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Fenton's Quest by M. E. Braddon

Part 6 out of 10

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consent to make some use of all that money which is lying idle. It would
make me so happy if I could think it were useful to you; but I dare not
say any more. I have said too much already, perhaps; only I hope you will
not think very badly of me for having acted on impulse in this way."

"Think badly of you, my dear kind soul! What can I think, except that you
are one of the most generous of women?"

"And about these other troubles, Mr. Saltram, which have no relation to
money matters; you will not give me your confidence?"

"There is nothing that I can confide in you, Mrs. Branston. Others are
involved in the matter of which I spoke, I am not free to talk about it."

Poor Adela felt herself repulsed at every point. It seemed very hard.
Had she been mistaken about this man all the time? mistaken and deluded
in those old happy days during her husband's lifetime, when he had been
so constant a visitor at the river-side villa, and had seemed exactly
what a man might seem who cherished a tenderness which he dared not
reveal in the present, but which in a brighter future might blossom into
the full-blown flower of love?

"And now about your own affairs, my dear Mrs. Branston?" John Saltram said
with a forced cheerfulness, drawing his chain up to the table and
assuming a business-like manner. "These tiresome letters of your
lawyers'; let me see what use I can be in the matter."

Adela Branston produced the letters with rather an absent air. They were
letters about very insignificant affairs; the renewal of a lease or two;
the reinvestment of a sum of money that had been lent on mortgage, and
had fallen in lately; transactions that scarcely called for the
employment of Mr. Saltram's intellectual powers. But he gave them very
serious attention nevertheless, well aware, all the time that this
business consultation was only the widow's excuse for her visit; and
while she seemed to be listening to his advice, her eyes were wandering
round the room all the time, noting the dust and confusion, the
soda-water bottles huddled in one corner, the pile of books heaped in a
careless mass in another, the half-empty brandy-bottle between a couple of
stone ink-jars on the mantelpiece. She was thinking what a dreary place
it was, and that there was the stamp of decay and ruin somehow upon the
man who occupied it. And she loved him so well, and would have given all
the world to have redeemed his life.

It is doubtful whether Adela Branston heard one syllable of that counsel
which Mr. Saltram administered so gravely. Her mind was full of the
failure of this desperate step which she had taken. He seemed farther
from her now than before they had met, obstinately adverse to profit by
her friendship, cold and cruel.

"You will come and dine with us very soon, I hope," she said as she rose
to go, "My cousin, Mrs. Pallinson, will be home in a day or two. She has
been nursing her son for the last few days; but he is much better, and I
expect her back immediately. We shall be so pleased to see you; you will
name an early day, won't you? Monday shall we say, or Sunday? You can't
plead business on Sunday."

"My dear Mrs. Branston, I really am not well enough for visiting."

"But dining with us does not come under the head of visiting. We will be
quite alone, if you wish it. I shall be hurt if you refuse to come."

"If you put it in that way, I cannot refuse; but I fear you will find me
wretched company."

"I am not afraid of that. And now I must ask you to forgive me for
having wasted so much of your time, before I say good-morning."

"There has been no time of mine wasted. I have learned to know your
generous heart even better than I knew it before, and I think I always
knew that it was a noble one. Believe me, I am not ungrateful or
indifferent to so much goodness."

He accompanied her downstairs, and through the courts and passages to the
place where she had left her cab, in spite of the ticket-porter, who was
hanging about ready to act as escort. He saw her safely seated in the
hackney vehicle, and then walked slowly back to his chambers, thinking
over the interview which had just concluded.

"Poor little soul," he said softly to himself; "dear little soul! There
are men who would go to the end of the world for a woman like that; yes,
if she had not a sixpence. And to think that I, who thought myself so
strong in the wisdom of the world, should have let such a prize slip
through my fingers? For what? For a fancy, for a caprice that has brought
confusion and shame upon me--disappointment and regret."

He breathed a profound sigh. From first to last life had been more or
less a disappointment to this man. He had lived alone; lived for himself,
despising the ambitious aims and lofty hopes of other men, thinking the
best prizes this world can give scarcely worth that long struggle which
is so apt to end in failure; perfect success was so rare a result, it
seemed to him. He made a rough calculation of his chances in any given
line when he was still fresh from college, and finding the figures
against him, gave up all thoughts of doing great things. By-and-by, when
his creditors grew pressing and it was necessary for him to earn money in
some way, he found that it was no trouble to him to write; so he wrote
with a spasmodic kind of industry, but a forty-horse power when he chose
to exercise it. For a long time he had no thought of winning name or fame
in literature. It was only of late it had dawned upon him that he had
wasted labour and talent, out of which a wiser man would have created for
himself a reputation; and that reputation is worth something, if only as
a means of making money.

This conviction once arrived at, he had worked hard at a book which he
thought must needs make some impression upon the world whenever he could
afford time to complete it. In the meanwhile his current work occupied so
much of his life, that he was fain to lay the _magnum opus_ aside every
now and then, and it still needed a month or two of quiet labour.



Gilbert Fenton took up his abode at the dilapidated old inn at Crosber,
thinking that he might be freer there than at the Grange; a dismal place
of sojourn under the brightest circumstances, but unspeakably dreary for
him who had only the saddest thoughts for his companions. He wanted to be
on the spot, to be close at hand to hear tidings of the missing girl, and
he wanted also to be here in the event of John Holbrook's return--to come
face to face with this man, if possible, and to solve that question which
had sorely perplexed him of late--the mystery that hung about the man who
had wronged him.

He consulted Ellen Carley as to the probability of Mr. Holbrook's return.
The girl seemed to think it very unlikely that Marian's husband would
ever again appear at the Grange. His last departure had appeared like a
final one. He had paid every sixpence he owed in the neighbourhood, and
had been liberal in his donations to the servants and hangers-on of the
place. Marian's belongings he had left to Ellen Carley's care, telling
her to pack them, and keep them in readiness for being forwarded to any
address he might send. But his own books and papers he had carefully

"Had he many books here?" Gilbert asked.

"Not many," the girl answered; "but he was a very studious gentleman. He
spent almost all his time shut up in his own room reading and writing."


In this respect the habits of the unknown corresponded exactly with those
of John Saltram. Gilbert Fenton's heart beat a little quicker at the
thought that he was coming nearer by a step to the solution of that
question which was always uppermost in his mind now.

"Do you know if he wrote books--if he was what is called a literary
man--living by his pen?" he asked presently.

"I don't know; I never heard his wife say so. But Mrs. Holbrook was
always reserved about him and his history. I think he had forbidden her
to talk about his affairs. I know I used to fancy it was a dull life for
her, poor soul, sitting in his room hour after hour, working while he
wrote. He used not to allow her to be with him at all at first, but
little by little she persuaded him to let her sit with him, promising not
to disturb him by so much as a word; and she never did. She seemed quite
happy when she was with him, contented, and proud to think that her
presence was no hindrance to him."

"And you think he loved her, don't you?"

"At first, yes; but I think a kind of weariness came over him
afterwards, and that she saw it, and almost broke her heart about it.
She was so simple and innocent, poor darling, it wasn't easy for her to
hide anything she felt."

Gilbert asked the bailiff's daughter to describe Mr. Holbrook to him, as
she had done more than once before. But this time he questioned her
closely, and contrived that her description of this man's outward
semblance should be especially minute and careful.

Yes, the picture which arose before him as Ellen Carley spoke was the
picture of John Saltram. The description seemed in every particular to
apply to the face and figure of his one chosen friend. But then all such
verbal pictures are at best vague and shadowy, and Gilbert knew that he
carried that one image in his mind, and would be apt unconsciously to
twist the girl's words into that one shape. He asked if any picture or
photograph of Mr. Holbrook had been left at the Grange, and Ellen Carley
told him no, she had never even seen a portrait of Marian's husband.

He was therefore fain to be content with the description which seemed so
exactly to fit the friend he loved, the friend to whom he had clung with
a deeper, stronger feeling since this miserable suspicion had taken root
in his mind.

"I think I could have forgiven him if he had come between us in a bold
and open way," he said to himself, brooding over this harassing doubt of
his friend; "yes, I think I could have forgiven him, in spite of the
bitterness of losing her. But to steal her from me with cowardly
treacherous secrecy, to hide my treasure in an obscure corner, and then
grow weary of her, and blight her fair young life with his coldness,--can
I forgive him these things? can all the memory of the past plead with me
for him when I think of these things? O God, grant that I am mistaken;
that it is some other man who has done this, and not John Saltram; not
the man I have loved and honoured for fifteen years of my life!"

But his suspicions were not to be put away, not to be driven out of his
mind, let him argue against them as he might. He resolved, therefore,
that as soon as he should have made every effort and taken every possible
means towards the recovery of the missing girl, he would make it his
business next to bring this thing home to John Saltram, or acquit him for

It is needless to dwell upon that weary work, which seemed destined to
result in nothing but disappointment. The local constabulary and the
London police alike exerted all their powers to obtain some trace of
Marian Holbrook's lost footsteps; but no clue to the painful mystery was
to be found. From the moment when she vanished from the eyes of the
servant-woman watching her departure from the Grange gate, she seemed to
have disappeared altogether from the sight of mankind. If by some
witchcraft she had melted into the dim autumnal mist that hung about the
river-bank, she could not have left less trace, or vanished more
mysteriously than she had done. The local constabulary gave in very soon,
in spite of Gilbert Fenton's handsome payment in the present, and noble
promises of reward in the future. The local constabulary were honest and
uninventive. They shook their heads gloomily, and said "Drownded."

"But the river has been dragged," Gilbert cried eagerly, "and there has
been nothing found."

He shuddered at the thought of that which might have been hauled to shore
in the foul weedy net. The face he loved, changed, disfigured, awful--the
damp clinging hair.

"Holes," replied the chief of the local constabulary, sententiously;
"there's holes in that there river where you might hide half a dozen
drownded men, and never hope to find 'em, no more than if they was at the
bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. Lord bless your heart, sir, you Londoners
don't know what a river is, in a manner of speaking," added the man, who
was most likely unacquainted with the existence of the Thames, compared
with which noble stream this sluggish Hampshire river was the veriest
ditch. "I've known a many poor creatures drownded in that river, and
never one of 'em to come to light--not that the river was dragged for
_them_. Their friends weren't of the dragging class, they weren't."

The London police were more hopeful and more delusive. They were always
hearing of some young lady newly arrived at some neighbouring town or
village who seemed to answer exactly to the description of Mrs. Holbrook.
And, behold, when Gilbert Fenton hurried off post-haste to the village or
town, and presented himself before the lady in question, he found for the
most part that she was ten years older than Marian, and as utterly unlike
her as it was possible for one Englishwoman to be unlike another.

He possessed a portrait of the missing girl--a carefully finished
photograph, which had been given to him in the brief happy time when she
was his promised wife; and he caused this image to be multiplied and
distributed wherever the search for Marian was being made. He neglected
no possible means by which he might hope to obtain tidings; advertising
continually, in town and country, and varying his advertisements in such
a manner as to insure attention either from the object of his inquiries,
or any one acquainted with her.

But all his trouble was in vain. No reply, or, what was worse, worthless
and delusive replies, came to his advertisements. The London police, who
had pretended to be so hopeful at first, began to despair in a visible
manner, having put all their machinery into play, and failed to obtain
even the most insignificant result. They were fain to confess at last
that they could only come to pretty much the same conclusion as that
arrived at by their inferiors, the rustic officials; and agreed that in
all probability the river hid the secret of Marian Holbrook's fate. She
had been the victim of either crime or accident. Who should say which?
The former seemed the more likely, as she had vanished in broad daylight,
when, it was scarcely possible that her footsteps could go astray; while
in that lonely neighbourhood a crime was never impossible.

"She had a watch and chain, I suppose?" the officer inquired. "Ladies
will wear 'em."

Gilbert ascertained from Ellen Carley that Marian had always worn her
watch and chain, had worn them when she left the Grange for the last
time. She had a few other trinkets too, which she wore habitually, quaint
old-fashioned things, of some value.

How well Gilbert remembered those little family treasures, which she had
exhibited to him at Captain Sedgewick's bidding!

"Ah," muttered the officer when he heard this, "quite enough to cost her
her life, if she met with one of your ugly customers. I've known a murder
committed for the sake of three-and-sixpence in my time; and pushing a
young woman into the river don't count for murder among that sort of
people. You see, some one may come by and fish her out again; so it can't
well be more than manslaughter."

A dull horror came over Gilbert Fenton as he heard these professional
speculations, but at the worst he could not bring himself to believe that
these men were right, and that the woman he loved had been the victim of
some obscure wretch's greed, slain in broad daylight for the sake of a
few pounds' worth of jewelry.

When everything had been done that was possible to be done in that part
of the country, Mr. Fenton went back to London. But not before he had
become very familiar with the household at the Grange. From the first he
had liked and trusted Ellen Carley, deeply touched by her fidelity to
Marian. He made a point of dropping in at the Grange every evening, when
not away from Crosber following up some delusive track started by his
metropolitan counsellors. He always went there with a faint hope that
Ellen Carley might have something to tell him, and with a vague notion
that John Holbrook might return unexpectedly, and that they two might
meet in the old farm-house. But Mr. Holbrook did not reappear, nor had
Ellen any tidings for her evening visitor; though she thought of little
else than Marian, and never let a day pass without making some small
effort to obtain a clue to that mystery which now seemed so hopeless.
Gilbert grew to be quite at home in the little wainscoted parlour at the
Grange, smoking his cigar there nightly in a tranquil contemplative mood,
while Mr. Carley puffed vigorously at his long clay pipe. There was a
special charm for him in the place that had so long being Marian's home.
He felt nearer to her, somehow, under that roof, and as if he must needs
be on the right road to some discovery. The bailiff, although prone to
silence, seemed to derive considerable gratification from Mr. Fenton's
visits, and talked to that gentleman with greater freedom than he was
wont to display in his intercourse with mankind. Ellen was not always
present during the whole of the evening, and in her absence the bailiff
would unbosom himself to Gilbert on the subject of his daughter's
undutiful conduct; telling him what a prosperous marriage the girl might
make if she had only common sense enough to see her own interests in the
right light, and wasn't the most obstinate self-willed hussy that ever
set her own foolish whims and fancies against a father's wishes.

"But a woman's fancies sometimes mean a very deep feeling, Mr. Carley,"
pleaded Gilbert; "and what worldly-wise people call a good home, is not
always a happy one. It's a hard thing for a young woman to marry against
her inclination."

"Humph!" muttered the bailiff in a surly tone. "It's a harder thing for
her to marry a pauper, I should think, and to bring a regiment of
children into the world, always wanting shoes and stockings. But you're a
bachelor, you see, Mr. Fenton, and can't be expected to know what shoes
and stockings are. Now there happens to be a friend of mine--a steady,
respectable, middle-aged man--who worships the ground my girl walks on,
and could make her mistress of as good a house as any within twenty miles
of this, and give a home to her father in his old age, into the bargain;
for I'm only a servant here, and it can't be expected that I am to go on
toiling and slaving about this place for ever. I don't say but what I've
saved a few pounds, but I haven't saved enough to keep me out of the

This seemed to Gilbert rather a selfish manner of looking at a daughter's
matrimonial prospects, and he ventured to hint as much in a polite way.
But the bailiff was immovable.

"What a young woman wants is a good home," he said decisively; "whether
she has the sense to know it herself, or whether she hasn't, that's what
she's got to look for in life."

Gilbert had not spent many evenings at the Grange before he had the
honour of being introduced to the estimable middle-aged suitor, whose
claims Mr. Carley was always setting forth to his daughter. He saw
Stephen Whitelaw, and that individual's colourless expressionless
countenance, redeemed from total blankness only by the cunning visible in
the small grey eyes, impressed him with instant distrust and dislike.

"God forbid that frank warm-hearted girl should ever be sacrificed to
such a fellow as this," he said to himself, as he sat on the opposite
side of the hearth, smoking his cigar, and meditatively contemplating Mr.
Whitelaw conversing in his slow solemn fashion with the man who was so
eager to be his father-in-law.

In the course of that first evening of their acquaintance, Gilbert was
surprised to see how often Stephen Whitelaw looked at him, with a
strangely-attentive expression, that had something furtive in it, some
hidden meaning, as it seemed to him. Whenever Gilbert spoke, the farmer
looked up at him, always with the same sharp inquisitive glance, the same
cunning twinkle in his small eyes. And every time he happened to look at
Mr. Whitelaw during that evening, he found the watchful eyes turned
towards him in the same unpleasant manner. The sensation caused by this
kind of surveillance on the part of the farmer was so obnoxious to him,
that at parting he took occasion to speak of it in a friendly way.

"I fancy you and I must have met before to-night, Mr. Whitelaw," he said;
"or that you must have some notion to that effect. You've looked at me
with an amount of interest my personal merits could scarcely call for."

"No, no, sir," the farmer answered in his usual slow deliberate way; "it
isn't that; I never set eyes on you before I came into this room
to-night. But you see, Ellen, she's interested in you, and I take an
interest in any one she takes to. And we've all of us thought so much
about your searching for that poor young lady that's missing, and taking
such pains, and being so patient-like where another would have given in
at the first set-off--so, altogether, you're a general object of
interest, you see."

Gilbert did not appear particularly flattered by this compliment. He
received it at first with rather an angry look, and then, after a pause,
was vexed with himself for having been annoyed by the man's clumsy
expression of sympathy--for it was sympathy, no doubt, which Mr. Whitelaw
wished to express.

"It has been sad work, so far," he said. "I suppose you can give me no
hint, no kind of advice as to any step to be taken in the future."

"Lord bless you, no sir. Everything that could be done was done before
you came here. Mr. Holbrook didn't leave a stone unturned. He did his
duty as a man and a husband, sir. The poor young lady was
drowned--there's no doubt about that."

"I don't believe it," Gilbert said, with a quiet resolute air, which
seemed quite to startle Mr. Whitelaw.

"You don't believe she was drowned! You mean to say you think she's
alive, then?" he asked, with unusual sharpness and quickness of speech.

"I have a firm conviction that she still lives; that, with God's
blessing, I shall see her again."

"Well, sir," Mr. Whitelaw replied, relapsing into his accustomed
slowness, and rubbing his clumsy chin with his still clumsier hand, in a
thoughtful manner, "of course it ain't my place to go against any
gentleman's convictions--far from it; but if you see Mrs. Holbrook before
the dead rise out of their graves, my name isn't Stephen Whitelaw. You
may waste your time and your trouble, and you may spend your money as it
was so much water, but set eyes upon that missing lady you never will;
take my word for it, or don't take my word for it, as you please."

Gilbert wondered at the man's earnestness. Did he really feel some kind
of benevolent interest in the fate of a helpless woman, or was it only a
vulgar love of the marvellous and horrible that moved him? Gilbert leaned
to the latter opinion, and was by no means inclined to give Stephen
Whitelaw credit for any surplus stock of benevolence. He saw a good deal
more of Ellen Carley's suitor in the course of his evening visits to the
Grange, and had ample opportunity for observing Mr. Whitelaw's mode of
courtship, which was by no means of the demonstrative order, consisting
in a polite silence towards the object of his affections, broken only by
one or two clumsy but florid compliments, delivered in a deliberate but
semi-jocose manner. The owner of Wyncomb Farm had no idea of making hard
work of his courtship. He had been angled for by so many damsels, and
courted by so many fathers and mothers, that he fancied he had but to say
the word when the time came, and the thing would be done. Any evidence of
avoidance, indifference, or even dislike upon Ellen Carley's part,
troubled him in the smallest degree. He had heard people talk of young
Randall's fancy for her, and of her liking for him, but he knew that her
father meant to set his heel upon any nonsense of this kind; and he did
not for a moment imagine it possible that any girl would resolutely
oppose her father's will, and throw away such good fortune as he could
offer her--to ride in her own chaise-cart, and wear a silk gown always on
Sundays, to say nothing of a gold watch and chain; and Mr. Whitelaw meant
to endow his bride with a ponderous old-fashioned timepiece and heavy
brassy-looking cable which had belonged to his mother.



The time came when Gilbert Fenton was fain to own to himself that there
was no more to be done down in Hampshire: professional science and his
own efforts had been alike futile. If she whom he sought still lived--and
he had never for a moment suffered himself to doubt this--it was more
than likely that she was far away from Crosber Grange, that there had
been some motive for her sudden flight, unaccountable as that flight
might seem in the absence of any clue to the mystery.

Every means of inquiry being exhausted in Hampshire, there was nothing
left to Gilbert but to return to London--that marvellous city, where
there always seems the most hope of finding the lost, wide as the
wilderness is.

"In London I shall have clever detectives always at my service," Gilbert
thought; "in London I may be able to solve the question of John
Holbrook's identity."

So, apart from the fact that his own affairs necessitated his prompt
return to the great city, Gilbert had another motive for leaving the dull
rural neighbourhood where he had wasted so many anxious hours, so much
thought and care.

For the rest, he knew that Ellen Carley would be faithful--always on the
watch for any clue to the mystery of Marian Holbrook's fate, always ready
to receive the wanderer with open arms, should any happy chance bring her
back to the Grange. Assured of this, he felt less compunction in turning
his back upon the spot where his lost love had vanished from the eyes of

Before leaving, he gave Ellen a letter for Marian's husband, in the
improbable event of that gentleman's reappearance at the Grange--a few
simple earnest lines, entreating Mr. Holbrook to believe in the writer's
faithful and brotherly affection for his wife, and to meet him in London
on an early occasion, in order that they might together concert fresh
means for bringing about her restoration to her husband and home. He
reminded Mr. Holbrook of his friendship for Captain Sedgewick, and that
good man's confidence in him, and declared himself bound by his respect
for the dead to be faithful to the living--faithful in all forgiveness of
any wrong done him in the past.

He went back to London cruelly depressed by the failure of his efforts,
and with a blank dreary feeling that there was little more for him to do,
except to wait the working of Providence, with the faint hope that one of
those happy accidents which sometimes bring about a desired result when
all human endeavour has been in vain, might throw a sudden light on
Marian Holbrook's fate.

During the whole of that homeward journey he brooded an those dark
suspicions of Mr. Holbrook which Ellen Carley had let fall in their
earlier interviews. He had checked the girl on these occasions, and had
prevented the full utterance of her thoughts, generously indignant that
any suspicion of foul play should attach to Marian's husband, and utterly
incredulous of such a depth of guilt as that at which the girl's hints
pointed; but now that he was leaving Hampshire, he felt vexed with
himself for not having urged her to speak freely--not having considered
her suspicions, however preposterous those suspicions might have appeared
to him.

Marian's disappearance had taken a darker colour in his mind since that
time. Granted that she had left the Grange of her own accord, having some
special reason for leaving secretly, at whose bidding would she have so
acted except her husband's--she who stood so utterly alone, without a
friend in the world? But what possible motive could Mr. Holbrook have had
for such an underhand course--for making a conspiracy and a mystery out
of so simple a fact as the removal of his wife from a place whence he was
free to remove her at any moment? Fair and honest motive for such a
course there could be none. Was it possible, looking at the business from
a darker point of view, to imagine any guilty reason for the carrying out
of such a plot? If this man had wanted to bring about a life-long
severance between himself and his wife, to put her away somewhere, to
keep her hidden from the eyes of the world--in plainer words, to get rid
of her--might not this pretence of losing her, this affectation of
distress at her loss, be a safe way of accomplishing his purpose? Who
else was interested in doing her any wrong? Who else could have had
sufficient power over her to beguile her away from her home?

Pondering on these questions throughout all that weary journey across a
wintry landscape of bare brown fields and leafless trees, Gilbert Fenton
travelled London-wards, to the city which was so little of a home for
him, but in which his life had seemed pleasant enough in its own
commonplace fashion until that fatal summer evening when he first saw
Marian Nowell's radiant face in the quiet church at Lidford.

He scarcely stopped to eat or drink at the end of his journey, regaling
himself only with a bottle of soda-water, imperceptibly flavoured with
cognac by the hands of a ministering angel at the refreshment-counter of
the Waterloo Station, and then hurrying on at once in a hansom to that
dingy street in Soho where Mr. Medler sat in his parlour, like the
proverbial spider waiting for the advent of some too-confiding fly.

The lawyer was at home, and seemed in no way surprised to see Mr. Fenton.

"I have come to you about a bad business, Mr. Medler," Gilbert began,
seating himself opposite the shabby-looking office-table, with its
covering of dusty faded baize, upon which there seemed to be always
precisely the same array of papers in little bundles tied with red tape;
"but first let me ask you a question: Have you heard from Mrs. Holbrook?"

"Not a line."

"And have you taken no further steps, no other means of communicating
with her?" Gilbert asked.

"Not yet. I think of sending my clerk down to Hampshire, or of going down
myself perhaps, in a day or two, if my business engagements will permit

"Do you not consider the case rather an urgent one, Mr. Medler? I should
have supposed that your curiosity would have been aroused by the absence
of any reply to your letters--that you would have looked at the business
in a more serious light than you appear to have done--that you would have
taken alarm, in short."

"Why should I do so?" the lawyer demanded carelessly.

"It is Mrs. Holbrook's business to look after her affairs. The property
is safe enough. She can administer to the will as soon as she pleases. I
certainly wonder that the husband has not been a little sharper and more
active in the business."

"You have heard nothing of him, then, I presume?"


Gilbert remembered what Ellen Carley had told him about Marian's keeping
the secret of her newly-acquired fortune from her husband, until she
should be able to tell it to him with her own lips; waiting for that
happy moment with innocent girlish delight in the thought that he was to
owe prosperity to her.

It seemed evident, therefore, that Mr. Holbrook could know nothing of his
wife's inheritance, nor of Mr. Medler's existence, supposing the lawyer's
letter to have reached the Grange before Marian's disappearance, and to
have been destroyed or carried away by her.

He inquired the date of this letter; whereupon Mr. Medler referred to a
letter-book in which there was a facsimile of the document. It had been
posted three days before Marian left the Grange.

Gilbert now proceeded to inform Mr. Medler of his client's mysterious
disappearance, and all the useless efforts that had been made to solve
the mystery. The lawyer listened with an appearance of profound interest
and astonishment, but made no remark till the story was quite finished.

"You are right, Mr. Fenton," he said at last. "It is a bad business, a
very bad business. May I ask you what is the common opinion among people
in that part of the world--in the immediate neighbourhood of the event,
as to this poor lady's fate?"

"An opinion with which I cannot bring myself to agree--an opinion which I
pray God may prove as unfounded as I believe it to be. It is generally
thought that Mrs. Holbrook has fallen a victim to some common crime--that
she was robbed, and then thrown into the river."

"The river has been dragged, I suppose?"

"It has; but the people about there seem to consider that no conclusive

"Had Mrs. Holbrook anything valuable about her at the time of her

"Her watch and chain and a few other trinkets."

"Humph! There are scoundrels about the country who will commit the
darkest crime for the smallest inducement. I confess the business has
rather a black look, Mr. Fenton, and that I am inclined to concur with
the country people."

"An easy way of settling the question for those not vitally interested in
the lady's fate," Gilbert answered bitterly.

"The lady is my client, sir, and I am bound to feel a warm interest in
her affairs," the lawyer said, with the lofty tone of a man whose finer
feelings have been outraged.

"The lady was once my promised wife, Mr. Medler," returned Gilbert, "and
now stands to me in the place of a beloved and only sister. For me the
mystery of her fate is an all-absorbing question, an enigma to the
solution of which I mean to devote the rest of my life, if need be."

"A wasted life, Mr. Fenton; and in the meantime that river down yonder
may hide the only secret."

"O God!" cried Gilbert passionately, "how eager every one is to make an
end of this business! Even the men whom I paid and bribed to help me grew
tired of their work, and abandoned all hope after the feeblest, most
miserable attempts to earn their reward."

"What can be done in such a case, Mr. Fenton?" demanded the lawyer,
shrugging his shoulders with a deprecating air. "What can the police do
more than you or I? They have only a little more experience, that's all;
they have no recondite means of solving these social mysteries. You have
advertised, of course?"

"Yes, in many channels, with a certain amount of caution, but in such a
manner as to insure Mrs. Holbrook's identification, if she had fallen
into the hands of any one willing to communicate with me, and to insure
her own attention, were she free to act for herself."

"Humph! Then it seems to me that everything has been done that can be

"Not yet. The men whom I employed in Hampshire--they were recommended to
me by the Scotland-yard authorities, certainly--may not have been up to
the mark. In any case, I shall try some one else. Do you know anything of
the detective force?"

Mr. Medler assumed an air of consideration, and then said, "No, he did
not know the name of a single detective; his business did not bring him
in contact with that class of people." He said this with the tone of a
man whose practice was of the loftiest and choicest kind--conveyancing,
perhaps, and the management of estates for the landed gentry,
marriage-settlements involving the disposition of large fortunes, and so
on; whereas Mr. Medler's business lying chiefly among the criminal
population, his path in life might have been supposed to be not very
remote from the footsteps of eminent police-officers.

"I can get the information elsewhere," Gilbert said carelessly. "Believe
me, I do not mean to let this matter drop."

"My dear sir, if I might venture upon a word of friendly advice--not in a
professional spirit, but as between man and man--I should warn you
against wasting your time and fortune upon a useless pursuit. If Mrs.
Holbrook has vanished from the world of her own free will--a thing that
often happens, eccentric as it may be--she will reappear in good time of
her own free will. If she has been the victim of a crime, that crime will
no doubt come to light in due course, without any efforts of yours."

"That is the common kind of advice, Mr. Medler," answered Gilbert.
"Prudent counsel, no doubt, if a man could be content to take it, and
well meant; but, you see, I have loved this lady, love her still, and
shall continue so to love her till the end of my life. It is not possible
for me to rest in ignorance of her fate."

"Although she jilted you in favour of Mr. Holbrook?" suggested the lawyer
with something of a sneer.

"That wrong has been forgiven. Fate did not permit me to be her husband,
but I can be her friend and brother. She has need of some one to stand in
that position, poor girl! for her lot is very lonely. And now I want you
to explain the conditions of her grandfather's will. It is her father who
would profit, I think I gathered from our last conversation, in the event
of Marian's death."

"In the event of her dying childless--yes, the father would take all."

"Then he is really the only person who could profit by her death?"

"Well, yes," replied the lawyer with some slight hesitation; "under her
grandfather's will, yes, her father would take all. Of course, in the
event of her father having died previously, the husband would come in as
heir-at-law. You see it was not easy to exclude the husband altogether."

"And do you believe that Mr. Nowell is still living to claim his

"I believe so. I fancy the old man had some tidings of his son before the
will was executed; that he, in short, heard of his having been met with
not long ago, over in America."

"No doubt he will speedily put in an appearance now," said Gilbert
bitterly--"now that there is a fortune to be gained by the assertion of
his identity."

"Humph!" muttered the lawyer. "It would not be very easy for him to put
his hand on sixpence of Jacob Nowell's money, in the absence of any proof
of Mrs. Holbrook's death. There would be no end of appeals to the Court
of Chancery; and after all manner of formulas he might obtain a decree
that would lock up the property for twenty-four years. I doubt, if the
executor chose to stick to technicals, and the business got into
chancery, whether Percival Nowell would live long enough to profit by his
father's will."

"I am glad of that," said Gilbert. "I know the man to be a scoundrel, and
I am very glad that he is unlikely to be a gainer by any misfortune that
has befallen his daughter. Had it been otherwise, I should have been
inclined to think that he had had some hand in this disappearance."

The lawyer looked at Mr. Fenton with a sharp inquisitive glance.

"In other words, you would imply that Percival Nowell may have made away
with his daughter. You must have a very bad opinion of human nature, Mr.
Fenton, to conceive anything so horrible."

"My suspicions do not go quite so far as that," said Gilbert. "God forbid
that it should be so. I have a firm belief that Marian Holbrook lives.
But it is possible to get a person out of the way without the last worst
crime of which mankind is capable."

"It would seem more natural to suspect the husband than the father, I
should imagine," Mr. Medler answered, after a thoughtful pause.

"I cannot see that. The husband had nothing to gain by his wife's
disappearance, and everything to lose."

"He might have supposed the father to be dead, and that he would step
into the fortune. He might not know enough of the law of property to be
aware of the difficulties attending a succession of that kind. There is a
most extraordinary ignorance of the law of the land prevailing among
well-educated Englishmen. Or he may have been tired of his wife, and have
seen his way to a more advantageous alliance. Men are not always
satisfied with one wife in these days, and a man who married in such a
strange underhand manner would be likely to have some hidden motive for

The suggestion was not without force for Gilbert Fenton. His face grew
darker, and he was some time before he replied to Mr. Medler's remarks.
That suspicion which of late had been perpetually floating dimly in his
brain--that vague distrust of his one chosen friend, John Saltram,
flashed upon him in this moment with a new distinctness. If this man,
whom he had so loved and trusted, had betrayed him, had so utterly
falsified his friend's estimate of his character, was it not easy enough
to believe him capable of still deeper baseness, capable of growing weary
of his stolen wife, and casting her off by some foul secret means, in
order to marry a richer woman? The marriage between John Holbrook and
Marian Nowell had taken place several months before Michael Branston's
death, at a time when perhaps Adela Branston's admirer had begun to
despair of her release. And then fate had gone against him, and Mrs.
Branston's fortune lay at his feet when it was too late.

Thus, and thus only, could Gilbert Fenton account in any easy manner for
John Saltram's avoidance of the Anglo-Indian's widow. A little more than
a year ago it had seemed as if the whole plan of his life was built upon
a marriage with this woman; and now that she was free, and obviously
willing to make him the master of her fortune, he recoiled from the
position, unreasonably and unaccountably blind or indifferent to its

"There shall be an end of these shapeless unspoken doubts," Gilbert said
to himself. "I will see John Saltram to-day, and there shall be an
explanation between us. I will be his dupe and fool no longer. I will get
at the truth somehow."

Gilbert Fenton said very little more to the lawyer, who seemed by no
means sorry to get rid of him. But at the door of the office he paused.

"You did not tell me the names of the executors to Jacob Nowell's will,"
he said.

"You didn't ask me the question," answered Mr. Medler curtly. "There is
only one executor--myself."

"Indeed! Mr. Nowell must have had a very high opinion of you to leave you
so much power."

"I don't know about power. Jacob Nowell knew me, and he didn't know many
people. I don't say that he put any especial confidence in me--for it was
his habit to trust no one, his boast that he trusted no one. But he was
obliged to name some one for his executor, and he named me."

"Shall you consider it your duty to seek out or advertise for Percival
Nowell?" asked Gilbert.

"I shall be in no hurry to do that, in the absence of any proof of his
daughter's death. My first duty would be to look for her."

"God grant you may be more fortunate than I have been! There is my card,
Mr. Medler. You will be so good as to let me have a line immediately, at
that address, if you obtain any tidings of Mrs. Holbrook."

"I will do so."



A hansom carried Gilbert Fenton to the Temple, without loss of time.
There was a fierce hurry in his breast, a heat and fever which he had
scarcely felt since the beginning of his troubles; for his lurking
suspicion of his friend had gathered shape and strength all at once, and
possessed his mind now to the exclusion of every other thought.

He ran quickly up the stairs. The outer and inner doors of John Saltram's
chambers were both ajar. Gilbert pushed them open and went in. The
familiar sitting-room looked just a little more dreary than usual. The
litter of books and papers, ink-stand and portfolio, was transferred to
one of the side-tables, and in its place, on the table where his friend
had been accustomed to write, Gilbert saw a cluster of medicine-bottles,
a jug of toast-and-water, and a tray with a basin of lukewarm
greasy-looking beef-tea.

The door between the two rooms stood half open, and from the bedchamber
within Gilbert heard the heavy painful breathing of a sleeper. He went to
the door and looked into the room. John Saltram was lying asleep, in an
uneasy attitude, with both arms thrown over his head. His face had a
haggard look that was made all the more ghastly by two vivid crimson
spots upon his sunken cheeks; there were dark purple rings round his
eyes, and his beard was of more than a week's growth.

"Ill," Gilbert muttered, looking aghast at this dreary picture, with
strangely conflicting feelings of pity and anger in his breast; "struck
down at the very moment when I had determined to know the truth."

The sick man tossed himself restlessly from side to side in his feverish
sleep, changed his position two or three times with evident weariness and
pain, and then opened his eyes and stared with a blank unseeing gaze at
his friend. That look, without one ray of recognition, went to Gilbert's
heart somehow.

"O God, how fond I was of him!" he said to himself. "And if he has been a
traitor! If he were to die like this, before I have wrung the truth from
him--to die, and I not dare to cherish his memory--to be obliged to live
out my life with this doubt of him!"

This doubt! Had he much reason to doubt two minutes afterwards, when
John Saltram raised himself on his gaunt arm, and looked piteously round
the room?

"Marian!" he called. "Marian!"

"Yes," muttered Gilbert, "it is all true. He is calling his wife."

The revelation scarcely seemed a surprise to him. Little by little that
suspicion, so vague and dim at first, had gathered strength, and now that
all his doubts received confirmation from those unconscious lips, it
seemed to him as if he had known his friend's falsehood for a long time.

"Marian, come here. Come, child, come," the sick man cried in feeble
imploring tones. "What, are you afraid of me? Is this death? Am I dead,
and parted from her? Would anything else keep her from me when I call for
her, the poor child that loved me so well? And I have wished myself free
of her--God forgive me!--wished myself free."

The words were muttered in broken gasping fragments of sentences; but
Gilbert heard them and understood them very easily. Then, after looking
about the room, and looking full at Gilbert without seeing him, John
Saltram fell back upon his tumbled pillows and closed his eyes. Gilbert
heard a slipshod step in the outer room, and turning round, found himself
face to face with the laundress--that mature and somewhat depressing
matron whom he had sought out a little time before, when he wanted to
discover Mr. Saltram's whereabouts.

This woman, upon seeing him, burst forth immediately into jubilation.

"O, sir, what a providence it is that you've come!" she cried. "Poor dear
gentleman, he has been that ill, and me not knowing what to do more than
a baby, except in the way of sending for a doctor when I see how bad he
was, and waiting on him myself day and night, which I have done faithful,
and am that worn-out in consequence, that I shake like a haspen, and
can't touch a bit of victuals. I had but just slipped round to the court,
while he was asleep, poor dear, to give my children their dinner; for
it's a hard trial, sir, having a helpless young family depending upon
one; and it would but be fair that all I have gone through should be
considered; for though I says it as shouldn't, there isn't one of your
hired nurses would do more; and I'm willing to continue of it, provisoed
as I have help at nights, and my trouble considered in my wages."

"You need have no apprehension; you shall be paid for your trouble. Has
he been long ill?"

"Well, sir, he took the cold as were the beginning of his illness a
fortnight ago come next Thursday. You may remember, perhaps, as it came
on awful wet in the afternoon, last Thursday week, and Mr. Saltram was
out in the rain, and walked home in it,--not being able to get a cab, I
suppose, or perhaps not caring to get one, for he was always a careless
gentleman in such respects,--and come in wet through to the skin; and
instead of changing his clothes, as a Christian would have done, just
gives himself a shake like, as he might have been a New-fondling dog that
had been swimming, and sits down before the fire, which of course drawed
out the steam from his things and made it worse, and writes away for dear
life till twelve o'clock that night, having something particular to
finish for them magazines, he says; and so, when I come to tidy-up a bit
the last thing at night, I found him sitting at the table writing, and
didn't take no more notice of me than a dog, which was his way, though
never meant unkindly--quite the reverse."

The laundress paused to draw breath, and to pour a dose of medicine from
one of the bottles on the table.

"Well, sir, the next day, he had a vi'lent cold, as you may suppose, and
was low and languid-like, but went on with his writing, and it weren't no
good asking him not. 'I want money, Mrs. Pratt,' he said; 'you can't tell
how bad I want money, and these people pay me for my stuff as fast as I
send it in.' The day after that he was a deal worse, and had a wandering
way like, as if he didn't know what he was doing; and sat turning over
his papers with one hand, and leaning his head upon the other, and
groaned so that it went through one like a knife to hear him. 'It's no
use,' he said at last; 'it's no use!' and then went and threw hisself
down upon that bed, and has never got up since, poor dear gentleman! I
went round to fetch a doctor out of Essex Street, finding as he was no
better in the evening, and awful hot, and still more wandering-like--Mr.
Mew by name, a very nice gentleman--which said as it were rheumatic
fever, and has been here twice a day ever since."

"Has Mr. Saltram never been in his right senses since that day?" Gilbert

"O yes, sir; off and on for the first week he was quite hisself at times;
but for the last three days he hasn't known any one, and has talked and
jabbered a deal, and has been dreadful restless."

"Does the doctor call it a dangerous case?"

"Well, sir, not to deceive you, he ast me if Mr. Saltram had any friends
as I could send for; and I says no, not to my knowledge; 'for,' says Mr.
Mew, 'if he have any relations or friends near at hand, they ought to be
told that he's in a bad way;' and only this morning he said as how he
should like to call in a physician, for the case was a bad one."

"I see. There is danger evidently," Gilbert said gravely. "I will wait
and hear what the doctor says. He will come again to-day, I suppose?"

"Yes, sir; he's sure to come in the evening."

"Good; I will stay till the evening. I should like you to go round
immediately to this Mr. Mew's house, and ask for the address of some
skilled nurse, and then go on, in a cab if necessary, and fetch her."

"I could do that, sir, of course,--not but what I feel myself capable of
nursing the poor dear gentleman."

"You can't nurse him night and day, my good woman. Do what I tell you,
and bring back a professional nurse as soon as you can. If Mr. Mew should
be out, his people are likely to know the address of such a person."

He gave the woman some silver, and despatched her; and then, being alone,
sat down quietly in the sick-room to think out the situation.

Yes, there was no longer any doubt; that piteous appeal to Marian had
settled the question. John Saltram, the friend whom he had loved, was the
traitor. John Saltram had stolen his promised wife, had come between him
and his fair happy future, and had kept the secret of his guilt in a
dastardly spirit that made the act fifty times blacker than it would have
seemed otherwise.

Sitting in the dreary silence of that sick chamber, a silence broken only
by the painful sound of the sleeper's difficult breathing, many things
came back to his mind; circumstances trivial enough in themselves, but
invested with a grave significance when contemplated by the light of
today's revelation.

He remembered those happy autumn afternoons at Lidford; those long,
drowsy, idle days in which John Saltram had given himself up so entirely
to the pleasure of the moment, with surely something more than mere
sympathy with his friend's happiness. He remembered that last long
evening at the cottage, when this man had been at his best, full of life
and gaiety; and then that sudden departure, which had puzzled him so much
at the time, and yet had seemed no surprise to Marian. It had been the
result of some suddenly-formed resolution perhaps, Gilbert thought.

"Poor wretch! he may have tried to be true to me," he said to himself,
with a sharp bitter pain at his heart.

He had loved this man so well, that even now, knowing himself to have
been betrayed, there was a strange mingling of pity and anger in his
mind, and mixed with these a touch of contempt. He had believed in John
Saltram; had fancied him nobler and grander than himself, somehow; a man
who, under a careless half-scornful pretence of being worse than his
fellows, concealed a nature that was far above the common herd; and yet
this man had proved the merest caitiff, a weak cowardly villain.

"To take my hand in friendship, knowing what he had done, and how my
life was broken! to pretend sympathy; to play out the miserable farce to
the very last! Great heaven! that the man I have honoured could be
capable of so much baseness!"

The sleeper moved restlessly, the eyes were opened once more and turned
upon Gilbert, not with the same utter blankness as before, but without
the faintest recognition. The sick man saw some one watching him, and the
figure was associated with an unreal presence, the phantom of his brain,
which had been with him often in the day and night.

"The man again!" he muttered. "When will she come?" And then raising
himself upon his elbow, he cried imploringly, "Mother, you fetch her!"

He was speaking to his mother, whom he had loved very dearly--his mother
who had been dead fifteen years.

Gilbert's mind went back to that far-away time in Egypt, when he had lain
like this, helpless and unconscious, and this man had nursed and watched
him with unwearying tenderness.

"I will see him safely through this," he said to himself, "and then----"

And then the account between them must be squared somehow. Gilbert Fenton
had no thought of any direful vengeance. He belonged to an age in which
injuries are taken very quietly, unless they are wrongs which the law can
redress--wounds which can be healed by a golden plaster in the way of

He could not kill his friend; the age of duelling was past, and he not
romantic enough to be guilty of such an anachronism as mortal combat. Yet
nothing less than a duel to the death could avenge such a wrong.

So friendship was at an end between those two, and that was all; it was
only the utter severance of a tie that had lasted for years, nothing
more. Yet to Gilbert it seemed a great deal. His little world had
crumbled to ashes; love had perished, and now friendship had died this
sudden bitter death, from which there was no possible resurrection.

In the midst of such thoughts as these he remembered the sick man's
medicine. Mrs. Pratt had given him a few hurried directions before
departing on her errand. He looked at his watch, and then went over to
the table and prepared the draught and administered it with a firm and
gentle hand.

"Who's that?" John Saltram muttered faintly. "It seems like the touch of
a friend."

He dropped back upon the pillow without waiting for any reply, and fell
into a string of low incoherent talk, with closed eyes.

The laundress was a long time gone, and Gilbert sat alone in the dismal
little bedroom, where there had never been the smallest attempt at
comfort since John Saltram had occupied it. He sat alone, or with that
awful companionship of one whose mind was far away, which was so much
more dreary than actual loneliness--sat brooding over the history of his
friend's treachery.

What had he done with Marian? Was her disappearance any work of his,
after all? Had he hidden her away for some secret reason of his own, and
then acted out the play by pretending to search for her? Knowing him for
the traitor he was, could Gilbert Fenton draw any positive line of
demarcation between the amount of guilt which was possible and that which
was not possible to him?

What had he done with Marian? How soon would he be able to answer that
question? or would he ever be able to answer it? The thought of this
delay was torture to Gilbert Fenton. He had come here to-day thinking to
make an end of all his doubts, to force an avowal of the truth from those
false lips. And behold, a hand stronger than his held him back. His
interrogation must await the answer to that awful question--life or

The woman came in presently, bustling and out of breath. She had found a
very trustworthy person, recommended by Mr. Mew's assistant--a person who
would come that evening without fail.

"It was all the way up at Islington, sir, and I paid the cabman
three-and-six altogether, which he said it were his fare. And how has the
poor dear been while I was away?" asked Mrs. Pratt, with her head on one
side and an air of extreme solicitude.

"Very much as you see him now. He has mentioned a name once or twice, the
name of Marian. Have you ever heard that?"

"I should say I have, sir, times and often since he's been ill. 'Marian,
why don't you come to me?' so pitiful; and then, 'Lost, lost!' in such a
awful wild way. I think it must be some favourite sister, sir, or a young
lady as he has kep' company with."

"Marian!" cried the voice from the bed, as if their cautious talk had
penetrated to that dim brain. "Marian! O no, no; she is gone; I have lost
her! Well, I wished it; I wanted my freedom."

Gilbert started, and stood transfixed, looking intently at the
unconscious speaker. Yes, here was the clue to the mystery. John Saltram
had grown tired of his stolen bride--had sighed for his freedom. Who
should say that he had not taken some iniquitous means to rid himself of
the tie that had grown troublesome to him?

Gilbert Fenton remembered Ellen Carley's suspicions. He was no longer
inclined to despise them.

It was dreary work to sit by the bedside watching that familiar face, to
which fever and delirium had given a strange weird look; dismal work to
count the moments, and wonder when that voice, now so thick of utterance
as it went on muttering incoherent sentences and meaningless phrases,
would be able to reply to those questions which Gilbert Fenton was
burning to ask.

Was it a guilty conscience, the dull slow agony of remorse, which had
stricken this man down--this strong powerfully-built man, who was a
stranger to illness and all physical suffering? Was the body only crushed
by the burden of the mind? Gilbert could not find any answer to these
questions. He only knew that his sometime friend lay there helpless,
unconscious, removed beyond his reach as completely as if he had been
lying in his coffin.

"O God, it is hard to bear!" he said half aloud: "it is a bitter trial to
bear. If this illness should end in death, I may never know Marian's

He sat in the sick man's room all through that long dismal afternoon,
waiting to see the doctor, and with the same hopeless thoughts repeating
themselves perpetually in his mind.

It was nearly eight o'clock when Mr. Mew at last made his evening visit.
He was a grave gray-haired little man, with a shrewd face and a pleasant
manner; a man who inspired Gilbert with confidence, and whose presence
was cheering in a sick-room; but he did not speak very hopefully of John

"It is a bad case, sir--a very bad case," he said gravely, after he had
made his careful examination of the patient's condition. "There has been
a violent cold caught, you see, through our poor friend's recklessness in
neglecting to change his damp clothes, and rheumatic fever has set in.
But it appears to me that there are other causes at work--mental
disturbance, and so on. Our friend has been taxing his brain a little too
severely, I gather from Mrs. Pratt's account of him; and these things
will tell, sir; sooner or later they have their effect."

"Then you apprehend danger?"

"Well, yes; I dare not tell you that there is an absence of danger. Mr.
Saltram has a fine constitution, a noble frame; but the strain is a
severe one, especially upon the mind."

"You spoke just now of over-work as a cause for this mental disturbance.
Might it not rather proceed from some secret trouble of mind, some hidden
care?" Gilbert asked anxiously.

"That, sir, is an open question. The mind is unhinged; there is no doubt
of that. There is something more here than the ordinary delirium we look
for in fever cases."

"You have talked of a physician, Mr. Mew; would it not be well to call
one in immediately?"

"I should feel more comfortable if my opinion were supported, sir: not
that I believe there is anything more can be done for our patient than I
have been doing; but the case is a critical one, and I should be glad to
feel myself supported."

"If you will give me the name and address of the gentleman you would like
to call in, I will go for him immediately."

"To-night? Nay, my dear sir, there is no occasion for such haste;
to-morrow morning will do very well."

"To-morrow morning, then; but I will make the appointment to-night, if I

Mr. Mew named a physician high in reputation as a specialist in such
cases as John Saltram's; and Gilbert dashed off at once in a hansom to
obtain the promise of an early visit from this gentleman on the following
morning. He succeeded in his errand; and on returning to the Temple found
the professional nurse installed, and the sick-room brightened and
freshened a little by her handiwork. The patient was asleep, and his
slumber was more quiet than usual.

Gilbert had eaten nothing since breakfast, and it was now nearly nine
o'clock in the evening; but before going out to some neighbouring tavern
to snatch a hasty dinner, he stopped to tell Mrs. Pratt that he should
sleep in his friend's chamber that night.

"Why, you don't mean that, sir, sure to goodness," cried the laundress,
alarmed; "and not so much as a sofy bedstead, nor nothing anyways

"I could sleep upon three or four chairs, if it were necessary; but there
is an old sofa in the bedroom. You might bring that into this room for
me; and the nurse can have it in the day-time. She won't want to be lying
down to-night, I daresay. I don't suppose I shall sleep much myself, but
I am a little knocked up, and shall be glad of some sort of rest. I want
to be on the spot, come what may."

"But, sir, with the new nurse and me, there surely can't be no necessity;
and you might be round the first thing in the morning like to see how the
poor dear gentleman has slep'."

"I know that, but I would rather be on the spot. I have my own especial
reasons. You can go home to your children."

"Thank you kindly, sir; which I shall be very glad to take care of 'em,
poor things. And I hope, sir, as you won't forget that I've gone through
a deal for Mr. Saltram--if so be as he shouldn't get better himself,
which the Lord forbid--to take my trouble into consideration, bein' as he
were always a free-handed gentleman, though not rich."

"Your services will not be forgotten, Mrs. Pratt, depend upon it.
Perhaps I'd better give you a couple of sovereigns on account: that'll
make matters straight for the present."

"Yes, sir; and many thanks for your generosity," replied the laundress,
agreeably surprised by this prompt donation, and dropping grateful
curtseys before her benefactor; "and Mr. Saltram shall want nothing as my
care can provide for him, you may depend upon it."

"That is well. And now I am going out to get some dinner; I shall be back
in half an hour."

The press and bustle of the day's work was over at the tavern to which
Gilbert bent his steps. Dinners and diners seemed to be done with for one
more day; and there were only a couple of drowsy-looking waiters folding
table-cloths and putting away cruet-stands and other paraphernalia in
long narrow closets cut in the papered walls, and invisible by day.

One of these functionaries grew brisk again, with a wan factitious
briskness, at sight of Gilbert, made haste to redecorate one of the
tables, and in bland insinuating tones suggested a dinner of six courses
or so, as likely to be agreeable to a lonely and belated diner; well
aware in the depths of his inner consciousness that the six courses would
be all more or less warmings-up of viands that had figured in the day's
bill of fare.

"Bring me a chop or a steak, and a pint of dry sherry," Gilbert said

"Have a slice of turbot and lobster-sauce, sir--the turbot are uncommon
fine to-day; and a briled fowl and mushrooms. It will be ready in five

"You may bring me the fowl, if you like: I won't wait for fish. I'm in a

The attendant gave a faint sigh, and communicated the order for the fowl
and mushrooms through a speaking-tube. It was the business of his life to
beguile his master's customers into over-eating themselves, and to set
his face against chops and steaks; but he felt that this particular
customer was proof against his blandishments. He took Gilbert an evening
paper, and then subsided into a pensive silence until the fowl appeared
in an agreeable frizzling state, fresh from the gridiron, but a bird of
some experience notwithstanding, and wingless. It was a very hasty meal.
Gilbert was eager to return to those chambers in the Temple--eager to be
listening once more for some chance words of meaning that might be
dropped from John Saltram's pale parched lips in the midst of incoherent
ravings. Come what might, he wanted to be near at hand, to watch that
sick-bed with a closer vigil than hired nurse ever kept; to be ready to
surprise the briefest interval of consciousness that might come all of a
sudden to that hapless fever-stricken sinner. Who should say that such an
interval would not come, or who could tell what such an interval might

Gilbert Fenton paid for his dinner, left half his wine undrunk, and
hurried away; leaving the waiter with rather a contemptuous idea of him,
though that individual condescended to profit by his sobriety, and
finished the dry sherry at a draught.

It was nearly ten when Gilbert returned to the chambers, and all was
still quiet, that heavy slumber continuing; an artificial sleep at the
best, produced by one of Mr. Mew's sedatives. The sofa had been wheeled
from the bedroom to the sitting-room, and placed in a comfortable corner
by the fire. There were preparations too for a cup of tea, to be made and
consumed at any hour agreeable to the watcher; a small teakettle
simmering on the hob; a tray with a cup and saucer, and queer little
black earthenware teapot, on the table; a teacaddy and other appliances
close at hand,--all testifying to the grateful attention of the vanished

Gilbert shared the nurse's watch till past midnight. Long before that
John Saltram woke from his heavy sleep, and there was more of that
incoherent talk so painful to hear--talk of people that were dead, of
scenes that were far away, even of those careless happy wanderings in
which those two college friends had been together; and then mere nonsense
talk, shreds and patches of random thought, that scorned to be drawn
from, some rubbish-chamber, some waste-paper basket of the brain.

It was weary work. He woke towards eleven, and a little after twelve
dropped asleep again; but this time, the effect of the sedative having
worn off, the sleep was restless and uneasy. Then came a brief interval
of quiet; and in this Gilbert left him, and flung himself down upon the
sofa, to sink into a slumber that was scarcely more peaceful than that of
the sick man.

He was thoroughly worn out, however, and slept for some hours, to be
awakened suddenly at last by a shrill cry in the next room. He sprang up
from the sofa, and rushed in. John Saltram was sitting up in bed, propped
by the pillows on which his two elbows were planted, looking about him
with a fierce haggard face, and calling for "Marian." The nurse had
fallen asleep in her arm-chair by the fire, and was slumbering placidly.

"Marian," he cried, "Marian, why have you left me? God knows I loved you;
yes, even when I seemed cold and neglectful. Everything was against me;
but I loved you, my dear, I loved you! Did I ever say that you came
between me and fortune--was I mean enough, base enough, ever to say that?
It was a lie, my love; you were my fortune. Were poverty and obscurity
hard things to bear for you? No, my darling, no; I will face them
to-morrow, if you will come back to me. O no, no, she is gone; my life
has gone: I broke her heart with my hard bitter words; I drove my angel
away from me."

He had not spoken so coherently since Gilbert had been with him that
day. Surely this must be an interval of consciousness, or
semi-consciousness. Gilbert went to the bedside, and, seating himself
there quietly, looked intently at the altered face, which stared at him
without a gleam of recognition.

"Speak to me, John Saltram," he said. "You know me, don't you--the man
who was once your friend, Gilbert Fenton?"

The other burst into a wild bitter laugh. "Gilbert Fenton--my friend, the
man who trusts me still! Poor old Gilbert! and I fancied that I loved
him, that I would have freely sacrificed my own happiness for his."

"And yet you betrayed him," Gilbert said in a low distinct voice. "But
that may be forgiven, if you have been guilty of no deeper wrong than
that. John Saltram, as you have a soul to be saved, what have you done
with Marian--with--your wife?"

It cost him something, even in that moment of excitement, to pronounce
those two words.

"Killed her!" the sick man answered with the same mad laugh. "She was too
good for me, you see; and I grew weary of her calm beauty, and I sickened
of her tranquil goodness. First I sacrificed honour, friendship,
everything to win her; and then I got tired of my prize. It is my nature,
I suppose; but I loved her all the time; she had twined herself about my
heart somehow. I knew it when she was lost."

"What have you done with her?" repeated Gilbert, in a low stern voice,
with his grasp upon John Saltram's arm.

"What have I done with her? I forget. She is gone--I wanted my freedom;
I felt myself fettered, a ruined man. She is gone; and I am free, free to
make a better marriage."

"O God!" muttered Gilbert, "is this man the blackest villain that ever
cumbered the earth? What am I to think, what am I to believe?"

Again he repeated the same question, with a stem kind of patience, as if
he would give this guilty wretch the benefit of every possible doubt, the
unwilling pity which his condition demanded. Alas! he could obtain no
coherent answer to his persistent questioning. Vague self-accusation, mad
reiteration of that one fact of his loss; nothing more distinct came from
those fevered lips, nor did one look of recognition flash into those
bloodshot eyes.

The time at which this mystery was to be solved had not come yet; there
was nothing to be done but to wait, and Gilbert waited with a sublime
patience through all the alternations of a long and wearisome sickness.

"Talk of friends," Mrs. Pratt exclaimed, in a private conference with the
nurse; "never did I see such a friend as Mr. Fenting, sacrificing of
himself as he do, day and night, to look after that poor creature in
there, and taking no better rest than he can get on that old horsehair
sofy, which brickbats or knife boards isn't harder, and never do you hear
him murmur."

And yet for this man, whose, battle with the grim enemy, Death, he
watched so patiently, what feeling could there be in Gilbert Fenton's
heart in all the days to come but hatred or contempt? He had loved him so
well, and trusted him so completely, and this was the end of it.

Christmas came while John Saltram was lying at death's door, feebly
fighting that awful battle, struggling unconsciously with the bony hand
that was trying to drag him across that fatal threshold; just able to
keep himself on this side of that dread portal beyond which there lies so
deep a mystery, so profound a darkness. Christmas came; and there were
bells ringing, and festive gatherings here and there about the great
dreary town, and Gilbert Fenton was besieged by friendly invitations from
Mrs. Lister, remonstrating with him for his want of common affection in
preferring to spend that season among his London friends rather than in
the bosom of his family.

Gilbert wrote: to his sister telling her that he had particular business
which detained him in town. But had it been otherwise, had he not been
bound prisoner to John Saltram's sick-room, he would scarcely have cared
to take his part in the conventional feastings and commonplace
jovialities of Lidford House. Had he not dreamed of a bright home which
was to be his at this time, a home beautified by the presence of the
woman he loved? Ah, what delight to have welcomed the sacred day in the
holy quiet of such a home, they two alone together, with all the world
shut out!



Christmas came in the old farm-house near Crosber; and Ellen Carley, who
had no idea of making any troubled thoughts of her own an excuse for
neglect of her household duties, made the sombre panelled rooms bright
with holly and ivy, laurel and fir, and busied herself briskly in the
confection of such pies and puddings as Hampshire considered necessary to
the due honour of that pious festival. There were not many people to see
the greenery and bright holly-berries which embellished the grave old
rooms, not many whom Ellen very much cared for to taste the pies and
puddings; but duty must be done, and the bailiff's daughter did her work
with a steady industry which knew no wavering.

Her life had been a hard one of late, very lonely since Mrs. Holbrook's
disappearance, and haunted with a presence which was most hateful to
her. Stephen Whitelaw had taken to coming to the Grange much oftener than
of old. There was seldom an evening now on which his insignificant figure
was not to be seen planted by the hearth in the snug little oak-parlour,
smoking his pipe in that dull silent way of his, which was calculated to
aggravate a lively person like Ellen Carley into some open expression of
disgust or dislike. Of late, too, his attentions had been of a more
pronounced character; he took to dropping sly hints of his pretensions,
and it was impossible for Ellen any longer to doubt that he wanted her to
be his wife. More than this, there was a tone of assurance about the man,
quiet as he was, which exasperated Miss Carley beyond all measure. He had
the air of being certain of success, and on more than one occasion spoke
of the day when Ellen would be mistress of Wyncomb Farm.

On his repetition of this offensive speech one evening, the girl took him
up sharply:--

"Not quite so fast, if you please, Mr. Whitelaw," she said; "it takes two
to make a bargain of that kind, just the same as it takes two to quarrel.
There's many curious changes may come in a person's life, no doubt, and
folks never know what's going to happen to them; but whatever changes may
come upon me, _that_ isn't one of them. I may live to see the inside of
the workhouse, perhaps, when I'm too old for service; but I shall never
sleep under the roof of Wyncomb Farmhouse."

Mr. Whitelaw gave a spiteful little laugh.

"What a spirited one she is, ain't she, now?" he said with a sneer. "O,
you won't, won't you, my lass; you turn up that pretty little nose of
yours--it do turn up a bit of itself, don't it, though?--at Wyncomb Farm
and Stephen Whitelaw; your father tells a different story, Nell."

"Then my father tells a lying story," answered the girl, blushing crimson
with indignation; "and it isn't for want o' knowing the truth. He knows
that, if it was put upon me to choose between your house and the union,
I'd go to the union--and with a light heart too, to be free of you. I
didn't want to be rude, Mr. Whitelaw; for you've been civil-spoken enough
to me, and I daresay you're a good friend to my father; but I can't help
speaking the truth, and you've brought it on yourself with your

"She's got a devil of a tongue of her own, you see, Whitelaw," said the
bailiff, with a savage glance at his daughter; "but she don't mean above
a quarter what she says--and when her time comes, she'll do as she's bid,
or she's no child of mine."

"O, I forgive her," replied Mr. Whitelaw, with a placid air of
superiority; "I'm not the man to bear malice against a pretty woman, and
to my mind a pretty woman looks all the prettier when she's in a
passion. I'm not in a hurry, you see, Carley; I can bide my time; but I
shall never take a mistress to Wyncomb unless I can take the one I like."

After this particular evening, Mr. Whitelaw's presence seemed more than
ever disagreeable to poor Ellen. He had the air of her fate somehow,
sitting rooted to the hearth night after night, and she grew to regard
him with a half superstitious horror, as if he possessed some occult
power over her, and could bend her to his wishes in spite of herself. The
very quietude of the man became appalling to her. Such a man seemed
capable of accomplishing anything by the mere force of persistence, by
the negative power that lay in his silent nature.

"I suppose he means to sit in that room night after night, smoking his
pipe and staring with those pale stupid eyes of his, till I change my
mind and promise to marry him," Ellen said to herself, as she meditated
angrily on the annoyance of Mr. Whitelaw's courtship. "He may sit there
till his hair turns gray--if ever such red hair does turn to anything
better than itself--and he'll find no change in me. I wish Frank were
here to keep up my courage. I think if he were to ask me to run away with
him, I should be tempted to say yes, at the risk of bringing ruin upon
both of us; anything to escape out of the power of that man. But come
what may, I won't endure it much longer. I'll run away to service soon
after Christmas, and father will only have himself to thank for the loss
of me."

It was Mr. Whitelaw who appeared as principal guest at the Grange on
Christmas-day; Mr. Whitelaw, supported on this occasion by a widowed
cousin of his who had kept house for him for some years, and who bore a
strong family likeness to him both in person and manner, and Ellen Carley
thought that it was impossible for the world to contain a more
disagreeable pair. These were the guests who consumed great quantities of
Ellen's pies and puddings, and who sat under her festal garlands of holly
and laurel. She had been especially careful to hang no scrap of
mistletoe, which might have afforded Mr. Whitelaw an excuse for a
practical display of his gallantry; a fact which did not escape the
playful observation of his cousin, Mrs. Tadman.

"Young ladies don't often forget to put up a bit of mistletoe," said this
matron, "when there's a chance of them they like being by;" and she
glanced in a meaning way from Ellen to the master of Wyncomb Farm.

"Miss Carley isn't like the generality of young ladies," Mr. Whitelaw
answered with a glum look, and his kinswoman was fain to drop the

Alone with Ellen, sly Mrs. Tadman took occasion to launch out into
enthusiastic praises of her cousin; to which the girl listened in
profound silence, closely watched all the time by the woman's sharp gray
eyes. And then by degrees her tone changed ever so little, and she owned
that her kinsman was not altogether faultless; indeed it was curious to
perceive what numerous shortcomings were coexistent with those shining
merits of his.

"He has been a good friend to me," continued the matron; "that I never
have denied and never shall deny. But I have been a good servant to him;
ah! there isn't a hired servant as would toil and drudge, and watch and
pinch, as I have done to please him, and never have had payment from him
more than a new gown at Christmas, or a five-pound note after harvest.
And of course, if ever he marries, I shall have to look for a new home;
for I know too much of his ways, I daresay, for a wife to like to have me
about her--and me of an age when it seem a hard to have to go among
strangers--and not having saved sixpence, where I might have put by a
hundred pounds easy, if I hadn't been working without wages for a
relation. But I've not been called a servant, you see; and I suppose
Stephen thinks that's payment enough for my trouble. Goodness knows I've
saved him many a pound, and that he'll know when I'm gone; for he's near,
is Stephen, and it goes to his heart to part with a shilling."

"But why should you ever leave him, Mrs. Tadman?" Ellen asked kindly. "I
shouldn't think he could have a better housekeeper."

"Perhaps not," answered the widow, shaking her head with mysterious
significance; "but his wife won't think that; and when he's got a wife
he'll want her to be his housekeeper, and to pinch and scrape as I've
pinched and scraped for him. Lord help her!" concluded Mrs. Tadman, with a
faint groan, which was far from complimentary to her relative's character.

"But perhaps he never will marry," argued Ellen coolly.

"O, yes, he will, Miss Carley," replied Mrs. Tadman, with another
significant movement of her head; "he's set his heart on that, and he's set
his heart on the young woman he means to marry."

"He can't marry her unless she's willing to be his wife, any how," said
Ellen, reddening a little.

"O, he'll find a way to make her consent, Miss Carley, depend upon that.
Whatever Stephen Whitelaw sets his mind upon, he'll do. But I don't envy
that poor young woman; for she'll have a hard life of it at Wyncomb, and
a hard master in my cousin Stephen."

"She must be a very weak-minded young woman if she marries him against
her will," Ellen said laughing; and then ran off to get the tea ready,
leaving Mrs. Tadman to her meditations, which were not of a lively nature
at the best of times.

That Christmas-day came to an end at last, after a long evening in the
oak parlour enlivened by a solemn game at whist and a ponderous supper of
cold sirloin and mince pies; and looking out at the wintry moonlight, and
the shadowy garden and flat waste of farm-land from the narrow casement
in her own room. Ellen Carley wondered what those she loved best in the
world were doing and thinking of under that moonlit sky. Where was Marian
Holbrook, that new-found friend whom she had loved so well, and whose
fate remained so profound a mystery? and what was Frank Randall doing,
far away in London, where he had gone to fill a responsible position in a
large City firm of solicitors, and whence he had promised to return
faithful to his first love, as soon as he found himself fairly on the
road to a competence wherewith to endow her?

Thus it was that poor Ellen kept the close of her Christmas-day, looking
out over the cold moonlit fields, and wondering how she was to escape
from the persecution of Stephen Whitelaw.

That obnoxious individual had invited Mr. Carley and his daughter to
spend New-year's-day at Wyncomb; a display of hospitality so foreign to
his character, that it was scarcely strange that Mrs. Tadman opened her
eyes and stared aghast as she heard the invitation given. It had been
accepted too, much to Ellen's disgust; and her father told her more than
once in the course of the ensuing week that she was to put on her best
gown, and smarten herself up a bit, on New-year's-day.

"And if you want a new gown, Nell, I don't mind giving it you," said the
bailiff, in a burst of generosity, and with the prevailing masculine idea
that a new gown was a panacea for all feminine griefs. "You can walk over
to Malsham and buy it any afternoon you like."

But Ellen did not care for a new gown, and told her father so, with a
word or two of thanks for his offer. She did not desire fine dresses; she
had indeed been looking over and furbishing up her wardrobe of late, with
a view to that possible flight of hers, and it was to her cotton working
gowns that she had paid most attention: looking forward to begin a harder
life in some stranger's service--ready to endure anything rather than to
marry Stephen Whitelaw. And of late the conviction had grown upon her
that her father was very much in earnest, and that before long it would
be a question whether she should obey him, or be turned out of doors. She
had seen his dealings with other people, and she knew him to be a
passionate determined man, hard as iron in his anger.

"I won't give him the trouble to turn me out of doors," Ellen said to
herself. "When I know his mind, and that there's no hope of turning him,
I'll get away quietly, and find some new home. He has no real power over
me, and I have but to earn my own living to be independent of him. And I
don't suppose Frank will think any the worse of me for having been a
servant," thought the girl, with something like a sob. It seemed hard
that she must needs sink lower in her lover's eyes, when she was so far
beneath him already; he a lawyer's son, a gentleman by education, and she
an untaught country girl.



The countenance of the new year was harsh, rugged, and gloomy--as of a
stony-hearted, strong-minded new year, that had no idea of making his
wintry aspect pleasant, or brightening the gloom of his infancy with any
deceptive gleams of January sunshine. A bitter north wind made a dreary
howling among the leafless trees, and swept across the broad bare fields
with merciless force--a bleak cruel new-year's-day, on which to go out
a-pleasuring; but it was more in harmony with Ellen Carley's thoughts
than brighter weather could have been; and she went to and fro about her
morning's work, up and down cold windy passages, and in and out of the
frozen dairy, unmoved by the bitter wind which swept the crisp waves of
dark brown hair from her low brows, and tinged the tip of her impertinent
little nose with a faint wintry bloom.

The bailiff was in very high spirits this first morning of the new
year--almost uproarious spirits indeed, which vented themselves in
snatches of boisterous song, as he bustled backwards and forwards from
house to stables, dressed in his best blue coat and bright buttons and a
capacious buff waistcoat; with his ponderous nether limbs clothed in
knee-cords, and boots with vinegar tops; looking altogether the typical
British farmer.

Those riotous bursts of song made his daughter shudder. Somehow, his
gaiety was more alarming to her than his customary morose humour. It was
all the more singular, too, because of late William Carley had been
especially silent and moody, with the air of a man whose mind is weighed
down by some heavy burden--so gloomy indeed, that his daughter had
questioned him more than once, entreating to know if he were distressed
by any secret trouble, anything going wrong about the farm, and so on.
The girl had only brought upon herself harsh angry answers by these
considerate inquiries, and had been told to mind her own business, and
not pry into matters that in no way concerned her.

"But it does concern me to see you downhearted, father," she answered

"Does it really, my girl? What! your father's something more than a
stranger to you, is he? I shouldn't have thought it, seeing how you've
gone again me in some things lately. Howsomedever, when I want your help,
I shall know how to ask for it, and I hope you'll give it freely. I don't
want fine words; they never pulled anybody out of the ditch that I've
heard tell of."

Whatever the bailiff's trouble had been, it seemed to be lightened
to-day, Ellen thought; and yet that unusual noisy gaiety of his gave her
an uncomfortable feeling: it did not seem natural or easy.

Her household work was done by noon, and she dressed hurriedly, while her
father called for her impatiently from below--standing at the foot of the
wide bare old staircase, and bawling up to her that they should be late
at Wyncomb. She looked very pretty in her neat dark-blue merino dress and
plain linen collar, when she came tripping downstairs at last, flushed
with the hurry of her toilet, and altogether so bright a creature that it
seemed a hard thing she should not be setting out upon some real pleasure
trip, instead of that most obnoxious festival to which she was summoned.

Her father looked at her with a grim kind of approval.

"You'll do well enough, lass," he said; "but I should like you to have
had something smarter than that blue stuff. I wouldn't have minded a
couple of pounds or so to buy you a silk gown. But you'll be able to buy
yourself as many silk gowns as ever you like by-and-by, if you play your
cards well and don't make a fool of yourself."

Ellen knew what he meant well enough, but did not care to take any notice
of the speech. The time would soon come, no doubt, when she must take her
stand in direct opposition to him, and in the meanwhile it would be worse
than foolish to waste breath in idle squabbling.

They were to drive to Wyncomb in the bailiff's gig; rather an obsolete
vehicle, with a yellow body, a mouldy leather apron, and high wheels
picked out with red, drawn by a tall gray horse that did duty with the
plough on ordinary occasions. Stephen Whitelaw's house was within an easy
walk of the Grange; but the gig was a more dignified mode of approach
than a walk, and the bailiff insisted on driving his daughter to her
suitor's abode in that conveyance.

Wyncomb was a long low gray stone house, of an unknown age; a spacious
habitation enough, with many rooms, and no less than three staircases,
but possessing no traces of that fallen grandeur which pervaded the
Grange. It had been nothing better than a farm-house from time
immemorial, and had been added to and extended and altered to suit the
convenience of successive generations of farmers. It was a
gloomy-looking house at all times, Ellen Carley thought, but especially
gloomy under that leaden winter sky; a house which it would have been
almost impossible to associate with pleasant family gatherings or the
joyous voices of young children; a grim desolate-looking house, that
seemed to freeze the passing traveller with its cold blank stare, as if
its gloomy portal had a voice to say to him, "However lost you may be for
lack of shelter, however weary for want of rest, come not here!"

Idle fancies, perhaps; but they were the thoughts with which Wyncomb
Farmhouse always inspired Ellen Carley.

"The place just suits its master's hard miserly nature," she said. "One
would think it had been made on purpose for him; or perhaps the Whitelaws
have been like that from generation to generation."

There was no such useless adornment as a flower-garden at Wyncomb.
Stephen Whitelaw cared about as much for roses and lilies as he cared for
Greek poetry or Beethoven's sonatas. At the back of the house there was a
great patch of bare shadowless ground devoted to cabbages and potatoes,
with a straggling border of savoury herbs; a patch not even divided from
the farm land beyond, but melting imperceptibly into a field of
mangel-wurzel. There were no superfluous hedges upon Mr. Whitelaw's
dominions; not a solitary tree to give shelter to the tired cattle in the
long hot summer days. Noble old oaks and patriarch beeches, tall
sycamores and grand flowering chestnuts, had been stubbed up
remorselessly by that economical agriculturist; and he was now the proud
possessor of one of the ugliest and most profitable farms in Hampshire.

In front of the gray-stone house the sheep browsed up to the parlour
windows, and on both sides of the ill-kept carriage-drive leading from
the white gate that opened into the meadow to the door of Mr. Whitelaw's
abode. No sweet-scented woodbine or pale monthly roses beautified the
front of the house in spring or summer time. The neglected ivy had
overgrown one end of the long stone building and crept almost to the
ponderous old chimneys; and this decoration, which had come of itself,
was the only spot of greenery about the place. Five tall poplars grew in
a row about a hundred yards from the front windows; these, strange to
say, Mr. Whitelaw had suffered to remain. They served to add a little
extra gloom to the settled grimness of the place, and perhaps harmonised
with his tastes.

Within Wyncomb Farmhouse was no more attractive than without. The rooms
were low and dark; the windows, made obscure by means of heavy woodwork
and common glass, let in what light they did admit with a grudging air,
and seemed to frown upon the inmates of the chamber they were supposed to
beautify. There were all manner of gloomy passages, and unexpected
flights of half-a-dozen stairs or so, in queer angles of the house, and
there was a prevailing darkness everywhere; for the Whitelaws of departed
generations, objecting to the window tax, had blocked up every casement
that it was possible to block up; and the stranger exploring Wyncomb
Farmhouse was always coming upon those blank plastered windows, which had
an unpleasant ghostly aspect, and set him longing for a fireman's hatchet
to hew them open and let in the light of day.

The furniture was of the oldest, black with age, worm-eaten, ponderous;
queer old four-post bedsteads, with dingy hangings of greenish brown or
yellowish green, from which every vestige of the original hue had faded
long ago; clumsy bureaus, and stiff high-backed chairs with thick legs
and gouty feet, heavy to move and uncomfortable to sit upon. The house
was clean enough, and the bare floors of the numerous bed-chambers, which
were only enlivened here and there with small strips or bands of Dutch
carpet, sent up a homely odour of soft soap; for Mrs. Tadman took a
fierce delight in cleaning, and the solitary household drudge who toiled
under her orders had a hard time of it. There was a dismal kind of
neatness about everything, and a bleak empty look in the sparsely
furnished rooms, which wore no pleasant sign of occupation, no look of
home. The humblest cottage, with four tiny square rooms and a thatched
roof, and just a patch of old-fashioned garden with a sweetbrier hedge
and roses growing here and there among the cabbages; would have been a
pleasanter habitation than Wyncomb, Ellen Carley thought.

Mr. Whitelaw exhibited an unwonted liberality upon this occasion. The
dinner was a ponderous banquet, and the dessert a noble display of nuts
and oranges, figs and almonds and raisins, flanked by two old-fashioned
decanters of port and sherry; and both the bailiff and his host did ample
justice to the feast. It was a long dreary afternoon of eating and
drinking; and Ellen was not sorry to get away from the prim wainscoted
parlour, where her father and Mr. Whitelaw were solemnly sipping their
wine, to wander over the house with Mrs. Tadman.

It was about four o'clock when she slipped quietly out of the room at
that lady's invitation, and the lobbies and long passages had a shadowy
look in the declining light. There was light enough for her to see the
rooms, however; for there were no rare collections of old china, no
pictures or adornments of any kind, to need a minute inspection.

"It's a fine old place, isn't it?" asked Mrs. Tadman. "There's not many
farmers can boast of such a house as Wyncomb."

"It's large enough," Ellen answered, with a tone which implied the
reverse of admiration; "but it's not a place I should like to live in.
I'm not one to believe in ghosts or such nonsense, but if I could have
any such foolish thoughts, I should have them here. The house looks as if
it was haunted, somehow."

Mrs. Tadman laughed a shrill hard laugh, and rubbed her skinny hands with
an air of satisfaction.

"You're not easy to please, Miss Carley," she said; "most folks think a
deal of Wyncomb; for, you see, it's only them that live in a house as can
know how dull it is; and as to the place being haunted, I never heard
tell of anything of that kind. The Whitelaws ain't the kind of people to
come back to this world, unless they come to fetch their money, and then
they'd come fast enough, I warrant. I used to see a good deal of my
uncle, John Whitelaw, when I was a girl, and never did a son take after
his father closer than my cousin Stephen takes after him; just the same
saving prudent ways, and just the same masterful temper, always kept
under in that quiet way of his."

As Ellen Carley showed herself profoundly indifferent to the lights and
shades of Mr. Whitelaw's character, Mrs. Tadman did not pursue the
subject, but with a gentle sigh led the way to another room, and so on
from room to room, till they had explored all that floor of the house.

"There's the attics above; but you won't care to see _them_," she said.
"The shepherd and five other men sleep up there. Stephen thinks it keeps
them steadier sleeping under the same roof with their master; and he's
able to ring them up of a morning, and to know when they go to their
work. It's wearying for me to have to get up and see to their breakfasts,
but I can't trust Martha Holden to do that, or she'd let them eat us out
of house and home. There's no knowing what men like that can eat, and a
side of bacon would go as fast as if you was to melt it down to tallow.
But you must know what they are, Miss Carley, having to manage for your

"Yes," Ellen answered, "I'm used to hard work."

"Ah," murmured the matron, with a sigh, "you'd have plenty of it, if you
came here."

They were at the end of a long passage by this time; a passage leading to
the extreme end of the house, and forming part of that ivy-covered wing
which seemed older than the rest of the building. It was on a lower level
than the other part, and they had descended two or three steps at the
entrance to this passage. The ceilings were lower too, the beams that
supported them more massive, the diamond-paned windows smaller and more
heavily leaded, and there was a faint musty odour as of a place that was
kept shut up and uninhabited.

"There's nothing more to see here," said Mrs. Tadman quickly; "I had
better go back I don't know what brought me here; it was talking, I
suppose, made me come without thinking. There's nothing to show you this

"But there's another room there," Ellen said, pointing to a door just
before them--a heavy clumsily-made door, painted black.

"That room--well, yes; it's a kind of a room, but hasn't been used for
fifty years and more, I've heard say. Stephen keeps seeds there and
such-like. It's always locked, and he keeps the key of it."

There was nothing in this closed room to excite either curiosity or
interest in Ellen's mind, and she was turning away from the door with
perfect indifference, when she started and suddenly seized Mrs. Tadman's

"Hark!" she said, in a frightened, breathless way; "did you hear that?"

"What, child?"

"Did you say there was no one in there--no one?"

"Lord bless your heart, no, Miss Carley, nor ever is. What a turn you did
give me, grasping hold of my arm like that!"

"I heard something in there--a footstep. It must be the servant."

"What, Martha Holden! I should like to see her venturing into any room
Stephen keeps private to himself. Besides, that door's kept locked; try
it, and satisfy yourself."

The door was indeed locked--a door with a clumsy old-fashioned latch,
securely fastened by a staple and padlock. Ellen tried it with her own

"Is there no other door to the room?" she asked.

"None; and only one window, that looks into the wood-yard, and is almost
always blocked up with the wood piled outside it. You must have heard the
muslin bags of seed blowing about, if you heard anything."

"I heard a footstep," said Ellen firmly; "a human footstep. I told you
the house was haunted, Mrs. Tadman."

"Lor, Miss Carley, I wish you wouldn't say such things; it's enough to
make one's blood turn cold. Do come downstairs and have a cup of tea.
It's quite dark, I declare; and you've given me the shivers with your
queer talk."

"I'm sorry for that; but the noise I heard must have been either real or
ghostly, and you won't believe it's real."

"It was the seed-bags, of course."

"They couldn't make a noise like human footsteps. However, it's no
business of mine, Mrs. Tadman, and I don't want to frighten you."

They went downstairs to the parlour, where the tea-tray and a pair of
candles were soon brought, and where Mrs. Tadman stirred the fire into a
blaze with an indifference to the consumption of fuel which made her
kinsman stare, even on that hospitable occasion. The blaze made the dark
wainscoted room cheerful of aspect, however, which the two candles could
not have done, as their light was almost absorbed by the gloomy

After tea there was whist again, and a considerable consumption of
spirits-and-water on the part of the two gentlemen, in which Mrs. Tadman
joined modestly, with many protestations, and, with the air of taking
only an occasional spoonful, contrived to empty her tumbler, and allowed
herself to be persuaded to take another by the bailiff, whose joviality
on the occasion was inexhaustible.

The day's entertainment came to an end at last, to Ellen's inexpressible
relief; and her father drove her home in the yellow gig at rather an
alarming pace, and with some tendency towards heeling over into a ditch.
They got over the brief journey safely, however, and Mr. Carley was still
in high good humour. He went off to see to the putting up of his horse
himself, telling his daughter to wait till he came back, he had something
particular to say to her before she went to bed.



Ellen Carley waited in the little parlour, dimly lighted by one candle.
The fire had very nearly gone out, and she had some difficulty in
brightening it a little. She waited very patiently, wondering what her
father could have to say to her, and not anticipating much pleasure from
the interview. He was going to talk about Stephen Whitelaw and his
hateful money perhaps. But let him say what he would, she was prepared to
hold her own firmly, determined to provoke him by no open opposition,
unless matters came to an extremity, and then to let him see at once and
for ever that her resolution was fixed, and that it was useless to
persecute her.

"If I have to go out of this house to-night, I will not flinch," she said
to herself.

She had some time to wait. It had been past midnight when they came home,
and it was a quarter to one when William Carley came into the parlour. He
was in a unusually communicative mood to-night, and had been
superintending the grooming of his horse, and talking to the underling
who had waited up to receive him.

He was a little unsteady in his gait as he came into the parlour, and
Ellen knew that he had drunk a good deal at Wyncomb. It was no new thing
for her to see him in this condition unhappily, and the shrinking
shuddering sensation with which he inspired her to-night was painfully

"It's very late, father," she said gently, as the bailiff flung himself
heavily into an arm-chair by the fire-place. "If you don't want me for
anything particular, I should be glad to go to bed."

"Would you, my lass?" he asked grimly. "But, you see, I do want you for
something particular, something uncommon particular; so there's no call
for you to be in a hurry. Sit down yonder," he added, pointing to the
chair opposite his own. "I've got something to say to you, something

"Father," said the girl, looking him full in the face, pale to the lips,
but very firm, "I don't think you're in a state to talk seriously of

"O, you don't, don't you, Miss Impudence? You think I'm drunk, perhaps.
You'll find that, drunk or sober, I've only one mind about you, and that
I mean to be obeyed. Sit down, I tell you. I'm not in the humour to stand
any nonsense to-night. Sit down."

Ellen obeyed this mandate, uttered with a fierceness unusual even in Mr.
Carley, who was never a soft-spoken man. She seated herself quietly on
the opposite side of the hearth, while her father took down his pipe from
the chimney-piece, and slowly filled it, with hands that trembled a
little over the accustomed task.

When he had lighted the pipe, and smoked about half-a-dozen whiffs with a
great assumption of coolness, he addressed himself to his daughter in an
altered and conciliating tone.

"Well, Nelly," he said, "you've had a rare day at Wyncomb, and a regular
ramble over the old house with Steph's cousin. What do you think of it?"

"I think it's a queer gloomy old place enough, father. I wonder there's
any one can live in it. The dark bare-looking rooms gave me the horrors.
I used to think this house was dull, and seemed as if it was haunted; but
it's lively and gay as can be, compared to Wyncomb."

"Humph!" muttered the bailiff. "You're a fanciful young lady, Miss Nell,
and don't know a fine substantial old house when you see one. Life's come
a little too easy to you, perhaps. It might have been better for you if
you'd seen more of the rough side. Being your own missus too soon, and

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