own fitful fashion, and defended her with passionate
indignation if any other girl dared to hint the faintest disparagement
of her graces or her virtues. She envied and loved her at the same
time. She would accept Charlotte's affection one day with unconcealed
pleasure, and revolt against it on the next day as a species of
patronage which stung her proud heart to the Quick.

"Keep your pity for people who ask you for it," she had exclaimed once
to poor bewildered Charlotte; "I am tired of being consoled and petted.
Go and talk to your prosperous friends, Miss Halliday; I am sick to
death of hearing about your new frocks, and your holidays, and the
presents your mamma is always bringing you."

And then when Charlotte looked at her friend with a sad perplexed face,
Diana relented, and declared that she was a wicked discontented
creature, unworthy of either pity or affection.

"I have had so much misery in my life, that I am very often inclined to
quarrel with happy people without rhyme or reason, or only because they
are happy," she said in explanation of her impatient temper.

"But who knows what happiness may be waiting for you in the future, Di?"
exclaimed Miss Halliday. "You will marry some rich man by-and-by, and
forget that you ever knew what poverty was."

"I wonder where the rich man is to come from who will marry Captain
Paget's daughter?" Diana asked contemptuously. "Never mind where he
comes from; he will come, depend upon it. The handsome young prince
with the palace by the Lake of Como will come to fall in love with my
beautiful Diana, and then she will go and live at Como; and desert her
faithful Charlotte, and live happy ever afterwards."

"Don't talk nonsense, Lotta," cried Miss Paget. "You know what kind of
fate lies before me as well as I do. I looked at myself this morning,
as I was plaiting my hair before the glass--you know how seldom one
gets a turn at the glass in the blue room--and I saw a dark, ugly,
evil-minded-looking creature, whose face frightened me. I have been
getting wicked and ugly ever since I was a child. An aquiline nose and
black eyes will not make a woman a beauty; she wants happiness, and
hope, and love, and all manner of things that I have never known,
before she can be pretty." "I have seen a beautiful woman sweeping a
crossing," said Charlotte doubtfully.

"Yes, but what sort of beauty was it?--a beauty that made you shudder.
Don't talk about these things, Charlotte; you only encourage me to be
bitter and discontented. I daresay I ought to be very happy, when I
remember that I have dinner every day, and shoes and stockings, and a
bed to lie down upon at night; and I am happier, now that I work for my
living, than I was in the old time, when my cousin was always grumbling
about her unpaid bills. But my life is very dreary and empty; and when
I look forward to the future, it seems like looking out upon some level
plain that leads nowhere, but across which I must tramp on for ever and
ever, until I drop down and die."

It was something in this fashion that Miss Paget talked, as she sat in
the garden with Charlotte Halliday at the close of the half-year. She
was going to lose her faithful friend--the girl who, so much richer,
and happier, and more amiable than herself, had yet clung to her so
fondly; she was going to lose this tender companion, and she was more
sorry for the loss than she cared to express.

"You must come and see us very often," Charlotte said for the hundredth
time; "mamma will be so glad to have you, for my sake; and my
stepfather never interferes with our arrangements. O, Di, how I wish
you would come and live with us altogether! Would you come, if I could
manage to arrange it?"

"How could I come? What Quixotic nonsense you talk, Lotta!"

"Not at all, dear; you could come as a sort of companion for me, or a
sort of companion for mamma. What does it matter how you come, if I can
only have you? My life will be so dreary in that dreadful new-looking
house, unless I have a companion I love. Will you come, Di?--only tell
me you will come! I am sure Mr. Sheldon would not refuse, if I asked
him to let you live with us. Will you come, dear?--yes or no. You would
be glad to come, if you loved me."

"And I do love you, Lotta, with all my heart," answered Miss Paget,
with unusual fervour; "but then the whole of my heart is not much. As
to coming to live with you, of course it would be a hundred thousand
times pleasanter than the life I lead here; but it is not to be
supposed that Mr. Sheldon will consent to have a stranger in his house
just because his impulsive stepdaughter chooses to take a fancy to a
schoolfellow who isn't worthy of half her affection."

"Let me be the judge of that. As to my stepfather, I am almost sure of
his consent. You don't know how indulgent he is to me; which shows what
a wicked creature I must be not to like him. You shall come to us,
Diana, and be my sister; and we will play and sing our pet duets
together, and be as happy as two birds in a cage, or a good deal
happier--for I never could quite understand the ecstatic delight of
perpetual hempseed and an occasional peck at a dirty lump of sugar."

After this there came all the bustle of packing and preparation for
departure, and a kind of saturnalia prevailed at Hyde Lodge--a
saturnalia which terminated with the breaking-up ball: and who among
the crowd of fair young dancers so bright as Charlotte Halliday,
dressed in the schoolgirl's festal robes of cloud-like muslin, and with
her white throat set off by a black ribbon and a gold locket?

Diana sat in a corner of the schoolroom towards the close of the
evening, very weary of her share in the festival, and watched her
friend, half in sadness, half in envy.

"Perhaps if I were like her, _he_ would love me," she thought.



For George Sheldon the passing years had brought very little
improvement of fortune. He occupied his old dingy chambers in Gray's
Inn, which had grown more dingy under the hand of Time; and he was wont
to sit in his second-floor window on sultry summer Sundays, smoking his
solitary cigar, and listening to the cawing of the rooks in the gardens
beneath him, mingled with the voices of rebellious children, and shrill
mothers threatening to "do for them," or to "flay them alive," in
Somebody's Rents below. The lawyer used to be quite meditative on those
Sunday afternoons, and would wonder what sort of a fellow Lord Bacon
was, and how he contrived to get into a mess about taking bribes, when
so many other fellows had done it quietly enough before the Lord of
Verulam's day, and even yet more quietly since--agreeably instigated
thereto by the casuistry of Escobar.

Mr. Sheldon's prospects were by no means promising. From afar off he
beheld his brother's star shining steadily in the commercial firmament;
but, except for an occasional dinner, he was very little the better for
the stockbroker's existence. He had reminded his brother very often,
and very persistently, of that vague promise which the dentist had made
in the hour of his adversity--the promise to help his brother if ever
he did "drop into a good thing." But as it is difficult to prevent a
man who is disposed to shuffle from shuffling out of the closest
agreement that was ever made between Jones of the one part, and Smith
of the other part, duly signed, and witnessed, and stamped with the
sixpenny seal of infallibility, so is it still more difficult to obtain
the performance of loosely-worded promises, uttered in the confidential
intercourse of kinsmen.

In the first year of his married life Philip Sheldon gave his brother a
hundred pounds for the carrying out of some grand scheme which the
lawyer was then engaged in, and which, if successful, would secure for
him a much larger fortune than Georgy's thousands. Unhappily the grand
scheme was a failure; and the hundred pounds being gone, George applied
again to his brother, reminding him once more of that promise made in
Bloomsbury. But on this occasion Mr. Sheldon plainly told his kinsman
that he could do no more for him.

"You must fight your own battle, George," he said, "as I have fought

"Thank you, Philip," said the younger brother; "I would rather fight it
any other way."

And then the two men looked at each other, as they were in the habit of
doing sometimes, with a singularly intent gaze.

"You're very close-fisted with Tom Halliday's money," George said
presently. "If I'd asked poor old Tom himself, I'm sure he wouldn't
have refused to lend me two or three hundred."

"Then it's a pity you didn't ask him," Mr. Sheldon answered, with
supreme coolness.

"I should have done so fast enough, if I had thought he was going to
die so suddenly. It was a bad day for me, and for him too, when he came
to Fitzgeorge-street."

"What do you mean by that?" asked Mr. Sheldon sharply.

"You can pretty well guess my meaning, I should think," George answered
in a sulky tone.

"No, I can't; and what's more, I don't mean to try. I'll tell you what
it is, Master George; you've been treating me to a good many hints and
innuendoes lately; and you must know very little of me if you don't know
that I'm the last kind of man to stand that sort of thing from you, or
from any one else. You have tried to take the tone of a man who has
some kind of hold upon another. You had better understand at once that
such a tone won't answer with me. If you had any hold upon me, or any
power over me, you'd be quick enough to use it; and you ought to be
aware that I know that, and can see to the bottom of such a shallow
little game as yours."

Mr. Sheldon the younger looked at his brother with an expression of
surprise that was not entirely unmingled with admiration.

"Well, you _are_ a cool hand, Phil!" he said.

Here the conversation ended. The two brothers were very good friends
after this, and George presented himself at the gothic villa whenever
he received an invitation to dine there. The dinners were good, and the
men who ate them were men of solidity and standing in the commercial
world; and George was very glad to eat good dinners, and to meet eligible
men; but he never again asked his brother for the loan of odd hundreds.

He grubbed on, as best he might, in the dingy Gray's-Inn chambers. Be
had a little business--business which lay chiefly amongst men who
wanted to borrow money, or whose halting footsteps required guidance
through the quagmire of the Bankruptcy Court. He just contrived to keep
his head above water, and his name in the Law-list, by means of such
business; but the great scheme of his life remained as yet unripened,
an undeveloped shadow to which he had in vain attempted to give a

The leading idea of George Sheldon's life was the idea that there were
great fortunes in the world waiting for claimants; and that a share of
some such fortune was to be obtained by any man who had the talent to
dig it out of the obscurity in which it was hidden. He was a student of
old county histories, and a searcher of old newspapers; and his studies
in that line had made him familiar with many strange stories--stories
of field-labourers called away from the plough to be told they were the
rightful owners of forty thousand a year; stories of old white-haired
men starving to death in miserable garrets about Bethnal-green or
Spitalfields, who could have claimed lands and riches immeasurable, had
they known how to claim them; stories of half-crazy old women, who had
wandered about the world with reticules of discoloured papers
clamorously asserting their rights and wrongs unheeded and unbelieved,
until they encountered sharp-witted lawyers who took up their claims,
and carried them triumphantly into the ownership of illimitable wealth.

George Sheldon had read of these things until it had seemed to him that
there must be some such chance for any man who would have patience to
watch and wait for it. He had taken up several cases, and had fitted
link after link together with extreme labour, and had hunted in parish
registers until the cold mouldy atmosphere of vestries was as familiar
to him as the air of Gray's Inn. But the cases had all broken down at
more or less advanced stages; and after infinite patience and trouble,
a good deal of money spent upon travelling and small fees to all manner
of small people, and an incalculable number of hours wasted in
listening to the rambling discourse of parish-clerks and oldest
inhabitants, Mr. Sheldon had been compelled to abandon his hopes time
after time, until a man with less firmly rooted ideas would have given
up the hunting of registers and grubbing up of genealogies as a
delusion and a snare.

George Sheldon's ideas were very firmly rooted, and he stuck to them
with that dogged persistency which so often achieves great ends, that
it seems a kind of genius. He saw his brother's success, and
contemplated the grandeurs of the gothic villa in a cynical rather than
an envious spirit. How long would it all last? How long would the
stockbroker float triumphantly onward upon that wonderful tide which is
constituted by the rise and fall of the money-market?

"That sort of thing is all very well while a man keeps his head cool
and clear," thought George; "but somehow or other men always seem to
lose their heads on the Stock Exchange before they have done with it,
and I daresay my wise brother will drop into a nice mess sooner or
later. Setting aside all other considerations, I think I would rather
have my chances than his; for I speculate very little more than my time
and trouble, and I stand in to win a bigger sum than he will ever get
in his line, let stocks rise and fall as they may."

During that summer in which Miss Halliday bade farewell to Hyde Lodge
and her school-days, George Sheldon was occupied with the early steps
in a search which he hoped would end in the discovery of a prize rich
enough to reward him for all his wasted time and labour.

Very early in the previous year there had appeared the following brief
notice in the _Observer_:--

"The Rev. John Haygarth, late vicar of Tilford Haven, Kent, died lately,
without a will, or relation to claim his property, 100.000 pounds. The
Crown therefore claimed it. And last court-day the Prerogative Court of
Canterbury decreed letters of Administration to Mr. Paul, the nominee
of the Crown."

Some months after this an advertisement had been inserted in the
_Times_ newspaper to the following effect:--

"NEXT OF KIN.--If the relatives or next of kin of the Rev. John
Haygarth, late vicar of Tilford Haven, in the county of Kent, clerk,
deceased, who has left property of the value of one hundred thousand
pounds, will apply, either personally or by letter, to Stephen Paul,
Esq., solicitor for the affairs of Her Majesty's Treasury, at the
Treasury Chambers, Whitehall, London, they may hear of something to
their advantage. The late Rev. John Haygarth is supposed to have been
the son of Matthew Haygarth, late of the parish of St. Judith,
Ullerton, and Rebecca his wife, formerly Rebecca Caulfield, spinster,
late of the same parish; both long since deceased."

Upon the strength of this advertisement George Sheldon began his
search. His theory was that there always existed an heir-at-law
somewhere, if people would only have the patience to hunt him or her
out; and he attributed his past failures rather to a want of endurance
on his own part than to the breaking down of his pet theory.

On this occasion he began his work with more than usual determination.

"This is the biggest chance I've ever had," he said to himself, "and I
should be something worse than a fool if I let it slip through my

The work was very dry and dreary, involving interminable hunting of
registers, and questioning of oldest inhabitants. And the oldest
inhabitants were so stupid, and the records of the registers so
bewildering. One after another Mr. Sheldon set himself to examine the
lines of the intestate's kindred and ancestors; his father's only
sister, his grandfather's brothers and sisters, and even to the
brothers and sisters of his great-grandfather. At that point the
Haygarth family melted away into the impenetrable darkness of the past.
They were no high and haughty race of soldiers and scholars, churchmen
and lawyers, or the tracing of them would have been a much easier
matter. Burke would have told of them. There would have been old
country houses filled with portraits, and garrulous old housekeepers
learned in the traditions of the past. There would have been mouldering
tombs and tarnished brasses in quiet country churches, with descriptive
epitaphs, and many escutcheons. There would have been crumbling
parchments recording the prowess of Sir Reginald, knight, or the
learning of Sir Rupert, counsellor and judge. The Haygarths were a race
of provincial tradesmen, and had left no better record of their
jog-trot journey through this world than the registry of births,
marriages, and deaths in obscure churches, or an occasional entry in
the fly-leaf of a family Bible.

At present Mr. Sheldon was only at the beginning of his work.
The father and grandfather and uncle and great-uncles, the
great-grandfather and great-great-uncles, with all their progenies,
lay before him in a maze of entanglement which it would be his business
to unravel. And as he was obliged to keep his limited legal connection
together while he devoted himself to this task, the work promised to
extend over months, or indeed years; and in the meanwhile there was
always the fear that some one else, as quick-witted and indefatigable
as himself, would take up the same tangled skein and succeed in the
unravelment of it. Looking this fact full in the face, Mr. Sheldon
decided that he must have an able and reliable coadjutor; but to find
such a coadjutor, to find a man who would help him, on the chance of
success, and not claim too large a share of the prize if success came,
was more than the speculative attorney could hope. In the meantime his
work progressed very slowly; and he was tormented by perpetual terror
of that other sharp practitioner who might be following up the same
clue, and whose agents might watch him in and out of parish churches,
and listen at street-corners when he was hunting an oldest inhabitant.



The holidays at Hyde Lodge brought at least repose for Diana Paget. The
little ones had gone home, with the exception of two or three young
colonists, and even they had perpetual liberty from lessons; so Diana
had nothing to do but sit in the shady garden, reading or thinking, in
the drowsy summer afternoons. Priscilla Paget had departed with the
chief of the teachers for a seaside holiday; other governesses had gone
to their homes; and but for the presence of an elderly Frenchwoman, who
slept through one half of the day, and wrote letters to her kindred
during the other half, Diana would have been the only responsible
person in the deserted habitation.

She did not complain of her loneliness, or envy the delights of those
who had departed. She was very glad to be quite alone, free to think
her own thoughts, free to brood over those unforgotten years in which
she had wandered over the face of the earth with her father and
Valentine Hawkehurst. The few elder girls remaining at the Lodge
thought Miss Paget unsociable because she preferred a lonely corner in
the gardens and some battered old book of namby-pamby stories to the
delights of their society, and criticised her very severely as they
walked listlessly to and fro upon the lawn with big garden-hats, and
arms entwined about each other's waists.

Alas for Diana, the battered book was only an excuse for solitude, and
for a morbid indulgence in her own sad thoughts! She had lived the life
of unblemished respectability for a year, and looking back now at the
Bohemian wanderings, she regretted those days of humiliation and
misery, and sighed for the rare delights of that disreputable past!
Yes, she had revolted against the degraded existence; and now she was
sorry for having lost its uncertain pleasures, its fitful glimpses of
sunshine. Was that true which Valentine had said, that no man can eat
beef and mutton every day of his life; that it is better to be
unutterly miserable one day and uproariously happy the next, than to
tread one level path of dull content? Miss Paget began to think that
there had been some reason in her old comrade's philosophy; for she
found the level path very dreary. She let her thoughts wander whither
they would in this quiet holiday idleness, and they went back to the
years which she had spent with her father. She thought of winter
evenings in London when Valentine had taken her the round of the
theatres, and they had sat together in stifling upper boxes,--she
pleased, he critical, and with so much to say to each other in the
pauses of the performance. How kind he had been to her; how good, how
brotherly! And then the pleasant walk home, through crowded noisy
thoroughfares, and anon by long lines of quiet streets, in which they
used to look up at the lighted windows of houses where parties were
being given, and sometimes stop to listen to the music and watch the
figures of the dancers flitting across the blinds. She thought of the
journeys she had travelled with her father and Valentine by land and
sea; the lonely moonlight watches on the decks of steamers; the long
chill nights in railway-carriages under the feeble glimmer of an
oil-lamp, and how she and Valentine had beguiled the tedious hours with
wild purposeless talk while Captain Paget slept. She remembered the
strange cities which she and her father's _protege_ had looked at side
by side; he with a calm listlessness of manner, which might either be
real or assumed, but which never varied; she with an inward tremor of
excitement and surprise. They had been very happy together, this lonely
unprotected girl and the reckless adventurer. If his manner to her had
been fitful, it had been sometimes dangerously, fatally kind. She
looked back now, and remembered the days which she had spent with him,
and knew that all the pleasures possible in a prosperous and successful
life could never bring for her such delight as she had known in the
midst of her wanderings; though shame and danger lurked at every
corner, and poverty, disguised in that tawdry masquerade habit in which
the swindler dresses it, accompanied her wherever she went.

She had been happy with him because she had loved him. That close
companionship, sisterly and brotherly though it had seemed, had been
fatal for the lonely and friendless daughter of Horatio Paget. In her
desolation she had clung to the one creature who was kind to her, who
did not advertise his disdain for herself and her sex, or openly avow
that she was a nuisance and an encumbrance. Every slight put upon her
by her father had strengthened the chain that bound her to Valentine
Hawkehurst; and as the friendship between them grew closer day by day,
until all her thoughts and fancies took their colour from his, it
seemed a matter of course that he should love her, and she never
doubted his feelings or questioned her own. There had been much in his
conduct to justify her belief that she was beloved; so this
inexperienced, untutored girl may surely be forgiven if she rested her
faith in that fancied affection, and looked forward to some shadowy
future in which she and Valentine would be man and wife, all in all to
each other, free from the trammels of Captain Paget's elaborate
schemes, and living honestly, somehow or other, by means of literature,
or music, or pen-and-ink caricatures, or some of those liberal arts
which have always been dear to the children of Bohemia. They would have
lodgings in some street near the Thames, and go to a theatre or a
concert every evening, and spend long summer days in suburban parks or
on suburban commons, he lying on the grass smoking, she talking to him
or reading to him, as his fancy might dictate. Before her twentieth
birthday, the proudest woman is apt to regard the man she loves as a
grand and superior creature; and there had been a certain amount of
reverential awe mingled with Diana's regard for Mr. Hawkehurst,
scapegrace and adventurer though he was.

Little by little that bright girlish dream had faded away. Fancy's
enchanted palace had been shattered into a heap of shapeless ruin by
those accidental scraps of hard worldly wisdom with which Valentine had
pelted the fairy fabric. He a man to love, or to marry for love! Why,
he talked like some hardened world-weary sinner who had done with every
human emotion. The girl shuddered as she heard him. She had loved him,
and believed in his love. She had fancied a tender meaning in the voice
which softened when it spoke to her, a pensive earnestness in the dark
eyes which looked at her; but just when the voice had seemed softest
and sweetest, the pensive eyes most eloquently earnest, the
adventurer's manner had changed all at once, and for ever. He had grown
hard, and cold, and indifferent. He had scarcely tried to conceal the
fact that the girl's companionship bored and wearied him. He had yawned
in her face, and had abandoned himself to moody abstraction when
accident obliged him to be alone with her. Miss Paget's pride had been
equal to the occasion. Mary Anne Kepp would have dissolved into tears
at the first unkind word from the lips of her beloved; but Mary Anne
Kepp's daughter, with the blood of the Cromie Pagets in her veins, was
quite a different person. She returned Mr. Hawkehurst's indifference
with corresponding disregard. If his manner was cold as a bleak autumn,
hers was icy as a severe winter; only now and then, when she was very
tired of her joyless existence, her untutored womanhood asserted
itself, and she betrayed the real state of her feelings--betrayed
herself as she had done on her last night at Foretdechene, when she and
Valentine had looked down at the lighted windows shining dimly through
the purple of the summer night. She looked back at the past now in the
quiet of the school-garden, and tried to remember how miserable
she had been, what agonies of despair she had suffered, how brief had
been her delights, how bitter her disappointments. She tried to
remember what tortures she had suffered from that wasted passion, that
useless devotion. She tried to rejoice in the consciousness of the
peace and respectability of her present life; but she could not. That
passionate yearning for the past possessed her so strongly. She could
remember nothing except that she had been with him. She had seen his
face, she had heard his voice; and now how long and weary the time
might be before she could again see that one beloved face or hear the
dear familiar voice! The brightest hope she had in these midsummer
holidays was the hope of a letter from him; and even that might be the
prelude of disappointment. She wrestled with herself, and tried to
exorcise those ghosts of memory which haunted her by day and wove
themselves into her dreams by night; but they were not to be laid at
rest. She hated her folly; but her folly was stronger than herself.

For three weeks Diana Paget had no companions but her sorrowful
memories--her haunting shadows; but at the end of that time the
stagnant mill-pond of her life was suddenly ruffled--the dull course
of existence was disturbed by the arrival of two letters. She found
them lying by her plate upon the breakfast-table one bright July
morning; and while she was yet far away from the table she could see
that one of the envelopes bore a foreign stamp, and was directed by the
hand of Valentine Hawkehurst. She seated herself at the table in a
delicious flutter of emotion, and tore open that foreign envelope,
while the French governess poured out the tea, and while the little
group of schoolgirls nudged one another and watched her eager face with
insolent curiosity.

The first letter contained only a few lines.

"MY DEAR DIANA," wrote the young man, "your father has decided on
returning to London, where I believe he really intends to make a
respectable start, if he can only get the opening and the help he
wants. I know you will be glad to hear this. I don't exactly say where
we shall take up our quarters; but the Captain will of course come to
see you; and if I can chasten my outward semblance sufficiently to
venture within the sacred precincts of a lady's school, I shall come
with him. Direct to the old address, if you write before the end of
the month, and believe me, as always, your friend." "VALENTINE."

The second letter was in Charlotte Halliday's big bold hand, and was
frank, impetuous, and loving as the girl herself.

"MY OWN DEAREST DI,--It is all arranged," wrote Miss Halliday, dashing
at once into the heart of the subject. "I talked mamma over the very
first day after my return, and then there was nothing more to be done
than to talk over Mr. Sheldon. Of course there was just a little
difficulty in that, for he is so awfully practical; and he wanted to
know why I wanted a companion, and what _use_ you would be in the
house; as if the very last thing one required in a companion was
companionship. I'm almost afraid to tell you the iniquitous fables I
invented about your extreme usefulness; your genius for millinery, and
the mints of money you would save by making up mamma's flimsy little
caps; your taste for dress-making, &c. &c. &c. You _are_ the cleverest
creature in the world, you know, Di; for you must remember how you
altered, that green silk dress for me when Miss Person had made me a
square-shouldered fright. So, after a great deal of humming, and
haing, and argufication--_is_ there such a word as 'argufication,' I
wonder?--my stepfather said that if my heart was set upon having you,
and if I thought you would be useful, you might come to us; but that he
could not afford to give you any salary, and that if you wanted a new
dress now and then, I must buy it for you out of my own allowance; and
I will, darling, if you will only come and be my friend and sister. My
life is dreadfully dull without you. I walk up and down the stiff
little gravel paths, and stare at the geraniums and calceolarias.
Mariana might have been dreary in her moated grange; but I daresay the
Lincolnshire flowers grew wild and free, and she was spared the
abomination of gaudy little patches of red and yellow, and waving
ribbons of blue and white, which constitute the glory of modern
gardening. Do come to me, dear. I have no one to talk to, and nothing
to do. Mamma is a dear good affectionate soul; but she and I don't
understand each other. I don't care for her twittering little birds,
and she doesn't care for my whims and fancies. I have read novels until
I am tired. I am not allowed to go out by myself, and mamma can
scarcely walk to Kensington-gardens without sinking under the exertion.
We drive out sometimes; but I am sick to death of crawling slowly up
and down by the Serpentine staring at people's bonnets. I might enjoy
it, perhaps, if I had you with me to make fun out of some of the
bonnets. The house is very comfortable; but it always seems to me
unpleasantly like some philanthropic institution in miniature. I long
to scratch the walls, or break the windows; and I begin to understand
the feelings of those unhappy paupers who tear up their clothes: they
get utterly tired of their stagnation, you see, and must do something
wicked and rebellious rather than do nothing at all. You will take pity
upon my forlorn state, won't you, Di? I shall come to Hyde Lodge
to-morrow afternoon with mamma, to hear your ulti--what's its name?--
and in the meanwhile, and for ever afterwards, believe me to be your
devoted and unchanging LOTTA."

Diana Paget's eyes grew dim as she read this letter.

"I love her very dearly," she thought, "but not one hundred-fold as
much as I ought to love her."

And then she went back to Mr. Hawkehurst's epistle, and read and
re-read its half-dozen lines, wondering when he would come to London,
and whether she would see him when he came. To see him again! The
thought of that possibility seemed like a spot of vivid light, which
dazzled her eyes and made them blind to anything around or beyond it. As
for this offer of a strange home in the household of Mr. Sheldon, it
seemed to her a matter of so very little importance where she went or
what became of her, that she was quite willing to let other people
decide her existence. Anything would be better than the monotony of
Hyde Lodge. If Valentine Hawkehurst came to see her at Mr. Sheldon's
house, he would be permitted to see her alone, most likely, and it would
be something like the old times; whereas at the Lodge Priscilla Paget or
one of the governesses would undoubtedly be present at any interview
between Diana and her old friend, and the real Valentine would be
hidden under the semblance of a respectable young man, with very little
to say for himself. Perhaps this one thought exercised considerable
influence over Miss Paget's decision. She wanted so much to see
Valentine alone, to know whether he had changed, to see his face at the
first moment of meeting, and to discover, if possible, the solution of
that enigma which was the grand mystery of her life--that one perpetual
question which was always repeating itself in her brain--whether he was
altogether cold and indifferent, or if there was not some hidden
warmth, some secret tenderness beneath that repelling outward seeming.

In the afternoon Miss Halliday called with Mrs. Sheldon, and there was
a long discussion about Diana Paget's future life. Georgy abandoned
herself as unhesitatingly to the influence of her daughter as she did
to that of her husband, and had been brought to think that it would be
the most delightful thing in the world to have Miss Paget for a useful

"And will you really make my caps, dear?" she said, when she had grown
at her ease with Diana. "Miss Terly in the Bayswater-road charges me so
much for the simplest little lace head-dress; and though Mr. Sheldon is
very good about those sort of things, I know he sometimes thinks my
bills rather high."

Diana was very indifferent about her future, and the heart must have
been very hard which could have resisted Charlotte's tender pleading;
so it was ultimately decided that Miss Paget should write to her
kinswoman to describe the offer that had been made to her of a new
home, and to inquire if her services could be conveniently dispensed
with at Hyde Lodge. After which decision Charlotte embraced her friend
with enthusiasm, and departed, bearing off Mrs. Sheldon to the carriage
which awaited them at the gates of Priscilla Paget's umbrageous domain.

Diana sighed as she went back to the empty schoolroom. Even Charlotte's
affection could not altogether take the sting out of dependence. To go
into a strange house amongst strange people, and to hold a place in it
only on the condition of being perpetually useful and unfailingly
good-tempered and agreeable, is scarcely the pleasantest prospect which
this world can offer to a proud and beautiful woman. Diana remembered
her bright vision of Bohemianism in a lodging near the Strand. It would
be very delightful to ride on sufferance in Mrs. Sheldon's carriage, no
doubt; but O, how much pleasanter it would have been to sit by
Valentine Hawkehurst in a hansom cab spinning along the road to
Greenwich or Richmond!

She had promised to despatch her letter to Priscilla by that
afternoon's post, and she kept her promise. The reply came by return of
post, and was very kind. Priscilla advised her by all means to accept
Miss Halliday's offer, which would give her a much better position than
that which she occupied at Hyde Lodge. She would have time to improve
herself, no doubt, Priscilla said, and might be able to hope for
something still better in the course of two or three years; "for you
must look the world straight in the face, Diana," wrote the
schoolmistress, "as I did before I was your age; and make up your mind
to rely upon your own exertions, since you know what your father is,
and how little you have to hope for from him. As you are to have no
salary with the Sheldons, and will no doubt be expected to make a good
appearance, I shall do what I can to help you with your wardrobe."

This letter decided the fate of Captain Paget's daughter. A week after
Miss Halliday's visit to Hyde Lodge a hack cab carried Diana and all
her earthly possessions to the Lawn, where Charlotte received her with
open arms, and where she was inducted into a neatly furnished
bedchamber adjoining that of her friend. Mr. Sheldon scrutinised her
keenly from under the shadow of his thick black brows when he came home
to dinner. He treated her with a stiff kind of politeness during the
orderly progress of the meal; and once, when he looked at her, he was
surprised to find that she was contemplating him with an expression of
mingled wonder and reverence.

He was the first eminently respectable man whom Miss Paget had ever
encountered in familiar intercourse, and she was regarding him
attentively, as an individual with scientific tastes might regard some
natural curiosity.



Life at the Lawn went by very smoothly for Mr. Sheldon's family. Georgy
was very happy in the society of a companion who seemed really to have
a natural taste for the manufacture of pretty little head-dresses from
the merest fragments of material in the way of lace and ribbon. Diana
had all that versatile cleverness and capacity for expedients which is
likely to be acquired in a wandering and troubled life. She had learned
more in her three years of discomfort with her father than in all the
undeviating course of the Hyde-Lodge studies; she had improved her
French at one _table d'hote_, her German at another; she had caught
some new trick of style in every concert-room, some fresh combination
of costume on every racecourse; and, being really grateful for
Charlotte's disinterested affection, she brought all her
accomplishments to bear to please her friend and her friend's

In this she succeeded admirably. Mrs. Sheldon found her daughter's
society much more delightful now that the whole pressure of Charlotte's
intellect and vitality no longer fell entirely upon herself. She liked
to sit lazily in her arm-chair while the two girls chattered at their
work, and she could venture an occasional remark, and fancy that she
had a full share in the conversation. When the summer weather rendered
walking a martyrdom and driving an affliction, she could recline on her
favourite sofa reading a novel, soothed by the feeble twittering of her
birds; while Charlotte and Diana went out together, protected by the
smart boy in buttons, who was not altogether without human failings,
and was apt to linger behind his fair charges, reading the boards
before the doors of newsvendors' shops, or looking at the cartoons in
_Punch_ exhibited in the stationers' windows.

Mr. Sheldon made a point of pleasing his stepdaughter whenever it was
possible for him to do so without palpable inconvenience to himself;
and as she was to be gratified by so small a pecuniary sacrifice as the
trifling increase of tradesmen's bills caused by Miss Paget's residence
in the gothic villa, he was the last man in the world to refuse her
that indulgence. His own pursuits were of so absorbing a nature as to
leave little leisure for concern about other people's business. He
asked no questions about his stepdaughter's companion; but he was not
the less surprised to see this beautiful high-bred woman content to sit
at his board as an unsalaried dependent.

"Your friend Miss Paget looks like a countess," he said one day to
Charlotte. "I thought girls generally pitched upon some plain homely
young woman for their pet companion, but you seem to have chosen the
handsomest girl in the school."

"Yes, she is very handsome, is she not? I wish some of your rich City
men would marry her, papa."

Miss Halliday consented to call her mother's husband "papa," though the
caressing name seemed in a manner to stick in her throat. She had loved
that blustrous good-tempered Tom Halliday so very dearly, and it was
only to please poor Georgy that she brought herself to address any other
man by the name that had been his.

"My City men have something better to do than to marry a young woman
without a sixpence," answered Mr. Sheldon. "Why don't you try to catch
one of them for yourself?"

"I don't like City men," said Charlotte quickly; and then she blushed,
and added apologetically, "at least not the generality of City men,

Diana had waited until her destiny was settled before answering
Valentine Hawkehurst's letter; but she wrote to him directly she was
established at the Lawn, and told him the change in her plans.

"I think papa had better let me come to see him at his lodgings," she
said, "wherever they may be; for I should scarcely care about Mr.
Sheldon seeing him. No one here knows anything definite about my
history; and as it is just possible Mr. Sheldon may have encountered my
father somehow or other, it would be as well for him to keep clear of
this house. I could not venture to say this to papa myself, but perhaps
you could suggest it without offending him. You see I have grown very
worldly-wise, and am learning to protect my own interests in the spirit
which you have so instilled into me. I don't know whether that sort of
spirit is likely to secure one's happiness, but I have no doubt it is
the wisest and best for this world."

Miss Paget could not refrain from an occasional sneer when she wrote to
her old companion. He never returned her sneers, or noticed them. His
letters were always frank, friendly, and brotherly in tone.

"Neither my good opinion nor my bad opinion is of any consequence to
him," Diana thought bitterly. It was late in August when Captain Paget
and his _protege_ came to town. Valentine suggested the wisdom of
leaving Diana in her new home uncompromised by any past associations.
But this was a suggestion which Horatio Paget could not accept. His
brightest successes in the way of scheming had been matured out of
chance acquaintanceships with eligible men. A man who could afford such
a luxury as a companion for his daughter must needs be eligible, and
the Captain was not inclined to sacrifice his acquaintance from any
extreme delicacy.

"My daughter seems to have made new friends for herself, and I should
like to see what kind of people they are," he said conclusively. "We'll
look them up this evening, Val."

Mr. George Sheldon dined at the Lawn on the day on which Horatio Paget
determined on "looking up" his daughter's new friends, and he and the
two girls were strolling in the garden when the Captain and Mr.
Hawkehurst were announced. They had been told that Miss Paget was in
the garden.

"Be good enough to take me straight to her," said the Captain to the
boy in buttons; "I am her father."

Horatio Paget was too old a tactician not to know that by an
unceremonious plunge into the family circle he was more likely to
secure an easy footing in the household than by any direct approach of
the master. He had seen the little group in the garden, and had
mistaken George for the head of the house.

Diana turned from pale to red, and from red to pale again, as she
recognised the two men. There had been no announcement of their coming.
She did not even know that they were in England.

"Papa!" she cried, and then held out her hand and greeted him; coldly
enough, as it seemed to Charlotte, who fancied that any kind of _real_
father must be very dear.

But Captain Paget was not to be satisfied by that cold greeting. It
suited his purpose to be especially paternal on this occasion. He drew
his daughter to his breast, and embraced her affectionately, very much
to that young lady's surprise.

Then, having abandoned himself entirely for the moment to this tender
impulse of paternity, he suddenly put his daughter aside, as if he had
all at once remembered his duty to society, drew himself up stiffly,
and saluted Miss Halliday and George Sheldon with uncovered head.

"Mr. Sheldon, I believe?" he murmured.

"George Sheldon," answered that gentleman; "my brother Philip is in the
drawing-room yonder, looking at us."

Philip Sheldon came out into the garden as George said this, It was one
of those sultry evenings on which the most delightful of gothic villas
is apt to be too stifling for endurance; and in most of the prim
suburban gardens there were people lounging listlessly among the
flower-beds. Mr. Sheldon came to look at this patrician stranger who
had just embraced his daughter's companion; whereupon Captain Paget
introduced himself and his friend Mr. Hawkehurst. After the
introduction Mr. Sheldon and the Captain fell into an easy
conversation, while the two girls walked slowly along the gravel
pathway with Valentine by their side, and while George loitered
drearily along, chewing the stalk of a geranium, and pondering the
obscure reminiscences of the last oldest inhabitant whose shadowy
memories he had evoked in his search after new links in the chain of
the Haygarths.

The two girls walked in the familiar schoolgirl fashion of Hyde Lodge,
Charlotte's arm encircling the waist of her friend. They were both
dressed in white muslin, and looked very shadowy and sylph-like in the
summer dusk. Mr. Hawkehurst found himself in a new atmosphere in this
suburban garden, with these two white-robed damsels by his side; for it
seemed to him that Diana with Charlotte's arm round her waist, and a
certain shy gentleness of manner which was new to him, was quite a
different person from that Miss Paget whose wan face had looked at him
so anxiously in the saloons of the Belgian. Kursaal.

At first there was considerable restraint in the tone of the
conversation, and some little of that unnecessary discussion as to
whether this evening was warmer than the preceding evening, or whether
it was not, indeed, the warmest evening of all that summer. And then,
when the ice was broken, Mr. Hawkehurst began to talk at his ease about
Paris, which city Miss Halliday had never seen; about the last book,
the last play, the last folly, the last fashionable bonnet; for it was
one of the special attributes of this young Robert Macaire to be able
to talk about anything, and to adapt himself to any society. Charlotte
opened her eyes to their widest extent as she listened to this animated
stranger. She had been so wearied by the dry as dust arguments of City
men who had discussed the schemes of great contractors, "which will
never be carried out, sir, while money is at its present rate, mark my
words,"--or the chances of a company "which is eaten up by
debenture-bonds and preference-shares, sir, and will never pay its
original proprietors one sixpence of interest on their capital," with a
great deal more of the same character; and it was quite new to her to
hear about novels, theatres, and bonnets from masculine lips, and to
find that there were men living who could interest themselves in such
frivolities. Charlotte was delighted with Diana's friend. It was she
who encouraged Valentine every now and then by some exclamation of
surprise or expression of interest, while Miss Paget herself was
thoughtful and silent.

It was not thus that she had hoped to meet Valentine Hawkehurst. She
stole a look at him now and then as he walked by her side. Yes, it was
the old face--the face which would have been so handsome if there had
been warmth and life in it, instead of that cold listlessness which
repelled all sympathy, and seemed to constitute a kind of mask behind
which the real man hid himself.

Diana looked at him, and remembered her parting from him in the chill
gray morning on the platform at Foretdechene. He had let her go out
alone into the dreary world to encounter what fate she might, without
any more appearance of anxiety than he might have exhibited had she
been starting for a summer-day's holiday; and now, after a year of
separation, he met her with the same air of unconcern, and could
discourse conventional small talk to another woman while she walked by
his side.

While Mr. Hawkehurst was talking to Mr. Sheldon's stepdaughter, Captain
Paget had contrived to make himself very agreeable to that gentleman
himself. Lord Lytton has said that "there is something strange and
almost mesmerical in the _rapport_ between two evil natures. Bring two
honest men together, and it is ten to one if they recognise each other
as honest; differences in temper, manner, even politics, may make each
misjudge the other. But bring together two men unprincipled and
perverted--men who, if born in a cellar, would have been food for the
hulks or gallows--and they understand each other by instant sympathy."
However this might be with these two men, they had speedily become upon
very easy terms with each other. Mr. Sheldon's plans for the making of
money were very complicated in their nature, and he had frequent need
of clever instruments to assist in the carrying out of his
arrangements. Horatio Paget was the exact type of man most likely to be
useful to such a speculator as Philip Sheldon. He was the very ideal of
the "Promoter," the well-dressed, well-mannered gentleman, beneath
whose magic wand new companies arise as if by magic; the man who,
without a sixpence in his own pocket, can set a small Pactolus flowing
from the pockets of other people; the man who, content himself to live
in a humble second floor at Chelsea, can point to gigantic hotels which
are as the palaces of a new Brobdignag, and say, "Lo, these arose at my
bidding!" Mr. Sheldon was always on the alert to discover anything or
anybody likely to serve his own interest, either in the present or the
future; and he came to the conclusion that Miss Paget's father was a
person upon whom an occasional dinner might not be altogether thrown

"Take a chop with us to-morrow at six," he said, on parting from the
Captain, "and then you can hear the two girls play and sing. They play
remarkably well, I believe, from what other people tell me; but I am
not a musical man myself."

Horatio Paget accepted the invitation as cordially as it was given. It
is astonishing how genial and friendly these men of the world can be at
the slightest imaginable notice. One can fancy the striped tigers of
Bengal shaking paws in the jungle, the vultures hob-nobbing in a
mountain cleft over the torn carcass of a stag, the kites putting their
beaks together after dining on a nest of innocent doves.

"Then we shall expect to see you at sharp six," said Mr. Sheldon, "and
your friend Mr. Hawkehurst with you, of course."

After this the two gentlemen departed. Valentine shook hands with
Diana, and took a more ceremonious leave of Charlotte. George Sheldon
threw away his chewed geranium-stalk in order to bid good evening to
the visitors; and the little party walked to the garden-gate together.

"That Sheldon seems a very clever fellow," said Captain Paget, as he
and Valentine walked towards the Park, which they had to cross on their
way to Chelsea, where the Captain had secured a convenient lodging. "I
wonder whether he is any relation to the Sheldon who is in with a low
set of money-lenders?"

"What, the Sheldon of Gray's Inn?" exclaimed Mr. Hawkehurst. "We can
easily find that out."

* * * * *

Horatio Paget and Valentine Hawkehurst were frequent visitors at the
Lawn after that first evening. Mr. Sheldon found the Captain useful to
him in the carrying out of certain business arrangements on more than
one occasion, and the relations between the respectable stockbroker and
the disreputable adventurer assumed a very friendly character. Diana
wondered to see so spotless a citizen as Philip Sheldon hand-and-glove
with her father. Mrs. Sheldon and Charlotte were delighted with the
Captain and his _protege_; these two penniless Bohemians were so much
more agreeable to the feminine mind than the City men who were wont to
sit in the dining-room slowly imbibing Mr. Sheldon's old port in the
long summer evenings, while their wives endured the abomination of
desolation with Georgy and Charlotte in the drawing-room. Captain Paget
paid Mrs. Sheldon flowery compliments, and told her delightful stories
of the aristocracy and all that shining West-end world with which he
had once been familiar. Poor simple Georgy regarded him with that
reverential awe which a middle-class country-bred woman is prone to
feel for a man who bears upon him that ineffaceable stamp of high birth
and good breeding, not to be destroyed by half a century of
degradation. Nor could Charlotte withhold her admiration from the man
whose tone was so infinitely superior to that of all the other men she
had encountered. In his darkest hour Captain Paget had found his best
friends, or his easiest dupes, among women. It had gone hard with him
when his dear friend had withheld the temporary accommodation of a
five-pound note; but it had been much harder when his friend's wife had
refused the loan of "a little silver."

Valentine Hawkehurst came very often to the Lawn, sometimes with his
friend and patron, sometimes alone. He brought the young ladies small
offerings in the way of a popular French novel adapted for feminine
perusal, or an occasional box for some theatre which had fallen upon
evil days, and was liberal in the circulation of "paper." He met the
two girls sometimes in their morning walks in Kensington-gardens, and
walked with them in the leafy avenues, and only left them at the gate
by which they departed. So much of his life was a listless waiting for
the arising of new chances, that he had ample time to waste in feminine
society, and he seemed very well inclined to loiter away the leisure
hours of existence in the companionship of Diana and her friend.

And was Miss Paget glad of his coming, and pleased to be in his
company? Alas, no! The time had been, and only within a few months,
when she had sickened for the sight of his familiar face, and fancied
that the most exquisite happiness life could afford her would be to see
him once more, anywhere, under any circumstances. She saw him now
almost daily, and she was miserable. She saw him; but another woman had
come between her and the man she loved: and now, if his voice took a
softer tone, or if his eyes assumed a tender earnestness of expression,
it might be Charlotte's influence which wrought the transformation. Who
could say that it was not on Charlotte's account he came so often, and
lingered so long? Diana looked at him sometimes with haggard angry
eyes, which saw that it was Miss Halliday who absorbed his attention.
It was Charlotte--Charlotte, who was so bright and happy a creature
that the coldest heart must needs have been moved and melted by her
fascination. What was the cold patrician beauty of Miss Paget's face
when compared with the changeful charm of this radiant girl, with the
flashing gray eyes and piquant features, and all those artless caprices
of manner which made her arch loveliness irresistible? Diana's heart
grew sick and cold as she watched these two day by day, and saw the
innocent school-girl's ascendancy over the adventurer. The attributes
which made Charlotte charming were just those very attributes which
Valentine Hawkehurst had been least accustomed to discover in the
womankind he had hitherto encountered. He had seen beautiful women,
elegant and fascinating women, without number; but this frank girlish
nature, this happy childlike disposition, was entirely new to him. How
should he have met bright childlike creatures in the pathways which he
had trodden? For the first time in his life a fresh young heart
revealed its treasures of purity and tenderness before his world-weary
eyes, and his own heart was melted by the new influence. He had admired
Diana; he had been touched by her girlish fancy for him, and had loved
her as well as he had believed himself capable of loving any woman. But
when Prudence and Honour counselled him to stifle and crush his growing
affection for the beautiful companion of his wanderings, the struggle
had involved no agony of regret or despair. He had told himself that no
good could ever come of his love for Captain Paget's daughter, and he
had put aside that love before it had taken any vital root in his heart.
He had been very strong and resolute in this matter--resisting looks of
sad surprise which would have melted a softer nature. And he had been
proud of his own firmness. "Better for her, and better for me," he had
said to himself: "let her outlive her foolish schoolgirl fancies, and
wait patiently till her beauty wins her a rich husband. As for me, I
must marry some prosperous tradesman's widow, if I ever marry at all."

The influence of the world in which his life had been spent had
degraded Valentine Hawkehurst, and had done much to harden him; and yet
he was not altogether hard. He discovered his own weakness very soon
after the beginning of his acquaintance with Mr. Sheldon's
stepdaughter. He knew very well that if he had been no fitting lover
for Diana Paget, he was still less a fitting lover for Charlotte
Halliday. He knew that although it might suit Mr. Sheldon's purpose to
make use of the Captain and himself as handy instruments for the
accomplishment of somewhat dirty work, he would be the very last man to
accept one of those useful instruments as a husband for his
stepdaughter. He knew all this; and knew that, apart from all worldly
considerations, there was an impassable gulf between himself and
Charlotte. What could there be in common between the unprincipled
companion of Horatio Paget and this innocent girl, whose darkest sin
had been a neglected lesson or an ill-written exercise? If he could
have given her a home and a position, an untarnished name and
respectable associations, he would even yet have been unworthy of her
affection, unable to assure her happiness.

"I am a scoundrel and an adventurer," he said to himself, in his most
contemptuous spirit. "If some benevolent fairy were to give me the
brightest home that was ever created for man, and Charlotte for my
wife, I daresay I should grow tired of my happiness in a week or two,
and go out some night to look for a place where I could play billiards
and drink beer. Is there any woman upon this earth who could render my
existence supportable _without_ billiards and beer?"

Knowing himself much better than the Grecian philosopher seemed to
think it possible for human nature to know itself, Mr. Hawkehurst
decided that it was his bounden duty, both for his own sake and that of
the young lady in question, to keep clear of the house in which Miss
Halliday lived, and the avenue in which she was wont to walk. He told
himself this a dozen times a day, and yet he made his appearance at the
Lawn whenever he had the poorest shadow of an excuse for going there;
and it seemed as if the whole business of his life lay at the two ends
of Charlotte's favourite avenue, so often did he find himself called
upon to perambulate that especial thoroughfare. He knew that he was
weak and foolish and dishonourable; he knew that he was sowing the
dragon's teeth from which were to spring up armed demons that would
rend and tear him. But Charlotte's eyes were unspeakably bright and
bewitching, and Charlotte's voice was very sweet and tender. A
thrilling consciousness that he was not altogether an indifferent
person in Charlotte's consideration had possessed him of late when he
found himself in that young lady's society, and a happiness which had
hitherto been strange to him gave a new zest to his purposeless life.

He still affected the old indifference of manner, the idle listless
tone of a being who has finished with all the joys and sorrows,
affections and aspirations, of the world in which he lives. But the
pretence had of late become a very shallow one. In Charlotte's presence
he was eager and interested in spite of himself--childishly eager about
the veriest trifles which interested her. Love had taken up the glass
of Time; and the days and hours were reckoned by a new standard;
everything in the world had suffered some wondrous change, which
Valentine Hawkehurst tried in vain to understand. The very earth upon
which he walked had undergone some mystic process of transformation;
the very streets of London were new to him. He had known
Kensington-gardens from his boyhood; but not those enchanted avenues
of beech and elm in which he walked with Charlotte. In the plainest
and most commonplace phraseology, Mr. Hawkehurst had fallen in love.
This penniless adventurer, who at eight-and-twenty years of age was
steeped to the lips in the worst experiences of a very indifferent
world, found himself all at once hanging upon the words and living
upon the looks of an ignorant schoolgirl.

The discovery that he was capable of this tender weakness had an almost
overwhelming effect upon Mr. Hawkehurst. He was ashamed of this touch
of humanity, this foolish affection which had awakened all that was
purest and best in a nature that had been so long abandoned to
degrading influences. For some time he fought resolutely against that
which he considered his folly; but the training which had made him the
master of many a perplexing position had not given him the mastery over
his own inclinations; and when he found that Charlotte's society had
become the grand necessity of his life, he abandoned himself to his
fate without further resistance. He let himself drift with the tide
that was so much stronger than himself; and if there were breakers
ahead, or fatal rocks lurking invisible beneath the blue waters, he
must take his chance. His frail bark must go to pieces when her time
came. In the meanwhile it was so delicious to float upon the summer
sea, that a man could afford to forget future possibilities in the way
of rocks and quicksands.

Miss Paget had known very few pleasures in the course of her
uncared-for youth; but she hitherto had experienced no such anguish as
that which she had now to endure in her daily intercourse with Valentine
and Charlotte. She underwent her martyrdom bravely, and no prying eye
discovered the sufferings which her proud nature supported in silence.
"Who takes any heed of my feelings, or cares whether I am glad or
sorry?" she thought; "_he_ does not."



The sand which ran so swiftly in the glass which that bright young
urchin Love had wrested from the hand of grim old Time ran with an
almost equal swiftness in the hour-glasses of lodging-house keepers and
tradespeople, and the necessities of every day demanded perpetual
exertion on the part of Mr. Hawkehurst, let Charlotte's eyes be never
so bright, and Charlotte's society never so dear. For Captain Paget and
his _protege_ there was no such thing as rest; and the ingenious
Captain took care that the greater part of the labour should be
performed by Valentine, while the lion's share of the spoil was pounced
upon by the ready paw of the noble Horatio. Just now he found his pupil
unusually plastic, unusually careless of his own interests, and ready
to serve his master with agreeable blindness. Since that awkward little
affair at Foretdechene, that tiresome entanglement about a King of
Spades which had put in an appearance at a moment when no such monarch
was to be expected, Captain Paget had obtained the means of existence
in a manner which was almost respectable, if not altogether honest; for
it is not to be supposed that honesty and respectability are by any
means synonymous terms. It was only by the exercise of superhuman
address that the Captain had extricated himself from that perplexing
predicament at the Belgian watering-place; and it may be that the
unpleasant experiences of that particular evening were not without a
salutary effect upon the adventurer's future plans.

"It was touch-and-go work, Val," he said to his companion; "and if I
hadn't carried matters with a high hand, and sprung my position as an
officer in the English service upon those French ruffians, I don't know
where it would have ended."

"It might have come to a metallic ornamentation of the ankle, and some
amiable 444, who has murdered his grandmother with a red-hot poker and
extenuating circumstances, for your companion," murmured Valentine. "I
wouldn't try it on with that supererogatory king again on this side of
the Channel, if I were you."

The Captain bestowed a freezing look on his flippant _protege_ and then
commenced a very grave discussion of future ways and means, which ended
in an immediate departure for Paris, where the two men entered upon an
unpretentious career in the commercial line as agents and travellers
for the patentees of an improved kind of gutta percha, which material
was supposed to be applicable to every imaginable purpose, from the
sole of an infant's boot to the roof of a cathedral. There are times
when genius must stoop to pick up its daily pittance; and for twelve
months the elegant Horatio Paget was content to devote his best
energies to the perpetual praise of the Incorrodible and Indestructible
and Incombustible India-rubber, in consideration of a very modest
percentage on his commercial transactions in that material. To exert
the persuasive eloquence of a Burke or a Thurlow in order to induce a
man to roof his new warehouses with a fabric which you are aware will
be torn into ribbons by the first run of stormy weather, for the sake
of obtaining two-and-a-half per cent on his investment, may not be in
accordance with the honourable notions of a Bayard, and yet in a
commercial sense may be strictly correct. It was only when Captain
Paget had made a comfortable little purse out of his percentage upon
the Incorrodible and Incombustible that he discovered the extreme
degradation of his position as agent and traveller. He determined on
returning to the land of his birth. Joint-stock companies were
beginning to multiply in the commercial world at this period; and
wherever there are many schemes for the investment of public capital
there is room for such a man as Horatio Paget--a man who, with the aid
of a hired brougham, can inspire confidence in the breast of the least
daring speculator.

The Captain came, accompanied as usual by that plastic tool and
subaltern, Valentine Hawkehurst, who, being afflicted with a chronic
weariness of everything in life, was always eager to abandon any
present pursuit in favour of the vaguest contingency, and to shake off
the dust of any given locality from his vagabond feet. Captain Paget
and his _protege_ came to London, where a fortunate combination of
circumstances threw them in the way of Mr. Sheldon.

The alliance which arose between that gentleman and the Captain opened
a fair prospect for the latter. Mr. Sheldon was interested in the
formation of a certain joint-stock company, but had his own reasons for
not wishing to be identified with it. A stalking-horse is by no means a
difficult kind of animal to procure in the cattle-fairs of London; but
a stalking-horse whose paces are sufficiently showy and imposing--a
high-stepper, of thoroughbred appearance, and a mouth sensitively alive
to the lightest touch of the curb, easy to ride or drive, warranted
neither a kicker nor a bolter--is a quadruped of rare excellence, not
to be met with every day. Just such a stalking-horse was Captain Paget;
and Mr. Sheldon lost no time in putting him into action. It is scarcely
necessary to say that the stockbroker trusted his new acquaintance only
so far as it was absolutely necessary to trust him; or that the Captain
and the stockbroker thoroughly understood each other without affecting
to do so. For Horatio Paget the sun of prosperity arose in unaccustomed
splendour. He was able to pay for his lodgings, and was an eminently
respectable person in the eyes of his landlord. He enjoyed the daily
use of a neatly-appointed brougham, in which only the most practised
eye could discover the taint of the livery stable. He dined sumptuously
at fashionable restaurants, and wore the freshest of lavender gloves,
the most delicate of waxen heath-blossoms or creamy-tinted exotics in
the button-hole of his faultless coat.

While the chief flourished, the subaltern was comparatively idle. The
patrician appearance and manners of the Captain were a perennial source
of profit to that gentleman; but Valentine Hawkehurst had not a
patrician appearance; and the work which Mr. Sheldon found for him was
of a more uncertain and less profitable character than that which fell
to the share of the elegant Horatio. But Valentine was content. He
shared the Captain's lodging, though he did not partake of the
Captain's dinners or ride in the smart little brougham. He had a roof
to shelter him, and was rarely unprovided with the price of some kind
of dinner; and as this was the highest order of prosperity he had ever
known, he was content. He was more than content; for the first time in
his existence he knew what it was to be happy. A purer joy than life
had ever held for him until now made him careless whether his dinner

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