Part 7 out of 10
missus of such a place as this, has spoiled you a bit. I tell you, Nell,
there ain't a better house in Hampshire than Wyncomb, though it mayn't
suit your fanciful notions. Do you know the size of Stephen Whitelaw's
"No, father; I've never thought about it."
"What do you say to three hundred acres--over three hundred, nigher to
"I suppose it's a large farm, father. But I know nothing about such
"You suppose it's large, and you know nothing about such things!" cried
the bailiff, with an air of supreme irritation. "I don't believe any man
was ever plagued with such an aggravating daughter as mine. What do you
say to being mistress of such a place, girl?--mistress of close upon four
hundred acres of land; not another man's servant, bound to account for
every blade of grass and every ear of corn, as I am, but free and
independent mistress of the place, with the chance of being left a widow
by and by, and having it all under your own thumb; what do you say to
"Only the same that I have always said, father. Nothing would ever
persuade me to marry Stephen Whitelaw. I'd rather starve."
"And you shall starve, if you stick to that," roared William Carley with
a blasphemous oath. "But you won't be such a fool, Nell. You'll hear
reason; you won't stand out against your poor old father and against your
own interests. The long and the short of it is, I've given Whitelaw my
promise that you shall be his wife between this and Easter."
"What!" exclaimed Ellen, with a faint cry of horror; "you don't mean that
you've promised that, father! You can't mean it!"
"I can and do mean it, lass."
"Then you've made a promise that will never be kept. You might have known
as much when you made it. I'm sure I've been plain-spoken enough about
"That was a girl's silly talk. I didn't think to find you a fool when I
came to the point. I let you have your say, and looked to time to bring
you to reason. Come, Nell, you're not going against your father, are
"I must, father, in this. I'd rather die twenty deaths than marry that
man. There's nothing I wouldn't rather do."
"Isn't there? You'd rather see your father in gaol, I suppose, if it came
"See you in gaol!" cried the girl aghast. "For heaven's sake, what do you
mean, father? What fear is there of your being sent to prison, because I
won't marry Stephen Whitelaw? I'm not a baby," she added, with a
hysterical laugh; "you can't frighten me like that."
"No; you're a very wise young woman, I daresay; but you don't know
everything. You've seen me downhearted and out of sorts for this last
half-year; but I don't suppose you've troubled yourself much about it,
except to worry me with silly questions sometimes, when I've not been in
the humour to be talked to. Things have been going wrong with me ever
since hay-harvest, and I haven't sent Sir David sixpence yet for last
year's crops. I've put him off with one excuse after another from month
to month. He's a careless master enough at most times, and never
over-sharp with my accounts. But the time has come when I can't put him
off any longer. He wants money badly, he says; and I'm afraid he begins
to suspect something. Any way, he talks of coming here in a week or so to
look into things for himself. If he does that, I'm ruined."
"But the money, father--the money for the crops--how has it gone? You had
it, haven't you?"
"Yes," the bailiff answered with a groan; "I've had it, worse luck."
"And how has it gone?"
"What's that to you? What's the good of my muddling my brains with
figures to-night? It's gone, I tell you. You know I'm fond of seeing a
race, and never miss anything in that way that comes-off within a day's
drive of this place. I used to be pretty lucky once upon a time, when I
backed a horse or bet against one. But this year things have gone dead
against me; and my bad luck made me savage somehow, so that I went deeper
than I've been before, thinking to get back what I'd lost."
"O, father, father! how could you, and with another man's money?"
"Don't give me any of your preaching," the bailiff answered gloomily; "I
can get enough of that at Malsham Chapel if I want it. It's in your power
to pull me through this business if you choose."
"How can I do that, father?"
"A couple of hundred pounds will set me square. I don't say there hasn't
been more taken, first and last; but that would do it. Stephen Whitelaw
would lend me the money--give it me, indeed, for it comes to that--the
day he gets your consent to be his wife."
"And you'd sell me to him for two hundred pounds, father?" the girl asked
"I don't want to go to gaol."
"And if you don't get the money from Stephen, what will happen?"
"I can't tell you that to a nicety. Penal servitude for life, most
likely. They'd call mine a bad case, I daresay."
"But Sir David might be merciful to you, father. You've served him for
"What would he care for that? I've had his money, and he's not a man that
can afford to lose much. No, Nell, I look for no mercy from Sir David;
those careless easy-going men are generally the hardest in such a
business as this. It's a clear case of embezzlement, and nothing can save
me unless I can raise money enough to satisfy him."
"Couldn't you borrow it of some one else besides Stephen Whitelaw?"
"Who else is there that would lend me two hundred pounds? Ask yourself
that, girl. Why, I haven't five pounds' worth of security to offer."
"And Mr. Whitelaw will only lend the money upon one condition?"
"No, curse him!" cried William Carley savagely. "I've been at him all
this afternoon, when you and that woman were out of the room, trying to
get it out of him as a loan, without waiting for your promise; but he's
too cautious for that. 'The day Ellen gives her consent, you shall have
the money,' he told me; 'I can't say anything fairer than that or more
"He doesn't suspect why you want it, does he, father?" Ellen asked with a
painful sense of shame.
"Who can tell what he may suspect? He's as deep as Satan," said the
bailiff, with a temporary forgetfulness of his desire to exhibit this
intended son-in-law of his in a favourable light. "He knows that I want
the money very badly; I couldn't help his knowing that; and he must think
it's something out of the common that makes me want two hundred pounds."
"I daresay he guesses the truth," Ellen said, with a profound sigh.
It seemed to her the bitterest trial of all, that her father's
wrong-doing should be known to Stephen Whitelaw. That hideous prospect of
the dock and the gaol was far off as yet; she had not even begun to
realise it; but she did fully realise the fact of her father's shame, and
the blow seemed to her a heavy one, heavier than she could bear.
For some minutes there was silence between father and daughter. The girl
sat with her face hidden in her hands; the bailiff smoked his pipe in
"Is there no other way?" Ellen asked at last, in a plaintive despairing
tone; "no other way, father?"
"None," growled William Carley. "You needn't ask me that question again;
there is no other way; you can get me out of my difficulties if you
choose. I should never have been so venturesome as I was, if I hadn't
made sure my daughter would soon be a rich woman. You can save me if you
like, or you can hold-off and let me go to prison. There's no good
preaching about it or arguing about it; you've got the choice and you
must make it. Most young women in your place would think themselves
uncommon lucky to have such a chance as you've got, instead of making a
trouble about it, let alone being able to get their father out of a
scrape. But you're your own mistress, and you must do as you please."
"Let me have time to think," the girl pleaded piteously; "let me have
only a little time to think, father. And you do believe that I'm sorry
for you, don't you?" she asked, kneeling beside him and clasping his
unwilling hand. "O father, I hope you believe that!"
"I shall know what to believe when I know what you're going to do," the
bailiff answered moodily; and his daughter knew him too well to hope for
any more gracious speech than this.
She bade him good-night, and went slowly up to her own room to spend the
weary wakeful hours in a bitter struggle, praying that she might be
enlightened as to what she ought to do; praying that she might die rather
than become the wife of Stephen Whitelaw.
When she and her father met at breakfast in the dull gray January
morning, his aspect was even darker than it had been on the previous
night; but he did not ask her if she had arrived at any conclusion. He
took his meal in sullen silence, and left her without a word.
They met again a little before noon, at which hour it was Mr. Carley's
habit to consume a solid luncheon. He took his seat in the same gloomy
silence that he had preserved at breakfast-time, but flung an open letter
across the table towards his daughter.
"Am I to read this?" she asked gently.
"Yes, read it, and see what I've got to look to."
The letter was from Sir David Forster; an angry one, revealing strong
suspicions of his agent's dishonesty, and announcing that he should be at
the Grange on the fifth of the month, to make a close investigation of
all matters connected with the bailiff's administration. It was a letter
that gave little hope of mercy, and Ellen Carley felt that it was so. She
saw that there were no two sides to the question: she must save her
father by the utter sacrifice of her own feelings, or suffer him to
She sat for some minutes in silence, with Sir David's letter in her hand,
staring blankly at the lines in a kind of stupor; while her father ate
cold roast-beef and pickled-cabbage--she wondered how he could eat at
such a time--looking up at her furtively every now and then.
At last she laid down the letter, and lifted her eyes to his face. A
deadly whiteness and despair had come over the bright soubrette beauty,
and even William Carley's hard nature was moved a little by the altered
expression of his daughter's countenance.
"It must be as you wish, father," she said slowly; "there is no help for
it; I cannot see you brought to disgrace. Stephen Whitelaw must have the
price he asks for his money."
"That's a good lass," cried the bailiff, springing up and clasping his
daughter in his arms, a most unusual display of affection on his part;
"that's bravely spoken, Nell, and you never need repent the choice
that'll make you mistress of Wyncomb Farm, with a good home to give your
father in his old age."
The girl drew herself hastily from his embrace, and turned away from him
with a shudder. He was her father, and there was something horrible in
the idea of his disgrace; but there was very little affection for him in
her mind. He was willing to sell her into bondage in order to save
himself. It was in this light she regarded the transaction with Stephen
The early days of the new year brought little change in John Saltram's
condition. Mr. Mew, and the physician who saw him once in every three
days, seemed perhaps a shade more hopeful than they had been, but would
express no decided opinion when Gilbert pressed them with close
questioning. The struggle was still going on--the issue still doubtful.
"If we could keep the mind at rest," said the physician, "we should have
every chance of doing better; but this constant restlessness, this
hyper-activity of the brain, of which you and Mr. Mew tell me, must needs
make a perpetual demand upon the patient's physical powers. The waste is
always going on. We cannot look for recovery until we obtain more
Several weeks had passed since the beginning of John Saltram's illness,
and there were no tidings from Mr. Medler. Every day Gilbert had expected
some communication from that practitioner, only to be disappointed. He
had called twice in Soho, and on both occasions had been received by a
shabby-looking clerk, who told him that Mr. Medler was out, and not
likely to come home within any definite time. He was inclined to fancy,
by the clerk's manner on his second visit, that there was some desire to
avoid an interview on Mr. Medler's part; and this fancy made him all the
more anxious to see that gentleman. He did not, therefore, allow much
time to elapse between this second visit to the dingy chambers in Soho
and a third. This time he was more fortunate; for he saw the lawyer let
himself in at the street-door with his latch-key, just as the cab that
drove him approached the house.
The same shabby clerk opened the door to him.
"I want to see your master," he said decisively, making a move towards
The clerk contrived to block his way.
"I beg your pardon, sir, I don't think Mr. Medler's in; but I'll go and
"You needn't give yourself the trouble. I saw your master let himself in
at this door a minute ago. I suppose you were too busy to hear him come
The clerk coughed a doubtful kind of cough, significant of perplexity.
"Upon my word, sir, I believe he's out; but I'll see."
"Thanks; I'd rather see myself, if you please," Gilbert said, passing the
perturbed clerk before that functionary could make up his mind whether he
ought to intercept him.
He opened the office-door and went in. Mr. Medler was sitting at his
desk, bending over some formidable document, with the air of a man who is
profoundly absorbed by his occupation; with the air also, Gilbert
thought, of a man who has been what is vernacularly called "on the
"Good-morning, Mr. Medler," Gilbert said politely; "your clerk had such a
conviction of your being out, that I had some difficulty in convincing
him you were at home."
"I've only just come in; I suppose Lucas didn't hear me."
"I suppose not; I've been here twice before in search of you, as I
conclude you have been told. I have expected to hear from you daily."
"Well, yes--yes," replied the lawyer in a meditative way; "I am aware
that I promised to write--under certain circumstances."
"Am I to conclude, then, that you were silent because you had nothing to
communicate? that you have obtained no tidings of any kind respecting
Mr. Medler coughed; a cough no less expressive of embarrassment than that
of his clerk.
"Why, you see, Mr. Fenton," he began, crossing his legs, and rubbing his
hands in a very deliberate manner, "when I made that promise with
reference to Mrs. Holbrook, I made it of course without prejudice to the
interests or inclinations of my client. I might be free to communicate to
you any information I received upon this subject--or I might find myself
pledged to withhold it."
Gilbert's face flushed with sudden excitement.
"What!" he cried, "do you mean to say that you have solved the mystery of
Marian Holbrook's fate? that you know her to be alive--safe--well, and
have kept back the knowledge from me?"
"I have been compelled to submit to the wishes of my client. I will not
say that I have not offered considerable opposition to her desire upon
this point, but finding her resolution fixed, I was bound to respect it."
"She is safe--then all this alarm has been needless? You have seen her?"
"Yes, Mr. Fenton, I have seen her."
"And she--she forbade you to let me know of her safety? She was willing
that I should suffer all the anguish of uncertainty as to her fate? I
could not have believed her so unkind."
"Mrs. Holbrook had especial reasons for wishing to avoid all
communication with former acquaintances. She explained those reasons to
me, and I fully concurred in them."
"She might have such reasons with regard to other people; she could have
none with reference to me."
"Pardon me, she mentioned your name in a very particular manner."
"And yet she has had good cause to trust in my fidelity."
"She has a very great respect and esteem for you, I am aware. She said as
much to me. But her reasons for keeping her affairs to herself just now
are quite apart from her personal feeling for yourself."
"I cannot understand this. I am not to see her then, I suppose; not to be
told her address?"
"No; I am strictly forbidden to disclose her address to any one."
"Yet you can positively assure me that she is in safety--her own
"She is in perfect safety--her own mistress--and as happy as it is
possible she can be under the unfortunate circumstances of her married
life. She has left her husband for ever; I will venture to tell you so
much as that."
"I am quite aware of that fact."
"How so? I thought Mr. Holbrook was quite unknown to you?"
"I have learnt a good deal about him lately."
"Indeed!" exclaimed the lawyer, with a genuine air of surprise.
"But of course your client has been perfectly frank in her communications
with you upon this subject?" Gilbert said.
"Yes; I know that Mrs. Holbrook has left her husband, but I did not for a
moment suppose she had left him of her own free will. From my knowledge
of her character and sentiments, that is just the last thing I could have
imagined possible. There was no quarrel between them; indeed, she was
expecting his return with delight at the very time when she left her home
in Hampshire. The thought of sharing her fortune with him was one of
perfect happiness. How can you explain her abrupt flight from him in the
face of this?"
"I am not free to explain matters, Mr. Fenton," answered the lawyer; "you
must be satisfied with the knowledge that the lady about whom you have
been so anxious is safe."
"I thank God for that," Gilbert said earnestly; "but that, knowledge of
itself is not quite enough. I shall be uneasy so long as there is this
secrecy and mystery surrounding her fate. There is something in this
sudden abandonment of her husband which is painfully inexplicable to me."
"Mrs. Holbrook may have received some sudden revelation of her husband's
unworthiness. You are aware that a letter reached her a few hours before
she left Hampshire? There is no doubt that letter influenced her actions.
I do not mind admitting a fact which is so obvious."
"The revelation that could move her to such a step must have been a very
"It was strong enough to decide her course," replied the lawyer gravely.
"And you can assure me that she is in good hands?" Gilbert asked
"I have every reason to suppose so. She is with her father."
Mr. Medler announced this fact as if there were nothing extraordinary in
it. Gilbert started to his feet.
"What!" he exclaimed; "she is with Mr. Nowell--the father who neglected
her in her youth, who of course seeks her now only for the sake of her
fortune? And you call that being in good hands, Mr. Medler? For my own
part, I cannot imagine a more dangerous alliance. When did Percival
Nowell come to England?"
"A very short time ago. I have only been aware of his return within the
last two or three weeks. His first step on arriving in this country was
to seek for his daughter."
"Yes; when he knew that she was rich, no doubt."
"I do not think that he was influenced by mercenary motives," the lawyer
said, with a calm judicial air. "Of course, as a man of the world, I am
not given to look at such matters from a sentimental point of view. But I
really believe that Mr. Nowell was anxious to find his daughter, and to
atone in some measure for his former neglect."
"A very convenient repentance," exclaimed Gilbert, with a short bitter
laugh. "And his first act is to steal his daughter from her home, and
hide her from all her former friends. I don't like the look of this
business, Mr. Medler; I tell you so frankly."
"Mr. Nowell is my client, you must remember, Mr. Fenton. I cannot consent
to listen to any aspersion of his character, direct or indirect."
"And you positively refuse to tell me where Mrs. Holbrook is to be
"I am compelled to respect her wishes as well as those of her father."
"She has been placed in possession of her property, I suppose?"
"Yes; her grandfather's will has been proved, and the estate now stands
in her name. There was no difficulty about that--no reason for delay."
"Will you tell me if she is in London?" Gilbert asked impatiently.
"Pardon me, my dear sir, I am pledged to say nothing about Mrs.
Gilbert gave a weary sigh.
"Well, I suppose it is useless to press the question, Mr. Medler," he
said. "I can only repeat that I don't like the look of this business.
Your client, Mr. Nowell, must have a very strong reason for secrecy, and
my experience of life has shown me that there is very seldom mystery
without wrong doing of some kind behind it. I thank God that Mrs.
Holbrook is safe, for I suppose I must accept your assurance that she is
so; but until her position is relieved from all this secrecy, I shall not
cease to feel uneasy as to her welfare. I am glad, however, that the
issue of events has exonerated her husband from any part in her
He was glad to know this--glad to know that however base a traitor to
himself, John Saltram had not been guilty of that deeper villany which he
had at times been led to suspect. Gilbert Fenton left Mr. Medler's office
a happier man than when he had entered it, and yet only half satisfied.
It was a great thing to know that Marian was safe; but he would have
wished her in the keeping of any one rather than of him whom the world
would have called her natural protector.
Nor was his opinion of Mr. Medler by any means an exalted one. No
assertion, of that gentleman inspired him with heart-felt confidence; and
he had not left the lawyer's office long before he began to ask himself
whether there was truth in any portion of the story he had heard, or
whether he was not the dupe of a lie.
Strange that Marian's father should have returned at so opportune a
moment; still more strange that Marian should suddenly desert the husband
she had so devotedly loved, and cast in her lot with a father of whom she
knew nothing but his unkindness. What if this man Medler had been, lying
to him from first to last, and was plotting to get old Jacob Nowell's
fortune into his own hands?
"I must find her," Gilbert said to himself; "I must be certain that she
is in safe hands. I shall know no rest till I have found her."
Harassed and perplexed beyond measure, he walked through the busy streets
of that central district for some time without knowing where he was
going, and without the faintest purpose in his steps. Then the notion
suddenly flashed upon him that he might hear something of Percival
Nowell at the shop in Queen Anne's Court, supposing the old business to
be still carried on there under the sway of Mr. Tulliver; and it seemed
too early yet for the probability of any change in that quarter.
Gilbert was in the Strand when this notion occurred to him. He turned his
steps immediately, and went back to Wardour-street, and thence to the
dingy court where he had first discovered Marian's grandfather.
There was no change; the shop looked exactly the same as it had looked in
the lifetime of Jacob Nowell. There were the same old guineas in the
wooden bowl, the same tarnished tankards and teapots on view behind the
wire-guarded glass, the same obscure hints of untold riches within, in
the general aspect of the place.
Mr. Tulliver darted forward from his usual lurking-place as Gilbert went
in at the door.
"O!" he exclaimed, with undisguised disappointment, "it's you, is it,
sir? I thought it was a customer."
"I am sorry to disappoint your expectation of profit. I have looked in to
ask you two or three questions, Mr. Tulliver; that is all."
"Any information in my power I'm sure I shall be happy to afford, sir.
Won't you be pleased to take a seat?"
"How long is it since you saw Mr. Nowell, your former employer's son?"
Gilbert asked, dropping into the chair indicated by the shopman, and
coming at once to the point.
Mr. Tulliver was somewhat startled by the question. That was evident,
though he was not a man who wore his heart upon his sleeve.
"How long is it since I've seen Mr. Nowell--Mr. Percival Nowell, sir?" he
repeated, staring thoughtfully at his questioner.
"Yes; you need not be afraid to speak freely to me; I know Mr. Nowell is
"Well, sir, I've not seen him often since his father's death."
Since his father's death! And according to Mr. Medler, Jacob Nowell's son
had only arrived in England after the old man's death;--or stay, the
lawyer had declared that he had been only aware of Percival's return
within the last two or three weeks. That was a different thing, of
course; yet was it likely this man could have returned, and his father's
lawyer have remained ignorant of his arrival?
Gilbert did not allow the faintest expression of surprise to appear on
"Not often since your master's death: but how often before?"
"Well, he used to come in pretty often before the old man died; but they
were both of 'em precious close. Mr. Percival never let out that he was
my master's son, but I guessed as much before he'd been here many times."
"How was it that I never came across him?"
"Chance, I suppose; but he's a deep one. If you'd happened to come in
when he was here, I daresay he'd have contrived to slip away somehow
without your seeing him."
"When did he come here last?" asked Gilbert.
"About a fortnight ago. He came with Mr. Medler, the lawyer, who
introduced him formally as my master's son; and they took possession of
the place between them for Mrs. Holbrook, making an arrangement with me
to carry on the business, and making precious hard terms too."
"Have you seen Mrs. Holbrook since that morning when she left London for
Hampshire, immediately after her grandfather's death?"
"Never set eyes on her since then; but she's in London, they told me,
living with her father. She came up to claim the property. I say, the
husband must be rather a curious party, mustn't he, to stand that kind of
thing, and part company with her just when she's come into a fortune?"
"Have you any notion where Mrs. Holbrook or her father is to be found? I
should be glad to make you a handsome present if you could enlighten me
upon that point."
"I wish I could, sir. No, I haven't the least idea where the gentleman
hangs out. Oysters ain't closer than that party. I thought he'd get his
paw upon his father's money, somehow, when I used to see him hanging
about this place. But I don't believe the old man ever meant him to have
a sixpence of it."
There was very little satisfaction, to be obtained from Mr. Tulliver; and
except as to the one fact of Percival Nowell's return, Gilbert left
Queen Anne's Court little wiser than when he entered it.
Brooding upon the revelations of that day as he walked slowly westward,
he began to think that Percival and Mr. Medler had been in league from
the time of the prodigal son's return, and that his own exclusion from
the will as executor, and the substitution of the lawyer's name, had been
brought about for no honourable purpose. What would a weak inexperienced
woman be between two such men? or what power could Marian have, once
under her father's influence, to resist his will? How she had fallen
under that influence so completely as to leave her husband and her quiet
country home, without a word of explanation, was a difficult question to
answer; and Gilbert Fenton meditated upon it with a troubled mind.
He walked westward, indifferent where he went in the perplexity of his
thoughts, anxious to walk off a little of his excitement if he could,
and to return to his sick charge in the temple in a calmer frame of mind.
It was something gained, at the worst, to be able to return to John
Saltram's bedside freed from that hideous suspicion which had tormented
him of late.
Walking thus, he found himself, towards the close of the brief winter
day, at the Marble Arch. He went through the gate into the empty Park,
and was crossing the broad road near the entrance, when an open carriage
passed close beside him, and a woman's voice called to the coachman to
The carriage stopped so abruptly and so near him that he paused and
looked up, in natural wonderment at the circumstance. A lady dressed in
mourning was leaning forward out of the carriage, looking eagerly after
him. A second glance showed him that this lady was Mrs. Branston.
"How do you do, Mr. Fenton," she cried, holding out her little
black-gloved hand: "What an age since I have seen you! But you have not
forgotten me, I hope?"
"That is quite impossible, Mrs. Branston. If I had not been very much
absorbed in thought just now, I should have recognised you sooner. It was
very kind of you to stop to speak to me."
"Not at all. I have something most particular to say to you. If you are
not in a very great hurry, would you mind getting into the carriage, and
letting me drive you round the Park? I can't keep you standing in the
road to talk."
"I am in no especial hurry, and I shall be most happy to take a turn
round the Park with you."
Mrs. Branston's footman opened the carriage-door, and Gilbert took his
seat opposite the widow, who was enjoying her afternoon drive alone for
once in a way; a propitious toothache having kept Mrs. Pallinson within
"I have been expecting to see you for ever so long, Mr. Fenton. Why do
you never call upon me?" the pretty little widow began, with her usual
"I have been so closely occupied lately; and even if I had not been so, I
should have scarcely expected to find you in town at this unfashionable
"I don't care the least in the world for fashion," Mrs. Branston said,
with an impatient shrug of her shoulders. "That is only an excuse of
yours, Mr. Fenton; you completely forgot my existence, I have no doubt.
All my friends desert me now-a-days--older friends than you. There is Mr.
Saltram, for instance. I have not seen him for--O, not for ever so long,"
concluded the widow, blushing in the dusk as she remembered that visit of
hers to the Temple--that daring step which ought to have brought John
Saltram so much nearer to her, but which had resulted in nothing but
disappointment and regret--bitter regret that she should have cast her
womanly pride into the very dust at this man's feet to no purpose.
But Adela Branston was not a proud woman; and even in the midst of her
regret for having done this foolish thing, she was always ready to make
excuses for the man she loved, always in danger of committing some new
folly in his behalf.
Gilbert Fenton felt for the poor foolish little woman, whose fair face
was turned to him with such a pleading look in the wintry twilight. He
knew that what he had to tell her must needs carry desolation to her
heart--knew that in the background of John Saltram's life there lurked
even a deeper cause of grief for this gentle impressionable little soul.
"You will not wonder that Mr. Saltram has not called upon you lately when
you know the truth," he said gravely: "he has been very ill."
Mrs. Branston clasped her hands, with a faint cry of terror.
"Very ill--that means dangerously ill?"
"Yes; for some time he was in great danger. I believe that is past now;
but I am not quite sure of his safety even yet. I can only hope that he
Hope that he might recover, yes; but to be a friend of his, Gilbert's,
never more. It was a dreary prospect at best. John Saltram would recover,
to seek and reclaim his wife, and then those two must needs pass for ever
out of Gilbert Fenton's life. The story would be finished, and his own
part of it bald enough to be told on the fly-leaf at the end of the book.
Mrs. Branston bore the shock of his ill news better than Gilbert had
expected. There is good material even in the weakest of womankind when
the heart is womanly and true.
She was deeply shocked, intensely sorry; and she made no attempt to mask
her sorrow by any conventional speech or pretence whatsoever. She made
Gilbert give her all the details of John Saltram's illness, and when he
had told her all, asked him plainly if she might be permitted to see the
"Do let me see him, if it is possible," she said; "it would be such a
comfort to me to see him."
"I do not say such a thing is not possible, my dear Mrs. Branston; but I
am sure it would be very foolish."
"O, never mind that; I am always doing foolish things. It would only be
one folly more, and would hardly count in my history. Dear Mr. Fenton, do
let me see him."
"I don't think you quite know what you are asking, Mrs. Branston. Such a
sick-bed as John Saltram's would be a most painful scene for you. He has
been delirious from the beginning of his illness, and is so still. He
rarely has an interval of anything like consciousness, and in all the
time that I have been with him has never yet recognised me; indeed,
there are moments when I am inclined to fear that his brain may be
"God forbid!" exclaimed Adela, in a voice that was choked with tears.
"Yes, such a result as that would be indeed a sore calamity. I have every
wish to set your mind at ease, believe me, Mrs. Branston, but in John
Saltram's present state I am sure it would be ill-advised for you to see
"Of course I cannot press the question if you say that," Adela answered
despondently; "but I should have been so glad if you could have allowed
me to see him. Not that I pretend to the smallest right to do so; but we
were very good friends once--before my husband's death. He has changed to
me strangely since that time."
Gilbert felt that it was almost cruel to keep this poor little soul in
utter ignorance of the truth. He did not consider himself at liberty to
say much; but some vague word of warning might serve as a slight check
upon the waste of feeling which was going on in the widow's heart.
"There may be a reason for that change, Mrs. Branston," he said. "Mr.
Saltram may have formed some tie of a kind to withdraw him from all other
"Some attachment, you mean!" exclaimed the widow; "some other
attachment," she added, forgetting how much the words betrayed. "Do you
think that, Mr. Fenton? Do you think that John Saltram has some secret
love-affair upon his mind?"
"I have some reason to suspect as much, from words that he has dropped
during his delirium."
There was a look of unspeakable pain in Mrs. Branston's face, which had
grown deadly pale when Gilbert first spoke of John Saltram's illness. The
pretty childish lips quivered a little, and her companion knew that she
was suffering keenly.
"Have you any idea who the lady is?" she asked quietly, and with more
self-command than Gilbert had expected from her.
"I have some idea."
"It is no one whom I know, I suppose?"
"The lady is quite a stranger to you."
"He might have trusted me," she said mournfully; "it would have been
kinder in him to have trusted me."
"Yes, Mrs. Branston; but Mr. Saltram has unfortunately made concealment
the policy of his life. He will find it a false policy sooner or late."
"It was very cruel of him not to tell me the truth. He might have known
that I should look kindly upon any one he cared for. I may be a very
foolish woman, Mr. Fenton, but I am not ungenerous."
"I am sure of that," Gilbert said warmly, touched by her candour.
"You must let me know every day how your friend is going on, Mr. Fenton,"
Adela said after a pause; "I shall consider it a very great favour if you
will do so."
"I will not fail."
They had returned to Cumberland-gate by this time, and at Gilbert's
request Mrs. Branston allowed him to be set down near the Arch. He called
a cab, and drove to the Temple; while poor Adela went back to the
splendid gloom of Cavendish-square, with all the fabric of her future
Until this hour she had looked upon John Saltram's fidelity to herself as
a certainty; she knew, now that her hope was slain all at once, what a
living thing it had been, and how great a portion of her own existence
had taken its colour therefrom.
It was fortunate for Mrs. Branston that Mrs. Pallinson's toothache, and
the preparations and medicaments supplied to her by her son--all declared
to be infallible, and all ending in ignominious failure--occupied that
lady's attention at this period, to the exclusion of every other thought,
or Adela's pale face might have excited more curiosity than it did. As it
was, the matron contented herself by making some rather snappish remarks
upon the folly of going out to drive late on a January afternoon, and
retired to administer poultices and cataplasms to herself in the solitude
of her own apartment soon after dinner, leaving Adela Branston free to
ponder upon John Saltram's cruelty.
"If he had only trusted me," she said to herself more than once during
those mournful meditations; "if he had only given me credit for some
little good sense and generosity, I should not feel it as keenly as I do.
He must have known that I loved him--yes, I have been weak enough to let
him see that--and I think that once he used to like me a little--in those
old happy days when he came so often to Maidenhead. Yes, I believe he
almost loved me then."
And then the thought that this man was lying desperately ill, perhaps in
danger of death, blotted out every other thought. It was so bitter to
know him in peril, and to be powerless to go to him; worse than useless
to him were she by his side, since it was another whose image haunted his
wandering brain--another whose voice he longed to hear.
She spent a sleepless melancholy night, and had no rest next day, until a
commissionnaire brought her a brief note from Gilbert Fenton, telling her
that if there were any change at all in the patient, it was on the side
BOUGHT WITH A PRICE.
Ellen Carley was not allowed any time to take back the promise given to
her father, had she been inclined to do so. Mr. Whitelaw made his
appearance at the Grange early in the evening of the 2nd of January, with
a triumphant simper upon his insipid countenance, which was inexpressibly
provoking to the unhappy girl. It was clear to her, at first sight of
him, that her father had been at Wyncomb that afternoon, and her hateful
suitor came secure of success. His wooing was not a very romantic episode
in his commonplace existence. He did not even attempt to see Ellen alone;
but after he had been seated for about half-an-hour in the
chimney-corner, nestling close to the fire in a manner he much affected,
being of a particularly chilly temperament, given to shiver and turn blue
on the smallest provocation, he delivered himself solemnly of the
"I make no doubt, Miss Carley, that you have taken notice for some time
past of my sentiments towards yourself. I have never made any secret of
those sentiments, neither have I talked much about them, not being a man
of many words. I used to fancy myself the very reverse of a marrying man,
and I don't say but what at this moment I think the man who lives and
dies a bachelor does the wisest for his own comfort and his own
prosperity. But we are not the masters of our feelings, Miss Carley. You
have growed upon me lately somehow, so that I've got not to care for my
life without you. Ask Mrs. Tadman if my appetite hasn't fell off within
this last six months to a degree that has frightened her; and a man of my
regular habits must be very far gone in love, Miss Carley, when his
appetite forsakes him. From the time I came to know you as a young woman,
in the bloom of a young woman's beauty, I said to myself, 'That's the
girl I'll marry, and no other.' Your father can bear me out in that, for
I said the same to him. And finding that I had his approval, I was
satisfied to bide my time, and wait till you came round to the same way
of thinking. Your father tells me yesterday afternoon, and again this
afternoon, that you have come round to that way of feeling. I hope he
hasn't deceived me, Miss Carley."
This was a very long speech for Stephen Whitelaw. It was uttered in
little gasps or snatches of speech, the speaker stopping at the end of
every sentence to take breath.
Ellen Carley sat on that side of the comfortable round table most remote
from Mr. Whitelaw, deadly pale, with her hands clasped before her. Once
she lifted her eyes with a piteous look to her father's face; but he was
smoking his pipe solemnly, with his gaze fixed upon the blazing logs in
the grate, and contrived not to see that mute despairing appeal. He had
not looked at his daughter once since Stephen Whitelaw's arrival, nor had
he made any attempt to prepare her for this visit, this rapid
consummation of the sacrifice.
"Come, Miss Carley," said the former rather impatiently, after there had
been a dead silence of some minutes, "I want to get an answer direct from
your own lips. Your father hasn't been deceiving me, has he?"
"No," Ellen said in a low voice, almost as if the reply were dragged from
her by some physical torture. "If my father has given you a promise for
me, I will keep it. But I don't want to deceive you, on my part, Mr.
Whitelaw," she went on in a somewhat firmer tone. "I will be your wife,
since you and my father have settled that it must be so; but I can
promise no more than that. I will be dutiful and submissive to you as a
wife, you may be sure--only----"
Mr. Whitelaw smiled a very significant smile, which implied that it would
be his care to insure his wife's obedience, and that he was troubled by
no doubts upon that head.
The bailiff broke-in abruptly at this juncture.
"Lord bless the girl, what need is there of all this talk about what she
will be and what she won't be? She'll be as good a wife as any woman in
England, I'll stake my life upon that. She's been a good daughter, as all
the world knows, and a good daughter is bound to make a good wife. Say no
more about it, Nell. Stephen Whitelaw knows he'll make no bad bargain in
The farmer received this remark with a loud sniff, expressive of offended
"Very likely not, William Carley," he said; "but it isn't every man that
can make your daughter mistress of such a place as Wyncomb; and such men
as could do it would look for money with a wife, however young and pretty
she might be. There's two sides to a bargain, you see, William, and I
should like things to be looked at in that light between you and me."
"You've no call to take offence, Steph," answered the bailiff with a
conciliating grin. "I never said you wasn't a good match for my girl; but
a pretty girl and a prudent clever housekeeper like Nell is a fortune in
herself to any man."
"Then the matter's settled, I suppose," said Mr. Whitelaw; "and the
sooner the wedding comes off the better, to my mind. If my wife that is
to be wants anything in the way of new clothes, I shall be happy to put
down a twenty-pound note--or I'd go as far as thirty--towards 'em."
Ellen shook her head impatiently.
"I want nothing new," she said; "I have as many things as I care to
"Nonsense, Nell," cried her father, frowning at her in a significant
manner to express his disapproval of this folly, and in so doing looking
at her for the first time since her suitor's advent. "Every young woman
likes new gowns, and of course you'll take Steph's friendly offer, and
thank him kindly for it. He knows that I'm pretty hard-up just now, and
won't be able to do much for you; and it wouldn't do for Mrs. Whitelaw of
Wyncomb to begin the world with a shabby turn-out."
"Of course not," replied the farmer; "I'll bring you the cash to-morrow
evening, Nell; and the sooner you buy your wedding-gown the better.
There's nothing to wait for, you see. I've got a good home to take you
to. Mother Tadman will march, of course, between this and my wedding-day.
I sha'n't want her when I've a wife to keep house for me."
"Of course not," said the bailiff. "Relations are always dangerous about
a place--ready to make mischief at every hand's turn."
"O, Mr. Whitelaw, you won't turn her out, surely--your own flesh and
blood, and after so many years of service. She told me how hard she had
worked for you."
"Ah, that's just like her," growled the farmer. "I give her a comfortable
home for all these years, and then she grumbles about the work."
"She didn't grumble," said Ellen hastily. "She only told me how
faithfully she had served you."
"Yes; that comes to the same thing. I should have thought you would have
liked to be mistress of your house, Nell, without any one to interfere
"Mrs. Tadman is nothing to me," answered Ellen, who had been by no means
prepossessed by that worthy matron; "but I shouldn't like her to be
unfairly treated on my account."
"Well, we'll think about it, Nell; there's no hurry. She's worth her
salt, I daresay."
Mr. Whitelaw seemed to derive a kind of satisfaction from the utterance
of his newly-betrothed's Christian name, which came as near the rapture
of a lover as such a sluggish nature might be supposed capable of. To
Ellen there was something hideous in the sound of her own name spoken by
those hateful lips; but he had a sovereign right so to address her, now
and for evermore. Was she not his goods, his chattels, bought with a
price, as much as a horse at a fair?
That nothing might be wanting to remind her of the sordid bargain, Mr.
Whitelaw drew a small canvas bag from his pocket presently--a bag which
gave forth that pleasant chinking sound that is sweet to the ears of so
many as the music of gold--and handed it across the hearth to William
"I'm as good as my word, you see," he said with a complacent air of
patronage. "There's the favour you asked me for; I'll take your IOU for
it presently, if it's all the same to you--as a matter of form--and to be
given back to you upon my wedding-day."
The bailiff nodded assent, and dropped the bag into his pocket with a
sigh of relief. And then the two men went on smoking their pipes in the
usual stolid way, dropping out a few words now and then by way of social
converse; and there was nothing in Mr. Whitelaw's manner to remind Ellen
that she had bound herself to the awful apprenticeship of marriage
without love. But when he took his leave that night he approached her
with such an evident intention of kissing her as could not be mistaken by
the most inexperienced of maidens. Poor Ellen indulged in no girlish
resistance, no pretty little comedy of alarm and surprise, but
surrendered her pale lips to the hateful salute with the resignation of a
martyr. It was better that she should suffer this than that her father
should go to gaol. That thought was never absent from her mind. Nor was
this sacrifice to filial duty quite free from the leaven of selfishness.
For her own sake, as much as for her father's, Ellen Carley would have
submitted to any penalty rather than disgrace. To have him branded as a
thief must needs be worse suffering than any life-long penance she might
endure in matrimony. To lose Frank Randall's love was less than to let
him learn her father's guilt.
"The daughter of a thief!" she said to herself. "How he would despise
himself for having ever loved me, if he knew me to be that!"
Possessed with a thorough distrust of Mr. Medler and only half satisfied
as to the fact of Marian's safety, Gilbert Fenton lost no time in seeking
professional aid in the work of investigating this perplexing social
mystery. He went once more to the metropolitan detective who had been
with him in Hampshire, and whose labours there had proved so futile. The
task now to be performed seemed easy enough. Mr. Proul (Proul was the
name of the gentleman engaged by Gilbert) had only to discover the
whereabouts of Percival Nowell; a matter of no great difficulty, Gilbert
imagined, since it was most likely that Marian's father had frequent
personal communication with the lawyer; nor was it improbable that he
would have business with his agent or representative, Mr. Tulliver, in
Queen Anne's Court. Provided with these two addresses, Gilbert fancied
that Mr. Proul's work must needs be easy enough.
That gentleman, however, was not disposed to make light of the duty
committed to him; whether from a professional habit of exaggerating the
importance of any mission undertaken by him, or in perfect singleness of
mind, it is not easy to say.
"It's a watching business, you see sir," he told Gilbert, "and is pretty
sure to be tedious. I may put a man to hang about this Mr. Medler's
business all day and every day for a month at a stretch, and he may miss
his customer at the last, especially as you can't give me any kind of
description of the man you want."
"Surely your agent could get some information out of Medler's clerk; it's
in his trade to do that kind of thing, isn't it?"
"Well, yes, sir; I don't deny that I might put a man on to the clerk, and
it might answer. On the other hand, such a gentleman's clerk would be
likely to be uncommon well trained and uncommon little trusted."
"But we want to know so little," Gilbert exclaimed impatiently; "only
where this man lives, and who lives with him."
"Yes," murmured Mr. Proul, rubbing his chin thoughtfully; "it ain't much,
as you say, and it might be got out of the clerk, if the clerk knows it;
but as to Mrs. Holbrook having got away from Hampshire and come to
London, that's more than I can believe. I worked that business harder and
closer than ever I worked any business yet. You told me to spare neither
money nor time, and I didn't spare either; though it was more a question
of time than money, for my expenses were light enough, as you know. I
don't believe Mrs. Holbrook could have got away from Malsham station up
to the time when I left Hampshire. I'm pretty certain she couldn't have
left the place any other way than by rail; I'm more than certain she
couldn't have been living anywhere in the neighbourhood when I was
hunting for her. In short, it comes to this--I stick to my old opinion,
that the poor lady was drowned in Malsham river."
This was just what Gilbert, happily for his own peace, could not bring
himself to believe. He was ready to confide in Mr. Medler as a model of
truth and honesty, rather than admit the possibility of Marian's death.
"We have this man Medler's positive assertion, that Mrs. Holbrook is with
her father, you see, Mr. Proul," he said doubtfully.
"_That_ for Medler's assertion!" exclaimed the detective contemptuously;
"there are lawyers in London who will assert anything for a
consideration. Let him produce the lady; and if he does produce her, I
give him leave to say that Thomas Henry Proul is incapable of his
business; or, putting it in vulgar English, that T.H.P. is a duffer. Of
course I shall carry out any business you like to trust me with, Mr.
Fenton, and carry it out thoroughly. I'll set a watch upon Mr. Medler's
offices, and I'll circumvent him by means of his clerk, if I can; but
it's my rooted conviction that Mrs. Holbrook never left Hampshire."
This was discouraging; and with that ready power to adapt itself to
circumstances which is a distinguishing characteristic of the human mind,
Gilbert Fenton began to entertain a very poor opinion of the worthy
Proul's judgment. But not knowing any better person whose aid he could
enlist in this business, he was fain to confide his chances of success to
that gentleman, and to wait with all patience for the issue of events.
Much of this dreary interval of perpetual doubt and suspense was spent
beside John Saltram's sick bed. There were strangely mingled feelings in
the watcher's breast; a pitying regret that struggled continually with
his natural anger; a tender remembrance of past friendship, which he
despised as a shameful weakness in his nature, but could not banish from
his mind, as he sat in the stillness of the sick-room, watching the
helpless creature who had once kept as faithful a vigil for him.
To John Saltram's recovery he looked also as to his best chance of
restoring Marian to her natural home. The influence that he himself was
powerless to bring to bear upon Percival Nowell's daughter might be
easily exerted by her husband.
"She was lured away from him, perhaps, by some specious lie of her
father's, some cruel slander of the husband. There had been bitter words
between them. Saltram has betrayed as much in his wandering talk; but to
the last there was no feeling but love for him in her heart. Ellen Carley
is my witness for that; nothing less than some foul lie could have
tempted her away from him."
In the meantime, pending the sick man's recovery, the grand point was to
discover the whereabouts of Marian and her father; and for this discovery
Gilbert was compelled to trust to the resources of the accomplished
Proul. So eager was he for the result, that if be could have kept a watch
upon Mr. Medler's office with his own eyes, he would have done so; but
this being out of the question, and the more prudent course a complete
avoidance of the lawyer's neighbourhood, he could only await the result
of his paid agent's researches, in the hope that Mr. Nowell was still in
London, and would have need of frequent communication with his late
father's solicitor. The first month of the year dragged itself slowly to
an end, and the great city underwent all those pleasing alternations,
from snow to mud, from the slipperiness of a city paved with plate-glass
to the sloppiness of a metropolis ankle-deep in a rich brown compound of
about the consistency and colour of mock-turtle soup, which are common
to great cities at this season; and still John Saltram lingered on in the
shabby solitude of his Temple chambers, slowly mending, Mr. Mew declared,
towards the end of the month, and in a fair way towards recovery. The
time came at last when the fevered mind began to cease from its perpetual
wanderings; when the weary brain, sorely enfeebled by its long interval
of unnatural activity, dropped suddenly into a state of calm that was
akin to apathy.
The change came with an almost alarming suddenness. It was at the
beginning of February, close upon the dead small hours of a bleak windy
night, and Gilbert was keeping watch alone in the sick-room, while the
professional nurse slept comfortably on the sofa in the sitting-room. It
was his habit now to spend the early part of the night in such duty as
this, and to go home to bed between four and five in the morning, at
which time the nurse was ready to relieve guard.
He had been listening to the dismal howling of the winds, threatening
damage to neighbouring chimney-pots of rickety constitution, and thinking
idly of the men that had come and gone amidst those old buildings, and
how few amongst them all had left any mark behind them; inclined to
speculate too how many of them had been men capable of better work than
they had done, only carelessly indifferent to the doing of it, like him
who lay on that bed yonder, with one muscular arm, powerful even in its
wasted condition, thrown wearily above his head, and an undefinable look,
that seemed half pain, half fatigue, upon his haggard face.
Suddenly, while Gilbert Fenton was meditating in this idle desultory
manner, the sleeper awakened, looked full at him, and called him by his
"Gilbert," he said very quietly, "is it really you?"
It was the first time, in all his long watches by that bed, that John
Saltram had recognised him. The sick man had talked of him often in his
delirium; but never before had he looked his former friend in the face
with one ray of recognition in his own. An indescribable thrill of pain
went through Gilbert's heart at the sound of that calm utterance of his
name. How sweet it would have been to him, what a natural thing it would
have seemed, to have fallen upon his old friend's breast and wept aloud
in the deep joy of this recovery! But they were friends no longer. He had
to remember how base a traitor this man had been to him.
"Yes, John, it is I."
"And you have been here for a long time. O God, how many months have I
been lying here? The time seems endless; and there have been so many
people round me--a crowd of strange faces--all enemies, all against me.
And people in the next room--that was the worst of all. I have never
seen them, but I have always known that they were there. They could not
deceive me as to that--hiding behind that door, and watching me as I lay
here. You might have turned them out, Gilbert," he added peevishly; "it
seems a hard thing that you could let them stay there to torment me."
"There has been no one in either of the rooms, John; no one but myself
and the hired nurse, the doctors, and Mrs. Pratt now and then. These
people have no existence out of your sick fancy. You have been, very ill,
delirious, for a long time. I thank God that your reason has been
restored to you; yes, I thank God with all my heart for that."
"Have I been mad?" the other asked.
"Your mind has wandered. But that has passed at last with the fever, as
the doctors hoped it might. You are calm now, and must try to keep
yourself quiet; there must be no more talk between us to-night."
The sick man took no notice of this injunction; but for the time was not
disobedient, and lay for some minutes staring at the watcher's face with
a strange half-vacant smile upon his own.
"Gilbert," he said at last, "what have they done with my wife? Why has
she been kept away from me?"
"Your wife? Marian?"
"Yes Marian. You know her name, surely. Did she know that I was ill, and
yet stayed away from me?"
"Was her place here, John Saltram?--that poor girl whom you married under
a false name, whom you tried to hide from all the world. Have you ever
brought her here? Have you ever given her a wife's license, or a wife's
place? How many lies have you not told to hide that which any honest man
would have been proud to confess to all the world?"
"Yes, I have lied to you about her, I have hidden my treasure. But it was
for your sake, Gilbert; it was for the sake of our old friendship. I
could not hear to lose you; I could not bear to stand revealed before you
as the weak wretch who betrayed your trust and stole your promised wife.
Yes, Gilbert, I have been guilty beyond all measure. I have looked you in
the face and told you lies. I wanted to keep you for my friend; I could
not stand the thought of a life-long breach between us. Gilbert, old
friend, have pity on me. I was weak--wicked, if you like--but I loved you
He stretched out his bony hand with an appealing gesture, but it was not
taken. Gilbert sat with his head turned away, his face hidden from the
"Anything would have been better than the course you chose," he said at
last in a very quiet voice. "If she loved you better than me--than me,
who would have thought it so small a thing to lay down my life for her
happiness, or to stand aloof and keep the secret of my broken heart while
I blest her as the cherished wife of another--if you had certain reason
to be sure she loved you, you should have asserted your right to claim
her love like a man, and should have been prompt to tell me the bitter
truth. I am a man, and would have borne the blow as a man should bear it.
But to sneak into my place behind my back, to steal her away from me, to
marry her under a false name--a step that might go far to invalidate the
marriage, by the way--and then leave me to piece-out the broken story,
syllable by syllable, to suffer all the torture of a prolonged suspense,
all the wasted passion of anger and revenge against an imaginary enemy,
to find at last that the man I had loved and trusted, honoured and
admired beyond all other men throughout the best years of my life, was
the man who had struck this secret blow--it was the conduct of a villain
and a coward, John Saltram. I have no words to speak my contempt for so
base a betrayal. And when I remember your pretended sympathy, your
friendly counsel--O God! it was the work of a social Judas; nothing was
wanted but the kiss."
"Yes," the other answered with a faint bitter laugh; "it was very bad.
Once having began, you see, it was but to add one lie to another.
Anything seemed better than to tell you the truth. I fancied your
devotion for Marian would wear itself out much sooner than it did--that
you would marry some one else; and then I thought, when you were happy,
and had forgotten that old fancy, I would have confessed the truth, and
told you it was your friend who was your rival. It might have seemed easy
to you to forgive me under those happier circumstances, and so our old
friendship might never have been broken. I waited for that, Gilbert.
Don't suppose that it was not painful to me to act so base a part; don't
suppose that I did not suffer. I did--in a hundred ways. You have seen
the traces of that slow torture in my face. In every way I had sinned
from my weak desire to win my love and yet keep my friend; and God knows
the burden of my sin has been heavy upon me. I will tell you some day--if
ever I am strong enough for so many words, and if you will hear me out
patiently--the whole story of my temptation; how I struggled against it,
and only gave way at last when life seemed insupportable to me without
the woman I loved."
After this he lay quiet again for some minutes, exhausted by having
spoken so long. All the factitious strength, which had made him loud and
violent in his delirium, was gone; he seemed as weak as a sick child.
"Where is she?" he asked at last; "why doesn't she come to me? You have
not answered that question."
"I have told you that her place is not here," Gilbert replied evasively.
"You have no right to expect her here, never having given her the right
"No; it is my own fault. She is in Hampshire still, I suppose. Poor girl,
I would give the world to see her dear face looking down at me. I must
get well and go back to her. When shall I be strong enough to
travel?--to-morrow, or if not to-morrow, the next day; surely the next
He raised himself in the bed in order to read the answer in Gilbert's
face, but fell back upon the pillows instantly, exhausted by the effort.
Memory had only returned to him in part. It was clear that he had
forgotten the fact of Marian's disappearance,--a fact of which he had
seemed half-conscious long ago in his delirium.
"How did you find out that Marian was my wife?" he asked presently, with
perfect calmness. "Who betrayed my secret?"
"Your own lips, in your delirious talk of her, which has been incessant;
and if collateral evidence were needed to confirm your words, this, which
I found the other day marking a place in your Shakespeare."
Gilbert took a scrap of ribbon from his breast, a ribbon with a blue
ground and a rosebud on it,--a ribbon which he had chosen himself for
Marian, in the brief happy days of their engagement.
John Saltram contemplated the scrap of colour with a smile that was half
sombre, half ironical.
"Yes, it was hers," he said; "she wore it round that slim swan's throat
of hers; and one morning, when I was leaving her in a particularly weak
frame of mind, I took it from her neck and brought it away in my bosom,
for the sake of having something about me that she had worn; and then I
put it in the book, you see, and forgot all about it. A fitting emblem of
my love--full of passion and fervour to-day, at the point of death
to-morrow. There have been times when I would have given the world to
undo what I had done, when my life seemed blighted by this foolish
marriage; and again, happier moments, when my wife was all the universe
to me, and I had not a thought or a dream beyond her. God bless her! You
will let me go to her, Gilbert, the instant I am able to travel, as soon
as I can drag myself anyhow from this bed to the railway? You will not
stand between me and my love?"
"No, John Saltram; God knows, I have never thought of that."
"And you knew I was a traitor--you knew it was my work that had destroyed
your scheme of happiness--and yet have been beside me, watching me
patiently through this wretched illness?"
"That was a small thing to do You did as much, and a great deal more,
for me, when I was ill in Egypt. It was a mere act of duty."
"Not of friendship. It was Christian charity, eh, Gilbert? If thine enemy
hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink; and so on. It was not the
act of a friend?"
"No, John Saltram, between you and me there can never again be any such
word as friendship. What little I have done for you I think I would have
done for a stranger, had I found a stranger as helpless and unfriended as
I found you. I am quite sure that to have done less would have been to
neglect a sacred duty. There is no question of obligation. Till you are
on your feet again, a strong man, I will stand by you; when that time
comes, we part for ever."
John Saltram sank back upon his pillow with a heavy sigh, but uttered no
protest against this sentence. And this was all that came of Gilbert's
vengeful passion against the man who had wronged him; this was the end of
a long-cherished anger. "A lame and impotent conclusion," perhaps, but
surely the only end possible under the circumstances. He could not wage
war against a feeble creature, whose hold on life was still an
uncertainty; he could not forget his promise to Marian, that no harm
should come to her husband through any act of his. So he sat quietly by
the bedside of his prostrate foe, watched him silently as he fell into a
brief restless slumber, and administered his medicine when he woke with a
hand that was as gentle as a woman's.
Between four and five o'clock the nurse came in from the next room to
take her place, refreshed by a sleep of several hours; and then Gilbert
departed in the chill gloom of the winter's morning, still as dark as
night,--departed with his mind lightened of a great load; for it had been
very terrible to him to think that the man who had once been his friend
might go down to the grave without an interval of reason.
A FULL CONFESSION.
Gilbert did not go to the Temple again till he had finished his day's
work at St. Helen's, and had eaten his modest dinner at a tavern in
Fleet-street. He found that Mr. Mew had already paid his second visit to
the sick-room, and had pronounced himself much relieved and delighted by
the favourable change.
"I have no fear now," he had said to the nurse. "It is now only a
question of getting back the physical strength, which has certainly
fallen to a very low ebb. Perfect repose and an entire freedom from care
are what we have to look to."
This the nurse told Gilbert. "He has been very restless all day," she
added, "though I've done what I could to keep him quiet. But he worries
himself, now that his senses have come back, poor gentleman; and it isn't
easy to soothe him any way. He keeps on wondering when he'll be well
enough to move, and so on, over and over again. Once, when I left the
room for a minute and went back again, I found him attempting to get out
of bed--only to try his strength, he said. But he's no more strength than
a new-born baby, poor soul, and it will be weeks before he's able to
stir. If he worries and frets, he'll put himself back for a certainty;
but I daresay you'll have more influence over him than I, sir, and that
you may be able to keep him quiet."
"I doubt that," answered Gilbert; "but I'll do my best. Has he been
"No, sir, not once; and of course that's a great thing gained."
A feeble voice from the inner room called Gilbert by name presently, and
he went in at its bidding.
"Is that you, Gilbert? Come in, for pity's sake. I was sure of the voice.
So you have come on your errand of charity once more. I am very glad to
see you, though you are not my friend. Sit down, ministering Christian,
sit by my side; I have some questions to ask you."
"You must not talk much, John. The doctor insists upon perfect
"He might just as well insist upon my making myself Emperor of all the
Russias; one demand would be about as reasonable as the other. How long
have I been lying here like a log--a troublesome log, by the way; for I
find from some hints the nurse dropped to-day as to the blessing of my
recovery, that I have been somewhat given to violence;--how long have I
been ill, Gilbert?"
"A very long time."
"Give me a categorical answer. How many weeks and days?"
"You were taken ill about the middle of December, and we are now in the
first week of February."
"Nearly two months; and in all that time I have been idle--_ergo_, no
remittances from publishers. How have I lived, Gilbert? How have the
current expenses of my illness been paid? And the children of
Israel--have they not been clamorous? There was a bill due in January, I
know. I was working for that when I got pulled up. How is it that my vile
carcass is not in their hands?"
"You need give yourself no trouble; the bill has been taken up."
"By you, of course? Yes; you do not deny it. And you have been spending
your money day by day to keep me alive. But then you would have done as
much for a stranger. Great heaven, what a mean hound I seem to myself, as
I lie here and think what you have done for me, and how I have acted
towards you!" He turned himself in his bed with a great effort, and lay
with his face to the wall. "Let me hide my face from you," he said; "I am
a shameful creature."
"Believe me, once more, there is not the faintest shadow of an
obligation," Gilbert responded eagerly; "I can very well afford anything
I have done; shall never feel myself the poorer for it by a sixpence. I
cannot bear that these things should be spoken of between us. You know
how often I have begged you to let me help you in the past, and how
wounded I have been by your refusal."
"Yes, when we were friends, before I had ever wronged you. If I had taken
your help then, I should hardly have felt the obligation. But, stay, I am
not such a pauper as I seem. My wife will have money; at least you told
me that the old man was rich."
"Yes, your wife will have money, plenty of money. You have no need to
trouble yourself about financial matters. You have only to consider what
the doctor has said. Your recovery depends almost entirely upon your
tranquillity of mind. If you want to get well speedily, you must remember
"I do want to get well. I am in a fever to get well; I want to see my
wife. But my recovery will be evidently a tedious affair. I cannot wait
to see her till I am strong enough to travel. Why should she not come to
me here? She can--she must come. Write to her, Gilbert; tell her how I
languish for her presence; tell her how ill I have been."
"Yes; I will write by and by."
"By and by! Your tone tells me that you do not mean what you say. There
is something you are keeping from me. O, my God, what was that happened
before I was ill? My wife was missing. I was hunting for her without rest
for nearly a week; and then they told me she was drowned, that there was
no hope of finding her. Was that real, Gilbert? or only a part of my
delirium? Speak to me, for pity's sake. Was it real?"
"Yes, John; your perplexity and trouble were real, but unnecessary; your
wife is safe."
"She is with her father."
"She did not even know that her father was living."
"No, not till very lately. He has come home from America, it seems, and
Marian is now under his protection."
"What! she could desert me without a word of warning--without the
faintest hint of her intention--to go to a father of whom she knew
nothing, or nothing that was not eminently to his discredit!"
"There may have been some strong influence brought to bear to induce her
to take such a step."
"Do not worry yourself about that now; make all haste to get well, and
then it will be easy for you to win her back."
"Yes; only place me face to face with her, and I do not think there would
be much question as to that. But that she should forsake me of her own
free will! It is so unlike my Marian--my patient, long-suffering Marian;
I can scarcely believe such a thing possible. But that question can soon
be put at rest. Write to her, Gilbert; tell her that I have been at
death's door; that my chance of recovery hangs upon her will. Father or
no father, _that_ will bring her to my side."
"I will do so, directly I know her address."
"You do not know where she is?"
"Not yet. I am expecting to obtain that information every day. I have
taken measures to ascertain where she is."
"And how do you know that she is with her father?"
"I have the lawyer's authority for that; a lawyer whom the old man, Jacob
Nowell, trusted, whom he left sole executor to his will."
It was necessary above all things that John Saltram's mind should be set
at rest; and in order to secure this result Gilbert was fain to affect a
supreme faith in Mr. Medler.
"You believe this man, Gilbert?" the invalid asked anxiously.
"Of course. He has no reason for deceiving me."
"But why withhold the father's address?"
"It is easy enough to conjecture his reasons for that; a dread of your
influence robbing him of his daughter. Her fortune has made her a prize
worth disputing, you see. It is natural enough that the father should
wish to hide her from you."
"For the sake of the money?--yes, I suppose that is the beginning and end
of his scheme. My poor girl! No doubt he has told her all manner of lies
about me, and so contrived to estrange that faithful heart. Will you
insert an advertisement in the _Times_, Gilbert, under initials, telling
her of my illness, and entreating her to come to me?"
"I will do so if you like; but I daresay Nowell will be cautious enough
to keep the advertisement-sheet away from her, or to watch it pretty
closely, and prevent her seeing anything we may insert. I am taking means
to find them, John I, must entreat you to rest satisfied with that."
"Rest satisfied,--when I am uncertain whether I shall ever see my wife
again! That is a hard thing to do."
"If you harass yourself, you will not live to see her again. Trust in me,
John; Marian's safety is as dear to me as it can be to you. I am her
sworn friend and brother, her self-appointed guardian and defender. I
have skilled agents at work; we shall find her, rely upon it."
It was a strange position into which Gilbert found himself drifting; the
consoler of this man who had so basely robbed him. They could never be
friends again, these two; he had told himself that, not once, but many
times during the weary hours of his watching beside John Saltram's
sick-bed. They could never more be friends; and yet he found himself in a
manner compelled to perform the offices of friendship. Nor was it easy to
preserve anything like the neutral standing which he had designed for
himself. The life of this sometime friend of his hung by so frail a link,
he had such utter need of kindness; so what could Gilbert do but console
him for the loss of his wife, and endeavour to inspire him with a hopeful
spirit about her? What could he do less than friendship would have done,
although his affection for this old friend of his youth had perished for
evermore? The task of consolation was not an easy one. Once restored to
his right mind, with a vivid sense of all that had happened to him before
his illness, John Saltram was not to be beguiled into a false security.
The idea that his wife was in dangerous hands pursued him perpetually,
and the consciousness of his own impotence to rescue her goaded him to a
kind of mental fever.
"To be chained here, Gilbert, lying on this odious bed like a dog, when
she needs my help! How am I to bear it?"
"Like a man," the other answered quietly. "Were you as well as I am this
moment, there's nothing you could do that I am not doing. Do you think I
should sit idly here, if the best measures had not been taken to find
"Forgive me. Yes; I have no doubt you have done what is best. But if I
were astir, I should have the sense of doing something. I could urge on
those people you employ, work with them even."
"You would be more likely to hinder than to assist them. They know their
work, and it is a slow drudging business at best, which requires more
patience than you possess. No, John, there is nothing to be done but to
wait, and put our trust in Providence and in time."
This was a sermon which Gilbert Fenton had occasion to preach very often
in the slow weary days that followed John Saltram's recovery of his right
senses. The sick man, tossing to and fro upon the bed he loathed with
such an utter loathing, could not refrain from piteous bewailings of his
helplessness. He was not a good subject for sickness, had never served
his apprenticeship to a sick-bed until now, and the ordeal seemed to him
a very long one. In all that period of his delirious wanderings there had
been an exaggerated sense of time in his mind. It seemed to him that he
had been lying there for years, lost in a labyrinth of demented fancies.
Looking back at that time, now that his reason had been restored to him,
he was able to recall his delusions one by one, and it was very difficult
for him to understand, even now, that they were all utterly groundless,
the mere vagabondage of a wandering brain; that the people he had fancied
close at hand, lurking in the next room--he had rarely seen them close
about his bed, but had been possessed with a vivid sense of their
neighbourhood--had been never near him; that the old friends and
associates of his boyhood, who had been amongst these fancied visitors,
were for the greater number dead and passed away long before this time;
that he had been, in every dream and every fancy of that weary interval,
the abject slave of his own hallucinations. Little by little his strength
came back to him by very slow degrees--so slowly, indeed, that the
process of recovery might have sorely tried the patience of any man less
patient than Gilbert. There came a day at last when the convalescent was
able to leave his bed for an hour or so, just strong enough to crawl into
the sitting-room with the help of Gilbert's arm, and to sit in an
easy-chair, propped up by pillows, very feeble of aspect, and with a wan
haggard countenance that pleaded mutely for pity. It was impossible to
harbour revengeful feelings against a wretch so stricken.
Mr. Mew was much elated by this gradual improvement in his patient, and
confessed to Gilbert, in private, that he had never hoped for so happy a
result. "Nothing but an iron constitution, and your admirable care, could
have carried our friend through such an attack, sir," he said decisively.
"And now that we are getting round a little, we must have change of
air--change of air and of scene; that is imperatively necessary. Mr.
Saltram talks of a loathing for these rooms; very natural under the
circumstances. We must take him away directly he can bear the removal."
"I rather doubt his willingness to stir," Gilbert answered, thoughtfully.
"He has anxieties that are likely to chain him to London."
"If there is any objection of that kind it must be conquered," Mr. Mew
said. "A change will do your friend more good than all the physic I can
"Where would you advise me to take him?"
"Not very far. He couldn't stand the fatigue of a long journey. I should
take him to some quiet little place near town--the more countrified the
better. It isn't a very pleasant season for the country; but in spite of
that, the change will do him good."
Gilbert promised to effect this arrangement, as soon as the patient was
well enough to be moved. He would run down to Hampton or Kingston, he
told Mr. Mew, in a day or two, and look for suitable lodgings.
"Hampton or Kingston by all means," replied the surgeon cheerily. "Both
very pleasant places in their way, and as mild as any neighbourhood
within easy reach of town. Don't go too near the water, and be sure your
rooms are dry and airy--that's the main point. We might move him early
next week, I fancy; if we get him up for an hour or two every day in the
Gilbert had kept Mrs. Branston very well informed as to John Saltram's
progress, and that impetuous little woman had sent a ponderous retainer
of the footman species to the Temple daily, laden now with hothouse
grapes, and anon with dainty jellies, clear turtle-soups, or delicate
preparations of chicken, blancmanges and iced drinks; the conveyance
whereof was a sore grievance to the ponderous domestic, in spite of all
the aid to be derived from a liberal employment of cabs. Adela Branston
had sent these things in defiance of her outraged kinswoman, Mrs.
Pallinson, who was not slow to descant upon the impropriety of such a
"I wonder you can talk in such a way, when you know how friendless this
poor Mr. Saltram is, and how little trouble it costs me to do as much as
this for him. But I daresay the good Samaritan had some one at home who
objected to the waste of that twopence he paid for the poor traveller."
Mrs. Pallinson gave a little shriek of horror on hearing this allusion,
and protested against so profane a use of the gospel.
"But the gospel was meant to be our guide in common things, wasn't it,
Mrs. Pallinson? However, there's not the least use in your being angry;
for I mean to do what I can for Mr. Saltram, and there's no one in the
world could turn me from my intention."
"Indeed!" cried the elder lady, indignantly; "and when he recovers you
mean to marry him, I daresay. You will be weak enough to throw away your
fortune upon a profligate and a spendthrift, a man who is certain to make
any woman miserable."
And hereupon there arose what Sheridan calls "a very pretty quarrel"
between the two ladies, which went very near to end in Mrs. Pallinson's
total withdrawal from Cavendish-square. Very nearly, but not quite, to
that agreeable consummation did matters proceed; for, on the very verge
of the final words which could have spoken the sentence of separation,
Mrs. Pallinson was suddenly melted, and declared that nothing, no
outrage of her feelings--"and heaven knows how they have been trodden on
this day," the injured matron added in parenthesis--should induce her to
desert her dearest Adela. And so there was a hollow peace patched up, and
Mrs. Branston felt that the blessings of freedom, the delightful relief
of an escape from Pallinsonian influences, were not yet to be hers.
Directly she heard from Gilbert that change of air had been ordered for
the patient, she was eager to offer her villa near Maidenhead for his
accommodation. "The house is always kept in apple-pie order," she wrote
to Gilbert; "and I can send down more servants to make everything
comfortable for the invalid."
"I know he is fond of the place," she added in conclusion, after setting
out all the merits of the villa with feminine minuteness; "at least I
know he used to like it, and I think it would please him to get well
there. I can only say that it would make _me_ very happy; so do arrange
it, dear Mr. Fenton, if possible, and oblige yours ever faithfully, ADELA
"Poor little woman," murmured Gilbert, as he finished the letter. "No; we
will not impose upon her kindness; we will go somewhere else. Better for
her that she should see and hear but little of John Saltram for all time
to come; and then the foolish fancy will wear itself out perhaps, and she
may live to be a happy wife yet; unless she, too, is afflicted with the
fatal capability of constancy. Is that such a common quality, I wonder?
are there many so luckless as to love once and once only, and who,
setting all their hopes upon one cast, lose all if that be fatal?"
Gilbert told John Saltram of Mrs. Branston's offer, which he was as
prompt to decline as Gilbert himself had been. "It is like her to wish
it," he said; "but no, I should feel myself a double traitor and impostor
under her roof. I have done her wrong enough already. If I could have
loved her, Gilbert, all might have been well for you and me. God knows I
tried to love her, poor little woman; and she is just the kind of woman
who might twine herself about any man's heart--graceful, pretty,
gracious, tender, bright and intelligent enough for any man; and not too
clever. But _my_ heart she never touched. From the hour I saw that
_other_, I was lost. I will tell you all about that some day. No; we will
not go to the villa. Write and give Mrs. Branston my best thanks for the
generous offer, and invent some excuse for declining it; that's a good
By-and-by, when the letter was written, John Saltram said,--"I do not
want to go out of town at all, Gilbert. It's no use for the doctor to
talk; I can't leave London till we have news of Marian."
Gilbert had been prepared for this, and set himself to argue the point
with admirable patience. Mr. Proul's work would go on just as well, he
urged, whether they were in London or at Hampton. A telegram would bring
them any tidings as quickly in the one place as the other. "I am not
asking you to go far, remember," he added. "You will be within an hour's
journey of London, and the doctors declare this change is indispensable
to your recovery. You have told us what a horror you have of these
"Yes; I doubt if any one but a sick man can understand his loathing of
the scene of his illness. That room in there is filled with the shadows
that haunted me in all those miserable nights--when the fever was at its
worst, and I lived amidst a crowd of phantoms. Yes, I do most profoundly
hate that room. As for this matter of change of air, Gilbert, dispose of
me as you please; my worthless existence belongs to you."
Gilbert was quick to take advantage of this concession. He went down to
Hampton next day, and explored the neighbourhood on both sides of the
Thames. His choice fell at last on a pretty little house within a stone's
throw of the Palace gates, the back windows whereof looked out upon the
now leafless solitude of Bushy Park, and where there was a
comfortable-looking rosy-faced landlady, whose countenance was very
pleasant to contemplate after the somewhat lachrymose visage of Mrs.
Pratt. Here he found he could have all the accommodation he required, and
hither he promised to bring the invalid early in the following week.
There were as yet no tidings worth speaking of from Mr. Proul. That
distinguished member of the detective profession waited upon Gilbert
Fenton with his budget twice a week, but the budget was a barren one. Mr.
Proul's agent pronounced Mr. Medler's clerk the toughest individual it
had ever been his lot to deal with. No amount of treating at the
public-house round the corner--and the agent had ascended from the
primitive simplicity of a pint of porter to the highest flights in the
art of compound liquors--could exert a softening influence upon that
rigid nature. Either the clerk knew nothing about Percival Nowell, or had
been so well schooled as to disclose nothing of what he knew. Money had
been employed by the agent, as well as drink, as a means of temptation;
but even every insidious hint of possible gains had failed to move the
ill-paid underling to any revelation.
"It's my belief the man knows nothing, or else I should have had it out
of him by hook or by crook," Mr. Proul's agent told him, and Mr. Proul
repeated to his client.
This first agent having thus come to grief, and having perhaps made
himself a suspected person in the eyes of the Medler office by his
manoeuvres, a second spy had been placed to keep close watch upon the
house, and to follow any person who at all corresponded with the
detective idea of Mr. Nowell. It could be no more than an idea,
unfortunately, since Gilbert had been able to give the accomplished Proul
no description of the man he wanted to trace. Above all, the spy was to
take special note of any lady who might be seen to enter or leave the
office, and to this end he was furnished with a close description of
Gilbert called upon Mrs. Branston before carrying John Saltram out of
town; he fancied that her offer of the Maidenhead villa would be better
acknowledged personally than by a letter. He found the pretty little
widow sorely disappointed by Mr. Saltram's refusal to occupy her house,
and it was a little difficult to explain to her why they both preferred
other quarters for the convalescent.
"Why will he not accept the smallest favour from me?" Adela Branston
asked plaintively. "He ought to know that there is no _arriere pensee_ in
any offer which I make him--that I have no wish except for his welfare.
Why does he not trust me a little more?"
"He will do so in future, I think, Mrs. Branston," Gilbert answered
gravely. "I fancy he has learned the folly and danger of all underhand
policy, and that he will put more faith in his friends for the rest of
"And he is really much better, quite out of danger? Do the doctors say
"He is as much out of danger as a man can well be whose strength has all
been wasted in a perilous illness. He has that to regain yet, and the
recovery will be slow work. Of course in his condition a relapse would be
fatal; but there is no occasion to apprehend a relapse."
"Thank heaven for that! And you will take care of him, Mr. Fenton, will
"I will do my very best. He saved my life once; so you see that I owe him
The invalid was conveyed to Hampton on a bright February day, when there
was an agreeable glimpse of spring sunshine. He went down by road in a
hired brougham, and the journey seemed a long one; but it was an
unspeakable relief to John Saltram to see the suburban roads and green
fields after the long imprisonment of the Temple,--a relief that moved
him almost to tears in his extreme weakness.
"Could you believe that a man would be so childish, Gilbert?" he said
apologetically. "It might have been a good thing for me to have died in
that dismal room, for heaven only knows what heavy sorrow lies before me
in the future. Yet the eight of these common things touches me more
keenly than all the glory of the Jungfrau touched me ten years ago. What
a gay bright-looking world it is! And yet how many people are happy in
it? how many take the right road? I suppose there is a right road by
which we all might travel, if we only knew how to choose it."
He felt the physical weariness of the journey acutely, but uttered no
complaint throughout the way; though Gilbert could see the pale face
growing paler, the sunken cheeks more pinched of aspect, as they went on.
To the last he pronounced himself delighted by that quiet progress
through the familiar landscape; and then having reached his destination,
had barely strength to totter to a comfortable chintz-covered sofa in the
bright-looking parlour, where he fainted away. The professional nurse had
been dismissed before they left London, and Gilbert was now the invalid's
only attendant. The woman had performed her office tolerably well, after
the manner of her kind; but the presence of a sick nurse is not a
cheering influence, and John Saltram was infinitely relieved by her
"How good you are to me, Gilbert!" he said, that first evening of his
sojourn at Hampton, after he had recovered from his faint, and was lying
on the sofa sipping a cup of tea. "How good! and yet you are my friend no
longer; all friendship is at an end between us. Well, God knows I am as
helpless as that man who fell among thieves; I cannot choose but accept
AN ILL-OMENED WEDDING.
After that promise wrung from her by such a cruel agony, that fatal bond
made between her and Stephen Whitelaw, Ellen Carley's life seemed to
travel past her as if by some enchantment. Time lost its familiar
sluggishness; the long industrious days, that had been so slow of old,
flew by the bailiff's daughter like the shadows from a magic-lantern. At
the first, after that desperate miserable day upon which the hateful
words were uttered that were to bind her for life to a detested master,
the girl had told herself that something must happen to prevent the
carrying out of this abhorrent bargain. Something would happen. She had a
vague faith that Providence would interfere somehow to save her. Day
after day she looked into her father's face, thinking that from him,
perhaps, might come some sign of wavering, some hint of possible release.
Vain hope. The bailiff having exacted the sacrifice, pretended to think
his daughter's welfare secured by that very act. He did not hesitate to
congratulate her on her good fortune, and to protest, with an accustomed
oath, that there was not a sensible woman in England who would not envy
her so excellent a match. Once poor Ellen, always impetuous and
plain-spoken, lost all patience with him, and asked how he dared to say
"You know that I hate this man, father!" she cried passionately; "and
that I hate myself for what I am going to do. You know that I have
promised to be his wife for your sake, for your sake only; and that if I
could have saved you from disgrace by giving you my life, I should have
done it gladly to escape this much greater sacrifice. Never speak to me
about Stephen Whitelaw again, father, unless you want to drive me mad.
Let me forget what sin I am going to commit, if I can; let me go on
It was to be observed that from the hour, of her betrothal. Ellen Carley
as far as possible avoided her father's companionship. She worked more
busily than ever about the big old house, was never tired of polishing
the little-used furniture and dusting the tenantless bed-chambers; she
seemed, indeed, to be infected with Mrs. Tadman's passion for superhuman
cleanliness. To her dairy duties also she devoted much more time than of
old; anything to escape the parlour, where her father sat idle for a
considerable portion of the day, smoking his pipe, and drinking rather
more than was good for him. Nor did Mr. Carley, for his part, appear to
dislike this tacit severance between his daughter and himself. As the
foolish young woman chose to accept good fortune in a perverse spirit, it
was well that they two should see as little of each other as possible.
Every evening found Mr. Whitelaw a punctual visitor in the snug panelled
parlour, and at such times the bailiff insisted upon his daughter's
presence; she was obliged to sit there night after night, stitching
monotonously at some unknown calico garment--which might well from the
state of mind of the worker have been her winding-sheet; or darning one
of an inexhaustible basket of woollen stockings belonging to her father.
It was her irksome duty to be there, ready to receive any awkward
compliment of her silent lover's, ready to acquiesce meekly in his talk
of their approaching wedding. But at all other times Mr. Carley was more
than content with her absence.
At first the bailiff had made a feeble attempt to reconcile his daughter
to her position by the common bribe of fine clothes. He had extorted a
sum of money from Stephen Whitelaw for this purpose, and had given that
sum, or a considerable part of it, to his daughter, bidding her expend it
upon her wedding finery. The girl took the money, and spent a few pounds
upon the furbishing-up of her wardrobe, which was by no means an
extensive one; but the remaining ten-pound note she laid by in a secret
place, determined on no account to break in upon it.
"The time may come when all my life will depend upon the possession of a
few pounds," she said to herself; "when I may have some chance of setting
myself free from that man."
She had begun to contemplate such a possibility already, before her
wedding-day. It was for her father's sake she was going to sell her
liberty, to take upon herself a bondage most odious to her. The time
might come when her father would be beyond the reach of shame and
disgrace, when she might find some manner of escape from her slavery.
In the meantime the days hurried on, and Providence offered her no
present means of rescue. The day of doom came nearer and nearer; for the
bailiff took part with his future son-in-law, and would hear of no
reasons which Ellen could offer for delay. He was eager to squeeze the
farmer's well-filled purse a little tighter, and he fancied he might do
this when his daughter was Stephen Whitelaw's wife. So suitor and father
were alike pitiless, and the wedding was fixed for the 10th of March.
There were no preparations to be made at Wyncomb Farmhouse. Mr. Whitelaw
did not mean to waste so much as a five-pound note upon the embellishment
of those barely-furnished rooms in honour of his bright young bride;
although Mrs. Tadman urged upon him the necessity of new muslin curtains
here, and new dimity there, a coat or so of paint and new whitewash in
such and such rooms, and other small revivals of the same character; not
sorry to be able to remind him in this indirect manner that marriage was
an expensive thing.
"A young woman like that will expect to see things bright and cheerful
about her," said Mrs. Tadman, in her most plausible tone, and rubbing her
thin hands with an air of suppressed enjoyment. "If you were going to
marry a person of your own age, it would be different, of course; but
young women have such extravagant notions. I could see Miss Carley did
not think much of the furniture when I took her over the house on
new-year's-day. She said the rooms looked gloomy, and that some of them
gave her the horrors, and so on. If you don't have the place done up a
bit at first, you'll have to get it done at last, depend upon it; a young
wife like that will make the money spin, you may be sure."
"Will she?" said Mr. Whitelaw, with a satisfied grin. "That's my
look-out. I don't think you've had very much chance of making my money
spin, eh, Mrs. Tadman?"
The widow cast up her hands and eyes towards the ceiling of the parlour
where they were sitting.
"Goodness knows I've had precious little chance of doing that, Stephen
Whitelaw," she replied.
"I should reckon not; and my wife will have about as much."
There was some cold comfort in this. Mrs. Tadman had once hoped that if
her cousin ever exalted any woman to the proud position of mistress of
Wyncomb, she herself would be that favoured individual; and it was a hard
thing to see a young person, who had nothing but a certain amount of good
looks to recommend her, raised to that post of honour in her stead. It
was some consolation, therefore, to discover that the interloper was to
reign with very limited powers, and that none of the privileges or
indulgences usually granted to youthful brides by elderly bridegrooms
were to be hers. It was something, too, for Mrs. Tadman to be allowed to
remain beneath the familiar shelter of that gloomy old house, and this
boon had been granted to her at Ellen's express request.
"I suppose she's going to turn lazy as soon as she's married, or she
wouldn't have wanted to keep you," the farmer said in rather a sulky
manner, after he had given Mrs. Tadman his gracious permission to remain
in his service. "But if she is, we must find some way of curing her of
that. I don't want a fine lady about _my_ place. There's the dairy, now;
we might do more in that way, I should think, and get more profit out of
butter-making than we do by sending part of the milk up to London. Butter
fetches a good price now-a-days from year's end to year's end, and Ellen
is a rare hand at a dairy; I know that for certain."
Thus did Mr. Whitelaw devote his pretty young wife to an endless prospect
of butter-making. He had no intention that the alliance should be an
unprofitable one, and he was already scheming how he might obtain some
indirect kind of interest for that awful sum of two hundred pounds
advanced to William Carley.
Sir David Forster had not come to make that threatened investigation of
things at the Grange. Careless always in the management of his affairs,
the receipt of a handsome sum of money from the bailiff had satisfied
him, and he had suffered his suspicions to be lulled to rest for the time
being, not caring to undertake the trouble of a journey to Hampshire, and
an examination of dry business details.
It was very lucky for Mr. Carley that his employer was so easy and
indolent a master; for there were many small matters at the Grange which
would have hardly borne inspection, and it would have been difficult for
Sir David to come there without making some discovery to his bailiff's
disadvantage. The evil day had been warded off, however, by means of
Stephen Whitelaw's money, and William Carley meant to act more
cautiously, more honestly even, in future. He would keep clear of
race-courses and gambling booths, he told himself, and of the kind of men
who had beguiled him into dishonourable dealing.
"I have had an uncommon narrow squeak of it," he muttered to himself
occasionally, as he smoked a meditative pipe, "and have been as near
seeing the inside of Portland prison as ever a man was. But it'll be a
warning to me in future. And yet who could have thought that things would
have gone against me as they did? There was Sir Philip Christopher's bay
colt Pigskin, for instance; that brute was bound to win."
February came to an end; and when March once began, there seemed no pause