Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

Birds of Prey by M.E. Braddon

Part 9 out of 9

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 1.1 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

excuse for separating himself most completely from Horatio Paget. He
wanted to shake himself free from all the associations of his previous
existence. He wanted to pass through the waters of Jordan, and to
emerge purified, regenerate, leaving his garments on the furthermost
side of the river; and, with all other things appertaining to the past,
he would fain have rid himself of Captain Paget.

"'Be sure your sin will find you out,'" mused the young man; "and
having found you, be sure that it will stick to you like a leech, if
your sin takes the shape of an unprincipled acquaintance, as it does in
my case. I may try my hardest to cut the past, but will Horatio Paget
let me alone in the future? I doubt it. The bent of that man's genius
shows itself in his faculty for living upon other people. He knows that
I am beginning to earn money regularly, and has begun to borrow of me
already. When I can earn more, he will want to borrow more; and
although it is very sweet to work for Charlotte Halliday, it would not
be by any means agreeable to slave for my friend Paget. Shall I offer
him a pound a week, and ask him to retire into the depths of Wales or
Cornwall, amend his ways, and live the life of a repentant hermit? I
think I could bring myself to sacrifice the weekly sovereign, if there
were any hope that Horatio Paget could cease to be--Horatio Paget, on
this side the grave. No, I have the misfortune to be intimately
acquainted with the gentleman. When he is in the swim, as he calls it,
and is earning money on his own account, he will give himself cosy
little dinners and four-and-sixpenny primrose gloves; and when he is
down on his luck, he will come whining to me."

This was by no means a pleasant idea to Mr. Hawkehurst. In the old days
he had been distinguished by all the Bohemian's recklessness, and even
more than the Bohemian's generosity in his dealings with friend or
companion. But now all was changed. He was no longer reckless. A
certain result was demanded from him as the price of Charlotte
Halliday's hand, and he set himself to accomplish his allotted task
with all due forethought and earnestness of purpose. He had need even
to exercise restraint over himself, lest, in his eagerness, he should
do too much, and so lay himself prostrate from the ill effects of
overwork; so anxious was he to push on upon the road whose goal was so
fair a temple, so light seemed that labour of love which was performed
for the sake of Charlotte.

He communed with himself very often on the subject of that troublesome
question about Captain Paget. How was he to sever his frail skiff from
that rakish privateer? What excuse could he find for renouncing his
share in the Omega-street lodgings, and setting up a new home

"Policy might prompt me to keep my worthy friend under my eye," he said
to himself, "in order that I may be sure there is no underhand work
going on between him and Philip Sheldon. But I can scarcely believe
that Philip Sheldon has any inkling about the Haygarthian fortune. If
he had, he would surely not receive me as Charlotte's suitor. What
possible motive could he have for doing so?"

This was a question which Mr. Hawkehurst had frequently put to himself;
for his confidence in Mr. Sheldon was not of that kind which asks no
questions. Even while most anxious to believe in that gentleman's
honesty of purpose, he was troubled by occasional twinges of unbelief.

During the period which had elapsed since his return from Yorkshire, he
had been able to discover nothing of any sinister import from the
proceedings of Captain Paget. That gentleman appeared to be still
engaged upon the promoting business, although by no means so profitably
as heretofore. He went into the City every day, and came home in the
evening toilworn and out of spirits. He talked freely of his
occupation--how he had done much or done nothing, during the day; and
Valentine was at a loss to perceive any further ground for the
suspicion that had arisen in his mind after the meeting at the Ullerton
station, and the shuffling of the sanctimonious Goodge with regard to
Mrs. Rebecca Haygarth's letters.

Mr. Hawkehurst therefore determined upon boldly cutting the knot that
tied him to the familiar companion of his wanderings.

"I am tired of watching and suspecting," he said to himself. "If my
dear love has a right to this fortune, it will surely come to her; or
if it should never come, we can live very happily without it. Indeed,
for my own part, I am inclined to believe that I should be prouder and
happier as the husband of a dowerless wife, than as prince-consort to
the heiress of the Haygarths. We have built up such a dear, cheery,
unpretentious home for ourselves in our talk of the future, that I
doubt if we should care to change it for the stateliest mansion in
Kensington Palace-gardens or Belgrave-square. My darling could not be
my housekeeper, and make lemon cheese-cakes in her own pretty little
kitchen, if we lived in Belgrave-square; and how could she stand at one
of those great Birmingham ironwork gates in the Palace-gardens to watch
me ride away to my work?"

To a man as deeply in love as Mr. Hawkehurst, the sordid dross which
other people prize so highly is apt to become daily more indifferent; a
kind of colour-blindness comes over the vision of the true lover, and
the glittering yellow ore seems only so much vulgar earth, too mean a
thing to be regarded by any but the mean of soul. Thus it was that Mr.
Hawkehurst relaxed his suspicion of Captain Paget, and neglected his
patron and ally of Gray's Inn, much to the annoyance of that gentleman,
who tormented the young man with little notes demanding interviews.

These interviews had of late been far from agreeable to either of the
allies. George Sheldon urged the necessity of an immediate marriage;
Valentine declined to act in an underhand manner, after the
stockbroker's unexpected generosity.

"Generosity!" echoed George Sheldon, when Valentine had given him this
point-blank refusal at the close of a stormy argument. "Generosity! My
brother Phil's generosity! Egad, that is about the best thing I've
heard for the last ten years. If I pleased, Mr. Valentine Hawkehurst, I
could tell you something about my brother which would enable you to
estimate his generosity at its true value. But I don't please; and if
you choose to run counter to me and my interests, you must pay the
price of your folly. You may think yourself uncommonly lucky if the
price isn't a stiff one."

"I am prepared to abide by my decision," answered Valentine. "Miss
Halliday without a shilling is so dear to me, that I don't care to
commit a dishonourable action in order to secure my share of the
fortune she may claim. I turned over a new leaf on the day when I first
knew myself possessed of her affection. I don't want to go back to the
old leaves."

George Sheldon gave himself an impatient shrug. "I have heard of a
great many fools," he said, "but I never heard of a fool who would play
fast-and-loose with a hundred thousand pounds, and until to-day I
couldn't have believed there was such an animal."

Mr. Hawkehurst did not deign to notice this remark.

"Do be reasonable, Sheldon," he said. "You ask me to do what my sense
of right will not permit me to do, and you ask me that which I fully
believe to be impossible. I cannot for a moment imagine that any
persuasion of mine would induce Charlotte to consent to a secret
marriage, after your brother's fair and liberal conduct."

"Of course not," cried George, with savage impatience; "that's my
brother Phil all over. He is so honourable, so plain and
straightforward in all his dealings, that he would get the best of
Lucifer himself in a bargain. I tell you, Hawkehurst, you don't know
how deep he is--as deep as the bottomless pit, by Jove! His very
generosity makes me all the more afraid of him. I don't understand his
game. If he consented to your marriage in order to get rid of
Charlotte, he would let you marry her off-hand; but instead of doing
that, he makes conditions which must delay your marriage for years.
There is the point that bothers me."

"You had better pursue your own course, without reference to me or my
marriage with Miss Halliday," said Valentine.

"That is exactly what I must do. I can't leave the Haygarth estate to
the mercy of Tom, Dick, and Harry, while you try to earn thirty pounds
a month by scribbling for the magazines. I must make my bargain with
Philip instead of with you, and I can tell you that you'll be the loser
by the transaction."

"I don't quite see that."

"Perhaps not. You see, you don't quite understand my brother Phil. If
this money gets into his hands, be sure some of it will stick to them."

"Why should the money get into his hand?"

"Because, so long as Charlotte Halliday is under his roof, she is, to a
certain extent, under his authority. And then, I tell you again, there
is no calculating the depth of that man. He has thrown dust in your
eyes already. He will make that poor girl believe him the most
disinterested of mankind."

"You can warn her."

"Yes; as I have warned you. To what purpose? You are inclined to
believe in Phil rather than to believe in me, and you will be so
inclined to the end of the chapter. You remember that man Palmer, at
Rugely, who used to go to church, and take the sacrament?"

"Yes; of course I remember that case. What of him?"

"Why, people believed in him, you know, and thought him a jolly good
fellow, up to the time when they discovered that he had poisoned a few
of his friends in a quiet gentlemanly way."

Mr. Hawkehurst smiled at the irrelevance of this remark. He could not
perceive the connection of ideas between Palmer the Rugely poisoner,
and Philip Sheldon the stockbroker.

"That was an extreme case," he said.

"Yes; of course that was an extreme case," answered George, carelessly.
"Only it goes far to prove that a man may be gifted with a remarkable
genius for throwing dust in the eyes of his fellow-creatures."

There was no further disputation between the lawyer and Valentine.
George Sheldon began to understand that a secret marriage was not to be
accomplished in the present position of affairs.

"I am half inclined to suspect that Phil knows something about that
money," he said presently, "and is playing some artful game of his

"In that case your better policy would be to take the initiative,"
answered Valentine.

"I have no other course."

"And will Charlotte know--will she know that I have been concerned in
this business?" asked Valentine, growing very pale all of sudden. He
was thinking how mean he must appear in Miss Halliday's eyes, if she
came to understand that he had known her to be John Haygarth's heiress
at the time he won from her the sweet confession of her love. "Will she
ever believe how pure and true my love has been, if she comes to know
this?" he asked himself despairingly, while George Sheldon deliberated
in silence for a few moments.

"She need know nothing until the business comes to a head," replied
George at last. "You see, there may be no resistance on the part of the
Crown lawyers; and, in that case, Miss Halliday will get her rights
after a moderate amount of delay. But if they choose to dispute her
claim, it will be quite another thing--Halliday _versus_ the Queen, and
so on--with no end of swell Q.O.'s against us. In the latter case
you'll have to put all your adventures at Ullerton and Huxter's Cross
into an affidavit, and Miss H. must know everything."

"Yes; and then she will think--ah, no; I do not believe she can
misunderstand me, come what may."

"All doubt and difficulty might be avoided if you would manage a
marriage on the quiet off-hand," said George. "I tell you again that I
cannot do that; and that, even if it were possible, I would not attempt

"So be it. You elect to ride the high horse; take care that magnificent
animal doesn't give you an ugly tumble."

"I can take my chance."

"And I must take my chance against that brother of mine. The winning
cards are all in my own hand this time, and it will be uncommonly hard
if he gets the best of me."

On this the two gentlemen parted. Valentine went to look at a
bachelor's lodging in the neighbourhood of the Edgeware-road, which he
had seen advertised in that morning's Times; and George Sheldon started
for Bayswater, where he was always sure of a dinner and a liberal
allowance of good wine from the hospitality of his prosperous kinsman.



Valentine found the apartments near the Edgeware-road in every manner
eligible. The situation was midway between his reading-room in Great
Russell-street and the abode of his delight--a half-way house on the
road between business and pleasure. The terms were very moderate, the
rooms airy and pleasant; so he engaged them forthwith, his tenancy to
commence at the end of the following week; and having settled this
matter, he went back to Omega-street, bent on dissolving partnership
with the Captain in a civil but decided manner.

A surprise, and a very agreeable one, awaited him at Chelsea. He found
the sitting-room strewn with Captain Paget's personal property, and the
Captain on his knees before a portmanteau, packing.

"You're just in time to give me a hand, Val," he said in his most
agreeable manner. "I begin to find out my age when I put my poor old
bones into abnormal attitudes. I daresay packing a trunk or two will be
only child's-play to you."

"I'll pack half a dozen trunks if you like," replied Valentine. "But
what is the meaning of this sudden move? I did not know you were going
to leave town."

"Neither did I when you and I breakfasted together. I got an unexpected
offer of a very decent position abroad this morning; a kind of agency,
that will be much better than the hand-to-mouth business I've been
doing lately."

"What kind of agency, and where?"

"Well, so far as I can make out at present, it is something in the
steam navigation way. My head-quarters will be at Rouen." "Rouen! Well,
it's a pleasant lively old city enough, and as mediaeval as one of Sir
Walter's novels, provided they haven't Haussmanised it by this time. I
am very glad to hear you have secured a comfortable berth."

"And I am not sorry to leave England, Yal," answered the Captain, in
rather a mournful tone.

"Why not?"

"Because I think it's time you and I parted company. Our association
begins to be rather disadvantageous to you, Val. We've had our ups and
downs together, and we've got on very pleasantly, take it for all in
all. But now that you're settling down as a literary man, engaged to
that young woman, hand-in-glove with Philip Sheldon, and so on, I think
it's time for me to take myself off. I'm not wanted; and sooner or
later I should begin to feel myself in the way."

The Captain grew quite pathetic as he said this; and little pangs of
remorse shot through Valentine's heart as he remembered how eager he
had been to rid himself of this Old Man of the Mountain. And here was
the poor old creature offering to take himself out of the way of his
own accord.

Influenced by this touch of remorse, Mr. Hawkehurst held out his hand,
and grasped that of his comrade and patron.

"I hope you may do well, in some--comfortable kind of business," he
said heartily. That adjective "comfortable" was a hasty substitute for
the adjective "honest," which had been almost on his lips as he uttered
his friendly wish. He was too well disposed to all the world not to
feel profound pity for this white-headed old man, who for so many years
had eaten the bread of rogues and scoundrels.

"Come," he cried cheerily, "I'll take all the packing off your hands,
Captain; and we'll eat our last dinner and drink our last bottle of
sparkling together at my expense, at any place you please to name."

"Say Blanchard's," replied Horatio Paget. "I like a corner-window,
looking out upon the glare and bustle of Regent-street. It reminds one
just a little of the Maison Doree and the boulevard. We'll drink
Charlotte Halliday's health, Val, in bumpers. She's a charming young
person, and I only wish she were an heiress, for your sake."

The eyes of the two men met as the Captain said this; and there was a
twinkle in the cold gray orbs of that gentleman which had a very
unpleasant effect upon Valentine.

"What treachery is he engaged in now?" he asked himself. "I know that
look in my Horatio's eyes; and I know it always means mischief."

George Sheldon made his appearance at the Lawn five minutes after his
brother came home from the City. He entered the domestic circle in his
usual free-and-easy manner, knowing himself to be endured, rather than
liked, by the two ladies, and to be only tolerated as a necessary evil
by the master of the house.

"I've dropped in to eat a chop with you, Phil," he said, "in order to
get an hour's comfortable talk after dinner. There's no saying half a
dozen consecutive words to you in the City, where your clerks seem to
spend their lives in bouncing in upon you when you don't want them."

There was very little talk during dinner. Charlotte and her stepfather
were thoughtful. Diana was chiefly employed in listening to the _sotto
voce_ inanities of Mrs. Sheldon, for whom the girl showed herself
admirably patient. Her forbearance and gentleness towards Georgy
constituted a kind of penitential sacrifice, by which she hoped to
atone for the dark thoughts and bitter feelings that possessed her mind
during those miserable hours in which she was obliged to witness the
happiness of Charlotte and her lover.

George Sheldon devoted himself chiefly to his dinner and a certain dry
sherry, which he particularly affected. He was a man who would have
dined and enjoyed himself at the table of Judas Iscariot, knowing the
banquet to be provided out of the thirty pieces of silver.

"That's as good a pheasant as I ever ate, Phil," he said, after winding
up with the second leg of the bird in question. "No, Georgy; no
macaroni, thanks. I don't care about kickshaws after a good dinner. Has
Hawkehurst dined with you lately, by the way, Phil?"

Charlotte blushed red as the holly-berries that decorated the
chandelier. It was Christmas-eve, and her own fair hands had helped to
bedeck the rooms with festal garlands of evergreen and holly.

"He dines with us to-morrow," replied the stockbroker. "You'll come, I
suppose, as usual, George?"

"Well, I shall be very glad, if I'm not in the way."

Mrs. Sheldon murmured some conventional protestation of the unfailing
delight afforded to her by George's society.

"Of course we're always glad to see you," said Philip in his most
genial manner; "and now, if you've anything to say to me about
business, the sooner you begin the better.--You and the girls needn't
stay for dessert, Georgy. Almonds and raisins can't be much of a
novelty to you; and as none of you take any wine, there's not much to
stop for. George and I will come in to tea."

The ladies departed, by no means sorry to return to their Berlin-wool
and piano. Diana took up her work with that saintly patience with which
she performed all the duties of her position; and Charlotte seated
herself before the piano, and began to play little bits of waltzes, and
odds and ends of polkas, in a dreamy mood, and with a slurring over of
dominant bass notes, which would have been torture to a musician's ear.

She was wondering whether Valentine would call that evening,
Christmas-eve--a sort of occasion for congratulation of some kind from
her lover, she fancied. It was the first Christmas-eve on which she had
been "engaged." She looked back to the same period last year, and
remembered herself sitting in that very room strumming on that very
piano, and unconscious that there was such a creature as Valentine
Hawkehurst upon this earth. And, strange to say, even in that benighted
state, she had been tolerably happy.

"Now, George," said Mr. Sheldon, when the brothers had filled their
glasses and planted their chairs on the opposite sides of the
hearth-rug, "what's the nature of this business that you want to talk

"Well, it is a business of considerable importance, in which you are
only indirectly concerned. The actual principal in the affair is your
stepdaughter, Miss Halliday."


"Yes. You know how you have always ridiculed my fancy for hunting up
heirs-at-law and all that kind of thing, and you know how I have held
on, hoping against hope, starting on a new scent when the old scent
failed, and so on."

"And you have got a chance at last, eh?"

"I believe that I have, and a tolerably good one; and I think you will
own that it is rather extraordinary that my first lucky hit should
bring luck your way."

"That is to say, to my stepdaughter?" remarked Mr. Sheldon, without any
appearance of astonishment.

"Precisely," said George, somewhat disconcerted by his brother's
coolness. "I have lately discovered that Miss Halliday is entitled to a
certain sum of money, and I pledge myself to put her in possession of
that money--on one condition."

"And that is--"

"That she executes a deed promising to give me half of the amount she
may recover by my agency."

"Suppose she can recover it without your agency?"

"That I defy her to do. She does not even know that she has any claim
to the amount in question."

"Don't be too sure of that. Or even supposing she knows nothing, do you
think her friends are as ignorant as she is? Do you think me such a
very bad man of business as to remain all this time unaware of the fact
that my stepdaughter, Charlotte Halliday, is next of kin to the Rev.
John Haygarth, who died intestate, at Tilford Haven, in Kent, about a
year ago?"

This was a cannon-shot that almost knocked George Sheldon off his
chair; but after that first movement of surprise, he gave a sigh, or
almost a groan, expressive of resignation.

"Egad, Phil Sheldon," he said, "I ought not to be astonished at this.
Knowing you as well as I do, I must have been a confounded fool not to
expect some kind of underhand work from you."

"What do you mean by underhand work?" exclaimed Mr. Sheldon. "The same
newspapers that were open to you were open to me, and I had better
opportunities for tracking my stepdaughter's direct descent from John
Haygarth's father."

"How did you discover Miss Halliday's descent from Matthew Haygarth?"
asked George, very meekly. He was quite crestfallen. He began to feel
that his brother would have the upper hand of him in this business as
in all other business of this world.

"That is my secret," replied Mr. Sheldon, with agreeable tranquillity
of manner. "You have kept your secrets, and I shall keep mine. Your
policy has been the policy of distrust. Mine shall be the same. When
you were starting this affair, I offered to go into it with you--to
advance whatever money you needed, in a friendly manner. You declined
my offer, and chose to go in for the business on your own hook. You
have made a very good thing for yourself, no doubt; but you are not
quite clever enough to keep me altogether in the dark in a matter which
concerns a member of my own family."

"Yes," said George, with a sigh, "that's where you hold the winning
cards. Miss Halliday is your ace of trumps."

"Depend upon it, I shall know how to hold my strength in reserve, and
when to play my leading trump."

"And how to collar my king," muttered George between his set teeth.

"Come," exclaimed Philip presently, "we may as well discuss this matter
in a friendly spirit. What do you mean to propose?"

"I have only one proposition to make," answered the lawyer, with
decision. "I hold every link of the chain of evidence, without which
Miss Halliday might as well be a native of the Fiji islands for any
claim she can assert to John Haygarth's estate. I am prepared to carry
this matter through; but I will only do it on the condition that I
receive half the fortune recovered from the Crown by Miss Halliday."

"A very moderate demand, upon my word!"

"I daresay I shall be able to make my bargain with Miss Halliday."
"Very likely," replied Mr. Sheldon; "and I shall be able to get that
bargain set aside as illegal."

"I doubt that. I have a deed of agreement drawn up here which would
hold water in any court of equity."

And hereupon Mr. Sheldon the younger produced and read aloud one of
those dry as dust documents by which the legal business of life is
carried on. It was a deed to be executed by Charlotte Halliday,
spinster, of Bayswater, on the one part, and George Sheldon, solicitor,
of Gray's Inn, on the other part; and it gave to the said George
Sheldon, as securely as any deed can give anything, one half of any
property, not now in her possession or control, which the said
Charlotte Halliday might obtain by the agency of the above-mentioned
George Sheldon.

"And pray, who is to find the costs for this business?" asked the
stockbroker. "I don't feel by any means disposed to stake my money on
such a hazardous game. Who knows what other descendants of Matthew
Haygarth may be playing at hide-and-seek in the remotest corners of the
earth, ready to spring out upon us when we've wasted a small fortune
upon law-proceedings."

"I shan't ask you to risk your money," replied George, with sullen
dignity. "I have friends who will back me when they see that agreement

"Very well, then, all you have to do is to alter your half share to
one-fifth, and I will undertake that Miss Halliday shall sign the
agreement before the week is out."


"Yes, my dear George. Twenty thousand pounds will pay you very
handsomely for your trouble. I cannot consent to Miss Halliday ceding
more than a fifth."

"A fig for your consent! The girl is of age, and can act upon her own
hook. I shall go to Miss Halliday herself," exclaimed the indignant

"O no, you won't. You must know the danger of running counter to me in
this business. That agreement is all very well; but there is no kind of
document more easy to upset if one only goes about it in the right way.
Play your own game, and I will upset that agreement, as surely as I
turn this wine-glass bowl downwards."

Mr. Sheldon's action and Mr. Sheldon's look expressed a determination
which George knew how to estimate by the light of past experience.

"It is a hard thing to find you against me, after the manner in which I
have toiled and slaved for your stepdaughter's interests."

"I am bound to hold my stepdaughter's interests paramount over every
consideration." "Yes, paramount over brotherly feeling and all that
sort of thing. I say that it is more than hard that you should be
against me, considering the special circumstances and the manner in
which I have kept my own counsel----"

"You will take a fifth share, or nothing, George," said Mr. Sheldon,
with a threatening contraction of his black brows.

"If I have any difficulty in arranging matters with you, I will go into
this affair myself, and carry it through without your help."

"That I defy you to do."

"You had better not defy me."

"Pray how much do you expect to get out of Miss Halliday's fortune?"
demanded the aggravated George.

"That is my business," answered Philip. "And now we had better go into
the drawing-room for our tea. O, by the bye, George," he added,
carelessly, "as Miss Halliday is quite a child in all business matters,
she had better be treated like a child. I shall tell her that she has a
claim to a certain sum of money; but I shall not tell her what sum. Her
disappointment will be less in the event of a failure, if her
expectations are not large."

"You are always so considerate, my dear Phil," said George, with a
malignant grin. "May I ask how it is you have taken it into your head
to play the benevolent father in the matter of Valentine Hawkehurst and
Miss Halliday ?"

"What can it signify to me whom my stepdaughter marries?" asked Philip,
coolly. "Of course I wish her well; but I will not have the
responsibility of controlling her choice. If this young man suits her,
let her marry him."

"Especially when he happens to suit _you_ so remarkably well. I think I
can understand your tactics, Phil."

"You must understand or misunderstand me, just as you please. And now
come to tea."



Valentine Hawkehurst did not make his appearance at the Lawn on
Christmas-eve. He devoted that evening to the service of his old ally.
He performed all friendly offices for the departing Captain, dined with
him very pleasantly in Regent-street, and accompanied him to the
London-bridge terminus, where he beheld the voyager comfortably seated
in a second-class carriage of the night-train for Newhaven.

Mr. Hawkehurst had seen the Captain take a through ticket for Rouen,
and he saw the train leave the terminus. This he held to be ocular
demonstration of the fact that Captain Paget was really going to the
Gallic Manchester.

"That sort of customer is so uncommonly slippery," the young man said
to himself as he left the station; "nothing but the evidence of my own
eyes would have convinced me of my friend's departure. How pure and
fresh the London atmosphere seems now that the perfume of Horatio Paget
is out of it! I wonder what he is going to do at Rouen? Very little
good, I daresay. But why should I wonder about him, or trouble myself
about him? He is gone, and I have set myself free from the trammels of
the past."

* * * * *

The next day was Christmas-day. Mr. Hawkehurst recited scraps of
Milton's glorious hymn as he made his morning toilet. He was very
happy. It was the first Christmas morning on which he had ever awakened
with this sense of supreme happiness, or with the consciousness that
the day was brighter, or grander, or more holy than other days. It
seemed to him to-day, more than ever, that he was indeed a regenerate
creature, purified by the influence of a good woman's love.

He looked back at his past existence, and the vision of many
Christmas-days arose before him: a Christmas in Paris, amidst
unutterable rain and mud; a Christmas-night spent in roaming the
Boulevards, and in the consumption of cognac and tobacco at a
third-rate cafe; a Christmas in Germany; more than one Christmas in
the Queen's Bench; one especially dreary Christmas in a long bare ward
at Whitecross-street,--how many varied scenes and changing faces arose
before his mental vision associated with that festive time! And yet
among them all there was not one on which there shone the faintest
glimmer of that holy light which makes the common holiday a sacred

It was a pleasant thing to breakfast without the society of the
brilliant Horatio, whose brilliancy was apt to appear somewhat ghastly
at that early period of the morning. It was pleasant to loiter over the
meal, now meditating on the happy future, now dipping into a tattered
copy of Southey's "Doctor;" with the consciousness that the winds and
waves had by this time wafted Captain Paget to a foreign land.

Valentine was to spend the whole of Christmas-day with Charlotte and
her kindred. He was to accompany them to a fashionable church in the
morning, to walk with them after church, to dine and tell ghost-stories
in the evening. It was to be his first day as a recognised member of
that pleasant family at Bayswater; and in the fulness of his heart he
felt affectionately disposed to all his adopted relations; even to Mr.
Sheldon, whose very noble conduct had impressed him strongly, in spite
of the bitter sneers and covert slanders of George. Charlotte had told
her lover that her stepfather was a very generous and disinterested
person, and that there was a secret which she would have been glad to
tell him, had she not been pledged to hold it inviolate, that would
have gone far to place Mr. Sheldon in a very exalted light before the
eyes of his future son-in-law.

And then Miss Halliday had nodded and smiled, and had informed her
lover, with a joyous little laugh, that he should have a horse to ride,
and an edition of Grote's "Greece" bound in dark-brown calf with
bevelled edges, when they were married; this work being one which the
young author had of late languished to possess.

"Dear foolish Lotta, I fear there will be a new history of Greece,
based on new theories, before that time comes," said the lover.

"O no, indeed; that time will come very soon. See how industriously you
work, and how well you succeed. The magazine people will soon give you
thirty pounds a month. Or who knows that you may not write some book
that will make you suddenly famous, like Byron, or the good-natured fat
little printer who wrote those long, long, long novels that no one
reads nowadays?"

Influenced by Charlotte's hints about her stepfather, Mr. Hawkehurst's
friendly feeling for that gentleman grew stronger, and the sneers and
innuendoes of the lawyer ceased to have the smallest power over him.

"The man is such a thorough-going schemer himself, that he cannot bring
himself to believe in another man's honesty," thought Mr. Hawkehurst,
while meditating upon his experience of the two brothers. "So far as I
have had any dealings with Philip Sheldon, I have found him
straightforward enough. I can imagine no hidden motive for his conduct
in relation to Charlotte. The test of his honesty will be the manner in
which he is acted upon by Charlotte's position as claimant of a great
fortune. Will he throw me overboard, I wonder? or will my dear one
believe me an adventurer and fortune-hunter? Ah, no, no, no; I do not
think in all the complications of life there could come about a state
of events which would cause my Charlotte to doubt me. There is no
clairvoyance so unerring as true love."

Mr. Hawkehurst had need of such philosophy as this to sustain him in
the present crisis of his life. He was blest with a pure delight which
excelled his wildest dreams of happiness; but he was not blest with any
sense of security as to the endurance of that exalted state of bliss.

Mr. Sheldon would learn Charlotte's position, would doubtless extort
from his brother the history of those researches in which Valentine had
been engaged; and then, what then? Alas! hereupon arose incalculable
dangers and perplexities.

Might not the stockbroker, as a man of the world, take a sordid view of
the whole transaction, and consider Valentine in the light of a
shameless adventurer, who had traded on his secret knowledge in the
hope of securing a rich wife? Might he not reveal all to Charlotte, and
attempt to place her lover before her in this most odious aspect? She
would not believe him base; her faith would be unshaken, her love
unchanged; but it was odious, it was horrible, to think that her ears
should be sullied, her tender heart fluttered, by the mere suggestion
of such baseness.

It was during the Christmas-morning sermon that Mr. Hawkehurst
permitted his mind to be disturbed by these reflections. He was sitting
next his betrothed, and had the pleasure of contemplating her fair
girlish face, with the rosy lips half parted in reverent attention as
she looked upward to her pastor. After church there was the walk home
to the Lawn: and during this rapturous promenade Valentine put away
from him all shadow of doubt and fear, in order to bask in the full
sunshine of his Charlotte's presence. Her pretty gloved hand rested
confidingly on his arm, and the supreme privilege of carrying a dainty
blue-silk umbrella and an ivory-bound church-service was awarded him.
With what pride he accepted the duty of convoying his promised wife
over the muddy crossings! Those brief journeys seemed to him in a
manner typical of their future lives. She was to travel dry-shod over
the miry ways of this world, supported by his strong arm. How fondly he
surveyed her toilet! and what a sudden interest he felt in the
fashions, that had until lately seemed so vulgar and frivolous!

"I will never denounce the absurdity of those little bonnets again,
Lotta," he cried; "that conglomeration of black velvet and
maiden's-hair fern is divine. Do you know that in some places they call
that fern Maria's hair, and hold it sacred to the mother of Him who was
born to-day? so you see there is an artistic fitness in your head-dress.
Yes, your bonnet is delicious, darling; and though the diminutive size
of that velvet jacket would lead me to suppose you had borrowed it from
some juvenile sister, it seems the very garment of all garments best
calculated to render you just one hair's-breadth nearer perfection than
you were made by Nature."

"Valentine, don't be ridiculous!" giggled the young lady.

"How can I help being ridiculous? Your presence acts upon my nerves
like laughing-gas. Ah, you do not know what cares and perplexities I
have to make me serious. Charlotte," exclaimed the young man, with
sudden energy, "do you think you could ever come to distrust me?"

"Valentine! Do I think I shall ever be Queen of England? One thing is
quite as likely as the other."

"My dear angel, if you will only believe in me always, there is no
power upon earth that can make us unhappy. Suppose you found yourself
suddenly possessed of a great fortune, Charlotte; what would you do
with it?"

"I would buy you a library as good as that in the British Museum; and
then you would not want to spend the whole of your existence in Great

"But if you had a great fortune, Lotta, don't you think you would be
very much disposed to leave me to plod on at my desk in Great
Russell-street? Possessed of wealth, you would begin to languish for
position; and you would allow Mr. Sheldon to bring you some suitor who
could give you a name and a rank in society worthy of an angelic
creature with a hundred thousand pounds or so."

"I should do nothing of the kind. I do not care for money. Indeed, I
should be almost sorry to be very rich."

"Why, dearest?"

"Because, if I were very rich, we could not live in the cottage at
Wimbledon, and I could not make lemon cheese-cakes for your dinner."

"My own true-hearted darling!" cried Valentine; "the taint of
worldliness can never touch your pure spirit."

They were at the gates of Mr. Sheldon's domain by this time. Diana and
Georgy had walked behind the lovers, and had talked a little about the
sermon, and a good deal about the bonnets; poor Diana doing her very
uttermost to feign an interest in the finery that had attracted Mrs.
Sheldon's wandering gaze.

"Well, I should have thought you couldn't fail to see it," said the
elder lady, as they approached the gate; "a leghorn, very small, with
holly-berries and black ribbon--quite French, you know, and _so_
stylish. I was thinking, if I had my Tuscan cleaned and altered, it
might----" And here the conversation became general, as the family
party entered the drawing-room, where Mr. Sheldon was reading his paper
by a roaring fire.

"Talking about the bonnets, as per usual," said the stockbroker. "What
an enormous amount of spiritual benefit you women must derive from
church-going!--Consols have fallen another eighth since Tuesday
afternoon, George," added Mr. Sheldon, addressing himself to his
brother, who was standing on the hearth-rug, with his elbow on the

"Consols are your 'bonnets,' papa," cried Charlotte, gaily; "I don't
think there is a day upon which you do not talk about their having gone
up, or gone down, or gone somewhere."

After luncheon the lovers went for a walk in Kensington-gardens, with
Diana Paget to play propriety. "You will come with us, won't you, dear
Di?" pleaded Charlotte. "You have been looking pale and ill lately,
and I am sure a walk will do you good."

Valentine seconded his liege lady's request; and the three spent a
couple of hours pacing briskly to and fro in the lonelier parts of the
gardens, leaving the broad walks for the cockneys, who mustered strong
upon this seasonable Christmas afternoon.

For two out of those three that wintry walk was rapture only too
fleeting. For the third it was passive endurance. The agonies that had
but lately rent Diana's breast when she had seen those two together no
longer tortured her. The scorpion sting was beginning to lose its
venomous power. She suffered still, but her suffering was softened by
resignation. There is a limit to the capacity for pain in every mind.
Diana had borne her share of grief; she had, in Homeric phrase,
satiated herself with anguish and tears; and to those sharp throes and
bitter torments there had succeeded a passive sense of sorrow that was
almost peace.

"I have lost him," she said to herself. "Life can never bring me much
joy; but I should be worse than weak if I spent my existence in the
indulgence of my sorrow. I should be one of the vilest wretches upon
this earth if I could not teach myself to witness the happiness of my
friend without repining."

Miss Paget had not arrived at this frame of mind without severe
struggles. Many times, in the long wakeful nights, in the slow, joyless
days, she had said to herself, "Peace, peace, when there was no peace."
But at last the real peace, the true balm of Gilead, was given in
answer to her prayers, and the weary soul tasted the sweetness of
repose. She had wrestled with, and had vanquished, the demon.

To-day, as she walked beside the lovers, and listened to their happy
frivolous talk, she felt like a mother who had seen the man she loved
won from her by her own daughter, and who had resigned herself to the
ruin of all her hopes for love of her child.

There was more genial laughter and pleasant converse at Mr. Sheldon's
dinner-table that evening than was usual at that hospitable board;
but the stockbroker himself contributed little to the merriment of the
party. He was quiet, and even thoughtful, and let the talk and laughter
go by him without any attempt to take part in it. After dinner he went
to his own room; while Valentine and the ladies sat round the fire in
the orthodox Christmas manner, and after a good deal of discursive
conversation, subsided into the telling of ghost-stories.

George Sheldon sat apart from the circle, turning over the books upon
the table, or peering into a stereoscope with an evident sense of
weariness. This kind of domestic evening was a manner of life which Mr.
Sheldon of Gray's Inn denounced as "slow;" and he submitted himself to
the endurance of it this evening only because he did not know where
else to bestow his presence.

"I don't think papa cares much about ghost-stories, does he, uncle
George?" Charlotte asked, by way of saying something to the gentleman,
who seemed so very dreary as he sat yawning over the books and

"I don't suppose he does, my dear."

"And do you think he believes in ghosts?" the young lady demanded,

"No, I am sure he doesn't," replied George, very seriously.

"Why, how seriously you say that!" cried Charlotte, a little startled
by George Sheldon's manner, in which there had been an earnestness not
quite warranted by the occasion.

"I was thinking of your father--not my brother Phil. He died in
Philip's house, you know; and if Phil believed in ghosts, he would
scarcely have liked living in that house afterwards, you see, and so
on. But he went on living there for a twelvemonth longer. It seemed
just as good as any other house to him, I suppose."

Hereupon Georgy dissolved into tears, and told the company how she had
fled, heartbroken, from the house in which her first husband had died,
immediately after the funeral.

"And I'm sure the gentlemanly manner in which your step-papa behaved
during all that dreadful time, Charlotte, is beyond all praise,"
continued the lady, turning to her daughter; "so thoughtful, so kind,
so patient. What I should have done if poor Tom's illness had happened
in a strange house, I don't know. And I have no doubt that the new
doctor, Mr. Burkham, did his duty, though his manner was not as decided
as I should have wished."

"Mr. Burkham!" cried Valentine. "What Burkham is that? We've a member
of the Ragamuffins called Burkham, a surgeon, who does a little in the
literary line."

"The Mr. Burkham who attended my poor dear husband was a very young
man," answered Georgy; "a fair man, with a fresh colour and a
hesitating manner. I should have been so much better satisfied if he
had been older."

"That is the man," said Valentine. "The Burkham I know is
fresh-coloured and fair, and cannot be much over thirty."

"Are you and he particularly intimate?" asked George Sheldon,

"O dear no, not at all. We speak to each other when we happen to meet--
that's all. He seems a nice fellow enough; and he evidently hasn't much
practice, or he couldn't afford to be a Ragamuffin, and to write
farces. He looks to me exactly the kind of modest deserving man who
ought to succeed, and who so seldom does."

This was all that was said about Mr. Burkham; but there was no more
talk of ghost-stories, and a temporary depression fell upon the little
assembly. The memory of her father had always a saddening influence on
Charlotte; and it needed many tender _sotto-voce_ speeches from
Valentine to bring back the smiles to her fair young face.

The big electro-plated tea-tray and massive silver teapot made their
appearance presently, and immediately after came Mr. Sheldon.

"I want to have a little talk with you after tea, Hawkehurst," he said,
as he took his own cup from Georgy's hand, and proceeded to imbibe the
beverage standing. "If you will come out into the garden and have a
cigar, I can say all I have to say in a very few minutes; and then we
can come in here for a rubber. Georgy is a very decent player; and my
brother George plays as good a hand at whist as any man at the
Conservative or the Reform."

Valentine's heart sank within him. What could Mr. Sheldon want with a
few minutes' talk, if not to revoke his gracious permission of some
days before--the permission that had been accorded in ignorance of
Charlotte's pecuniary advantages? The young man looked very pale as he
went to smoke his cigar in Mr. Sheldon's garden. Charlotte followed him
with anxious eyes, and wondered at the sudden gravity of his manner.
George Sheldon also was puzzled by his brother's desire for a

"What new move is Phil going to make?" he asked himself. The two men
lit their cigars, and got them well under weigh before Mr. Sheldon
began to talk.

"When I gave my consent to receive you as Miss Halliday's suitor, my
dear Hawkehurst," he said, at last, "I told you that I was acting as
very few men of the world would act, and I only told you the truth.
Since giving you that consent I have made a very startling discovery,
and one that places me in quite a new position in regard to this


"Yes, Mr. Hawkehurst, I have become aware of the fact that Miss
Halliday, the girl whom I thought entirely dependent upon my
generosity, is heir-at-law to a large fortune. You will, of course,
perceive how entirely this alters the position of affairs."

"I do perceive," Valentine answered earnestly; "but I trust you will
believe that I had not the faintest idea of Miss Halliday's position
when I asked her to be my wife. As to my love for her, I can scarcely
tell you when that began; but I think it must have dated from the first
hour in which I saw her, for I can remember no period at which I did
_not_ love her."

"If I did not believe you superior to any mercenary motives, you would
not have been under my roof to-day, Mr. Hawkehurst," said the
stockbroker, with extreme gravity. "The discovery of my stepdaughter's
position gives me no pleasure. Her claim to this wealth only increases
my responsibility with regard to her, and responsibility is what I
would willingly avoid. After all due deliberation, therefore, I have
decided that this discovery need make no alteration in your position as
Charlotte's future husband. If you were worthy of her when she was
without a fortune, you are not less worthy now."

"Mr. Sheldon," cried Valentine, with considerable emotion, "I did not
expect so much generosity at your hands!"

"No," replied the stockbroker, "the popular idea of a business man is
not particularly agreeable. I do not, however, pretend to anything like
generosity; I wish to take a common-sense view of the affair, but not
an illiberal one."

"You have shown so much generosity of feeling, that I can no longer
sail under false colours," said Valentine, after a brief pause. "Until
a day or two ago I was bound to secrecy by a promise made to your
brother. But his communication of Miss Halliday's rights to you sets me
at liberty, and I must tell you that which may possibly cause you to
withdraw your confidence."

Hereupon Mr. Hawkehurst revealed his share in the researches that had
resulted in the discovery of Miss Halliday's claim to a large fortune.
He entered into no details. He told Mr. Sheldon only that he had been
the chief instrument in the bringing about of this important discovery.

"I can only repeat what I said just now," he added, in conclusion. "I
have loved Charlotte Halliday from the beginning of our acquaintance,
and I declared myself some days before I discovered her position. I
trust this confession will in nowise alter your estimate of me."

"It would be a poor return for your candour if I were to doubt your
voluntary statement, Hawkehurst," answered the stockbroker. "No; I
shall not withdraw my confidence. And if your researches should
ultimately lead to the advancement of my stepdaughter, there will be
only poetical justice in your profiting more or less by that
advancement. In the mean tune we cannot take matters too quietly. I am
not a sanguine person, and I know how many hearts have been broken by
the High Court of Chancery. This grand discovery of yours may result in
nothing but disappointment and waste of money, or it may end as
pleasantly as my brother and you seem to expect. All I ask is, that
poor Charlotte's innocent heart may not be tortured by a small lifetime
of suspense. Let her be told nothing that can create hope in the
present or disappointment in the future. She appears to be perfectly
happy in her present position, and it would be worse than folly to
disturb her by vague expectations that may never be realised. She will
have to make affidavits, and so on, by-and-by, I daresay; and when that
time comes she must be told there is some kind of suit pending in which
she is concerned. But she need not be told how nearly that suit
concerns her, or the extent of her alleged claim. You see, my dear sir,
I have seen so much of this sort of thing, and the misery involved in
it, that I may be forgiven if I am cautious."

This was putting the whole affair in a new light. Until this moment
Valentine had fancied that, the chain of evidence once established,
Charlotte's claim had only to be asserted in order to place her in
immediate possession of the Haygarth estate. But Mr. Sheldon's cool and
matter-of-fact discussion of the subject implied all manner of doubt
and difficulty, and the Haygarthian thousands seemed carried away to
the most remote and shadowy regions of Chanceryland, as by the waves of
some legal ocean.

"And you really think it would be better not to tell Charlotte?"

"I am sure of it. If you wish to preserve her from all manner of worry
and annoyance, you will take care to keep her in the dark until the
affair is settled--supposing it ever should be settled. I have known
such an affair to outlast the person interested."

"You take a very despondent view of the matter."

"I take a practical view of it. My brother George is a monomaniac on
the next-of-kin subject."

"I cannot quite reconcile myself to the idea of concealing the truth
from Charlotte."

"That is because you do not know the world as well as I do," answered
Mr. Sheldon, coolly.

"I cannot imagine that the idea of this claim would have any disturbing
influence upon her," Valentine argued, thoughtfully. "She is the last
person in the world to care about money."

"Perhaps so. But there is a kind of intoxication in the idea of a large
fortune--an intoxication that no woman of Charlotte's age could stand
against. Tell her that she has a claim to considerable wealth, and from
that moment she will count upon the possession of that wealth, and
shape all her plans for the future upon that basis. 'When I get my
fortune, I will do this, that, and the other.' _That_ is what she will
be continually saying to herself; and by-and-by, when the affair
results in failure, as it very likely will, there will remain a sense
of disappointment which will last for a lifetime, and go far to
embitter all the ordinary pleasures of her existence."

"I am inclined to think you are right," said Valentine, after some
little deliberation. "My darling girl is perfectly happy as it is. It
may be wisest to tell her nothing."

"I am quite sure of that," replied Mr. Sheldon. "Of course her being
enlightened or not can be in no way material to me. It is a subject
upon which I can afford to be entirely disinterested."

"I will take your advice, Mr. Sheldon."

"So be it. In that case matters will remain _in statu quo_. You will be
received in this house as my stepdaughter's future husband, and it is
an understood thing that your marriage is not to take place without due
consultation, with me. I am to have a voice in the business."

"Most decidedly. It is only right that you should be deferred to."

This brought the interview to a close very pleasantly. The gentlemen
went back to the house, and Valentine found himself presently seated at
a whist-table with the brothers Sheldon, and Georgy, who played very
well, in a feeble kind of way, holding religiously by all the precepts
of Hoyle, and in evident fear of her husband and brother-in-law.
Charlotte and Diana played duets while the whist progressed, with
orthodox silence and solemnity on the part of the four players.
Valentine's eyes wandered very often to the piano, and he was in nowise
sorry when the termination of a conquering rubber set him at liberty.
He contrived to secure a brief _tete-a-tete_ with Charlotte while he
helped her in the arrangement of the books on the music-stand, and then
the shrill chime of the clock on the mantelpiece, and an audible yawn
from Philip Sheldon, told him that he must go.

"Providence has been very good to us," he said, in an undertone, as he
bade Miss Halliday good night. "Your stepfather's conduct is all that
is kind and thoughtful, and there is not a cloud upon our future. Good
night, and God bless you, my dearest! I think I shall always consider
this my first Christmas-day. I never knew till to-day how sweet and
holy this anniversary can be."

He walked to Cumberland-gate in company with George Sheldon, who
preserved a sulky gravity, which was by no means agreeable.

"You have chosen your own course," he said at parting, "and I only hope
the result may prove your wisdom. But, as I think I may have remarked
before, you don't know my brother Phil as well as I do." "Your brother
has behaved with such extreme candour and good feeling towards me, that
I would really rather not hear any of your unpleasant innuendoes
against him. I hate that 'I could an if I would' style of talk, and
while I occupy my present position in your brother's house I cannot
consent to hear anything to his discredit."

"That's a very tall animal you've taken to riding lately, my friend
Hawkehurst," said George, "and when a man rides the high horse with me
I always let him have the benefit of his _monture_. You have served
yourself without consideration for me, and I shall not trouble myself
in the future with any regard for you or your interests. But if harm
ever comes to you or yours, through my brother Philip, remember that I
warned you. Good night."

* * * * *

In Charlotte's room the cheery little fire burned late upon that frosty
night, while the girl sat in her dressing-gown dreamily brushing her
soft brown hair, and meditating upon the superhuman merits and graces
in her lover.

It was more than an hour after the family had retired, when there came
a cautious tapping at Charlotte's door. "It is only I, dear," said a
low voice; and before Charlotte could answer, the door was opened, and
Diana came in, and went straight to the hearth, by which her friend was

"I am so wakeful to-night, Lotta," she said; "and the light under your
door tempted me to come in for a few minutes' chat."

"My dearest Di, you know how glad I always am to see you."

"Yes, dear, I know that you are only too good to me--and I have been so
wayward, so ungracious. O, Charlotte, I know my coldness has wounded
you during the last few months."

"I have been just a little hurt now and then, dear, when you have
seemed not to care for me, or to sympathise with me in all my joys and
sorrows; but then it has been selfish of me to expect so much sympathy,
and I know that, if your manner is cold, your heart is noble."

"No, Lotta, it is not noble. It is a wicked heart."


"Yes," said Miss Paget, kneeling by her friend's chair, and speaking
with suppressed energy; "it has been a wicked heart--wicked because
your happiness has been torture to it."


"O, my dearest one, do not look at me with those innocent, wondering
eyes. You will hate me, perhaps, when you know all. O, no, no, no, you
will not hate--you will pity and forgive me. I loved him, dear; he was
my companion, my only friend; and there was a time--long ago--before he
had ever seen your face, when I fancied that he cared for me, and would
get to love me--as I loved him--unasked, uncared for. O, Charlotte, you
can never know what I have suffered. It is not in your nature to
comprehend what such a woman as I can suffer. I loved him so dearly, I
clung so wickedly, so madly to my old hopes, my old dreams, long after
they had become the falsest hopes, the wildest dreams that ever had
power over a distracted mind. But, my darling, it is past, and I come
to you on this Christmas night to tell you that I have conquered my
stubborn heart, and that from this time forward there shall be no cloud
between you and me."

"Diana, my dear friend, my poor girl!" cried Charlotte, quite overcome,
"you loved him, you--as well as I--and I have robbed you of his heart!"

"No, Charlotte, it was never mine."

"You loved him--all the time you spoke so harshly of him!"

"When I seemed most harsh, I loved him most. But do not look at me with
such distress in your sweet face, my dear. I tell you that the worst
pain is past and gone. The rest is very easy to bear, and to outlive.
These things do not last for ever, Charlotte, whatever the poets and
novelists may tell us. If I had not lived through the worst, I should
not be here to-night, with your arm round my neck and his name upon my
lips. I have never wished you joy until to-night, Charlotte, and now
for the first time I can wish you all good things, in honesty and
truth. I have conquered myself. I do not say that to me Valentine
Hawkehurst can ever be quite what other men are. I think that to the
end of my life there will be a look in his face, a tone of his voice,
that will touch me more deeply than any other look or tone upon earth;
but my love for you has overcome my love for him, and there is no
hidden thought in my mind to-night, as I sit here at your feet, and
pray for God's blessing on your choice."

"My darling Diana, I know not how to thank you, how to express my faith
and my love."

"I doubt if I am worthy of your love, dear; but, with God's help, I
will be worthy of your trust; and if ever there should come a day in
which my love can succour or my devotion serve you, there shall be no
lack of either. Listen, dear; there are the waits playing the sweet
Christmas hymn. Do you remember what Shakespeare says about the 'bird
of dawning' singing all night long, and how no evil spirit roams abroad
at this dear season,--

'So hallowed and so gracious is the time?'

"I have conquered my evil spirit, Lotta, and there shall be peace and
true love between us for evermore, shall there not, dearest friend?"

And thus ends the story of Diana Paget's girlish love--the love that
had grown up in secret, to be put away from her heart in silence, and
buried with the dead dreams and fancies that had fostered it. For her
to-night the romance of life closed for ever. For Charlotte the sweet
story was newly begun, and the opening chapters were very pleasant--the
mystic volume seemed all delight. Blessed with her lover's devotion,
her mother's approval, and even Mr. Sheldon's benign approbation, what
more could she ask from Providence--what lurking dangers could she
fear--what storm-cloud could she perceive upon the sunlit heavens?

There was a cloud, no bigger than a man's hand, but the harbinger of
tempest and terror. It yet remains to be shown what form that cloud
assumed, and from what quarter the tempest came. The history of
Charlotte Halliday has grown upon the writer; and the completion of
that history, with the fate of John Haygarth's fortune, will be found
under the title of, CHARLOTTE'S INHERITANCE.


Book of the day: