Part 1 out of 9
Produced by Jonathan Ingram and Distributed Proofreaders
LADY AUDLEY'S SECRET
Mary Elizabeth Braddon
It lay down in a hollow, rich with fine old timber and luxuriant
pastures; and you came upon it through an avenue of limes, bordered on
either side by meadows, over the high hedges of which the cattle looked
inquisitively at you as you passed, wondering, perhaps, what you wanted;
for there was no thorough-fare, and unless you were going to the Court
you had no business there at all.
At the end of this avenue there was an old arch and a clock tower, with
a stupid, bewildering clock, which had only one hand--and which jumped
straight from one hour to the next--and was therefore always in
extremes. Through this arch you walked straight into the gardens of
A smooth lawn lay before you, dotted with groups of rhododendrons, which
grew in more perfection here than anywhere else in the county. To the
right there were the kitchen gardens, the fish-pond, and an orchard
bordered by a dry moat, and a broken ruin of a wall, in some places
thicker than it was high, and everywhere overgrown with trailing ivy,
yellow stonecrop, and dark moss. To the left there was a broad graveled
walk, down which, years ago, when the place had been a convent, the
quiet nuns had walked hand in hand; a wall bordered with espaliers, and
shadowed on one side by goodly oaks, which shut out the flat landscape,
and circled in the house and gardens with a darkening shelter.
The house faced the arch, and occupied three sides of a quadrangle. It
was very old, and very irregular and rambling. The windows were uneven;
some small, some large, some with heavy stone mullions and rich stained
glass; others with frail lattices that rattled in every breeze; others
so modern that they might have been added only yesterday. Great piles of
chimneys rose up here and there behind the pointed gables, and seemed as
if they were so broken down by age and long service that they must have
fallen but for the straggling ivy which, crawling up the walls and
trailing even over the roof, wound itself about them and supported them.
The principal door was squeezed into a corner of a turret at one angle
of the building, as if it were in hiding from dangerous visitors, and
wished to keep itself a secret--a noble door for all that--old oak, and
studded with great square-headed iron nails, and so thick that the sharp
iron knocker struck upon it with a muffled sound, and the visitor rung a
clanging bell that dangled in a corner among the ivy, lest the noise of
the knocking should never penetrate the stronghold.
A glorious old place. A place that visitors fell in raptures with;
feeling a yearning wish to have done with life, and to stay there
forever, staring into the cool fish-ponds and counting the bubbles as
the roach and carp rose to the surface of the water. A spot in which
peace seemed to have taken up her abode, setting her soothing hand on
every tree and flower, on the still ponds and quiet alleys, the shady
corners of the old-fashioned rooms, the deep window-seats behind the
painted glass, the low meadows and the stately avenues--ay, even upon
the stagnant well, which, cool and sheltered as all else in the old
place, hid itself away in a shrubbery behind the gardens, with an idle
handle that was never turned and a lazy rope so rotten that the pail had
broken away from it, and had fallen into the water.
A noble place; inside as well as out, a noble place--a house in which
you incontinently lost yourself if ever you were so rash as to attempt
to penetrate its mysteries alone; a house in which no one room had any
sympathy with another, every chamber running off at a tangent into an
inner chamber, and through that down some narrow staircase leading to a
door which, in its turn, led back into that very part of the house from
which you thought yourself the furthest; a house that could never have
been planned by any mortal architect, but must have been the handiwork
of that good old builder, Time, who, adding a room one year, and
knocking down a room another year, toppling down a chimney coeval with
the Plantagenets, and setting up one in the style of the Tudors; shaking
down a bit of Saxon wall, allowing a Norman arch to stand here; throwing
in a row of high narrow windows in the reign of Queen Anne, and joining
on a dining-room after the fashion of the time of Hanoverian George I,
to a refectory that had been standing since the Conquest, had contrived,
in some eleven centuries, to run up such a mansion as was not elsewhere
to be met with throughout the county of Essex. Of course, in such a
house there were secret chambers; the little daughter of the present
owner, Sir Michael Audley, had fallen by accident upon the discovery of
one. A board had rattled under her feet in the great nursery where she
played, and on attention being drawn to it, it was found to be loose,
and so removed, revealed a ladder, leading to a hiding-place between the
floor of the nursery and the ceiling of the room below--a hiding-place
so small that he who had hid there must have crouched on his hands and
knees or lain at full length, and yet large enough to contain a quaint
old carved oak chest, half filled with priests' vestments, which had
been hidden away, no doubt, in those cruel days when the life of a man
was in danger if he was discovered to have harbored a Roman Catholic
priest, or to have mass said in his house.
The broad outer moat was dry and grass-grown, and the laden trees of the
orchard hung over it with gnarled, straggling branches that drew
fantastical shadows upon the green slope. Within this moat there was, as
I have said, the fish-pond--a sheet of water that extended the whole
length of the garden and bordering which there was an avenue called the
lime-tree walk; an avenue so shaded from the sun and sky, so screened
from observation by the thick shelter of the over-arching trees that it
seemed a chosen place for secret meetings or for stolen interviews; a
place in which a conspiracy might have been planned, or a lover's vow
registered with equal safety; and yet it was scarcely twenty paces from
At the end of this dark arcade there was the shrubbery, where, half
buried among the tangled branches and the neglected weeds, stood the
rusty wheel of that old well of which I have spoken. It had been of good
service in its time, no doubt; and busy nuns have perhaps drawn the cool
water with their own fair hands; but it had fallen into disuse now, and
scarcely any one at Audley Court knew whether the spring had dried up or
not. But sheltered as was the solitude of this lime-tree walk, I doubt
very much if it was ever put to any romantic uses. Often in the cool of
the evening Sir Michael Audley would stroll up and down smoking his
cigar, with his dogs at his heels, and his pretty young wife dawdling by
his side; but in about ten minutes the baronet and his companion would
grow tired of the rustling limes and the still water, hidden under the
spreading leaves of the water-lilies, and the long green vista with the
broken well at the end, and would stroll back to the drawing-room, where
my lady played dreamy melodies by Beethoven and Mendelssohn till her
husband fell asleep in his easy-chair.
Sir Michael Audley was fifty-six years of age, and he had married a
second wife three months after his fifty-fifth birthday. He was a big
man, tall and stout, with a deep, sonorous voice, handsome black eyes,
and a white beard--a white beard which made him look venerable against
his will, for he was as active as a boy, and one of the hardest riders
in the country. For seventeen years he had been a widower with an only
child, a daughter, Alicia Audley, now eighteen, and by no means too well
pleased at having a step-mother brought home to the Court; for Miss
Alicia had reigned supreme in her father's house since her earliest
childhood, and had carried the keys, and jingled them in the pockets of
her silk aprons, and lost them in the shrubbery, and dropped them into
the pond, and given all manner of trouble about them from the hour in
which she entered her teens, and had, on that account, deluded herself
into the sincere belief, that for the whole of that period, she had been
keeping the house.
But Miss Alicia's day was over; and now, when she asked anything of the
housekeeper, the housekeeper would tell her that she would speak to my
lady, or she would consult my lady, and if my lady pleased it should be
done. So the baronet's daughter, who was an excellent horsewoman and a
very clever artist, spent most of her time out of doors, riding about
the green lanes, and sketching the cottage children, and the plow-boys,
and the cattle, and all manner of animal life that came in her way. She
set her face with a sulky determination against any intimacy between
herself and the baronet's young wife; and amiable as that lady was, she
found it quite impossible to overcome Miss Alicia's prejudices and
dislike; or to convince the spoilt girl that she had not done her a
cruel injury by marrying Sir Michael Audley. The truth was that Lady
Audley had, in becoming the wife of Sir Michael, made one of those
apparently advantageous matches which are apt to draw upon a woman the
envy and hatred of her sex. She had come into the neighborhood as a
governess in the family of a surgeon in the village near Audley Court.
No one knew anything of her, except that she came in answer to an
advertisement which Mr. Dawson, the surgeon, had inserted in The
_Times_. She came from London; and the only reference she gave was to a
lady at a school at Brompton, where she had once been a teacher. But
this reference was so satisfactory that none other was needed, and Miss
Lucy Graham was received by the surgeon as the instructress of his
daughters. Her accomplishments were so brilliant and numerous, that it
seemed strange that she should have answered an advertisement offering
such very moderate terms of remuneration as those named by Mr. Dawson;
but Miss Graham seemed perfectly well satisfied with her situation, and
she taught the girls to play sonatas by Beethoven, and to paint from
nature after Creswick, and walked through a dull, out-of-the-way village
to the humble little church, three times every Sunday, as contentedly as
if she had no higher aspiration in the world than to do so all the rest
of her life.
People who observed this, accounted for it by saying that it was a part
of her amiable and gentle nature always to be light-hearted, happy and
contented under any circumstances.
Wherever she went she seemed to take joy and brightness with her. In the
cottages of the poor her fair face shone like a sunbeam. She would sit
for a quarter of an hour talking to some old woman, and apparently as
pleased with the admiration of a toothless crone as if she had been
listening to the compliments of a marquis; and when she tripped away,
leaving nothing behind her (for her poor salary gave no scope to her
benevolence), the old woman would burst out into senile raptures with
her grace, beauty, and her kindliness, such as she never bestowed upon
the vicar's wife, who half fed and clothed her. For you see, Miss Lucy
Graham was blessed with that magic power of fascination, by which a
woman can charm with a word or intoxicate with a smile. Every one loved,
admired, and praised her. The boy who opened the five-barred gate that
stood in her pathway, ran home to his mother to tell of her pretty
looks, and the sweet voice in which she thanked him for the little
service. The verger at the church, who ushered her into the surgeon's
pew; the vicar, who saw the soft blue eyes uplifted to his face as he
preached his simple sermon; the porter from the railway station, who
brought her sometimes a letter or a parcel, and who never looked for
reward from her; her employer; his visitors; her pupils; the servants;
everybody, high and low, united in declaring that Lucy Graham was the
sweetest girl that ever lived.
Perhaps it was the rumor of this which penetrated into the quiet chamber
of Audley Court; or, perhaps, it was the sight of her pretty face,
looking over the surgeon's high pew every Sunday morning; however it
was, it was certain that Sir Michael Audley suddenly experienced a
strong desire to be better acquainted with Mr. Dawson's governess.
He had only to hint his wish to the worthy doctor for a little party to
be got up, to which the vicar and his wife, and the baronet and his
daughter, were invited.
That one quiet evening sealed Sir Michael's fate. He could no more
resist the tender fascination of those soft and melting blue eyes; the
graceful beauty of that slender throat and drooping head, with its
wealth of showering flaxen curls; the low music of that gentle voice;
the perfect harmony which pervaded every charm, and made all doubly
charming in this woman; than he could resist his destiny! Destiny! Why,
she was his destiny! He had never loved before. What had been his
marriage with Alicia's mother but a dull, jog-trot bargain made to keep
some estate in the family that would have been just as well out of it?
What had been his love for his first wife but a poor, pitiful,
smoldering spark, too dull to be extinguished, too feeble to burn? But
_this_ was love--this fever, this longing, this restless, uncertain,
miserable hesitation; these cruel fears that his age was an
insurmountable barrier to his happiness; this sick hatred of his white
beard; this frenzied wish to be young again, with glistening raven hair,
and a slim waist, such as he had twenty years before; these, wakeful
nights and melancholy days, so gloriously brightened if he chanced to
catch a glimpse of her sweet face behind the window curtains, as he
drove past the surgeon's house; all these signs gave token of the truth,
and told only too plainly that, at the sober age of fifty-five, Sir
Michael Audley had fallen ill of the terrible fever called love.
I do not think that, throughout his courtship, the baronet once
calculated upon his wealth or his position as reasons for his success.
If he ever remembered these things, he dismissed the thought of them
with a shudder. It pained him too much to believe for a moment that any
one so lovely and innocent could value herself against a splendid house
or a good old title. No; his hope was that, as her life had been most
likely one of toil and dependence, and as she was very young nobody
exactly knew her age, but she looked little more than twenty, she might
never have formed any attachment, and that he, being the first to woo
her, might, by tender attentions, by generous watchfulness, by a love
which should recall to her the father she had lost, and by a protecting
care that should make him necessary to her, win her young heart, and
obtain from her fresh and earliest love, the promise or her hand. It was
a very romantic day-dream, no doubt; but, for all that, it seemed in a
very fair way to be realized. Lucy Graham appeared by no means to
dislike the baronet's attentions. There was nothing whatever in her
manner that betrayed the shallow artifices employed by a woman who
wishes to captivate a rich man. She was so accustomed to admiration from
every one, high and low, that Sir Michael's conduct made very little
impression upon her. Again, he had been so many years a widower that
people had given up the idea of his ever marrying again. At last,
however, Mrs. Dawson spoke to the governess on the subject. The
surgeon's wife was sitting in the school-room busy at work, while Lucy
was putting the finishing touches on some water-color sketches done by
"Do you know, my dear Miss Graham," said Mrs. Dawson, "I think you ought
to consider yourself a remarkably lucky girl?"
The governess lifted her head from its stooping attitude, and stared
wonderingly at her employer, shaking back a shower of curls. They were
the most wonderful curls in the world--soft and feathery, always
floating away from her face, and making a pale halo round her head when
the sunlight shone through them.
"What do you mean, my dear Mrs. Dawson?" she asked, dipping her
camel's-hair brush into the wet aquamarine upon the palette, and poising
it carefully before putting in the delicate streak of purple which was
to brighten the horizon in her pupil's sketch.
"Why, I mean, my dear, that it only rests with yourself to become Lady
Audley, and the mistress of Audley Court."
Lucy Graham dropped the brush upon the picture, and flushed scarlet to
the roots of her fair hair; and then grew pale again, far paler than
Mrs. Dawson had ever seen her before.
"My dear, don't agitate yourself," said the surgeon's wife, soothingly;
"you know that nobody asks you to marry Sir Michael unless you wish. Of
course it would be a magnificent match; he has a splendid income, and is
one of the most generous of men. Your position would be very high, and
you would be enabled to do a great deal of good; but, as I said before,
you must be entirely guided by your own feelings. Only one thing I must
say, and that is that if Sir Michael's attentions are not agreeable to
you, it is really scarcely honorable to encourage him."
"His attentions--encourage him!" muttered Lucy, as if the words
bewildered her. "Pray, pray don't talk to me, Mrs. Dawson. I had no idea
of this. It is the last thing that would have occurred to me." She
leaned her elbows on the drawing-board before her, and clasping her
hands over her face, seemed for some minutes to be thinking deeply. She
wore a narrow black ribbon round her neck, with a locket, or a cross, or
a miniature, perhaps, attached to it; but whatever the trinket was, she
always kept it hidden under her dress. Once or twice, while she sat
silently thinking, she removed one of her hands from before her face,
and fidgeted nervously with the ribbon, clutching at it with a
half-angry gesture, and twisting it backward and forward between her
"I think some people are born to be unlucky, Mrs. Dawson," she said,
by-and-by; "it would be a great deal too much good fortune for me to
become Lady Audley."
She said this with so much bitterness in her tone, that the surgeon's
wife looked up at her with surprise.
"You unlucky, my dear!" she exclaimed. "I think you are the last person
who ought to talk like that--you, such a bright, happy creature, that it
does every one good to see you. I'm sure I don't know what we shall do
if Sir Michael robs us of you."
After this conversation they often spoke upon the subject, and Lucy
never again showed any emotion whatever when the baronet's admiration
for her was canvassed. It was a tacitly understood thing in the
surgeon's family that whenever Sir Michael proposed, the governess would
quietly accept him; and, indeed, the simple Dawsons would have thought
it something more than madness in a penniless girl to reject such an
So, one misty August evening, Sir Michael, sitting opposite to Lucy
Graham, at a window in the surgeon's little drawing-room, took an
opportunity while the family happened by some accident to be absent from
the room, of speaking upon the subject nearest to his heart. He made the
governess, in a few but solemn words, an offer of his hand. There was
something almost touching in the manner and tone in which he spoke to
her--half in deprecation, knowing that he could hardly expect to be the
choice of a beautiful young girl, and praying rather that she would
reject him, even though she broke his heart by doing so, than that she
should accept his offer if she did not love him.
"I scarcely think there is a greater sin, Lucy," he said, solemnly,
"than that of a woman who marries a man she does not love. You are so
precious to me, my beloved, that deeply as my heart is set on this, and
bitter as the mere thought of disappointment is to me, I would not have
you commit such a sin for any happiness of mine. If my happiness could
be achieved by such an act, which it could not--which it never could,"
he repeated, earnestly--"nothing but misery can result from a marriage
dictated by any motive but truth and love."
Lucy Graham was not looking at Sir Michael, but straight out into the
misty twilight and dim landscape far away beyond the little garden. The
baronet tried to see her face, but her profile was turned to him, and he
could not discover the expression of her eyes. If he could have done so,
he would have seen a yearning gaze which seemed as if it would have
pierced the far obscurity and looked away--away into another world.
"Lucy, you heard me?"
"Yes," she said, gravely; not coldly, or in any way as if she were
offended at his words.
"And your answer?"
She did not remove her gaze from the darkening country side, but for
some moments was quite silent; then turning to him, with a sudden
passion in her manner, that lighted up her face with a new and wonderful
beauty which the baronet perceived even in the growing twilight, she
fell on her knees at his feet.
"No, Lucy; no, no!" he cried, vehemently, "not here, not here!"
"Yes, here, here," she said, the strange passion which agitated her
making her voice sound shrill and piercing--not loud, but
preternaturally distinct; "here and nowhere else. How good you are--how
noble and how generous! Love you! Why, there are women a hundred times
my superiors in beauty and in goodness who might love you dearly; but
you ask too much of me! Remember what my life has been; only remember
that! From my very babyhood I have never seen anything but poverty. My
father was a gentleman: clever, accomplished, handsome--but poor--and
what a pitiful wretch poverty made of him! My mother--But do not let me
speak of her. Poverty--poverty, trials, vexations, humiliations,
deprivations. You cannot tell; you, who are among those for whom life is
so smooth and easy, you can never guess what is endured by such as we.
Do not ask too much of me, then. I cannot be disinterested; I cannot be
blind to the advantages of such an alliance. I cannot, I cannot!"
Beyond her agitation and her passionate vehemence, there is an undefined
something in her manner which fills the baronet with a vague alarm. She
is still on the ground at his feet, crouching rather than kneeling, her
thin white dress clinging about her, her pale hair streaming over her
shoulders, her great blue eyes glittering in the dusk, and her hands
clutching at the black ribbon about her throat, as if it had been
strangling her. "Don't ask too much of me," she kept repeating; "I have
been selfish from my babyhood."
"Lucy--Lucy, speak plainly. Do you dislike me?"
"Dislike you? No--no!"
"But is there any one else whom you love?"
She laughed aloud at his question. "I do not love any one in the world,"
He was glad of her reply; and yet that and the strange laugh jarred upon
his feelings. He was silent for some moments, and then said, with a kind
"Well, Lucy, I will not ask too much of you. I dare say I am a romantic
old fool; but if you do not dislike me, and if you do not love any one
else, I see no reason why we should not make a very happy couple. Is it
a bargain, Lucy?"
The baronet lifted her in his arms and kissed her once upon the
forehead, then quietly bidding her good-night, he walked straight out of
He walked straight out of the house, this foolish old man, because there
was some strong emotion at work in his breast--neither joy nor triumph,
but something almost akin to disappointment--some stifled and
unsatisfied longing which lay heavy and dull at his heart, as if he had
carried a corpse in his bosom. He carried the corpse of that hope which
had died at the sound of Lucy's words. All the doubts and fears and
timid aspirations were ended now. He must be contented, like other men
of his age, to be married for his fortune and his position.
Lucy Graham went slowly up the stairs to her little room at the top of
the house. She placed her dim candle on the chest of drawers, and seated
herself on the edge of the white bed, still and white as the draperies
hanging around her.
"No more dependence, no more drudgery, no more humiliations," she said;
"every trace of the old life melted away--every clew to identity buried
and forgotten--except these, except these."
She had never taken her left hand from the black ribbon at her throat.
She drew it from her bosom, as she spoke, and looked at the object
attached to it.
It was neither a locket, a miniature, nor a cross; it was a ring wrapped
in an oblong piece of paper--the paper partly written, partly printed,
yellow with age, and crumpled with much folding.
ON BOARD THE ARGUS.
He threw the end of his cigar into the water, and leaning his elbows
upon the bulwarks, stared meditatively at the waves.
"How wearisome they are," he said; "blue and green, and opal; opal, and
blue, and green; all very well in their way, of course, but three months
of them are rather too much, especially--"
He did not attempt to finish his sentence; his thoughts seemed to wander
in the very midst of it, and carry him a thousand miles or so away.
"Poor little girl, how pleased she'll be!" he muttered, opening his
cigar-case, lazily surveying its contents; "how pleased and how
surprised? Poor little girl. After three years and a half, too; she
_will_ be surprised."
He was a young man of about five-and-twenty, with dark face bronzed by
exposure to the sun; he had handsome brown eyes, with a lazy smile in
them that sparkled through the black lashes, and a bushy beard and
mustache that covered the whole lower part of his face. He was tall and
powerfully built; he wore a loose gray suit and a felt hat, thrown
carelessly upon his black hair. His name was George Talboys, and he was
aft-cabin passenger on board the good ship _Argus_, laden with
Australian wool and sailing from Sydney to Liverpool.
There were very few passengers in the aft-cabin of the _Argus_. An
elderly wool-stapler returning to his native country with his wife and
daughters, after having made a fortune in the colonies; a governess of
three-and-thirty years of age, going home to marry a man to whom she had
been engaged fifteen years; the sentimental daughter of a wealthy
Australian wine-merchant, invoiced to England to finish her education,
and George Talboys, were the only first-class passengers on board.
This George Talboys was the life and soul of the vessel; nobody knew who
or what he was, or where he came from, but everybody liked him. He sat
at the bottom of the dinner-table, and assisted the captain in doing the
honors of the friendly meal. He opened the champagne bottles, and took
wine with every one present; be told funny stories, and led the life
himself with such a joyous peal that the man must have been a churl who
could not have laughed for pure sympathy. He was a capital hand at
speculation and vingt-et-un, and all the merry games, which kept the
little circle round the cabin-lamp so deep in innocent amusement, that a
hurricane might have howled overhead without their hearing it; but he
freely owned that he had no talent for whist, and that he didn't know a
knight from a castle upon the chess-board.
Indeed, Mr. Talboys was by no means too learned a gentleman. The pale
governess had tried to talk to him about fashionable literature, but
George had only pulled his beard and stared very hard at her, saying
occasionally, "Ah, yes, by Jove!" and "To be sure, ah!"
The sentimental young lady, going home to finish her education, had
tried him with Shelby and Byron, and he had fairly laughed in her face,
as if poetry where a joke. The woolstapler sounded him on politics, but
he did not seem very deeply versed in them; so they let him go his own
way, smoke his cigars and talk to the sailors, lounge over the bulwarks
and stare at the water, and make himself agreeable to everybody in his
own fashion. But when the _Argus_ came to be within about a fortnight's
sail of England everybody noticed a change in George Talboys. He grew
restless and fidgety; sometimes so merry that the cabin rung with his
laughter; sometimes moody and thoughtful. Favorite as he was among the
sailors, they were tired at last of answering his perpetual questions
about the probable time of touching land. Would it be in ten days, in
eleven, in twelve, in thirteen? Was the wind favorable? How many knots
an hour was the vessel doing? Then a sudden passion would sieze him, and
he would stamp upon the deck, crying out that she was a rickety old
craft, and that her owners were swindlers to advertise her as the
fast-sailing _Argus_. She was not fit for passenger traffic; she was not
fit to carry impatient living creatures, with hearts and souls; she was
fit for nothing but to be laden with bales of stupid wool, that might
rot on the sea and be none the worse for it.
The sun was drooping down behind the waves as George Talboys lighted his
cigar upon this August evening. Only ten days more, the sailors had told
him that afternoon, and they would see the English coast. "I will go
ashore in the first boat that hails us," he cried; "I will go ashore in
a cockle-shell. By Jove, if it comes to that, I will swim to land."
His friends in the aft-cabin, with the exception of the pale governess,
laughed at his impatience; she sighed as she watched the young man,
chafing at the slow hours, pushing away his untasted wine, flinging
himself restlessly about upon the cabin sofa, rushing up and down the
companion ladder, and staring at the waves.
As the red rim of the sun dropped into the water, the governess ascended
the cabin stairs for a stroll on deck, while the passengers sat over
their wine below. She stopped when she came up to George, and, standing
by his side, watched the fading crimson in the western sky.
The lady was very quiet and reserved, seldom sharing in the after-cabin
amusements, never laughing, and speaking very little; but she and George
Talboys had been excellent friends throughout the passage.
"Does my cigar annoy you, Miss Morley?" he said, taking it out of his
"Not at all; pray do not leave off smoking. I only came up to look at
the sunset. What a lovely evening!"
"Yes, yes, I dare say," he answered, impatiently; "yet so long, so long!
Ten more interminable days and ten more weary nights before we land."
"Yes," said Miss Morley, sighing. "Do you wish the time shorter?"
"Do I?" cried George. "Indeed I do. Don't you?"
"But is there no one you love in England? Is there no one you love
looking out for your arrival?"
"I hope so," she said gravely. They were silent for some time, he
smoking his cigar with a furious impatience, as if he could hasten the
course of the vessel by his own restlessness; she looking out at the
waning light with melancholy blue eyes--eyes that seemed to have faded
with poring over closely-printed books and difficult needlework; eyes
that had faded a little, perhaps, by reason of tears secretly shed in
the lonely night.
"See!" said George, suddenly, pointing in another direction from that
toward which Miss Morley was looking, "there's the new moon!"
She looked up at the pale crescent, her own face almost as pale and wan.
"This is the first time we have seen it."
"We must wish!" said George. "I know what I wish."
"That we may get home quickly."
"My wish is that we may find no disappointment when we get there," said
the governess, sadly.
He started as if he had been struck, and asked what she meant by talking
"I mean this," she said, speaking rapidly, and with a restless motion of
her thin hands; "I mean that as the end of the voyage draws near, hope
sinks in my heart; and a sick fear comes over me that at the last all
may not be well. The person I go to meet may be changed in his feelings
toward me; or he may retain all the old feeling until the moment of
seeing me, and then lose it in a breath at sight of my poor wan face,
for I was called a pretty girl, Mr. Talboys, when I sailed for Sydney,
fifteen years ago; or he may be so changed by the world as to have grown
selfish and mercenary, and he may welcome me for the sake of my fifteen
years' savings. Again, he may be dead. He may have been well, perhaps,
up to within a week of our landing, and in that last week may have taken
a fever, and died an hour before our vessel anchors in the Mersey. I
think of all these things, Mr. Talboys, and act the scenes over in my
mind, and feel the anguish of them twenty times a day. Twenty times a
day," she repeated; "why I do it a thousand times a day."
George Talboys had stood motionless, with his cigar in his hand,
listening to her so intently that, as she said the last words, his hold
relaxed, and the cigar dropped in the water.
"I wonder," she continued, more to herself than to him, "I wonder,
looking back, to think how hopeful I was when the vessel sailed; I never
thought then of disappointment, but I pictured the joy of meeting,
imagining the very words that would be said, the very tones, the very
looks; but for this last month of the voyage, day by day, and hour by
hour my heart sinks and my hopeful fancies fade away, and I dread the
end as much as if I knew that I was going to England to attend a
The young man suddenly changed his attitude, and turned his face full
upon his companion, with a look of alarm. She saw in the pale light that
the color had faded from his cheek.
"What a fool!" he cried, striking his clinched fist upon the side of the
vessel, "what a fool I am to be frightened at this? Why do you come and
say these things to me? Why do you come and terrify me out of my senses,
when I am going straight home to the woman I love; to a girl whose heart
is as true as the light of Heaven; and in whom I no more expect to find
any change than I do to see another sun rise in to-morrow's sky? Why do
you come and try to put such fancies in my head when I am going home to
my darling wife?"
"Your wife," she said; "that is different. There is no reason that my
terrors should terrify you. I am going to England to rejoin a man to
whom I was engaged to be married fifteen years ago. He was too poor to
marry then, and when I was offered a situation as governess in a rich
Australian family, I persuaded him to let me accept it, so that I might
leave him free and unfettered to win his way in the world, while I saved
a little money to help us when we began life together. I never meant to
stay away so long, but things have gone badly with him in England. That
is my story, and you can understand my fears. They need not influence
you. Mine is an exceptional case."
"So is mine," said George, impatiently. "I tell you that mine is an
exceptional case: although I swear to you that until this moment, I have
never known a fear as to the result of my voyage home. But you are
right; your terrors have nothing to do with me. You have been away
fifteen years; all kinds of things may happen in fifteen years. Now it
is only three years and a half this very month since I left England.
What can have happened in such a short time as that?"
Miss Morley looked at him with a mournful smile, but did not speak. His
feverish ardor, the freshness and impatience of his nature were so
strange and new to her, that she looked at him half in admiration, half
"My pretty little wife! My gentle, innocent, loving little wife! Do you
know, Miss Morley," he said, with all his old hopefulness of manner,
"that I left my little girl asleep, with her baby in her arms, and with
nothing but a few blotted lines to tell her why her faithful husband had
"Deserted her!" exclaimed the governess.
"Yes. I was an ensign in a cavalry regiment when I first met my little
darling. We were quartered at a stupid seaport town, where my pet lived
with her shabby old father, a half-pay naval officer; a regular old
humbug, as poor as Job, and with an eye for nothing but the main chance.
I saw through all his shallow tricks to catch one of us for his pretty
daughter. I saw all the pitiable, contemptible, palpable traps he set
for us big dragoons to walk into. I saw through his shabby-genteel
dinners and public-house port; his fine talk of the grandeur of his
family; his sham pride and independence, and the sham tears of his
bleared old eyes when he talked of his only child. He was a drunken old
hypocrite, and he was ready to sell my poor, little girl to the highest
bidder. Luckily for me, I happened just then to be the highest bidder;
for my father, is a rich man, Miss Morley, and as it was love at first
sight on both sides, my darling and I made a match of it. No sooner,
however, did my father hear that I had married a penniless little girl,
the daughter of a tipsy old half-pay lieutenant, than he wrote me a
furious letter, telling me he would never again hold any communication
with me, and that my yearly allowance would stop from my wedding-day.
"As there was no remaining in such a regiment as mine, with nothing but
my pay to live on, and my pretty little wife to keep, I sold out,
thinking that before the money was exhausted, I should be sure to drop
into something. I took my darling to Italy, and we lived there in
splendid style as long as my two thousand pounds lasted; but when that
began to dwindle down to a couple of hundred or so, we came back to
England, and as my darling had a fancy for being near that tiresome old
father of hers, we settled at the watering-place where he lived. Well,
as soon as the old man heard that I had a couple of hundred pounds left,
he expressed a wonderful degree of affection for us, and insisted on our
boarding in his house. We consented, still to please my darling, who had
just then a peculiar right to have every whim and fancy of her innocent
heart indulged. We did board with him, and finally he fleeced us; but
when I spoke of it to my little wife, she only shrugged her shoulders,
and said she did not like to be unkind to her 'poor papa.' So poor papa
made away with our little stock of money in no time; and as I felt that
it was now becoming necessary to look about for something, I ran up to
London, and tried to get a situation as a clerk in a merchant's office,
or as accountant, or book-keeper, or something of that kind. But I
suppose there was the stamp of a heavy dragoon about me, for do what I
would I couldn't get anybody to believe in my capacity; and tired out,
and down-hearted, I returned to my darling, to find her nursing a son
and heir to his father's poverty. Poor little girl, she was very
low-spirited; and when I told her that my London expedition had failed,
she fairly broke down, and burst in to a storm of sobs and lamentations,
telling me that I ought not to have married her if I could give her
nothing but poverty and misery; and that I had done her a cruel wrong in
making her my wife. By heaven! Miss Morley, her tears and reproaches
drove me almost mad; and I flew into a rage with her, myself, her
father, the world, and everybody in it, and then rail out of the house.
I walked about the streets all that day, half out of my mind, and with a
strong inclination to throw myself into the sea, so as to leave my poor
girl free to make a better match. 'If I drown myself, her father must
support her,' I thought; 'the old hypocrite could never refuse her a
shelter; but while I live she has no claim on him.' I went down to a
rickety old wooden pier, meaning to wait there till it was dark, and
then drop quietly over the end of it into the water; but while I sat
there smoking my pipe, and staring vacantly at the sea-gulls, two men
came down, and one of them began to talk of the Australian
gold-diggings, and the great things that were to be done there. It
appeared that he was going to sail in a day or two, and he was trying to
persuade his companion to join him in the expedition.
"I listened to these men for upward of an hour, following them up and
down the pier, with my pipe in my mouth, and hearing all their talk.
After this I fell into conversation with them myself, and ascertained
that there was a vessel going to leave Liverpool in three days, by which
vessel one of the men was going out. This man gave me all the
information I required, and told me, moreover, that a stalwart young
fellow, such as I was, could hardly fail to do well in the diggings. The
thought flashed upon me so suddenly, that I grew hot and red in the
face, and trembled in every limb with excitement. This was better than
the water, at any rate. Suppose I stole away from my darling, leaving
her safe under her father's roof, and went and made a fortune in the new
world, and came back in a twelvemonth to throw it into her lap; for I
was so sanguine in those days that I counted on making my fortune in a
year or so. I thanked the man for his information, and late at night
strolled homeward. It was bitter winter weather, but I had been too full
of passion to feel cold, and I walked through the quiet streets, with
the snow drifting in my face, and a desperate hopefulness in my heart.
The old man was sitting drinking brandy-and-water in the little
dining-room; and my wife was up-stairs, sleeping peacefully, with the
baby on her breast. I sat down and wrote a few brief lines, which told
her that I never had loved her better than now, when I seemed to desert
her; that I was going to try my fortune in the new world, and that if I
succeeded I should come back to bring her plenty and happiness; but that
if I failed I should never look upon her face again. I divided the
remainder of our money--something over forty pounds--into two equal
portions, leaving one for her, and putting the other in my pocket. I
knelt down and prayed for my wife and child, with my head upon the white
counterpane that covered them. I wasn't much of a praying man at
ordinary times, but God knows _that_ was a heartfelt prayer. I kissed
her once, and the baby once, and then crept out of the room. The
dining-room door was open, and the old man was nodding over his paper.
He looked up as he heard my step in the passage, and asked me where I
was going. 'To have a smoke in the street,' I answered; and as this was
a common habit of mine he believed me. Three nights after I was out at
sea, bound for Melbourne--a steerage passenger, with a digger's tools
for my baggage, and about seven shillings in my pocket."
"And you succeeded?" asked Miss Morley.
"Not till I had long despaired of success; not until poverty and I had
become such old companions and bed-fellows, that looking back at my past
life, I wondered whether that dashing, reckless, extravagant, luxurious,
champagne-drinking dragoon could have really been the same man who sat
on the damp ground gnawing a moldy crust in the wilds of the new world.
I clung to the memory of my darling, and the trust that I had in her
love and truth was the one keystone that kept the fabric of my past life
together--the one star that lit the thick black darkness of the future.
I was hail-fellow-well-met with bad men; I was in the center of riot,
drunkenness, and debauchery; but the purifying influence of my love kept
me safe from all. Thin and gaunt, the half-starved shadow of what I once
had been, I saw myself one day in a broken bit of looking-glass, and was
frightened by my own face. But I toiled on through all; through
disappointment and despair, rheumatism, fever, starvation; at the very
gates of death, I toiled on steadily to the end; and in the end I
He was so brave in his energy and determination, in his proud triumph of
success, and in the knowledge of the difficulties he had vanquished,
that the pale governess could only look at him in wondering admiration.
"How brave you were!" she said.
"Brave!" he cried, with a joyous peal of laughter; "wasn't I working for
my darling? Through all the dreary time of that probation, her pretty
white hand seemed beckoning me onward to a happy future! Why, I have
seen her under my wretched canvas tent sitting by my side, with her boy
in her arms, as plainly as I had ever seen her in the one happy year of
our wedded life. At last, one dreary foggy morning, just three months
ago, with a drizzling rain wetting me to the skin, up to my neck in clay
and mire, half-starved, enfeebled by fever, stiff with rheumatism, a
monster nugget turned up under my spade, and I was in one minute the
richest man in Australia. I fell down on the wet clay, with my lump of
gold in the bosom of my shirt, and, for the first time in my life, cried
like a child. I traveled post-haste to Sydney, realized my price, which
was worth upward of L20,000, and a fortnight afterward took my passage
for England in this vessel; and in ten days--in ten days I shall see my
"But in all that time did you never write to your wife?"
"Never, till the night before I left Sydney. I could not write when
everything looked so black. I could not write and tell her that I was
fighting hard with despair and death. I waited for better fortune, and
when that came I wrote telling her that I should be in England almost as
soon as my letter, and giving her an address at a coffee-house in London
where she could write to me, telling me where to find her, though she is
hardly likely to have left her father's house."
He fell into a reverie after this, and puffed meditatively at his cigar.
His companion did not disturb him. The last ray of summer daylight had
died out, and the pale light of the crescent moon only remained.
Presently George Talboys flung away his cigar, and turning to the
governess, cried abruptly, "Miss Morley, if, when I get to England, I
hear that anything has happened to my wife, I shall fall down dead."
"My dear Mr. Talboys, why do you think of these things? God is very good
to us; He will not afflict us beyond our power of endurance. I see all
things, perhaps, in a melancholy light; for the long monotony of my life
has given me too much time to think over my troubles."
"And my life has been all action, privation, toil, alternate hope and
despair; I have had no time to think upon the chances of anything
happening to my darling. What a blind, reckless fool I have been! Three
years and a half and not one line--one word from her, or from any mortal
creature who knows her. Heaven above! what may not have happened?"
In the agitation of his mind he began to walk rapidly up and down the
lonely deck, the governess following, and trying to soothe him.
"I swear to you, Miss Morley," he said, "that till you spoke to me
to-night, I never felt one shadow of fear, and now I have that sick,
sinking dread at my heart which you talked of an hour ago. Let me alone,
please, to get over it my own way."
She drew silently away from him, and seated herself by the side of the
vessel, looking over into the water.
George Talboys walked backward and forward for some time, with his head
bent upon his breast, looking neither to the right nor the left, but in
about a quarter of an hour he returned to the spot where the governess
"I have been praying," he said--"praying for my darling."
He spoke in a voice little above a whisper, and she saw his face
ineffably calm in the moonlight.
The same August sun which had gone down behind the waste of waters
glimmered redly upon the broad face of the old clock over that
ivy-covered archway which leads into the gardens of Audley Court.
A fierce and crimson sunset. The mullioned windows and twinkling
lattices are all ablaze with the red glory; the fading light flickers
upon the leaves of the limes in the long avenue, and changes the still
fish-pond into a sheet of burnished copper; even into those dim recesses
of brier and brushwood, amidst which the old well is hidden, the crimson
brightness penetrates in fitful flashes till the dank weeds and the
rusty iron wheel and broken woodwork seem as if they were flecked with
The lowing of a cow in the quiet meadows, the splash of a trout in the
fish-pond, the last notes of a tired bird, the creaking of wagon-wheels
upon the distant road, every now and then breaking the evening silence,
only made the stillness of the place seem more intense. It was almost
oppressive, this twilight stillness. The very repose of the place grew
painful from its intensity, and you felt as if a corpse must be lying
somewhere within that gray and ivy-covered pile of building--so
deathlike was the tranquillity of all around.
As the clock over the archway struck eight, a door at the back of the
house was softly opened, and a girl came out into the gardens.
But even the presence of a human being scarcely broke the silence; for
the girl crept slowly over the thick grass, and gliding into the avenue
by the side of the fish-pond, disappeared in the rich shelter of the
She was not, perhaps, positively a pretty girl; but her appearance was
of that order which is commonly called interesting. Interesting, it may
be, because in the pale face and the light gray eyes, the small features
and compressed lips, there was something which hinted at a power of
repression and self-control not common in a woman of nineteen or twenty.
She might have been pretty, I think, but for the one fault in her small
oval face. This fault was an absence of color. Not one tinge of crimson
flushed the waxen whiteness of her cheeks; not one shadow of brown
redeemed the pale insipidity of her eyebrows and eyelashes; not one
glimmer of gold or auburn relieved the dull flaxen of her hair. Even her
dress was spoiled by this same deficiency. The pale lavender muslin
faded into a sickly gray, and the ribbon knotted round her throat melted
into the same neutral hue.
Her figure was slim and fragile, and in spite of her humble dress, she
had something of the grace and carriage of a gentlewoman, but she was
only a simple country girl, called Phoebe Marks, who had been nursemaid
in Mr. Dawson's family, and whom Lady Audley had chosen for her maid
after her marriage with Sir Michael.
Of course, this was a wonderful piece of good fortune for Phoebe, who
found her wages trebled and her work lightened in the well-ordered
household at the Court; and who was therefore quite as much the object
of envy among her particular friends as my lady herself to higher
A man, who was sitting on the broken wood-work of the well, started as
the lady's-maid came out of the dim shade of the limes and stood before
him among the weeds and brushwood.
I have said before that this was a neglected spot; it lay in the midst
of a low shrubbery, hidden away from the rest of the gardens, and only
visible from the garret windows at the back of the west wing.
"Why, Phoebe," said the man, shutting a clasp-knife with which he had
been stripping the bark from a blackthorn stake, "you came upon me so
still and sudden, that I thought you was an evil spirit. I've come
across through the fields, and come in here at the gate agen the moat,
and I was taking a rest before I came up to the house to ask if you was
"I can see the well from my bedroom window, Luke," Phoebe answered,
pointing to an open lattice in one of the gables. "I saw you sitting
here, and came down to have a chat; it's better talking out here than in
the house, where there's always somebody listening."
The man was a big, broad-shouldered, stupid-looking clod-hopper of about
twenty-three years of age. His dark red hair grew low upon his forehead,
and his bushy brows met over a pair of greenish gray eyes; his nose was
large and well-shaped, but the mouth was coarse in form and animal in
expression. Rosy-cheeked, red-haired, and bull-necked, he was not unlike
one of the stout oxen grazing in the meadows round about the Court.
The girl seated herself lightly upon the wood-work at his side, and put
one of her hands, which had grown white in her new and easy service,
about his thick neck.
"Are you glad to see me, Luke?" she asked.
"Of course I'm glad, lass," he answered, boorishly, opening his knife
again, and scraping away at the hedge-stake.
They were first cousins, and had been play fellows in childhood, and
sweethearts in early youth.
"You don't seem much as if you were glad," said the girl; "you might
look at me, Luke, and tell me if you think my journey has improved me."
"It ain't put any color into your cheeks, my girl," he said, glancing up
at her from under his lowering eyebrows; "you're every bit as white as
you was when you went away."
"But they say traveling makes people genteel, Luke. I've been on the
Continent with my lady, through all manner of curious places; and you
know, when I was a child, Squire Horton's daughters taught me to speak a
little French, and I found it so nice to be able to talk to the people
"Genteel!" cried Luke Marks, with a hoarse laugh; "who wants you to be
genteel, I wonder? Not me, for one; when you're my wife you won't have
overmuch time for gentility, my girl. French, too! Dang me, Phoebe, I
suppose when we've saved money enough between us to buy a bit of a farm,
you'll be _parleyvooing_ to the cows?"
She bit her lip as her lover spoke, and looked away. He went on cutting
and chopping at a rude handle he was fashioning to the stake, whistling
softly to himself all the while, and not once looking at his cousin.
For some time they were silent, but by-and-by she said, with her face
still turned away from her companion:
"What a fine thing it is for Miss Graham that was, to travel with her
maid and her courier, and her chariot and four, and a husband that
thinks there isn't one spot upon all the earth that's good enough for
her to set her foot upon!"
"Ay, it is a fine thing, Phoebe, to have lots of money," answered Luke,
"and I hope you'll be warned by that, my lass, to save up your wages
agin we get married."
"Why, what was she in Mr. Dawson's house only three months ago?"
continued the girl, as if she had not heard her cousin's speech. "What
was she but a servant like me? Taking wages and working for them us
hard, or harder, than I did. You should have seen her shabby clothes,
Luke--worn and patched, and darned and turned and twisted, yet always
looking nice upon her, somehow. She gives me more as lady's-maid here
than ever she got from Mr. Dawson then. Why, I've seen her come out of
the parlor with a few sovereigns and a little silver in her hand, that
master had just given her for her quarter's salary; and now look at
"Never you mind her," said Luke; "take care of yourself, Phoebe; that's
all you've got to do. What should you say to a public-house for you and
me, by-and-by, my girl? There's a deal of money to be made out of a
The girl still sat with her face averted from her lover, her hands
hanging listlessly in her lap, and her pale gray eyes fixed upon the
last low streak of crimson dying out behind the trunks of the trees.
"You should see the inside of the house, Luke," she said; "it's a
tumbledown looking place enough outside; but you should see my lady's
rooms--all pictures and gilding, and great looking-glasses that stretch
from the ceiling to the floor. Painted ceilings, too, that cost hundreds
of pounds, the housekeeper told her, and all done for her."
"She's a lucky one," muttered Luke, with lazy indifference.
"You should have seen her while we were abroad, with a crowd of
gentlemen hanging about her; Sir Michael not jealous of them, only proud
to see her so much admired. You should have heard her laugh and talk
with them; throwing all their compliments and fine speeches back at
them, as it were, as if they had been pelting her with roses. She set
everybody mad about her, wherever she went. Her singing, her playing,
her painting, her dancing, her beautiful smile, and sunshiny ringlets!
She was always the talk of a place, as long as we stayed in it."
"Is she at home to-night?"
"No; she has gone out with Sir Michael to a dinner party at the Beeches.
They've seven or eight miles to drive, and they won't be back till after
"Then I'll tell you what, Phoebe, if the inside of the house is so
mighty fine, I should like to have a look at it."
"You shall, then. Mrs. Barton, the housekeeper, knows you by sight, and
she can't object to my showing you some of the best rooms."
It was almost dark when the cousins left the shrubbery and walked slowly
to the house. The door by which they entered led into the servants'
hall, on one side of which was the housekeeper's room. Phoebe Marks
stopped for a moment to ask the housekeeper if she might take her cousin
through some of the rooms, and having received permission to do so,
lighted a candle at the lamp in the hall, and beckoned to Luke to follow
her into the other part of the house.
The long, black oak corridors were dim in the ghostly twilight--the
light carried by Phoebe looking only a poor speck in the broad passages
through which the girl led her cousin. Luke looked suspiciously over his
shoulder now and then, half-frightened by the creaking of his own
"It's a mortal dull place, Phoebe," he said, as they emerged from a
passage into the principal hall, which was not yet lighted; "I've heard
tell of a murder that was done here in old times."
"There are murders enough in these times, as to that, Luke," answered
the girl, ascending the staircase, followed by the young man.
She led the way through a great drawing-room, rich in satin and ormolu,
buhl and inlaid cabinets, bronzes, cameos, statuettes, and trinkets,
that glistened in the dusky light; then through a morning room, hung
with proof engravings of valuable pictures; through this into an
ante-chamber, where she stopped, holding the light above her head.
The young man stared about him, open-mouthed and open-eyed.
"It's a rare fine place," he said, "and must have cost a heap of money."
"Look at the pictures on the walls," said Phoebe, glancing at the panels
of the octagonal chamber, which were hung with Claudes and Poussins,
Wouvermans and Cuyps. "I've heard that those alone are worth a fortune.
This is the entrance to my lady's apartments, Miss Graham that was." She
lifted a heavy green cloth curtain which hung across a doorway, and led
the astonished countryman into a fairy-like boudoir, and thence to a
dressing-room, in which the open doors of a wardrobe and a heap of
dresses flung about a sofa showed that it still remained exactly as its
occupants had left it.
"I've got all these things to put away before my lady comes home, Luke;
you might sit down here while I do it, I shan't be long."
Her cousin looked around in gawky embarrassment, bewildered by the
splendor of the room; and after some deliberation selected the most
substantial of the chairs, on the extreme edge of which he carefully
"I wish I could show you the jewels, Luke," said the girl; "but I can't,
for she always keeps the keys herself; that's the case on the
"What, _that?_" cried Luke, staring at the massive walnut-wood and brass
inlaid casket. "Why, that's big enough to hold every bit of clothes
"And it's as full as it can be of diamonds, rubies, pearls and
emeralds," answered Phoebe, busy as she spoke in folding the rustling
silk dresses, and laying them one by one upon the shelves of the
wardrobe. As she was shaking out the flounces of the last, a jingling
sound caught her ear, and she put her hand into the pocket.
"I declare!" she exclaimed, "my lady has left her keys in her pocket for
once in a way; I can show you the jewelry, if you like, Luke."
"Well, I may as well have a look at it, my girl," he said, rising from
his chair and holding the light while his cousin unlocked the casket. He
uttered a cry of wonder when he saw the ornaments glittering on white
satin cushions. He wanted to handle the delicate jewels; to pull them
about, and find out their mercantile value. Perhaps a pang of longing
and envy shot through his heart as he thought how he would have liked to
have taken one of them.
"Why, one of those diamond things would set us up in life, Phoebe, he
said, turning a bracelet over and over in his big red hands.
"Put it down, Luke! Put it down directly!" cried the girl, with a look
of terror; "how can you speak about such things?"
He laid the bracelet in its place with a reluctant sigh, and then
continued his examination of the casket.
"What's this?" he asked presently, pointing to a brass knob in the
frame-work of the box.
He pushed it as he spoke, and a secret drawer, lined with purple velvet,
flew out of the casket.
"Look ye here!" cried Luke, pleased at his discovery.
Phoebe Marks threw down the dress she had been folding, and went over to
the toilette table.
"Why, I never saw this before," she said; "I wonder what there is in
There was not much in it; neither gold nor gems; only a baby's little
worsted shoe rolled up in a piece of paper, and a tiny lock of pale and
silky yellow hair, evidently taken from a baby's head. Phoebe's eyes
dilated as she examined the little packet.
"So this is what my lady hides in the secret drawer," she muttered.
"It's queer rubbish to keep in such a place," said Luke, carelessly.
The girl's thin lip curved into a curious smile.
"You will bear me witness where I found this," she said, putting the
little parcel into her pocket.
"Why, Phoebe, you're not going to be such a fool as to take that," cried
the young man.
"I'd rather have this than the diamond bracelet you would have liked to
take," she answered; "you shall have the public house, Luke."
IN THE FIRST PAGE OF "THE TIMES."
Robert Audley was supposed to be a barrister. As a barrister was his
name inscribed in the law-list; as a barrister he had chambers in
Figtree Court, Temple; as a barrister he had eaten the allotted number
of dinners, which form the sublime ordeal through which the forensic
aspirant wades on to fame and fortune. If these things can make a man a
barrister, Robert Audley decidedly was one. But he had never either had
a brief, or tried to get a brief, or even wished to have a brief in all
those five years, during which his name had been painted upon one of the
doors in Figtree Court. He was a handsome, lazy, care-for-nothing
fellow, of about seven-and-twenty; the only son of a younger brother of
Sir Michael Audley. His father had left him L400 a year, which his
friends had advised him to increase by being called to the bar; and as
he found it, after due consideration, more trouble to oppose the wishes
of these friends than to eat so many dinners, and to take a set of
chambers in the Temple, he adopted the latter course, and unblushingly
called himself a barrister.
Sometimes, when the weather was very hot, and he had exhausted himself
with the exertion of smoking his German pipe, and reading French novels,
he would stroll into the Temple Gardens, and lying in some shady spot,
pale and cool, with his shirt collar turned down and a blue silk
handkerchief tied loosely about his neck, would tell grave benchers that
he had knocked himself up with over work.
The sly old benchers laughed at the pleasant fiction; but they all
agreed that Robert Audley was a good fellow; a generous-hearted fellow;
rather a curious fellow, too, with a fund of sly wit and quiet humor,
under his listless, dawdling, indifferent, irresolute manner. A man who
would never get on in the world; but who would not hurt a worm. Indeed,
his chambers were converted into a perfect dog-kennel, by his habit of
bringing home stray and benighted curs, who were attracted by his looks
in the street, and followed him with abject fondness.
Robert always spent the hunting season at Audley Court; not that he was
distinguished as a Nimrod, for he would quietly trot to covert upon a
mild-tempered, stout-limbed bay hack, and keep at a very respectful
distance from the hard riders; his horse knowing quite as well as he
did, that nothing was further from his thoughts than any desire to be in
at the death.
The young man was a great favorite with his uncle, and by no means
despised by his pretty, gipsy-faced, light-hearted, hoydenish cousin,
Miss Alice Audley. It might have seemed to other men, that the
partiality of a young lady who was sole heiress to a very fine estate,
was rather well worth cultivating, but it did not so occur to Robert
Audley. Alicia was a very nice girl, he said, a jolly girl, with no
nonsense about her--a girl of a thousand; but this was the highest point
to which enthusiasm could carry him. The idea of turning his cousin's
girlish liking for him to some good account never entered his idle
brain. I doubt if he even had any correct notion of the amount of his
uncle's fortune, and I am certain that he never for one moment
calculated upon the chances of any part of that fortune ultimately
coming to himself. So that when, one fine spring morning, about three
months before the time of which I am writing, the postman brought him
the wedding cards of Sir Michael and Lady Audley, together with a very
indignant letter from his cousin, setting forth how her father had just
married a wax-dollish young person, no older than Alicia herself, with
flaxen ringlets, and a perpetual giggle; for I am sorry to say that Miss
Audley's animus caused her thus to describe that pretty musical laugh
which had been so much admired in the late Miss Lucy Graham--when, I
say, these documents reached Robert Audley--they elicited neither
vexation nor astonishment in the lymphatic nature of that gentleman. He
read Alicia's angry crossed and recrossed letter without so much as
removing the amber mouth-piece of his German pipe from his mustached
lips. When he had finished the perusal of the epistle, which he read
with his dark eyebrows elevated to the center of his forehead (his only
manner of expressing surprise, by the way) he deliberately threw that
and the wedding cards into the waste-paper basket, and putting down his
pipe, prepared himself for the exertion of thinking out the subject.
"I always said the old buffer would marry," he muttered, after about
half an hour's revery. Alicia and my lady, the stepmother, will go at it
hammer and tongs. I hope they won't quarrel in the hunting season, or
say unpleasant things to each other at the dinner-table; rows always
upset a man's digestion.
At about twelve o'clock on the morning following that night upon which
the events recorded in my last chapter had taken place, the baronet's
nephew strolled out of the Temple, Blackfriarsward, on his way to the
city. He had in an evil hour obliged some necessitous friend by putting
the ancient name of Audley across a bill of accommodation, which bill
not having been provided for by the drawer, Robert was called upon to
pay. For this purpose he sauntered up Ludgate Hill, with his blue
necktie fluttering in the hot August air, and thence to a refreshingly
cool banking-house in a shady court out of St. Paul's churchyard, where
be made arrangements for selling out a couple of hundred pounds' worth
He had transacted this business, and was loitering at the corner of the
court, waiting for a chance hansom to convey him back to the Temple,
when he was almost knocked down by a man of about his own age, who
dashed headlong into the narrow opening.
"Be so good as to look where you're going, my friend!" Robert
remonstrated, mildly, to the impetuous passenger; "you might give a man
warning before you throw him down and trample upon him."
The stranger stopped suddenly, looked very hard at the speaker, and then
gasped for breath.
"Bob!" he cried, in a tone expressive of the most intense astonishment;
"I only touched British ground after dark last night, and to think that
I should meet you this morning."
"I've seen you somewhere before, my bearded friend," said Mr. Audley,
calmly scrutinizing the animated face of the other, "but I'll be hanged
if I can remember when or where."
"What!" exclaimed the stranger, reproachfully. "You don't mean to say
that you've forgotten George Talboys?"
"_No I have not!_" said Robert, with an emphasis by no means usual to
him; and then hooking his arm into that of his friend, he led him into
the shady court, saying, with his old indifference, "and now, George
tell us all about it."
George Talboys did tell him all about it. He told that very story which
he had related ten days before to the pale governess on board the
_Argus_; and then, hot and breathless, he said that he had twenty
thousand pounds or so in his pocket, and that he wanted to bank it at
Messrs. ----, who had been his bankers many years before.
"If you'll believe me, I've only just left their counting-house," said
Robert. "I'll go back with you, and we'll settle that matter in five
They did contrive to settle it in about a quarter of an hour; and then
Robert Audley was for starting off immediately for the Crown and
Scepter, at Greenwich, or the Castle, at Richmond, where they could have
a bit of dinner, and talk over those good old times when they were
together at Eton. But George told his friend that before he went
anywhere, before he shaved or broke his fast, or in any way refreshed
himself after a night journey from Liverpool by express train, he must
call at a certain coffee-house in Bridge street, Westminster, where he
expected to find a letter from his wife.
As they dashed through Ludgate Hill, Fleet street, and the Strand, in a
fast hansom, George Talboys poured into his friend's ear all those wild
hopes and dreams which had usurped such a dominion over his sanguine
"I shall take a villa on the banks of the Thames, Bob," he said, "for
the little wife and myself; and we'll have a yacht, Bob, old boy, and
you shall lie on the deck and smoke, while my pretty one plays her
guitar and sings songs to us. She's for all the world like one of those
what's-its-names, who got poor old Ulysses into trouble," added the
young man, whose classic lore was not very great.
The waiters at the Westminster coffee-house stared at the hollow-eyed,
unshaven stranger, with his clothes of colonial cut, and his boisterous,
excited manner; but he had been an old frequenter of the place in his
military days, and when they heard who he was they flew to do his
He did not want much--only a bottle of soda-water, and to know if there
was a letter at the bar directed to George Talboys.
The waiter brought the soda-water before the young men had seated
themselves in a shady box near the disused fire-place. No; there was no
letter for that name.
The waiter said it with consummate indifference, while he mechanically
dusted the little mahogany table.
George's face blanched to a deadly whiteness. "Talboys," he said;
"perhaps you didn't hear the name distinctly--T, A, L, B, O, Y, S. Go
and look again, there _must_ be a letter."
The waiter shrugged his shoulders as he left the room, and returned in
three minutes to say that there was no name at all resembling Talboys in
the letter rack. There was Brown, and Sanderson, and Pinchbeck; only
three letters altogether.
The young man drank his soda-water in silence, and then, leaning his
elbows on the table, covered his face with his hands. There was
something in his manner which told Robert Audley that his
disappointment, trifling as it may appear, was in reality a very bitter
one. He seated himself opposite to his friend, but did not attempt to
By-and-by George looked up, and mechanically taking a greasy _Times_
newspaper of the day before from a heap of journals on the table, stared
vacantly at the first page.
I cannot tell how long he sat blankly staring at one paragraph among the
list of deaths, before his dazed brain took in its full meaning; but
after considerable pause he pushed the newspaper over to Robert Audley,
and with a face that had changed from its dark bronze to a sickly,
chalky grayish white, and with an awful calmness in his manner, he
pointed with his finger to a line which ran thus:
"On the 24th inst., at Ventnor, Isle of Wight, Helen Talboys, aged 22."
THE HEADSTONE AT VENTNOR.
Yes, there it was in black and white--"Helen Talboys, aged 22."
When George told the governess on board the _Argus_ that if he heard any
evil tidings of his wife he should drop down dead, he spoke in perfect
good faith; and yet, here were the worst tidings that could come to him,
and he sat rigid, white and helpless, staring stupidly at the shocked
face of his friend.
The suddenness of the blow had stunned him. In this strange and
bewildered state of mind he began to wonder what had happened, and why
it was that one line in the _Times_ newspaper could have so horrible an
effect upon him.
Then by degrees even this vague consciousness of his misfortune faded
slowly out of his mind, succeeded by a painful consciousness of external
The hot August sunshine, the dusty window-panes and shabby-painted
blinds, a file of fly-blown play-bills fastened to the wall, the black
and empty fire-places, a bald-headed old man nodding over the _Morning
Advertizer_, the slip-shod waiter folding a tumbled table-cloth, and
Robert Audley's handsome face looking at him full of compassionate
alarm--he knew that all these things took gigantic proportions, and
then, one by one, melted into dark blots and swam before his eyes, He
knew that there was a great noise, as of half a dozen furious
steam-engines tearing and grinding in his ears, and he knew nothing
more--except that somebody or something fell heavily to the ground.
He opened his eyes upon the dusky evening in a cool and shaded room, the
silence only broken by the rumbling of wheels at a distance.
He looked about him wonderingly, but half indifferently. His old friend,
Robert Audley, was seated by his side smoking. George was lying on a low
iron bedstead opposite to an open window, in which there was a stand of
flowers and two or three birds in cages.
"You don't mind the pipe, do you, George?" his friend asked, quietly.
He lay for some time looking at the flowers and the birds; one canary
was singing a shrill hymn to the setting sun.
"Do the birds annoy you, George? Shall I take them out of the room?"
"No; I like to hear them sing."
Robert Audley knocked the ashes out of his pipe, laid the precious
meerschaum tenderly upon the mantelpiece, and going into the next room,
returned presently with a cup of strong tea.
"Take this, George," he said, as he placed the cup on a little table
close to George's pillow; "it will do your head good."
The young man did not answer, but looked slowly round the room, and then
at his friend's grave face.
"Bob," he said, "where are we?"
"In my chambers, dear boy, in the Temple. You have no lodgings of your
own, so you may as well stay with me while you're in town."
George passed his hand once or twice across his forehead, and then, in a
hesitating manner, said, quietly:
"That newspaper this morning, Bob; what was it?"
"Never mind just now, old boy; drink some tea."
"Yes, yes," cried George, impatiently, raising himself upon the bed, and
staring about him with hollow eyes. "I remember all about it. Helen! my
Helen! my wife, my darling, my only love! Dead, dead!"
"George," said Robert Audley, laying his hand gently upon the young
man's arm, "you must remember that the person whose name you saw in the
paper may not be your wife. There may have been some other Helen
"No, no!" he cried; "the age corresponds with hers, and Talboys is such
an uncommon name."
"It may be a misprint for Talbot."
"No, no, no; my wife is dead!"
He shook off Robert's restraining hand, and rising from the bed, walked
straight to the door.
"Where are you going?" exclaimed his friend.
"To Ventnor, to see her grave."
"Not to-night, George, not to-night. I will go with you myself by the
first train to-morrow."
Robert led him back to the bed, and gently forced him to lie down again.
He then gave him an opiate, which had been left for him by the medical
man whom they had called in at the coffee-house in Bridge street, when
So George Talboys fell into a heavy slumber, and dreamed that he went to
Ventnor, to find his wife alive and happy, but wrinkled, old, and gray,
and to find his son grown into a young man.
Early the next morning he was seated opposite to Robert Audley in the
first-class carriage of an express, whirling through the pretty open
country toward Portsmouth.
They landed at Ventnor under the burning heat of the midday sun. As the
two young men came from the steamer, the people on the pier stared at
George's white face and untrimmed beard.
"What are we to do, George?" Robert Audley asked. "We have no clew to
finding the people you want to see."
The young man looked at him with a pitiful, bewildered expression. The
big dragoon was as helpless as a baby; and Robert Audley, the most
vacillating and unenergetic of men, found himself called upon to act for
another. He rose superior to himself, and equal to the occasion.
"Had we not better ask at one of the hotels about a Mrs. Talboys,
George?" he said.
"Her father's name was Maldon," George muttered; "he could never have
sent her here to die alone."
They said nothing more; but Robert walked straight to a hotel where he
inquired for a Mr. Maldon.
Yes, they told him, there was a gentleman of that name stopping at
Ventnor, a Captain Maldon; his daughter was lately dead. The waiter
would go and inquire for the address.
The hotel was a busy place at this season; people hurrying in and out,
and a great bustle of grooms and waiters about the halls.
George Talboys leaned against the doorpost, with much the same look in
his face, as that which had frightened his friend in the Westminister
The worst was confirmed now. His wife, Captain Maldon's daughter was
The waiter returned in about five minutes to say that Captain Maldon was
lodging at Lansdowne Cottage, No. 4.
They easily found the house, a shabby, low-windowed cottage, looking
toward the water.
Was Captain Maldon at home? No, the landlady said; he had gone out on
the beach with his little grandson. Would the gentleman walk in and sit
down a bit?
George mechanically followed his friend into the little front
parlor--dusty, shabbily furnished, and disorderly, with a child's broken
toys scattered on the floor, and the scent of stale tobacco hanging
about the muslin window-curtains.
"Look!" said George, pointing to a picture over the mantelpiece.
It was his own portrait, painted in the old dragooning days. A pretty
good likeness, representing him in uniform, with his charger in the
Perhaps the most animated of men would have been scarcely so wise a
comforter as Robert Audley. He did not utter a word to the stricken
widower, but quietly seated himself with his back to George, looking out
of the open window.
For some time the young man wandered restlessly about the room, looking
at and sometimes touching the nick-nacks lying here and there.
Her workbox, with an unfinished piece of work; her album full of
extracts from Byron and Moore, written in his own scrawling hand; some
books which he had given her, and a bunch of withered flowers in a vase
they had bought in Italy.
"Her portrait used to hang by the side of mine," he muttered; "I wonder
what they have done with it."
By-and-by he said, after about an hour's silence:
"I should like to see the woman of the house; I should like to ask her
He broke down, and buried his face in his hands.
Robert summoned the landlady. She was a good-natured garrulous creature,
accustomed to sickness and death, for many of her lodgers came to her to
She told all the particulars of Mrs. Talboys' last hours; how she had
come to Ventnor only ten days before her death, in the last stage of
decline; and how, day by day, she had gradually, but surely, sunk under
the fatal malady. Was the gentleman any relative? she asked of Robert
Audley, as George sobbed aloud.
"Yes, he is the lady's husband."
"What!" the woman cried; "him as deserted her so cruel, and left her
with her pretty boy upon her poor old father's hands, which Captain
Maldon has told me often, with the tears in his poor eyes?"
"I did not desert her," George cried out; and then he told the history
of his three years' struggle.
"Did she speak of me?" he asked; "did she speak of me--at--at the last?"
"No, she went off as quiet as a lamb. She said very little from the
first; but the last day she knew nobody, not even her little boy, nor
her poor old father, who took on awful. Once she went off wild-like,
talking about her mother, and about the cruel shame it was to leave her
to die in a strange place, till it was quite pitiful to hear her."
"Her mother died when she was quite a child," said George. "To think
that she should remember her and speak of her, but never once of me."
The woman took him into the little bedroom in which his wife had died.
He knelt down by the bed and kissed the pillow tenderly, the landlady
crying as he did so.
While he was kneeling, praying, perhaps, with his face buried in this
humble, snow-white pillow, the woman took something from a drawer. She
gave it to him when he rose from his knees; it was a long tress of hair
wrapped in silver paper.
"I cut this off when she lay in her coffin," she said, "poor dear?"
He pressed the soft lock to his lips. "Yes," he murmured; "this is the
dear hair that I have kissed so often when her head lay upon my
shoulder. But it always had a rippling wave in it then, and now it seems
smooth and straight."
"It changes in illness," said the landlady. "If you'd like to see where
they have laid her, Mr. Talboys, my little boy shall show you the way to
So George Talboys and his faithful friend walked to the quiet spot,
where, beneath a mound of earth, to which the patches of fresh turf
hardly adhered, lay that wife of whose welcoming smile George had
dreamed so often in the far antipodes.
Robert left the young man by the side of this newly-made grave, and
returning in about a quarter of an hour, found that he had not once
He looked up presently, and said that if there was a stone-mason's
anywhere near he should like to give an order.
They very easily found the stonemason, and sitting down amidst the
fragmentary litter of the man's yard, George Talboys wrote in pencil
this brief inscription for the headstone of his dead wife's grave:
Sacred to the Memory of
THE BELOVED WIFE OF GEORGE TALBOYS,
"Who departed this life
August 24th, 18--, aged 22,
Deeply regretted by her sorrowing Husband.
ANYWHERE, ANYWHERE OUT OF THE WORLD.
When they returned to Lansdowne Cottage they found the old man had not
yet come in, so they walked down to the beach to look for him. After a
brief search they found him, sitting upon a heap of pebbles, reading a
newspaper and eating filberts. The little boy was at some distance from
his grandfather, digging in the sand with a wooden spade. The crape
round the old man's shabby hat, and the child's poor little black frock,
went to George's heart. Go where he would he met fresh confirmation of
this great grief of his life. His wife was dead.
"Mr. Maldon," he said, as he approached his father-in-law.
The old man looked up, and, dropping his newspaper, rose from the
pebbles with a ceremonious bow. His faded light hair was tinged with
gray; he had a pinched hook nose; watery blue eyes, and an
irresolute-looking mouth; he wore his shabby dress with an affectation
of foppish gentility; an eye-glass dangled over his closely buttoned-up
waistcoat, and he carried a cane in his ungloved hand.
"Great Heaven!" cried George, "don't you know me?"
Mr. Maldon started and colored violently, with something of a frightened
look, as he recognized his son-in-law.
"My dear boy," he said, "I did not; for the first moment I did not. That
beard makes such a difference. You find the beard makes a great
difference, do you not, sir?" he said, appealing to Robert.
"Great heavens!" exclaimed George Talboys, "is this the way you welcome
me? I come to England to find my wife dead within a week of my touching
land, and you begin to chatter to me about my beard--you, her father!"
"True! true!" muttered the old man, wiping his bloodshot eyes; "a sad
shock, a sad shock, my dear George. If you'd only been here a week
"If I had," cried George, in an outburst of grief and passion, "I
scarcely think that I would have let her die. I would have disputed for
her with death. I would! I would! Oh God! why did not the _Argus_ go
down with every soul on board her before I came to see this day?"
He began to walk up and down the beach, his father-in-law looking
helplessly at him, rubbing his feeble eyes with a handkerchief.
"I've a strong notion that that old man didn't treat his daughter too
well," thought Robert, as he watched the half-pay lieutenant. "He seems,
for some reason or other, to be half afraid of George."
While the agitated young man walked up and down in a fever of regret and
despair, the child ran to his grandfather, and clung about the tails of
"Come home, grandpa, come home," he said. "I'm tired."
George Talboys turned at the sound of the babyish voice, and looked long
and earnestly at the boy.
He had his father's brown eyes and dark hair.
"My darling! my darling!" said George, taking the child in his arms, "I
am your father, come across the sea to find you. Will you love me?"
The little fellow pushed him away. "I don't know you," he said. "I love
grandpa and Mrs. Monks at Southampton."
"Georgey has a temper of his own, sir," said the old man. "He has been
They walked slowly back to the cottage, and once more George Talboys
told the history of that desertion which had seemed so cruel. He told,
too, of the twenty thousand pounds banked by him the day before. He had
not the heart to ask any questions about the past, and his father-in-law
only told him that a few months after his departure they had gone from
the place where George left them to live at Southampton, where Helen got
a few pupils for the piano, and where they managed pretty well till her
health failed, and she fell into the decline of which she died. Like
most sad stories it was a very brief one.
"The boy seems fond of you, Mr. Maldon," said George, after a pause.
"Yes, yes," answered the old man, smoothing the child's curling hair;
"yes. Georgey is very fond of his grandfather."
"Then he had better stop with you. The interest of my money will be
about six hundred a year. You can draw a hundred of that for Georgey's
education, leaving the rest to accumulate till he is of age. My friend
here will be trustee, and if he will undertake the charge, I will
appoint him guardian to the boy, allowing him for the present to remain
under your care."
"But why not take care of him yourself, George?" asked Robert Audley.
"Because I shall sail in the very next vessel that leaves Liverpool for
Australia. I shall be better in the diggings or the backwoods than ever
I could be here. I'm broken for a civilized life from this hour, Bob."
The old man's weak eyes sparkled as George declared this determination.
"My poor boy, I think you're right," he said, "I really think you're
right. The change, the wild life, the--the--" He hesitated and broke
down as Robert looked earnestly at him.
"You're in a great hurry to get rid of your son-in-law, I think, Mr.
Maldon," he said, gravely.
"Get rid of him, dear boy! Oh, no, no! But for his own sake, my dear
sir, for his own sake, you know."
"I think for his own sake he'd much better stay in England and look
after his son," said Robert.
"But I tell you I can't," cried George; "every inch of this accursed
ground is hateful to me--I want to run out of it as I would out of a
graveyard. I'll go back to town to-night, get that business about the
money settled early to-morrow morning, and start for Liverpool without a
moment's delay. I shall be better when I've put half the world between
me and her grave."
"Before he left the house he stole out to the landlady, and asked same
more questions about his dead wife.
"Were they poor?" he asked, "were they pinched for money while she was
"Oh, no!" the woman answered; "though the captain dresses shabby, he has
always plenty of sovereigns in his purse. The poor lady wanted for
George was relieved at this, though it puzzled him to know where the
drunken half-pay lieutenant could have contrived to find money for all
the expenses of his daughter's illness.
But he was too thoroughly broken down by the calamity which had befallen
him to be able to think much of anything, so he asked no further
questions, but walked with his father-in-law and Robert Audley down to
the boat by which they were to cross to Portsmouth.
The old man bade Robert a very ceremonious adieu.
"You did not introduce me to your friend, by-the-bye, my dear boy," he
said. George stared at him, muttered something indistinct, and ran down
the ladder to the boat before Mr. Maldon could repeat his request. The
steamer sped away through the sunset, and the outline of the island
melted in the horizon as they neared the opposite shore.
"To think," said George, "that two nights ago, at this time, I was
steaming into Liverpool, full of the hope of clasping her to my heart,
and to-night I am going away from her grave!"
The document which appointed Robert Audley as guardian to little George
Talboys was drawn up in a solicitor's office the next morning.
"It's a great responsibility," exclaimed Robert; "I, guardian to anybody
or anything! I, who never in my life could take care of myself!"
"I trust in your noble heart, Bob," said George. "I know you will take
care of my poor orphan boy, and see that he is well used by his
grandfather. I shall only draw enough from Georgey's fortune to take me
back to Sydney, and then begin my old work again."
But it seemed as if George was destined to be himself the guardian of
his son; for when he reached Liverpool, he found that a vessel had just
sailed, and that there would not be another for a month; so he returned
to London, and once more threw himself upon Robert Audley's hospitality.
The barrister received him with open arms; he gave him the room with the
birds and flowers, and had a bed put up in his dressing-room for
himself. Grief is so selfish that George did not know the sacrifices his
friend made for his comfort. He only knew that for him the sun was
darkened, and the business of life done. He sat all day long smoking
cigars, and staring at the flowers and canaries, chafing for the time to
pass that he might be far out at sea.
But just as the hour was drawing near for the sailing of the vessel,
Robert Audley came in one day, full of a great scheme.
A friend of his, another of those barristers whose last thought is of a
brief, was going to St. Petersburg to spend the winter, and wanted
Robert to accompany him. Robert would only go on condition that George
For a long time the young man resisted; but when he found that Robert
was, in a quiet way, thoroughly determined upon not going without him,
he gave in, and consented to join the party. What did it matter? he
said. One place was the same to him as another; anywhere out of England;
what did he care where?
This was not a very cheerful way of looking at things, but Robert Audley
was quite satisfied with having won his consent.
The three young men started under very favorable circumstances, carrying
letters of introduction to the most influential inhabitants of the
Before leaving England, Robert wrote to his cousin Alicia, telling her
of his intended departure with his old friend George Talboys, whom he
had lately met for the first time after a lapse of years, and who had
just lost his wife.
Alicia's reply came by return post, and ran thus:
"MY DEAR ROBERT--How cruel of you to run away to that horrid St.
Petersburg before the hunting season! I have heard that people lose
their noses in that disagreeable climate, and as yours is rather a long
one, I should advise you to return before the very severe weather sets
in. What sort of person is this Mr. Talboys? If he is very agreeable you
may bring him to the Court as soon as you return from your travels. Lady
Audley tells me to request you to secure her a set of sables. You are
not to consider the price, but to be sure that they are the handsomest
that can be obtained. Papa is perfectly absurd about his new wife, and
she and I cannot get on together at all; not that she is, disagreeable
to me, for, as far as that goes, she makes herself agreeable to every
one; but she is so irretrievably childish and silly.
"Believe me to be, my dear Robert.
"Your affectionate cousin,
AFTER A YEAR.
The first year of George Talboys' widowhood passed away, the deep band
of crepe about his hat grew brown and dusty, and as the last burning day
of another August faded out, he sat smoking cigars in the quiet chambers
of Figtree Court, much as he had done the year before, when the horror
of his grief was new to him, and every object in life, however trifling
or however important, seemed saturated with his one great sorrow.
But the big ex-dragoon had survived his affliction by a twelvemonth, and
hard as it may be to have to tell it, he did not look much the worse for
it. Heaven knows what wasted agonies of remorse and self-reproach may
not have racked George's honest heart, as he lay awake at nights
thinking of the wife he had abandoned in the pursuit of a fortune, which
she never lived to share.
Once, while they were abroad, Robert Audley ventured to congratulate him
upon his recovered spirits. He burst into a bitter laugh.
"Do you know, Bob," he said, "that when some of our fellows were wounded
in India, they came home, bringing bullets inside them. They did not
talk of them, and they were stout and hearty, and looked as well,
perhaps, as you or I; but every change in the weather, however slight,
every variation of the atmosphere, however trifling, brought back the
old agony of their wounds as sharp as ever they had felt it on the
battle-field. I've had my wound, Bob; I carry the bullet still, and I
shall carry it into my coffin."
The travelers returned from St. Petersburg in the spring, and George
again took up his quarters at his old friend's chambers, only leaving
them now and then to run down to Southampton and take a look at his
little boy. He always went loaded with toys and sweetmeats to give to
the child; but, for all this, Georgey would not become very familiar
with his papa, and the young man's heart sickened as he began to fancy
that even his child was lost to him.
"What can I do?" he thought. "If I take him away from his grandfather, I
shall break his heart; if I let him remain, he will grow up a stranger
to me, and care more for that drunken old hypocrite than for his own
father. But then, what could an ignorant, heavy dragoon like me do with
such a child? What could I teach him, except to smoke cigars and idle
around all day with his hands in his pockets?"
So the anniversary of that 30th of August, upon which George had seen
the advertisement of his wife's death in the _Times_ newspaper, came
round for the first time, and the young man put off his black clothes
and the shabby crape from his hat, and laid his mournful garments in a
trunk in which he kept a packet of his wife's letters, her portrait, and
that lock of hair which had been cut from her head after death. Robert
Audley had never seen either the letters, the portrait, or the long
tress of silky hair; nor, indeed, had George ever mentioned the name of
his dead wife after that one day at Ventnor, on which he learned the
full particulars of her decease.
"I shall write to my cousin Alicia to-day, George," the young barrister
said, upon this very 30th of August. "Do you know that the day after
to-morrow is the 1st of September? I shall write and tell her that we
will both run down to the Court for a week's shooting."
"No, no, Bob; go by yourself; they don't want me, and I'd rather--"
"Bury yourself in Figtree Court, with no company but my dogs and
canaries! No, George, you shall do nothing of the kind."
"But I don't care for shooting."
"And do you suppose _I_ care for it?" cried Robert, with charming
_naivete_. "Why, man, I don't know a partridge from a pigeon, and it
might be the 1st of April, instead of the 1st of September, for aught I
care. I never hurt a bird in my life, but I have hurt my own shoulder
with the weight of my gun. I only go down to Essex for the change of
air, the good dinners, and the sight of my uncle's honest, handsome
face. Besides, this time I've another inducement, as I want to see this
fair-haired paragon--my new aunt. You'll go with me, George?"
"Yes, if you really wish it."
The quiet form his grief had taken after its first brief violence, left
him as submissive as a child to the will of his friend; ready to go
anywhere or do anything; never enjoying himself, or originating any
enjoyment, but joining in the pleasures of others with a hopeless,
uncomplaining, unobtrusive resignation peculiar to his simple nature.
But the return of post brought a letter from Alicia Audley, to say that
the two young men could not be received at the Court.
"There are seventeen spare bed-rooms," wrote the young lady, in an
indignant running hand, "but for all that, my dear Robert, you can't
come; for my lady has taken it into her silly head that she is too ill
to entertain visitors (there is no more the matter with her than there
is with me), and she cannot have gentlemen (great, rough men, she says)
in the house. Please apologize to your friend Mr. Talboys, and tell him
that papa expects to see you both in the hunting season."
"My lady's airs and graces shan't keep us out of Essex for all that,"
said Robert, as he twisted the letter into a pipe-light for his big
meerschaum. "I'll tell you what we'll do, George: there's a glorious inn
at Audley, and plenty of fishing in the neighborhood; we'll go there and
have a week's sport. Fishing is much better than shooting; you've only
to lie on a bank and stare at your line; I don't find that you often
catch anything, but it's very pleasant."
He held the twisted letter to the feeble spark of fire glimmering in the
grate, as he spoke, and then changing his mind, deliberately unfolded
it, and smoothed the crumpled paper with his hand.
"Poor little Alicia!" he said, thoughtfully; "it's rather hard to treat
her letter so cavalierly--I'll keep it;" upon which Mr. Robert Audley
put the note back into its envelope, and afterward thrust it into a
pigeon-hole in his office desk, marked _important_. Heaven knows what
wonderful documents there were in this particular pigeon-hole, but I do
not think it likely to have contained anything of great judicial value.
If any one could at that moment have told the young barrister that so
simple a thing as his cousin's brief letter would one day come to be a
link in that terrible chain of evidence afterward to be slowly forged in
the only criminal case in which he was ever to be concerned, perhaps Mr.
Robert Audley would have lifted his eyebrows a little higher than usual.
So the two young men left London the next day, with one portmanteau and
a rod and tackle between them, and reached the straggling,
old-fashioned, fast-decaying village of Audley, in time to order a good
dinner at the Sun Inn.
Audley Court was about three-quarters of a mile from the village, lying,
as I have said, deep down in the hollow, shut in by luxuriant timber.
You could only reach it by a cross-road bordered by trees, and as trimly
kept as the avenues in a gentleman's park. It was a lonely place enough,
even in all its rustic beauty, for so bright a creature as the late Miss
Lucy Graham, but the generous baronet had transformed the interior of
the gray old mansion into a little palace for his young wife, and Lady
Audley seemed as happy as a child surrounded by new and costly toys.
In her better fortunes, as in her old days of dependence, wherever she
went she seemed to take sunshine and gladness with her. In spite of Miss
Alicia's undisguised contempt for her step-mother's childishness and
frivolity, Lucy was better loved and more admired than the baronet's
daughter. That very childishness had a charm which few could resist. The