Part 1 out of 9
Produced by Jonathan Ingram and Distributed Proofreaders
THIS STORY IS INSCRIBED TO
JOHN BALDWIN BUCKSTONE, ESQ.
IN SINCERE ADMIRATION OF
HIS GENIUS AS A DRAMATIC AUTHOR
AND POPULAR ACTOR.
I. AFTER OFFICE HOURS IN THE HOUSE OF DUNBAR, DUNBAR, AND
II. MARGARET'S FATHER
III. THE MEETING AT THE RAILWAY STATION
IV. THE STROKE OF DEATH
V. SINKING THE PAST
VI. CLEMENT AUSTIN'S DIARY
VII. AFTER FIVE-AND-THIRTY YEARS
VIII. THE FIRST STAGE ON THE JOURNEY HOME
IX. HOW HENRY DUNBAR WAITED DINNER
X. LAURA DUNBAR
XI. THE INQUEST
XIII. THE PRISONER IS REMANDED
XIV. MARGARET'S JOURNEY
XVI. IS IT LOVE OR FEAR?
XVII. THE BROKEN PICTURE
XVIII. THREE WHO SUSPECT
XIX. LAURA DUNBAR'S DISAPPOINTMENT
XX. NEW HOPES MAY BLOOM
XXI. A NEW LIFE
XXII. THE STEEPLE-CHASE
XXIII. THE BRIDE THAT THE RAIN RAINS ON
XXIV. THE UNBIDDEN GUEST WHO CAME TO LAURA DUNBAR'S WEDDING
XXV. AFTER THE WEDDING
XXVI. WHAT HAPPENED IN THE BACK PARLOUR, OF THE BANKING-HOUSE
XXVII. CLEMENT AUSTIN'S WOOING
XXVIII. BUYING DIAMONDS
XXIX. GOING AWAY
XXX. STOPPED UPON THE WAY
XXXI. CLEMENT AUSTIN MAKES A SACRIFICE
XXXII. WHAT HAPPENED AT MAUDESLEY ABBEY
XXXIII. MARGARET'S RETURN
XXXV. A DISCOVERY AT THE LUXEMBOURG
XXXVI. LOOKING FOR THE PORTRAIT
XXXVII. MARGARET'S LETTER
XXXVIII. NOTES FROM A JOURNAL KEPT BY CLEMENT AUSTIN DURING HIS
JOURNEY TO WINCHESTER
XXXIX. CLEMENT AUSTIN'S JOURNAL, CONTINUED
XLI. AT MAUDESLEY ABBEY
XLII. THE HOUSEMAID AT WOODBINE COTTAGE
XLIII. ON THE TRACK
XLIV. CHASING THE "CROW"
XLV. GIVING IT UP
XLVI. CLEMENT'S STORY,--BEFORE THE DAWN
XLVII. THE DAWN
THE EPILOGUE: ADDED BY CLEMENT AUSTIN SEVEN YEARS AFTERWARDS
AFTER OFFICE HOURS IN THE HOUSE OF DUNBAR, DUNBAR, AND BALDERBY.
The house of Dunbar, Dunbar, and Balderby, East India bankers, was one
of the richest firms in the city of London--so rich that it would be
quite in vain to endeavour to describe the amount of its wealth. It was
something fabulous, people said. The offices were situated in a dingy
and narrow thoroughfare leading out of King William Street, and were
certainly no great things to look at; but the cellars below their
offices--wonderful cellars, that stretched far away underneath the
church of St. Gundolph, and were only separated by party-walls from the
vaults in which the dead lay buried--were popularly supposed to be
filled with hogsheads of sovereigns, bars of bullion built up in stacks
like so much firewood, and impregnable iron safes crammed to overflowing
with bank bills and railway shares, government securities, family
jewels, and a hundred other trifles of that kind, every one of which was
worth a poor man's fortune.
The firm of Dunbar had been established very soon after the English
first grew powerful in India. It was one of the oldest firms in the
City; and the names of Dunbar and Dunbar, painted upon the door-posts,
and engraved upon shining brass plates on the mahogany doors, had never
been expunged or altered: though time and death had done their work of
change amongst the owners of that name.
The last heads of the firm had been two brothers, Hugh and Percival
Dunbar; and Percival, the younger of these brothers, had lately died at
eighty years of age, leaving his only son, Henry Dunbar, sole inheritor
of his enormous wealth.
That wealth consisted of a splendid estate in Warwickshire; another
estate, scarcely less splendid, in Yorkshire; a noble mansion in
Portland Place; and three-fourths of the bank. The junior partner, Mr.
Balderby, a good-tempered, middle-aged man, with a large family of
daughters, and a handsome red-brick mansion on Clapham Common, had never
possessed more than a fourth share in the business. The three other
shares had been divided between the two brothers, and had lapsed
entirely into the hands of Percival upon the death of Hugh.
On the evening of the 15th of August, 1850, three men sat together in
one of the shady offices at the back of the banking-house in St.
These three men were Mr. Balderby, a confidential cashier called Clement
Austin, and an old clerk, a man of about sixty-five years of age, who
had been a faithful servant of the firm ever since his boyhood.
This man's name was Sampson Wilmot.
He was old, but he looked much older than he was. His hair was white,
and hung in long thin locks upon the collar of his shabby bottle-green
great coat. He wore a great coat, although it was the height of summer,
and most people found the weather insupportably hot. His face was wizen
and wrinkled, his faded blue eyes dim and weak-looking. He was feeble,
and his hands were tremulous with a perpetual nervous motion. Already he
had been stricken twice with paralysis, and he knew that whenever the
third stroke came it must be fatal.
He was not very much afraid of death, however; for his life had been a
joyless one, a monotonous existence of perpetual toil, unrelieved by any
home joys or social pleasures. He was not a bad man, for he was honest,
conscientious, industrious, and persevering.
He lived in a humble lodging, in a narrow court near the bank, and went
twice every Sunday to the church of St. Gundolph.
When he died he hoped to be buried beneath the flagstones of that City
church, and to lie cheek by jowl with the gold in the cellars of the
The three men were assembled in this gloomy private room after office
hours, on a sultry August evening, in order to consult together upon
rather an important subject, namely, the reception of Henry Dunbar, the
new head of the firm.
This Henry Dunbar had been absent from England for five-and-thirty
years, and no living creature now employed in the bank, except Sampson
Wilmot, had ever set eyes upon him.
He had sailed for Calcutta five-and-thirty years before, and had ever
since been employed in the offices of the Indian branch of the bank;
first as clerk, afterwards as chief and manager. He had been sent to
India because of a great error which he had committed in his early
He had been guilty of forgery. He, or rather an accomplice employed by
him, had forged the acceptance of a young nobleman, a brother officer of
Henry Dunbar's, and had circulated forged bills of accommodation to the
amount of three thousand pounds.
These bills were taken up and duly honoured by the heads of the firm.
Percival Dunbar gladly paid three thousand pounds as the price of his
son's honour. That which would have been called a crime in a poorer man
was only considered an error in the dashing young cornet of dragoons,
who had lost money upon the turf, and was fain to forge his friend's
signature rather than become a defaulter.
His accomplice, the man who had actually manufactured the fictitious
signatures, was the younger brother of Sampson Wilmot, who had been a
few months prior to that time engaged as messenger in the
banking-house--a young fellow of nineteen, little better than a lad; a
reckless boy, easily influenced by the dashing soldier who had need of
The bill-broker who discounted the bills speedily discovered their
fraudulent nature; but he knew that the money was safe.
Lord Adolphus Vanlorme was a customer of the house of Dunbar and Dunbar;
the bill-brokers knew that _his_ acceptance was a forgery; but they knew
also that the signature of the drawer, Henry Dunbar, was genuine.
Messrs. Dunbar and Dunbar would not care to see the heir of their house
in a criminal dock.
There had been no hitch, therefore, no scandal, no prosecution. The
bills were duly honoured; but the dashing young officer was compelled to
sell his commission, and begin life afresh as a junior clerk in the
This was a terrible mortification to the high-spirited young man.
The three men assembled in the quiet room behind the bank on this
oppressive August evening were talking together of that old story.
"I never saw Henry Dunbar," Mr. Balderby said; "for, as you know,
Wilmot, I didn't come into the firm till ten years after he sailed for
India; but I've heard the story hinted at amongst the clerks in the days
when I was only a clerk myself."
"I don't suppose you ever heard the rights of it, sir," Sampson Wilmot
answered, fumbling nervously with an old horn snuff-box and a red cotton
handkerchief, "and I doubt if any one knows the rights of that story
except me, and I can remember it as well as if it all happened
yesterday--ay, that I can--better than I remember many things that
really did happen yesterday."
"Let's hear the story from you, then, Sampson," Mr. Balderby said. "As
Henry Dunbar is coming home in a few days, we may as well know the real
truth. We shall better understand what sort of a man our new chief is."
"To be sure, sir, to be sure," returned the old clerk. "It's
five-and-thirty years ago,--five-and-thirty years ago this month, since
it all happened. If I hadn't good cause to remember the date because of
my own troubles, I should remember it for another reason, for it was the
Waterloo year, and city people had been losing and making money like
wildfire. It was in the year '15, sir, and our house had done wonders on
'Change. Mr. Henry Dunbar was a very handsome young man in those
days--very handsome, very aristocratic-looking, rather haughty in his
manners to strangers, but affable and free-spoken to those who happened
to take his fancy. He was very extravagant in all his ways; generous and
open-handed with money; but passionate and self-willed. It's scarcely
strange he should have been so, for he was an only child; he had neither
brother nor sister to interfere with him; and his uncle Hugh, who was
then close upon fifty, was a confirmed bachelor,--so Henry considered
himself heir to an enormous fortune."
"And he began his career by squandering every farthing he could get, I
suppose?" said Mr. Balderby.
"He did, sir. His father was very liberal to him; but give him what he
would, Mr. Percival Dunbar could never give his son enough to keep him
free of gambling debts and losses on the turf. Mr. Henry's regiment was
quartered at Knightsbridge, and the young man was very often at this
office, in and out, in and out, sometimes twice and three times a week;
and I expect that every time he came, he came to get money, or to ask
for it. It was in coming here he met my brother, who was a handsome
lad--ay, as handsome and as gentlemanly a lad as the young cornet
himself; for poor Joseph--that's my brother, gentlemen--had been
educated a bit above his station, being my mother's favourite son, and
fifteen years younger than me. Mr. Henry took a great deal of notice of
Joseph, and used to talk to him while he was waiting about to see his
father or his uncle. At last he asked the lad one day if he'd like to
leave the bank, and go and live with him as a sort of confidential
servant and amanuensis, to write his letters, and all that sort of
thing. 'I shan't treat you altogether as a servant, you know, Joseph,'
he said, 'but I shall make quite a companion of you, and you'll go about
with me wherever I go. You'll find my quarters a great deal pleasanter
than this musty old banking-house, I can tell you.' Joseph accepted this
offer, in spite of everything my poor mother and I could say to him. He
went to live with the cornet in the January of the year in which the
fabricated bills were presented at our counter."
"And when were the bills presented?"
"Not till the following August, sir. It seems that Mr. Henry had lost
five or six thousand pounds on the Derby. He got what he could out of
his father towards paying his losses, but he could not get more than
three thousand pounds; so then he went to Joseph in an awful state of
mind, declaring that he should be able to get the money in a month or so
from his father, and that if he could do anything just to preserve his
credit for the time, and meet the claims of the vulgar City betting
fellows who were pressing him, he should be able to make all square
afterwards. Then, little by little, it came out that he wanted my
brother, who had a wonderful knack of imitating any body's handwriting,
to forge the acceptance of Lord Vanlorme. 'I shall get the bills back
into my own hands before they fall due, Joe,' he said; 'it's only a
little dodge to keep matters sweet for the time being.' Well, gentlemen,
the poor foolish boy was very fond of his master, and he consented to do
this wicked thing."
"Do you believe this to be the first time your brother ever Committed
"I do, Mr. Balderby. Remember he was only a lad, and I dare say he
thought it a fine thing to oblige his generous-hearted young master.
I've seen him many a time imitate the signature of this firm, and other
signatures, upon a half-sheet of letter-paper, for the mere fun of the
thing: but I don't believe my brother Joseph ever did a dishonest action
in his life until he forged those bills. He hadn't need have done so,
for he was only eighteen at the time."
"Young enough, young enough!" murmured Mr. Balderby, compassionately.
"Ay, sir, very young to be ruined for life. That one error, that one
wicked act, was his ruin; for though no steps were taken against him, he
lost his character, and never held his head up in an honest situation
again. He went from bad to worse, and three years after Mr. Henry sailed
for India, my brother, Joseph Wilmot, was convicted, with two or three
others, upon a charge of manufacturing forged Bank of England notes, and
was transported for life."
"Indeed!" exclaimed Mr. Balderby; "a sad story,--a very sad story. I
have heard something of it before, but never the whole truth. Your
brother is dead, I suppose."
"I have every reason to believe so, sir," answered the old clerk,
producing a red cotton handkerchief and wiping away a couple of tears
that were slowly trickling down his poor faded cheeks. "For the first
few years of his time, he wrote now and then, complaining bitterly of
his fate; but for five-and-twenty years I've never had a line from him.
I can't doubt that he's dead. Poor Joseph!--poor boy!--poor boy! The
misery of all this killed my mother. Mr. Henry Dunbar committed a great
sin when he tempted that lad to wrong; and many a cruel sorrow arose out
of that sin, perhaps to lie heavy at his door some day or other, sooner
or later, sooner or later. I'm an old man, and I've seen a good deal of
the ways of this world, and I've found that retribution seldom fails to
overtake those who do wrong."
Mr. Balderby shrugged his shoulders.
"I should doubt the force of your philosophy in this case, my good
Sampson," he said; "Mr. Dunbar has had a long immunity from his sins. I
should scarcely think it likely he would ever be called upon to atone
"I don't know, sir," the old clerk answered; "I don't know that. I've
seen retribution come very late, very late; when the man who committed
the sin had well nigh forgotten it. Evil trees bear evil fruit, Mr.
Balderby: the Scriptures tell us that; and take my word for it, evil
consequences are sure to come from evil deeds."
"But to return to the story of the forged bills," said Mr. Austin, the
cashier, looking at his watch as he spoke.
He was evidently growing rather impatient of the old clerk's rambling
"To be sure, sir, to be sure," answered Sampson Wilmot. "Well, you see,
sir, one of the bills was brought to our counter, and the cashier didn't
much like the look of my lord's signature, and he took the bill to the
inspector, and the inspector said,' Pay the money, but don't debit it
against his lordship.' About an hour afterwards the inspector carried
the bill to Mr. Percival Dunbar, and directly he set eyes upon it, he
knew that Lord Vanlorme's acceptance was a forgery. He sent for me to
his room; and when I went in, he was as white as a sheet, poor
gentleman. He handed me the bill without speaking, and when I had looked
at it, he said--
"'Your brother is at the bottom of this business, Sampson. Do you
remember the half-sheet of paper I found on a blotting-pad in the
counting-house one day; half a sheet of paper scrawled over with the
imitation of two or three signatures? I asked who had copied those
signatures, and your brother came forward and owned to having done it,
laughing at his own cleverness. I told him then that it was a fatal
facility, a fatal facility, and now he has proved the truth of my words
by helping my son to turn forger and thief. That signature must be
honoured, though I should have to sacrifice half my fortune to meet the
demands upon us. Heaven knows to what amount such paper as that may be
in circulation. There are some forged bills that are as good as genuine
documents; and the Jew who discounted these knew that. If my son comes
into the bank this morning send him to me.'"
"And did the young man come?" asked the junior partner.
"Yes, Mr. Balderby, sir; in less than half an hour after I left Mr.
Percival Dunbar's room, in comes Mr. Henry, dashing and swaggering into
the place as if it was his own.
"'Will you please step into your father's room, sir?' I said; 'he wants
to see you very particular.'
"The cornet's jaw dropped, and his face turned ghastly white as I said
this; but he tried to carry it off with a swagger, and followed me into
Mr. Percival Dunbar's room.
"'You needn't leave us, Sampson,' said Mr. Hugh, who was sitting
opposite his brother at the writing-table. 'You may as well hear what I
have to say. I wish somebody whom I can rely upon to know the truth of
this business, and I think we may rely upon you.'
"'Yes, gentlemen,' I answered, 'you may trust me.'
"'What's the meaning of all this?' Mr. Henry Dunbar asked, pretending to
look innocent and surprised; but it wouldn't do, for his lips trembled
so, that it was painful to watch him. 'What's the matter?' he asked.
"Mr. Hugh Dunbar handed him the forged bill.
"'This is what's the matter,' he said.
"The young man stammered out something in the endeavour to deny any
knowledge of the bill in his hand; but his uncle checked him. 'Do not
add perjury to the crime you have already committed,' he said. 'How many
of these are in circulation?'
"'How many!' Mr. Henry repeated, in a faltering voice. 'Yes,' his uncle
answered; 'how many--to what amount?' 'Three thousand pounds,' the
cornet replied, hanging his head. 'I meant to take them up before they
fell due, Uncle Hugh,' he said. 'I did, indeed; I stood to win a hatful
of money upon the Liverpool Summer Meeting, and I made sure I should be
able to take up those bills: but I've had the devil's own luck all this
year. I never thought those bills would be presented; indeed, I never
"'Henry Dunbar,' Mr. Hugh said, very solemnly, 'nine men out of ten, who
do what you have done, think what you say you thought: that they shall
be able to escape the consequences of their deeds. They act under the
pressure of circumstances. They don't mean to do any wrong--they don't
intend to rob any body of a sixpence. But that first false step is the
starting point upon the road that leads to the gallows; and the worst
that can happen to a man is for him to succeed in his first crime.
Happily for you, detection has speedily overtaken you. Why did you do
"The young man stammered out some rambling excuse about his turf losses,
debts of honour which he was compelled to pay. Then Mr. Hugh asked him
whether the forged signature was his own doing, or the work of any body
else. The cornet hesitated for a little, and then told his uncle the
name of his accomplice. I thought this was cruel and cowardly. He had
tempted my brother to do wrong, and the least he could have done would
have been to try to shield him.
"One of the messengers was sent to fetch poor Joseph. The lad reached
the banking house in an hour's time, and was brought straight into the
private room, where we had all been sitting in silence, waiting for him.
"He was as pale as his master, but he didn't tremble, and he had
altogether a more determined look than Mr. Henry.
"Mr. Hugh Dunbar taxed him with what he had done.
"'Do you deny it, Joseph Wilmot?' he asked.
"'No,' my brother said, looking contemptuously at the cornet. 'If my
master has betrayed me, I have no wish to deny anything. But I dare say
he and I will square accounts some day.'
"'I am not going to prosecute my nephew,' Mr. Hugh said; 'so, of course
I shall not prosecute you. But I believe that you have been an evil
counsellor to this young man, and I give you warning that you will get
no character from me. I respect your brother Sampson, and shall retain
him in my service in spite of what you have done; but I hope never to
see your face again. You are free to go; but have a care how you tamper
with other men's signatures, for the next time you may not get off so
"The lad took up his hat and walked slowly towards the door.
"'Gentlemen--gentlemen!' I cried, 'have pity upon him. Remember he is
little more than a boy; and whatever he did, he did out of love for his
"Mr. Hugh shook his head. 'I have no pity,' he answered, sternly: 'his
master might never have done wrong but for him.'
"Joseph did not say a word in answer to all this; but, when his hand was
on the handle of the door, he turned and looked at Mr. Henry Dunbar.
"'Have you nothing to say in my behalf, sir?' he said, very quietly; 'I
have been very much attached to you, sir, and I don't want to think
badly of you at parting. Haven't you one word to say in my behalf?'
"Mr. Henry made no answer. He sat with his head bent forward upon his
breast, and seemed as if he dare not lift his eyes to his uncle's face.
"'No!' Mr. Hugh answered, as sternly as before, 'he has nothing to say
for you. Go; and consider this a lucky escape.'
"Joseph turned upon the banker, with his face all in a crimson flame,
and his eyes flashing fire. 'Let _him_ consider it a lucky escape,' he
said, pointing to Mr. Henry Dunbar,--'let _him_ consider it a lucky
escape, if when we next meet he gets off scot free.'
"He was gone before any body could answer him.
"Then Mr. Hugh Dunbar turned to his nephew.
"'As for you,' he said, 'you have been a spoilt child of fortune, and
you have not known how to value the good things that Providence has
given you. You have begun life at the top of the tree, and you have
chosen to fling your chances into the gutter. You must begin again, and
begin this time upon the lowest step of the ladder. You will sell your
commission, and sail for Calcutta by the next ship that leaves
Southampton. To-day is the 23rd of August, and I see by the _Shipping
Gazette_ that the _Oronoko_ sails on the 10th of September. This will
give you little better than a fortnight to make all your arrangements."
"The young cornet started from his chair as if he had been shot.
"'Sell my commission!' he cried; 'go to India! You don't mean it, Uncle
Hugh; surely you don't mean it. Father, you will never compel me to do
"Percival Dunbar had never looked at his son since the young man had
entered the room. He sat with his elbow resting upon the arm of his
easy-chair, and his face shaded by his hand, and had not once spoken.
"He did not speak now, even when his son appealed to him.
"'Your father has given me full authority to act in this business,' Mr.
Hugh Dunbar said. 'I shall never marry, Henry, and you are my only
nephew, and my acknowledged heir. But I will never leave my wealth to a
dishonest or dishonourable man, and it remains for you to prove whether
you are worthy to inherit it. You will have to begin life afresh. You
have played the man of fashion, and your aristocratic associates have
led you to the position in which you find yourself to-day. You must turn
your back upon the past, Henry. Of course you are free to choose for
yourself. Sell your commission, go to India, and enter the
counting-house of our establishment in Calcutta as a junior clerk; or
refuse to do so, and renounce all hope of succeeding to my fortune or to
"The young man was silent for some minutes, then he said, sullenly
"'I will go. I consider that I have been harshly treated; but I will
"And he did go?" said Mr. Balderby.
"He did, sir," answered the clerk, who had displayed considerable
emotion in relating this story of the past. "He did go, sir,--he sold
his commission, and left England by the _Oronoko_. But he never took
leave of a living creature, and I fully believe that he never in his
heart forgave either his father or his uncle. He worked his way up, as
you know, sir, in the Calcutta counting-house, and by slow degrees rose
to be manager of the Indian branch of the business. He married in 1831,
and he has an only child, a daughter, who has been brought up in England
since her infancy, under the care of Mr. Percival."
"Yes," answered Mr. Balderby, "I have seen Miss Laura Dunbar at her
grandfather's country seat. She is a very beautiful girl, and Percival
Dunbar idolized her. But now to return to business, my good Sampson. I
believe you are the only person in this house who has ever seen our
present chief, Henry Dunbar."
"I am, sir."
"So far so good. He is expected to arrive at Southampton in less than a
week's time, and somebody must be there to meet him and receive him.
After five-and-thirty years' absence he will be a perfect stranger in
England, and will require a business man about him to manage matters for
him, and take all trouble off his hands. These Anglo-Indians are apt to
be indolent, you know, and he may be all the worse for the fatigues of
the overland journey. Now, as you know him, Sampson, and as you are an
excellent man of business, and as active as a boy, I should like you to
meet him. Have you any objection to do this?"
"No, sir," answered the clerk; "I have no great love for Mr. Henry
Dunbar, for I can never cease to look upon him as the cause of my poor
brother Joseph's ruin; but I am ready to do what you wish, Mr. Balderby.
It's business, and I'm ready to do anything in the way of business. I'm
only a sort of machine, sir--a machine that's pretty nearly worn out, I
fancy, now--but as long as I last you can make what use of me you like,
sir. I'm ready to do my duty."
"I am sure of that, Sampson."
"When am I to start for Southampton, sir?"
"Well, I think you'd better go to-morrow, Sampson. You can leave London
by the afternoon train, which starts at four o'clock. You can see to
your work here in the morning, and reach your destination between seven
and eight. I leave everything in your hands. Miss Laura Dunbar will come
up to town to meet her father at the house in Portland Place. The poor
girl is very anxious to see him, as she has not set eyes upon him since
she was a child of two years old. Strange, isn't it, the effect of these
long separations? Laura Dunbar might pass her father in the street
without recognizing him, and yet her affection for him has been
unchanged in all these years."
Mr. Balderby gave the old clerk a pocket-book containing six five-pound
"You will want plenty of money," he said, "though, of course, Mr. Dunbar
will be well supplied. You will tell him that all will be ready for his
reception here. I really am quite anxious to see the new head of the
house. I wonder what he is like, now. By the way, it's rather a singular
circumstance that there is, I believe, no portrait of Henry Dunbar in
existence. His picture was painted when he was a young man, and
exhibited in the Royal Academy; but his father didn't think the likeness
a good one, and sent it back to the artist, who promised to alter and
improve it. Strange to say, this artist, whose name I forget, delayed
from day to day performing his promise, and at the expiration of a
twelvemonth left England for Italy, taking the young man's portrait with
him, amongst a lot of other unframed canvases. This artist never
returned from Italy, and Percival Dunbar could never find out his
whereabouts, or whether he was dead or alive. I have often heard the old
man regret that he possessed no likeness of his son. Our chief was
handsome, you say, in his youth?"
"Yes, sir," Sampson Wilmot answered, "he was very handsome--tall and
fair, with bright blue eyes."
"You have seen Miss Dunbar: is she like her father?"
"No, sir. Her features are altogether different, and her expression is
more amiable than his."
"Indeed! Well, Sampson, we won't detain you any longer. You understand
what you have to do?"
"Yes, sir, perfectly."
"Very well, then. Good night! By the bye, you will put up at one of the
best hotels at Southampton--say the Dolphin--and wait there till the
_Electra_ steamer comes in. It is by the _Electra_ that Mr. Dunbar is to
arrive. Once more, good evening!"
The old clerk bowed and left the room.
"Well, Austin," said Mr. Balderby, turning to the cashier, "we may
prepare ourselves to meet our new chief very speedily. He must know that
you and I cannot be entirely ignorant of the story of his youthful
peccadilloes, and he will scarcely give himself airs to us, I should
"I don't know that, Mr. Balderby," the cashier answered; "if I am any
judge of human nature, Henry Dunbar will hate us because of that very
crime of his own, knowing that we are in the secret, and will be all the
more disagreeable and disdainful in his intercourse with us. He will
carry it off with a high hand, depend upon it."
The town of Wandsworth is not a gay place. There is an air of old-world
quiet in the old-fashioned street, though dashing vehicles drive through
it sometimes on their way to Wimbledon or Richmond Park.
The sloping roofs, the gable-ends, the queer old chimneys, the quaint
casement windows, belong to a bygone age; and the traveller, coming a
stranger to the little town, might fancy himself a hundred miles away
from boisterous London; though he is barely clear of the great city's
smoky breath, or beyond the hearing of her myriad clamorous tongues.
There are lanes and byways leading out of that humble High Street down
to the low bank of the river; and in one of these, a pleasant place
enough, there is a row of old-fashioned semi-detached cottages, standing
in small gardens, and sheltered by sycamores and laburnums from the
dust, which in dry summer weather lies thick upon the narrow roadway.
In one of these cottages a young lady lived with her father; a young
lady who gave lessons on the piano-forte, or taught singing, for very
small remuneration. She wore shabby dresses, and was rarely known to
have a new bonnet; but people respected and admired her,
notwithstanding; and the female inhabitants of Godolphin Cottages, who
gave her good-day sometimes as she went along the dusty lane with her
well-used roll of music in her hand, declared that she was a lady bred
and born. Perhaps the good people who admired Margaret Wentworth would
have come nearer the mark if they had said that she was a lady by right
divine of her own beautiful nature, which had never required to be
schooled into grace or gentleness.
She had no mother, and she had not even the memory of her mother, who
had died seventeen years before, leaving an only child of twelve months
old for James Wentworth to keep.
But James Wentworth, being a scapegrace and a reprobate, who lived by
means that were a secret from his neighbours, had sadly neglected this
only child. He had neglected her, though with every passing year she
grew more and more like her dead mother, until at last, at eighteen
years of age, she had grown into a beautiful woman, with hazel-brown
hair, and hazel eyes to match.
And yet James Wentworth was fond of his only child, after a fashion of
his own. Sometimes he was at home for weeks together, a prey to a fit of
melancholy; under the influence of which he would sit brooding in
silence over his daughter's humble hearth for hours and days together.
At other times he would disappear, sometimes for a few days, sometimes
for weeks and months at a time; and during his absence Margaret suffered
wearisome agonies of suspense.
Sometimes he brought her money; sometimes he lived upon her own slender
But use her as he might, he was always proud of her, and fond of her;
and she, after the way of womankind, loved him devotedly, and believed
him to be the noblest and most brilliant of men.
It was no grief to her to toil, taking long weary walks and giving
tedious lessons for the small stipends which her employers had the
conscience to offer her; they felt no compunction about bargaining and
haggling as to a few pitiful shillings with a music mistress who looked
so very poor, and seemed so glad to work for their paltry pay. The
girl's chief sorrow was, that her father, who to her mind was calculated
to shine in the highest station the world could give, should be a
reprobate and a pauper.
She told him so sometimes, regretfully, tenderly, as she sat by his
side, with her arms twined caressingly about his neck. And there were
times when the strong man would cry aloud over his blighted life, and
the ruin which had fallen upon his youth.
"You're right, Madge," he said sometimes, "you're right, my girl. I
ought to have been something better; I ought to have been, and I might
have been, perhaps, but for one man--but for one base-minded villain,
whose treachery blasted my character, and left me alone in the world to
fight against society. You don't know what it is, Madge, to have to
fight that battle. A man who began life with an honest name, and fair
prospects before him, finds himself cast, by one fatal error, disgraced
and broken, on a pitiless world. Nameless, friendless, characterless, he
has to begin life afresh, with every man's hand against him. He is the
outcast of society. The faces that once looked kindly on him turn away
from him with a frown. The voices that once spoke in his praise are loud
in his disfavour. Driven from every place where once he found a welcome,
the ruined wretch hides himself among strangers, and tries to sink his
hateful identity under a false name. He succeeds, perhaps, for a time,
and is trusted, and being honestly disposed at heart, is honest: but he
cannot long escape from the hateful past. No! In the day and hour when
he is proudest of the new name he has made, and the respect he has won
for himself, some old acquaintance, once a friend, but now an enemy,
falls across his pathway. He is recognized; a cruel voice betrays him.
Every hope that he had cherished is swept away from him. Every good deed
that he has done is denounced as the act of a hypocrite. Because once
sinned he can never do well. _That_ is the world's argument."
"But not the teaching of the gospel," Margaret murmured. "Remember,
father, who it was that said to the guilty woman, Go, and sin no more.'"
"Ay, my girl," James Wentworth answered, bitterly, "but the world would
have said, 'Hence, abandoned creature! go, and sin afresh; for you shall
never be suffered to live an honest life, or herd with honest people.
Repent, and we will laugh at your penitence as a shallow deception.
Weep, and we will cry out upon your tears. Toil and struggle to regain
the eminence from which you have fallen, and when you have nearly
reached the top of that difficult hill, we will band ourselves together
to hurl you back into the black abyss.' That's what the _world_ says to
the sinner, Margaret, my girl. I don't know much of the gospel; I have
never read it since I was a boy, and used to read long chapters aloud to
my mother, on quiet Sunday evenings; I can see the little old-fashioned
parlour now as I speak of that time; I can hear the ticking of the
eight-day clock, and I can see my mother's fond eyes looking up at me
every now and then. But I don't know much about the gospel now; and
when, you, poor child, try to read it to me, there's some devil rises in
my breast, and shuts my ears against the words. I don't know the gospel,
but I _do_ know the world. The laws of society are inflexible, Madge;
there is no forgiveness for a man who is once found out. He may commit
any crime in the calendar, so long as his crimes are profitable, and he
is content to share his profits with his neighbours. But he mustn't be
Upon the 16th of August, 1850, the day on which Sampson Wilmot, the
banker's clerk, was to start for Southampton, James Wentworth spent the
morning in his daughter's humble little sitting-room, and sat smoking by
the open window, while Margaret worked beside a table near him.
The father sat with his long clay pipe in his mouth, watching his
daughter's fair face as she bent over the work upon her knee.
The room was neatly kept, but poorly furnished, with that old-fashioned
spindle-legged furniture which seems peculiar to lodging-houses. Yet the
little sitting-room had an aspect of simple rustic prettiness, which is
almost pleasanter to look at than fine furniture. There were
pictures,--simple water-colour sketches,--and cheap engravings on the
walls, and a bunch of flowers on the table, and between the muslin
curtains that shadowed the window you saw the branches of the sycamores
waving in the summer wind.
James Wentworth had once been a handsome man. It was impossible to look
at him and not perceive as much as that. He might, indeed, have been
handsome still, but for the moody defiance in his eyes, but for the
half-contemptuous curve of his finely-moulded upper lip.
He was about fifty-three years of age, and his hair was grey, but this
grey hair did not impart a look of age to his appearance. His erect
figure, the carriage of his head, his dashing, nay, almost swaggering
walk, all belonged to a man in the prime of middle age. He wore a beard
and thick moustache of grizzled auburn. His nose was aquiline, his
forehead high and square, his chin massive. The form of his head and
face denoted force of intellect. His long, muscular limbs gave evidence
of great physical power. Even the tones of his voice, and his manner of
speaking, betokened a strength of will that verged upon obstinacy.
A dangerous man to offend! A relentless and determined man; not easily
to be diverted from any purpose, however long the time between the
formation of his resolve and the opportunity of carrying it into
As he sat now watching his daughter at her work, the shadows of black
thoughts darkened his brow, and spread a sombre gloom over his face.
And yet the picture before him could have scarcely been unpleasing to
the most fastidious eye. The girl's face, drooping over her work, was
very fair. The features were delicate and statuesque in their form; the
large hazel eyes were very beautiful--all the more beautiful, perhaps,
because of a soft melancholy that subdued their natural brightness; the
smooth brown hair rippling upon the white forehead, which was low and
broad, was of a colour which a duchess might have envied, or an empress
tried to imitate with subtle dyes compounded by court chemists. The
girl's figure, tall, slender, and flexible, imparted grace and beauty to
a shabby cotton dress and linen collar, that many a maid-servant would
have disdained to wear; and the foot visible below the scanty skirt was
slim and arched as the foot of an Arab chief.
There was something in Margaret Wentworth's face, some shade of
expression, vague and transitory in its nature, that bore a likeness to
her father; but the likeness was a very faint one, and it was from her
mother that the girl had inherited her beauty.
She had inherited her mother's nature also: but mingled with that soft
and womanly disposition there was much of the father's determination,
much of the strong man's force of intellect and resolute will.
A beautiful woman--an amiable woman; but a woman whose resentment for a
great wrong could be deep and lasting.
"Madge," said James Wentworth, throwing his pipe aside, and looking full
at his daughter, "I sit and watch you sometimes till I begin to wonder
at you. You seem contented and most happy, though the monotonous life
you lead would drive some women mad. Have you no ambition, girl?"
"Plenty, father," she answered, lifting her eyes from her work, and
looking at him mournfully; "plenty--for you."
The man shrugged his shoulders, and sighed heavily.
"It's too late for that, my girl," he said; "the day is past--the day is
past and gone--and the chance gone with it. You know how I've striven,
and worked, and struggled; and how I've seen my poor schemes crushed
when I had built them up with more patience than perhaps man ever built
before. You've been a good girl, Margaret--a noble girl; and you've been
true to me alike in joy and sorrow--the joy's been little enough beside
the sorrow, poor child--but you've borne it all; you've endured it all.
You've been the truest woman that was ever born upon this earth, to my
thinking; but there's one thing in which you've been unlike the rest of
"And what's that, father?"
"You've shown no curiosity. You've seen me knocked down and disgraced
wherever I tried to get a footing; you've seen me try first one trade
and then another, and fail in every one of them. You've seen me a clerk
in a merchant's office; an actor; an author; a common labourer, working
for a daily wage; and you've seen ruin overtake me whichever way I've
turned. You've seen all this, and suffered from it; but you've never
asked me why it has been so. You've never sought to discover the secret
of my life."
The tears welled up to the girl's eyes as her father spoke.
"If I have not done so, dear father," she answered, gently, "it has been
because I knew your secret must be a painful one. I have lain awake
night after night, wondering what was the cause of the blight that has
been upon you and all you have done. But why should I ask you questions
that you could not answer without pain? I have heard people say cruel
things of you; but they have never said them twice in my hearing." Her
eyes flashed through a veil of tears as she spoke. "Oh, father,--dearest
father!" she cried, suddenly throwing aside her work, and dropping on
her knees beside the man's chair, "I do not ask for your confidence if
it is painful to you to give it; I only want your love. But believe
this, father,--always believe this,--that, whether you trust me or not,
there is nothing upon this earth strong enough to turn my heart from
She placed her hand in her father's as she spoke, and he grasped it so
tightly that her pale face grew crimson with the pain.
"Are you sure of that, Madge?" he asked, bending his head to look more
closely in her earnest face.
"I am quite sure, father."
"Nothing can tear your heart from me?"
"Nothing in this world."
"What if I am not worthy of your love?"
"I cannot stop to think of that, father. Love is not mete out in strict
proportion to the merits of those we love. If it were, there would be no
difference between love and justice."
James Wentworth laughed sneeringly.
"There is little enough difference as it is, perhaps," he said; "they're
both blind. Well, Madge," he added, in a more serious tone, "you're a
generous-minded, noble-spirited girl, and I believe you do love me. I
fancy that if you never asked the secret of my life, you can guess it
pretty closely, eh?"
He looked searchingly at the girl's face. She hung her head, but did not
"You can guess the secret, can't you, Madge? Don't be afraid to speak,
"I fear I can guess it, father dear," she murmured in a low voice.
"Speak out, then."
"I am afraid the reason you have never prospered--the reason that so
many are against you--is that you once did something wrong, very long
ago, when you were young and reckless, and scarcely knew the nature of
your own act; and that now, though you are truly penitent and sorry, and
have long wished to lead an altered life, the world won't forget or
forgive that old wrong. Is it so, father?"
"It is, Margaret. You've guessed right enough, child, except that you've
omitted one fact. The wrong I did was done for the sake of another. I
was tempted to do it by another. I made no profit by it myself, and I
never hoped to make any. But when detection came, it was upon _me_ that
the disgrace and ruin fell; while the man for whom I had done wrong--the
man who had made me his tool--turned his back upon me, and refused to
utter one word in my justification, though he was in no danger himself,
and the lightest word from his lips might have saved me. That was a hard
case, wasn't it, Madge?"
"Hard!" cried the girl, with her nostrils quivering and her hands
clenched; "it was cruel, dastardly, infamous!"
"From that day, Margaret, I was a ruined man. The brand of society was
upon me. The world would not let me live honestly, and the love of life
was too strong in me to let me face death. I tried to live dishonestly,
and I led a wild, rackety, dare-devil kind of a life, amongst men who
found they had a skilful tool, and knew how to use me. They did use me
to their heart's content, and left me in the lurch when danger came. I
was arrested for forgery, tried, found guilty, and transported for life.
Don't flinch, girl! don't turn so white! You must have heard something
of this whispered and hinted at often enough before to-day. You may as
well know the whole truth. I was transported, for life, Madge; and for
thirteen years I toiled amongst the wretched, guilty slaves in Norfolk
Island--that was the favourite place in those days for such as me--and
at the end of that time, my conduct having been approved of by my
gaolers, the governor sent for me, gave me a good-service certificate,
and I went into a counting-house and served as a clerk. But I got a kind
of fever in my blood, and night and day I only thought of one thing, and
that was my chance of escape. I did escape,--never you mind how, that's
a long story,--and I got back to England, a free man; a free man, Madge,
_I_ thought; but the world soon told me another story. I was a felon, a
gaol-bird; and I was never more to lift my head amongst honest people. I
couldn't bear it, Madge, my girl. Perhaps a better man might have
persevered in spite of all till he conquered the world's prejudice. But
_I_ couldn't. I sank under my trials, and fell lower and lower. And for
every disgrace that has ever fallen upon me--for every sorrow I have
ever suffered--for every sin I have ever committed--I look to one man as
Margaret Wentworth had risen to her feet. She stood before her father
now, pale and breathless, with her lips parted, and her bosom heaving.
"Tell me his name, father," she whispered; "tell me that man's name."
"Why do you want to know his name, Madge?"
"Never mind why, father. Tell it to me--tell it!"
She stamped her foot in the vehemence of her passion.
"Tell me his name, father," she repeated, impatiently.
"His name is Henry Dunbar," James Wentworth answered, "and he is the son
of a rich banker. I saw his father's death in the paper last March. His
uncle died ten years ago, and he will inherit the fortunes of both
father and uncle. The world has smiled upon him. He has never suffered
for that one false step in life, which brought such ruin upon me. He
will come home from India now, I dare say, and the world will be under
his feet. He will be worth a million of money, I should fancy; curse
him! If my wishes could be accomplished, every guinea he possesses would
be a separate scorpion to sting and to torture him."
"Henry Dunbar," whispered Margaret to herself--"Henry Dunbar. I will not
forget that name."
THE MEETING AT THE RAILWAY STATION.
When the hands of the little clock in Margaret's sitting-room pointed to
five minutes before three, James Wentworth rose from his lounging
attitude in the easy-chair, and took his hat from a side-table.
"Are you going out, father?" the girl asked.
"Yes, Madge; I'm going up to London. It don't do for me to sit still too
long. Bad thoughts come fast enough at any time; but they come fastest
when a fellow sits twirling his thumbs. Don't look so frightened, Madge;
I'm not going to do any harm. I'm only going to look about me. I may
fall in with a bit of luck, perhaps; no matter what, if it puts a few
shillings into my pocket."
"I'd rather you stayed at home, father dear," Margaret said, gently.
"I dare say you would, child. But I tell you, I can't. I _can't_ sit
quiet this afternoon. I've been talking of things that always seem to
set my brain on fire. No harm shall come of my going away, girl; I
promise you that. The worst I shall do is to sit in a tavern parlour,
drink a glass of gin-and-water, and read the papers. There's no crime in
that, is there, Madge?"
His daughter smiled as she tried to arrange the shabby velvet collar of
his threadbare coat.
"No, father dear," she said; "and I'm sure I always wish you to enjoy
yourself. But you'll come home soon, won't you?"
"What do you call 'soon,' my lass?"
"Before ten o'clock. My day's work will be all over long before that,
and I'll try and get something nice for your supper."
"Very well, then, I'll be back by ten o'clock to-night. There's my hand
He gave Margaret his hand, kissed her smooth cheeks, took his cane from
a corner of the room, and then went out.
His daughter watched him from the open window as he walked up the narrow
lane, amongst the groups of children gathered every here and there upon
the dusty pathway.
"Heaven have pity upon him, and keep him from sin!" murmured Margaret
Wentworth, clasping her hands, and with her eyes still following the
James Wentworth jingled the money in his waistcoat-pocket as he walked
towards the railway station. He had very little; a couple of sixpences
and a few halfpence. Just about enough to pay for a second-class return
ticket, and for his glass of gin-and-water at a London tavern.
He reached the station three minutes before the train was due, and took
At half-past three he was in London.
But as he was an idle, purposeless man, without friends to visit or
money to spend, he was in no hurry to leave the railway station.
He hated solitude or quiet; and here in this crowded terminus there was
life and bustle and variety enough in all conscience; and all to be seen
for nothing: so he strolled backwards and forwards upon the platform,
watching the busy porters, the eager passengers rushing to and fro, and
meditating as to where he should spend the rest of his afternoon.
By-and-by he stood against a wooden pillar in a doorway, looking at the
cabs, as, one after another, they tore up to the station, and disgorged
He had witnessed the arrival of a great many different travellers, when
his attention was suddenly arrested by a little old man, wan and wizen
and near-sighted, feeble-looking, but active, who alighted from a cab,
and gave his small black-leather portmanteau into the hands of a porter.
This man was Sampson Wilmot, the old confidential clerk in the house of
Dunbar, Dunbar, and Balderby.
James Wentworth followed the old man and the porter.
"I wonder if it _is_ he," he muttered to himself; "there's a
likeness--there's certainly a likeness. But it's so many years ago--so
many years--I don't suppose I should know him. And yet this man recalls
him to me somehow. I'll keep my eye upon the old fellow, at any rate."
Sampson Wilmot had arrived at the station about ten minutes before the
starting of the train. He asked some questions of the porter, and left
his portmanteau in the man's care while he went to get his ticket.
James Wentworth lingered behind, and contrived to look at the
There was a label pasted on the lid, with an address, written in a
"MR. SAMPSON WILMOT,
PASSENGER TO SOUTHAMPTON."
James Wentworth gave a long whistle.
"I thought as much," he muttered; "I thought I couldn't be mistaken!"
He went into the ticket-office, where the clerk was standing amongst the
crowd, waiting to take his ticket.
James Wentworth went up close to him, and touched him lightly on the
Sampson Wilmot turned and looked him full in the face. He looked, but
there was no ray of recognition in that look.
"Do you want me, sir?" he asked, with rather a suspicious glance at the
reprobate's shabby dress.
"Yes, Mr. Wilmot, I want to speak to you. You can come into the
waiting-room with me, after you've taken your ticket."
The clerk stared aghast. The tone of this shabby-looking stranger was
almost one of command.
"I don't know you, my good sir," stammered Sampson; "I never set eyes
upon you before; and unless you are a messenger sent after me from the
office, you must be under a mistake. You are a stranger to me!"
"I am no stranger, and I am no messenger!" answered the other. "You've
got your ticket? That's all right! Now you can come with me."
He walked into a waiting-room, the half-glass doors of which opened out
of the office. The room was empty, for it only wanted five minutes to
the starting of the train, and the passengers had hurried off to take
James Wentworth took off his hat, and brushed his rumpled grey hair from
"Put on your spectacles, Sampson Wilmot," he said, "and look hard at me,
and then tell me if I am a stranger to you."
The old clerk obeyed, nervously, fearfully. His tremulous hands could
scarcely adjust his spectacles.
He looked at the reprobate's face for some moments and said nothing. But
his breath came quicker and his face grew very pale.
"Ay," said James Wentworth, "look your hardest, and deny me if you can.
It will be only wise to deny me; I'm no credit to any one--least of all
to a steady respectable old chap like you!"
"Joseph!--Joseph!" gasped the old clerk; "is it you? Is it really my
wretched brother? I thought you were dead, Joseph--I thought you were
dead and gone!"
"And wished it, I dare say!" the other answered, bitterly. "No,
Joseph,--no!" cried Sampson Wilmot; "Heaven knows I never wished you
ill. Heaven knows I was always sorry for you, and could make excuses for
you even when you sank lowest!"
"That's strange!" Joseph muttered, with a sneer; "that's very strange!
If you were so precious fond of me, how was it that you stopped in the
house of Dunbar and Dunbar? If you had had one spark of natural
affection for me, you could never have eaten their bread!"
Sampson Wilmot shook his head sorrowfully.
"Don't be too hard upon me, Joseph," he said, with mild reproachfulness;
"if I hadn't stopped at the banking-house your mother might have
The reprobate made no answer to this; but he turned his face away and
The bell rang for the starting of the train.
"I must go," Sampson cried. "Give me your address, Joseph, and I will
write to you."
"Oh, yes, I dare say!" answered his brother, scornfully; "no, no, _that_
won't do. I've found you, my rich respectable brother, and I'll stick to
you. Where are you going?"
"To meet Henry Dunbar."
Joseph Wilmot's face grew livid with rage.
The change that came over it was so sudden and so awful in its nature,
that the old clerk started back as if he had seen a ghost.
"You are going to meet _him_?" said Joseph, in a hoarse whisper; "he is
in England, then?"
"No; but he is expected to arrive almost immediately. Why do you look
like that, Joseph?"
"Why do I look like that?" cried the younger man; "have you grown to be
such a mere machine, such a speaking automaton, such a living tool of
the men you serve, that all human feeling has perished in your breast?
Bah! how should such as you understand what I feel? Hark! the bell's
ringing--I'll come with you."
The train was on the point of starting: the two men hurried out to the
"No,--no," cried Sampson Wilmot, as his brother stepped after him into
the carriage; "no,--no, Joseph, don't come with me,--don't come with
"I will go with you."
"But you've no ticket."
"I can get one--or you can get me one, for I've no money--at the first
station we stop at."
They were seated in a second-class railway carriage by this time. The
ticket-collector, running from carriage to carriage, was in too great a
hurry to discover that the little bit of pasteboard which Joseph Wilmot
exhibited was only a return-ticket to Wandsworth. There was a brief
scramble, a banging of doors, and Babel-like confusion of tongues; and
then the engine gave its farewell shriek and rushed away.
The old clerk looked very uneasily at his younger brother's face. The
livid pallor had passed away, but the strongly-marked eyebrows met in a
"Joseph--Joseph!" said Sampson, "Heaven only knows I'm glad to see you,
after more than thirty years' separation, and any help I can give you
out of my slender means I'll give freely--I will, indeed, Joseph, for
the memory of our dear mother, if not for love of you; and I do love
you, Joseph--I do love you very dearly still. But I'd rather you didn't
take this journey with me--I would, indeed. I can't see that any good
can come of it."
"Never you mind what comes of it. I want to talk to you. You're a nice
affectionate brother to wish to shuffle me off directly after our first
meeting. I want to talk to you, Sampson Wilmot. And I want to see _him_.
I know how the world's used _me_ for the last five-and-thirty years; I
want to see how the same world--such a just and merciful world as it
is--has treated my tempter and betrayer, Henry Dunbar!"
Sampson Wilmot trembled like a leaf. His health had been very feeble
ever since the second shock of paralysis--that dire and silent foe,
whose invisible hand had stricken the old man down as he sat at his
desk, without one moment's warning. His health was feeble, and the shock
of meeting with his brother--this poor lost disgraced brother--whom he
had for five-and-twenty years believed to be dead, had been almost too
much for him. Nor was this all--unutterable terror took possession of
him when he thought of a meeting between Joseph Wilmot and Henry Dunbar.
The old man could remember his brother's words:
"Let him consider it a lucky escape, if, when we next meet, he gets off
Sampson Wilmot had prayed night and day that such a meeting might never
take place. For five-and-thirty years it had been delayed. Surely it
would not take place now.
The old clerk looked nervously at his brother's face.
"Joseph," he murmured, "I'd rather you didn't go with me to Southampton;
I'd rather you didn't meet Mr. Dunbar. You were very badly
treated--cruelly and unjustly treated--nobody knows that better than I.
But it's a long time ago, Joseph--it's a very, very long time ago.
Bitter feelings die out of a man's breast as the years roll by--don't
they, Joseph? Time heals all old wounds, and we learn to forgive others
as we hope to be forgiven--don't we, Joseph?"
"_You_ may," answered the reprobate, fiercely; "I don't!"
He said no more, but sat silent, with his arms folded over his breast.
He looked straight before him out of the carriage-window; but he saw no
more of the pleasant landscape,--the fair fields of waving corn, with
scarlet poppies and deep-blue corn flowers, bright glimpses of sunlit
water, and distant villages, with grey church-turrets, nestling among
trees. He looked out of the carriage-window, and some of earth's
pleasantest pictures sped by him; but he saw no more of that
ever-changing prospect than if he had been looking at a blank sheet of
Sampson Wilmot sat opposite to him, restless and uneasy, watching his
fierce gloomy countenance.
The clerk took a ticket for his brother at the first station the train
stopped at. But still Joseph was silent.
An hour passed by, and he had not yet spoken.
He had no love for his brother. The world had hardened him. The
consequences of his own sins, falling very heavily upon his head, had
embittered his nature. He looked upon the man whom he had once loved and
trusted as the primary cause of his disgrace and misery, and this
thought influenced his opinion of all mankind.
He could not believe in the goodness of any man, remembering, as he did,
how he had once trusted Henry Dunbar.
The brothers were alone in the carriage.
Sampson watched the gloomy face opposite to him for some time, and then,
with a weary sigh, he drew his handkerchief over his face, and sank back
in the corner of the carriage. But he did not sleep. He was agitated and
anxious. A dizzy faintness had seized upon him, and there was a strange
buzzing in his ears, and unwonted clouds before his dim eyes. He tried
to speak once or twice, but it seemed to him as if he was powerless to
form the words that were in his mind.
Then his mind began to grow confused. The hoarse snorting of the engine
sounded monotonously in his ears: growing louder and louder with every
moment; until the noise of it grew hideous and intolerable--a perpetual
thunder, deafening and bewildering him.
The train was fast approaching Basingstoke, when Joseph Wilmot was
suddenly startled from his moody reverie.
There was an awful cause for that sudden start, that look of horror in
the reprobate's face.
THE STROKE OF DEATH.
The old clerk had fallen from his seat, and lay in a motionless heap at
the bottom of the railway carriage.
The third stroke of paralysis had come upon him; inevitable, no doubt,
long ago; but hastened, it may be, by that unlooked-for meeting at the
Joseph Wilmot knelt beside the stricken man. He was a vagabond and an
outcast, and scenes of horror were not new to him. He had seen death
under many of its worst aspects, and the grim King of Terrors had little
terror for him. He was hardened, steeped in guilt, and callous as to the
sufferings of others. The love which he bore for his daughter was,
perhaps, the last ray of feeling that yet lingered in this man's
But he did all he could, nevertheless, for the unconscious old man. He
loosened his cravat, unfastened his waistcoat, and felt for the beating
of his heart.
That heart did beat: very fitfully, as if the old clerk's weary soul had
been making feeble struggles to be released from its frail tabernacle of
"Better, perhaps, if this should prove fatal," Joseph muttered; "I
should go on alone to meet Henry Dunbar."
The train reached Basingstoke; Joseph put his head out of the open
window, and called loudly to a porter.
The man came quickly, in answer to that impatient summons.
"My brother is in a fit," Joseph cried; "help me to lift him out of the
carriage, and then send some one for a doctor."
The unconscious form was lifted out in the arms of the two strong men.
They carried it into the waiting-room, and laid it on a sofa.
The bell rang, and the Southampton train rushed onward without the two
In another moment the whole station was in commotion. A gentleman had
been seized with paralysis, and was dying.
The doctor arrived in less than ten minutes. He shook his head, after
examining his patient.
"It's a bad case," said he; "very bad; but we must do our best. Is there
anybody with this old gentleman?"
"Yes, sir," the porter answered, pointing to Joseph; "this person is
The country surgeon glanced rather suspiciously at Joseph Wilmot. He
looked a vagabond, certainly--every inch a vagabond; a reckless,
dare-devil scoundrel, at war with society, and defiant of a world he
"Are you--any--relation to this gentleman?" the doctor asked,
"Yes, I am his brother."
"I should recommend his being removed to the nearest hotel. I will send
a woman to nurse him. Do you know if this is the first stroke he has
"No, I do not."
The surgeon looked more suspicious than ever, after receiving this
"Strange," he said, "that you, who say you are his brother, should not
be able to give me information upon that point."
Joseph Wilmot answered with an air of carelessness that was almost
"It is strange," he said; "but many stranger things have happened in
this world before now. My brother and I haven't met for years until we
The unconscious man was removed from the railway station to an inn near
at hand--a humble, countrified place, but clean and orderly. Here he was
taken to a bed-chamber, whose old-fashioned latticed windows looked out
upon the dusty road.
The doctor did all that his skill could devise, but he could not restore
consciousness to the paralyzed brain. The soul was gone already. The
body lay, a form of motionless and senseless clay, under the white
counterpane; and Joseph Wilmot, sitting near the foot of the bed,
watched it with a gloomy face.
The woman who was to nurse the sick man came by-and-by, and took her
place by the pillow. But there was very little for her to do.
"Is there any hope of his recovering?" Joseph asked eagerly, as the
doctor was about to leave the room.
"I fear not--I fear there is no hope."
"Will it be over soon?"
"Very soon, I think. I do not believe that he can last more than
The surgeon waited for a few moments after saying this, expecting some
exclamation of surprise or grief from the dying man's brother: but there
was none; and with a hasty "good evening" the medical man quitted the
It was growing dusk, and the twilight shadows upon Joseph Wilmot's face
made it, in its sullen gloom, darker even than it had been in the
"I'm glad of it, I'm glad of it," he muttered; "I shall meet Harry
The bed-chamber in which the sick man lay opened out of a little
sitting-room. Sampson's carpet-bag and portmanteau had been left in this
Joseph Wilmot searched the pockets in the clothes that had been taken
off his brother's senseless form.
There was some loose silver and a bunch of keys in the waistcoat-pocket,
and a well-worn leather-covered memorandum-book in the breast-pocket of
the old-fashioned coat.
Joseph took these things into the sitting-room, closed the door between
the two apartments, and then rang for lights.
The chambermaid who brought the candles asked if he had dined.
"Yes," he said, "I dined five hours ago. Bring me some brandy."
The girl brought a small decanter of spirit and a wine-glass, set them
on the table, and left the room. Joseph Wilmot followed her to the door,
and turned the key in the lock.
"I don't want any intruders," he muttered; "these country people are
He seated himself at the table, poured out a glass of brandy, drank it,
and then drew one of the candles towards him.
He had put the money, the keys, and the memorandum-book, in one of his
own pockets. He took out the memorandum-book first, and examined it.
There were five Bank of England notes for five pounds each in one of the
pockets, and a letter in the other.
The letter was directed to Henry Dunbar, and sealed with the official
seal of the banking-house. The name of Stephen Balderby was written on
the left-hand lower corner of the envelope.
"So, so," whispered Joseph Wilmot, "this is the junior partner's letter
of welcome to his chief. I'll take care of that."
He replaced the letter in the pocket of the memorandum-book, and then
looked at the pencil entries on the different pages.
The last entry was the only memorandum that had any interest for him.
It consisted of these few words--
_"H.D., expected to arrive at Southampton Docks on or about the 19th
inst., per steamer_ Electra; _will be met by Miss Laura D. at Portland
"Who's Laura D.?" mused the spy, as he closed the memorandum-book. "His
daughter, I suppose. I remember seeing his marriage in the papers,
twenty years ago. He married well, of course. Fortune made _everything_
smooth for him. He married a lady of rank. Curse him!"
Joseph Wilmot sat for some time with his arms folded upon the table
before him, brooding, brooding, brooding; with a sinister smile upon his
lips, and an ominous light in his eyes.
A dangerous man always--a dangerous man when he was loud, reckless,
brutal, violent: but most of all dangerous when he was most quiet.
By-and-by he took the bunch of keys from his pocket, knelt down before
the portmanteau, and examined its contents.
There was very little to reward his scrutiny--only a suit of clothes, a
couple of clean shirts, and the necessaries of the clerk's simple
toilet. The carpet-bag contained a pair of boots, a hat-brush, a
night-shirt, and a faded old chintz dressing-gown.
Joseph Wilmot rose from his knees after examining these things, and
softly opened the door between the two rooms. There had been no change
in the sick chamber. The nurse still sat by the head of the bed. She
looked round at Joseph, as he opened the door.
"No change, I suppose?" he said.
"No, sir; none."
"I am going out for a stroll, presently. I shall be in again in an
He shut the door again, but he did not go out immediately. He knelt down
once more by the side of the portmanteau, and tore off the label with
his brother's name upon it. He tore a similar label off the carpet-bag,
taking care that no vestige of the clerk's name was left behind.
When he had done this, and thrust the torn labels into his pocket, he
began to walk up and down the room, softly, with his arms folded upon
"The _Electra_, is expected to arrive on the nineteenth," he said, in a
low, thoughtful voice, "on or about the nineteenth. She may arrive
either before or after. To-morrow will be the seventeenth. If Sampson
dies, there will be an inquest, no doubt: a post-mortem examination,
perhaps: and I shall be detained till all that is over. I shall be
detained two or three days at least: and in the mean time Henry Dunbar
may arrive at Southampton, hurry on to London, and I may miss the one
chance of meeting that man face to face. I won't be balked of this
meeting--I won't be balked. Why should I stop here to watch by an
unconscious man's death-bed? No! Fate has thrown Henry Dunbar once more
across my pathway: and I won't throw my chance away."
He took up his hat--a battered, shabby-looking white hat, which
harmonized well with his vagabond appearance--and went out, after
stopping for a minute at the bar to tell the landlord that he would be
back in an hour's time.
He went straight to the railway station, and made inquiries as to the
SINKING THE PAST.
The train from London to Southampton was due in an hour. The clerk who
gave Joseph Wilmot this information asked him how his brother was
"He is much better," Joseph answered. "I am going on to Southampton to
execute some important business he was to have done there. I shall come
back early to-morrow morning."
He walked into the waiting-room, and stopped there, seated in the same
attitude the whole time: never stirring, never lifting his head from his
breast: always brooding, brooding, brooding: as he had brooded in the
railway carriage, as he had brooded in the little parlour of the inn. He
took his ticket for Southampton as soon as the office was open, and then
stood on the platform, where there were two or three stragglers, waiting
for the train to come up.
It came at last. Joseph Wilmot sprang into a second-class carriage, took
his seat in the corner, with his hat slouched over his eyes, which were
almost hidden by its dilapidated brim.
It was late when he reached Southampton; but he seemed to be acquainted
with the town, and he walked straight to a small public-house by the
river-side, almost hidden under the shadow of the town wall.
Here he got a bed, and here he ascertained that the _Electra_ had not
He ate his supper in his own room, though he was requested to take it in
the public apartment. He seemed to shrink from meeting any one, or
talking to any one; and still brooded over his own black thoughts: as he
had brooded at the railway station, in the parlour of the Basingstoke
inn, in the carriage with his brother Sampson.
Whatever his thoughts were, they absorbed him so entirely that he seemed
like a man who walks in his sleep, doing everything mechanically, and
without knowing what he does.
But for all this he was active, for he rose very early the next morning.
He had not had an hour's sleep throughout the night, but had lain in
every variety of restless attitude, tossing first on this side and then
on that: always thinking, thinking, thinking, till the action of his
brain became as mechanical as that of any other machine, and went on in
spite of himself.
He went downstairs, paid the money for his supper and night's lodging to
a sleepy servant-girl, and left the house as the church-clock in an
old-fashioned square hard by struck eight.
He walked straight to the High Street, and entered the shop of a tailor
and general outfitter. It was a stylish establishment, and there was a
languid young man taking down the shutters, who appeared to be the only
person on the establishment just at present.
He looked superciliously enough at Joseph Wilmot, eyeing him lazily from
head to foot, and yawning as he did so.
"You'd better make yourself scarce," he said; "our principal never gives
anything to tramps."
"Your principal may give or keep what he likes," Joseph answered,
carelessly; "I can pay for what I want. Call your master down: or stay,
you'll do as well, I dare say. I want a complete rig-out from head to
heel. Do you understand?"
"I shall, perhaps, when I see the money for it," the languid youth
answered, with a sneer.
"So you've learned the way of the world already, have you, my lad?" said
Joseph Wilmot, bitterly. Then, pulling his brother's memorandum-book
from his pocket, he opened it, and took out the little packet of
bank-notes. "I suppose you can understand these?" he said.
The languid youth lifted his nose, which by its natural conformation
betrayed an aspiring character, and looked dubiously at his customer.
"I can understand as they might be flash uns," he remarked,
Mr. Joseph Wilmot growled out an oath, and made a plunge at the young
"I said as they _might_ be flash," the youth remonstrated, quite meekly;
"there's no call to fly at me. I didn't mean to give no offence."
"No," muttered Mr. Wilmot; "egad! you'd better _not_ mean it. Call your
The youth retired to obey: he was quite subdued and submissive by this
Joseph Wilmot looked about the shop.
"The cur forgot the till," he muttered; "I might try my hand at that,
if--" He stopped and smiled with a strange, deliberate expression, not
quite agreeable to behold--"if I wasn't going to meet Henry Dunbar."
There was a full-length looking-glass in one corner of the shop. Joseph
Wilmot walked up to it, looked at himself for a few moments in silent
contemplation, and then shook his clenched hand at the reflected image.
"You're a vagabond!" he muttered between his set teeth, "and you look
it! You're an outcast; and you look it! But who set the mark upon you?
Who's to blame for all the evil you have done? Whose treachery made you
what you are? That's the question!"
The owner of the shop appeared, and looked sharply at his customer.
"Now, listen to me!" Joseph Wilmot said, slowly and deliberately. "I've
been down upon my luck for some time past, and I've just got a bit of
money. I've got it honestly, mind you; and I don't want to be questioned
by such a jackanapes as that shopboy of yours."
The languid youth folded his arms, and endeavoured to look ferocious in
his fiery indignation; but he drew a little way behind his master as he
The proprietor of the shop bowed and smiled.
"We shall be happy to wait upon you, sir," he said; "and I have no doubt
we shall be able to give you satisfaction. If my shopman has been
"He has," interrupted Joseph; "but I don't want to make any palaver
about that. He's like the rest of the world, and he thinks if a man
wears a shabby coat, he must be a scoundrel; that's all. I forgive him."
The languid youth, very much in the background, and quite sheltered, by
his master, might have been heard murmuring faintly--
"Oh, indeed! Forgive, indeed! Do you really, now? Thank you for
nothing!" and other sentences of a derisive character.
"I want a complete rig-out," continued Joseph Wilmot; "a new suit of
clothes--hat, boots, umbrella, a carpet-bag, half-a-dozen shirts, brush
and comb, shaving tackle, and all the et-ceteras. Now, as you may be no
more inclined to trust me than that young whipper-snapper of yours, for
all you're so uncommon civil, I'll tell you what I'll do. I want this
beard of mine trimmed and altered. I'll go to a barber's and get that
done, and in the meantime you can make your mind easy about the
character of these gentlemen."
He handed the tradesman three of the Bank of England notes. The man
looked at them doubtfully.
"If you think they ain't genuine, send 'em round to one of your
neighbours, and get 'em changed," Joseph Wilmot said; "but be quick
about it. I shall be back here in half an hour."
He walked out of the shop, leaving the man still staring, with the three
notes in his hand.
The vagabond, with his hat slouched over his eyes, and big hands in his
pockets, strolled away from the High Street down to a barber's shop near
Here he had his beard shaved off, his ragged moustache trimmed into the
most aristocratic shape, and his long, straggling grey hair cut and
arranged according to his own directions.
If he had been the vainest of men, bent on no higher object in life than
the embellishment of his person, he could not have been more particular
or more difficult to please.
When the barber had completed his work, Joseph Wilmot washed his face,
readjusted the hair upon his ample forehead, and looked at himself in a
little shaving-glass that hung against the wall.
So far as the man's head and face went, the transformation was perfect.
He was no longer a vagabond. He was a respectable, handsome-looking
gentleman, advanced in middle age. Not altogether
The very expression of his face was altered. The defiant sneer was
changed into a haughty smile; the sullen scowl was now a thoughtful
Whether this change was natural to him, and merely brought about by the
alteration in his hair and beard, or whether it was an assumption of his
own, was only known to the man himself.
He put on his hat, still slouching the brim over his eyes, paid the
barber, and went away. He walked straight to the docks, and made
inquiries about the steamer _Electra_. She was not expected to arrive
until the next day, at the earliest. Having satisfied himself upon this
point, Joseph Wilmot went back to the outfitter's to choose his new
This business occupied him for a long time; for in this he was as
difficult to please as he had been in the matter of his beard and hair.
No punctilious old bachelor, the best and brightest hours of whose life
had been devoted to the cares of the toilet, could have shown himself
more fastidious than this vagabond, who had been out-at-elbows for ten
years past, and who had worn a felon's dress for thirteen years at a
stretch in Norfolk Island.
But he evinced no bad taste in the selection of a costume. He chose no
gaudy colours, or flashily-cut vestments. On the contrary, the garb he
assumed was in perfect keeping with the style of his hair and moustache.
It was the dress of a middle-aged gentleman; fashionable, but
scrupulously simple, quiet alike in colour and in cut.
When his toilet was complete, from his twenty-one shilling hat to the
polished boots upon his well-shaped feet, he left the shady little
parlour in which he had changed his clothes, and came into the shop,
with a glove dangling loosely in one ungloved hand, and a cane in the
The tradesman and his shopboy stared aghast.
"If that turn-out had cost you fifty pound, sir, instead of eighteen
pound, twelve, and elevenpence, it would be worth all the money to you;
for you look like a dook;" cried the tailor, with enthusiasm.
"I'm glad to hear it," Mr. Wilmot said, carelessly. He stood before the
cheval-glass, and twirled his moustache as he spoke, looking at himself
thoughtfully, with a smile upon his face. Then he took his change from
the tailor, counted it, and dropped the gold and silver into his
The man's manner was as much altered as his person. He had entered the
shop at eight o'clock that morning a blackguard as well as a vagabond.
He left it now a gentleman; subdued in voice, easy and rather listless
in gait, haughty and self-possessed in tone.
"Oh, by the bye," he said, pausing upon the threshold of the door, "I'll
thank you to bundle all those old things of mine together into a sheet
of brown paper: tie them up tightly. I'll call for them after dark
Having said this, very carelessly and indifferently, Mr. Wilmot left the
shop: but though he was now as well dressed and as gentlemanly-looking
as any man in Southampton, he turned into the first by-street, and
hurried away from the town to a lonely walk beside the water.
He walked along the shore until he came to a village near the river, and
about a couple of miles from Southampton. There he entered a low-roofed
little public-house, very quiet and unfrequented, ordered some brandy
and cold water of a girl who was seated at work behind the bar, and then
went into the parlour,--a low-ceilinged, wainscoted room, whose walls
were adorned here and there with auctioneers' announcements of coming
sales of live and dead stock, farm-houses, and farming implements,
interspersed with railway time-tables.
Mr. Joseph Wilmot had this room all to himself. He seated himself by the
open window, took up a country newspaper, and tried to read.
But that attempt was a most dismal failure. In the first place, there
was very little in the paper to read: and in the second, Joseph Wilmot
would have been unable to chain his attention to the page upon which his
eyes were fixed, though all the wisdom of the world had been
concentrated upon that one sheet of printed paper.
No; he could not read. He could only think. He could only think of this
strange chance which had come to him after five-and-thirty weary years.
He could only think of his probable meeting with Henry Dunbar.
He entered the village public-house at a little after one, and he stayed
there throughout the rest of the day, drinking brandy-and-water--not
immoderately: he was very careful and watchful of himself in that
matter--taking a snack of bread and cold meat for his dinner, and
thinking of Henry Dunbar.
In that he never varied, let him do what he would.
In the railway carriage, at the Basingstoke inn, at the station, through
the long sleepless night at the public-house by the water, in the
tailor's shop, even when he was most occupied by the choice of his
clothes, he had still thought of Henry Dunbar. From the time of his
meeting the old clerk at the Waterloo terminus, he had never ceased to
think of Henry Dunbar.
He never once thought of his brother: not so much even as to wonder
whether the stroke had been fatal,--whether the old man was yet dead. He
never thought of his daughter, or the anguish his prolonged absence
might cause her to suffer.
He had put away the past as if it had never been, and concentrated all
the force of his mind upon the one idea which possessed him like some
Sometimes a sudden terror seized him.
What if Henry Dunbar should have died upon the passage home? What if the
_Electra_ should bring nothing but a sealed leaden coffin, and a corpse
embalmed in spirit?
No, he could not imagine that! Fate, darkly brooding over these two men
throughout half a long lifetime, had held them asunder for
five-and-thirty years, to fling them mysteriously together now.
It seemed as if the old clerk's philosophy was not so very unsound,
after all. Sooner or later,--sooner or later,--the day of retribution
When it grew dusk, Joseph Wilmot left the little inn, and walked back to
Southampton. It was quite dark when he entered the High Street, and the
tailor's shop was closing.
"I thought you'd forgotten your parcel, sir," the man said; "I've had it
ready for you ever so long. Can I send it any where for you?"
"No, thank you; I'll take it myself."
With the brown-paper parcel--which was a very bulky one--under his arm,
Joseph Wilmot left the tailor's shop, and walked down to an open pier or
quay abutting on the water.
On his way along the river shore, between the village public-house and
the town of Southampton, he had filled his pockets with stones. He knelt
down now by the edge of the pier, and tied all these stones together in
an old cotton pocket-handkerchief.
When he had done this, carefully, compactly, and quickly, like a man
accustomed to do all sorts of strange things, he tied the handkerchief
full of stones to the whipcord that bound the brown-paper parcel, and
dropped both packages into the water.
The spot which he had chosen for this purpose was at the extreme end of
the pier, where the water was deepest.
He had done all this cautiously, taking care to make sure every now and
then that he was unobserved.
And when the parcel had sunk, he watched the widening circle upon the
surface of the water till it died away.
"So much for James Wentworth, and the clothes he wore," he said to
himself as he walked away.
He slept that night at the village inn where he had spent the day, and
the next morning walked into Southampton.
It was a little after nine o'clock when he entered the docks, and the
_Electra_ was visible to the naked eye, steaming through the blue water
under a cloudless summer sky.
CLEMENT AUSTIN'S DIARY.
"To-day I close a volume of the rough, careless, imperfect record which
I have kept of my life. As I run my fingers through the pages of the
limp morocco-covered volume, I almost wonder at my wasted labour;--the
random notes, jotted down now and then, sometimes with long intervals
between their dates, make such a mass of worthless literature. This
diary-keeping is a very foolish habit, after all. Why do I keep this
record of a most commonplace existence? For my own edification and
improvement? Scarcely, since I very rarely read these uninteresting
entries; and I very much doubt if posterity will care to know that I
went to the office at ten o'clock on Wednesday morning; that I couldn't
get a seat in the omnibus, and was compelled to take a Hansom, which
cost me two shillings; that I dined _tete-a-tete_ with my mother, and
finished the third volume of Carlyle's 'French Revolution' in the course
of the evening. _Is_ there any use in such a journal as mine? Will the
celebrated New Zealander, that is to be, discover the volumes amidst the
ruins of Clapham? and shall I be quoted as the Pepys of the nineteenth
century? But then I am by no means as racy as that worldly-minded little
government clerk; or perhaps it may be that the time in which I live
wants the spice and seasoning of that golden age of rascality in which
my Lady Castlemain's white petticoats were to be seen flaunting in the
wind by any frivolous-minded lounger who chose to take notes about those
"After all, it is a silly, old-fogeyish habit, this of diary-keeping;
and I think the renowned Pepys himself was only a bachelor spoiled. Just
now, however, I have something more than cab-drives, lost omnibuses, and
the perusal of a favourite book to jot down, inasmuch as my mother and
myself have lately had all our accustomed habits, in a manner,
disorganized by the advent of a lady.
"She is a very young lady, being, in point of fact, still at a remote
distance from an epoch to which she appears to look forward as a grand
and enviable period of existence. She has not yet entered what she calls
her 'teens,' and two years must elapse before she can enter them, as she
is only eleven years old. She is the only daughter of my only sister,
Marian Lester, and has been newly imported from Sydney, where my sister
Marian and her husband have been settled for the last twelve years. Miss
Elizabeth Lester became a member of our family upon the first of July,
and has since that time continued to make herself quite at home with my
mother and myself. She is rather a pretty little girl, with very auburn
plaits hanging in loops at the back of her head. (Will the New Zealander
and his countrymen care to know the mysteries of juvenile coiffures in
the nineteenth century?) She is a very good little girl, and my mother
adores her. As for myself, I am only gradually growing resigned to the
fact that I am three-and-thirty years of age, and the uncle of a
bouncing niece, who plays variations upon 'Non piu mesta.'
"And 'Non piu mesta' brings me to another strange figure in the narrow
circle of my acquaintance; a figure that had no place in the volume
which I have just closed, but which, in the six weeks' interval between