Part 4 out of 9
"And I suppose that means that your engagement is to be a long one?"
"The longest of long engagements. And what can be happier than a long
engagement? One gets to know and understand the man one is to marry so
thoroughly. I think I know every turn of thought in Valentine's mind;
every taste, every fancy; and I feel myself every day growing to think
more and more like him. I read the books he reads, so as to be able to
talk to him, you know; but I am not so clever as you, Di, and Valentine's
favourite authors do sometimes seem rather dry to me. But I struggle on,
you know; and the harder I find the struggle, the more I admire my dear
love's cleverness. Think of him, Di--three different articles in three
different magazines last month! The paper on Apollodorus, in the
_Cheapside_, you know; and that story in the Charing Cross--'How I lost
my Gingham Umbrella, and gained the Acquaintance of Mr. Gozzleton.' _So_
funny! And the exhaustive treatise on the Sources of Light, in the
_Scientific Saturday_. And think of the fuss they make about Homer, a
blind old person who wrote a long rigmarole of a poem about battles, and
wrote it so badly that to this day no one knows whether it's one complete
poem, or a lot of odds-and-ends in the way of poetry, put together by a
man with an unpronounceable Greek name. When I think of what Valentine
accomplishes in comparison to Homer, and the little notice the reviewers
take of him, except to make him low-spirited by telling him that he is
shallow and frivolous, I begin to think that literature must be going to
And here Charlotte became meditative, absorbed in the contemplation of
Mr. Hawkehurst's genius. Diana had begun the conversation very artfully,
intending to proceed by a gentle transition from Charlotte's love affairs
to her own; but the conversation was drifting away from the subject into
a discussion upon literature, and the brilliant young essayist whose
first adventurous flights seemed grand as the soaring of Theban eagle to
this tender and admiring watcher of his skyward progress.
"Lotta," said Miss Paget, after a pause, "should you be very sorry if I
were to leave you before your marriage?"
"Leave me before my marriage, Diana! Is it not arranged that you are to
live with mamma, and be a daughter to her, when I am gone? And you will
come and stay with Valentine and me at our cottage; and you will advise
me about my house-keeping, and teach me how to be a sensible, useful,
economical wife, as well as a devoted one. Leave us, Di! What have I
done, or mamma, or Mr. Sheldon, or anybody, that you should talk of
anything so dreadful?"
"What have you done, dear girl, dear friend, dear sister? Everything to
win my undying love and gratitude. You have changed me from a hard
disappointed bitter-minded woman--envious, at times, even of you--into
your loving and devoted friend. You have changed me from a miserable
creature into a contented and hopeful one. You have taught me to forget
that my childhood and youth were one long night of wretchedness and
degradation. You have taught me to forgive the father who suffered my
life to be what it was, and made no one poor effort to lift me out of the
slough of despond to which he had sunk. I can say no more, Charlotte.
There are things that cannot be told by words."
"And you want to leave me!" said Charlotte, in accents half-wondering,
"My father wants me to leave you, Lotta; and some one else--some one whom
you must know and like before I can be sure I like him myself."
"Him!" cried Charlotte, with a faint shriek of surprise. "Diana, WHAT are
you going to tell me?"
"A secret, Lotta; something which my father has forbidden me to tell any
one, but which I will not hide from you. My poor father has found a kind
friend--a friend who is almost as good to him as you are to me. How
merciful Heaven is in raising up friends for outcasts! And I have seen a
good deal of this gentleman who is so kind to papa, and the result is
that--chiefly for papa's sake, and because I know that he is generous and
brave and true, I mean papa's friend, M. Lenoble--I have consented to be
"Diana!" cried Charlotte, with a sternness of manner that was alarming in
so gentle a creature, "it shall never be!"
"The sacrifice! No, dear, no! I understand it all. For your cruel
mercenary heartless designing father's sake, you are going to marry a man
whom you can't love. You are going to offer up your poor bruised desolate
heart on the altar of duty. Ah, dear, you can't think I forget what you
told me only two short months ago--though I seem selfish and frivolous,
and am always talking about _him_, and parading my happiness, as it must
seem to you, reckless of the wounds so newly healed in your noble
unselfish heart. But I do not altogether forget, Diana, and such a
sacrifice as this I will not allow. I know you have resigned him to me--I
know you have thrust him from your heart, as you told me that night. But
the hollow aching void that is left in your lonely heart shall be sacred,
Di. No stranger's image shall pollute it. You shall not sacrifice your
own peace to your father's selfishness. No, dear, no! With mamma and me
you will always have a home. You need stoop to no cruel barter such as
And hereupon Miss Halliday wept over and caressed her friend, as the
confidante of Agamemnon's daughter may have wept over and caressed that
devoted young princess after the divination of Calchas had become common
talk in the royal household.
"But if I think it my duty to accept M. Lenoble's offer, Lotta?" urged
Miss Paget with some embarrassment of manner. "M. Lenoble is as rich as
he is generous, and my marriage with him will secure a happy home for my
father. The foolish dreams I told you about on Christmas Eve had faded
from my mind before I dared to speak of them. I could only confess my
folly when I knew that I was learning to be wise. Pray do not think that
I am sordid or mercenary. It is not because M. Lenoble is rich that I am
inclined to marry him, it is because--"
"Because you want to throw yourself away for the advantage of your
selfish heartless father," interjected Charlotte. "He has neglected you
all your life, and now wants to profit by the sacrifice of your
happiness. Be firm, Di, darling; your Charlotte will stand by you, and
find a home for you always, come what may. Who is this M. Lenoble? Some
horrible ugly old creature, I dare say."
Miss Paget smiled and blushed. The vision of Gustave's frank handsome
face arose before her very vividly as Charlotte said this.
"No, dear," she replied. "M. Lenoble is not an old
man--five-and-thirty at most."
"Five-and-thirty!" repeated Charlotte, with a wry face; you don't call
that young? And what is he like?"
"Well, dear, I think he is the sort of man whom most people would call
handsome. I'm sure you would like him, Lotta. He is so candid, so
animated, so full of strength and courage. The sort of man to whom one
would naturally look in any emergency or danger; the sort of man in whose
company fear would be impossible."
"Diana," cried Charlotte, suddenly, "you are in love with him!"
"Yes, dear, you are in love with him," repeated Miss Halliday, embracing
her friend with effusion; "yes, over head and ears in love with him. And
you are ashamed to confess the truth to me; and you are half ashamed to
confess it even to yourself--as if you could deceive an old stager like
me!" cried Charlotte, laughing. "Why, you dear inconstant thing, while I
have felt myself the guiltiest and most selfish creature in the world for
robbing you of Valentine, you have been quietly transferring your
affections to this M. Gustave Lenoble--who is very rich, and brave, and
true, and generous, and what most people would call handsome! Bless you,
a thousand times, my darling! You have made me so happy!"
"Yes, dear. The thought that there was a blank in your life made a dark
cloud in mine. I know I have been very selfish, very thoughtless, but I
could never have been quite free from a sense of self-reproach. But now
there is nothing for me but happiness. O darling, I so long to see your
"You shall see him, dear."
"And in the meantime tell me what he is like."
Miss Halliday insisted upon a full, true, and particular account of M.
Lenoble's personal appearance. Diana gave it, but not without some sense
of embarrassment. She could not bring herself to be enthusiastic about
Gustave Lenoble, though in her heart there was a warmth of feeling that
surprised her. "What a hypocrite you are, Di!" exclaimed Charlotte
presently. "I know you love this good Frenchman almost as dearly as I
love Valentine, and that the thought of his affection makes you happy;
and yet you speak of him in little measured sentences, and you won't be
enthusiastic even about his good looks."
"It is difficult to pass from dreams to realities, Lotta. I have lived so
long among dreams, that the waking world seems strange to me."
"That is only a poetical way of saying that you are ashamed of having
changed your mind. I will tell M. Lenoble what a lukewarm creature you
are, and how unworthy of his love!"
"You shall tell him what you please. But remember, dear, my engagement
must not be spoken about yet awhile, not even to your mamma. Papa makes a
strong point of this, and I have promised to obey, though I am quite in
the dark as to his reasons."
Miss Halliday submitted to anything her friend wished; only entreating
that she might be introduced to M. Lenoble. Diana promised her this
privilege; but it speedily transpired that Diana's promise was not all
that was wanted on this occasion.
For some time past, in fact from the very commencement of Charlotte's
engagement, Mr. Sheldon had shown himself punctilious to an exceeding
degree with regard to his stepdaughter. The places to which she went, and
the people with whom she consorted, appeared to be matters of supreme
importance in his mind. When speaking of these things he gave those about
him to understand that his ideas had been the same from the time of
Charlotte's leaving school; but Diana knew that this was not true. Mr.
Sheldon's theories had been much less strict, and Mr. Sheldon's practice
had been much more careless, prior to Miss Halliday's engagement.
No stately principal of a school for young ladies could have been more
particular as to the movements of her charges--more apprehensive of
wolf-in-sheep's-clothing in the shape of singing or drawing-master--than
Mr. Sheldon seemed to be in these latter days. Even those pleasant walks
in Kensington Gardens, which had been one of the regular occupations of
the day, were now forbidden. Mr. Sheldon did not like that his daughter
should walk in public with no better protector than Diana Paget.
"There is something disreputable in two girls marching about those
gardens together according to my ideas," said this ultra-refined
stockbroker, one morning at the family breakfast-table. "I don't like to
see my stepdaughter do anything I should forbid my own daughter to do.
And if I had a daughter, I should most decidedly forbid all lonely
rambles in Kensington Gardens. You see, Lotta, two girls as attractive
as you and Miss Paget can't be too particular where you go, and what you
do. When you want air and exercise, you can get both in the garden; and
when you want change of scene, and a peep at the fashions, you can drive
out with Mrs. Sheldon."
To this deprivation Charlotte submitted, somewhat unwillingly, but with
no sign of open rebellion. She thought her stepfather foolish and
unreasonable; but she always bore in mind the fact that he had been kind
and disinterested in the matter of her engagement, and she was content to
prove her gratitude by any little sacrifice of this kind. Was not her
lover permitted to spend his Sundays in her society, and to call on her,
at his discretion, during the week? And what were walks in Kensington
Gardens compared with the delight of his dear presence! It is true that
she had sometimes been favoured with Mr. Hawkehurst's society in the
course of her airing; but she knew that he sacrificed his hours of work
or study for the chance of half an hour in her society; and she felt that
there might be gain to him in her loss of liberty.
She told him, when next they met, that the morning walks were forbidden;
and, so jealous a passion is love, that Mr. Hawkehurst was nowise sorry
to find that his pearl was strictly watched and carefully guarded.
"Well, it seems very particular of Mr. Sheldon, of course," he said;
"but, upon my word, I think he's right. Such a girl as you oughtn't to go
about with no better protection than Diana can give you. Fellows will
stare so at a pretty girl, you know; and I can't bear to think my pearl
should be stared at by impertinent strangers."
Mr. Hawkehurst did not, however, find the strict notions of his
lady-love's stepfather quite so agreeable when he wanted to take his
"pearl" to the winter exhibitions of pictures. He was told that Miss
Halliday could go nowhere, except accompanied by her mamma; and as Georgy
did not care about pictures, and found herself unequal to the fatigue of
attending the winter exhibitions, he was obliged to forego the delight of
seeing them with Lotta on his arm. He pronounced Mr. Sheldon on this
occasion to be a narrow-minded idiot; but withdrew the remark in a
contrite spirit when Charlotte reminded him of that gentleman's
"Yes, dear, he has certainly been very kind and very disinterested--more
disinterested than even you think; but, somehow, I can't make him out."
It was very well for Miss Halliday that she had submitted to this novel
restriction with as good a grace, inasmuch as Mr. Sheldon had prepared
himself for active opposition. He had given orders to his wife, and
further orders to Mrs. Woolper to the effect that his step-daughter
should not be permitted to go out of doors, except in his own or her
"She is a very good girl, you see, Nancy," he said to the old
housekeeper, "but she's young, and she's giddy; and of course I can't
take upon myself to answer for Miss Paget, who may or may not be a good
girl. She comes of a very bad stock, however; and I am bound to remember
that. Some people think that you can't give a girl too much liberty. My
ideas lean the other way. I think you can't take too much care of a very
pretty girl whom you are bound by duty to protect."
All this sounded very noble and very conscientious. It sounded thus even
to Mrs. Woolper, who in her intercourse with Philip Sheldon could never
quite divest herself of one appalling memory. That memory was the death
of Tom Halliday, and the horrible thoughts and fears that had for a time
possessed her mind in relation to that death. The shadow of that old
ghastly terror sometimes came between her and Mr. Sheldon, even now,
though she had long ago assured herself that the terror had been alike
groundless and unreasonable.
"Didn't I see my own nephew carried off by a fever twice as sudden as the
fever that carried off poor Mr. Halliday?" she said to herself; "and am I
to think horrid things of him as I nursed a baby, because a cup of greasy
beef-tea turned my stomach?"
Convinced by such reasoning as this that she had done her master a
grievous wrong, and grateful for the timely shelter afforded in her old
age, Mrs. Woolper felt that she could not do too much in her benefactor's
service. She had already shown herself a clever managing housekeeper; had
reformed abuses, and introduced a new system of care and economy
below-stairs, to the utter bewilderment of poor Georgy, for whom the
responsibilities of the gothic villa had been an overwhelming burden.
Georgy was not particularly grateful to the energetic old Yorkshirewoman
who had taken this burden off her hands, but she was submissive.
"I never felt myself much in the house, my dear," she said to Lotta; "but
I am sure since Ann Woolper has been here I have felt myself a cipher."
Mrs. Woolper, naturally sharp and observant, was not slow to perceive
that Mr. Sheldon was abnormally anxious about his stepdaughter. She
ascribed this anxiety to a suspicious nature, an inherent distrust of
other people on the part of her master, and in some measure to his
ignorance of womankind.
"He seems to think that she'd run away and get married on the sly, at a
word from that young man; but he doesn't know what a dear innocent soul
she is, and how sorry she'd be to displease any one that's kind to her. I
don't know anything about Miss Paget. She's more stand-offish than our
own Miss, though she is little better than a genteel kind of servant;
but she seems fair-spoken enough. As to our Miss, bless her dear heart!
she want's no watching, I'll lay. But I daresay those City folks, with
their stocks going up and going down, and always bringing about the ruin
of somebody or other, go which way they will, get their poor heads so
muddled with figures that they can't believe there's such a thing as
honesty in the world."
This was the gist of Mrs. Woolper's evening musing in the snug little
housekeeper's room at the Lawn. It was a very comfortable little room,
and held sacred to Mrs. Woolper; the three young females, and the boy in
buttons, who formed Mr. Sheldon's in-door establishment, preferring the
license of the kitchen to the strict etiquette of the housekeeper's room.
This apartment, as well as every other room in the stockbroker's house,
bore the stamp of prosperity. A comfortable easy-chair reposed the limbs
of Mrs. Woolper; a bright little fire burned in a bright little grate,
and its ruddy light was reflected in a bright little fender. Prints of
the goody class adorned the walls; and a small round table, with a
somewhat gaudy cover, supported Mrs. Woolper's work-box and family Bible,
both of which she made it a point of honour to carry about with her, and
to keep religiously, through good fortune and through evil fortune;
neither of which, however, afforded her much employment. She felt herself
to be much nearer grace with the family Bible by her side than she would
have been without it; she felt, indeed, that the maintenance and due
exhibition of the family Bible was in itself a kind of religion. But that
she should peruse its pages was not in the bond. Her eyes were old and
weak--sharp enough to discover the short-comings of Mr. Sheldon's young
maid-servants, but too feeble even for long-primer.
As she looked round that snug little chamber of an evening, when her
day's labours were ended, and her own particular Britannia-metal tea-pot
was basking in the fender, her own special round of toast frizzling on
the trivet, she was very grateful to the man to whom she owed these
"What should I be but for him?" she asked herself with a shudder; for
the vision of that darksome abode shut in by high black walls--the
metropolitan workhouse--arose before her. She did not know what
difficulties would have barred her entrance even to that dreary
asylum; she only thought of the horrors of that sanctuary, and she
blessed her master for the benevolence that had accepted the service
of her failing hands.
This was the servant on whom Philip Sheldon relied. He saw that she was
grateful, and that she was ready to serve him with an almost slavish
devotion. He knew that she had suspected him in the past, and he saw that
she had outlived her suspicion.
"There is a statute of limitations to these things as well as for debt,"
he said to himself. "A man can live down anything, if he knows what he
FIRM AS A BOOK.
After that midnight interview between the two girls in Miss Halliday's
bedroom, life went very smoothly at the gothic villa for two or three
days, during which the impulsive Charlotte, being forbidden to talk
openly of the change in her friend's position, was fain to give vent to
her feelings by furtive embraces and hand-squeezings, sly nods and
meaning becks, and mischievous twinkling of her arch grey eyes.
She talked of Valentine more than ever now, feeling herself at liberty to
sing what paeans she pleased in praise of her hero, now that her friend
had also a fitting subject for paeans.
"And now it's your turn to talk of M. Lenoble, dear," she would say
naively, when she had entertained Diana with the minute details of her
last conversation with her lover, or a lively sketch of the delights of
that ideal cottage which she loved to furnish and unfurnish in accordance
with the new fancy of the hour.
Diana was pleased to listen to her girlish talk: to hang and rehang the
ideal draperies, to fill and refill the ideal bookcase, to plan and
replan the arrangements of that ideal existence which was to be all joy
and love and harmony; but when her turn came, and she was asked to be
rapturous about her own lover, she could say nothing: that which she felt
was too deep for words. The thought of her lover was strange to her; the
fact of his love was mysterious and wonderful. She could not talk of him
with the customary frivolous school-girl talk; and love for him had so
newly taken root in her heart that there were as yet no blossoms to be
gathered from that magical plant.
"Don't ask me to talk of him, Lotta, dear;" she said. "I am not yet sure
that I love him; I only feel that it is sweet to be loved by him. I think
Providence must have sent him to me in pity for my desolation."
This was almost the same fancy that had occurred to Susan Meynell
five-and-thirty years before this time, when Gustave the first had
rescued her from the suicide's unrepentable sin.
That chivalrous turn of mind which was hereditary in the race of Lenoble
predisposed these men to pity loneliness and beauty, weakness and sorrow.
This pity for helplessness may have been indeed only an element of their
exceeding strength. Was not the rescue of weaklings and women an
unfailing attribute in the mighty men of old? Who so prompt as Hercules
to fly to the rescue of Hesione? Who so swift as Perseus to save
Andromeda? And what sea-monster more terrible than loneliness and
In a few days there came another letter from Captain Paget, containing a
fresh summons to Omega Street.
"Lenoble positively returns to Normandy to-morrow," he wrote, "to see his
girls, and, no doubt, break the news of his approaching marriage. He much
wants to see you, and, as I have forbidden his calling on you at the
Lawn, can only meet you here. He is to drink tea with me at the usual
time to-morrow evening, and I shall expect to see you early in the
This afforded an opportunity for that introduction to which Miss Halliday
looked forward with so much interest.
"If Mr. Sheldon and your mamma will let you come with me this afternoon,
dear, I shall be very pleased to take you," said Diana; and she felt that
she would appear less in the character of a lamb led to the slaughter if
she could go to meet her betrothed accompanied by Charlotte.
But in this matter both the young ladies were doomed to disappointment.
Mr. Sheldon showed himself a social Draco in all things relating to his
stepdaughter. Being forbidden to reveal the existence of Gustave Lenoble,
Charlotte could only urge a frivolous desire to accompany her friend in a
pilgrimage dictated by filial duty. To the practical mind of Philip
Sheldon this desire appeared altogether absurd and unreasonable, and he
did not hesitate to express himself to that effect in a _tete-a-tete_
with his stepdaughter.
"What good on earth can you do by going to see a gouty old man, who has
his own daughter to dance attendance upon him?" asked Mr. Sheldon.
"Really, Charlotte, I am surprised to hear such a proposition from a
girl of your good sense. Miss Paget is your companion, not your visitor.
It is her duty to indulge your whims, but it is not your place to give
way to hers."
"But this is a whim of mine, papa; I should really like to spend the
afternoon at Chelsea. It would be a change, you know."
Mr. Sheldon looked at his stepdaughter with a sharp and searching gaze, a
gaze in which there was suspicion as well as curiosity.
"It is a very discreditable whim for a young lady in your position,"
he said sternly; "and I beg that such a proposition may not be made to
This was decisive. Charlotte submitted, and Diana went alone to Omega
Street. She found Gustave waiting for her. He proposed a walk, and
Captain Paget was enthusiastic upon the subject of fresh air, and the
benefits arising therefrom. So the lovers went out in the bleak winter
afternoon, and wandered in the dreary Pimlico region as far as St.
James's Park--Gustave delighted to have Diana's hand upon his arm, and
Diana almost bewildered by a sense of happiness, which seemed unreal by
reason of its very novelty.
Gustave was all enthusiasm, full of plans for the future. He would have
had the marriage take place immediately, if such a thing had been
possible; but Diana showed him that it would not be possible. Her first
duty was to the only friends she had ever known. Gustave argued the point
resolutely for nearly an hour, during which time they made their way to
the very gates of St. James's Park, but Diana was more resolute still.
"What a tyrannical wife I shall have by-and-by!" said Gustave. "I think
you care for these Sheldons more than for me, Diane."
"These Sheldons have been so good to me in the past."
"And I mean to be so good to you in the future," answered Gustave. "You
shall be the happiest wife in Normandy, if a foolish doting husband's
devotion can make you happy."
"What have I done to deserve so much devotion?" Diana murmured
"What have you done? Nothing, less than nothing. You will not even run
the hazard of offending your family of Sheldon in order to make me happy.
But Fate has said, 'At the feet of that girl with the dark eyes and pale
proud face shall poor Lenoble of Cotenoir put down his heart.' Do you
know what I said to myself when I saw you first in the little parlour
yonder? Ah, no! How should you guess? 'She is there,' said I; 'behold
her! It is thy destiny, Lenoble, on which thou gazest!' And thou, love,
wert calm and voiceless as Fate. Quiet as the goddess of marble before
which the pagans offered their sacrifices, across whose cold knees they
laid their rich garments. I put my treasures in your hip, my love; my
heart, my hopes,--all the treasures I had to offer."
This was all very sweet, but there was a sting even mingled with that
sweetness. Diana told herself that love like this should only be offered
on the purest shrine; and when she remembered the many stains upon her
father's honour, it seemed to her that a part of the shame must needs
cleave to her.
"Gustave," she said presently, after an absent meditative mood, from
which her lover had vainly tried to beguile her, "does it not seem to you
that there is something foolish in this talk of love and confidence
between you and me; and that all your promises have been a little too
lightly made? What do you know of me? You see me sitting in my father's
room, and because my eyes happen to please you, or for some reason as
foolish as that, you ask me to be your wife. I might have been one of the
worst of women."
"You might have been?--yes, dear, but you are not. And if you had been,
Gustave Lenoble would not have flung his heart into your lap, even if
your eyes had been sweeter than they are. We impulsive people are people
of quick perceptions, and know what we are doing better than our
reflective friends imagine. I did not need to be an hour in your company,
dear love, in order to know that you are noble and true. There are tones
in the voice, there are expressions of the face, that tell these things
better than words can tell them; for, you see, words can lie, while tones
and looks are apt to be true. Yes, my angel, I knew you from that first
night. My heart leapt across all conventional barriers, and found its way
straight to yours."
"I can see that you think much better of me than I deserve; but even
supposing you not to be deceived as to myself, I fear you are much
deceived as to my surroundings."
"I know that your father is poor, and that the burden of his poverty
weighs heavily on you. That is enough for me to know."
"No, M. Lenoble; it is act enough for you to know. If I am to be your
wife, I will not enter your family as an impostor. I told you the truth
about myself the other day when you questioned me, and I am bound to tell
you the truth about my father."
And then she told him, in the plainest frankest language, the story of
her father's life. She inflicted no unnecessary shame on Captain Paget;
she made no complaint of her neglected childhood and joyless youth; but
she told Gustave that her father had been an adventurer, keeping doubtful
company, and earning his bread by doubtful means.
"I hope and believe that if a peaceful home could be secured for his
declining years, he would live the rest of his life like a gentleman and
a Christian; and that, the bitter struggle for existence being ended, he
would be sorry for the past. I doubt if the sense of shame ever deserted
him when he was living that wretched wandering life, leaving debts and
difficulties behind him everywhere--always harassed and hunted by
creditors, who had good cause to be angry. Yes, Gustave, I do believe
that if it should please Providence to give my father a peaceful home at
last, he will be thankful for God's mercy, and will repent the sins of
life. And now I have told you the kind of heritage I can bring my
"My dear love, I will accept the heritage, for the sake of her who brings
it. I never meant to be less than a son to your father; and if he is not
the best of fathers, as regards the past, we will try to make him a
decent kind of father as regards the future. I have long understood that
Captain Paget is something--ever so little--of an adventurer. It was the
pursuit of fortune that brought him to me; and without knowing it, he
brought me my fortune in the shape of his daughter."
Diana blushed as she remembered that Captain Paget had not been so
innocent of any design in this matter as the Frenchman imagined.
"And you will receive even papa for my sake?" asked Diana.
"With all my heart."
"Ah, you are indeed a generous lover!"
"A lover who is not generous is--bah! there is nothing in creation so
mean as the wretch whom love does not render generous. When one sees the
woman whom Fate intends for one's wife, is one to stop to inquire the
character of her father, her mother, her sister, her cousin?--for there
is no stopping when you begin that. A man who loves makes no inquiries.
If he finds his jewel in the gutter, he picks it out of the mud and
carries it away in his bosom, too proud of his treasure to remember where
he found it; always provided that the jewel is no counterfeit, but the
real gem, fit for a king's crown. And my diamond is of the purest water.
By-and-by we will try to drain the gutter--that is to say, we will try to
pay those small debts of which you speak, to lodging-house keepers, and
tradesmen who have trusted your father."
"You would pay papa's debts!" cried Diana in amazement.
"But why not? All these little debts, the thought of which is so bitter
to you, might be discharged for two or three thousand pounds. Your father
tells me I am to be very rich by-and-by."
"My father tells you! Ah, then, you have allowed him to involve you in
some kind of speculation!"
"He has involved me in no speculation, and in no risk that two or three
hundred pounds will not cover."
"The whole business seems very mysterious, Gustave."
"Perhaps; it has to do with a secret which I am pledged to keep. I will
not allow your father to lead me into any quagmire of speculation,
believe me, dear one."
After this they went back to Omega Street in the winter gloaming, and
Diana loved and admired this man with all her heart and mind. A new life
lay before her, very bright and fair. There, where had been only the
barren desert, was now a fair landscape, shining in the sunlight of hope.
"Do you think your children will ever love me, Gustave?" she asked, not
without some sense of wonder that this impulsive light-hearted lover
should be the owner of children. She fancied that a responsibility so
grave as paternity must needs have impressed some stamp of solemnity upon
the man who bore it.
"Ever love thee!" cried Gustave. "Child, they will adore thee. They ask
only some one to love. Their hearts are gardens of flowers; and thou
shalt gather the flowers. But wilt thou be happy at Cotenoir, thou? It is
somewhat sad, perhaps--the grave old chateau with the long sombre
corridors. But thou shalt choose new furniture, new garnitures at Rouen,
and we will make all bright and gay, like the heart of thy affianced Thou
wilt not be dull?"
"Dull, with you and yours! I shall thank God for my happy home day and
night, as I never thought to thank Him a few months ago, when I was
dissatisfied, wicked, tired of my life."
"And when you thought of that other one? Ah, how he was an imbecile, that
other one! But thou wilt never think of him again; it is a dream that is
past," said M. Lenoble.
That self-confidence which was an attribute of his sanguine nature
rendered the idea of a rival not altogether unpleasant to him. He was
gratified by the idea of his own victory, and the base rival's
"Diane, I want to show thee the home that is to be thine," he said
presently. "Your Sheldon family must give thee at least a holiday, if
they refuse to let thee go altogether. Thou wilt come to Normandy with
thy father. He is coming for a week or two, now that his gout is better.
I want to show thee Cotenoir--and Beaubocage, the place where my father
was born. It will seem dreary, perhaps, to thine English eyes; but to me
it is very dear."
"Nothing that is dear to you shall appear dreary to me," said Diana.
By this time they had arrived at Omega Street. Again Miss Paget made tea
for her lover. Strange to say, the operation seemed to grow more
agreeable with every repetition. While taking his tea from the hands of
his beloved, Gustave pressed the question of Diana's visit to Normandy.
"About her Sheldon family she is adamant," he said to Captain Paget, who
sipped his tea and smiled at the lovers with the air of an aristocratic
patriarch. "There is to be no marriage till it pleases Mrs. Sheldon to
set her free. I consent to this only as man must consent to the
inevitable; but I say to her, can she not come to Normandy for a
fortnight--say but one short fortnight--to see her home? She will come
with you. She has but to ask a holiday of her friends, and it is done."
"Of course," exclaimed the Captain, "she shall come with me. If
necessary, I myself will ask it of Sheldon.--But it will be best not to
mention where you are going, Diana. There are reasons, best known to our
friend Gustave and myself, which render secrecy advisable just at
present. You can say Rouen. That is quite near enough to the mark to come
within the limits of truth," added Horatio, with the tone of a man who
had never; quite outstepped those limits. "Yes, Rouen. And you will come
"With us," said Gustave. "I will put off my journey for a day or two for
the sake of going with you. You have to meet Fleurus in Rouen haven't
"Yes; he is to be there on the fifth of March, and this is the last day
of February. I had a letter from him this morning. All goes swimmingly."
Diana wondered what it could be which went swimmingly; but she was
obliged to content herself with her lover's assurance that he had not
allowed her father to involve him in any kind of speculation.
AGAINST WIND AND TIDE.
Between Philip Sheldon and his brother there was at this time a state of
feeling somewhat akin to the relations between a subjugated country and
its conqueror. The vanquished is fain to accept whatever the victor is
pleased to give, though discontent and impotent rage may be gnawing his
entrails. George Sheldon had been a loser in that game in which the
Haygarthian inheritance was the stake. He had held good cards, and had
played them with considerable cleverness; but no play could prevail
against his antagonist's ace of trumps. The ace of trumps was Charlotte
Halliday; and as to his mode and matter of playing this card, Mr. Sheldon
was for the present profoundly mysterious.
"I have known a good many inscrutable cards in my time," the solicitor of
Gray's Inn observed to his elder brother, in the course of fraternal
converse; "but I think for inscrutability you put the topper on the lot.
What do you expect to get out of this Haygarth estate? Come, Phil, let us
have your figures in plain English. I am to have a fifth--that's all
signed and sealed. But how about your share? What agreement have you got
from Miss Halliday?"
"What would the world think of me if I extorted money, or the promise of
money, from my wife's daughter? Do you think I could enforce any deed
between her and me?"
"Ah, I see; you go in for respectability. And you are going to leave the
settlement of your claims to your stepdaughter's generosity. You will let
her marry Hawkehurst, with her hundred thousand pounds; and then you will
say to those two, 'Mr. and Mrs. Hawkehurst, be so kind as to hand over my
share of the plunder.' That is not _like_ you, Phil."
"Perhaps you will be good enough to spare yourself the trouble of
speculating about my motives. Go your way, and leave me to go mine."
"But this is a case in which I have an interest. If Charlotte marries
Hawkehurst, I don't see how you are to profit, to any extent that you
would care about, by the Haygarth fortune. But, on the other hand, if she
should die unmarried, without a will, the money would go to your wife. O
my God! Philip Sheldon, is _THAT_ what you mean?"
The question was so sudden, the tone of horror in which it was spoken so
undisguised, that Mr. Sheldon the stockbroker was for one moment thrown
off his guard. His breath thickened; he tried to speak, but his dry lips
could shape no word. It was only one moment that he faltered. In the next
he turned upon his brother angrily, and asked what he meant.
"You've been promised _your_ reward," he said; "leave me to look after
mine. You'll take those papers round to Greenwood and Greenwood; they
want to talk to you about them."
"Yes, I'll take the papers."
Greenwood and Greenwood were Mr. Sheldon's own solicitors--a firm of some
distinction, on whose acumen and experience the stockbroker placed
implicit reliance. They were men of unblemished respectability, and to
them Mr. Sheldon had confided the care of his stepdaughter's interests,
always reserving the chief power in his own hands. These gentlemen
thought well of the young lady's prospects, and were handling the case in
that slow and stately manner which marks the handling of such cases by
eminent firms of the slow-and-stately class.
Mr. Sheldon wished his brother good-day, and was about to depart, when
George planted himself suddenly before the door.
"Look you here, Phil," he said, with an intensity of manner that was by
no means common to him; "I want to say a few words to you, and I will say
them. There was an occasion, ten years ago, on which I ought to have
spoken out, and didn't. I have never ceased to regret my cowardice. Yes,
by Jove! I hate myself for it; and there are times when I feel as if my
share in that wretched business was almost as bad as yours."
"I don't know what you mean."
"Of course not. That's your text, and you'll stick to it. But you _do_
know what I mean, and you shall know what I mean, if plain words can tell
you. You and I had a friend, Phil. He was a good friend to me, and I
liked him as much as a man of the world can afford to like anybody. If I
had been down in the world, and had asked him for a hundred pounds to
give me a new start in life, I think he'd have said, 'George, here's a
cheque for you.' _That's_ my notion of a friend. And yet I stood by that
man's deathbed, and saw him sinking, and knew what ailed him, and didn't
stretch out my hand to save him."
"Be so good as to move away from that door," said Mr. Sheldon, livid to
the lips with smothered fury, but able to put on a bold front
nevertheless. "I didn't come here to listen to rhodomontade of this kind,
or to bandy words with you. Get out of my way."
"Not till I've said my say. There shall be no rhodomontade this time. I
stood by and saw my best friend murdered--by you. I kept my counsel for
your sake, and when you had made your fortune--by his death--I asked you
for a little money. You know how much you gave me, and how graciously you
gave it. If you had given me twenty times the sum you gained by Tom
Halliday's death, I would give it back, and twenty times as much again,
to bring him back to life, and to feel that I had never aided and abetted
a murderer. Yes, by God, I would! though I'm not straitlaced or
over-scrupulous at the best of times. But that's past, and all the money
in the Bank of England wouldn't undo what you did in Fitzgeorge Street.
But if you try on any such tricks with Tom Halliday's daughter, if
_that's_ the scheme you've hatched for getting hold of this money, as
surely as we two live, I'll let in the light upon your doings, and save
the girl whose father you murdered. I will, Philip, let come what may.
You can't get _me_ out of the way when it suits you, you see. _I know
you._ That's the best antidote against your medicines."
"If you'll be so good as to say these things on 'Change, I can bring an
action for libel, or get you put into a madhouse. There's no good in
saying them here."
Philip Sheldon, even in this crisis, was less agitated than his brother,
being of a harder nature, and less subject to random impulses of good or
evil. He caught his accuser by the collar of his coat, and flung him
violently from the doorway. Thus ended his visit to Gray's Inn.
Boldly as he had borne himself during the interview, he went to his
office profoundly depressed and dispirited.
"So I am to have him against me?" he said to himself. "He can do me no
real harm; but he can harass and annoy me. If he should drop any hint to
Hawkehurst?--but he'll scarcely do that. Perhaps I've ridden him a little
too roughly in the past. And yet if I'd been smoother, where would his
demands have ended? No; concession in these cases means ruin."
He shut himself in his office, and sat down to his desk to confront
his difficulties. For a long time the bark which was freighted with
Philip Sheldon's fortunes had been sailing in troubled waters. He had
been an unconscious disciple of Lord Bacon, inasmuch as the boldness
inculcated by that philosopher had been the distinguishing characteristic
of his conduct in all the operations of life. As a speculator, his
boldness had served him well. Adventures from which timid spirits shrunk
appalled had brought golden harvests to this daring gamester. When some
rich argosy upon the commercial ocean fired her minute-guns, and sent up
signals of distress, menaced by the furious tempest, lifted high on the
crest of mountainous waves, below which, black and fathomless, yawn the
valleys of death,--a frail ark hovering above the ravening jaws of
all-devouring Poseidon,--Philip Sheldon was among that chosen band of
desperate wreckers who dared to face the storm, and profit by the
tempest and terror. From such argosies, while other men watched and
waited for a gleam of sunlight on the dark horizon, Mr. Sheldon had
obtained for himself goodly merchandise. The debenture of railways that
were in bad odour; Unitas Bank shares, immediately after the discovery of
gigantic embezzlements by Swillenger, the Unitas-Bank secretary; the
Mole-and-Burrow railway stock, when the Mole-and-Burrow scheme was as yet
in the clouds, and the wiseacres prognosticated its failure; the shares
in foreign loans, which the Rothschilds were buying _sub rosa_;--these,
and such as these, had employed Mr. Sheldon's capital; and from the
skilful manipulation of capital thus employed, Mr. Sheldon had trebled
the fortune secured by his alliance with Tom Halliday's widow.
It had been the stockbroker's fate to enter the money market at a time
when fortunes were acquired with an abnormal facility. He had made the
most of his advantages, and neglected none of his opportunities. He had
seized Good Fortune by the forelock, and not waited to find the
harridan's bald and slippery crown turned to him in pitiless derision. He
had made only one mistake--and that he made in common with many of his
fellow-players in the great game of speculation always going on eastward
of Temple Bar--he had mistaken the abnormal for the normal: he had
imagined that these splendid opportunities were the natural evolvements
of an endless sequence of everyday events; and when the sequence was
abruptly broken, and when last of the seven fat kine vanished off the
transitory scene of life, to make way for a dismal succession of lean
kine, there was no sanguine youngster newly admitted to the sacred
privileges of "The House" more astounded by the change than Mr. Sheldon.
The panic came like a thief in the night, and it found Mr. Sheldon a
speculator for the rise. The Melampuses and Amphiaraeuses of the Stock
Exchange had agreed in declaring that a man who bought into consols at 90
_must_ see his capital increased; and what was true of this chief among
securities was of course true of other securities. The panic came, and
from 90, consols declined dismally, slowly, hopelessly, to 85-1/2;
securities less secure sank with a rapidity corresponding with their
constitutional weakness. As during the ravages of an epidemic the weaker
are first to fall victims to the destroyer, so while this fever raged on
'Change, the feeble enterprises, the "risky" transactions, sank at an
appalling rate, some to total expiry. The man who holds a roaring lion by
the tail could scarcely be worse off than the speculator in these
troublous times. To let go is immediate loss, to hold on for a certain
time might be redemption, could one but know the exact moment in which it
would be wise to let go. But to hold on until the beast grows more and
more furious, and then to let go and be eaten up alive, is what many men
did in that awful crisis.
If Philip Sheldon had accepted his first loss, and been warned by the
first indication that marked the turning of the tide, he would have been
a considerable loser; but he would not accept his loss, and he would not
be warned by that early indication. He had implicit belief in his own
cleverness; and he fancied if every other bark in that tempest-tossed
ocean foundered and sank, his boat might ride triumphantly across the
harbour-bar, secure by virtue of his science and daring as a navigator.
It was not till he had seen a small fortune melt away in the payment of
contango, that he consented to the inevitable. The mistakes of one year
devoured the fruits of nine years' successful enterprise, and the Philip
Sheldon of this present year was no richer than the man who had stood by
Tom Halliday's bedside and waited the advent of the equal foot that knows
no difference between the threshold of kingly palace or pauper refuge.
Not only did he find himself as poor a man as in that hateful stage of
his existence--to remember which was a dull dead pain even to _him_--but
a man infinitely more heavily burdened. He had made for himself a certain
position, and the fall from that must needs be a cruel and damaging fall,
the utter annihilation of all his chances in life.
The stockbroker's fitful slumbers at this time began to be haunted by the
vision of a black board fixed against the wall of a public resort, a
black board on which appeared his own name. In what strange places
feverish dreams showed him this hideous square of painted deal!--Now it
was on the walls of the rooms he lived in; now on the door of a church,
like Luther's propositions; now at a street-corner, where should have
been the name of the street; now inky-black against the fair white
headstone of his own grave. Miserable dream, miserable man, for whom the
scraping together of sordid dross was life's only object, and who, in
losing money, lost all!
This agonizing consciousness of loss and of close-impending disgrace was
the wolf which this Spartan stockbroker concealed beneath his waistcoat
day after day, while the dull common, joyless course of his existence
went on; and his shallow wife smiled at him from the opposite side of his
hearth, more interested in a new stitch for her crotchet or berlin-wool
work than by the inner life of her husband; and Charlotte and her lover
contemplated existence from their own point of view, and cherished their
own dreams and their own hopes, and were, in all things, as far away from
the moody meditator as if they had been natives of Upper India.
The ruin which impended over the unlucky speculator was not immediate,
but it was not far off; the shadow of it already wrapped him in a
twilight obscurity. His repute as a clever and a safe man had left him.
He was described now as a daring man; and the wiseacres shook their heads
as they talked of him.
"One of the next to go will be Sheldon," said the wiseacres; but in these
days of commercial epidemic there was no saying who would be the first to
go. It was the end of the world in little. One was taken, and another
left. The Gazette overran its customary column like a swollen river, and
flooded a whole page of the Times newspaper; and men looked to the lists
of names in the Wednesday and Saturday papers as to the trump of
archangels sounding the destruction of the universe.
For some time the bark in which Mr. Sheldon had breasted those turbulent
waters had been made of paper. This was nothing. Paper boats were the
prevailing shipping in those waters; but Captain Sheldon's bark needed
refitting, and the captain feared a scarcity of paper, or, worse still,
the awful edict issued from some commercial Areopagus that for him there
should be no more paper.
Once before, Mr. Sheldon had found himself face to face with ruin
complete and irredeemable. When all common expedients had been exhausted,
and his embarrassments had become desperate, he had found a desperate
expedient, and had extricated himself from those embarrassments. The time
had come in which a new means of extrication must be found as desperate
as the last, if need were. As Philip Sheldon had faced the situation
before, he faced it now--unshrinkingly, though with a gloomy anger
against destiny. It was hard for him that such a thing should have to be
repeated. If he pitied anybody, he pitied himself; and this kind of
compassion is very common with this kind of character. Do not the Casket
letters show us--if we may trust them to show us anything--that Mary
Stuart was very sorry for herself when she found herself called upon to
make an end of Darnley? In Mr. Swinburne's wonderful study in morbid
anatomy, there are perhaps no finer touches than those which reveal the
Queen's selfish compassion for her own heartlessness.
DIANA ASKS FOR A HOLIDAY.
Diana informed Mrs. Sheldon of her father's wish that she should leave
Bayswater. Before doing this, she had obtained the Captain's consent to
the revelation of her engagement to be married.
"I don't like to leave them in a mysterious manner, papa," she said. "I
have told Charlotte a good deal already, under a promise of secrecy; but
I should like to tell Mrs. Sheldon that there is a real reason for my
"Very well, my love, since you are so amazingly squeam--honourable,"
interposed the Captain, remembering how much depended on his daughter's
marriage, and what a very difficult person he had found her. "Yes, my
dear, of course; I respect your honourable feeling; and--er--yes--you may
tell Mrs. Sheldon--and that of course includes Mr. Sheldon, since the
lady is but an inoffensive cipher--that you are about to be married--to a
French gentleman of position. You will, of course, be obliged to mention
his name, and then will arise the question as to where and how you met
him; and, upon my word, it's confoundedly awkward that you should insist
on enlightening these people. You see, my dear girl, what I want to
avoid, for the present, is any chance of collision between the Sheldons
"Papa!" exclaimed Diana, impatiently, "why must there be all this
"O, very well, Miss Paget; tell them what you like!" cried the Captain,
aggravated beyond endurance by such inherent perversity. "All I can say
is, that a young woman who quarrels with her bread-and-butter is likely
to come to dry bread; and very little of that, perhaps. I wash my hands
of the business. Tell them what you like."
"I will not tell them more than I feel to be actually necessary, papa,"
the young lady replied calmly. "I do not think Mr. Sheldon will trouble
himself about M. Lenoble. He seems very much occupied by his own
"Humph! Sheldon seems harassed, anxious, does he?"
"Well, yes, papa; I have thought so for the last few months. If I may
venture to judge by the expression of his face, as he sits at home in the
evening, reading the paper, or staring at the fire, I am sure he has many
anxieties--troubles even. Mrs. Sheldon and Charlotte do not appear to
notice these things. They are accustomed to see him quiet and reserved,
and they don't perceive the change in him as I do."
"O, there is a change, is there?"
"Yes, a decided change."
"Why the deuce couldn't you tell me this before!"
"Why should I tell you that Mr. Sheldon seems anxious? I should not have
told you now, if you had not appeared to dread his interference in our
affairs. I can't help observing these things; but I don't want to play
the part of a spy."
"No, you're so infernally punct--so delicate-minded, my love," said the
Captain, pulling himself up suddenly, for the second time. "Forgive me if
I was impatient just now. You look at these things from a higher point of
view than that of a battered old man of the world like me. But if you
should see anything remarkable in Mr. Sheldon's conduct on another
occasion, my love, I should be obliged to you if you would be more
communicative. He and I have been allied in business, you see, and it is
important for me to know these things."
"I have not seen anything remarkable in Mr. Sheldon's conduct, papa; I
have only seen him thoughtful and dispirited. And I suppose anxieties are
common to every man of business."
Georgy received Miss Paget's announcement with mingled lamentations and
"I am sure I am heartily glad for your sake, Diana," she said; "but what
we shall do without you, I don't know. Who is to see to the drawing-room
being dusted every morning, when you are gone? I'm sure I tremble for the
glass shades. Don't imagine I'm not pleased to think you should settle in
life advantageously, my love. I'm not so selfish as that; though I will
say that there never was a girl with more natural talent for making-up
pretty little caps than you. The one I have on has been admired by
everybody. Even Ann Woolper this morning, when I was going into the
butcher's book with her--for I insist upon going into the butcher's book
with her weekly, whether she likes it or not; though the way that man
puts down the items is so bewildering that I feel myself a perfect baby
in her hands,--even Ann admired it, and said how young-looking it is. And
then she brought up the time in Fitzgeorge Street, and poor Tom's
illness, and almost upset me for the rest of the day. And now, dear, let
me offer you my sincere congratulations. Of course, you know that you
would always have had a home with me; but service, or at least
companionship, is no inheritance, as the proverb says; and for your own
sake I'm very glad to think that you are going to have a house of your
own. And now tell me what he is like, Monsieur what's-his-name?"
Mrs. Sheldon had been told, but had not remembered the name. Her great
anxiety, as well as Charlotte's, was to know what manner of man the
affianced lover was. If Diana's future happiness had been contingent on
the shape of her husband's nose, or the colour of his eyes, these two
ladies could not have been more anxious upon the subject.
"Has he long eyelashes, and a dreamy look in his eyes, like Valentine?"
asked Charlotte, secretly convinced that her lover had a copyright in
these personal graces.
"Does he wear whiskers?" asked Georgy. "I remember, when I was quite a
girl, and went to parties at Barlingford, being struck by Mr. Sheldon's
whiskers. And I was quite offended with papa, who was always making
sarcastic remarks, for calling them mutton-chop whiskers; but they
really were the shape of mutton-cutlets at that time. He wears them
Mrs. Sheldon branched off into a disquisition on whiskers, and Diana
escaped from the task of describing her lover. She could not have
described him to Georgy.
By-and-by she asked permission to leave Bayswater for a fortnight, in
order to see her lover's home and friends.
"I will come back to you, and stay as long as you like, dear Mrs.
Sheldon," she said, "and make you as many caps as you please. And I will
make them for you by and by, when I am living abroad, and send them over
to you in a bandbox. It will be a great delight to me to be of some
little service to a friend who has been so kind. And perhaps you will
fancy the caps are prettier when they can boast of being French."
"You darling generous-minded girl! And you won't go away for a fortnight
and never come back again, will you, dear? I had a cook who did that, and
left me with a large dinner-party hanging over my head; and how I got
through it--with a strange man-cook, who charged a guinea, and used fresh
butter, at twentypence, a pound, as if it had been dirt, and two strange
men to wait--I don't know. It all seemed like a dream. And since then we
have generally had everything from the confectioner's; and I assure you,
to feel that you can wash your hands of the whole thing, and sit down at
the head of your table with your mind as free from care as if you were a
visitor, is worth all the expense."
Diana promised she would not behave like the cook; and two days after
this conversation left the London Bridge terminus with her father and
Mr. Sheldon troubled himself very little about this departure. He was
informed of Miss Paget's intended marriage; and the information awakened
neither surprise nor interest in his heavily-burdened mind.
"A Frenchman, a friend of her father's!" he said; "some swindling
adventurer, no doubt," he thought. And this was as much consideration
as he could afford to bestow upon Miss Paget's love affairs at this
ASSURANCE DOUBLY SURE.
On the day after Miss Paget's departure Mr. Sheldon came home from the
City rather earlier than usual, and found Charlotte alone in the
drawing-room, reading a ponderous volume from Mudie of an instructive and
edifying character, with a view to making herself clever, in order that
she might better understand that prodigy of learning, Mr. Hawkehurst.
She was somewhat inclined to yawn over the big book, which contained a
graphic account of recent discoveries of an antiquarian nature. Her mind
was not yet attuned to the comprehension of the sublimer elements in such
discoveries. She saw only a dry as dust record of futile gropings in
desert sand for the traces of perished empires. Her imagination was not
cultivated to that point whereat the gift which Mr. Lewes calls "insight"
becomes the daily companion, nay, indeed, the ever-haunting and
nightmare-bringing influence of the dreamer. For her sands were only
sands, the stones were only stones. No splendour of fallen palaces, no
glory and pride of perished kings, no clash and clamour of vanished
courts, arose from those barren sands, with all their pomp and
circumstance, conjured into being by half a word on a broken pillar, or a
date upon a Punic monument. Miss Halliday looked up with a sigh of
fatigue as her stepfather came into the room. It was not a room that he
particularly affected, and she was surprised when he seated himself in
the easy-chair opposite her, and poked the fire, as if with the intention
"You shouldn't read by firelight, my dear," he said; "it is most
destructive to the eyesight."
"I dare say my sight will last my time, papa," the young lady replied
carelessly; "but it's very kind of you to think of it, and I won't read
Mr. Sheldon made no reply to this observation. He sat looking at the
fire, with that steady gaze which was habitual to him--the gaze of the
man who plans and calculates.
"My dear," he said by-and-by, "it seems that this money to which you may
or may not be entitled is more than we thought at first; in fact, it
appears that the sum is a considerable one. I have been, and still am,
particularly anxious to guard against disappointment on your part, as I
know the effect that such a disappointment is apt to produce upon a
person's life. The harassing slowness of Chancery proceedings is
proverbial; I am therefore especially desirous that you should not count
upon this money."
"I shall never do that, papa. I should certainly like a fine edition of
the Encyclopaedia Britannica for Valentine, by-and-by, as he says that is
essential for a literary man; and a horse, for people say literary men
ought to take horse exercise. But beyond that--"
"We need scarcely go into these details, my dear. I want you to
understand the broad facts of the case. While, on the one hand, our
success in obtaining the inheritance which we are about to claim for you
is uncertain, on the other hand the inheritance is large. Of course, when
I presented you with the sum of five thousand pounds, I had no idea of
this possible inheritance."
"O, of course not, papa."
"But I now find that there is such a possibility as your becoming
a--well--a rich woman."
"In which case I may conclude that your mother would benefit in some
measure from your good fortune."
"Can you doubt that, papa? There should be no measure to her benefit from
any money obtained by me."
"I do not doubt that, my dear. And it is with that idea that I wish to
make a proposition to you--for your mother's possible advantage."
"I shall be happy to do anything you wish, papa."
"It must be done as a spontaneous act of your own, Charlotte, not in
accordance with any wish of mine."
"What is it that I am to do?" asked Charlotte.
"Well, my dear, you see it is agreed between us that if you do get this
money, your mother is certain to benefit considerably. But unhappily the
proceedings are likely to drag on for an indefinite time; and in the
course of that time it comes within the limits of possibility that your
decease may precede that of your mother."
"In which case your mother would lose all hope of any such advantage."
"Of course, papa."
Charlotte could not help thinking that there was something sordid in this
discussion--this calculation of possible gain or loss contingent on her
fresh young life. But she concluded that it was the nature of business
men to see everything from a debased standpoint, and that Mr. Sheldon was
no more sordid than other men of his class.
"Well, papa?" she asked presently, after some moments of silence, during
which she and her stepfather had both been absorbed in the contemplation
of the fire.
"Well, my dear," replied Mr. Sheldon slowly, "I have been thinking that
the natural and easy way of guarding against all contingencies would be
by your effecting an insurance on your life in your mother's favour."
"No, no, papa!" cried Charlotte, with unwonted vehemence; "I would rather
do anything than that!"
"What can be your objection to such a very simple arrangement?"
"I dare say my objection seems foolish, childish even, papa; but I really
have a horror of life assurances. I always think of papa--my own poor
father, whom I loved so dearly. It seemed as if he put a price upon his
life for us. He was so anxious to insure his life--I remember hearing him
talk of it at Hyley, when I was a child--to make things straight, as he
said, for us; and, you see, very soon afterwards he died."
"But you can't suppose the insurance of his life had anything to do with
"Of course not, I am not so childish as that; only--"
"Only you have a foolish lackadaisical prejudice against the only means
by which you can protect your mother against a contingency that is so
remote as to be scarcely worth consideration. Let it pass."
There was more anger in the tone than in the words. It was not that angry
tone, but the mention of her mother, that impressed Miss Halliday. She
began to consider that her objections were both foolish and selfish.
"If you really think I ought to insure my life, I will do so," she said
presently. "Papa did as much for those he loved; why should I be less
thoughtful of others?"
Having once brought Miss Halliday to this frame of mind, the rest was
easy. It was agreed between them that as Valentine Hawkehurst was to be
kept in ignorance of his betrothed's claim to certain moneys now in the
shadowy under-world of Chancery, so he must be kept in ignorance of the
It was only one more secret, and Charlotte had learned that it was
possible to keep a secret from her lover.
"I suppose before we are married I shall able to tell him everything?"
"Certainly, my dear. All I want is to test his endurance and his
prudence. If the course of events proves him worthy of being trusted, I
will trust him."
"I am not afraid of that, papa."
"Of course not, my dear. But, you see, I have to protect your interests;
and I cannot afford to see this gentleman with your eyes. I am compelled
to be prudent."
The stockbroker sighed as he said this--a sigh of utter weariness.
Remorse was unknown to him; the finer fibres upon which that chord is
struck had not been employed in the fabrication of his heart. But there
is a mental fatigue which is a spurious kind of remorse, and has all the
anguish of the nobler feeling. It is an utter weariness and prostration
of spirit--a sickness of heart and mind--a bitter longing to lie down and
die--the weariness of a beaten hound rather than of a baffled man.
This was what Mr. Sheldon felt, as the threads of the web which he was
weaving multiplied, and grew daily and hourly more difficult of
manipulation. Success in the work which he had to do depended on so many
contingencies. Afar off glittered the splendid goal--the undisputed
possession of the late John Haygarth's hundred thousand pounds; but
between the schemer and that chief end and aim of all his plottings what
a sea of troubles! He folded his arms behind his head, and looked across
the girlish face of his companion into the shadow and the darkness. In
those calculations which were for ever working themselves out in this
man's brain, Charlotte Halliday was only one among many figures. She had
her fixed value in every sum; but her beauty, her youth, her innocence,
her love, her trust, made no unit of that fixed figure, nor weighed in
the slightest degree with him who added up the sum. Had she been old,
ugly, obnoxious, a creature scarcely fit to live, she would have
represented exactly the same amount in the calculations of Philip
Sheldon. The graces that made her beautiful were graces that he had no
power to estimate. He knew she was a pretty woman; but he knew also that
there were pretty women to be seen in any London street; and the
difference between his stepdaughter and the lowest of womankind who
passed him in his daily walks was to him little more than a social
The insurance business being once decided on, Mr. Sheldon lost no time in
putting it into execution. Although he made a point of secrecy as
regarded Mr. Hawkehurst, he went to work in no underhand manner, but
managed matters after a Highly artistic and superior fashion. He took his
stepdaughter to the offices of Greenwood and Greenwood, and explained her
wishes to one of those gentlemen in her presence. If he dwelt a little
more on Miss Halliday's anxiety for her mother's pecuniary advantage than
his previous conversation with Miss Halliday warranted, the young lady
was too confiding and too diffident to contradict him. She allowed him to
state, or rather to imply, that the proposed insurance was her
spontaneous wish, an emanation of her anxious and affectionate heart, the
natural result of an almost morbid care for her mother's welfare.
Mr. Hargrave Greenwood, of Greenwood and Greenwood, seemed at first
inclined to throw cold water on the proposition, but after some little
debate, agreed that extreme caution would certainly counsel such a step.
"I should imagine there was no better life amongst the inhabitants of
London," he said, "than Miss Shel--pardon me--Miss Halliday's. But, as
the young lady herself suggests, 'in the midst of life we are--'; and, as
the young lady herself has observed, these things are--ahem--beyond
human foresight. If there were any truth in the aphorisms of poets, I
should say Miss Halliday cannot insure too quickly; for the remark of
Cowper--or, stay, I believe Pope--'whom the gods love die young,' might
very well be supposed to apply to so charming a young lady. Happily, the
secretaries of insurance offices know very little about the poets,
unless, indeed, Miss Halliday were to go to the Royal Widow's and
Orphan's Hope, the secretary of which is the author of dramas that may
fairly rank with the works of Knowles and Lytton."
Mr. Greenwood, an elderly gentleman of the ponderous and port-wine
school, laughed at his own small jokes, and took things altogether
pleasantly. He gave Mr. Sheldon a letter of introduction to the secretary
of his pet insurance company, the value of which to that gentleman was
considerable. Nor was this the only advantage derived from the interview.
The lawyer's approval of the transaction reassured Charlotte; and though
she had heard her own views somewhat misrepresented, she felt that an
operation which appeared wise in the sight of such a lawyer, standing on
such a Turkey hearthrug, commanding such gentlemanly-looking clerks as
those who came and went at Mr. Greenwood's bidding, must inevitably be a
proceeding at once prudent and proper.
The business of the insurance was not quite so easy as the interview with
the lawyer. The doctor to whom Miss Halliday was introduced seemed very
well satisfied with that young lady's appearance of health and spirits,
but in a subsequent interview with Mr. Sheldon asked several questions,
and shook his head gravely when told that her father had died at
thirty-seven years of age. But he looked less grave when informed that
Mr. Halliday had died of a bilious fever.
"Did Mr. Halliday die in London?" he asked.
"I should like--ahem--if it were possible, to see the medical man who
attended him. These fevers rarely prove fatal unless there is some
"In this case there was none."
"You speak rather confidently, Mr. Sheldon, as a non-professional man."
"I speak with a certain amount of professional knowledge. I knew Tom
Halliday for many years."
Mr. Sheldon forebore to state that Tom Halliday had died in his house,
and had been attended by him. It is, perhaps, only natural that Philip
Sheldon, the stockbroker of repute, should wish to escape identification
with Philip Sheldon, the unsuccessful dentist of Bloomsbury.
After a little more conversational skirmishing, the confidential
physician of the Prudential Step Assurance Company agreed to consider
that Mr. Halliday's constitution had been in no manner compromised by his
early death, and to pass Charlotte's life. The motives for effecting the
insurance were briefly touched upon in Mr. Greenwood's letter of
introduction, and appeared very proper and feasible in the eyes of the
directors; so, after a delay of a few days, the young lady found herself
accepted, and Mr. Sheldon put away among his more important papers a
large oblong envelope, containing a policy of assurance on his
stepdaughter's life for five thousand pounds. He did not, however, stop
here, but made assurance doubly sure by effecting a second insurance upon
the same young life with the Widow's and Orphan's Hope Society, within a
few days of the first transaction.
Book the Sixth.
DIANA IN NORMANDY.
Beaubocage, near Vevinord, March 15, 186--.
My darling Lotta,--As you extorted from me a solemn pledge that I would
write you a full and detailed account of my adventures, I seat myself in
Mademoiselle Lenoble's pretty little turret-chamber, in the hope of
completing the first instalment of my work before papa or Gustave summons
me to prepare for a drive and visit to the Convent of the Sacred Heart,
which, I believe, has been planned for to-day.
What am I to tell you, dear, and how shall I begin my story? Let me
fancy myself sitting at your feet before your bedroom fire, and you
looking down at me with that pretty inquisitive look in your dear grey
eyes. Do you know that M. Lenoble's eyes are almost the colour of yours,
Lotta? You asked me a dozen questions about his eyes the other day, and I
could give you no clear description of them; but yesterday, as he stood
at the window looking out across the garden, I saw their real colour. It
is grey, a deep clear grey, and his lashes are dark, like yours. How
shall I begin? That is the grand difficulty! I suppose you will want to
know something even about the journey. Everything was very pleasant, in
spite of the cold blusterous March weather. Do you know what my last
journey was like, Lotta? It was the long dreary journey from Foretdechene
to St. Katharine's Wharf, when Mr. Hawkehurst advised and arranged my
return to England. I had been sitting quite alone in a balcony
overlooking the little town. It was after midnight, but the lights were
still burning: I can see the lamplit windows shining through the night
mist as I write this, end the sense of the hopeless misery of that time
comes back to me like the breath of some freezing wind. I can find no
words to tell you how desolate I was that night, or how hopeless.
I dared not think of my future life; or of the next day, that was to be
the beginning of that hopeless future. I was obliged to bind my thoughts
to the present and all its dreariness; and a kind of dull apathetic
feeling, which was too dull for despair, took possession of me that
night. While I was sitting there Mr. Hawkehurst came to me, and told me
that my father had become involved in a quarrel, under circumstances of a
very shameful nature, which I need not tell you, darling. He recommended
me to leave Foretdechene--indeed, almost insisted that I should do so. He
wanted to rescue me from that miserable life. Your lover had noble and
generous impulses even then, you see, dear; at his worst he was not all
bad, and needed only your gentle influence to purify and elevate his
character. He gave me all the money he possessed to pay the expenses of
my journey. Ah, what a dreary journey! I left Foretdechene in the chill
daybreak, and travelled third class, with dreadful Belgians who smelt of
garlic, to Antwerp. I slept at a very humble inn near the quay, and
started for England by the Baron Osy at noon next day. I cannot tell you
how lonely I felt on board the steamer. I had travelled uncomfortably
before, but never without my father and Valentine--and he had been always
kind to me. If we were shabbily dressed, and people thought ill of us, I
did not care. The spirit of Bohemianism must have been very strong with
me in those days. I remembered how we had sat together on the same boat
watching the sleepy shores of Holland, or making fun of our respectable
fellow-passengers. Now I was quite alone. People stared at me rudely and
unkindly, as I thought. I could not afford to dine or breakfast with the
rest; and I was weak enough to feel wounded by the idea that people would
guess my motive for shunning the savoury banquets that sent up such
horrid odours to the deck where I sat, trying to read a tattered
Tauchnitz novel. And the end of my journey? Ah, Charlotte, you can never
imagine what it is to travel like that, without knowing whether there is
any haven, any shelter for you at the end of your wanderings! I knew that
at a certain hour we were to arrive at St. Katharine's Dock, but beyond
that I knew nothing. I counted my money. There was just enough to pay for
a cab that would carry me to Hyde Lodge. I should land there penniless.
And what if my cousin Priscilla should refuse to receive me? For a moment
I fancied even that possible; and I pictured myself walking about London,
hungry and homeless.
This was my last journey. I have dwelt upon it longer than I need have
done; but I want you to understand what it is that makes Gustave Lenoble
dear to me. If you could feel the contrast between the past and the
present as I felt it when I stood on the deck of the Dover packet with
him by my side, you would know why I love him, and am grateful to him. We
stood side by side, watching the waves and talking of our future, while
my father enjoyed a nap in one of the little deck cabins. To Gustave that
future seems very bright and clear; to me it seems unutterably strange
that the future _can_ be anything but a dismal _terra incognita_, from
the contemplation of which it is wise to refrain.
Papa stays with Gustave at Cotenoir; but it had been arranged for me to
visit Mademoiselle Lenoble, Gustave's aunt, at Beaubocage, and to remain
with her during my stay in Normandy. I at once understood the delicate
feeling which prompted this arrangement. We dined at Rouen, and came to
Vevinord in a coach. At Vevinord a queer little countrified vehicle met
us, with a very old man, of the farm-servant class, as coachman. Gustave
took the reins from the old man's hand and drove to Beaubocage, where
Mademoiselle Lenoble received me with much cordiality. She is a dear old
lady, with silvery bands of hair neatly arranged under the prettiest of
caps. Her gown is black silk, and her collar and cuffs of snowy
whiteness; everything about her exquisitely neat, and of the fashion of
twenty, or perhaps thirty, years ago.
And now, I suppose, you will want to know what Beaubocage is like. Well,
dear, much as I admire Mademoiselle Lenoble, I must confess that her
ancestral mansion is neither grand nor pretty. It might have made a very
tolerable farmhouse, but has been spoiled by the architect's
determination to make it a chateau. It is a square white building, with
two pepper-castor-like turrets, in one of which I write this letter.
Between the garden and the high road there is a wall, surmounted with
plaster vases. The garden is for the greater part utilitarian; but in
front of the salon windows there is a grassplot, bordered by stiff
gravel-walks, and relieved by a couple of flower-beds. A row of tall
poplars alone screens the house from the dusty high road. At the back of
it there is an orchard; on one side a farmyard; behind the orchard lie
the fields that compose the farm of Beaubocage and the paternal estate of
the Lenoble family. All around the country is very flat. The people seem
to be kind and simple, and devotedly attached to "Mademoiselle." There is
a rustic peacefulness pervading everything which, for me, stands instead
I am hypocrite enough to pretend to be pleased with everything, for I can
perceive how anxiously M. Lenoble watches me in order to discover whether
I like his native country. He was not born at Beaubocage, but in Paris.
Mademoiselle Lenoble told me the story of his childhood, and how she
brought him to Beaubocage, when quite a little fellow, from Rouen, where
his father died. About his mother there seems to have been some mystery.
Mademoiselle told me nothing of this, except that her brother, Gustave
the elder, made a love-match, and thereby offended his father. She has
the little crib in which her nephew, Gustave the younger, slept on the
night of his coming. It had been his father's little bed thirty years
before. She shed tears as she told me the story, and how she sat and
watched by the little fellow as he cried himself to sleep with his head
lying on her arm, and the summer moonlight shining full upon his face.
I was deeply touched by her manner as she told me these things; and I
think, if I had not already learned to love M. Lenoble, I should love him
for the sake of his aunt. She is charming; a creature so innocent and
pure, that one considers one's words in speaking to her, almost as if she
were a child. She is about forty years older than I; yet for worlds I
would not tell her of the people and the scenes I have beheld at foreign
watering-places and gambling-rooms. She has spent the sixty years of her
life so completely out of the world, that she has retained the freshness
and sweetness of her youth untainted in the least degree. Can there be
magical philtre equal to this--a pure unselfish life, far away from the
clamour of cities?
The old servant who waits upon me is seventy-five years of age, and
remembers Ma'amselle Cydalise from her childhood. She is always singing
the praises of her mistress, and she sees that I like to hear them. "Ah,
ma'amselle," she said to me, "to marry a Lenoble is to marry one of the
angels. I will not say that the old seigneur was not hard towards his
son. Ah, yes, but it was a noble heart. And the young monsieur--that one
who died in Rouen, the Poor!--ah, that he was kind, that he was gracious!
What of tears, what of regrets, when the Old chased him!"
My position is quite recognised. I think the very cowboy in the
farmyard--a broad-shouldered lad, with a good-natured mindless face, and
prodigious wooden shoes like clumsy canoes--even the cowboy knows that I
am to be Madame Lenoble of Cotenoir. Cotenoir is the Windsor Castle of
this district; Beaubocage is only Frogmore. Yes, dear, the bond is signed
and sealed. Even if I did not love M. Lenoble, I have bound myself to
marry him; but I do love him, and thank him with all my heart for having
given a definite end and aim to my life. Don't think I underrate your
kindness, darling; I know that I should never want a home while you could
give me one. But 'tis hard to be a hanger-on in any household; and
Valentine will exact all his sweet young wife's love and care.
I have written you a letter which I am sure will require double postage;
so I will say no more except goodbye. Take care of yourself, dear one.
Practise your part in our favourite duets; remember your morning walk in
the garden; and don't wear out your eyes over the big books that Mr.
Hawkehurst is obliged to read.
Ever your affectionate
* * * * *
_From Charlotte Halliday to Diana Paget_.
The dullest house in Christendom, Monday.
EVER DEAREST Di,--Your letter was a welcome relief to the weariness
of my existence. How I wish I were with you! But that is too bright a
dream. I am sure I should idolise Beaubocage. I should not mind the
dismal row of poplars, or the flat landscape, or the dusty road, or
anything, so long as it was not like Bayswater. I languish for a change,
dear. I have seen so little of the world, except the dear moorland
farmhouse at Newhall. I don't think I was ever created to be "cabined,
cribbed, confined," in such a narrow life as this, amid such a dull,
unchanging round of daily commonplace. Sometimes, when the cold spring
moon is shining over the tree-tops in Kensington-Gardens, I think of
Switzerland, and the snow-clad mountains and fair Alpine valleys we have
read of and talked of, until my heart aches at the thought that I may
never see them; and to think that there are people in whom the word
'Savoy' awakes no fairer image than a cabbage! Ah, my poor dear! isn't it
almost wicked of me to complain, when _you_ have had such bitter
experience of the hard cruel world?
I am quite in love with your dear Mademoiselle Lenoble; almost as deeply
as I am in love with your magnanimous, chivalrous, generous,
audacious--everything ending in _ous_--Monsieur Lenoble.
How dare you call him M. Lenoble, by the bye? I have counted the
occasions on which you write of him in your nice long letter, and for one
Gustave there are half a dozen M. Lenobles. It must be Gustave in future
to me, remember.
What shall I tell you, dear? I have nothing to tell, really nothing. To
say that I wish you were with me is only to confess that I am very
selfish; but I _do_ wish for you, dear--my friend and adopted sister,
my old school companion, from whom, willingly, I have never concealed
Valentine called on Tuesday afternoon; but I have nothing to tell you
even about him. Mamma dozed in her corner after her cup of tea, and Val
and I sat by the fire talking over our future, just like you and M.
Lenoble on board the Calais boat. How much engaged people find to say
about the future! Is it our love that makes it seem so bright, so
different from all that has gone before? I cannot fancy life with
Valentine otherwise than happy. I strive to picture trials, and fancy
myself in prison with him, the wind blowing in at broken windows, the
rain coming through the dilapidated roof and pattering on the carpetless
floor; but the most dismal picture I can paint won't seem dismal if his
figure is a part of it. We would stop the broken windows with rags and
paper, we would wipe up the rain with our pocket-handkerchiefs, and sit
side by side and talk of the future, as we do now. Hope could never
abandon us while we were together. And then, sometimes, while I am
looking at Valentine, the thought that he might die comes to me suddenly,
like the touch of an icy hand upon my heart.
I lie awake at night sometimes thinking of this, and of papa's early
death. He came home one night with a cold, and from that hour grew worse
until he died. Ah, think what misery for a wife to suffer! Happily for
mamma, she is not capable of suffering intensely. She was very sorry, and
even now when she speaks of papa she cries a little; but the tears don't
hurt her. I think, indeed, they give her a kind of pleasure.
See, dear, what a long egotistical letter I have written, after all. I
will say no more, except that while I am delighted to think of your
pleasure among new friends and new scenes, my selfish heart still longs
for the hour that is to bring you back to me.
Pray tell me all you can about your daughters that are to be.
Ever and ever your loving CHARLOTTE.
* * * * *
_From Diana Paget to Charlotte Halliday_.
Beaubocage, near Vevinord, March 30, 186--.
MY DEAR LOTTA,--In three days more I hope to be with you; but I suppose,
in the meantime, I must keep my promise, and send you a faithful account
of my life here. Everyone here is more kind to me than words can tell;
and I have nothing left to wish for, except that you were here to be
delighted, as I am sure you would be, with the freshness and the
strangeness of everything. If I ever do become Madame Lenoble--and even
yet I _cannot_ picture to myself that such a thing will be--you must come
to Cotenoir, you and Valentine. I was taken through every room in the old
chateau the day before yesterday, and I fixed in my own mind upon the
rooms I will give you, if these things come to pass. They are very old
rooms, and I can fancy what strange people must have lived in them, and
died in them perhaps, in the days that are gone. But if you come to them,
they shall be made bright and pretty, and we will chase the shadows of
the mediaeval age away. There are old pictures, old musical instruments,
quaint spindle-legged chairs and tables, tapestries that crumble as you
touch them--the ashes and relics of many generations. Gustave says we
will sweep these poor vestiges away, and begin a new life, when I come to
Cotenoir; but I cannot find it in my heart to obliterate every trace of
those dead feet that have come and gone in all the dusky passages of my
And now I must tell you about my daughters that are to be--my daughter
that is, I may say of the elder--for I love her so well already that no
breach between Gustave and me could rob her of my affection. She is the
dearest, most loving of creatures; and she reminds me of you! I dare say
you will laugh at this, dear; and, mind, I do not say that Clarice
Lenoble is actually like you in complexion or feature--those common
attributes which every eye can see; the resemblance is far more subtle.
There is a look in this dear girl's face, a smile, an I-know-not-what,
which every now and then recalls your own bright countenance. You will
say this is mere fancy--and that is what I told myself at the first; but
I found afterwards that it is no fancy, but really one of those vague,
indefinable, accidental likenesses which one perceives so often. To me it
seems a very happy accident; for my first glance at my daughter's face
told me that I should love her for your sake.
We went to the convent the day before yesterday. It is a curious old
place, and was once a stately chateau, the habitation of a noble family.
A little portress, in the black robes of a lay sister, admitted us, and
conducted us to the parlour, a fine old room, decorated with pictures of
a religious character, painted by members of the sisterhood. Here Gustave
and I were received by the superioress, an elderly woman, with a mild
holy face, and a quiet grace of manner which might become a duchess. She
sent for the demoiselles Lenoble, and after a delay of a quarter of an
hour--you remember the toilet the girls at Hyde Lodge were obliged to
make before they went to the drawing-room, Lotta--Mademoiselle Lenoble
came, a tall, slim, lovely and lovable girl, who reminded me of the
dearest friend I have in this world. She ran to her papa first, and
saluted him with an enthusiastic hug; and then she stood for a moment
looking shyly at me, confused and doubtful. It was only for a moment
she was left in doubt. Gustave bent down to whisper something in her
ear--something for which his letters had in some manner prepared her. The
fair young face brightened, the clear grey eyes looked up at me with a
sweet affectionate gaze, and she came to me and kissed me. "I shall love
you very much," she whispered. "And I love you very much already," I
answered, in the same confidential manner. And I think these few words,
that one pretty confiding look in her innocent eyes, made a tie between
us that it would take much to loosen. Ah, Lotta, what a wide gulf between
the Diana Paget who landed alone at St. Katharine's Wharf, in the dim
cheerless dawn, and uncertain where to find a shelter in all that busy
city, and the same creature redeemed by your affection, and exalted by
the love and trust of Gustave Lenoble!
After this my second daughter appeared--a pretty young hoyden, with
lovable clinging ways; and then the superioress asked if I would like to
see the garden. Of course I said yes; and we were taken through the long
corridors, out into a fine old garden, where the pupils, who looked like
the Hyde Lodge girls translated into French, were prancing and scampering
about in the usual style. After the garden we went to the chapel, where
there were more pictures, and flower-bedecked altars, and pale twinkling
tapers burning here and there in the chill sunlight. Here there were
damsels engaged in pious meditation, from five years old upwards. They
send even the little ones to meditate, Clarice tells me; and there are
these infants kneeling before the flower-bedecked altars, rapt in
religious contemplation, like so many Thomas a Kempises. The young
meditators glanced shyly at us as we passed. When they had shown me
everything of special interest in the pleasant old place, Clarice and
Madelon ran off to dress for walking, in order to accompany us to
Cotenoir, where we were to dine.
It was quite a family party. Mademoiselle Lenoble was there, and papa. He
arrived at the chateau while Gustave and I were paying our visit to the
convent. He is in the highest spirits, and treats me with an amount of
affection and courtesy I have not been accustomed to receive at his
hands. Of course I know the cause of this change; the future mistress of
Cotenoir is a very different person from that wretched girl who was
nothing to him but a burden and an encumbrance. But even while I despise
him I cannot refuse to pity him. One forgives anything in old age. In
this, at least, it is a second childhood; and my father is very old,
Lotta. I saw the look of age in his face more plainly at Cotenoir, where
he assumed his usual _debonnaire_ man-of-the-world tone and manner, than
I had seen it in London, when he was a professed invalid. He is much
changed since I was with him at Foretdechene. It seems as if he had kept
Time at bay very long, and now at last, the common enemy will be held at
arm's-length no longer. He still braces himself up in the old military
manner, still holds himself more erect than many men of half his age;
but, in spite of all this, I can see that he is very feeble; shaken and
worn by a long life of difficulty. I am glad to think that there will he
a haven for him at last; and if I did not thank Gustave with my whole
heart for giving me a home and a place in the world, I should thank him
for giving a shelter to my father.
And now, dear, as I hope to be with you so very soon, I shall say no
more. I am to spend a day in Rouen before we come back--papa and I, that
is to say; Gustave stays in Normandy to make some arrangements before he
comes back to England. I cannot comprehend the business relations between
him and papa; but there is some business going on--law business, as it
seems to me--about which papa is very important and elated.
I am to see the cathedral and churches at Rouen, and I shall contrive to
see the shops, and to bring you something pretty. Papa has given me
money--the first he ever gave me unasked. I have very little doubt it
comes from Gustave; but I have no sense of shame in accepting it. M.
Lenoble's seems to me a royal nature, formed to bestow benefits and
bounties on every side.
Tell Mrs. Sheldon that I shall bring her the prettiest cap I can find in
with all love, believe me ever your affectionate
BOOK THE SEVENTH.
A CLOUD OF FEAR.
THE BEGINNING OF SORROW.
Who heeds the cloud no bigger than a man's hand amidst a broad expanse of
blue ether? The faint, scarce perceptible menace of that one little cloud
is lost in the wide brightness of a summer sky. The traveller jogs on
contented and unthinking, till the hoarse roar of stormy winds, or the
first big drops of the thunder-shower, startle him with a sudden
consciousness of the coming storm.
It was early May, and the young leaves were green in the avenues of
Kensington Gardens; Bayswater was bright and gay with fashionable people;
and Mrs. Sheldon found herself strong enough to enjoy her afternoon drive
in Hyde Park, where the contemplation of the bonnets afforded her
"I think they are actually smaller than ever this year," she remarked
every season; and every season the headgear of fashionable London did
indeed seem to shrink and dwindle, "fine by degrees, and beautifully
less." The coalscuttle-shaped headdress of our grandmothers had not yet
resolved itself into a string of beads and a rosebud in these days, but
was obviously tending thitherward.
Charlotte and Diana accompanied Mrs. Sheldon in her drives. The rapture
of contemplating the bonnets was not complete unless the lady had some
sympathising spirit to share her delight. The two girls were very well
pleased to mingle in that brilliant crowd, and to go back to their own
quiet life when the mystic hour came, and that bright vision of colour
and beauty melted into the twilight loneliness. It had seemed just
lately, however, as if Charlotte was growing a little weary of the
gorgeous spectacle--the ever-changing, ever-splendid diorama of West End
life. She no longer exclaimed at the sight of each exceptional toilette;
she no longer smiled admiringly on the thoroughbred horses champing their
bits in the immediate neighbourhood of her bonnet; she no longer gave a
little cry of delight when the big drags came slowly along the crowded
ranks, the steel bars shining as they swung loosely in the low afternoon
sunlight, the driver, conscious of his glory, grave and tranquil, with
the pride that apes humility.
"See, Lotta," said Miss Paget, upon an especially bright May evening, as
one of these gorgeous equipages went past Mr. Sheldon's landau, "there's
another drag. Did you see it?"
"Yes, dear, I saw it."
"And are you tired of four-in-hands? You used to admire them so much."
"I admire them as much as ever, dear."
"And yet you scarcely gave those four splendid roans a glance."
"No," Charlotte answered, with a faint sigh.
"Are you tired, Lotta?" Miss Paget asked, rather anxiously. There was
something in Charlotte's manner of late that had inspired her with a
vague sense of anxiety; some change which she could scarcely define--a
change so gradual that it was only by comparing the Charlotte of some
months ago with the Charlotte of the present that she perceived how real
a change it was. The buoyancy and freshness, the girlish vivacity of Miss
Halliday's manner, were rapidly giving place to habitual listlessness.
"Are you tired, dear?" she repeated, anxiously; and Mrs. Sheldon looked
round from her contemplation of the bonnets.
"No, Di, dearest, not tired; but--I don't feel very well this afternoon."
This was the first confession which Charlotte Halliday made of a sense of
weakness and languor that had been creeping upon her during the last two
months, so slowly, so gradually, that the change seemed too insignificant
"You feel ill, Lotta dear?" Diana asked.
"Well, no, not exactly ill. I can scarcely call it illness; I feel rather
weak--that is really all."
At this point Mrs. Sheldon chimed in, with her eyes on a passing bonnet
as she spoke.
"You see, you are so dreadfully neglectful of your papa's advice, Lotta,"
she said, in a complaining tone. "Do _you_ like pink roses with mauve
areophane, Diana? I do not. Look at that primrose tulle, with dead
ivy-leaves and scarlet berries, in the barouche. I dare say you have not
taken your glass of old port this morning, Charlotte, and have only
yourself to thank if you feel weak."
"I did take a glass of port this morning, mamma. I don't like it; but I
take it every morning."
"Don't like old tawny port, that your papa bought at the sale of a bishop
of somewhere? It's perfectly absurd of you, Lotta, to talk of not liking
wine that cost fifteen shillings a bottle, and which your papa's friends
declare to be worth five-and-thirty."
"I am sorry it is so expensive, mamma; but I can't teach myself to think
it nice," answered Charlotte, with a smile that sadly lacked the
brightness of a few weeks ago. "I think one requires to go into the City,
and become a merchant or a stockbroker, before one can like that sort of
wine. What was it Valentine quoted in the _Cheapside_, about some lady
whom somebody loved?--'To love her was a liberal education.' I think to
like old port is a commercial education."
"I am sure such wine _ought_ to do you good," said Georgy, almost
querulously. She thought this bright blooming creature had no right to be
ill. The headaches, and little weaknesses and languors and ladylike
ailments, were things for which she (Georgy) had taken out a patent; and
this indisposition of her daughter's was an infringement of copyright.
"I dare say the port will do me good, mamma, in time. No doubt I shall be
as strong as that person who strangled lions and snakes and dogs with
incalculable heads, and all that kind of thing."
"I really wish you would not talk in that absurd manner, my dear," said
Mrs. Sheldon with offended dignity. "I think you really cannot be too
grateful for your papa's kind thoughtfulness and anxiety about you. I am
sure I myself am not so anxious as he is; but of course his medical
knowledge makes him doubly careful. Six weeks ago he noticed that you
wanted strength--tone is what he calls it. 'Georgina,' he said to me,
'Charlotte wants tone. She is beginning to stoop in a really lamentable
manner: we must make her take port or bark, or something of a
strengthening kind.' And then a day or two afterwards he decided on port,
and gave me the key of the cellar--which is a thing he rarely gives out
of his own hands--and told me the number of the bin from which I was to
take the wine--some old wine that he had laid by on purpose for some
special occasion; and no one is to have it but you, and you are to take a
glass daily at eleven o'clock. Mr. Sheldon is most particular about the
hour. The regularity of the thing is half the battle in these cases, he
says; and I am sure if you do not observe his wishes and mine, Charlotte,
it will be really ungrateful of you."
"But, dear mamma, I do observe Mr.--papa's wishes. I take my glass of
port every morning at eleven. I go to your cupboard in the breakfast-room
and take out my special decanter, and my special glass, in the most
punctiliously precise manner. I don't like the wine, and I don't like the
trouble involved in the ceremony of drinking it; but I go through it most
religiously, to please you and papa."
"And do you mean to say that you do not feel stronger after taking that
expensive old port regularly for nearly six weeks.
"I am sorry to say that I do not, mamma. I think if there is any change,
it is that I am weaker."
"Dear, dear me!" exclaimed Mrs. Sheldon captiously, "you are really a
most extraordinary girl."
Mrs. Sheldon could almost have found it in her heart to say, a most
ungrateful girl. There did seem a kind of ingratitude in this futile
consumption of old port at fifteen shillings a bottle.
"I'll tell you what it is, Lotta," she said presently, "I am convinced
that your illness--or your weakness--is all fancy."
"Why so, mamma?"
"Because, if it were real weakness, that old port must have made you
stronger. And the fact that the port does you no good, is a proof that
your weakness is only fancy. Girls of your age are so full of fancies.
Look at me, and the martyrdom I go through with my nervous headaches,
which perfectly prostrate me, after the least worry or excitement. The
nerves of my head, after going into the butcher's book, are perfect
agony. When you come to have a house to look after, and find what it is
to have the same saddle of mutton charged for twice over, with the most
daring impudence--or to have capers and currie-powder, that you _know_
you've never had, staring at you from every page of your grocer's book,
and nothing but your memory between you and utter ruin--you'll discover
what it is to be really ill."
In this easy manner did Mrs. Sheldon dismiss the subject of her daughters
illness. But it was not so easily dismissed by Diana Paget, who loved her
friend with a profound and pure affection, than which no sister's love
was ever warmer or stronger. Even Valentine's preference for this happy
rival had not lessened Diana's love for her friend and benefactress. She
had been jealous of Charlotte's happier fate: but in the hour when this
jealousy was most bitter there had been no wavering in her attachment to
this one true and generous friend.
Miss Paget was very silent during the homeward drive. She understood now
what that change had been in her friend which until now had so perplexed
her. It was a decay of physical strength which had robbed Lotta's smile
of its brightness, her laugh of its merry music. It was physical languor
that made her so indifferent to the things which had once awakened her
girlish enthusiasm. The discovery was a very painful one. Diana
remembered her experience of Hyde Lodge: the girls who had grown day by
day more listless, now in the doctor's hands for a day or two, now well
again and toiling at the old treadmill round of study, now sinking into
confirmed invalids; until the bitter hour in which parents are summoned,
and the doctor urges rest, and the fond mother carries her darling home,
assured that home comfort and tenderness will, speedily restore her. Her
schoolfellows cluster round the carriage to bid her "good-bye until next
half," full of hopeful talk about her swift recovery. But when the
vacation is over, and Black Monday comes, she is not amongst the
returning scholars. Has she not gone up to the higher school, and
answered _Adsum_ to the call of the Great Master?
Diana remembered these old experiences with cruel pain.
"Girls, as bright and lovable as she is, have drooped and faded away,
just when they seem brightest and happiest," she thought as she watched
Charlotte, and perceived to-day for the first time that the outline of
her fair young cheek had lost its perfect roundness.
But in such a case love can do nothing except watch and wait. That night,
in the course of that girlish talk in Charlotte's bedroom, which had
become a habit with the two girls, Diana extorted from her friend a full
account of the symptoms which had affected her within the last few weeks.
"Pray don't look so anxious, dear Di," she said gaily; "it is really
nothing worth talking of; and I knew that if I confessed to feeling ill
you and mamma would straightway begin to worry yourselves about me. I
have felt a little sick and faint sometimes; and now and then a sudden
dizziness has come over me. It is nothing of any consequence, and it
passes away very quickly. Sometimes I have a kind of torpid languid
feeling, which is scarcely unpleasant, only strange, you know. But what
does it all amount to, except that I am nervous?"
"You must have change of air, Lotta," said Diana resolutely, "and change
of scene. Yes, no doubt you are nervous. You have been kept almost a
prisoner in the house through Mr. Sheldon's punctilious nonsense. You
miss our brisk morning walks in the Gardens, I dare say. If you were to
go to Yorkshire, now, to your friends at Newhall, you would like that
change, dear, wouldn't you?"
"Yes, I should dearly like to see Aunt Dorothy and uncle Joe; but--"
"But what, darling?"
"I should scarcely like being at Newhall, unless--you'll think me very
foolish, Di--unless Valentine was with me. We were so happy there, you
see, dear; and it was there he first told me he loved me. No, Di, I
couldn't bear Newhall without him."
"Poor Aunt Dorothy, poor uncle Joe! feathers when weighed in the scale
against a young man whom their niece has known less than a twelvemonth!"
No more was said about Charlotte's illness; Diana was too prudent to
alarm her friend by any expression of uneasiness. She adopted a cheering
tone, and the conversation drifted into other channels.
While Diana's concern for her friend's altered health was yet a new