Part 4 out of 10
bawled her question into his ear. He scratched his head in a meditative
way for some moments.
"I've heard the name times and often," he said, "though I never set eyes
upon the gentleman. William Carley has been bailiff at the Grange these
twenty years, and I don't believe as the owner has ever come nigh the
place in all that time. Let me see,--it's a common name enough, though
the gentleman is a baronight. Forster--that's it--Sir something Forster."
"Sir David?" cried Gilbert.
"You've hit it, sir. Sir David Forster--that's the gentleman."
Sir David Forster! He had little doubt after this that the strangers at
the Grange had been Marian and her husband. Treachery, blackest treachery
somewhere. He had questioned Sir David, and had received his positive
assurance that this man Holbrook was unknown to him; and now, against
that there was the fact that the baronet was the owner of a place in
Hampshire, to be taken in conjunction with that other fact that a place
in Hampshire had been lent to Mr. Holbrook by a friend. At the very first
he had been inclined to believe that Marian's lover must needs be one of
the worthless bachelor crew with which the baronet was accustomed to
surround himself. He had only abandoned that notion after his interview
with Sir David Forster; and now it seemed that the baronet had
deliberately lied to him. It was, of course, just possible that he was on
a false scent after all, and that it was to some other part of the
country Mr. Holbrook had brought his bride; but such a coincidence
seemed, at the least, highly improbable. There was no occasion for him to
remain in doubt very long, however. At the Grange he must needs be able
to obtain more definite information.
FACE TO FACE.
Gilbert Fenton left the homely little post-office and turned into the
lane leading to Golder's-green--a way which may have been pleasant enough
in summer, but had no especial charm at this time. The level expanse of
bare ploughed fields on each side of the narrow road had a dreary look;
the hedges were low and thin; a tall elm, with all its lower limbs
mercilessly shorn, uplifted its topmost branches to the dull gray sky,
here and there, like some transformed prophetess raising her gaunt arms
in appeal or malediction; an occasional five-barred gate marked the
entrance to some by-road to the farm; on one side of the way a deep
black-looking ditch lay under the scanty shelter of the low hedge, and
hinted at possible water rats to the traveller from cities who might
happen to entertain a fastidious aversion to such small deer.
The mile seemed a very long one to Gilbert Fenton. Since his knowledge of
Sir David Forster's ownership of the house to which he was going, his
impatience was redoubled. He had a feverish eagerness to come at the
bottom of this mystery. That Sir David had lied to him, he had very
little doubt. Whoever this Mr. Holbrook was, it was more likely that he
should have escaped the notice of Lidford people as a guest at Heatherly
than under any other circumstances. At Heatherly it was such a common
thing for strangers to come and go, that even the rustic gossips had left
off taking much interest in the movements of the Baronet or his guests.
There was one thought that flashed suddenly into Gilbert's mind during
that gloomy walk under the lowering gray sky.
If this man Holbrook were indeed a friend of Sir David Forster's, how
did it happen that John Saltram had failed to recognize his name? The
intimacy between Forster and Saltram was of such old standing, that it
seemed scarcely likely that any acquaintance of Sir David's could be
completely unknown to the other. Were they all united in treachery
against him? Had his chosen friend--the man he loved so well--been able
to enlighten him, and had he coldly withheld his knowledge? No, he told
himself, that was not possible. Sir David Forster might be the falsest,
most unprincipled of mankind; but he could not believe John Saltram
capable of baseness, or even coldness, towards him.
He was at the end of his journey by this time. The Grange stood in front
of him--a great rambling building, with many gables, gray lichen-grown
walls, and quaint old diamond-paned casements in the upper stories.
Below, the windows were larger, and had an Elizabethan look, with patches
of stained glass here and there. The house stood back from the road, with
a spacious old-fashioned garden before it; a garden with flower-beds of a
Dutch design, sheltered from adverse winds by dense hedges of yew and
holly; a pleasant old garden enough, one could fancy, in summer weather.
The flower-beds were for the most part empty now, and the only flowers to
be seen were pale faded-looking chrysanthemums and Michaelmas daises. The
garden was surrounded by a high wall, and Gilbert contemplated it first
through the rusty scroll-work of a tall iron gate, surmounted by the arms
and monogram of the original owner. On one side of the house there was a
vast pile of building, comprising stables and coach-houses, barns and
granaries, arranged in a quadrangle. The gate leading into this
quadrangle was open, and Gilbert saw the cattle standing knee-deep in a
He rang a bell, which had a hoarse rusty sound, as if it had not been
rung very often of late; and after he had waited for some minutes, and
rung a second time, a countrified-looking woman emerged from the house,
and came slowly along the wide moss-grown gravel-walk towards him. She
stared at him with the broad open stare of rusticity, and did not make
any attempt to open the gate, but stood with a great key in her hand,
waiting for Gilbert to speak.
"This is Sir David Forster's house, I believe," he said.
"Yes, sir, it be; but Sir David doesn't live here."
"I know that. You have some lodgers here--a lady and gentleman called
He plunged at once at this assertion, as the easiest way of arriving at
the truth. He had a conviction that this solitary farm-house was the
place to which his unknown rival had brought Marian.
"Yes, sir," the woman answered, still staring at him in her Blow stupid
way. "Mrs. Holbrook is here, but Mr. Holbrook is away up in London. Did
you wish to see the lady?"
Gilbert's heart gave a great throb. She was here, close to him! In the
next minute he would be face to face with her, with that one woman whom
he loved, and must continue to love, until the end of his life.
"Yes," he said eagerly, "I wish to see her. You can take me to her at
once. I am an old friend. There is no occasion to carry in my name."
He had scarcely thought of seeing Marian until this moment. It was her
husband he had come to seek; it was with him that his reckoning was to be
made; and any meeting between Marian and himself was more likely to prove
a hindrance to this reckoning than otherwise. But the temptation to seize
the chance of seeing her again was too much for him. Whatever hazard
there might be to his scheme of vengeance in such an encounter slipped
out of his mind before the thought of looking once more at that idolised
face, of hearing the loved voice once again. The woman hesitated for a
few moments, telling Gilbert that Mrs. Holbrook never had visitors, and
she did not know whether she would like to see him; but on his
administering half-a-crown through the scroll-work of the gate, she put
the key in the lock and admitted him. He followed her along the
moss-grown path to a wide wooden porch, over which the ivy hung like a
voluminous curtain, and through a half-glass door into a low roomy hall,
with massive dark oak-beams across the ceiling, and a broad staircase of
ecclesiastical aspect leading to a gallery above. The house had evidently
been a place of considerable grandeur and importance in days gone by; but
everything in it bore traces of neglect and decay. The hall was dark and
cold, the wide fire-place empty, the iron dogs red with rust. Some sacks
of grain were stored in one corner, a rough carpenter's bench stood under
one of the mullioned windows, and some garden-seeds were spread out to
dry in another.
The woman opened a low door at the end of this hall, and ushered Gilbert
into a sitting-room with three windows looking out upon a Dutch
bowling-green, a quadrangle of smooth turf shut in by tall hedges of
holly. The room was empty, and the visitor had ample leisure to examine
it while the woman went to seek Mrs. Holbrook.
It was a large room with a low ceiling, and a capacious old-fashioned
fire-place, where a rather scanty fire was burning in a dull slow way.
The furniture was old and worm-eaten,--furniture that had once been
handsome,--and was of a ponderous fashion that defied time. There was a
massive oaken cabinet on one side of the room, a walnut-wood bureau with
brass handles on the other. A comfortable looking sofa, of an antiquated
design, with chintz-covered cushions, had been wheeled near the
fire-place; and close beside it there was a small table with an open desk
upon it, and some papers scattered loosely about. There were a few autumn
flowers in a homely vase upon the centre table, and a work-basket with
some slippers, in Berlin wool work, unfinished.
Gilbert Fenton contemplated all these things with supreme tenderness. It
was here that Marian had lived for so many months--alone most likely for
the greater part of the time. He had a fixed idea that the man who had
stolen his treasure was some dissipated worldling, altogether unworthy so
sacred a trust. The room had a look of loneliness to him. He could fancy
the long solitary hours in this remote seclusion.
He had to wait for some little time, walking slowly up and down; very
eager for the interview that was to come, yet with a consciousness that
his fate would seem only so much the darker to him afterwards, when he
had to turn his back upon this place, with perhaps no hope of ever seeing
Marian again. At last there came a light footfall; the door was opened,
and his lost love came into the room.
Gilbert Fenton was standing near the fire-place, with his back to the
light. For the first few moments it was evident that Marian did not
recognize him. She came towards him slowly, with a wondering look in her
face, and then stopped suddenly with a faint cry of surprise.
"You here!" she exclaimed. "O, how did you find this place? Why did you
She clasped her hands, looking at him in a half-piteous way that went
straight to his heart. What he had told Mrs. Branston was quite true. It
was not in him to be angry with this girl. Whatever bitterness there
might have been in his mind until this moment fled away at sight of her.
His heart had no room for any feeling but tenderness and pity.
"Did you imagine that I should rest until I had seen you once more,
Marian? Did you suppose I should submit to lose you without hearing from
your own lips why I have been so unfortunate?"
"I did not think you would waste time or thought upon any one so wicked
as I have been towards you," she answered slowly, standing before him
with a pale sad face and downcast eyes. "I fancied that whatever love you
had ever felt for me--and I know how well you did love me--would perish
in a moment when you found how basely I had acted. I hoped that it would
"No, Marian; love like mine does not perish so easily as that. O, my
love, my love, why did you forsake me so cruelly? What had I done to
merit your desertion of me?"
"What had you done! You had only been too good to me. I know that there
is no excuse for my sin. I have prayed that you and I might never meet
again. What can I say? From first to last I have been wrong. From first
to last I have acted weakly and wickedly. I was flattered and gratified
by your affection for me; and when I found that my dear uncle had set his
heart upon our marriage, I yielded against my own better reason, which
warned me that I did not love you as you deserved to be loved. Then for a
long time I was blind to the truth. I did not examine my own heart. I was
quite able to estimate all your noble qualities, and I fancied that I
should be very happy as your wife. But you must remember that at the
last, when you were leaving England, I asked you to release me, and told
you that it would be happier for both of us to be free."
"Why was that, Marian?"
"Because at that last moment I began to doubt my own heart."
"Had there been any other influence at work, Marian? Had you seen your
husband, Mr. Holbrook, at that time?" She blushed crimson, and the
slender hands nervously clasped and unclasped themselves before she
"I cannot answer that question," she said at last.
"That is quite as good as saying 'yes.' You had seen this man; he had
come between us already. O, Marian, Marian, why were you not more
"Because I was weak and foolish. I could not bear to make you unhappy. O,
believe me, Gilbert, I had no thought of falsehood at that time. I fully
meant to be true to my promise, come what might."
"I am quite willing to believe that," he answered gently. "I believe that
you acted from first to last under the influence of a stronger will than
your own. You can see that I feel no resentment against you. I come to
you in sorrow, not in anger. But I want to understand how this thing came
to pass. Why was it that you never wrote to me to tell me the complete
change in your feelings?"
"It was thought better not," Marian faltered, after a pause.
"No; by my husband."
"And you suffered him to dictate to you in that matter. Against your own
sense of right?"
"I loved him," she answered simply. "I have never refused to obey him in
anything. I will own that I thought it would be better to write and tell
you the truth; but my husband thought otherwise. He wished our marriage
to remain a secret from you, and from all the world for some time to
come. He had his own reasons for that--reasons I was bound to respect. I
cannot think how you came to discover this out-of-the-world place."
"I have taken some trouble to find you, Marian, and it is a hard thing
to find you the wife of another; but the bitterness of it must be borne.
I do not want to reproach you when I tell you that my life has been
broken utterly by this blow. I want you to believe in my truth and
honour, to trust me now as you might have trusted me when you first
discovered that you could not love me. Since I am not to be your husband,
let me be the next best thing--your friend. The day may come in which,
you will have need of an honest man's friendship."
She shook her head sadly.
"You are very good," she said; "but there is no possibility at friendship
between you and me. If you will only say that you can forgive me for the
great wrong I have done you, there will be a heavy burden lifted from my
heart; and whatever you may think now, I cannot doubt that in the future
you will find some one far better worthy of your love than ever I could
"That is the stereotyped form of consolation, Marian, a man is always
referred to--that shadowy and perfect creature who is to appear in the
future, and heal all his wounds. There will be no such after-love for me.
I staked all when I played the great game; and have lost all. But why
cannot I be your friend, Marian?"
"Can you forgive my husband for his part in the wrong that has been done
you? Can you be his friend, knowing what he has done?"
"No!" Gilbert answered fiercely between his set teeth. "I can forgive
your weakness, but not the man's treachery."
"Then you can never be mine," Marian said firmly.
"Remember, I am not talking of a common friendship, a friendship of daily
association. I offer myself to you as refuge in the hour of trouble, a
counsellor in perplexity, a brother always waiting in the background of
your life to protect or serve you. Of course, it is quite possible you
may never have need of protection or service--God knows, I wish you all
happiness--but there are not many lives quite free from trouble, and the
day may come in which you will want a friend."
"If it ever does, I will remember your goodness."
Gilbert looked scrutinisingly at Marian Holbrook as she stood before him
with the cold gray light of the sunless day full upon her face. He wanted
to read the story of her life in that beautiful face, if it were
possible. He wanted to know whether she was happy with the man who had
stolen her from him.
She was very pale, but that might be fairly attributed to the agitation
caused by his presence. Gilbert fancied that there was a careworn look in
her face, and that her beauty had faded a little since those peaceful
days at Lidford, when these two had wasted the summer hours in idle talk
under the walnut trees in the Captain's garden. She was dressed very
plainly in black. There was no coquettish knot of ribbon at her throat;
no girlish trinkets dangled at her waist--all those little graces and
embellishments of costume which seem natural to a woman whose life is
happy, were wanting in her toilet to-day; and slight as these indications
were, Gilbert did not overlook them.
Did he really wish her to be happy--happy with the rival he so fiercely
hated? He had said as much; and in saying so, he had believed that he was
speaking the truth. But he was only human; and it is just possible that,
tenderly as he still loved this girl, he may have been hardly capable of
taking pleasure in the thought of her happiness.
"I want you to tell me about your husband, Marian," he said after a
pause; "who and what he is."
"Why should I do that?" she asked, looking at him with a steady, almost
defiant, expression. "You have said that you will never forgive him. What
interest can you possibly feel in his affairs?"
"I am interested in him upon your account."
"I cannot tell you anything about him. I do not know how you could have
discovered even his name."
"I learned that at Wygrove, where I first heard of your marriage."
"Did you go to Wygrove, then?"
"Yes; I have told you that I spared no pains to find you. Nor shall I
spare any pains to discover the history of the man who has wronged me. It
would be wiser for you to be frank with me, Marian. Rely upon it that I
shall sooner or later learn the secret underlying this treacherous
"You profess to be my friend, and yet are avowedly say husband's enemy.
Why cannot you be truly generous, Gilbert, and pardon him? Believe me, he
was not willingly treacherous; it was his fate to do you this wrong."
"A poor excuse for a man, Marian. No, my charity will not stretch far
enough for that. But I do not come to you quite on a selfish errand, to
speak solely of my own wrongs. I have something to tell you of real
importance to yourself."
"What is that?"
Gilbert Fenton described the result of his first advertisement, and his
acquaintance with Jacob Nowell.
"It is my impression that this old man is rich, Marian; and there is
little doubt that he would leave all he possesses to you, if you went to
him at once."
"I do not care very much about money for my own sake," she answered with
rather a mournful smile; "but we are not rich, and I should be glad of
anything that would improve my husband's position. I should like to see
my grandfather: I stand so much alone in the world that it would be very
sweet to me to find a near relation."
"Your husband must surely have seen Mr. Nowell's advertisement," Gilbert
said after a pause. "It was odd that he did not tell you about it--that
he did not wish you to reply to it."
"The advertisement may have escaped him, or he may have looked upon it as
a trap to discover our retreat," Marian answered frankly.
"I cannot understand the motive for such secrecy."
"There is no occasion that you should understand it. Every life has its
own mystery--its peculiar perplexities. When I married my husband, I was
prepared to share all his troubles. I have been obedient to him in
"And has your marriage brought you happiness, Marian?"
"I love my husband," she answered with a plaintive reproachful look, as
if there had been a kind of cruelty in his straight question. "I do not
suppose that there is such a thing as perfect happiness in the world."
The answer was enough for Gilbert Fenton. It told him that this girl's
life was not all sunshine.
He had not the heart to push his inquiries farther. He felt that he had
no right to remain any longer, when in all probability his presence was a
torture to the girl who had injured him.
"I will not prolong my visit, Marian," he said regretfully.
"It was altogether a foolish one, perhaps; but I wanted so much to see
you once more, to hear some explanation of your conduct from your own
"My conduct can admit of neither explanation nor justification," she
replied humbly. "I know how wickedly I have acted. Believe me, Gilbert, I
am quite conscious of my unworthiness, and how little right I have to
expect your forgiveness."
"It is my weakness, rather than my merit, not to be able to cherish any
angry feeling against you, Marian. Mine has been a slavish kind of love.
I suppose that sort of thing never is successful. Women have an
instinctive contempt for men who love them with such blind unreasonable
"I do not know how that may be; but I know that I have always respected
and esteemed you," she answered in her gentle pleading way.
"I am grateful to you even for so much as that. And now I suppose I must
say good-bye--rather a hard word to say under the circumstances. Heaven
knows when you and I may meet again."
"Won't you stop and take some luncheon? I dine early when my husband is
away; it saves trouble to the people of the house. The bailiff's daughter
always dines with me when I am alone; but I don't suppose you will mind
sitting down with her. She is a good girl, and very fond of me."
"I would sit down to dinner with a chimney-sweep, if he were a favourite
of yours, Marian--or Mrs. Holbrook; I suppose I must call you that now."
After this they talked of Captain Sedgewick for a little, and the tears
came to Marian's eyes as she spoke of that generous and faithful
protector. While they were talking thus, the door was opened, and a
bright-faced countrified-looking girl appeared carrying a tray. She was
dressed in a simple pretty fashion, a little above her station as a
bailiff's daughter, and had altogether rather a superior look, in spite
of her rusticity, Gilbert thought.
She was quite at her ease in his presence, laying the cloth briskly and
cleverly, and chattering all the time.
"I am sure I'm very glad any visitor should come to see Mrs. Holbrook,"
she said; "for she has had a sad lonely time of it ever since she has
been here, poor dear. There are not many young married women would put up
with such a life."
"Nelly," Marian exclaimed reproachfully, "you know that I have had
nothing to put up with--that I have been quite happy here."
"Ah, it's all very well to say that, Mrs. Holbrook; but I know better. I
know how many lonely days you've spent, so downhearted that you could
scarcely speak or look up from your book, and that only an excuse for
fretting.--If you're a friend of Mr. Holbrook's, you might tell him as
much, sir; that he's killing his pretty young wife by inches, by leaving
her so often alone in this dreary place. Goodness knows, it isn't that I
want to get rid of her. I like her so much that I sha'n't know what to do
with myself when she's gone. But I love her too well not to speak the
truth when I see a chance of its getting to the right ears."
"I am no friend of Mr. Holbrook's," Gilbert answered; "but I think you
are a good generous-hearted girl."
"You are a very foolish girl," Marian exclaimed; "and I am extremely
angry with you for talking such utter nonsense about me. I may have been
a little out of spirits sometimes in my husband's absence; but that is
all. I shall begin to think that you really do want to get rid of me,
Nell, say what you will."
"That's a pretty thing, when you know that I love you as dearly as if you
were my sister; to say nothing of father, who makes a profit by your
being here, and would be fine and angry with me for interfering. No, Mrs.
Holbrook; it's your own happiness I'm thinking of, and nothing else. And
I do say that it's a shame for a pretty young woman like you to be shut
up in a lonely old farm-house while your husband is away, enjoying
himself goodness knows where; and when he is here, I can't see that he's
very good company, considering that he spends the best part of his
The girl stopped abruptly, warned by a look from Marian. Gilbert saw this
look, and wondered what revelation of Mr. Holbrook's habits the bailiff's
daughter had been upon the point of making; he was so eager to learn
something of this man, and had been so completely baffled in all his
"I will not have my affairs talked about in this foolish way, Ellen
Carley," Marian said resolutely.
And then they all three sat down to the dinner-table. The dishes were
brought in by the woman who had admitted Gilbert. The dinner was
excellent after a simple fashion, and very nicely served; but for Mr.
Fenton the barn-door fowl and home-cured ham might as well have been the
grass which the philosopher believed the French people might learn to
eat. He was conscious of nothing but the one fact that he was in Marian's
society for perhaps the last time in his life. He wondered at himself not
a little for the weakness which made it so sweet to him to be with her.
The moment came at last in which he must needs take his leave, having no
possible excuse for remaining any longer.
"Good-bye, Marian," he said. "I suppose we are never likely to meet
"One never knows what may happen; but I think it is far better we should
not meet, for many reasons."
"What am I to tell your grandfather when I see him?"
"That I will come to him as soon as I can get my husband's permission to
"I should not think there would be any difficulty about that, when he
knows that this relationship is likely to bring you fortune."
"I daresay not."
"And if you come to London to see Mr. Nowell, there will be some chance
of our meeting again."
"What good can come of that?"
"Not much to me, I daresay. It would be a desperate, melancholy kind of
pleasure. Anything is better than the idea of losing sight of you for
ever--of leaving this room to-day never to look upon your face again."
He wrote Jacob Nowell's address upon one of his own cards, and gave it to
Marian; and then prepared to take his departure. He had an idea that the
bailiff's daughter would conduct him to the gate, and that he would be
able to make some inquiries about Mr. Holbrook on his way. It is possible
that Marian guessed his intentions in this respect; for she offered to
go with him to the gate herself; and he could not with any decency
refuse to be so honoured.
They went through the hall together, where all was as still and lifeless
as it had been when he arrived, and walked slowly side by side along the
broad garden-path in utter silence. At the gate Gilbert stopped suddenly,
and gave Marian his hand.
"My darling," he said, "I forgive you with all my heart; and I will pray
for your happiness."
"Will you try to forgive my husband also?" she asked in her plaintive
"I do not know what I am capable of in that direction. I promise that,
for your sake, I will not attempt to do him any injury."
"God bless you for that promise! I have so dreaded the chance of a
meeting between you two. It has often been the thought of that which has
made me unhappy when that faithful girl, Nelly, has noticed my low
spirits. You have removed a great weight from my mind."
"And you will trust me better after that promise?"
"Yes; I will trust you as you deserve to be trusted, with all my heart."
"And now, good-bye. It is a hard word for me to say; but I must not
detain you here in the cold."
He bent his head, and pressed his lips upon the slender little hand which
held the key of the gate. In the next moment he was outside that tall
iron barrier; and it seemed to him as if he were leaving Marian in a
prison. The garden, with its poor pale scentless autumn flowers, had a
dreary look under the dull gray sky. He thought of the big empty house,
with its faded traces of vanished splendour, and of Marian's lonely life
in it, with unspeakable pain. How different from the sunny home which he
had dreamed of in the days gone by--the happy domestic life which he had
fancied they two might lead!
"And she loves this man well enough to endure the dullest existence for
his sake," he said to himself as he turned his back at last upon the tall
iron gate, having lingered there for some minutes after Marian had
re-entered the house. "She could forget all our plans for the future at
He thought of this with a jealous pang, and with all his old anger
against his unknown rival. Moved by an impulse of love and pity for
Marian, he had promised that this man should suffer no injury at his
hands; and, having so pledged himself, he must needs keep his word. But
there were certain savage feelings and primitive instincts in his breast
not easily to be vanquished; and he felt that now he had bound himself to
keep the peace in relation to Mr. Holbrook, it would be well that those
two should not meet.
"But I will have some explanation from Sir David Forster as to that lie
he told me," he said to himself; "and I will question John Saltram about
this man Holbrook."
John Saltram--John Holbrook. An idea flashed into his brain that seemed
to set it on fire. What if John Saltram and John Holbrook were one! What
if the bosom friend whom he had introduced to his betrothed had played
the traitor, and stolen her from him! In the next moment he put the
supposition away from him, indignant with himself for being capable of
thinking such a thing, even for an instant. Of all the men upon earth who
could have done him this wrong, John Saltram was the last he could have
believed guilty. Yet the thought recurred to him many times after this
with a foolish tiresome persistence; and he found himself going over the
circumstances of his friend's acquaintance with Marian, his hasty
departure from Lidford, his return there later during Sir David Forster's
illness. Let him consider these facts as closely as he might, there was
no especial element of suspicion in them. There might have been a hundred
reasons for that hurried journey to London--nay, the very fact itself
argued against the supposition that Mr. Saltram had fallen in love with
his friend's plighted wife.
And now, the purpose of his life being so far achieved, Gilbert Fenton
rode back to Winchester next day, restored his horse to its proprietor,
and went on to London by an evening train.
MISS CARLEY'S ADMIRERS.
There were times in which Marian Holbrook's life would have been utterly
lonely but for the companionship of Ellen Carley. This warm-hearted
outspoken country girl had taken a fancy to Mr. Holbrook's beautiful wife
from the hour of her arrival at the Grange, one cheerless March evening,
and had attached herself to Marian from that moment with unalterable
affection and fidelity. The girl's own life at the Grange had been lonely
enough, except during the brief summer months, when the roomy old house
was now and then enlivened a little by the advent of a lodger,--some
stray angler in search of a secluded trout stream, or an invalid who
wanted quiet and fresh air. But in none of these strangers had Ellen ever
taken much interest. They had come and gone, and made very little
impression upon her mind, though she had helped to make their sojourn
pleasant in her own brisk cheery way.
She was twenty-one years of age, very bright-looking, if not absolutely
pretty, with dark expressive eyes, a rosy brunette complexion, and very
white teeth. The nose belonged to the inferior order of pug or snub; the
forehead was low and broad, with dark-brown hair rippling over it--hair
which seemed always wanting to escape from its neat arrangement into a
multitude of mutinous curls. She was altogether a young person whom the
admirers of the soubrette style of beauty might have found very charming;
and, secluded as her life at the Grange had been, she had already more
than one admirer.
She used to relate her love affairs to Marian Holbrook in the quiet
summer evenings, as the two sat under an old cedar in the meadow nearest
the house--a meadow which had been a lawn in the days when the Grange was
in the occupation of great folks; and was divided from a broad
terrace-walk at the back of the house by a dry grass-grown moat, with
steep sloping banks, upon which there was a wealth of primroses and
violets in the early spring. Ellen Carley told Mrs. Holbrook of her
admirers, and received sage advice from that experienced young matron,
who by-and-by confessed to her humble companion the error of her own
girlhood, and how she had jilted the most devoted and generous lover that
ever a woman could boast of.
For some months--for the bright honeymoon period of her wedded
life--Marian had been completely happy in that out-of-the-world region.
It is not to be supposed that she had done so great a wrong to Gilbert
Fenton except under the influence of a great love, or the dominion of a
nature powerful enough to subjugate her own. Both these influences had
been at work. Too late she had discovered that she had never really loved
Gilbert Fenton; that the calm grateful liking which she had told herself
must needs be the sole version of the grand passion whereof her nature
was capable, had been only the tamest, most ordinary kind of friendship
after all, and that in the depths of her soul there was a capacity for an
utterly different attachment--a love which was founded on neither respect
nor gratitude, but which sprang into life in a moment, fatal and
all-absorbing from its birth.
Heaven knows she had struggled bravely against this luckless passion, had
resisted long and steadily the assiduous pursuit, the passionate
half-despairing pleading, of her lover, who would not be driven away, and
who invented all kinds of expedients for seeing her, however difficult
the business might be, or however resolutely she might endeavour to avoid
him. It was only after her uncle's death, when her mind was weakened by
excessive grief, that her strong determination to remain faithful to her
absent betrothed had at last given way before the force of those tender
passionate prayers, and she had consented to the hasty secret marriage
which her lover had proposed. Her consent once given, not a moment had
been lost. The business had been hurried on with the utmost eagerness by
the impetuous lover, who would give her as little opportunity as possible
of changing her mind, and who had obtained complete mastery of her will
from the moment in which she promised to be his wife.
She loved him with all the unselfish devotion of which her nature was
capable; and no thought of the years to come, or of what her future life
might be with this man, of whose character and circumstances she knew so
very little, ever troubled her. Having sacrificed her fidelity to Gilbert
Fenton, she held all other sacrifices light as air--never considered them
at all, in fact. When did a generous romantic girl of nineteen ever stop
to calculate the chances of the future, or fear to encounter poverty and
trouble with the man she loved? To Marian this man was henceforth all the
world. It was not that he was handsomer, or better, or in any obvious way
superior to Gilbert Fenton. It was only that he was just the one man able
to win her heart. That mysterious attraction which reason can never
reduce to rule, which knows no law of precedent or experience, reigned
here in full force. It is just possible that the desperate circumstances
of the attachment, the passionate pursuit of the lover, not to be checked
by any obstacle, may have had an influence upon the girl's mind. There
was a romance in such love as this that had not existed in Mr. Fenton's
straightforward wooing; and Marian was too young to be quite proof
against the subtle charm of a secret, romantic, despairing passion.
For some time she was very happy; and the remote farm-house, with its
old-fashioned gardens and fair stretch of meadow-land beyond them, where
all shade and beauty had not yet been sacrificed to the interests of
agriculture, seemed to her in those halcyon days a kind of earthly
paradise. She endured her husband's occasional absence from this rural
home with perfect patience. These absences were rare and brief at first,
but afterwards grew longer and more frequent. Nor did she ever sigh for
any brighter or gayer life than this which they led together at the
Grange. In him were the beginning and end of her hopes and dreams; and so
long as he was pleased and contented, she was completely happy. It was
only when a change came in him--very slight at first, but still obvious
to his wife's tender watchful eyes--that her own happiness was clouded.
That change told her that whatever he might be to her, she was no longer
all the world to him. He loved her still, no doubt; but the bright
holiday-time of his love was over, and his wife's presence had no longer
the power to charm away every dreary thought. He was a man in whose
disposition there was a lurking vein of melancholy--a kind of chronic
discontent very common to men of whom it has been said that they might do
great things in the world, and who have succeeded in doing nothing.
It is not to be supposed that Mr. Holbrook intended to keep his wife shut
away from the world in a lonely farm-house all her life. The place suited
him very well for the present; the apartments at the Grange, and the
services of Mr. Carley and his dependents, had been put at his disposal
by the owner of the estate, together with all farm and garden produce.
Existence here therefore cost him very little; his chief expenses were in
gifts to the bailiff and his underlings, which he bestowed with a liberal
hand. His plans for the future were as yet altogether vague and
unsettled. He had thoughts of emigration, of beginning life afresh in a
new country--anything to escape from the perplexities that surrounded him
here; and he had his reasons for keeping his wife secluded. Nor did his
conscience disturb him much--he was a man who had his conscience in very
good training--as to the unfairness of this proceeding. Marian was happy,
he told himself; and when time came for some change in the manner of
her existence, he doubted if the change would be for the better.
So the days and weeks and months had passed away, bringing little variety
with them, and none of what the world calls pleasure. Marian read and
worked and rambled in the country lanes and meadows with Ellen Carley,
and visited the poor people now and then, as she had been in the habit of
doing at Lidford. She had not very much to give them, but gave all she
could; and she had a gentle sympathetic manner, which made her welcome
amongst them, most of all where there were children, for whom she had
always a special attraction. The little ones clung to her and trusted
her, looking up at her lovely face with spontaneous affection.
William Carley, the bailiff, was a big broad-shouldered man, with a heavy
forbidding countenance, and a taciturn habit by no means calculated to
secure him a large circle of friends. His daughter and only child was
afraid of him; his wife had been afraid of him in her time, and had faded
slowly out of a life that had been very joyless, unawares, hiding her
illness from him to the last, as if it had been a sort of offence against
him to be ill. It was only when she was dying that the bailiff knew he
was going to lose her; and it must be confessed that he took the loss
Whatever natural grief he may have felt was carefully locked in his own
breast. His underlings, the farm-labourers, found him a little more
"grumpy" than usual, and his daughter scarcely dared open her lips to him
for a month after the funeral. But from that time forward Miss Carley,
who was rather a spirited damsel, took a very different tone with her
father. She was not to be crushed and subdued into a mere submissive
shadow, as her mother had been. She had a way of speaking her mind on all
occasions which was by no means agreeable to the bailiff. If he drank
too much overnight, she took care to tell him of it early next morning.
If he went about slovenly and unshaven, her sharp tongue took notice of
the fact. Yet with all this, she waited upon him, and provided for his
comfort in a most dutiful manner. She saved his money by her dexterous
management of the household, and was in all practical matters a very
treasure among daughters. William Carley liked comfort, and liked money
still better, and he was quite aware that his daughter was valuable to
him, though he was careful not to commit himself by any expression of
He knew her value so well that he was jealously averse to the idea of her
marrying and leaving him alone at the Grange. When young Frank Randall,
the lawyer's son, took to calling at the old house very often upon summer
evenings, and by various signs and tokens showed himself smitten with
Ellen Carley, the bailiff treated the young man so rudely that he was
fain to cease from coming altogether, and to content himself with an
occasional chance meeting in the lane, when Ellen had business at
Crosber, and walked there alone after tea. He would not have been a
particularly good match for any one, being only an articled clerk to his
father, whose business in the little market-town of Malsham was by no
means extensive; and William Carley spoke of him scornfully as a pauper.
He was a tall good-looking young fellow, however, with a candid pleasant
face and an agreeable manner; so Ellen was not a little angry with her
father for his rudeness, still more angry with him for his encouragement
of her other admirer, a man called Stephen Whitelaw, who lived about a
mile from the Grange, and farmed his own land, an estate of some extent
for that part of the country.
"If you must marry," said the bailiff, "and it's what girls like you seem
to be always thinking about, you can't do better than take up with Steph
Whitelaw. He's a warm man, Nell, and a wife of his will never want a meal
of victuals or a good gown to her back. You'd better not waste your
smiles and your civil words on a beggar like young Randall, who won't
have a home to take you to for these ten years to come--not then,
perhaps--for there's not much to be made by law in Malsham now-a-days.
And when his father dies--supposing he's accommodating enough to die in a
reasonable time, which it's ten to one he won't be--the young man will
have his mother and sisters to keep upon the business very likely, and
there'd be a nice look-out for you. Now, if you marry my old friend
Steph, he can make you a lady."
This was a very long speech for Mr. Carley. It was grumbled out in short
spasmodic sentences between the slow whiffs of his pipe, as he sat by the
fire in a little parlour off the hall, with his indefatigable daughter at
work at a table near him.
"Stephen Whitelaw had need be a gentleman himself before he could make
me a lady," Nelly answered, laughing. "I don't think fine clothes can
make gentlefolks; no, nor farming one's own land, either, though that
sounds well enough. I am not in any hurry to leave you, father, and I'm
not one of those girls who are always thinking of getting married; but
come what may, depend upon it, I shall never marry Mr. Whitelaw."
"Why not, pray?" the bailiff asked savagely.
Nelly shook out the shirt she had been repairing for her father, and then
began to fold it, shaking her head resolutely at the same time.
"Because I detest him," she said; "a mean, close, discontented creature,
who can see no pleasure in life except money-making. I hate the very
sight of his pale pinched face, father, and the sound of his hard shrill
voice. If I had to choose between the workhouse and marrying Stephen
Whitelaw, I'd choose the workhouse; yes, and scrub, and wash, and drudge,
and toil there all my days, rather than be mistress of Wyncomb Farm."
"Well, upon my word," exclaimed the father, taking the pipe from his
mouth, and staring aghast at his daughter in a stupor of indignant
surprise, "you're a pretty article; you're a nice piece of goods for a
man to bring up and waste his substance upon--a piece of goods that will
turn round upon one and refuse a man who farms his own land. Mind, he
hasn't asked you yet, my lady; and never may, for aught I know."
"I hope he never will, father," Nelly answered quietly, unsubdued by this
outburst of the bailiff's.
"If he does, and you don't snap at such a chance, you need never look for
a sixpence from me; and you'd best make yourself scarce pretty soon into
the bargain. I'll have no such trumpery about my house."
"Very well, father; I daresay I can get my living somewhere else, without
working much harder than I do here."
This open opposition on the girl's part made William Carley only the more
obstinately bent upon that marriage, which seemed to him such a brilliant
alliance, which opened up to him the prospect of a comfortable home for
his old age, where he might repose after his labours, and live upon the
fat of the land without toil or care. He had a considerable contempt for
the owner of Wyncomb Farm, whom he thought a poor creature both as a man
and a farmer; and he fancied that if his daughter married Stephen
Whitelaw, he might become the actual master of that profitable estate. He
could twist such a fellow as Stephen round his fingers, he told himself,
when invested with the authority of a father-in-law.
Mr. Whitelaw was a pale-faced little man of about five-and-forty years of
age; a man who had remained a bachelor to the surprise of his
neighbours, who fancied, perhaps, that the owner of a good house and a
comfortable income was in a manner bound by his obligation to society to
take to himself a partner with whom to share these advantages. He had
remained unmarried, giving no damsel ground for complaint by any delusive
attentions, and was supposed to have saved a good deal of money, and to
be about the richest man in those parts, with the exception of the landed
He was by no means an attractive person in this the prime of his manhood.
He had a narrow mean-looking face, with sharp features, and a pale sickly
complexion, which looked as if he had spent his life in some close London
office rather than in the free sweet air of his native fields. His hair
was of a reddish tint, very sleek and straight, and always combed with
extreme precision upon each side of his narrow forehead; and he had
scanty whiskers of the same unpopular hue, which he was in the habit of
smoothing with a meditative air upon his sallow cheeks with the knobby
fingers of his bony hand. He was of a rather nervous temperament,
inclined to silence, like his big burly friend, William Carley, and had a
deprecating doubtful way of expressing his opinion at all times. In spite
of this humility of manner, however, he cherished a secret pride in his
superior wealth, and was apt to remind his associates, upon occasion,
that he could buy up any one of them without feeling the investment.
After having attained the discreet age of forty-five without being a
victim to the tender passion, Mr. Whitelaw might reasonably have supposed
himself exempt from the weakness so common to mankind. But such
self-gratulation, had he indulged in it, would have been premature; for
after having been a visitor at the Grange, and boon-companion of the
bailiff's for some ten years, it slowly dawned upon him that Ellen Carley
was a very pretty girl, and that he would have her for his wife, and no
other. Her brisk off-hand manner had a kind of charm for his slow
apathetic nature; her rosy brunette face, with its bright black eyes and
flashing teeth, seemed to him the perfection of beauty. But he was not an
impetuous lover. He took his time about the business, coming two or three
times a week to smoke his pipe with William Carley, and paying Nelly some
awkward blundering compliment now and then in his deliberate hesitating
way. He had supreme confidence in his own position and his money, and was
troubled by no doubt as to the ultimate success of his suit. It was true
that Nelly treated him in by no means an encouraging manner--was, indeed,
positively uncivil to him at times; but this he supposed to be mere
feminine coquetry; and it enhanced the attractions of the girl he
designed to make his wife. As to her refusing him when the time came for
his proposal, he could not for a moment imagine such a thing possible. It
was not in the nature of any woman to refuse to be mistress of Wyncomb,
and to drive her own whitechapel cart--a comfortable hooded vehicle of
the wagonette species, which was popular in those parts.
So Stephen Whitelaw took his time, contented to behold the object of his
affection two or three evenings a week, and to gaze admiringly upon her
beauty as he smoked his pipe in the snug little oak-wainscoted parlour at
the Grange, while his passion grew day by day, until it did really become
a very absorbing feeling, second only to his love of money and Wyncomb
Farm. These dull sluggish natures are capable of deeper passions than the
world gives them credit for; and are as slow to abandon an idea as they
are to entertain it.
It was Ellen Carley's delight to tell Marian of her trouble, and to
protest to this kind confidante again and again that no persuasion or
threats of her father's should ever induce her to marry Stephen
Whitelaw--which resolution Mrs. Holbrook fully approved. There was a
little gate opening from a broad green lane into one of the fields at the
back of the Grange; and here sometimes of a summer evening they used to
find Frank Randall, who had ridden his father's white pony all the way
from Malsham for the sake of smoking his evening cigar on that particular
spot. They used to find him seated there, smoking lazily, while the pony
cropped the grass in the lane close at hand. He was always eager to do
any little service for Mrs. Holbrook; to bring her books or anything else
she wanted from Malsham--anything that might make an excuse for his
coming again by appointment, and with the certainty of seeing Ellen
Carley. It was only natural that Marian should be inclined to protect
this simple love-affair, which offered her favourite a way of escape from
the odious marriage that her father pressed upon her. The girl might have
to endure poverty as Frank Randall's wife; but that seemed a small thing
in the eyes of Marian, compared with the horror of marrying that
pale-faced mean-looking little man, whom she had seen once or twice
sitting by the fire in the oak parlour, with his small light-grey eyes
fixed in a dull stare upon the bailiff's daughter.
JACOB NOWELL'S WILL.
At his usual hour, upon the evening after his arrival in London, Gilbert
Fenton called at the silversmith's shop in Queen Anne's Court. He found
Jacob Nowell weaker than when, he had seen him last, and with a strange
old look, as if extreme age had come upon him suddenly. He had been
compelled to call in a medical man, very much against his will; and this
gentleman had told him that his condition was a critical one, and that it
would be well for him to arrange his affairs quickly, and to hold himself
prepared for the worst.
He seemed to be slightly agitated when Gilbert told him that his
granddaughter had been found.
"Will she come to me, do you think?" he asked.
"I have no doubt that she will do so, directly she hears how ill you have
been. She was very much pleased at the idea of seeing you, and only
waited for her husband's permission to come. But I don't suppose she will
wait for that when she knows of your illness. I shall write to her
"Do," Jacob Nowell said eagerly; "I want to see her before I die. You did
not meet the husband, then, I suppose?"
"No; Mr. Holbrook was not there."
He told Jacob Nowell all that it was possible for him to tell about his
interview with Marian; and the old man seemed warmly interested in the
subject. Death was very near him, and the savings of the long dreary
years during which his joyless life had been devoted to money-making must
soon pass into other hands. He wanted to know something of the person who
was to profit by his death; he wanted to be sure that when he was gone
some creature of his own flesh and blood would remember him kindly; not
for the sake of his money alone, but for something more than that.
"I shall make my will to-morrow," he said, before Gilbert left him. "I
don't mind owning to you that I have something considerable to bequeath;
for I think I can trust you. And if I should die before my grandchild
comes to me, you will see that she has her rights, won't you? You will
take care that she is not cheated by her husband, or by any one else?"
"I shall hold it a sacred charge to protect her interests, so far as it
is possible for me to do so."
"That's well. I shall make you one of the executors to my will, if you've
"No. The executorship will bring me into collision with Mr. Holbrook, no
doubt; but I have resolved upon my line of conduct with regard to him,
and I am prepared for whatever may happen. My chief desire now is to be a
real friend to your granddaughter; for I believe she has need of
The will was drawn up next day by an attorney of by no means spotless
reputation, who had often done business for Mr. Nowell in the past, and
who may have known a good deal about the origin of some of the silver
which found its way to the old silversmith's stores. He was a gentleman
frequently employed in the defence of those injured innocents who appear
at the bar of the Old Bailey; and was not at all particular as to the
merits of the cases he conducted. This gentleman embodied Mr. Nowell's
desires with reference to the disposal of his worldly goods in a very
simple and straightforward manner. All that Jacob Nowell had to leave was
left to his granddaughter, Marian Holbrook, for her own separate use and
maintenance, independent of any husband whatsoever.
This was clear enough. It was only when there came the question, which a
lawyer puts with such deadly calmness, as to what was to be done with the
money in the event of Marian Holbrook's dying intestate, that any
"Of course, if she has children, you'd like the money to go to them,"
said Mr. Medler, the attorney; "that's clear enough, and had better be
set out in your will. But suppose she should have no children, you'd
scarcely like all you leave to go to her husband, who is quite a stranger
to you, and who may be a scoundrel for aught you know."
"No; I certainly shouldn't much care about enriching this Holbrook."
"Of course not; to say nothing of the danger there would be in giving him
so strong an interest in his wife's death. Not but what I daresay he'll
contrive to squander the greater part of the money during her lifetime.
Is it all in hard cash?"
"No; there is some house-property at Islington, which pays a high
interest; and there are other freeholds."
"Then we might tie those up, giving Mrs. Holbrook only the income. It is
essential to provide against possible villany or extravagance on the part
of the husband. Women are so weak and helpless in these matters. And in
the event of your granddaughter dying without children, wouldn't you
rather let the estate go to your son?"
"To him!" exclaimed Jacob Nowell. "I have sworn that I would not leave
"That's a kind of oath which no man ever considers himself bound to
keep," said the lawyer in his most insinuating tone. "Remember, it's only
a remote contingency. The chances are that your granddaughter will have a
family to inherit this property, and that she will survive her father.
And then, if we give her power to make a will, of course it's pretty
certain that she'll leave everything to this husband of hers. But I don't
think we ought to do that, Mr. Nowell. I think it would be a far wiser
arrangement to give this young lady only a life interest in the real
estate. That makes the husband a loser by her death, instead of a
possible gainer to a large amount. And I consider that your son's name
has a right to come in here."
"I cannot acknowledge that he has any such right. His extravagance almost
ruined me when he was a young man; and his ingratitude would have broken
my heart, if I had been weak enough to suffer myself to be crushed by
"Time works changes amongst the worst of us, Mr. Nowell, I daresay your
son has improved his habits in all these years and is heartily sorry for
the errors of his youth."
"Have you seen him, Medler?" the old man asked quickly.
"Seen your son lately? No; indeed, my dear sir, I had no notion that he
was in England."
The fact is, that Percival Nowell had called upon Mr. Medler more than
once since his arrival in London; and had discussed with that gentleman
the chances of his father's having made, or not made, a will, and the
possibility of the old man's being so far reconciled to him as to make a
will in his favour. Percival Nowell had gone farther than this, and had
promised the attorney a handsome percentage upon anything that his father
might be induced to leave him by Mr. Medler's influence.
The discussion lasted for a long time; Mr. Medler pushing on, stage by
stage, in the favour of his secret client, anxious to see whether Jacob
Nowell might not be persuaded to allow his son's name to take the place
of his granddaughter, whom he had never seen, and who was really no more
than a stranger to him, the attorney took care to remind him. But on this
point the old man was immovable. He would leave his money to Marian, and
to no one else. He had no desire that his son should ever profit by the
labours and deprivations of all those joyless years in which his fortune
had been scraped together. It was only as the choice of the lesser evil
that he would consent to Percival's inheriting the property from his
daughter, rather than it should fall into the hands of Mr. Holbrook. The
lawyer had hard work before he could bring his client to this point; but
he did at last succeed in doing so, and Percival Nowell's name was
written in the will.
"I don't suppose Nowell will thank me much for what I've done, though
I've had difficulty enough in doing it," Mr. Medler said to himself, as
he walked slowly homewards after this prolonged conference in Queen
Anne's Court. "For of course the chances are ten to one against his
surviving his daughter. Still these young women sometimes go off the
hooks in an unexpected way, and he _may_ come into the reversion."
There was only one satisfaction for the attorney, and that lay in the
fact that this long, laborious interview had been all in the way of
business, and could be charged for accordingly: "To attending at your own
house with relation to drawing up the rough draft of your will, and
consultation of two hours and a half thereupon;" and so on. The will was
to be executed next day; and Mr. Medler was to take his clerk with him to
Queen Anne's Court, to act as one of the witnesses. He had obtained one
other triumph in the course of the discussion, which was the insertion of
his own name as executor in place of Gilbert Fenton, against whom he
raised so many specious arguments as to shake the old man's faith in
Marian's jilted lover.
Percival Nowell dropped in upon his father that night, and smoked his
cigar in the dingy little parlour, which was so crowded with divers kinds
of merchandise as to be scarcely habitable. The old man's son came here
almost every evening, and behaved altogether in a very dutiful way. Jacob
Nowell seemed to tolerate rather than to invite his visits, and the
adventurer tried in vain to get at the real feelings underlying that
"I think I might work round the governor if I had time," this dutiful son
said to himself, as he reflected upon the aspect of affairs in Queen
Anne's Court; "but I fancy the old chap has taken his ticket for the next
world--booked through--per express train, and the chances are that he'll
keep his word and not leave me sixpence. Rather hard lines that, after my
taking the trouble to come over here and hunt him up."
There was one fact that Mr. Nowell the younger seemed inclined to ignore
in the course of these reflections; and that was the fact that he had not
left America until he had completely used up that country as a field for
commercial enterprise, and had indeed made his name so far notorious in
connection with numerous shady transactions as to leave no course open to
him except a speedy departure. Since his coming to England he had lived
entirely on credit; and, beyond the fine clothes he wore and the contents
of his two portmanteaus, he possessed nothing in the world. It was quite
true that he had done very well in New York; but his well-being had been
secured at the cost of other people; and after having started some
half-dozen speculations, and living extravagantly upon the funds of his
victims, he was now as poor as he had been when he left Belgium for
America, the commission-agent of a house in the iron trade. In this
position he might have prospered in a moderate way, and might have
profited by the expensive education which had given him nothing but showy
agreeable manners, had he been capable of steadiness and industry. But of
these virtues he was utterly deficient, possessing instead a genius for
that kind of swindling which keeps just upon the safe side of felony. He
had lived pleasantly enough, for many years, by the exercise of this
agreeable talent; so pleasantly indeed that he had troubled himself very
little about his chances of inheriting his father's savings. It was only
when he had exhausted all expedients for making money on "the other side"
that he turned his thoughts in the direction of Queen Anne's Court, and
began to speculate upon the probability of Jacob Nowell's good graces
being worth the trouble of cultivation. The prospectuses which he had
shown his father were mere waste paper, the useless surplus stationery
remaining from a scheme that had failed to enlist the sympathies of a
Transatlantic public. But he fancied that his only chance with the old
man lay in an assumption of prosperity; so he carried matters with a high
hand throughout the business, and swaggered in the little dusky parlour
behind the shop just as he had swaggered on New-York Broadway or at
Delmonico's in the heyday of his commercial success.
He called at Mr. Medler's office the day after Jacob Nowell's will had
been executed, having had no hint of the fact from his father. The
solicitor told him what had been done, and how the most strenuous efforts
on his part had only resulted in the insertion of Percival's name after
that of his daughter.
Whatever indignation Mr. Nowell may have felt at the fact that his
daughter had been preferred before him, he contrived to keep hidden in
his own mind. The lawyer was surprised at the quiet gravity with which he
received the intelligence. He listened to Mr. Medler's statement of the
case with the calmest air of deliberation, seemed indeed to be thinking
so deeply that it was as if his thoughts had wandered away from the
subject in hand to some theme which allowed of more profound speculation.
"And if she should die childless, I should get all the free-hold
property?" he said at last, waking up suddenly from that state of
abstraction, and turning his thoughtful face upon the lawyer.
"Yes; all the real estate would be yours."
"Have you any notion what the property is worth?"
"Not an exact notion. Your father gave me a list of investments.
Altogether, I should fancy, the income will be something
handsome--between two and three thousand a year, perhaps. Strange, isn't
it, for a man with all that money to have lived such a life as your
"Strange indeed," Percival Nowell cried with a sneer. "And my daughter
will step into two or three thousand a year," he went on: "very pleasant
for her, and for her husband into the bargain. Of course I'm not going to
say that I wouldn't rather have had the income myself. You'd scarcely
swallow that, as a man of the world, you see, Medler. But the girl is my
only child, and though circumstances have divided us for the greater part
of our lives, blood is thicker than water; and in short, since there was
no getting the governor to do the right thing, and leave this money to
me, it's the next best thing that he should leave it to Marian."
"To say nothing of the possibility of her dying without children, and
your coming into the property after all," said Mr. Medler, wondering a
little at Mr. Nowell's philosophical manner of looking at the question.
"Sir," exclaimed Percival indignantly, "do you imagine me capable of
speculating upon the untimely death of my only child?"
The lawyer shrugged his shoulders doubtfully. In the course of his varied
experience he had found men and women capable of very queer things when
their pecuniary interests were at stake; and he had not a most exalted
opinion of Mr. Nowell's virtue--he knew too many secrets connected with
his early career.
"Remember, if ever by any strange chance you should come into this
property, you have me to thank for getting your name into the will, and
for giving your daughter only a life interest. She would have had every
penny left to her without reserve, if I hadn't fought for your interests
as hard as ever I fought for anything in the whole course of my
"You're a good fellow, Medler; and if ever fortune should favour me,
which hardly seems on the cards, I sha'n't forget what I promised you the
other day. I daresay you did the best you could for me, though it doesn't
amount to much when it's done."
Long after Percival Nowell had left him, Mr. Medler sat idle at his desk
meditating upon his interview with that gentleman.
"I can't half understand his coolness," he said to himself; "I expected
him to be as savage as a bear when he found that the old man had left him
nothing. I thought I should hear nothing but execrations and blasphemies;
for I think I know my gentleman pretty well of old, and that he's not a
person to take a disappointment of this kind very sweetly. There must be
something under that quiet manner of his. Perhaps he knows more about his
daughter than he cares to let out; knows that she is sickly, and that he
stands a good chance of surviving her."
There was indeed a lurking desperation under Percival Nowell's airy
manner, of which the people amongst whom he lived had no suspicion.
Unless some sudden turn in the wheel of fortune should change the aspect
of affairs for him very soon, ruin, most complete and utter, was
inevitable. A man cannot go on very long without money; and in order to
pay his hotel-bill Mr. Nowell had been obliged to raise the funds from an
accommodating gentleman with whom he had done business in years gone by,
and who was very familiar with his own and his father's autograph. The
bill upon which this gentleman advanced the money in question bore the
name of Jacob Nowell, and was drawn at three months. Percival had
persuaded himself that before the three months were out his father would
be in his grave, and his executors would scarcely be in a position to
dispute the genuineness of the signature. In the meantime the money thus
obtained enabled him to float on. He paid his hotel-bill, and removed to
lodgings in one of the narrow streets to the north-east of Tottenham
Court Road; an obscure lodging enough, where he had a couple of
comfortable rooms on the first floor, and where his going out and coming
in attracted little notice. Here, as at the hotel, he chose to assume the
name of Norton instead of his legitimate cognomen.
GILBERT ASKS A QUESTION.
Gilbert Fenton called at John Saltram's chambers within a day or two of
his return from Hampshire. He had a strange, almost feverish eagerness to
see his old friend again; a sense of having wronged him for that one
brief moment of thought in which the possibility of his guilt had flashed
across his mind; and with this feeling there was mingled a suspicion that
John Saltram had not acted quite fairly to him; that he had kept back
knowledge which must have come to him as an intimate ally of Sir David
He found Mr. Saltram at home in the familiar untidy room, with the old
chaos of books and papers about him. He looked tired and ill, and rose to
greet his visitor with a weary air, as if nothing in the world possessed
much interest for him now-a-days.
"Why, John, you are as pallid as a ghost!" Gilbert exclaimed, grasping
the hand extended to him, and thinking of that one moment in which he had
fancied he was never to touch that hand again. "You have been at the old
work, I suppose--overdoing it, as usual!"
"No, I have been working very little for these last few days. The truth
is, I have not been able to work. The divine afflatus wouldn't come down
upon me. There are times when a man's brain seems to be made of melted
butter. Mine has been like that for the last week or so."
"I thought you were going back to your fishing village near Oxford."
"No, I was not in spirits for that. I have dined two or three times in
Cavendish Square, and have been made much of, and have contrived to
forget my troubles for a few hours."
"You talk of your troubles as if you were very heavily burdened; and
yet, for the life of me, I cannot see what you have to complain of,"
Gilbert said wonderingly.
"Of course not. That is always the case with one's friends--even the best
of them. It's only the man who wears the shoe that knows why it pinches
and galls him. But what have you been doing since I saw you last?"
"I have been in Hampshire."
"Indeed!" said John Saltram, looking him full in the face. "And what took
you into that quarter of the world?"
"I thought you took more interest in my affairs than to have to ask that
question. I went to look for Marian Holbrook,--and I found her."
"Poor old fellow!" Mr. Saltram said gently. "And was there any
satisfaction for you in the meeting?"
"Yes, and no. There was a kind of mournful pleasure in seeing the dear
face once more."
"She must have been surprised to see you."
"She was, no doubt, surprised--unpleasantly, perhaps; but she received me
very kindly, and was perfectly frank upon every subject except her
husband. She would tell me nothing about him--neither his position in the
world, nor his profession, if he has one, as I suppose he has. She owned
he was not rich, and that is about all she said of him. Poor girl, I do
not think she is happy!"
"What ground have you for such an idea?"
"Her face, which told me a great deal more than her words. Her beauty is
very much faded since the summer evening when I first saw her in Lidford
Church. She seems to lead a lonely life in the old farm-house to which
her husband brought her immediately after their marriage--a life which
few women would care to lead. And now, John, I want to know how it is you
have kept back the truth from me in this matter; that you have treated me
with a reserve which I had no right to expect from a friend."
"What have I kept from you"
"Your knowledge of this man Holbrook."
"What makes you suppose that I have any knowledge of him?"
"The fact that he is a friend of Sir David Forster's. The house in which
I found Marian belongs to Sir David, and was lent by him to Mr.
"I do not know every friend of Forster's. He is a man who picks up his
acquaintance in the highways and byways, and drops them when he is tired
"Will you tell me, on your honour, that you know nothing of this Mr.
Gilbert Fenton gave a weary sigh, and then seated himself silently
opposite Mr. Saltram. He could not afford to doubt this friend of his.
The whole fabric of his life must have dropped to pieces if John Saltram
had played him false. His single venture as a lover having ended in
shipwreck, he seemed to have nothing left him but friendship; and that
kind of hero-worship which had made his friend always appear to him
something better than he really was, had grown stronger with him since
"O Jack," he said presently, "I could bear anything in this world better
than the notion that you could betray me--that you could break faith with
me for the sake of another man."
"I am not likely to do that. There is no man upon, this earth I care for
very much except you. I am not a man prone to friendship. In fact, I am a
selfish worthless fellow at the best, Gilbert, and hardly merit your
serious consideration. It would be wiser of you to think of me as I
really am, and to think very little of me."
"You did not show yourself remarkably selfish when you nursed me through
that fever, at the hazard of your own life."
"Pshaw! that was nothing. I could not have done less in the position in
which we two were. Such sacrifices as those count for very little. It is
when a man's own happiness is in the scale that the black spot shows
itself. I tell you, Gilbert, I am not worth your friendship. It would be
better for you to go your own way, and have nothing more to do with me."
Mr. Saltram had said this kind of thing very often in the past, so that
the words had no especial significance to Gilbert. He only thought that
his friend was in one of those gloomy moods which were common to him at
"I could not do without your friendship, Jack," he said. "Remember how
barren the world is to me now. I have nothing left but that."
"A poor substitute for better things, Gilbert. I am never likely to be
much good to you or to myself. By the way, have you seen anything lately
of that old man you told me about--Miss Nowell's grandfather?"
"I saw him the other night. He is very ill--dying, I believe. I have
written to Marian to tell her that if she does not come very quickly to
see him, there is a chance of her not finding him alive."
"And she will come of course."
"I suppose so. She talked of waiting for her husband's consent; but she
will scarcely do that when she knows her grandfather's precarious state.
I shall go to Queen Anne's Court after I leave you, to ascertain if there
has been any letter from her to announce her coming. She is a complete
stranger in London, and may be embarrassed if she arrives at the station
alone. But I should imagine her husband would meet her there supposing
him to be in town."
Mr. Fenton stayed with his friend about an hour after this; but John
Saltram was not in a communicative mood to-night, and the talk lagged
wearily. It was almost a relief to Gilbert when they had bidden each
other good-night, and he was out in the noisy streets once more, making
his way towards Queen Anne's Court.
Gilbert Fenton found Jacob Nowell worse; so much worse, that he had been
obliged to take to his bed, and was lying in a dull shabby room upstairs,
faintly lighted by one tallow candle on the mantelpiece. Marian was there
when Gilbert went in. She had arrived a couple of hours before, and had
taken her place at once by the sick-bed. Her bonnet and shawl were thrown
carelessly upon a dilapidated couch by the window. Gilbert fancied she
looked like a ministering angel as she sat by the bed, her soft brown
hair falling loosely round the lovely face, her countenance almost divine
in its expression of tenderness and pity.
"You came to town alone, Marian?" he asked in a low voice.
The old man was in a doze at this moment, lying with his pinched withered
face turned towards his granddaughter, his feeble hand in hers.
"Yes, I came alone. My husband had not come back, and I would not delay
any longer after receiving your letter. I am very glad I came. My poor
grandfather seemed so pleased to see me. He was wandering a little when I
first came in, but brightened wonderfully afterwards, and quite
understood who I was."
The old man awoke presently. He was in a semi-delirious state, but seemed
to know his granddaughter, and clung to her, calling her by name with
senile fondness. His mind wandered back to the past, and he talked to his
son as if he had been in the room, reproaching him for his extravagance,
his college debts, which had been the ruin of his careful hard-working
father. At another moment he fancied that his wife was still alive, and
spoke to her, telling her that their grandchild had been christened after
her, and that she was to love the girl. And then the delirium left him
for a time, his mind grew clearer, and he talked quite rationally in his
low feeble way.
"Is that Mr. Fenton?" he asked; "the room's so dark, I can't see very
well. She has come to me, you see. She's a good girl. Her eyes are like
my wife's. Yes, she's a good girl. It seems a hard thing that I should
have lived all these years without knowing her; lived alone, with no one
about me but those that were on the watch for my money, and eager to
cheat me at every turn. My life might have been happier if I'd had a
grandchild to keep me company, and I might have left this place and lived
like a gentleman for her sake. But that's all past and gone. You'll be
rich when I'm dead, Marian; yes, what most people would count rich. You
won't squander the money, will you, my dear, as your father would, if it
were left to him?"
"No, grandfather. But tell me about my father. Is he still living?" the
girl asked eagerly.
"Never mind him, child," answered Jacob Nowell. "He hasn't troubled
himself about you, and you can't do better than keep clear of him. No
good ever came of anything he did yet, and no good ever will come. Don't
you have anything to do with him, Marian. He'll try to get all your money
away from you, if you give him a chance--depend upon that."
"He is living, then? O, my dear grandfather, do tell me something more
about him. Remember that whatever his errors may have been, he is my
father--the only relation I have in the world except yourself."
"His whole life has been one long error," answered Jacob Nowell. "I tell
you, child, the less you know of him the better."
He was not to be moved from this, and would say no more about his son, in
spite of Marian's earnest pleading. The doctor came in presently, for the
second time that evening, and forbade his patient's talking any more. He
told Gilbert, as he left the house, that the old man's life was now only
a question of so many days or so many hours.
The old woman who did all the work of Jacob Nowell's establishment--a
dilapidated-looking widow, whom nobody in that quarter ever remembered in
any other condition than that of widowhood--had prepared a small bedroom
at the back of the house for Marian; a room in which Percival had slept
in his early boyhood, and where the daughter found faint traces of her
father's life. Mr. Macready as Othello, in a spangled tunic, with vest of
actual satin let into the picture, after the pre-Raphaelite or realistic
tendency commonly found in such juvenile works of art, hung over the
narrow painted mantelpiece. The fond mother had had this masterpiece
framed and glazed in the days when her son was still a little lad,
unspoiled by University life and those splendid aspirations which
afterwards made his home hateful to him. There were some tattered books
upon a shelf by the bed--school prizes, an old Virgil, a "Robinson
Crusoe" shorn of its binding. The boy's name was written in them in a
scrawling schoolboy hand; not once, but many times, after the fashion of
juvenile bibliopoles, with primitive rhymes in Latin and English setting
forth his proprietorship in the volumes. Caricatures were scribbled upon
the fly-leaves and margins of the books, the date whereof looked very old
to Marian, long before her own birth.
It was not till very late that she consented to leave the old man's side
and go to the room which had been got ready for her, to lie down for an
hour. She would not hear of any longer rest though the humble widow was
quite pathetic in her entreaties that the dear young lady would try to
get a good night's sleep, and would leave the care of Mr. Nowell to her,
who knew his ways, poor dear gentleman, and would watch over him as
carefully as if he had been her own poor husband, who kept his bed for a
twelvemonth before he died, and had to be waited on hand and foot. Marian
told this woman that she did not want rest. She had come to town on
purpose to be with her grandfather, and would stay with him as long as he
needed her care.
She did, however, consent to go to her room for a little in the early
November dawn, when Jacob Nowell had fallen into a profound sleep; but
when she did lie down, sleep would not come to her. She could not help
listening to every sound in the opposite room--the falling of a cinder,
the stealthy footfall of the watcher moving cautiously about now and
then; listening still more intently when all was silent, expecting every
moment to hear herself summoned suddenly. The sick-room and the dark
shadow of coming death brought back the thought of that bitter time when
her uncle was lying unconscious and speechless in the pretty room at
Lidford, with the wintry light shining coldly upon his stony face; while
she sat by his pillow, watching him in hopeless silent agony, waiting for
that dread change which they had told her was the only change that could
come to him on earth. The scene re-acted itself in her mind to-night,
with all the old anguish. She shut it out at last with a great effort,
and began to think of what her grandfather had said to her.
She was to be rich. She who had been a dependant upon others all her life
was to know the security and liberty that must needs go along with
wealth. She was glad of this, much more for her husband's sake than her
own. She knew that the cares which had clouded their life of late, which
had made him seem to love her less than he had loved her at first, had
their chief origin in want of money. What happiness it would be for her
to lift this burden from his life, to give him peace and security for the
years to come! Her thoughts wandered away into the bright region of
day-dreams after this, and she fancied what their lives might be without
that dull sordid trouble of pecuniary embarrassments. She fancied her
husband, with all the fetters removed that had hampered his footsteps
hitherto, winning a name and a place in the world. It is so natural for a
romantic inexperienced girl to believe that the man she loves was born to
achieve greatness; and that if he misses distinction, it is from the
perversity of his surroundings or from his own carelessness, never from
the fact of his being only a very small creature after all.
It was broad daylight when Marian rose after an hour of sleeplessness and
thought, and refreshed herself with the contents of the cracked water-jug
upon the rickety little wash-stand. The old man was still asleep when she
went back to his room; but his breathing was more troubled than it had
been the night before, and the widow, who was experienced in sickness and
death, told Marian that he would not last very long. The shopman, Luke
Tulliver, had come upstairs to see his master, and was hovering over the
bed with a ghoulish aspect. This young man looked very sharply at Marian
as she came into the room--seemed indeed hardly able to take his eyes
from her face--and there was not much favour in his look. He knew who she
was, and had been told how kindly the old man had taken to her in those
last moments of his life; and he hated her with all his heart and soul,
having devoted all the force of his mind for the last ten years to the
cultivation of his employer's good graces, hoping that Mr. Nowell, having
no one else to whom to leave his money, would end by leaving it all to
him. And here was a granddaughter, sprung from goodness knows where, to
cheat him out of all his chances. He had always suspected Gilbert Fenton
of being a dangerous sort of person, and it was no doubt he who had
brought about this introduction, to the annihilation of Mr. Tulliver's
hopes. This young man took his place in a vacant chair by the fire, as if
determined to stop; while Marian seated herself quietly by the sleeper's
pillow, thinking only of that one occupant of the room, and supposing
that Mr. Tulliver's presence was a mark of fidelity.
The old man woke with a start presently, and looked about him in a slow
bewildered way for some moments.
"Who's that?" he asked presently, pointing to the figure by the hearth.
"It's only Mr. Tulliver, sir," the widow answered. "He's so anxious about
you, poor young man."
"I don't want him," said Jacob Nowell impatiently. "I don't want his
anxiety; I want to be alone with my granddaughter."
"Don't send me away, sir," Mr. Tulliver pleaded in a piteous tone. "I
don't deserve to be sent away like a stranger, after serving you
faithfully for the last ten years----"
"And being well paid for your services," gasped the old man. "I tell you
I don't want you. Go downstairs and mind the shop."
"It's not open yet, sir," remonstrated Mr. Tulliver.
"Then it ought to be. I'll have no idling and shirking because I'm ill.
Go down and take down the shutters directly. Let the business go on just
as if I was there to watch it."
"I'm going, sir," whimpered the young man; "but it does seem rather a
poor return after having served you as I have, and loved you as if you'd
been my own father."
"Very much men love their fathers now-a-days! I didn't ask you to love
me, did I? or hire you for that, or pay you for it? Pshaw, man, I know
you. You wanted my money like the rest of them, and I didn't mind your
thinking there was a chance of your getting it. I've rather encouraged
the notion at odd times. It made you a better servant, and kept you
honest. But now that I'm dying, I can afford to tell the truth. This
young lady will have all my money, every sixpence of it, except
five-and-twenty pounds to Mrs. Mitchin yonder. And now you can go. You'd
have got something perhaps in a small way, if you'd been less of a sneak
and a listener; but you've played your cards a trifle too well."
The old man had raised himself up in his bed, and rallied considerably
while he made this speech. He seemed to take a malicious pleasure in his
shopman's disappointment. But when Luke Tulliver had slowly withdrawn
from the room, with a last venomous look at Marian, Jacob Nowell sank
back upon his pillow exhausted by his unwonted animation.
"You don't know what a deep schemer that young man has been, Marian," he
said, "and how I have laughed in my sleeve at his manoeuvres."
The dull November day dragged itself slowly through, Marian never leaving
her post by the sick-bed. Jacob Nowell spent those slow hours in fitful
sleep and frequent intervals of wakefulness, in which he would talk to
Marian, however she might urge him to remember the doctor's injunctions
that he should be kept perfectly quiet. It seemed indeed to matter very
little whether he obeyed the doctor or not, since the end was inevitable.
One of the curates of the parish came in the course of the day, and read
and prayed beside the old man's bed, Jacob Nowell joining in the prayers
in a half-mechanical way. For many years of his life he had neglected all
religious duties. It was years since he had been inside a church; perhaps
he had not been once since the death of his wife, who had persuaded him
to go with her sometimes to the evening service, when he had generally
scandalised her by falling asleep during the delivery of the sermon. All
that the curate told him now about the necessity that he should make his
peace with his God, and prepare himself for a world to come, had a
far-off sound to him. He thought more about the silver downstairs, and
what it was likely to realize in the auction-room. Even in this supreme
hour his conscience did not trouble him much about the doubtful modes by
which some of the plate he had dealt in had reached his hands. If he had
not bought the things, some other dealer would have bought them. That is
the easy-going way in which he would have argued the question, had he
been called upon to argue it at all.
Mr. Fenton came in the evening to see the old man, and stood for a little
time by the bedside watching him as he slept, and talking in a low voice
to Marian. He asked her how long she was going to remain in Queen Anne's
Court, and found her ideas very vague upon that subject.
"If the end is so near as the doctor says, it would be cruel to leave my
grandfather till all is over," she said.
"I wonder that your husband has not come to you, if he is in London,"
Gilbert remarked to her presently. He found himself very often wondering
about her husband's proceedings, in no indulgent mood.
"He may not be in London," she answered, seeming a little vexed by the
observation. "I am quite sure that he will do whatever is best."
"But if he should not come to you, and if your grandfather should die
while you are alone here, I trust you will send for me and let me give
you any help you may require. You can scarcely stay in this house after
the poor old man's death."
"I shall go back to Hampshire immediately; if I am not wanted here for
anything--to make arrangements for the funeral. O, how hard it seems to
speak of that while he is still living!"
"You need give yourself no trouble on that account. I will see to all
that, if there is no more proper person to do so."
"You are very good. I am anxious to go back to the Grange as quickly as
Gilbert left soon after this. He felt that his presence was of no use in
the sick-room, and that he had no right to intrude upon Marian at such a
FATHER AND DAUGHTER.
Almost immediately after Gilbert's departure, another visitor appeared in
the dimly lighted shop, where Luke Tulliver was poring over a newspaper
at one end of the counter under a solitary gas-burner.
The new-comer was Percival Nowell, who had not been to the house since
his daughter's arrival.
"Well," said this gentleman, in his usual off-hand manner, "how's the
"Very ill; going fast, the doctor says."
"Eh? As bad as that? Then there's been a change since I was here last."
"Yes; Mr. Nowell was taken much worse yesterday morning. He had a kind of
fit, I fancy, and couldn't get his speech for some time afterwards. But
he got over that, and has talked well enough since then," Mr. Tulliver
concluded ruefully, remembering his master's candid remarks that morning.
"I'll step upstairs and have a look at the old gentleman," said Percival.
"There's a young lady with him," Mr. Tulliver remarked, in a somewhat
"A young lady!" the other cried. "What young lady?"
"Yes; she came up from the country yesterday evening, and she's been
sitting with him ever since. He seems to have taken to her very much.
You'd think she'd been about him all her life; and she's to have all his
money, he says. I wonder what his only son will say to that," added Mr.
Tulliver, looking very curiously at Percival Nowell, "supposing him to be
alive? Rather hard upon him, isn't it?"
"Uncommonly," the other answered coolly. He saw that the shopman
suspected his identity, though he had carefully avoided all reference to
the relationship between himself and the old man in Luke Tulliver's
presence, and had begged his father to say nothing about him.
"I should like to see this young lady before I go up to Mr. Nowell's
room," he said presently. "Will you step upstairs and ask her to come
down to me?"
"I can go if you wish, but I don't suppose she'll leave the old
"Never mind what you suppose. Tell her that I wish to say a few words to
her upon particular business."
Luke Tulliver departed upon his errand, while Percival Nowell went into
the parlour, and seated himself before the dull neglected fire in the
lumbering old arm-chair in which his father had sat through the long
lonely evenings for so many years. Mr. Nowell the younger was not
disturbed by any sentimental reflections upon this subject, however; he
was thinking of his father's will, and the wrong which was inflicted upon
"To be cheated out of every sixpence by my own flesh and blood!" he
muttered to himself. "That seems too much for any man to bear."
The door was opened by a gentle hand presently, and Marian came into the
room. Percival Nowell rose from his seat hastily and stood facing her,
surprised by her beauty and an indefinable likeness which she bore to her
mother--a likeness which brought his dead wife's face back to his mind
with a sudden pang. He had loved her after his own fashion once upon a
time, and had grown weary of her and neglected her after the death of
that short-lived selfish passion; but something, some faint touch of the
old feeling, stirred his heart as he looked at his daughter to-night. The
emotion was as brief as the breath of a passing wind. In the next moment
he was thinking of his father's money, and how this girl had emerged from
obscurity to rob him of it.
"You wish to speak to me on business, I am told," she said, in her clear
low voice, wondering at the stranger's silence and deliberate scrutiny of
"Yes, I have to speak to you on very serious business, Marian," he
"You are an utter stranger to me, and yet call me by my Christian name."
"I am not an utter stranger to you. Look at me, Mrs. Holbrook. Have you
never seen my face before?"
"Are you quite sure of that? Look a little longer before you answer
"Yes!" she cried suddenly, after a long pause. "You are my father!"
There had come back upon her, in a rapid flash of memory, the picture of
a room in Brussels--a room lighted dimly by two wax-candles on the
chimney-piece, where there was a tall dark man who snatched her up in his
arms and kissed her before he went out. She remembered caring very little
for his kisses, and having a childish consciousness of the fact that it
was he who made her mamma cry so often in the quiet lonely evenings, when
the mother and child were together in that desolate continental lodging.
Yet at this moment she was scarcely disposed to think much about her
father's ill-conduct. She considered only that he was her father, and
that they had found each other after long years of separation. She
stretched out her arms, and would have fallen upon his breast; but
something in his manner repelled her, something downcast and nervous,
which had a chilling effect upon her, and gave her time to remember how
little cause she had to love him. He did not seem aware of the
affectionate impulse which had moved her towards him at first. He gave
her his hand presently. It was deadly cold, and lay loosely in her own.
"I was asking my grandfather about you this morning," she said, wondering
at his strange manner, "but he would not tell me where you were."
"Indeed! I am surprised to find you felt so much interest in me; I'm
aware that I don't deserve as much. Yet I could plead plenty of excuses
for my life, if I cared to trouble you with them; but I don't. It would
be a long story; and when it was told, you might not believe it. Most men
are, more or less, the slave of circumstances. I have suffered that kind
of bondage all my life. I have known, too, that you were in good
hands--better off in every way than you could have been in my care--or I
should have acted differently in relation to you."
"There is no occasion to speak of the past," Marian replied gravely.
"Providence was very good to me; but I know my poor mother's last days
were full of sorrow. I cannot tell how far it might have been in your
power to prevent that. It is not my place to blame, or even to question
"You are an uncommonly dutiful daughter," Mr. Nowell exclaimed with
rather a bitter laugh; "I thought that you would have repudiated me
altogether perhaps; would have taken your tone from my father, who has
grown pig-headed with old age, and cannot forgive me for having had the
aspirations of a gentleman."
"It is a pity there should not be union between my grandfather and you at
such a moment as this," Marian said.
"O, we are civil enough to each other. I bear no malice against the old
man, though many sons in my position might consider themselves hardly
used. And now I may as well go upstairs and pay my respects. Why is not
your husband with you, by the bye?"
"He is not wanted here; and I do not even know that he is in London."
"Humph! He seems rather a mysterious sort of person, this husband of
Marian took no notice of this remark, and the father and daughter went
upstairs to the sick-room together. The old silversmith received his son
with obvious coolness, and was evidently displeased at seeing Marian and
her father together.
Percival Nowell, however, on his part, appeared to be in an unusually
affectionate and dutiful mood this evening. He held his place by the
bedside resolutely, and insisted on sharing Marian's watch that night. So
all through the long night those two sat together, while the old man
passed from uneasy slumber to more uneasy wakefulness, and back to
troubled sleep again, his breathing growing heavier and more laboured
with every hour. They were very quiet, and could have found but little to
say to each other, had there been no reason for their silence. That first
brief impulsive feeling of affection past, Marian could only think of
this newly-found father as the man who had made her mother's life lonely
and wretched while he pursued his own selfish pleasures; and who had
allowed her to grow to womanhood without having been the object of one
thought or care upon his part. She could not forget these things, as she
sat opposite to him in the awful silence of the sick-room, stealing a
glance at his face now and then, and wondering at the strange turn of
fortune which had brought them thus together.
It was not a pleasant face by any means--not a countenance to inspire
love or confidence. Handsome still, but with a faded look, like a face
that had grown pallid and wrinkled in the feverish atmosphere of vicious
haunts--under the flaring gas that glares down upon the green cloth of a
rouge-et-noir table, in the tumult of crowded race-courses, the press and
confusion of the betting-ring--it was the face of a battered _roue_, who
had lived his life, and outlived the smiles of fortune; the face of a man
to whom honest thoughts and hopes had long been unknown. There was a
disappointed peevish look about the drooping corners of the mouth, an
angry glitter in the eyes.
He did not look at his daughter very often as they sat together through
that weary vigil, but kept his eyes for the greater part of the time upon
the wasted face on the pillow, which looked like a parchment mask in the
dim light. He seemed to be deep in thought, and several times in the
night Marian heard him breathe an impatient sigh, as if his thoughts were
not pleasant to him. More than once he rose from his chair and paced the
room softly for a little time, as if the restlessness of his mind had
made that forced quiet unendurable. The early morning light came at last,
faint and wan and gray, across a forest of blackened chimney-pots, and by
that light the watchers could see that Jacob Nowell had changed for the
He lingered till late that afternoon. It was growing dusk when he died,
making a very peaceful end of life at the last, with his head resting
upon Marian's shoulder, and his cold hand clasped in hers. His son stood
by the bed, looking down upon him at that final moment with a fixed
inscrutable face. Gilbert Fenton called that evening, and heard of the
old man's death from Luke Tulliver. He heard also that Mrs. Holbrook
intended to sleep in Queen Anne's Court that night, and did not therefore
intrude upon her, relying upon being able to see her next morning. He
left his card, with a few words of condolence written upon it in pencil.
Mr. Nowell was with his daughter in the little parlour behind the shop
when Luke Tulliver gave her this card. He asked who the visitor was.
"Mr. Fenton, a gentleman I knew at Lidford in my dear uncle's lifetime.
My grandfather liked him very much."
"Mr. Fenton! Yes, my father told me all about him. You were engaged to
him, and jilted him for this man you have married--very foolishly, as it
seems to me; for he could certainly have given you a better position than
that which you appear to occupy now."
"I chose for my own happiness," Marian answered quietly, "and I have only
one subject for regret; that is, that I was compelled to act with
ingratitude towards a good man. But Mr. Fenton has forgiven me; has
promised to be my friend, if ever I should have need of his friendship.
He has very kindly offered to take all trouble off my hands with respect
to--to the arrangements for the funeral."
"He is remarkably obliging," said Percival Nowell with a sneer; "but as
the only son of the deceased, I consider myself the proper person to
perform that final duty."
"I do not wish to interfere with your doing so. Of course I did not know
how near at hand you were when Mr. Fenton made that offer, or I should
have told him."
"You mean to remain until the funeral is over, I suppose?"
"I think not; I want to go back to Hampshire as soon as possible--by an
early train to-morrow morning, if I can. I do not see that there is any
reason for my remaining. I could not prove my respect or affection for my
grandfather any more by staying."
"Certainly not," her father answered promptly. "I think you will be quite
right in getting away from this dingy hole as quick as you can."
"It is not for that. But I have promised to return directly I was free to
"And you go back to Hampshire? To what part of Hampshire?"
Marian told him the name of the place where she was living. He wrote the
address in his pocket-book, and was especially careful that it should be
correctly written, as to the name of the nearest town, and in all other
"I may have to write to you, or to come to you, perhaps," he said. "It's
as well to be prepared for the contingency."
After this Mr. Nowell sent out for a "Railway Guide," in order to give
his daughter all necessary information about the trains for Malsham.
There was a tolerably fast train that left Waterloo at seven in the
morning, and Marian decided upon going by that. She had to spend the
evening alone with her father while Mrs. Mitchin kept watch in the
dismal chamber upstairs. Mr. Nowell asked his daughter's permission to
light his cigar, and having obtained it, sat smoking moodily all the
evening, staring into the fire, and very rarely addressing his companion,
who had taken a Bible out of her travelling-bag, and was reading those
solemn, chapters which best harmonised with her feelings at this moment;
thinking as she read of the time when her guardian and benefactor lay in
his last calm rest, and she had vainly tried to find comfort in the same
words, and had found herself staring blankly at the sacred page, with
eyes that were dry and burning, and to which there came no merciful
relief from tears.
Her father glanced at her askance now and then from his arm-chair by the
fire, as she sat by the little round table looking down at her book, the
light of the candles shining full upon her pensive face. He looked at her
with no friendliness in his eyes, but with that angry sparkle which had
grown almost habitual to them of late, since the world had gone ill with
him. After one of those brief stolen looks, a strange smile crept over
his face. He was thinking of a little speech of Shakespeare's Richard
about his nephew, the youthful Prince of Wales:
So young, so wise, they say do ne'er live long.
"How pious she is!" he said to himself with a diabolical sneer. "Did the
half-pay Captain teach her that, I wonder? or does church-going, and
psalm-singing, and Bible-reading come natural to all women? I know my
mother was good at it, and my wife too. She used to fly to her Bible as a
man flies to dram-drinking, or his pipe, when things go wrong."
He got tired of his cigar at last, and went out into the shop, where he
began to question Mr. Tulliver as to the extent and value of the
stock-in-trade, and upon other details of the business; to all of which
inquiries the shopman replied in a suspicious and grudging spirit, giving
his questioner the smallest possible amount of information.
"You're an uncommonly cautious young man," Mr. Nowell exclaimed at last.
"You'll never stand in your own light by being too anxious to oblige
other people. I daresay, though, you could speak fast enough, if it was
made worth your while."
"I don't see what is to make it worth my while," Luke Tulliver answered
coolly. "My duty is to my dead master, and those that are to come after
him. I don't want strangers coming sniffing and prying into the stock.
Mr. Nowell's books were kept so that I couldn't cheat him out of a
sixpence, or the value of a sixpence; and I mean to hand 'em over to the
lawyer in a manner that will do me credit. My master has not been a
generous master to me, considering how I've served him, and I've got
nothing but my character to look to; but that I have got, and I don't
want it tampered with."
"Who is going to tamper with it?" said Mr. Nowell. "So you'll hand over
the stock-books to the lawyer, will you, without a leaf missing, or an
erasure, or an item marked off as sold that never was sold, or any little
dodges of that kind, eh, Mr. Tulliver?"
"Of course," answered the shopman, looking defiantly at the questioner,