Part 9 out of 9
meaning to him.
"If you remember that much, maybe you'll remember more, mother," said
Luke. "Can you call to mind my bringing some one home here one night,
while Atkinsons was stackin' the last o' their corn?"
Once more Mr. Audley started violently, and this time he looked up
earnestly at the face of the speaker, and listened, with a strange,
breathless interest, that he scarcely understood himself, to what Luke
Marks was saying.
"I rek'lect your bringing home Phoebe," the old woman answered, with
great animation. "I rek'lect your bringin' Phoebe home to take a cup o'
tea, or a little snack o' supper, a mort o' times."
"Bother Phoebe," cried Mr. Marks, "who's a talkin' of Phoebe? What's
Phoebe, that anybody should go to put theirselves out about her? Do you
remember my bringin' home a gentleman after ten o'clock, one September
night; a gentleman as was wet through to the skin, and was covered with
mud and slush, and green slime and black muck, from the crown of his
head to the sole of his foot, and had his arm broke, and his shoulder
swelled up awful; and was such a objeck that nobody would ha' knowed
him; a gentleman as had to have his clothes cut off him in some places,
and as sat by the kitchen fire, starin' at the coals as if he had gone
mad or stupid-like, and didn't know where he was, or who he was; and as
had to be cared for like a baby, and dressed, and dried, and washed, and
fed with spoonfuls of brandy, that had to be forced between his locked
teeth, before any life could be got into him? Do you remember that,
The old woman nodded, and muttered something to the effect that she
remembered all these circumstances most vividly, now that Luke happened
to mention them.
Robert Audley uttered a wild cry, and fell down upon his knees by the
side of the sick man's bed.
"My God!" he ejaculated, "I think Thee for Thy wondrous mercies. George
Talboys is alive!"
"Wait a bit," said Mr. Marks, "don't you be too fast. Mother, give us
down that tin box on the shelf over against the chest of drawers, will
The old woman obeyed, and after fumbling among broken teacups and
milk-jugs, lidless wooden cotton-boxes, and a miscellaneous litter of
rags and crockery, produced a tin snuff-box with a sliding lid; a
shabby, dirty-looking box enough.
Robert Audley still knelt by the bedside with his face hidden by his
clasped hands. Luke Marks opened the tin box.
"There ain't no money in it, more's the pity," he said, "or if there had
been it wouldn't have been let stop very long. But there's summat in it
that perhaps you'll think quite as valliable as money, and that's what
I'm goin' to give you as a proof that a drunken brute can feel thankful
to them as is kind to him."
He took out two folded papers, which he gave into Robert Audley's hands.
They were two leaves torn out of a pocket-book, and they were written
upon in pencil, and in a handwriting that was quite strange to Mr.
Audley--a cramped, stiff, and yet scrawling hand, such as some plowman
might have written.
"I don't know this writing," Robert said, as he eagerly unfolded the
first of the two papers. "What has this to do with my friend? Why do you
show me these?"
"Suppose you read 'em first," said Mr. Marks, "and ask me questions
about them afterwards."
The first paper which Robert Audley had unfolded contained the following
lines, written in that cramped, yet scrawling hand which was so strange
"MY DEAR FRIEND--I write to you in such utter confusion of mind as
perhaps no man ever before suffered. I cannot tell you what has happened
to me, I can only tell you that something has happened which will drive
me from England a broken-hearted man, to seek some corner of the earth
in which I may live and die unknown and forgotten. I can only ask you to
forget me. If your friendship could have done me any good, I would have
appealed to it. If your counsel could have been any help to me, I would
have confided in you. But neither friendship nor counsel can help me;
and all I can say to you is this, God bless you for the past, and teach
you to forget me in the future. G.T."
The second paper was addressed to another person, and its contents were
briefer than those of the first.
"HELEN--May God pity and forgive you for that which you have done
to-day, as truly as I do. Rest in peace. You shall never hear of me
again; to you and to the world I shall henceforth be that which you
wished me to be to-day. You need fear no molestation from me. I leave
England never to return.
Robert Audley sat staring at these lines in hopeless bewilderment. They
were not in his friend's familiar hand, and yet they purported to be
written by him and were signed with his initials.
He looked scrutinizingly at the face of Luke Marks, thinking that
perhaps some trick was being played upon him.
"This was not written by George Talboys," he said.
"It was," answered Luke Marks, "it was written by Mr. Talboys, every
line of it. He wrote it with his own hand; but it was his left hand, for
he couldn't use his right because of his broken arm."
Robert Audley looked up suddenly, and the shadow of suspicion passed
away from his face.
"I understand," he said, "I understand. Tell me all; tell me how it was
that my poor friend was saved."
"I was at work up at Atkinson's farm, last September," said Luke Marks,
"helping to stack the last of the corn, and as the nighest way from the
farm to mother's cottage was through the meadows at the back of the
Court, I used to come that way, and Phoebe used to stand in the garden
wall beyond the lime-walk sometimes, to have a chat with me, knowin' my
time o' comin' home.
"I don't know what Phoebe was a-doin' upon the evenin' of the seventh o'
September--I rek'lect the date because Farmer Atkinson paid me my wages
all of a lump on that day, and I'd had to sign a bit of a receipt for
the money he give me--I don't know what she was a-doin', but she warn't
at the gate agen the lime-walk, so I went round to the other side o' the
gardens and jumped across the dry ditch, for I wanted partic'ler to see
her that night, as I was goin' away to work upon a farm beyond
Chelmsford the next day. Audley church clock struck nine as I was
crossin' the meadows between Atkinson's and the Court, and it must have
been about a quarter past nine when I got into the kitchen garden.
"I crossed the garden, and went into the lime-walk; the nighest way to
the servants' hall took me through the shrubbery and past the dry well.
It was a dark night, but I knew my way well enough about the old place,
and the light in the window of the servants' hall looked red and
comfortable through the darkness. I was close against the mouth of the
dry well when I heard a sound that made my blood creep. It was a
groan--a groan of a man in pain, as was lyin' somewhere hid among the
bushes. I warn't afraid of ghosts and I warn't afraid of anythink in a
general way, but there was somethin in hearin' this groan as chilled me
to the very heart, and for a minute I was struck all of a heap, and
didn't know what to do. But I heard the groan again, and then I began to
search among the bushes. I found a man lyin' hidden under a lot o'
laurels, and I thought at first he was up to no good, and I was a-goin'
to collar him to take him to the house, when he caught me by the wrist
without gettin' up from the ground, but lookin' at me very earnest, as I
could see by the way his face was turned toward me in the darkness, and
asked me who I was, and what I was, and what I had to do with the folks
at the Court.
"There was somethin' in the way he spoke that told me he was a
gentleman, though I didn't know him from Adam, and couldn't see his
face; and I answered his questions civil.
"'I want to get away from this place,' he said, 'without bein' seen by
any livin' creetur, remember that. I've been lyin' here ever since four
o'clock to-day, and I'm half dead, but I want to get away without bein'
seen, mind that.'
"I told him that was easy enough, but I began to think my first thoughts
of him might have been right enough, after all, and that he couldn't
have been up to no good to want to sneak away so precious quiet.
"'Can you take me to any place where I can get a change of dry clothes,'
he says, 'without half a dozen people knowin' it?'
"He'd got up into a sittin' attitude by this time, and I could see that
his right arm hung close by his side, and that he was in pain.
"I pointed to his arm, and asked him what was the matter with it; but he
only answered, very quiet like: 'Broken, my lad, broken. Not that that's
much,' he says in another tone, speaking to himself like, more than to
me. 'There's broken hearts as well as broken limbs, and they're not so
"I told him I could take him to mother's cottage, and that he could dry
his clothes there and welcome.
"'Can your mother keep a secret?' he asked.
"'Well, she could keep one well enough if she could remember it,' I told
him; 'but you might tell her all the secrets of the Freemasons, and
Foresters, and Buffalers and Oddfellers as ever was, to-night: and she'd
have forgotten all about 'em to-morrow mornin'.'
"He seemed satisfied with this, and he got himself up by holdin' on to
me, for it seemed as if his limbs was cramped, the use of 'em was almost
gone. I felt as he came agen me, that his clothes was wet and mucky.
"'You haven't been and fell into the fish-pond, have you, sir?' I asked.
"He made no answer to my question; he didn't seem even to have heard it.
I could see now he was standin' upon his feet that he was a tall,
fine-made man, a head and shoulders higher than me.
"'Take me to your mother's cottage,' he said, 'and get me some dry
clothes if you can; I'll pay you well for your trouble.'
"I knew that the key was mostly left in the wooden gate in the garden
wall, so I led him that way. He could scarcely walk at first, and it was
only by leanin' heavily upon my shoulder that he managed to get along. I
got him through the gate, leavin' it unlocked behind me, and trustin' to
the chance of that not bein' noticed by the under-gardener, who had the
care of the key, and was a careless chap enough. I took him across the
meadows, and brought him up here, still keepin' away from the village,
and in the fields, where there wasn't a creature to see us at that time
o' night; and so I got him into the room down-stairs, where mother was
a-sittin' over the fire gettin' my bit o' supper ready for me.
"I put the strange chap in a chair agen the fire, and then for the first
time I had a good look at him. I never see anybody in such a state
before. He was all over green damp and muck, and his hands was scratched
and cut to pieces. I got his clothes off him how I could, for he was
like a child in my hands, and sat starin' at the fire as helpless as any
baby; only givin' a long heavy sigh now and then, as if his heart was
a-goin' to bust. At last he dropped into a kind of a doze, a stupid sort
of sleep, and began to nod over the fire, so I ran and got a blanket and
wrapped him in it, and got him to lie down on the press bedstead in the
room under this. I sent mother to bed, and I sat by the fire and watched
him, and kep' the fire up till it was just upon daybreak, when he 'woke
up all of a sudden with a start, and said he must go, directly this
"I begged him not to think of such a thing and told him he warn't fit to
move for ever so long; but he said he must go, and he got up, and though
he staggered like, and at first could hardly stand steady two minutes
together, he wouldn't be beat, and he got me to dress him in his clothes
as I'd dried and cleaned as well as I could while he laid asleep. I did
manage it at last, but the clothes was awful spoiled, and he looked a
dreadful objeck, with his pale face and a great cut on his forehead that
I'd washed and tied up with a handkercher. He could only get his coat on
by buttoning it on round his neck, for he couldn't put a sleeve upon his
broken arm. But he held out agen everything, though he groaned every now
and then; and what with the scratches and bruises on his hands, and the
cut upon his forehead, and his stiff limbs and broken arm, he'd plenty
of call to groan; and by the time it was broad daylight he was dressed
and ready to go.
"'What's the nearest town to this upon the London road?' he asked me.
"I told him as the nighest town was Brentwood.
"'Very well, then,' he says, 'if you'll go with me to Brentwood, and
take me to some surgeon as'll set my arm, I'll give you a five pound
note for that and all your other trouble.'
"I told him that I was ready and willin' to do anything as he wanted
done; and asked him if I shouldn't go and see if I could borrow a cart
from some of the neighbors to drive him over in, for I told him it was a
good six miles' walk.
"He shook his head. No, no, no, he said, he didn't want anybody to know
anything about him; he'd rather walk it.
"He did walk it; and he walked like a good 'un, too; though I know as
every step he took o' them six miles he took in pain; but he held out as
he'd held out before; I never see such a chap to hold out in all my
blessed life. He had to stop sometimes and lean agen a gateway to get
his breath; but he held out still, till at last we got into Brentwood,
and then he says, 'Take me to the nighest surgeon's,' and I waited while
he had his arm set in splints, which took a precious long time. The
surgeon wanted him to stay in Brentwood till he was better, but he said
it warn't to be heard on, he must get up to London without a minute's
loss of time; so the surgeon made him as comfortable as he could,
considering and tied up his arm in a sling."
Robert Audley started. A circumstance connected with his visit to
Liverpool dashed suddenly back upon his memory. He remembered the clerk
who had called him back to say there was a passenger who took his berth
on board the _Victoria Regia_ within an hour or so of the vessel's
sailing; a young man with his arm in a sling, who had called himself by
some common name, which Robert had forgotten.
"When his arm was dressed," continued Luke, "he says to the surgeon,
'Can you give me a pencil to write something before I go away?' The
surgeon smiles and shakes his head: 'You'll never be able to write with
that there hand to-day,' he says, pointin' to the arm as had just been
dressed. 'P'raps not,' the young chap answers, quiet enough, 'but I can
write with the other,' 'Can't I write it for you?' says the surgeon.
'No, thank you,' answers the other; 'what I've got to write is private.
If you can give me a couple of envelopes, I'll be obliged to you.'
"With that the surgeon goes to fetch the envelopes, and the young chap
takes a pocket-book out of his coat pocket with his left hand; the cover
was wet and dirty, but the inside was clean enough, and he tears out a
couple of leaves and begins to write upon 'em as you see; and he writes
dreadful awk'ard with his left hand, and he writes slow, but he
contrives to finish what you see, and then he puts the two bits o'
writin' into the envelopes as the surgeon brings him, and he seals 'em
up, and he puts a pencil cross upon one of 'em, and nothing on the
other: and then he pays the surgeon for his trouble, and the surgeon
says, ain't there nothin' more he can do for him, and can't he persuade
him to stay in Brentwood till his arm's better; but he says no, no, it
ain't possible; and then he says to me, 'Come along o' me to the railway
station, and I'll give you what I've promised.'
"So I went to the station with him. We was in time to catch the train as
stops at Brentwood at half after eight, and we had five minutes to
spare. So he takes me into a corner of the platform, and he says, 'I
wants you to deliver these here letters for me,' which I told him I was
willin'. 'Very well, then,' he says; 'look here; you know Audley Court?'
'Yes,' I says, 'I ought to, for my sweetheart lives lady's maid there.'
'Whose lady's maid?' he says. So I tells him, 'My lady's, the new lady
what was governess at Mr. Dawson's.' 'Very well, then,' he says; 'this
here letter with the cross upon the envelope is for Lady Audley, but
you're to be sure to give it into her own hands; and remember to take
care as nobody sees you give it.' I promises to do this, and he hands me
the first letter. And then he says, 'Do you know Mr. Audley, as is nevy
to Sir Michael?' and I said, 'Yes, I've heerd tell on him, and I've
heerd as he was a reg'lar swell, but affable and free-spoken' (for I
heerd 'em tell on you, you know)," Luke added, parenthetically. "'Now
look here,' the young chap says, 'you're to give this other letter to
Mr. Robert Audley, whose a-stayin' at the Sun Inn, in the village;' and
I tells him it's all right, as I've know'd the Sun ever since I was a
baby. So then he gives me the second letter, what's got nothing wrote
upon the envelope, and he gives me a five-pound note, accordin' to
promise; and then he says, 'Good-day, and thank you for all your
trouble,'and he gets into a second-class carriage; and the last I sees
of him is a face as white as a sheet of writin' paper, and a great patch
of stickin'-plaster criss-crossed upon his forehead."
"Poor George! poor George!"
"I went back to Audley, and I went straight to the Sun Inn, and asked
for you, meanin' to deliver both letters faithful, so help me God! then;
but the landlord told me as you'd started off that mornin' for London,
and he didn't know when you'd come back, and he didn't know the name o'
the place where you lived in London, though he said he thought it was in
one o' them law courts, such as Westminster Hall or Doctors' Commons, or
somethin' like that. So what was I to do? I couldn't send a letter by
post, not knowin' where to direct to, and I couldn't give it into your
own hands, and I'd been told partickler not to let anybody else know of
it; so I'd nothing to do but to wait and see if you come back, and bide
my time for givin' of it to you.
"I thought I'd go over to the Court in the evenin'and see Phoebe, and
find out from her when there'd be a chance of seein' her lady, for I
know'd she could manage it if she liked. So I didn't go to work that
day, though I ought to ha' done, and I lounged and idled about until it
was nigh upon dusk, and then I goes down to the meadows behind the
Court, and there I finds Phoebe sure enough, waitin' agen the wooden
door in the wall, on the lookout for me.
"I hadn't been talkin' to her long before I see there was somethink
wrong with her and I told her as much.
"Well,' she says, 'I ain't quite myself this evenin', for I had a upset
yesterday, and I ain't got over it yet.'
"'A upset,' I says. 'You had a quarrel with your missus, I suppose.'
"She didn't answer me directly, but she smiled the queerest smile as
ever I see, and presently she says:
"No, Luke, it weren't nothin' o' that kind; and what's more, nobody
could be friendlier toward me than my lady. I think she'd do any think
for me a'most; and I think, whether it was a bit o' farming stock and
furniture or such like, or whether it was the good-will of a
public-house, she wouldn't refuse me anythink as I asked her.'
"I couldn't make out this, for it was only a few days before as she'd
told me her missus was selfish and extravagant, and we might wait a long
time before we could get what we wanted from her.
"So I says to her, 'Why, this is rather sudden like, Phoebe;' and she
says, 'Yes, it is sudden;' and she smiles again, just the same sort of
smile as before. Upon that I turns round upon her sharp, and says:
"I'll tell you what it is, my gal, you're a-keepin' somethink from me;
somethink you've been told, or somethink you've found out; and if you
think you're a-goin' to try that game on with me, you'll find you're
very much mistaken; and so I give you warnin'."
"But she laughed it off like, and says, 'Lor' Luke, what could have put
such fancies into your head?'
"'Perhaps other people can keep secrets as well as you,' I said, 'and
perhaps other people can make friends as well as you. There was a
gentleman came here to see your missus yesterday, warn't there--a tall
young gentleman with a brown beard?'
"Instead of answering of me like a Christian, my Cousin Phoebe bursts
out a-cryin', and wrings her hands, and goes on awful, until I'm dashed
if I can make out what she's up to.
"But little by little I got it out of her, for I wouldn't stand no
nonsense; find she told me how she'd been sittin' at work at the window
of her little room, which was at the top of the house, right up in one
of the gables, and overlooked the lime-walk, and the shrubbery and the
well, when she see my lady walking with a strange gentleman, and they
walked together for a long time, until by-and-by they--"
"Stop!" cried Robert, "I know the rest."
"Well, Phoebe told me all about what she see, and she told me she'd met
her lady almost directly afterward, and somethin' had passed between
'em, not much, but enough to let her missus know that the servant what
she looked down upon had found out that as would put her in that
servant's power to the last day of her life.
"'And she is in my power, Luke,' says Phoebe; 'and she'll do anythin' in
the world for us if we keep her secret.'
"So you see both my Lady Audley and her maid thought as the gentleman as
I'd seen safe off by the London train was lying dead at the bottom of
the well. If I was to give the letter they'd find out the contrary of
this; and if I was to give the letter, Phoebe and me would lose the
chance of gettin' started in life by her missus.
"So I kep' the letter and kep' my secret, and my lady kep' hern. But I
thought if she acted liberal by me, and gave me the money I wanted, free
like, I'd tell her everythink, and make her mind easy.
"But she didn't. Whatever she give me she throwed me as if I'd been a
dog. Whenever she spoke to me, she spoke as she might have spoken to a
dog; and a dog she couldn't abide the sight of. There was no word in her
mouth that was too bad for me; there was no toss as she could give her
head that was too proud and scornful for me; and my blood b'iled agen
her, and I kep' my secret, and let her keep hern. I opened the two
letters, and I read 'em, but I couldn't make much sense out of 'em, and
I hid 'em away; and not a creature but me has seen 'em until this
Luke Marks had finished his story, and lay quietly enough, exhausted by
having talked so long. He watched Robert Audley's face, fully expecting
some reproof, some grave lecture; for he had a vague consciousness that
he had done wrong.
But Robert did not lecture him; he had no fancy for an office which he
did not think himself fitted to perform.
Robert Audley sat until long after daybreak with the sick man, who fell
into a heavy slumber a short time after he had finished his story. The
old woman had dozed comfortably throughout her son's confession. Phoebe
was asleep upon the press bedstead in the room below; so the young
barrister was the only watcher.
He could not sleep; he could only think of the story he had heard. He
could only thank God for his friend's preservation, and pray that he
might be able to go to Clara Talboys, and say, "Your brother still
lives, and has been found."
Phoebe came up-stairs at eight o'clock, ready to take her place at the
sick-bed, and Robert Audley went away, to get a bed at the Sun Inn. It
was nearly dusk when he awoke out of a long dreamless slumber, and
dressed himself before dining in the little sitting-room, in which he
and George had sat together a few months before.
The landlord waited upon him at dinner, and told him that Luke Marks had
died at five o'clock that afternoon. "He went off rather sudden like,"
the man said, "but very quiet."
Robert Audley wrote a long letter that evening, addressed to Madame
Taylor, care of Monsieur Val, Villebrumeuse; a long letter in which he
told the wretched woman who had borne so many names, and was to bear a
false one for the rest of her life, the story that the dying man had
"It may be some comfort to her to hear that her husband did not perish
in his youth by her wicked hand," he thought, "if her selfish soul can
hold any sentiment of pity or sorrow for others."
Clara Talboys returned to Dorsetshire, to tell her father that his only
son had sailed for Australia upon the 9th of September, and that it was
most probable he yet lived, and would return to claim the forgiveness of
the father he had never very particularly injured; except in the matter
of having made that terrible matrimonial mistake which had exercised so
fatal an influence upon his youth.
Mr. Harcourt-Talboys was fairly nonplused. Junius Brutus had never been
placed in such a position as this, and seeing no way of getting out of
this dilemma by acting after his favorite model, Mr. Talboys was fain to
be natural for once in his life, and to confess that he had suffered
much uneasiness and pain of mind about his only son since his
conversation with Robert Audley, and that he would be heartily glad to
take his poor boy to his arms, whenever he should return to England. But
when was he likely to return? and how was he to be communicated with?
That was the question. Robert Audley remembered the advertisements which
he had caused to be inserted in the Melbourne and Sydney papers. If
George had re-entered either city alive, how was it that no notice had
ever been taken of that advertisement? Was it likely that his friend
would be indifferent to his uneasiness? But then, again, it was just
possible that George Talboys had not happened to see this advertisement;
and, as he had traveled under a feigned name, neither his fellow
passengers nor the captain of the vessel would have been able to
identify him with the person advertised for. What was to be done? Must
they wait patiently till George grew weary of his exile, and returned to
his friends who loved him? or were there any means to be taken by which
his return might be hastened? Robert Audley was at fault! Perhaps, in
the unspeakable relief of mind which he had experienced upon the
discovery of his friend's escape, he was unable to look beyond the one
fact of that providential preservation.
In this state of mind he went down to Dorsetshire to pay a visit to Mr.
Talboys, who had given way to a perfect torrent of generous impulses,
and had gone so far as to invite his son's friend to share the prim
hospitality of the square, red brick mansion.
Mr. Talboys had only two sentiments upon the subject of George's story;
one was a natural relief and happiness in the thought that his son had
been saved, the other was an earnest wish that my lady had been his
wife, and that he might thus have had the pleasure of making a signal
example of her.
"It is not for me to blame you, Mr. Audley," he said, "for having
smuggled this guilty woman out of the reach of justice, and thus, as I
may say, paltered with the laws of your country. I can only remark that,
had the lady fallen into my hands, she would have been very differently
It was in the middle of April when Robert Audley found himself once more
under those black fir-trees beneath which his wandering thoughts had so
often stayed since his first meeting with Clara Talboys. There were
primroses and early violets in the hedges now, and the streams, which,
upon his first visit, had been hard and frost-bound as the heart of
Harcourt Talboys, had thawed, like that gentleman, and ran merrily under
the blackthorn bushes in the capricious April sunshine.
Robert had a prim bedroom, and an uncompromising dressing-room allotted
him in the square house, and he woke every morning upon a metallic
spring mattress, which always gave him the idea of sleeping upon some
musical instrument, to see the sun glaring in upon him through the
square, white blinds and lighting up the two lackered urns which adorned
the foot of the blue iron bedstead, until they blazed like two tiny
brazen lamps of the Roman period. He emulated Mr. Harcourt Talboys in
the matter of shower-baths and cold water, and emerged prim and blue as
that gentleman himself, as the clock in the hall struck seven, to join
the master of the house in his ante-breakfast constitutional under the
fir-trees in the stiff plantation.
But there was generally a third person who assisted in the
constitutional promenades, and that third person was Clara Talboys, who
used to walk by her father's side, more beautiful than the morning--for
that was sometimes dull and cloudy, while she was always fresh and
bright--in a broad-leaved straw-hat and flapping blue ribbons, one
quarter of an inch of which Mr. Audley would have esteemed a prouder
decoration than ever adorned a favored creature's button-hole.
At first they were very ceremonious toward each other, and were only
familiar and friendly upon the one subject of George's adventures; but
little by little a pleasant intimacy arose between them, and before the
first three weeks of Robert's visit had elapsed, Miss Talboys made him
happy, by taking him seriously in hand and lecturing him on the
purposeless life he had led so long, and the little use he had made of
the talents and opportunities that had been given to him.
How pleasant it was to be lectured by the woman he loved! How pleasant
it was to humiliate himself and depreciate himself before her! How
delightful it was to get such splendid opportunities of hinting that if
his life had been sanctified by an object he might indeed have striven
to be something better than an idle _flaneur_ upon the smooth pathways
that have no particular goal; that, blessed by the ties which would have
given a solemn purpose to every hour of his existence, he might indeed
have fought the battle earnestly and unflinchingly. He generally wound
up with a gloomy insinuation to the effect that it was only likely he
would drop quietly over the edge of the Temple Gardens some afternoon
when the river was bright and placid in the low sunlight, and the little
children had gone home to their tea.
"Do you think I can read French novels and smoke mild Turkish until I am
three-score-and-ten, Miss Talboys?" he asked. "Do you think there will
not come a day in which my meerschaums will be foul, and the French
novels more than usually stupid, and life altogether such a dismal
monotony that I shall want to get rid of it somehow or other?"
I am sorry to say that while this hypocritical young barrister was
holding forth in this despondent way, he had mentally sold up his
bachelor possessions, including all Michel Levy's publications, and half
a dozen solid silver-mounted meerschaums; pensioned off Mrs. Maloney,
and laid out two or three thousand pounds in the purchase of a few acres
of verdant shrubbery and sloping lawn, embosomed amid which there should
be a fairy cottage _ornee_, whose rustic casements should glimmer out of
bowers of myrtle and clematis to see themselves reflected in the purple
bosom of the lake.
Of course, Clara Talboys was far from discovering the drift of these
melancholy lamentations. She recommended Mr. Audley to read hard and
think seriously of his profession, and begin life in real earnest. It
was a hard, dry sort of existence, perhaps, which she recommended; a
life of serious work and application, in which he should strive to be
useful to his fellow-creatures, and win a reputation for himself.
"I'd do all that," he thought, "and do it earnestly, if I could be sure
of a reward for my labor. If she would accept my reputation when it was
won, and support me in the struggle by her beloved companionship. But
what if she sends me away to fight the battle, and marries some hulking
country squire while my back is turned?"
Being naturally of a vacillating and dilatory disposition, there is no
saying how long Mr. Audley might have kept his secret, fearful to speak
and break the charm of that uncertainty which, though not always
hopeful, was very seldom quite despairing, had not he been hurried by
the impulse of an unguarded moment into a full confession of the truth.
He had stayed five weeks at Grange Heath, and felt that he could not, in
common decency, stay any longer; so he had packed his portmanteau one
pleasant May morning, and had announced his departure.
Mr. Talboys was not the sort of man to utter any passionate lamentations
at the prospect of losing his guest, but he expressed himself with a
cool cordiality which served with him as the strongest demonstration of
"We have got on very well together, Mr. Audley," he said, "and you have
been pleased to appear sufficiently happy in the quiet routine of our
orderly household; nay, more, you have conformed to our little domestic
regulations in a manner which I cannot refrain from saying I take as an
especial compliment to myself."
Robert bowed. How thankful he was to the good fortune which had never
suffered him to oversleep the signal of the clanging bell, or led him
away beyond the ken of clocks at Mr. Talboys' luncheon hour.
"I trust as we have got on so remarkably well together," Mr. Talboys
resumed, "you will do me the honor of repeating your visit to
Dorsetshire whenever you feel inclined. You will find plenty of sport
among my farms, and you will meet with every politeness and attention
from my tenants, if you like to bring your gun with you."
Robert responded most heartily to these friendly overtures. He declared
that there was no earthly occupation that was more agreeable to him than
partridge-shooting, and that he should be only too delighted to avail
himself of the privilege so kindly offered to him. He could not help
glancing toward Clara as he said this. The perfect lids drooped a little
over the brown eyes, and the faintest shadow of a blush illuminated the
But this was the young barrister's last day in Elysium, and there must
be a dreary interval of days and nights and weeks and months before the
first of September would give him an excuse for returning to
Dorsetshire; a dreary interval which fresh colored young squires or fat
widowers of eight-and-forty, might use to his disadvantage. It was no
wonder, therefore, that he contemplated this dismal prospect with moody
despair, and was bad company for Miss Talboys that morning.
But in the evening after dinner, when the sun was low in the west, and
Harcourt Talboys closeted in his library upon some judicial business
with his lawyer and a tenant farmer, Mr. Audley grew a little more
agreeable. He stood by Clara's side in one of the long windows of the
drawing-room, watching the shadows deepening in the sky and the rosy
light growing every moment rosier as the sun died out. He could not help
enjoying that quiet _tete-a-tete_, though the shadow of the next
morning's express which was to carry him away to London loomed darkly
across the pathway of his joy. He could not help being happy in her
presence; forgetful of the past, reckless of the future.
They talked of the one subject which was always a bond of union between
them. They talked of her lost brother George. She spoke of him in a very
melancholy tone this evening. How could she be otherwise than sad,
remembering that if he lived--and she was not even sure of that--he was
a lonely wanderer far away from all who loved him, and carrying the
memory of a blighted life wherever he went.
"I cannot think how papa can be so resigned to my poor brother's
absence," she said, "for he does love him, Mr. Audley; even you must
have seen lately that he does love him. But I cannot think how he can so
quietly submit to his absence. If I were a man, I would go to Australia,
and find him, and bring him back; if he was still to be found among the
living," she added, in a lower voice.
She turned her face away from Robert, and looked out at the darkening
sky. He laid his hand upon her arm. It trembled in spite of him, and his
voice trembled, too, as he spoke to her.
"Shall _I_ go to look for your brother?" he said.
"_You!_" She turned her head, and looked at him earnestly through her
tears. "You, Mr. Audley! Do you think that I could ask you to make such
a sacrifice for me, or for those I love?"
"And do you think, Clara, that I should think any sacrifice too great a
one if it were made for you? Do you think there is any voyage I would
refuse to take, if I knew that you would welcome me when I came home,
and thank me for having served you faithfully? I will go from one end of
the continent of Australia to the other to look for your brother, if you
please, Clara; and will never return alive unless I bring him with me,
and will take my chance of what reward you shall give me for my labor."
Her head was bent, and it was some moments before she answered him.
"You are very good and generous, Mr. Audley," she said, at last, "and I
feel this offer too much to be able to thank you for it. But what you
speak of could never be. By what right could I accept such a sacrifice?"
"By the right which makes me your bounden slave forever and ever,
whether you will or no. By right of the love I bear you, Clara," cried
Mr. Audley, dropping on his knees--rather awkwardly, it must be
confessed--and covering a soft little hand, that he had found half
hidden among the folds of a silken dress, with passionate kisses.
"I love you, Clara," he said, "I love you. You may call for your father,
and have me turned out of the house this moment, if you like; but I
shall go on loving you all the same; and I shall love you forever and
ever, whether you will or no."
The little hand was drawn away from his, but not with a sudden or angry
gesture, and it rested for one moment lightly and tremulously upon his
"Clara, Clara!" he murmured, in a low, pleading voice, "shall I go to
Australia to look for your brother?"
There was no answer. I don't know how it is, but there is scarcely
anything more delicious than silence in such cases. Every moment of
hesitation is a tacit avowal; every pause is a tender confession.
"Shall we both go, dearest? Shall we go as man and wife? Shall we go
together, my dear love, and bring our brother back between us?"
Mr. Harcourt Talboys, coming into the lamplit room a quarter of an hour
afterward, found Robert Audley alone, and had to listen to a revelation
which very much surprised him. Like all self-sufficient people, he was
tolerably blind to everything that happened under his nose, and he had
fully believed that his own society, and the Spartan regularity of his
household, had been the attractions which had made Dorsetshire
delightful to his guest.
He was rather disappointed, therefore; but he bore his disappointment
pretty well, and expressed a placid and rather stoical satisfaction at
the turn which affairs had taken.
So Robert Audley went back to London, to surrender his chambers in
Figtree Court, and to make all due inquiries about such ships as sailed
from Liverpool for Sydney in the month of June.
He had lingered until after luncheon at Grange Heath, and it was in the
dusky twilight that he entered the shady Temple courts and found his way
to his chambers. He found Mrs. Maloney scrubbing the stairs, as was her
wont upon a Saturday evening, and he had to make his way upward amidst
an atmosphere of soapy steam, that made the balusters greasy under his
"There's lots of letters, yer honor," the laundress said, as she rose
from her knees and flattened herself against the wall to enable Robert
to pass her, "and there's some parcels, and there's a gentleman which
has called ever so many times, and is waitin' to-night, for I towld him
you'd written to me to say your rooms were to be aired."
He opened the door of his sitting-room, and walked in. The canaries were
singing their farewell to the setting sun, and the faint, yellow light
was flickering upon the geranium leaves. The visitor, whoever he was,
sat with his back to the window and his head bent upon his breast. But
he started up as Robert Audley entered the room, and the young man
uttered a great cry of delight and surprise, and opened his arms to his
lost friend, George Talboys.
We know how much Robert had to tell. He touched lightly and tenderly
upon that subject which he knew was cruelly painful to his friends; he
said very little of the wretched woman who was wearing out the remnant
of her wicked life in the quiet suburb of the forgotten Belgian city.
George Talboys spoke very briefly of that sunny seventh of September,
upon which he had left his friend sleeping by the trout stream while he
went to accuse his false wife of that conspiracy which had well nigh
broken his heart.
"God knows that from the moment in which I sunk into the black pit,
knowing the treacherous hand that had sent me to what might have been my
death, my chief thought was of the safety of the woman who had betrayed
me. I fell upon my feet upon a mass of slush and mire, but my shoulder
was bruised, and my arm broken against the side of the well. I was
stunned and dazed for a few minutes, but I roused myself by an effort,
for I felt that the atmosphere I breathed was deadly. I had my
Australian experiences to help me in my peril; I could climb like a cat.
The stones of which the well was built were rugged and irregular, and I
was able to work my way upward by planting my feet in the interstices of
the stones, and resting my back at times against the opposite side of
the well, helping myself as well as I could with my hands, though one
arm was crippled. It was hard work, Bob, and it seems strange that a man
who had long professed himself weary of his life, should take so much
trouble to preserve it. I think I must have been working upward of half
an hour before I got to the top; I know the time seemed an eternity of
pain and peril. It was impossible for me to leave the place until after
dark without being observed, so I hid myself behind a clump of
laurel-bushes, and lay down on the grass faint and exhausted to wait for
nightfall. The man who found me there told you the rest. Robert."
"Yes, my poor old friend.--yes, he told me all."
George had never returned to Australia after all. He had gone on board
the _Victoria Regia_, but had afterward changed his berth for one in
another vessel belonging to the same owners, and had gone to New York,
where he had stayed as long as he could endure the loneliness of an
existence which separated him from every friend he had ever known.
"Jonathan was very kind to me, Bob," he said; "I had enough money to
enable me to get on pretty well in my own quiet way and I meant to have
started for the California gold fields to get more when that was gone. I
might have made plenty of friends had I pleased, but I carried the old
bullet in my breast; and what sympathy could I have with men who knew
nothing of my grief? I yearned for the strong grasp of your hand, Bob;
the friendly touch of the hand which had guided me through the darkest
passage of my life."
Two years have passed since the May twilight in which Robert found his
old friend; and Mr. Audley's dream of a fairy cottage has been realized
between Teddington Locks and Hampton Bridge, where, amid a little forest
of foliage, there is a fantastical dwelling place of rustic woodwork,
whose latticed windows look out upon the river. Here, among the lilies
and the rushes on the sloping bank, a brave boy of eight years old plays
with a toddling baby, who peers wonderingly from his nurse's arms at
that other baby in the purple depth of the quiet water.
Mr. Audley is a rising man upon the home circuit by this time, and has
distinguished himself in the great breach of promise case of Hobbs _v._
Nobbs, and has convulsed the court by his deliciously comic rendering of
the faithless Nobb's amatory correspondence. The handsome dark-eyed boy
is Master George Talboys, who declines _musa_ at Eton, and fishes for
tadpoles in the clear water under the spreading umbrage beyond the ivied
walls of the academy. But he comes very often to the fairy cottage to
see his father, who lives there with his sister and his sister's
husband; and he is very happy with his Uncle Robert, his Aunt Clara, and
the pretty baby who has just begun to toddle on the smooth lawn that
slopes down to the water's brink, upon which there is a little Swiss
boat-house and landing-stage where Robert and George moor their slender
Other people come to the cottage near Teddington. A bright,
merry-hearted girl, and a gray-bearded gentleman, who has survived he
trouble of his life, and battled with it as a Christian should.
It is more than a year since a black-edged letter, written upon foreign
paper, came to Robert Audley, to announce the death of a certain Madame
Taylor, who had expired peacefully at Villebrumeuse, dying after a long
illness, which Monsieur Val describes as a _maladie de langueur_.
Another visitor comes to the cottage in this bright summer of 1861--a
frank, generous hearted young man, who tosses the baby and plays with
Georgey, and is especially great in the management of the boats, which
are never idle when Sir Harry Towers is at Teddington.
There is a pretty rustic smoking-room over the Swiss boat-house, in
which the gentlemen sit and smoke in the summer evenings, and whence
they are summoned by Clara and Alicia to drink tea, and eat strawberries
and cream upon the lawn.
Audley Court is shut up, and a grim old housekeeper reigns paramount in
the mansion which my lady's ringing laughter once made musical. A
curtain hangs before the pre-Raphaelite portrait; and the blue mold
which artists dread gathers upon the Wouvermans and Poussins, the Cuyps
and Tintorettis. The house is often shown to inquisitive visitors,
though the baronet is not informed of that fact, and people admire my
lady's rooms, and ask many questions about the pretty, fair-haired woman
who died abroad.
Sir Michael has no fancy to return to the familiar dwelling-place in
which he once dreamed a brief dream of impossible happiness. He remains
in London until Alicia shall be Lady Towers, when he is to remove to a
house he has lately bought in Hertfordshire, on the borders of his
son-in-law's estate. George Talboys is very happy with his sister and
his old friend. He is a young man yet, remember, and it is not quite
impossible that he may, by-and-by, find some one who will console him
for the past. That dark story of the past fades little by little every
day, and there may come a time in which the shadow my lady's wickedness
has cast upon the young man's life will utterly vanish away.
The meerschaum and the French novels have been presented to a young
Templar with whom Robert Audley had been friendly in his bachelor days;
and Mrs. Maloney has a little pension, paid her quarterly, for her care
of the canaries and geraniums.
I hope no one will take objection to my story because the end of it
leaves the good people all happy and at peace. If my experience of life
has not been very long, it has at least been manifold; and I can safely
subscribe to that which a mighty king and a great philosopher declared,
when he said, that neither the experience of his youth nor of his age
had ever shown him "the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging their