Part 5 out of 10
out in my pony-carriage that afternoon, and I asked if she
objected to sending one of the three indoor servants for her
books in Michael's place.
She received me with a strange hard stare, and answered with
obstinate self-possession: "I wish Michael to go!" No explanation
followed. With reason or without it, agreeable to me or not
agreeable to me, she wished Michael to go.
I begged her pardon for interfering, and replied that I would
give up the idea of driving on that day. She made no further
remark. I left the room, determining to watch her. There is no
defense for my conduct; it was mean and unbecoming, no doubt. I
was drawn on, by some force in me which I could not even attempt
to resist. Indeed, indeed I am not a mean person by nature!
At first, I thought of speaking to Michael; not with any special
motive, but simply because I felt drawn toward him as the guide
and helper in whom my heart trusted at this crisis in my life. A
little consideration, however, suggested to me that I might be
seen speaking to him, and might so do him an injury. While I was
still hesitating, the thought came to me that my aunt's motive
for sending him to her bookseller might be to get him out of her
Out of her way in the house? No: his place was not in the house.
Out of her way in the stable? The next instant, the idea flashed
across my mind of watching the stable door.
The best bedrooms, my room included, were all in front of the
house. I went up to my maid's room, which looked on the
courtyard; ready with my excuse, if she happened to be there. She
was not there. I placed myself at the window, in full view of the
An interval elapsed--long or short, I cannot say which; I was too
much excited to look at my watch. All I know is that I discovered
her! She crossed the yard, after waiting to make sure that no one
was there to see her; and she entered the stable by the door
which led to that part of the building occupied by Michael. This
time I looked at my watch.
Forty minutes passed before I saw her again. And then, instead of
appearing at the door, she showed herself at the window of
Michael's room; throwing it wide open. I concealed myself behind
the window curtain, just in time to escape discovery, as she
looked up at the house. She next appeared in the yard, hurrying
back. I waited a while, trying to compose myself in case I met
any one on the stairs. There was little danger of a meeting at
that hour. The General was at his club; the servants were at
their tea. I reached my own room without being seen by any one,
and locked myself in.
What had my aunt been doing for forty minutes in Michael's room?
And why had she opened the window?
I spare you my reflections on these perplexing questions. A
convenient headache saved me from the ordeal of meeting Lady
Claudia at the dinner-table. I passed a restless and miserable
night; conscious that I had found my way blindly, as it were, to
some terrible secret which might have its influence on my whole
future life, and not knowing what to think, or what to do next.
Even then, I shrank instinctively from speaking to my uncle. This
was not wonderful. But I felt afraid to speak to Michael--and
that perplexed and alarmed me. Consideration for Lady Claudia was
certainly not the motive that kept me silent, after what I had
The next morning my pale face abundantly justified the assertion
that I was still ill.
My aunt, always doing her maternal duty toward me, came herself
to inquire after my health before I was out of my room. So
certain was she of not having been observed on the previous
day--or so prodigious was her power of controlling herself--that
she actually advised me to go out riding before lunch, and try
what the fresh air and the exercise would do to relieve me!
Feeling that I must end in speaking to Michael, it struck me that
this would be the one safe way of consulting him in private. I
accepted her advice, and had another approving pat on the cheek
from her plump white fingers. They no longer struck cold on my
skin; the customary vital warmth had returned to them. Her
ladyship's mind had recovered its tranquillity.
I LEFT the house for my morning ride.
Michael was not in his customary spirits. With some difficulty, I
induced him to tell me the reason. He had decided on giving
notice to leave his situation in the General's employment. As
soon as I could command myself, I asked what had happened to
justify this incomprehensible proceeding on his part. He silently
offered me a letter. It was written by the master whom he had
served before he came to us; and it announced that an employment
as secretary was offered to him, in the house of a gentleman who
was "interested in his creditable efforts to improve his position
in the world."
What it cost me to preserve the outward appearance of composure
as I handed back the letter, I am ashamed to tell. I spoke to him
with some bitterness. "Your wishes are gratified," I said; "I
don't wonder that you are eager to leave your place." He reined
back his horse and repeated my words. "Eager to leave my place? I
am heart-broken at leaving it." I was reckless enough to ask why.
His head sank. "I daren't tell you," he said. I went on from one
imprudence to another. "What are you afraid of?" I asked. He
suddenly looked up at me. His eyes answered: _"You."_
Is it possible to fathom the folly of a woman in love? Can any
sensible person imagine the enormous importance which the veriest
trifles assume in her poor little mind? I was perfectly
satisfied--even perfectly happy, after that one look. I rode on
briskly for a minute or two--then the forgotten scene at the
stable recurred to my memory. I resumed a foot-pace and beckoned
to him to speak to me.
"Lady Claudia's bookseller lives in the City, doesn't he?" I
"Did you walk both ways?"
"You must have felt tired when you got back?"
"I hardly remember what I felt when I got back--I was met by a
"May I ask what it was?"
"Certainly, miss. Do you remember a black bag of mine?"
"When I returned from the City I found the bag open; and the
things I kept in it--the shawl, the linen, and the letter--"
My heart gave one great leap in me, and broke into vehement
throbbings, which made it impossible for me to say a word more. I
reined up my horse, and fixed my eyes on Michael. He was
startled; he asked if I felt faint. I could only sign to him that
I was waiting to hear more.
"My own belief," he proceeded, "is that some person burned the
things in my absence, and opened the window to prevent any
suspicion being excited by the smell. I am certain I shut the
window before I left my room. When I closed it on my return, the
fresh air had not entirely removed the smell of burning; and,
what is more, I found a heap of ashes in the grate. As to the
person who has done me this injury, and why it has been done,
those are mysteries beyond my fathoming--I beg your pardon,
miss--I am sure you are not well. Might I advise you to return to
I accepted his advice and turned back.
In the tumult of horror and amazement that filled my mind, I
could still feel a faint triumph stirring in me through it all,
when I saw how alarmed and how anxious he was about me. Nothing
more passed between us on the way back. Confronted by the
dreadful discovery that I had now made, I was silent and
helpless. Of the guilty persons concerned in the concealment of
the birth, and in the desertion of the infant, my nobly-born,
highly-bred, irreproachable aunt now stood revealed before me as
one! An older woman than I might have been hard put to it to
preserve her presence of mind, in such a position as mine.
Instinct, not reason, served me in my sore need. Instinct, not
reason, kept me passively and stupidly silent when I got back to
the house. "We will talk about it to-morrow," was all I could say
to Michael, when he gently lifted me from my horse.
I excused myself from appearing at the luncheon-table; and I drew
down the blinds in my sitting-room, so that my face might not
betray me when Lady Claudia's maternal duty brought her upstairs
to make inquiries. The same excuse served in both cases--my ride
had failed to relieve me of my headache. My aunt's brief visit
led to one result which is worth mentioning. The indescribable
horror of her that I felt forced the conviction on my mind that
we two could live no longer under the same roof. While I was
still trying to face this alternative with the needful composure,
my un cle presented himself, in some anxiety about my continued
illness. I should certainly have burst out crying, when the kind
and dear old man condoled with me, if he had not brought news
with him which turned back all my thoughts on myself and my aunt.
Michael had shown the General his letter and had given notice to
leave. Lady Claudia was present at the time. To her husband's
amazement, she abruptly interfered with a personal request to
Michael to think better of it, and to remain in his place!
"I should not have troubled you, my dear, on this unpleasant
subject," said my uncle, "if Michael had not told me that you
were aware of the circumstances under which he feels it his duty
to leave us. After your aunt's interference (quite
incomprehensible to me), the man hardly knows what to do. Being
your groom, he begs me to ask if there is any impropriety in his
leaving the difficulty to your decision. I tell you of his
request, Mina; but I strongly advise you to decline taking any
responsibility on yourself."
I answered mechanically, accepting my uncle's suggestion, while
my thoughts were wholly absorbed in this last of the many
extraordinary proceedings on Lady Claudia's part since Michael
had entered the house. There are limits--out of books and
plays--to the innocence of a young unmarried woman. After what I
had just heard the doubts which had thus far perplexed me were
suddenly and completely cleared up. I said to my secret self:
"She has some human feeling left. If her son goes away, she knows
that they may never meet again!"
From the moment when my mind emerged from the darkness, I
recovered the use of such intelligence and courage as I naturally
possessed. From this point, you will find that, right or wrong, I
saw my way before me, and took it.
To say that I felt for the General with my whole heart, is merely
to own that I could be commonly grateful. I sat on his knee, and
laid my cheek against his cheek, and thanked him for his long,
long years of kindness to me. He stopped me in his simple
generous way. "Why, Mina, you talk as if you were going to leave
us!" I started up, and went to the window, opening it and
complaining of the heat, and so concealing from him that he had
unconsciously anticipated the event that was indeed to come. When
I returned to my chair, he helped me to recover myself by
alluding once more to his wife. He feared that her health was in
some way impaired. In the time when they had first met, she was
subject to nervous maladies, having their origin in a "calamity"
which was never mentioned by either of them in later days. She
might possibly be suffering again, from some other form of
nervous derangement, and he seriously thought of persuading her
to send for medical advice.
Under ordinary circumstances, this vague reference to a
"calamity" would not have excited any special interest in me. But
my mind was now in a state of morbid suspicion. I had not heard
how long my uncle and aunt had been married; but I remembered
that Michael had described himself as being twenty-six years old.
Bearing these circumstances in mind, it struck me that I might be
acting wisely (in Michael's interest) if I persuaded the General
to speak further of what had happened, at the time when he met
the woman whom an evil destiny had bestowed on him for a wife.
Nothing but the consideration of serving the man I loved would
have reconciled me to making my own secret use of the
recollections which my uncle might innocently confide to me. As
it was, I thought the means would, in this case, be for once
justified by the end. Before we part, I have little doubt that
you will think so too.
I found it an easier task than I had anticipated to turn the talk
back again to the days when the General had seen Lady Claudia for
the first time. He was proud of the circumstances under which he
had won his wife. Ah, how my heart ached for him as I saw his
eyes sparkle, and the color mount in his fine rugged face!
This is the substance of what I heard from him. I tell it
briefly, because it is still painful to me to tell it at all.
My uncle had met Lady Claudia at her father's country house. She
had then reappeared in society, after a period of seclusion,
passed partly in England, partly on the Continent. Before the
date of her retirement, she had been engaged to marry a French
nobleman, equally illustrious by his birth and by his diplomatic
services in the East. Within a few weeks of the wedding-day, he
was drowned by the wreck of his yacht. This was the calamity to
which my uncle had referred.
Lady Claudia's mind was so seriously affected by the dreadful
event, that the doctors refused to answer for the consequences,
unless she was at once placed in the strictest retirement. Her
mother, and a French maid devotedly attached to her, were the
only persons whom it was considered safe for the young lady to
see, until time and care had in some degree composed her. Her
return to her friends and admirers, after the necessary interval
of seclusion, was naturally a subject of sincere rejoicing among
the guests assembled in her father's house. My uncle's interest
in Lady Claudia soon developed into love. They were equals in
rank, and well suited to each other in age. The parents raised no
obstacles; but they did not conceal from their guest that the
disaster which had befallen their daughter was but too likely to
disincline her to receive his addresses, or any man's addresses,
favorably. To their surprise, they proved to be wrong. The young
lady was touched by the simplicity and the delicacy with which
her lover urged his suit. She had lived among worldly people.
This was a man whose devotion she could believe to be sincere.
They were married.
Had no unusual circumstances occurred? Had nothing happened which
the General had forgotten? Nothing.
IT is surely needless that I should stop here, to draw the plain
inferences from the events just related.
Any person who remembers that the shawl in which the infant was
wrapped came from those Eastern regions which were associated
with the French nobleman's diplomatic services--also, that the
faults of composition in the letter found on the child were
exactly the faults likely to have been committed by the French
maid--any person who follows these traces can find his way to the
truth as I found mine.
Returning for a moment to the hopes which I had formed of being
of some service to Michael, I have only to say that they were at
once destroyed, when I heard of the death by drowning of the man
to whom the evidence pointed as his father. The prospect looked
equally barren when I thought of the miserable mother. That she
should openly acknowledge her son in her position was perhaps not
to be expected of any woman. Had she courage enough, or, in
plainer words, heart enough to acknowledge him privately?
I called to mind again some of the apparent caprices and
contradictions in Lady Claudia's conduct, on the memorable day
when Michael had presented himself to fill the vacant place. Look
back with me to the record of what she said and did on that
occasion, by the light of your present knowledge, and you will
see that his likeness to his father must have struck her when he
entered the room, and that his statement of his age must have
correctly described the age of her son. Recall the actions that
followed, after she had been exhausted by her first successful
efforts at self-control--the withdrawal to the window to conceal
her face; the clutch at the curtain when she felt herself
sinking; the harshness of manner under which she concealed her
emotions when she ventured to speak to him; the reiterated
inconsistencies and vacillations of conduct that followed, all
alike due to the protest of Nature, desperately resisted to the
last--and say if I did her injustice when I believed her to be
incapable of running the smallest risk of discovery at the
prompting of maternal love.
There remained, then, only Michael to think of. I remember how he
had spoken of the unknown parents whom he neither expected nor
cared to discover. Still, I could not reconcile it to my
conscience to accept a chance outbreak of temper as my sufficient
ju stification for keeping him in ignorance of a discovery which
so nearly concerned him. It seemed at least to be my duty to make
myself acquainted with the true state of his feelings, before I
decided to bear the burden of silence with me to my grave.
What I felt it my duty to do in this serious matter, I determined
to do at once. Besides, let me honestly own that I felt lonely
and desolate, oppressed by the critical situation in which I was
placed, and eager for the relief that it would be to me only to
hear the sound of Michael's voice. I sent my maid to say that I
wished to speak to him immediately. The crisis was already
hanging over my head. That one act brought it down.
He came in, and stood modestly waiting at the door.
After making him take a chair, I began by saying that I had
received his message, and that, acting on my uncle's advice, I
must abstain from interfering in the question of his leaving, or
not leaving, his place. Having in this way established a reason
for sending for him, I alluded next to the loss that he had
sustained, and asked if he had any prospect of finding out the
person who had entered his room in his absence. On his reply in
the negative, I spoke of the serious results to him of the act of
destruction that had been committed. "Your last chance of
discovering your parents," I said, "has been cruelly destroyed."
He smiled sadly. "You know already, miss, that I never expected
to discover them."
I ventured a little nearer to the object I had in view.
"Do you never think of your mother?" I asked. "At your age, she
might be still living. Can you give up all hope of finding her,
without feeling your heart ache?"
"If I have done her wrong, in believing that she deserted me," he
answered, "the heart-ache is but a poor way of expressing the
remorse that I should feel."
I ventured nearer still.
Even if you were right," I began--"even it she did desert you--"
He interrupted me sternly. "I would not cross the street to see
her," he said. "A woman who deserts her child is a monster.
Forgive me for speaking so, miss! When I see good mothers and
their children it maddens me when I think of what _my_ childhood
Hearing these words, and watching him attentively while he spoke,
I could see that my silence would be a mercy, not a crime. I
hastened to speak of other things.
"If you decide to leave us," I said, "when shall you go?"
His eyes softened instantly. Little by little the color faded out
of his face as he answered me.
"The General kindly said, when I spoke of leaving my place--" His
voice faltered, and he paused to steady it. "My master," he
resumed, "said that I need not keep my new employer waiting by
staying for the customary month, provided--provided you were
willing to dispense with my services."
So far, I had succeeded in controlling myself. At that reply I
felt my resolution failing me. I saw how he suffered; I saw how
manfully he struggled to conceal it.
"I am not willing," I said. "I am sorry--very, very sorry to lose
you. But I will do anything that is for your good. I can say no
He rose suddenly, as if to leave the room; mastered himself;
stood for a moment silently looking at me--then looked away
again, and said his parting words.
"If I succeed, Miss Mina, in my new employment--if I get on to
higher things--is it--is it presuming too much, to ask if I
might, some day--perhaps when you are out riding alone--if I
might speak to you--only to ask if you are well and happy--"
He could say no more. I saw the tears in his eyes; saw him shaken
by the convulsive breathings which break from men in the rare
moments when they cry. He forced it back even then. He bowed to
me--oh, God, he bowed to me, as if he were only my servant! as if
he were too far below me to take my hand, even at that moment! I
could have endured anything else; I believe I could still have
restrained myself under any other circumstances. It matters
little now; my confession must be made, whatever you may think of
me. I flew to him like a frenzied creature--I threw my arms round
his neck--I said to him, "Oh, Michael, don't you know that I love
you?" And then I laid my head on his breast, and held him to me,
and said no more.
In that moment of silence, the door of the room was opened. I
started, and looked up. Lady Claudia was standing on the
I saw in her face that she had been listening--she must have
followed him when he was on his way to my room. That conviction
steadied me. I took his hand in mine, and stood side by side with
him, waiting for her to speak first. She looked at Michael, not
at me. She advanced a step or two, and addressed him in these
"It is just possible that _you_ have some sense of decency left.
Leave the room."
That deliberate insult was all that I wanted to make me
completely mistress of myself. I told Michael to wait a moment,
and opened my writing desk. I wrote on an envelope the address in
London of a faithful old servant, who had attended my mother in
her last moments. I gave it to Michael. "Call there to-morrow
morning," I said. "You will find me waiting for you."
He looked at Lady Claudia, evidently unwilling to leave me alone
with her. "Fear nothing," I said; "I am old enough to take care
of myself. I have only a word to say to this lady before I leave
the house. "With that, I took his arm, and walked with him to the
door, and said good-by almost as composedly as if we had been
husband and wife already.
Lady Claudia's eyes followed me as I shut the door again and
crossed the room to a second door which led into my bed-chamber.
She suddenly stepped up to me, just as I was entering the room,
and laid her hand on my arm.
"What do I see in your face?" she asked as much of herself as of
me--with her eyes fixed in keen inquiry on mine.
"You shall know directly," I answered. "Let me get my bonnet and
"Do you mean to leave the house?"
She rang the bell. I quietly dressed myself, to go out.
The servant answered the bell, as I returned to the sitting-room.
"Tell your master I wish to see him instantly," said Lady
"My master has gone out, my lady."
"To his club?"
"I believe so, my lady."
"I will send you with a letter to him. Come back when I ring
again." She turned to me as the man withdrew. "Do you refuse to
stay here until the General returns?"
"I shall be happy to see the General, if you will inclose my
address in your letter to him."
Replying in those terms, I wrote the address for the second time.
Lady Claudia knew perfectly well, when I gave it to her, that I
was going to a respectable house kept by a woman who had nursed
me when I was a child.
"One last question," she said. "Am I to tell the General that it
is your intention to marry your groom?"
Her tone stung me into making an answer which I regretted the
moment it had passed my lips.
"You can put it more plainly, if you like," I said. "You can tell
the General that it is my intention to marry _your_ son."
She was near the door, on the point of leaving me. As I spoke,
she turned with a ghastly stare of horror--felt about her with
her hands as if she was groping in darkness--and dropped on the
I instantly summoned help. The women-servants carried her to my
bed. While they were restoring her to herself, I wrote a few
lines telling the miserable woman how I had discovered her
"Your husband's tranquillity," I added, "is as precious to me as
my own. As for your son, you know what he thinks of the mother
who deserted him. Your secret is safe in my keeping--safe from
your husband, safe from your son, to the end of my life."
I sealed up those words, and gave them to her when she had come
to herself again. I never heard from her in reply. I have never
seen her from that time to this. She knows she can trust me.
And what did my good uncle say, when we next met? I would rather
report what he did, when he had got the better of his first
feelings of anger and surprise on hearing of my contemplated
marriage. He consented to receive us on our wedding-day; and he
gave my husband the appointment which places us both in an
independent position for life.
But he had his misgivings. He checked me when I tried to thank
"Come back in a year's time," he said. "I will wait to be thanked
till the experience of your married life tells me that I have
The year passed; and the General received the honest expression
of my gratitude. He smiled and kissed me; but there was something
in his face which suggested that he was not quite satisfied yet.
"Do you believe that I have spoken sincerely?" I asked.
"I firmly believe it," he answered--and there he stopped.
A wiser woman would have taken the hint and dropped the subject.
My folly persisted in putting another question:
"Tell me, uncle. Haven't I proved that I was right when I married
"No, my dear. You have only proved that you are a lucky woman!"
MR. LEPEL AND THE HOUSEKEEPER
THE Italians are born actors.
At this conclusion I arrived, sitting in a Roman theater--now
many years since. My friend and traveling companion, Rothsay,
cordially agreed with me. Experience had given us some claim to
form an opinion. We had visited, at that time, nearly every city
in Italy. Where-ever a theater was open, we had attended the
performances of the companies which travel from place to place;
and we had never seen bad acting from first to last. Men and
women, whose names are absolutely unknown in England, played (in
modern comedy and drama for the most part) with a general level
of dramatic ability which I have never seen equaled in the
theaters of other nations. Incapable Italian actors there must
be, no doubt. For my own part I have only discovered them, by
ones and twos, in England; appearing among the persons engaged to
support Salvini and Ristori before the audiences of London.
On the occasion of which I am now writing, the night's
performances consisted of two plays. An accident, to be presently
related, prevented us from seeing more than the introductory part
of the second piece. That one act--in respect of the influence
which the remembrance of it afterward exercised over Rothsay and
myself--claims a place of its own in the opening pages of the
The scene of the story was laid in one of the principalities of
Italy, in the bygone days of the Carbonaro conspiracies. The
chief persons were two young noblemen, friends affectionately
attached to each other, and a beautiful girl born in the lower
ranks of life
On the rising of the curtain, the scene before us was the
courtyard of a prison. We found the beautiful girl (called Celia
as well as I can recollect) in great distress; confiding her
sorrows to the jailer's daughter. Her father was pining in the
prison, charged with an offense of which he was innocent; and she
herself was suffering the tortures of hopeless love. She was on
the point of confiding her secret to her friend, when the
appearance of the young nobleman closed her lips. The girls at
once withdrew; and the two friends--whom I now only remember as
the Marquis and the Count--began the dialogue which prepared us
for the story of the play.
The Marquis had been tried for conspiracy against the reigning
Prince and his government; had been found guilty, and is
condemned to be shot that evening. He accepts his sentence with
the resignation of a man who is weary of his life. Young as he
is, he has tried the round of pleasures without enjoyment; he has
no interests, no aspirations, no hopes; he looks on death as a
welcome release. His friend the Count, admitted to a farewell
interview, has invented a stratagem by which the prisoner may
escape and take to flight. The Marquis expresses a grateful sense
of obligation, and prefers being shot. "I don't value my life,"
he says; "I am not a happy man like you." Upon this the Count
mentions circumstances which he has hitherto kept secret. He
loves the charming Celia, and loves in vain. Her reputation is
unsullied; she possesses every good quality that a man can desire
in a wife--but the Count's social position forbids him to marry a
woman of low birth. He is heart-broken; and he too finds life
without hope a burden that is not to be borne. The Marquis at
once sees a way of devoting himself to his friend's interests. He
is rich; his money is at his own disposal; he will bequeath a
marriage portion to Celia which will make her one of the richest
women in Italy. The Count receives this proposal with a sigh. "No
money," he says, "will remove the obstacle that still remains. My
father's fatal objection to Celia is her rank in life. "The
Marquis walks apart--considers a little--consults his watch--and
returns with a new idea. "I have nearly two hours of life still
left," he says. "Send for Celia: she was here just now, and she
is probably in her father's cell." The Count is at a loss to
understand what this proposal means. The Marquis explains
himself. "I ask your permission," he resumes, "to offer marriage
to Celia--for your sake. The chaplain of the prison will perform
the ceremony. Before dark, the girl you love will be my widow. My
widow is a lady of title--a fit wife for the greatest nobleman in
the land." The Count protests and refuses in vain. The jailer is
sent to find Celia. She appears. Unable to endure the scene, the
Count rushes out in horror. The Marquis takes the girl into his
confidence, and makes his excuses. If she becomes a widow of
rank, she may not only marry the Count, but will be in a position
to procure the liberty of the innocent old man, whose strength is
failing him under the rigors of imprisonment. Celia hesitates.
After a struggle with herself, filial love prevails, and she
consents. The jailer announces that the chaplain is waiting; the
bride and bridegroom withdraw to the prison chapel. Left on the
stage, the jailer hears a distant sound in the city, which he is
at a loss to understand. It sinks, increases again, travels
nearer to the prison, and now betrays itself as the sound of
multitudinous voices in a state of furious uproar. Has the
conspiracy broken out again? Yes! The whole population has risen;
the soldiers have refused to fire on the people; the terrified
Prince has dismissed his ministers, and promises a constitution.
The Marquis, returning from the ceremony which has just made
Celia his wife, is presented with a free pardon, and with the
offer of a high place in the re-formed ministry. A new life is
opening before him--and he has innocently ruined his friend's
prospects! On this striking situation the drop-curtain falls.
While we were still applauding the first act, Rothsay alarmed me:
he dropped from his seat at my side, like a man struck dead. The
stifling heat in the theater had proved too much for him. We
carried him out at once into the fresh air. When he came to his
senses, my friend entreated me to leave him, and see the end of
the play. To my mind, he looked as if he might faint again. I
insisted on going back with him to our hotel.
On the next day I went to the theater, to ascertain if the play
would be repeated. The box-office was closed. The dramatic
company had left Rome.
My interest in discovering how the story ended led me next to the
booksellers' shops--in the hope of buying the play. Nobody knew
anything about it. Nobody could tell me whether it was the
original work of an Italian writer, or whether it had been stolen
(and probably disfigured) from the French. As a fragment I had
seen it. As a fragment it has remained from that time to this.
ONE of my objects in writing these lines is to vindicate the
character of an innocent woman (formerly in my service as
housekeeper) who has been cruelly slandered. Absorbed in the
pursuit of my purpose, it has only now occurred to me that
strangers may desire to know something more than they know now of
myself and my friend. "Give us some idea," they may say, "of what
sort of persons you are, if you wish to interest us at the outset
of your story."
A most reasonable suggestion, I admit. Unfortunately, I am not
the right man to comply with it.
In the first place, I cannot pretend to pronounce judgment on my
own character. In the second place, I am incapable of writing
impartially of my friend. At the imminent risk of his own life,
Rothsay re scued me from a dreadful death by accident, when we
were at college together. Who can expect me to speak of his
faults? I am not even capable of seeing them.
Under these embarrassing circumstances--and not forgetting, at
the same time, that a servant's opinion of his master and his
master's friends may generally be trusted not to err on the
favorable side--I am tempted to call my valet as a witness to
I slept badly on our first night at Rome; and I happened to be
awake while the man was talking of us confidentially in the
courtyard of the hotel--just under my bedroom window. Here, to
the best of my recollection, is a faithful report of what he said
to some friend among the servants who understood English:
"My master's well connected, you must know--though he's only
plain Mr. Lepel. His uncle's the great lawyer, Lord Lepel; and
his late father was a banker. Rich, did you say? I should think
he _was_ rich--and be hanged to him! No, not married, and not
likely to be. Owns he was forty last birthday; a regular old
bachelor. Not a bad sort, taking him altogether. The worst of him
is, he is one of the most indiscreet persons I ever met with.
Does the queerest things, when the whim takes him, and doesn't
care what other people think of it. They say the Lepels have all
got a slate loose in the upper story. Oh, no; not a very old
family--I mean, nothing compared to the family of his friend,
young Rothsay. _They_ count back, as I have heard, to the ancient
kings of Scotland. Between ourselves, the ancient kings haven't
left the Rothsays much money. They would be glad, I'll be bound,
to get my rich master for one of their daughters. Poor as Job, I
tell you. This young fellow, traveling with us, has never had a
spare five-pound note since he was born. Plenty of brains in his
head, I grant you; and a little too apt sometimes to be
suspicious of other people. But liberal--oh, give him his
due--liberal in a small way. Tips me with a sovereign now and
then. I take it--Lord bless you, I take it. What do you say? Has
he got any employment? Not he! Dabbles in chemistry (experiments,
and that sort of thing) by way of amusing himself; and tells the
most infernal lies about it. The other day he showed me a bottle
about as big as a thimble, with what looked like water in it, and
said it was enough to poison everybody in the hotel. What rot!
Isn't that the clock striking again? Near about bedtime, I should
say. Wish you good night."
There are our characters--drawn on the principle of justice
without mercy, by an impudent rascal who is the best valet in
England. Now you know what sort of persons we are; and now we may
go on again.
Rothsay and I parted, soon after our night at the theater. He
went to Civita Vecchia to join a friend's yacht, waiting for him
in the harbor. I turned homeward, traveling at a leisurely rate
through the Tyrol and Germany.
After my arrival in England, certain events in my life occurred
which did not appear to have any connection at the time. They
led, nevertheless, to consequences which seriously altered the
relations of happy past years between Rothsay and myself.
The first event took place on my return to my house in London. I
found among the letters waiting for me an invitation from Lord
Lepel to spend a few weeks with him at his country seat in
I had made so many excuses, in past years, when I received
invitations from my uncle, that I was really ashamed to plead
engagements in London again. There was no unfriendly feeling
between us. My only motive for keeping away from him took its
rise in dislike of the ordinary modes of life in an English
country-house. A man who feels no interest in politics, who cares
nothing for field sports, who is impatient of amateur music and
incapable of small talk, is a man out of his element in country
society. This was my unlucky case. I went to Lord Lepel's house
sorely against my will; longing already for the day when it would
be time to say good-by.
The routine of my uncle's establishment had remained unaltered
since my last experience of it.
I found my lord expressing the same pride in his collection of
old masters, and telling the same story of the wonderful escape
of his picture-gallery from fire--I renewed my acquaintance with
the same members of Parliament among the guests, all on the same
side in politics--I joined in the same dreary amusements--I
saluted the same resident priest (the Lepels are all born and
bred Roman Catholics)--I submitted to the same rigidly early
breakfast hour; and inwardly cursed the same peremptory bell,
ringing as a means of reminding us of our meals. The one change
that presented itself was a change out of the house. Death had
removed the lodgekeeper at the park-gate. His widow and daughter
(Mrs. Rymer and little Susan) remained in their pretty cottage.
They had been allowed by my lord's kindness to take charge of the
Out walking, on the morning after my arrival, I was caught in a
shower on my way back to the park, and took shelter in the lodge.
In the bygone days I had respected Mrs. Rymer's husband as a
thoroughly worthy man--but Mrs. Rymer herself was no great
favorite of mine. She had married beneath her, as the phrase is,
and she was a little too conscious of it. A woman with a sharp
eye to her own interests; selfishly discontented with her
position in life, and not very scrupulous in her choice of means
when she had an end in view: that is how I describe Mrs. Rymer.
Her daughter, whom I only remembered as a weakly child,
astonished me when I saw her again after the interval that had
elapsed. The backward flower had bloomed into perfect health.
Susan was now a lovely little modest girl of seventeen--with a
natural delicacy and refinement of manner, which marked her to my
mind as one of Nature's gentlewomen. When I entered the lodge she
was writing at a table in a corner, having some books on it, and
rose to withdraw. I begged that she would proceed with her
employment, and asked if I might know what it was. She answered
me with a blush, and a pretty brightening of her clear blue eyes.
"I am trying, sir, to teach myself French," she said. The weather
showed no signs of improving--I volunteered to help her, and
found her such an attentive and intelligent pupil that I looked
in at the lodge from time to time afterward, and continued my
instructions. The younger men among my uncle's guests set their
own stupid construction on my attentions "to the girl at the
gate," as they called her--rather too familiarly, according to my
notions of propriety. I contrived to remind them that I was old
enough to be Susan's father, in a manner which put an end to
their jokes; and I was pleased to hear, when I next went to the
lodge, that Mrs. Rymer had been wise enough to keep these
facetious gentlemen at their proper distance
The day of my departure arrived. Lord Leper took leave of me
kindly, and asked for news of Rothsay. "Let me know when your
friend returns," my uncle said; "he belongs to a good old stock.
Put me in mind of him when I next invite you to come to my
On my way to the train I stopped of course at the lodge to say
good-by. Mrs. Rymer came out alone I asked for Susan.
"My daughter is not very well to-day."
"Is she confined to her room?"
"She is in the parlor."
I might have been mistaken, but I thought Mrs. Rymer answered me
in no very friendly way. Resolved to judge for myself, I entered
the lodge, and found my poor little pupil sitting in a corner,
crying. When I asked her what was the matter, the excuse of a
"bad headache" was the only reply that I received. The natures of
young girls are a hopeless puzzle to me. Susan seemed, for some
reason which it was impossible to understand, to be afraid to
look at me.
"Have you and your mother been quarreling?" I asked.
She denied it with such evident sincerity that I could not for a
moment suspect her of deceiving me. Whatever the cause of her
distress might be, it was plain that she had her own reasons for
keeping it a secret.
Her French books were on the table. I tried a little allusion to
"I hope you will go on regularly with your studies ," I said.
"I will do my best, sir--without you to help me."
She said it so sadly that I proposed--purely from the wish to
encourage her--a continuation of our lessons through the post.
"Send your exercises to me once a week," I suggested; "and I will
return them corrected "
She thanked me in low tones, with a shyness of manner which I had
never noticed in her before. I had done my best to cheer her--and
I was conscious, as we shook hands at parting, that I had failed.
A feeling of disappointment overcomes me when I see young people
out of spirits. I was sorry for Susan.
ONE of my faults (which has not been included in the list set
forth by my valet) is a disinclination to occupy myself with my
own domestic affairs. The proceedings of my footman, while I had
been away from home, left me no alternative but to dismiss him on
my return. With this exertion of authority my interference as
chief of the household came to an end. I left it to my excellent
housekeeper, Mrs. Mozeen, to find a sober successor to the
drunken vagabond who had been sent away. She discovered a
respectable young man--tall, plump, and rosy--whose name was
Joseph, and whose character was beyond reproach. I have but one
excuse for noticing such a trifling event as this. It took its
place, at a later period, in the chain which was slowly winding
itself round me.
My uncle had asked me to prolong my visit and I should probably
have consented, but for anxiety on the subject of a near and dear
relative--my sister. Her health had been failing since the death
of her husband, to whom she was tenderly attached. I heard news
of her while I was in Sussex, which hurried me back to town. In a
month more, her death deprived me of my last living relation. She
left no children; and my two brothers had both died unmarried
while they were still young men.
This affliction placed me in a position of serious embarrassment,
in regard to the disposal of my property after my death.
I had hitherto made no will; being well aware that my fortune
(which was entirely in money) would go in due course of law to
the person of all others who would employ it to the best
purpose--that is to say, to my sister as my nearest of kin. As I
was now situated, my property would revert to my uncle if I died
intestate. He was a richer man than I was. Of his two children,
both sons, the eldest would inherit his estates: the youngest had
already succeeded to his mother's ample fortune. Having literally
no family claims on me, I felt bound to recognize the wider
demands of poverty and misfortune, and to devote my superfluous
wealth to increasing the revenues of charitable institutions. As
to minor legacies, I owed it to my good housekeeper, Mrs. Mozeen,
not to forget the faithful services of past years. Need I add--if
I had been free to act as I pleased--that I should have gladly
made Rothsay the object of a handsome bequest? But this was not
to be. My friend was a man morbidly sensitive on the subject of
money. In the early days of our intercourse we had been for the
first and only time on the verge of a quarrel, when I had asked
(as a favor to myself) to be allowed to provide for him in my
"It is because I am poor," he explained, "that I refuse to profit
by your kindness--though I feel it gratefully."
I failed to understand him--and said so plainly.
"You will understand this," he resumed; "I should never recover
my sense of degradation, if a mercenary motive on my side was
associated with our friendship. Don't say it's impossible! You
know as well as I do that appearances would be against me, in the
eyes of the world. Besides, I don't want money; my own small
income is enough for me. Make me your executor if you like, and
leave me the customary present of five hundred pounds. If you
exceed that sum I declare on my word of honor that I will not
touch one farthing of it." He took my hand, and pressed it
fervently. "Do me a favor," he said. "Never let us speak of this
I understood that I must yield--or lose my friend.
In now making my will, I accordingly appointed Rothsay one of my
executors, on the terms that he had prescribed. The minor
legacies having been next duly reduced to writing, I left the
bulk of my fortune to public charities.
My lawyer laid the fair copy of the will on my table.
"A dreary disposition of property for a man of your age," he
said, "I hope to receive a new set of instructions before you are
a year older."
"What instructions?" I asked.
"To provide for your wife and children," he answered.
My wife and children! The idea seemed to be so absurd that I
burst out laughing. It never occurred to me that there could be
any absurdity from my own point of view.
I was sitting alone, after my legal adviser had taken his leave,
looking absently at the newly-engrossed will, when I heard a
sharp knock at the house-door which I thought I recognized. In
another minute Rothsay's bright face enlivened my dull room. He
had returned from the Mediterranean that morning.
"Am I interrupting you?" he asked, pointing to the leaves of
manuscript before me. "Are you writing a book?"
"I am making my will."
His manner changed; he looked at me seriously.
"Do you remember what I said, when we once talked of your will?"
he asked. I set his doubts at rest immediately--but he was not
quite satisfied yet. "Can't you put your will away?" he
suggested. "I hate the sight of anything that reminds me of
"Give me a minute to sign it," I said--and rang to summon the
Mrs. Mozeen answered the bell. Rothsay looked at her, as if he
wished to have my housekeeper put away as well as my will. From
the first moment when he had seen her, he conceived a great
dislike to that good creature. There was nothing, I am sure,
personally repellent about her. She was a little slim quiet
woman, with a pale complexion and bright brown eyes. Her
movements were gentle; her voice was low; her decent gray dress
was adapted to her age. Why Rothsay should dislike her was more
than he could explain himself. He turned his unreasonable
prejudice into a joke--and said he hated a woman who wore slate
I explained to Mrs. Mozeen that I wanted witnesses to the
signature of my will. Naturally enough--being in the room at the
time--she asked if she could be one of them.
I was obliged to say No; and not to mortify her, I gave the
"My will recognizes what I owe to your good services," I said.
"If you are one of the witnesses, you will lose your legacy. Send
up the men-servants."
With her customary tact, Mrs. Mozeen expressed her gratitude
silently, by a look--and left the room.
"Why couldn't you tell that woman to send the servants, without
mentioning her legacy?" Rothsay asked. "My friend Lepel, you have
done a very foolish thing."
"In what way?"
"You have given Mrs. Mozeen an interest in your death."
It was impossible to make a serious reply to this ridiculous
exhibition of Rothsay's prejudice against poor Mrs. Mozeen.
"When am I to be murdered?" I asked. "And how is it to be done?
"I'm not joking," Rothsay answered. "You are infatuated about
your housekeeper. When you spoke of her legacy, did you notice
"Did nothing strike you?"
"It struck me that they were unusually well preserved eyes for a
woman of her age."
The appearance of the valet and the footman put an end to this
idle talk. The will was executed, and locked up. Our conversation
turned on Rothsay's travels by sea. The cruise had been in every
way successful. The matchless shores of the Mediterranean defied
description; the sailing of the famous yacht had proved to be
worthy of her reputation; and, to crown all, Rothsay had come
back to England, in a fair way, for the first time in his life,
of making money.
"I have discovered a treasure," he announced.
"It _was_ a dirty little modern picture, picked up in a by-street
at Palermo. It is a Virgin and Child, by Guido."
On further explanation it appeared that the picture exposed for
sale was painted on copper. Noticing the contrast between the
rare material and the wretchedly bad painting that covered it,
Rothsay had called t o mind some of the well-known stories of
valuable works of art that had been painted over for purposes of
disguise. The price asked for the picture amounted to little more
than the value of the metal. Rothsay bought it. His knowledge of
chemistry enabled him to put his suspicion successfully to the
test; and one of the guests on board the yacht--a famous French
artist--had declared his conviction that the picture now revealed
to view was a genuine work by Guido. Such an opinion as this
convinced me that it would be worth while to submit my friend's
discovery to the judgment of other experts. Consulted
independently, these critics confirmed the view taken by the
celebrated personage who had first seen the work. This result
having been obtained, Rothsay asked my advice next on the
question of selling his picture. I at once thought of my uncle.
An undoubted work by Guido would surely be an acquisition to his
gallery. I had only (in accordance with his own request) to let
him know that my friend had returned to England. We might take
the picture with us, when we received our invitation to Lord
My uncle's answer arrived by return of post. Other engagements
obliged him to defer receiving us for a month. At the end of that
time, we were cordially invited to visit him, and to stay as long
as we liked.
In the interval that now passed, other events occurred--still of
the trifling kind.
One afternoon, just as I was thinking of taking my customary ride
in the park, the servant appeared charged with a basket of
flowers, and with a message from Mrs. Rymer, requesting me to
honor her by accepting a little offering from her daughter.
Hearing that she was then waiting in the hall, I told the man to
show her in. Susan (as I ought to have already mentioned) had
sent her exercises to me regularly every week. In returning them
corrected, I had once or twice added a word of well-deserved
approval. The offering of flowers was evidently intended to
express my pupil's grateful sense of the interest taken in her by
I had no reason, this time, to suppose that Mrs. Rymer
entertained an unfriendly feeling toward me. At the first words
of greeting that passed between us I perceived a change in her
manner, which ran in the opposite extreme. She overwhelmed me
with the most elaborate demonstrations of politeness and respect;
dwelling on her gratitude for my kindness in receiving her, and
on her pride at seeing her daughter's flowers on my table, until
I made a resolute effort to stop her by asking (as if it was
actually a matter of importance to me!) whether she was in London
on business or on pleasure.
"Oh, on business, sir! My poor husband invested his little
savings in bank stock, and I have just been drawing my dividend.
I do hope you don't think my girl over-bold in venturing to send
you a few flowers. She wouldn't allow me to interfere. I do
assure you she would gather and arrange them with her own hands.
In themselves I know they are hardly worth accepting; but if you
will allow the motive to plead--"
I made another effort to stop Mrs. Rymer; I said her daughter
could not have sent me a prettier present.
The inexhaustible woman only went on more fluently than ever.
"She is so grateful, sir, and so proud of your goodness in
looking at her exercises. The difficulty of the French language
seem as nothing to her, now her motive is to please you. She is
so devoted to her studies that I find it difficult to induce her
to take the exercise necessary to her health; and, as you may
perhaps remember, Susan was always rather weakly as a child. She
inherits her father's constitution, Mr. Lepel--not mine."
Here, to my infinite relief, the servant appeared, announcing
that my horse was at the door.
Mrs. Rymer opened her mouth. I saw a coming flood of apologies on
the point of pouring out--and seized my hat on the spot. I
declared I had an appointment; I sent kind remembrances to Susan
(pitying her for having such a mother with my whole heart); I
said I hoped to return to my uncle's house soon, and to continue
the French lessons. The one thing more that I remember was
finding myself safe in the saddle, and out of the reach of Mrs.
Reflecting on what had passed, it was plain to me that this woman
had some private end in view, and that my abrupt departure had
prevented her from finding the way to it. What motive could she
possibly have for that obstinate persistence in presenting poor
Susan under a favorable aspect, to a man who had already shown
that he was honestly interested in her pretty modest daughter? I
tried hard to penetrate the mystery--and gave it up in despair.
Three days before the date at which Rothsay and I were to pay our
visit to Lord Lepel, I found myself compelled to undergo one of
the minor miseries of human life. In other words I became one of
the guests at a large dinner-party. It was a rainy day in
October. My position at the table placed me between a window that
was open and a door that was hardly ever shut. I went to bed
shivering; and woke the next morning with a headache and a
difficulty in breathing. On consulting the doctor, I found that I
was suffering from an attack of bronchitis. There was no reason
to be alarmed. If I remained indoors, and submitted to the
necessary treatment, I might hope to keep my engagement with my
uncle in ten days or a fortnight.
There was no alternative but to submit. I accordingly arranged
with Rothsay that he should present himself at Lord Lepel's house
(taking the picture with him), on the date appointed for our
visit, and that I should follow as soon as I was well enough to
On the day when he was to leave London, my friend kindly came to
keep me company for a while. He was followed into my room by Mrs.
Mozeen, with a bottle of medicine in her hand. This worthy
creature, finding that the doctor's directions occasionally
escaped my memory, devoted herself to the duty of administering
the remedies at the prescribed intervals of time. When she left
the room, having performed her duties as usual, I saw Rothsay's
eyes follow her to the door with an expression of sardonic
curiosity. He put a strange question to me as soon as we were
"Who engaged that new servant of yours?" he asked. "I mean the
fat fellow, with the curly flaxen hair."
"Hiring servants," I replied, "is not much in my way. I left the
engagement of the new man to Mrs. Mozeen."
Rothsay walked gravely up to my bedside.
"Lepel," he said, "your respectable housekeeper is in love with
the fat young footman."
It is not easy to amuse a man suffering from bronchitis. But this
new outbreak of absurdity was more than I could resist, even with
a mustard-plaster on my chest.
"I thought I should raise your spirits," Rothsay proceeded. "When
I came to your house this morning, the valet opened the door to
me. I expressed my surprise at his condescending to take that
trouble. He informed me that Joseph was otherwise engaged. 'With
anybody in particular?' I asked, humoring the joke. 'Yes, sir,
with the housekeeper. She's teaching him how to brush his hair,
so as to show off his good looks to the best advantage.' Make up
your mind, my friend, to lose Mrs. Mozeen--especially if she
happens to have any money."
"Nonsense, Rothsay! The poor woman is old enough to be Joseph's
"My good fellow, that won't make any difference to Joseph. In the
days when we were rich enough to keep a man-servant, our
footman--as handsome a fellow as ever you saw, and no older than
I am--married a witch with a lame leg. When I asked him why he
had made such a fool of himself he looked quite indignant, and
said: 'Sir! she has got six hundred pounds.' He and the witch
keep a public house. What will you bet me that we don't see your
housekeeper drawing beer at the bar, and Joseph getting drunk in
the parlor, before we are a year older?"
I was not well enough to prolong my enjoyment of Rothsay's boyish
humor. Besides, exaggeration to be really amusing must have some
relation, no matter how slender it may be, to the truth. My
housekeeper belonged to a respectable family, and was essentially
a person accust omed to respect herself. Her brother occupied a
position of responsibility in the establishment of a firm of
chemists whom I had employed for years past. Her late husband had
farmed his own land, and had owed his ruin to calamities for
which he was in no way responsible. Kind-hearted Mrs. Mozeen was
just the woman to take a motherly interest in a well-disposed lad
like Joseph; and it was equally characteristic of my
valet--especially when Rothsay was thoughtless enough to
encourage him--to pervert an innocent action for the sake of
indulging in a stupid jest. I took advantage of my privilege as
an invalid, and changed the subject.
A week passed. I had expected to hear from Rothsay. To my
surprise and disappointment no letter arrived.
Susan was more considerate. She wrote, very modestly and
prettily, to say that she and her mother had heard of my illness
from Mr. Rothsay, and to express the hope that I should soon be
restored to health. A few days later, Mrs. Rymer's politeness
carried her to the length of taking the journey to London to make
inquiries at my door. I did not see her, of course. She left word
that she would have the honor of calling again.
The second week followed. I had by that time perfectly recovered
from my attack of bronchitis--and yet I was too ill to leave the
The doctor himself seemed to be at a loss to understand the
symptoms that now presented themselves. A vile sensation of
nausea tried my endurance, and an incomprehensible prostration of
strength depressed my spirits. I felt such a strange reluctance
to exert myself that I actually left it to Mrs. Mozeen to write
to my uncle in my name, and say that I was not yet well enough to
visit him. My medical adviser tried various methods of treatment;
my housekeeper administered the prescribed medicines with
unremitting care; but nothing came of it. A physician of great
authority was called into consultation. Being completely puzzled,
he retreated to the last refuge of bewildered doctors. I asked
him what was the matter with me. And he answered: "Suppressed
MIDWAY in the third week, my uncle wrote to me as follows:
"I have been obliged to request your friend Rothsay to bring his
visit to a conclusion. Although he refuses to confess it, I have
reason to believe that he has committed the folly of falling
seriously in love with the young girl at my lodge gate. I have
tried remonstrance in vain; and I write to his father at the same
time that I write to you. There is much more that I might say. I
reserve it for the time when I hope to have the pleasure of
seeing you, restored to health."
Two days after the receipt of this alarming letter Rothsay
returned to me.
Ill as I was, I forgot my sufferings the moment I looked at him.
Wild and haggard, he stared at me with bloodshot eyes like a man
"Do you think I am mad? I dare say I am. I can't live without
her." Those were the first words he said when we shook hands.
But I had more influence over him than any other person; and,
weak as I was, I exerted it. Little by little, he became more
reasonable; he began to speak like his old self again.
To have expressed any surprise, on my part, at what had happened,
would have been not only imprudent, but unworthy of him and of
me. My first inquiry was suggested by the fear that he might have
been hurried into openly confessing his passion to
Susan--although his position forbade him to offer marriage. I had
done him an injustice. His honorable nature had shrunk from the
cruelty of raising hopes, which, for all he knew to the contrary,
might never be realized. At the same time, he had his reasons for
believing that he was at least personally acceptable to her.
"She was always glad to see me," said poor Rothsay. "We
constantly talked of you. She spoke of your kindness so prettily
and so gratefully. Oh, Lepel, it is not her beauty only that has
won my heart! Her nature is the nature of an angel."
His voice failed him. For the first time in my remembrance of our
long companionship, he burst into tears.
I was so shocked and distressed that I had the greatest
difficulty in preserving my own self-control. In the effort to
comfort him, I asked if he had ventured to confide in his father.
"You are the favorite son," I reminded him. "Is there no gleam of
hope in the future?"
He had written to his father. In silence he gave me the letter in
It was expressed with a moderation which I had hardly dared to
expect. Mr. Rothsay the elder admitted that he had himself
married for love, and that his wife's rank in the social scale
(although higher than Susan's) had not been equal to his own.
"In such a family as ours," he wrote--perhaps with pardonable
pride--"we raise our wives to our own degree. But this young
person labors under a double disadvantage. She is obscure, and
she is poor. What have you to offer her? Nothing. And what have I
to give you? Nothing."
This meant, as I interpreted it, that the main obstacle in the
way was Susan's poverty. And I was rich! In the excitement that
possessed me, I followed the impulse of the moment headlong, like
"While you were away from me," I said to Rothsay, "did you never
once think of your old friend? Must I remind you that I can make
Susan your wife with one stroke of my pen?" He looked at me in
silent surprise. I took my check-book from the drawer of the
table, and placed the inkstand within reach. "Susan's marriage
portion," I said, "is a matter of a line of writing, with my name
at the end of it."
He burst out with an exclamation that stopped me, just as my pen
touched the paper.
"Good heavens!" he cried, "you are thinking of that play we saw
at Rome! Are we on the stage? Are you performing the part of the
Marquis--and am I the Count?"
I was so startled by this wild allusion to the past--I recognized
with such astonishment the reproduction of one of the dramatic
situations in the play, at a crisis in his life and mine--that
the use of the pen remained suspended in my hand. For the first
time in my life I was conscious of a sensation which resembled
Rothsay recovered himself first. He misinterpreted what was
passing in my mind.
"Don't think me ungrateful," he said. "You dear, kind, good
fellow, consider for a moment, and you will see that it can't be.
What would be said of her and of me, if you made Susan rich with
your money, and if I married her? The poor innocent would be
called your cast-off mistress. People would say: 'He has behaved
liberally to her, and his needy friend has taken advantage of
The point of view which I had failed to see was put with terrible
directness of expression: the conviction that I was wrong was
literally forced on me. What reply could I make? Rothsay
evidently felt for me.
"You are ill," he said, gently; "let me leave you to rest."
He held out his hand to say good-by. I insisted on his taking up
his abode with me, for the present at least. Ordinary persuasion
failed to induce him to yield. I put it on selfish grounds next.
"You have noticed that I am ill," I said, "I want you to keep me
He gave way directly.
Through the wakeful night, I tried to consider what moral
remedies might be within our reach. The one useful conclusion at
which I could arrive was to induce Rothsay to try what absence
and change might do to compose his mind. To advise him to travel
alone was out of the question. I wrote to his one other old
friend besides myself--the friend who had taken him on a cruise
in the Mediterranean.
The owner of the yacht had that very day given directions to have
his vessel laid up for the winter season. He at once
countermanded the order by telegraph. "I am an idle man," he
said, "and I am as fond of Rothsay as you are. I will take him
wherever he likes to go." It was not easy to persuade the object
of these kind intentions to profit by them. Nothing that I could
say roused him. I spoke to him of his picture. He had left it at
my uncle's house, and neither knew nor cared to know whether it
had been sold or not. The one consideration which ultimately
influenced Rothsay was presented by the doctor; speaking as
follows (to quote his own explanation) in the interests of my
"I warned your friend," he said, "that his conduct was causing
anxiety which you were not strong enough to bear. On hearing this
he at once promised to follow the advice which you had given to
him, and to join the yacht. As you know, he has kept his word.
May I ask if he has ever followed the medical profession?"
Replying in the negative, I begged the doctor to tell me why he
had put his question.
He answered, "Mr. Rothsay requested me to tell him all that I
knew about your illness. I complied, of course; mentioning that I
had lately adopted a new method of treatment, and that I had
every reason to feel confident of the results. He was so
interested in the symptoms of your illness, and in the remedies
being tried, that he took notes in his pocketbook of what I had
said. When he paid me that compliment, I thought it possible that
I might be speaking to a colleague."
I was pleased to hear of my friend's anxiety for my recovery. If
I had been in better health, I might have asked myself what
reason he could have had for making those entries in his
Three days later, another proof reached me of Rothsay's anxiety
for my welfare.
The owner of the yacht wrote to beg that I would send him a
report of my health, addressed to a port on the south coast of
England, to which they were then bound. "If we don't hear good
news," he added, "I have reason to fear that Rothsay will
overthrow our plans for the recovery of his peace of mind by
leaving the vessel, and making his own inquiries at your
With no small difficulty I roused myself sufficiently to write a
few words with my own hand. They were words that lied--for my
poor friend's sake. In a postscript, I begged my correspondent to
let me hear if the effect produced on Rothsay had answered to our
hopes and expectations.
THE weary days followed each other--and time failed to justify
the doctor's confidence in his new remedies. I grew weaker and
My uncle came to see me. He was so alarmed that he insisted on a
consultation being held with his own physician. Another great
authority was called in, at the same time, by the urgent request
of my own medical man. These distinguished persons held more than
one privy council, before they would consent to give a positive
opinion. It was an evasive opinion (encumbered with hard words of
Greek and Roman origin) when it was at last pronounced. I waited
until they had taken their leave, and then appealed to my own
doctor. "What do these men really think?" I asked. "Shall I live,
The doctor answered for himself as well as for his illustrious
colleagues. "We have great faith in the new prescriptions," he
I understood what that meant. They were afraid to tell me the
truth. I insisted on the truth.
"How long shall I live?" I said. "Till the end of the year?"
The reply followed in one terrible word:
It was then the first week in December. I understood that I might
reckon--at the utmost--on three weeks of life. What I felt, on
arriving at this conclusion, I shall not say. It is the one
secret I keep from the readers of these lines.
The next day, Mrs. Rymer called once more to make inquiries. Not
satisfied with the servant's report, she entreated that I would
consent to see her. My housekeeper, with her customary kindness,
undertook to convey the message. If she had been a wicked woman,
would she have acted in this way? "Mrs. Rymer seems to be sadly
distressed," she pleaded. "As I understand, sir, she is suffering
under some domestic anxiety which can only be mentioned to
Did this anxiety relate to Susan? The bare doubt of it decided
me. I consented to see Mrs. Rymer. Feeling it necessary to
control her in the use of her tongue, I spoke the moment the door
"I am suffering from illness; and I must ask you to spare me as
much as possible. What do you wish to say to me?"
The tone in which I addressed Mrs. Rymer would have offended a
more sensitive woman. The truth is, she had chosen an unfortunate
time for her visit. There were fluctuations in the progress of my
malady; there were days when I felt better, and days when I felt
worse--and this was a bad day. Moreover, my uncle had tried my
temper that morning. He had called to see me, on his way to
winter in the south of France by his physician's advice; and he
recommended a trial of change of air in my case also. His country
house (only thirty miles from London) was entirely at my
disposal; and the railway supplied beds for invalids. It was
useless to answer that I was not equal to the effort. He reminded
me that I had exerted myself to leave my bedchamber for my
arm-chair in the next room, and that a little additional
resolution would enable me to follow his advice. We parted in a
state of irritation on either side which, so far as I was
concerned, had not subsided yet.
"I wish to speak to you, sir, about my daughter," Mrs. Rymer
The mere allusion to Susan had its composing effect on me. I said
kindly that I hoped she was well.
"Well in body," Mrs. Rymer announced. "Far from it, sir, in
Before I could ask what this meant, we were interrupted by the
appearance of the servant, bringing the letters which had arrived
for me by the afternoon post. I told the man, impatiently, to put
them on the table at my side.
"What is distressing Susan?" I inquired, without stopping to look
at the letters.
"She is fretting, sir, about your illness. Oh, Mr. Lepel, if you
would only try the sweet country air! If you only had my good
little Susan to nurse you!"
_She_, too, taking my uncle's view! And talking of Susan as my
"What are you thinking of?" I asked her. "A young girl like your
daughter nursing Me! You ought to have more regard for Susan's
"I know what _you_ ought to do!" She made that strange reply with
a furtive look at me, half in anger, half in alarm.
"Go on," I said.
"Will you turn me out of your house for my impudence?" she asked.
"I will hear what you have to say to me. What ought I to do?"
I heard the woman plainly--and yet, I declare, I doubted the
evidence of my senses.
"She's breaking her heart for you," Mrs. Rymer burst out. "She's
been in love with you since you first darkened our doors--and it
will end in the neighbors finding it out. I did my duty to her; I
tried to stop it; I tried to prevent you from seeing her, when
you went away. Too late; the mischief was done. When I see my
girl fading day by day--crying about you in secret, talking about
you in her dreams--I can't stand it; I must speak out. Oh, yes, I
know how far beneath you she is--the daughter of your uncle's
servant. But she's your equal, sir, in the sight of Heaven. My
lord's priest converted her only last year--and my Susan is as
good a Papist as yourself."
How could I let this go on? I felt that I ought to have stopped
"It's possible," I said, "that you may not be deliberately
deceiving me. If you are yourself deceived, I am bound to tell
you the truth. Mr. Rothsay loves your daughter, and, what is
more, Mr. Rothsay has reason to know that Susan--"
"That Susan loves him?" she interposed, with a mocking laugh.
"Oh, Mr. Lepel, is it possible that a clever man like you can't
see clearer than that? My girl in love with Mr. Rothsay! She
wouldn't have looked at him a second time if he hadn't talked to
her about _you_. When I complained privately to my lord of Mr.
Rothsay hanging about the lodge, do you think she turned as pale
as ashes, and cried when _he_ passed through the gate, and said
She had complained of Rothsay to Lord Lepel--I understood her at
last! She knew that my friend and all his family were poor. She
had put her own construction on the innocent interest that I had
taken in her daughter. Careless of the difference in rank, blind
to the malady that was killing me, she was now bent on separating
Rothsay and Susan, by throwing the girl into the arms of a rich
husband like myself!
"You are wasting your breath," I told her; "I don't believe one
word you say to me."
"Believe Susan, then!"
cried the reckless woman. "Let me bring her here. If she's too
shamefaced to own the truth, look at her--that's all I ask--look
at her, and judge for yourself!"
This was intolerable. In justice to Susan, in justice to Rothsay,
I insisted on silence. "No more of it!" I said. "Take care how
you provoke me. Don't you see that I am ill? don't you see that
you are irritating me to no purpose?"
She altered her tone. "I'll wait," she said, quietly, "while you
With those words, she walked to the window, and stood there with
her back toward me. Was the wretch taking advantage of my
helpless condition? I stretched out my hand to ring the bell, and
have her sent away--and hesitated to degrade Susan's mother, for
Susan's sake. In my state of prostration, how could I arrive at a
decision? My mind was dreadfully disturbed; I felt the imperative
necessity of turning my thoughts to some other subject. Looking
about me, the letters on the table attracted my attention.
Mechanically, I took them up; mechanically I put them down again.
Two of them slipped from my trembling fingers; my eyes fell on
the uppermost of the two. The address was in the handwriting of
the good friend with whom Rothsay was sailing.
Just as I had been speaking of Rothsay, here was the news of him
for which I had been waiting.
I opened the letter and read these words:
"There is, I fear, but little hope for our friend--unless this
girl on whom he has set his heart can (by some lucky change of
circumstances) become his wife. He has tried to master his
weakness; but his own infatuation is too much for him. He is
really and truly in a state of despair. Two evenings since--to
give you a melancholy example of what I mean--I was in my cabin,
when I heard the alarm of a man overboard. The man was Rothsay.
My sailing-master, seeing that he was unable to swim, jumped into
the sea and rescued him, as I got on deck. Rothsay declares it to
have been an accident; and everybody believes him but myself. I
know the state of his mind. Don't be alarmed; I will have him
well looked after; and I won't give him up just yet. We are still
bound southward, with a fair wind. If the new scenes which I hope
to show him prove to be of no avail, I must reluctantly take him
back to England. In that case, which I don't like to contemplate,
you may see him again--perhaps in a month's time."
He might return in a month's time--return to hear of the death of
the one friend, on whose power and will to help him he might have
relied. If I failed to employ in his interests the short interval
of life still left to me, could I doubt (after what I had just
read) what the end would be? How could I help him? Oh, God! how
could I help him?
Mrs. Rymer left the window, and returned to the chair which she
had occupied when I first received her.
"Are you quieter in your mind now?" she asked.
I neither answered her nor looked at her.
Still determined to reach her end, she tried again to force her
unhappy daughter on me. "Will you consent," she persisted, "to
If she had been a little nearer to me, I am afraid I should have
struck her. "You wretch!" I said, "do you know that I am a dying
"While there's life there's hope," Mrs. Rymer remarked.
I ought to have controlled myself; but it was not to be done.
"Hope of your daughter being my rich widow?" I asked.
Her bitter answer followed instantly.
"Even then," she said, "Susan wouldn't marry Rothsay."
A lie! If circumstances favored her, I knew, on Rothsay's
authority, what Susan would do.
The thought burst on my mind, like light bursting on the eyes of
a man restored to sight. If Susan agreed to go through the form
of marriage with a dying bridegroom, my rich widow could (and
would) become Rothsay's wife. Once more, the remembrance of the
play at Rome returned, and set the last embers of resolution,
which sickness and suffering had left to me, in a flame. The
devoted friend of that imaginary story had counted on death to
complete his generous purpose in vain: _he_ had been condemned by
the tribunal of man, and had been reprieved. I--in his place, and
with his self-sacrifice in my mind--might found a firmer trust in
the future; for I had been condemned by the tribunal of God.
Encouraged by my silence, the obstinate woman persisted. "Won't
you even send a message to Susan?" she asked.
Rashly, madly, without an instant's hesitation, I answered:
"Go back to Susan, and say I leave it to _her_."
Mrs. Rymer started to her feet. "You leave it to Susan to be your
wife, if she likes?"
"And if she consents?"
In two weeks and a day from that time, the deed was done. When
Rothsay returned to England, he would ask for Susan--and he would
find my virgin-widow rich and free.
WHATEVER may be thought of my conduct, let me say this in justice
to myself--I was resolved that Susan should not be deceived.
Half an hour after Mrs. Rymer had left my house, I wrote to her
daughter, plainly revealing the motive which led me to offer
marriage, solely in the future interest of Rothsay and herself.
"If you refuse," 1 said in conclusion, "you may depend on my
understanding you and feeling for you. But, if you consent--then
I have a favor to ask Never let us speak to one another of the
profanation that we have agreed to commit, for your faithful
I had formed a high opinion of Susan--too high an opinion as it
seemed. Her reply surprised and disappointed me. In other words,
she gave her consent.
I stipulated that the marriage should be kept strictly secret,
for a certain period. In my own mind I decided that the interval
should be held to expire, either on the day of my death, or on
the day when Rothsay returned.
My next proceeding was to write in confidence to the priest whom
I have already mentioned, in an earlier part of these pages. He
has reasons of his own for not permitting me to disclose the
motive which induced him to celebrate my marriage privately in
the chapel at Lord Lepel's house. My uncle's desire that I should
try change of air, as offering a last chance of recovery, was
known to my medical attendant, and served as a sufficient reason
(although he protested against the risk) for my removal to the
country. I was carried to the station, and placed on a bed--slung
by ropes to the ceiling of a saloon carriage, so as to prevent me
from feeling the vibration when the train was in motion. Faithful
Mrs. Mozeen entreated to be allowed to accompany me. I was
reluctantly compelled to refuse compliance with this request, in
justice to the claims of my lord's housekeeper; who had been
accustomed to exercise undivided authority in the household, and
who had made every preparation for my comfort. With her own
hands, Mrs. Mozeen packed everything that I required, including
the medicines prescribed for the occasion. She was deeply
affected, poor soul, when we parted.
I bore the journey--happily for me, it was a short one--better
than had been anticipated. For the first few days that followed,
the purer air of the country seemed, in some degree, to revive
me. But the deadly sense of weakness, the slow sinking of the
vital power in me, returned as the time drew near for the
marriage. The ceremony was performed at night. Only Susan and her
mother were present. No persons in the house but ourselves had
the faintest suspicion of what had happened.
I signed my new will (the priest and Mrs. Rymer being the
witnesses) in my bed that night. It left everything that I
possessed, excepting a legacy to Mrs. Mozeen, to my wife.
Obliged, it is needless to say, to preserve appearances, Susan
remained at the lodge as usual. But it was impossible to resist
her entreaty to be allowed to attend on me, for a few hours
daily, as assistant to the regular nurse. When she was alone with
me, and had no inquisitive eyes to dread, the poor girl showed a
depth of feeling, which I was unable to reconcile with the
motives that could alone have induced her (as I then supposed) to
consent to the mockery of our marriage. On occasions when I was
so far able to resist the languor that oppressed me as to observe
what was passing at my bedside--I saw Susan look at me as if
there were thoughts in her pressing for utterance which she
hesitated to express. Once, she herself acknowledged this. "I
have so much to say to you," she owned, "when you are stronger
and fitter to hear me." At other times, her nerves seemed to be
shaken by the spectacle of my sufferings. Her kind hands trembled
and made mistakes, when they had any nursing duties to perform
near me. The servants, noticing her, used to say, "That pretty
girl seems to be the most awkward person in the house." On the
day that followed the ceremony in the chapel, this want of
self-control brought about an accident which led to serious
In removing the small chest which held my medicines from the
shelf on which it was placed, Susan let it drop on the floor. The
two full bottles still left were so completely shattered that not
even a teaspoonful of the contents was saved.
Shocked at what she had done, the poor girl volunteered to go
herself to my chemist in London by the first train. I refused to
allow it. What did it matter to me now, if my death from
exhaustion was hastened by a day or two? Why need my life be
prolonged artificially by drugs, when I had nothing left to live
for? An excuse for me which would satisfy others was easily
found. I said that I had been long weary of physic, and that the
accident had decided me on refusing to take more.
That night I did not wake quite so often as usual. When she came
to me the next day, Susan noticed that I looked better. The day
after, the other nurse made the same observation. At the end of
the week, I was able to leave my bed, and sit by the fireside,
while Susan read to me. Some mysterious change in my health had
completely falsified the prediction of the medical men. I sent to
London for my doctor--and told him that the improvement in me had
begun on the day when I left off taking his remedies. "Can you
explain it?" I asked.
He answered that no such "resurrection from the dead" (as he
called it) had ever happened in his long experience. On leaving
me, he asked for the latest prescriptions that had been written.
I inquired what he was going to do with them. "I mean to go to
the chemist," he replied, "and to satisfy myself that your
medicines have been properly made up."
I owed it to Mrs. Mozeen's true interest in me to tell her what
had happened. The same day I wrote to her. I also mentioned what
the doctor had said, and asked her to call on him, and ascertain
if the prescriptions had been shown to the chemist, and if any
mistake had been made.
A more innocently intended letter than this never was written.
And yet there are people who have declared that it was inspired
by suspicion of Mrs. Mozeen!
WHETHER I was so weakened by illness as to be incapable of giving
my mind to more than one subject for reflection at a time (that
subject being now the extraordinary recovery of my health)--or
whether I was preoccupied by the effort, which I was in honor
bound to make, to resist the growing attraction to me of Susan's
society--I cannot presume to say. This only I know: when the
discovery of the terrible position toward Rothsay in which I now
stood suddenly overwhelmed me, an interval of some days had
passed. I cannot account for it. I can only say--so it was.
Susan was in the room. I was wholly unable to hide from her the
sudden change of color which betrayed the horror that had
overpowered me. She said, anxiously: "What has frightened you?"
I don't think I heard her. The play was in my memory again--the
fatal play, which had wound itself into the texture of Rothsay's
life and mine. In vivid remembrance, I saw once more the dramatic
situation of the first act, and shrank from the reflection of it
in the disaster which had fallen on my friend and myself.
"What has frightened you?" Susan repeated.
I answered in one word--I whispered his name: "Rothsay!"
She looked at me in innocent surprise. "Has he met with some
misfortune?" she asked, quietly.
"Misfortune"--did she call it? Had I not said enough to disturb
her tranquillity in mentioning Rothsay's name? "I am living!" I
said. "Living--and likely to live!"
Her answer expressed fervent gratitude. "Thank God for it!"
I looked at her, astonished as she had been astonished when she
looked at me.
"Susan, Susan," I cried--"must I own it? I love you!"
She came nearer to me with timid pleasure in her eyes--with the
first faint light of a smile playing round her lips.
"You say it very strangely," she murmured. "Surely, my dear one,
you ought to love me? Since the first day when you gave me my
French lesson--haven't I loved You?"
"You love _me?_" I repeated. "Have you read--?" My voice failed
me; I could say no more.
She turned pale. "Read what?" she asked.
"The letter I wrote to you before we were married."
Am I a coward? The bare recollection of what followed that reply
makes me tremble. Time has passed. I am a new man now; my health
is restored; my happiness is assured: I ought to be able to write
on. No: it is not to be done. How can I think coolly? how force
myself to record the suffering that I innocently, most
innocently, inflicted on the sweetest and truest of women?
Nothing saved us from a parting as absolute as the parting that
follows death but the confession that had been wrung from me at a
time when my motive spoke for itself. The artless avowal of her
affection had been justified, had been honored, by the words
which laid my heart at her feet when I said "I love you."
. . .
She had risen to leave me. In a last look, we had silently
resigned ourselves to wait, apart from each other, for the day of
reckoning that must follow Rothsay's return, when we heard the
sound of carriage-wheels on the drive that led to the house. In a
minute more the man himself entered the room.
He looked first at Susan--then at me. In both of us be saw the
traces that told of agitation endured, but not yet composed. Worn
and weary he waited, hesitating, near the door.
"Am I intruding?" he asked.
"We were thinking of you, and speaking of you," I replied, "just
before you came in."
"_We?_" he repeated, turning toward Susan once more. After a
pause, he offered me his hand--and drew it back.
"You don't shake hands with me," he said.
"I am waiting, Rothsay, until I know that we are the same firm
friends as ever."
For the third time he looked at Susan.
"Will _you_ shake hands?" he asked.
She gave him her hand cordially. "May I stay here?" she said,
addressing herself to me.
In my situation at that moment, I understood the generous purpose
that animated her. But she had suffered enough already--I led her
gently to the door. "It will be better," I whispered, "if you
will wait downstairs in the library." She hesitated. "What will
they say in the house?" she objected, thinking of the servants
and of the humble position which she was still supposed to
occupy. "It matters nothing what they say, now." I told her. She
"There seems to be some private understanding between you,"
Rothsay said, when we were alone.
"You shall hear what it is," I answered. "But I must beg you to
excuse me if I speak first of myself."
"Are you alluding to your health?"
"Quite needless, Lepel. I met your doctor this morning. I know
that a council of physicians decided you would die before the
year was out."
He paused there.
"And they proved to be wrong," I added.
"They might have proved to be right," Rothsay rejoined, "but for
the accident which spilled your medicine and the despair of
yourself which decided you on taking no more."
I could hardly believe that I understood him. "Do you assert," I
said, "that my medicine would have killed me, if I had taken the
rest of it?"
"I have no doubt that it would."
"Will you explain what you mean?"
"Let me have your explanation first. I was not prepared to find
Susan in your room. I was surprised to see traces of tears in her
face. Something has happened in my absence. Am I concerned in
I said it quietly--in full possession of myself. The trial of
fortitude through which I had already passed seemed to have
customary sense of feeling. I approached the disclosure which I
was now bound to make with steady resolution, resigned to the
worst that could happen when the truth was known.
"Do you remember the time," I resumed, "when I was so eager to
serve you that I proposed to make Susan your wife by making her