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Fenton's Quest by M. E. Braddon

Part 3 out of 10

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that you may be able to set my mind at ease by affording me information
about Miss Marian Nowell."

"I can give you no information about her."

"Indeed!" cried Gilbert, with a bitter pang of disappointment; "and yet
you answered my advertisement."

"I did, because I have some reason to suppose this Marian Nowell may be
my granddaughter."

"That is quite possible."

"Can you tell me her father's name?"

"Percival Nowell. Her mother was a Miss Lucy Geoffry."

"Right," said the old man. "Percival Nowell was my only son--my only
child of late years. There was a girl, but she died early. He was my only
son, and his mother and I were foolish enough to be proud of his good
looks and his clever ways; and we brought him up a gentleman, sent him to
an expensive school, and after that to the University, and pinched
ourselves in every way for his sake. My father was a gentleman; and it
was only after I had failed as a professional man, through circumstances
which I need not explain to you now, that I took to this business. I
would have made any sacrifice in reason for that boy of mine. I wanted
him to be a gentleman, and to make his way in one of the learned
professions. After a great deal of chopping and changing, he fixed upon
the Bar, took chambers in the Temple, made me pay all the fees, and
pretended to study. But I soon found that he was leading a wild
dissipated life, and was never likely to be good for anything. He got
into debt, drew bills upon me, and behaved altogether in a most shameful
manner. When I sent for him, and remonstrated with him upon his
disgraceful conduct, he told me that I was a miser, that I spent my life
in a dog-kennel for the sake of hoarding money, and that I deserved
nothing better than his treatment of me. I may have been better off at
this time than I had cared to let him know, for I had soon found out what
a reckless scoundrel I had to deal with; but if he had behaved decently,
he would have found me generous and indulgent enough. As it was, I told
him to go about his business, and never to expect another sixpence from
me as long as he lived. How he managed to exist after this, I hardly
know. He was very much mixed up with a disreputable lot of turf-men, and
I believe he made money by betting. His mother robbed me for him, I found
out afterwards, and contrived to send him a good deal of money at odd
times. My business as a dealer in second-hand silver was better then than
it is now, and I had had so much money passing through my hands that it
was pretty easy for my wife to cheat me. Poor soul! she has been dead and
gone these fifteen years, and I have freely forgiven her. She loved that
young man to distraction. If he had wanted a step to reach the object of
his wishes, she would have laid herself down in the dust and let him walk
over her body. I suppose it is in the nature of mothers to love their
sons like that. Well, sir, I never saw my gentleman after that day. I had
plenty of letters from him, all asking for money; threatening letters,
pitiful letters, letters in which he swore he would destroy himself if he
didn't receive a remittance by return of post; but I never sent him a
shilling. About a year after our last meeting, I received the
announcement of his marriage with Miss Geoffry. He wrote to tell me that,
if I would allow him a decent income, he would reform and lead a steady
life. That letter I did answer: to the effect that, if he chose to come
here and act as my shopman, I would give him board and lodging for
himself and his wife, and such wages as he should deserve. I told him
that I had given him his chance as a gentleman, and he had thrown it
away. I would give him the opportunity now of succeeding in a humbler
career by sheer industry and perseverance as I had succeeded myself. If
he thought that I had made a fortune, there was so much the more reason
for him to try his luck. This was the last letter I ever wrote to him. It
was unanswered; but about a year and a half afterwards there came a few
lines to his mother, telling her of the birth of a daughter, which was to
be called Marian, after her. This last letter came from Brussels."

"And did you hear no more of your son after this?" Gilbert asked.

"Nothing. I think his mother used to get letters from him in secret for
some time; that these failed suddenly at last; and that anxiety about her
worthless son--anxiety which she tried to hide from me--shortened her
life. She never complained, poor soul! never mentioned Percy's name until
the last, when she begged me to be kind to him if he should ever come to
throw himself upon my kindness. I gave her my promise that, if that came
to pass, he should find me a better friend to him than he deserved. It is
hard to refuse the last prayer of a faithful wife who has done her duty
patiently for nearly thirty years."

"Have you any reason to suppose your son still living?"

"I have no evidence of his death. Often and often, after my poor wife was
gone, I have sat alone here of a night thinking of him; thinking that he
might come in upon me at any moment; almost listening for his footstep in
the quiet of the place. But he never came. He would have found me very
soft-hearted at such times. My mind changed to him a good deal after his
mother's death. I used to think of him as he was in his boyhood, when
Marian and I had such great hopes of him, and would sit and talk of him
for hours together by this fireside. An old man left quite alone as I was
had plenty of time for such thoughts. Night after night I have fancied I
heard his step, and have looked up at that door expecting to see him open
it and come in; but he never came. He may be dead. I suppose he is dead;
or he would have come to make another attempt at getting money out of

"You have never taken any measures for finding him?" inquired Gilbert.

"No. If he wanted me, he knew where I was to be found. _I_ was a fixture.
It was his business to come to me. When I saw the name of Marian Nowell
in your advertisement a week ago, I felt curious to know whether it could
be my grandchild you were looking for. I held off till this morning,
thinking it wasn't worth my while to make any inquiries about the matter;
but I couldn't get it out of my head somehow; and it ended by my
answering your advertisement. I am an old man, you see, without a
creature belonging to me; and it might be a comfort to me to meet with
some one of my own flesh and blood. The bit of money I may leave behind
me when I die won't be much; but it might as well go to my son's child as
to a stranger."

"If your son's child can be found, you will discover her to be well
worthy of your love. Yes, though she has done me a cruel wrong, I believe
her to be all that is good and pure and true."

"What is the wrong that she has done you?"

Gilbert told Jacob Nowell the story of his engagement, and the bitter
disappointment which had befallen him on his return from Australia. The
old man listened with every appearance of interest. He approved of
Gilbert's notion of advertising for the particulars of a possible
marriage, and offered to bear his part in the expenses of the search for
his granddaughter.

Gilbert smiled at this offer.

"You do not know what a worthless thing money is to me now," he said, "or
now lightly I hold my own trouble or loss in this matter."

He left Queen Anne's Court soon after this, after having promised Jacob
Nowell to return and report progress so soon as there should be anything
worth telling. He went back to Wigmore Street heavy-hearted, depressed by
the reaction that followed the vain hope which the silversmith's letter
had inspired. It mattered little to him to know the antecedents of
Marian's father, while Marian's destiny remained still hidden from him.



On the following day Gilbert Fenton took his second advertisement to the
office in Printing House Square; an advertisement offering a reward of
twenty pounds for any reliable information as to the marriage of Marian
Nowell. A week went by, during which the advertisement appeared on
alternate days; and at the end of that time there came a letter from the
parish-clerk of Wygrove, a small town about forty miles farther from
London than Lidford, stating that, on the 14th of March, John Holbrook
and Marian Nowell had been married at the church in that place. Gilbert
Fenton left London by an early train upon the morning after his receipt
of this letter; and at about three o'clock in the afternoon found himself
on the outskirts of Wygrove, rather a difficult place to reach, involving
a good deal of delay at out-of-the-way junctions, and a six-mile journey
by stage-coach from the nearest station.

It was about the dullest dreariest little town to which his destiny had
ever brought Gilbert Fenton, consisting of a melancholy high-street, with
a blank market-place, and a town hall that looked as if it had not been
opened within the memory of man; a grand old gothic church, much too
large for the requirements of the place; a grim square brick box
inscribed "Ebenezer;" and a few prim villas straggling off into the

On one side of the church there was a curious little old-fashioned court,
wonderfully neat and clean, with houses the parlours whereof were sunk
below the level of the pavement, after the manner of these old places.
There was a great show of geraniums in the casements, and a general
aspect of brightness and order distinguished all these modest dwellings.
It was to this court that Mr. Fenton had been directed on inquiring for
Thomas Stoneham, the parish-clerk, at the inn where the coach deposited
him. He was fortunate enough to find Mr. Stoneham sunning himself on the
threshold of his domicile, smoking an after-dinner pipe. A pleasant
clattering of tea-things sounded from the neat little parlour within,
showing that, early as it was, there were already preparations for the
cup which cheers without inebriating in the Stoneham household.

Thomas Stoneham, supported by a freshly-painted door of a vivid green and
an extensive brass plate engraved with his name and functions, was a
personage of some dignity. He was a middle-aged man, ponderous and slow
of motion, with a latent pomposity, which he rendered as agreeable as
possible by the urbanity of his manners. He was a man of a lofty spirit,
who believed in his office as something exalted above all other dignities
of this earth--less lucrative, of course, than a bishopric or the
woolsack, and of a narrower range, but quite as important on a small
scale. "The world might get on pretty well without bishops," thought Mr.
Stoneham, when he pondered upon these things as he smoked his
churchwarden pipe; "but what would become of a parish in which there was
no clerk?"

This gentleman, seeing Gilbert Fenton approach, was quick to surmise that
the stranger came in answer to the letter he had written the day before.
The advent of a stranger in Wygrove was so rare an occurrence, that it
was natural enough for him to jump at this conclusion.

"I believe you are Mr. Stoneham," said Gilbert, "and the writer of a
letter in answer to an advertisement in the _Times_."

"My name is Stoneham, sir; I am the clerk of this parish, and have been
for twenty years and more, as I think I may have stated in the letter to
which you refer. Will you be so kind as to step inside?"

Mr. Stoneham waved his hand towards the parlour, to which apartment
Gilbert descended. Here he found Mrs. Stoneham, a meek little
sandy-haired woman, who seemed to be borne down by the weight of her
lord's dignity; and Miss Stoneham, also meek and sandy, with a great many
stiff little corkscrew ringlets budding out all over her head and a sharp
little inquiring nose.

These ladies would have retired on Gilbert's entrance, but he begged them
to remain; and after a good deal of polite hesitation they consented to
do so, Mrs. Stoneham resuming her seat before the tea-tray, and Miss
Stoneham retiring to a little table by the window, where she was engaged
in trimming a bonnet.

"I want to know all about this marriage, Mr. Stoneham," Gilbert began,
when he had seated himself in a shining mahogany arm-chair by the empty
fire-place. "First and foremost, I want you to tell me where Mr. and Mrs.
Holbrook are now living."

The parish-clerk shook his head with a stately slowness.

"Not to be done, sir," he said: "when Mr. and Mrs. Holbrook left here
they went the Lord knows where. They went away the very day they were
married. There was a fly waiting for them at the church-door, with their
luggage upon it, when the ceremony was over, ready to drive them to
Grangewick station. I saw them get into it and drive away; and that's
every mortal thing that I know as to what became of them after they were
married in yonder church."

"You don't know who this Mr. Holbrook is?"

"No more than the babe unborn, sir. He was a stranger in this place, was
only here long enough to get the license for his marriage. I should take
him to be a gentleman; but he wasn't a pleasant person to speak
to--rather stand-off-ish in his manners. He wasn't the sort of man I
should have chosen if I'd been a pretty young woman like Miss Nowell; but
there's no accounting for taste, and she seemed uncommonly fond of him. I
never saw any one more agitated than she was when they were married. She
was crying in a quiet way all through the service, and when it was over
she fainted dead-off. I daresay it did seem hard to her to be married
like that, without so much as a friend to give her away. She was in
mourning, too, deep mourning."

"Can you give me any description of this man--this Mr. Holbrook?"

"Well, no, sir: he was an ordinary kind of person to look at; might be
any age between thirty and forty; not a gentleman that I should have
taken a fancy to myself, as I said before; but young women are that
wayward and uncertain like, there's no knowing where to have them."

"Was Miss Nowell long at Wygrove before her marriage?"

"About three weeks. She lodged with Miss Long, up the town, a friend of
my daughter's. If you'd like to ask any questions of Miss Long, our
Jemima might step round there with you presently."

"I should be very glad to do so," Gilbert answered quickly. He asked
several more questions; but Mr. Stoneham could give him no information,
except as to the bare fact of the marriage. Gilbert knew now that the
girl he had so fondly loved and so entirely trusted was utterly lost to
him; that he had been jilted cruelly and heartlessly, as he could but own
to himself. Yes, she had jilted him--had in all probability never loved
him. He blamed himself for having urged his suit too ardently, with
little reference to Marian's own feelings, with a rooted obstinate
conviction that he needed only to win her in order to insure the
happiness of both.

Having fully proved Mr. Stoneham's inability to afford him any further
help in this business, Gilbert availed himself of the fair Jemima's
willingness to "step round" to Miss Long's domicile with him, in the hope
of obtaining fuller information from that lady. While Miss Stoneham was
engaged in putting on her bonnet for this expedition, the clerk proposed
to take Gilbert across to the church and show him the entry of the
marriage in the register. "With a view to the satisfactory settlement of
the reward," Mr. Stoneham added in a fat voice, and with the air of a man
to whom twenty pounds more or less was an affair of very little moment.

Gilbert assented to this, and accompanied Mr. Stoneham to a little
side-door which admitted them into the old church, where the light shone
dimly through painted windows, in which there seemed more leaden
framework than glass. The atmosphere of the place was cold even on this
sultry July afternoon, and the vestry to which Mr. Stoneham conducted his
companion had a damp mouldy smell.

He opened a cupboard, with a good deal of jingling of a great bunch of
keys, and produced the register; a grim-looking volume bound in dingy
leather, and calculated to inspire gloomy feelings in the minds of the
bridegrooms and brides who had occasion to inscribe their names therein;
a volume upon which the loves and the graces who hover around the
entrance to the matrimonial state had shed no ray of glamour.

Thomas Stoneham laid this book before Gilbert, open at the page on which
Marian's marriage was recorded. Yes, there was the familiar signature in
the fair flowing hand he had loved so well. It was his Marian, and no
other, whom John Holbrook had married in that gloomy old church.

The signature of the bridegroom was in a stiff straight hand, all the
letters formed with unusual precision, as if the name had been written in
a slow laboured way.

Who could this John Holbrook be? Gilbert was quite certain that he had
never heard the name at Lidford, nor could he believe that if any
attachment between this man and Marian Nowell had existed before his own
acquaintance with her, Captain Sedgewick would have been so dishonourable
as to keep the fact a secret from him. This John Holbrook must needs,
therefore, be some one who had come to Lidford during Gilbert's absence
from England; yet Sarah Down had been able to tell him of no new visitor
at Hazel Cottage.

He copied the record of the marriage on a leaf in his pocket-book, paid
Mr. Stoneham a couple of ten-pound notes, and left the church. The
clerk's daughter was waiting for him in the little court outside, and
they went at once to the house where Miss Nowell had lodged during her
residence at Wygrove.

It was a house in a neat little terrace on the outskirts of the town; a
house approached by a flight of steep stone steps of spotless purity, and
a half-glass door, which opened at once into a bright airy-looking
parlour, faintly perfumed with rose-leaves and lavender mouldering in the
china vases on the mantelpiece. Here Gilbert was introduced to Miss Long,
a maiden lady of uncertain age, who wore stiff bands of suspiciously
black hair under an imposing structure of lace and artificial flowers,
and a rusty black-silk dress, the body of which fitted so tightly as to
seem like a kind of armour. This lady received Mr. Fenton very
graciously, and declared herself quite ready to give him any information
in her power about Miss Nowell.

It happened unfortunately, however, that her power was of a most limited

"A sweeter young lady never lived than Miss Nowell," she said. "I've had
a great many people occupying these apartments since my father's death
left me thrown upon my own resources. I've had lodgers that I might call
permanent, in a manner of speaking; but I never had any one that I took
to as I took to Miss Nowell, though she was hardly with me three weeks
from first to last."

"Did she seem happy in her mind during that time?" Gilbert asked.

"Well, no; I cannot say that she did. I should have expected to see a
young lady that was going to be married to the man she loved much more
cheerful and hopeful about the future than Miss Nowell was. She told me
that her uncle had not been dead many weeks, and I thought at first that
this was the only grief she had on her mind; but after some time, when I
found her very low and downhearted, and had won upon her to trust me
almost as if I had been an old friend, she owned to me that she had
behaved very badly to a gentleman she had been engaged to, and that the
thought of her wickedness to him preyed upon her mind. 'I don't think any
good can ever come of my marriage, Miss Long,' she said to me; 'I think I
must surely be punished for my falsehood to the good man who loved me so
truly. But there are some things in life that seem like fate. They come
upon us in a moment, and we have no strength to fight against them. I
believe it was my fate to love John Holbrook. There is nothing in this
world I could refuse to do for his sake. If he had asked me for my life,
I must have given it to him as freely as I gave him my love. From the
first hour in which I saw him he was my master.'"

"This Mr. Holbrook was very fond of her, I suppose?"

"I daresay he was, sir; but he was not a man that showed his feelings
very much. They used to go for long walks together, though it was March
and cold windy weather, and she always seemed happier when he brought her
home. He came every evening to drink tea with her, and I used to hear
them talking as I sat at work in the next room. She was happy enough when
he was with her. It was only when she was alone that she would give way
to low spirits and gloomy thoughts about the future."

"Did she ever tell you anything about Mr. Holbrook--his position or
profession? how long she had known him? how and where they had first

"No, sir. She told me once that he was not rich; I think that is about
all she ever said of him, except when she spoke of his influence over
her, and her trust in him."

"Have you any idea where they were going to live after their marriage?"

"I cannot tell you the name of the place. Miss Nowell said that a friend
of Mr. Holbrook's was going to lend him an old farm-house in a very
pretty part of the country. It would be very lonely, she said, and her
husband would have sometimes to leave her to attend to his business in
London; but she would not mind that. 'Some day, I daresay, he will let me
live in London with him,' she said; 'but I don't like to ask him that

"Did she drop no hint as to the whereabouts of this place to which they
were going?"

"It was somewhere in Hampshire; that is all I can remember."

"I would give a great deal to know more," Gilbert said with a sigh. "In
what manner did this Mr. Holbrook impress you? You were interested in the
young lady, and would therefore naturally be interested in her lover. Did
he strike you as worthy of her?"

"_I_ cannot say that he did, sir," Miss Long answered doubtfully. "I
could see that he had great power over her, though his manner to her was
always very gentle; but I cannot say that I took to him myself. I daresay
he is a very clever man; but he had a cold proud way that kept one at a
distance from him, and I seemed to know no more of him at the last than I
had known on the first day I saw him. I believe he loved Miss Nowell, and
that's about all the good I do believe of him."

After this, there was no more to be asked of Miss Long; so Gilbert
thanked her for her civility, and bade good evening at once to her and to
Miss Stoneham. There was time for him to catch the last coach to
Grangewick station. He determined upon going from Grangewick to Lidford,
instead of returning to London. He wanted, if possible, to find out
something more about this man Holbrook, who must surely have been known
to some one at Lidford during his secret courtship of Marian Nowell.

He wasted two days at Lidford, making inquiries on this subject, in as
quiet a manner as possible and in every imaginable quarter; but without
the slightest result. No one either at Lidford or Fairleigh had ever
heard of Mr. Holbrook.

Gilbert's last inquiries were made in a singular direction. After
exhausting every likely channel of information, he had a few hours left
before the departure of the fast train by which he had determined to
return to London; and this leisure he devoted to a visit to Heatherly
Park, in the chance of finding Sir David Forster at home. It was just
possible that Mr. Holbrook might be one of Sir David's innumerable
bachelor acquaintances.

Gilbert walked from Lidford to Heatherly by that romantic woodland path
by which he had gone with Marian and her uncle on the bright September
afternoon when he first saw Sir David's house. The solitary walk awakened
very bitter thoughts; the memory of those hopes which had then made the
sunshine of his life, and without which existence seemed a weary
purposeless journey across a desert land.

Sir David was at home, the woman at the lodge told him; and he went on to
the house, and rang a great clanging bell, which made an alarming clamour
in the utter stillness of the place.

A gray-haired old servant answered the summons, and ushered Gilbert into
the state drawing-room, an apartment with a lofty arched roof, eight long
windows, and a generally ecclesiastical aspect, which was more suggestive
of solemn grandeur than of domestic comfort.

Here Gilbert waited for about ten minutes, at the end of which time the
man returned, to request that he would be so kind as to go to Sir David's
study. His master was something of an invalid, the man told Gilbert.

They went through the billiard-room to a very snug little apartment, with
dark-panelled walls and one large window opening upon a rose-garden on
the southern side of the house. There was a ponderous carved-oak bookcase
on one side of the room; on all the others the paraphernalia of
sporting--gunnery and fishing-tackle, small-swords, whips, and
boxing-gloves--artistically arranged against the panelling; and over the
mantelpiece an elaborate collection of meerschaum pipes. Through a
half-open door Gilbert caught a glimpse of a comfortable bedchamber
leading out of this room.

Sir David was sitting on a low easy-chair near the window, with one leg
supported on a luxuriously-cushioned rest, invented for the relief of
gouty subjects. Although not yet forty, the baronet was a chronic
sufferer from this complaint.

"My dear Mr. Fenton, how good of you to come to me!" he exclaimed,
shaking hands very cordially with Gilbert. "Here I am, laid by the heels
in this dreary old place, and quite alone. You can't imagine what a treat
it is to see a friendly intelligent face from the outer world."

"The purpose of my visit is such a purely selfish one, that I am really
ashamed to receive such a kindly greeting, Sir David. If I had known you
were here and an invalid, I should have gladly come to see you; but I
didn't know it. I have been at Lidford on a matter of business for the
last two days; and I came here on the hazard of finding you, and with a
faint hope that you might be able to give me some help in an affair
which is supremely important to me."

Sir David Forster looked at Gilbert Fenton curiously for a moment, and
then took up an empty meerschaum that lay upon a little table near him,
and began to fill it with a thoughtful air. Gilbert had dropped into an
arm-chair on the opposite side of the open window, and was watching the
baronet's face, puzzled a little by that curious transient expression
which had just flitted across it.

"What is the business?" Sir David asked presently; "and how can I be of
use to you?"

"I think you knew all about my engagement to Miss Nowell, when I was here
last September, Sir David," Gilbert began presently.

"Yes, Saltram told me you were engaged; not but what it was easy enough
to see how the land lay, without any telling."

"Miss Nowell has jilted me. I love her too dearly to be able to entertain
any vindictive feeling against her; but I do feel vindictively disposed
towards the man who has robbed me of her, for I know that only a very
powerful influence would have induced her to break faith with me; and
this man must needs have known the dishonourable thing he was doing when
he tempted her away from me. I want to know who he is, Sir David, and how
he came to acquire such an influence over my plighted wife."

"My dear Fenton, you are going on so fast! You say Miss Nowell has jilted
you. She is married to some one else, then, I suppose?"

"She is married to a Mr. Holbrook. I came to Lidford the night before
last, with the hope of finding out something about him; but all my
endeavours have resulted in failure. It struck me at last, as a kind of
forlorn hope, that this Mr. Holbrook might possibly be one of your
autumnal visitors; and I came here to ask you that question."

"No," answered the baronet; "I have had no visitor called Holbrook. Is
the name quite strange to yourself?"

"Entirely strange."

"And this Mr. Holbrook is now Miss Nowell's husband? and you want to know
who he is? With what end?"

"I want to find the man who has done me the deadliest wrong one man can
do another."

"My dear fellow, don't you see that it is fate, and not Mr. Holbrook,
that has done you this wrong? If Miss Nowell had really loved you as she
ought to have loved you, it would have been quite impossible for her to
be tempted away from you. It was her destiny to marry this Holbrook, rely
upon it; and had you been on the spot to protect your own interests, the
result would have been just the same. Believe me, I am very sorry for
you, and can fully sympathise with your feelings in this business; but I
cannot see what good could possibly arise out of a meeting between you
and your fortunate rival. The days of duelling are past; and even if it
were not so, I think you are too generous to seek to deprive Miss Nowell
of her husband."

"I do not know about that. There are some wrongs which all a man's
Christianity is not wide enough to cover. I think if that man and
I were to meet, there would be very little question of mercy on my
side. I hold a man who could act as he has acted unworthy of all
consideration--utterly unworthy of the woman he has won from me."

"My dear fellow, you know the old saying. A man who is in love thinks
everything fair. There is no such thing as honour in such a case as this.
Of course, I don't want to defend this Holbrook; I only want to awaken
your senses to the absurdity of any vindictive pursuit of the man. If the
lady did not love you, believe me you are well out of the business."

"Yes, that is what every one would tell me, I daresay," Gilbert answered
impatiently. "But is there to be no atonement for my broken life,
rendered barren to me by this man's act? I tell you, Sir David, there is
no such thing as pardon for a wrong like this. But I know how foolish
this talk must seem to you: there is always something ridiculous in the
sufferings of a jilted lover."

"Not at all, my dear Fenton. I heartily wish that I could be of use to
you in this matter; but there is very little chance of that; and, believe
me, there is only one rational course open to you, which is, to forget
Miss Nowell, or Mrs. Holbrook, with all possible assiduity."

Gilbert smiled, a melancholy incredulous smile. Sir David's advice was
only the echo of John Saltram's counsel--the counsel which he would
receive from every man of the world, no doubt--the counsel which he
himself would most likely have given to a friend under the same

Sir David was very cordial, and wanted his visitor to dine and sleep at
Heatherly; but this Gilbert declined. He was eager to get back to London
now that his business was finished.

He arrived in town late that night; and went back to his office-work next
day with a dreary feeling that he must needs go through the same dull
routine day after day in all the time to come, without purpose or hope in
his life, only because a man must go on living somehow to the end of his
earthly pilgrimage, whether the sun shine upon him or not.

He went to Queen Anne's Court one evening soon after his return, and told
Mr. Nowell all he had discovered at Wygrove. The old man showed himself
keenly interested in his grand-daughter's fate.

"I would give a great deal to see her before I die," he said. "Whatever I
have to leave will be hers. It may be little or much--I won't speak about
that; but I've lived a hard life, and saved where other men would have
spent. I should like to see my son's child; I should like to have some
one of my own flesh and blood about me in my last days."

"Would it not be a good plan to put an advertisement into the _Times_,
addressed to Mrs. Holbrook, from a relation? She would be likely to
answer that, when she would not reply to any appeal coming directly from

"Yes," answered Jacob Nowell; "and her husband would let her come to me
for the sake of what I may have to leave her. But that can't be helped, I
suppose; it is the fate of a man who lives as I have lived, to be cared
for at last only for what he has to give. I'll put in such an
advertisement as you speak of; and we'll see what comes of it."



Gilbert Fenton called several times in the Temple without being able to
see John Saltram; a slip of paper pasted on the outer door of that
gentleman's chamber informed the public that he was "out of town," and
that was all. Gilbert took the trouble to penetrate the domicile of the
laundress who officiated in Mr. Saltram's chambers, in order to obtain
some more particular information as to her employer's movements, and
after infinite difficulty succeeded in finding that industrious matron in
the remote obscurity of a narrow court near the river. But the laundress
could tell Mr. Fenton very little. She did not know whither Mr. Saltram
had gone, or when he was likely to return. He was one of the most
uncertingest gentlemen she had to do for; and he had been out of town a
great deal lately; which was not to be wondered at, considering the
trying hot weather, when it was not to be supposed that gentlefolks as
was free to do what they pleased would stay in London. It was hard enough
upon working people with five children to wash and mend and cook for, and
over in the court besides, and provisions dearer than they had been these
ten years. Gilbert asked if Mr. Saltram had left any orders about his
letters; but the woman told him, no; there never was such a careless
gentleman about letters. He never cared about having them sent after him,
and would let them lie in the box till the dust got thick upon them.

Gilbert left a brief note for John Saltram with the woman--a note
begging his friend to come to him when he was next in London; and having
done this, he paid no more visits to the Temple, but waited patiently for
Mr. Saltram's coming, feeling very sure that his request would not be
neglected. If anything could have intensified the gloom of his mind at
this time it would have been the absence of that one friend, whom he
loved better than he had ever loved any one in this world, except Marian
Nowell. He stayed in town all through the blank August and September
season, working harder than he had worked since the early days of his
commercial life, taking neither pleasure nor interest in anything, and
keeping as much as possible out of the way of all his old acquaintance.

No answer came to Jacob Nowell's advertisement, although it appeared
several times; and the old man began to despair of ever seeing his
granddaughter. Gilbert used to drop in upon him sometimes of an evening
during this period, at his urgent request. He was interested in the
solitary silversmith for Marian's sake, and very willingly sacrificed an
occasional evening for his gratification. He fancied that these visits of
his inspired some kind of jealousy in the breast of the sallow-faced,
sleek-haired shopman; who regarded him always on these occasions with a
look of suppressed malevolence, and by every stratagem in his power tried
to find out the nature of the conversation between the visitor and his
employer, making all kinds of excuses to come into the parlour, and
showing himself proof against the most humiliating treatment from his

"Does that young man expect you to leave him money? and does he look upon
me as a possible rival?" Gilbert asked one night, provoked by the
shopman's conduct.

"Very likely," Mr. Nowell answered, with a malicious grin.

"One gets good service from a man who expects his reward in the future.
Luke Tulliver serves me very well indeed, and of course I am not
responsible for his delusions."

"Do you know, Mr. Nowell, that is a man I should scarcely care to trust.
To my mind there is a warning of danger in his countenance."

"My dear sir, I have never trusted any one in my life," answered the
silversmith promptly. "I don't for a moment suppose that Luke Tulliver
would be honest if I gave him an opportunity to cheat me. As to the
badness of his countenance, that is so much the better. I like to deal
with an obvious rogue. The really dangerous subject is your honest fool,
who goes on straight enough till he has lulled one into a false security,
and then turns thief all at once at the instigation of some clever

"That young man lives in the house with you, I suppose?"

"Yes; my household consists of Luke Tulliver, and an old woman who does
the cooking and other work. There are a couple of garrets at the top of
the house where the two sleep; my own bedroom is over this; and the room
over the shop is full of pictures and other unsaleable stuff, which I
have seldom occasion to show anybody. My business is not what it once
was, Mr. Fenton. I have made some rather lucky hits in the way of
picture-dealing in the course of my business career, but I haven't done a
big line lately."

Gilbert was inclined to believe that Jacob Nowell was a much richer man
than he cared to confess, and that the fortune which Marian Nowell might
inherit in the future was a considerable one. The old man had all the
attributes of a miser. The house in which he lived had the aspect of a
place in which money has been made and hoarded day by day through long
dull years.

* * * * *

It was not until the end of October that John Saltram made his appearance
at his old friend's lodgings. He had just come up from the country, and
was looking his best--brighter and younger than Gilbert had seen him look
for a long time.

"My dear Jack, I began to think I should never see you again. What have
you been doing all this time, and where have you been?"

"I have been hard at work, as usual, for the reviews, down Oxford way, at
a little place on the river. And how has the world been going with you,
Gilbert? I saw your advertisement offering a reward for evidence of Miss
Nowell's marriage. Was there any result?"

"Yes; I know all about the marriage now, but I don't know who or what the
man is," Gilbert answered; and then went on to give his friend a detailed
account of his experience at Wygrove, and his visit to Sir David Forster.

"My dear foolish Gilbert," said John Saltram, "how much useless trouble
you have given yourself! Was it not enough to know that this girl had
broken faith with you? I think, were I in your place, that would be the
end of the story for me. And now you know more than that--you know that
she is another man's wife. If you find her, nothing can come of it."

"It is the man I want to find, John; the man whom I shall make it the
business of my life to discover."

"For what good?"

"For the deadliest harm to him," Gilbert answered moodily. "If ever he
and I meet, I will have some payment for my broken life; some
compensation for my ruined hopes. We two should not meet and part
lightly, rely upon it."

"You can make no excuse for his love, that fatal irresistible passion,
which outweighs truth and honour when they are set in the opposite scale.
I did not think you could be so hard, Gilbert; I thought you would have
more mercy on the man who wronged you."

"I could pardon any injury but this. I will never forgive this."

John Saltram shrugged his shoulders with a deprecating air.

"It is a mistake, my dear fellow," he said. "Life is not long enough for
these strong passions. There is nothing in the world worth the price
these bitter hatreds and stormy angers cost us. You have thrown away a
great deal of deep feeling on a lady, whose misfortune it was not to be
able to return your affection as she might have done--as you most fully
deserved at her hands. Why waste any further emotion in regrets that we
as useless as they are foolish?"

"You may as well ask me why I exist," Gilbert answered quietly. "Regret
for all I have lost is a part of my life."

After this there was no more to be said, and Mr. Saltram went on to speak
of pleasanter topics. The two men dined together, and sat by the fire
afterwards with a bottle of claret between them, smoking their cigars,
and talking till late into the night.

It was not to be supposed that Adela Branston's name could be omitted
entirely from this confidential talk.

"I have seen nothing and heard very little of her while I have been
away," John Saltram said, in answer to a question of Gilbert's; "but I
called in Cavendish-square this afternoon, and was fortunate enough to
find her at home. She wants me to dine with her next Sunday, and I half
promised to do so. Will you come too? I know that she would be glad to
see you."

"I cannot see that I am wanted, John."

"But I tell you that you are wanted. I wish you to go with me. Mrs.
Branston likes you amazingly, if you care to know the opinion of so
frivolous a person."

"I am very much flattered by Mrs. Branston's kindly estimate of me, but I
do not think I have any claim to it, except the fact that I am your
friend. I shall be happy to go with you on Sunday, if you really wish

"I do really wish it. I shall drop Mrs. Branston a line to say you will
come. She asked me to bring you whenever I had an opportunity. The
dinner-hour is seven. I'll call for you here a few minutes before. I
don't promise you a very lively evening, remember. There will only be
Adela, and a lady she has taken as her companion."

"I don't care about lively evenings. I have been nowhere in society
since I returned from Melbourne. I have done with all that kind of

"My dear Gilbert, that sort of renunciation will never do," John Saltram
said earnestly. "A man cannot turn his back upon society at your age.
Life lies all before you, and it rests with yourself to create a happy
future. Let the dead bury their dead."

"Yes, John; and what is left for the living when that burial is over? I
don't want to make myself obnoxious by whining over my troubles, but they
are not to be lessened by philosophy, and I can do nothing but bear them
as best I may. I had long been growing tired of society, in the
conventional acceptation of the word, and all the stereotyped pleasures
of a commercial man's life. Those things are less than nothing when a man
has nothing brighter and fairer beyond them--no inner life by which the
common things of this world are made precious. It is only dropping out of
the arena a little earlier than I might have done otherwise. I have a
notion that I shall wind up my affairs next year, sell my business, and
go abroad. I could manage to retire upon a very decent income, in spite
of my losses the other day."

"Don't dream of that, Gilbert; for heaven's sake, don't dream of anything
so mad as that. What would a man of your age be without some kind of
career? A mere purposeless wanderer on the face of the earth. Stick to
business, dear old fellow. Believe me, there is nothing like work to make
a man forget any foolish trouble of this kind. And you will forget it,
Gilbert, be assured of that. If I were not certain it would be so, I

He stopped suddenly, staring absently at the fire with a darkening brow.

"You would do what, John?"

"Hate this man Holbrook almost as savagely as you hate him, for having
come between you and your happiness. Yet, if Marian Nowell did not love
you--as a wife should love her husband, with all her heart and soul--it
was ten thousand times better that the knot should be cut in time,
however roughly. Think what your misery would have been if you had
discovered after your marriage that her heart had never been really

"I cannot imagine that possible. I have no shadow of doubt that I should
have succeeded in winning her heart if this man had not robbed me of her.
My absence gave him his opportunity. Had I been at hand to protect my own
interests, I do not think his influence could have prevailed against me."

"It is quite natural that you should think that," John Saltram said
gravely. "Yet you may be mistaken. A woman's love is such a capricious
thing, and so often bestowed upon the least deserving amongst those who
seek it."

After this they were silent for some time, and then Gilbert told his
friend about his acquaintance with Jacob Nowell, and the old man's futile
endeavours to find his grandchild; to all of which Mr. Saltram listened

"Then you fancy there is a good bit of money in question?" he said, when
Gilbert told him everything.

"I fancy so. But I have no actual ground for the belief. The place in
which the old man lives is poor enough, and he has carefully abstained
from any hint as to what he might leave his granddaughter. Whatever it
is, Marian ought to have it; and there is very little chance of that,
unless she comes forward in response to Mr. Nowell's advertisements."

"It is a pity she should lose the chance of this inheritance, certainly,"
said Mr. Saltram.

And then the conversation changed, and they talked of other subjects
until it was time for them to part.

John Saltram walked back to the Temple in a very sombre mood, meditating
upon his friend's trouble.

"Poor old Gilbert," he said to himself, "this business has touched him
more deeply than I could have thought possible. I wish things had
happened otherwise. What is it Lady Macbeth says? 'Naught's had, all's
spent, when our desire is got without content.' I wonder whether the
fulfilment of one's heart's desire ever does bring perfect contentment? I
think not. There is always something wanting. And if a man comes by his
wish basely, there is a taint of poison in the wine of life that
neutralizes all its sweetness."



At seven o'clock on Sunday evening, as the neighbouring church bells were
just sounding their last peal, Mr. Fenton found himself on the threshold
of Mrs. Branston's house in Cavendish-square. It was rather a gloomy
mansion, pervaded throughout with evidences of its late owner's oriental
career; old Indian cabinets; ponderous chairs of elaborately-carved
ebony, clumsy in form and barbaric in design; curious old china and
lacquered ware of every kind, from gigantic vases to the tiniest cups and
saucers; ivory temples, and gods in silver and clay, crowded the
drawing-rooms and the broad landings on the staircase. The curtains and
chair-covers were of Indian embroidery; the carpets of oriental
manufacture. Everything had a gaudy semi-barbarous aspect.

Mrs. Branston received her guests in the back drawing-room, a smaller and
somewhat snugger apartment than the spacious chamber in front, which was
dimly visible in the light of a single moderator lamp and the red glow of
a fire through the wide-open archway between the two rooms. In the inner
room the lamps were brighter, and the fire burned cheerily; and here Mrs.
Branston had established for herself a comfortable nook in a deep
velvet-cushioned arm-chair, very low and capacious, sheltered luxuriously
from possible draughts by a high seven-leaved Japanese screen. The fair
Adela was a chilly personage, and liked to bask in her easy-chair before
the fire. She looked very pretty this evening, in her dense black dress,
with the airiest pretence of a widow's cap perched on her rich auburn
hair, and a voluminous Indian shawl of vivid scarlet making a drapery
about her shoulders. She was evidently very pleased to see John Saltram,
and gave a cordial welcome to his friend. On the opposite side of the
fire-place there was a tall, rather grim-looking lady, also in mourning,
and with an elaborate headdress of bugles and ornaments of a feathery and
beady nature, which were supposed to be flowers. About her neck this lady
wore numerous rows of jet beads, from which depended crosses and lockets
of the same material: she had jet earrings and jet bracelets; and had
altogether a beaded and bugled appearance, which would have been
eminently fascinating to the untutored taste of a North American Indian.

This lady was Mrs. Pallinson, a widow of limited means, and a distant
relation of Adela Branston's. Left quite alone after her husband's
death, and feeling herself thoroughly helpless, Adela had summoned this
experienced matron to her aid; whereupon Mrs. Pallinson had given up a
small establishment in the far north of London, which she was in the
habit of speaking about on occasions as her humble dwelling, and had
taken up her quarters in Cavendish-square, where she was a power of dread
to the servants.

Gilbert fancied that Mrs. Pallinson was by no means too favourably
disposed towards John Saltram. She had sharp black eyes, very much like
the jet beads with which her person was decorated, and with these she
kept a close watch upon Mrs. Branston and Mr. Saltram when the two were
talking together. Gilbert saw how great an effort it cost her at these
times to keep up the commonplace conversation which he had commenced with
her, and how intently she was trying to listen to the talk upon the other
side of the fire-place.

The dinner was an admirable one, the wines perfection, Mr. Branston
having been a past-master of the art of good living, and having stocked
his cellars with a view to a much longer life than had been granted to
him; the attendance was careful and complete; the dining-room, with its
rather old-fashioned furniture and heavy crimson hangings, a picture of
comfort; and Mrs. Branston a most charming hostess. Even Gilbert was fain
to forget his own troubles and enjoy life a little in that agreeable

The two gentlemen accompanied the ladies back to the drawing-room. There
was a grand piano in the front room, and to this Adela Branston went at
Mr. Saltram's request, and began to play some of Handel's oratorio music,
while he stood beside the piano, talking to her as she played. Mrs.
Pallinson and Gilbert were thus left alone in the back room, and the lady
did her best to improve the occasion by extorting what information she
could from Mr. Fenton about his friend.

"Adela tells me that you and Mr. Saltram are friends of very long
standing, Mr. Fenton," she began, fanning herself slowly with a shining
black fan as she sat opposite Gilbert, awful of aspect in the sombre
splendour of her beads and bugles.

"Yes; we were at Oxford together, and have been fast friends ever since."

"Indeed!--how really delightful! The young men of the present day appear
to me generally so incapable of a sincere friendship. And you and Mr.
Saltram have been friends all that time? He is a literary man, I
understand. I have not had the pleasure of reading any of his works; but
Adela tells me he is extremely clever."

"He is very clever."

"And steady, I hope. Literary men are so apt to be wild and dissipated;
and Adela has such a high opinion of your friend. I hope he is steady."

"I scarcely know what a lady's notion of steadiness may involve," Gilbert
answered, smiling; "but I daresay when my friend marries he will be
steady enough. I cannot see that literary tastes and dissipated habits
have any natural affinity. I should rather imagine that a man with
resources of that kind would be likely to lead a quieter life than a man
without such resources."

"Do you really think so? I fancied that artists and poets and people of
that kind were altogether a dangerous class. And you think that Mr.
Saltram will be steady when he is married? He is engaged to be married, I
conclude by your manner of saying that."

"I had no idea my words implied anything of the kind. No, _I_ do not
think John Saltram is engaged."

Mrs. Pallinson glanced towards the piano, where the two figures seemed
very close to each other in the dim light of the room. Adela's playing
had been going on in a desultory kind of manner, broken every now and
then by her conversation with John Saltram, and had evidently been
intended to give pleasure only to that one listener.

While she was still playing in this careless fitful way, a servant
announced Mr. Pallinson; and a gentleman entered whom Gilbert had no
difficulty in recognizing as the son of the lady he had been conversing
with. This new-comer was a tall pale-faced young man, with intensely
penetrating black eyes exactly like his mother's, sharp well-cut
features, and an extreme precision of dress and manner. His hands, which
were small and thin, were remarkable for their whiteness, and were
set-off by spotless wristbands, which it was his habit to smooth fondly
with his slim fingers in the intervals of his discourse. Mrs. Pallinson
rose and embraced this gentleman with stately affection.

"My son Theobald--Mr. Fenton," she said. "My son is a medical
practitioner, residing at Maida-hill; and it is a pleasure to him to
spend an occasional evening with his cousin Adela and myself."

"Whenever the exigencies of professional life leave me free to enjoy that
happiness," Mr. Pallinson added in a brisk semi-professional manner.
"Adela has been giving you some music, I see. I heard one of Handel's
choruses as I came upstairs."

He went into the front drawing-room, shook hands with Mrs. Branston, and
established himself with a permanent air beside the piano. Adela did not
seem particularly glad to see him; and John Saltram, who had met him
before in Cavendish-square, received him with supreme indifference.

"I am blessed, as I daresay you perceive, Mr. Fenton, in my only son,"
Mrs. Pallinson said, when the young man had withdrawn to the adjoining
apartment. "It was my misfortune to lose an admirable husband very early
in life; and I have been ever since that loss wholly devoted to my son
Theobald. My care has been amply rewarded by his goodness. He is a most
estimable and talented young man, and has already attained an excellent
position in the medical profession."

"You have reason to be proud of him," Gilbert answered kindly.

"I _am_ proud of him, Mr. Fenton. He is the sole delight and chief object
of my life. His career up to this hour has been all that the fondest
mother could desire. If I can only see him happily and advantageously
married, I shall have nothing left to wish for."

"Indeed!" thought Gilbert. "Then I begin to perceive the reason of Mrs.
Pallinson's anxiety about John Saltram. She wants to secure Mrs.
Branston's handsome fortune for this son of hers. Not much chance of
that, I think, fascinating as the doctor may be. Plain John Saltram
stands to win that prize."

They went into the front drawing-room presently, and heard Mr. Pallinson
play the "Hallelujah Chorus," arranged as a duet, with his cousin. He was a
young man who possessed several accomplishments in a small way--could sing
a little, and play the piano and guitar a little, sketch a little, and was
guilty of occasional effusions in the poetical line which were the palest,
most invertebrate reflections of Owen Meredith. In the Maida-hill and St.
John's-wood districts he was accounted an acquisition for an evening party;
and his dulcet accents and engaging manners had rendered him a favourite
with the young mothers of the neighbourhood, who believed implicitly in Mr.
Pallinson's gray powders when their little ones' digestive organs had been
impaired by injudicious diet, and confided in Mr. Pallinson's
carefully-expressed opinion as the fiat of an inscrutable power.

Mr. Theobald Pallinson himself cherished a very agreeable opinion of his
own merits. Life seemed to him made on purpose that Theobald Pallinson
should flourish and succeed therein. He could hardly have formed any idea
of the world except as an arena for himself. He was not especially given
to metaphysics; but it would not have been very difficult for him to
believe that the entire universe was an emanation from the brain of
Theobald Pallinson--a phenomenal world existing only in his sense of
sight and touch. Happy in this opinion of himself, it is not to be
supposed that the surgeon had any serious doubt of ultimate success with
his cousin. He regarded John Saltram as an interloper, who had gained
ground in Mrs. Branston's favour only by the accident of his own absence
from the stage. The Pallinsons had not been on visiting terms with Adela
during the life of the East Indian merchant, who had not shown himself
favourably disposed to his wife's relations; and by this means Mr.
Saltram had enjoyed advantages which Theobald Pallinson told himself
could not have been his, had he, Theobald, been at hand to engage his
cousin's attention by those superior qualities of mind and person which
must needs have utterly outshone the other. All that Mr. Pallinson wanted
was opportunity; and that being now afforded him, he looked upon the
happy issue of events as a certainty, and already contemplated the house
in Cavendish-square, the Indian jars and cabinets, the ivory chessmen and
filigree-silver rosewater-bottles, the inlaid desks and Japanese screens,
the ponderous plate and rare old wines, with a sense of prospective

It seemed as if John Saltram had favoured this gentleman's views by his
prolonged absence from the scene, holding himself completely aloof from
Adela Branston at a time when, had he been inclined to press his suit, he
might have followed her up closely. Mrs. Branston had been not a little
wounded by this apparent neglect on the part of one whom she loved better
than anything else in the world; but she was inclined to believe any
thing rather than that John Saltram did not care for her; and she had
contrived to console herself with the idea that his avoidance of her had
been prompted by a delicate consideration for her reputation, and a
respect for the early period of her mourning. To-night, in his society,
she had an air of happiness which became her wonderfully; and Gilbert
Fenton fancied that a man must needs be hard and cold whose heart could
not be won by so bright and gracious a creature.

She spoke more than once, in a half-playful way, of Mr. Saltram's absence
from London; but the deeper feeling underneath the lightness of her
manner was very evident to Gilbert.

"I suppose you will be running away from town again directly," she said,
"without giving any one the faintest notice of your intention. I can't
think what charm it is that you find in country life. I have so often
heard you profess your indifference to shooting, and the ordinary routine
of rustic existence. Perhaps the secret is, that you fear your reputation
as a man of fashion would suffer were you to be seen in London at such a
barbarous season as this."

"I have never rejoiced in a reputation for fashion," Mr. Saltram
answered, with his quiet smile--a smile that gave a wonderful brightness
to his face; "and I think I like London in the autumn better than at any
other time. One has room to move about. I have been in the country of
late because I really do appreciate rural surroundings, and have found
myself able to write better in the perfect quiet of rural life."

"It is rather hard upon your friends that you should devote all your days
to literature."

"And still harder upon the reading public, perhaps. But, my dear Mrs.
Branston, remember, I must write to live."

Adela gave a little impatient sigh. She was thinking how gladly she would
have made this man master of her ample fortune; wondering whether he
would ever claim from her the allegiance she was so ready to give.

Mr. Pallinson did his best to engage his cousin's attention during the
rest of the evening. He brought her her tea-cup, and hovered about her
while she sipped the beverage with that graceful air of suppressed
tenderness which constant practice in the drawing-rooms of Maida-hill had
rendered almost natural to him; but, do what he would, he could not
distract Mrs. Branston's thoughts and looks from John Saltram. It was on
him that her eyes were fixed while the accomplished Theobald was giving
her a lively account of a concert at the Eyre Arms; and it was the
fascination of his presence which made her answer at random to her
cousin's questions about the last volume of the Laureate's, which she had
been lately reading. Even Mr. Pallinson, obtuse as he was apt to be when
called upon to comprehend any fact derogatory to his own self-esteem,
was fain to confess to himself that this evening's efforts were futile,
and that this dark-faced stranger was the favourite for those matrimonial
stakes he had entered himself to run for. He looked at Mr. Saltram with a
critical eye many times in the course of the evening, wondering what
possible merit any sensible woman could perceive in such a man. But then,
as Theobald Pallinson reflected, the misfortune is that so few women are
sensible; and it was gradually becoming evident to him that Michael
Branston's widow was amongst the most foolish of her sex.

Mrs. Pallinson kept a sharp watch upon Adela throughout the evening,
plunging into the conversation every now and then with a somewhat
dictatorial and infallible air, and generally contriving to drag some
praise of Theobald into her talk: now dilating rapturously upon that
fever case which he had managed so wonderfully the other day, proving his
judgment superior to that of an eminent consulting physician; anon
launching out into laudation of his last poem, which had been set to
music by a young lady in St. John's-wood; and by-and-by informing the
company of her son's artistic talents, and his extraordinary capacity as
a judge of pictures. To these things the surgeon himself listened with a
deprecating air, smoothing his wristbands, and caressing his slim white
hands, while he playfully reproved his parent for her maternal weakness.

Mr. Pallinson held his ground near his cousin's chair till the last
moment, while John Saltram sat apart by one of the tables, listlessly
turning over a volume of engravings, and only looking up at long
intervals to join in the conversation. He had an absent weary look, which
puzzled Gilbert Fenton, who, being only a secondary personage in this
narrow circle, had ample leisure to observe his friend.

The three gentlemen left at the same time, Mr. Pallinson driving away in
a neat miniature brougham, after politely offering to convey his cousin's
guests to their destination. It was a bright starlight night, and Gilbert
walked to the Temple with John Saltram, through the quietest of the
streets leading east-wards. They lit their cigars as they left the
square, and walked for some time in a friendly companionable silence.
When they did speak, their talk was naturally of Adela Branston.

"I thought she was really charming to-night," Gilbert said, "in spite of
that fellow's efforts to absorb her attention. It is pretty easy to see
how the land lies in that direction; and it such a rival were likely to
injure you, you have a very determined one in Mr. Pallinson."

"Yes; the surgeon has evidently fixed his hopes upon poor old Michael
Branston's money. But I don't think he will succeed."

"You will not allow him to do so, I hope?"

"I don't know about that. Then you really admire the little woman,

"Very much; as much as I have ever admired any woman except Marian

"Ah, your Marian is a star, single and alone in her brightness, like that
planet up yonder! But Adela Branston is a good little soul, and will make
a charming wife. Gilbert, I wish to heaven you would fall in love with

Gilbert Fenton stared aghast at his companion, as he tossed the end of
his cigar into the gutter.

"Why, John, you must be mad to say such a thing."

"No, it is by no means a mad notion. I want to see you cured, Gilbert. I
do like you, dear boy, you know, as much as it is possible for a selfish
worthless fellow like me to like any man. I would give a great deal to
see you happy; and I am sure that you might be so as Adela Branston's
husband. I grant you that I am the favourite at present; but she is just
the sort of woman to be won by any man who would really prove himself
worthy of her. Her liking for me is a mere idle fancy, which would soon
die out for want of fuel. You are my superior in every way--younger,
handsomer, better. Why should you not go in for this thing, Gil?"

"Because I have no heart to give any woman, John. And even if I were
free, I would not give my heart to a woman whose affection had to be
diverted from another channel before it could be bestowed upon me. I
can't imagine what has put such a preposterous idea into your head, or
why it is that you shrink from improving your own chances with Mrs.

"You must not wonder at anything that I do or say, Gilbert. It is my
nature to do strange things--my destiny to take the wrong turning in

"When shall I see you again?" Gilbert asked, when they were parting at
the Temple gates.

"I can scarcely tell you that. I must go back to Oxford to-morrow."

"So soon?"

"Yes, my work gets on better down there. I will let you know directly I
return to London."

On this they parted, Gilbert considerably mystified by his friend's
conduct, but not caring to push his questions farther. He had his own
affairs to think of, that one business which absorbed almost the whole of
his thoughts--the business of his search for the man who had robbed him
of his promised wife, this interval, in which he remained inactive,
devoting himself to the duties of his commercial life, was only a pause
in his labours. He was not the less bent upon bringing about a
face-to-face meeting between himself and Marian's husband because of this
brief suspension of his efforts.



While Gilbert Fenton was deliberating what steps to take next in his
quest of his unknown enemy, a gentleman arrived at a small hotel near
Charing Cross--a gentleman who was evidently a stranger to England, and
whose portmanteaus and other travelling paraphernalia bore the names of
New York manufacturers. He was a portly individual of middle age, and was
still eminently handsome. He dressed well, lived expensively, and had
altogether a prosperous appearance. He took care to inform the landlord
of the hotel that he was not an American, but had returned to the land of
his birth after an absence of something like fifteen years, and after
realizing a handsome fortune upon the other side of the Atlantic. He was
a very gracious and communicative person, and seemed to take life in an
easy agreeable manner, like a man whose habit it was to look on the
brighter side of all things, provided his own comfort was secured. Norton
Percival was the name on this gentleman's luggage, and on the card which
he gave to the waiter whom he desired to look after his letters. After
dining sumptuously on the evening of his arrival in London, this Mr.
Percival strolled out in the autumn darkness, and made his way through
the more obscure streets between Charing Cross and Wardour-street. The
way seemed familiar enough to him, and he only paused now and then to
take note of some alteration in the buildings which he had to pass. The
last twenty years have not made much change in this neighbourhood, and
the traveller from New York found little to surprise him.

"The place looks just as dull and dingy as it used to look when I was a
lad," he said to himself. "I daresay I shall find the old court unchanged
in all these years. But shall I find the old man alive? I doubt that.
Dead more likely, and his money gone to strangers. I wonder whether he
had much money, or whether he was really as poor as he made himself out.
It's difficult to say. I know I made him bleed pretty freely, at one time
and another, before he turned rusty; and it's just possible I may have
had pretty nearly all he had to give."

He was in Wardour-street by this time, looking at the dimly-lighted shops
where brokers' ware of more or less value, old oak carvings, doubtful
pictures, and rusted armour loomed duskily upon the passer-by. At the
corner of Queen Anne's Court he paused, and peered curiously into the
narrow alley.

"The court is still here, at any rate," he muttered to himself, "and I
shall soon settle the other question."

His heart beat faster than it was wont to beat as he drew near his
destination. Was it any touch of real feeling, or only selfish
apprehension, that quickened its throbbing? The man's life had been so
utterly reckless of others, that it would be dangerous to give him credit
for any affectionate yearning--any natural remorseful pang in such a
moment as this. He had lived for self, and self alone; and his own
interests were involved in the issue of to-night.

A few steps brought him before Jacob Nowell's window. Yes, it was just as
he remembered it twenty years before--the same dingy old silver, the same
little heap of gold, the same tray of tarnished jewelry glimmered in the
faint light of a solitary gas-burner behind the murky glass. On the
door-plate there was still Jacob Nowell's name. Yet all this might mean
nothing. The grave might have closed over the old silversmith, and the
interest of trade necessitate the preservation of the familiar name.

The gentleman calling himself Percival went into the shop. How well he
remembered the sharp jangling sound of the bell! and how intensely he had
hated it and all the surroundings of his father's sordid life in the days
when he was pursuing his headlong career as a fine gentleman, and only
coming to Queen Anne's Court for money! He remembered what an incubus the
shop had been upon him; what a pursuing phantom and perpetual image of
his degradation in the days of his University life, when he was
incessantly haunted by the dread that his father's social status would be
discovered. The atmosphere of the place brought back all the old
feelings, and he was young again, a nervous supplicant for money, which
was likely to be refused to him.

The sharp peal of the bell produced Mr. Luke Tulliver, who emerged from a
little den in a corner at the back of the shop, where he had been engaged
copying items into a stock-book by the light of a solitary tallow-candle.
The stranger looked like a customer, and Mr. Tulliver received him
graciously, turning up the gas over the counter, which had been burning
at a diminished and economical rate hitherto.

"Did you wish to look at anything in antique silver, sir?" he asked
briskly. "We have some very handsome specimens of the Queen Anne period."

"No, I don't want to look at anything. I want to know whether Jacob
Nowell is still living?"

"Yes, sir. Mr. Nowell is my master. You might, have noticed his name upon
the door-plate if you had looked! Do you wish to see him?"

"I do. Tell him that I am an old friend, just come from America."

Luke Tulliver went into the parlour behind the half-glass door, Norton
Percival following upon him closely. He heard the old man's voice saying,

"I have no friend in America; but you may tell the person to come in; I
will see him."

The voice trembled a little; and the silversmith had raised himself from
his chair, and was looking eagerly towards the door as Norton Percival
entered, not caring to wait for any more formal invitation. The two men
faced each other silently in the dim light from one candle on the
mantelpiece, Jacob Nowell looking intently at the bearded face of his

"You can go, Tulliver," he said sharply to the shopman. "I wish to be
alone with this gentleman."

Luke Tulliver departed with his usual reluctant air, closing the door as
slowly as it was possible for him to close it, and staring at the
stranger till the last moment that it was possible for him to stare.

When he was gone the old man took the candle from the mantelpiece, and
held it up before the bearded face of the traveller.

"Yes, yes, yes," he said slowly; "at last! It is you, Percival, my only
son. I thought you were dead long ago. I had a right to consider you

"If I had thought my existence could be a matter of interest to you, I
should hardly have so long refrained from all communication with you. But
your letters led me to suppose you utterly indifferent to my fate."

"I offered you and your wife a home."

"Yes, but on conditions that were impossible to me. I had some pride in
those days. My education had not fitted me to stand behind a counter and
drive hard bargains with dealers of doubtful honesty. Nor could I bring
my wife to such a home as this."

"The time came when you left that poor creature without any home," said
the old man sternly.

"Necessity has no law, my dear father. You may imagine that my life,
without a profession and without any reliable resources, has been rather
precarious. When I seemed to have acted worst, I have been only the slave
of circumstances."

"Indeed! and have you no pity for the fate of your wife, no interest in
the life of your only child?"

"My wife was a poor helpless creature, who contrived to make my life
wretched," Mr. Nowell, alias Percival, answered coolly. "I gave her every
sixpence I possessed when I sent her home to England; but luck went dead
against me for a long time after that, and I could neither send her money
nor go to her. When I heard of her death, I heard in an indirect way that
my child had been adopted by some old fool of a half-pay officer; and I
was naturally glad of an accident which relieved me of a heavy incubus.
An opportunity occurred about the same time of my entering on a tolerably
remunerative career as agent for some Belgian ironworks in America; and I
had no option but to close with the offer at once or lose the chance
altogether. I sailed for New York within a fortnight after poor Lucy's
death, and have lived in America for the last fifteen years. I have
contrived to establish a tolerably flourishing trade there on my own
account; a trade that only needs capital to become one of the first in
New York."

"Capital!" echoed Jacob Nowell; "I thought there was something wanted. It
would have been a foolish fancy to suppose that affection could have had
anything to do with your coming to me."

"My dear father, it is surely possible that affection and interest may
sometimes go together. Were I a pauper, I would not venture to present
myself before you at all; but as a tolerably prosperous trader, with the
ability to propose an alliance that should be to our mutual advantage, I
considered I might fairly approach you."

"I have no money to invest in your trade," the old man answered sternly.
"I am a very poor man, impoverished for life by the wicked extravagance
of your youth. If you have come to me with any hope of obtaining money
from me, you have wasted time and trouble."

"Let that subject drop, then," Percival Nowell said lightly. "I suppose
you have some remnant of regard for me, in spite of our old
misunderstanding, and that my coming is not quite indifferent to you."

"No," the other answered, with a touch of melancholy; "it is not
indifferent to me. I have waited for your return these many years. You
might have found me more tenderly disposed towards you, had you come
earlier; but there are some feelings which seem to wear out as a man
grows older,--affections that grow paler day by day, like colours fading
in the sun. Still, I am glad to see you once more before I die. You are
my only son, and you must needs he something nearer to me than the rest
of the world, in spite of all that I have suffered at your hands."

"I could not come back to England sooner than this," the young man said
presently. "I had a hard battle to fight out yonder."

There had been very little appearance of emotion upon either side so far.
Percival Nowell took things as coolly as it was his habit to take
everything, while his father carefully concealed whatever deeper feeling
might be stirred in the depths of his heart by this unexpected return.

"You do not ask any questions about the fate of your only child," the
old man said, by-and-by.

"My dear father, that is of course a subject of lively interest to me;
but I did not suppose that you could be in a position to give me any
information upon that point."

"I do happen to know something about your daughter, but not much."

Jacob Nowell went on to tell his son all that he had heard from Gilbert
Fenton respecting Marian's marriage. Of his own advertisements, and
wasted endeavours to find her, he said nothing.

"And this fellow whom she has jilted is pretty well off, I suppose?"
Percival said thoughtfully.

"He is an Australian merchant, and, I should imagine, in prosperous

"Foolish girl! And this Holbrook is no doubt an adventurer, or he would
scarcely have married her in such a secret way. Have you any wish that
she should be found?"

"Yes, I have a fancy for seeing her before I die. She is my own flesh and
blood, like you, and has not injured me as you have. I should like to see

"And if she happened to take your fancy, you would leave her all your
money, I suppose?"

"Who told you that I have money to leave?" cried the old man sharply.
"Have I not said that I am a poor man, hopelessly impoverished by your

"Bah, my dear father, that is all nonsense. My extravagance is a question
of nearly twenty years ago. If I had swamped all you possessed in those
days--which I don't for a moment believe--you have had ample time to make
a fresh fortune since then. You would never have lived all those years in
Queen Anne's Court, except for the sake of money-making. Why, the place
stinks of money. I know your tricks: buying silver from men who are in
too great a hurry to sell it to be particular about the price; lending
money at sixty per cent, a sixty which comes to eighty before the
transaction is finished. A man does not lead such a life as yours for
nothing. You are rolling in money, and you mean to punish me by leaving
it all to Marian."

The silversmith grew pale with anger during this speech of his son's.

"You are a consummate scoundrel," he said, "and are at liberty to think
what you please. I tell you, once for all, I am as poor as Job. But if I
had a million, I would not give you a sixpence of it."

"So be it," the other answered gaily. "I have not performed the duties of
a parent very punctually hitherto; but I don't mind taking some trouble
to find this girl while I am in England, in order that she may not lose
her chances with you."

"You need give yourself no trouble on that score. Mr. Fenton has promised
to find her for me."

"Indeed! I should like to see this Mr. Fenton."

"You can see him if you please; but you are scarcely likely to get a warm
reception in that quarter. Mr. Fenton knows what you have been to your
daughter and to me."

"I am not going to fling myself into his arms. I only want to hear all he
can tell me about Marian."

"How long do you mean to stay in England?"

"That is entirely dependent upon the result of my visit. I had hoped that
if I found you living, which I most earnestly desired might be the case,
I should find in you a friend and coadjutor. I am employed in starting a
great iron company, which is likely--I may say certain--to result in
large gains to all concerned in it; and I fancied I should experience no
difficulty in securing your co-operation. There are the prospectuses of
the scheme" (he flung a heap of printed papers on the table before his
father), "and there is not a line in them that I cannot guarantee on my
credit as a man of business. You can look over them at your leisure, or
not, as you please. I think you must know that I always had an
independent spirit, and would be the last of mankind to degrade myself by
any servile attempt to alter your line of conduct towards me."

"Independent spirit! Yes!" cried the old man in a mocking tone; "a son
extorts every sixpence he can from his father and mother--ay, Percy, from
his weak loving mother; I know who robbed me to send you money--and then,
when he can extort no more, boasts of his independence. But that will do.
There is no need that we should quarrel. After twenty years' severance,
we can afford to let bygones be bygones. I have told you that I am glad
to see you. If you come to me with disinterested feelings, that is
enough. You may take back your prospectuses. I have nothing to embark in
Yankee speculations. If your scheme is a good one, you will find plenty
of enterprising spirits willing to join you; if it is a bad one, I
daresay you will contrive to find dupes. You can come and see me again
when you please. And now good-night. I find this kind of talk rather
tiring at my age."

"One word before I leave you," said Percival. "On reflection, I think it
will be as well to say nothing about my presence in England to this Mr.
Fenton. I shall be more free to hunt for Marian without his co-operation,
even supposing he were inclined to give it. You have told me all that he
could tell me, I daresay."

"I believe I have."

"Precisely. Therefore no possible good could come of an encounter between
him and me, and I shall be glad if you will keep my name dark."

"As you please, though I can see no reason for secrecy in the matter."

"It is not a question of secrecy, but only of prudential reserve."

"It may be as you wish," answered the old man, carelessly. "Good-night."

He shook hands with his son, who departed without having broken bread in
his father's house, a little dashed by the coldness of his reception, but
not entirely without hope that some profit might arise to him out of this
connection in the future.

"The girl must be found," he said to himself. "I am convinced there has
been a great fortune made in that dingy hole. Better that it should go to
her than to a stranger. I'm very sorry she's married; but if this
Holbrook is the adventurer I suppose him, the marriage may come to
nothing. Yes; I must find her. A father returned from foreign lands is
rather a romantic notion--the sort of notion a girl is pretty sure to
take kindly to."



Gilbert Fenton saw no more of his friend John Saltram after that Sunday
evening which they had spent together in Cavendish-square. He called upon
Mrs. Branston before the week was ended, and was so fortunate as to find
that lady alone; Mrs. Pallinson having gone on a shopping expedition in
her kinswoman's dashing brougham.

The pretty little widow received Gilbert very graciously; but there was a
slight shade of melancholy in her manner, a pensiveness which softened
and refined her, Gilbert thought. Nor was it long before she allowed him
to discover the cause of her sadness. After a little conventional talk
upon indifferent subjects, she began to speak of John Saltram.

"Have you seen much of your friend Mr. Saltram since Sunday?" she asked,
with that vain endeavour to speak carelessly with which a woman generally
betrays her real feeling.

"I have not seen him at all since Sunday. He told me he was going back to
Oxford--or the neighbourhood of Oxford, I believe--almost immediately;
and I have not troubled myself to hunt him up at his chambers."

"Gone back already!" Mrs. Branston exclaimed, with a disappointed
petulant look that was half-childish, half-womanly. "I cannot imagine
what charm he finds in a dull village on the banks of the river. He has
confessed that the place is the dreariest and most obscure in the world,
and that he has neither shooting nor any other kind of amusement. There
must be some mysterious attraction, Mr. Fenton. I think your friend is a
good deal changed of late. Haven't you found him so?"

"No, Mrs. Branston, I cannot say that I have discovered any marked
alteration in him since my return from Australia. John Saltram was always
wayward and fitful. He may have been a little more so lately, perhaps,
but that is all."

"You have a very high opinion of him, I suppose?"

"He is very dear to me. We were something more than friends in the
ordinary acceptation of the word. Do you remember the story of those two
noble young Venetians who inscribed upon their shield _Fraires, non
amici?_ Saltram and I have been brothers rather than friends."

"And you think him a good man?" Adela asked anxiously.

"Most decidedly; I have reason to think so. I believe him to be a
noble-hearted and honourable man; a little neglectful or disdainful of
conventionalities, wearing his faith in God and his more sacred feelings
anywhere than upon his sleeve; but a man who cannot fail to come right in
the long-run."

"I am so glad to hear you say that. I have known Mr. Saltram some time,
as you may have heard and like him very much. But my cousin Mrs.
Pallinson has quite an aversion to him, and speaks against him with such
a positive air at times, that I have been almost inclined to think she
must be right. I am very inexperienced in the ways of the world, and am
naturally disposed to lean a little upon the opinions of others."

"But don't you think there may be a reason for Mrs. Pallinson's dislike
of my friend?"

Adela Branston blushed at this question, and then laughed a little.

"I think I know what you mean," she said. "Yes, it is just possible that
Mrs. Pallinson may be jealously disposed towards any acquaintance of
mine, on account of that paragon of perfection, her son Theobald. I have
not been so blind as not to see her views in that quarter. But be
assured, Mr. Fenton, that whatever may happen to me, I shall never become
Mrs. Theobald Pallinson."

"I hope not. I am quite ready to acknowledge Mr. Pallinson's merits and
accomplishments, but I do not think him worthy of you."

"It is rather awful, isn't it, for me to speak of marriage at all within
a few months of my husband's death? But when a woman has money, people
will not allow her to forget that she is a widow for ever so short a
time. But it is quite a question if I shall ever marry again. I have very
little doubt that real happiness is most likely to be found in a wise
avoidance of all the perils and perplexities of that foolish passion
which we read of in novels, if one could only be wise; don't you think
so, Mr. Fenton?"

"My own experience inclines me to agree with you, Mrs. Branston," Gilbert
answered, smiling at the little woman's naivete.

"Your own experience has been unfortunate, then? I wish I were worthy of
your confidence. Mr. Saltram told me some time ago that you were engaged
to a very charming young lady."

"The young lady in question has jilted me."

"Indeed! And you are very angry with her, of course?"

"I loved her too well to be angry with her. I reserve my indignation for
the scoundrel who stole her from me."

"It is very generous of you to make excuses for the lady," Mrs. Branston
said; and would fain have talked longer of this subject, but Gilbert
concluded his visit at this juncture, not caring to discuss his troubles
with the sympathetic widow.

He left the great gloomy gorgeous house in Cavendish square more than
ever convinced of Adela Branston's affection for his friend, more than
ever puzzled by John Saltram's indifference to so advantageous an

Within a few days of this visit Gilbert Fenton left London. He had
devoted himself unflinchingly to his business since his return to
England, and had so planned and organized his affairs as to be able now
to absent himself for some little time from the City. He was going upon
what most men would have called a fool's errand--his quest of Marian's
husband; but he was going with a steady purpose in his breast--a
determination never to abandon the search till it should result in
success. He might have to suspend it from time to time, should he
determine to continue his commercial career; but the purpose would be
nevertheless the ruling influence of his life.

He had but one clue for his guidance in setting out upon this voyage of
discovery. Miss Long had told him that the newly-married couple were to
go to some farm-house in Hampshire which had been lent to Mr. Holbrook by
a friend. It was in Hampshire, therefore, that Gilbert resolved to make
his first inquiries. He told himself that success was merely a question
of time and patience. The business of tracing these people, who were not
to be found by any public inquiry, would be slow and wearisome no doubt.
He was prepared for that. He was prepared for a thousand failures and
disappointments before he alighted on the one place in which Mr.
Holbrook's name must needs be known, the town or village nearest to the
farm-house that had been lent to him. And even if, after unheard-of
trouble and perseverance on his part, he should find the place he wanted,
it was quite possible that Marian and her husband would have gone
elsewhere, and his quest would have to begin afresh. But he fancied that
he could hardly fail to obtain some information as to their plan of life,
if he could find the place where they had stayed after their marriage.

His own scheme of action was simple enough. He had only to travel from
place to place, making careful inquiries at post-offices and in all
likely quarters at every stage of his journey. He went straight to
Winchester, having a fancy for the quiet old city and the fair pastoral
scenery surrounding it, and thinking that Mr. Holbrook's borrowed retreat
might possibly be in this neighbourhood. The business proved even slower
and more tedious than he had supposed; there were so many farms round
about Winchester, so many places which seemed likely enough, and to which
he went, only to find that no person of the name of Holbrook had ever
been heard of by the inhabitants.

He made his head-quarters in the cathedral city for nearly a week, and
explored the country round, in a radius of thirty miles, without the
faintest success. It was fine autumn weather, calm and clear, the foliage
still upon the trees, in all its glory of gold and brown, with patches of
green lingering here and there in sheltered places. The country was very
beautiful, and Gilbert Fenton's work would have been pleasant enough if
the elements of peace had been in his breast. But they were not. Bitter
regrets for all he had lost, uneasy fears and wild imaginings about the
fate of her whom he still loved with a fond useless passion,--these and
other gloomy thoughts haunted him day by flay, clouding the calm
loveliness of the scenes on which he looked, until all outer things
seemed to take their colour from his own mind. He had loved Marian Nowell
as it is not given to many men to love; and with the loss of her, it
seemed to him as if the very springs of his life were broken. All the
machinery of his existence was loosened and out of gear, and he could
scarcely have borne the dreary burden of his days, had it not been for
that one feverish hope of finding the man who had wronged him.

The week ended without bringing him in the smallest degree nearer the
chance of success. Happily for himself, he had not expected to succeed in
a week. On leaving Winchester, he started on a kind of vagabond tour
through the county, on a horse which he hired in the cathedral city, and
which carried him from twenty to thirty miles a day. This mode of
travelling enabled him to explore obscure villages and out-of-the-way
places that lay off the line of railway. Everywhere he made the same
inquiries, everywhere with the same result. Another week came to an end.
He had made his voyage of discovery through more than half of the county,
as his pocket-map told him, and was still no nearer success than when he
left London.

He spent his Sunday at a comfortable inn in a quiet little town, where
there was a curious old church, and a fine peal of bells that seemed to
him to be ringing all day long. It was a dull rainy day. He went to
church in the morning, and in the afternoon stood at the coffee-room
window watching the townspeople going by to their devotions in an absent
unseeing way, and thinking of his own troubles; pausing, just a little,
now and then, from that egotistical brooding to wonder how these people
endured the dull monotonous round of their lives, and what crosses and
disappointments they had to suffer in their small obscure way.

The inn was very empty, and the landlord waited upon Mr. Fenton in person
at his dinner. Gilbert had the coffee-room all to himself, and it looked
comfortable enough when the curtains were drawn, the lamps lighted, and
the small dinner-table wheeled in front of a blazing fire.

"I have been thinking over what you were asking me last night, sir," the
host of the White Swan began, while Gilbert was eating his fish; "and
though I can't say that I ever heard the name of Holbrook, I fancy I may
have seen the lady and gentleman you are looking for."

"Indeed!" exclaimed Gilbert eagerly, pushing away his plate, and turning
full on the landlord.

"I hope you won't let me spoil your dinner, sir; I know that sole's
fresh. I'm a pretty good judge of those things, and choose every bit of
fish that's cooked in this house. But as I was saying, sir, with regard
to this lady and gentleman, I think you said that the people you are
looking for were strangers to this part of the country, and were
occupying a farm-house that had been lent to them."


"Well, sir, I remember some time in the early part of the year, I think
it must have been about March----"

"Yes, the people I am looking for would have arrived in March."

"Indeed, sir! That makes it seem likely. I remember a lady and gentleman
coming here from the railway station--we've got a station close by our
town, as you know, sir, I daresay. They wanted a fly to take them and
their luggage on somewhere--I can't for the life of me remember the name
of the place--but it was a ten-mile drive, and it was a farm--_that_ I
could swear to--Something Farm. If it had been a place I'd known, I think
I should have remembered the name."

"Can I see the man who drove them?" Gilbert asked quickly.

"The young man that drove them, sir, has left me, and has left these
parts a month come next Tuesday. Where he has gone is more than I can
tell you. He was very good with horses; but he turned out badly, cheated
me up hill and down dale, as you may say--though what hills and dales
have got to do with it is more than I can tell--and I was obliged to get
rid of him."

"That's provoking. But if the people I want are anywhere within ten miles
of this place, I don't suppose I should be long finding them. Yet the
mere fact of two strangers coming here, and going on to some place called
a farm, seems very slight ground to go upon. The month certainly
corresponds with the time at which Mr. and Mrs. Holbrook came to
Hampshire. Did you take any particular notice of them?"

"I took particular notice of the lady. She was as pretty a woman as ever
I set eyes upon--quite a girl. I noticed that the gentleman was very
careful and tender with her when he put her into the carriage, wrapping
her up, and so on. He looked a good deal older than her, and I didn't
much like his looks altogether."

"Could you describe him?"

"Well--no, sir. The time was short, and he was wrapped up a good deal;
the collar of his overcoat turned up, and a scarf round his neck. He had
dark eyes, I remember, and rather a stern look in them."

This was rather too vague a description to make any impression upon
Gilbert. It was something certainly to know that his rival had dark eyes,
if indeed this man of whom the landlord spoke really were his rival. He
had never been able to make any mental picture of the stranger who had
come between him and his betrothed. He had been inclined to fancy that
the man must needs be much handsomer than himself, possessed of every
outward attribute calculated to subjugate the mind of an inexperienced
girl like Marian; but the parish-clerk at Wygrove and Miss Long had both
spoken in a disparaging tone of Mr. Holbrook's personal appearance; and,
remembering this, he was fain to believe that Marian had been won by some
charm more subtle than that of a handsome face.

He went on eating his dinner in silence for some little time, meditating
upon what the landlord had told him. Then, as the man cleared the table,
lingering over his work, as if eager to impart any stray scraps of
information he might possess, Gilbert spoke to him again.

"I should have fancied that, as a settled inhabitant of the place, you
would be likely to know every farm and farm-house within ten miles--or
within twenty miles," he said.

"Well, sir, I daresay I do know the neighbourhood pretty well, in a
general way. But I think, if I'd known the name of the place this lady
and gentleman were going to, it would have struck me more than it did,
and I should have remembered it. I was uncommonly busy through that
afternoon, for it was market-day, and there were a mort of people going
in and out. I never did interfere much with the fly business; it was only
by taking the gentleman out some soda-and-brandy that I came to take the
notice I did of the lady's looks and his care of her. I know it was a
ten-mile drive, and that I told the gentleman the fare, so as there might
be no bother between him and William Tyler, my man, at the end; and he
agreed to it in a liberal off-hand kind of way, like a man who doesn't
care much for money. As to farms within ten miles of here, there are a
dozen at least, one way and another--some small, and some large."

"Do you know of any place in the ownership of a gentleman who would be
likely to lend his house to a friend?"

"I can't say I do, sir. They're tenant-farmers about here mostly, and
rather a roughish lot, as you may say. There's a place over beyond
Crosber, ten miles off and more; I don't know the name of it, or the
person it belongs to; but I've noticed it many a time as I've driven by;
a curious old-fashioned house, standing back off one of the lanes out of
Crosber, with a large garden before it. A queer lonesome place
altogether. I should take it to be two or three hundred years old; and I
shouldn't think the house had had money spent upon it within the memory
of man. It's a dilapidated tumbledown old gazabo of a place, and yet
there's a kind of prettiness about it in summer-time, when the garden is
full of flowers. There's a river runs through some of the land about half
a mile from the house."

"What kind of a place is Crosber?"

"A bit of a village on the road from here to Portsmouth. The house I'm
telling you about is a mile from Crosber at the least, away from the main
road. There's two or three lanes or by-roads about there, and it lies in
one of them that turns sharp off by the Blue Boar, which is about the
only inn where you can bait a horse thereabouts."

"I'll ride over there to-morrow morning, and have a look at this queer
old house. You might give me the names of any other farms you know about
this neighbourhood, and their occupants."

This the landlord was very ready to do. He ran over the names of from ten
to fifteen places, which Gilbert jotted down upon a leaf of his
pocket-book, afterwards planning his route upon the map of the county
which he carried for his guidance. He set put early the next morning
under a low gray sky, with clouds in the distance that threatened rain.
The road from the little market-town to Crosber possessed no especial
beauty. The country was flat and uninteresting about here, and needed
the glory of its summer verdure to brighten and embellish it. But Mr.
Fenton did not give much thought to the scenes through which he went at
this time; the world around and about him was all of one colour--the
sunless gray which pervaded his own life. To-day the low dull sky and the
threatening clouds far away upon the level horizon harmonised well with
his own thoughts--with the utter hopelessness of his mind.
Hopelessness!--yes, that was the word. He had hazarded all upon this one
chance, and its failure was the shipwreck of his life. The ruin was
complete. He could not build up a new scheme of happiness. In the full
maturity of his manhood, his fate had come to him. He was not the kind of
man who can survive the ruin of his plans, and begin afresh with other
hopes and still fairer dreams. It was his nature to be constant. In all
his life he had chosen for himself only one friend--in all his life he
had loved but one woman.

He came to the little village, with its low sloping-roofed cottages,
whose upper stories abutted upon the road and overshadowed the casements
below; and where here and there a few pennyworths of gingerbread, that
seemed mouldy with the mould of ages, a glass pickle-bottle of
bull's-eyes or sugar-sticks, and half a dozen penny bottles of ink,
indicated the commercial tendencies of Crosber. A little farther on, he
came to a rickety-looking corner-house, with a steep thatched roof
overgrown by stonecrop and other parasites, which was evidently the shop
of the village, inasmuch as one side of the window exhibited a show of
homely drapery, while the other side was devoted to groceries, and a
shelf above laden with great sprawling loaves of bread. This
establishment was also the post-office, and here Gilbert resolved to make
his customary inquiries, when he had put up his horse.

Almost immediately opposite this general emporium, the sign of the Blue
Boar swung proudly across the street in front of a low rather
dilapidated-looking hostelry, with a wide frontage, and an archway
leading into a spacious desolate yard, where one gloomy cock of Spanish
descent was crowing hoarsely on the broken roof of a shed, surrounded by
four or five shabby-looking hens, all in the most wobegone stage of
moulting, and appearing as if eggs were utterly remote from their
intentions. This Blue Boar was popularly supposed to have been a most
distinguished and prosperous place in the coaching days, when twenty
coaches passed daily through the village of Crosber; and was even now
much affected as a place of resort by the villagers, to the sore vexation
of the rector and such good people as believed in the perfectibility of
the human race and the ultimate suppression of public-houses.

Here Mr. Fenton dismounted, and surrendered his horse to the keeping of
an unkempt bareheaded youth who emerged from one of the dreary-looking
buildings in the yard, announced himself as the hostler, and led off the
steed in triumph to a wilderness of a stable, where the landlord's pony
and a fine colony of rats were luxuriating in the space designed for some
twelve or fifteen horses.

Having done this, Gilbert crossed the road to the post-office, where he
found the proprietor, a deaf old man, weighing half-pounds of sugar in
the background, while a brisk sharp-looking girl stood behind the counter
sorting a little packet of letters.

It was to the damsel, as the more intelligent of these two, that Gilbert
addressed himself, beginning of course with the usual question. Did she
know any one, a stranger, sojourning in that neighbourhood called

The girl shook her head without a moment's hesitation. No, she knew no
one of that name.

"And I suppose all the letters for people in this neighbourhood pass
through your hands?"

"Yes, sir, all of them; I couldn't have failed to notice if there had
been any one of that name."

Gilbert gave a little weary sigh. The information given him by the
landlord of the White Swan had seemed to bring him so very near the
object of his search, and here he was thrown back all at once upon the
wide field of conjecture, not a whit nearer any certain knowledge. It was
true that Crosber was only one among several places within ten miles of
the market-town, and the strangers who had been driven from the White
Swan in March last might have gone to any one of those other localities.
His inquiries were not finished yet, however.

"There is an old house about a mile from here," he said to the girl; "a
house belonging to a farm, in the lane yonder that turns off by the Blue
Boar. Have you any notion to whom it belongs, or who lives there?"

"An old house in that lane across the way?" the girl said, reflecting.
"That's Golder's lane, and leads to Golder's-green. There's not many
houses there; it's rather a lonesome kind of place. Do you mean a big
old-fashioned house standing far back in a garden?"

"Yes; that must be the place I want to know about."

"It must be the Grange, surely. It was a gentleman's house once; but
there's only a bailiff lives there now. The farm belongs to some
gentleman down in Midlandshire, a baronet; I can't call to mind his name
at this moment, though I have heard it often enough. Mr. Carley's
daughter--Carley is the name of the bailiff at the Grange--comes here for
all they want."

Gilbert gave a little start at the name of Midlandshire. Lidford was in
Midlandshire. Was it not likely to be a Midlandshire man who had lent
Marian's husband his house?

"Do you know if these people at the Grange have had any one staying with
them lately--any lodgers?" he asked the girl.

"Yes; they have lodgers pretty well every summer. There were some people
this year, a lady and gentleman; but they never seemed to have any
letters, and I can't tell you their names."

"Are they living there still?"

"I can't tell you that. I used to see them at church now and then in the
summer-time; but I haven't seen them lately. There's a church at
Golder's-green almost as near, and they may have been there."

"Will you tell me what they were like?" Gilbert asked eagerly.

His heart was beating loud and fast, making a painful tumult in his
breast. He felt assured that he was on the track of the people whom the
innkeeper had described to him; the people who were, in all probability,
Mr. and Mrs. Holbrook.

"The lady is very pretty and very young--quite a girl. The gentleman
older, dark, and not handsome."

"Yes. Has the lady gray eyes, and dark-brown hair, and a very bright
expressive face?"

"Yes, sir."

"Pray try to remember the name of the gentleman to whom the Grange
belongs. It is of great importance to me to know that."

"I'll ask my father, sir," the girl answered good-naturedly; "he's pretty
sure to know."

She went across the shop to the old man who was weighing sugar, and

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