Part 5 out of 9
feeling, she found herself called upon to attend her father once more
in the character of a ministering angel. And this time Captain Paget's
illness was something more than gout. It was, according to his
doctors--he had on this occasion two medical attendants--a general
breaking up of the system. The poor old wanderer,--the weary Odysseus,
hero of so many trickeries, such varied adventures,--laid himself down to
rest, within view of the Promised Land for which his soul yearned.
He was very ill. Gustave Lenoble, who came back to London, did not
conceal from Diana that the illness threatened to end fatally. At his
instigation the Captain had been removed from Omega Street to pleasant
lodgings at the back of Knightsbridge Road, overlooking Hyde Park. This
was nearer Bayswater, and it was very pleasant for the fading old
worldling. He could see the stream of fashion flowing past as he sat in
his easy-chair, propped up with pillows, with the western sunlight on his
face. He pointed out the liveries and armorial bearings; and told many
scandalous and entertaining anecdotes of their past and present owners to
Gustave Lenoble, who devoted much of his time to the solacement of the
invalid. Everything that affection could do to smooth this dreary time
was done for the tired Ulysses. Pleasant books were read to him; earnest
thoughts were suggested by earnest words; hothouse flowers adorned his
cheerful sitting-room; hothouse fruits gladdened his eye by their rich
warmth of colour, and invited his parched lips to taste their cool
ripeness. Gustave had a piano brought in, so that Diana might sing to her
father in the dusky May evenings, when it should please him to hear her.
Upon the last feeble footsteps of this old man, whose life had been very
selfish and wicked, pity waited with a carefulness so fond and tender
that he might well mistake it for love. Was it fair that his last days
should be so peaceful and luxurious, when many a good man falls down to
die in the streets, worn out with the life-long effort to bear the burden
laid upon his weary shoulders? In the traditions of the Rabbins it is
written that those are the elect of God who suffer His chastisement in
the flesh. For the others, for those who on earth drain the goblet of
pleasure, and riot in the raptures of sin, for them comes the dread
retribution after death. They are plunged in the fire, and driven before
the wind; they take the shape of loathsome reptiles, and ascend by
infinitesimal degrees through all the grades of creation, until their
storm-tost wearied degraded souls re-enter human semblance once more. But
even then their old stand-point is not yet regained; their dread penance
not yet performed. As men they are the lowest and worst of men; slaves
toiling in the desert; dirt to be trampled under the feet of their
prosperous brethren. Inch by inch the wretched soul regains its lost
inheritance; cycles must elapse before the awful sentence is fulfilled.
Our Christian faith knows no such horrors. Even for the penitent of the
eleventh hour there is promise of pardon. The most earnest desire of
Diana's heart was that her father should enroll himself amongst those
late penitents--those last among the last who crowd in to the marriage
feast, half afraid to show their shame-darkened faces in that glorious
If we forgive all things to old age, so much the more surely do we
forgive all injuries to the fading enemy. That she had suffered much
cruelty and neglect at the hands of her father, was a fact that Diana
could not forget, any more than she could forget the name which he had
given her. It was a part of her life not to be put off or done away with.
But in these last days, with all her heart she forgave and pitied him.
She pitied him for the crooked paths into which his feet had wandered at
the very outset of life, and from which so weak a soul could find no
issue. She pitied him for that moral blindness which had kept him
pleasantly unconscious of the supreme depth of his degradation--a social
Laplander, who never having seen a western summer, had no knowledge that
his own land was dark and benighted.
Happily for Diana and her generous lover, the Captain was not a
difficult penitent. He was indeed a man who, having lost the capacity
and the need for sin, took very kindly to penitence, as a species of
"Yes, my dear," he said complacently--for even in the hour of his
penitence he insisted on regarding himself as a social martyr--"my life
has been a very hard one. Fortune has not been kind to me. In the words
of the immortal bard, my lines have _not_ been set in pleasant places. I
should have been glad if Providence had allowed me to be a better father
to you, a better husband to your poor mother--a better Christian, in
fact--and had spared me the repeated humiliation of going through the
Insolvent Debtors' Court. It is not always easy to understand the justice
of these things: and it has often appeared to me that something of the
favouritism which is the bane of our governments on earth must needs
obtain at a higher tribunal. One man enters life with an entailed estate
worth seventy thousand a-year, while another finds himself in the hands
of the Jews before he is twenty years of age. 'There's something in this
world amiss shall be unriddled by-and-by,' as the poet observes. The
circumstances of my own existence I have ever regarded as dark and
enigmatic. And, indeed, the events of this life are altogether
inexplicable, my love. There is that fellow Sheldon, now, who began
life as a country dentist, a man without family or connections,
who--well, I will not repine. If I am spared to behold my daughter
mistress of a fine estate, although in a foreign country, I can depart in
peace. But you must have a house in town, my dear. Yes, London must be
your head-quarters. You must not be buried alive in Normandy. There is no
place like London. Take the word of a man who has seen the finest
Continental cities, and lived in them--that is the point, my love--lived
in them. For a fine afternoon in the beginning of May, an apartment in
the Champs Elysees, or the Boulevard, is an earthly paradise; but the
Champs Elysees in a wet December--the Boulevard in a sweltering August!
London is the only spot upon earth that is never intolerable. And your
husband will be a rich man, my dear girl, a really wealthy man; and you
must see that he makes a fitting use of his wealth, and does his duty to
society. The parable of the Talents, which you were reading to me this
afternoon, is a moral lesson your husband must not forget."
After this fashion did the invalid discourse. Gustave and Diana perceived
that he still hoped to have his share in their future life, still looked
to pleasant days to come in a world which he had loved, not wisely, but
too well. Nor could they find it in their hearts to tell him that his
journey was drawing to a close, and that on the very threshold of the
peaceful home which his diplomatic arts had helped to secure, he was to
abandon life's weary race.
They indulged his hopes a little, in order to win him the more easily to
serious thoughts; but though at times quite ready to abandon himself to a
penitential mood that was almost maudlin, there were other times when the
old Adam asserted himself, and the Captain resented this intrusion of
serious subjects as a kind of impertinence.
"I am not aware that I am at my last gasp, Diana," he said with dignity,
on one of these occasions; "or that I need to be talked to by my own
daughter as if I were on my deathbed. I can show you men some years my
senior driving their phaetons-and-pairs in that Park. The Gospel is all
very well in its place--during Sunday-morning service, and after morning
prayers, in your good old county families, where the household is large
enough to make a fair show at the end of the dining-room, without
bringing in hulking lads who smell of the stables: but I consider that
when a man is ill, there is a considerable want of tact in bringing the
subject of religion before him in any obtrusive manner."
Thus the Captain alternated from sentimental penitence to captious
worldliness, during may days and weeks. The business of the Haygarthian
inheritance was progressing slowly, but surely. Documents were being
prepared, attested copies of certificates of marriages, births, baptisms,
and burials were being procured, and all was tending towards the grand
result. Once, and sometimes twice a week, M. Fleurus came to see Captain
Paget, and discussed the great affair with that invalid diplomatist. The
Captain had long ago been aware that in entering upon an alliance with
that gentleman, he had invoked the aid of a coadjutor likely to prove too
strong for him. The event had justified his fears. M. Fleurus had
something of Victor Hugo's famous _Poulpe_ in his nature. Powerful as
flexible were the arms he stretched forth to grasp all prizes in the way
of heirs-at-law and disputed heritages, unclaimed railway-stock, and
forgotten consols. If the Captain had not played his cards very cleverly,
and contrived to obtain a personal influence over Gustave Lenoble, he
might have found himself thrust entirely out of the business by one of
the Frenchman's gelatinous arms. Happily for his own success, however,
the Captain did obtain a strong hold upon Gustave. This enabled him to
protect his own interests throughout the negotiation, and to keep the
insidious Fleurus at bay.
"My good friend," he said, in his grand Carlton-House manner, "I am bound
to protect the interests of my friend M. Lenoble, in any agreement to be
entered upon in this matter. I cannot permit M. Lenoble's generosity or
M. Lenoble's inexperience to be imposed upon. My own interests are of
secondary importance. That I expect to profit by the extraordinary
discovery made by me--by ME--alone and unaided, I do not affect to deny.
But I will not profit at the expense of a too generous friend."
"And what recompense am I to have for my work--a work at once painful and
impoverishing?" asked the little Frenchman, with an angry and suspicious
look. "Do you believe that I do that to amuse me? To run the streets, to
go by here, by there, in hunting the papers of that marriage, or this
baptism? Believe you that is so agreeable, Monsieur the Captain? No; I
desire to be paid for my work. I must have my part in the heritage which
I have help to win."
"It is not won yet. We will talk of your recompense by-and-by."
"We will talk of it this instant--upon the field. It must that I
comprehend where I am in this affair. I will not of mystifications, of
prevarications, of lies--"
"M. Fleurus!" cried the Captain, with a hand stretched towards the bell.
"You will sound--you will chase me! Ah, but no!--you cannot afford to
chase me yet. I have to find more papers of baptisms and burials. Go,
then, we will talk of this affair as friends."
This friendly talk ended in Captain Paget's complete victory. M. Fleurus
consented to accept his costs out of pocket in the present, and three per
cent, of the heritage in the future. It was further agreed that the
Captain should select the English attorney who should conduct M.
Lenoble's case in the Court of Chancery.
This conversation occurred at Rouen, and a day or two afterwards the
necessary document was drawn up. Gustave pledged himself to pay over a
fourth share of the Haygarthian fortune to Horatio Paget, and three
per cent, upon the whole amount to Jean Francois Fleurus. The document
was very formal, very complete; but whether such an agreement would
hold water, if Gustave Lenoble should choose to contest it, was open
The solicitor to whom Horatio Paget introduced M. Lenoble was a Mr.
Dashwood, of the firm of Dashwood and Vernon; a man whom the Captain had
known in the past, and from whom he had received good service in some of
the most difficult crises of his difficult career. To this gentleman he
confided the conduct of the case; and explained his apprehensions with
regard to the two Sheldons.
"You see, as the case now stands, they think they have the claimant to
this money in Miss Halliday--Sheldon's stepdaughter. But if they got an
inkling of Susan Meynell's marriage--and, in point of fact--the actual
state of the case--they might try to get hold of my friend, Gustave
Lenoble. They could _not_ get hold of him, mind you, Dashwood, but they
would try it on, and I don't want trying on of that kind."
"Of course not. I know Sheldon, of Gray's Inn. He is rather--well, say
_shady_. That's hardly an actionable epithet, and it expresses what I
mean. Your friend's case seems to me tolerably clear. That little
Frenchman is useful, but officious. It is not a speculative affair, I
suppose? There is money to meet the current expenses of the business?"
"Yes, there is money. Within reasonable limits my friend is prepared to
pay for the advancement of his claims."
After this the Haygarthian business progressed, slowly, quietly. The work
was up to this point underground work. There were still papers
wanting--final links of the chain to be fitted together; and to the
fitting of these links Messrs. Dash and Vernon devoted themselves, in
conjunction with M. Fleurus.
This was how matters stood when Captain Paget drooped and languished, and
was fain to abandon all active share in the struggle.
While the invalid in the pleasant lodgings overlooking Hyde Park
grew day by day weaker, there was a change as marked in the bright
young creature whose loving spirit had first brought the influence of
affection to bear upon Diana Paget's character. Charlotte Halliday was
ill--very ill. It was with everyday increasing anxiety that Diana watched
the slow change--slow in its progress, but awfully rapid to look back
upon. The pain, the regret, with which she noted her father's decay were
little indeed compared with the sharp agony which rent her heart as she
perceived the alteration in this dear friend, the blighting of this fair
That the withered leaves of autumn should fall is sad, but natural, and
we submit to the gloomy inevitable fact of decay and death. But to see
our rose of roses, the pride and glory of the garden, fade and perish in
its midsummer prime, is a calamity inexplicable and mysterious. Diana
watched her father's decline with a sense of natural sorrow and pity; but
there was neither surprise nor horror in the thought that for him the end
of all things was drawing nigh. How different was it with Charlotte--with
that happy soul for whom life and love wore their brightest smile, before
whose light joyous footsteps stretched so fair a pathway!
The illness, whatever it was--and neither Mr. Sheldon nor the portly and
venerable physician whom he called in could find a name for it--crept
upon the patient with stealthy and insidious steps. Dizziness, trembling,
faintness; trembling, faintness, dizziness; the symptoms alternated day
by day. Sometimes there was a respite of a few days; and Charlotte--the
youthful, the sanguine, the happy--declared that her enemy had left her.
"I am sure mamma is right, Di," she said on these occasions. "My nerves
are the beginning and end of the mischief; and if I could get the better
of my nerves, I should be as well as ever. I don't wonder that the idea
of my symptoms makes mamma almost cross. You see, she has been accustomed
to have the symptoms all to herself; and for me to plagiarise them, as it
were, must seem quite an impertinence. For a strong young thing like me,
you know, Di dear--who have only just broken myself of plunging
downstairs two and three steps at a time, and plunging upstairs in the
same vulgar manner--to intrude on mamma's shattered nerves, and pirate
mamma's low spirits, is utterly absurd and abominable; so I have resolved
to look my nerves straight in the face, and get the better of them."
"My darling, you will get the better of them if you try," said Diana, who
did at times beguile herself with the hope that her friend's ailments
were mental rather than bodily. "I dare say your monotonous life has
something to do with your altered health; you want change of scene,
"Change of scene, when I have you and Valentine! No, Di. It would
certainly be very nice to have the background shifted now and then; to
see Capability Brown's prim gardens melt into Alpine heights or
southern vineyards, or even into Russian steppes or Hungarian forests.
One does get a little tired of _toujours_ Bayswater; and Mr. Sheldon;
and crimped skate; and sirloin of beef, and the inevitable discussion as
to whether it is in a cannibal state of rawness or burnt to a cinder;
and the glasses of pale sherry; and the red worsted doyleys and blue
finger-glasses; and the almonds and raisins, and crisp biscuits, that
nobody ever eats; and the dreary, dreary funereal business of dinner,
when we all talk vapid nonsense, with an ever-present consciousness of
the parlourmaid. I am tired of the dull dinners, and of mamma's peevish
complaints about Ann Woolper's ascendancy downstairs; and of Mr.
Sheldon's perpetual newspapers, that crackle, crackle, crackle all the
evening through; and _such_ papers!--_Money Market Monitor, Stockholder's
Vade-Mecum_, and all sorts of dreadful things of that kind, with not so
much as an interesting advertisement in one of them. I used never to feel
these things an annoyance, you know, dear, till I made the acquaintance
of my nerves; but from the moment I allowed my nerves to get the better
of me, all these trifles have worried and excruciated me. But I am happy
with you, darling; and I am happy with Valentine. Poor Valentine!"
She pronounced his name with a sigh; and then, after a pause, repeated
mournfully, "Poor Valentine!"
"Why do you speak of him so sadly, dear?" asked Diana, very pale.
"Because--because we have planned such a happy life together, dear,
"Is that a thing to be sad about, darling?"
"And--if it should happen, after all, that we have to part, and he go on
alone, the world may seem so sad and lonely to him."
"Charlotte!" cried Diana, with a laugh that was almost choked by a sob,
"is this looking your nerves in the face? Why, my dear one, this is
indeed plagiarism of your mamma's low spirits. Lotta, you shall have
change of air; yes, I am determined on that. The stately physician who
came in his carriage the other day, and who looked at your tongue, and
said 'Ah!' and then felt your pulse and said 'Ah!' again, and then called
for pen-and-ink and wrote a little prescription, is not the doctor we
want for you. We want Dr. Yorkshire; we want the breezes from the
Yorkshire moors, and the smell of the farmyard, and our dear Aunt
Dorothy's sillabubs, and our uncle Joe to take us for long walks across
"I don't want to go to Newhall, Di. I couldn't bear to leave--him."
"But what is to prevent your meeting _him_ at the white gate this time,
as you met him last October? Might not accident take _him_ to Huxter's
Cross again? The archaeological work--of which we have heard no more, by
the bye--might necessitate further investigations in that district. If
you will go to Newhall, Lotta, I will pledge myself for Mr. Hawkehurst's
speedy appearance at the white gate you have so often described to me."
"My dearest Di, you are all kindness; but even if I were inclined to go
to Newhall, I doubt if mamma or Mr. Sheldon would like me to go."
"I am sure they would be pleased with any arrangement that was likely to
benefit your health. But I will talk to your mamma about it. I have set
my heart on your going to Newhall."
Miss Paget lost no time in carrying out her idea. She took possession of
Georgy that afternoon, while teaching her a new stitch in _tricot_, and
succeeded in impressing her with the conviction that change of air was
necessary for Charlotte.
"But you don't think Lotta really ill?" asked Mrs. Sheldon, nervously.
"I trust she is not really ill, dear Mrs. Sheldon; but I am sure she is
much changed. In talking to her, I affect to think that her illness is
only an affair of the nerves; but I sadly fear that it is something more
"But what is the matter with her?" exclaimed Georgy, with a, piteous air
of perplexity; "that is the question which I am always asking. People
can't be ill, you know, Diana, without having something the matter with
them; and that is what I can't make out in Charlotte's case. Mr. Sheldon
says she wants tone; the physician who came in a carriage and pair, and
ought to know what he is talking about, says there is a lack of vigour.
But what does that all amount to? I'm sure I've wanted tone all my life.
Perhaps there never was a creature so devoid of tone as I am; and the
internal sinking I feel just before luncheon is something that no one but
myself can realize. I dare say Lotta is not so strong as she might be;
but I do not see that she can be ill, unless her illness is something
definite. My poor first husband's illness, now, was the kind of thing
that any one could understand--bilious fever. The merest child knows what
it is to be bilious, and the merest child knows what it is to be
feverish. There can be nothing mysterious in bilious fever."
"But, dear Mrs. Sheldon," said Diana, gravely, "don't you think that the
weakness of constitution which rendered Charlotte's father liable to be
taken off in the prime of life by a fever is a weakness that Charlotte
may possibly have inherited?"
"Good heavens, Diana!" cried Georgy, with sudden terror; "you don't mean
to say that you think my Charlotte is going to die?"
It was but one step with Mrs. Sheldon from peevish incredulity to frantic
alarm; and Diana found it as difficult to tranquillise her newly-awakened
fears as it had been to rouse her from absolute apathy.
Change of air--yes, of course--Charlotte must have change of air that
instant. Let a cab be sent for immediately to take them to the terminus.
Change of air, of course. To Newhall--to Nice--to the Isle of Wight--to
Malta; Mrs. Sheldon had heard of people going to Malta. Where should they
go? Would Diana advise, and send for a cab, and pack a travelling bag
without an instant's delay? The rest of the things could be sent
afterwards. What did luggage matter, when Charlotte's life was at stake?
At this point a flood of tears happily relieved poor Georgy's excited
feelings, and then common sense and Diana Paget came to the rescue.
"My dear Mrs. Sheldon," she said, with a quiet cheerful tone that went
far to reassure the excited lady, "in the first place we must, above all
things, refrain from any appearance of alarm. Her illness may, after all,
be only an affair of the nerves; and there is certainly no cause for
Georgy was tranquillised, and agreed to take matters quietly. She
promised to arrange Charlotte's departure for Newhall, with Mr. Sheldon,
"Of course, you know, my dear, I like to consult him about everything,"
she said, apologetically. "It is a duty which one owes one's husband, you
know, and a duty which, as a young woman about to marry, I cannot too
much impress upon you; but in this case it is quite a matter of form: Mr.
Sheldon never has objected to Charlotte's going to Newhall, and he is not
likely to object now."
The event proved Mrs. Sheldon mistaken as to this matter. Georgy proposed
the visit to Newhall that evening, while the two girls were strolling
listlessly in the dusky garden, and Mr. Sheldon most decidedly rejected
"If she wants change of air--and Dr. Doddleson recommended nothing of the
kind--Newhall is not the place for her."
"Why not, dear?"
"It is too cold. Northerly aspect--no shelter--three hundred feet above
"But Dorothy Mercer is such a kind motherly creature; she'd delight in
"Yes," answered Mr. Sheldon, with a laugh, "and in quacking her. I know
what those good motherly creatures are when they get an excuse for dosing
some unhappy victim with their quack nostrums. If Charlotte went to
Newhall, Mrs. Mercer would poi--would make her ten times worse than
she is with old woman's remedies. Besides, as I said before, the place is
too cold. That is a conclusive argument, I suppose?"
He said this with some impatience of tone and manner. There was a haggard
look in his face, a hurried harassed manner pervading him this evening,
which had been growing upon him of late. Georgy was too slow of
perception to remark this; but Diana Paget had remarked it, and had
attributed the change in the stockbroker's manner to a blending of two
"He is anxious about money matters," she had said to herself, "and he is
anxious about Charlotte's health. His lips, moving in whispered
calculations, as he sits brooding by the fire, tell me of the first
anxiety; his eyes, wandering furtively to his step-daughter's face every
now and then, tell me of the second."
This furtive anxiety of Mr. Sheldon's increased Diana Paget's anxiety.
This man, who had a certain amount of medical knowledge, could no doubt
read the diagnostics of that strange insidious illness, which had, as
yet, no name, Diana, furtively watching his furtive looks, told herself
that he read of danger.
"If Charlotte wants change of air, let her go to Hastings," he said;
"that is the kind of place for an invalid. I want rest myself; and
there's such utter stagnation in the City nowadays that I can very well
afford to give myself a holiday. We'll run down to Hastings, or the
immediate neighbourhood of Hastings, for a week or two."
"O Philip, how kind and considerate you are! I am sure, as I was
observing to Miss Paget only today, you--"
"Ah, by the bye, there's Miss Paget. Is it absolutely necessary that Miss
Paget should go to Hastings with us?"
"Well, dear, you see she has so kindly desired to remain with me for the
quarter, so as to give me time to turn round, you know, with regard to
caps and summer things, and so on--for, really, she has such taste, and
does strike out such excellent ideas about turning, and dipping, and
dyeing, that I don't know what will become of me when she leaves us; and
it would look so pointed to--"
"Yes; she had better go with us. But why all this fuss about Charlotte?
Who put it into your head that she wants change of air?"
Mr. Sheldon evidently considered it an established fact that any idea in
his wife's head must needs have been put there by someone or other.
"Well, you see, Diana and I were talking of Lotta this afternoon, and
Diana quite alarmed me."
"How so?" asked Mr. Sheldon, with a quick frown.
"Why, she said it was evident, by the fact of poor dear Tom's dying of a
fever, that his constitution must have been originally weak. And she said
that perhaps Charlotte had inherited Tom's weak constitution--and
frightened me dreadfully."
"There is no occasion for you to be frightened; Charlotte will get on
very well, I dare say, with care. But Miss Paget is a very sensible
young woman, and is right in what she says. Charlotte's constitution is
"O Philip!" said Georgy, in a faint wailing voice.
"I dare say she will live to follow you and me to our graves," said Mr.
Sheldon, with a hard laugh. "Ah, here she is!"
Here she was, coming towards the open window near which her stepfather
sat. Here she was, pale and tired, with her sauntering walk, dressed in
white, and spectral in the gloaming. To the sad eyes of her mother she
looked like a ghost. To the eyes of Philip Sheldon, a man not prone to
poetic fancies, she looked even more ghostlike.
MRS. WOOLPER IS ANXIOUS.
Since the beginning of her illness, Charlotte Halliday had been the
object and subject of many anxious thoughts in the minds of several
people. That her stepfather had his anxieties about her--anxieties which
he tried to hide--was obvious to the one person in the Bayswater villa
who noted his looks, and tried to read the thoughts they indicated.
Mrs. Sheldon's alarm, once fairly awakened, was not to be lulled to rest.
And in Valentine Hawkehurst's heart there was an aching pain--a dull dead
load of care, which had never been lightened from the hour when he first
perceived the change in his dear one's face.
There was one other person, an inhabitant of the Bayswater villa, who
watched Charlotte Halliday at this time with a care as unresting as the
care of mother or stepfather, bosom friend or plighted lover. This person
was Ann Woolper. Mrs. Woolper had come to the villa prepared to find in
Miss Halliday a frivolous self-satisfied young person, between whom and
an old broken-down woman like herself there could be no sympathy. She had
expected to be contemptuously--or, at the best, indifferently--entreated
by the prosperous well-placed young lady, whom Mr. Sheldon had spoken of
as a good girl, as girls go; a vague species of commendation, which, to
the mind of Mrs. Woolper, promised very little.
As clearly as Philip Sheldon dared express his wishes with regard to
Charlotte Halliday, he had expressed them to Ann Woolper. What he would
fain have said, was, "Watch my stepdaughter, and keep me well acquainted
with every step she takes." Thus much he dared not say; but by
insinuating that Tom Halliday's daughter was frivolous and reckless, and
that her lover was not to be trusted, he had contrived to put Mrs.
Woolper on the _qui vive_.
"Mr. Philip's afraid she may go and marry this young man on the sly,
before he's got the means to support a wife," she said to herself, as she
meditated upon the meaning of her master's injunctions; "and well he may
be. There's no knowing what young women are up to nowadays; and the more
innocent and inexperienced a young woman is, the more she wants looking
after. And Miss Georgy Craddock always was a poor fondy, up to naught but
dressing herself fine, and streaming up and down Barlingford High Street
with her old schoolfellows. Such as she ain't fit to be trusted with a
daughter; and Mr. Philip knows that. He always was a deep one. But I'm
glad he looks after Missy: there's many men, having got fast hold of th'
father's brass, would let th' daughter marry Old Scratch, for the sake of
gettin' rid of her."
This is how Mrs. Woolper argued the matter. She came of a prudent race;
and anything like prudence seemed to her a commendable virtue. She wished
to think well of her master; for her he had been a Providence in the hour
of calamity and old age. Where else could she look, if not to him? And to
suspect him, or think ill of him, was to reject the one refuge offered to
her distress. A magnanimous independence of spirit is not an easy virtue
for the old and friendless and poor. The drowning wretch will scarcely
question the soundness of the plank that sustains him upon the
storm-tossed billows; nor was Mrs. Woolper inclined to question the
motives of the man to whom she now owed her daily bread.
It is possible that before invoking Mrs. Woolper from the ashes of the
past to take her seat by the hearthstone of the present, Mr. Sheldon may
have contemplated the question of her return in all its bearings, and
may have assured himself that she was his own, by a tie not easily
broken--his bond-slave, fettered hand and foot by the bondage of
"What choice can she have, except the choice between my house and the
workhouse?" he may naturally have asked himself; "and is it likely she
will quarrel with her bread-and-butter in order to fall back upon dry
bread?" Mr. Sheldon, contemplating this and all other questions from his
one unchanging standpoint, may reasonably have concluded that Mrs.
Woolper would do nothing opposed to her own interests; and that so long
as it suited her interest to remain at the Lawn, and to serve him, she
would there remain, his docile and unquestioning slave.
The influence of affection, the force of generous impulse, were qualities
that did not come into Mr. Sheldon's calculations upon this subject. His
addition and subtraction, division and multiplication, were all based on
That happy and unconscious art by which Charlotte Halliday made herself
dear to all who knew her had a speedy effect upon the old housekeeper.
The girl's amiable consideration for her age and infirmities; the pretty
affectionate familiarity with which she treated this countrywoman, who
had known her father, and who could talk to her of Yorkshire and
Yorkshire people, soon made their way to Nancy Woolper's heart of hearts.
For Miss Halliday to come to the housekeeper's room with some message
from her mother, and to linger for a few minutes' chat, was a delight to
Mrs. Woolper. She would have detained the bright young visitant for hours
instead of minutes, if she could have found any excuse for so doing. Nor
was there any treason against Mr. Sheldon in her growing attachment to
his stepdaughter. Whenever Nancy spoke of that master and benefactor, she
spoke with unfeigned gratitude and affection.
"I nursed your step-papa as a baby, Miss Halliday," she said very often
on these occasions. "You wouldn't think, to look at him now, that he ever
was _that_, would you? But he was one of the finest babies you could wish
to see--tall, and strong, and with eyes that pierced one through, they
were so bright and big and black. He was rather stubborn-spirited with
his teething; but what baby isn't trying at such times? I had rare work
with him, I can tell you, Miss, walking him about of nights, and jogging
him till there wasn't a jog left in me, as you may say, from sleepiness.
I often wonder if he thinks of this now, when I see him looking so grave
and stern. But, you see, being jogged doesn't impress the mind like
having to jog; and though I can bring that time back as plain as if it
was yesterday, with the very nursery I slept in at Barlingford, and the
rushlight in a tall iron cage on the floor, and the shadow of the cage on
the bare whitewashed walls--it's clean gone out of his mind, I dare say."
"I'm afraid it has, Nancy."
"But, O, I was fond of him, Miss Halliday; and what I went through with
him about his teeth made me only the fonder of him. He was the first baby
I ever nursed, you see, and the last; for before Master George came to
town I'd taken to the cooking, and Mrs. Sheldon hired another girl as
nurse; a regular softy _she_ was, and it isn't her fault that Master
George has got anything christian-like in the way of a back, for the way
she carried that blessed child used to make my blood run cold."
Thus would Mrs. Woolper discourse whenever she had a fair excuse for
detaining Miss Halliday in her comfortable apartment. Charlotte did not
perceive much interest in these reminiscences of Mr. Sheldon's infancy,
but she was much too kind to bring them abruptly to a close by any show
of impatience. When she could get Nancy to talk of Barlingford and Hyley,
and the people whom Charlotte herself had known as a child, the
conversation was really interesting; and these recollections formed a
link between the old woman and the fair young damsel.
When the change arose in Charlotte's health and spirits, Mrs. Woolper was
one of the first to perceive it. She was skilled in those old woman's
remedies which Mr. Sheldon held in such supreme contempt, and she would
fain have dosed the invalid with nauseous decoctions of hops, or
home-brewed quinine. Charlotte appreciated the kindness of the intent,
but she rebelled against the home-brewed medicines, and pinned her faith
to the more scientific and less obnoxious preparations procured from the
For some time Nancy made light of the girl's ailments, though she watched
her with unfailing attention.
"You ain't a-done growing yet, miss, I'll lay," she said.
"But I'm more than twenty-one, Nancy. People don't grow after they're of
age, do they?"
"I've known them as have, miss; I don't say it's common, but it has been
done. And then there's the weakness that comes after you've done growing.
Girls of your age are apt to be faint and lollopy-like, as you may say;
especially when they're stived up in a smoky place like London. You ought
to go to Hyley, miss, where you was born; that's the place to set you
The time had come when the change was no longer matter for doubt. Day by
day Charlotte grew weaker and paler; day by day that bright and joyous
creature, whose presence had made an atmosphere of youth and gladness
even in that prim dwelling-place, receded farther into the dimness of
the past; until to think of what she had been seemed like recalling the
image of the dead. Nancy marked the alteration with a strange pain, so
sharp, so bitter, that its sharpness and bitterness were a perpetual
perplexity to her.
"If the poor dear young thing is meant to go, there's no need for me to
fret about it all day long, and wake up sudden in the night with cold
water standing out upon my forehead at the thought of it. I haven't known
her six months; and if she is pretty and sweet-spoken, it's not my place
to give way at the thoughts of losing her. She's not my own flesh and
blood; and I've sat by to watch them go, times and often, without feeling
as I do when I see the change in her day after day. Why should it seem so
dreadful to me?"
Why indeed? This was a question for which Mrs. Woolper could find no
answer. She knew that the pain and horror which she felt were something
more than natural, but beyond this point her thoughts refused to travel.
A superstitious feeling arose at this point, to usurp the office of
reason, and she accounted for the strangeness of Miss Halliday's illness
as she might have done had she lived in the sixteenth century, and been
liable to the suspicion of nocturnal careerings on broomsticks.
"I'm sorry Mr. Philip's house should be unlucky to that sweet young
creature," she said to herself. "It was unlucky to the father; and now it
seems as if it was going to be unlucky to the daughter. And Mr. Philip
won't be any richer for her death. Mrs. Sheldon has told me times and
often that all Tom Halliday's money went to my master when she married
him, and he has doubled and trebled it by his cleverness. Miss
Charlotte's death wouldn't bring him a sixpence."
This was the gist of Mrs. Woolper's meditations very often nowadays. But
the strange sense of perplexity, the nameless fear, the vague horror,
were not to be banished from her mind. A sense of some shapeless presence
for ever at her side haunted her by day and night. What was it? What did
its presence portend? It was as if a figure, shrouded from head to foot,
was there, dark and terrible, at her elbow, and she would not turn to
meet the horror face to face. Sometimes the phantom hand lifted a corner
of the veil, and the shade said, "Look at me! See who and what I am! You
have seen me before. I am here again! and this time you shall not refuse
to meet me face to face! I am the shadow of the horror you suspected in
The shadowy fears which oppressed Mrs. Woolper during this period did not
in any way lessen her practical usefulness. From the commencement of
Charlotte's slow decline she had shown herself attentive, and even
officious, in all matters relating to the invalid. With her own hands she
decanted the famous port which Georgy fetched from the particular bin in
Mr. Sheldon's carefully arranged cellar. When the physician was called
in, and wrote his harmless little prescription, it was Mrs. Woolper who
carried the document to the dispensing chemist, and brought back the
innocent potion, which might, peradventure, effect some slight good, and
was too feeble a decoction to do any harm. Charlotte duly appreciated all
this kindness; but she repeatedly assured the housekeeper that her
ailments were not worthy of so much care.
It was Mrs. Woolper whom Mr. Sheldon employed to get lodgings for the
family, when it had been ultimately decided that a change to the seaside
was the best cure for Miss Halliday.
"I am too busy to go to Hastings myself this week," he said; "but I
shall be prepared to spend a fortnight there after next Monday. What I
want you to do, Nancy, is to slip down tomorrow, with a second-class
return-ticket, and look about for a nice place for us. I don't care about
being in Hastings; there's too much cockneyism in the place at this time
of year. There's a little village called Harold's Hill, within a mile or
so of St. Leonard's--a dull, out-of-the-way place, but rustic and
picturesque, and all that kind of thing--the sort of place that women
like. Now, I'd rather stay at that place than at Hastings. So you can
take a fly at the station, drive straight to Harold's Hill, and secure
the best lodgings you can get."
"You think as the change of air will do Miss Halliday good?" asked Mrs.
Woolper anxiously, after she had promised to do all her kind master
required of her.
"Do I think it will do her good? Of course I do. Sea-air and
sea-bathing will set her up in no time; there's nothing particular the
matter with her."
"No, Mr. Philip; that's what bothers me about the whole thing. There's
nothing particular the matter with her; and yet she pines and dwindles,
and dwindles and pines, till it makes one's heart ache to see her."
Philip Sheldon's face darkened, and he threw himself back in his chair
with an impatient movement. If he had chosen to do so, he could have
prevented that darkening of his face; but he did not consider Mrs.
Woolper a person of sufficient importance to necessitate the regulation
of his countenance. What was she but an ignorant, obstinate old woman,
who would most probably perish in the streets if he chose to turn her out
of doors? There are men who consider their clerks and retainers such very
dirt, that they would continue the forging of a bill of exchange, or
complete the final touches of a murder, with a junior clerk putting coals
on the fire, or an errand-boy standing cap in hand on the threshold of
the door. They cannot realize the fact that dirt such as this is flesh
and blood, and may denounce them by-and-by in a witness-box.
Of all contingencies Mr. Sheldon least expected that this old woman could
prove troublesome to him--this abject wretch, whose daily bread depended
on his will. He could not imagine that there are circumstances under
which such abject creatures will renounce their daily bread, and die of
hunger, rather than accept the means of life from one hateful hand.
"If you want to know anything about Miss Halliday's illness," he said in
his hardest voice, and with his hardest look, "you had better apply to
Dr. Doddleson, the physician who has prescribed for her. I do not attend
her, you see, and I am in no way responsible for her health. When I was
attending her father you favoured me by doubting my skill, if I judged
rightly as to your tone and manner on one occasion. I don't want to be
brought to book by you, Mrs. Woolper, about Miss Halliday's altered looks
or Miss Halliday's illness; I have nothing to do with either."
"How should I think you had, sir? Don't be angry with me, or hard upon
me, Mr. Phil. I nursed you when you was but a baby, and you're nearer and
dearer to me than any other master could be. Why, I have but to shut my
eyes now, and I can feel your little hand upon my neck, as it used to lie
there, so soft and dear. And then I look down at the hand on the table,
strong and dark, and clenched so firm, and I ask myself, Can it be the
same? For the sake of that time, Mr. Phil, don't be hard upon me. There's
nothing I wouldn't do to serve you; there's nothing you could do that
would turn me from you. There's no man living in this world, sir, that
oughtn't to be glad to know of one person that nothing can turn from
"That's a very fine sentiment, my good soul," replied Mr. Sheldon coolly;
"but, you see, it's only an _ex parte_ statement; and as the case stands
there is no opportunity for the display of those fine feelings you talk
about. You happen to want a home in your old age, and I happen to be able
to give you a home. Under such circumstances, your own good sense will
show you that all sentimental talk about standing by me, and not turning
away from me, is absolute bosh."
The old woman sighed heavily. She had offered her master a fidelity which
involved the abnegation of all impulses of her own heart and mind, and he
rejected her love and her service. And then, after the first dreary sense
of his coldness, she felt better pleased that it should be so. The man
who spoke to her in this harsh uncompromising way could have no cause to
fear her. In the mind of such a man there could surely be no secret
chamber within which she had, with his knowledge, almost penetrated.
"I won't trouble you any more, sir," she said mournfully. "I dare say I'm
a foolish old woman."
"You are, Nancy. We don't get wiser as we grow older, you see; and when
we let our tongues wag, we're apt to talk nonsense. The quieter you keep
your tongue, the better for yourself, in more ways than one. To a useful
old woman about the place I've no objection; but a chattering old woman I
will not have at any price."
After this everything was settled in the most agreeable manner. Nancy
Woolper's journey to Hastings was fully arranged; and early the next
morning she started, brisk and active, in spite of her sixty-eight years
of age. She returned at night, having secured very pleasant lodgings at
the village of Harold's Hill.
"And a very sweet place it is, my dear Miss Lotta," she said to Charlotte
the next day, when she described her adventures. "The apartments are at a
farmhouse overlooking the sea; and the smell of the cows under your
windows, and the sea-breezes blowing across the farmyard, can't fail to
bring the colour back to your pretty cheeks, and the brightness back to
your pretty eyes."
The idea of this visit to the Sussex village by the sea seemed delightful
to every one except Gustave Lenoble, who was still in town, and who
thought it a hard thing that he should be deprived of Diana's society
during an entire fortnight, for the sake of this sickly Miss Halliday.
For the rest, there was hope and gladness in the thought of this change
of dwelling. Charlotte languished for fresher breezes and more rustic
prospects than the breezes and prospects of Bayswater; Diana looked to
the sea-air as the doctor of doctors for her fading friend; and Valentine
cherished the same hope.
On Valentine Hawkehurst the burden of an unlooked-for sorrow had weighed
very heavily. To see this dear girl, who was the beginning, middle, and
end of all his hopes, slowly fading before his eyes, was, of all agonies
that could have fallen to his lot, the sharpest and most bitter. Not
Ugolino sitting silent amidst his famishing children--not Helen, when she
would fain that the tempest had swept her from earth's surface on that
evil day when she was born--not Penelope, when she cried on Diana, the
high-priestess of death, to release her from the weariness of her
days--not Agamemnon, when the fatal edict had gone forth, and his fair
young daughter looked into his face, and asked him if it was true that
she was to die--not one of these typical mourners could have suffered a
keener torture than that which rent this young man's heart, as he marked
the stealthy steps of the Destroyer drawing nearer and nearer the woman
he loved. Of all possible calamities, this was the last he had ever
contemplated. Sometimes, in moments of doubt or despondency, he had
thought it possible that poverty, the advice of friends, caprice or
inconstancy on the part of Charlotte herself, should sever them. But
among the possible enemies to his happiness he had never counted Death.
What had Death to do with so fair and happy a creature as Charlotte
Halliday? she who, until some two months before this time, might have
been the divine Hygieia in person--so fresh was her youthful bloom, so
buoyant her step, so bright her glances. Valentine's hardest penance was
the necessity for the concealment of his anxiety. The idea that
Charlotte's illness might be--nay, must be--for the greater part an
affair of the nerves was always paramount in his mind. He and Diana had
talked of the subject together whenever they found an opportunity for so
doing, and had comforted themselves with the assurance that the nerves
alone were to blame; and they were the more inclined to think this from
the conduct of Dr. Doddleson, on that physician's visits to Miss
Halliday. Mrs. Sheldon had been present on each occasion, and to Mrs.
Sheldon alone had the physician given utterance to his opinion of the
case. That opinion, though expressed with a certain amount of
professional dignity, amounted to very little. "Our dear young friend
wanted strength; and what we had to do was to give our dear young friend
strength--vital power. Yes--er--um, that was the chief point. And what
kind of diet might our dear young friend take now? Was it a light diet, a
little roast mutton--not too much done, but not underdone? O dear, no.
And a light pudding? what he would call--if he might be permitted to have
his little joke--a nursery pudding." And then the old gentleman had
indulged in a senile chuckle, and patted Charlotte's head with his fat
old fingers. "And our dear young friend's room, now, was it a large
room?--good! and what was the aspect now, south?--good again! nothing
better, unless, perhaps, south-west; but, of course, everyone's
rooms can't look south-west. A little tonic draught, and gentle daily
exercise in that nice garden, will set our dear young friend right again.
Our temperament is nervous we are a sensitive plant, and want care." And
then the respectable septuagenarian took his fee, and shuffled off to his
carriage. And this was all that Mrs. Sheldon could tell Diana, or Nancy
Woolper, both of whom questioned her closely about her interview with the
doctor. To Diana and to Valentine there was hope to be gathered from the
very vagueness of the physician's opinion. If there had been anything
serious the matter, the medical adviser must needs have spoken more
seriously. He came again and again. He found the pulse a little weaker,
the patient a little more nervous, with a slight tendency to hysteria,
and so on; but he still declared that there were no traces of organic
disease, and he still talked of Miss Halliday's ailments with a cheery
easy-going manner that was very reassuring.
In his moments of depression Valentine pinned his faith upon Dr.
Doddleson. Without organic disease, he told himself, his darling could
not perish. He looked for Dr. Doddleson's name in the Directory, and took
comfort from the fact of that physician's residence in a fashionable West
End square. He took further comfort from the splendour of the doctor's
equipage, as depicted to him by Mrs. Sheldon; and from the doctor's age
and experience, as copiously described by the same lady.
"There is only one fact that I have ever reproached myself with in
relation to my poor Tom," said Georgy, who, in talking to strangers of
her first husband, was apt to impress them with the idea that she was
talking of a favourite cat; "and that is, the youthfulness of the
doctor Mr. Sheldon employed. Of course I am well aware that Mr. Sheldon
would not have consulted the young man if he had not thought him
clever; but I could lay my head upon my pillow at night with a clearer
conscience if poor Tom's doctor had been an older and more experienced
person. Now, that's what I like about Dr. Doddleson. There's a gravity--a
weight--about a man of that age which inspires one with immediate
confidence. I'm sure the serious manner with which he questioned me about
Lotta's diet, and the aspect of her room, was quite delightful."
In Dr. Doddleson, under Providence, Valentine was fain to put his trust.
He did not know that the worthy doctor was one of those harmless
inanities who, by the aid of money and powerful connections, are
sometimes forced into a position which nature never intended them to
occupy. Among the real working men of that great and admirable
brotherhood, the medical profession, Dr. Doddleson had no rank; but he
was the pet physician of fashionable dowagers suffering from chronic
laziness or periodical attacks of ill-humour. For the spleen or the
vapours no one was a better adviser than Dr. Doddleson. He could afford
to waste half an hour upon the asking of questions which the fair
patient's maid might as well have asked, and the suggestions of remedies
which any intelligent abigail could as easily have suggested. Elderly
ladies believed in him because he was pompous and ponderous, lived in an
expensive neighbourhood, and drove a handsome equipage. He wore
mourning-rings left him by patients who never had anything particular the
matter with them, and who, dying of sheer old age, or sheer over-eating,
declared with their final gasp that Dr. Doddleson had been the guardian
angel of their frail lives during the last twenty years.
This was the man who, of all the medical profession resident in London,
Mr. Sheldon had selected as his stepdaughter's medical adviser in a case
so beyond common experience, that a man of wide practice and keen
perception was especially needed for its treatment.
Dr. Doddleson, accustomed to attribute the fancied ailments of
fashionable dowagers to want of tone, and accustomed to prescribe the
mildest preparations with satisfaction to his patients and profit to
himself dwelt upon the same want of tone, and prescribed the same
harmless remedies, in his treatment of Charlotte Halliday. When he found
her no better--nay, even worse--after some weeks of this treatment, he
was puzzled; and for one harmless remedy he substituted another harmless
remedy, and waited another week to see what effect the second harmless
remedy might have on this somewhat obstinate young person.
And this was the broken reed to which Valentine clung in the day of
Bitter were his days and sleepless were his nights in this dark period of
his existence. He went to the Bayswater villa nearly every day now. It
was no longer time for etiquette or ceremony. His darling was fading day
by day; and it was his right to watch the slow sad change, and, if it
were possible, to keep the enemy at arm's-length. Every day he came to
spend one too brief hour with his dear love; every day he greeted her
with the same fond smile, and beguiled her with the same hopeful talk. He
brought her new books and flowers, and any foolish trifle which he
fancied might beguile her thoughts from the contemplation of that
mysterious malady which seemed beyond the reach of science and Dr.
Doddleson. He sat and talked with her of the future--that future which in
their secret thoughts both held to be a sweet sad fable--the hyperborean
garden of their dreams. And after spending this too sweet, too bitter
hour with his beloved, Mr. Hawkehurst would diplomatise in order to have
a little talk with Diana as he left the house. Did Diana think his dear
girl better to-day, or worse--surely not worse? He had fancied she had
more colour, more of her old gaiety of manner. She had seemed a little
feverish; but that might be the excitement of his visit. And so on, and
so on, with sad and dreary repetition.
And then, having gone away from that house with an aching heart, the
young magazine-writer went back to his lodgings, and plunged into the
dashing essay or the smart pleasant story which was to constitute his
monthly contribution to the _Cheapside_ or the _Charing Cross_. Gaiety,
movement, rollicking, Harry Lorrequer-like spirits were demanded for the
_Cheapside_; a graceful union of brilliancy and depth was required for
the _Charing Cross_. And, O, be sure the critics lay in wait to catch the
young scribbler tripping! An anachronism here, a secondhand idea there,
and the _West End Wasp_ shrieked its war-whoop in an occasional note; or
the _Minerva_ published a letter from a correspondent in the Scilly
Islands, headed "Another Literary Jack Sheppard," to say that in his
"Imperial Dictionary" he had discovered with profound indignation a whole
column of words feloniously and mendaciously appropriated by the writer
of such and such an article in the _Cheapside_. While the sunlight of
hope had shone upon him, Mr. Hawkehurst had found the hardest work
pleasant. Was he not working for _her_ sake? Did not his future union
with that dear girl depend upon his present industry? It had seemed to
him as if she stood at his elbow while he wrote, as Pallas stood beside
Achilles at the council, invisible to all but her favourite. It was that
mystic presence which lent swiftness to his pen. When he was tired and
depressed, the thought of Charlotte had revived his courage and
vanquished his fatigue. Pleasant images crowded upon him when he thought
of her. What could be easier than for him to write a love-story? He had
but to create a shadowy Charlotte for his heroine, and the stream of
foolish lover's babble flowed from his pen perennial and inexhaustible.
To his reading she lent a charm and a grace that made the most perfect
poetry still more poetical. It was not Achilles and Helen who met on
Mount Ida, but Valentine and Charlotte; it was not Paolo and Francesca
who read the fatal book together, but Valentine and Charlotte, in an
unregenerate and mediaeval state of mind. The mere coincidence of a name
made the "Sorrows of Werter" delightful. The all-pervading presence was
everywhere and in everything. His religion was not Pantheism, but
Now all was changed. A brooding care was with him in every moment. The
mystic presence was still close to him in every hour of his lonely days
and nights; but that image, which had been fair and blooming as the
incarnation of youth and spring-time, was now a pale shrouded phantom
which he dared not contemplate. He still wrote on--for it is marvellous
how the pen will travel and the mind will project itself into the
shadow-world of fancy while cankerous care gnaws the weary heart. Nay, it
is perhaps at these times that the imagination is most active; for the
world of shadows is a kind of refuge for the mind that dare not dwell
upon realities. Who can say what dull, leaden, care may have weighed down
the heart of William Shakespeare when his mind conceived that monster of
a poet's grand imaginings, Othello! There is the flavour of racking care
in that mighty creation. The strong soul wantonly tortured by a sordid
wretch; the noble spirit distraught, the honourable life wrecked for so
poor a motive; that sense of the "something in this world amiss," which
the poet, of all other creatures, feels most keenly.
With grief and fear as his constant companions, Valentine Hawkehurst
toiled on bravely, patiently. Hope had not deserted him; but between hope
and fear the contest was unceasing. Sometimes hope had the best of it for
a while, and the toiler comforted himself with the thought that this dark
cloud would pass anon from the horizon of his life; and then he counted
his gains, and found that the fruit of his labours was increasing
monthly, as his name gained rank among the band of young _litterateurs_.
The day when he might count upon that income which Mr. Sheldon demanded
as his qualification for matrimony did not appear far distant. Given a
certain amount of natural ability, and the industrious and indefatigable
young writer may speedily emerge from obscurity, and take his place in
the great army of those gallant soldiers whose only weapon is the pen.
Whatever good fortune had come to Valentine Hawkehurst he had worked for
with all honesty of purpose. The critics were not slow to remark that he
worked at a white-hot haste, and must needs be a shallow pretender
because he was laborious and indefatigable.
Before the beginning of Charlotte's slow decline he had fancied himself
the happiest of men. There were more deposit-receipts in his desk. The
nest-egg, about the hatching whereof there had been such cackling and
crowing some months ago, was now one of many eggs; for the hard-working
scribbler had no leisure in which to be extravagant, had he been so
minded. The purchase of a half-circlet of diamonds for his betrothed's
slim finger had been his only folly.
Charlotte had remonstrated with him on the impropriety of such an
extravagance, and had exacted from him a promise that this wild and
Monte-Christo-like course should be pursued no further; but she was very
proud of her half-hoop of diamonds nevertheless, and was wont to press it
tenderly to her lips before she laid it aside for the night.
"There must be no more such extravagance, sir," she said to her lover,
when he sat by her side twisting the ring round and round on her pretty
finger. Alas, how loose the ring had become since it had first been
"Consider the future, Valentine," continued the girl, hopeful of mood
while her hand rested in his. "Do you suppose we can furnish our cottage
at Wimbledon if we rush into such wild expenses as diamond rings? Do you
know that _I_ am saving money, Valentine? Yes, positively. Papa gives me
a very good allowance for my dresses, and bonnets, and things, you know,
and I used to be extravagant and spend it all. But now I have become the
most miserly creature; and I have a little packet of money upstairs which
you shall put in the Unitas Bank with the rest of your wealth. Diana and
I have been darning, and patching, and cutting, and contriving, in the
most praiseworthy manner. Even this silk has been turned. You did not
think that, did you, when you admired it so?"
Mr. Hawkehurst looked at his beloved with a tender smile. The exact
significance of the operation of turning, as applied to silk dresses, was
somewhat beyond his comprehension; but he felt sure that to turn must be
a laudable action, else why that air of pride with which Charlotte
informed him of the fact?
AT HAROLD'S HILL.
The summer sun shone upon the village of Harold's Hill when Charlotte
arrived there with Mrs. Sheldon and Diana Paget. Mr. Sheldon was to
follow them on the same day by a later train; and Valentine was to come
two days afterwards to spend the peaceful interval between Saturday and
Monday with his betrothed. He had seen the travellers depart from the
London Bridge terminus, but Mr. Sheldon had been there also, and there
had been no opportunity for confidential communication between the
Of all Sussex villages Harold's Hill is perhaps the prettiest. The grey
old Saxon church, the scattered farmhouses and pleasant rustic cottages,
are built on the slope of a hill, and all the width of ocean lies below
the rustic windows. The roses and fuchsias of the cottage gardens seem
all the brighter by contrast with that broad expanse of blue. The fresh
breath of the salt sea blends with the perfume of new-mown hay and all
the homely odours of the farmyard. The lark sings high in the blue vault
of heaven above the church, and over the blue of the sea the gull skims
white in the sunshine. The fisherman and the farm labourer have their
cottages side by side, nestling cosily to leeward of the hilly winding
This hilly winding road in the July afternoon seemed to Charlotte almost
like the way to Paradise.
"It is like going to heaven, Di!" she cried, with her eyes fixed on the
square tower of the old grey church. She wondered why sudden tears sprang
to Diana's eyes as she said this. Miss Paget brushed the unbidden tears
away with a quick gesture of her hand, and smiled at her friend.
"Yes, dear, the village is very pretty, isn't it?"
"It looks awfully dull!" said Mrs. Sheldon, with a shudder; "and, Diana,
I declare there isn't a single shop. Where are we to get our provisions?
I told Mr. Sheldon St. Leonards would have been a better place for us."
"O mamma, St. Leonards is the very essence of all that is tame and
commonplace, compared to this darling rural village! Look, do look, at
that fisherman's cottage, with the nets hanging out to dry in the
sunshine; just like a picture of Hook's!"
"What's the use of going on about fishermen's cottages, Lotta?" Mrs.
Sheldon demanded, peevishly. "Fishermen's cottages won't provide us with
butcher's meat. Where are we to get your little bit of roast mutton? Dr.
Doddleson laid such a stress upon the roast mutton."
"The sea-air will do me more good than all the mutton that ever was
roasted at Eton, mamma. O, dear, is this our farmhouse?" cried Charlotte,
as the vehicle drew up at a picturesque gate. "O, what a love of a house!
what diamond-paned windows! what sweet white curtains! and a cow staring
at me quite in the friendliest way across the gate! O, can we be so happy
as to live here?"
"Diana," cried Mrs. Sheldon, in a solemn voice, "not a single shop have
we passed--not so much as a post-office! And as to haberdashery, I'm sure
you might be reduced to rags in this place before you could get so much
as a yard of glazed lining!"
The farmhouse was one of those ideal homesteads which, to the dweller in
cities, seems fair as the sapphire-ceiled chambers of the house of
Solomon. Charlotte was enraptured by the idea that this was to be her
home for the next fortnight.
"I wish it could be for ever, Di," she said, as the two girls were
inspecting the rustic, dimity-draperied, lavender-and-rose-leaf-perfumed
bedchambers. "Who would wish to go back to prim suburban Bayswater after
this? Valentine and I could lodge here after our marriage. It is better
than Wimbledon. Grand thoughts would come to him with the thunder of the
stormy waves; and on calm bright days like this the rippling water would
whisper pretty fancies into his ear. Why, to live here would make any one
a poet. I think I could write a novel myself, if I lived here long
After this they arranged the pretty sitting-room, and placed an
easy-chair by the window for Charlotte, an arm-chair opposite this for
Mrs. Sheldon, and between the two a little table for the fancy work and
books and flowers, and all the small necessities of feminine existence.
And then--while Mrs. Sheldon prowled about the rooms, and discovered so
many faults and made so many objections as to give evidence of a fine
faculty for invention unsuspected in her hitherto--Charlotte and Diana
explored the garden and peeped at the farmyard, where the friendly cow
still stared over the white gate, just as she had stared when the fly
came to a stop, as if she had not yet recovered from the astonishment
created in her pastoral mind by that phenomenal circumstance. And then
Charlotte was suddenly tired, and there came upon her that strange
dizziness which was one of her most frequent symptoms. Diana led her
immediately back to the house, and established her comfortably in her
"I must be very ill," she said, plaintively; "for even the novelty of
this pretty place cannot make me happy long."
* * * * *
Mr. Sheldon arrived in the evening, bringing with him a supply of that
simple medicine which Charlotte took three times a day. He had remembered
that there was no dispensing chemist at Harold's Hill, and that it would
be necessary to send to St. Leonards for the medicine, and had therefore
brought with him a double quantity of the mild tonic.
"It was very kind of you to think of it, though I really don't believe
the stuff does me any good," said Charlotte. "Nancy Woolper used to get
it for me at Bayswater. She made quite a point of fetching it from the
"Indeed!" exclaimed Mr. Sheldon. "Nancy troubled herself about your
medicine, did she?"
"Yes, papa; and about me altogether. If I were her own daughter she could
scarcely have seemed more anxious."
The stockbroker made a mental note of this in the memorandum-book of his
brain. Mrs. Woolper was officious, was she, and suspicious?--altogether a
troublesome sort of person.
"I think a few weeks of workhouse fare would be wholesome for that old
lady," he said to himself. "There are some people who never know when
they are well off."
Saturday afternoon came in due course, after a long and dreary interval,
as it seemed to Charlotte, for whom time travelled very slowly, so
painful was the weariness of illness. Now and then a sudden flash of
excitement brought the old brightness to her face, the old gaiety to her
accents; but the brightness faded very soon, and the languor of illness
was very perceptible.
Punctual to the hour at which he was expected, Mr. Hawkehurst appeared,
in radiant spirits, laden with new magazines, delighted with the village,
enraptured with the garden, enchanted with the sea; full of talk and
animation, with all sorts of news to tell his beloved. Such and such a
book was a failure, such and such a comedy was a fiasco; Jones's novel
had made a hit; Brown's picture was the talk of the year; and Charlotte
must see the picture that had been talked about, and the play that had
been condemned, when she returned to town.
For an hour the lovers sat in the pretty farmhouse parlour talking
together thus, the summer sea and the garden flowers before them, and a
bird singing high in the calm blue heaven. Charlotte's talk was somewhat
languid, though it was perfect happiness for her to be seated thus, with
her betrothed by her side; but Valentine's gaiety of spirits never
flagged; and when Mrs. Sheldon hinted to him that too long a conversation
might fatigue the dear invalid, he left the parlour with a smile upon his
face, and a cheery promise to return after an hour's ramble.
He did not ramble far. He went straight to a little wooden summer-house
in the remotest corner of the humble garden; and thither Diana Paget
followed him. She had learned the language of his face in the time of
their daily companionship, and she had seen a look as he left the house
which told her of the struggle his cheerfulness had cost him.
"You must not be downhearted, Valentine," she said, as she went into the
summer-house, where he sat in a listless attitude, with his arms lying
loosely folded on the rustic table.
He did not answer her.
"You don't think her worse--much worse--do you, Valentine?"
"Worse? I have seen death in her face to-day!" he cried; and then he let
his forehead fall upon his folded arms, and sobbed aloud.
Diana stood by his side watching that outburst of grief. When the
passionate storm of tears was past, she comforted him as best she might.
The change so visible to him was not so plain to her. He had hoped that
the breath of the ocean would have magical power to restore the invalid.
He had come to Harold's Hill full of hope, and instead of the beginning
of an improvement he saw the progress of decay.
"Why did not Sheldon send for the doctor," he asked, indignantly,--"the
physician who has attended her? He might have telegraphed to that man."
"Charlotte is taking Dr. Doddleson's medicine," said Diana, "and all his
directions are most carefully obeyed."
"What of that, if she grows worse? The doctor should see her daily,
hourly, if necessary. And if he cannot cure her, another doctor should be
sent for. Good heavens, Diana! are we to let her fade and sink from us
before our eyes? I will go back to London at once, and bring that man
Doddleson down by the night mail."
"Your going back to London would grieve and alarm Charlotte. You can
telegraph for the doctor; or, at least, Mr. Sheldon can do so. It would
not do for you to interfere without his permission."
"It would not do!" echoed Valentine, angrily. "Do you think that I
am going to stand upon punctilio, or to consider what will do or
will not do?"
"Above all things, you must avoid alarming Charlotte," pleaded Diana.
"Do you think I do not know that? Do you think I did not feel that just
now, when I sat by her side, talking inane rubbish about books and plays
and pictures, while every stolen glance at my darling's face was like a
dagger thrust into my heart? I will not alarm her. I will consult Mr.
Sheldon--will do anything, everything, to save her! To save her! O my
God, has it come to that?"
He grew a little calmer presently under Diana's influence, and went
slowly back to the house. He avoided the open window by which Charlotte
was sitting. He had not yet schooled himself to meet her questioning
looks. He went to the room where they were to dine, a duller and darker
apartment than the parlour, and here he found Mr. Sheldon reading a
paper, one of the eternal records of the eternal money-market.
The stockbroker had been in and out of the house all day, now sauntering
by the sea-shore, now leaning moodily, with folded arms, on the garden
gate, meditative and silent as the cow that stared at Charlotte; now
pacing the garden walks, with his hands in his pockets and his head bent.
Diana, who in her anxiety kept a close watch upon Mr. Sheldon's
movements, had noted his restlessness, and perceived in it the sign of
growing anxiety on his part. She knew that he had once called himself
surgeon-dentist, and had some medical knowledge, if not so much as he
took credit for possessing. He must, therefore, be better able to judge
the state of Charlotte's health than utterly ignorant observers. If he
were uneasy, there must be real cause for uneasiness. It was on this
account, and on this account only, that Diana watched him.
"He must love her better than I gave him credit for being able to love
any one," Miss Paget said to herself. "Dear girl! The coldest heart is
touched by her sweetness."
Mr. Sheldon looked up from his newspaper as Valentine came into the room,
and saluted the visitor with a friendly nod.
"Glad to see you, Hawkehurst," he said. "_Semper fidelis_, and that
kind of thing; the very model of devoted lovers. Why, man alive, how
glum you look!"
"I think I have reason to look glum," answered Valentine, gravely; "I
have seen Charlotte."
"Yes? And don't you find her improving?--gradually, of course. That
constitutional languor is not shaken off in a hurry. But surely you think
"Brightening with the light that never shone on earth or sea. God help
me! I--I--am the merest child, the veriest coward, the--" He made a great
effort, and stifled the sob that had well-nigh broken his voice. "Mr.
Sheldon," he continued quietly, "I believe your stepdaughter is dying."
"Dying! Good heavens!--my dear Hawkehurst, this alarm is most--most
premature. There is no cause for fear--at present, no cause--I give you
my word as a medical man."
"No cause for alarm at present? That means my darling will not be taken
from me to-night, or to-morrow. I shall have a few days breathing-time.
Yes, I understand. The doom is upon us. I saw the shadow of death upon
her face to-day."
"My dear Hawkehurst--"
"My dear Sheldon, for pity's sake don't treat me as if I were a woman or
a child. Let me know my fate. If--if--this, the worst, most bitter of all
calamities God's hand--raised against me in punishment of past sins,
sinned lightly and recklessly, in the days when my heart had no stake in
the game of destiny--can inflict upon me; if this deadly sorrow is
bearing down upon me, let me meet it like a man. Let me die with my eyes
uncovered. O, my dearest, my fondest, redeeming angel of my ill-spent
life! have you been only a supernal visitant, after all, shining on me
for a little while, to depart when your mission of redemption is
"Powers above!" thought Mr. Sheldon, "what nonsense these sentimental
magazine-writers can talk!"
He was in nowise melted by the lover's anguish, though it was very real.
Such a grief as this was outside the circle in which his thoughts
revolved. This display of grief was unpleasant to him. It grated
painfully upon his nerves, as some of poor Tom Halliday's little speeches
had done of old, when the honest-hearted Yorkshireman lay on his
deathbed; and the young man's presence and the young man's anxiety were
"Tell me the truth, Mr. Sheldon," Valentine said presently, with
suppressed intensity. "Is there any hope for my darling, any hope?"
Mr. Sheldon considered for some moments before he replied to this
question. He pursed-up his lips and bent his brows with the same air of
business-like deliberation that he might have assumed while weighing the
relative merits of the first and second debenture bonds of some doubtful
"You ask me a trying question, Hawkehurst," he said at last. "If you ask
me plainly whether I like the turn which Charlotte's illness has taken
within the last few weeks, I must tell you frankly, I do not. There is a
persistent want of tone--a visible decay of vital power--which, I must
confess, has caused me some uneasiness. You see, the fact is, there is a
radical weakness of constitution--as Miss Paget, a very sensible girl and
acute observer--herself has remarked, indeed a hereditary weakness; and
against this medicine is sometimes unavailing. You need apprehend no
neglect on my part, Hawkehurst; all that can possibly be done is being
done. Dr. Doddleson's instructions are carefully obeyed, and--"
"Is this Dr. Doddleson competent to grapple with the case?" asked
Valentine; "I never heard of him as a great man."
"That fact proves how little you know of the medical profession."
"I know nothing of it; I have had no need for doctors in my life. And you
think this Dr. Doddleson really clever?"
"His position is a sufficient answer to that question."
"Will you let me telegraph for him--this afternoon--immediately?"
"You cannot telegraph from this place."
"No, but from St. Leonards I can. Do you think I am afraid of a
"But why send for Dr. Doddleson? The treatment he prescribed is the
treatment we are now following to the letter. To summon him down here
would be the merest folly. Our poor Charlotte's illness is, so far, free
from all alarming symptoms."
"You do not see the change in her that I can see," cried Valentine
piteously. "For mercy's sake, Mr. Sheldon, let me have my way in this. I
cannot stand by and see my dear one fading and do nothing--nothing to
save her. Let me send for this man. Let me see him myself, and hear what
he says. You can have no objection to his coming, since he is the man you
have chosen for Charlotte's adviser? It can only be a question of
expense. Let this particular visit be my affair."
"I can afford to pay for my stepdaughter's medical attendance without any
help from your purse, Mr. Hawkehurst," said the stockbroker with offended
pride. "There is one element in the case which you appear to ignore."
"What is that?"
"The alarm which this summoning of a doctor from London must cause in
"It need cause no alarm. She can be told that Dr. Doddleson has come to
this part of the world for a Sunday's change of air. The visit can appear
to be made _en passant._ It will be easy to arrange that with the doctor
before he sees her."
"As you please, Mr. Hawkehurst," the stockbroker replied coldly. "I
consider such a visit to the last degree unnecessary; but if Dr.
Doddleson's coming can give you any satisfaction, by all means let him
come. The expense involved in summoning him is of the smallest
consideration to me. My position with regard to my wife's daughter is one
of extreme responsibility, and I am ready to perform all the obligations
of that position."
"You are very good: your conduct in relation to Charlotte and myself has
been beyond all praise. It is quite possible that I am over-anxious; but
there was a look in that dear face--no--I cannot forget that look; it
struck terror to my heart. I will go at once to St. Leonards. I can tell
Charlotte that I am obliged to telegraph to the printer about my copy.
You will not object to that white lie?"
"Not at all. I think it essential that Charlotte should not be alarmed.
You had better stop to dine; there will be time for the telegram after
"I will not risk that," answered Valentine. "I cannot eat or drink till I
have done something to lessen this wretched anxiety."
He went back to the room where Charlotte was sitting by the open window,
through which there came the murmur of waves, the humming of drowsy bees,
the singing of birds, all the happy voices of happy nature in a
"O God, wilt thou take her away from such a beautiful world," he asked,
"and change all the glory of earth to darkness and desolation for me?"
His heart rebelled against the idea of her death. To save her, to win her
back to himself from the jaws of death, he was ready to promise anything,
to do anything.
"All my days will I give to Thy service, if Thou wilt spare her to me,"
in his heart he said to his God. "If Thou dost not, I will be an infidel
and a pagan--the vilest and most audacious of sinners. Better to serve
Lucifer than the God who could so afflict me."
And this is where the semi-enlightened Christian betrays the weakness of
his faith. While the sun shines, and the sweet gospel story reads to him
like some tender Arcadian idyl, all love and promise, he is firm in his
allegiance; but when the dark hour comes, he turns his face to the wall,
with anger and disappointment in his heart, and will have no further
commune with the God who has chastised him. His faith is the faith of the
grateful leper, who, being healed, was eager to return and bless his
divine benefactor. It is not the faith of Abraham or of Job, of Paul or
Valentine told his story about the printers and the copy for the
_Cheapside_ magazine, about which there had arisen some absurd mistake,
only to be set right by a telegram.
It was not a very clear account; but Charlotte did not perceive the
vagueness of the story; she thought only of the one fact, that Valentine
must leave her for some hours.
"The evening will seem so long without you," she said. "That is the worst
part of my illness; the time is so long--so weary. Diana is the dearest
and kindest of friends. She is always trying to amuse me, and reads to me
for hours, though I know she must often be tired of reading aloud so
long. But even the books I was once so fond of do not amuse me. The words
seem to float indistinctly in my brain, and all sorts of strange images
mix themselves up with the images of the people in the book. Di has been
reading "The Bride of Lammermoor" all this morning; but the pain and
weariness I feel seemed to be entangled with Lucy and Edgar somehow, and
the dear book gave me no pleasure."
"My darling, you--you are too weak to listen to Diana's reading. It is
very kind of her to try to amuse you; but--but it would be better for you
to rest altogether. Any kind of mental exertion may help to retard your
He had placed himself behind her chair, and was bending over the pillows
to speak to her. Just now he felt himself unequal to the command of his
countenance. He bent his head until his lips touched the soft brown hair,
and kissed those loose soft tresses passionately. The thought occurred to
him that a day might come when he should again kiss that soft brown hair,
with a deeper passion, with a sharper pain, and when Charlotte would not
know of his kisses, or pity his pain.
"O Valentine!" cried Charlotte, "you are crying; I can see your face in
He had forgotten the glass; the little rococo mirror, with an eagle
hovering over the top of the frame, which hung above the old-fashioned
"I am not so very ill, dear; I am not indeed," the girl continued,
turning in her chair with an effort, and clasping her lover's hands; "you
must not distress yourself like this, Valentine--dear Valentine! I shall
be better by-and-by. I cannot think that I shall be taken from you."
He had broken down altogether by this time. He buried his face in the
pillows, and contrived to stifle the sobs that would come; and then,
after a sharp struggle, he lifted his face, and bent over the chair once
more to kiss the invalid's pale upturned forehead.
"My dear one, you shall not, if love can guard and keep you. No, dear,
I _cannot_ believe that God will take you from me. Heaven may be your
fittest habitation; but such sweet spirits as yours are sorely needed
upon earth. I will be brave, dearest one; brave and hopeful in the
mercy of Heaven. And now I must go and telegraph to my tiresome
printer. _Au revoir_!"
He hurried away from the farmhouse, and started at a rattling pace along
the pleasant road, with green waving corn on his left, and broad blue
ocean on his right.
"I can get a fly to bring me back from St. Leonard's" he thought; "I
should only lose time by hunting for a vehicle here."
He was at St. Leonards station within an hour after leaving the farm.
He despatched the message in Mr. Sheldon's name, and took care to make
Fitful and feverish were the slumbers which visited Mr. Hawkehurst on
that balmy summer's night. His waking hours were anxious and unhappy; but
his sleeping hours were still more painful. To sleep was to be the
feverish fool of vague wild visions, in which Charlotte and Dr.
Doddleson, the editor of the _Cheapside_, the officials of the British
Museum reading-room, Diana Paget, and the Sheldons, figured amidst
inextricable confusion of circumstances and places. Throughout these
wretched dreams he had some consciousness of himself and the room in
which he was lying, the July moon shining upon him, broad and bright,
through the diamond-paned lattice. And O, what torturing visions were
those in which Charlotte smiled upon him, radiant with health and
happiness; and there had been no such thing as her illness, no such thing
as his grief. And then came hurried dreams, in which Dr. Doddleson was
knocking at the farmhouse door, with the printer of the _Cheapside_. And
then he was a spectator in a mighty theatre, large as those Roman
amphitheatres, wherein the audience seemed a mass of flies, looking down
on the encounter of two other flies, and all the glory of an imperial
court only a little spot of purple and gold, gleaming afar in the
sunshine. To the dreamer it was no surprise that this unknown theatre of
his dreams should be vast as the gladiatorial arena. And then came the
deep thunderous music of innumerable bass-viols and bassoons: and some
one told him it was the first night of a great tragedy. He felt the
breathless hush of expectation; the solemn bass music sank deeper; dark
curtains were drawn aside, with a motion slow and solemn, like the waving
of mountain pines, and there appeared a measureless stage, revealing a
moonlit expanse, thickly studded with the white headstones of unnumbered
graves, and on the foremost of these--revealed to him by what power he
knew not, since mortal sight could never have reached a point so
distant--he read the name of Charlotte Halliday. He awoke with a sharp
cry of pain. It was broad day, and the waves were dancing gaily in the
morning sunlight. He rose and dressed himself. Sleep, such as he had
known that night, was worse than the weariest waking. He went out into
the garden by-and-by, and paced slowly up and down the narrow pathways,
beside which box of a century's growth rose dark and high. Pale yellow
lights were in the upper windows. He wondered which of those sickly
tapers flickered on the face he loved so fondly.
"It is only a year since I first saw her," he thought: "one year! And to
love her has been my 'liberal education;' to lose her would be my
desolation and despair."
To lose her! His thoughts approached that dread possibility, but could
not realize it; not even yet.
At eight o'clock Diana came to summon him to breakfast.
"Shall I see Charlotte?" he asked.
"No; for some time past she has not come down to breakfast."
"What kind of night has she had?"
"A very quiet night, she tells me; but I am not quite sure that she tells
me the truth, she is so afraid of giving us uneasiness."
"She tells you. But do you not sleep in her room, now that she is so
"No. I was anxious to sleep on a sofa at the foot of her bed, and
proposed doing so, but Mr. Sheldon objects to my being in the room. He
thinks that Charlotte is more quiet entirely alone, and that there is
more air in the room with only one sleeper. Her illness is not of a kind
to require attention of any sort in the night."
"Still I should have thought it better for her to have you with her, to
cheer and comfort her.
"Believe me, Valentine, I wished to be with her."
"I am sure of that, dear," he answered kindly.
"It was only Mr. Sheldon's authority, as a man of some medical
experience, that conquered my wish."
"Well, I suppose he is right. And now we must go in to breakfast. Ah, the
dreary regularity of these breakfasts and dinners, which go on just the
same when our hearts are breaking!"
The breakfast was indeed a dreary soul-dispiriting meal. Farmhouse
luxuries, in the way of new-laid eggs and home-cured bacon, abounded; but
no one had any inclination for these things. Valentine remembered the
homestead among the Yorkshire hills, with all the delight that he had
known there; and the "sorrow's crown of sorrow" was very bitter. Mr.
Sheldon gave his Sabbath-morning meditations to the study of a
Saturday-evening share-list; and Georgy plunged ever and anon into the
closely printed pages of a Dissenting preacher's biography, which she
declared to be "comforting."
Diana and Valentine sat silent and anxious; and after the faintest
pretence of eating and drinking, they both left the table, to stroll
drearily in the garden. The bells were ringing cheerily from the grey
stone tower near at hand; but Valentine had no inclination for church on
this particular morning. Were not all his thoughts prayers--humble
piteous entreaties--for one priceless boon?
"Will you see the doctor when he comes, and manage matters so as not to
alarm Charlotte?" he asked of Mr. Sheldon. That gentleman agreed to do
so, and went out into the little front-garden to lie in wait for the
great Doddleson--"Dowager Doddleson" as he was surnamed by some
A St. Leonards fly brought the doctor while the bells were still ringing
for morning service. Mr. Sheldon received him at the gate; and explained
the motive of his summons.
The doctor was full of pompous solicitude about "our sweet young
"Really one of the most interesting cases I ever had upon my hands,"
the West-end physician said blandly; "as I was remarking to a very
charming patient of mine--in point of fact, the amiable and
accomplished Countess of Kassel-Kumberterre, only last Tuesday
morning. A case so nearly resembling the Countess's own condition as to
be highly interesting to her."
"I really ought to apologize for bringing you down," said Mr. Sheldon, as
he led the doctor into the house. "I only consented to your being sent
for in order to tranquillize this young fellow Hawkehurst, who is engaged
to my daughter; a rising man, I believe, in his own particular line, but
rather wild and impracticable. There is really no change for the worse,
absolutely none; and as we have not been here more than three days, there
has been positively no opportunity for testing the effect of change and
sea air, and so on."
This seemed rather like giving the learned physician his cue. And there
were those among Dr. Doddleson's professional rivals who said that the
worthy doctor was never slow to take a cue so given, not being prejudiced
by any opinions of his own.
Charlotte had by this time been established in her easy-chair by the open
window of the sitting-room, and here Dr. Doddleson saw her, in the
presence of Mr. and Mrs. Sheldon; and here Dr. Doddleson went through the
usual Abracadabra of his art, and assented to the opinions advanced, with
all deference, by Mr. Sheldon.
To Georgy this interview, in which Mr. Sheldon's opinions were pompously
echoed by the West-end physician, proved even more comforting than the
benignant career of the Dissenting minister, who was wont to allude to
that solemn passing hence of which the ancients spoke in dim suggestive
phrase, as "going upstairs."
Diana and Valentine strolled in the garden while the physician saw his
patient. Dr. Doddleson's ponderous polysyllables floated out upon the
summer air like the droning of a humble-bee. It was a relief to Valentine
to know that the doctor was with his patient: but he had no intention to
let that gentleman depart unquestioned.
"I will take no secondhand information," he thought; "I will hear this
man's opinion from his own lips."
He went round to the front of the house directly the droning had ceased,
and was in the way when Dr. Doddleson and Mr. Sheldon came out of the
"If you have no objection," he said to Mr. Sheldon, "I should like to ask
Dr. Doddleson a few questions."
"_I_ have no objection," replied the stockbroker; "but it is really
altogether such an unusual thing, and I doubt if Dr. Doddleson will
And here he cast a deprecating glance at the doctor, as who should say,
"Can you permit yourself to comply with a demand go entirely unwarranted
Dowager Doddleson was eminently good-natured.
"And this is our sweet young friend's _fiance_," he said; "dear
And then he looked at Valentine with bland pale-blue eyes that twinkled
behind his gold-framed spectacles; while Valentine was taking his
measure, so far as the measure of any man's moral and intellectual force
can be taken by the eyes of another man. "And this is the man who is
chosen to snatch my darling from the jaws of death!" he said to himself,
with burning rage in his heart, while the amiable physician repeated
"And this is our sweet young patient's _fiance_. Dee-ar me, how very
The three men strolled round to the garden behind the house, Mr. Sheldon
close at the physician's elbow.
"For God's sake tell me the truth, Dr. Doddleson!" said Valentine in a
low hoarse voice, directly they were beyond ear-shot of the house. "I am
a man, and I can steel myself to hear the worst you can tell."
"But really, Hawkehurst, there is no occasion for this kind of thing,"
interjected Philip Sheldon; "Dr. Doddleson agrees with me, that the case
is one of extreme languor, and no more."
"Unquestionably," said the doctor in a fat voice.
"And Dr. Doddleson also coincides with me in the opinion that all we can
do is to wait the reviving influence of sea-air."
"Undoubtedly," said the doctor, with a solemn nod.
"And is this all?" asked Valentine hopelessly.
"My dear sir, what else can I say?" said the doctor; "as my good friend
Mr. Sheldon has just remarked, there is extreme languor; and as my good
friend Mr. Sheldon further observes, we must await the effect of change
of air. The--aw--invigorating sea-breezes, the--aw--enlivening influence
of new surroundings, and--aw--so forth. Dr. Poseidon, my dear sir, is a
very valuable coadjutor."
"And you think your patient no worse, Dr. Doddleson?"
"The doctor has just left Mrs. Sheldon much comforted by his assurance
that her daughter is better," said the stockbroker.
"No, no!" exclaimed Dr. Doddleson; "no, no! _there_ my good friend Mr.
Sheldon somewhat misrepresents me. I said that our patient was not
obviously worse. I did not say that our patient was better. There is a
dilatation of the pupil of the eye which I don't quite understand."
"Mental excitement," said Mr. Sheldon, somewhat hastily; "Charlotte is
nervous to an extreme degree, and your sudden arrival was calculated to
shake her nerves."
"Undoubtedly," rejoined the doctor; "and it is unquestionable that such a
dilatation of the pupil might, under certain circumstances, be occasioned
by mental excitement. I am sorry to find that our patient's attacks of
"Which are purely the effect of fancy," interjected Mr. Sheldon.
"Which are no doubt, in some measure, attributable to a hypochondriacal
condition of mind," continued the doctor in his fat voice. "I am sorry to
find that this periodical dizziness has been somewhat increased of late.
But here again we must look to Dr. Poseidon. Tepid sea-baths, if they can
be managed, in the patient's own room; and by-and-by a dip in the waves
yonder, may do wonders."
Valentine asked no further questions; and the physician departed in the
St. Leonards fly, to turn his excursion to profitable use by calling on
two or three dowagers in Warrior Square and Marina, who would doubtless
be glad of an unexpected visit from their pet doctor.
"Well, Hawkehurst," said Mr. Sheldon, when the fly had driven away, "I
hope you are satisfied now?"
"Satisfied!" cried Valentine; "yes, I am satisfied that your stepdaughter
is being murdered!"
"Murdered!" echoed the stockbroker, his voice thick and faint; but
Valentine did not heed the change in it.
"Yes, murdered--sacrificed to the utter incompetence of that old idiot
who has just left us."
Philip Sheldon drew a long breath.
"What!" he exclaimed; "do you doubt Doddleson's skill?"
"Do you believe in it? Do you? No; I cannot think that a man of your keen
perception in all other matters--half a medical man yourself--can be the
dupe of so shallow an impostor. And it is to that man's judgment my
darling's life has been confided; and it is to that man I have looked,
with hope and comfort in the thought of his power to save my treasure!
Good God! what a reed on which to rely! And of all the medical men of
London, this is the one you have chosen!"
"I must really protest against this rant, Hawkehurst," said Philip
Sheldon. "I hold myself responsible for the selection which I made, and
will not have that selection questioned in this violent and outrageous
manner by you. Your anxiety for Charlotte's recovery may excuse a great
deal, but it cannot excuse this kind of thing; and if you cannot command
yourself better, I must beg you to absent yourself from my house until my
stepdaughter's recovery puts an end to all this fuss."
"Do you believe in Dr. Doddleson's skill?" asked Valentine doggedly. He
wanted to have that question answered at any cost.
"Most decidedly I do, with the rest of the medical world. My choice of
this gentleman as Charlotte's adviser was governed by his reputation as a
safe and conscientious man. His opinions are sound, trustworthy--"
"His opinions!" cried Valentine with a bitter laugh; "what in heaven's
name do you call his opinions? The only opinions I could extract from him
to-day were solemn echoes of yours. And the man himself! I took the
measure of him before I asked him a question; and physiology is a lie if
that man is anything better than an impostor."
"His position is the answer to that."
"His position is no answer. He is not the first impostor who has attained
position, and is not likely to be the last. You must forgive me, if I
speak with some violence, Mr. Sheldon. I feel too deeply to remember the
conventionalities of my position. The dear girl yonder, hovering between
life and death, is my promised wife. As your stepdaughter she is very
dear to you, no doubt, and you are of course anxious to do your duty as
her stepfather. But she is all the world to me--my one sweet memory of
the past, my sole hope for the future. I will not trust her to the care
of Dr. Doddleson; I claim the right to choose another physician--as that
man's coadjutor, if you please. I have no wish to offend the doctor of
"This is all sheer nonsense," said Mr. Sheldon.
"It is nonsense about which you must let me have my own way," replied
Valentine, resolutely. "My stake on this hazard is too heavy for careless
play. I shall go back to town at once and seek out a physician."
"Do you know any great man?"
"No; but I will find one."
"If you go today, you will inevitably alarm Charlotte."
"True; and disappoint her into the bargain. I suppose in such a case
tomorrow will do as well as to-day?"
"I can go by the first train, and return with my doctor in the afternoon.
Yes, I will go tomorrow."
Mr. Sheldon breathed more freely. There are cases in which to obtain time
for thought seems the one essential thing--cases in which a reprieve is
as good as a pardon.
"Pray let us consider this business quietly," he said, with a faint sigh
of weariness. "There is no necessity for all this excitement. You can go
to town to-morrow, by the first train, as you say. If it is any
satisfaction to you to bring down a physician, bring one; bring half a
dozen, if you please. But, for the last time, I most emphatically assure
you that anything that tends to alarm Charlotte is the one thing of all
others most sure to hinder her recovery."
"I know that. She shall not be frightened; but she shall have a better
adviser than Dr. Doddleson. And now I will go back to the house. She will
wonder at my absence."
He went to the bright, airy room where Charlotte was seated, her head
lying back upon the pillows, her face paler, her glances and tones more
languid than on the previous day as it seemed to Valentine. Diana was
near her, solicitous and tender; and on the other side of the window sat
Mrs. Sheldon, with her Dissenting minister's biography open on her lap.
All through that day Valentine Hawkehurst played his part bravely: it was
a hard and bitter part to play--the part of hope and confidence while
unutterable fears were rending his heart. He read the epistle and gospel
of the day to his betrothed; and afterwards some chapters of St.
John--those profoundly mournful chapters that foreshadow the agonising
close. It was Charlotte who selected these chapters, and her lover could
find no excuse for disputing her choice.
It was the first time that they had shared any religious exercise, and
the hearts of both were deeply touched by the thought of this.
"How frivolous all our talk must have been, Valentine, when it seems so
new to us to be reading these beautiful words together?"
Her head was half supported by the pillows, half resting on her lover's
shoulder, and her eyes travelled along the lines as he read, in a calm
low voice, which was unbroken to the end.
Early in the evening Charlotte retired, worn out by the day's physical
weariness, in spite of Valentine's fond companionship. Later, when it was
dusk, Diana came downstairs with the news that the invalid was sleeping
quietly. Mrs. Sheldon was dozing in her arm-chair, the Dissenting
minister having fallen to the ground; and Valentine was leaning, with
folded arms, on the broad window-sill looking out into the shadowy
garden. Mr. Sheldon had given them very little of his society during that
day. He went out immediately after his interview with Valentine, on a
sea-coast ramble, which lasted till dinner-time. After dinner he remained
in the room where they had dined. He was there now. The light of the
candles, by which he read his papers, shone out upon the dusk.
"Will you come for a stroll with me, Diana?" asked Valentine.
Miss Paget assented promptly; and they went out into the garden, beyond
the reach of Mr. Sheldon's ears, had that gentleman been disposed to
place himself at his open window in the character of a listener.
"I want to tell you my plans about Charlotte," Valentine began. "I am
going to London to-morrow to search for a greater physician than Dr.
Doddleson. I shall find my man in an hour or so; and, if possible, shall
return with him in the evening. There is no apparent reason to anticipate
any sudden change for the worse; but if such a change should take place,
I rely on you, dear, to give me the earliest tidings of it. I suppose you
can get a fly here, if you want one?"
"I can get to St. Leonards, if that is what you mean," Miss Paget
answered promptly. "I dare say there is a fly to be had; if not, I can
walk there. I am not afraid of a few miles' walk, by day or night. If
there should be a change, Valentine--which God forbid--I will telegraph
the tidings of it to you."
"You had better address the message to me at Rancy's, Covent Garden; the
house where the Ragamuffins have their rooms, you know, dear. That is a
more central point than my lodgings, and nearer the terminus. I will call
there two or three times in the course of the day."
"You may trust my vigilance, Valentine. I did not think it was in my
nature to love any one as I love Charlotte Halliday."
Gustave Lenoble's letters lying unanswered in her desk asserted the
all-absorbing nature of Diana's affection for the fading girl. She _was_
fading. The consciousness of this made all other love sacrilege, as it
seemed to Diana. She sat up late that night to answer Gustave's last
letter of piteous complaint.
"She had forgotten him. Ah, that he had been foolish--insensate--to
confide himself in her love! Was he not old and grey in comparison to
such youth--such freshness--a venerable dotard of thirty-five? What had
he with dreams of love and marriage? Fie, then. He humiliated himself in
the dust beneath her _mignon_ feet. He invited her to crush him with
those cruel feet. But if she did not answer his letters, he would come to
Harold's Hill. He would mock himself of that ferocious Sheldon--of a
battalion of Sheldons still more ferocious--of all the world, at
last--to be near her."
"Believe me, dear Gustave, I do not forget," wrote Diana, in reply to
these serio-comic remonstrances. "I was truly sorry to leave town, on
your account and on my father's. But my dear adopted sister is paramount
with me now. You will not grudge her my care or my love, for she may not
long be with me to claim them. There is nothing but sorrow here in all
our hearts; sorrow, and an ever-present dread."
Book the Eighth.
A FIGHT AGAINST TIME.
A DREAD REVELATION.
The early fast train by which Valentine Hawkehurst travelled brought him
into town at a quarter past nine o'clock. During the journey he had been
meditating on the way in which he should set to work when he arrived in
London. No ignorance could be more profound than his on all points
relating to the medical profession. Dimly floating in his brain there
were the names of doctors whom he had heard of as celebrated men--one for
the chest, another for the liver, another for the skin, another for the
eyes; but, among all these famous men, who was the man best able to cope
with the mysterious wasting away, the gradual, almost imperceptible
ebbing of that one dear life which Valentine wanted to save?
This question must be answered by some one; and Valentine was sorely
puzzled as to who that some one must be.
The struggling young writer had but few friends. He had, indeed, worked
too hard for the possibility of friendship. The cultivation of the
severer Muses is rarely compatible with a wide circle of acquaintances;
and Valentine, if not a cultivator of these severe ones, had been a hard