Part 1 out of 6
Produced by Suzanne Shell, Bradley Norton and PG Distributed Proofreaders
[Illustration: "Two of the police had now arrived." (_Page_ 295)]
M. or N.
"_Similia similibus curantur_"
By G.J. Whyte-Melville
I. "Small and Early"
III. Tom Ryfe
IV. Gentleman Jim
V. The Cracksman's Checkmate
VI. A Reversionary Interest
VII. Dick Stanmore
IX. The Usual Difficulty
X. The Fairy Queen
XI. In the Scales
XII. "A Cruel Parting"
XIII. Sixes and Sevens
XIV. The Officers' Mess
XV. Mrs. Stanmore at Home
XVI. "Missing--A Gentleman"
XVII. "Wanted--A Lady"
XVIII. "The Coming Queen"
XIX. An Incubus
XX. "The Little Cloud"
XXI. Furens Quid Faemina
XXII. "Not for Joseph"
XXV. Coaxing a Fight
XXX. Under the Acacias
M. or N.
"_Similia similibus curantur_"
"SMALL AND EARLY"
A wild wet night in the Channel, the white waves leaping, lashing, and
tumbling together in that confusion of troubled waters, which nautical
men call a "cross-sea." A dreary, dismal night on Calais sands: faint
moonshine struggling through a low driving scud, the harbour-lights
quenched and blurred in mist. Such a night as bids the trim French
sentry hug himself in his watch-coat, calmly cursing the weather,
while he hums the chorus of a comic opera, driving his thoughts by
force of contrast to the lustrous glow of the wine-shop, the sparkling
eyes and gold ear-rings of Mademoiselle Therese, who presides over
Love and Bacchus therein. Such a night as gives the travellers in the
mail-packet some notion of those ups and downs in life which landsmen
may bless themselves to ignore, as hints to the Queen's Messenger,
seasoned though he be, that ten minutes more of that heaving,
pitching, tremulous motion would lay him alongside those poor sick
neophytes whom he pities and condemns; reminding him how even _he_ has
cause to be thankful when he reflects that, save for an occasional
Levanter, the Mediterranean is a mill-pond compared to La Manche. Such
a night as makes the hardy fisherman running for Havre or St. Valerie
growl his "Babord" and "Tribord" in harsher tones than usual to his
mate, because he cannot keep his thoughts off Marie and the little
ones ashore; his dark-eyed Marie, praying her heart out to the Virgin
on her knees, feeling, as the fierce wind howls and blusters round
their hut, that not on her wedding-morning, not on that summer eve
when he won her down by the sea, did she love her Pierre so dearly,
as now in this dark boisterous weather, that causes her very flesh to
creep while she listens to its roar. Nobody who could help it would
be abroad on Calais sands. "Pas meme un Anglais!" mutters the sentry,
ordering his firelock with a ring, and wishing it was time for the
Relief. But an Englishman _is_ out nevertheless, wandering aimlessly
to and fro on the beach; turning his face to windward against the
driving rain; trying to think the wet on his cheek is all from
_without_; vainly hoping to stifle grief, remorse, anxiety, by
exposure and active bodily exercise.
"How could I stay in that cursed room?" he mutters, striding wildly
among the sand-hills. "The very tick of the clock was enough to drive
one mad in those long fearful pauses--solemn and silent as death!
Can't the fools do anything for her? What is the use of nurses and
doctors, and all the humbug of medicine and science? My darling! my
darling! It was too cruel to hear you wailing and crying, and to know
I could do you no good! What a coward I am to have fled into the
wilderness like a murderer! I couldn't have stayed there, I feel I
couldn't! I wish I hadn't listened at the door! Only yesterday you
seemed so well and in such good spirits, with your dark eyes looking
so patiently and fondly into mine! And now, if she should die!--if she
Then he stands stock-still, turning instinctively from the wind like
one of the brutes, while the past comes back in a waking dream so akin
to reality, that even in his preoccupation he seems to live the last
year of his life over again. Once more he is at the old place in
Cheshire, whither he has gone like any other young dandy, an agreeable
addition to a country shooting-party because of his chestnut locks,
his blue eyes, his handsome person, and general recklessness of
character; agreeable, he reflects, to elderly _roues_ and established
married women, but a scarecrow to mothers, and a stumbling-block to
daughters, as being utterly penniless and rather good-for-nothing.
Once more he comes down late for dinner, to find a vacant place by
that beautiful girl, with her delicate features, her wealth of raven
hair, above all, with the soft, sad, dreamy eyes, that look so loving,
so trustful, and so good. In such characters as theirs these things
are soon accomplished. A walk or two, a waltz, a skein of silk to
wind, a drive in a pony-carriage, an afternoon church, and behold them
in the memorable summer-house, where he won her heart--completely and
unreservedly, while flinging down his own! Then came all the sweet
excitement, all the fascinating mystery of mutual understanding, of
stolen glances, of hidden meanings in the common phrases and daily
courtesies of social life. It was so delightful for each to feel that
other existence bound up in its own, to look down from their enchanted
mountain, with pity not devoid of contempt on the commonplace dwellers
on the plain, undeterred by proofs more numerous perhaps on the hills
of Paphos than in any other airy region, that
"Great clymbers fall unsoft;"
to know that come sorrow, suffering, disgrace, or misfortune, there
was refuge and safety for the poor, broken-winged bird, though its
plumage were torn by the fowler's cruelty, or even soiled in the storm
of shame. Alas! that the latter should arrive too soon!
Perhaps of this young couple, the girl, in her perfect faith and
entire self-sacrifice, may have been less aghast than her lover at the
imminence of discovery, reprobation, and scorn. When no other course
was left open, she eloped willingly enough with the man she had
trusted--shutting her eyes to consequences, in that recklessness
of devotion which, lead though it may to much unhappiness in life,
constitutes not the least lovable trait of the female character, so
ready to burst into extremes of right and wrong.
Besides, who cares for consequences at nineteen, with the sun glinting
on the waves of the Channel, the sea-air freshening cheek and brow,
the coast of Picardy rising bright and glistening, in smiles of
welcome, and the dear, fond face looking down so proudly and wistfully
on its treasure? Consequences indeed! They have been left with the
heavy baggage at London Bridge, to reach their proper owner possibly
hereafter in Paris; but meantime, with this fresh breeze blowing--on
the blue sea--under the blue sky--they do not exist--there are no such
These young people were very foolish, very wicked, but they loved each
other very dearly. Mr. Bruce was none of those heartless, unscrupulous
Lovelaces, oftener met with in fiction than in real life, who can
forget they are _men_ as well as gentlemen; and when he crossed the
Channel with Miss Algernon, it was from sheer want of forethought,
from mismanagement, no doubt, but still more from misfortune, that she
was Miss Algernon still.
To marry, was to be disinherited--that he knew well enough; but
neither he nor his Nina, as he called her, would have paused for this
consideration. There were other difficulties, trivial in appearance,
harassing, vexatious, insurmountable in reality, that yet seemed
from day to day about to vanish; so they waited, and temporised, and
hesitated, till the opportunity came of escaping together, and they
availed themselves of it without delay.
Now they had reached French ground, and were free, but it was too
late! That was why Mr. Bruce roamed so wildly to-night over the Calais
sands, tortured by a cruel fear that he might lose the treasure of his
heart for ever; exaggerating, in that supreme moment of anxiety, her
sufferings, her danger, perhaps even her priceless value to himself.
To do him justice, he did not think for an instant of the many galling
annoyances to which both must be subjected hereafter in the event of
her coming safely through her trial. He found no time to reflect on a
censorious world, an outraged circle of friends, an infuriated family;
on the cold shoulder Mrs. Grundy would turn upon his darling, and the
fair mark he would himself be bound to offer that grim old father, who
had served under Wellington, or that soft-spoken dandy brother in
the Guards, unerring at "rocketers," and deadly for all ground
game, neither of whom would probably shoot the wider, under the
circumstances that he, the offender, felt in honour he must stand at
least one discharge without retaliation, an arrangement which makes
twelve paces uncomfortably close quarters for the passive and
immovable target. He scarcely dwelt a moment on the bitter scorn with
which his own great-uncle, whose natural heir he was, would calmly and
deliberately curse this piece of childish folly, while he disinherited
its perpetrator without scruple or remorse. He never even considered
the disadvantage under which a life that ought to be very dear to him
was now opening on the world: a life that might be blighted through
its whole course by his own folly, punished, a score of years hence,
for unwittingly arriving a few weeks too soon. No! He could think
of nothing but Nina's anguish and Nina's danger; could only wander
helplessly backwards and forwards, stupefied by the continuous gusts
of that boisterous sea-wind, stunned by the dull wash of the incoming
tide, feeling for minutes at a time, a numbed, apathetic impotency;
till, roused and stung by a rush of recurring apprehensions, he
hastened back to his hotel, white, agitated, dripping wet, moving
with wavering gestures and swift, irregular strides, like a man in a
At the foot of the staircase he ran into the arms of a dapper French
doctor, young, yet experienced, a man of science, a man of pleasure,
an anatomist, a dancer, a philosopher, and a dandy--who put both hands
on his shoulders, and looked in his face with so comical an expression
of congratulation, sympathy, pity, and amusement, that Mr. Bruce's
fears vanished on the instant, and he found voice to ask, in husky
accents, "if it was over?"
"Over!" repeated the doctor. "Pardon, my good sir. For our interesting
young friend it is only just begun. A young lady, monsieur, a
veritable little aristocrat, with a delicate nose, and, my faith,
sound and powerful lungs! I make you my compliment, monsieur. I am
happy to be the first to advertise you of good news. It is late. Let
madame be kept tranquil. You will permit me to wish you good-night. I
will return again in the morning."
"And she is safe?" exclaimed Bruce, crushing the doctor's hand in a
grasp like a vice.
"Safe!" answered the little man. "Parbleu--yes--for the present, safe
as the mole in the harbour, and likely to remain so if you will only
keep out of the room. Come, you shall see her for one quiet little
moment. She desires it so much. And when I scratch at the door thus,
you will come out. Agreed? Enter, then. You shall embrace your child."
So the good-natured man turned into the hotel again, to conduct Mr.
Bruce back to the door from which he had fled in anguish an hour or
two ago, and was thus five minutes too late for another professional
engagement, which could not be postponed, but went on indeed very well
without him, the expectant lady being a person of experience, the wife
of a Calais fisherman, and now employed for the thirteenth time in her
yearly occupation. But this has nothing to do with Mr. Bruce.
That gentleman stole on tiptoe through the darkened room, catching a
glimpse, as he passed the tawdry mirror on the chimney-piece, of a
very pale and anxious face strangely unlike his own, while from behind
the half-drawn bed-curtains he heard a quiet placid breathing, and a
weak, faint voice with its tender whisper, "Charlie, are you there?
My darling, I begged so hard to see you for one minute, and--Charlie
dear, to--to show you _this_."
_This_ was a morsel of something swathed up in wrappings, round which
the young mother's arm was folded with proud, protecting love; but I
think he had been too anxious about the woman to feel a proper elation
in his new position as father to the child. The tears came thick to
his eyes once more, while he caught the pale, fragile hand that lay so
weary and listless on the counterpane, to press it against his lips,
his cheeks, his forehead, murmuring broken words of endearment, and
gratitude, and joy.
She would have kept him there all night: she would have talked to him
for an hour, feeble as she was, of that little being, in so short a
time promoted to its sovereignty of Baby (with a capital B), in which
she had already discovered instincts, qualities, high reasoning
powers, noble moral characteristics: but the doctor's tap was heard,
"scratching," as he called it, at the door, and Bruce, too happy not
to be docile, had the good sense to obey his summons without delay.
"Let them sleep, monsieur," said the Frenchman, struggling into his
great-coat, and hurrying down-stairs. "It will do them more good
than all your prevision and all my experience. I will return in the
morning, to inquire after madame and to renew my acquaintance with
mademoiselle--I should say with 'your charming mees.' Monsieur, you
are now father of a family--you should keep early hours. Good-night,
Bruce looked after him with a blessing on his lips, and a fervent
thanksgiving in his heart to the Providence that had spared him
his treasure. For the moment, I believe, he completely forgot that
important personage with whom originated all their anxiety and
discomfort. To men, indeed, there is so little individuality about
a Baby, that, I fear, it has to be weaned and vaccinated, and to go
through many other processes before it ceases to be a thing, and
rather an inconvenient one. No; Bruce went to his own sitting-room,
with his heart so full of his Nina, there was scarcely place for other
considerations; therefore, instead of going to bed, he kicked off
his wet boots, turned on a brilliant illumination of gas, and threw
himself into an arm-chair--to smoke. After the excitement he had
lately passed through, the first few whiffs of his cigar were soothing
and consolatory in the extreme, but reflection comes with tobacco, not
less surely than warmth comes with fire; and soon he began to see the
crowd of fresh difficulties which the events of to-night would
bring swarming round his devoted head. How he cursed his foolish
calculations, his ill-judged caution, his cowardly scruples, thus to
have postponed the ceremony of marriage till too late. How impossible
it would be now, to throw dust in the eyes of society as to dates and
circumstances! how fruitless the reparation which should certainly be
put off no longer, no, not a day! It seemed so hard that he, of all
the world, should have injured the woman who loved him, the woman whom
he so devotedly loved in return. He almost hated the innocent baby for
its inopportune arrival; but remembering how that poor little creature
too must bear the punishment of his crime, he flung the end of his
cigar against the stove with a curse, and for one moment--only one
bitter, painful moment--found himself wishing he had never met, never
loved, his darling; had left the lamb at peace in its fold, the rose
ungathered on its stalk.
The clock did not tick twice before there came a reaction. It seemed
so impossible that they should be independent of each other. He would
not be himself without Nina! and the flow of his affection, like
the back-water of a mill-stream, returned only the stronger for its
momentary interruption. After all, Nina was everything, Nina was the
first consideration. Something must be done at once. As soon as she
could bear it, that ceremony must be gone through which should have
been performed long ago. He was young, he was impatient, he would fain
be at work without delay; so he turned to his writing-table, and began
opening certain letters that had already followed him into France, but
that he had laid aside without examination, in the excitement of the
last few hours.
They were not calculated to afford him much distraction. A circular
from a coal company, a couple of invitations to dinner, a tailor's
bill, and a manifesto from the firm, calling attention to the powers
of endurance with which their little account had "made running" for a
considerable period, while promising a "lawyer's letter" to enforce
payment of the same. Next this hostile protocol lay a business-like
missive bearing a Lincoln's Inn look about it not to be mistaken, and
which Bruce determined he would leave unopened till the morning, when,
if Nina had slept, and was doing well, he felt nothing in the world
could make him unhappy.
"Serves me right, though," he yawned, "for deserting Poole. _He_
wouldn't have bothered me for a miserable pony at such a time as
this;" and flinging off his clothes, in less than five minutes he was
as fast asleep as if he had never known an anxiety in the world, but
was lulled by the soothing considerations of a well-spent past, an
untroubled conscience, and a balance at his banker's!
So he slept and dreamed not, as those sleep who are thoroughly
out-wearied in body and mind, waking only when the sun had been up
more than an hour, and the stormy night had given place to a clear,
The Channel was all blue and white now; the rollers, as they subsided
into a long heaving ground-swell, bringing in with them a freight
of health and freshness to the shore. The gulls were soaring and
screaming round the harbour, edging their wings with gold as they
dipped and wheeled in the morning light. Everything spoke of hope and
happiness and vitality. Bruce opened his window, drew in long breaths
of the keen, reviving air, and stole to listen at Nina's door.
How his heart went up in gratitude to heaven! Mother and child were
sleeping--so peacefully, so soundly. Mother and child! At that early
period the dearest, the sweetest, the holiest link of human love--the
gold without the dross, the flower without the insect, the wine
without the headache, the full fruition of the feelings without the
wear and tear of the heart.
He could have kissed the antiquated French chambermaid, dressed like
a Sister of Mercy, who met him in the passage, and wishing "Monsieur"
good-morning, congratulated him with tears of honest sympathy in her
glittering, bold black eyes. He _did_ give a five-franc piece to the
alert and well-dressed waiter, who looked as if he had never been in
bed, and never required to go. It may be this impulse of generosity
reminded him that five-franc pieces were likely to be scarce with him
in future, and an unpleasant association of ideas brought the lawyer's
letter to his mind. There it lay, square and uncompromising, between
his watch and his cigar-case. He opened it, I am afraid, with a truly
He turned quite white when he read it the first time, but the blood
rushed to his temples on a second perusal, and he flung himself
down on his knees at the windowsill, thanking Providence, somewhat
inconsiderately, for the benefits that only came to him through
another man's death.
This letter, indeed, though the composition of a lawyer, had not been
written at the instance of his long-suffering tailor, but was from the
solicitor who conducted the business of his family. It advised him, in
very concise language, of his great-uncle's sudden "demise," as it was
worded, "intestate"; informing him that he thus became heir, as next
of kin, to the whole personal and real property of the deceased, and
concluded with sincere congratulations on his accession to a fine
fortune, not without a hope that their firm might continue to manage
his affairs, and afford him the same satisfaction that had always been
expressed by his late lamented relative, etc. The surprise staggered
him like a blow. From such blows, however, we soon "come to time,"
willing to take any amount of similar punishment. He gave himself
credit for self-denial in not waking Nina on the instant to tell
her of their good fortune. Still more, he plumed himself on his
forethought in resolving to ask her doctor's leave before he entered
on so exciting a topic with the invalid. He longed to tell somebody.
He was so happy, so elated, so thankful! and yet, amidst all his joy,
there rankled an uncomfortable sensation of remorse and self-reproach
when he thought of the little blighted life, the little injured
helpless creature nestling to its young mother's side in the next
It is more than twenty years ago, and yet how vividly it all comes
back to him to-night!
The sun has gone down in streaks of orange and crimson over the
old oaks that crown the deer-park sloping upward to the rear of
Ecclesfield Manor. Mr. Bruce walks across a darkened room to throw the
window open for a gasp of fresh evening air, laden with the perfume of
pinks, carnations, and moss-roses in the garden below. _Her_ garden!
Is it possible? Something in the action reminds him of that bright,
hopeful morning at Calais. Something in the scent of the flowers
steals to his brain, half torpid and benumbed; his heart contracts
with an agony of physical suffering. "My darling! my darling!" he
murmurs, "shall I never see you tying those flowers again?" and
turning from the window, he falls on his knees by the bedside with
a passionate burst of weeping that, like blood-letting to the body,
restores the unwelcome faculty of consciousness to his mind. When
he raises his head again he knows well enough that the one great
misfortune has arrived at last--that henceforth for _him_ there may
come, in the lapse of long years, resignation, even repose, but hope
and happiness no more.
Even now, though he wonders at his own callousness, he can bear to
look on the bed through a mist of tears; and, so looking, feels
his intellect failing in its effort to grasp the calamity that has
There she lies, like a dead lily, his own, his treasure, his beloved;
the sweet face, calm and placid, with its chiselled ivory features,
its smooth and gentle brow, has already borrowed a higher, a more
perfect beauty from the immortality on which it has entered. Not
fairer, not lovelier did she look that well-remembered evening when he
first knew her pure and priceless heart was his own, though she has
borne him a daughter--nay, two daughters (and he winces with a fresh
and different pain)--the younger as old as she was then. Her raven
hair is parted soft and silky off those pale, delicate temples; her
long black lashes rest upon the waxen cheek. No; she never looked as
beautiful, not in the calm sleep he used to watch so lovingly; and now
the deep, fond eyes must open on his own no more. She was so gentle,
too, so patient, so sweet-tempered, and O, so true. He had been a man
of the world, neither better nor worse than others: he knew women
well; knew how rare are the good ones; knew the prize he had won, and
valued it--yes, he was sure he always valued it as it deserved.
What was the use? Had she not far better have been like the
others--petulant, wilful, capricious, covetous of admiration, careless
of affection, weak-headed, shallow-hearted, and desirous only of that
which could not possibly be her own? Such were most of the women
amongst whom he had been thrown in his youth; but O, how unlike her
who was lying dead there before his eyes.
"For men at most differ as heaven and earth,
But women, worst and best, as heaven and hell."
He felt so keenly now that she had been his better angel for more than
twenty years; that but for her he might long ago have deteriorated to
selfishness and cynicism, or sunk into that careless philosophy which
believes only in the tangible, the material, and the present.
A good woman's lot may be linked to that of a bad man; she may even
love him very dearly, and yet retain much of her purer, better nature
amidst all the mire in which she is steeped; but it is not so with us.
To care for a bad woman is to be dragged down to her level, inch by
inch, till the intellect itself becomes sapped in a daily degradation
of the heart. From such slavery emancipation is cheap under any
suffering, at any sacrifice. The lopping of a limb is a painful
process, but above a gangrened wound experienced surgeons amputate
without scruple or remorse.
On the other hand, a true woman's affection is of all earthly
influences the noblest and most elevating. It encourages the highest
and gentlest qualities of man's nature--his enterprise, courage,
patience, sympathy, above all, his trust. Happy the pilgrim on whose
life such a beacon-star has shone out to guide him in the right way;
thrice happy if it sets not until it has lured him so far that he will
never again turn aside from the path.
Such reflections as these, while they added to his sense of loss and
loneliness, yet took so much of the sting out of Mr. Bruce's great
sorrow, that he could realise it for minutes at a time without being
goaded to madness or stunned to apathy by the pain.
There had been no warning--no preparation. He had left her that
morning as usual, after smoking a cigar in her society on the lawn,
while she tied, and snipped, and gathered the flowers of her pretty
garden. He had visited the stable, ordered the pony-carriage, seen the
keeper, and been to look at an Alderney cow. It was one of his idle
days, yet, after twenty years of marriage, such days he still liked to
spend, if possible, in the company of his wife. So he strolled back to
write his letters in her boudoir, and entered it at the garden door,
expecting to find her, as usual, busied in some graceful feminine
Her work was heaped on the sofa; a book she had been reading lay open
on the table; the very flowers she gathered an hour ago had the dew on
them still. He could not finish his first letter without consulting
her, for she kept his memory, his conscience, and his money, just
as she kept his heart, so he ran up-stairs to her bedroom door and
There was no answer, and he went in. At the first glance he thought
she must have fainted, for she had fallen on her knees against a
high-backed chair, her face buried in its cushions, and one hand
touching the carpet. He had a quick eye, and the turn of that grey
rigid hand warned him with a stab of something he refused persistently
to believe. Then he lifted her on the bed where she lay now, and sent
for every doctor within reach.
He had no recollection of the interval that elapsed before the nearest
could arrive, nor distinct notion of any part of that long sunny
afternoon while he sat by his Nina in the death-chamber. Once he
got up to stop the ticking of a clock on the chimney-piece, moving
mechanically with stealthy footfall across the room lest she should
be disturbed. The doctors came and went, agreeing, as they left the
house, that he had answered their questions with wonderful precision
and presence of mind; nay, that he was less prostrated by the blow
than they should have expected. "Disease of the heart," said they--I
believe they called it "the _pericardium_"; and after paying a tribute
of admiration to the loveliness of the dead lady, discussed the
leading article of that day's _Times_ with perfect equanimity. What
would you have? There can be but one person in the world to whom
another is more than all the world beside.
This person was sitting by Nina's bed, except for a few brief minutes
at a time, utterly stupefied and immovable. Even Maud--his cherished
daughter Maud--whose smile had hitherto been welcome in his eyes as
the light of morning, could not rouse his attention by the depth of
her own uncontrolled grief. He sat like an idiot or an opium-eater,
till something prompted him to open the window and gasp for a breath
of fresh evening air. Then it all came back to him, and he awoke to
the full consciousness of his misery.
There are men, though not many, and these, perhaps, the least inclined
to prate about it, who have one attachment in their lives to which
every other sentiment is but an accessory and a satellite. Such
natures are often very bold to dare, very strong to endure, very
difficult to assail, save in their single vulnerable point. Force
that, and the man's whole vitality seems to collapse. He does not even
make a fight of it, but fails, gives in, and goes down without an
effort. Such was the character of Mr. Bruce, and to-day he had gotten
The stars twinkled out faintly one by one, the harvest-moon rose broad
and ruddy behind the wooded hill, and still he sat stupefied at the
bedside. The door opened gently to admit a beautiful girl, strangely,
startlingly like her dead mother, who came in with a cup of tea and a
candle. Setting these on the chimney-piece, she moved softly round
to where he sat, and pressed his head, with both hands, against her
"Dearest father," said she, "I have brought you some tea. Try and
rouse yourself, papa, dear papa, for _my_ sake. You love _me_ too."
The appeal was well chosen; once more the tears came to his eyes, and
he woke up as from a dream.
"You are a good girl, Maud," he answered, with a vague, distracted
air. "I have my children left--I have my children left! But all the
world cannot make up to me for what I have lost!"
She thought his mind was wandering, and tried to recall him to
"We must bear our sorrows as best we may, papa," she answered, very
gently. "We must help each other. You and I are alone now in the
A contraction, as of some fresh pain, came over his livid face. He
raised his head to speak, but, stopping himself with an obvious
effort, looked long and scrutinisingly in his daughter's face.
Maud Bruce was a very beautiful girl even now, in the extremity of
her sorrow. She had been crying heartily; no wonder, but her delicate
features were not swollen, nor her dark eyes dimmed. The silky
hair shone smooth and trim, the muslin dress was not rumpled nor
disarranged, and the white hands, with which she still caressed her
father's sorrow-laden head, neither shook nor wavered in their office.
With her mother's beauty, Miss Bruce had inherited but little of her
mother's character; on the contrary, her nature, like that of
her father's ancestors rather than his own, was bold, firm, and
self-reliant to an unusual degree. She was hard, and that is the only
epithet properly to describe her--manner, voice, appearance, all
were lady-like, feminine, and exceedingly attractive; but the
self-possession she never seemed to lose, would have warned an
experienced admirer, that beneath the white bosom beat a heart not to
be reduced by stratagem, nor carried by assault; that he must not hope
to see the beautiful dark eyes veil themselves in the dreamy softness
which so confesses all it means to hide; that the raven tresses
clinging coquettishly to that faultless head were most unlikely to be
severed as a tribute of affection for any one whose conquest would not
be a question of pride and profit to their owner. Tenderness was the
one quality Maud lacked, the one quality which, like the zone of
Venus, completed all her mother's attractions, with an indefinable and
There is a wild German legend which describes how a certain woodman, a
widower, gave shelter to a strangely fascinating dame, and falling in
love with her, incontinently made his guest lawful mistress of hearth
and home; how, notwithstanding his infatuated passion, and intense
admiration for her beauty, there was yet in it a fierceness which
chilled and repelled him, while he worshiped; how his children could
never be brought to look in the fair face of their stepmother without
crying aloud for fear; and how at last he discovered, to his horror
and dismay, that he had wedded a fearful creature, half wolf, half
woman, combining the seductions of the syren with the cruel voracity
of the brute. There was something about Maud Bruce to remind one of
that horrible myth, even now, now at her gentlest and softest, while
she clung round a sorrowing father, by the death-bed of one, whom, in
their different ways, both had very dearly loved.
It was well that the young lady preserved her presence of mind, for
Bruce seemed incapable of connected thought or action. He roused
himself, indeed, at his daughter's call, but gazed stupidly about him,
stammered in his speech, and faltered in his step when he crossed
the room. The shock of grief had evidently overmastered his
faculties--something, too, besides affliction, seemed to worry and
distress him--something of which he wished to unbosom himself,
but that yet he could not make up his mind to reveal. Maud, whose
quickness of perception was seldom at fault, did not fail to observe
this, and reviewing the position with her accustomed coolness, drew
her father gently to the writing-table, and sat down.
"Papa," said she, "there is much to be done. We must exert ourselves.
It will do us both good. Bargrave can be down by the middle of the
day, to-morrow. Let me write for him at once."
Bargrave and Co. were Mr. Bruce's solicitors, as they had been his
great-uncle's: it was the same firm, indeed, that had apprised him of
his inheritance at Calais twenty years ago. How he rejoiced in their
intelligence then! What was the use of an inheritance now?
A weary lassitude had come over him; he seemed incapable of exertion,
and shook his head in answer to Maud's appeal; but again some
hidden motive stung him into action, and taking his seat at the
writing-table, he seized a pen, only to let it slip helplessly through
his fingers, while he looked in his daughter's face with a vacant
Maud was equal to the occasion. Obviously something more than sorrow
had reduced her father to this state. She sat down opposite, scribbled
off a note hastily enough, but in the clear unwavering hand, affirmed
by her correspondents to be so characteristic of the writer's
disposition, and ringing the bell, desired it should be dispatched on
the instant. "Let Thomas take the brougham with the ponies; the doctor
is sure to be at home. He can bring him back at once."
Then she looked at her father, and stopped the lady's-maid, who,
tearful and hysterical, had answered the familiar summons, which but
this morning was "missis's bell."
"While they are putting to," said she calmly, "I will write a
telegraphic message and a letter. Tell him to send word when he is
ready. I shall give him exactly ten minutes."
Once more she glanced uneasily at Mr. Bruce; what she saw decided her.
In half-a-dozen words she penned a concise message to her father's
solicitor, desiring him to come himself or send a confidential person
to Ecclesfield Manor, by the very first train, on urgent business; and
wrote a letter as well to the same address, explaining her need of
immediate assistance, for Mr. Bargrave to receive the following
morning, in case that gentleman should not obey her telegram in
person, a contingency Miss Bruce considered highly probable.
The ten minutes conceded to Thomas had stretched to twenty before he
was ready; for so strong is the force of habit among stablemen, that
even in a case of life and death, horses cannot be allowed to start
till their manes are straightened and their hoofs blacked. In the
interval, Miss Bruce became more and more concerned to observe no
signs of attention on her father's part--no inquiries as to her
motives--apparently no consciousness of what she was doing. When the
brougham was heard to roll away at a gallop, she came round and
put her arm about his neck, where he sat in his chair at the
"Papa, dear," she said, "I have told them to get your dressing-room
ready. You are ill, very ill. I can see it. You must go to bed."
He nodded, and smiled. Such a weary, silly smile, letting her lead him
away like a little child. He would even have passed the bed where his
wife lay without a look, but that his daughter stopped him at the
"Papa," said she--and the girl deserved credit for the courage with
which she kept her tears back--"won't you kiss her before you go?"
It may be some instinct warned her that not in the body was he to look
on the face he loved again--that those material lips were never more
to touch the gentle brow which in a whole lifetime he had not seen
to frown--that their next greeting, freed from earthly anxieties,
released from earthly troubles, must be exchanged, at no distant
period, in heaven.
He obeyed unhesitatingly, imprinting a caress on his dead wife's
forehead with no kind of emotion, and so left the room, muttering
vaguely certain indistinct and incoherent syllables, in which the
words "Nina" and "Bargrave" were alone intelligible.
Maud saw her father to his room, and consigned him to the hands of
his valet, to be put to bed without delay. Then she went to the
dining-room, and forced herself to eat a crust of bread, to drink
a single glass of sherry. "I shall need all my strength to-night,"
thought the girl, "to take care of poor papa, and arrange about the
funeral and such matters as he cannot attend to--the funeral! O,
mother, dear, kind mother! I wasn't half good enough to you while you
were with us, and now--but I won't cry--I won't cry. There'll be time
enough for all that by and by. The first thing to think of is about
papa. He hasn't borne it well. Men have very little courage when they
come to trial, and I fear--I fear there is something sadly wrong with
him. Let me see. Three-quarters of an hour to get to Bragford--five
minutes' stoppage at the turn-pike, for that stupid man is sure to
have gone to bed--five minutes more for Doctor Skilton to put on his
greatcoat, forty minutes for coming back--those ponies always go
faster towards home. No, he can't be here under another hour. Another
hour! It's a long time in a case like this. Suppose papa should have
a paralytic stroke! And I haven't a notion what to do--the proper
remedies, the best treatment. Women ought to know everything, and be
ready for everything."
"Then there's the lawyer to-morrow. I don't suppose papa will be able
to see him. I must think of all the business--all the arrangements. He
can't be here till ten o'clock at the earliest, even if he starts by
the first train. I shall write my directions for _him_ in the morning.
Meantime, I'll go and sit with poor papa, and see if I can't hush him
off to sleep."
But when Miss Bruce reached her father's room, she found him lying in
an alarming state of which she had no experience. Something between
sleeping and waking, yet without the repose of the one, the
consciousness of the other. So she took her place by his pillow, and
watched, listening anxiously for the brougham that was to bring the
At half-past eight in the morning Mr. Bargrave's office in Gray's Inn
was still empty. It had been swept, indeed, and "straightened," as he
called it, by a young gentleman, whose duty it was to be in attendance
at all hours from sunrise to sunset, when nobody else was in the
way, and who fulfilled that duty by slipping out on such available
occasions to join the youth of the quarter in sports of clamour,
strength, and skill. Just now he was half-a-mile off in Holborn,
running at full speed, shouting at the top of his voice, with no
apparent object but that of exercising his own physical powers and
the patience of the general public in his exertions. It was not,
therefore, the step of this trusty guardian which fell sharp and
quick on the stone stair outside the office, nor was it his hand,
nor pass-key, that opened the door to admit Mr. Bargrave's nephew,
assistant, and possible successor in the business, Tom Ryfe.
That gentleman entered with the air of a master, looked about him,
detected the absence of his young subordinate as one who is disgusted
rather than surprised, and lifted two envelopes lying unopened on the
table with an oath. "As usual," he muttered, "telegram and letter,
same date--same place. Arrive together, of course! Chances are, if
there is any hurry you get the letter before the telegram. Halloa!
here's a business. Bargrave's sure to be an hour late, and that young
scamp not within a mile. If I had my way--Hang it! I _will_ have my
way. At all events I must manage _this_ business my way, for it seems
there's not a moment to spare, and nobody to help me. Dorothe-a!"
The dirtiest woman to be found, probably, at that hour in the whole of
London, appeared from a lower storey in answer to his summons. Pushing
her hair off a grimy forehead with a grimier hand, she listened to
his directions, staring vacantly, as is the manner of her kind, but
understanding them, nevertheless, and not incapable of remembering
their purport: they were short and intelligible enough.
"Tell that young scamp he is to sleep in the office tonight. He
mustn't leave it on any consideration while I'm away. I'm going into
the country, and I'll break his head when I come back."
Tom Ryfe then huddled the letter into his pocket for perusal at
leisure, hailed a hansom, and in less than a quarter of an hour was in
his uncle's breakfast-room, bolting ham, muffins, and green tea, while
his clothes were packed.
Mr. Bargrave, a bachelor, who liked his comforts, and took care to
have them, was reading the newspaper in a silk dressing-gown, and a
pair of gold spectacles. He had finished breakfast--such a copious
and leisurely repast as is consumed by one who dines at six, drinks a
bottle of port every day at dessert, and never smoked a cigar in his
life. No earthly consideration would hurry him for the next half-hour.
He looked over the top of his newspaper with the placid benignity of a
man who, considering digestion one of the most important functions of
nature, values and encourages it accordingly.
"Sudden," observed Mr. Bargrave, in answer to his nephew's
communication. "Something of a seizure, no doubt. Time is of
importance; the young lady's telegram should have come to hand last
night. Be so good as to make a note on the back. Three doctors, does
she say? Bless me! They'll never let him get over it. Most unfortunate
just now, on account of the child--of the young lady. You can take the
necessary instructions. I will follow, if required. It's twenty-three
minutes' drive to the station. Better be off at once, Tom."
So Tom took the hint, and was off. While he drives to the station we
may as well give an account of Tom's position in the firm of Bargrave
Old Bargrave's sister had chosen to marry a certain Mr. Ryfe, of whom
nobody knew more than that he could shoot pigeons, had been concerned
in one or two doubtful turf transactions, and played a good hand at
whist. _While_ he lived, though it was a mystery _how_ he lived, he
kept Mrs. Ryfe "very comfortable," to use Bargrave's expression. When
he died he left her nothing but the boy Tom, a precocious urchin,
inheriting some of his father's sporting propensities, with a certain
slang smartness of tone and manner, acquired in those circles where
horseflesh is affected as an inducement to speculation.
Mrs. Ryfe did not long survive her husband. She had married a scamp,
and was, therefore, very fond of him: so before he had been dead a
year, she was laid in the same grave. Then her brother took the boy
Tom, and put him into his own business, making him begin by sweeping
out the office, and so requiring him to rise grade by grade till he
became confidential clerk and head manager of all matters connected
with the firm.
At twenty-six years of age, Tom Ryfe possessed as much experience
as his principal, joined to a cunning and sharpness of intellect
peculiarly his own. To take care of number one was doubtless the
head clerk's ruling maxim; but while thus attending to his personal
welfare, he never failed to affect a keen interest in the affairs
of numbers two, three, four, and the rest. Tom Ryfe was a "friendly
fellow," people declared; "a deuced friendly fellow, and knew what he
was about, mind you, better than most people."
"Every great man," said the Emperor Nicholas, "has a hook in his
nose." In the firmest characters, no doubt, there is a weakness
by which they are to be led or driven; and Tom Ryfe, like other
notabilities, was not without this crevice in his armour, this breach
in his embattled wall. He had shrewdness, knowledge of the world,
common sense, and yet the one great object of his efforts was to be
admitted into a class of society far above his own, and to find there
an ideal lady with whom to pass the rest of his days.
"I'll marry a top-sawyer," he used to say, whenever his uncle broached
the question of his settlement in life. "Why, bless ye, it's the same
tackle and the same fly that takes the big fish and the little one.
It's no more trouble to make up to a duchess than a dairymaid. I'll
pick a real white-handed one, you see if I don't. A wife that can
_move_, uncle, cool, and calm, and lofty, like an air balloon; wearing
her dresses as if she was made for them, and her jewels as if she
didn't know she'd got them on; looking as much at home in the Queen's
drawing-room as she does in her own. That's my sort, and that's the
sort I'll choose! Why, there's scores of 'em to be seen any afternoon
in the Park. Never tell me I can't go in and take my pick. 'Nothing
venture, nothing have,' they say. I ain't going to venture much. I
don't see occasion for it, but I'll _have_ what I want, you see if I
won't, or I'll know the reason why."
Whereon Bargrave, who considered womankind in general as an
unnecessary evil, would reply--
"Time enough, Tom, time enough. I haven't had much experience with the
ladies myself, except as clients, you know. The less I see of 'em, I
think, the more I like 'em. Better put it off a little, Tom. It can be
done any day, my boy, when you've an hour to spare. I wouldn't be in
a hurry if I was you. There's a fresh sample ticketed every year; and
they're not like port wine, you must remember, they don't improve with
Tom Ryfe had plenty of time to revolve his speculations, matrimonial
and otherwise, during his journey to Ecclesfield Manor by one of those
mid-day trains so irritating to through-passengers, which stop at
intermediate stations, dropping brown-paper parcels, and taking up old
women with baskets. He reviewed many little affairs of the heart in
which he had lately been engaged, without, however, suffering his
affections to involve themselves too deeply for speedy withdrawal. He
reflected with great satisfaction on his own fastidious rejection of
several "suitable parties," as he expressed it, who did not quite
reach his standard of aristocratic perfection, remembering how Mrs.
Blades, the well-to-do widow, with fine eyes and a house in Duke
Street, had fairly landed him but for that unfortunate dinner at which
he detected her eating fish with a knife; how certain grated-looking
needle-marks on Miss Glance's left forefinger had checked him just in
time while in the act of kissing her hand; and how, on the very eve of
a proposal to beautiful Constance de Courcy, whose manner, bearing,
and appearance, no less than her name, denoted the extreme of
refinement and high birth, he had sustained a shock, galvanic but
salutary, from her artless exclamation, "O my! whatever shall I do? If
here isn't pa!"
"No," thought Tom, as he rolled on into the fair expanse of down
country that lay for miles round Ecclesfield, "I haven't found one yet
quite up to the pattern I require. When I do I shall go in and
win, that's all. I don't see why my chance shouldn't be as good as
another's. I'm not such a bad-looking chap when I'm dressed and my
hair's greased. I can do tricks with cards like winking. I can ride a
bit, shoot a bit--'specially pigeons--dance a bit, and make love to
'em no end. I've got the gift of the gab, I know, and I stick at
nothing. That's what the girls like, and that's what will pull me
through when I find the one I want. Another station, and not there
yet! What a slow train this is!"
It was a slow train, and Tom, arriving at Ecclesfield, saw on the face
of the servant who admitted him that he was too late. In addition to
the solemn and mysterious hush that pervades a house in which the dead
lie yet unburied, a feeling of horror, the result of some unlooked-for
and additional calamity, seemed to predominate; and Tom was hardly
surprised, however much he might be shocked, when the old
butler gasped, in broken sentences, "Seizure--last night--quite
unconscious--all over this morning. Will you take some refreshment,
sir, after your journey?"
Mr. Bruce had been dead a few hours--dead without time to set his
house in order, without consciousness even to wish his child good-bye.
She came down to see Mr. Bargrave's clerk that afternoon, pale, calm,
collected, beautiful, but stern and unbending under the sorrow against
which her haughty nature rebelled. In a few words, referring to a
memorandum the while, she gave him her directions for the funeral and
its ceremonies; desired him to ascertain at once the state of her late
father's affairs, the amount of a succession to which she believed
herself entitled; begged he would return with full information that
day fortnight; ordered luncheon for him in the dining-room; and so
dismissed him as a bereaved queen might dismiss the humblest of her
Tom Ryfe, returning to London by the next train, thought he had never
felt so small; and yet, was not this proud, sorrowing, and beautiful
young damsel the ideal he had been seeking hitherto in vain? It is
not too much to say that for twenty miles he positively _hated_ her,
striving fiercely against the influence, which yet he could not but
acknowledge. In another twenty, his good opinion of his best friend
Mr. Ryfe reasserted itself. He had seen something of the world, and
possessed, moreover, a certain shallow acquaintance with human nature,
not of the highest class, so he argued thus--
"Women like what they are unaccustomed to. The Grand Duchess of
Gerolstein makes love to a private soldier simply because she don't
know what a private soldier is. This girl must have lived amongst a
set of starched and stuck-up people who have not two ideas beyond
themselves and their order. She has never so much as seen a smart,
business-like, active fellow, ready to take all trouble off her hands,
and make up her mind for her before she can turn round--young, too,
and not so bad-looking, though I dare say she's used to good-looking
chaps enough. The man's game who went in for Miss Bruce would be
this: constant attention to her interests, supreme disregard for her
feelings, and never to let her have her own way for a moment. She'd be
so utterly taken aback she'd give in without a fight. Why shouldn't I
try my chance? It's a good spec. It must be a good spec. And yet,
hang it! such a high-handed girl as that would suit _me_ without a
shilling. It dashed me a little at first; but I like that scornful way
of hers, I own. What eyes, too! and what hair! I wonder if I'm a fool.
No; nothing's impossible; it's only difficult. What! London already?
Ah! there's no place like town."
The familiar gas-lamps, the roll of the cabs, the bustle in the
streets, dispelled whatever shadows of mistrust in his own merits
remained from Tom's reflections in the railway carriage; and long
before he reached his uncle's house, he had made up his mind to "go
in," as he called it, for Miss Bruce, morally confident of winning,
yet troubled with certain chilling misgivings, as fearing that _this_
time he had really fallen in love.
Many and long, during the ensuing week, were the consultations between
old Bargrave and his nephew as to the future prospects of the lady in
question. Her father had died without a will. That fact seemed pretty
evident, as he had often expressed his intention of preparing such an
instrument, but had hitherto moved no farther in the matter.
"Depend upon it, Tom," said his uncle, that very evening over their
port wine, "he wouldn't go to anybody else. He was never much of
a business man, and he couldn't have disentangled his affairs
sufficiently to make 'em clear, except to me. It's a sad pity for many
reasons, but I'm just as sure there's no will as I am that my glass is
empty. Help yourself, Tom, and pass the wine."
"Then she takes as next of kin," said Tom, thinking of Maud's dark
eyes, and filling his glass. "Here's her health!"
"By all means," assented Bargrave. "Her very good health, poor girl!
But as to the succession I have my doubts; grave doubts. There's a
trust, Tom. I looked over the deed while you were down there to-day.
It is so worded that a male heir might advance a prior claim. There
_is_ a male heir, a parson in Dorsetshire, not a likely man to give in
without a fight. We'll look at it again to-morrow. If it reads as I
think, I wouldn't give a pinch of snuff for the young lady's chance."
Tom's face fell. "Can't we fight it, uncle?" said he, stoutly,
applying himself once more to the port; but Bargrave had drawn his
silk handkerchief over his face, and was already fast asleep.
So uncle and nephew went into the trust-deed, morning after morning,
arriving in its perusal at a conclusion adverse to Miss Brace's
interest; but then, as the younger man observed, "the beauty of our
English law is, that you can always fight a thing even if you haven't
a leg to stand on."
It was almost time for Tom Ryfe's return journey to Ecclesfield, and
a coat ordered for the express purpose of captivating Miss Bruce had
actually come home, when the post brought him a little note from
that lady, which afforded him, as such notes often do, an absurd and
overweening joy. It was bordered with the deepest black, and ran as
('_Dear_ sir,' thought Tom, 'ah! that sounds much sweeter than plain
sir')--I venture to trouble you with a commission in the nature of
business. A packet, containing some diamond ornaments belonging to me,
will be left by the jeweller at Mr. Bargrave's office to-morrow. Will
you kindly bring it down with you to Ecclesfield?
Yours, very obediently,
Tom kissed the signature. He was very far gone already, and took care
to be at the office in time to receive the diamonds. That boy was
out of the way, of course! So Tom summoned the grimy Dorothea to his
"I shall be busy for an hour," said he; "don't admit anybody unless he
comes by appointment, except it's a man with a packet of jewelry. Take
it in yourself, and bring it here at once. I've got to carry it down
with me to-night by the train. Do you understand?"
"Is it a long journey as you're a-goin', sir?" asked Dorothea. "I
should like to clean up a bit while you was away."
"Only to Bragford," answered Tom; "but I might not be back for a day
or two. Mind about the parcel, though," he added, in the exuberance
of his spirits. "The thing's valuable. It's for a young lady. It's
jewels, Dorothea. It's diamonds."
"Lor!" said Dorothea, going back to her scrubbing forthwith.
The jeweller being dilatory, Tom had finished his letters before that
artificer arrived, thus saving Dorothea all responsibility in the
valuable packet confided to his charge, for Mr. Ryfe received it
himself in the outer office, whither he had resorted in a fidget to
compare a time-table with a railway-map of England. He fretted to set
off at once. He had finished his business; he had nothing to do now
but eat an early dinner at his uncle's, and so start by the afternoon
train on the path of love, triumph, and success, leaving the boy,
coerced by ghastly threats, to take charge of the office in his
We have all seen a bird moulting, draggled, dirty, woebegone, not to
be recognised for the same bird, sleek and glossy in its holiday-suit
of feathers, pruning its wing for a flight across the summer sky. Even
so different was the Dorothea of the unkempt hair, the soapy arms, the
dingy apron, and the grimy face, from a gaudy damsel who emerged in
the afternoon sun out of Mr. Bargrave's chambers, bright with all the
colours of the rainbow, and scrupulously dressed, according to the
extreme style of the last prevailing fashion but two.
She was a good-looking woman enough now that she had "cleaned
herself," as she expressed it, but for a certain roughness of hair,
coarseness of skin, and general redundancy of outline, despite of
which drawbacks, however, she attracted many admiring glances from
cab-drivers, omnibus-conductors, a precocious shoeblack, and the
policeman on duty, as she tripped into Holborn and mingled with the
living stream that flows unceasingly down that artery of London.
Dorothea seemed to know where she was going well enough, and yet the
coarse red cheek turned pale while she approached her goal, though it
was but a flashy, dirty-looking gin-shop, standing at a corner where
two streets met. Her colour rose though, higher than before, when a
pot-boy, with a shock of red hair, and his shirt-sleeves rolled up to
his shoulders, thus accosted her--
"You're just in time, miss; he'd 'a been off in a minit, but old
Batters, he come in just now, and your young man stopped to take his
share of another half-quartern."
There is no reason, because a woman is coarse, hard-working, low-born,
and badly dressed, she should be without that inconvenient feminine
appendage--a heart. Dorothea trembled and turned pale when the door of
the Holborn gin-shop swung open and the man she most wished to see in
all the world stood at her side.
He would have been a good-looking fellow enough in any rank of life,
but to Dorothea, and others of her class, his clear, well-cut features
and jetty ringlets rendered him an absolute Adonis, despite the air of
half-drunken bravado and assumed recklessness which marred a naturally
resolute expression of countenance. He wore a fur cap, a velveteen
jacket, and a bright-red neckcloth, secured by an enormous ring; nor
was this remarkable costume out of character with the perfume he
exhaled, denoting he had consumed at least his share of that other
half-quartern which postponed his departure.
Dorothea slipped her arm in his, and clung to him with the fond
tenacity of a woman who loves heart and soul, poor thing, to her cost.
His manner was an admirable combination of low-class gallantry with
"Why, Doll," said he, "what's up now? You don't look hearty, my lass.
Step in and take a dram; it'll do you good."
She glanced admiringly in the comely dissipated face.
"Ah! they may well call you Gentleman Jim," she answered; "you're fit
to be a lord of the land, you are; and so you would, if I was queen.
But I doesn't want you to treat me, Jim, leastways not this turn; I
wants you to come for a walk, dear. I've a bit of news for you. It's
business, Jim," she added, somewhat ruefully, "or I wouldn't go for to
His face, which had fallen a little, assuming that wearied expression
a woman ought most to dread on the face she cares for, brightened
"Come on, lass!" he exclaimed, "business first, and pleasure arter.
Speak up, and let's hear all about it."
They had turned from the main thoroughfare into a dark and quiet
by-street. She crossed her work-worn hands on his arm, and proceeded
"You say I never put you on a job, Jim. Well, I've a job to put you on
now. I don't half like it, dear. It's for your sake I don't half like
it. Promise me as you'll be careful, very careful, this turn."
"Bother!" answered Jim. "Stow that, lass, and let's have it out."
Thus elegantly adjured, Doll, as he called her, obeyed without delay,
though her voice faltered and her colour faded more than once while
she went on.
"You told me as you wouldn't love me without I kep' my ears open, and
my eyes too. Well, Jim, I've watched and watched old master and young,
like a cat watches a mouse-hole, till I've been that sick and tired I
could have set down and cried. Now, to-day I wanted to see you so bad,
at any rate, and, thinks I, here's a bit of news as my Jim will like
to learn. Look now: young master, he's a-goin' to a place they call
Bragford by the five-o'clock train. O, I mind the name well enough.
You know, Jim, you always bid me take notice of names. Well, it's
Bragford. Bragford, says he, quite plain, an' as loud as I'm
"Forty-five miles from London," answered Jim, "and not ten minutes'
walk from the branch line. Well?"
"He's a-takin' summut down for a young lady," continued Doll. "It is
but a small package, what you might put in your coat-pocket, or your
hat. O, Jim! Jim! if you should chance on a stroke of luck this turn,
won't you give the trade up for good and all? If you and me had but a
roof to cover us, I wouldn't ask better than only liberty to work for
you till I dropped."
Tears stood in her eyes, and for a moment the face that looked up
into the ruffian's was almost beautiful in its expression of entire
devotion and trust.
He had taken a doubtful cigar from his coat-pocket, and was smoking
"Small," said he, "then it ought, by rights, to be valuable. Did ye
get a feel of it, Doll, or was it only a smell?"
"He took it hisself out of the jeweller's hands," answered Doll;
"but I hadn't no call to be curious, for he told me what it was free
enough. There ain't no smell about diamonds, Jim."
"Nor you can't swear to them neither," replied Jim exultingly.
"Diamonds, Doll! you're _sure_ he said diamonds? Come, you _have_
done it, my lass. Give us a kiss, Doll, and let's turn in here at the
Sunflower, and drink good luck to the job."
The woman acceded to both proposals readily enough, but followed her
companion into the ill-favoured little tavern with a weary step and a
heavy heart. Some unerring instinct told her, no doubt, that she was
giving all and taking nothing, offering gold for silver, truth for
falsehood, love and devotion for a mere liking, rapidly waning to
indifference and contempt.
Tom Ryfe, all anxiety to find himself once more in the same county
with Miss Bruce, was in good time, we may be sure, for the train that
should carry him down to Ecclesfield. Bustling through the station to
take his ticket, he was closely followed by a well-dressed person in
a pair of blue spectacles, travelling apparently without luggage or
impediments of any description. This individual seemed also bound
for Bragford, and showed some little eagerness to travel in the
same carriage with Tom, who attributed the compliment to his
lately-constructed coat and general appearance as a swell of the first
water. "He don't often get such a chance," thought Mr. Ryfe, accepting
with extreme graciousness the other's civilities as to open windows
and change of seats. He even went so far as to take a proffered cigar
from the case of his fellow-traveller, which he would have smoked
forth-with, but for the peremptory objections of a crusty old
gentleman, who arrived at the last moment, encumbered with such a
paraphernalia of railway-rugs, travelling-bags, books, newspapers and
magazines as denoted the through-passenger, not to be got rid of at
any intermediate station. The old gentleman glared defiance, but made
himself comfortable nevertheless; and the presence of this common
enemy was a bond of union to render the two chance acquaintances more
than ordinarily cordial and communicative.
Smoking being prohibited, they had not proceeded many miles into the
country ere the gentleman in spectacles produced a box of lozenges
from his pocket, and, selecting one for his own consumption, offered
another, with much suavity, to Tom Ryfe, surveying meanwhile, with
inquisitive glances, the bulge in that gentleman's breast-pocket,
where he carried his valuable package; but here again both were
startled, not to say irritated, by the dictatorial interference of the
"Excuse me, gentlemen," said this irrepressible old man, "I cannot
permit it. Damn me, sir!" turning full round upon Tom Ryfe, "I _won't_
permit it! I can detect the smell of chloroform in those lozenges.
Smell, sir, I've the smell of a bloodhound. I could hunt a scamp all
over England by nose--by nose, I tell you, sir, and worry him to death
when I ran into him; and I _would_ too. Now, sir, if _you_ choose to
be chloroformed, I don't. I'm not anxious to be taken out of this
compartment as stupid as an owl, and as cold as a cabbage, with a
pain in my eyes, a singing in my ears, and a scoundrel's hands in my
waistcoat-pockets. Excuse me, sir, I'm warm--I wouldn't give much for
a chap that wasn't--and I speak my mind!"
It seemed a bad speculation to quarrel with him, this big, burly,
resolute, and disagreeable old man. Tom Ryfe, for once, was at a
nonplus. He murmured a few vague sentences of dissent, while the
passenger in spectacles, consigning his lozenges to an inner pocket,
buried himself in the broad sheet of the _Times_. But it was his turn
now, and not even thus could he escape. Staring grimly at him, over
the top of the paper, his tormentor fired a point-blank question, from
which there was no refuge.
"Pray, sir," said he, "are you a chemist?"
The gentleman in spectacles signified, by a shake of the head, that
was not his profession.
"Then, sir," continued the other, "do you know anything about
chemistry--volatile essences, noxious drugs, subtle poisons? I do."
(Here Tom Ryfe observed his ally turn pale.) "Permit me to remark,
sir, that if _you_ don't, you are like a school-boy carrying a
pocketful of squibs and crackers on the fifth of November, unconscious
that a single spark may blow him into the Christmas holidays before he
can say 'knife!' Let me see those lozenges, sir--let me have them in
my hand; I'll tell you in five seconds what they're made of, and how,
and where, and why."
Here the man in spectacles, with considerable presence of mind, threw
the whole of his lozenges out of window, under cover of the _Times_.
"You frighten me, sir," said he; "I wouldn't keep such dangerous
articles about me on any consideration."
The old gentleman executed an elaborate wink, denoting extreme
satisfaction, at Tom Ryfe. "If you were going through," said he, "I
could tell you some funny stories. Queer tricks upon travellers
I've seen in my time. Why I was the first person to find out the
sinking-floor dodge in West Street. My evidence transported three
people for life, and a fourth for fifteen years. I once saw a man
pulled down by the heels through a grating in one of the busiest
streets in the City, and if I _hadn't_ seen him he would never have
come up alive. Why the police apply to me for advice many a time when
people are missing. 'Don't distress yourselves,' says I, 'they'll turn
up, never fear.' And they _do_ turn up, sir, in nineteen cases out of
twenty. In the twentieth, when there's foul play, we generally know
something about it within eight-and-forty hours. Bragford? Is it? You
get out here, do you? Good-morning, gentlemen; I hope you've enjoyed
Then as Tom, collecting great-coats, newspapers, etc., followed his
new acquaintance out of the carriage, this strange old gentleman
detained him for an instant by the arm.
"Friend of yours, sir?" said he, pointing to the man in spectacles on
the platform. "Never saw him before? I thought so. Sharper, sir, I'll
take my oath of it, or something worse. I know the sort; I've exposed
hundreds of them. Take my advice, sir, and never see him again."
With that the train glided on, leaving Mr. Ryfe and the gentleman
in spectacles staring at each other over a basket of fish and a
"Mad!" observed the latter, with an uneasy attempt at a laugh, and a
readjustment of his glasses.
"Mad, no doubt," answered Tom, but followed the lunatic's counsel,
nevertheless, so far as to refrain from offering the other a lift
in the well-appointed brougham, with its burly coachman, waiting to
convey him to Ecclesfield Manor, though his late fellow-traveller was
proceeding in that direction on foot.
Tom had determined to sleep at the Railway Hotel, Bragford, ere he
returned to London next day. This arrangement he considered more
respectful than an intrusion on the hospitality of Ecclesfield, should
it be offered him. Perhaps so scrupulous a regard for the proprieties
mollified Miss Bruce in his favour, and called forth an invitation
to tea in the drawing-room when he had concluded the solitary dinner
prepared for him after his journey.
Tom Ryfe was always a careful dresser. Up to forty most men are. It
is only when we have nobody to please that we become negligent of
pleasing. I believe, though, that never in his life did he tie his
neckcloth or brush his whiskers with more care than on the present
occasion in a large and dreary chamber known to the household as one
of the "best bedrooms" of Ecclesfield Manor.
Tom looked about him, with a proud consciousness that at last his foot
was on the ladder he had wanted all his life to climb. Here he stood,
actually dressing for dinner, a welcome guest in the house of an
old-established county family, on terms of confidence, if not
intimacy, with its proud and beautiful female representative, in whose
cause he was about to do battle with all the force of his intellect,
and (Tom began to think she could make him fool enough for anything)
all the resources of his purse. The old family pictures--sad daubs, or
they would never have been consigned to the bedrooms--simpered down on
him with encouraging benignity. Prim women, wearing enormously long
waists, and their heads a good deal on one side, pointed their fans
at him, while he washed his hands, with a coquetry irresistible, had
their colours only stood, combining entreaty and command; while
a jolly old boy in flowing wig, steel breast-plate, and the most
convivial of noses, smiled in his face, as who should say, "_Audaces
Fortuna juvat_!--Go in, my hearty, and win if you can!"
What was there in these surroundings, in the orderly decorum of the
well-regulated mansion, in the chiming of the stable clock, nay, in
the reflection of his own person shown by that full-length glass, to
take the starch, as it were, out of Tom's self-confidence, turning his
moral courage limp and helpless for the nonce, bringing insensibly to
his mind the familiar refrain of "Not for Joseph"? What was there that
bade him man himself against this discouragement, as true bravery mans
itself against the sensation of fear? and why should he be less worthy
of approbation than other spirits who venture on "enterprises of great
pith and moment" with beating hearts indeed, but with unflinching
courage and a dogged determination to succeed?
Had Tom been a young knight arming for a tournament, in which the good
fortune of his lance was to win him a king's daughter for his bride,
he might have claimed to be an admirable and interesting hero. Was
he, indeed, a less respectable adventurer, that for steel he had to
substitute French polish, for surcoat and corselet, broadcloth and
cambric--that the battle he was to wage must be fought out by tenacity
of purpose and ingenuity of brain, rather than strength of arm and
downright hardness of skull?
He shook a little too much scent on his handkerchief as he finished
dressing, and walked down-stairs in a state of greater agitation than
he would have liked to admit.
Dinner was soon done. Eaten in solitude with grave servants watching
every mouthful, he was glad to get it over. In a glass of brown sherry
he drank Miss Brace's health, and thus primed, followed the butler to
the drawing-room, where that lady sat working by the light of a single
The obscurity was in his favour. Tom made his bow and accepted the
chair offered him, less awkwardly than was to be expected from the
Maud looked very beautiful with the light falling on her sculptured
chin, her fair neck, and white hands, set off by the deep shadows of
the mourning dress she wore.
I believe he was going to begin by saying "it had been a fine day,"
but she stopped him in her clear, cold voice, with its patrician
accent, so difficult to define, yet so impossible to mistake.
"I have to thank you, Mr. Ryfe, for taking such care of my jewels. I
hope the man left them at your office as he promised, and that you had
no farther trouble about them."
He wanted to say that "no errand of hers could be a trouble to him,"
but the words stuck in his throat, or she would hardly have proceeded
"We must go into a few matters of business this evening, if you have
got the papers you mentioned. I leave here to-morrow, and there is
little time to spare."
He produced a neatly-folded packet, docketed and carefully tied with
tape. The sight of it roused his energies, as the shaking of a guidon
rouses an old trooper. Despite of the enchantress and all her glamour,
Tom was himself again.
"Business is my trade, Miss Bruce," said he briskly. "I must ask
your earnest attention for a quarter of an hour, while I explain our
position as regards the estate. At present it appears beset with
difficulties. That's my look-out. Before we begin," added Tom, with a
diffident faltering of voice, partly natural, partly assumed, "forgive
my asking your future address. It is indispensable that we should
frequently communicate, and--and--I cannot help hoping and expressing
my hope for your happiness in the home you have chosen."
Maud's smile was very taking. She smiled with her eyes, those dark,
pleasing eyes that would have made a fool of a wiser man than Tom.
"I am going to Aunt Agatha's," she said. "I am to live with her for
good. I have no home of my own now."
The words were simple enough--spoken, too, without sadness or
bitterness as a mere abstract matter of fact, but they aroused all the
pen-and-ink chivalry in Tom's nature, and he vowed in his heart to lay
goose-quill in rest on her behalf, with the devotion of a Montmorency
or a Bayard.
"Miss Bruce," said he resolutely, "the battle is not yet lost. In our
last, of the 15th, we advised you that the other side had already
taken steps to oppose our claims. My uncle has great experience, and I
will not conceal from you that my uncle is less sanguine than myself;
but I begin to see my way, and if there is a possibility of winning,
by hook or by crook, depend upon it, Miss Bruce, win we _will_, for
our own sakes, and--and--for _yours_!"
The last two words were spoken in a whisper, being indeed a
spontaneous ebullition, but she heard them nevertheless. In her deep
sorrow, in her friendless, homeless position there was something
soothing and consolatory in the sympathy of this young man, lawyer's
clerk though he were, as she insisted with unnecessary repetition
to herself. He showed at his best, too, while explaining the legal
complications involved in the whole business, and the steps by which
he hoped eventually to succeed. Maud was too thoroughly a woman not to
admire power, and Tom's intellect possessed obviously no small share
of that quality, when directed on such matters as the present. In
half-an-hour he had furnished her with a lucid statement of the whole
case, and in half-an-hour he had inspired her with respect for
his opinion, admiration of his sagacity, and confidence in his
strength--not a bad thirty minutes' work. At its conclusion, she shook
hands with him cordially when she wished him good-night. Tom was
no fool, and knew when to venture as when to hold back. He bowed
reverentially over the white hand, muttering only--"God bless you,
Miss Bruce! If you think of anything else, at a moment's notice I will
come from the end of the world to serve you,"--and so hurried away
before she could reply.
THE CRACKSMAN'S CHECKMATE
Puckers, or Miss Puckers, as she liked to be called below-stairs,
was a little puzzled by her young mistress's abstraction, while she
brushed out Maud's wealth of raven hair for the night. Stealing
glances at herself in the glass opposite, she could not help observing
the expression on Miss Bruce's face. The light was in it once more
that had been so quenched by her father's death. Puckers, who, in the
housekeeper's room, had discussed the affairs of the family almost
hourly ever since that sorrowful event, considered that it must have
left his daughter in the possession of untold wealth, and that "the
young man from town," as she designated Tom Ryfe, was sent down
expressly to afford the heiress an estimate of her possessions. A true
lady's-maid, she determined to hazard the inquiry.
"I suppose, miss," said she, brushing viciously, "we sha'n't be going
to your aunt's now quite so soon. I'm sure I've been that hurried and
put about, I don't scarce know which way to turn."
"Why?" asked Maud quietly. "Not so hard, please."
"Well, miss, a lady is not like a servant, you know; she can do as she
chooses, of course. But if I was _you_, miss, I'd remain on the spot.
There's the new furniture to get; there's the linen to see to; there's
the bailiff given warning; and that there young man from town, I
suppose _he_ wouldn't come if we could do without him, charging
goodness knows what, as if his very words was gold. But I give you
joy, miss, of your fortune, I do. I was a-sayin', only last night, was
it? to Mrs. Plummer, says I, 'Whatever _my_ young lady will do,' says
I, 'in a house where she isn't mistress, she that's been used to rule
in her poor ma's time, and her pa's, ah! ever since she cut her teeth
almost;' and Mrs. Plummer says, says she----"
"That'll do, Puckers," observed Miss Bruce, "I shall not want you any
She took as little notice of her handmaid's volubility as if the
latter had been a grey parrot, and dismissed her with a certain cold,
imperial manner that none of the household ever dreamt it possible
to dispute or disobey; but after Puckers, with a quantity of white
draperies over her arm, had departed to return no more, she sat down
at the dressing-table, and began to think with all her might.
Her maid was a fool, no doubt: all maids were; but the shaft of folly,
shot at random, went home to the quick. "A house where she wasn't
mistress!" Had she ever considered the future shelter offered her by
Aunt Agatha in that light? Here at the Manor, for as long as she could
remember, had she not reigned supreme? All the little arrangements of
dinner-parties, picnics, archery-meetings, and such gatherings as
make up country society, had fallen into her hands. Mamma didn't
care--mamma never cared how anything was settled so long as papa was
pleased; and papa thought Maud could not possibly do wrong. So by
degrees--and this at an age when young ladies are ordinarily in the
schoolroom--Miss Bruce had grown, on all social questions, to be the
virtual head of the family. It was a position of which, till the time
came to abdicate, she had not sufficiently appreciated the value. It
seemed so natural to order carriages and horses at her own hours, to
return visits, to receive guests, to do the honours of a comfortable
country-house with an adequate establishment, and now, could she bear
to live with Aunt Agatha, on sufferance?--Aunt Agatha, whom she had
never liked, and whom she only refrained from snubbing and setting
down, because they so seldom met, but when the elder lady had been
invited by the younger as a guest! "To be dependent," thought Maud,
mentally addressing the beautiful face in the glass, "How should you
like that? _you_ with your haughty head, and your scornful eyes, and
your hard, unbending heart? I know you! Nobody knows you but me! And I
know how _bad_ you are--how capricious, and how cruel! When you want
anything, do you ever spare anybody to get it? Did you ever love any
one on earth as well as your own way? Even mamma? O, mamma, dear, dear
mamma, if you had lived I might have got better--I _was_ better, I
know I was better while I was with _you_. But now--now I must be
myself. I can't help it. After all, it is not my fault. What is it
I most covet and desire in the world? It is power. Rank, wealth,
luxury--these are all very well as accessories of life; but how should
I loathe and hate them if they were conditional on my thinking as
other people thought, or doing what I was told! I ought to have been
a man. Women are such weak, vapid, idiotic characters, in general--at
least, all I meet down here. Engrossed with their children, their
parishes, their miserable household cares and perplexities. While in
London, I believe there are women who actually lead a party and turn
out a minister. But they are beautiful, of course. Well--and me? I
don't think I am so much amiss. With my looks and the position I ought
to have, surely I might hold my own with the best of them. But what
good will my looks do me if I am to be a dependent on Aunt Agatha? No.
Without the estate I am nothing. With it I might be _anything_. This
lawyer thinks he can win it for me. I wonder if he knows. How clever
he seems! and how thoughtful! Nothing escapes him, and nothing seems
to take him by surprise. And yet what a fool I could make of him if I
chose. I saw it before he had been five minutes in the room. I wonder
now what he thinks of _me_!--whether he has the presumption to suppose
I could ever allow him to betray what he cared for me. I believe I
should rather admire his impudence! It is pleasant to be cared for,
even by an inferior; and, after all, this Mr. Ryfe is not without his
good points. He has plenty of talent and energy, and I should think
audacity. By his own account he sticks at nothing, when he means
winning, and he certainly means to win for me if he can. I never saw
anybody so eager, so much in earnest. Perhaps he thinks that if he
could come to me and say, 'There, Miss Bruce, I have saved your
birthright for you, and I ask nothing but one kind word in return,' I
might be disposed to give it, and something more. Well, I don't know.
Perhaps it would be as good a way as any other of getting into favour.
One thing is certain. The inheritance I must preserve at every
sacrifice. Dear me, how late it is! I ought to have been in bed hours
ago. Puckers, is that you?"
Puckers did not answer, and a faint rustle in the adjoining room,
which had called forth Miss Bruce's question, ceased the instant she
This young lady was not nervous; far from it; yet her watch seemed
to tick with extraordinary vigour, and her heart to beat harder than
common while she listened.
The door of communication between the two rooms was closed. Another
door in the smaller apartment opened to the passage, but this, she
remembered, was habitually locked on the inside. It couldn't be
Puckers, therefore, who thus disturbed her mistress's reflections,
unless that handmaiden had come down the chimney, or in at the window.
In this smaller room Miss Bruce kept her riding-habits, her
ball-dresses, her draperies of different fabric, her transparencies of
all kinds, and her jewels.
The house was very silent--so silent, that in the distant corridors
were distinctly audible those faint and ghostly footfalls, which
traverse all large houses after midnight. There were candles burning
on Maud's toilet-table, but they served rather to show how dismal were
the shadowy corners of the large, lofty bedroom, than to afford light
and confidence to its inmate.
She listened intently. Yes; she was sure she heard somebody in the
next room--a step that moved stealthily about; a noise as of woodwork
skilfully and cautiously forced open.
One moment she felt frightened. Then her courage came back the higher
for its interruption. She could have escaped from her own room into
the passage, easily enough, and so alarmed the house; but when she
reflected that its fighting garrison consisted only of an infirm old
butler--for the footman was absent on leave--there seemed little to
be gained by such a proceeding, if violence or robbery were really
intended. Besides, she rather scorned the idea of summoning assistance
till she had ascertained the amount of danger.
So she blew her candle out, crept to the door of the little room, and
laid her hand noiselessly on its lock.
Softly as she turned it, gently as she pushed the door back on its
hinges inch by inch, she did not succeed in entering unobserved. The
light of a shaded lantern flashed over her the instant she crossed the
threshold, dazzling her eyes indeed, yet not so completely but
that she made out the figure of a man standing over her shattered
jewel-box, of which he seemed to have been rifling the contents. Quick
as thought, she said to herself, "Come, there is only one! If I can
frighten _him_ more than he frightens _me_, the game is mine."
The man swore certain ghastly oaths in a whisper, and Maud was aware
of the muzzle of a pistol covering her above the dark lantern.
She wondered why she wasn't frightened, not the least frightened--only
rather angry and intensely determined to save the jewels, and have it
She could distinguish a dark figure behind the spot of intense light
radiating round her own person, and perceived, besides, almost without
looking, that an entrance had been made by the window, which stood
wide open to disclose the topmost rounds of a garden-ladder, borrowed
doubtless from the tool-house, propped against its sill.
What the housebreaker saw was a vision of dazzling beauty in a flood
of light. A pale, queenly woman, with haughty, delicate face, and
loops of jet-black hair, falling over robes of white, erect and
dauntless, fronting his levelled weapon without the slightest sign of
He had never set eyes on such a sight as this; no, neither in circus
nor music-hall, nor gallery of metropolitan theatre at Christmas. For
a moment he lost his head--for a moment he hesitated.
In that moment Miss Bruce showed herself equal to the occasion.
Quick as thought, she made one step to the window, pushed the ladder
outwards with all her force, and shut down the sash. As it closed, the
ladder, poising for an instant, fell with a crash on the gravel below.
"Now," she said quietly, "you are trapped and taken. Better make no
resistance, for the gamekeepers watching below are a rough sort of
people, and I do not wish to see you ill-treated."
The man was aghast! What could it all mean? Was he awake or dreaming?
She must be well backed, he said to himself, to assume such a position
as this; and she looked so beautiful--so beautiful!
The latter consideration was not without its effect on him, even in
the exercise of his profession. "Gentleman Jim," as his mates affirmed
in their nervous English, became a fool of the deepest crimson dye
whenever a woman was concerned, and this woman was in his eyes as an
angel of light.
Nevertheless, instinctively rather than of intention, he muttered
"Drop it, miss, I warn you. One word out loud and I'll shoot, as sure
as you stand there."
"Shoot away!" she answered with perfect composure; "you will save me
the trouble of giving an alarm. They expect it, and are waiting for it
every moment below-stairs. Light those candles, and let us see what
damage you have done before you return the plunder."
A pair of wax-candles stood on the chimney-piece, and he obeyed
mechanically, wondering at himself the while. His cunning, however,
had not entirely deserted him, and he left his pistol lying on the
table, ready to snatch it away if she tried to take possession. It was
thus he gauged her confidence, and seeing she scarcely noticed the
weapon, argued that powerful assistance must be near at hand to
render this beautiful young lady so arbitrary and so unconcerned.
His admiration burst out in spite of his discomfiture and critical
"Well, you _are_ a cool one!" he exclaimed, in accents of mingled
vexation and approval. "A cool one and a stunner, I'm blessed if you
ain't! No offence, but I never see your likes yet, not since I was
born. Come, miss, let's cry quits. You pass me out o' this on the
quiet. I dessay as I can make shift to get down without the ladder;
an' I'll leave all these here gimcracks just as I found 'em. Now I've
seen ye once, I'm blessed if I'd take so much as an ear-drop,
unless it was in the way of a keepsake. Pass me out, miss, and I'll
promise--no, I'm blowed if I think as I _can_ promise--never to come
here no more."
Undisguised admiration--the admiration always acceptable to a woman
when accompanied with respect--shone in Gentleman Jim's dark eyes. He
seemed under a spell, and while he acknowledged its strength, had no
power, nay, had no wish, to resist its influence. When on such jobs as
these it was his habit to observe an unusual sobriety. He was glad now
to think of his adherence to that rule. Had he been drunk, he might,
peradventure, have insulted this divinity. What had come over him? He
felt almost pleased to know he was in her power, and yet she treated
him like the dirt beneath her feet.
"No insolence, sir," she said in a commanding voice. "Let me see,
first of all, that every one of my trinkets is in its place. There,
that bracelet would have brought you money, those diamonds would have
been valuable if you could have got them clear off. You must have
learned your trade very badly to suppose that with such things in the
house we keep no guard. Come, I am willing to believe that distress
brought you to this. Listen. You are in my power, and I will show you
mercy. If I give you five pounds now, on the spot, and let you go,
will you promise to try and get your bread as an honest man?"
The tears came in his eyes. This woman, then, that looked so like an
angel, was angel all through. Yet, touched as he felt in his better
nature, the proletary instinct bade him try once more if her effort to
get rid of him originated in pity or fear, and he muttered, "Guineas!
make it guineas, miss, and I'll say 'done.'"
"Not a shilling more, not a farthing," she answered, moving her hand
as if to put it on the bell-pull. "It cannot matter to me," she added,
in a tone of the most complete indifference, "but while I am about
it I think I would rather be the making of an honest man than the
destruction of a rogue."
Her acting was perfect. She seemed so cold, so impassive, so
completely mistress of the position, and all the time her heart was
beating as the gambler's beats, albeit in winning vein, ere he lifts
the box from off the imprisoned dice--as the lion-tamer's beats when
he spurns in its very den the monster that could crush him with a
movement, and that yet he holds in check by an imaginary force,
irresistible only so long as it is unresisted.
Such situations have a horrible fascination of their own. I have even
known them prolonged to gratify a morbid thirst for excitement; but
I think Miss Bruce was chiefly anxious to be released from her
precarious position, and to get rid of her visitor as soon as she
could. Even her resolute nerves were beginning to give way, and she
knew her own powers well enough to mistrust a protracted trial of
endurance. Feminine fortitude is so apt to break down all at once, and
Miss Bruce, though a courageous specimen of her sex, was but a woman
who had wrought herself up for a gallant effort, after all.
She was quite unprepared though for its results. Gentleman Jim
snatched up his pistol, stowed it away in his breast-pocket, as if
heartily ashamed of it, brought out from that receptacle a pearl
necklace and a pair of coral ear-rings, dashed them down on the table
with an imprecation, and looking ridiculously sheepish, thus delivered
"Five pounds, miss! Five devils! If ever I went for to ask five
shillings of you, or five fardens, may the hands rot off at my wrists
and the teeth drop out of my head. Strike me blind, now, this moment,
in this here room, if I'd take so much as a pin's head that you
valued, not if my life depended on it and there wasn't no other way of
getting a morsel of bread! Look ye here, miss. No offence; I'm but
a rough-and-ready chap, and you're a lady. I never come a-nigh one
afore. Now I know what they mean when they talk of a real lady, and I
see what it is puts such a spirit into them swells as lives with the
likes of you. But a rough chap needn't be a blind chap. I come in here
for to clean out your jewel-box. I tell ye fair, I don't think as I
meant to have ill-treated you, and now I know as I _couldn't_ have
done it, but I wanted them gimcracks just the same. If so be as you'd
like to see me shopped and lagged, you take and ring that there bell,
and look if I go for to move a foot from this blessed spot. There! If
so be as you bid me walk out free from that there winder, take and
count these here now at once, and see there's not one missing and not
one broke. Say the word, miss--which is it to be?"
The reaction was coming on fast. Maud dared not trust her voice, but
she pointed to the window with a gesture in which she preserved an
admirable imitation of confidence and command. Gentleman Jim threw
up the sash, but paused ere he ventured his plunge into the darkness
"Look ye 'ere, miss," he muttered in a hoarse whisper, with one leg
over the ledge, "if ever you wants a chap to do you a turn, don't ye
forget there's one inside this waistcoat as will take a leap in a
halter any day to please ye. You drop a line to 'Gentleman Jim,' at
the Sunflower, High Holborn. O! I can read, bless ye, and write and
cipher too. What I says I sticks to. No offence, miss. I wonder will I
ever see you again?"
He darted back for an instant, much to Maud's dismay, snatched a knot
of ribbon which had fallen from her dress on the carpet, and was gone.
She heard his leap on the gravel below, and his cautious footsteps
receding towards the park. Then she passed her hands over her face,
and looked about her as one who wakes from a dream.
"It was an escape, I suppose," she said, "and I ought to have been
horribly frightened; yet I never seemed to lose the upper hand with
him for a moment. How odd that even a man like that should be such a
fool. No wiser and no cooler than Mr. Ryfe. What is it, I wonder; what
is it, and how long will it last?"
[Illustration: He muttered in a hoarse whisper, with one leg over the
A REVERSIONARY INTEREST
Although Dorothea could assume on occasions so bright an exterior as I
have in a previous chapter endeavoured to describe, her normal state
was undoubtedly that which is best conveyed by the epithet "grimy."
Old Mr. Bargrave, walking serenely into his office at eleven, and
meeting this handmaiden on the stairs, used to wonder how so much
dirt could accumulate on the human countenance, when irrigated, as
Dorothea's red eyelids too surely testified, by daily tears. Yes, she
had gone about her work of late with a heavy heart and a moody brow.
Hers was at best a dull dreary life, but in it there grew a noxious
weed which she was pleased to cherish for a flower. Well, it was
withering every day before her eyes, and all the tears she could shed
were not enough to keep it alive. Ah! when the ship is going down
under our very feet I don't think it much matters what may be our rank
and rating on board. The cook's mate in the galley is no less dismayed
than the admiral in command. Dorothea's light, so to speak, was only
a tallow-candle, yet to put it out was to leave the poor woman very
desolate in the dark. So Mr. Bargrave ventured one morning to ask if
she felt quite well; but the snappish manner in which his inquiries
were met, as though they masked a load of hidden sarcasm and insult,
caused the old gentleman to scuffle into his office with unusual
activity, much disturbed and humiliated, while resolved never so to
commit himself again.
Into that office we must take the liberty of following him, tenanted
as it is only by himself and Tom Ryfe.
The latter, extremely well dressed, wears a posy of spring flowers at
his buttonhole, and betrays in his whole bearing that he is under some
extraneous influence of an unbusinesslike nature. Bargrave subsides
into his leather chair with a grunt, shuffles his papers, dips a pen
in the inkstand, and looks over his spectacles at his nephew.
"Waste of time, waste of capital, Tom," says he, with some irritation.
"Mind, I washed _my_ hands of it from the first. You've been at work
now for some months; that's _your_ look-out and it's been kept apart
and separate from the general business--that's _mine_."
"I've got Tangle's opinion here," answered Tom; "I won't ask you to
look at it, uncle. He's dead against us. Just what you said six months
back. There's no getting over that trust-deed, nor through it,
nor round it, nor any way to the other side of it. I've done _my_
d----dest, and we're not a bit better off than when we began."
He spoke in a cheerful, almost an exulting tone, quite unlike a man
worsted in a hard and protracted struggle.
"I'm sorry for the young lady," observed Bargrave; "but I never
expected anything else. It's a fine estate, and it must go to the male
heir. She has but a small settlement, Tom, very inadequate to her
position, as I told poor Mr. Bruce many a time. He used to say
everything would be set right by his will, and now one of these girls
is left penniless, and the other with a pittance, a mere pittance,
brought up, as I make no doubt she was, to believe herself an
"One of them!" exclaimed Tom. "What do you mean?"
"Why, that poor thing who was born a few weeks too soon," answered
Bargrave. "She's totally unprovided for. With regard to Miss Bruce,
there is a settlement. Two hundred a year, Tom, for life; nothing
more. I told you so when you undertook the job. And now who's to pay
"Not you, uncle," answered Tom flippantly, "so don't distress yourself
on that score."
"I don't, indeed," observed Bargrave, with emphasis.
"You've had your own time to work this, on the understanding, as you
know, that it was to be worked at your own risk. I haven't interfered;
it was no affair of mine. But your costs will be heavy, Tom, I can't
help seeing that. Tangle's opinion don't come so cheap, you see,
though it's word for word the same as mine. I would have let _you_
have it for nothing, and anybody else for six and eightpence."
"The costs _will_ be heavy," answered Tom, still radiant. "I should
say a thou. wouldn't cover the amount. Of course, if we can't get them
from the estate, they must come out of my pocket."
Bargrave's eyebrows were raised. How the new school went ahead, he
thought. Here was this nephew of his talking of a thousand pounds with
an indifference verging on contempt. Well, that was Tom's look-out;
nevertheless, on such a road it would be wise to establish a
halting-place, and his tone betrayed more interest than common while
"You won't take it into Chancery, Tom, will you?"
The younger man laid his forefinger to the side of his nose, winked
thrice with considerable energy, lifted his hat from its peg, adjusted
his collars in the glass, nodded to his uncle, muttering briefly,
"Back in two hours," and vanished.
Old Bargrave looked after him with a grim, approving smile. "Boy or
man," said he aloud, "that chap always knew what he was about. Tom can
be safely trusted to take care of Number One."
He was wrong, though, on the present occasion. If Mr. Ryfe did indeed
know what he was about, there could be no excuse for the enterprise on
which he had embarked. He was selfish. He would not have denied his
selfishness, and indeed rather prided himself on that quality; yet
behold him now waging a contest in which a man wastes money, time,
comfort, and self-respect, that he may wrest from real sorrow and
discomfiture the shadow of a happiness which he cannot grasp when he
has reached it. There is much wisdom in the opinion expressed by a
certain fox concerning grapes hanging out of distance; but it is a
wisdom seldom acquired till the limbs are too stiff to stretch for an
effort--till there is scarce a tooth left in the mumbling jaws to be
set on edge.
Tom Ryfe had allowed his existence to merge itself in another's.
For months, as devotedly as such natures can worship, he had been
worshipping his ideal in the person of Miss Bruce. I do not say that
he was capable of that highest form of adoration which seeks in the
first place the unlimited sovereignty of its idol, and which, as being
too good for them, women constantly undervalue; but I do say that he
esteemed his fair client the most beautiful, the most attractive, and
the most perfect of her sex, resolving that for him she was the only
woman in the world, and that in defiance of everything, even her own
inclinations, he would win her if he could.
In Holborn there is always a hansom to be got at short notice.
"Grosvenor Crescent," says Tom, shutting the half-doors with a bang,
and shouting his orders through the little hole in the top. So to
Grosvenor Crescent he is forwarded accordingly, at the utmost speed
attainable by a pair of high wheels, a well-bred "screw," and a
rough-looking driver with a flower in his mouth.
There are several peculiarities, all unreasonable, many ridiculous,
attending the demeanour of a man in love. Not the least eccentric
of these are his predatory instincts, his tendency to prowl, his
preference for walking over other modes of conveyance, and inclination
to subterfuge of every kind as to his ultimate destination. Tom Ryfe
was going to Belgrave Square; why should he direct his driver to set
him down a quarter of a mile off? why overpay the man by a shilling?
why wear down the soles of an exceedingly thin and elaborate pair of
boots on the hot, hard pavement without compunction? Why? Because he
was in love. This was also the reason, no doubt, that he turned red
and white when he approached the Square railings; that his nose seemed
to swell, his mouth got dry, his hat felt too tight, and the rest
of his attire too loose for the occasion; also that he affected an
unusual interest in the numbers of the doors, as though meditating a
ceremonious morning call, while all the time his heart was under
the laburnums in the centre of the Square gardens, at the feet of a
haughty, handsome girl, dressed in half-mourning, with the prettiest
black-laced parasol to be found on this side of the Rue Castiglione,
for love--of which, indeed, as the gift of Mr. Ryfe, it was a type--or
money, which, not having been yet paid for, it could hardly be said to
That heart of his gave a bound when he saw it in her hand as she
sailed up the broad gravel-walk to let him in. He was almost happy,
poor fellow, for almost a minute, not distressing himself to observe
that the colour never deepened a shade on her proud, pale cheek; that
the shapely hand, which fitted its pass-key to the lock, was firm as