Part 2 out of 10
asked, when they were a little way beyond the gates of Rivercombe.
"I think her very pretty, Jack, and--well--yes--upon the whole
fascinating. But I don't like the look of the thing altogether, and I
fancy there's considerable bad taste in giving parties with an invalid
husband upstairs. I was wondering how Mr. Branston liked the noise of all
that talk and laughter in the dining-room, or the music that came
"My dear fellow, old Branston delights in society. He is generally well
enough to sit in the drawing-room and look on at his wife's parties. He
doesn't talk much on those occasions. Indeed, I believe he is quite
incapable of conversing about anything except the rise and fall of Indian
stock, or the fluctuations in the value of indigo. And, you see, Adela
married him with the intention of enjoying her life. She confesses as
much sometimes with perfect candour."
"I daresay she is very candid, and just as shallow," said Gilbert Fenton,
who was inclined to set his face against this entanglement of his
"Well--yes, I suppose she is rather shallow. Those pretty pleasant little
women generally are, I think. Depth of feeling and force of mind are so
apt to go along with blue spectacles and a rugged aspect. A woman's
prettiness must stand for something. There is so much real pleasure in
the contemplation of a charming face, that a man had need rescind a
little in the way of mental qualifications. And I do not think Adela
Branston is without a heart."
"You praise her very warmly. Are you really in love with her, John?" his
friend asked seriously.
"No, Gilbert, upon my honour. I heartily wish I were. I wish I could give
her more by-and-by, when death brings about her release from Michael
Branston, than the kind of liking I feel for her. No, I am not in love
with her; but I think she likes me; and a man must be something worse
than a brute if he is not grateful for a pretty woman's regard."
They said no more about Mrs. Branston. Gilbert had a strong distaste for
the business; but he did not care to take upon himself the office of
mentor to a friend whose will he knew to be much stronger than his own,
and to whose domination he had been apt to submit in most things, as to
the influence of a superior mind. It disappointed him a little to find
that John Saltram was capable of making a mercenary marriage, capable
even of the greater baseness involved in the anticipation of a dead man's
shoes; but his heart was not easily to be turned against the chosen
friend of his youth, and he was prompt in making excuses for the line of
conduct he disapproved.
It was still quite early in September when Gilbert Fenton went back to
Lidford and took up his quarters once more in the airy chintz-curtained
bedchamber set apart for him in his sister's house. He had devoted
himself very resolutely to business during the interval that had gone by
since his last visit to that quiet country house; but the time had seemed
very long to him, and he fancied himself a kind of martyr to the
necessities of commerce. The aspect of his affairs of late had not been
quite free from unpleasantness. There were difficulties in the conduct of
business in the Melbourne branch of the house, that branch which was
under the charge of a cousin of Gilbert's, about whose business
capacities the late Mr. Fenton had entertained the most exalted opinion.
The Melbourne trading had not of late done much credit to this
gentleman's commercial genius. He had put his trust in firms that had
crumbled to pieces before the bills drawn upon them came due, involving
his cousin in considerable losses. Gilbert was rich enough to stand these
losses, however; and he reconciled himself to them as best he might,
taking care to send his Australian partner imperative instructions for a
more prudent system of trading in the future.
The uneasiness and vexation produced by this business was still upon him
when he went down to Lidford; but he relied upon Marian Nowell's presence
to dissipate all his care.
He did find himself perfectly happy in her society. He was troubled by no
doubts as to her affection for him, no uncertainty as to the brightness
of the days that were to come. Her manner seemed to him all that a man
could wish in the future partner of his life. An innocent trustfulness in
his superior judgment, a childlike submission to his will which Marian
displayed upon all occasions, were alike flattering and delightful. Nor
did she ever appear to grow tired of that talk of their future which was
so pleasant to her lover. There was no shadow of doubt upon her face when
he spoke of the serene happiness which they two were to find in an
existence spent together. He was the first who had ever spoken to her of
these things, and she listened to him with an utter simplicity and
freshness of mind.
Time had reconciled Isabella Lister to her brother's choice, and she now
deigned to smile upon the lovers, very much to Gilbert's satisfaction. He
had been too proud to supplicate her good graces; but he was pleased that
his only sister should show herself gracious and affectionate to the girl
he loved so fondly. During this second visit of his, therefore, Marian
came very often to Lidford House; sometimes accompanied by her uncle,
sometimes alone; and there was perfect harmony between the elder and
The partridges upon Martin Lister's estate did not suffer much damage
from his brother-in-law's gun that autumn. Gilbert found it a great deal
pleasanter to spend his mornings dawdling in the little cottage
drawing-room or under the walnut-trees with Marian, than to waste his
noontide hours in the endeavour to fill a creditable game-bag. There is
not very much to tell of the hours which those two spent together so
happily. It was an innocent, frivolous, useless employment of time, and
left little trace behind it, except in the heart of one of those two.
Gilbert wondered at himself when, in some sober interval of reflection,
he happened to consider those idle mornings, those tranquil uneventful
afternoons and evenings, remembering what a devoted man of business he
had once been, and how a few months ago he would have denounced such a
life in another.
"Well," he said to himself, with a happy laugh, "a man can take this
fever but once in his life, and it is only wise in him to surrender
himself utterly to the divine delirium. I shall have no excuse for
neglecting business by-and-by, when my little wife and I are settled down
together for the rest of our days. Let me be her lover while I may. Can I
ever be less than her lover, I wonder? Will marriage, or custom, or the
assurance that we belong to each other for the rest of our days, take the
poetry out of our lives? I think not; I think Marian must always be to me
what she has seemed to me from the very first--something better and
brighter than the common things of this life."
Custom, which made Marian Nowell dearer to Gilbert Fenton every day, had
by this time familiarised her with his position as her future husband.
She was no longer surprised or distressed when he pleaded for a short
engagement, and a speedy realization of that Utopian home which they were
to inhabit together. The knowledge of her uncle's delight in this
engagement of hers might have reconciled her to it, even if she had not
loved Gilbert Fenton. And she told herself that she did love him; or,
more often putting the matter in the form of a question, asked herself
whether she could be so basely ungrateful as not to love one who regarded
her with such disinterested affection?
It was settled finally, after a good deal of pleasant discussion, that
the wedding should take place early in the coming spring--at latest in
April. Even this seemed a long delay to Gilbert; but he submitted to it
as an inevitable concession to the superior instinct of his betrothed,
which harmonised so well with Mrs. Lister's ideas of wisdom and
propriety. There was the house to be secured, too, so that he might have
a fitting home to which to take his darling when their honeymoon was
over; and as he had no female relation in London who could take the care
of furnishing this earthly paradise off his hands, he felt that the whole
business must devolve upon himself, and could not be done without time.
Captain Sedgewick promised to bring Marian to town for a fortnight in
October, in order that she might assist her lover in that delightful duty
of house-hunting. She looked forward to this visit with quite a childlike
pleasure. Her life at Lidford had been completely happy; but it was a
monotonous kind of happiness; and the notion of going about London, even
at the dullest time of the year, was very delightful to her.
The weather happened to be especially fine that September. It was the
brightest month of the year, and the lovers took long rambles together in
the woodland roads and lanes about Lidford, sometimes alone, more often
with the Captain, who was a very fair pedestrian, in spite of having had
a bullet or two through his legs in the days gone by. When the weather
was too warm for walking, Gilbert borrowed Martin Lister's dog-cart, and
drove them on long journeys of exploration to remote villages, or to the
cheery little market-town ten miles away.
They all three set out for a walk one afternoon, when Gilbert had been
about a fortnight at Lidford, with no particular destination, only bent
on enjoying the lovely weather and the rustic beauty of woodland and
meadow. The Captain chose their route, as he always did on these
occasions, and under his guidance they followed the river-bank for some
distance, and then turned aside into a wood in which Gilbert Fenton had
never been before. He said so, with an expression of surprise at the
beauty of the place, where the fern grew deep under giant oaks and
beeches, and where the mossy ground dipped suddenly down to a deep still
pool which reflected the sunlit sky through a break in the dark foliage
that sheltered it.
"What, have you never been here?" exclaimed the Captain; "then you have
never seen Heatherly, I suppose?"
"Never. By the way, is not that Sir David Forster's place?" asked
Gilbert, remembering John Saltram's promise.
He had seen very little more of his friend after that visit to
Rivercombe, and had half forgotten Mr. Saltram's talk of coming down to
this neighbourhood on purpose to be presented to Marian.
"Yes. It is something of a show-place, too; and we think a good deal of
it in these parts. There are some fine Sir Joshuas among the family
portraits, painted in the days when the Forsters were better off and of
more importance in the county than they are now. And there are a few
other good pictures--Dutch interiors, and some seascapes by Bakhuysen.
Decidedly you ought to see Heatherly. Shall we push on there this
"Is it far from here?"
"Not much more than a mile. This wood joins the park, and there is a
public right of way across the park to the Lidford road, so the gate is
always open. We can't waste our walk, and I know Sir David quite well
enough to ask him to let you see the pictures, if he should happen to be
"I should like it of all things," said Gilbert eagerly. "My friend John
Saltram knows this Sir David Forster, and he talked of being down here at
this time: I forgot all about it till you spoke of Heatherly just now. I
have a knack of forgetting things now-a-days."
"I wonder that you should forget anything connected with Mr. Saltram,
Gilbert," said Marian; "that Mr. Saltram of whom you think so much. I
cannot tell you how anxious I am to see what kind of person he is; not
handsome--you have confessed as much as that."
"Yes, Marian, I admit the painful fact. There are people who call John
Saltram ugly. But his face is not a common one; it is a very picturesque
kind of ugliness--a face that Velasquez would have loved to paint, I
think. It is a rugged, strongly-marked countenance with a villanously
dark complexion; but the eyes are very fine, the mouth perfection; and
there is a look of power in the face that, to my mind, is better than
"And I think you owned that Mr. Saltram is hardly the most agreeable
person in the world."
"Well, no, he is not what one could well call an eminently agreeable
person. And yet he exercises a good deal of influence over the men he
knows, without admitting many of them to his friendship. He is very
clever; not a brilliant talker by any means, except on rare occasions,
when he chooses to give full swing to his powers; he does not lay himself
out for social successes; but he is a man who seems to know more of every
subject than the men about him. I doubt if he will ever succeed at the
Bar. He has so little perseverance or steadiness, and indulges in such an
erratic, desultory mode of life; but he has made his mark in literature
already, and I think he might become a great man if he chose. Whether he
ever will choose is a doubtful question."
"I am afraid he must be rather a dissipated, dangerous kind of person,"
"Well, yes, he is subject to occasional outbreaks of dissipation. They
don't last long, and they seem to leave not the faintest impression upon
his herculean constitution; but of course that sort of thing does more or
less injury to a man's mind, however comparatively harmless the form of
his dissipation may be. There are very few men whom John Saltram cannot
drink under the table, and rise with a steady brain himself when the
wassail is ended; yet I believe, in a general way, few men drink less
than he does. At cards he is equally strong; a past-master in all games
of skill; and the play is apt to be rather high at one or two of the
clubs he belongs to. He has a wonderful power of self-restraint when he
cares to exert it; will play six or seven hours every night for three
weeks at a stretch, and then not touch a card for six months. Poor old
John," said Gilbert Fenton, with a half-regretful sigh; "under happy
circumstances, he might be such a good man."
"But I fear he is a dangerous friend for you, Gilbert," exclaimed Marian,
horrified by this glimpse of bachelor life.
"No, darling, I have never shared his wilder pleasures. There are a few
chosen spirits with whom he consorts at such times. I believe this Sir
David Forster is one of them."
"Sir David has the reputation of leading rather a wild life in London,"
said the Captain, "and of bringing a dissipated set down here every
autumn. Things have not gone well with him. His wife, who was a very
beautiful girl, and whom he passionately loved, was killed by a fall from
her horse a few months after the birth of her first child. The child died
too, and the double loss ruined Sir David. He used to spend the greater
part of his life at Heatherly, and was a general favourite among the
county people; but since that time he has avoided the place, except
during the shooting season. He has a hunting-box in the shires, and is a
regular daredevil over a big country they tell me."
They had reached the little gate opening from the wood into the park by
this time. There was not much difference in the aspect of the sylvan
scene upon the other side of the fence. Sir David's domain had been a
good deal neglected of late years, and the brushwood and brambles grew
thick under the noble old trees. The timber had not yet suffered by its
owner's improvidence. The end of all things must have come for Sir David
before he would have consented to the spoliation of a place he fondly
loved, little as he had cared to inhabit it since the day that shattered
all that was brightest and best in his life.
For some time Captain Sedgewick and his companions went along a footpath
under the shelter of the trees, and then emerged upon a wide stretch of
smooth turf, across which they commanded a perfect view of the principal
front of the old house. It was a quadrangular building of the Elizabethan
period, very plainly built, and with no special beauty to recommend it to
the lover of the picturesque. Whatever charm of form it may have
possessed in the past had been ruthlessly extirpated by the modernisation
of the windows, which were now all of one size and form--a long gaunt
range of unsheltered casements staring blankly out upon the spectator.
There were no flower-beds, no terraced walks, or graceful flights of
steps before the house; only a bare grassplot, with a stiff line of tall
elms on each side, and a wide dry moat dividing it from the turf in the
park. Two lodges--ponderous square brick buildings with very small
windows, each the exact counterpart of the other, and a marvel of
substantial ugliness--kept guard over a pair of tall iron gates, about
six hundred yards apart, approached by stone bridges that spanned the
Captain Sedgewick rang a bell hanging by the side of one of these gates,
whereat there arose a shrill peal that set the rooks screaming in the
tall elms overhead. An elderly female appeared in answer to this summons,
and opened the gate in a slow mechanical way, without the faintest show
of interest in the people about to enter, and looking as if she would
have admitted a gang of obvious burglars with equal indifference.
"Rather a hideous style of place," said Gilbert, as they walked towards
the house; "but I think show-places, as a general rule, excel in
ugliness. I daresay the owners of them find a dismal kind of satisfaction
in considering the depressing influence their dreary piles of
bricks-and-mortar must exercise on the minds of strangers; may be a sort
of compensation for being obliged to live in such a gaol of a place."
There was a clumsy low stone portico over the door, wide enough to admit
a carriage; and lounging upon a bench under this stony shelter they found
a sleepy-looking man-servant, who informed Captain Sedgewick that Sir
David was at Heatherly, but that he was out shooting with his friends at
this present moment. In his absence the man would be very happy to show
the house to Captain Sedgewick and his party.
Gilbert Fenton asked about John Saltram.
Yes, Mr. Saltram had arrived at Heatherly on Tuesday evening, two nights
They went over the state-rooms, and looked at the pictures, which were
really as good as the Captain had represented them. The inspection
occupied a little more than an hour, and they were ready to take their
departure, when the sound of masculine voices resounded loudly in the
hall, and their conductor announced that Sir David and his friends had
There were only two gentlemen in the hall when they went into that
spacious marble-paved chamber, where there were great logs burning on the
wide open hearth, in spite of the warmth of the September day. One of
these two was Sir David Forster, a big man, with a light-brown beard and
a florid complexion. The other was John Saltram, who sat in a lounging
attitude on one of the deep window-seats examining his breech-loader. His
back was turned towards the window, and the glare of the blazing logs
shone full upon his dark face with a strange Rembrandt-like effect.
One glance told Marian Nowell who this man was. That powerful face, with
its unfathomable eyes and thoughtful mouth, was not the countenance she
had conjured up from the depths of her imagination when Gilbert Fenton
had described his friend; yet she felt that this stranger lounging in the
window was John Saltram, and no other. He rose, and set down his gun very
quietly, and stood by the window waiting while Captain Sedgewick
introduced Gilbert to Sir David. Then he came forward, shook hands with
his friend, and was thereupon presented to Marian and her uncle by
Gilbert, who made these introductions with a kind of happy eagerness.
Sir David was full of friendliness and hospitality, and insisted on
keeping them to show Gilbert and Miss Nowell some pictures in the
billiard-room and in his own private snuggery, apartments which were not
shown to ordinary visitors.
They strolled through these rooms in a leisurely way, Sir David making
considerable pains to show Gilbert Fenton the gems of his collection,
John Saltram acting as cicerone to Marian. He was curious to discover
what this girl was like, whether she had indeed only her beauty to
recommend her, or whether she was in sober reality the perfect being
Gilbert Fenton believed her to be.
She was very beautiful. The first brief look convinced Mr. Saltram that
upon this point at least her lover had indulged in no loverlike
exaggeration. There was a singular charm in the face; a higher, more
penetrating loveliness than mere perfection of feature; a kind of beauty
that would have been at once the delight and desperation of a painter--so
fitting a subject for his brush, so utterly beyond the power of perfect
reproduction, unless by one of those happy, almost accidental successes
which make the triumphs of genius.
John Saltram watched Marian Nowell's face thoughtfully as he talked to
her, for the most part, about the pictures which they were looking at
together. Before their inspection of these art-treasures was ended, he
was fain to confess to himself that she was intelligent as well as
beautiful. It was not that she had said anything particularly brilliant,
or had shown herself learned in the qualities of the old Dutch masters;
but she possessed that charming childlike capacity for receiving
information from a superior mind, and that perfect and rapid power of
appreciating a clever man's conversation, which are apt to seem so
delightful to the sterner sex when exhibited by a pretty woman. At first
she had been just a little shy and constrained in her talk with John
Saltram. Her lover's account of this man had not inspired her with any
exalted opinion of his character. She was rather inclined to look upon
him as a person to be dreaded, a friend whose influence was dangerous at
best, and who might prove the evil genius of Gilbert Fenton's life. But
whatever her opinion on this point might remain, her reserve soon melted
before John Saltram's clever talk and kindly conciliating manner. He laid
himself out to please on this occasion, and it was very rarely he did
that without succeeding.
"I want you to think of me as a kind of brother, Miss Nowell," he said in
the course of their talk. "Gilbert and I have been something like
brothers for the last twelve years of our lives, and it would be a hard
thing, for one of us at least, if our friendship should ever be lessened.
You shall find me discretion itself by-and-by, and you shall see that I
can respect Gilbert's altered position; but I shouldn't like to lose him,
and I don't think you look capable of setting your face against your
husband's old friend."
Marian blushed a little at this, remembering that only an hour or two ago
she had been thinking that this friendship was a perilous one for
Gilbert, and that it would be well if John Saltram's influence over him
could be lessened somehow in the future.
"I don't believe I should ever have the power to diminish Gilbert's
regard for you, Mr. Saltram, even were I inclined to do so," she said.
"O yes, you would; your power over him will be illimitable, depend upon
it. But now I have seen you, I think you will only use it wisely."
Marian shook her head, laughing gaily.
"I am much more fitted to be ruled than to rule, Mr. Saltram," she said.
"I am utterly inexperienced in the world, you know, and Mr. Fenton is my
superior in every way."
"Your superior in years, I know, but in what else?"
"In everything else. In intellect and judgment, as well as in knowledge
of the world. You could never imagine what a quiet changeless life I have
"Your intellect is so much the clearer for that, I think. It has not been
disturbed by all the narrow petty influences of a life spent in what is
Before they left the house, Gilbert and the Captain were obliged to
promise to dine at Heatherly next day, very much to the secret distaste
of the former, who must thus lose an evening with Marian, but who was
ashamed to reveal his hopeless condition by a persistent refusal.
Captain Sedgewick begged John Saltram to choose an early day for dining
at the cottage, and Gilbert gave him a general invitation to Lidford
These matters being settled, they departed, accompanied by Mr. Saltram,
who proposed to walk as far as the wood with them, and who extended his
walk still farther, only leaving them at the gate of the Captain's modest
domain. The conversation was general throughout the way back; and they
all found plenty to talk about, as they loitered slowly on among the
waving shadows of the trees flickering darkly on the winding path by
which they went. Gilbert lingered outside the gate after Marian and her
uncle had gone into the cottage--he was so eager to hear his friend
praise the girl he loved.
"Well, John?" he asked.
"Well, dear old boy, she is all that is beautiful and charming, and I can
only congratulate you upon your choice. Miss Nowell's perfection is a
subject about which there cannot be two opinions."
"And you think she loves me, Jack?"
"Do I think she loves you? Why, surely, Gil, that is not a question upon
which you want another man's judgment?"
"No, of course not, but one is never tired of receiving the assurance of
that fact. And you could see by her way of speaking about me----"
"She spoke of you in the prettiest manner possible. She seems to consider
you quite a superior being."
"Dear girl, she is so good and simple-hearted. Do you know, Jack, I feel
as if I could never be sufficiently grateful to Providence for my
happiness in having won such an angel."
"Well, you certainly have reason to consider yourself a very lucky
fellow; but I doubt if any man ever deserved good fortune better than you
do, Gilbert. And now, good-bye. It's getting unconscionably late, and I
shall scarcely get back in time to change my clothes for dinner. We spend
all our evenings in pious devotion to billiards, with a rubber or two, or
a little lansquenet towards the small hours. Don't forget your engagement
They had a very pleasant evening at Heatherly. Sir David's guests at this
time consisted of a Major Foljambe, an elderly man who had seen a good
deal of service in India; a Mr. Harker, who had been in the church, and
had left it in disgust as alike unsuited to his tastes and capacity; Mr.
Windus Carr, a prosperous West-end solicitor, who had inherited a
first-rate practice from his father, and who devoted his talents to the
enjoyment of life, leaving his clients to the care of his partner, a
steady-going stout gentleman, with a bald head, and an inexhaustible
capacity for business; and last, but by no means least, John Saltram,
who possessed more influence over David Forster than any one else in the
SENTENCE OF EXILE.
After the dinner at Heatherly, John Saltram came very often to the
cottage. He did not care much for the fellows who were staying with Sir
David this year, he told Gilbert. He knew all Major Foljambe's tiger
stories by heart, and had convicted him of glaring discrepancies in his
description of the havoc he and his brother officers had made among the
big game. Windus Carr was a conceited presuming cad, who was always
boring them with impossible accounts of his conquests among the fair sex;
and that poor Harker was an unmitigated fool, whose brains had run into
his billiard-cue. This was the report which John Saltram gave of his
fellow-guests; and he left the shooting-party morning after morning to go
out boating with Gilbert and Marian, or to idle away the sunny hours on
the lawn listening to the talk of the two others, and dropping in a word
now and then in a sleepy way as he lay stretched on the grass near them,
looking up to the sky, with his arms crossed above his head.
He called at Lidford House one day when Gilbert had told him he should
stay at home to write letters, and was duly presented to the Listers, who
made a little dinner-party in his honour a few days afterwards, to which
Captain Sedgewick and Marian were invited--a party which went off with
more brightness and gaiety than was wont to distinguish the Lidford House
entertainments. After this there was more boating--long afternoons spent
on the winding river, with occasional landings upon picturesque little
islands or wooded banks, where there were the wild-flowers Marian Nowell
loved and understood so well; more idle mornings in the cottage garden--a
happy innocent break in the common course of life, which seemed almost as
pleasant to John Saltram as to his friend. He had contrived to make
himself popular with every one at Lidford, and was an especial favourite
with Captain Sedgewick.
He seemed so thoroughly happy amongst them, and displayed such a perfect
sympathy with them in all things, that Gilbert Fenton was taken utterly
by surprise by his abrupt departure, which happened one day without a
word of warning. He had dined at the cottage on the previous evening, and
had been in his wildest, most reckless spirits--that mood to which he was
subject at rare intervals, and in which he exercised a potent fascination
over his companions. He had beguiled the little party at the cottage
into complete forgetfulness of the hour by his unwonted eloquence upon
subjects of a deeper, higher kind than it was his habit to speak about;
and then at the last moment, when the clock on the mantelpiece had struck
twelve, he had suddenly seated himself at the piano, and sung them
Moore's "Farewell, but whenever you welcome the hour," in tones that went
straight to the hearts of the listeners. He had one of those rare
sympathetic voices which move people to tears unawares, and before the
song was ended Marian was fairly overcome, and had made a hasty escape
from the room ashamed of her emotion.
Late as it was, Gilbert accompanied his friend for a mile of his homeward
route. He had secured a latch-key during his last visit to Lidford House,
and could let himself in quietly of a night without entrenching upon the
regular habits of Mrs. Lister's household.
Once clear of the cottage, John Saltram's gaiety vanished all in a
moment, and gave place to a moody silence which Gilbert was powerless to
"Is there anything amiss, Jack?" he asked. "I know high spirits are not
always a sign of inward contentment with you. Is there anything wrong
"Are you sure of that?"
"Quite sure. I may be a little knocked up perhaps; that's all."
No hint of his intended departure fell from him when they shook hands and
wished each other good-night; but early next morning a brief note was
delivered to Mr. Fenton at his sister's house to the following effect:--
"MY DEAR GILBERT,--I find myself obliged to leave this place for
London at once, and have not time to thank anyone for the kindness
I have received during my stay. Will you do the best to repair
this omission on my part, and offer my warmest expressions of
gratitude to Captain Sedgewick and Miss Nowell for their goodness
to me? Pray apologise for me also to Mr. and Mrs. Lister for my
inability to make my adieux in a more formal manner than this, a
shortcoming which I hope to atone for on some future visit. Tell
Lister I shall be very pleased to see him if he will look me up at
the Pnyx when he is next in town.
"Ever yours,--JOHN SALTRAM."
This was all. There was no explanation of the reason for this hurried
journey,--a strange omission between men who were on terms of such perfect
confidence as obtained with these two. Gilbert Fenton was not a little
disturbed by this unlooked-for event, fearing that some kind of evil had
befallen his friend.
"His money matters may have fallen into a desperate condition," he
thought; "or perhaps that woman--that Mrs. Branston, is at the bottom of
He went to the cottage that morning as usual, but not with his accustomed
feeling of unalloyed happiness. The serene heaven of his tranquil life
was clouded a little by this strange conduct of John Saltram's. It
wounded him to think that his old companion was keeping a secret from
"I suppose it is because I lectured him a little about Mrs. Branston the
other day," he said to himself. "The business is connected with her in
some way, I daresay, and poor Jack does not care to arouse my virtuous
indignation. That comes of taking a high moral tone with one's friend. He
swallows the pill with a decent grace at the time, and shuts one out of
his confidence ever afterwards."
Captain Sedgewick expressed himself much surprised and disappointed by
Mr. Saltram's departure. Marian said very little upon the subject. There
seemed nothing extraordinary to her in the fact that a gentleman should
be summoned to London by the claims of business.
Gilbert might have brooded longer upon the mystery involved in his
friend's conduct, but that evening's post brought him trouble in the
shape of bad news from Melbourne. His confidential clerk--an old man who
had been with his father for many years, and who knew every intricacy of
the business--wrote him a very long letter, dwelling upon the evil
fortune which attended all their Australian transactions of late, and
hinting at dishonesty and double-dealing on the part of Gilbert's cousin,
Astley Fenton, the local manager.
The letter was a very sensible one, calculated to arouse a careless man
from a false sense of security. Gilbert was so much disturbed by it, that
he determined upon going back to London by the earliest fast train next
morning. It was cutting short his holiday only by a few days. He had
meant to return at the beginning of the following week, and he felt that
he had already some reason to reproach himself for his neglect of
He left Lidford happy in the thought that Captain Sedgewick and Marian
were to come to London in October. The period of separation would be
something less than a month. And after that? Well, he would of course
spend Christmas at Lidford; and he fancied how the holly and mistletoe,
the church-decorations and carol-singing, and all the stereotyped
genialities of the season,--things that had seemed trite and dreary to
him since the days of his boyhood,--would have a new significance and
beauty for him when he and Marian kept the sacred festival together. And
then how quickly would begin the new year, the year whose spring-tide
would see them man and wife! Perhaps there is no period of this mortal
life so truly happy as that in which all our thoughts are occupied in
looking forward to some great joy to come. Whether the joy, when it does
come, is ever so unqualified a delight as it seemed in the distance, or
whether it ever comes at all, are questions which we have all solved for
ourselves somehow or other. To Gilbert Fenton these day-dreams were
bright and new, and he was troubled by no fear of their not being
He went at his business with considerable ardour, and made a careful and
detailed investigation of all affairs connected with their Melbourne
trading, assisted throughout by Samuel Dwyer, the old clerk. The result
of his examination convinced him that his cousin had been playing him
false; that the men with whom his pretended losses had been made were men
of straw, and the transactions were shadows invented to cover his own
embezzlements. It was a complicated business altogether; and it was not
until Gilbert Fenton had been engaged upon it for more than a week, and
had made searching inquiries as to the status of the firms with which the
supposed dealings had taken place, that he was able to arrive at this
conclusion. Having at last made himself master of the real state of
things, as far as it was in any way possible to do so at that distance
from the scene of action, Gilbert saw that there was only one line of
conduct open to him as a man of business. That was to go at once to
Melbourne, investigate his cousin's transactions on the spot, and take
the management of the colonial house into his own hands. To do this would
be a sore trial to him, for it would involve the postponement of his
marriage. He could scarcely hope to do what he had to do in Melbourne and
to get back to England before a later date than that which he had hoped
would be his wedding-day. Yet to do anything less than this would be
futile and foolish; and it was possible that the future stability of his
position was dependent upon his arrangement of these Melbourne
difficulties. It was his home, the prosperity of his coming life that he
had to fight for; and he told himself that he must put aside all
weakness, as he had done once before, when he turned away from the
easy-going studies and pleasures of young Oxford life to undertake a
hand-to-hand fight with evil fortune.
He had conquered then, as he hoped to conquer now, having an energetic
nature, and a strong faith in man's power to master fortune by honest
work and patience.
There was no time lost after once his decision was arrived at. He began
to put his affairs in order for departure immediately, and wrote to
Marian within a few hours of making up his mind as to the necessity of
this voyage. He told her frankly all that had happened, that their
fortune was at stake, and that it was his bounden duty to take this step
hard as it might seem to him. He could not leave England without seeing
her once more, he said, recently as they had parted, and brief as his
leisure must needs be. There were so many things he would have to say to
her on the eve of this cruel separation.
He went down to Lidford one evening when all the arrangements for his
voyage were complete, and he had two clear days at his disposal before
the vessel he was to go in left Liverpool. The Listers were very much
surprised and shocked when he told them what he was going to do; Mrs.
Lister bitterly bewailing the insecurity of all commercial positions, and
appearing to consider her brother on the verge of bankruptcy.
He found a warm welcome at the cottage from the Captain, who heartily
approved of the course he was taking, and was full of hopefulness about
"A few months more or less can make little difference," he said, when
Gilbert was lamenting the postponement of his wedding. "Marian will be
quite safe in her old uncle's care; and I do not suppose either of you
will love each other any the less for the delay. I have such perfect
confidence in you, Gilbert, you see; and it is such a happiness to me to
know that my darling's future is in the hands of a man I can so
thoroughly trust. Were you reduced to absolute poverty, with the battle
of life to fight all over again, I would give you my dear girl without
fear of the issue. I know you are of the stuff that is not to be beaten;
and I believe that neither time nor circumstance could ever change your
love for her."
"You may believe that. Every day makes her dearer to me. I should be
ashamed to tell you how bitterly I feel this parting, and what a
desperate mental struggle I went through before I could make up my mind
Marian came into the room in the midst of this conversation. She was very
pale, and her eyes had a dull, heavy look. The bad news in Gilbert's
letter had distressed her even more than he had anticipated.
"My darling," he said tenderly, looking down at the changed face, with
her cold hand clasped in his own, "how ill you are looking! I fear I made
my letter too dismal, and that it frightened you."
"Oh no, no. I am very sorry you should have this bad fortune, Gilbert,
that is all."
"There is nothing which I do not hope to repair, dear. The losses are not
more than I can stand. All that I take to heart is the separation from
"I am not worth so much regret," she said, with her eyes fixed upon the
ground, and her hands clasping and unclasping each other nervously.
"Not worth so much regret, Marian!" he exclaimed. "You are all the world
to me; the beginning and end of my universe."
She looked a little brighter by-and-by, when her lover had done his best
to cheer her with hopeful talk, which cost him no small effort in the
depressed state of his mind. The day went by very slowly, although it was
the last which those two were to spend together until Gilbert Fenton's
return. It was a hopelessly wet day, with a perpetual drizzling rain and
a leaden-gray sky; weather which seemed to harmonise well enough with the
pervading gloom of Gilbert's thoughts as he stood by the fire, leaning
against an angle of the mantelpiece, and watching Marian's needle moving
monotonously in and out of the canvas.
The Captain, who led an easy comfortable kind of life at all times, was
apt to dispose of a good deal of his leisure in slumber upon such a day
as this. He sat down in his own particular easy-chair, dozing behind the
shelter of a newspaper, and lulled agreeably by the low sound of Gilbert
and Marian's conversation.
So the quiet hours went by, overshadowed by the gloom of that approaching
separation. After dinner, when they had returned to the drawing-room, and
Captain Sedgewick had refreshed his intellectual powers with copious
draughts of strong tea, he began to talk of Marian's childhood, and the
circumstances which had thrown her into his hand.
"I don't suppose my little girl ever showed you her mother's jewel-case,
did she, Gilbert?" he asked.
"I thought as much. It contains that old-fashioned jewelry I spoke
of--family relics, which I have sometimes fancied might be of use to her,
if ever her birthright were worth claiming. But I doubt if that will ever
happen now that so many years have gone by, and there has been no
endeavour to trace her. Run and fetch the case, Marian. There are some of
its contents which Gilbert ought to see before he leaves England--papers
which I intended to show him when I first told him your mother's story."
Marian left them, and came back in a few minutes carrying an
old-fashioned ebony jewel-case, inlaid with brass. She unlocked it with a
little key hanging to her watch-chain, and exhibited its contents to
Gilbert Fenton. There were some curious old rings, of no great value; a
seal-ring with a crest cut on a bloodstone--a crest of that common kind
of device which does not imply noble or ancient lineage on the part of
the bearer thereof; a necklace and earrings of amethyst; a gold bracelet
with a miniature of a young man, whose handsome face had a hard
disagreeable expression; a locket containing grey hair, and having a
date and the initials "M.G." engraved on the massive plain gold case.
These were all the trinkets. In a secret drawer there was a certificate
of marriage between Percival Nowell, bachelor, gentleman, and Lucy
Geoffry, spinster, at St. Pancras Church, London. The most interesting
contents of the jewel-case consisted of a small packet of letters written
by Percival Nowell to Lucy Geoffry before their marriage.
"I have read them carefully ever so many times, with the notion that they
might throw some light upon Mr. and Mrs. Nowell's antecedents," said the
Captain, as Gilbert held these in his hands, disinclined to look at
documents of so private and sacred a character; "but they tell very
little. I fancy that Miss Geoffry was a governess in some family in
London--the envelopes are missing, you see, so there is no evidence as to
where she was living, except that it _was_ in London--and that she left
her employment to marry this Percival Nowell. You'd like to read the
letters yourself, I daresay, Gilbert. Put them in your pocket, and look
them over at your leisure when you get home. You can bring them back
before you leave Lidford."
Mr. Fenton glanced at Marian to see if she had any objection to his
reading the letters. She was quite silent, looking absently at the
trinkets lying in the tray before her.
"You don't mind my reading your father's letters, Marian?" he asked.
"Not at all. Only I think you will find them very uninteresting."
"I am interested in everything that concerns you."
He put the papers in his pocket, and sat up for an hour in his room that
night reading Percival Nowell's love letters. They revealed very little
to him, except the unmitigated selfishness of the writer. That quality
exhibited itself in every page. The lovers had met for the first time at
the house of some Mr. Crosby, in whose family Miss Geoffry seemed to be
living; and there were clandestine meetings spoken of in the Regent's
Park, for which reason Gilbert supposed Mr. Crosby's house must have been
in that locality. There were broken appointments, for which Miss Geoffry
was bitterly reproached by her lover, who abused the whole Crosby
household in a venomous manner for having kept her at home at these
"If you loved me, as you pretend, Lucy," Mr. Nowell wrote on one
occasion, "you would speedily exchange this degrading slavery for liberty
and happiness with me, and would be content to leave the future _utterly_
in my hands, without question or fear. A really generous woman would do
There was a good deal more to the same effect, and it seemed as if the
proposal of marriage came at last rather reluctantly; but it did come,
and was repeated, and urged in a very pressing manner; while Lucy Geoffry
to the last appeared to have hung back, as if dreading the result of that
The letters told little of the writer's circumstances or social status.
Whenever he alluded to his father, it was with anger and contempt, and in
a manner that implied some quarrel between them; but there was nothing to
indicate what kind of man the father was.
Gilbert Fenton took the packet back to the cottage next morning. He was
to return to London that afternoon, and had only a few hours to spend
with Marian. The day was dull and cold, but there was no rain; and they
walked together in the garden, where the leaves were beginning to fall,
and whence every appearance of summer seemed to have vanished since
Gilbert's last visit.
For some time they were both rather silent, pacing thoughtfully up and
down the sheltered walk that bounded the lawn. Gilbert found it
impossible to put on an appearance of hopefulness on this last day. It
was better wholly to give up the attempt, and resign himself to the gloom
that brooded over him, shutting out the future. That airy castle of
his--the villa on the banks of the Thames--seemed to have faded and
vanished altogether. He could not look beyond the Australian journey to
the happy time of his return. The hazards of time and distance bewildered
him. He felt an unspeakable dread of the distance that was to divide him
from Marian Nowell--a dread that grew stronger with every hour. He was
destined to suffer a fresh pang before the moment of parting came. Marian
turned to him by-and-by with an earnest anxious face, and said,--
"Gilbert, there is something which I think I ought to say to you before
you go away."
"What is that, my darling?"
"It is rather hard to say. I fear it will give you pain. I have been
thinking about it for a long time. The thought has been a constant
reproach to me. Gilbert, it would be better if we were both free; better
if you could leave England without any tie to weigh you down with
anxieties when you are out yonder, and will have so much occasion for
perfect freedom of mind."
"O, pray, pray don't think me ungrateful or unmindful of your goodness to
me. I am only anxious for your happiness. I am not steady enough, or
fixed enough, in my mind. I am not worthy of all the thought and care you
have given me."
"Marian, have I done anything to forfeit your love?"
"O no, no."
"Then why do you say these things to me? Do you want to break my heart?"
"Would it break your heart if I were to recall my promise, Gilbert?"
"Yes, Marian," he answered gravely, drawing her suddenly to him, and
looking into her face with earnest scrutinising eyes; "but if you do not
love me, if you cannot love me--and God knows how happy I have been in
the belief that I had won your love long ago--let the word be spoken. I
will bear it, my dear, I will bear it."
"O no, no," she cried, shocked by the dead whiteness of his face, and
bursting into tears. "I will try to be worthy of you. I will try to love
you as you deserve to be loved. It was only a fancy of mine that it would
be better for you to be free from all thoughts of me. I think it would
seem very hard to me to lose your love. I don't think I could bear that,
She looked up at him with an appealing expression through her tears--an
innocent, half-childish look that went to his heart--and he clasped her
to his breast, believing that this proposal to set him free had been
indeed nothing more than a girlish caprice.
"My dearest, my life is bound up with your love," he said. "Nothing can
part us except your ceasing to love me."
The hour for the final parting came at last, and Gilbert Fenton turned
his back upon the little gate by which he had watched Marian Nowell
standing upon that first summer Sunday evening which sealed his destiny.
He left Lidford weary at heart, weighed down by a depression he had
vainly struggled against, and he brooded over his troubles all the way
back to town. It seemed as if all the hopes that had made life so sweet
to him only a week ago had been swept away. He could not look beyond that
dreary Australian exile; he could not bring his thoughts to bear upon the
time that was to come afterwards, and which need be no less bright
because of this delay.
"She may die while I am away," he thought. "O God, if that were to
happen! If I were to come back and find her dead! Such things have been;
and men and women have borne them, and gone on living."
He had one more duty to perform before he left England. He had to say
good-bye to John Saltram, whom he had not seen since they parted that
night at Lidford. He could not leave England without some kind of
farewell to his old friend, and he had reserved this last evening for the
He went to the Pnyx on the chance of finding Saltram there, and failing
in that, ate his solitary dinner in the coffee-room. The waiters told him
that Mr. Saltram had not been at the club for some weeks. Gilbert did not
waste much time over his dinner, and went straight from the Pnyx to the
Temple, where John Saltram had a second-floor in Figtree-court.
Mr. Saltram was at home. It was his own sonorous voice which answered
Gilbert's knock, bidding him enter with a muttered curse upon the
interruption by way of addendum. The room into which Mr. Fenton went upon
receiving this unpromising invitation was in a state of chaotic
confusion. An open portmanteau sprawled upon the floor, and a whole
wardrobe of masculine garments seemed to have been shot at random on to
the chairs near it; a dozen soda-water bottles, full and empty, were
huddled in one corner; a tea-tray tottered on the extreme edge of a table
heaped with dusty books and papers; and at a desk in the centre of the
room, with a great paraffin lamp flaring upon his face as he wrote, sat
John Saltram, surrounded by fallen slips of copy, writing as if to win a
"Who is it? and what do you want?" he asked in a husky voice, without
looking up from his paper or suspending the rapid progress of his pen.
"Why, Jack, I don't think I ever caught you so hard at work before."
John Saltram dropped his pen at the sound of his friend's voice and got
up. He gave Gilbert his hand in a mechanical kind of way.
"No, I don't generally go at it quite so hard; but you know I have a
knack of doing things against time. I have been giving myself a spell of
hard work in order to pick up a little cash for the children of Israel."
He dropped back into his chair, and Gilbert took one opposite him. The
lamp shone full upon John Saltram's face as he sat at his desk; and after
looking at him for a moment by that vivid light, Gilbert Fenton gave a
cry of surprise.
"What is the matter, Gil?"
"You are the matter. You are looking as worn and haggard as if you'd had
a long illness since I saw you last. I never remember you looking so ill.
This kind of thing won't do, John. You'd soon kill yourself at this
"Not to be done, my dear fellow. I am the toughest thing in creation. I
have been sitting up all night for the last week or so, and that does
rather impair the freshness of one's complexion; but I assure you
there's nothing so good for a man as a week or two of unbroken work. I
have been doing an exhaustive review of Roman literature for one of the
quarterlies, and the subject involved a little more reading than I was
quite prepared for."
"And you have really not been ill?"
"Not in the least. I am never ill."
He pushed aside his papers, and sat with his elbow on the desk and his
head leaning on his hand, waiting for Gilbert to talk. He was evidently
in one of those silent moods which were common to him at times.
Gilbert told him of his Melbourne troubles, and of his immediate
departure. The announcement roused him from his absent humour. He dropped
his arm from the table suddenly, and sat looking full at Gilbert with a
very intent expression.
"This is strange news," he said, "and it will cause the postponement of
your marriage, I suppose?"
"Unhappily, yes; that is unavoidable. Hard lines, isn't it, Jack?"
"Well, yes; I daresay the separation seems rather a hardship; but you are
young enough to stand a few months' delay. When do you sail?"
"Yes. It is a case in which everything depends upon rapidity of action. I
leave Liverpool to-morrow afternoon. I came up from Lidford to-day on
purpose to spend a few farewell hours with you. And I have been thinking,
Jack, that you might run down to Liverpool with me to-morrow, and see the
last of me, eh, old fellow?"
John Saltram hesitated, looking doubtfully at his papers.
"It would be only a kind thing to do, Jack, and a wholesome change for
yourself into the bargain. Anything would be better for you than being
shut up in these chambers another day."
"Well, Gilbert, I'll go with you," said Mr. Saltram presently with a kind
of recklessness. "It is a small thing to do for friendship. Yes, I'll see
you off, dear boy. Egad, I wish I could go to Australia with you. I
would, if it were not for my engagements with the children and sundry
other creditors. I think a new country might do me good. But there's no
use in talking about that. I'm bound hand and foot to the old one."
"That reminds me of something I had to say to you, John. There must have
been some reason for your leaving Lidford in that sudden way the other
day, and your note explained nothing. I thought you and I had no secrets
from each other, It's scarcely fair to treat me like that."
"The business was hardly worth explaining," answered the other moodily.
"A bill that I had forgotten for the time fell due just then, and I
hurried off to set things straight."
"Let me help you somehow or other, Jack."
"No, Gilbert; I will never suffer you to become entangled in the
labyrinth of my affairs. You don't know what a hopeless wilderness you
would enter if you were desperate enough to attempt my rescue. I have
been past redemption for the last ten years, ever since I left Oxford.
Nothing but a rich marriage will ever set me straight; and I sometimes
doubt if that game is worth the candle, and whether it would not be
better to make a clean sweep of my engagements, offer up my name to the
execration of mankind and the fiery indignation of solvent
journalists,--who would find subject for sensation leaders in my
iniquities,--emigrate, and turn bushranger. A wild free life in the
wilderness must be a happy exchange for all the petty worries and
perplexities of this cursed existence."
"And how about Mrs. Branston, John? By the way, I thought that she might
have had something to do with your sudden journey to London."
"No; she had nothing to do with it. I have not seen her since I came back
"No. Your lecture had a potent effect, you see," said Mr. Saltram, with
something of a sneer. "You have almost cured me of that passion."
"My opinion would have very little influence if you were far gone, John.
The fact is, Mrs. Branston, pretty and agreeable as she may be, is not
the sort of woman to acquire any strong hold upon you."
"You think not?"
"I am sure of it."
After this John Saltram became more expansive. They sat together until
late in the night, talking chiefly of the past, old friends, and
half-forgotten days; recalling the scenes through which they had
travelled together with a pensive tenderness, and dwelling regretfully
upon that careless bygone time when life was fresh for both of them, and
the future seemed to lie across the straightest, easiest high-road to
reputation and happiness.
Gilbert spoke of that perilous illness of his in Egypt, the fever in
which he had been given over by every one, and only saved at last by the
exemplary care and devotion of his friend. John Saltram had a profound
objection to this thing being talked about, and tried immediately to
change the drift of the conversation; but to-night Gilbert was not to be
"You refuse the help of my purse, Jack," he said, "and forget that I owe
you my life. I should never have been to the fore to navigate the good
ship Fenton and Co., if it hadn't been for your care. The doctor fellow
at Cairo told me as much in very plain terms. Yes, John, I consider
myself your debtor to the amount of a life."
"Saving a man's life is sometimes rather a doubtful boon. I think if I
had a fever, and some officious fool dragged me through it when I was in
a fair way to make a decent end, I should be very savagely disposed
"Why, John Saltram, you are the last man in the world from whom I should
expect that dreary kind of talk. Yet I suppose it's only a natural
consequence of shutting yourself up in these rooms for ten days at a
"What good use have I made of my life in the past, Gilbert?" demanded the
other bitterly; "and what have I to look forward to in the future? To
marry, and redeem my position by the aid of a woman's money. That's
hardly the noblest destiny that can befall a man. And yet I think if
Adela Branston were free, and willing to marry me, I might make something
of my life. I might go into Parliament, and make something of a name for
myself. I could write books instead of anonymous articles. I should
scarcely sink down into an idle mindless existence of dinner-giving and
dinner-eating. Yes, I think the best thing that could happen to me would
be to marry Adela Branston."
They parted at last, John Saltram having faithfully promised his friend
to work no more that night, and they met at Euston Square early the next
morning for the journey to Liverpool. Gilbert had never found his
friend's company more delightful than on this last day. It seemed as if
John Saltram put away every thought of self in his perfect sympathy with
the thoughts and feelings of the traveller. They dined together, and it
was dusk when they wished each other good-bye on the deck of the vessel.
"Good-bye, Gilbert, and God bless you! If--if anything should happen to
me--if I should have gone to the bad utterly before you come back, you
must try to remember our friendship of the past. Think that I have loved
you very dearly--as well as one man ever loved another, perhaps."
"My dear John, you have no need to tell me to think that. Nothing can
ever weaken the love between us. And you are not likely to go to the bad.
Good bye, dear old friend. I shall remember you every day of my life. You
are second only to Marian in my heart. I shall write you an account of my
proceedings, and shall expect to hear from you. Once more, good bye."
The bell rang. Gilbert Fenton and his friend shook hands in silence for
the last time, and in the next moment John Saltram ran down the steps to
the little steamer which had brought them out to the larger vessel. The
sails spread wide in the cool evening wind, and the mighty ship glided
away into the dusk. John Saltram's last look showed him his friend's face
gazing down upon him over the bulwarks full of trust and affection.
He went back to London by the evening express, and reached his chambers
at a late hour that night. There had been some attempt at tidying the
rooms in his absence; but his books and papers had been undisturbed. Some
letters were lying on the desk, amongst them one in a big scrawling hand
that was very familiar to Mr. Saltram, the envelope stamped "Lidford." He
tore this open eagerly. It was from Sir David Forster.
"DEAR SALTRAM" (wrote the Baronet),--"What do you mean by this
iniquitous conduct? You only obtained my consent to your hurried
departure the other day on condition you should come back in a
week, yet there are no signs of you. Foljambe and the lawyer are
gone, and I am alone with Harker, whose stupidity is something
marvellous. I am dying by inches of this dismal state of things. I
can't tell the man to go, you see, for he is really a most worthy
creature, although such a consummate fool. For pity's sake come to
me. You can do your literary work down here as well as in London,
and I promise to respect your laborious hours.--Ever yours,
John Saltram stood with this letter open in his hand, staring blankly at
it, like a man lost in a dream.
"Go back!" he muttered at last--"go back, when I thought I did such a
great thing in coming away! No, I am not weak enough for that folly."
On the 5th of July in the following year, Gilbert Fenton landed in
England, after nearly ten months of exile. He had found hard work to do
in the colonial city, and had done it; surmounting every difficulty by a
steady resolute course of action.
Astley Fenton had tried to shelter his frauds, heaping falsehood upon
falsehood; and had ended by making a full confession, after receiving his
cousin's promise not to prosecute. The sums made away with by him
amounted to some thousands. Gilbert found that he had been leading a life
of reckless extravagance, and was a notorious gambler. So there came an
evening when after a prolonged investigation of affairs, Astley Fenton
put on his hat, and left his cousin's office for ever. When Gilbert heard
of him next, he was clerk to a bookseller in Sydney.
The disentanglement of the Melbourne trading had occupied longer than
Gilbert expected; and his exile had been especially dreary to him during
the last two months he spent in Australia, from the failure of his
English letters. The first two mails after his arrival had brought him
letters from Marian and her uncle, and one short note from John Saltram.
The mails that followed brought him nothing, and he was inexpressibly
alarmed and distressed by this fact. If he could by any possibility have
returned to England immediately after the arrival of the first mail which
brought him no letter, he would have done so. But his journey would have
been wasted had he not remained to complete the work of reorganization he
had commenced; so he stayed, sorely against the grain, hoping to get a
letter by the next mail.
That came, and with the same dispiriting result to Gilbert Fenton. There
was a letter from his sister, it is true; but that was written from
Switzerland, where she was travelling with her husband, and brought him
no tidings of Marian. He tried to convince himself that if there had been
bad news, it must needs have come to him; that the delay was only the
result of accident, some mistake of Marian's as to the date of the mail.
What more natural than that she should make such a mistake, at a place
with such deficient postal arrangements as those which obtained at
Lidford? But, argue with himself as he might, this silence of his
betrothed was none the less perplexing to him, and he was a prey to
perpetual anxiety during the time that elapsed before the sailing of the
vessel that was to convey him back to England.
Then came the long monotonous voyage, affording ample leisure for gloomy
thoughts, for shapeless fears in the dead watches of the night, when the
sea washed drearily against his cabin window, and he lay broad awake
counting the hours that must wear themselves out before he could set foot
on English ground. As the time of his arrival drew nearer, his mind grew
restless and fitful, now full of hope and happy visions of his meeting
with Marian, now weighed down by the burden of some unspeakable terror.
The day dawned at last, that sultry summer day, and Gilbert was amongst
those eager passengers who quitted the vessel at daybreak.
He went straight from the quay to the railway-station, and the delay of
an hour which he had to endure here seemed almost interminable to him. As
he paced to and fro the long platform waiting for the London express, he
wondered how he had borne all the previous delay, how he had been able
to live through that dismal agonizing time. His own patience was a
mystery to him now that the ordeal was over.
The express started at last, and he sat quietly in his corner trying to
read a newspaper; while his fellow-travellers discussed the state of
trade in Liverpool, which seemed from their account to be as desperate
and hopeless as the condition of all commerce appears invariably to be
whenever commercial matters come under discussion. Gilbert Fenton was not
interested in the Liverpool trade at this particular crisis. He knew that
he had weathered the storm which had assailed his own fortunes, and that
the future lay clear and bright before him.
He did not waste an hour in London, but went straight from one station to
another, and was in time to catch a train for Fairleigh, the station
nearest to Lidford. It was five o'clock in the afternoon when he arrived
at this place, and chartered a fly to take him over to Lidford--a lovely
summer afternoon. The sight of the familiar English scenery, looking so
exquisite in its summer glory, filled him with a pleasure that was almost
akin to pain. He had often walked this road with Marian; and as he drove
along he looked eagerly at every distant figure, half hoping to see his
darling approach him in the summer sunlight.
Mr. Fenton deposited his carpet-bag at the cosy village inn, where
snow-white curtains fluttered gaily at every window in the warm western
breeze, and innumerable geraniums made a gaudy blaze of scarlet against
the wooden wall. He did not stop here to make any inquiries about those
he had come to see. His heart was beating tumultuously in expectation of
the meeting that seemed so near. He alighted from the fly, dismissed the
driver, and walked rapidly across a field leading by a short cut to the
green on which Captain Sedgewick's house stood. This field brought him to
the side of the green opposite the Captain's cottage. He stopped for a
moment as he came through the little wooden gate, and looked across the
grass, where a regiment of geese was marching towards the still pool of
The shutters of the upper rooms were closed, and there was a board above
the garden-gate. The cottage was to be let.
Gilbert Fenton's heart gave one great throb, and then seemed to cease
beating altogether. He walked across the green slowly, stunned by this
unlooked-for blow. Yes, the house was empty. The garden, which he
remembered in such exquisite order, had a weedy dilapidated look that
seemed like the decay of some considerable time. He rang the bell several
times, but there was no answer; and he was turning away from the gate
with the stunned confused feeling still upon him, unable to consider what
he ought to do next, when he heard himself called by his name, and saw a
woman looking at him across the hedge of the neighbouring garden.
"Were you wishing to make any inquiries about the last occupants of Hazel
Cottage, sir?" she asked.
"Yes," Gilbert answered huskily, looking at her in an absent unseeing
He had seen her often during his visits to the cottage, busy at work in
her garden, which was much smaller than the Captain's, but he had never
spoken to her before to-day.
She was a maiden lady, who eked out her slender income by letting a part
of her miniature abode whenever an opportunity for so doing occurred. The
care of this cottage occupied all her days, and formed the delight and
glory of her life. It was a little larger than a good-sized doll's house,
and furnished with spindle-legged chairs and tables that had been
polished to the last extremity of brightness.
"Perhaps you would be so good as to walk into my sitting-room for a few
moments, sir," said this lady, opening her garden-gate. "I shall be most
happy to afford you any information about your friends."
"You are very good," said Gilbert, following her into the prim little
He had recovered his self-possession in some degree by this time, telling
himself that this desertion of Hazel Cottage involved no more than a
change of residence.
"My name is Dodd," said the lady, motioning Mr. Fenton to a chair, "Miss
Letitia Dodd. I had the pleasure of seeing you very often during your
visits next door. I was not on visiting terms with Captain Sedgewick and
Miss Nowell, although we bowed to each other out of doors. I am only a
tradesman's daughter--indeed my brother is now carrying on business as a
butcher in Fairleigh--and of course I am quite aware of the difference in
our positions. I am the last person to intrude myself upon my superiors."
"If you will be so kind as to tell me where they have gone?" Gilbert
asked, eager to stop this formal statement of Miss Dodd's social
"Where _they_ have gone!" she repeated. "Dear, dear! Then you do not
"I do not know what?"
"Of Captain Sedgewick's death."
"Good God! My dear old friend! When did he die?"
"At the beginning of the year. It was very sudden--a fit of apoplexy. He
was seized in the night, poor dear gentleman, and it was only discovered
when the servant went to call him in the morning. He only lived two days
after the seizure; and never spoke again."
"And Miss Nowell--what made her leave the cottage? She is still at
Lidford, I suppose?"
"O dear no, Mr. Fenton. She went away altogether about a month after the
"Where did she go?"
"I cannot tell you that, I did not even know that she intended leaving
Hazel Cottage until the day after she left. When I saw the shutters
closed and the board up, you might have knocked me down with a feather.
Miss Nowell was so much liked in Lidford, and she had more than one
invitation from friends to stay with them for the sake of a change after
her uncle's death; but she would not visit anywhere. She stayed quite
alone in the cottage, with only the old servant."
"But there must surely be some one in the place who knows where she has
gone!" exclaimed Gilbert.
"I think not. The landlord of Hazel Cottage does not know. He is my
landlord also, and I was asking him about Miss Nowell when I paid my rent
the other day. He said he supposed she had gone away to be married. That
has been the general impression, in fact, at Lidford. People made sure
that Miss Nowell had left to be married to you."
"I have only just returned from Australia. I have come back to fulfil my
engagement to Miss Nowell. Can you suggest no one from whom I am likely
to obtain information?"
"There is the family at the Rectory; they knew her very well, and were
extremely kind to her after her uncle's death. It might be worth your
while to call upon Mr. Marchant."
"Yes, I will call," Gilbert answered; "thanks for the suggestion."
He wished Miss Dodd good-afternoon, and left her standing at the gate of
her little garden, watching him with profound interest as he walked away
towards the village. There was a pleasing mystery in the affair, to the
mind of Miss Dodd.
Gilbert Fenton went at once to the Rectory, although it was now past
seven o'clock. He had met Mr. and Mrs. Marchant several times, and had
visited them with the Listers.
The Rector was at home, sitting over his solitary glass of port by the
open window of his snug dining-room, looking lazily out at a group of
sons and daughters playing croquet on the lawn. He was surprised to see
Mr. Fenton, but welcomed him with much cordiality.
"I have come to you full of care, Mr. Marchant," Gilbert began; "and the
pressing nature of my business must excuse the lateness of my visit."
"There is no occasion for any excuse. I am very glad to see you at this
time. Pray help yourself to some wine, there are clean glasses near you;
and take some of those strawberries, on which my wife prides herself
amazingly. People who live in the country all their days are obliged to
give their minds to horticulture. And now, what is this care of yours,
Mr. Fenton? Nothing very serious, I hope."
"It is very serious to me at present. I think you know that I am engaged
to Miss Nowell."
"Perfectly. I had imagined until this moment that you and she were
married. When she left Lidford, I concluded that she had gone to stay
with friends of yours, and that the marriage would, in all probability,
take place at an early period, without any strict observance of etiquette
as to her mourning for her uncle. It was natural that we should think
this, knowing her solitary position."
"Then you do not know where she went on leaving this place?"
"Not in the faintest degree. Her departure was altogether unexpected by
us. My wife and daughters called upon her two or three times after the
Captain's death, and were even anxious that she should come here to stay
for a short time; but she would not do that. She seemed grateful, and
touched by their anxiety about her, but they could not bring her to talk
of her future."
"And she told them nothing of her intention to leave Lidford?"
"Not a word."
This was all that Gilbert Fenton could learn. His interview with the
Rector lasted some time longer; but it told him nothing. Whom next could
he question? He knew all Marian's friends, and he spent the next day in
calling upon them, but with the same result; no one could tell him her
reason for leaving Hazel Cottage, or where she had gone.
There remained only one person whom he could question, and that was the
old servant who had lived with Captain Sedgewick nearly all the time of
his residence at Lidford, and whom Gilbert had conciliated by numerous
gifts during his visits to Hazel Cottage. She was a good-humoured honest
creature, of about fifty, and had been devoted to the Captain and Marian.
After a good deal of trouble, Gilbert ascertained that this woman had not
accompanied her young mistress when she left Lidford, but had taken
service in a grocer's family at Fairleigh. Having discovered this, Mr.
Fenton set off immediately for the little market-town, on foot this time,
and with his mind full of the days when he and Marian had walked this way
He found the shop to which he had been directed--a roomy old-fashioned
emporium in the High-street, sunk three or four feet below the level of
the pavement, and approached by a couple of steps; a shop with a low
ceiling, that was made lower by bunches of candles, hams, bacon, and
other merchandise hanging from the massive beams that spanned it. Mr.
Fenton, having duly stated his business, was shown into the grocer's best
parlour--a resplendent apartment, where there were more ornaments in the
way of shell-and-feather flowers under glass shades, and Bohemian glass
scent-bottles, than were consistent with luxurious occupation, and where
every chair and sofa was made a perfect veiled prophet by enshrouding
antimacassors. Here Sarah Down, the late Captain's servant, came to Mr.
Fenton, wiping her hands and arms upon a spotless canvas apron, and
generally apologetic as to her appearance. To this woman Gilbert repeated
the question he had asked of others, with the same disheartening result.
"The poor dear young lady felt the Captain's loss dreadfully; as well she
might, when they had been so fond of each other," Sarah Down said, in
answer to one of Gilbert's inquiries. "I never knew any one grieve so
deeply. She wouldn't go anywhere, and she couldn't bear to see any one
who came to see her. She used to shut herself up in the Captain's room
day after day, kneeling by his bedside, and crying as if her heart would
break. I have looked through the keyhole sometimes, and seen her there on
her knees, with her face buried in the bedclothes. She didn't care to
talk about him even to me, and I had hard work to persuade her to eat or
drink enough to keep life in her at this time. When the days were fine, I
used to try and get her to walk out a little, for she looked as white as
a ghost for want of air; and after a good deal of persuasion, she did go
out sometimes of an afternoon, but she wouldn't ask any one to walk with
her, though there were plenty she might have asked--the young ladies from
the Rectory and others. She preferred being alone, she told me, and I was
glad that she should get the air and the change anyhow. She brightened a
little after this, but very little. It was all of a sudden one day that
she told me she was going away. I wanted to go with her, but she said
that couldn't be. I asked her where she was going, and she told me, after
hesitating a little, that she was going to friends in London. I knew she
had been very fond of two young ladies that she went to school with at
Lidford, whose father lived in London; and I thought it was to their
house she was going. I asked her if it was, and she said yes. She made
arrangements with the landlord about selling the furniture. He is an
auctioneer himself, and there was no difficulty about that. The money was
to be sent to her at a post-office in London. I wondered at that, but she
said it was better so. She paid every sixpence that was owing, and gave
me a handsome present over and above my wages; though I didn't want to
take anything from her, poor dear young lady, knowing that there was very
little left after the Captain's death, except the furniture, which wasn't
likely to bring much. And so she went away about two days after she first
mentioned that she was going to leave Lidford. It was all very sudden,
and I don't think she bade good-bye to any one in the place. She seemed
quite broken down with grief in those two last days. I shall never forget
her poor pale face when she got into the fly."
"How did she go? From the station here?"
"I don't know anything about that, except that the fly came to the
cottage for her and her luggage. I wanted to go to the station with her,
to see her off, but she wouldn't let me."
"Did she mention me during the time that followed Captain Sedgewick's
"Only when I spoke about you, sir. I used to try to comfort her, telling
her she had you still left to care for her, and to make up for him she'd
lost. But she used to look at me in a strange pitiful sort of way, and
shake her head. 'I am very miserable, Sarah,' she would say to me; 'I am
quite alone in the world now my dear uncle is gone, and I don't know what
to do.' I told her she ought to look forward to the time when she would
be married, and would have a happy home of her own; but I could never get
her to talk of that."
"Can you tell me the name and address of her friends in London--the young
ladies with whom she went to school?"
"The name is Bruce, sir; and they live, or they used to live at that
time, in St. John's-wood. I have heard Miss Nowell say that, but I don't
know the name of the street or number of the house."
"I daresay I shall be able to find them. It is a strange business, Sarah.
It is most unaccountable that my dearest girl should have left Lidford
without writing me word of her removal and her intentions with regard to
the future--that she should have sent me no announcement of her uncle's
death, although she must have known how well I loved him, I am going to
ask you a question that is very painful to me, but which must be asked
sooner or later. Do you know of any one else whom she may have liked
better than me--any one whose influence may have governed her at the time
she left Lidford?"
"No, indeed, sir," replied the woman, promptly. "Who else was there? Miss
Nowell knew so few gentlemen, and saw no one except the Rector's family
and two or three ladies after the uncle's death."
"Not at the cottage, perhaps. But she may have seen some one
out-of-doors. You say she always went out alone at that time, and
preferred to do so."
"Yes, sir, that is true. But it seemed natural enough that she should
like to be alone on account of her grief."
"There must have been some reason for her silence towards me, Sarah. She
could not have acted so cruelly without some powerful motive. Heaven only
knows what it may have been. The business of my life will be to find
her--to see her face to face once more, and hear the explanation of her
conduct from her own lips."
He thanked the woman for her information, slipped a sovereign into her
hand, and departed. He called upon the proprietor of Hazel Cottage, an
auctioneer, surveyor, and house-agent in the High-street of Fairleigh,
but could obtain no fresh tidings from this gentleman, except the fact
that the money realised by the Captain's furniture had been sent to Miss
Nowell at a post-office in the City, and had been duly acknowledged by
her, after a delay of about a week. The auctioneer showed Gilbert the
letter of receipt, which was worded in a very formal business-like
manner, and bore no address but "London." The sight of the familiar hand
gave him a sharp pang. O God, how he had languished for a letter in that
He had nothing more to do after this in the neighbourhood of Lidford,
except to pay a pious visit to the Captain's grave, where a handsome slab
of granite recorded the virtues of the dead. It lay in the prettiest,
most retired part of the churchyard, half-hidden under a wide-spreading
yew. Gilbert Fenton sat down upon a low wall near at hand for a long
time, brooding over his broken life, and wishing himself at rest beneath
that solemn shelter.
"She never loved me," he said to himself bitterly. "I shut my eyes
obstinately to the truth, or I might have discovered the secret of her
indifference by a hundred signs and tokens. I fancied that a man who
loved a woman as I loved her must succeed in winning her heart at last.
And I accepted her girlish trust in me, her innocent gratitude for my
attentions, as the evidence of her love. Even at the last, when she
wanted to release me, I would not understand. I did not expect to be
loved as I loved her. I would have given so much, and been content to
take so little. What is there I would not have done--what sacrifice of my
own pride that I would not have happily made to win her! O my darling,
even in your desertion of me you might have trusted me better than this!
You would have found me fond and faithful through every trial, your
friend in spite of every wrong."
He knelt down by the grave, and pressed his lips to the granite on which
George Sedgewick's name was chiselled.
"I owe it to the dead to discover her fate," he said to himself, as he
rose from that reverent attitude. "I owe it to the dead to penetrate the
secret of her new life, to assure myself that she is happy, and has
fallen under no fatal influence."
The Listers were still abroad, and Gilbert was very glad that it was so.
It would have excruciated him to hear his sister's comments on Marian's
conduct, and to perceive the suppressed exultation with which she would
most likely have discussed this unhappy termination to an engagement
which had been entered on in utter disregard of her counsel.
JOHN SALTRAM'S ADVICE.
Mr. Fenton discovered the Bruce family in Boundary-road, St. John's-wood,
after a good deal of trouble. But they could tell him nothing of their
dear friend Miss Nowell, of whom they spoke with the warmest regard. They
had never seen her since they had left the school at Lidford, where they
had been boarders, and she a daily pupil. They had not even heard of
Captain Sedgewick's death.
Gilbert asked these young ladies if they knew of any other acquaintance
of Marian's living in or near London. They both answered promptly in the
negative. The school was a small one, and they had been the only pupils
who came from town; nor had they ever heard Marian speak of any London
Thus ended Mr. Fenton's inquiries in this direction, leaving him no wiser
than when he left Lidford. He had now exhausted every possible channel by
which he might obtain information. The ground lay open before him, and
there was nothing left for him but publicity. He took an advertisement to
the _Times_ office that afternoon, and paid for six insertions in the
"Miss MARIAN NOWELL, late of Lidford, Midlandshire, is requested
to communicate immediately with G.F., Post-office, Wigmore-street,
to whom her silence has caused extreme anxiety. She may rely upon
the advertiser's friendship and fidelity under all possible
Gilbert felt a little more hopeful after having done this. He fancied
this advertisement must needs bring him some tidings of his lost love.
The mystery might be happily solved after all, and Marian prove true to
him. He tried to persuade himself that this was possible; but it was very
difficult to reconcile her line of conduct with the fact of her regard
In the evening he went to the Temple, eager to see John Saltram, from
whom he had no intention to keep the secret of his trouble. He found his
friend at home, writing, with his desk pushed against the open window,
and the dust and shabbiness of his room dismally obvious in the hot July
sunshine. He started up as Gilbert entered, and the dark face grew
"You took me by surprise," he said. "I didn't know you were in England."
"I only landed two days ago," answered Gilbert, as they shook hands. "I
daresay I startled you a little, dear old fellow, coming in upon you
without a moment's notice, when you fancied I was at the Antipodes. But,
you see, I hunted you up directly I was free."
"You have done well out yonder, I hope, Gilbert?"
"Yes; everything has gone well enough with me in business. But my coming
home has been a dreary one."
"How is that?"
"Captain Sedgewick is dead, and Marian Nowell is lost."
"Lost! What do you mean by that?"
Mr. Fenton told his friend all that had befallen him since his arrival in
"I come to you for counsel and help, John," he said, when he had finished
"I will give you my help, so far as it is possible for one man to help
another in such a business, and my counsel in all honesty," answered John
Saltram; "but I doubt if you will be inclined to receive it."
"Why should you doubt that?"
"Because it is not likely to agree with your own ideas."
"Speak out, John."
"I think that if Miss Nowell had really loved you, she would never have
taken this step. I think that she must have left Lidford in order to
escape from her engagement, perhaps expecting your early return. I
believe your pursuit of her can only end in failure and disappointment;
and although I am ready to assist you in any manner you wish, I warn you
against sacrificing your life to a delusion."
"It is not under the delusion that Marian Nowell loves me that I am going
to search for her," Gilbert Fenton said slowly, after an interval of
silence. "I am not so weak as to believe _that_ after what has happened,
though I have tried to argue with myself, only this afternoon, that she
may still be true to me and that there may have been some hidden reason
for her conduct. Granted that she wished to escape from her engagement,
she might have trusted to my honour to give her a prompt release the
moment I became acquainted with the real state of her feelings. There
must have been some stronger influence than this at work when she left
Lidford. I want to know the true cause of that hurried departure, John. I
want to be sure that Marian Nowell is happy, and in safe hands."
"By what means do you hope to discover this?"
"I rely a good deal upon repeated advertisements in the _Times_. They may
bring me tidings of Marian--if not directly, from some person who has
seen her since she left Lidford."
"If she really wished to hide herself from you, she would most likely
change her name."
"Why should she wish to hide herself from me? She must know that she
might trust me. Of her own free will she would never do this cruel thing.
There must have been some secret influence at work upon my darling's
mind. It shall be my business to discover what that influence was; or, in
plainer words still, to discover the man who has robbed me of Marian
"It comes to that, then," said John Saltram. "You suspect some unknown
"Yes; that is the most natural conclusion to arrive at. And yet heaven
knows how unwillingly I take that into consideration."
"There is no particular person whom you suspect?"
"If there should be no result from your advertisement, what will you do?"
"I cannot tell you just yet. Unless I get some kind of clue, the business
will seem a hopeless one. But I cannot imagine that the advertisements
will fail completely. If she left Lidford to be married, there must be
some record of her marriage. Should my first advertisements fail, my next
shall be inserted with a view to discover such a record."
"And if, after infinite trouble, you should find her the wife of another
man, what reward would you have for your wasted time and lost labour?"
"The happiness of knowing her to be in a safe and honourable position. I
love her too dearly to remain in ignorance of her fate."
"Well, Gilbert, I know that good advice is generally thrown away in such
a case as this; but I have a fixed opinion on the subject. To my mind,
there is only one wise course open to you, and that is, to let this thing
alone, and resign yourself to the inevitable. I acknowledge that Miss
Nowell was eminently worthy of your affection; but you know the old
song--'If she be not fair to me, what care I how fair she be.' There are
plenty of women in the world. The choice is wide enough."
"Not for me, John. Marian Nowell is the only woman I have ever loved, the
only woman I ever can love."
"My dear boy, it is so natural for you to believe that just now; and a
year hence you will think so differently!"
"No, John. But I am not going to mate any protestations of my constancy.
Let the matter rest. I knew that my life is broken--that this blow has
left me nothing to hope for or to live for, except the hope of finding
the girl who has wronged me. I won't weary you with lamentations. My talk
has been entirely of self since I came into this room. Tell me your own
affairs, Jack, old friend. How has the world gone with you since we
parted at Liverpool last year?"
"Not too smoothly. My financial position becomes a little more obscure
and difficult of comprehension every year, as you know; but I rub on
somehow. I have been working at literature like a galley-slave; have
contributed no end of stuff to the Quarterlies; and am engaged upon a
book,--yes Gil, positively a book,--which I hope may do great things for
me if ever I can finish it."
"Is it a novel?"
"A novel! no!" cried John Saltram, with a wry face; "it is the romance
of reality I deal with. My book is a Life of Jonathan Swift. He was
always a favourite study of mine, you know, that brilliant, unprincipled,
intolerant, cynical, irresistible, miserable man. Scott's biography seems
to me to give but a tame picture, and others are only sketches. Mine will
be a pre-Raphaelite study--faithful as a photograph, careful as a
miniature on ivory, and life-size."
"I trust it will bring you fame and money when the time comes," answered
Gilbert. "And how about Mrs. Branston? Is she as charming as ever?"
"A little more so, if possible. Poor old Michael Branston is dead--went
off the hooks rather suddenly about a month ago. The widow looks amazingly
pretty in her weeds."
"And you will marry her, I suppose, Jack, as soon as her mourning is
"Well, yes; it is on the cards," John Saltram said, in an indifferent
"Why, how you say that! Is there any doubt as to the lady's fortune?"
"O no; that is all square enough. Michael Branston's will was in the
_Illustrated London News_; the personalty sworn under a hundred and
twenty thousand,--all left to the widow,--besides real property--a house
in Cavendish Square, the villa at Maidenhead, and a place near
"It would be a splendid match for you, Jack."
"Splendid, of course. An unprecedented stroke of luck for such a fellow
as I. Yet I doubt very much if I am quite the man for that sort of life.
I should be apt to fancy it a kind of gilded slavery, I think, Gil, and
there would be some danger of my kicking off the chains."
"But you like Mrs. Branston, don't you, Jack?"
"Like her? Yes, I like her too well to deceive her. And she would expect
devoted affection from a second husband. She is full of romantic ideas,
school-girl theories of life which she was obliged to nip in the bud when
she went to the altar with old Branston, but which have burst into flower
now that she is free."
"Have you seen her often since her husband's death?"
"Only twice;--once immediately after the funeral, and again yesterday.
She is living in Cavendish Square just now."
"I hope you will marry her. I should like to see you safe in smooth
water, and with some purpose in life. I should like to see you turn your
back upon the loneliness of these dreary chambers."
"They are not very brilliant, are they? I don't know how many generations
of briefless barristers these chairs and tables have served. The rooms
have an atmosphere of failure; but they suit me very well. I am not
always here, you know. I spend a good deal of my time in the country."
"Sometimes in one direction, sometimes in another; wherever my truant
fancy leads me. I prefer such spots as are most remote from the haunts of
men, unknown to cockneys; and so long as there is a river within reach of
my lodging, I can make myself tolerably happy with a punt and a
fishing-rod, and contrive to forget my cares."
"You have not been to Lidford since I left England, I suppose?"
"Yes; I was at Heatherly a week or two in the winter. Poor old David
Forster would not let me alone until I went down to him. He was ill, and
in a very dismal condition altogether, abandoned by the rest of his
cronies, and a close prisoner in the house which has so many painful
associations for him. It was a work of charity to bear him company."
"Did you see Captain Sedgewick, or Marian, while you were down there?"
"No. I should have liked to have called upon the kind old Captain; but
Forster was unconscionably exacting,--there was no getting away from
Gilbert stepped with his friend until late that night, smoking and
drinking a mild mixture of brandy and soda-water, and talking of the
things that had been doing on this side of the globe while he had been on
the other. No more was said about Marian, or Gilbert's plans for the
future. In his own mind that one subject reigned supreme, shutting out
every other thought; but h did not want to make himself a nuisance to
John Saltram, and he knew that there are bounds to the endurance of which
friendship is capable.
The two friends seemed cheerful enough as they smoked their cigars in the
summer dusk, the quiet of the flagged court below rarely broken by a
passing footfall. It was the pleasantest evening which Gilbert Fenton had
spent for a long time, in spite of the heavy burden on his mind, in spite
of the depressing view which Mr. Saltram took of his position.
"Dear old John," he said, as they shook hands at parting, "I cannot tell
you what a happiness it has been to me to see you again. We were never
separated so long before since the day when I ate my first dinner at
The other seemed touched by this expression of regard, but disinclined to
betray his emotion, after the manner of Englishmen on such occasions.
"My dear Gilbert, it ought to be very pleasant to me to hear that. But I
doubt if I am worthy of so much. As far as my own liking for you goes,
there is no inequality between us; but you are a better fellow than I am
by a long way, and are not likely to profit much in the long-run by your
friendship for a reprobate like me."
"That's all nonsense, John. That kind of vague self-accusation means
nothing. I have no doubt I shall live to see you a great man, and to be
proud enough of being able to claim you as the chosen friend of my youth.
Mr. Branston's death has cleared the way for you. The chances of a
distinguished future are within your grasp."
"The chances within my grasp! Yes. My dear Gilbert, I tell you there are
some men for whom everything in this world comes too late."
"What do you mean by that?"
"Only that I doubt if you will ever see me Adela Branston's husband."
"I can't understand you, John."
"My dear fellow, there is nothing strange in that. There are times when I
cannot understand myself."
The days went by, and brought Gilbert Fenton no reply to his
advertisement. He called at the post-office morning and evening, only to
find the same result; and a dull blank feeling, a kind of deadness of
heart and mind, began to steal over him with the progress of the days.
He went through the routine of his business-life steadily enough, working
as hard as he had ever worked; but it was only by a supreme effort that
he could bring his mind to bear upon the details of business--all
interest in his office-work was gone.
The advertisement had appeared for the sixth time, and Gilbert had framed
a second, offering a reward of twenty pounds for any direct evidence of
the marriage of Marian Nowell; when a letter was handed to him one
evening at the post-office--a letter in a common blue envelope, directed
in a curious crabbed hand, and bearing the London post-mark.
His heart beat loud and fast as he tore open this envelope It contained
only a half-sheet of paper, with these words written upon it in the
cramped half-illegible hand which figured on the outside:
"The person advertising for Marian Nowell is requested to call at No. 5,
Queen Anne's Court, Wardour Street, any evening after seven."
This was all. Little as this brief note implied, however, Gilbert made
sure that the writer must be in a position to give him some kind of
information about the object of his search. It was six o'clock when he
received the communication. He went from the post-office to his lodgings
with his mind in a tumult of excitement, made a mere pretence of taking a
hasty dinner, and set off immediately afterwards for Wardour Street.
There was more than time for him to walk, and he hoped that the walk
might have some effect in reducing the fever of his mind. He did not want
to present himself before strangers--who, no doubt, only wanted to make a
barter of any knowledge they possessed as to Marian's whereabouts--in a
state of mental excitement. The address to which he was going mystified
him beyond measure. What could people living in such a place as this know
of her whom he sought?
He was in Wardour Street at a quarter before seven, but he had
considerable trouble in finding Queen Anne's Court, and the clocks of the
neighbourhood were striking the hour as he turned into a narrow alley
with dingy-looking shops on one side and a high dead wall on the other.
The gas was glimmering faintly in the window of No. 5, and a good deal of
old silver, tarnished and blackened, huddled together behind the
wire-guarded glass, was dimly visible in the uncertain light. There was
some old jewellery too, and a little wooden bowl of sovereigns or gold
coins of some kind or other.
On a brass plate upon the door of this establishment there appeared the
name of Jacob Nowell, silversmith and money-changer.
Gilbert Fenton stared in amazement at this inscription. It must needs be
some relative of Marian's he was about to see.
He opened the door, bewildered a little by this discovery, and a shrill
bell gave notice of his entrance to those within. A tall lanky young man,
with a sallow face and sleek black hair, emerged quickly from some door
in the obscure background, and asked in a sharp voice what the visitor
pleased to want.
"I wish to see Mr. Nowell, the writer of a letter addressed to the
post-office in Wigmore Street."
The sallow-faced young man disappeared without a word, leaving Gilbert
standing in the dimly lighted shop, where he saw more old silver crowded
upon shelves behind glass doors, carved ebony cabinets looming out of the
dusk, and here and there an old picture in a tarnished frame. On the
counter there was a glass case containing foreign bank-notes and gold,
some curious old watches, and other trinkets, a baby's coral, a battered
silver cup, and a gold snuff-box.
While Gilbert waited thus he heard voices in a room at the back--the
shrill tones of the sallow young man and a feeble old voice raised
querulously--and then, after a delay which seemed long to his impatience,
the young man reappeared and told him Mr. Nowell was ready to see him.
Gilbert went into the room at the end of the shop--a small dark parlour,
more crowded with a heterogeneous collection of plate, pictures, and
bric-a-brac of all kinds than the shop itself. Sultry as the July evening
was, there was a fire burning in the pinched rusty grate, and over this
fire the owner of the room bent affectionately, with his slippered feet
on the fender, and his bony hands clasping his bony knees.
He was an old man, with long yellowish-white hair streaming from beneath
a velvet skull-cap, and bright black eyes deep set in a pale thin face.
His nose was a sharp aquiline, and gave something of a bird-like aspect
to a countenance that must once have been very handsome. He was wrapped
in a long dressing-gown of some thick grey woollen stuff.
The sallow-faced young man lingered by the half-glass door between the
parlour and the shop, as if he would fain have remained a witness to the
interview about to take place between his master and the stranger; but
the old man looked round at him sharply, and said,--
"That will do, Tulliver; you can go back to the shop. If Abrahams brings
that little lot again to-night, tell him I'll give five-and-nine an
ounce, not a fraction more."
Mr. Tulliver retired, leaving the door ajar ever so little; but the
penetrating black eyes of the master were quick to perceive this
"Will you be so good as to shut that door, sir, quite securely?" he said
to Gilbert. "That young man is very inquisitive; I'm afraid I've kept him
too long. People talk of old servants; but half the robberies in the
world are committed by old servants. Be seated, if you please, sir. You
find this room rather close, perhaps. Some people do; but I'm old and
chilly, and I can't live without a fire."
"I have come to you in great anxiety of mind," said Gilbert, as he seated
himself upon the only disengaged chair in the room, "and with some hope