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Lady Audley's Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

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innocence and candor of an infant beamed in Lady Audley's fair face, and
shone out of her large and liquid blue eyes. The rosy lips, the delicate
nose, the profusion of fair ringlets, all contributed to preserve to her
beauty the character of extreme youth and freshness. She owned to twenty
years of age, but it was hard to believe her more than seventeen. Her
fragile figure, which she loved to dress in heavy velvets, and stiff,
rustling silks, till she looked like a child tricked out for a
masquerade, was as girlish as if she had just left the nursery. All her
amusements were childish. She hated reading, or study of any kind, and
loved society. Rather than be alone, she would admit Phoebe Marks into
her confidence, and loll on one of the sofas in her luxurious
dressing-room, discussing a new costume for some coming dinner-party; or
sit chattering to the girl with her jewel-box beside her, upon the satin
cushions, and Sir Michael's presents spread out in her lap, while she
counted and admired her treasures.

She had appeared at several public balls at Chelmsford and Colchester,
and was immediately established as the belle of the county. Pleased with
her high position and her handsome house; with every caprice gratified,
every whim indulged; admired and caressed wherever she went; fond of her
generous husband; rich in a noble allowance of pin-money; with no poor
relations to worry her with claims upon her purse or patronage; it would
have been hard to find in the County of Essex a more fortunate creature
than Lucy, Lady Audley.

The two young men loitered over the dinner-table in the private
sitting-room at the Sun Inn. The windows were thrown wide open, and the
fresh country air blew in upon them as they dined. The weather was
lovely; the foliage of the woods touched here and there with faint
gleams of the earliest tints of autumn; the yellow corn still standing
in some of the fields, in others just falling under the shining sickle;
while in the narrow lanes you met great wagons drawn by broad-chested
cart-horses, carrying home the rich golden store. To any one who has
been, during the hot summer months, pent up in London, there is in the
first taste of rustic life a kind of sensuous rapture scarcely to be
described. George Talboys felt this, and in this he experienced the
nearest approach to enjoyment that he had ever known since his wife's

The clock struck five as they finished dinner.

"Put on your hat, George," said Robert Audley; "they don't dine at the
Court till seven; we shall have time to stroll down and see the old
place and its inhabitants."

The landlord, who had come into the room with a bottle of wine, looked
up as the young man spoke.

"I beg your pardon, Mr. Audley," he said, "but if you want to see your
uncle, you'll lose your time by going to the Court just now. Sir Michael
and my lady and Miss Alicia have all gone to the races up at Chorley,
and they won't be back till nigh upon eight o'clock, most likely. They
must pass by here to go home."

Under these circumstances of course it was no use going to the Court, so
the two young men strolled through the village and looked at the old
church, and then went and reconnoitered the streams in which they were
to fish the next day, and by such means beguiled the time until after
seven o'clock. At about a quarter past that hour they returned to the
inn, and seating themselves in the open window, lit their cigars and
looked out at the peaceful prospect.

We hear every day of murders committed in the country. Brutal and
treacherous murders; slow, protracted agonies from poisons administered
by some kindred hand; sudden and violent deaths by cruel blows,
inflicted with a stake cut from some spreading oak, whose every shadow
promised--peace. In the county of which I write, I have been shown a
meadow in which, on a quiet summer Sunday evening, a young farmer
murdered the girl who had loved and trusted him; and yet, even now, with
the stain of that foul deed upon it, the aspect of the spot is--peace.
No species of crime has ever been committed in the worst rookeries about
Seven Dials that has not been also done in the face of that rustic calm
which still, in spite of all, we look on with a tender, half-mournful
yearning, and associate with--peace.

It was dusk when gigs and chaises, dog-carts and clumsy farmers'
phaetons, began to rattle through the village street, and under the
windows of the Sun Inn; deeper dusk still when an open carriage and four
drew suddenly up beneath the rocking sign-post.

It was Sir Michael Audley's barouche which came to so sudden a stop
before the little inn. The harness of one of the leaders had become out
of order, and the foremost postillion dismounted to set it right.

"Why, it's my uncle," cried Robert Audley, as the carriage stopped.
"I'll run down and speak to him."

George lit another cigar, and, sheltered by the window-curtains, looked
out at the little party. Alicia sat with her back to the horses, and he
could perceive, even in the dusk, that she was a handsome brunette; but
Lady Audley was seated on the side of the carriage furthest from the
inn, and he could see nothing of the fair-haired paragon of whom he had
heard so much.

"Why, Robert," exclaimed Sir Michael, as his nephew emerged from the
inn, "this is a surprise!"

"I have not come to intrude upon you at the Court, my dear uncle," said
the young man, as the baronet shook him by the hand in his own hearty
fashion. "Essex is my native county, you know, and about this time of
year I generally have a touch of homesickness; so George and I have come
down to the inn for two or three day's fishing."

"George--George who?"

"George Talboys."

"What, has he come?" cried Alicia. "I'm so glad; for I'm dying to see
this handsome young widower."

"Are you, Alicia?" said her cousin, "Then egad, I'll run and fetch him,
and introduce you to him at once."

Now, so complete was the dominion which Lady Audley had, in her own
childish, unthinking way, obtained over her devoted husband, that it was
very rarely that the baronet's eyes were long removed from his wife's
pretty face. When Robert, therefore, was about to re-enter the inn, it
needed but the faintest elevation of Lucy's eyebrows, with a charming
expression of weariness and terror, to make her husband aware that she
did not want to be bored by an introduction to Mr. George Talboys.

"Never mind to-night, Bob," he said. "My wife is a little tired after
our long day's pleasure. Bring your friend to dinner to-morrow, and then
he and Alicia can make each other's acquaintance. Come round and speak
to Lady Audley, and then we'll drive home."

My lady was so terribly fatigued that she could only smile sweetly, and
hold out a tiny gloved hand to her nephew by marriage.

"You will come and dine with us to-morrow, and bring your interesting
friend?" she said, in a low and tired voice. She had been the chief
attraction of the race-course, and was wearied out by the exertion of
fascinating half the county.

"It's a wonder she didn't treat you to her never-ending laugh,"
whispered Alicia, as she leaned over the carriage-door to bid Robert
good-night; "but I dare say she reserves that for your delectation
to-morrow. I suppose _you_ are fascinated as well as everybody else?"
added the young lady, rather snappishly.

"She is a lovely creature, certainly," murmured Robert, with placid

"Oh, of course! Now, she is the first woman of whom I ever heard you say
a civil word, Robert Audley. I'm sorry to find you can only admire wax

Poor Alicia had had many skirmishes with her cousin upon that particular
temperament of his, which, while it enabled him to go through life with
perfect content and tacit enjoyment, entirely precluded his feeling one
spark of enthusiasm upon any subject whatever.

"As to his ever falling in love," thought the young lady sometimes, "the
idea is preposterous. If all the divinities on earth were ranged before
him, waiting for his sultanship to throw the handkerchief, he would only
lift his eyebrows to the middle of his forehead, and tell them to
scramble for it."

But, for once in his life, Robert was almost enthusiastic.

"She's the prettiest little creature you ever saw in your life, George,"
he cried, when the carriage had driven off and he returned to his
friend. "Such blue eyes, such ringlets, such a ravishing smile, such a
fairy-like bonnet--all of a-tremble with heart's-ease and dewy spangles,
shining out of a cloud of gauze. George Talboys, I feel like the hero of
a French novel: I am falling in love with my aunt."

The widower only sighed and puffed his cigar fiercely out of the open
window. Perhaps he was thinking of that far-away time--little better
than five years ago, in fact; but such an age gone by to him--when he
first met the woman for whom he had worn crape round his hat three days
before. They returned, all those old unforgotten feelings; they came
back, with the scene of their birth-place. Again he lounged with his
brother officers upon the shabby pier at the shabby watering-place,
listening to a dreary band with a cornet that was a note and a half
flat. Again he heard the old operatic airs, and again _she_ came
tripping toward him, leaning on her old father's arm, and pretending
(with such a charming, delicious, serio-comic pretense) to be listening
to the music, and quite unaware of the admiration of half a dozen
open-mouthed cavalry officers. Again the old fancy came back that she
was something too beautiful for earth, or earthly uses, and that to
approach her was to walk in a higher atmosphere and to breathe a purer
air. And since this she had been his wife, and the mother of his child.
She lay in the little churchyard at Ventnor, and only a year ago he had
given the order for her tombstone. A few slow, silent tears dropped upon
his waistcoat as he thought of these things in the quiet and darkening

Lady Audley was so exhausted when she reached home, that she excused
herself from the dinner-table, and retired at once to her dressing-room,
attended by her maid, Phoebe Marks.

She was a little capricious in her conduct to this maid--sometimes very
confidential, sometimes rather reserved; but she was a liberal mistress,
and the girl had every reason to be satisfied with her situation.

This evening, in spite of her fatigue, she was in extremely high
spirits, and gave an animated account of the races, and the company
present at them.

"I am tired to death, though, Phoebe," she said, by-and-by. "I am afraid
I must look a perfect fright, after a day in the hot sun."

There were lighted candles on each side of the glass before which Lady
Audley was standing unfastening her dress. She looked full at her maid
as she spoke, her blue eyes clear and bright, and the rosy childish lips
puckered into an arch smile.

"You are a little pale, my lady," answered the girl, "but you look as
pretty as ever."

"That's right, Phoebe," she said, flinging herself into a chair, and
throwing back her curls at the maid, who stood, brush in hand, ready to
arrange the luxuriant hair for the night. "Do you know, Phoebe, I have
heard some people say that you and I are alike?"

"I have heard them say so, too, my lady," said the girl, quietly "but
they must be very stupid to say it, for your ladyship is a beauty, and I
am a poor, plain creature."

"Not at all, Phoebe," said the little lady, superbly; "you _are_ like
me, and your features are very nice; it is only color that you want. My
hair is pale yellow shot with gold, and yours is drab; my eyebrows and
eyelashes are dark brown, and yours are almost--I scarcely like to say
it, but they're almost white, my dear Phoebe. Your complexion is sallow,
and mine is pink and rosy. Why, with a bottle of hair-dye, such as we
see advertised in the papers, and a pot of rouge, you'd be as
good-looking as I, any day, Phoebe."

She prattled on in this way for a long time, talking of a hundred
different subjects, and ridiculing the people she had met at the races,
for her maid's amusement. Her step-daughter came into the dressing-room
to bid her good-night, and found the maid and mistress laughing aloud
over one of the day's adventures. Alicia, who was never familiar with
her servants, withdrew in disgust at my lady's frivolity.

"Go on brushing my hair, Phoebe," Lady Audley said, every time the girl
was about to complete her task, "I quite enjoy a chat with you."

At last, just as she had dismissed her maid, she suddenly called her
back. "Phoebe Marks," she said, "I want you to do me a favor."

"Yes, my lady."

"I want you to go to London by the first train to-morrow morning to
execute a little commission for me. You may take a day's holiday
afterward, as I know you have friends in town; and I shall give you a
five-pound note if you do what I want, and keep your own counsel about

"Yes, my lady."

"See that that door is securely shut, and come and sit on this stool at
my feet."

The girl obeyed. Lady Audley smoothed her maid's neutral-tinted hair
with her plump, white, and bejeweled hand as she reflected for a few

"And now listen, Phoebe. What I want you to do is very simple."

It was so simple that it was told in five minutes, and then Lady Audley
retired into her bed-room, and curled herself up cozily under the
eider-down quilt. She was a chilly creature, and loved to bury herself
in soft wrappings of satin and fur.

"Kiss me, Phoebe," she said, as the girl arranged the curtains. "I hear
Sir Michael's step in the anteroom; you will meet him as you go out, and
you may as well tell him that you are going up by the first train
to-morrow morning to get my dress from Madam Frederick for the dinner at
Morton Abbey."

It was late the next morning when Lady Audley went down to
breakfast--past ten o'clock. While she was sipping her coffee a servant
brought her a sealed packet, and a book for her to sign.

"A telegraphic message!" she cried; for the convenient word telegram had
not yet been invented. "What can be the matter?"

She looked up at her husband with wide-open, terrified eyes, and seemed
half afraid to break the seal. The envelope was addressed to Miss Lucy
Graham, at Mr. Dawson's, and had been sent on from the village.

"Read it, my darling," he said, "and do not be alarmed; it may be
nothing of any importance."

It came from a Mrs. Vincent, the schoolmistress with whom she had lived
before entering Mr. Dawson's family. The lady was dangerously ill, and
implored her old pupil to go and see her.

"Poor soul! she always meant to leave me her money," said Lucy, with a
mournful smile. "She has never heard of the change in my fortunes. Dear
Sir Michael, I must go to her."

"To be sure you must, dearest. If she was kind to my poor girl in her
adversity, she has a claim upon her prosperity that shall never be
forgotten. Put on your bonnet, Lucy; we shall be in time to catch the

"You will go with me?"

"Of course, my darling. Do you suppose I would let you go alone?"

"I was sure you would go with me," she said, thoughtfully.

"Does your friend send any address?"

"No; but she always lived at Crescent Villa, West Brompton; and no doubt
she lives there still."

There was only time for Lady Audley to hurry on her bonnet and shawl
before she heard the carriage drive round to the door, and Sir Michael
calling to her at the foot of the staircase.

Her suite of rooms, as I have said, opened one out of another, and
terminated in an octagon antechamber hung with oil-paintings. Even in
her haste she paused deliberately at the door of this room,
double-locked it, and dropped the key into her pocket. This door once
locked cut off all access to my lady's apartments.



So the dinner at Audley Court was postponed, and Miss Alicia had to wait
still longer for an introduction to the handsome young widower, Mr.
George Talboys.

I am afraid, if the real truth is to be told, there was, perhaps,
something of affectation in the anxiety this young lady expressed to
make George's acquaintance; but if poor Alicia for a moment calculated
upon arousing any latent spark of jealousy lurking in her cousin's
breast by this exhibition of interest, she was not so well acquainted
with Robert Audley's disposition as she might have been. Indolent,
handsome, and indifferent, the young barrister took life as altogether
too absurd a mistake for any one event in its foolish course to be for a
moment considered seriously by a sensible man.

His pretty, gipsy-faced cousin might have been over head and ears in
love with him; and she might have told him so, in some charming,
roundabout, womanly fashion, a hundred times a day for all the three
hundred and sixty-five days in the year; but unless she had waited for
some privileged 29th of February, and walked straight up to him, saying,
"Robert, please will you marry me?" I very much doubt if he would ever
have discovered the state of her feelings.

Again, had he been in love with her himself, I fancy that the tender
passion would, with him, have been so vague and feeble a sentiment that
he might have gone down to his grave with a dim sense of some uneasy
sensation which might be love or indigestion, and with, beyond this, no
knowledge whatever of his state.

So it was not the least use, my poor Alicia, to ride about the lanes
around Audley during those three days which the two young men spent in
Essex; it was wasted trouble to wear that pretty cavalier hat and plume,
and to be always, by the most singular of chances, meeting Robert and
his friend. The black curls (nothing like Lady Audley's feathery
ringlets, but heavy clustering locks, that clung about your slender
brown throat), the red and pouting lips, the nose inclined to be
_retrousse_, the dark complexion, with its bright crimson flush, always
ready to glance up like a signal light in a dusky sky, when you came
suddenly upon your apathetic cousin--all this coquettish _espiegle_,
brunette beauty was thrown away upon the dull eyes of Robert Audley, and
you might as well have taken your rest in the cool drawing-room at the
Court, instead of working your pretty mare to death under the hot
September sun.

Now fishing, except to the devoted disciple of Izaak Walton, is not the
most lively of occupations; therefore, it is scarcely, perhaps, to be
wondered that on the day after Lady Audley's departure, the two young
men (one of whom was disabled by that heart wound which he bore so
quietly, from really taking pleasure in anything, and the other of whom
looked upon almost all pleasure as a negative kind of trouble) began to
grow weary of the shade of the willows overhanging the winding streams
about Audley.

"Figtree Court is not gay in the long vacation," said Robert,
reflectively: "but I think, upon the whole, it's better than this; at
any rate, it's near a tobacconist's," he added, puffing resignedly at an
execrable cigar procured from the landlord of the Sun Inn.

George Talboys, who had only consented to the Essex expedition in
passive submission to his friend, was by no means inclined to object to
their immediate return to London. "I shall be glad to get back, Bob," he
said, "for I want to take a run down to Southampton; I haven't seen the
little one for upward of a month."

He always spoke of his son as "the little one;" always spoke of him
mournfully rather than hopefully. He accounted for this by saying that
he had a fancy that the child would never learn to love him; and worse
even than this fancy, a dim presentiment that he would not live to see
his little Georgey reach manhood.

"I'm not a romantic man, Bob," he would say sometimes, "and I never read
a line of poetry in my life that was any more to me than so many words
and so much jingle; but a feeling has come over me, since my wife's
death, that I am like a man standing upon a long, low shore, with
hideous cliffs frowning down upon him from behind, and the rising tide
crawling slowly but surely about his feet. It seems to grow nearer and
nearer every day, that black, pitiless tide; not rushing upon me with a
great noise and a mighty impetus, but crawling, creeping, stealing,
gliding toward me, ready to close in above my head when I am least
prepared for the end."

Robert Audley stared at his friend in silent amazement; and, after a
pause of profound deliberation, said solemnly, "George Talboys, I could
understand this if you had been eating heavy suppers. Cold pork, now,
especially if underdone, might produce this sort of thing. You want
change of air, my dear boy; you want the refreshing breezes of Figtree
Court, and the soothing air of Fleet street. Or, stay," he added,
suddenly, "I have it! You've been smoking our friend the landlord's
cigars; that accounts for everything."

They met Alicia Audley on her mare about half an hour after they had
come to the determination of leaving Essex early the next morning. The
young lady was very much surprised and disappointed at hearing her
cousin's determination, and for that very reason pretended to take the
matter with supreme indifference.

"You are very soon tired of Audley, Robert," she said, carelessly; "but
of course you have no friends here, except your relations at the Court;
while in London, no doubt, you have the most delightful society and--"

"I get good tobacco," murmured Robert, interrupting his cousin. "Audley
is the dearest old place, but when a man has to smoke dried cabbage
leaves, you know, Alicia--"

"Then you are really going to-morrow morning?"

"Positively--by the express train that leaves at 10.50."

"Then Lady Audley will lose an introduction to Mr. Talboys, and Mr.
Talboys will lose the chance of seeing the prettiest woman in Essex."

"Really--" stammered George.

"The prettiest woman in Essex would have a poor chance of getting much
admiration out of my friend, George Talboys," said Robert. "His heart is
at Southampton, where he has a curly-headed little urchin, about as high
as his knee, who calls him 'the big gentleman,' and asks him for

"I am going to write to my step-mother by to-night's post," said Alicia.
"She asked me particularly in her letter how long you were going to
stop, and whether there was any chance of her being back in time to
receive you."

Miss Audley took a letter from the pocket of her riding-jacket as she
spoke--a pretty, fairy-like note, written on shining paper of a peculiar
creamy hue.

"She says in her postcript, 'Be sure you answer my question about Mr.
Audley and his friend, you volatile, forgetful Alicia!'"

"What a pretty hand she writes!" said Robert, as his cousin folded the

"Yes, it is pretty, is it not? Look at it, Robert."

She put the letter into his hand, and he contemplated it lazily for a
few minutes, while Alicia patted the graceful neck of her chestnut mare,
which was anxious to be off once more.

"Presently, Atalanta, presently. Give me back my note, Bob."

"It is the prettiest, most coquettish little hand I ever saw. Do you
know, Alicia, I have no great belief in those fellows who ask you for
thirteen postage stamps, and offer to tell you what you have never been
able to find out yourself; but upon my word I think that if I had never
seen your aunt, I should know what she was like by this slip of paper.
Yes, here it all is--the feathery, gold-shot, flaxen curls, the penciled
eyebrows, the tiny, straight nose, the winning, childish smile; all to
be guessed in these few graceful up-strokes and down-strokes. George,
look here!"

But absent-minded and gloomy George Talboys had strolled away along the
margin of the ditch, and stood striking the bulrushes with his cane,
half a dozen paces away from Robert and Alicia.

"Nevermind," said the young lady, impatiently; for she by no means
relished this long disquisition upon my lady's note. "Give me the
letter, and let me go; it's past eight, and I must answer it by
to-night's post. Come, Atalanta! Good-by, Robert--good-by, Mr. Talboys.
A pleasant journey to town."

The chestnut mare cantered briskly through the lane, and Miss Audley was
out of sight before those two big, bright tears that stood in her eyes
for one moment, before her pride sent them, back again, rose from her
angry heart.

"To have only one cousin in the world," she cried, passionately, "my
nearest relation after papa, and for him to care about as much for me as
he would for a dog!"

By the merest of accidents, however, Robert and his friend did not go by
the 10.50 express on the following morning, for the young barrister
awoke with such a splitting headache, that he asked George to send him a
cup of the strongest green tea that had ever been made at the Sun, and
to be furthermore so good as to defer their journey until the next day.
Of course George assented, and Robert Audley spent the forenoon in a
darkened room with a five-days'-old Chelmsford paper to entertain
himself withal.

"It's nothing but the cigars, George," he said, repeatedly. "Get me out
of the place without my seeing the landlord; for if that man and I meet
there will be bloodshed."

Fortunately for the peace of Audley, it happened to be market-day at
Chelmsford; and the worthy landlord had ridden off in his chaise-cart to
purchase supplies for his house--among other things, perhaps, a fresh
stock of those very cigars which had been so fatal in their effect upon

The young men spent a dull, dawdling, stupid, unprofitable day; and
toward dusk Mr. Audley proposed that they should stroll down to the
Court, and ask Alicia to take them over the house.

"It will kill a couple of hours, you know, George: and it seems a great
pity to drag you away from Audley without having shown you the old
place, which, I give you my honor, is very well worth seeing."

The sun was low in the skies as they took a short cut through the
meadows, and crossed a stile into the avenue leading to the archway--a
lurid, heavy-looking, ominous sunset, and a deathly stillness in the
air, which frightened the birds that had a mind to sing, and left the
field open to a few captious frogs croaking in the ditches. Still as the
atmosphere was, the leaves rustled with that sinister, shivering motion
which proceeds from no outer cause, but is rather an instinctive shudder
of the frail branches, prescient of a coming storm. That stupid clock,
which knew no middle course, and always skipped from one hour to the
other, pointed to seven as the young men passed under the archway; but,
for all that, it was nearer eight.

They found Alicia in the lime-walk, wandering listlessly up and down
under the black shadow of the trees, from which every now and then a
withered leaf flapped slowly to the ground.

Strange to say, George Talboys, who very seldom observed anything, took
particular notice of this place.

"It ought to be an avenue in a churchyard," he said. "How peacefully the
dead might sleep under this somber shade! I wish the churchyard at
Ventnor was like this."

They walked on to the ruined well; and Alicia told them some old legend
connected with the spot--some gloomy story, such as those always
attached to an old house, as if the past were one dark page of sorrow
and crime.

"We want to see the house before it is dark, Alicia," said Robert.

"Then we must be quick." she answered. "Come."

She led the way through an open French window, modernized a few years
before, into the library, and thence to the hall.

In the hall they passed my lady's pale-faced maid, who looked furtively
under her white eyelashes at the two young men.

They were going up-stairs, when Alicia turned and spoke to the girl.

"After we have been in the drawing-room, I should like to show these
gentlemen Lady Audley's rooms. Are they in good order, Phoebe?"

"Yes, miss; but the door of the anteroom is locked, and I fancy that my
lady has taken the key to London."

"Taken the key! Impossible!" cried Alicia.

"Indeed, miss, I think she has. I cannot find it, and it always used to
be in the door."

"I declare," said Alicia, impatiently, "that is not at all unlike my
lady to have taken this silly freak into her head. I dare say she was
afraid we should go into her rooms, and pry about among her pretty
dresses, and meddle with her jewelry. It is very provoking, for the best
pictures in the house are in that antechamber. There is her own
portrait, too, unfinished but wonderfully like."

"Her portrait!" exclaimed Robert Audley. "I would give anything to see
it, for I have only an imperfect notion of her face. Is there no other
way of getting into the room, Alicia?"

"Another way?"

"Yes; is there any door, leading through some of the other rooms, by
which we can contrive to get into hers?"

His cousin shook her head, and conducted them into a corridor where
there were some family portraits. She showed them a tapestried chamber,
the large figures upon the faded canvas looking threatening in the dusky

"That fellow with the battle-ax looks as if he wanted to split George's
head open," said Mr. Audley, pointing to a fierce warrior, whose
uplifted arm appeared above George Talboys' dark hair.

"Come out of this room, Alicia," added the young man, nervously; "I
believe it's damp, or else haunted. Indeed, I believe all ghosts to be
the result of damp or dyspepsia. You sleep in a damp bed--you awake
suddenly in the dead of the night with a cold shiver, and see an old
lady in the court costume of George the First's time, sitting at the
foot of the bed. The old lady's indigestion, and the cold shiver is a
damp sheet."

There were lighted candles in the drawing-room. No new-fangled lamps had
ever made their appearance at Audley Court. Sir Michael's rooms were
lighted by honest, thick, yellow-looking wax candles, in massive silver
candlesticks, and in sconces against the walls.

There was very little to see in the drawing-room; and George Talboys
soon grew tired of staring at the handsome modern furniture, and at a
few pictures of some of the Academicians.

"Isn't there a secret passage, or an old oak chest, or something of that
kind, somewhere about the place, Alicia?" asked Robert.

"To be sure!" cried Miss Audley, with a vehemence that startled her
cousin; "of course. Why didn't I think of it before? How stupid of me,
to be sure!"

"Why stupid?"

"Because, if you don't mind crawling upon your hands and knees, you can
see my lady's apartments, for that passage communicates with her
dressing-room. She doesn't know of it herself, I believe. How astonished
she'd be if some black-visored burglar, with a dark-lantern, were to
rise through the floor some night as she sat before her looking-glass,
having her hair dressed for a party!"

"Shall we try the secret passage, George?" asked Mr. Audley.

"Yes, if you wish it."

Alicia led them into the room which had once been her nursery. It was
now disused, except on very rare occasions when the house was full of

Robert Audley lifted a corner of the carpet, according to his cousin's
directions, and disclosed a rudely-cut trap-door in the oak flooring.

"Now listen to me," said Alicia. "You must let yourself down by the
hands into the passage, which is about four feet high; stoop your head,
walk straight along it till you come to a sharp turn which will take you
to the left, and at the extreme end of it you will find a short ladder
below a trap-door like this, which you will have to unbolt; that door
opens into the flooring of my lady's dressing-room, which is only
covered with a square Persian carpet that you can easily manage to
raise. You understand me?"


"Then take the light; Mr. Talboys will follow you. I give you twenty
minutes for your inspection of the paintings--that is, about a minute
apiece--and at the end of that time I shall expect to see you return."

Robert obeyed her implicitly, and George submissively following his
friend, found himself, in five minutes, standing amidst the elegant
disorder of Lady Audley's dressing-room.

She had left the house in a hurry on her unlooked-for journey to London,
and the whole of her glittering toilette apparatus lay about on the
marble dressing-table. The atmosphere of the room was almost oppressive
for the rich odors of perfumes in bottles whose gold stoppers had not
been replaced. A bunch of hot-house flowers was withering upon a tiny
writing-table. Two or three handsome dresses lay in a heap upon the
ground, and the open doors of a wardrobe revealed the treasures within.
Jewelry, ivory-backed hair-brushes, and exquisite china were scattered
here and there about the apartment. George Talboys saw his bearded face
and tall, gaunt figure reflected in the glass, and wondered to see how
out of place he seemed among all these womanly luxuries.

They went from the dressing-room to the boudoir, and through the boudoir
into the ante-chamber, in which there were, as Alicia had said, about
twenty valuable paintings, besides my lady's portrait.

My lady's portrait stood on an easel, covered with a green baize in the
center of the octagonal chamber. It had been a fancy of the artist to
paint her standing in this very room, and to make his background a
faithful reproduction of the pictured walls. I am afraid the young man
belonged to the pre-Raphaelite brotherhood, for he had spent a most
unconscionable time upon the accessories of this picture--upon my lady's
crispy ringlets and the heavy folds of her crimson velvet dress.

The two young men looked at the paintings on the walls first, leaving
this unfinished portrait for a _bonne bouche_.

By this time it was dark, the candle carried by Robert only making one
nucleus of light as he moved about holding it before the pictures one by
one. The broad, bare window looked out upon the pale sky, tinged with
the last cold flicker of the twilight. The ivy rustled against the glass
with the same ominous shiver as that which agitated every leaf in the
garden, prophetic of the storm that was to come.

"There are our friend's eternal white horses," said Robert, standing
beside a Wouvermans. "Nicholas Poussin--Salvator--ha--hum! Now for the

He paused with his hand on the baize, and solemnly addressed his friend.

"George Talboys," he said, "we have between us only one wax candle, a
very inadequate light with which to look at a painting. Let me,
therefore, request that you will suffer us to look at it one at a time;
if there is one thing more disagreeable than another, it is to have a
person dodging behind your back and peering over your shoulder, when
you're trying to see what a picture's made of."

George fell back immediately. He took no more interest in any lady's
picture than in all the other wearinesses of this troublesome world. He
fell back, and leaning his forehead against the window-panes, looked out
at the night.

When he turned round he saw that Robert had arranged the easel very
conveniently, and that he had seated himself on a chair before it for
the purpose of contemplating the painting at his leisure.

He rose as George turned round.

"Now, then, for your turn, Talboys," he said. "It's an extraordinary

He took George's place at the window, and George seated himself in the
chair before the easel.

Yes, the painter must have been a pre-Raphaelite. No one but a
pre-Raphaelite would have painted, hair by hair, those feathery masses
of ringlets, with every glimmer of gold, and every shadow of pale brown.
No one but a pre-Raphaelite would have so exaggerated every attribute of
that delicate face as to give a lurid brightness to the blonde
complexion, and a strange, sinister light to the deep blue eyes. No one
but a pre-Raphaelite could have given to that pretty pouting mouth the
hard and almost wicked look it had in the portrait.

It was so like, and yet so unlike. It was as if you had burned
strange-colored fires before my lady's face, and by their influence
brought out new lines and new expressions never seen in it before. The
perfection of feature, the brilliancy of coloring, were there; but I
suppose the painter had copied quaint mediaeval monstrosities until his
brain had grown bewildered, for my lady, in his portrait of her, had
something of the aspect of a beautiful fiend.

Her crimson dress, exaggerated like all the rest in this strange
picture, hung about her in folds that looked like flames, her fair head
peeping out of the lurid mass of color as if out of a raging furnace.
Indeed the crimson dress, the sunshine on the face, the red gold
gleaming in the yellow hair, the ripe scarlet of the pouting lips, the
glowing colors of each accessory of the minutely painted background, all
combined to render the first effect of the painting by no means an
agreeable one.

But strange as the picture was, it could not have made any great
impression on George Talboys, for he sat before it for about a quarter
of an hour without uttering a word--only staring blankly at the painted
canvas, with the candlestick grasped in his strong right hand, and his
left arm hanging loosely by his side. He sat so long in this attitude,
that Robert turned round at last.

"Why, George, I thought you had gone to sleep!"

"I had almost."

"You've caught a cold from standing in that damp tapestried room. Mark
my words, George Talboys, you've caught a cold; you're as hoarse as a
raven. But come along."

Robert Audley took the candle from his friend's hand, and crept back
through the secret passage, followed by George--very quiet, but scarcely
more quiet than usual.

They found Alicia in the nursery waiting for them.

"Well?" she said, interrogatively.

"We managed it capitally. But I don't like the portrait; there's
something odd about it."

"There is," said Alicia; "I've a strange fancy on that point. I think
that sometimes a painter is in a manner inspired, and is able to see,
through the normal expression of the face, another expression that is
equally a part of it, though not to be perceived by common eyes. We have
never seen my lady look as she does in that picture; but I think that
she _could_ look so."

"Alicia," said Robert Audley, imploringly, "don't be German!"

"But, Robert--"

"Don't be German, Alicia, if you love me. The picture is--the picture:
and my lady is--my lady. That's my way of taking things, and I'm not
metaphysical; don't unsettle me."

He repeated this several times with an air of terror that was perfectly
sincere; and then, having borrowed an umbrella in case of being
overtaken by the coming storm, left the Court, leading passive George
Talboys away with him. The one hand of the stupid clock had skipped to
nine by the time they reached the archway; but before they could pass
under its shadow they had to step aside to allow a carriage to dash past
them. It was a fly from the village, but Lady Audley's fair face peeped
out at the window. Dark as it was, she could see the two figures of the
young men black against the dusk.

"Who is that?" she asked, putting out her head. "Is it the gardener?"

"No, my dear aunt," said Robert, laughing; "it is your most dutiful

He and George stopped by the archway while the fly drew up at the door,
and the surprised servants came out to welcome their master and

"I think the storm will hold off to-night," said the baronet looking up
at the sky; "but we shall certainly have it tomorrow."



Sir Michael was mistaken in his prophecy upon the weather. The storm did
not hold off until next day, but burst with terrible fury over the
village of Audley about half an hour before midnight.

Robert Audley took the thunder and lightning with the same composure
with which he accepted all the other ills of life. He lay on a sofa in
the sitting-room, ostensibly reading the five-days-old Chelmsford paper,
and regaling himself occasionally with a few sips from a large tumbler
of cold punch. But the storm had quite a different effect upon George
Talboys. His friend was startled when he looked at the young man's white
face as he sat opposite the open window listening to the thunder, and
staring at the black sky, rent every now and then by forked streaks of
steel-blue lightning.

"George," said Robert, after watching him for some time, "are you
frightened of the lightning?"

"No," he answered, curtly.

"But, dear boy, some of the most courageous men have been frightened of
it. It is scarcely to be called a fear: it is constitutional. I am sure
you are frightened of it."

"No, I am not."

"But, George, if you could see yourself, white and haggard, with your
great hollow eyes staring out at the sky as if they were fixed upon a
ghost. I tell you I know that you are frightened."

"And I tell you that I am not."

"George Talboys, you are not only afraid of the lightning, but you are
savage with yourself for being afraid, and with me for telling you of
your fear."

"Robert Audley, if you say another word to me, I shall knock you down,"
cried George, furiously; having said which, Mr. Talboys strode out of
the room, banging the door after him with a violence that shook the
house. Those inky clouds, which had shut in the sultry earth as if with
a roof of hot iron, poured out their blackness in a sudden deluge as
George left the room; but if the young man was afraid of the lightning,
he certainly was not afraid of the rain; for he walked straight
down-stairs to the inn door, and went out into the wet high road. He
walked up and down, up and down, in the soaking shower for about twenty
minutes, and then, re-entering the inn, strode up to his bedroom.

Robert Audley met him on the landing, with his hair beaten about his
white face, and his garments dripping wet.

"Are you going to bed, George?"


"But you have no candle."

"I don't want one."

"But look at your clothes, man! Do you see the wet streaming down your
coat-sleeves? What on earth made you go out upon such a night?"

"I am tired, and want to go to bed--don't bother me."

"You'll take some hot brandy-and-water, George?"

Robert Audley stood in his friend's way as he spoke, anxious to prevent
his going to bed in the state he was in; but George pushed him fiercely
aside, and, striding past him, said, in the same hoarse voice Robert had
noticed at the Court:

"Let me alone, Robert Audley, and keep clear of me if you can."

Robert followed George to his bedroom, but the young man banged the door
in his face, so there was nothing for it but to leave Mr. Talboys to
himself, to recover his temper as best he might.

"He was irritated at my noticing his terror of the lightning," though
Robert, as he calmly retired to rest, serenely indifferent to the
thunder, which seemed to shake him in his bed, and the lightning playing
fitfully round the razors in his open dressing-case.

The storm rolled away from the quiet village of Audley, and when Robert
awoke the next morning it was to see bright sunshine, and a peep of
cloudless sky between the white curtains of his bedroom window.

It was one of those serene and lovely mornings that sometimes succeed a
storm. The birds sung loud and cheerily, the yellow corn uplifted itself
in the broad fields, and waved proudly after its sharp tussle with the
tempest, which had done its best to beat down the heavy ears with cruel
wind and driving rain half the night through. The vine-leaves clustering
round Robert's window fluttered with a joyous rustling, shaking the
rain-drops in diamond showers from every spray and tendril.

Robert Audley found his friend waiting for him at the breakfast-table.

George was very pale, but perfectly tranquil--if anything, indeed, more
cheerful than usual.

He shook Robert by the hand with something of that hearty manner for
which he had been distinguished before the one affliction of his life
overtook and shipwrecked him.

"Forgive me, Bob," he said, frankly, "for my surly temper of last night.
You were quite correct in your assertion; the thunderstorm _did_ upset
me. It always had the same effect upon me in my youth."

"Poor old boy! Shall we go up by the express, or shall we stop here and
dine with my uncle to-night?" asked Robert.

"To tell the truth, Bob, I would rather do neither. It's a glorious
morning. Suppose we stroll about all day, take another turn with the rod
and line, and go up to town by the train that leaves here at 6.15 in the

Robert Audley would have assented to a far more disagreeable proposition
than this, rather than have taken the trouble to oppose his friend, so
the matter was immediately agreed upon; and after they had finished
their breakfast, and ordered a four o'clock dinner, George Talboys took
the fishing-rod across his broad shoulders, and strode out of the house
with his friend and companion.

But if the equable temperament of Mr. Robert Audley had been undisturbed
by the crackling peals of thunder that shook the very foundations of the
Sun Inn, it had not been so with the more delicate sensibilties of his
uncle's young wife. Lady Audley confessed herself terribly frightened of
the lightning. She had her bedstead wheeled into a corner of the room,
and with the heavy curtains drawn tightly round her, she lay with her
face buried in the pillow, shuddering convulsively at every sound of the
tempest without. Sir Michael, whose stout heart had never known a fear,
almost trembled for this fragile creature, whom it was his happy
privilege to protect and defend. My lady would not consent to undress
till nearly three o'clock in the morning, when the last lingering peal
of thunder had died away among the distant hills. Until that hour she
lay in the handsome silk dress in which she had traveled, huddled
together among the bedclothes, only looking up now and then with a
scared face to ask if the storm was over.

Toward four o'clock her husband, who spent the night in watching by her
bedside, saw her drop off into a deep sleep, from which she did not
awake for nearly five hours.

But she came into the breakfast-room, at half-past nine o'clock, singing
a little Scotch melody, her cheeks tinged with as delicate a pink as the
pale hue of her muslin morning dress. Like the birds and the flowers,
she seemed to recover her beauty and joyousness in the morning sunshine.
She tripped lightly out onto the lawn, gathering a last lingering
rosebud here and there, and a sprig or two of geranium, and returning
through the dewy grass, warbling long cadences for very happiness of
heart, and looking as fresh and radiant as the flowers in her hands. The
baronet caught her in his strong arms as she came in through the open

"My pretty one," he said, "my darling, what happiness to see you your
own merry self again! Do you know, Lucy, that once last night, when you
looked out through the dark-green bed-curtains, with your poor, white
face, and the purple rims round your hollow eyes, I had almost a
difficulty to recognize my little wife in that terrified,
agonized-looking creature, crying out about the storm. Thank God for the
morning sun, which has brought back the rosy cheeks and bright smile! I
hope to Heaven, Lucy, I shall never again see you look as you did last

She stood on tiptoe to kiss him, and then was only tall enough to reach
his white beard. She told him, laughing, that she had always been a
silly, frightened creature--frightened of dogs, frightened of cattle,
frightened of a thunderstorm, frightened of a rough sea. "Frightened of
everything and everybody but my dear, noble, handsome husband," she

She had found the carpet in her dressing-room disarranged, and had
inquired into the mystery of the secret passage. She chid Miss Alicia in
a playful, laughing way, for her boldness in introducing two great men
into my lady's rooms.

"And they had the audacity to look at my picture, Alicia," she said,
with mock indignation. "I found the baize thrown on the ground, and a
great man's glove on the carpet. Look!"

"She held up a thick driving glove as she spoke. It was George's, which
he had dropped looking at the picture.

"I shall go up to the Sun, and ask those boys to dinner," Sir Michael
said, as he left the Court upon his morning walk around his farm.

Lady Audley flitted from room to room in the bright September
sunshine--now sitting down to the piano to trill out a ballad, or the
first page of an Italian bravura, or running with rapid fingers through
a brilliant waltz--now hovering about a stand of hot-house flowers,
doing amateur gardening with a pair of fairy-like, silver-mounted
embroidery scissors--now strolling into her dressing-room to talk to
Phoebe Marks, and have her curls rearranged for the third or fourth
time; for the ringlets were always getting into disorder, and gave no
little trouble to Lady Audley's maid.

My dear lady seemed, on this particular September day, restless from
very joyousness of spirit, and unable to stay long in one place, or
occupy herself with one thing.

While Lady Audley amused herself in her own frivolous fashion, the two
young men strolled slowly along the margin of the stream until they
reached a shady corner where the water was deep and still, and the long
branches of the willows trailed into the brook.

George Talboys took the fishing-rod, while Robert stretched himself at
full length on a railway rug, and balancing his hat upon his nose as a
screen from the sunshine, fell fast asleep.

Those were happy fish in the stream on the banks of which Mr. Talboys
was seated. They might have amused themselves to their hearts' content
with timid nibbles at this gentleman's bait without in any manner
endangering their safety; for George only stared vacantly in the water,
holding his rod in a loose, listless hand, and with a strange, far-away
look in his eyes. As the church clock struck two he threw down his rod,
and, striding away along the bank, left Robert Audley to enjoy a nap
which, according to that gentleman's habits, was by no means unlikely to
last for two or three hours. About a quarter of a mile further on George
crossed a rustic bridge, and struck into the meadows which led to Audley

The birds had sung so much all the morning, that they had, perhaps, by
this time grown tired; the lazy cattle were asleep in the meadows; Sir
Michael was still away on his morning's ramble; Miss Alicia had
scampered off an hour before on her chestnut mare; the servants were all
at dinner in the back part of the house; and my lady had strolled, book
in hand, into the shadowy lime-walk; so the gray old building had never
worn a more peaceful aspect than on that bright afternoon when George
Talboys walked across the lawn to ring a sonorous peal at the sturdy,
iron-bound oak door.

The servant who answered his summons told him that Sir Michael was out,
and my lady walking in the lime-tree avenue.

He looked a little disappointed at this intelligence, and muttering
something about wishing to see my lady, or going to look for my lady
(the servant did not clearly distinguish his words), strode away from
the door without leaving either card or message for the family.

It was full an hour and a half after this when Lady Audley returned to
the house, not coming from the lime-walk, but from exactly the opposite
direction, carrying her open book in her hand, and singing as she came.
Alicia had just dismounted from her mare, and stood in the low-arched
doorway, with her great Newfoundland dog by her side.

The dog, which had never liked my lady, showed his teeth with a
suppressed growl.

"Send that horrid animal away, Alicia," Lady Audley said, impatiently.
"The brute knows that I am frightened of him, and takes advantage of my
terror. And yet they call the creatures generous and noble-hearted! Bah,
Caesar! I hate you, and you hate me; and if you met me in the dark in
some narrow passage you would fly at my throat and strangle me, wouldn't

My lady, safely sheltered behind her step-daughter, shook her yellow
curls at the angry animal, and defied him maliciously.

"Do you know, Lady Audley, that Mr. Talboys, the young widower, has been
here asking for Sir Michael and you?"

Lucy Audley lifted her penciled eyebrows. "I thought they were coming to
dinner," she said. "Surely we shall have enough of them then."

She had a heap of wild autumn flowers in the skirt of her muslin dress.
She had come through the fields at the back of the Court, gathering the
hedge-row blossoms in her way. She ran lightly up the broad staircase to
her own rooms. George's glove lay on her boudoir table. Lady Audley rung
the bell violently, and it was answered by Phoebe Marks. "Take that
litter away," she said, sharply. The girl collected the glove and a few
withered flowers and torn papers lying on the table into her apron.

"What have you been doing all this morning?" asked my lady. "Not wasting
your time, I hope?"

"No, my lady, I have been altering the blue dress. It is rather dark on
this side of the house, so I took it up to my own room, and worked at
the window."

The girl was leaving the room as she spoke, but she turned around and
looked at Lady Audley as if waiting for further orders.

Lucy looked up at the same moment, and the eyes of the two women met.

"Phoebe Marks," said my lady, throwing herself into an easy-chair, and
trifling with the wild flowers in her lap, "you are a good, industrious
girl, and while I live and am prosperous, you shall never want a firm
friend or a twenty-pound note."



When Robert Audley awoke he was surprised to see the fishing-rod lying
on the bank, the line trailing idly in the water, and the float bobbing
harmlessly up and down in the afternoon sunshine. The young barrister
was a long time stretching his arms and legs in various directions to
convince himself, by means of such exercise, that he still retained the
proper use of those members; then, with a mighty effort, he contrived to
rise from the grass, and having deliberately folded his railway rug into
a convenient shape for carrying over his shoulder, he strolled away to
look for George Talboys.

Once or twice he gave a sleepy shout, scarcely loud enough to scare the
birds in the branches above his head, or the trout in the stream at his
feet: but receiving no answer, grew tired of the exertion, and dawdled
on, yawning as he went, and still looking for George Talboys.

By-and-by he took out his watch, and was surprised to find that it was a
quarter past four.

"Why, the selfish beggar must have gone home to his dinner!" he
muttered, reflectively; "and yet that isn't much like him, for he seldom
remembers even his meals unless I jog his memory."

Even a good appetite, and the knowledge that his dinner would very
likely suffer by this delay, could not quicken Mr. Robert Audley's
constitutional dawdle, and by the time he strolled in at the front door
of the Sun, the clocks were striking five. He so fully expected to find
George Talboys waiting for him in the little sitting-room, that the
absence of that gentleman seemed to give the apartment a dreary look,
and Robert groaned aloud.

"This is lively!" he said. "A cold dinner, and nobody to eat it with!"

The landlord of the Sun came himself to apologize for his ruined dishes.

"As fine a pair of ducks, Mr. Audley, as ever you clapped eyes on, but
burnt up to a cinder, along of being kep' hot."

"Never mind the ducks," Robert said impatiently; "where's Mr. Talboys?"

"He ain't been in, sir, since you went out together this morning."

"What!" cried Robert. "Why, in heaven's name, what has the man done with

He walked to the window and looked out upon the broad, white high road.
There was a wagon laden with trusses of hay crawling slowly past, the
lazy horses and the lazy wagoner drooping their heads with a weary stoop
under the afternoon's sunshine. There was a flock of sheep straggling
about the road, with a dog running himself into a fever in the endeavor
to keep them decently together. There were some bricklayers just
released from work--a tinker mending some kettles by the roadside; there
was a dog-cart dashing down the road, carrying the master of the Audley
hounds to his seven o'clock dinner; there were a dozen common village
sights and sounds that mixed themselves up into a cheerful bustle and
confusion; but there was no George Talboys.

"Of all the extraordinary things that ever happened to me in the whole
course of my life," said Mr. Robert Audley, "this is the most

The landlord still in attendance, opened his eyes as Robert made this
remark. What could there be extraordinary in the simple fact of a
gentleman being late for his dinner?"

"I shall go and look for him," said Robert, snatching up his hat and
walking straight out of the house.

But the question was where to look for him. He certainly was not by the
trout stream, so it was no good going back there in search of him.
Robert was standing before the inn, deliberating on what was best to be
done, when the landlord came out after him.

"I forgot to tell you, Mr. Audley, as how your uncle called here five
minutes after you was gone, and left a message, asking of you and the
other gentleman to go down to dinner at the Court."

"Then I shouldn't wonder," said Robert, "if George Talboys has gone down
to the Court to call upon my uncle. It isn't like him, but it's just
possible that he has done it."

It was six o'clock when Robert knocked at the door of his uncle's house.
He did not ask to see any of the family, but inquired at once for his

Yes, the servant told him; Mr. Talboys had been there at two o'clock or
a little after.

"And not since?"

"No, not since."

Was the man sure that it was at two Mr. Talboys called? Robert asked.

"Yes, perfectly sure. He remembered the hour because it was the
servants' dinner hour, and he had left the table to open the door to Mr.

"Why, what can have become of the man?" thought Robert, as he turned his
back upon the Court. "From two till six--four good hours--and no signs
of him!"

If any one had ventured to tell Mr. Robert Audley that he could possibly
feel a strong attachment to any creature breathing, that cynical
gentleman would have elevated his eyebrows in supreme contempt at the
preposterous notion. Yet here he was, flurried and anxious, bewildering
his brain by all manner of conjectures about his missing friend; and
false to every attribute of his nature, walking fast.

"I haven't walked fast since I was at Eton," he murmured, as he hurried
across one of Sir Michael's meadows in the direction of the village;
"and the worst of it is, that I haven't the most remote idea where I am

Here he crossed another meadow, and then seating himself upon a stile,
rested his elbows upon his knees, buried his face in his hands, and set
himself seriously to think the matter out.

"I have it," he said, after a few minutes' thought; "the railway
station!" He sprang over the stile, and started off in the direction of
the little red brick building.

There was no train expected for another half hour, and the clerk was
taking his tea in an apartment on one side of the office, on the door of
which was inscribed in large, white letters, "Private."

But Mr. Audley was too much occupied with the one idea of looking for
his friend to pay any attention to this warning. He strode at once to
the door, and rattling his cane against it, brought the clerk out of his
sanctum in a perspiration from hot tea, and with his mouth full of bread
and butter.

"Do you remember the gentleman that came down to Audley with me,
Smithers?" asked Robert.

"Well, to tell you the real truth, Mr. Audley, I can't say that I do.
You came by the four o'clock, if you remember, and there's always a good
many passengers by that train."

"You don't remember him, then?"

"Not to my knowledge, sir."

"That's provoking! I want to know, Smithers, whether he has taken a
ticket for London since two o'clock to-day. He's a tall, broad-chested
young fellow, with a big brown beard. You couldn't well mistake him."

"There was four or five gentlemen as took tickets for the 3.30 up," said
the clerk rather vaguely, casting an anxious glance over his shoulder at
his wife, who looked by no means pleased at this interruption to the
harmony of the tea-table.

"Four or five gentlemen! But did either of them answer to the
description of my friend?"

"Well, I think one of them had a beard, sir."

"A dark-brown beard?"

"Well, I don't know, but it was brownish-like."

"Was he dressed in gray?"

"I believe it was gray; a great many gents wear gray. He asked for the
ticket sharp and short-like, and when he'd got it walked straight out
onto the platform whistling."

"That's George," said Robert. "Thank you, Smithers; I needn't trouble
you any more. It's as clear as daylight," he muttered, as he left the
station; "he's got one of his gloomy fits on him, and he's gone back to
London without saying a word about it. I'll leave Audley myself
to-morrow morning; and for to-night--why, I may as well go down to the
Court and make the acquaintance of my uncle's young wife. They don't
dine till seven; if I get back across the fields I shall be in time.
Bob--otherwise Robert Audley--this sort of thing will never do; you are
falling over head and ears in love with your aunt."



Robert found Sir Michael and Lady Audley in the drawing-room. My lady
was sitting on a music-stool before the grand piano, turning over the
leaves of some new music. She twirled upon the revolving seat, making a
rustling with her silk flounces, as Mr. Robert Audley's name was
announced; then, leaving the piano, she made her nephew a pretty, mock
ceremonious courtesy.

"Thank you so much for the sables," she said, holding out her little
fingers, all glittering and twinkling with the diamonds she wore upon
them; "thank you for those beautiful sables. How good it was of you to
get them for me."

Robert had almost forgotten the commission he had executed for Lady
Audley during his Russian expedition. His mind was so full of George
Talboys that he only acknowledged nay lady's gratitude by a bow.

"Would you believe it, Sir Michael?" he said. "That foolish chum of mine
has gone back to London leaving me in the lurch."

"Mr. George Talboys returned to town?" exclaimed my lady, lifting her
eyebrows. "What a dreadful catastrophe!" said Alicia, maliciously,
"since Pythias, in the person of Mr. Robert Audley, cannot exist for
half an hour without Damon, commonly known as George Talboys."

"He's a very good fellow," Robert said, stoutly; "and to tell the honest
truth, I'm rather uneasy about him."

"Uneasy about him!" My lady was quite anxious to know why Robert was
uneasy about his friend.

"I'll tell you why, Lady Audley," answered the young barrister. "George
had a bitter blow a year ago in the death of his wife. He has never got
over that trouble. He takes life pretty quietly--almost as quietly as I
do--but he often talks very strangely, and I sometimes think that one
day this grief will get the better of him, and he will do something

Mr. Robert Audley spoke vaguely, but all three of his listeners knew
that the something rash to which he alluded was that one deed for which
there is no repentance.

There was a brief pause, during which Lady Audley arranged her yellow
ringlets by the aid of the glass over the console table opposite to her.

"Dear me!" she said, "this is very strange. I did not think men were
capable of these deep and lasting affections. I thought that one pretty
face was as good as another pretty face to them; and that when number
one with blue eyes and fair hair died, they had only to look out for
number two, with dark eyes and black hair, by way of variety."

"George Talboys is not one of those men. I firmly believe that his
wife's death broke his heart."

"How sad!" murmured Lady Audley. "It seems almost cruel of Mrs. Talboys
to die, and grieve her poor husband so much."

"Alicia was right, she is childish," thought Robert as he looked at his
aunt's pretty face.

My lady was very charming at the dinner-table; she professed the most
bewitching incapacity for carving the pheasant set before her, and
called Robert to her assistance.

"I could carve a leg of mutton at Mr. Dawson's," she said, laughing;
"but a leg of mutton is so easy, and then I used to stand up."

Sir Michael watched the impression my lady made upon his nephew with a
proud delight in her beauty and fascination.

"I am so glad to see my poor little woman in her usual good spirits once
more," he said. "She was very down-hearted yesterday at a disappointment
she met with in London."

"A disappointment!"

"Yes, Mr. Audley, a very cruel one," answered my lady. "I received the
other morning a telegraphic message from my dear old friend and
school-mistress, telling me that she was dying, and that if I wanted to
see her again, I must hasten to her immediately. The telegraphic
dispatch contained no address, and of course, from that very
circumstance, I imagined that she must be living in the house in which I
left her three years ago. Sir Michael and I hurried up to town
immediately, and drove straight to the old address. The house was
occupied by strange people, who could give me no tidings of my friend.
It is in a retired place, where there are very few tradespeople about.
Sir Michael made inquiries at the few shops there are, but, after taking
an immense deal of trouble, could discover nothing whatever likely to
lead to the information we wanted. I have no friends in London, and had
therefore no one to assist me except my dear, generous husband, who did
all in his power, but in vain, to find my friend's new residence."

"It was very foolish not to send the address in the telegraphic
message," said Robert.

"When people are dying it is not so easy to think of all these things,"
murmured my lady, looking reproachfully at Mr. Audley with her soft blue

In spite of Lady Audley's fascination, and in spite of Robert's very
unqualified admiration of her, the barrister could not overcome a vague
feeling of uneasiness on this quiet September evening.

As he sat in the deep embrasure of a mullioned window, talking to my
lady, his mind wandered away to shady Figtree Court, and he thought of
poor George Talboys smoking his solitary cigar in the room with the
birds and canaries.

"I wish I'd never felt any friendliness for the fellow," he thought. "I
feel like a man who has an only son whose life has gone wrong with him.
I wish to Heaven I could give him back his wife, and send him down to
Ventnor to finish his days in peace."

Still my lady's pretty musical prattle ran on as merrily and
continuously as the babble in some brook; and still Robert's thoughts
wandered, in spite of himself, to George Talboys.

He thought of him hurrying down to Southampton by the mail train to see
his boy. He thought of him as he had often seen him spelling over the
shipping advertisements in the _Times_, looking for a vessel to take him
back to Australia. Once he thought of him with a shudder, lying cold and
stiff at the bottom of some shallow stream with his dead face turned
toward the darkening sky.

Lady Audley noticed his abstraction, and asked him what he was thinking

"George Talboys," he answered abruptly.

She gave a little nervous shudder.

"Upon my word," she said, "you make me quite uncomfortable by the way in
which you talk of Mr. Talboys. One would think that something
extraordinary had happened to him."

"God forbid! But I cannot help feeling uneasy about him."

Later in the evening Sir Michael asked for some music, and my lady went
to the piano. Robert Audley strolled after her to the instrument to turn
over the leaves of her music; but she played from memory, and he was
spared the trouble his gallantry would have imposed upon him.

He carried a pair of lighted candles to the piano, and arranged them
conveniently for the pretty musician. She struck a few chords, and then
wandered into a pensive sonata of Beethoven's. It was one of the many
paradoxes in her character, that love of somber and melancholy melodies,
so opposite to her gay nature.

Robert Audley lingered by her side, and as he had no occupation in
turning over the leaves of her music, he amused himself by watching her
jeweled, white hands gliding softly over the keys, with the lace sleeves
dropping away from, her graceful, arched wrists. He looked at her pretty
fingers one by one; this one glittering with a ruby heart; that
encircled by an emerald serpent; and about them all a starry glitter of
diamonds. From the fingers his eyes wandered to the rounded wrists: the
broad, flat, gold bracelet upon her right wrist dropped over her hand,
as she executed a rapid passage. She stopped abruptly to rearrange it;
but before she could do so Robert Audley noticed a bruise upon her
delicate skin.

"You have hurt your arm, Lady Audley!" he exclaimed. She hastily
replaced the bracelet.

"It is nothing," she said. "I am unfortunate in having a skin which the
slightest touch bruises."

She went on playing, but Sir Michael came across the room to look into
the matter of the bruise upon his wife's pretty wrist.

"What is it, Lucy?" he asked; "and how did it happen?"

"How foolish you all are to trouble yourselves about anything so
absurd!" said Lady Audley, laughing. "I am rather absent in mind, and
amused myself a few days ago by tying a piece of ribbon around my arm so
tightly, that it left a bruise when I removed it."

"Hum!" thought Robert. "My lady tells little childish white lies; the
bruise is of a more recent date than a few days ago; the skin has only
just begun to change color."

Sir Michael took the slender wrist in his strong hand.

"Hold the candle, Robert," he said, "and let us look at this poor little

It was not one bruise, but four slender, purple marks, such as might
have been made by the four fingers of a powerful hand, that had grasped
the delicate wrist a shade too roughly. A narrow ribbon, bound tightly,
might have left some such marks, it is true, and my lady protested once
more that, to the best of her recollection, that must have been how they
were made.

Across one of the faint purple marks there was a darker tinge, as if a
ring worn on one of those strong and cruel fingers had been ground into
the tender flesh.

"I am sure my lady must tell white lies," thought Robert, "for I can't
believe the story of the ribbon."

He wished his relations good-night and good-by at about half past ten
o'clock; he should run up to London by the first train to look for
George in Figtree Court.

"If I don't find him there I shall go to Southampton," he said; "and if
I don't find him there--"

"What then?" asked my lady.

"I shall think that something strange has happened."

Robert Audley felt very low-spirited as he walked slowly home between
the shadowy meadows; more low-spirited still when he re-entered the
sitting room at Sun Inn, where he and George had lounged together,
staring out of the window and smoking their cigars.

"To think," he said, meditatively, "that it is possible to care so much
for a fellow! But come what may, I'll go up to town after him the first
thing to-morrow morning; and, sooner than be balked in finding him, I'll
go to the very end of the world."

With Mr. Audley's lymphatic nature, determination was so much the
exception rather than the rule, that when he did for once in his life
resolve upon any course of action, he had a certain dogged, iron-like
obstinacy that pushed him on to the fulfillment of his purpose.

The lazy bent of his mind, which prevented him from thinking of half a
dozen things at a time, and not thinking thoroughly of any one of them,
as is the manner of your more energetic people, made him remarkably
clear-sighted upon any point to which he ever gave his serious

Indeed, after all, though solemn benchers laughed at him, and rising
barristers shrugged their shoulders under rustling silk gowns, when
people spoke of Robert Audley, I doubt if, had he ever taken the trouble
to get a brief, he might not have rather surprised the magnates who
underrated his abilities.



The September sunlight sparkled upon the fountain in the Temple Gardens
when Robert Audley returned to Figtree Court early the following

He found the canaries singing in the pretty little room in which George
had slept, but the apartment was in the same prim order in which the
laundress had arranged it after the departure of the two young men--not
a chair displaced, or so much as the lid of a cigar-box lifted, to
bespeak the presence of George Talboys. With a last, lingering hope, he
searched upon the mantelpieces and tables of his rooms, on the chance of
finding some letter left by George.

"He may have slept here last night, and started for Southampton early
this morning," he thought. "Mrs. Maloney has been here, very likely, to
make everything tidy after him."

But as he sat looking lazily around the room, now and then whistling to
his delighted canaries, a slipshod foot upon the staircase without
bespoke the advent of that very Mrs. Maloney who waited upon the two
young men.

No, Mr. Talboys had not come home; she had looked in as early as six
o'clock that morning, and found the chambers empty.

"Had anything happened to the poor, dear gentleman?" she asked, seeing
Robert Audley's pale face.

He turned around upon her quite savagely at this question.

Happened to him! What should happen to him? They had only parted at two
o'clock the day before.

Mrs. Maloney would have related to him the history of a poor dear young
engine-driver, who had once lodged with her, and who went out, after
eating a hearty dinner, in the best of spirits, to meet with his death
from the concussion of an express and a luggage train; but Robert put on
his hat again, and walked straight out of the house before the honest
Irishwoman could begin her pitiful story.

It was growing dusk when he reached Southampton. He knew his way to the
poor little terrace of houses, in a full street leading down to the
water, where George's father-in-law lived. Little Georgey was playing at
the open parlor window as the young man walked down the street.

Perhaps it was this fact, and the dull and silent aspect of the house,
which filled Robert Audley's mind with a vague conviction that the man
he came to look for was not there. The old man himself opened the door,
and the child peeped out of the parlor to see the strange gentleman.

He was a handsome boy, with his father's brown eyes and dark waving
hair, and with some latent expression which was not his father's and
which pervaded his whole face, so that although each feature of the
child resembled the same feature in George Talboys, the boy was not
actually like him.

Mr. Maldon was delighted to see Robert Audley; he remembered having had
the pleasure of meeting him at Ventnor, on the melancholy occasion
of--He wiped his watery old eyes by way of conclusion to the sentence.
Would Mr. Audley walk in? Robert strode into the parlor. The furniture
was shabby and dingy, and the place reeked with the smell of stale
tobacco and brandy-and-water. The boy's broken playthings, and the old
man's broken clay pipes and torn, brandy-and-water-stained newspapers
were scattered upon the dirty carpet. Little Georgey crept toward the
visitor, watching him furtively out of his big, brown eyes. Robert took
the boy on his knee, and gave him his watch-chain to play with while he
talked to the old man.

"I need scarcely ask the question that I come to ask," he said; "I was
in hopes I should have found your son-in-law here."

"What! you knew that he was coming to Southampton?"

"Knew that he was coming?" cried Robert, brightening up. "He _is_ here,

"No, he is not here now; but he has been here."


"Late last night; he came by the mail."

"And left again immediately?"

"He stayed little better than an hour."

"Good Heaven!" said Robert, "what useless anxiety that man has given me!
What can be the meaning of all this?"

"You knew nothing of his intention, then?"

"Of what intention?"

"I mean of his determination to go to Australia."

"I know that it was always in his mind more or less, but not more just
now than usual."

"He sails to-night from Liverpool. He came here at one o'clock this
morning to have a look at the boy, he said, before he left England,
perhaps never to return. He told me he was sick of the world, and that
the rough life out there was the only thing to suit him. He stayed an
hour, kissed the boy without awaking him, and left Southampton by the
mail that starts at a quarter-past two."

"What can be the meaning of all this?" said Robert. "What could be his
motive for leaving England in this manner, without a word to me, his
most intimate friend--without even a change of clothes; for he has left
everything at my chambers? It is the most extraordinary proceeding!"

The old man looked very grave. "Do you know, Mr. Audley," he said,
tapping his forehead significantly, "I sometimes fancy that Helen's
death had a strange effect upon poor George."

"Pshaw!" cried Robert, contemptuously; "he felt the blow most cruelly,
but his brain was as sound as yours or mine."

"Perhaps he will write to you from Liverpool," said George's
father-in-law. He seemed anxious to smooth over any indignation that
Robert might feel at his friend's conduct.

"He ought," said Robert, gravely, "for we've been good friends from the
days when we were together at Eton. It isn't kind of George Talboys to
treat me like this."

But even at the moment that be uttered the reproach a strange thrill of
remorse shot through his heart.

"It isn't like him," he said, "it isn't like George Talboys."

Little Georgey caught at the sound. "That's my name," he said, "and my
papa's name--the big gentleman's name."

"Yes, little Georgey, and your papa came last night and kissed you in
your sleep. Do you remember?"

"No," said the boy, shaking his curly little head.

"You must have been very fast asleep, little Georgey, not to see poor

The child did not answer, but presently, fixing his eyes upon Robert's
face, he said abruptly:

"Where's the pretty lady?"

"What pretty lady?"

"The pretty lady that used to come a long while ago."

"He means his poor mamma," said the old man.

"No," cried the boy resolutely, "not mamma. Mamma was always crying. I
didn't like mamma--"

"Hush, little Georgey!"

"But I didn't, and she didn't like me. She was always crying. I mean the
pretty lady; the lady that was dressed so fine, and that gave me my gold

"He means the wife of my old captain--an excellent creature, who took a
great fancy to Georgey, and gave him some handsome presents."

"Where's my gold watch? Let me show the gentleman my gold watch," cried

"It's gone to be cleaned, Georgey," answered his grandfather.

"It's always going to be cleaned," said the boy.

"The watch is perfectly safe, I assure you, Mr. Audley," murmured the
old man, apologetically; and taking out a pawnbroker's duplicate, he
handed it to Robert.

It was made out in the name of Captain Mortimer: "Watch, set with
diamonds, L11."

"I'm often hard pressed for a few shillings, Mr. Audley," said the old
man. "My son-in-law has been very liberal to me; but there are others,
there are others, Mr. Audley--and--and--I've not been treated well." He
wiped away some genuine tears as he said this in a pitiful, crying
voice. "Come, Georgey, it's time the brave little man was in bed. Come
along with grandpa. Excuse me for a quarter of an hour, Mr. Audley."

The boy went very willingly. At the door of the room the old man looked
back at his visitor, and said in the same peevish voice, "This is a poor
place for me to pass my declining years in, Mr. Audley. I've made many
sacrifices, and I make them still, but I've not been treated well."

Left alone in the dusky little sitting-room, Robert Audley folded his
arms, and sat absently staring at the floor.

George was gone, then; he might receive some letter of explanation
perhaps, when he returned to London; but the chances were that he would
never see his old friend again.

"And to think that I should care so much for the fellow!" he said,
lifting his eyebrows to the center of his forehead.

"The place smells of stale tobacco like a tap-room," he muttered
presently; "there can be no harm in my smoking a cigar here."

He took one from the case in his pocket: there was a spark of fire in
the little grate, and he looked about for something to light his cigar

A twisted piece of paper lay half burned upon the hearthrug; he picked
it up, and unfolded it, in order to get a better pipe-light by folding
it the other way of the paper. As he did so, absently glancing at the
penciled writing upon the fragment of thin paper, a portion of a name
caught his eye--a portion of the name that was most in his thoughts. He
took the scrap of paper to the window, and examined it by the declining

It was part of a telegraphic dispatch. The upper portion had been burnt
away, but the more important part, the greater part of the message
itself, remained.

"--alboys came to last night, and left by the
mail for London, on his way to Liverpool, whence he was to sail for

The date and the name and address of the sender of the message had been
burnt with the heading. Robert Audley's face blanched to a deathly
whiteness. He carefully folded the scrap of paper, and placed it between
the leaves of his pocket-book.

"My God!" he said, "what is the meaning of this? I shall go to Liverpool
to-night, and make inquiries there!"



Robert Audley left Southampton by the mail, and let himself into his
chambers just as the dawn was creeping cold and gray into the solitary
rooms, and the canaries were beginning to rustle their feathers feebly
in the early morning.

There were several letters in the box behind the door, but there was
none from George Talboys.

The young barrister was worn out by a long day spent in hurrying from
place to place. The usual lazy monotony of his life had been broken as
it had never been broken before in eight-and-twenty tranquil, easy-going
years. His mind was beginning to grow confused upon the point of time.
It seemed to him months since he had lost sight of George Talboys. It
was so difficult to believe that it was less than forty-eight hours ago
that the young man had left him asleep under the willows by the trout

His eyes were painfully weary for want of sleep. He searched about the
room for some time, looking in all sorts of impossible places for a
letter from George Talboys, and then threw himself dressed upon his
friend's bed, in the room with the canaries and geraniums.

"I shall wait for to-morrow morning's post," he said; "and if that
brings no letter from George, I shall start for Liverpool without a
moment's delay."

He was thoroughly exhausted, and fell into a heavy sleep--a sleep which
was profound without being in any way refreshing, for he was tormented
all the time by disagreeable dreams--dreams which were painful, not from
any horror in themselves, but from a vague and wearying sense of their
confusion and absurdity.

At one time he was pursuing strange people and entering strange houses
in the endeavor to unravel the mystery of the telegraphic dispatch; at
another time he was in the church-yard at Ventnor, gazing at the
headstone George had ordered for the grave of his dead wife. Once in the
long, rambling mystery of these dreams he went to the grave, and found
this headstone gone, and on remonstrating with the stonemason, was told
that the man had a reason for removing the inscription; a reason that
Robert would some day learn.

In another dream he saw the grave of Helen Talboys open, and while he
waited, with the cold horror lifting up his hair, to see the dead woman
rise and stand before him with her stiff, charnel-house drapery clinging
about her rigid limbs, his uncle's wife tripped gaily put of the open
grave, dressed in the crimson velvet robes in which the artist had
painted her, and with her ringlets flashing like red gold in the
unearthly light that shone about her.

But into all these dreams the places he had last been in, and the people
with whom he had last been concerned, were dimly interwoven--sometimes
his uncle; sometimes Alicia; oftenest of all my lady; the trout stream
in Essex; the lime-walk at the Court. Once he was walking in the black
shadows of this long avenue, with Lady Audley hanging on his arm, when
suddenly they heard a great knocking in the distance, and his uncle's
wife wound her slender arms around him, crying out that it was the day
of judgment, and that all wicked secrets must now be told. Looking at
her as she shrieked this in his ear, he saw that her face had grown
ghastly white, and that her beautiful golden ringlets were changing into
serpents, and slowly creeping down her fair neck.

He started from his dream to find that there was some one really
knocking at the outer door of his chambers.

It was a dreary, wet morning, the rain beating against the windows, and
the canaries twittering dismally to each other--complaining, perhaps, of
the bad weather. Robert could not tell how long the person had been
knocking. He had mixed the sound with his dreams, and when he woke he
was only half conscious of other things.

"It's that stupid Mrs. Maloney, I dare say," he muttered. "She may knock
again for all I care. Why can't she use her duplicate key, instead of
dragging a man out of bed when he's half dead with fatigue."

The person, whoever it was, did knock again, and then desisted,
apparently tired out; but about a minute afterward a key turned in the

"She had her key with her all the time, then," said Robert. "I'm very
glad I didn't get up."

The door between the sitting-room and bed-room was half open, and he
could see the laundress bustling about, dusting the furniture, and
rearranging things that had never been disarranged.

"Is that you, Mrs. Maloney?" he asked.

"Yes, sir,"

"Then why, in goodness' name, did you make that row at the door, when
you had a key with you all the time?"

"A row at the door, sir?"

"Yes; that infernal knocking."

"Sure I never knocked, Mister Audley, but walked straight in with my

"Then who did knock? There's been some one kicking up a row at that door
for a quarter of an hour, I should think; you must have met him going

"But I'm rather late this morning, sir, for I've been in Mr. Martin's
rooms first, and I've come straight from the floor above."

"Then you didn't see any one at the door, or on the stairs?"

"Not a mortal soul, sir."

"Was ever anything so provoking?" said Robert. "To think that I should
have let this person go away without ascertaining who he was, or what he
wanted! How do I know that it was not some one with a message or a
letter from George Talboys?"

"Sure if it was, sir, he'll come again," said Mrs. Maloney, soothingly.

"Yes, of course, if it was anything of consequence he'll come again,"
muttered Robert. The fact was, that from the moment of finding the
telegraphic message at Southampton, all hope of hearing of George had
faded out of his mind. He felt that there was some mystery involved in
the disappearance of his friend--some treachery toward himself, or
toward George. What if the young man's greedy old father-in-law had
tried to separate them on account of the monetary trust lodged in Robert
Audley's hands? Or what if, since even in these civilized days all kinds
of unsuspected horrors are constantly committed--what if the old man had
decoyed George down to Southampton, and made away with him in order to
get possession of that L20,000, left in Robert's custody for little
Georgey's use?

But neither of these suppositions explained the telegraphic message, and
it was the telegraphic message which had filled Robert's mind with a
vague sense of alarm. The postman brought no letter from George Talboys,
and the person who had knocked at the door of the chambers did not
return between seven and nine o'clock, so Robert Audley left Figtree
Court once more in search of his friend. This time he told the cabman to
drive to the Euston Station, and in twenty minutes he was on the
platform, making inquiries about the trains.

The Liverpool express had started half an hour before he reached the
station, and he had to wait an hour and a quarter for a slow train to
take him to his destination.

Robert Audley chafed cruelly at this delay. Half a dozen vessels might
sail for Australia while he roamed up and down the long platform,
tumbling over trucks and porters, and swearing at his ill-luck.

He bought the _Times_ newspaper, and looked instinctively at the second
column, with a morbid interest in the advertisements of people
missing--sons, brothers, and husbands who had left their homes, never to
return or to be heard of more.

There was one advertisement of a young man found drowned somewhere on
the Lambeth shore.

What if that should have been George's fate? No; the telegraphic message
involved his father-in-law in the fact of his disappearance, and every
speculation about him must start from that one point.

It was eight o'clock in the evening when Robert got into Liverpool; too
late for anything except to make inquiries as to what vessel had sailed
within the last two days for the antipodes.

An emigrant ship had sailed at four o'clock that afternoon--the
_Victoria Regia_, bound for Melbourne.

The result of his inquiries amounted to this--If he wanted to find out
who had sailed in the _Victoria Regia_, he must wait till the next
morning, and apply for information of that vessel.

Robert Audley was at the office at nine o'clock the next morning, and
was the first person after the clerks who entered it.

He met with every civility from the clerk to whom he applied. The young
man referred to his books, and running his pen down the list of
passengers who had sailed in the _Victoria Regia_, told Robert that
there was no one among them of the name of Talboys. He pushed his
inquiries further. Had any of the passengers entered their names within
a short time of the vessel's sailing?

One of the other clerks looked up from his desk as Robert asked this
question. Yes, he said; he remembered a young man's coming into the
office at half-past three o'clock in the afternoon, and paying his
passage money. His name was the last on the list--Thomas Brown.

Robert Audley shrugged his shoulders. There could have been no possible
reason for George's taking a feigned name. He asked the clerk who had
last spoken if he could remember the appearance of this Mr. Thomas

No; the office was crowded at the time; people were running in and out,
and he had not taken any particular notice of this last passenger.

Robert thanked them for their civility, and wished them good-morning. As
he was leaving the office, one of the young men called after him:

"Oh, by-the-by, sir," he said, "I remember one thing about this Mr.
Thomas Brown--his arm was in a sling."

There was nothing more for Robert Audley to do but to return to town. He
re-entered his chambers at six o'clock that evening, thoroughly worn out
once more with his useless search.

Mrs. Maloney brought him his dinner and a pint of wine from a tavern in
the Strand. The evening was raw and chilly, and the laundress had
lighted a good fire in the sitting-room grate.

After eating about half a mutton-chop, Robert sat with his wine untasted
upon the table before him, smoking cigars and staring into the blaze.

"George Talboys never sailed for Australia," he said, after long and
painful reflection. "If he is alive, he is still in England; and if he
is dead, his body is hidden in some corner of England."

He sat for hours smoking and thinking--trouble and gloomy thoughts

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