Part 5 out of 10
who was leaning across the counter with folded arms, staring at Luke
Tulliver with an ironical grin upon his countenance.
"Then you are a very remarkable man. I should have thought such a chance
as a death as unexpected as my--as old Mr. Nowell's would have made the
fortune of a confidential clerk like you."
"I'm not a thief," answered Mr. Tulliver with an air of virtuous
indignation; "and you can't know much about old Jacob Nowell if you think
that anybody could cheat him, living or dead. There's not an entry in the
book that isn't signed with his initials, in his own hand. When a thing
was sold and crossed off the book, he put his initials to the entry of
the sale. He went through the books every night till a week ago, and he'd
as soon have cut his own head off as omit to do it, so long as he could
see the figures in the book or hold his pen."
Mr. Medler the lawyer came in while Percival Nowell and the shopman were
talking. He had been away from his office upon business that evening, and
had only just received the tidings of the silversmith's death.
Luke Tulliver handed him the books and keys of the cases in which the
tarnished plate was exhibited. He went into all the details of the
business carefully, setting his seal upon books and papers, and doing all
that he could to make matters secure without hindrance to the carrying on
of the trade.
He was surprised to hear that Mrs. Holbrook was in the house, and
proposed paying his respects to her that evening; but this Mr. Nowell
prevented. She was tired and out of spirits, he told the attorney; it
would be better for him to see her next day. It was convenient to Mr.
Nowell to forget Marian's intention of returning to Hampshire by an early
train on the following morning at this juncture.
When he went back to the parlour by-and-by, after Mr. Medler had finished
his business in the shop, and was trudging briskly towards his own
residence, Mr. Nowell told his daughter that the lawyer had been there,
but did not inform her of his desire to see her.
"I suppose you know all about your grandfather's will?" he said
by-and-by, when he had half-finished another cigar.
Marian had put away her book by this time, and was looking dreamily at
the fire, thinking of her husband, who need never know those weary sordid
cares about money again, now that she was to be rich.
Her father's question startled her out of that agreeable day-dream.
"Yes," she said; "my grandfather told me that he had left all his money
to me. I know that must seem unjust to you, papa; but I hope my husband
will allow me to do something towards repairing that injustice in some
"In some measure!" Mr. Nowell thought savagely. "That means a pittance
that would serve to keep life in a pauper, I suppose; and that is to be
contingent upon her husband's permission." He made no audible reply to
his daughter's speech, and seemed, indeed, so much absorbed in his own
thoughts, that Marian doubted if he had heard her; and so the rest of the
long evening wore itself out in dismal silence, whilst stealthy footsteps
sounded now and then upon the stairs. Later Mr. Nowell was summoned to a
conference with some mysterious person in the shop, whom Marian supposed
to be the undertaker; and returning from this interview with a gloomy
face, he resumed his seat by the fire.
It seemed very strange to Marian that they two, father and daughter,
should be together thus, so near and yet so wide apart; united by the
closest tie of kindred, brought together thus after years of severance,
yet with no bond of sympathy between them; no evidence of remorseful
tenderness on the side of him whose life had been one long neglect of a
"How could I expect that he would care for me in the smallest degree,
after his desertion of my mother?" Marian thought to herself, as she
meditated upon her father's coldness, which at first had seemed so
strange to her. She had fancied that, what ever his sins in the past had
been, his heart would have melted at the sight of his only child. She had
thought of him and dreamed of him so often in her girlhood, elevating him
in her romantic fancy into something much better and brighter than he
really was--a sinner at best, it is true, but a sinner of a lofty type, a
noble nature gone astray. She had imagined a reunion with him in the days
to come, when it should be her delight to minister to his declining
years--to be the consolation of his repentant soul. And now she had found
him she knew these things could never be--that there was not one feeling
of sympathy possible between her and that broken-down, dissipated-looking
man of the world.
The dismal evening came to an end at last, and Marian bade her father
good-night, and went upstairs to the little room where the traces of his
boyhood had interested her so keenly when first she looked upon them.
Mr. Nowell promised to come to Queen Anne's Court at a quarter past six
next morning, to escort his daughter to the station, an act of parental
solicitude she had not expected from him. He took his departure
immediately afterwards, being let out of the shop-door by Luke Tulliver,
who was in a very cantankerous humour, and took no pains to disguise the
state of his feelings. The lawyer Mr. Medler had pried into everything,
the shopman told Percival Nowell; had declared himself empowered to do
this, as the legal adviser of the deceased; and had seemed as suspicious
as if he, Luke Tulliver, meant to rob his dead master. Mr. Tulliver's
sensitive nature had been outraged by such a line of conduct.
"And what has he done with the books?" Mr. Nowell asked.
"They're all in the desk yonder, and that fellow Medler has taken away
"Sharp practice," said Mr. Nowell; "but to a man with your purity of
intention it can't matter what precautions are taken to insure the safety
of the property."
"Of course it don't matter," the other answered peevishly; "but I like to
be treated as a gentleman."
"Humph! And you expect to retain your place here, I suppose, if the
business is carried on?"
"It's too good a business to be let drop," replied Mr. Tulliver; "but I
shouldn't think that young lady upstairs would be much of a hand at
trade. I wouldn't mind offering a fair price for the business,--I've got
a tidy little bit of money put away, though my salary has been small
enough, goodness knows; but I've lived with the old gentleman, and never
wasted a penny upon pleasure; none of your music-halls, or
dancing-saloons, or anything of that kind, for me,--or I wouldn't mind
paying an annual sum out of the profits of the trade for a reasonable
term. If you've any influence with the young lady, perhaps you could put
it to her, and get her to look at things in that light," Mr. Tulliver
added, becoming quite obsequious as it dawned upon him that this
interloping stranger might be able to do him a service.
"I'll do my best for you, Tulliver," Mr. Nowell replied, in a patronising
tone. "I daresay the young lady will be quite willing to entertain any
reasonable proposition you may make."
Faithful to his promise Mr. Nowell appeared at a quarter past six next
morning, at which hour he found his daughter quite ready for her journey.
She was very glad to get away from that dreary house, made a hundredfold
more dismal by the sense of what lay in the closed chamber, where the
candles were still burning in the yellow fog of the November morning, and
to which Marian had gone with hushed footsteps to kneel for the last time
beside the old man who was so near her by the ties of relationship, and
whom she had known for so brief a space. She was glad to leave that dingy
quarter of the town, which to one who had never lived in an English city
seemed unspeakably close and wretched; still more glad to think that she
was going back to the quiet home, where her husband would most likely
join her very soon. She might find him there when she arrived, perhaps;
for he knew nothing of this journey to London, or could only hear of it
at the Grange, where she had left a letter for him, enclosing that brief
note of Gilbert Fenton's which had informed her of her grandfather's
fatal illness. There were special reasons why she should not ask him to
meet her in Queen Anne's Court, however long she might have been
compelled to stay there.
Mr. Nowell was much more affectionate in his manner to his daughter this
morning, as they sat in the cab driving to the station, and walked side
by side upon the platform in the quarter of an hour's interval before the
departure of the train. He questioned her closely upon her life in the
present, and her plans for the future, expressing himself in a remarkably
generous manner upon the subject of her grandfather's will, and declaring
himself very well pleased that his own involuntary neglect was to be so
amply atoned for by the old man's liberality. He found his daughter
completely ignorant of the world, as gentle and confiding as he had found
her mother in the past. He sounded the depths of her innocent mind during
that brief promenade; and when the train bore her away at last, and the
platform was clear, he remained for some time walking up and down in
profound meditation, scarcely knowing where he was. He looked round him
in an absent way by-and-by, and then hurriedly left the station, and
drove straight to Mr. Medler's office, which was upon the ground floor of
a gloomy old house in one of the dingier streets in the Soho district,
and in the upper chambers whereof the attorney's wife and numerous
offspring had their abode. He came down to his client from his
unpretending breakfast-table in a faded dressing-gown, with smears of egg
and greasy traces of buttered toast about the region of his mouth, and
seemed not particularly pleased to see Mr. Nowell. But the conference
that followed was a long one; and it is to be presumed that it involved
some chance of future profit, since the lawyer forgot to return to his
unfinished breakfast, much to the vexation of Mrs. Medler, a faded lady
with everything about her in the extremest stage of limpness, who washed
the breakfast-things with her own fair hands, in consideration of the
multitudinous duties to be performed by that hapless solitary damsel who
in such modest households is usually denominated "the girl."
AT LIDFORD AGAIN.
Gilbert Fenton called in Queen Anne's Court within a few hours of
Marian's departure, and was not a little disappointed when he was told
that she had gone back to Hampshire. He had relied upon seeing her
again--not once only, but several times--before her return. He had
promised Jacob Nowell that he would watch over and protect her interests;
and it was a sincere unqualified wish to do this that influenced him now.
More than a dear friend, the sweetest and dearest of all womankind, she
could never be to him. He accepted the position with resignation. The
first sharp bitterness of her loss was over. That he should ever cease to
love her was impossible; but it seemed to him that a chivalrous
friendship for her, a disinterested brotherly affection, was in no manner
incompatible with that hapless silent love. No word of his, in all their
intercourse to come, should ever remind her of that hidden devotion; no
shadow of the past should ever cloud the calm brightness of the present.
It was a romantic fancy, perhaps, for a man of business, whose days were
spent in the very press and tumult of commercial life; but it had lifted
Gilbert Fenton out of that slough of despond into which he had fallen
when Marian seemed utterly lost to him--vanished altogether out of his
He had a sense of bitter disappointment, therefore, when he found that
she had gone, leaving neither letter nor message for him. How little
value his friendship must needs possess for her, when she could abandon
him thus without a word! He had felt sure that she would consult him upon
her affairs; but no, she had her husband to whom to appeal, and had no
need of any other counsellor.
"I was a fool to think that I could ever be anything to her, even a
friend," he said to himself bitterly; "women are incapable of friendship.
It is all or nothing with them; a blind self-abnegation or the coldest
indifference. Devotion cannot touch them, unless the man who gives it
happen to be that one man out of a thousand who has the power to bewitch
their senses. Truth and affection, of themselves, have no value with
them. How many people spoke to me of this Holbrook as an unattractive
man; and yet he won my love away from me, and holds her with an influence
so complete, that my friendship seems worthless to her. She cannot give
me a word or a thought."
Mr. Fenton made some inquiries about the funeral arrangements and found
that these had been duly attended to by the lawyer, and a gentleman who
had been with Jacob Nowell a good deal of late, who seemed to be some
relation to the old man, Mr. Tulliver said, and took a great deal upon
himself. This being done, there was, of course, no occasion for Gilbert
to interfere, and he was glad to be released from all responsibility.
Having ascertained this, he asked for the address of the late Mr.
Nowell's lawyer; and being told it, went at once to Mr. Medler's office.
He did not consider himself absolved from the promise he had made the old
man by Marian's indifference, and was none the less anxious to watch over
her interests because she seemed to set so little value on his
He told Mr. Medler who he was, and the promise he had given to Jacob
Nowell, abstaining, of course, from any reference to the position he had
once occupied towards Marian. He described himself as her friend only--a
friend of long standing, who had been intimate with her adopted guardian.
"I know how ignorant Mrs. Holbrook is of the world and of all business
matters," he went on to say, "and I am naturally anxious that her
interests should be protected."
"I should think there was very little doubt that her husband will see
after those," the lawyer answered, with something of a sneer; "husbands
are generally supposed to do that, especially where there is money at
"I do not know Mr. Holbrook; and he has kept himself in the background so
persistently up to this point, and has been altogether so underhanded in
his proceedings, that I have by no means a good opinion of him. Mr.
Nowell told me that he intended to leave his money to his granddaughter
in such a manner, that it would be hers and hers only--free from the
control of any husband. He has done so, I presume?"
"Yes," Mr. Medler replied, with the air of a man who would fain have
withheld the information; "he has left it for her own separate use and
"And it is a property of some importance, I conclude?"
"Of some importance--yes," the lawyer answered, in the same tone.
"Ought not Mrs. Holbrook to have remained to hear the reading of the
"Well, yes, decidedly; it would have been more in the usual way of
things; but her absence can have no ill effect upon her interests. Of
course it will be my duty to make her acquainted with the contents of the
Gilbert Fenton was not prepossessed by Mr. Medler's countenance, which
was not an open candid index to a spotless soul, nor by his surroundings,
which were of the shabbiest; but the business being in this man's hands,
it might be rather difficult to withdraw it--dangerous even. The man held
the will, and in holding that had a certain amount of power.
"There is no one except Mrs. Holbrook interested in Mr. Nowell's will, I
suppose?" Gilbert said presently.
"No one directly and immediately, except an old charwoman, who has a
legacy of five-and-twenty pounds."
"But there is some one else interested in an indirect manner I infer from
"Yes. Mrs. Holbrook takes the whole of the personalty, but she has only a
life-interest in the real estate. If she should have children, it will go
to them on her death; if she should die childless, it will go to her
father, supposing him to survive her."
"To her father? That is rather strange, isn't it?"
"I don't know that. It was the old man's wish that the will should be to
"I understood from him that he did not know whether his son was alive or
"Indeed! I believe he had news of his son very lately."
"Curious that he should not have told me, knowing as he did my interest
in everything relating to Mrs. Holbrook."
"Old people are apt to be close; and Jacob Nowell was about one of the
closest customers I ever met with," answered the lawyer.
Gilbert left him soon after this, and chartered a hansom in the next
street, which carried him back to the City. He was very uncertain as to
what he ought to do for Marian, doubtful of Mr. Medler's integrity, and
yet anxious to abstain from any act that might seem uncalled for or
officious. She had her husband to look after her interests, as the lawyer
had reminded him, and it was scarcely probable that Mr. Holbrook would
neglect any steps necessary to secure his wife's succession to whatever
property Jacob Nowell had left. It seemed to Gilbert that he could do
nothing at present, except write to Marian, telling her of his interview
with the lawyer, and advising her to lose no time in placing the conduct
of her affairs in more respectable hands than those of Mr. Medler. He
mentioned his own solicitors, a City firm of high standing, as gentlemen
whom she might wisely trust at this crisis of her life.
This done, he could only wait the issue of events, and he tried to occupy
himself as much as possible with his business at St. Helens--that
business which he seriously intended getting rid of as soon as he could
meet with a favourable opportunity for so doing. He worked with that
object in view. In spite of his losses in Australia, he was in a position
to retire from commerce with a very fair income. He had lost all motive
for sustained exertion, all desire to become rich. A man who has no taste
for expensive bachelor pleasures and no home has very little opportunity
for getting rid of large sums of money. Mr. Fenton had taken life
pleasantly enough, and yet had never spent five hundred a year. He could
retire with an income of eight hundred and having abandoned all idea of
ever marrying this seemed to him more than sufficient.
The Listers had come back to England, and Mrs. Lister had written to her
brother more than once, begging him to run down to Lidford. Of course
she had expressed herself freely upon the subject of Marian's conduct in
these letters, reprobating the girl's treachery and ingratitude, and
congratulating Gilbert upon his escape from so ineligible a connection.
Mr. Fenton had put his sister off with excuses hitherto, and had
subjected himself thereby to sundry feminine reproaches upon his coldness
and want of affection for Mrs. Lister and her children. "It was very
different when Marian Nowell was here," she wrote; "you thought it no
trouble to come to us then."
No answer came to his letter to Mrs. Holbrook--which scarcely called for
a reply, unless it had been a few lines of thanks, in acknowledgment of
his interest in her behalf. He had looked for such a letter, and was a
little disappointed by its non-appearance. The omission, slight as it
was, served to strengthen his bitter feeling that his friendship in this
quarter was unneeded and unvalued.
Business in the City happened to be rather slack at this time; and it
struck Mr. Fenton all at once that he could scarcely have a better
opportunity for wasting two or three days in a visit of duty to the
Listers, and putting an end to his sister's reproachful letters. He had a
second motive for going to Lidford; a motive which had far greater weight
with him than his brotherly affection just at this time. He wanted to see
Sir David Forster, to call that gentleman to some account for the
deliberate falsehood he had uttered at their last meeting. He had no
bloodthirsty or ferocious feelings upon the subject, he could even
understand that the Baronet might have been bound by his own ideas of
honour to tell a lie in the service of his friend; but he wanted to
extort some explanation of the line of conduct Sir David had taken, and
he wanted to ascertain from him the character of Marian's husband. He had
made inquiries about Sir David at the club, and had been told that he was
still at Heatherly.
He went down to Lidford by an afternoon train, without having troubled
himself to give Mrs. Lister any notice of his coming. The November
evening had closed in upon the quiet rural landscape when he drove from
the station to Lidford. A cold white mist enfolded all things here,
instead of the stifling yellow fog that had filled the London streets
when he walked westwards from the City at the same hour on the previous
evening. Above his head the sky was clear and bright, the mist-wreaths
melting away as they mounted towards the stars. The lighted windows in
the village street had a pleasant homely look; the snug villas, lying
back from the high road with a middle distance of dark lawn and
glistening shrubbery, shone brightly upon the traveller as he drove by,
the curtains not yet drawn before some of the windows, the rooms ruddy in
the firelight. In one of them he caught a brief glimpse of a young
matron seated by the fire with her children clustered at her knee, and
the transient picture struck him with a sudden pang. He had dreamed so
fondly of a home like this; pleasant rooms shining in the sacred light of
the hearth, his wife and children waiting to bid him welcome when the
day's work was done. All other objects which men live and toil for seemed
to him poor and worthless in the absence of this one dear incentive to
exertion, this one sweet recompense for every care. Even Lidford House,
which had never before seemed to him the perfection of a home, had a new
aspect for him to-night, and reminded him sharply of his own loss. He
envied Martin Lister the quiet jog-trot happiness of his domestic life;
his love for and pride in his children; the calm haven of that
comfortable hearth by which he sat to-night, with his slippered feet
stretched luxuriously upon a fender-stool of his wife's manufacture, and
his daughter sitting on a hassock close to his easy-chair, reading in a
book of fairy tales.
Of course they were all delighted to see him, at once pleased and
surprised by the unexpected visit. He had brought a great parcel of toys
for the two children; and Selwyn Lister, a fine boisterous boy in a
Highland costume, was summoned downstairs to assist at the unpacking of
these treasures. It was half-past seven, and the Listers had dined at
six: but in an incredibly short space of time the Sutherland table had
been drawn out to a cosy position near the fire and spread with a
substantial repast, while Mrs. Lister took her place behind the ponderous
old silver urn which had been an heirloom in her husband's family for the
last two centuries. The Listers were full of talk about their own
travels--a long-delayed continental tour which had been talked of ever
since their return from the honeymoon trip to Geneva and Chamouni; and
were also very eager to hear Gilbert's adventures in Australia, of which
he had given them only very brief accounts in his letters. There was
nothing said that night about Marian, and Gilbert was grateful for his
CALLED TO ACCOUNT.
Gilbert walked over to Heatherly after luncheon next day, taking of
preference the way which led him past Captain Sedgewick's cottage and
through the leafless wood where he and Marian had walked together when
the foliage was in its summer glory. The leaves lay thick upon the mossy
ground now; and the gaunt bare branches of the trees had a weird awful
look in the utter silence of the place. His footsteps trampling upon the
fallen leaves had an echo; and he turned to look behind him more than
once, fancying he was followed.
The old house, with its long lines of windows, had a prison-like aspect
under the dull November day. Gilbert wondered how such a man as Sir David
Forster could endure his existence there, embittered as it was by the
memory of that calamity which had taken all the sunlight out of his life,
and left him a weary and purposeless hunter after pleasure. But Sir David
had been prostrate under the heavy hand of his hereditary foe, the gout,
for a long time past; and was fain to content himself with such company
as came to him at Heatherly, and such amusement as was to be found in the
society of men who were boon companions rather than friends. Gilbert
Fenton heard the familiar clash of the billiard-balls as he went into the
hall, where a couple of liver-coloured setters were dozing before a great
fire that roared half-way up the wide chimney. There was no other life in
the hall; and Mr. Fenton was conducted to the other end of the house, and
ushered into that tobacco-tainted snuggery in which he had last seen the
Baronet. His suspicions were on the alert this time; and he fancied he
could detect a look of something more than surprise in Sir David's face
when the servant announced him--an uneasy look, as of a man taken at a
The Baronet was very gracious, however, and gave him a hearty welcome.
"I'm uncommonly glad to see you, my dear Fenton," he said, "Indeed, I
have been pleased to see worse fellows than you lately, since this
infernal gout has laid me up in this dreary old place. The house is
pretty full now, I am happy to say. I have friends who will come to shoot
my partridges, though they won't remember my solitude in a charitable
spirit before the first of September. You'll stop and dine, I hope; or
perhaps you can put up here altogether for a week or so. My housekeeper
shall find you a good room; and I can promise you pleasant company. Say
yes, now, like a good fellow, and I'll send a man to Lidford for your
"Thanks--no. You are very kind; but I am staying with my sister for a few
days, and must return to town before the end of the week. The fact of the
matter is, Sir David, I have come here to-day to ask you for some
explanation of your conduct at our last interview. I don't want to say
anything rude or disagreeable; for I am quite willing to believe that you
felt kindly towards me, even at the time when you deceived me. I suppose
there are some positions in which a man can hardly expect fair play, and
that mine was such a position. But you certainly did deceive me, Sir
David, and grossly."
"That last is rather an unpleasant word, Mr. Fenton. In what respect did
I deceive you?"
"I came here on purpose to ask you if Mr. Holbrook, the man who robbed me
of my promised wife, were a friend of yours, and you denied all knowledge
"Granted. And what then, my dear sir?"
"When I came to ask you that question, I had no special reason for
supposing this Mr. Holbrook was known to you. It only struck me that,
being a stranger in the village, as the result of my inquiries had proved
to me, he might be one of your many visitors. I knew at that time that
Mr. Holbrook had taken his wife to a farm-house in Hampshire immediately
after their marriage--a house lent to him by a friend; but I did not know
that you had any estate in that county. I have been to Hampshire since
then, and have found Mrs. Holbrook at the Grange, near Crosber--in your
"You have found her! Well, Mr. Fenton, the circumstantial evidence is too
strong for me, so I must plead guilty. Yes; I did deceive you when I told
you that Holbrook was unknown to me; but I pledged my word to keep his
secret--to give you no clue, should you ever happen to question me, that
could lead to your discovery of your lost love's whereabouts. It was
considered, I conclude, that any meeting between you two must needs
result unpleasantly. At any rate, there was a strong desire to avoid you;
and in common duty to my friend I was compelled to respect that desire."
"Not a very manly wish on the part of my successful rival," said Gilbert.
"It may have been the lady's wish rather than Mr. Holbrook's."
"I have reason to know that it was otherwise. I have heard from Marian's
own lips that she would have written a candid confession of the truth had
she been free to do so. It was her husband who prevented her giving me
notice of my desertion."
"I cannot pretend to explain his conduct," Sir David answered gravely. "I
only know that I pledged myself to keep his secret; and felt bound to do
so, even at the cost of a lie."
"And this man is your friend. You must know whether he is worthy to be
Marian Nowell's husband. The circumstances of her life do not seem to me
favourable to happiness, so far as I have been able to discover them; nor
did I think her looking happy when we met. But I should be glad to know
that she has not fallen into bad hands."
"And I suppose by this time your feelings have cooled down a little. You
have abandoned those revengeful intentions you appeared to entertain,
when you were last in this house?"
"In a great measure, yes. I have promised Marian that, should I and her
husband meet, as we must do, I believe, sooner or later, she need
apprehend no violence on my part. He has won the prize; any open
resentment would seem mere schoolboy folly. But you cannot suppose that I
feel very kindly towards him, or ever shall."
"Upon my soul, I think men are hardly responsible for their actions where
a woman is concerned," Sir David exclaimed after a pause. "We are the
veriest slaves of destiny in these matters. A man sees the only woman in
the world he can love too late to win her with honour. If he is strong
enough to act nobly, he turns his back upon the scene of his temptation,
all the more easily should the lady happen to be staunch to her
affianced, or her husband, as the case may be. But if _she_ waver--if he
sees that his love is returned--heaven help him! Honour, generosity,
friendship, all go by the board; and for the light in those fatal eyes,
for the dangerous music of that one dear voice, he sacrifices all that he
has held highest in life until that luckless time. I _know_ that Holbrook
held it no light thing to do you this wrong; I know that he fought
manfully against temptation. But, you see, fate was the stronger; and he
had to give way at the last."
"I cannot agree with that way of looking at things, Sir David. The world
is made up of people who take their own pleasure at any cost to others,
and then throw the onus of their misdoings upon Providence. I have long
ago forgiven the girl who jilted me, and have sworn to be her faithful
and watchful friend in all the days to come. I want to be sure that her
future is a bright one--much brighter than it seemed when I saw her in
your lonely old house near Crosber. She has had money left her since
then; so poverty can no longer be a reason for her being hidden from the
"I am very glad to hear that; my friend is not a rich man."
"So Marian told me. But I want to learn something more than that about
him. Up to this moment he has been the most intangible being I ever heard
of. Will you tell me who and what he is--his position in the world, and
"Humph!" muttered Sir David meditatively; "I don't know that I can tell
you much about him. His position is like that of a good many others of my
acquaintance--rather vague and intangible, to use the word you employed
just now. He is not well off; he is a gentleman by birth, with some small
means of his own, and he 'lives, sir, lives.' That is about all I can say
of him--from a worldly point of view. With regard to his affection for
Miss Nowell, I know that he loved her passionately, devotedly,
desperately--the strongest expression you can supply to describe a man's
folly. I never saw any fellow so far gone. Heaven knows, I did my best to
argue him out of his fancy--urged your claim, the girl's poverty, every
reason against the marriage; but friendly argumentation of that kind goes
very little way in such a case. He took his own course. It was only when
I found the business was decided upon, that I offered him my house in
Hampshire; a place to which I never go myself, but which brings me in a
decent income in the hands of a clever bailiff. I knew that Holbrook had
no home ready for his wife, and I thought it would give them a pleasant
retreat enough for a few months, while the honey and rose-leaves still
sweetened the wine-cup of their wedded life. They have stayed there ever
since, as you seem to know; so I conclude they have found the place
agreeable. Confoundedly dreary, I should fancy it myself; but then I'm
not a newly married man."
The Baronet gave a brief sigh, and his thoughts went back for a moment to
the time when he too was in Arcadia; when a fair young wife was by his
side, and when no hour of his existence seemed ever dull or weary to him.
It was all changed now! He had billiards and whist, and horses and
hounds, and a vast collection of gunnery, and great stores of wine in the
gloomy arched vaults beneath the house, where a hundred prisoners had
been kept under lock and key when Heatherly had fallen into the hands of
the Cromwellian soldiery, and the faithful retainers of the household
were fain to lay down their arms. He had all things that make up the
common pleasures and delights of a man's existence; but he had lost the
love which had given these things a new charm, and without which all life
seemed to him flat, stale, and unprofitable. He could sympathise with
Gilbert Fenton much more keenly than that gentleman would have supposed
possible; for a man suffering from this kind of affliction is apt to
imagine that he has a copyright in that species of grief, and that no
other man ever did or ever can experience a like calamity. The same
manner of trouble may come to others, of course, but not with a similar
intensity. Others will suffer and recover, and find a balm elsewhere. He
alone is constant until death!
"And you can tell me nothing more about Mr. Holbrook?" he asked after a
"Upon my honour, nothing. I think you will do wisely to leave these two
people to take their own way in the future without any interference on
your part. You speak of watchful friendship and all that kind of thing,
and I can quite appreciate your disinterested desire to befriend the
woman whom you once hoped to make your wife. But, believe me, my dear
Fenton, no manner of good can possibly come of your intervention. Those
two have chosen their road in life, and must travel along it, side by
side, through good or evil fortune. Holbrook would naturally be jealous
of any friendship between his wife and you; while such a friendship could
not fail to keep alive bitter thoughts in your mind--could not fail to
sharpen the regret which you fancy just now is to be life-long. I have no
doubt I seem to speak in a hard worldly spirit."
"You speak like a man of the world, Sir David," the other answered
quietly; "and I cannot deny that there is a certain amount of wisdom in
your advice. No, my friendship is not wanted by either of those two,
supposing even that I were generous enough to be able to give it to both.
I have learnt that lesson already from Marian herself. But you must
remember that I promised her poor old grandfather--the man who died a few
days ago--that I would watch over her interests with patient fidelity,
that I would be her friend and protector, if ever the hour should come in
which she would need friendship and protection. I am not going to forget
this promise, or to neglect its performance; and in order to be true to
my word, I am bound to make myself acquainted with the circumstances of
her married life, and the character of her husband."
"Cannot you be satisfied with knowing that she is happy?"
"I have seen her, Sir David, and am by no means assured of her
"And yet it was a love-match on both sides. Holbrook, as I have told you,
loved her passionately."
"That passionate kind of love is apt to wear itself out very quickly with
some men. Your bailiff's daughter complained bitterly of Mr. Holbrook's
frequent absence from the Grange, of the dulness and loneliness of my
poor girl's life."
"Women are apt to be exacting," Sir David answered with a deprecating
shrug of the shoulders. "My friend Holbrook has the battle of life to
fight, and could not spend all his days playing the lover. If his wife
has had money left her, that will make some difference in their position.
A man is never at his best when he is worried by debts and financial
"And Mr. Holbrook was in debt when he married, I suppose?"
"He was. I must confess that I find that complaint a very common one
among my acquaintance," the Baronet added with a laugh.
"Will you tell me what this Holbrook is like in person, Sir David? I
have questioned several people about him, and have never obtained
anything beyond the vaguest kind of description."
Sir David Forster laughed aloud at this request.
"What! you want to know whether your rival is handsome, I suppose? like
a woman, who always commences her inquiries about another woman by asking
whether she is pretty. My dear Fenton, all personal descriptions are
vague. It is almost impossible to furnish a correct catalogue of any
man's features. Holbrook is just one of those men whom it is most
difficult to describe--not particularly good-looking, nor especially
ill-looking; very clever, and with plenty of expression and character in
his face. Older than you by some years, and looking older than he really
"Thanks; but there is not one precise statement in your description. Is
the man dark or fair--short or tall?"
"Rather dark than fair; rather tall than short."
"That will do, Sir David," Gilbert said, starting suddenly to his feet,
and looking the Baronet in the face intently. "The man who robbed me of
my promised wife is the man whom I introduced to her; the man who has
come between me and all my hopes, who hides himself from my just anger,
and skulks in the background under a feigned name, is the one friend whom
I have loved above all other men--John Saltram!"
Sir David faced him without flinching. If it was acted surprise which
appeared upon his countenance at the sound of John Saltram's name, the
acting was perfect. Gilbert could discover nothing from that broad stare
of blank amazement.
"In heaven's name, what can have put such a preposterous notion into your
head?" Sir David asked coolly.
"I cannot tell you. The conviction has grown upon me, against my own
will. Yes, I have hated myself for being able to suspect my friend. You
do not know how I have loved that man, or how our friendship began at
Oxford long ago with something like hero-worship on my side. I thought
that he was born to be great and noble; and heaven knows I have felt the
disappointments and shortcomings of his career more keenly than he has
felt them himself. No, Sir David, I don't think it is possible for any
man to comprehend how I have loved John Saltram."
"And yet, without a shred of evidence, you believe him guilty of
"Will you give me your word of honour that Marian's husband and John
Saltram are not one and the same person?"
"No," answered Sir David impatiently; "I am tired of the whole business.
You have questioned and cross-questioned me quite long enough, Mr.
Fenton, and I have answered you to the best of my ability, and have given
you rational advice, which you will of course decline to take. If you
think your friend has wronged you, go to him, and tax him with that
wrong. I wash my hands of the affair altogether, from this moment; but,
without wishing to be offensive, I cannot help telling you, that to my
mind you are acting very foolishly in this business."
"I daresay it may seem so to you. You would think better of me if I could
play the stoic, and say, 'She has jilted me, and is dead to me
henceforward.' But I cannot do that. I have the memory of her peaceful
girlhood--the happy days in which I knew her first--the generous
protector who sheltered her life. I am pledged to the dead, Sir David."
He left Heatherly soon after this, though the Baronet pressed him to stay
TORMENTED BY DOUBT.
The long homeward walk gave Gilbert ample leisure for reflection upon his
interview with Sir David; a very unsatisfactory interview at the best.
Yes, the conviction that the man who had wronged him was no other than
his own familiar friend, had flashed upon him with a new force as the
Baronet answered his questions about John Holbrook. The suspicion which
had entered his mind after he left the lonely farm-house near Crosber,
and which he had done his uttermost to banish, as if it had been a
suggestion of the evil one, came back to him to-day with a form and
reality which it had lacked before. It seemed no longer a vague fancy, a
dark unwelcome thought that bordered on folly. It had taken a new shape
altogether, and appeared to him almost a certainty.
Sir David's refusal to make any direct denial of the fact seemed to
confirm his suspicion. Yet it was, on the other hand, just possible that
Sir David, finding him on a false scent, should have been willing to let
him follow it, and that the real offender should be screened by this
suspicion of John Saltram. But then there arose in his mind a doubt that
had perplexed him sorely for a long time. If his successful rival had
been indeed a stranger to him, what reason could there be for so much
mystery in the circumstances of the marriage? and why should Marian have
so carefully avoided telling him anything about her husband? That his
friend, having betrayed him, should shrink from the revelation of his
falsehood, should adopt any underhand course to avoid discovery, seemed
natural enough. Yet to believe this was to think meanly of the man whom
he had loved so well, whom he had confided in so implicitly until the
arising of this cruel doubt.
He had known long ago, when the first freshness of his boyish delusions
faded away before the penetrating clear daylight of reality, he had known
long ago that his friend was not faultless; that except in that one
faithful alliance with himself, John Saltram had been fickle, wayward,
vacillating, unstable, and inconstant, true to no dream of his youth, no
ambition of his early manhood content to drop one purpose after another,
until his life was left without any exalted aim. But Gilbert had fancied
his friend's nature was still a noble one in spite of the comparative
failure of his life. It was very difficult for him to imagine it possible
that this friend could act falsely and ungenerously, could steal his
betrothed from him, and keep the secret of his guilt, pretending to
sympathise with the jilted lover all the while.
But though Mr. Fenton told himself at one moment that this was
impossible, his thoughts travelled back to the same point immediately
afterwards, and the image of John Saltram arose before him as that of his
hidden foe. He remembered the long autumn days which he and his friend
had spent with Marian--those unclouded utterly happy days, which he
looked back upon now with a kind of wonder. They had been so much
together, Marian so bright and fascinating in her innocent enjoyment of
the present, brighter and happier just then than she had ever seemed to
him before, Gilbert remembered with a bitter pang. He had been completely
unsuspicious at the time, untroubled by one doubtful thought; but it
appeared to him now that there had been a change in Marian from the time
of his friend's coming--a new joyousness and vivacity, a keener delight
in the simple pleasures of their daily life, and withal a fitfulness, a
tendency to change from gaiety to thoughtful silence, that he had not
remarked in her before.
Was it strange if John Saltram had fallen in love with her? was it
possible to see her daily in all the glory of her girlish loveliness,
made doubly bewitching by the sweetness of her nature, the indescribable
charm of her manner--was it possible to be with her often, as John
Saltram had been, and not love her? Gilbert Fenton had thought of his
friend as utterly impregnable to any such danger; as a man who had spent
all his stock of tender emotion long ago, and who looked upon matrimony
as a transaction by which he might mend his broken fortunes. That this
man should fall a victim to the same subtle charm which had subjugated
himself, was a possibility that never occurred to Gilbert's mind, in this
happy period of his existence. He wanted his friend's approval of his
choice; he wished to see his passion justified in the eyes of the man
whom it was his habit to regard in somewise as a superior creature; and
it had been a real delight to him to hear Mr. Saltram's warm praises of
Looking back at the past to-day from a new point of view, he wondered at
his own folly. What was more natural than that John Saltram should have
found his doom, as he had found it, unthought of, undreamed of, swift,
and fatal? Nor was it difficult for him to believe that Marian--who had
perhaps never really loved him, who had been induced to accept him by his
own pertinacity and her uncle's eager desire for the match--should find a
charm and a power in John Saltram that had been wanting in himself. He
had seen too many instances of his friend's influence over men and women,
to doubt his ability to win this innocent inexperienced girl, had he set
himself to win her. He recalled with a bitter smile how his informants
had all described his rival in a disparaging tone, as unworthy of so fair
a bride; and he knew that it was precisely those qualities which these
common people were unable to appreciate that constituted the subtle charm
by which John Saltram influenced others. The rugged power and grandeur of
that dark face, which vulgar critics denounced as plain and unattractive,
the rare fascination of a manner that varied from an extreme reserve to a
wild reckless vivacity, the magic of the deep full voice, with its
capacity for the expression of every shade of emotion--these were
attributes to be passed over and ignored by the vulgar, yet to exercise a
potent influence upon sensitive sympathetic natures.
"How that poor little Anglo-Indian widow loves him, without any effort to
win or hold her affection on his side!" Gilbert said to himself, as he
walked back to Lidford in the darkening November afternoon, brooding
always on the one subject which occupied all his thoughts; "and can I
doubt his power to supersede me if he cared to do so--if he really loved
Marian, as he never has loved Mrs. Branston? What shall I do? Go to him
at once, and tell him my suspicion, tax him broadly with treachery, and
force him to a direct confession or denial? Shall I do this? Or shall I
bide my time, wait and watch with dull dogged patience, till I can
collect some evidence of his guilt? Yes, let it be so. If he has been
base enough to do me this great wrong--mean enough to steal my betrothed
under a false name, and to keep the secret of his wrong-doing at any cost
of lies and deceit--let him go on to the end, let him act out the play to
the last; and when I bring his falsehood home to him, as I must surely
do, sooner or later,--yes, if he is capable of deceiving me, he shall
continue the lie to the last, he shall endure all the infamy of his false
And then, after a pause, he said to himself,--
"And at the end, if my suspicions are confirmed, I shall have lost all I
have ever valued in life since my mother died--my plighted wife, and the
one chosen friend whose companionship could make existence pleasant to
me. God grant that this fancy of mine is as baseless as Sir David Forster
declared it to be! God grant that I may never find a secret enemy in
Tossed about thus upon a sea of doubts, Mr. Fenton returned to Lidford
House, where he was expected to be bright and cheerful, and entertain his
host and hostess with the freshest gossip of the London world. He did
make a great effort to keep up a show of cheerfulness at the
dinner-table; but he felt that his sister's eyes were watching him with a
pitiless scrutiny, and he knew that the attempt was an ignominious
When honest Martin was snoring in his easy-chair before the drawing-room
fire, with the red light shining full upon his round healthy countenance,
Mrs. Lister beckoned her brother over to her side of the hearth, where
she had an embroidery-frame, whereon was stretched some grand design in
Berlin wool-work, to which she devoted herself every now and then with a
great show of industry. She had been absorbed in a profound calculation
of the stitches upon the canvas and on the coloured pattern before her
until this moment; but she laid aside her work with a solemn air when
Gilbert went over to her, and he knew at once what was coming.
"Sit down, Gilbert," she said; and her brother dropped into a chair by
her side with a faint sigh of resignation. "I want to talk to you
seriously, as a sister ought to talk to a brother, without any fear of
offending. I'm very sorry to see you have not yet forgotten that wicked
ungrateful girl Marian Nowell."
"Who told you that I have not forgotten her?"
"Your own face, Gilbert. It's no use for you to put on a pretence of
being cheerful and light-hearted with me. I know you too well to be
deceived by that kind of thing--I could see how absent-minded you were
all dinner-time, in spite of your talk. You can't hoodwink an
"I don't wish to hoodwink you, my dear," Mr. Fenton answered quietly, "or
to affect a happiness which I do not feel, any more than I wish to make a
parade of my grief. It is natural for an Englishman to be reticent on
such matters; but I do not mind owning to you that Marian Nowell is
unforgotten by me, and that the loss of her will have an enduring
influence upon my life; and having said as much as that, Belle, I must
request that you will not expatiate any more upon this poor girl's breach
of faith. I have forgiven her long ago, and I shall always regard her as
the purest and dearest of women."
"What! you can hold her up as a paragon of perfection after she has
thrown you over in the most heartless manner? Upon my word, Gilbert, I
have no common patience with such folly. Your weakness in this affair
from first to last has been positively deplorable."
"I am sorry you disapprove of my conduct, Belle; but as it is not a very
pleasant subject, don't you think we may as well avoid it now and
"O, very well, Gilbert," the lady exclaimed, with an offended air; "of
course, if you choose to exclude me from your confidence, I must submit;
but I do think it rather hard that your only sister should not he allowed
to speak of a business that concerns you so nearly."
"What good can arise out of any discussion of this subject, Belle? You
think me weak and foolish; granted that I am both, you cannot cure me of
my weakness or my folly."
"And am I never to hope that you will find some one else, better worthy
of your regard than Marian Nowell?"
"I fear not, Belle. For me there is no one else."
Mrs. Lister breathed a profound sigh, and resumed the counting of her
stitches. Yet perhaps, after all, it was better that her brother should
cherish the memory of this unlucky attachment. It would preserve him from
the hazard of any imprudent alliance in the future, and leave his fortune
free, to descend by-and-by to the juvenile Listers. Isabella was not a
particularly mercenary person, but she was a woman of the world, and had
an eye to the future aggrandisement of her children.
She was very kind and considerate to Gilbert after this, carefully
avoiding any farther allusions to his lost love, and taking all possible
pains to make his visit pleasant to him. She was so affectionate and
cordial, and seemed so really anxious for him to stay, that he could not
in common decency hurry back to town quite so soon as he had intended. He
prolonged his visit to the end of that week, and then to the beginning of
the next; and when he did at last find himself free to return to London,
the second week was nearly ended.
Gilbert Fenton was very glad to have made his escape from Lidford at
last, for his mind was full of anxiety about Marian. Again and again he
had argued with himself upon the folly and uselessness of this anxiety.
She, for whose interests he was so troubled, was safe enough no doubt,
protected by a husband, who was most likely a man of the world, and quite
as able to protect her as Gilbert himself could be. He told himself this;
but still the restless uneasy sense that he was neglecting his duty, that
he was false to the promise made to old Jacob Nowell, tormented and
perplexed him. He felt that he ought to be doing something--that he had
no right to remain in ignorance of the progress of Marian's affairs--that
he should be at hand to frustrate any attempt at knavery on the part of
the lawyer--to be sure that the old man's wealth suffered no diminution
before it reached the hands of his heiress.
Gilbert Fenton felt that his promise to the dead bound him to do these
things, and felt at the same time the weakness of his own position with
relation to Marian. By what right could he interfere in the conduct of
her affairs? what claim could he assert to defend her interests? who
would listen to any romantic notion about a promise made to the dead?
He went to Queen Anne's Court upon the night of his return to London. The
silversmith's shop looked exactly the same as when he had first seen it:
the gas burning dimly, the tarnished old salvers and tankards gleaming
duskily in the faint light, with all manner of purple and greenish hues.
Mr. Tulliver was in his little den at the back of the shop, and emerged
with his usual rapidity at the ringing of the door-bell.
"O, it's you, is it, sir?" he asked in an indifferent, half-insolent
tone. "What can I do for you this evening?"
"Is your late master's granddaughter, Mrs. Holbrook, here?" Gilbert
"No; Mrs. Holbrook went away on the morning after my master's death. I
told you that when you called here last."
"I am quite aware of that; but I thought it likely Mrs. Holbrook might
return here with her husband, to take possession of the property, which I
suppose you know now belongs to her."
"Yes, I know all about that; but she hasn't come yet to take possession;
she doesn't seem in such a desperate hurry about it. I daresay she knows
that things are safe enough. Medler the lawyer is not the kind of party
to be cheated out of sixpence. He has taken an inventory of every article
in the place, and the weight and value of every article. Your friend Mrs.
Holbrook needn't be afraid. I suppose she's some relation of yours,
by-the-bye, sir, judging by the interest you seem to take in her
"Yes," Gilbert said, not caring to answer this question directly, "I do
take a warm interest in Mrs. Holbrook's affairs, and I am very anxious to
see her placed in undisputed possession of her late grandfather's
"I should think her husband would see after that," Mr. Tulliver remarked
with a sneer.
Gilbert left the court after having asked a few questions about Jacob
Nowell's funeral. The old man had been buried at Kensalgreen, followed to
the grave only by the devoted Tulliver, Mr. Medler, and the local surgeon
who had attended him in his last illness. He had lived a lonely
friendless life, holding himself aloof from his fellow-creatures; and
there were neither neighbours nor friends to lament his ending. The
vagabond boys of the neighbourhood had clustered round the door to
witness the last dismal ceremony of Mr. Nowell's existence, and had hung
about the shop-front for some time after the funeral _cortege_ had
departed, peering curiously down into the darksome area, and speculating
upon the hoards of wealth which the old miser had hidden away in
coal-cellars and dust-bins, under the stone flags of the scullery, or in
the crannies of the dilapidated walls. There were no bounds to the
imagination of these street Arabs, who had been in the habit of yelping
and whooping at the old man's heels when he took his infrequent walks
abroad, assailing him with derisive epithets alluding to his miserly
propensities. Amongst the elders of the court there was some little talk
about the dead man, and the probable disposal of his property, with a
good deal of argument and laying down of the law on the part of the
graver and wiser members of that community; some people affecting to know
to a sixpence the amount of Jacob Nowell's savings, others accrediting
him with the possession of fabulous riches, and all being unanimous in
the idea that the old man's heir or heirs, as the case might be, would
speedily scatter his long-hoarded treasures. Many of these people could
remember the silversmith's prodigal son; but none among them were aware
of that gentleman's return. They wondered a good deal as to whether he
was still living, and whether the money had been left to him or to that
pretty young woman who had appeared in the last days of the old man's
life, no one knowing whence she had come. There was nothing to be gained
from questioning Luke Tulliver, the court knew of old experience. The
most mysterious dungeons of the Spanish Inquisition, the secret chambers
under the leads in Venice, were not closer or deeper than the mind of
that young man. The court had been inclined to think that Luke Tulliver
would come into all his master's money; and opinion inclined that way
even yet, seeing that Mr. Tulliver still held his ground in the shop, and
that no strangers had been seen to enter the place since the funeral.
From Queen Anne's Court Gilbert Fenton went on to the gloomy street where
Mr. Medler had his office and abode. It was not an hour for a
professional visit; but Gilbert found the lawyer still hard at work at
his desk, under the lurid light of a dirty-looking battered old oil-lamp,
which left the corners of the dingy wainscoted room in profound
obscurity. He looked up from his papers with some show of surprise on
hearing Mr. Fenton's name announced by the slipshod maid-of-all-work who
had admitted the late visitor, Mr. Medler's solitary clerk having
departed to his own dwelling some hours before.
"I must ask you to excuse this untimely call, Mr. Medler," Gilbert said
politely; "but the fact of the matter is, I am a little anxious about my
friend Mrs. Holbrook and her affairs, and I thought you the most likely
person to give me some information about them. I should have called in
business hours; but I have only just returned from the country, and did
not care to delay my inquiries until to-morrow. I have just come from
Queen Anne's Court, and am rather surprised to find that neither Mrs.
Holbrook nor her husband has been there. You have seen or heard from them
since the funeral, I suppose?"
"No, Mr. Fenton, I have neither seen nor heard of them. I wrote a formal
letter to Mrs. Holbrook, setting out the contents of the will; but there
has been no answer as yet."
"Strange, is it not?" Gilbert exclaimed, with an anxious look.
"Well, yes, it is certainly not the usual course of proceeding. However,
there is time enough yet. The funeral has not been over much more than a
week. The property is perfectly safe, you know."
"Of course; but it is not the less extraordinary that Mr. Holbrook should
hang back in this manner. I will go down to Hampshire the first thing
to-morrow and see Mrs. Holbrook."
"Humph!" muttered the lawyer; "I can't say that I see any necessity for
that. But of course you know best."
Gilbert Fenton did start for Hampshire early the next morning by the same
train in which Marian had travelled after her grandfather's death. It was
still quite early in the day when he found himself at Malsham, that quiet
comfortable little market-town where he had first discovered a clue to
the abode of his lost love. He went to the hotel, and hired a fly to take
him to Crosber, where he left the vehicle at the old inn, preferring to
walk on to the Grange. It was a bright November day, with a pale yellow
sunlight shining on the level fields, and distant hills that rose beyond
them crowned with a scanty fringe of firs, that stood out black and sharp
against the clear autumn sky. It was a cheerful day, and a solitary bird
was singing here and there, as if beguiled by that pleasant warmth and
sunshine into the fond belief that winter was still far off and the glory
of fields and woods not yet departed. Gilbert's spirits rose in some
degree under the influence of that late brightness and sweet rustic calm.
He fancied that there might be still some kind of happiness for him in
the long years to come; pale and faint like the sunlight of to-day--an
autumnal calm. If he might be Marian's friend and brother, her devoted
counsellor, her untiring servant, it seemed to him that he could be
content, that he could live on from year to year moderately happy in the
occasional delight of her society; rewarded for his devotion by a few
kind words now and then,--a letter, a friendly smile,--rewarded still
more richly by her perfect trust in him.
These thoughts were in his mind to-day as he went along the lonely
country lane leading to the Grange; thoughts which seemed inspired by the
tranquil landscape and peaceful autumn day; thoughts which were full of
the purest love and charity,--yes, even for his unknown rival, even if
that rival should prove to be the one man in all this world from whom a
deep wrong would seem most bitter.
"What am I, that I should measure the force of his temptation," he said
to himself, "or the strength of his resistance? Let me be sure that he
loves my darling as truly as I love her, that the chief object of his
life has been and will be her happiness, and then let me put away all
selfish vindictive thoughts, and fall quietly into the background of my
dear one's life, content to be her brother and her friend."
The Grange looked unchanged in its sombre lonely aspect. The
chrysanthemums were all withered by this time, and there were now no
flowers in the old-fashioned garden. The bell was answered by the same
woman who had admitted him before, and who made no parley about letting
him in this time.
"My young missus said I was to be sure and let her know if you came,
sir," she said; "she's very anxious to see you."
"Your young mistress; do you mean Mrs. Holbrook?"
"No, sir; Miss Carley, master's daughter."
"Indeed! I remember the young lady; I shall be very happy to see her if
she has anything to say to me; but it is Mrs. Holbrook I have come to
see. She is at home, I suppose?"
"O dear no, sir; Mrs. Holbrook has left, without a word of notice, gone
nobody knows where. That is what has made our young missus fret about it
"Mrs. Holbrook has left!" Gilbert exclaimed in blank amazement; "when?"
"It's more than a week ago now, sir."
"And do none of you know why she went away, or where she has gone?"
"No more than the dead, sir. But you'd better see Miss Carley; she'll be
able to tell you all about it."
The woman led him into the house, and to the room in which he had seen
Marian. There was no fire here to-day, and the room had a desolate
unoccupied look, though the sun was shining cheerfully on the
old-fashioned many-paned windows. There were a few books, which Gilbert
remembered as Marian's literary treasures, neatly arranged on a rickety
old chiffonier by the fire-place, and the desk and work-basket which he
had seen on his previous visit.
He was half bewildered by what the woman had told him, and his heart
beat tumultuously as he stood by the empty hearth, waiting for Ellen
Carley's coming. It seemed to him as if the girl never would come. The
ticking of an old eight-day clock in the hall had a ghastly sound in the
dead silence of the house, and an industrious mouse made itself
distinctly heard behind the wainscot.
At last a light rapid footstep came tripping across the hall, and Ellen
Carley entered the room. She was looking paler than when Gilbert had seen
her last, and the bright face was very grave.
"For heaven's sake tell me what this means, Miss Carley," Gilbert began
eagerly. "Your servant tells me that Mrs. Holbrook has left you--in some
mysterious way, I imagine, from what the woman said."
"O, sir, I am so glad you have come here; I should have written to you if
I had known where to address a letter. Yes, sir, she has gone--that dear
sweet young creature--and I fear some harm has come to her."
The girl burst into tears, and for some minutes could say no more.
"Pray, pray be calm," Gilbert said gently, "and tell me all you can about
this business. How did Mrs. Holbrook leave this place? and why do you
suspect that any harm has befallen her?"
"There is every reason to think so, sir. Is it like her to leave us
without a word of notice, knowing, as she must have known, the
unhappiness she would cause to me, who love her so well, by such a step?
She knew how I loved her. I think she had scarcely a secret from me."
"If you will only tell me the manner of her departure," Gilbert said
"Yes, yes, sir; I am coming to that directly. She seemed happier after
she came back from London, poor dear; and she told me that her
grandfather had left her money, and that she was likely to become quite a
rich woman. The thought of this gave her so much pleasure--not for her
own sake, but for her husband's, whose cares and difficulties would all
come to an end now, she told me. She had been back only a few days, when
I left home for a day and a night, to see my aunt--an old woman and a
constant invalid, who lives at Malsham. I had put off going to her for a
long time, for I didn't care about leaving Mrs. Holbrook; but I had to go
at last, my aunt thinking it hard that I couldn't spare time to spend a
day with her, and tidy up her house a bit, and see to the girl that waits
upon her, poor helpless thing. So I started off before noon one day,
after telling Mrs. Holbrook where I was going, and when I hoped to be
back. She was in very good spirits that morning, for she expected her
husband next day. 'I have told him nothing about the good fortune that
has come to me, Nelly,' she said; 'I have only written to him, begging
him to return as quickly as possible, and he will be here to-morrow by
the afternoon express.' Mr. Holbrook is a great walker, and generally
walks from Malsham here, by a shorter way than the high-road, across some
fields and by the river-bank. His wife used always to go part of the way
to meet him when she knew he was coming. I know she meant to go and meet
him this time. The way is very lonely, and I have often felt fidgety
about her going alone, but she hadn't a bit of fear; and I didn't like to
offer to go with her, feeling sure that Mr. Holbrook would be vexed by
seeing me at such a time. Well, sir, I had arranged everything
comfortably, so that she should miss nothing by my being away, and I bade
her good-bye, and started off to walk to Malsham. I can't tell you how
hard it seemed to me to leave her, for it was the first time we had been
parted for so much as a day since she came to the Grange. I thought of
her all the while I was at my aunt's; who has very fidgety ways, poor old
lady, and isn't a pleasant person to be with. I felt quite in a fever of
impatience to get home again; and was very glad when a neighbour's
spring-cart dropped me at the end of the lane, and I saw the gray old
chimneys above the tops of the trees. It was four o'clock in the
afternoon when I got home; father was at tea in the oak-parlour where we
take our meals, and the house was as quiet as a grave. I came straight to
this room, but it was empty; and when I called Martha, she told me Mrs.
Holbrook had gone out at one o'clock in the day, and had not been home
since, though she was expected back to dinner at three. She had been away
three hours then, and at a time when I knew she could not expect Mr.
Holbrook, unless she had received a fresh letter from him to say that he
was coming by an earlier train than usual. I asked Martha if there had
been any letters for Mrs. Holbrook that day; and she told me yes, there
had been one by the morning post. It was no use asking Martha what kind
of letter it looked, and whether it was from Mr. Holbrook, for the poor
ignorant creature can neither read nor write, and one handwriting is the
same as another to her. Mrs. Holbrook had told her nothing as to where
she was going, only saying that she would be back in an hour or two.
Martha let her out at the gate, and watched her take the way towards the
river-bank, and, seeing this, made sure she was going to meet her
husband. Well, sir, five o'clock struck, and Mrs. Holbrook had not come
home. I began to feel seriously uneasy about her. I told my father so;
but he took the matter lightly enough at first, saying it was no
business of ours, and that Mrs. Holbrook was just as well able to take
care of herself as any one else. But after five o'clock I couldn't rest a
minute longer; so I put on my bonnet and shawl and went down by the
river-bank, after sending one of the farm-labourers to look for my poor
dear in the opposite direction. It's a very lonely walk at the best of
times, though a few of the country folks do go that way between Malsham
and Crosber on market-days. There's scarcely a house to be seen for
miles, except Wyncomb Farmhouse, Stephen Whitelaw's place, which lies a
little way back from the river-bank, about a mile from here; besides that
and a solitary cottage here and there, you won't see a sign of human life
for four or five miles. Anybody might be pushed into the river and made
away with in broad daylight, and no one need be the wiser. The loneliness
of the place struck me with an awful fear that afternoon, and from that
moment I began to think that I should never see Mrs. Holbrook again."
"What of her husband? He was expected on this particular afternoon, you
"He was, sir; but he did not come till the next day. It was almost dark
when I went to the river-bank. I walked for about three miles and a half,
to a gate that opened into the fields by which Mr. Holbrook came across
from Malsham. I knew his wife never went farther than this gate, but used
to wait for him here, if she happened to be the first to reach it. I
hurried along, half running all the way, and calling aloud to Mrs.
Holbrook every now and then with all my might. But there was no answer.
Some men in a boat loaded with hay stopped to ask me what was the matter,
but they could tell me nothing. They were coming from Malsham, and had
seen no one along the bank. I called at Mr. Whitelaw's as I came back,
not with much hope that I should hear anything; but what could I do but
make inquiries anywhere and everywhere? I was almost wild with fright by
this time. They could tell me nothing at Wyncomb Farm. Stephen Whitelaw
was alone in the kitchen smoking his pipe by a great fire. He hadn't been
out all day, he told me, and none of his people had seen or heard
anything out of the common. As to any harm having come to Mrs. Holbrook
by the river-bank, he said he didn't think that was possible, for his men
had been at work in the fields near the river all the afternoon, and must
have seen or heard if there had been anything wrong. There was some kind
of comfort in this, and I left the farm with my mind a little lighter
than it had been when I went in there. I knew that Stephen Whitelaw was
no friend to Mrs. Holbrook; that he had a kind of grudge against her
because she had been on some one else's side--in--in something." Ellen
Carley blushed as she came to this part of her story, and then went on
rather hurriedly to hide her confusion. "He didn't like her, sir, you
see. I knew this, but I didn't think it possible he could deceive me in a
matter of life and death. So I came home, hoping to find Mrs. Holbrook
there before me. But there were no signs of her, nor of her husband
either, though I had fully expected to see him. Even father owned that
things looked bad now, and he let me send every man about the place--some
one way, and some another--to hunt for my poor darling. I went into
Crosber myself, though it was getting late by this time, and made
inquiries of every creature I knew in the village; but it was all no
good: no one had seen anything of the lady I was looking for."
"And the husband?" Gilbert asked again; "what of him?"
"He came next day at the usual hour, after we had been astir all night,
and the farm-labourers had been far and wide looking for Mrs. Holbrook. I
never saw any one seem so shocked and horrified as he did when we told
him how his wife had been missing for more than four-and-twenty hours. He
is not a gentleman to show his feelings much at ordinary times, and he
was quiet enough in the midst of his alarm; but he turned as white as
death, and I never saw the natural colour come back to his face all the
time he was down here."
"How long did he stay?"
"He only left yesterday. He was travelling about the country all the
time, coming back here of a night to sleep, and with the hope that we
might have heard something in his absence. The river was dragged for
three days; but, thank God, nothing came of that. Mr. Holbrook set the
Malsham police to work--not that they're much good, I think; but he
wouldn't leave a stone unturned. And now I believe he has gone to London
to get help from the police there. But O, sir, I can't make it out, and I
have lain awake, night after night thinking of it, and puzzling myself
about it, until all sorts of dreadful fancies come into my mind."
"O, sir, I scarcely dare tell you; but I loved that sweet young lady so
well, that I have been as watchful and jealous in all things, that
concerned her as if she had been my own sister. I have thought sometimes
that her husband had grown tired of her; that, however dearly he might
have loved her at first, as I suppose he did, his love had worn out
little by little, and he felt her a burden to him. What other reason
could there be for him to keep her hidden away in this dull place, month
after month, when he must have seen that her youth and beauty and gaiety
of heart were slowly vanishing away, if he had eyes to see anything?"
"But, good Heavens!" Gilbert exclaimed, startled by the sudden horror of
the idea which Ellen Carley's words suggested, "you surely do not imagine
that Marian's husband had any part in her disappearance? that he could be
"I don't know what to think, sir," the girl answered, interrupting him.
"I know that I have never liked Mr. Holbrook--never liked or trusted him
from the first, though he has been civil enough and kind enough in his
own distant way to me. That dear young lady could not disappear off the
face of the earth, as it seems she has done, without the evil work of
some one. As to her leaving this place of her own free will, without a
word of warning to her husband or to me, that I am sure she would never
dream of doing. No, sir, there has been foul play of some kind, and I'm
afraid I shall never see that dear face again."
The girl said this with an air of conviction that sent a deadly chill to
Gilbert Fenton's heart. It seemed to him in this moment of supreme
anguish as if all his trouble of the past, all his vague fears and
anxieties about the woman he loved, had been the foreshadowing of this
evil to come. He had a blank helpless feeling, a dismal sense of his own
weakness, which for the moment mastered him. Against any ordinary
calamity he would have held himself bravely enough, with the natural
strength of an ardent hopeful character; but against this mysterious
catastrophe courage and manhood could avail nothing. She was gone, the
fragile helpless creature he had pledged himself to protect; gone from
all who knew her, leaving not the faintest clue to her fate. Could he
doubt that this energetic warm-hearted girl was right, and that some foul
deed had been done, of which Marian Holbrook was the victim?
"If she lives, I will find her," he said at last, after a long pause, in
which he had sat in gloomy silence, with his eyes fixed upon the ground,
meditating the circumstances of Marian's disappearance. "Living or dead,
I will find her. It shall be the business of my life from this hour. All
my serious thoughts have been of her from the moment in which I first
knew her. They will be doubly hers henceforward."
"How good and true you are!" Ellen Carley exclaimed admiringly; "and how
you must have loved her! I guessed when you were here last that it was
you to whom she was engaged before her marriage, and told her as much;
but she would not acknowledge that I was right. O, how I wish she had
kept faith with you! how much happier she might have been as your wife!"
"People have different notions of happiness, you see, Miss Carley,"
Gilbert answered with a bitter smile. "Yes, you were right; it was I who
was to have been Marian Nowell's husband, whose every hope of the future
was bound up in her. But all that is past; whatever bitterness I felt
against her at first--and I do not think I was ever very bitter--has
passed away. I am nothing now but her friend, her steadfast and constant
"Thank heaven that she has such a friend," Ellen said earnestly. "And you
will make it your business to look for her, sir?"
"The chief object of my life, from this hour."
"And you will try to discover whether her husband is really true, or
whether the search that he has made for her has been a blind to hide his
"What grounds have you for supposing his guilt possible?" asked Gilbert.
"There are crimes too detestable for credibility; and this would be such
a one. You may imagine that I have no friendly feeling towards this man,
yet I cannot for an instant conceive him capable of harming a hair of his
"Because you have not brooded upon this business as I have, sir, for
hours and hours together, until the smallest things seem to have an awful
meaning. I have thought of every word and every look of Mr. Holbrook's in
the past, and all my thoughts have pointed one way. I believe that he was
tired of his sweet young wife; that his marriage was a burden and a
trouble to him somehow; that it had arisen out of an impulse that had
"All this might be, and yet the man be innocent."
"He might be--yes, sir. It is a hard thing, perhaps, even to think him
guilty for a moment. But it is so difficult to account in any common way
for Mrs. Holbrook's disappearance. If there had been murder done" (the
girl shuddered as she said the words)--"a common murder, such as one
hears of in lonely country places--surely it must have come to light
before this, after the search that has been made all round about. But it
would have been easy enough for Mr. Holbrook to decoy his wife away to
London or anywhere else. She would have gone anywhere with him, at a
moment's notice. She obeyed him implicitly in everything."
"But why should he have taken her away from this place in a secret
manner?" asked Gilbert; "he was free to remove her openly. And then you
describe him as taking an amount of trouble in his search for her, which
might have been so easily avoided, had he acted with ordinary prudence
and caution. Say that he wanted to keep the secret of his marriage from
the world in which he lives, and to place his wife in even a more
secluded spot than this--which scarcely seems possible--what could have
been easier for him than to take her away when and where he pleased? No
one here would have had any right to question his actions."
Ellen Carley shook her head doubtfully.
"I don't know, sir," she answered slowly; "I daresay my fancies are very
foolish; they may have come, perhaps, out of thinking about this so much,
till my brain has got addled, as one may say. But it flashed upon me all
of a sudden one night, as Mr. Holbrook was standing in our parlour
talking about his wife--it flashed upon me that he was in the secret of
her disappearance, and that he was only acting with us in his pretence of
anxiety and all that; I fancied there was a guilty look in his face,
"Did you tell him about his wife's good fortune--the money left her by
"I did, sir; I thought it right to tell him everything I could about my
poor dear young lady's journey to London. She had told him of that in her
letters, it seemed, but not about the money. She had been keeping that
back for the pleasure of telling him with her own lips, and seeing his
face light up, she said to me, when he heard the good news. I asked him
about the letter which had come in the morning of the day she
disappeared, and whether it was from him; but he said no, he had not
written, counting upon being with his wife that evening. It was only at
the last moment he was prevented coming."
"You have looked for that letter, I suppose?"
"O yes, sir; I searched, and Mr. Holbrook too, in every direction, but
the letter wasn't to be found. He seemed very vexed about it, very
anxious to find it. We could not but think that Mrs. Holbrook had gone to
meet some one that day, and that the letter had something to do with her
going out. I am sure she would not have gone beyond the garden and the
meadow for pleasure alone. She never had been outside the gate without
me, except when she went to meet her husband."
"Strange!" muttered Gilbert.
He was wondering about that letter: what could have been the lure which
had beguiled Marian away from the house that day; what except a letter
from her husband? It seemed hardly probable that she would have gone to
meet any one but him, or that any one else would have appointed a meeting
on the river-bank. The fact that she had gone out at an earlier hour than
the time at which she had been in the habit of meeting her husband when
he came from the Malsham station, went some way to prove that the letter
had influenced her movements. Gilbert thought of the fortune which had
been left to Marian, and which gave her existence a new value, perhaps
exposed her to new dangers. Her husband's interests were involved in her
life; her death, should she die childless, must needs deprive him of all
advantage from Jacob Nowell's wealth. The only person to profit from such
an event would be Percival Nowell; but he was far away, Gilbert believed,
and completely ignorant of his reversionary interest in his father's
property. There was Medler the attorney, a man whom Gilbert had
distrusted from the first. It was just possible that the letter had been
from him; yet most improbable that he should have asked Mrs. Holbrook to
meet him out of doors, instead of coming to her at the Grange, or that
she should have acceded to such a request, had he made it.
The whole affair was encompassed with mystery, and Gilbert Fenton's heart
sank as he contemplated the task that lay before him.
"I shall spend a day or two in this neighbourhood before I return to
town," he said to Ellen Carley presently; "there are inquiries that I
should like to make with my own lips. I shall be only going over old
ground, I daresay, but it will be some satisfaction to me to do it for
myself. Can you give me house-room here for a night or two, or shall I
put up at Crosber?"
"I'm sure father would be very happy to accommodate you here, sir. We've
plenty of room now; too much for my taste. The house seems like a
wilderness now Mrs. Holbrook is gone."
"Thanks. I shall be very glad to sleep here. There is just the chance
that you may have some news for me, or I for you."
"Ah, sir, it's only a very poor chance, I'm afraid," the girl answered
She went with Gilbert to the gate, and watched him as he walked away
towards the river. His first impulse was to follow the path which Marian
had taken that day, and to see for himself what manner of place it was
from which she had so mysteriously vanished.
Adela Branston found life very dreary in the splendid gloom of her town
house. She would have infinitely preferred the villa near Maidenhead for
the place of her occupation, had it not been for the fact that in London
she was nearer John Saltram, and that any moment of any day might bring
him to her side.
The days passed, however--empty useless days, frittered away in frivolous
occupations, or wasted in melancholy idleness; and John Saltram did not
come, or came so rarely that the only effect of his visits was to keep up
the fever and restlessness of the widow's mind.
She had fancied that life would be so bright for her when the day of her
freedom came; that she would reap so rich a harvest of happiness as a
reward for the sacrifice which she had made in marrying old Michael
Branston, and enduring his peevishness and ill-health with tolerable
good-humour during the half-dozen years of their wedded life. She had
fancied this; and now her release had come to her, and was worthless in
her sight, because the one man she cared for had proved himself cold and
In spite of his coldness, however, she told herself that he loved her,
that he had loved her from the earliest period of their acquaintance.
She was a poor weak little woman, the veriest spoilt child of fortune,
and she clung to this belief with a fond foolish persistence, a blind
devoted obstinacy, against which the arguments of Mrs. Pallinson were
utterly vain, although that lady devoted a great deal of time and energy
to the agreeable duty which she called "opening dear Adela's eyes about
that dissipated good-for-nothing Mr. Saltram."
To a correct view of this subject Adela Branston's eyes were not to be
opened in any wise. She was wilfully, resolutely blind, clinging to the
hope that this cruel neglect on John Saltram's part arose only from his
delicacy of feeling, and tender care for her reputation.
"But O, how I wish that he would come to me!" she said to herself again
and again, as those slow dreary days went by, burdened and weighed down
by the oppressive society of Mrs. Pallinson, as well as by her own sad
thoughts. "My husband has been dead ever so long now, and what need have
we to study the opinion of the world so much? Of course I wouldn't marry
him till a year, or more, after poor Michael's death; but I should like
to see him often, to be sure that he still cares for me as he used to
care--yes, I am sure he used--in the dear old days at Maidenhead. Why
doesn't he come to me? He knows that I love him. He must know that I have
no brighter hope than to make him the master of my fortune; and yet he
goes on in those dismal Temple chambers, toiling at his literary work as
if he had not a thought in the world beyond earning so many pounds a
This was the perpetual drift of Mrs. Branston's meditations; and in the
absence of any sign or token of regard from John Saltram, all Mrs.
Pallinson's attempts to amuse her, all the fascinations and
accomplishments of the elegant Theobald, were thrown away upon an
There were not many amusements open to a London public at that dull
season of the year, except the theatres, and for those places of
entertainment Mrs. Pallinson cherished a shuddering aversion. But there
were occasional morning and evening "recitals," or concerts, where the
music for the most part was of a classical and recondite
character--feasts of melody, at which long-buried and forgotten sonatas
of Gluck, or Bach, or Chembini were introduced to a discriminating public
for the first time; and to these Mrs. Pallinson and Theobald conducted
poor Adela Branston, whose musical proclivities had never yet soared into
higher regions than those occupied by the sparkling joyous genius of
Rossini, and to whom the revived sonatas, or the familiar old-established
gems of classical art, were as unintelligible as so much Hebrew or
Syriac. Perhaps they were not much more delightful to Mrs. Pallinson; but
that worthy matron had a profound veneration for the conventionalities of
life, and these classical matinees and recitals seemed to her exactly the
correct sort of thing for the amusement of a young widow whose husband
had not very long ago been consigned to the tomb.
So poor Adela was dragged hither and thither to gloomy concert-rooms,
where the cold winter's light made the performers look pale and wan, or
to aristocratic drawing-rooms, graciously lent to some favoured pianiste
by their distinguished owners; and so, harassed and weary, but lacking
spirit to oppose her own feeble inclinations to the overpowering force of
Mrs. Pallinson's will, the helpless little widow went submissively
wherever they chose to take her, tormented all the while by the thought
of John Saltram's coldness, and wondering when this cruel time of
probation would be at an end, and he would show himself her devoted slave
once more. It was very weak and foolish to think of him like this, no
doubt; undignified and unwomanly, perhaps; but Adela Branston was little
more than a child in knowledge of the world, and John Saltram was the
only man who had ever touched her heart. She stood quite alone in the
world too, lonely with all her wealth, and there was no one to share her
affection with this man, who had acquired so complete an influence over
She endured the dreary course of her days patiently enough for a
considerable time, not knowing any means whereby she might release
herself from the society of her kinswoman, or put an end to the
indefatigable attentions of the popular Maida Hill doctor. She would have
gladly offered Mrs. Pallinson a liberal allowance out of her fortune to
buy that lady off, and be her own mistress once more, free to act and
think for herself, had she dared to make such a degrading proposition to
a person of Mrs. Pallinson's dignity. But she could not venture to do
this; and she felt that no one but John Saltram, in the character of her
future husband, could release her from the state of bondage into which
she had weakly suffered herself to fall. In the meantime she defended the
man she loved with an unflinching spirit, resolutely refusing to have
her eyes opened to the worthlessness of his character, and boldly
declaring her disbelief of those sad accounts which Theobald affected to
have heard from well-informed acquaintance of his own, respecting the
follies and dissipations of Mr. Saltram's career, his debts, his love of
gambling, his dealings with money-lenders, and other foibles common to
the rake's progress.
It was rather a hard battle for the lonely little woman to fight, but she
had fortune on her side; and at the worst, her kinsfolk treated her with
a certain deference, even while they were doing their utmost to worry her
into an untimely grave. If little flatteries, and a perpetual indulgence
in all small matters, such as a foolish nurse might give to a spoilt
child, could have made Adela happy, she had certainly no reason to
complain, for in this manner Mrs. Pallinson was the most devoted and
affectionate of companions. If her darling Adela looked a little paler
than usual, or confessed to suffering from a headache, or owned to being
nervous or out of spirits, Mrs. Pallinson's anxiety knew no bounds, and
Theobald was summoned from Maida Hill without a minute's delay, much to
poor Adela's annoyance. Indeed, she grew in time to deny the headaches,
and the low spirits, or the nervousness resolutely, rather than bring
upon herself a visitation from Mr. Theobald Pallinson; and in spite of
all this care and indulgence she felt herself a prisoner in her own
house, somehow; more dependent than the humblest servant in that spacious
mansion; and she looked out helplessly and hopelessly for some friend
through whose courageous help she might recover her freedom. Perhaps she
only thought of one champion as at all likely to come to her rescue;
indeed, her mind had scarcely room for more than that one image, which
occupied her thoughts at all times.
Her captivity had lasted for a period which seemed a very long time,
though it was short enough when computed by the ordinary standard of
weeks and months, when a circumstance occurred which gave her a brief
interval of liberty. Mr. Pallinson fell a victim to some slight attack of
low fever; and his mother, who was really most devoted to this paragon of
a son, retired from the citadel in Cavendish Square for a few days in
order to nurse him. It was not that the surgeon's illness was in any way
dangerous, but the mother could not trust her darling to the care of
strangers and hirelings.
Adela Branston seemed to breathe more freely in that brief holiday.
Relieved from Mrs. Pallinson's dismal presence, life appeared brighter
and pleasanter all at once; a faint colour came back to the pale cheeks,
and the widow was even beguiled into laughter by some uncomplimentary
observations which her confidential maid ventured upon with reference to
the absent lady.
"I'm sure the house itself seems lighter and more cheerful-like without
her, ma'am," said this young person, who was of a vivacious temperament,
and upon whom the dowager's habitual dreariness had been a heavy
affliction; "and you're looking all the better already for not being
worried by her."
"Berners, you really must not say such things," Mrs. Branston exclaimed
reproachfully. "You ought to know that my cousin is most kind and
thoughtful, and does everything for the best."
"O, of course, ma'am; but some people's best is quite as bad as other
people's worst," the maid answered sharply; "and as to kindness and
thoughtfulness, Mrs. Pallinson is a great deal too kind and thoughtful, I
think; for her kindness and thoughtfulness won't allow you a moment's
rest. And then, as if anybody couldn't see through her schemes about that
precious son of hers--with his finicking affected ways!"
And at this point the vivacious Berners gave a little imitation of
Theobald Pallinson, with which liberty Adela pretended to be very much
offended, laughing at the performance nevertheless.
Mrs. Branston passed the first day of her freedom in luxurious idleness.
It was such an inexpressible relief not to hear the perpetual click of
Mrs. Pallinson's needle travelling in and out of the canvas, as that
irreproachable matron sat at her embroidery-frame, on which a group of
spaniels, after Sir Edwin Landseer, were slowly growing into the fluffy
life of Berlin wool; a still greater relief, not to be called upon to
respond appropriately to the dull platitudes which formed the lady's
usual conversation, when she was not abusing John Saltram, or sounding
the praises of her beloved son.
The day was a long one for Adela, in spite of the pleasant sense of
freedom; for she had begun the morning with the thought of what a
delightful thing it would be if some happy accident should bring Mr.
Saltram to Cavendish-square on this particular day; and having once
started with this idea, she found herself counting the hours and
half-hours with impatient watchfulness until the orthodox time for
visiting was quite over, and she could no longer beguile herself with the
hope that he would come. She wanted so much to see him alone. Since her
husband's death, they had met only in the presence of Mrs. Pallinson,
beneath the all-pervading eye and within perpetual ear-shot of that
oppressive matron. Adela fancied that if they could only meet for one
brief half-hour face to face, without the restraint of that foreign
presence, all misunderstanding would be at an end between them, and John
Saltram's affection for her, in which she believed with a fond credulity,
would reveal itself in all its truth and fulness.
"I daresay it is my cousin Pallinson who has kept him away from me all
this time," Adela said to herself with a very impatient feeling about
her cousin Pallinson. "I know how intolerant he is of any one he
dislikes; and no doubt he has taken a dislike to her; she has done
everything to provoke it, indeed by her coldness and rudeness to him."
That day went by, and the second and third day of the dowager's absence;
but there was no sign of John Saltram. Adela thought of writing to ask
him to come to her; but that seemed such a desperate step, she could not
think how she should word the letter, or how she could give it to one of
the servants to post. No, she would contrive to post it herself, if she
did bring herself to write. And then she thought of a still more
desperate step. What if she were to call upon Mr. Saltram at his Temple
chambers? It would be a most unwarrantable thing for her to do, of
course; an act which would cause Mrs. Pallinson's hair to stand on end in
virtuous horror, could it by any means come to her knowledge; but Adela
did not intend that it ever should be known to Mrs. Pallinson; and about
the opinion of the world in the abstract, Mrs. Branston told herself that
she cared very little. What was the use of being a rich widow, if she was
to be hedged-in by the restrictions which encompass the steps of an
unwedded damsel just beginning life? Emboldened by the absence of her
dowager kinswoman, Mrs. Branston felt herself independent, free to do a
foolish thing, and ready to abide the hazard of her folly.
So, upon the fourth day of her freedom, despairing of any visit from John
Saltram, Adela Branston ordered the solemn-looking butler to send for a
cab, much to the surprise of that portly individual.
"Josephs has just been round asking about the carriage, mum," he said, in
a kind of suggestive way; "whether you'd please to want the b'rouche or
the broom, and whether you'd drive before or after luncheon."
"I shall not want the carriage this morning; send for a cab, if you
please, Parker. I am going into the City, and don't care about taking the
The solemn Parker bowed and retired, not a little mystified by this
order. His mistress was a kind little woman enough, but such extreme
consideration for equine comfort is hardly a feminine attribute, and Mr.
Parker was puzzled. He told Josephs the coachman as much when he had
dispatched an underling to fetch the cleanest four-wheeler procurable at
an adjacent stand.
"She's a-going to her banker's I suppose," he said meditatively; "going
to make some new investments perhaps. Women are always a-fidgeting and
chopping and changing with their money."
Mrs. Branston kept the cab waiting half an hour, according to the fairest
reckoning. She was very particular about her toilette that morning, and
inclined to be discontented with the sombre plainness of her widow's
garb, and to fancy that the delicate border of white crape round her
girlish face made her look pale, not to say sallow. She came downstairs
at last, however, looking very graceful and pretty in her trailing
mourning robes and fashionable crape bonnet, in which the profoundest
depth of woe was made to express itself with a due regard to elegance.
She came down to the homely hackney vehicle attended by the obsequious
Berners, whose curiosity was naturally excited by this solitary
"Where shall I tell the man to drive, mum?" the butler asked with the
cab-door in his hand.
Mrs. Branston felt herself blushing, and hesitated a little before she
"The Union Bank, Chancery-lane. Tell him to go by the Strand and
"I can't think what's come to my mistress," Miss Berners remarked as the
cab drove off. "Catch _me_ driving in one of those nasty vulgar
four-wheel cabs, if I had a couple of carriages and a couple of pairs of
horses at my disposal. There's some style about a hansom; but I never
could abide those creepy-crawley four-wheelers."
"I admire your taste, Miss Berners; and a dashing young woman like you's
a credit to a hansom," replied Mr. Parker gallantly. "But there's no
accounting for the vagaries of the female sex; and I fancy somehow Mrs.
B. didn't want any of us to know where she was going; she coloured-up so
when I asked her for the direction. You may depend there's something up,
Jane Berners. She's going to see some poor relation perhaps--Mile-end or
Kentish-town way--and was ashamed to give the address."
"I don't believe she has any relations, except old Mother Pallinson and
her son," Miss Berners answered.
And thereupon the handmaiden withdrew to her own regions with a
discontented air, as one who had been that day cheated out of her
ONLY A WOMAN.
The cabman did not hurry his tall raw-boned steed, and the drive to
Temple-bar seemed a very long one to Adela Branston, whose mind was
disturbed by the consciousness that she was doing a foolish thing. Many
times during the journey, she was on the point of stopping the man and
telling him to drive back to Cavendish-square; but in spite of these
moments of doubt and vacillation she suffered the vehicle to proceed, and
only stopped the man when they were close to Temple-bar.
Here she told him where she wanted to go; upon which he plunged down an
obscure side street, and stopped at one of the entrances to the Temple.
Here Mrs. Branston alighted, and had to inquire her way to Mr. Saltram's
chambers. She was so unaccustomed to be out alone, that this expedition
seemed something almost awful to her when she found herself helpless and
solitary in that strange locality. She had fancied that the cab would
drive straight to Mr. Saltram's door.
The busy lawyers flitting across those grave courts and passages turned
to glance curiously at the pretty little widow. She had the air of a
person not used to be on foot and unattended--a kind of aerial butterfly
air, as of one who belonged to the useless and ornamental class of
society; utterly different from the appearance of such humble female
pedestrians as were wont to make the courts and alleys of the Temple a
short-cut in their toilsome journeys to and fro. Happily a porter
appeared, who was able to direct her to Mr. Saltram's chambers, and
civilly offered to escort her there; for which service she rewarded him
with half-a-crown, instead of the sixpence which he expected as his
maximum recompense; she was so glad to have reached the shelter of the
dark staircase in safety. The men whom she had met had frightened her by
their bold admiring stares; and yet she was pleased to think that she was
The porter did not leave her until she had been admitted by Mr. Saltram's
boy, and then retired, promising to be in the way to see her back to her
carriage. How the poor little thing trembled when she found herself on
the threshold of that unfamiliar door! What a horrible dingy lobby it
was! and how she pitied John Saltram for having to live in such place! He
was at home and alone, the boy told her; would she please to send in her
No, Mrs. Branston declined to send in her card. The boy could say that a
lady wished to see Mr. Saltram.
The truth was, she wanted to surprise this man; to see how her
unlooked-for presence would affect him. She fancied herself beloved by
him, poor soul! and that she would be able to read some evidence of his
joy at seeing her in this unexpected manner.
The boy went in to his master and announced the advent of a lady, the
first he had ever seen in those dismal premises.
John Saltram started up from his desk and came with a hurried step to the
door, very pale and almost breathless.
"A lady!" he gasped, and then fell back a pace or two on seeing Adela,
with a look which was very much like disappointment.
"You here, Mrs. Branston!" he exclaimed; "I--you are the last person in
the world I should have expected to see."
Perhaps he felt that there was a kind of rudeness in this speech, for he
added hastily, and with a faint smile,--
"Of course I am not the less honoured by your visit."
He moved a chair forward, the least dilapidated of the three or four
which formed his scanty stock, and placed it near the neglected fire,
which he tried to revive a little by a judicious use of the poker.
"You expected to see some one else, I think," Adela said; quite unable to
hide her wounded feelings.
She had seen the eagerness in his pale face when he came to the door, and
the disappointed look with which he had recognised her.
"Scarcely; but I expected to receive news of some one else."
"Some one you are very anxious to hear about, I should imagine, from your
manner just now," said Adela, who could not forbear pressing the question
"Yes, Mrs. Branston, some one about whom I am anxious; a relation, in
She looked at him with a puzzled air. She had never heard him talk of his
relations, had indeed supposed that he stood almost alone in the world;
but there was no reason that it should be so, except his silence on the
subject. She watched him for some moments in silence, as he stood leaning
against the opposite angle of the chimney-piece waiting for her to speak.
He was looking very ill, much changed since she had seen him last,
haggard and worn, with the air of a man who had not slept properly for
many nights. There was an absent far-away look in his eyes: and Adela
Branston felt all at once that her presence was nothing to him; that this
desperate step which she had taken had no more effect upon him than the
commonest event of every-day life; in a word, that he did not love her. A
cold deathlike feeling came over her as she thought this. She had set her
heart upon this man's love, and had indeed some justification for
supposing that it was hers. It seemed to her that life was useless--worse
than useless, odious and unendurable--without it.
But even while she was thinking this, with a cold blank misery in her
heart, she had to invent some excuse for this unseemly visit.
"I have waited so anxiously for you to call," she said at last, in a
nervous hesitating way, "and I began to fear that you must be ill, and I
wished to consult you about the management of my affairs. My lawyers
worry me so with questions which I don't know how to answer, and I have
so few friends in the world whom I can trust except you; so at last I
screwed up my courage to call upon you."
"I am deeply honoured by your confidence, Mrs. Branston," John Saltram
answered, looking at her gravely with those weary haggard eyes, with the
air of a man who brings his thoughts back to common life from some
far-away region with an effort. "If my advice or assistance can be of any
use to you, they are completely at your service. What is this business
about which your solicitor bothers you?"
"I'll explain that to you directly," Adela answered, taking some letters
from her pocket-book. "How good you are! I knew that you would help me;
but tell me first why you have never been to Cavendish-square in all this
long time. I fear I was right; you have been ill, have you not?"
"Not exactly ill, but very much worried and overworked."
A light dawned on Adela Branston's troubled mind. She began to think that
Mr. Saltram's strange absent manner, his apparent indifference to her
presence, might arise from preoccupation, caused by those pecuniary
difficulties from which the Pallinsons declared him so constant a
sufferer. Yes, she told herself, it was trouble of this kind that
oppressed him, that had banished him from her all this time. He was too
generous to repair his shattered fortunes by means of her money; he was
too proud to confess his fallen state.
A tender pity took possession of her. All that was most sentimental in
her nature was awakened by the idea of John Saltram's generosity. What
was the use of her fortune, if she could not employ it for the relief of
the man she loved?
"You are so kind to me, Mr. Saltram," she faltered, after a troubled
pause; "so ready to help me in my perplexities, I only wish you would
allow me to be of some use to you in yours, if you have any perplexities;
and I suppose everybody has, of some kind or other. I should be so proud
if you would give me your confidence--so proud and happy!" Her voice
trembled a little as she said this, looking up at him all the while with
soft confiding blue eyes, the fair delicate face looking its prettiest in
the coquettish widow's head-gear.
A man must have been harder of heart than John Saltram who could remain
unmoved by a tenderness so evident. This man was touched, and deeply. The
pale careworn face grew more troubled, the firmly-moulded lips quivered
ever so little, as he looked down at the widow's pleading countenance;
and then he turned his head aside with a sudden half-impatient movement.
"My dear Mrs. Branston, you are too good to me; I am unworthy, I am in
every way unworthy of your kindness."
"You are not unworthy, and that is no answer to my question; only an
excuse to put me off. We are such old friends, Mr. Saltram, you might
trust me. You own that you have been worried--overworked--worried about
money matters, perhaps. I know that gentlemen are generally subject to
that kind of annoyance; and you know how rich I am, how little
employment I have for my money, though you can never imagine how
worthless and useless it seems to me. Why won't you trust me? why won't
you let me be your banker?"
She blushed crimson as she made this offer, dreading that the man she
loved would turn upon her fiercely in a passion of offended pride. She
sat before him trembling, dreading the might of his indignation.
But there was no anger in John Saltram's face when he looked round at
her; only grief and an expression that was like pity.
"The offer is like you," he said with suppressed feeling; "but the
worries of which I spoke just now are not money troubles. I do not
pretend to deny that my affairs are embarrassed, and have been for so
long that entanglement has become their normal state; but if they were
ever so much more desperate, I could not afford to trade upon your
generosity. No, Mrs. Branston, that is just the very last thing in this
world that I could consent to do."
"It is very cruel of you to say that," Adela answered, with the tears
gathering in her clear blue eyes, and with a little childish look of
vexation, which would have seemed infinitely charming in the eyes of a
man who loved her. "There can be no reason for your saying this, except
that you do not think me worthy of your confidence--that you despise me
too much to treat me like a friend. If I were that Mr. Fenton now, whom
you care for so much, you would not treat me like this."
"I never borrowed a sixpence from Gilbert Fenton in my life, though I
know that his purse is always open to me. But friendship is apt to end
when money transactions begin. Believe me, I feel your goodness, Mrs.
Branston, your womanly generosity; but it is my own unworthiness that
comes between me and your kindness. I can accept nothing from you but the
sympathy which it is your nature to give to all who need it."
"I do indeed sympathise with you; but it seems so hard that you will not