Part 3 out of 4
She turned away with a frown on her pretty face. Old Sharon
followed her. Even his coarse sensibilities appeared to feel the
irresistible ascendancy of beauty and youth.
"I say!" he began, "we must part friends, you know--or I shall
break my heart over it. They have got milk at the farmhouse. Do
you think they have got pen, ink, and paper too?"
Isabel answered, without turning to look at him, "Of course they
"And a bit of sealing-wax?"
Old Sharon laid his dirty claws on her shoulder and forced her to
face him as the best means of shaking them off.
"Come along!" he said. "I am going to pacify you with some
information in writing."
"Why should you write it?" Isabel asked suspiciously.
"Because I mean to make my own conditions, my dear, before I let
you into the secret."
In ten minutes more they were all three in the farmhouse parlor.
Nobody but the farmer's wife was at home. The good woman trembled
from head to foot at the sight of Old Sharon. In all her harmless
life she had never yet seen humanity under the aspect in which it
was now presented to her. "Mercy preserve us, Miss!" she
whispered to Isabel, "how come you to be in such company as
_that?_" Instructed by Isabel, she produced the necessary
materials for writing and sealing--and, that done, she shrank
away to the door. "Please to excuse me, miss," she said with a
last horrified look at her venerable visitor; "I really can't
stand the sight of such a blot of dirt as that in my nice clean
parlor." With those words she disappeared, and was seen no more.
Perfectly indifferent to his reception, Old Sharon wrote,
inclosed what he had written in an envelope; and sealed it (in
the absence of anything better fitted for his purpose) with the
mouthpiece of his pipe.
"Now, miss," he said, "you give me your word of honor"--he
stopped and looked round at Moody with a grin--"and you give me
yours, that you won't either of you break the seal on this
envelope till the expiration of one week from the present day.
There are the conditions, Miss Isabel, on which I'll give you
your information. If you stop to dispute with me, the candle's
alight, and I'll burn it!"
It was useless to contend with him. Isabel and Moody gave him the
promise that he required. He handed the sealed envelope to Isabel
with a low bow. "When the week's out," he said, "you will own I'm
a cleverer fellow than you think me now. Wish you good evening,
Miss. Come along, Puggy! Farewell to the horrid clean country,
and back again to the nice London stink!"
He nodded to Moody--he leered at Isabel--he chuckled to
himself--he left the farmhouse.
ISABEL looked down at the letter in her hand--considered it in
silence--and turned to Moody. "I feel tempted to open it
already," she said.
"After giving your promise?" Moody gently remonstrated.
Isabel met that objection with a woman's logic.
"Does a promise matter?" she asked, "when one gives it to a
dirty, disreputable, presuming old wretch like Mr. Sharon? It's a
wonder to me that you trust such a creature. _I_ wouldn't!"
"I doubted him just as you do," Moody answered, "when I first saw
him in company with Mr. Troy. But there was something in the
advice he gave us at that first consultation which altered my
opinion of him for the better. I dislike his appearance and his
manners as much as you do--I may even say I felt ashamed of
bringing such a person to see you. And yet I can't think that I
have acted unwisely in employing Mr. Sharon."
Isabel listened absently. She had something more to say, and she
was considering how she should say it. "May I ask you a bold
question?" she began.
"Any question you like."
"Have you--" she hesitated and looked embarrassed. "Have you paid
Mr. Sharon much money?" she resumed, suddenly rallying her
courage. Instead of answering, Moody suggested that it was time
to think of returning to Miss Pink's villa. "Your aunt may be
getting anxious about you." he said.
Isabel led the way out of the farmhouse in silence. She reverted
to Mr. Sharon and the money, however, as they returned by the
path across the fields.
"I am sure you will not be offended with me," she said gently,
"if I own that I am uneasy about the expense. I am allowing you
to use your purse as if it was mine--and I have hardly any
savings of my own."
Moody entreated her not to speak of it. "How can I put my money
to a better use than in serving your interests?" he asked. "My
one object in life is to relieve you of your present anxieties. I
shall be the happiest man living if you only owe a moment's
happiness to my exertions!"
Isabel took his hand, and looked at him with grateful tears in
"How good you are to me, Mr. Moody!" she said. "I wish I could
tell you how deeply I feel your kindness."
"You can do it easily," he answered, with a smile. "Call me
'Robert' --don't call me 'Mr. Moody.' "
She took his arm with a sudden familiarity that charmed him. "If
you had been my brother I should have called you 'Robert,' " she
said; "and no brother could have been more devoted to me than you
He looked eagerly at her bright face turned up to his. "May I
never hope to be something nearer and dearer to you than a
brother?" he asked timidly.
She hung her head and said nothing. Moody's memory recalled
Sharon's coarse reference to her "sweetheart." She had blushed
when he put the question? What had she done when Moody put _his_
question? Her face answered for her--she had turned pale; she was
looking more serious than usual. Ignorant as he was of the ways
of women, his instinct told him that this was a bad sign. Surely
her rising color would have confessed it, if time and gratitude
together were teaching her to love him? He sighed as the
inevitable conclusion forced itself on his mind.
"I hope I have not offended you?" he said sadly.
"I wish I had not spoken. Pray don't think that I am serving you
with any selfish motive."
"I don't think that, Robert. I never could think it of _you_."
He was not quite satisfied yet. "Even if you were to marry some
other man," he went on earnestly, "it would make no difference in
what I am trying to do for you. No matter what I might suffer, I
should still go on--for your sake."
"Why do you talk so?" she burst out passionately. "No other man
has such a claim as you to my gratitude and regard. How can you
let such thoughts come to you? I have done nothing in secret. I
have no friends who are not known to you. Be satisfied with that,
Robert--and let us drop the subject."
"Never to take it up again?" he asked, with the infatuated
pertinacity of a man clinging to his last hope.
At other times and under other circumstances, Isabel might have
answered him sharply. She spoke with perfect gentleness now.
"Not for the present," she said. "I don't know my own heart. Give
His gratitude caught at those words, as the drowning man is said
to catch at the proverbial straw. He lifted her hand, and
suddenly and fondly pressed his lips on it. She showed no
confusion. Was she sorry for him, poor wretch!--and was that all?
They walked on, arm-in-arm, in silence.
Crossing the last field, they entered again on the high road
leading to the row of villas in which Miss Pink lived. The minds
of both were preoccupied. Neither of them noticed a gentleman
approaching on horseback, followed by a mounted groom. He was
advancing slowly, at the walking-pace of his horse, and he only
observed the two foot-passengers when he was close to them.
She started, looked up, and discovered--Alfred Hardyman.
He was dressed in a perfectly-made travelling suit of light
brown, with a peaked felt hat of a darker shade of the same
color, which, in a picturesque sense, greatly improved his
personal appearance. His pleasure at discovering Isabel gave the
animation to his features which they wanted on ordinary
occasions. He sat his horse, a superb hunter, easily and
gracefully. His light amber-colored gloves fitted him perfectly.
His obedient servant, on another magnificent horse, waited behind
him. He looked the impersonation of rank and breeding--of wealth
and prosperity. What a contrast, in a woman's eyes, to the shy,
pale, melancholy man, in the ill-fitting black clothes, with the
wandering, uneasy glances, who stood beneath him, and felt, and
showed that he felt, his inferior position keenly! In spite of
herself, the treacherous blush flew over Isabel's face, in
Moody's presence, and with Moody's eyes distrustfully watching
"This is a piece of good fortune that I hardly hoped for," said
Hardyman, his cool, quiet, dreary way of speaking quickened as
usual, in Isabel's presence. "I only got back from France this
morning, and I called on Lady Lydiard in the hope of seeing you.
She was not at home--and you were in the country--and the
servants didn't know the address. I could get nothing out of
them, except that you were on a visit to a relation." He looked
at Moody while he was speaking. "Haven't I seen you before?" he
said, carelessly. "Yes; at Lady Lydiard's. You're her steward,
are you not? How d'ye do?" Moody, with h is eyes on the ground,
answered silently by a bow. Hardyman, perfectly indifferent
whether Lady Lydiard's steward spoke or not, turned on his saddle
and looked admiringly at Isabel. "I begin to think I am a lucky
man at last," he went on with a smile. "I was jogging along to my
farm, and despairing of ever seeing Miss Isabel again--and Miss
Isabel herself meets me at the roadside! I wonder whether you are
as glad to see me as I am to see you? You won't tell me--eh? May
I ask you something else? Are you staying in our neighborhood?"
There was no alternative before Isabel but to answer this last
question. Hardyman had met her out walking, and had no doubt
drawn the inevitable inference--although he was too polite to say
so in plain words.
"Yes, sir," she answered, shyly, "I am staying in this
"And who is your relation?" Hardyman proceeded, in his easy,
matter-of-course way. "Lady Lydiard told me, when I had the
pleasure of meeting you at her house, that you had an aunt living
in the country. I have a good memory, Miss Isabel, for anything
that I hear about You! It's your aunt, isn't it? Yes? I know
everybody about hew. What is your aunt's name?"
Isabel, still resting her hand on Robert's arm, felt it tremble a
little as Hardyman made this last inquiry. If she had been
speaking to one of her equals she would have known how to dispose
of the question without directly answering it. But what could she
say to the magnificent gentleman on the stately horse? He had
only to send his servant into the village to ask who the young
lady from London was staying with, and the answer, in a dozen
mouths at least, would direct him to her aunt. She cast one
appealing look at Moody and pronounced the distinguished name of
"Miss Pink?" Hardyman repeated. "Surely I know Miss Pink?" (He
had not the faintest remembrances of her.) "Where did I meet her
last?" (He ran over in his memory the different local festivals
at which strangers had been introduced to him.) "Was it at the
archery meeting? or at the grammar-school when the prizes were
given? No? It must have been at the flower show, then, surely?"
It _had_ been at the flower show. Isabel had heard it from Miss
Pink fifty times at least, and was obliged to admit it now.
"I am quite ashamed of never having called," Hardyman proceeded.
"The fact is, I have so much to do. I am a bad one at paying
visits. Are you on your way home? Let me follow you and make my
apologies personally to Miss Pink."
Moody looked at Isabel. It was only a momentary glance, but she
perfectly understood it.
"I am afraid, sir, my aunt cannot have the honor of seeing you
to-day," she said.
Hardyman was all compliance. He smiled and patted his horse's
neck. "To-morrow, then," he said. "My compliments, and I will
call in the afternoon. Let me see: Miss Pink lives at--?" He
waited, as if he expected Isabel to assist his treacherous memory
once more. She hesitated again. Hardyman looked round at his
groom. The groom could find out the address, even if he did not
happen to know it already. Besides, there was the little row of
houses visible at the further end of the road. Isabel pointed to
the villas, as a necessary concession to good manners, before the
groom could anticipate her. "My aunt lives there, sir; at the
house called The Lawn."
"Ah! to be sure!" said Hardyman. "I oughtn't to have wanted
reminding; but I have so many things to think of at the farm. And
I am afraid I must be getting old--my memory isn't as good as it
was. I am so glad to have seen you, Miss Isabel. You and your
aunt must come and look at my horses. Do you like horses? Are you
fond of riding? I have a quiet roan mare that is used to carrying
ladies; she would be just the thing for you. Did I beg you to
give my best compliments to your aunt? Yes? How well you are
looking! our air here agrees with you. I hope I haven't kept you
standing too long? I didn't think of it in the pleasure of
meeting you. Good-by, Miss Isabel; good-by, till to-morrow!"
He took off his hat to Isabel, nodded to Moody, and pursued his
way to the farm.
Isabel looked at her companion. His eyes were still on the
ground. Pale, silent, motionless, he waited by her like a dog,
until she gave the signal of walking on again towards the house.
"You are not angry with me for speaking to Mr. Hardyman?" she
He lifted his head it the sound of her voice. "Angry with you, my
dear! why should I be angry?"
"You seem so changed, Robert, since we met Mr. Hardyman. I
couldn't help speaking to him--could I?"
They moved on towards the villa. Isabel was still uneasy. There
was something in Moody's silent submission to all that she said
and all that she did which pained and humiliated her. "You're not
jealous?" she said, smiling timidly.
He tried to speak lightly on his side. "I have no time to be
jealous while I have your affairs to look after," he answered.
She pressed his arm tenderly. "Never fear, Robert, that new
friends will make me forget the best and dearest friend who is
now at my side." She paused, and looked up at him with a
compassionate fondness that was very pretty to see. "I can keep
out of the way to-morrow, when Mr. Hardyman calls," she said. "It
is my aunt he is coming to see--not me."
It was generously meant. But while her mind was only occupied
with the present time, Moody's mind was looking into the future.
He was learning the hard lesson of self-sacrifice already. "Do
what you think is right," he said quietly; "don't think of me."
They reached the gate of the villa. He held out his hand to say
"Won't you come in?" she asked. "Do come in!"
"Not now, my dear. I must get back to London as soon as I can.
There is some more work to be done for you, and the sooner I do
it the better."
She heard his excuse without heeding it.
"You are not like yourself, Robert," she said. "Why is it? What
are you thinking of?"
He was thinking of the bright blush that overspread her face when
Hardyman first spoke to her; he was thinking of the invitation to
her to see the stud-farm, and to ride the roan mare; he was
thinking of the utterly powerless position in which he stood
towards Isabel and towards the highly-born gentleman who admired
her. But he kept his doubts and fears to himself. "The train
won't wait for me," he said, and held out his hand once more.
She was not only perplexed; she was really distressed. "Don't
take leave of me in that cold way!" she pleaded. Her eyes dropped
before his, and her lips trembled a little. "Give me a kiss,
Robert, at parting." She said those bold words softly and sadly,
out of the depth of her pity for him. He started; his face
brightened suddenly; his sinking hope rose again. In another
moment the change came; in another moment he understood her. As
he touched her cheek with his lips, he turned pale again. "Don't
quite forget me," he said, in low, faltering tones--and left her.
Miss Pink met Isabel in the hall. Refreshed by unbroken repose,
the ex-schoolmistress was in the happiest frame of mind for the
reception of her niece's news.
Informed that Moody had travelled to South Morden to personally
report the progress of the inquiries, Miss Pink highly approved
of him as a substitute for Mr. Troy. "Mr. Moody, as a banker's
son, is a gentleman by birth," she remarked; "he has
condescended, in becoming Lady Lydiard's steward. What I saw of
him, when he came here with you, prepossessed me in his favor. He
has my confidence, Isabel, as well as yours--he is in every
respect a superior person to Mr. Troy. Did you meet any friends,
my dear, when you were out walking?"
The answer to this question produced a species of transformation
in Miss Pink. The rapturous rank-worship of her nation feasted,
so to speak, on Hardyman's message. She looked taller and younger
than usual--she was all smiles and sweetness. "At last, Isabel,
you have seen birth and breeding under their right aspect," she
said. "In the society of Lady Lydiard, you cannot possibly have
formed correct ideas of the English aristocracy. Observe Mr.
Hardyman when he does me the honor to call to-morrow--and you
will see the difference."
"Mr. Hardyman is your visitor, aunt--not mine. I was going to ask
you to let me remain upstairs in my room."
Miss Pink was unaffectedly shocked. "This is what you learn at
Lady Lydiard's!" she observed. "No, Isabel, your absence would be
a breach of good manners--I cannot possibly permit it. You will
be present to receive our distinguished friend with me. And mind
this!" added Miss Pink, in her most impressive manner, "If Mr.
Hardyman should by any chance ask why you have left Lady Lydiard,
not one word about those disgraceful circumstances which connect
you with the loss of the banknote! I should sink into the earth
if the smallest hint of what has really happened should reach Mr.
Hardyman's ears. My child, I stand towards you in the place of
your lamented mother; I have the right to command your silence on
this horrible subject, and I do imperatively command it."
In these words foolish Miss Pink sowed the seed for the harvest
of trouble that was soon to come.
PAYING his court to the ex-schoolmistress on the next day,
Hardyman made such excellent use of his opportunities that the
visit to the stud-farm took place on the day after. His own
carriage was placed at the disposal of Isabel and her aunt; and
his own sister was present to confer special distinction on the
reception of Miss Pink.
In a country like England, which annually suspends the sitting of
its Legislature in honor of a horse-race, it is only natural and
proper that the comfort of the horses should be the first object
of consideration at a stud-farm. Nine-tenths of the land at
Hardyman's farm was devoted, in one way or another, to the noble
quadruped with the low forehead and the long nose. Poor humanity
was satisfied with second-rate and third-rate accommodation. The
ornamental grounds, very poorly laid out, were also very limited
in extent--and, as for the dwelling-house, it was literally a
cottage. A parlor and a kitchen, a smoking-room, a bed-room, and
a spare chamber for a friend, all scantily furnished, sufficed
for the modest wants of the owner of the property. If you wished
to feast your eyes on luxury you went to the stables.
The stud-farm being described, the introduction to Hardyman's
sister follows in due course.
The Honorable Lavinia Hardyman was, as all persons in society
know, married rather late in life to General Drumblade. It is
saying a great deal, but it is not saying too much, to describe
Mrs. Drumblade as the most mischievous woman of her age in all
England. Scandal was the breath of her life; to place people in
false positions, to divulge secrets and destroy characters, to
undermine friendships, and aggravate enmities--these were the
sources of enjoyment from which this dangerous woman drew the
inexhaustible fund of good spirits that made her a brilliant
light in the social sphere. She was one of the privileged sinners
of modern society. The worst mischief that she could work was
ascribed to her "exuberant vitality." She had that ready
familiarity of manner which is (in _her_ class) so rarely
discovered to be insolence in disguise. Her power of easy
self-assertion found people ready to accept her on her own terms
wherever she went. She was one of those big, overpowering women,
with blunt manners, voluble tongues, and goggle eyes, who carry
everything before them. The highest society modestly considered
itself in danger of being dull in the absence of Mrs. Drumblade.
Even Hardyman himself--who saw as little of her as possible,
whose frankly straightforward nature recoiled by instinct from
contact with his sister--could think of no fitter person to make
Miss Pink's reception agreeable to her, while he was devoting his
own attentions to her niece. Mrs. Drumblade accepted the position
thus offered with the most amiable readiness. In her own private
mind she placed an interpretation on her brother's motives which
did him the grossest injustice. She believed that Hardyman's
designs on Isabel contemplated the most profligate result. To
assist this purpose, while the girl's nearest relative was
supposed to be taking care of her, was Mrs. Drumblade's idea of
"fun." Her worst enemies admitted that the honorable Lavia had
redeeming qualities, and owned that a keen sense of humor was one
of her merits.
Was Miss Pink a likely person to resist the fascinations of Mrs.
Drumblade? Alas, for the ex-schoolmistress! before she had been
five minutes at the farm, Hardyman's sister had fished for her,
caught her, landed her. Poor Miss Pink!
Mrs. Drumblade could assume a grave dignity of manner when the
occasion called for it. She was grave, she was dignified, when
Hardyman performed the ceremonies of introduction. She would not
say she was charmed to meet Miss Pink--the ordinary slang of
society was not for Miss Pink's ears--she would say she felt this
introduction as a privilege. It was so seldom one met with
persons of trained intellect in society. Mrs. Drumblade was
already informed of Miss Pink's earlier triumphs in the
instruction of youth. Mrs. Drumblade had not been blessed with
children herself; but she had nephews and nieces, and she was
anxious about their education, especially the nieces. What a
sweet, modest girl Miss Isabel was! The fondest wish she could
form for her nieces would be that they should resemble Miss
Isabel when they grew up. The question was, as to the best method
of education. She would own that she had selfish motives in
becoming acquainted with Miss Pink. They were at the farm, no
doubt, to see Alfred's horses. Mrs. Drumblade did not understand
horses; her interest was in the question of education. She might
even confess that she had accepted Alfred's invitation in the
hope of hearing Miss Pink's views. There would be opportunities,
she trusted, for a little instructive conversation on that
subject. It was, perhaps, ridiculous to talk, at her age, of
feeling as if she was Miss Pink's pupil; and yet it exactly
expressed the nature of the aspiration which was then in her
In these terms, feeling her way with the utmost nicety, Mrs.
Drumblade wound the net of flattery round and round Miss Pink
until her hold on that innocent lady was, in every sense of the
word, secure. Before half the horses had been passed under
review, Hardyman and Isabel were out of sight, and Mrs. Drumblade
and Miss Pink were lost in the intricacies of the stables.
"Excessively stupid of me! We had better go back, and establish
ourselves comfortably in the parlor. When my brother misses us,
he and your charming niece will return to look for us in the
cottage." Under cover of this arrangement the separation became
complete. Miss Pink held forth on education to Mrs. Drumblade in
the parlor; while Hardyman and Isabel were on their way to a
paddock at the farthest limits of the property.
"I am afraid you are getting a little tired," said Hardyman.
"Won't you take my arm?"
Isabel was on her guard: she had not forgotten what Lady Lydiard
had said to her. "No, thank you, Mr. Hardyman; I am a better
walker than you think."
Hardyman continued the conversation in his blunt, resolute way.
"I wonder whether you will believe me," he asked, "if I tell you
that this is one of the happiest days of my life."
"I should think you were always happy," Isabel cautiously
replied, "having such a pretty place to live in as this."
Hardyman met that answer with one of his quietly-positive
denials. "A man is never happy by himself," he said. "He is happy
with a companion. For instance, I am happy with you."
Isabel stopped and looked back. Hardyman's language was becoming
a little too explicit. "Surely we have lost Mrs. Drumblade and my
aunt," she said. "I don't see them anywhere."
You will see them directly; they are only a long way behind."
With this assurance, he returned, in his own obstinate way, to
his one object in view. "Miss Isabel, I want to ask you a
question. I'm not a ladies' man. I speak my mind plainly to
everybody--women included. Do you like being here to-day?"
Isabel's gravity was not proof against this very downright
question. "I should be hard to please," she said laughing, "if I
didn't enjoy my visit to the farm."
Hardyman pushed steadily forw ard through the obstacle of the
farm to the question of the farm's master. "You like being here,"
he repeated. "Do you like Me?"
This was serious. Isabel drew back a little, and looked at him.
He waited with the most impenetrable gravity for her reply.
"I think you can hardly expect me to answer that question," she
"Our acquaintance has been a very short one, Mr. Hardyman. And,
if _you_ are so good as to forget the difference between us, I
think _I_ ought to remember it."
"The difference in rank."
Hardyman suddenly stood still, and emphasized his next words by
digging his stick into the grass.
"If anything I have said has vexed you," he began, "tell me so
plainly, Miss Isabel, and I'll ask your pardon. But don't throw
my rank in my face. I cut adrift from all that nonsense when I
took this farm and got my living out of the horses. What has a
man's rank to do with a man's feelings?" he went on, with another
emphatic dig of his stick. "I am quite serious in asking if you
like me--for this good reason, that I like you. Yes, I do. You
remember that day when I bled the old lady's dog--well, I have
found out since then that there's a sort of incompleteness in my
life which I never suspected before. It's you who have put that
idea into my head. You didn't mean it, I dare say, but you have
done it all the same. I sat alone here yesterday evening smoking
my pipe--and I didn't enjoy it. I breakfasted alone this
morning--and I didn't enjoy _that_. I said to myself, She's
coming to lunch, that's one comfort--I shall enjoy lunch. That's
what I feel, roughly described. I don't suppose I've been five
minutes together without thinking of you, now in one way and now
in another, since the day when I first saw you. When a man comes
to my time of life, and has had any experience, he knows what
that means. It means, in plain English, that his heart is set on
a woman. You're the woman."
Isabel had thus far made several attempts to interrupt him,
without success. But, when Hardyman's confession attained its
culminating point, she insisted on being heard.
"If you will excuse me, sir," she interposed gravely, "I think I
had better go back to the cottage. My aunt is a stranger here,
and she doesn't know where to look for us."
"We don't want your aunt," Hardyman remarked, in his most
"We do want her," Isabel rejoined. "I won't venture to say it's
wrong in you, Mr. Hardyman, to talk to me as you have just done,
but I am quite sure it's very wrong of me to listen."
He looked at her with such unaffected surprise and distress that
she stopped, on the point of leaving him, and tried to make
herself better understood.
"I had no intention of offending you, sir," she said, a little
confusedly. "I only wanted to remind you that there are some
things which a gentleman in your position--" She stopped, tried
to finish the sentence, failed, and began another. "If I had been
a young lady in your own rank of life," she went on, "I might
have thanked you for paying me a compliment, and have given you a
serious answer. As it is, I am afraid that I must say that you
have surprised and disappointed me. I can claim very little for
myself, I know. But I did imagine--so long as there was nothing
unbecoming in my conduct--that I had some right to your respect."
Listening more and more impatiently, Hardyman took her by the
hand, and burst out with another of his abrupt questions.
"What can you possibly be thinking of?" he asked.
She gave him no answer; she only looked at him reproachfully, and
tried to release herself.
Hardyman held her hand faster than ever.
"I believe you think me an infernal scoundrel!" he said. "I can
stand a good deal, Miss Isabel, but I can't stand _that_. How
have I failed in respect toward you, if you please? I have told
you you're the woman my heart is set on. Well? Isn't it plain
what I want of you, when I say that? Isabel Miller, I want you to
be my wife!"
Isabel's only reply to this extraordinary proposal of marriage
was a faint cry of astonishment, followed by a sudden trembling
that shook her from head to foot.
Hardyman put his arm round her with a gentleness which his oldest
friend would have been surprised to see in him.
"Take your time to think of it," he said, dropping back again
into his usual quiet tone. "If you had known me a little better
you wouldn't have mistaken me, and you wouldn't be looking at me
now as if you were afraid to believe your own ears. What is there
so very wonderful in my wanting to marry you? I don't set up for
being a saint. When I was a younger man I was no better (and no
worse) than other young men. I'm getting on now to middle life. I
don't want romances and adventures--I want an easy existence with
a nice lovable woman who will make me a good wife. You're the
woman, I tell you again. I know it by what I've seen of you
myself, and by what I have heard of you from Lady Lydiard. She
said you were prudent, and sweet-tempered, and affectionate; to
which I wish to add that you have just the face and figure that I
like, and the modest manners and the blessed absence of all slang
in your talk, which I don't find in the young women I meet with
in the present day. That's my view of it: I think for myself.
What does it matter to me whether you're the daughter of a Duke
or the daughter of a Dairyman? It isn't your father I want to
marry--it's you. Listen to reason, there's a dear! We have only
one question to settle before we go back to your aunt. You
wouldn't answer me when I asked it a little while since. Will you
answer now? _Do_ you like me?"
Isabel looked up at him timidly.
"In my position, sir," she asked, "have I any right to like you?
What would your relations and friends think, if I said Yes?"
Hardyman gave her waist a little admonitory squeeze with his arm
"What? You're at it again? A nice way to answer a man, to call
him "Sir," and to get behind his rank as if it was a place of
refuge from him! I hate talking of myself, but you force me to
it. Here is my position in the world--I have got an elder
brother; he is married, and he has a son to succeed him, in the
title and the property. You understand, so far? Very well! Years
ago I shifted my share of the rank (whatever it may be) on to my
brother's shoulders. He is a thorough good fellow, and he has
carried my dignity for me, without once dropping it, ever since.
As for what people may say, they have said it already, from my
father and mother downward, in the time when I took to the horses
and the farm. If they're the wise people I take them for, they
won't be at the trouble of saying it all over again. No, no.
Twist it how you may, Miss Isabel, whether I'm single or whether
I'm married, I'm plain Alfred Hardyman; and everybody who knows
me knows that I go on my way, and please myself. If you don't
like me, it will be the bitterest disappointment I ever had in my
life; but say so honestly, all the same."
Where is the woman in Isabel's place whose capacity for
resistance would not have yielded a little to such an appeal as
"I should be an insensible wretch" she replied warmly, "if I
didn't feel the honor you have done me, and feel it gratefully."
"Does that mean you will have me for a husband?" asked downright
She was fairly driven into a corner; but (being a woman) she
tried to slip through his fingers at the last moment.
"Will you forgive me," she said, "if I ask you for a little more
time? I am so bewildered, I hardly know what to say or do for the
best. You see, Mr. Hardyman, it would be a dreadful thing for me
to be the cause of giving offense to your family. I am obliged to
think of that. It would be so distressing for you (I will say
nothing of myself) if your friends closed their doors on me. They
might say I was a designing girl, who had taken advantage of your
good opinion to raise herself in the world. Lady Lydiard warned
me long since not to be ambitious about myself and not to forget
my station in life, because she treated me like her adopted
daughter. Indeed--indeed, I can't tell you how I feel your
goodness, and the compliment--the very great compliment, you pay
My heart is free, and if I followed my own inclinations--" She
checked herself, conscious that she was on the brink of saying
too much. "Will you give me a few days," she pleaded, "to try if
I can think composedly of all this? I am only a girl, and I feel
quite dazzled by the prospect that you set before me."
Hardyman seized on those words as offering all the encouragement
that he desired to his suit.
"Have your own way in this thing and in everything!" he said,
with an unaccustomed fervor of language and manner. "I am so glad
to hear that your heart is open to me, and that all your
inclinations take my part."
Isabel instantly protested against this misrepresentation of what
she had really said, "Oh, Mr. Hardyman, you quite mistake me!"
He answered her very much as he had answered Lady Lydiard, when
she had tried to make him understand his proper relations towards
"No, no; I don't mistake you. I agree to every word you say. How
can I expect you to marry me, as you very properly remark, unless
I give you a day or two to make up your mind? It's quite enough
for me that you like the prospect. If Lady Lydiard treated you as
her daughter, why shouldn't you be my wife? It stands to reason
that you're quite right to marry a man who can raise you in the
world. I like you to be ambitious--though Heaven knows it isn't
much I can do for you, except to love you with all my heart.
Still, it's a great encouragement to hear that her Ladyship's
views agree with mine--"
"They don't agree, Mr. Hardyman!" protested poor Isabel. "You are
Hardyman cordially concurred in this view of the matter. "Yes!
yes! I can't pretend to represent her Ladyship's language, or
yours either; I am obliged to take my words as they come to me.
Don't disturb yourself: it's all right--I understand. You have
made me the happiest man living. I shall ride over to-morrow to
your aunt's house, and hear what you have to say to me. Mind
you're at home! Not a day must pass now without my seeing you. I
do love you, Isabel--I do, indeed!" He stooped, and kissed her
heartily. "Only to reward me," he explained, "for giving you time
She drew herself away from him--resolutely, not angrily. Before
she could make a third attempt to place the subject in its right
light before him, the luncheon bell rang at the cottage--and a
servant appeared evidently sent to look for them.
"Don't forget to-morrow," Hardyman whispered confidentially.
"I'll call early--and then go to London, and get the ring."
EVENTS succeeded each other rapidly, after the memorable day to
Isabel of the luncheon at the farm.
On the next day (the ninth of the month) Lady Lydiard sent for
her steward, and requested him to explain his conduct in
repeatedly leaving the house without assigning any reason for his
absence. She did not dispute his claims to a freedom of action
which would not be permitted to an ordinary servant. Her
objection to his present course of proceeding related entirely to
the mystery in which it was involved, and to the uncertainty in
which the household was left as to the hour of his return. On
those grounds, she thought herself entitled to an explanation.
Moody's habitual reserve--strengthened, on this occasion, by his
dread of ridicule, if his efforts to serve Isabel ended in
failure--disinclined him to take Lady Lydiard into his
confidence, while his inquiries were still beset with obstacles
and doubts. He respectfully entreated her Ladyship to grant him a
delay of a few weeks before he entered on his explanation. Lady
Lydiard's quick temper resented his request. She told Moody
plainly that he was guilty of an act of presumption in making his
own conditions with his employer. He received the reproof with
exemplary resignation; but he held to his conditions
nevertheless. From that moment the result of the interview was no
longer in doubt. Moody was directed to send in his accounts. The
accounts having been examined, and found to be scrupulously
correct, he declined accepting the balance of salary that was
offered to him. The next day he left Lady Lydiard's service.
On the tenth of the month her Ladyship received a letter from her
The health of Felix had not improved. He had made up his mind to
go abroad again towards the end of the month. In the meantime, he
had written to his friend in Paris, and he had the pleasure of
forwarding an answer. The letter inclosed announced that the lost
five-hundred-pound note had been made the subject of careful
inquiry in Paris. It had not been traced. The French police
offered to send to London one of their best men, well acquainted
with the English language, if Lady Lydiard was desirous of
employing him. He would be perfectly willing to act with an
English officer in conducting the investigation, should it be
thought necessary. Mr. Troy being consulted as to the expediency
of accepting this proposal, objected to the pecuniary terms
demanded as being extravagantly high. He suggested waiting a
little before any reply was sent to Paris; and he engaged
meanwhile to consult a London solicitor who had great experience
in cases of theft, and whose advice might enable them to dispense
entirely with the services of the French police.
Being now a free man again, Moody was able to follow his own
inclinations in regard to the instructions which he had received
from Old Sharon.
The course that had been recommended to him was repellent to the
self-respect and the sense of delicacy which were among the
inbred virtues of Moody's character. He shrank from forcing
himself as a friend on Hardyman's valet: he recoiled from the
idea of tempting the man to steal a specimen of his master's
handwriting. After some consideration, he decided on applying to
the agent who collected the rents at Hardyman's London chambers.
Being an old acquaintance of Moody's, this person would certainly
not hesitate to communicate the address of Hardyman's bankers, if
he knew it. The experiment, tried under these favoring
circumstances, proved perfectly successful. Moody proceeded to
Sharon's lodgings the same day, with the address of the bankers
in his pocketbook. The old vagabond, greatly amused by Moody's
scruples, saw plainly enough that, so long as he wrote the
supposed letter from Hardyman in the third person, it mattered
little what handwriting was employed, seeing that no signature
would be necessary. The letter was at once composed, on the model
which Sharon had already suggested to Moody, and a respectable
messenger (so far as outward appearances went) was employed to
take it to the bank. In half an hour the answer came back. It
added one more to the difficulties which beset the inquiry after
the lost money. No such sum as five hundred pounds had been paid,
within the dates mentioned, to the credit of Hardyman's account.
Old Sharon was not in the least discomposed by this fresh check.
"Give my love to the dear young lady," he said with his customary
impudence; "and tell her we are one degree nearer to finding the
Moody looked at him, doubting whether he was in jest or in
"Must I squeeze a little more information into that thick head of
yours?" asked Sharon. With this question he produced a weekly
newspaper, and pointed to a paragraph which reported, among the
items of sporting news, Hardyman's recent visit to a sale of
horses at a town in the north of France. "We know he didn't pay
the bank-note in to his account," Sharon remarked. "What else did
he do with it? Took it to pay for the horses that he bought in
France! Do you see your way a little plainer now? Very good.
Let's try next if your money holds out. Somebody must cross the
Channel in search of the note. Which of us two is to sit in the
steam-boat with a white basin on his lap? Old Sharon, of course!"
He stopped to count the money still left, out of the sum
deposited by Moody to defray the cost of the inquiry. "All
right!" he went on. "I've got enough to pay my expenses there and
back. Don't stir out of London till you hear from me. I can't
tell how soon I may not want you. If there's any difficulty in
tracing the note, your hand will have to go into your pocket
again. Can't you get the lawyer to join you? Lord! how I should
enjoy squandering _his_ money! It's a downright disgrace to me to
have only got one guinea out of him. I could tear my flesh off my
bones when I think of it."
The same night Old Sharon started for France, by way of Dover and
Two days elapsed, and brought no news from Moody's agent. On the
third day, he received some information relating to Sharon--not
from the man himself, but in a letter from Isabel Miller.
"For once, dear Robert," she wrote, "my judgment has turned out
to be sounder than yours. That hateful old man has confirmed my
worst opinion of him. Pray have him punished. Take him before a
magistrate and charge him with cheating you out of your money. I
inclose the sealed letter which he gave me at the farmhouse. The
week's time before I was to open it expired yesterday. Was there
ever anything so impudent and so inhuman? I am too vexed and
angry about the money you have wasted on this old wretch to write
more. Yours, gratefully and affectionately, Isabel."
The letter in which Old Sharon had undertaken (by way of
pacifying Isabel) to write the name of the thief, contained these
"You are a charming girl, my dear; but you still want one thing
to make you perfect--and that is a lesson in patience. I am proud
and happy to teach you. The name of the thief remains, for the
present, Mr. ---- (Blank)."
From Moody's point of view, there was but one thing to be said of
this: it was just like Old Sharon! Isabel's letter was of
infinitely greater interest to him. He feasted his eyes on the
words above the signature: she signed herself, "Yours gratefully
and affectionately." Did the last words mean that she was really
beginning to be fond of him? After kissing the word, he wrote a
comforting letter to her, in which he pledged himself to keep a
watchful eye on Sharon, and to trust him with no more money until
he had honestly earned it first.
A week passed. Moody (longing to see Isabel) still waited in vain
for news from France. He had just decided to delay his visit to
South Morden no longer, when the errand-boy employed by Sharon
brought him this message: "The old 'un's at home, and waitin' to
SHARON'S news was not of an encouraging character. He had met
with serious difficulties, and had spent the last farthing of
Moody's money in attempting to overcome them.
One discovery of importance he had certainly made. A horse
withdrawn from the sale was the only horse that had met with
Hardyman's approval. He had secured the animal at the high
reserved price of twelve thousand francs--being four hundred and
eighty pounds in English money; and he had paid with an English
bank-note. The seller (a French horse-dealer resident in
Brussels) had returned to Belgium immediately on completing the
negotiations. Sharon had ascertained his address, and had written
to him at Brussels, inclosing the number of the lost banknote. In
two days he had received an answer, informing him that the
horse-dealer had been called to England by the illness of a
relative, and that he had hitherto failed to send any address to
which his letters could be forwarded. Hearing this, and having
exhausted his funds, Sharon had returned to London. It now rested
with Moody to decide whether the course of the inquiry should
follow the horse-dealer next. Here was the cash account, showing
how the money had been spent. And there was Sharon, with his pipe
in his mouth and his dog on his lap, waiting for orders.
Moody wisely took time to consider before he committed himself to
a decision. In the meanwhile, he ventured to recommend a new
course of proceeding which Sharon's report had suggested to his
"It seems to me," he said, "that we have taken the roundabout way
of getting to our end in view, when the straight road lay before
us. If Mr. Hardyman has passed the stolen note, you know, as well
as I do, that he has passed it innocently. Instead of wasting
time and money in trying to trace a stranger, why not tell Mr.
Hardyman what has happened, and ask him to give us the number of
the note? You can't think of everything, I know; but it does seem
strange that this idea didn't occur to you before you went to
"Mr. Moody," said Old Sharon, "I shall have to cut your
acquaintance. You are a man without faith; I don't like you. As
if I hadn't thought of Hardyman weeks since!" he exclaimed
contemptuously. "Are you really soft enough to suppose that a
gentleman in his position would talk about his money affairs to
me? You know mighty little of him if you do. A fortnight since I
sent one of my men (most respectably dressed) to hang about his
farm, and see what information he could pick up. My man became
painfully acquainted with the toe of a boot. It was thick, sir;
and it was Hardyman's."
"I will run the risk of the boot," Moody replied, in his quiet
"And put the question to Hardyman?"
"Very good," said Sharon. "If you get your answer from his
tongue, instead of his boot, the case is cleared up--unless I
have made a complete mess of it. Look here, Moody! If you want to
do me a good turn, tell the lawyer that the guinea-opinion was
the right one. Let him know that _he_ was the fool, not you, when
he buttoned up his pockets and refused to trust me. And, I say,"
pursued Old Sharon, relapsing into his customary impudence,
"you're in love, you know, with that nice girl. I like her
myself. When you marry her invite me to the wedding. I'll make a
sacrifice; I'll brush my hair and wash my face in honor of the
Returning to his lodgings, Moody found two letters waiting on the
table. One of them bore the South Morden postmark. He opened that
It was written by Miss Pink. The first lines contained an urgent
entreaty to keep the circumstances connected with the loss of the
five hundred pounds the strictest secret from everyone in
general, and from Hardyman in particular. The reasons assigned
for making the strange request were next expressed in these
terms: "My niece Isabel is, I am happy to inform you, engaged to
be married to Mr. Hardyman. If the slightest hint reached him of
her having been associated, no matter how cruelly and unjustly,
with a suspicion of theft, the marriage would be broken off, and
the result to herself and to everybody connected with her, would
be disgrace for the rest of our lives."
On the blank space at the foot of the page a few words were added
in Isabel's writing: "Whatever changes there may be in my life,
your place in my heart is one that no other person can fill: it
is the place of my dearest friend. Pray write and d tell me that
you are not distressed and not angry. My one anxiety is that you
should remember what I have always told you about the state of my
own feelings. My one wish is that you will still let me love you
and value you, as I might have loved and valued a brother."
The letter dropped from Moody's hand. Not a word--not even a
sigh--passed his lips. In tearless silence he submitted to the
pang that wrung him. In tearless silence he contemplated the
wreck of his life.
THE narrative returns to South Morden, and follows the events
which attended Isabel's marriage engagement.
To say that Miss Pink, inflated by the triumph, rose, morally
speaking, from the earth and floated among the clouds, is to
indicate faintly the effect produced on the ex-schoolmistress
when her niece first informed her of what had happened at the
farm. Attacked on one side by her aunt, and on the other by
Hardyman, and feebly defended, at the best, by her own doubts and
misgivings, Isabel ended by surrendering at discretion. Like
thousands of other women in a similar position, she was in the
last degree uncertain as to the state of her own heart. To what
extent she was insensibly influenced by Hardyman's commanding
position in believing herself to be sincerely attached to him, it
was beyond her power of self-examination to discover. He doubly
dazzled her by his birth and by his celebrity. Not in England
only, but throughout Europe, he was a recognized authority on his
own subject. How could she-- how could any woman--resist the
influence of his steady mind, his firmness of purpose, his manly
resolution to owe everything to himself and nothing to his rank,
set off as these attractive qualities were by the outward and
personal advantages which exercise an ascendancy of their own?
Isabel was fascinated, and yet Isabel was not at ease. In her
lonely moments she was troubled by regretful thoughts of Moody,
which perplexed and irritated her. She had always behaved
honestly to him; she had never encouraged him to hope that his
love for her had the faintest prospect of being returned. Yet,
knowing, as she did, that her conduct was blameless so far, there
were nevertheless perverse sympathies in her which took his part.
In the wakeful hours of the night there were whispering voices in
her which said: "Think of Moody!" Had there been a growing
kindness towards this good friend in her heart, of which she
herself was not aware? She tried to detect it--to weigh it for
what it was really worth. But it lay too deep to be discovered
and estimated, if it did really exist--if it had any sounder
origin than her own morbid fancy. In the broad light of day, in
the little bustling duties of life, she forgot it again. She
could think of what she ought to wear on the wedding day; she
could even try privately how her new signature, "Isabel
Hardyman," would look when she had the right to use it. On the
whole, it may be said that the time passed smoothly--with some
occasional checks and drawbacks, which were the more easily
endured seeing that they took their rise in Isabel's own conduct.
Compliant as she was in general, there were two instances, among
others, in which her resolution to take her own way was not to be
overcome. She refused to write either to Moody or to Lady Lydiard
informing them of her engagement; and she steadily disapproved of
Miss Pink's policy of concealment, in the matter of the robbery
at Lady Lydiard's house. Her aunt could only secure her as a
passive accomplice by stating family considerations in the
strongest possible terms. "If the disgrace was confined to you,
my dear, I might leave you to decide. But I am involved in it, as
your nearest relative; and, what is more, even the sacred
memories of your father and mother might feel the slur cast on
them." This exaggerated language--like all exaggerated language,
a mischievous weapon in the arsenal of weakness and
prejudice--had its effect on Isabel. Reluctantly and sadly, she
consented to be silent.
Miss Pink wrote word of the engagement to Moody first; reserving
to a later day the superior pleasure of informing Lady Lydiard of
the very event which that audacious woman had declared to be
impossible. To her aunt's surprise, just as she was about to
close the envelope Isabel stepped forward, and inconsistently
requested leave to add a postscript to the very letter which she
had refused to write! Miss Pink was not even permitted to see the
postscript. Isabel secured the envelope the moment she laid down
her pen, and retired to her room with a headache (which was
heartache in disguise) for the rest of the day.
While the question of marriage was still in debate, an event
occurred which exercised a serious influence on Hardyman's future
He received a letter from the Continent which claimed his
immediate attention. One of the sovereigns of Europe had decided
on making some radical changes in the mounting and equipment of a
cavalry regiment; and he required the assistance of Hardyman in
that important part of the contemplated reform which was
connected with the choice and purchase of horses. Setting his own
interests out of the question, Hardyman owed obligations to the
kindness of his illustrious correspondent which made it
impossible for him to send an excuse. In a fortnight's time, at
the latest, it would be necessary for him to leave England; and a
month or more might elapse before it would be possible for him to
Under these circumstances, he proposed, in his own precipitate
way, to hasten the date of the marriage. The necessary legal
delay would permit the ceremony to be performed on that day
fortnight. Isabel might then accompany him on his journey, and
spend a brilliant honeymoon at the foreign Court. She at once
refused, not only to accept his proposal, but even to take it
into consideration. While Miss Pink dwelt eloquently on the
shortness of the notice, Miss Pink's niece based her resolution
on far more important grounds. Hardyman had not yet announced the
contemplated marriage to his parents and friends; and Isabel was
determined not to become his wife until she could be first
assured of a courteous and tolerant reception by the family--if
she could hope for no warmer welcome at their hands.
Hardyman was not a man who yielded easily, even in trifles. In
the present case, his dearest interests were concerned in
inducing Isabel to reconsider her decision. He was still vainly
trying to shake her resolution, when the afternoon post brought a
letter for Miss Pink which introduced a new element of
disturbance into the discussion. The letter was nothing less than
Lady Lydiard's reply to the written announcement of Isabel's
engagement, despatched on the previous day by Miss Pink.
Her Ladyship's answer was a surprisingly short one. It only
contained these lines:
"Lady Lydiard begs to acknowledge the receipt of Miss Pink's
letter requesting that she will say nothing to Mr. Hardyman of
the loss of a bank-note in her house, and, assigning as a reason
that Miss Isabel Miller is engaged to be married to Mr. Hardyman,
and might be prejudiced in his estimation if the facts were made
known. Miss Pink may make her mind easy. Lady Lydiard had not the
slightest intention of taking Mr. Hardyman into her confidence on
the subject of her domestic affairs. With regard to the proposed
marriage, Lady Lydiard casts no doubt on Miss Pink's perfect
sincerity and good faith; but, at the same time, she positively
declines to believe that Mr. Hardyman means to make Miss Isabel
Miller his wife. Lady L. will yield to the evidence of a
properly-attested certificate--and to nothing else."
A folded piece of paper, directed to Isabel, dropped out of this
characteristic letter as Miss Pink turned from the first page to
the second. Lady Lydiard addressed her adopted daughter in these
"I was on the point of leaving home to visit you again, when I
received your aunt's letter. My poor deluded child, no words can
tell how distressed I am about you. You are already sacrificed to
the folly of the most foolish woman living. For God's sake, take
care you do not fall a victim next to the designs of a profligate
man. Come to me instantly, Isabel, and I promise to take care of
Fortified by these letters, and aided by Miss Pink's indignation,
Hardyman pressed his proposal on Isabel with renewed resolution.
She made no attempt to combat his arguments--she only held firmly
to her decision. Without some encouragement from Hardyman's
father and mother she still steadily refused to become his wife.
Irritated already by Lady Lydiard's letters, he lost the
self-command which so eminently distinguished him in the ordinary
affairs of life, and showed the domineering and despotic temper
which was an inbred part of his disposition. Isabel's high spirit
at once resented the harsh terms in which he spoke to her. In the
plainest words, she released him from his engagement, and,
without waiting for his excuses, quitted the room.
Left together, Hardyman and Miss Pink devised an arrangement
which paid due respect to Isabel's scruples, and at the same time
met Lady Lydiard's insulting assertion of disbelief in Hardyman's
honor, by a formal and public announcement of the marriage.
It was proposed to give a garden party at the farm in a week's
time for the express purpose of introducing Isabel to Hardyman's
family and friends in the character of his betrothed wife. If his
father and mother accepted the invitation, Isabel's only
objection to hastening the union would fall to the ground.
Hardyman might, in that case, plead with his Imperial
correspondent for a delay in his departure of a few days more;
and th e marriage might still take place before he left England.
Isabel, at Miss Pink's intercession, was induced to accept her
lover's excuses, and, in the event of her favorable reception by
Hardyman's parents at the farm, to give her consent (not very
willingly even yet) to hastening the ceremony which was to make
her Hardyman's wife.
On the next morning the whole of the invitations were sent out,
excepting the invitation to Hardyman's father and mother. Without
mentioning it to Isabel, Hardyman decided on personally appealing
to his mother before he ventured on taking the head of the family
into his confidence.
The result of the interview was partially successful--and no
more. Lord Rotherfield declined to see his youngest son; and he
had engagements which would, under any circumstances, prevent his
being present at the garden party. But at the express request of
Lady Rotherfield, he was willing to make certain concessions.
"I have always regarded Alfred as a barely sane person," said his
Lordship, "since he turned his back on his prospects to become a
horse dealer. If we decline altogether to sanction this new
act--I won't say, of insanity, I will say, of absurdity--on his
part, it is impossible to predict to what discreditable
extremities he may not proceed. We must temporise with Alfred. In
the meantime I shall endeavor to obtain some information
respecting this young person--named Miller, I think you said, and
now resident at South Morden. If I am satisfied that she is a
woman of reputable character, possessing an average education and
presentable manners, we may as well let Alfred take his own way.
He is out of the pale of Society, as it is; and Miss Miller has
no father and mother to complicate matters, which is distinctly a
merit on her part and, in short, if the marriage is not
absolutely disgraceful, the wisest way (as we have no power to
prevent it) will be to submit. You will say nothing to Alfred
about what I propose to do. I tell you plainly I don't trust him.
You will simply inform him from me that I want time to consider,
and that, unless he hears to the contrary in the interval, he may
expect to have the sanction of your presence at his breakfast, or
luncheon, or whatever it is. I must go to town in a day or two,
and I shall ascertain what Alfred's friends know about this last
of his many follies, if I meet any of them at the club."
Returning to South Morden in no serene frame of mind, Hardyman
found Isabel in a state of depression which perplexed and alarmed
The news that his mother might be expected to be present at the
garden party failed entirely to raise her spirits. The only
explanation she gave of the change in her was, that the dull
heavy weather of the last few days made her feel a little languid
and nervous. Naturally dissatisfied with this reply to his
inquiries, Hardyman asked for Miss Pink. He was informed that
Miss Pink could not see him. She was constitutionally subject to
asthma, and, having warnings of the return of the malady, she was
(by the doctor's advice) keeping her room. Hardyman returned to
the farm in a temper which was felt by everybody in his
employment, from the trainer to the stable-boys.
While the apology made for Miss Pink stated no more than the
plain truth, it must be confessed that Hardyman was right in
declining to be satisfied with Isabel's excuse for the melancholy
that oppressed her. She had that morning received Moody's answer
to the lines which she had addressed to him at the end of her
aunt's letter; and she had not yet recovered from the effect
which it had produced on her spirits.
"It is impossible for me to say honestly that I am not distressed
(Moody wrote) by the news of your marriage engagement. The blow
has fallen very heavily on me. When I look at the future now, I
see only a dreary blank. This is not your fault--you are in no
way to blame. I remember the time when I should have been too
angry to own this--when I might have said or done things which I
should have bitterly repented afterwards. That time is past. My
temper has been softened, since I have befriended you in your
troubles. That good at least has come out of my foolish hopes,
and perhaps out of the true sympathy which I have felt for you. I
can honestly ask you to accept my heart's dearest wishes for your
happiness--and I can keep the rest to myself.
"Let me say a word now relating to the efforts that I have made
to help you, since that sad day when you left Lady Lydiard's
"I had hoped (for reasons which it is needless to mention here)
to interest Mr. Hardyman himself in aiding our inquiry. But your
aunt's wishes, as expressed in her letter to me, close my lips. I
will only beg you, at some convenient time, to let me mention the
last discoveries that we have made; leaving it to your
discretion, when Mr. Hardyman has become your husband, to ask him
the questions which, under other circumstances, I should have put
to him myself.
"It is, of course, possible that the view I take of Mr.
Hardyman's capacity to help us may be a mistaken one. In this
case, if you still wish the investigation to be privately carried
on, I entreat you to let me continue to direct it, as the
greatest favor you can confer on your devoted old friend.
"You need be under no apprehension about the expense to which you
are likely to put me. I have unexpectedly inherited what is to me
a handsome fortune.
"The same post which brought your aunt's letter brought a line
from a lawyer asking me to see him on the subject of my late
father's affairs. I waited a day or two before I could summon
heart enough to see him, or to see anybody; and then I went to
his office. You have heard that my father's bank stopped payment,
at a time of commercial panic. His failure was mainly
attributable to the treachery of a friend to whom he had lent a
large sum of money, and who paid him the yearly interest, without
acknowledging that every farthing of it had been lost in
unsuccessful speculations. The son of this man has prospered in
business, and he has honorably devoted a part of his wealth to
the payment of his father's creditors. Half the sum due to _my_
father has thus passed into my hands as his next of kin; and the
other half is to follow in course of time. If my hopes had been
fulfilled, how gladly I should have shared my prosperity with
you! As it is, I have far more than enough for my wants as a
lonely man, and plenty left to spend in your service.
"God bless and prosper you, my dear. I shall ask you to accept a
little present from me, among the other offerings that are made
to you before the wedding day.-- R.M."
The studiously considerate and delicate tone in which these lines
were written had an effect on Isabel which was exactly the
opposite of the effect intended by the writer. She burst into a
passionate fit of tears; and in the safe solitude of her own
room, the despairing words escaped her, "I wish I had died before
I met with Alfred Hardyman!"
As the days wore on, disappointments and difficulties seemed by a
kind of fatality to beset the contemplated announcement of the
Miss Pink's asthma, developed by the unfavorable weather, set the
doctor's art at defiance, and threatened to keep that unfortunate
lady a prisoner in her room on the day of the party. Hardyman's
invitations were in some cases refused; and in others accepted by
husbands with excuses for the absence of their wives. His elder
brother made an apology for himself as well as for his wife.
Felix Sweetsir wrote, "With pleasure, dear Alfred, if my health
permits me to leave the house." Lady Lydiard, invited at Miss
Pink's special request, sent no reply. The one encouraging
circumstance was the silence of Lady Rotherfield. So long as her
son received no intimation to the contrary, it was a sign that
Lord Rotherfield permitted his wife to sanction the marriage by
Hardyman wrote to his Imperial correspondent, engaging to leave
England on the earliest possible day, and asking to be pardoned
if he failed to express himself more definitely, in consideration
of domestic affairs, which it was necessary to settle before he
started for the Continent. I f there should not be time enough to
write again, he promised to send a telegraphic announcement of
his departure. Long afterwards, Hardyman remembered the
misgivings that had troubled him when he wrote that letter. In
the rough draught of it, he had mentioned, as his excuse for not
being yet certain of his own movements, that he expected to be
immediately married. In the fair copy, the vague foreboding of
some accident to come was so painfully present to his mind, that
he struck out the words which referred to his marriage, and
substituted the designedly indefinite phrase, "domestic affairs."
THE day of the garden party arrived. There was no rain; but the
air was heavy, and the sky was overcast by lowering clouds.
Some hours before the guests were expected, Isabel arrived alone
at the farm, bearing the apologies of unfortunate Miss Pink,
still kept a prisoner in her bed-chamber by the asthma. In the
confusion produced at the cottage by the preparations for
entertaining the company, the one room in which Hardyman could
receive Isabel with the certainty of not being interrupted was
the smoking-room. To this haven of refuge he led her--still
reserved and silent, still not restored to her customary spirits.
"If any visitors come before the time," Hardyman said to his
servant, "tell them I am engaged at the stables. I must have an
hour's quiet talk with you," he continued, turning to Isabel, "or
I shall be in too bad a temper to receive my guests with common
politeness. The worry of giving this party is not to be told in
words. I almost wish I had been content with presenting you to my
mother, and had let the rest of my acquaintances go to the
A quiet half hour passed; and the first visitor, a stranger to
the servants, appeared at the cottage-gate. He was a middle-aged
man, and he had no wish to disturb Mr. Hardyman. "I will wait in
the grounds," he said, "and trouble nobody." The middle-aged man,
who expressed himself in these modest terms, was Robert Moody.
Five minutes later, a carriage drove up to the gate. An elderly
lady got out of it, followed by a fat white Scotch terrier, who
growled at every stranger within his reach. It is needless to
introduce Lady Lydiard and Tommie.
Informed that Mr. Hardyman was at the stables, Lady Lydiard gave
the servant her card. "Take that to your master, and say I won't
detain him five minutes." With these words, her Ladyship
sauntered into the grounds. She looked about her with observant
eyes; not only noticing the tent which had been set up on the
grass to accommodate the expected guests, but entering it, and
looking at the waiters who were engaged in placing the luncheon
on the table. Returning to the outer world, she next remarked
that Mr. Hardyman's lawn was in very bad order. Barren sun-dried
patches, and little holes and crevices opened here and there by
the action of the summer heat, announced that the lawn, like
everything else at the farm, had been neglected, in the exclusive
attention paid to the claims of the horses. Reaching a shrubbery
which bounded one side of the grounds next, her Ladyship became
aware of a man slowly approaching her, to all appearance absorbed
in thought. The man drew a little nearer. She lifted her glasses
to her eyes and recognized--Moody.
No embarrassment was produced on either side by this unexpected
meeting. Lady Lydiard had, not long since, sent to ask her former
steward to visit her; regretting, in her warm-hearted way, the
terms on which they had separated, and wishing to atone for the
harsh language that had escaped her at their parting interview.
In the friendly talk which followed the reconciliation, Lady
Lydiard not only heard the news of Moody's pecuniary
inheritance--but, noticing the change in his appearance for the
worse, contrived to extract from him the confession of his
ill-starred passion for Isabel. To discover him now, after all
that he had acknowledged, walking about the grounds at Hardyman's
farm, took her Ladyship completely by surprise. "Good Heavens!"
she exclaimed, in her loudest tones, "what are you doing here?"
"You mentioned Mr. Hardyman's garden party, my Lady, when I had
the honor of waiting on you," Moody answered. "Thinking over it
afterward, it seemed the fittest occasion I could find for making
a little wedding present to Miss Isabel. Is there any harm in my
asking Mr. Hardyman to let me put the present on her plate, so
that she may see it when she sits down to luncheon? If your
Ladyship thinks so, I will go away directly, and send the gift by
Lady Lydiard looked at him attentively. "You don't despise the
girl," she asked, "for selling herself for rank and money? I
do--I can tell you!"
Moody's worn white face flushed a little. "No, my Lady," he
answered, "I can't hear you say that! Isabel would not have
engaged herself to Mr. Hardyman unless she had been fond of
him--as fond, I dare say, as I once hoped she might be of me.
It's a hard thing to confess that; but I do confess it, in
justice to her--God bless her!"
The generosity that spoke in those simple words touched the
finest sympathies in Lady Lydiard's nature. "Give me your hand,"
she said, with her own generous spirit kindling in her eyes. "You
have a great heart, Moody. Isabel Miller is a fool for not
marrying _you_--and one day she will know it!"
Before a word more could pass between them, Hardyman's voice was
audible on the other side of the shrubbery, calling irritably to
his servant to find Lady Lydiard.
Moody retired to the further end of the walk, while Lady Lydiard
advanced in the opposite direction, so as to meet Hardyman at the
entrance to the shrubbery. He bowed stiffly, and begged to know
why her Ladyship had honored him with a visit.
Lady Lydiard replied without noticing the coldness of her
"I have not been very well, Mr. Hardyman, or you would have seen
me before this. My only object in presenting myself here is to
make my excuses personally for having written of you in terms
which expressed a doubt of your honor. I have done you an
injustice, and I beg you to forgive me."
Hardyman acknowledged this frank apology as unreservedly as it
had been offered to him. "Say no more, Lady Lydiard. And let me
hope, now you are here, that you will honor my little party with
Lady Lydiard gravely stated her reasons for not accepting the
"I disapprove so strongly of unequal marriages," she said,
walking on slowly towards the cottage, "that I cannot, in common
consistency, become one of your guests. I shall always feel
interested in Isabel Miller's welfare; and I can honestly say I
shall be glad if your married life proves that my old-fashioned
prejudices are without justification in your case. Accept my
thanks for your invitation; and let me hope that my plain
speaking has not offended you."
She bowed, and looked about her for Tommie before she advanced to
the carriage waiting for her at the gate. In the surprise of
seeing Moody she had forgotten to look back for the dog when she
entered the shrubbery. She now called to him, and blew the
whistle at her watchchain. Not a sign of Tommie was to be seen.
Hardyman instantly directed the servants to search in the cottage
and out of the cottage for the dog. The order was obeyed with all
needful activity and intelligence, and entirely without success.
For the time being at any rate, Tommie was lost.
Hardyman promised to have the dog looked for in every part of the
farm, and to send him back in the care of one of his own men.
With these polite assurances Lady Lydiard was obliged to be
satisfied. She drove away in a very despondent frame of mind.
"First Isabel, and now Tommie," thought her Ladyship. "I am
losing the only companions who made life tolerable to me."
Returning from the garden gate, after taking leave of his
visitor, Hardyman received from his servant a handful of letters
which had just arrived for him. Walking slowly over the lawn as
he opened them, he found nothing but excuses for the absence of
guests who had already accepted their invitations. He had just
thrust the letters into his pocket, when he heard footsteps
behind him, and, looking
round, found himself confronted by Moody.
"Hullo! have you come to lunch?" Hardyman asked, roughly.
"I have come here, sir, with a little gift for Miss Isabel, in
honor of her marriage," Moody answered quietly, "and I ask your
permission to put it on the table, so that she may see it when
your guests sit down to luncheon."
He opened a jeweler's case as he spoke, containing a plain gold
bracelet with an inscription engraved on the inner side: "To Miss
Isabel Miller, with the sincere good wishes of Robert Moody."
Plain as it was, the design of the bracelet was unusually
beautiful. Hardyman had noticed Moody's agitation on the day when
he had met Isabel near her aunt's house, and had drawn his own
conclusions from it. His face darkened with a momentary jealousy
as he looked at the bracelet. "All right, old fellow!" he said,
with contemptuous familiarity. "Don't be modest. Wait and give it
to her with your own hand."
"No, sir," said Moody "I would rather leave it, if you please, to
speak for itself."
Hardyman understood the delicacy of feeling which dictated those
words, and, without well knowing why, resented it. He was on the
point of speaking, under the influence of this unworthy motive,
when Isabel's voice reached his ears, calling to him from the
Moody's face contracted with a sudden expression of pain as he,
too, recognized the voice. "Don't let me detain you, sir," he
said, sadly. "Good-morning!"
Hardyman left him without ceremony. Moody, slowly following,
entered the tent. All the preparations for the luncheon had been
completed; nobody was there. The places to be occupied by the
guests were indicated by cards bearing their names. Moody found
Isabel's card, and put his bracelet inside the folded napkin on
her plate. For a while he stood with his hand on the table,
thinking. The temptation to communicate once more with Isabel
before he lost her forever, was fast getting the better of his
powers of resistance.
"If I could persuade her to write a word to say she liked her
bracelet," he thought, "it would be a comfort when I go back to
my solitary life." He tore a leaf out of his pocket book and
wrote on it, "One line to say you accept my gift and my good
wishes. Put it under the cushion of your chair, and I shall find
it when the company have left the tent." He slipped the paper
into the case which held the bracelet, and instead of leaving the
farm as he had intended, turned back to the shelter of the
HARDYMAN went on to the cottage. He found Isabel in some
agitation. And there, by her side, with his tail wagging slowly,
and his eye on Hardyman in expectation of a possible kick--there
was the lost Tommie!
"Has Lady Lydiard gone?" Isabel asked eagerly.
"Yes," said Hardyman. "Where did you find the dog?"
As events had ordered it, the dog had found Isabel, under these
The appearance of Lady Lydiard's card in the smoking-room had
been an alarming event for Lady Lydiard's adopted daughter. She
was guiltily conscious of not having answered her Ladyship's
note, inclosed in Miss Pink's letter, and of not having taken her
Ladyship's advice in regulating her conduct towards Hardyman. As
he rose to leave the room and receive his visitor in the grounds,
Isabel begged him to say nothing of her presence at the farm,
unless Lady Lydiard exhibited a forgiving turn of mind by asking
to see her. Left by herself in the smoking-room, she suddenly
heard a bark in the passage which had a familiar sound in her
ears. She opened the door--and in rushed Tommie, with one of his
shrieks of delight! Curiosity had taken him into the house. He
had heard the voices in the smoking-room; had recognized Isabel's
voice; and had waited, with his customary cunning and his
customary distrust of strangers, until Hardyman was out of the
way. Isabel kissed and caressed him, and then drove him out again
to the lawn, fearing that Lady Lydiard might return to look for
him. Going back to the smoking-room, she stood at the window
watching for Hardyman's return. When the servants came to look
for the dog, she could only tell them that she had last seen him
in the grounds, not far from the cottage. The useless search
being abandoned, and the carriage having left the gate, who
should crawl out from the back of a cupboard in which some empty
hampers were placed but Tommie himself! How he had contrived to
get back to the smoking-room (unless she had omitted to
completely close the door on her return) it was impossible to
say. But there he was, determined this time to stay with Isabel,
and keeping in his hiding place until he heard the movement of
the carriage-wheels, which informed him that his lawful mistress
had left the cottage! Isabel had at once called Hardyman, on the
chance that the carriage might yet be stopped. It was already out
of sight, and nobody knew which of two roads it had taken, both
leading to London. In this emergency, Isabel could only look at
Hardyman and ask what was to be done.
"I can't spare a servant till after the party," he answered. "The
dog must be tied up in the stables."
Isabel shook her head. Tommie was not accustomed to be tied up.
He would make a disturbance, and he would be beaten by the
grooms. "I will take care of him," she said. "He won't leave me."
"There's something else to think of besides the dog," Hardyman
rejoined irritably. "Look at these letters!" He pulled them out
of his pocket as he spoke. "Here are no less than seven men, all
calling themselves my friends, who accepted my invitation, and
who write to excuse themselves on the very day of the party. Do
you know why? They're all afraid of my father--I forgot to tell
you he's a Cabinet Minister as well as a Lord. Cowards and cads.
They have heard he isn't coming and they think to curry favor
with the great man by stopping away. Come along, Isabel! Let's
take their names off the luncheon table. Not a man of them shall
ever darken my doors again!"
"I am to blame for what has happened," Isabel answered sadly. "I
am estranging you from your friends. There is still time, Alfred,
to alter your mind and let me go."
He put his arm round her with rough fondness. "I would sacrifice
every friend I have in the world rather than lose you. Come
They left the cottage. At the entrance to the tent, Hardyman
noticed the dog at Isabel's heels, and vented his ill-temper, as
usual with male humanity, on the nearest unoffending creature
that he could find. "Be off, you mongrel brute!" he shouted. The
tail of Tommie relaxed from its customary tight curve over the
small of his back; and the legs of Tommie (with his tail between
them) took him at full gallop to the friendly shelter of the
cupboard in the smoking-room. It was one of those trifling
circumstances which women notice seriously. Isabel said nothing;
she only thought to herself, "I wish he had shown his temper when
I first knew him!"
They entered the tent.
"I'll read the names," said Hardyman, "and you find the cards and
tear them up. Stop! I'll keep the cards. You're just the sort of
woman my father likes. He'll be reconciled to me when he sees
you, after we are married. If one of those men ever asks him for
a place, I'll take care, if it's years hence, to put an obstacle
in his way! Here; take my pencil, and make a mark on the cards to
remind me; the same mark I set against a horse in my book when I
don't like him--a cross, inclosed in a circle." He produced his
pocketbook. His hands trembled with anger as he gave the pencil
to Isabel and laid the book on the table. He had just read the
name of the first false friend, and Isabel had just found the
card, when a servant appeared with a message. "Mrs. Drumblade has
arrived, sir, and wishes to see you on a matter of the greatest
Hardyman left the tent, not very willingly. "Wait here," he said
to Isabel; "I'll be back directly."
She was standing near her own place at the table. Moody had left
one end of the jeweler's case visible above the napkin, to
attract her attention. In a minute more the bracelet and note
were in her hands. She dropped on her chair, overwhelmed by the
conflicting emotions that rose in her at
the sight of the bracelet, at the reading of the note. Her head
drooped, and the tears filled her eyes. "Are all women as blind
as I have been to what is good and noble in the men who love
them?" she wondered, sadly. "Better as it is," she thought, with
a bitter sigh; "I am not worthy of him."
As she took up the pencil to write her answer to Moody on the
back of her dinner-card, the servant appeared again at the door
of the tent.
"My master wants you at the cottage, miss, immediately."
Isabel rose, putting the bracelet and the note in the
silver-mounted leather pocket (a present from Hardyman) which
hung at her belt. In the hurry of passing round the table to get
out, she never noticed that her dress touched Hardyman's
pocketbook, placed close to the edge, and threw it down on the
grass below. The book fell into one of the heat cracks which Lady
Lydiard had noticed as evidence of the neglected condition of the
"You ought to hear the pleasant news my sister has just brought
me," said Hardyman, when Isabel joined him in the parlor. "Mrs.
Drumblade has been told, on the best authority, that my mother is
not coming to the party."
"There must be some reason, of course, dear Isabel," added Mrs.
Drumblade. "Have you any idea of what it can be? I haven't seen
my mother myself; and all my inquiries have failed to find it
She looked searchingly at Isabel as she spoke. The mask of
sympathy on her face was admirably worn. Nobody who possessed
only a superficial acquaintance with Mrs. Drumblade's character
would have suspected how thoroughly she was enjoying in secret
the position of embarrassment in which her news had placed her
brother. Instinctively doubting whether Mrs. Drumblade's friendly
behavior was quite as sincere as it appeared to be, Isabel
answered that she was a stranger to Lady Rotherfield, and was
therefore quite at a loss to explain the cause of her ladyship's
absence. As she spoke, the guests began to arrive in quick
succession, and the subject was dropped as a matter of course.
It was not a merry party. Hardyman's approaching marriage had
been made the topic of much malicious gossip, and Isabel's
character had, as usual in such cases, become the object of all
the false reports that scandal could invent. Lady Rotherfield's
absence confirmed the general conviction that Hardyman was
disgracing himself. The men were all more or less uneasy. The
women resented the discovery that Isabel was--personally
speaking, at least--beyond the reach of hostile criticism. Her
beauty was viewed as a downright offense; her refined and modest
manners were set down as perfect acting; "really disgusting, my
dear, in so young a girl." General Drumblade, a large and mouldy
veteran, in a state of chronic astonishment (after his own
matrimonial experience) at Hardyman's folly in marrying at all,
diffused a wide circle of gloom, wherever he went and whatever he
did. His accomplished wife, forcing her high spirits on
everybody's attention with a sort of kittenish playfulness,
intensified the depressing effect of the general dullness by all
the force of the strongest contrast. After waiting half an hour
for his mother, and waiting in vain, Hardyman led the way to the
tent in despair. "The sooner I fill their stomachs and get rid of
them," he thought savagely, "the better I shall be pleased!"
The luncheon was attacked by the company with a certain silent
ferocity, which the waiters noticed as remarkable, even in their
large experience. The men drank deeply, but with wonderfully
little effect in raising their spirits; the women, with the
exception of amiable Mrs. Drumblade, kept Isabel deliberately out
of the conversation that went on among them. General Drumblade,
sitting next to her in one of the places of honor, discoursed to
Isabel privately on "my brother-in-law Hardyman's infernal
temper." A young marquis, on her other side--a mere lad, chosen
to make the necessary speech in acknowledgment of his superior
rank--rose, in a state of nervous trepidation, to propose
Isabel's health as the chosen bride of their host. Pale and
trembling, conscious of having forgotten the words which he had
learnt beforehand, this unhappy young nobleman began: "Ladies and
gentlemen, I haven't an idea--" He stopped, put his hand to his
head, stared wildly, and sat down again; having contrived to
state his own case with masterly brevity and perfect truth, in a
speech of seven words.
While the dismay, in some cases, and the amusement in others, was
still at its height, Hardyman's valet made his appearance, and,
approaching his master, said in a whisper, "Could I speak to you,
sit, for a moment outside?"
"What the devil do you want?" Hardyman asked irritably. "Is that
a letter in your hand? Give it to me."
The valet was a Frenchman. In other words, he had a sense of what
was due to himself. His master had forgotten this. He gave up the
letter with a certain dignity of manner, and left the tent.
Hardyman opened the letter. He turned pale as he read it;
crumpled it in his hand, and threw it down on the table. "By
G--d! it's a lie!" he exclaimed furiously.
The guests rose in confusion. Mrs. Drumblade, finding the letter
within her reach, coolly possessed herself of it; recognized her
mother's handwriting; and read these lines:
"I have only now succeeded in persuading your father to let me
write to you. For God's sake, break off your marriage at any
sacrifice. Your father has heard, on unanswerable authority, that
Miss Isabel Miller left her situation in Lady Lydiard's house on
suspicion of theft."
While his sister was reading this letter, Hardyman had made his
way to Isabel's chair. "I must speak to you, directly," he
whispered. "Come away with me!" He turned, as he took her arm,
and looked at the table. "Where is my letter?" he asked. Mrs.
Drumblade handed it to him, dexterously crumpled up again as she
had found it. "No bad news, dear Alfred, I hope?" she said, in
her most affectionate manner. Hardyman snatched the letter from
her, without answering, and led Isabel out of the tent.
"Read that!" he said, when they were alone. "And tell me at once
whether it's true or false."
Isabel read the letter. For a moment the shock of the discovery
held her speechless. She recovered herself, and returned the
"It is true," she answered.
Hardyman staggered back as if she had shot him.
"True that you are guilty?" he asked.
"No; I am innocent. Everybody who knows me believes in my
innocence. It is true the appearances were against me. They are
against me still." Having said this, she waited, quietly and
firmly, for his next words.
He passed his hand over his forehead with a sigh of relief. "It's
bad enough as it is," he said, speaking quietly on his side. "But
the remedy for it is plain enough. Come back to the tent."
She never moved. "Why?" she asked.
"Do you suppose I don't believe in your innocence too?" he
answered. "The one way of setting you right with the world now is
for me to make you my wife, in spite of the appearances that
point to you. I'm too fond of you, Isabel, to give you up. Come
back with me, and I will announce our marriage to my friends."
She took his hand, and kissed it. "It is generous and good of
you," she said; "but it must not be."
He took a step nearer to her. "What do you mean?" he asked.
"It was against my will," she pursued, "that my aunt concealed
the truth from you. I did wrong to consent to it, I will do wrong
no more. Your mother is right, Alfred. After what has happened, I
am not fit to be your wife until my innocence is proved. It is
not proved yet."
The angry color began to rise in his face once more. "Take care,"
he said; "I am not in a humor to be trifled with."
"I am not trifling with you," she answered, in low, sad tones.
"You really mean what you say?"
"I mean it."
"Don't be obstinate, Isabel. Take time to consider."
"You are very kind, Alfred. My duty is plain to me. I will marry
you--if you still wish it--when my good name is restored to me.
He laid one hand on her arm, and pointed with the other to the
guests in the distance, all leaving the tent on the way to their
"You r good name will be restored to you," he said, "on the day
when I make you my wife. The worst enemy you have cannot
associate _my_ name with a suspicion of theft. Remember that and
think a little before you decide. You see those people there. If
you don't change your mind by the time they have got to the
cottage, it's good-by between us, and good-by forever. I refuse
to wait for you; I refuse to accept a conditional engagement.
Wait, and think. They're walking slowly; you have got some
He still held her arm, watching the guests as they gradually
receded from view. It was not until they had all collected in a
group outside the cottage door that he spoke himself, or that he
permitted Isabel to speak again.
"Now," he said, "you have had your time to get cool. Will you
take my arm, and join those people with me? or will you say
"Forgive me, Alfred!" she began, gently. "I cannot consent, in
justice to you, to shelter myself behind your name. It is the
name of your family; and they have a right to expect that you
will not degrade it--"
"I want a plain answer," he interposed sternly. "Which is it?
Yes, or No?"
She looked at him with sad compassionate eyes. Her voice was firm
as she answered him in one word as he had desired. The word was--
Without speaking to her, without even looking at her, he turned
and walked back to the cottage.
Making his way silently through the group of visitors--every one
of whom had been informed of what had happened by his
sister--with his head down and his lips fast closed, he entered
the parlor and rang the bell which communicated with his
foreman's rooms at the stables.
"You know that I am going abroad on business?" he said, when the
"I am going to-day--going by the night train to Dover. Order the
horse to be put to instantly in the dogcart. Is there anything
wanted before I am off?"
The inexorable necessities of business asserted their claims
through the obedient medium of the foreman. Chafing at the delay,
Hardyman was obliged to sit at his desk, signing checks and
passing accounts, with the dogcart waiting in the stable yard.
A knock at the door startled him in the middle of his work. "Come
in," he called out sharply.
He looked up, expecting to see one of the guests or one of the
servants. It was Moody who entered the room. Hardyman laid down
his pen, and fixed his eyes sternly on the man who had dared to
"What the devil do _you_ want?" he asked.
"I have seen Miss Isabel, and spoken with her," Moody replied.
"Mr. Hardyman, I believe it is in your power to set this matter
right. For the young lady's sake, sir, you must not leave England
without doing it."
Hardyman turned to his foreman. "Is this fellow mad or drunk?" he
Moody proceeded as calmly and as resolutely as if those words had
not been spoken. "I apologize for my intrusion, sir. I will
trouble you with no explanations. I will only ask one question.
Have you a memorandum of the number of that five-hundred pound
note you paid away in France?"
Hardyman lost all control over himself.
"You scoundrel!" he cried, "have you been prying into my private
affairs? Is it _your_ business to know what I did in France?"
"Is it _your_ vengeance on a woman to refuse to tell her the
number of a bank-note?" Moody rejoined, firmly.
That answer forced its way, through Hardyman's anger, to
Hardyman's sense of honor. He rose and advanced to Moody. For a
moment the two men faced each other in silence. "You're a bold
fellow," said Hardyman, with a sudden change from anger to irony.
"I'll do the lady justice. I'll look at my pocketbook."
He put his hand into the breast-pocket of his coat; he searched
his other pockets; he turned over the objects on his
writing-table. The book was gone.
Moody watched him with a feeling of despair. "Oh! Mr. Hardyman,
don't say you have lost your pocketbook!"
He sat down again at his desk, with sullen submission to the new
disaster. "All I can say is you're at liberty to look for it," he
replied. "I must have dropped it somewhere." He turned
impatiently to the foreman, "Now then! What is the next check
wanted? I shall go mad if I wait in this damned place much
Moody left him, and found his way to the servants' offices. "Mr.
Hardyman has lost his pocketbook," he said. "Look for it, indoors
and out--on the lawn, and in the tent. Ten pounds reward for the
man who finds it!"
Servants and waiters instantly dispersed, eager for the promised
reward. The men who pursued the search outside the cottage
divided their forces. Some of them examined the lawn and the
flower-beds. Others went straight to the empty tent. These last
were too completely absorbed in pursuing the object in view to
notice that they disturbed a dog, eating a stolen lunch of his
own from the morsels left on the plates. The dog slunk away under
the canvas when the men came in, waited in hiding until they had
gone, then returned to the tent, and went on with his luncheon.
Moody hastened back to the part of the grounds (close to the
shrubbery) in which Isabel was waiting his return.
She looked at him, while he was telling her of his interview with
Hardyman, with an expression in her eyes which he had never seen
in them before--an expression which set his heart beating wildly,
and made him break off in his narrative before he had reached the
"I understand," she said quietly, as he stopped in confusion.
"You have made one more sacrifice to my welfare. Robert! I
believe you are the noblest man that ever breathed the breath of
His eyes sank before hers; he blushed like a boy. "I have done
nothing for you yet," he said. "Don't despair of the future, if
the pocketbook should not be found. I know who the man is who
received the bank note; and I have only to find him to decide the
question whether it _is_ the stolen note or not."