Part 8 out of 10
or breathing-time for Ellen Carley till the 10th. And yet she had little
business to occupy her during those bleak days of early spring. It was
the horror of that rapid flight of time, which seemed independent of her
own life in its hideous swiftness. Idle or busy, it was all the same. The
days would not linger for her; the dreaded 10th was close at hand.
Frank Randall was still in London, in that solicitor's office--a firm of
some standing in the City--to which he had gone on leaving his father. He
had written two or three times to Ellen since he left Hampshire, and she
had answered his letters secretly; but pleasant though it was to her to
hear from him, she begged him not to write, as her father's anger would
be extreme if a letter should by any evil chance fall into his hands. So
within the last few months there had been no tidings of Ellen's absent
lover, and the girl was glad that it was so. What could she have said to
him if she had been compelled to tell him of her engagement to Stephen
Whitelaw? What excuse could she have made for marrying a man about whom
she had been wont to express herself to Frank Randall in most unequivocal
terms? Excuse there was none, since she could not betray her father. It
was better, therefore, that young Randall should hear of her marriage in
the common course of things, and that he should think of her just as
badly as he pleased. This was only one more poisoned drop in a cup that
was all bitterness.
"He will believe that I was a hypocrite at heart always," the unhappy
girl said to herself, "and that I value Stephen Whitelaw's money more
than his true heart--that I can marry a man I despise and dislike for the
sake of being rich. What can he think worse of me than that? and how can
he help thinking that? He knows that I have a good spirit of my own, and
that my father could not make me do anything against my will. He will
never believe that this marriage has been all my father's doing."
The wedding morning came at last, bright and spring-like, with a sun that
shone as gaily as if it had been lighting the happiest union that was
ever recorded in the hymeneal register. There were the first rare
primroses gleaming star-like amidst the early greenery of high grassy
banks in solitary lanes about Crosber, and here and there the tender blue
of a violet. It would have seemed a very fair morning upon which to
begin the first page in the mystic volume of a new life, if Ellen Carley
had been going to marry a man she loved; but no hapless condemned wretch
who ever woke to see the sun shining upon the day of his execution could
have been more profoundly wretched than the bailiff's daughter, as she
dressed herself mechanically in her one smart silk gown, and stood in a
kind of waking trance before the quaint old-fashioned looking-glass which
reflected her pale hopeless face. She had no girlish companion to assist
in that dismal toilet. Long ago there had been promises exchanged between
Ellen Carley and her chosen friend, the daughter of a miller who lived a
little way on the other side of Crosber, to the effect that whichever was
first to marry should call upon the other to perform the office of
bridesmaid; and Sarah Peters, the miller's daughter, was still single and
eligible for the function. But there was to be no bridesmaid at this
blighted wedding. Ellen had pleaded urgently that things might be
arranged as quietly as possible; and the master of Wyncomb, who hated
spending money, and who apprehended that the expenses of any festivity
would in all probability fall upon his own shoulders, was very well
pleased to assent to this request of his betrothed.
"Quite right, Nell," he said; "we don't want any foolish fuss, or a pack
of people making themselves drunk at our expense. You and your father can
come quietly to Crosber church, and Mrs. Tadman and me will meet you
there, and the thing's done. The marriage wouldn't be any the tighter if
we had a hundred people looking on, and the Bishop of Winchester to read
It was arranged in this manner, therefore; and on that pleasant spring
morning William Carley and his daughter walked to the quiet village where
Gilbert Fenton had discovered the secret of Marian's retreat. The face
under the bride's little straw bonnet was deadly pale, and the features
had a rigid look that was new to them. The bailiff glanced at his
daughter in a furtive way every now and then, with an uneasy sense of
this strange look in her face. Even in his brute nature there were some
faint twinges of compunction, now that the deed he had been so eager to
compass was well-nigh done--some vague consciousness that he had been a
hard and cruel father.
"And yet it's all for her own good," he told himself, "quite as much as
for mine. Better to marry a rich man than a pauper any day; and to take a
dislike to a man's age or a man's looks is nothing but a girl's nonsense.
The best husband is the one that can keep his wife best; and if I hadn't
forced on this business, she'd have taken up with lawyer Randall's son,
who's no better than a beggar, and a pretty life she'd have had of it
By such reasoning as this William Carley contrived to set his conscience
at rest during that silent walk along the rustic lane between the Grange
and Crosber church. It was not a conscience very difficult to appease.
And as for his daughter's pallid looks, those of course were only natural
to the occasion.
Mr. Whitelaw and Mrs. Tadman were at the church when the bailiff and his
daughter arrived. The farmer had made a scarecrow of himself in a new
suit of clothes, which he had ordered in honour of this important event,
after a great deal of vacillation, and more than one countermand to the
Malsham tailor who made the garments. At the last he was not quite clear
in his mind as to whether he wanted the clothes, and the outlay was a
serious one. Mrs. Tadman had need to hold his every-day coat up to the
light to convince him that the collar was threadbare, and that the
sleeves shone as if purposely polished by some ingenious process.
"Marriage is an expensive thing," she told him again, with a sigh; "and
young girls expect to see a man dressed ever so smart on his
"I don't care for her expectations," Mr. Whitelaw muttered, in reply to
this remark; "and if I don't want the clothes, I won't have 'em. Do you
think I could get over next Christmas with them as I've got?"
Mrs. Tadman said "No" in a most decisive manner. Perhaps she derived a
malicious pleasure from the infliction of that tailor's bill upon her
cousin Whitelaw. So the new suit had been finally ordered; and Stephen
stood arrayed therein before the altar-rails in the gray old church at
Crosber, a far more grotesque and outrageous figure to contemplate than
any knight templar, or bearded cavalier of the days of the first English
James, whose effigies were to be seen in the chancel. Mrs. Tadman stood a
little way behind him, in a merino gown, and a new bonnet, extorted
somehow from the reluctant Stephen. She was full of smiles and cordial
greetings for the bride, who did not even see her. Neither did Ellen
Carley see the awkward figure of her bridegroom. A mist was before her
eyes, as if there had been an atmosphere of summer blight or fog in the
village church. She knelt, or rose, as her prayer-book taught her, and
went through the solemn service as placidly as if she had been a wondrous
piece of mechanism constructed to perform such movements; and then, like
a creature in a dream, she found herself walking out of the church
presently, with her hand on Stephen Whitelaw's arm. She had a faint
consciousness of some ceremony in the vestry, where it had taken Stephen
a long time to sign his name in the register, and where the clergyman had
congratulated him upon his good fortune in having won for himself such a
pretty young wife; but it was all more or less like a dreadful
oppressive dream. Mr. Whitelaw's chaise-cart was waiting for them; and
they all four got in, and drove at once to Wyncomb; where there was
another ponderous dinner, very much like the banquet of new-year's-day,
and where the bailiff drank freely, after his wont, and grew somewhat
uproarious towards tea-time, though Mr. Whitelaw's selections of port and
sherry were not of a kind to tempt a connoisseur.
There was to be no honeymoon trip. Stephen Whitelaw did not understand
the philosophy of running away from a comfortable home to spend money in
furnished lodgings; and he had said as much, when the officious Tadman
suggested a run to Weymouth, or Bournemouth, or a fortnight in the Isle
of Wight. To Ellen it was all the same where the rest of her life should
be spent. It could not be otherwise than wretched henceforward, and the
scene of her misery mattered nothing. So she uttered no complaint because
her husband brought her straight home to Wyncomb Farmhouse, and her
wedded life began in that dreary dwelling-place.
A DOMESTIC MYSTERY.
It was near the end of March, but still bleak cold weather. Ellen Carley
had been married something less than a fortnight, and had come to look
upon the dismal old farm-house by the river with a more accustomed eye
than when Mrs. Tadman had taken her from room to room on a journey of
inspection. Not that the place seemed any less dreary and ugly to her
to-day than it had seemed at the very first. Familiarity could not make
it pleasant. She hated the house and everything about and around it, as
she hated her husband, with a rooted aversion, not to be subdued by any
endeavour which she might make now and then--and she did honestly make
such endeavour--to arrive at a more Christian-like frame of mind.
Notwithstanding this deeply-seated instinctive dislike to all her
surroundings, she endured her fate quietly, and did her duty with a
patient spirit which might fairly be accepted as an atonement for those
inward rebellious feelings which she could not conquer. Having submitted
to be the scapegoat of her father's sin, she bore her burden very calmly,
and fulfilled the sacrifice without any outward mark of martyrdom.
She went about the work of the farm-house with a resolute active air that
puzzled Mrs. Tadman, who had fully expected the young wife would play the
fine lady, and leave all the drudgery of the household to her. But it
really seemed as if Ellen liked hard work. She went from one task to
another with an indefatigable industry, an energy that never gave way.
Only when the day's work in house and dairy was done did her depression
of spirits become visible. Then, indeed, when all was finished, and she
sat down, neatly dressed for the afternoon, in the parlour with Mrs.
Tadman, it was easy to see how utterly hopeless and miserable this young
wife was. The pale fixed face, the listless hands clasped loosely in her
lap, every attitude of the drooping figure, betrayed the joyless spirit,
the broken heart. At these times, when they were alone together, waiting
Stephen Whitelaw's coming home to tea, Mrs. Tadman's heart, not entirely
hardened by long years of self-seeking, yearned towards her kinsman's
wife; and the secret animosity with which she had at first regarded her
changed to a silent pity, a compassion she would fain have expressed in
some form or other, had she dared.
But she could not venture to do this. There was something in the girl, a
quiet air of pride and self-reliance, in spite of her too evident
sadness, which forbade any overt expression of sympathy; so Mrs. Tadman
could only show her friendly feelings in a very small way, by being
especially active and brisk in assisting all the household labours of the
new mistress of Wyncomb, and by endeavouring to cheer her with such petty
gossip as she was able to pick up. Ellen felt that the woman was kindly
disposed towards her, and she was not ungrateful; but her heart was quite
shut against sympathy, her sorrow was too profound to be lightened ever
so little by human friendship. It was a dull despair, a settled
conviction that for her life could never have again a single charm, that
her days must go on in their slow progress to the grave unlightened by
one ray of sunshine, her burden carried to the end of the dreary journey
unrelieved by one hour of respite. It seemed very hard for one so young,
not quite three-and-twenty yet, to turn her back upon every hope of
happiness, to be obliged to say to herself, "For me the sun can never
shine again, the world I live in can never more seem beautiful, or
beautiful only in bitter contrast to my broken heart." But Ellen told
herself that this fate was hers, and that she must needs face it with a
The household work employed her mind in some measure, and kept her, more
or less, from thinking; and it was for this reason she worked with such
unflinching industry, just as she had worked in the last month or two at
the Grange, trying to shut her eyes to that hateful future which lay so
close before her. Mr. Whitelaw had no reason to retract what he had said
in his pride of heart about Ellen Carley's proficiency in the dairy. She
proved herself all that he had boasted, and the dairy flourished under
the new management. There was more butter, and butter of a superior
quality, sent to market than under the reign of Mrs. Tadman; and the
master of Wyncomb made haste to increase his stock of milch cows, in
order to make more money by this branch of his business. To have won for
himself a pretty young wife, who, instead of squandering his substance,
would help him to grow richer, was indeed a triumph, upon which Mr.
Whitelaw congratulated himself with many a suppressed chuckle as he went
about his daily labours, or jogged slowly home from market in his
As to his wife's feelings towards himself, whether those were cold
indifference or hidden dislike, that was an abstruse and remote question
which Mr. Whitelaw never took the trouble to ask himself. She was his
wife. He had won her, that was the grand point; whatever disinclination
she might have felt for the alliance, whatever love she might have
cherished for another, had been trampled down and subjugated, and he,
Stephen Whitelaw, had obtained the desire of his heart. He had won her,
against that penniless young jackanapes, lawyer Randall's son, who had
treated him with marked contempt on more than one occasion when they
happened to come across each other in Malsham Corn-exchange, which was
held in the great covered quadrangular courtyard of the chief inn at
Malsham, and was a popular lounge for the inhabitants of that town. He
had won her; her own sentiments upon the subject of this marriage were of
very little consequence. He had never expected to be loved by his wife,
his own ideas of that passion called love being of the vaguest; but he
meant to be obeyed by her. She had begun well, had taken her new duties
upon herself in a manner that gladdened his sordid soul; and although
they had been married nearly a fortnight, she had given no hint of a
desire to know the extent of his wealth, or where he kept any little
hoard of ready money that he might have by him in the house. Nor on
market-day had she expressed any wish to go with him to Malsham to spend
money on drapery; and he had an idea, sedulously cultivated by Mrs.
Tadman, that young women were perpetually wanting to spend money at
drapers' shops. Altogether, that first fortnight of his married life had
been most satisfactory, and Mr. Whitelaw was inclined to regard matrimony
as a wise and profitable institution.
The day's work was done, and Ellen was sitting with Mrs. Tadman in the
every-day parlour, waiting for the return of her lord and master from
Malsham. It was not a market-day, but Stephen Whitelaw had announced at
dinner-time that he had an appointment at Malsham, and had set out
immediately after dinner in the chaise-cart, much to the wonderment of
Mrs. Tadman, who was an inveterate gossip, and never easy until she
arrived at the bottom of any small household mystery. She wondered not a
little also at Ellen's supreme indifference to her husband's proceedings.
"I can't for the life of me think what's taken him to Malsham to-day,"
she said, as she plied her rapid knitting-needles in the manufacture of a
gray-worsted stocking. "I haven't known him go to Malsham, except of a
market-day, not once in a twelvemonth. It must be a rare business to take
him there in the middle of the week; for he can't abide to leave the farm
in working-hours, except when he's right down obliged to it. Nothing goes
on the same when his back's turned, he says; there's always something
wrong. And if it was an appointment with any one belonging to Malsham,
why couldn't it have stood over till Saturday? It must be something out
of the common that won't keep a couple of days."
Mrs. Tadman went on with her knitting, gazing at Ellen with an expectant
countenance, waiting for her to make some suggestion. But the girl was
quite silent, and there was a blank expression in her eyes, which looked
out across the level stretch of grass between the house and the river, a
look that told Mrs. Tadman very few of her words had been heard by her
companion. It was quite disheartening to talk to such a person; but the
widow went on nevertheless, being so full of her subject that she must
needs talk to some one, even if that some one were little better than a
stock or a stone.
"There was a letter that came for Stephen before dinner to-day; he got it
when he came in, but it was lying here for an hour first. Perhaps it was
that as took him to Malsham; and yet that's strange, for it was a London
letter--and it don't seem likely as any one could be coming down from
London to meet Steph at Malsham. I can't make top nor tail of it."
Mrs. Tadman laid down her knitting, and gave the fire a vigorous stir.
She wanted some vent for her vexation; for it was really too provoking to
see Ellen Whitelaw sitting staring out of the window like a lifeless
statue, and not taking the faintest interest in the mystery of her
husband's conduct. She stirred the fire, and then busied herself with the
tea-table, giving a touch here and there where no re-arrangement was
wanted, for the sake of doing something.
The room looked comfortable enough in the cold light of the spring
afternoon. It was the most occupied room in the house, and the least
gloomy. The glow of a good fire brightened the scanty shabby furniture a
little, and the table, with its white cloth, homely flowered cups and
saucers, bright metal teapot, and substantial fare in the way of ham and
home-made bread, had a pleasant look enough in the eyes of any one coming
in from a journey through the chill March atmosphere. Mr. Whitelaw's
notion of tea was a solid meal, which left him independent of the
chances of supper, and yet open to do something in that way; in case any
light kickshaw, such as liver and bacon, a boiled sheep's head, or a
beef-steak pie, should present itself to his notice.
Ellen roused herself from her long reverie at last. There was the sound
of wheels upon the cart-track across the wide open field in front of the
"Here comes Mr. Whitelaw," she said, looking out into the gathering dusk;
"and there's some one with him."
"Some one with him!" cried Mrs. Tadman. "Why, my goodness, who can that
She ran to the window and peered eagerly out. The cart had driven up to
the door by this time, and Mr. Whitelaw and his companion were alighting.
The stranger was rather a handsome man, Mrs. Tadman saw at the first
glance, tall and broad-shouldered, clad in dark-gray trousers, a short
pilot-coat, and a wide-awake hat; but with a certain style even in this
rough apparel which was not the style of agricultural Malsham, an
unmistakable air that belongs to a dweller in great cities.
"I never set eyes upon him before," exclaimed Mrs. Tadman, aghast with
wonder; for visitors at Wyncomb were of the rarest, and an unknown
visitor above all things marvellous.
Mr. Whitelaw opened the house-door, which opened straight into a little
lobby between the two parlours. There was a larger door and a spacious
stone entrance-hall at one end of the house; but that door had not been
opened within the memory of man, and the hall was only used as a
storehouse now-a-days. There was some little mumbling talk in the lobby
before the two men came in, and then Mrs. Tadman's curiosity was relieved
by a closer view of the stranger.
Yes, he was certainly handsome, remarkably handsome even, for a man whose
youth was past; but there was something in his face, a something sinister
and secret, as it were, which did not strike Mrs. Tadman favourably. She
could not by any means have explained the nature of her sensations on
looking at him, but, as she said afterwards, she felt all in a moment
that he was there for no good. And yet he was very civil-spoken too, and
addressed both the ladies in a most conciliating tone, and with a kind of
Ellen looked at him, interested for the moment in spite of her apathetic
indifference to all things. The advent of a stranger was something so
rare as to awaken a faint interest in the mind most dead to impressions.
She did not like his manner; there was something false and hollow in his
extreme politeness. And his face--what was it in his face that startled
her with such a sudden sense of strangeness and yet of familiarity?
Had she ever seen him before? Yes; surely that was the impression which
sent such a sudden shook through her nerves, which startled her from her
indifference into eager wonder and perplexity. Where had she seen him
before? Where and when? Long ago, or only very lately? She could not
tell. Yet it seemed to her that she had looked at eyes like those, not
once, but many times in her life. And yet the man was utterly strange to
her. That she could have seen him before appeared impossible. It must
have been some one like him she had seen, then. Yes, that was it. It was
the shadow of another face in his that had startled her with so strange a
feeling, almost as if she had been looking upon some ghostly thing.
Another face, like and yet unlike.
But what face? whose face?
She could not answer that question, and her inability to solve the enigma
tormented her all tea-time, as the stranger sat opposite to her, making a
pretence of eating heartily, in accordance with Mr. Whitelaw's hospitable
invitation, while that gentleman himself ploughed away with a steady
persistence that made awful havoc with the ham, and reduced the loaf in a
manner suggestive of Jack the Giant-killer.
The visitor presently ventured to remark that tea-drinking was not much
in his way, and that, if it were all the same to Mr. Whitelaw, he should
prefer a glass of brandy-and-water; whereupon the brandy-bottle was
produced from a cupboard by the fire-place, of which Stephen himself kept
the key, judiciously on his guard against a possible taste for ardent
spirits developing itself in Mrs. Tadman.
After this the stranger sat for some time, drinking cold
brandy-and-water, and staring moodily at the fire, without making the
faintest attempt at conversation, while Mr. Whitelaw finished his tea,
and the table was cleared; and even after this, when the farmer had taken
his place upon the opposite side of the hearth, and seemed to be waiting
for his guest to begin business.
He was not a lively stranger; he seemed, indeed, to have something on his
mind, to be brooding upon some trouble or difficulty, as Mrs. Tadman
remarked to her kinsman's wife afterwards. Both the women watched him;
Ellen always perplexed by that unknown likeness, which seemed sometimes
to grow stronger, sometimes to fade away altogether, as she looked at
him; Mrs. Tadman in a rabid state of curiosity, so profound was the
mystery of his silent presence.
What was he there for? What could Stephen want with him? He was not one
of Stephen's sort, by any means; had no appearance of association with
agricultural interests. And yet there he was, a silent inexplicable
presence, a mysterious figure with a moody brow, which seemed to grow
darker as Mrs. Tadman watched him.
At last, about an hour after the tea-table had been cleared, he rose
suddenly, with an abrupt gesture, and said,
"Come, Whitelaw, if you mean to show me this house of yours, you may as
well show it to me at once."
His voice had a harsh unpleasant sound as he said this. He stood with his
back to the women, staring at the fire, while Stephen Whitelaw lighted a
candle in his slow dawdling way.
"Be quick, man alive," the stranger cried impatiently, turning sharply
round upon the farmer, who was trimming an incorrigible wick with a pair
of blunted snuffers. "Remember, I've got to go back to Malsham; I haven't
all the night to waste."
"I don't want to set my house afire," Mr. Whitelaw answered sullenly;
"though, perhaps, _you_ might like that. It might suit your book, you
The stranger gave a sudden shudder, and told the farmer with an angry
oath to "drop that sort of insolence."
"And now show the way, and look sharp about it," he said in an
They went out of the room in the next moment. Mrs. Tadman gazed after
them, or rather at the door which had closed upon them, with a solemn
"I don't like the look of it, Ellen," she said; "I don't at all like the
look of it."
"What do you mean?" the girl asked indifferently.
"I don't like the hold that man has got over Stephen, nor the way he
speaks to him--almost as if Steph was a dog. Did you hear him just now?
And what does he want to see the house for, I should like to know? What
can this house matter to him, unless he was going to buy it? That's it,
perhaps, Ellen. Stephen has been speculating, and has gone and ruined
himself, and that strange man is going to buy Wyncomb. He gave me a kind
of turn the minute I looked at him. And, depend upon it, he's come to
turn us all out of house and home."
Ellen gave a faint shudder. What if her father's wicked scheming were to
come to such an end as this! what if she had been sold into bondage, and
the master to whom she had been given had not even the wealth which had
been held before her as a bait in her misery! For herself she cared
little whether she were rich or poor. It could make but a difference of
detail in the fact of her unhappiness, whether she were mistress of
Wyncomb or a homeless tramp upon the country roads. The workhouse without
Stephen Whitelaw must needs be infinitely preferable to Wyncomb Farm with
him. And for her father, it seemed only a natural and justifiable thing
that his guilt and his greed should be so punished. He had sold his
daughter into life-long slavery for nothing but that one advance of two
hundred pounds. He had saved himself from the penalty of his dishonesty,
however, by that sacrifice; and would, no doubt, hold his daughter's
misery lightly enough, even if poverty were added to the wretchedness of
The two women sat down on opposite sides of the hearth; Mrs. Tadman, too
anxious to go on with her accustomed knitting, only able to wring her
hands in a feeble way, and groan every now and then, or from time to time
burst into some fragmentary speech.
"And Stephen's just the man to have such a thing on his mind and keep it
from everybody till the last moment," she cried piteously. "And so many
speculations as there are now-a-days to tempt a man to his ruin--railways
and mines, and loans to Turks and Red Indians and such-like foreigners;
and Steph might so easy be tempted by the hope of larger profits than he
can make by farming."
"But it's no use torturing yourself like that with fears that may be
quite groundless," Ellen said at last, rousing herself a little in order
to put a stop to the wailing and lamentations of her companion. "There's
no use in anticipating trouble. There may be nothing in this business
after all. Mr. Whitelaw may have a fancy for showing people his house. He
wanted me to see it, if you remember, that new-year's afternoon."
"Yes; but that was different. He meant to marry you. Why should he want
to show the place to a stranger? I can't believe but what that strange
man is here for something, and something bad. I saw it in his face when
he first came in."
It was useless arguing the matter; Mrs. Tadman was evidently not to be
shaken; so Ellen said no more; and they sat on in silence, each occupied
with her own thoughts.
Ellen's were not about Stephen Whitelaw's financial condition, but they
were very sad ones. She had received a letter from Frank Randall since
her marriage; a most bitter letter, upbraiding her for her falsehood and
desertion, and accusing her of being actuated by mercenary motives in her
marriage with Stephen Whitelaw.
"How often have I heard you express your detestation of that fellow!" the
young man wrote indignantly. "How often have I heard you declare that no
earthly persuasion should ever induce you to marry him! And yet before my
back has been turned six months, I hear that you are his wife. Without a
word of warning, without a line of explanation to soften the blow--if
anything could soften it--the news comes to me, from a stranger who knew
nothing of my love for you. It is very hard, Ellen; all the harder
because I had so fully trusted in your fidelity."
"I will own that the prospect I had to offer you was a poor one;
involving long delay before I could give you such a home as I wanted to
give you; but O, Nelly, Nelly, I felt so sure that you would be true to
me! And if you found yourself in any difficulty, worried beyond your
power of resistance by your father--though I did not think you were the
kind of girl to yield weakly to persuasion--a line from you would have
brought me to your side, ready to defend you from any persecution, and
only too proud to claim you for my wife, and carry you away from your
The letter went on for some time in the same upbraiding strain. Ellen
shed many bitter tears over it in the quiet of her own room. It had been
delivered to her secretly by her old friend Sarah Peters, the miller's
daughter, who had been the confidante of her love affairs; for even in
his indignation Mr. Randall had been prudent enough to consider that such
a missive, falling perchance into Stephen Whitelaw's hands, might work
Cruel as the letter was, Ellen could not leave it quite unanswered; some
word in her own defence she must needs write; but her reply was of the
"There are some things that can never be explained," she wrote, "and my
marriage is one of those. No one could save me from it, you least of all.
There was no help for me; and I believe, with all my heart, that, in
acting as I did, I only did my duty. I had not the courage to write to
you beforehand to tell you what was going to be. I thought it was almost
better you should hear it from a stranger. The more hardly you think of
me, the easier it will be for you to forget me. There is some comfort in
that. I daresay it will be very easy for you to forget. But if, in days
to come, when you are happily married to some one else, you can teach
yourself to think more kindly of me, and to believe that in what I did I
acted for the best, you will be performing an act of charity towards a
poor unhappy girl, who has very little left to hope for in this world."
It was a hard thing for Ellen to think that, in the estimation of the man
she loved, she must for ever seem the basest and most mercenary of
womankind; and yet how poor an excuse could she offer in the vague
pleading of her letter! She could not so much as hint at the truth; she
could not blacken her father's character. That Frank Randall should
despise her, only made her trial a little sharper, her daily burden a
little heavier, she told herself.
With her mind full of these thoughts, she had very little sympathy to
bestow upon Mrs. Tadman, whose fragmentary lamentations only worried her,
like the murmurs of some troublesome not-to-be-pacified child; whereby
that doleful person, finding her soul growing heavier and heavier, for
lack of counsel or consolation, could at last endure this state of
suspense no longer in sheer inactivity, but was fain to bestir herself
somehow, if even in the most useless manner. She got up from her seat
therefore, went over to the door, and, softly opening it, peered out into
the darkness beyond.
There was nothing, no glimmer of Stephen's candle, no sound of men's
footsteps or of men's voices; the merest blankness, and no more. The two
men had been away from the parlour something more than half an hour by
For about five minutes Mrs. Tadman stood at the open door, peering out
and listening, and still without result. Then, with a shrill sudden sound
through the long empty passages, there came a shriek, a prolonged
piercing cry of terror or of pain, which turned Mrs. Tadman's blood to
ice, and brought Ellen to her side, pale and breathless.
"What was that?"
"What was that?"
Both uttered the same question simultaneously, looking at each other
aghast, and then both fled in the direction from which that shrill cry
A woman's voice surely; no masculine cry ever sounded with such piercing
They hurried off to discover the meaning of this startling sound, but
were neither of them very clear as to whence it had come. From the upper
story no doubt, but in that rambling habitation there was so much scope
for uncertainty. They ran together, up the staircase most used, to the
corridor from which the principal rooms opened. Before they could reach
the top of the stairs, they heard a scuffling hurrying sound of heavy
footsteps on the floor above them, and on the landing met Mr. Whitelaw
and his unknown friend; face to face.
"What's the matter?" asked the farmer sharply, looking angrily at the two
"That's just what we want to know," his wife answered. "Who was it that
screamed just now? Who's been hurt?"
"My friend stumbled against a step in the passage yonder, and knocked his
shin. He cried out a bit louder than he need have done, if that's what
you mean, but not loud enough to cause all this fuss. Get downstairs
again, you two, and keep quiet. I've no patience with such nonsense;
coming flying upstairs as if you'd both gone mad."
"It was not your friend's voice we heard," Ellen answered resolutely; "it
was a woman's cry. You must have heard it surely, Stephen Whitelaw."
"I heard nothing but what I tell you," the farmer muttered sulkily. "Get
downstairs, can't you?"
"Not till I know what's the matter," his wife said, undismayed by his
anger. "Give me your light, and let me go and see."
"You can go where you like, wench, and see what you can; and an uncommon
deal wiser you'll be for your trouble."
And yet, although Mr. Whitelaw gave his wife the candlestick with an air
of profound indifference, there was an uneasy look in his countenance
which she could plainly see, and which perplexed her not a little.
"Come, Mrs. Tadman," she said decisively, "we had better see into this.
It was a woman's voice, and must have been one of the girls, I suppose.
It may be nothing serious, after all,--these country girls scream out for
a very little,--but we'd better get to the bottom of it."
Mr. Whitelaw burst into a laugh--and he was a man whose laughter was as
unpleasant as it was rare.
"Ay, my wench, you'd best get to the bottom of it," he said, "since
you're so uncommon clever. Me and my friend will go back to the parlour,
and take a glass of grog."
The gentleman whom Mr. Whitelaw honoured with his friendship had stood a
little way apart all this time, wiping his forehead with a big orange
coloured silk handkerchief. That blow upon his shin must have been rather
a sharp one, if it had brought that cold sweat out upon his ashen face.
"Yes," he muttered; "come along, can't you? don't stand cawing here all
night;" and hurried downstairs before his host.
It had been all the business of a couple of minutes. Ellen Whitelaw and
Mrs. Tadman went down to the ground floor by another staircase leading
directly to the kitchen. The room looked comfortable enough, and the two
servant-girls were sitting at a table near the fire. One was a strapping
rosy-cheeked country girl, who did all the household work; the other an
overgrown clumsy-looking girl, hired straight from the workhouse by Mr.
Whitelaw, from economical motives; a stolid-looking girl, whose intellect
was of the lowest order; a mere zoophyte girl, one would say--something
between the vegetable and animal creation.
This one, whose name was Sarah Batts, was chiefly employed in the
poultry-yard and dairy. She had a broad brawny hand, which was useful for
the milking of cows, and showed some kind of intelligence in the
management of young chickens and the treatment of refractory hens.
Martha Holden, the house-servant, was busy making herself a cap as her
mistress came into the kitchen, droning some Hampshire ballad by way of
accompaniment to her work. Sarah Batts was seated in an attitude of
luxurious repose, with her arms folded, and her feet on the fender.
"Was it either of you girls that screamed just now?" Ellen asked
"Screamed, ma'am! no, indeed," Martha Holden answered, with an air of
perfect good faith. "What should we scream for? I've been sitting here
at my work for the last hour, as quiet as could be."
"And, Sarah,--was it you, Sarah? For goodness' sake tell the truth."
"Me, mum! lor no, mum. I was up with master showing him and the strange
gentleman a light."
"You were upstairs with your master? And did you hear nothing? A piercing
shriek that rang through the house;--you must surely have heard it, both
Martha shook her head resolutely.
"Not me, mum; I didn't hear a sound. The kitchen-door was shut all the
time Sarah was away, and I was busy at work, and thinking of nothing but
my work. I wasn't upon the listen, as you may say."
The kitchen was at the extreme end of the house, remote from that
direction whence the unexplainable cry seemed to have come.
"It is most extraordinary," Ellen said gravely, perplexed beyond all
measure. "But you, Sarah; if you were upstairs with your master, you must
surely have heard that shriek; it seemed to come from upstairs."
"Did master hear it?" asked the girl deliberately.
"He says not."
"Then how should I, mum? No, mum, I didn't hear nothink; I can take my
Bible oath of that."
"I don't want any oaths; I only want to know the meaning of this
business. There would have been no harm in your screaming. You might just
as well speak the truth about it."
"Lor, mum, but it warn't me," answered Sarah Batts with an injured look.
"Whatever could go to put it in your head as it was me?"
"It must have been one or other of you two girls. There's no other woman
in the house; and as you were upstairs, it seems more likely to have been
you. However, there's no use talking any more about it. Only we both
heard the scream, didn't we, Mrs. Tadman?"
"I should think we did, indeed," responded the widow with a vehement
shudder. "My flesh is all upon the creep at this very moment. I don't
think I ever had such a turn in my life."
They went back to the parlour, leaving the two servants still sitting by
the fire; Sarah Batts with that look of injured innocence fixed upon her
wooden countenance, Martha Holden cheerfully employed in the construction
of her Sunday cap. In the parlour the two men were both standing by the
table, the stranger with his back to the women as they entered, Stephen
Whitelaw facing him. The former seemed to have been counting something,
but stopped abruptly as the women came into the room.
There was a little heap of bank-notes lying on the table. Stephen
snatched them up hastily, and thrust them in a bundle into his
waistcoat-pocket; while the stranger put a strap round a bulky red
morocco pocket-book with a more deliberate air, as of one who had nothing
to hide from the world.
That guilty furtive air of Stephen's, and, above all, that passage of
money between the two men, confirmed Mrs. Tadman in her notion that
Wyncomb Farm was going to change hands. She resumed her seat by the fire
with a groan, and accepted Ellen's offer of a glass of spirits-and-water
with a doleful shake of her head.
"Didn't I tell you so?" she whispered, as Mrs. Whitelaw handed her the
The stranger was evidently on the point of departure. There was a sound
of wheels on the gravel outside the parlour window--the familiar sound of
Stephen Whitelaw's chaise-cart; and that gentleman was busy helping his
visitor on with his great-coat.
"I shall be late for the last train," said the stranger, "unless your man
drives like the very devil."
"He'll drive fast enough, I daresay, if you give him half-a-crown," Mr.
Whitelaw answered with a grin; "but don't let him go and do my horse any
damage, or you'll have to pay for it."
"Of course. You'd like to get the price of a decent animal out of me for
that broken-kneed hard-mouthed brute of yours," replied the stranger with
a scornful laugh. "I think there never was such a money-grubbing,
grinding, grasping beggar since the world began. However, you've seen the
last shilling you're ever likely to get out of me; so make the best of
it; and remember, wherever I may be, there are friends of mine in this
country who will keep a sharp look-out upon you, and let me know precious
quick if you don't stick to your part of our bargain like an honest man,
or as nearly like one as nature will allow you to come. And now
good-night, Mr. Whitelaw.--Ladies, your humble servant."
He was gone before Ellen or Mrs. Tadman could reply to his parting
salutation, had they been disposed to do so. Mr. Whitelaw went out with
him, and gave some final directions to the stable-lad who was to drive
the chaise-cart, and presently came back to the parlour, looking
considerably relieved by his guest's departure.
Mrs. Tadman rushed at once to the expression of her fears.
"Stephen Whitelaw," she exclaimed solemnly, "tell us the worst at once.
It's no good keeping things back from us. That man has come here to turn
us out of house and home. You've sold Wyncomb."
"Sold Wyncomb! Have you gone crazy, you old fool?" cried Mr. Whitelaw,
contemplating his kinswoman with a most evil expression of countenance.
"What's put that stuff in your head?"
"Your own doings, Stephen, and that man's. What does he come here for,
with his masterful ways, unless it's to turn us out of house and home?
What did you show him the house for? Nigh upon an hour you were out of
this room with him, if you were a minute. Why did money pass from him to
you? I saw you put it in your pocket--a bundle of bank-notes."
"You're a prying old catemeran!" cried Mr. Whitelaw savagely, "and a
drunken old fool into the bargain.--Why do you let her muddle herself
with the gin-bottle like that, Ellen? You ought to have more respect for
my property. You don't call that taking care of your husband's house.--As
for you, mother Tadman, if you treat me to any more of this nonsense, you
will find yourself turned out of house and home a precious deal sooner
than you bargained for; but it won't be because of my selling Wyncomb.
Sell Wyncomb, indeed! I've about as much thought of going up in a
balloon, as of parting with a rood or a perch of my father's land."
This was a very long speech for Mr. Whitelaw; and, having finished it, he
sank into his chair, quite exhausted by the unusual effort, and refreshed
himself with copious libations of gin-and-water.
"What was that man here for, then, Stephen? It's only natural I should
want to know that," said Mrs. Tadman, abashed, but not struck dumb by her
"What's that to you? Business. Yes, there _has_ been money pass between
us, and it's rather a profitable business for me. Perhaps it was
horse-racing, perhaps it wasn't. That's about all you've any call to
know. I've made money by it, and not lost. And now, don't let me be
bothered about it any more, if you and me are to keep friends."
"I'm sure, Stephen," Mrs. Tadman remonstrated in a feebly plaintive tone,
"I've no wish to bother you; there's nothing farther from my thoughts;
but it's only natural that I should be anxious about a place where I've
lived so many years. Not but what I could get my living easy enough
elsewhere, as you must know, Stephen, being able to turn my hand to
To this feeble protest Mr. Whitelaw vouchsafed no answer. He had lighted
his pipe by this time, and was smoking and staring at the fire with his
usual stolid air--meditative, it might be, or only ruminant, like one of
his own cattle.
But all through that night Mr. Whitelaw, who was not commonly a seer of
visions or dreamer of dreams, had his slumbers disturbed by some unwonted
perplexity of spirit. His wife lay broad awake, thinking of that
prolonged and piercing cry, which seemed to her, the more she meditated
upon it, in have been a cry of anguish or of terror, and could not fail
to notice this unusual disturbance of her husband's sleep. More than once
he muttered to himself in a troubled manner; but his words, for the most
part, were incoherent and disjointed--words of which that perplexed
listener could make nothing.
Once she heard him say, "A bad job--dangerous business."
John Saltram improved daily at Hampton Court. In spite of his fierce
impatience to get well, in order to engage in the search for Marian--an
impatience which was in itself sufficient to militate against his
well-being--he did make considerable progress on the road to recovery. He
was still very weak, and it must take time to complete his restoration;
but he was no longer the pale ghost of his former self that Gilbert had
brought down to the quiet suburb.
It would have been a cruel thing to leave him much alone at such a time,
or it would have seemed very cruel to Gilbert Fenton, who had ever
present in his memory those old days in Egypt when this man had stood him
in such good stead. He remembered the days of his own sickness, and
contrived to perform his business duties within the smallest time
possible, and so spend the rest of his life in the comfortable
sitting-rooms looking out upon Bushy-park on the one side, and on the
other upon the pretty high road before the Palace grounds.
Nor was there any sign in the intercourse of those two that the bond of
friendship between them was broken. There was, it is true, a something
deprecating in John Saltram's manner that had not been common to him of
old, and in Gilbert Fenton a deeper gravity than was quite natural; but
that was all. It was difficult to believe that any latent spirit of
animosity could lurk in the mind of either. In sober truth, Gilbert, in
his heart of hearts, had forgiven his treacherous friend. Again and again
he had told himself that the wrong he had suffered was an unpardonable
offence, a thing not to be forgiven upon any ground whatever. But, lo,
when he looked into his mind to discover the smouldering fires of that
burning anger which he had felt at first against the traitor, he could
find nothing but the gray ashes of a long-expired flame. The wrong had
been suffered, and he loved his old friend still. Yes, there was that in
his heart for John Saltram which no ill-doing could blot out.
So he tended the convalescent's couch with a quiet devotion that touched
the sinner very deeply, and there was a peace between those two which
had in it something almost sacred. In the mind of the one there was a
remorseful sense of guilt, in the heart of the other a pitying tenderness
too deep for words.
One night, as they were together on opposite sides of the fire, John
Saltram lying on a low sofa drawn close to the hearth, Gilbert seated
lazily in an easy-chair, the invalid broke out suddenly into a kind of
apology for his wrong-doing.
The conversation had flagged between them after the tea-things had been
removed by the brisk little serving-maid of the lodgings; Gilbert gazing
meditatively at the fire, John Saltram so quiet that his companion had
thought him asleep.
"I said once that I would tell you all about that business," he began at
last, in a sudden spasmodic way; "but, after all there is so little to
tell. There is no excuse for what I did; I know that better than you can
know it. A man in my position, who had a spark of generosity or honour,
would have strangled his miserable passion in its birth, would have gone
away directly he discovered his folly, and never looked upon Marian
Nowell's face again. I did try to do that, Gilbert. You remember that
last night we ever spent together at Lidford--what a feverishly-happy
night it was; only a cottage-parlour with a girl's bright face shining in
the lamplight, and a man over head and ears in love, but a glimpse of
paradise to that man. I meant that it should be the last of my weakness,
Gilbert. I had pledged myself to that by all the outspoken oaths
wherewith a man can bind himself to do his duty. And I did turn my back
upon the scene of my temptation, as you know, heartily resolved never to
approach the edge of the pit again. I think if you had stayed in England,
Gilbert, if you had been on the spot to defend your own rights, all would
have gone well, I should have kept the promise I had made for myself."
"It was so much the more sacred because of my absence, John," Gilbert
"Perhaps. After all, I suppose it was only a question of opportunity.
That particular devil who tempts men to their dishonour contrived that
the business should be made fatally easy for me. You were away, and the
coast was clear, you know. I loved you, Gilbert; but there is a passion
stronger than the love which a man feels for his dearest friend. I meant
most steadfastly to keep my faith with you; but you were away, and that
fellow Forster plagued me to come to him. I refused at first--yes, I held
out for a couple of months; but the fever was strong upon me--a restless
demon not to be exorcised by hard work, or dissipation even, for I tried
both. And then before you were at the end of your journey, while you were
still a wanderer across the desolate sea, happy in the thought of your
dear love's fidelity, my courage gave way all at once, and I went down
to Heatherly. And so I saw her, and saw that she loved me--all unworthy
as I was; and from that hour I was a lost man; I thought of nothing but
"If you had only been true to me, even then, John; if you had written to
me declaring the truth, and giving me fair warning that you were my
rival, how much better it would have been! Think what a torture of
suspense, what a world of wasted anger, you might have saved me."
"Yes, it would have been the manlier course, no doubt," the other
answered; "but I could not bring myself to that. I could not face the
idea of your justifiable wrath. I wanted to win my wife and keep my
friend. It was altogether a weak notion, that idea of secrecy, of course,
and couldn't hold water for any time, as the result has shown; but I
thought you would get over your disappointment quickly--those wounds are
apt to heal so speedily--and fall in love elsewhere; and then it would
have been easy for me to tell you the truth. So I persuaded my dear love,
who was easily induced to do anything I wished, to consent to our secret
being kept from you religiously for the time being, and to that end we
were married under a false name--not exactly a false name either. You
remember my asking you if you had ever heard the name of Holbrook before
your hunt after Marian's husband? You said no; yet I think you must have
seen the name in some of my old college books. I was christened John
Holbrook. My grandmother was one of the Holbrooks of Horley-place,
Sussex, people of some importance in their day, and our family were
rather proud of the name. But I have dropped it ever since I was a lad."
"No, I don't think I can ever have seen the name; I must surely have
remembered it, if I had seen it."
"Perhaps so. Well, Gilbert, there is no more to be said. I loved her,
selfishly, after the manner of mankind. I could not bring myself to give
her up, and pursued her with a passionate persistence which must plead
_her_ excuse. If her uncle had lived, I doubt whether I should ever have
succeeded. But his death left the tender womanly heart weakened by
sorrow; and so I won her, the dearest, truest wife that ever man was
blest withal. Yet, I confess to you, so wayward is my nature, that there
have been moments in which I repented my triumph--weak hours of doubt and
foreboding, in which I fear that dear girl divined my thoughts. Since our
wretched separation I have fancied sometimes that a conviction of this
kind on her part is at the root of the business, that she has alienated
herself from me, believing--in plain words--that I was tired of her."
"Such an idea as that would scarcely agree with Ellen Carley's account of
Marian's state of mind during that last day or two at the Grange. She was
eagerly expecting your return, looking forward with delight to the
pleasant surprise you were to experience when you heard of Jacob Nowell's
"Yes, the girl told me that. Great heavens, why did I not return a few
days earlier! I was waiting for money, not caring to go back
empty-handed; writing and working like a nigger. I dared not meet my poor
girl at her grandfather's, since in so doing I must risk an encounter
After this they talked of Marian's disappearance for some time, going
over the same ground very often in their helplessness, and able, at last,
to arrive at no satisfactory conclusion. If she were with her father, she
was with a bad, unscrupulous man. That was a fact which Gilbert Fenton no
longer pretended to deny. They sat talking till late, and parted for the
night in very different spirits.
Gilbert had a good deal of hard work in the City on the following day; a
batch of foreign correspondence too important to be entrusted to a clerk,
and two or three rather particular interviews. All this occupied him up
to so late an hour, that he was obliged to sleep in London that night,
and to defer his return to Hampton till the next day's business was over.
This time he got over his work by an early hour, and was able to catch a
train that left Waterloo at half-past five. He felt a little uneasy at
having been away from the convalescent so long though he knew that John
Saltram was now strong enough to get on tolerably without him, and that
the people of the house were careful and kindly, ready at any moment to
give assistance if it were wanted.
"Strange," he thought to himself, as the train approached the quiet,
river-side village--"strange that I should be so fond of the fellow, in
spite of all; that I should care more for his society than that of any
man living. It is the mere force of habit, I suppose. After all these
years of liking, the link between us is not to be broken, even by the
deepest wrong that one man can do another."
The spring twilight was closing in as he crossed the bridge and walked
briskly along an avenue of leafless trees at the side of the green. The
place had a peaceful rustic look at this dusky hour. There were no traces
of that modern spoiler the speculative builder just hereabouts; and the
quaint old houses near the barracks, where lights were twinkling feebly
here and there, had a look of days that are gone, a touch of that
plaintive poetry which pervades all relics of the past. Gilbert felt the
charm of the hour; the air still and mild, the silence only broken by the
cawing of palatial rooks; and whatever tenderness towards John Saltram
there was lurking in his breast seemed to grow upon him as he drew nearer
to their lodgings; so that his mood was of the softest when he opened the
little garden-gate and went in.
"I will make no further pretence of enmity," he said to himself; "I will
not keep up this farce of estrangement. We two will be friends once more.
Life is not long enough for the rupture of such a friendship."
There was no light shining in the parlour window, no pleasant home-glow
streaming out upon the night. The blank created by this unwonted darkness
chilled him somehow, and there was a vague sense of dread in his mind as
he opened the door. There was no need to knock. The simple household was
untroubled by the fear of burglariously-disposed intruders, and the door
was rarely fastened until after dark.
Gilbert went into the parlour; all was dark and silent in the two rooms,
which communicated with folding doors, and made one fair-sized apartment.
There were no preparations for dinner; he could see that in the deepening
dusk. The fire had been evidently neglected, and was at an expiring
"John!" he called, stirring the fire with a vigorous hand, whereby he
gave it the _coup-de-grace_, and the last glimmer sank to darkness.
"John, what are you doing?"
He fancied the convalescent had fallen asleep upon the sofa in the inner
room; but when he went in search of him, he found nothing but emptiness.
He rang the bell violently, and the brisk maid-servant came flying in.
"Oh, dear, sir, you did give me and missus such a turn!" she said,
gasping, with her hand on her heart, as if that organ had been seriously
affected. "We never heard you come in, and when the bell rung----"
"Is Mr. Saltram worse?" Gilbert asked, eagerly.
"Worse, poor dear gentleman; no, sir, I should hope not, though he well
may be, for there never was any one so imprudent, not of all the invalids
I've ever had to do with--and Hampton is a rare place for invalids. And I
feel sure if you'd been here, sir, you wouldn't have let him do it."
"Let him do what? Are you crazy, girl? What, in heaven's name, are you
"You wouldn't have let him start off to London post-haste, as he did
yesterday afternoon, and scarcely able to stand alone, in a manner of
"Gone to London! Do you mean to say that my friend Mr. Saltram went to
"Yes, sir; yesterday afternoon between four and five."
"What utter madness! And when did he come back?"
"Lor' bless you, sir, he ain't come back yet. He told missus as his
coming back was quite uncertain, and she was not to worry herself about
him. She did all she could, almost to going down on her knees, to hinder
him going; but it was no use. It was a matter of life and death as he was
going upon, he said, and that there was no power on earth could keep him
back, not if he was ten times worse than he was. The strange gentleman
hadn't been in the house much above a quarter of an hour, when they was
both off together in a fly to the station."
"What strange gentleman?"
"A stout middle-aged man, sir, with gray whiskers, that came from London,
and asked for you first, and then for Mr. Saltram; and those two hadn't
been together more than five minutes, when Mr. Saltram rang the bell in a
violent hurry, and told my missus he was going to town immediate, on most
particular business, and would she pack him a carpet-bag with a couple of
shirts, and so on. And then she tried all she could to turn him from
going; but it was no good, as I was telling you, sir, just now. Go he
would, and go he did; looking quite flushed and bright-like when he went
out, so as you'd have scarcely known how ill he'd been. And he left a bit
of a note for you on the chimbley-piece, sir."
Gilbert found the note; a hurried scrawl upon half a sheet, of paper,
twisted up hastily, and unsealed.
"She is found, Gilbert," wrote John Saltram. "Proul has traced the father
to his lair at last, and my darling is with him. They are lodging at 14,
Coleman-street, Tottenham-court-road. I am off this instant. Don't be
angry with me, true and faithful friend; I could not rest an hour away
from her now that she is found. I have no plan of action, but leave all
to the inspiration of the moment. You can follow me whenever you please.
Marian must thank you for your goodness to me. Marian must persuade you
to forgive my sin against you--Ever yours, J.S."
Follow him! yes, of course. Gilbert had no other thought. And she was
found at last, after all their suspense, their torturing anxiety. She was
found; and whatever danger there might be in her association with
Percival Nowell, she was safe so far, and would be speedily extricated
from the perilous alliance by her husband. It seemed at first so happy a
thing that Gilbert could scarcely realise it; and yet, throughout the
weary interval of ignorance as to her fate, he had always declared his
belief in her safety. Had he been really as confident as he had seemed,
as the days had gone by, one after another, without bringing him any
tidings of her? had there been no shapeless terror in his mind, no dark
dread that when the knowledge came, it might be something worse than
ignorance? Yes, now in the sudden fulness of his joy, he knew how much he
had feared, how very near he had been to despair.
But John Saltram, what of him? Was it not at the hazard of his life that
he had gone upon this sudden journey, reckless and excited, in a fever of
hope and delight?
"Providence will surely be good to him," Gilbert thought.
"He bore the journey from town when he was much worse than he is now.
Surely he will bear a somewhat rougher journey now, buoyed up by hope."
The landlady came in presently, and insisted upon giving Mr. Fenton her
own version of the story which he had just heard from her maid; and a
very close and elaborate version it was, though not remarkable for any
new facts. He was fain to listen to it with a show of patience, however,
and to consent to eat a mutton chop which the good woman insisted upon
cooking for him, after his confession that he had eaten nothing since
breakfast. He kept telling himself that there was no hurry; that he was
not wanted in Coleman-street; that his presence there was a question of
his own gratification and nothing else; but the fever in his mind was not
to be set at rest go easily. There was a sense of hurry upon him that he
could not shake off, argue with himself as wisely as he would.
He took a hasty meal, and started off to the railway station directly
afterwards, though there was no train to carry, him back to London for
nearly an hour.
It was weary work waiting at the little station, while the keen March
wind blew sharply across the unsheltered platform on which Gilbert paced
to and fro in his restlessness; weary work waiting, with that sense of
hurry and anxiety upon him, not to be shaken off by any effort he could
make to take a hopeful view of the future. He tried to think of those two
whom he loved best on earth, whose union he had taught himself, by a
marvellous effort of unselfishness, to contemplate with serenity, tried
to think of them in the supreme happiness of their restoration to each
other; but he could not bring his mind to the realisation of this
picture. After all those torments of doubt and perplexity which he had
undergone during the last three months, the simple fact of Marian's
safety seemed too good a thing to be true. He was tortured by a vague
sense of the unreality of this relief that had come so suddenly to put an
end to all perplexities.
"I feel as if I were the victim of some hoax, some miserable delusion,"
he said to himself. "Not till I see her, not till I clasp her by the
hand, shall I believe that she is really given back to us."
And in his eagerness to do this, to put an end to that slow torture of
unreasonable doubt which had come upon him since the reading of John
Saltram's letter, the delay at the railway station was an almost
intolerable ordeal; but the hour came to an end at last, the place awoke
from its blank stillness to a faint show of life and motion, a door or
two banged, a countrified-looking young woman with a good many bundles
and a band-box came out of the waiting-room and arranged her possessions
in readiness for the coming train, a porter emerged lazily from some
unknown corner and looked up the line--then, after another five minutes
of blankness, there came a hoarse throbbing in the distance, a bell rang,
and the up-train panted into the station. It was a slow train, unluckily
for Gilbert's impatience, which stopped everywhere, and the journey to
London took him over an hour. It was past nine when a hansom drove him
into Coleman-street, a dull unfrequented-looking thoroughfare between
Tottenham-court-road and Gower-street, overshadowed a little by the
adjacent gloom of the University Hospital, and altogether a low-spirited
Gilbert looked up eagerly at the windows of Number 14, expecting to see
lights shining, and some visible sign of rejoicing, even upon the house
front; but there was nothing. Either the shutters were shut, or there was
no light within, for the windows were blank and dark. It was a slight
thing, but enough to intensify that shapeless foreboding against which he
had been struggling throughout his journey.
"You must have come to the wrong house," he said to the cabman as he got
"No, sir, this is 14."
Yes, it was the right number. Gilbert read it on the door; and yet it
could scarcely be the right house; for tied to the door-handle was a
placard with "Apartments" engraved upon it, and this house would hardly
be large enough to accommodate other lodgers besides Mr. Nowell and his
daughter. Yet there is no knowing the capabilities of a London
lodging-house in an obscure quarter, and there might be some vacant
garret in the roof, or some dreary two-pair back, dignified by the name
of "apartments." Gilbert gave a loud hurried knock. There was a delay
which seemed to him interminable, then a hasty shuffling of slipshod feet
upon the basement stairs, then the glimmer of a light through the
keyhole, the removal of a chain, and at last the opening of the door. It
was opened by a young person with her hair dressed in the prevailing
fashion, and an air of some gentility, which clashed a little with a
certain slatternliness that pervaded her attire. She was rather a pretty
girl, but had the faded London look of late hours, and precocious cares,
instead of the fresh bloom and girlish brightness which should have
belonged to her.
"Did you please to wish to see the apartments, sir?" she asked politely.
"No; I want to see Mr. and Mrs.--the lady and gentleman who are lodging
He scarcely knew under what name he ought to ask for Marian. It seemed
unnatural to him now to speak of her as Mrs. Holbrook.
"The lady and gentleman, sir!" the girl exclaimed with a surprised air.
"There's no one lodging here now. Mr. Nowell and his daughter left
"Left yesterday morning?"
"Yes, sir. They went away to Liverpool; they are going to America--to New
"Mr. Nowell and his daughter, Mrs. Holbrook?"
"Yes, sir, that was the lady's name."
"It's impossible," cried Gilbert; "utterly impossible that Mrs. Holbrook
would go to America! She has ties that would keep her in England; a
husband whom she would never abandon in that manner. There must be some
"O no, indeed, sir, there's no mistake. I saw all the luggage labelled
with my own eyes, and the direction was New York by steam-packet
_Oronoco_; and Mrs. Holbrook had lots of dresses made, and all sorts of
things. And as to her husband, sir, her father told me that he'd treated
her very badly, and that she never meant to go back to him again to be
made unhappy by him. She was going to New York to live with Mr. Nowell
all the rest of her life."
"There must have been some treachery, some underhand work, to bring this
about. Did she go of her own free will?"
"O, dear me, yes, sir. Mr. Nowell was kindness itself to her, and she was
very fond of him, and pleased to go to America, as far as I could make
"And she never seemed depressed or unhappy?"
"I never noticed her being so, sir. They were out a good deal, you see;
for Mr. Nowell was a gay gentleman, very fond of pleasure, and he would
have Mrs. Holbrook always with him. They were away in Paris ever so long,
in January and the beginning of February, but kept on the lodgings all
the same. They were very good lodgers."
"Had they many visitors?"
"No, sir; scarcely any one except a gentleman who used to come sometimes
of an evening, and sit drinking spirits-and-water with Mr. Nowell; he was
his lawyer, I believe, but I never heard his name."
"Did no one come here yesterday to inquire for Mrs. Holbrook towards
"Yes, sir; there was a gentleman came in a cab. He looked very ill, as
pale as death, and was in a dreadful way when he found they were gone. He
asked me a great many questions, the same as you've asked me, and I think
I never saw any one so cut-up as he seemed. He didn't say much about that
either, but it was easy to see it in his face. He wanted to look at the
apartments, to see whether he could find anything, an old letter or
such-like, that might be a help to him in going after his friends, and
mother took him upstairs."
"Did he find anything?"
"No, sir; Mr. Nowell hadn't left so much as a scrap of paper about the
place. So the gentleman thanked mother, and went away in the same cab as
had brought him."
"Do you know where he was going?"
"I fancy he was going to Liverpool after Mr. Nowell and his daughter. He
seemed all in a fever, like a person that's ready to do anything
desperate. But I heard him tell the cabman Cavendish-square."
"Cavendish-square! Yes, I can guess where he was going. But what could he
want there?" Gilbert said to himself, while the girl stared at him
wonderingly, thinking that he, as well as the other gentleman, had gone
distraught on account of Mr. Nowell's daughter.
"Thank you for answering my questions so patiently, and good-night," said
Gilbert, slipping some silver into her hand; for his quick eye had
observed the faded condition of her finery, and a general air of poverty
conspicuous in her aspect. "Stay," he added, taking out his card-case;
"if you should hear anything farther of these people, I should be much
obliged by your sending me word at that address."
"I won't forget, sir; not that I think we're likely to hear any more of
them, they being gone straight off to America."
"Perhaps not. But if you do hear anything, let me know."
He had dismissed his cab on alighting in Coleman-street, believing that
his journey was ended; but the walk to Cavendish-square was a short one,
and he set out at a rapid pace.
The check that had befallen him was a severe one. It seemed a deathblow
to all hope, a dreary realization of that vague dread which had pursued
him from the first. If Marian had indeed started for America, what new
difficulties must needs attend every effort to bring her back; since it
was clear that her father's interests were involved in keeping her under
his influence, and separating her entirely from her husband. The journey
to New York was no doubt intended to secure this state of things. In
America, in that vast country, with which this man was familiar with long
residence, how easy for him to hide her for ever from her friends! how
vain would all inquiries, all researches be likely to prove!
At the ultimate moment, in the hour of hope and rejoicing, he was lost to
"Yet criminals have been traced upon the other side of the Atlantic,
where the police have been prompt to follow them," Gilbert said to
himself, glancing for an instant at the more hopeful side of the
question; "but not often where they've got anything like a start. Did
John Saltram really mean to follow those two to Liverpool, I wonder?
Such a journey would seem like madness, in his state; and yet what a
triumph if he should have been in time to prevent their starting by the
And then, after a pause, he asked himself,
"What could he want with Mrs. Branston, at a time when every moment was
precious? Money, perhaps. He could have had none with him. Yes, money, no
doubt; but I shall discover that from her presently, and may learn
something of his plans into the bargain."
Gilbert went into a stationer's shop and purchased a _Bradshaw_. There
was a train leaving Euston station for Liverpool at a quarter to eleven.
He might be in time for that, after seeing Mrs. Branston. That lady
happened fortunately to be at home, and received Gilbert alone in her
favourite back drawing-room, where he found her ensconced in that snug
retreat made by the six-leaved Japanese screen, which formed a kind of
temple on one side of the fire-place. There had been a final rupture
between Adela and Mrs. Pallinson a few days before, and that matron,
having shown her cards a little too plainly, had been routed by an
unwonted display of spirit on the part of the pretty little widow. She
was gone, carrying all her belongings with her, and leaving peace and
liberty behind her. The flush of triumph was still upon Mrs. Branston;
and this unexpected victory, brief and sudden in its occurrence, like
most great victories, was almost a consolation to her for that
disappointment which had stricken her so heavily of late.
Adela Branston welcomed her visitor very graciously; but Gilbert had no
time to waste upon small talk, and after a hasty apology for his untimely
intrusion, dashed at once into the question he had come to ask.
"John Saltram was with you yesterday evening, Mrs. Branston," he said.
"Pray tell me the purpose that brought him here, and anything you know of
his plan of action after leaving you."
"I can tell you very little about that. He was going upon a journey he
told me, that evening, immediately indeed; a most important journey; but
he did not tell me where he was going."
"I think I can guess that," said Gilbert. "Did he seem much agitated?"
"No; he was quite calm; but he had a resolute air, like a man who has
some great purpose to achieve. I thought him looking very white and weak,
and told him that I was sure he was too ill to start upon a long journey,
or any journey. I begged him not to go, if it were possible to avoid
going, and used every argument I could think of to persuade him to
abandon the idea of such a thing. But it was all no use. 'If I had only a
dozen hours to live, I must go,' he said."
"He came to ask you for money for his journey, did he not?"
"He did. I suppose to so close a friend as you are to him, there can be
no breach of confidence in my admitting that. He came to borrow any
ready-money I might happen to have in the house. Fortunately, I had a
hundred and twenty pounds by me in hard cash."
"And he took that?--he wanted as much as that?" asked Gilbert eagerly.
"Yes, he said he was likely to require as much as that."
"Then he must have thought of going to America."
"To America! travel to America in his weak state of health?" cried Mrs.
"Yes. It seems like madness, does it not? But there are circumstances
under which a man may be excused for being almost mad. John Saltram has
gone in pursuit of some one very dear to him, some one who has been
separated from him by treachery."
Adela Branston's fair face flushed crimson as she asked the question. A
woman? Yes, no doubt he was in pursuit of that woman whom he loved better
"I cannot stop to answer a single question now, my dear Mrs. Branston,"
Gilbert said gently. "You shall know all by-and-by, and I am sure your
generous heart will forgive any wrong that has been done you in this
business. Good night. I have to catch a train at a quarter to eleven; I
am going to Liverpool."
"After Mr. Saltram?"
"Yes; I do not consider him in a fitting condition to travel alone. I
hope to be in time to prevent his doing anything rash."
"But how will you find him?"
"I must make a round of the hotels till I discover his head-quarters.
"Let me order my carriage to take you to the station."
"A thousand thanks, but I shall be there before your carriage would be
ready. I can pick up a cab close by and shall have time to call at my
lodgings for a carpet-bag. Once more, good night."
It was still dark when Gilbert Fenton arrived at Liverpool. He threw
himself upon a sofa in the waiting-room, where he had an hour or so of
uncomfortable, unrefreshing sleep, and then roused himself and went out
to begin his round of the hotels.
A surly fly-driver of unknown age and prodigious deafness carried him
from house to house; first to all the principal places of entertainment,
aristocratic, family, and commercial; then to more obscure taverns and
boarding-houses, until the sun was high and the commerce of Liverpool in
full swing; and at all these places Gilbert questioned night-porters,
and chief waiters, and head chamber-maids, until his brain grew dizzy by
mere repetition of his questions; but no positive tidings could he obtain
of John Saltram. There was a coffee-house near the quay where it seemed
just possible that he had slept; but even here the description was of the
vaguest, and the person described might just as well have been John Smith
as John Saltram. Gilbert dismissed the fly-man and his vehicle at last,
thoroughly wearied out with that morning's work.
He went to one of the hotels, took a hasty breakfast, and then hurried
off to the offices belonging to the owners of the _Oronoco_.
That vessel had started for New York at nine o'clock on the previous
morning, and John Saltram had gone with her. His name was the last on the
list of passengers; he had only taken his passage an hour before the
steamer left Liverpool, but there his name was in black and white. The
names of Percival Nowell, and of Mrs. Holbrook, his daughter, were also
in the list. The whole business was clear enough, and there was nothing
more that Gilbert could do. Had John Saltram been strong and well, his
friend would have felt nothing but satisfaction in the thought that he
was going in the same vessel with Marian, and would without doubt bring
her back in triumph. But the question of his health was a painful one to
contemplate. Could he, or could he not endure the strain that he had put
upon himself within the last eight-and-forty hours? In desperate straits
men can do desperate things--there was always that fact to be remembered;
but still John Saltram might break down under the burden he had taken
upon himself; and when Gilbert went back to London that afternoon he was
sorely anxious about this feeble traveller.
He found a letter from him at the lodgings in Wigmore-street; a hurried
letter written at Liverpool the night before John Saltram's departure. He
had arrived there too late to get on board the _Oronoco_ that night, and
had ascertained that the vessel was to leave at nine next morning.
"I shall take my passage in her in case of the worst," he wrote; "and if
I cannot see Marian and persuade her to come on shore with me, I must go
with her to New York. Heaven knows what power her father may use against
me in the brief opportunity I shall have for seeing her before the vessel
starts; but he can't prevent my being their fellow-passenger, and once
afloat it shall go hard with me if I cannot make my dear girl hear
reason. Do not be uneasy about my health, dear old friend; you see how
well I am keeping up under all this strain upon body and mind. You will
see me come back from America a new man, strong enough to prove my
gratitude for your devotion, in some shape or other, I trust in God."
The bustle of departure was at its culminating point when John Saltram
went on board the _Oronoco_, captain and officers scudding hither and
thither, giving orders and answering inquiries at every point, with a
sharp, short, decisive air, as of commanding powers in the last half-hour
before a great battle; steward and his underlings ubiquitous; passengers
roaming vaguely to and fro, in quest of nothing particular, and in a
state of semi-distraction.
In this scene of confusion there was no one to answer Mr. Saltram's eager
inquires about those travellers whom he had pursued to this point. He did
contrive, just about ten minutes before the vessel sailed, to capture the
ubiquitous steward by the button-hole, and to ask for tidings of Mr.
Nowell, before that excited functionary could wrench himself away.
"Mr. Nowell, sir; upon my word, sir, I can't say. Yes, there is a
gentleman of that name on board; state-rooms number 5 and 7; got a
daughter with him--tall dark gentleman, with a moustache and beard. Yes,
sir, he was on deck just now, on the bridge; but I don't see him, I
suppose he's gone below. Better look for him in the saloon, sir."
The ten minutes were over before John Saltram had seen half the faces on
board the crowded vessel; but in his hurried wanderings to and fro, eager
to see that one face which he so ardently desired to behold once wore, he
had met nothing but strangers. There was no help for it: the vessel would
steam out seaward presently, and he must needs go with her. At the best,
he had expected this. It was not likely that, even if he could have
obtained speech with his wife, she could have been prevailed upon
immediately to desert the father whose fortunes she had elected to
follow, and return to shore with the husband she had abandoned. Her mind
must have been poisoned, her judgment perverted, before she could have
left him thus of her own free will; and it would need the light of calm
reason to set things right again. No; John Saltram could scarcely hope to
carry her off by a _coup-de-main_, in the face of the artful schemer who
had evidently obtained so strong an influence over her. That she could
for a moment contemplate this voyage to America with her father, was
enough to demonstrate the revolution that must have taken place in her
feelings towards her husband.
"Slander and lies are very strong," John Saltram said to himself; "but I
do not think, when my dear love and I are once face to face, any power on
earth can prevail against me. She must be changed indeed, if it can; she
must be changed indeed, if anything but a lie can part us."
He had come on board the _Oronoco_ prepared for the worst, and furnished
with a slender outfit for the voyage, hurriedly purchased at a Liverpool
clothier's. He had plenty of money in his pocket--enough to pay for his
own and his wife's return passage; and the thought of this useless
journey across the Atlantic troubled him very little. What did it matter
where he was, if she were with him? The mental torture he had undergone
during all this time, in which he had seemed in danger of losing her
altogether, had taught him how dear she was--how precious and perfect a
treasure he had held so lightly.
The vessel steamed put of the Mersey, and John Saltram, indifferent to
the last glimpse of his native land, was still roaming hither and
thither, in quest of the familiar face he longed with such a passionate
yearning to see; but up to this point he sought for his wife in vain.
Mrs. Holbrook had evidently retired at once to her cabin. There was
nothing for him to do but to establish a channel of communication with
her by means of the stewardess.
He found this official with some trouble, and so desperately busy that it
was no easy matter to obtain speech with her, pursued as she was by
forlorn and distracted female passengers, clamorously eager to know where
she had put that "waterproof cloak," or "Maud," or "travelling-bag," or
"dressing-case." He did at last contrive to enlist her services in his
behalf, and extort some answer to his questions.
"Yes," she told him, "Mrs. Holbrook was on board--state-room number 7.
She had gone to her room at once, but would appear at dinner-time, no
doubt, if she wasn't ill."
John Saltram tore a blank leaf from his pocket-book, and wrote one hasty
"I am here, Marian; let me see you for God's sake.
"If you'll take that to the lady in number 7, I shall be exceedingly
obliged," he said to the stewardess, slipping half-a-crown into her
willing hand at the same time.
"Yes, sir, this very minute, sir."
John Saltram sat down upon a bench outside the ladies' cabin, in a sort
of antechamber between the steward's pantry and store-rooms, strongly
perfumed with the odour of grocery, and waited for Marian's coming. He
had no shadow of doubt that she would come to him instantly, in defiance
of any other guardian or counseller. Whatever lies might have been told
her--however she might have been taught to doubt him--he had a perfect
faith in the power of his immediate presence. They had but to meet face
to face, and all would be well.
Indeed, there was need that things should be well for John Saltram very
speedily. He had set nature at defiance so far, acting as if physical
weakness were unknown to him. There are periods in a man's life in which
nothing seems impossible to him; in which by the mere force of will he
triumphs over impossibility. But such conquests are apt to be of the
briefest. John Saltram felt that he must very soon break down. The
heavily throbbing heart, the aching limbs, the dizzy sight, and parched
throat, told him how much this desperate chase had cost him. If he had
strength enough to clasp his wife's hand, to give her loving greeting and
tell her that he was true, it would be about as much as he could hope to
achieve; and then he felt that he would be glad to crawl into any corner
of the vessel where he might find rest.
The stewardess came back to him presently, with rather a discomfited air.
"The lady says she is too ill to see any one, sir," she told John
Saltram; "but under any circumstances she must decline to see you."
"She said that--my wife told you that?"
"Your wife, sir! Good gracious me, is the lady in number 7 your wife? She
came on board with her father, and I understood they were only two in
"Yes; she came with her father. Her father's treachery has separated her
from me; but a few words would explain everything, if I could only see
He thought it best to tell the woman the truth, strange as it might seem
to her. Her sympathies were more likely to be enlisted in his favour if
she knew the actual state of the case.
"Did Mrs. Holbrook positively decline to see me?" he asked again,
scarcely able to believe that Marian could have resisted even that brief
appeal scrawled upon a scrap of paper.
"She did indeed, sir," answered the stewardess. "Nothing could be more
positive than her manner. I told her how anxious you seemed--for I could
see it in your face, you see, sir, when you gave me the paper--and I
really didn't like to bring you such a message; but it was no use. 'I
decline to see him,' the lady said, 'and be sure you bring me no more
messages from this gentleman;' and with that, sir, she tore up the bit of
paper, as cool as could be. But, dear me, sir, how ill you do look, to be
"I have been very ill. I came from a sick-room to follow my wife."
"Hadn't you better go and lie down a little, sir? You look as if you
could scarcely stand. Shall I fetch the steward for you?"
"No, thanks. I can find my way to my berth, I daresay. Yes, I suppose I
had better go and lie down. I can do no more yet awhile."
He could do no more, and had indeed barely strength to stagger to his
sleeping-quarters, which he discovered at last with some difficulty. Here
he flung himself down, dressed as he was, and lay like a log, for hours,
not sleeping, but powerless to move hand or foot, and with his brain
racked by torturing thoughts. "As soon as I am able to stand again, I
will see her father, and exact a reckoning from him," he said to himself
again and again, during those long dreary hours of prostration; but when
the next day came, he was too weak to raise himself from his narrow bed,
and on the next day after that he was no better. The steward was much
concerned by his feeble condition, especially as it was no common case of
sea-sickness; for John Saltram had told him that he was never sea-sick.
He brought the prostrate traveller soda-water and brandy, and tried to
tempt him to eat rich soups of a nutritious character; but the sick man
would take nothing except an occasional draught of soda-water.
On the third day of the voyage the steward was very anxious to bring the
ship's surgeon to look at Mr. Saltram; but against this John Saltram
resolutely set his face.
"For pity's sake, don't bore me with any more doctors!" he cried
fretfully. "I have had enough of that kind of thing. The man can do
nothing for me. I am knocked up with over exertion and excitement--that's
all; my strength will come back to me sooner or later if I lie quietly
The steward gave way, for the time being, upon this appeal, and the
surgeon was not summoned; but Mr. Saltram's strength seemed very slow to
return to him. He could not sleep; he could only lie there listening to
all the noises of the ship, the perpetual creaking and rattling, and
tramping of footsteps above his head, and tortured by his impatience to
be astir again. He would not stand upon punctilio this time, he told
himself; he would go straight to the door of Marian's cabin, and stand
there until she came out to him. Was she not his wife--his very
own--powerless to hold him at bay in this manner? His strength did not
come back to him; that wakeful prostration in which the brain was always
busy, while the aching body lay still, did not appear to be a curative
process. In the course of that third night of the voyage John Saltram was
delirious, much to the alarm of his fellow-passenger, the single sharer
of his cabin, a nervous elderly gentleman, who objected to his illness
altogether as an outrage upon himself, and was indignantly desirous to
know whether it was contagious.
So the doctor was brought to the sick man early next morning whether he
would or not, and went through the usual investigations, and promised to
administer the usual sedatives, and assured the anxious passenger that
Mr. Saltram's complaint was in nowise infectious.
"He has evidently been suffering from serious illness lately, and has
been over-exerting himself," said the doctor; "that seems very clear. We
shall contrive to bring him round in a few days, I daresay, though he
certainly has got into a very low state."
The doctor said this rather gravely, on which the passenger again became
disturbed of aspect. A death on board ship must needs be such an
unpleasant business, and he really had not bargained for anything of that
kind. What was the use of paying first-class fare on board a first-class
vessel, if one were subject to annoyance of this sort? In the steerage of
an overcrowded emigrant ship such a thing might be a matter of course--a
mere natural incident of the voyage--but on board the _Oronoco_ it was
most unlooked for.
"He's not going to die, is he?" asked the passenger, with an injured air.
"O dear, no, I should hope not. I have no apprehension of that sort,"
replied the surgeon promptly.
He would no doubt have said the same thing up to within an hour or so of
the patient's decease.
"There is an extreme debility, that is all," he went on quite cheerfully;
"and if we can induce him to take plenty of nourishment, we shall get on
very well, I daresay."
After this the nervous passenger was profoundly interested in the amount
of refreshment consumed by the patient, and questioned the steward about
him with a most sympathetic air.
John Saltram, otherwise John Holbrook, was not destined to die upon this
outward voyage. He was very eager to be well, or at least to be at
liberty to move about again; and perhaps this impatient desire of his
helped in some measure to bring about his recovery. The will,
physiologists tell us, has a great deal to do with these things.
The voyage was a prosperous one. The good ship steamed gaily across the
Atlantic through the bleak spring weather; and there was plenty of eating
and drinking, and joviality and flirtation on board her, while John
Saltram lay upon his back, very helpless, languishing to be astir once
During these long dreary days and nights he had contrived to send several
messages to the lady in the state-cabin, feeble pencil scrawls, imploring
her to come to him, telling her that he was very ill, at death's door
almost, and desired nothing so much as to see her, if only for a moment.
But the answer--by word of mouth of the steward or stewardess always--was
unfailingly to the same effect:--the lady in number 7 refused to hold any
communication with the sick gentleman.
"She's a hard one!" the steward remarked to the stewardess, when they
talked the matter over in a comfortable manner during the progress of a
snug little supper in the steward's cabin, "she must be an out-and-out
hard-hearted one to stand out against him like that, if he is her
husband, and I suppose he is. I told her to-day--when I took his
message--how bad he was, and that it was a chance if he ever went ashore
alive; but she was walking up and down deck with her father ten minutes
afterwards, laughing and talking like anything. I suppose he's been a bad
lot, Mrs. Peterson, and deserves no better from her; but still it does
seem hard to see him lying there, and his wife so near him, and yet
refusing to go and see him."
"I've no common patience with her," said the stewardess with acrimony;
"the cold-hearted creature!--flaunting about like that, with a sick
husband within a stone's throw of her. Suppose he is to blame, Mr.
Martin; whatever his faults may have been, it isn't the time for a wife
to remember them."
To this Mr. Martin responded dubiously, remarking that there were some
carryings on upon the part of husbands which it was difficult for a wife
not to remember.
The good ship sped on, unhindered by adverse winds or foul weather, and
was within twenty-four hours of her destination when John Saltram was at
last able to crawl out of the cabin, where he had lain for some eight or
nine days crippled and helpless.
The first purpose which he set himself to accomplish was an interview
with Marian's father. He wanted to grapple his enemy somehow--to
ascertain the nature of the game that was being played against him. He
had kept himself very quiet for this purpose, wishing to take Percival
Nowell by surprise; and on this last day but one of the voyage, when he
was able for the first time to rise from his berth, no one but the
steward and the surgeon knew that he intended so to rise.
He had taken the steward in some measure into his confidence; and that
official, after helping him to dress, left him seated in the cabin, while
he went to ascertain the whereabouts of Mr. Nowell. Mr. Martin, the
steward, came back after about five minutes.
"He's in the saloon, sir, reading, quite alone. You couldn't have a
better opportunity of speaking to him."
"That's a good fellow. Then I'll go at once."
"You'd better take my arm, sir; you're as weak as a baby, and the ship
lurches a good deal to-day."
"I'm not very strong, certainly. I begin to think I never shall be strong
again. Do you know, Martin, I was once stroke in a university eight. Not
much vigour in my biceps now, eh?"
It was only a few paces from one cabin to the other; but Mr. Saltram
could scarcely have gone so far without the steward's supporting arm. He
was a feeble-looking figure, with a white wan face, as he tottered along
the narrow passage between the tables, making his way to that end of the
saloon where Percival Nowell lounged luxuriously, with his legs stretched
at full length upon the sofa, and a book in his hand.
"Mr. Nowell, I believe," said the sick man, as the other looked up at
him with consummate coolness. Whatever his feelings might be with regard
to his daughter's husband, he had had ample time to prepare himself for
an encounter with him.
"Yes, my name is Nowell. But I have really not the honour to----"
"You do not know me," answered John Saltram. "No, but it is time you did
so. I am your daughter's husband, John Holbrook."
"Indeed. I have heard that she has been persecuted by the messages of
some person calling himself her husband. You are that person, I presume."
"I have tried to persuade my wife to see me. Yes; and I mean to see her
before this vessel arrives in port."
"But if the lady in question refuses to have anything to say to you?"
"We shall soon put that to the test. I have been too ill to stir ever
since I came on board, or you would have heard of me before this, Mr.
Nowell. Now that I can move about once more, I shall find a way to assert
my claims, you may be sure. But in the first place, I want to know by
what right you stole my wife away from her home--by what right you
brought her on this voyage?"
"Before I answer that question, Mr.--Mr. Holbrook, as you choose to call
yourself, I'll ask you another. By what right do you call yourself my
daughter's husband? what evidence have you to produce to prove that you
are not a bare-faced impostor? You don't carry your marriage-certificate
about with you, I daresay; and in the absence of some kind of documentary
evidence, what is to convince me that you are what you pretend to be--my
"The evidence of your daughter's own senses. Place me face to face with
her; she will not deny my identity."
"But how, if my daughter declines to see you, as she does most
positively? She has suffered enough at your hands, and is only too glad
to be released from you."
"She has suffered--she is glad to be released! Why, you most consummate
scoundrel!" cried John Saltram, "there never was an unkind word spoken
between my wife and me! She was the best, most devoted of women; and
nothing but the vilest treachery could have separated us. I know not what
villanous slander you have made her believe, or by what means you lured
her away from me; but I know that a few words between us would let in the
light upon your plot. You had better make the best of a bad position, Mr.
Nowell. As my wife's father, you know, you are pretty sure to escape.
Whatever my inclination might be, my regard for her would make me
indulgent to you. You'll find candour avail you best in this case,
depend upon it. Your daughter has inherited a fortune, and you want to
put your hand upon it altogether. It would be wiser to moderate your
desires, and be content with a fair share of the inheritance. Your
daughter is not the woman to treat you ungenerously, nor am I the man to
create any hindrance to her generosity."
"I can make no bargain with you, sir," replied Mr. Nowell, with the same
cool audacity of manner that had distinguished him throughout the
interview; "nor am I prepared to admit your claim to the position you
assume. But if my daughter is your wife, she left you of her own free
will, under no coercion of mine; and she must return to you in the same
manner, or you must put the machinery of the law in force to compel her.
And _that_, I flatter myself, in a free country like America, will be
rather a difficult business."
It was hard for John Saltram to hear any man talk like this, and not be
able to knock him down. But in his present condition Marian's husband
could not have grappled a child, and he knew it.
"You are an outrageous scoundrel!" he said between his set teeth,
tortured by that most ardent desire to dash his clenched fist into Mr.
Nowell's handsome dissolute-looking face. "You are a most consummate
villain, and you know it!"
"Hard words mean so little," returned Mr. Nowell coolly, "and go for so
little. That kind of language before witnesses would be actionable; but,
upon my word, it would be mere child's play on my part to notice it,
especially to a man in your condition. You'd better claim your wife from
the captain, and see what he will say to you. I have told him that
there's some semi-lunatic on board, who pretends to be Mrs. Holbrook's
husband; so he'll be quite prepared to hear your statement."
John Saltram left the saloon in silence. It was worse than useless
talking to this man, who presumed upon his helpless state, and openly
defied him. His next effort must be to see Marian.
This he found impossible, for the time being at any rate. The state-room
number 7 was an apartment a little bigger than a rabbit-hutch, opening
out of a larger cabin, and in that cabin there reposed a ponderous matron
who had suffered from sea-sickness throughout the voyage, and who could
in no wise permit a masculine intruder to invade the scene of her
The idea of any blockade of Marian's door was therefore futile. He must
needs wait as patiently as he might, till she appeared of her own free
will. He could not have to wait very long; something less than a day and
a night, the steward had told him, would bring them to the end of the
Mr. Saltram went on deck, still assisted by the friendly steward, and
seated himself in a sheltered corner of the vessel, hoping that the
sea-breeze might bring him back some remnant of his lost strength. The
ship's surgeon had advised him to get a little fresh air as soon as he
felt himself able to bear it; so he sat in his obscure nook, very
helpless and very feeble, meditating upon what he should do when the
final moment came and he had to claim his wife.
He had no idea of making his wrongs known to the captain, unless as a
last desperate resource. He could not bring himself to make Marian the
subject of a vulgar squabble. No, it was to herself alone he would
appeal; it was in the natural instinct of her own heart that he would
Very long and weary seemed the remaining hours of that joyless voyage.
Mr. Saltram was fain to go back to his cabin after an hour on deck, there
to lie and await the morrow. He had need to husband his strength for the
coming encounter. The steward told him in the evening that Mrs. Holbrook
had not dined in the saloon that day, as usual. She had kept her cabin
closely, and complained of illness.
The morning dawned at last, after what had seemed an endless night to
John Saltram, lying awake in his narrow berth--a bleak blusterous
morning, with the cold gray light staring in at the port-hole, like an
unfriendly face. There was no promise in such a daybreak; it was only
light, and nothing more.
Mr. Saltram, having duly deliberated the matter during the long hours of
that weary night, had decided that his wisest course was to lie _perdu_
until the last moment, the very moment of landing, and then to come
boldly forward and make his claim. It was useless to waste his strength
in any futile endeavour to baffle so hardy a scoundrel as Percival
Nowell. At the last, when Marian was leaving the ship, it would be time
for him to assert his right as her husband, and to defy the wretch who
had beguiled her away from him.
Having once arrived at this decision, he was able to await the issue of
events with some degree of tranquility. He had no doubt, even now, of his
wife's affection for him, no fear as to the ultimate triumph of her love
over all the lies and artifices of that scheming scoundrel, her father.
It was nearly three o'clock in the afternoon when the steward came to
tell him that they were on the point of arriving at their destination.
The wharf where they were to land was within sight. The man had promised
to give him due warning of this event, and John Saltram had therefore
contrived to keep himself quiet amidst all the feverish impatience and
confusion of mind prevailing, amongst the other passengers. He was
rewarded for his prudence; for when he rose to go on deck, he found
himself stronger than he had felt yet. He went up the companion-ladder,
took his place close to the spot at which the passengers must all leave
the vessel, and waited.
New York was very near. The day had been cold and showery, but the sun
was shining now, and the whole scene looked bright and gay. Every one
seemed in high spirits, as if the new world they were about to touch
contained for them a certainty of Elysium. It was such a delicious relief
to arrive at the great lively Yankee city, after the tedium of a
ten-day's voyage, pleasant and easy as the transit had been.
John Saltram looked eagerly among the faces of the crowd, but neither
Percival Nowell nor his daughter were to be seen amongst them. Presently
the vessel touched the wharf, and the travellers began to move towards
the gangway. He watched them, one by one, breathlessly. At the very last,
Mr. Nowell stepped quickly forward, with a veiled figure on his arm.
She was closely veiled, her face quite hidden by thick black lace, and
she was clinging with something of a frightened air to her companion's
John Saltram sprang up from his post of observation, and confronted the
two before they could leave the vessel.
"Marian," he said, in slow decided tone, "let go that man's arm. You will
leave this vessel with me, and with no one else."
"Stand out of the way, fellow," cried Percival Nowell; "my daughter can
have nothing to say to you."
"Marian, for God's sake, obey me! There is the vilest treachery in this
man's conduct. Let go his arm. My love, my darling, come with me!"
There was a passionate appeal in his tone, but it produced no answer.
"Marian!" he cried, still interposing himself between these two and the
passage to the landing wharf. "Marian, I will have some answer!"
"You have had your answer, sir," said Percival Nowell, trying to push him
aside. "This lady does not know you. Do you want to make a scene, and
render yourself ridiculous to every one here? There are plenty of lunatic
asylums in New York that will accommodate you, if you are determined to
make yourself eligible for them."
"Marian!" repeated John Saltram, without vouchsafing the faintest notice
of this speech. "Marian, speak to me!"
And then, as there came no answer from that shrinking clinging figure,
with a sudden spring forward, that brought him quite close to her, John
Saltram tore the veil away from the hidden face.
"This must be some impostor," he said; "this is not my wife."
He was right. The creature clinging to Percival Nowell's arm was a pretty
woman enough, with rather red hair, and a common face. She was about
Marian's height; and that was the only likeness between them.
The spectators of this brief fracas crowded round the actors in it,
seeing nothing but the insult offered to a lady, and highly indignant
with John Saltram; and amidst their murmurs Percival Nowell pushed his
way to the shore, with the woman still clinging to his arm.
THE PLEASURES OF WYNCOMB.
That shrill anguish-stricken cry which Ellen Whitelaw had heard on the
night of the stranger's visit to Wyncomb Farm haunted her afterwards with