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Run to Earth by M. E. Braddon

Part 8 out of 11

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back as fast as you can to the neighbourhood of Hallgrove, and show
yourself foremost amongst those who seek for Lionel Dale."

"Yes, yes; I will obey you--I will shake off this miserable hesitation.
I will make my nature iron, as you have made yours."

Sir Reginald rang, and ordered his horse to be brought round to the
door of the inn.

"Where and when shall I see you again?" he asked Victor, as he was
putting on the coat which had hung before the fire to be dried.

"In London, when you return there."

"You leave here soon?"

"To-morrow morning. You will write to me by to-morrow night's post to
tell me all that has occurred in the interval."

"I will do so," answered Reginald.

"Good, and now go; you have already been too long out of the way of
those who should have witnessed your affectionate anxiety about your

* * * * *



Reginald mounted his horse, questioned the ostler respecting the way to
the appointed spot on the river-bank, and rode away in the direction
indicated. He had no difficulty in discovering the scene of the
appointed meeting. The light of the torches in the hands of the
searchers guided him to the spot.

Here he found gentlemen and grooms, huntsmen and farmers, on horseback,
riding up and down the river-bank; some carrying lighted torches, whose
lurid glare shone red against the darkness of the night; all busy, all

Amongst these the baronet found Douglas Dale, who rode up to meet his
cousin, as the other approached.

"Any news, Reginald?" he asked, in a voice that was hoarse with fatigue
and excitement.

"None," answered Sir Reginald: "I have ridden miles, and made many
inquiries, but have been able to discover no traces. Have you no

"None but evil ones," replied Douglas Dale, in a tone of despair "we
have found a battered hat on the edge of the river--hat which my
brother's valet identifies as that worn by his master. We fear the
worst, Reginald--the very worst. All inquiries have been made in the
village, at every farm-house in the parish, and far beyond the parish.
My brother has been seen nowhere. Since we rode down the hill, it seems
as if no human eye had rested on him. In that moment he vanished as
utterly as if the earth had opened to swallow him up alive."

"What is it that you fear?"

"We fear that he tried to cross the river at some point higher up,
where the stream is swollen to a perilous extent, and that both horse
and rider were swept away by the current."

"In that case both horse and rider must be found--alive or dead."

"Ultimately, perhaps, but not easily," answered Douglas; "the bed of
the stream is a mass of tangled weeds. I have heard Lionel say that men
have been drowned in that river whose bodies have never been

"It is horrible!" exclaimed Reginald; "but let us still hope for the
best. All this may be needless misery."

"I fear not, Reginald," answered Douglas; "my brother Lionel is not a
man to be careless about giving anxiety to those who love him."

"I will ride farther along the bank," said the baronet; "I may hear

"And I will wait here," replied Douglas, with the dull apathy of
despair. "The news of my brother's death will reach me soon enough."

Reginald Eversleigh rode on by the river brink, following a group of
horsemen carrying torches. Douglas waited, with his ear on the alert to
catch every sound, his heart beating tumultuously, in the terrible
expectation that each moment would bring him the news he dreaded to

Endless as that interval of expectation and suspense appeared to
Douglas Dale, in reality it was not of very long duration. The cold of
the winter's night did not affect him, the burning fever of fear
devoured him. Soon he lost sight of the glimmering of the torches, as
the bearers followed the bend of the river, and the sound of the men's
voices died out of his ears. But after a while he heard a shout, then
another, and then two men came running towards him, as fast as they
could in the darkness. Douglas Dale knew them both, and called out,
"What is it, Freeman? What is it, Carey? Bad news, I fear."

"Yes, Mr. Douglas, bad news. We've found the rector's hunting-whip."

"Where?" stammered Douglas.

"Below the bridge, sir, close by the ash-tree; and the bank is broken.
I'm afraid it's all up, sir; if he went in there, the horse and he are
both gone, sir."

Like a man walking in a dream, Douglas Dale accompanied the bearers of
the evil tidings to the spot where the group of searchers was collected
together. In the midst stood Squire Mordaunt, holding in his hand a
heavy hunting-whip, which all present recognized, and many had seen in
the rector's hand only that morning. They all made way for Douglas
Dale; they were very silent now, and hopeless conviction was on every

"This makes it too plain, Douglas," said Squire Mordaunt, as he handed
the whip to the rector's brother; "bear it as well as you can, my dear
fellow. There's nothing to be done now till daylight."

"Nothing more?" said Reginald, while Douglas covered his face, and
groaned in unrestrained anguish; "the drags can surely be used? the--"

"Wait a minute, Sir Reginald," said the squire, holding up his hand;
"of course your impatience is very natural, but it would only defeat
itself. To drag the river by torchlight would be equally difficult and
vain. It shall be done as soon as ever there is light. Till then, there
is nothing for any of us to do but to wait. And first, let us get poor
Douglas home."

Douglas Dale made no resistance; he knew the squire spoke truth and
common-sense. The melancholy group broke up, the members of the rectory
returned to its desolate walls, and Douglas at once shut himself up in
his room, leaving to Sir Reginald Eversleigh and Squire Mordaunt the
task of making all the arrangements for the morrow, and communicating
to the ladies the dire intelligence which must be imparted.

Early in the morning, Squire Mordaunt went to Douglas Dale's room. He
found him stretched upon the bed in his clothes. He had made no change
in his dress, and had evidently intended to prolong his vigil until the
morning, but nature had been exhausted, and in spite of himself
Douglas? Dale slept. His old friend stole softly from the room, and
cautioning the household not to permit him who must now be regarded as
their master to be disturbed, he went out, and proceeded to the search.

Douglas Dale did not awake until nine o'clock, and then, starting up
with a terrible consciousness of sorrow, and a sense of self-reproach
because he had slept, he found Squire Mordaunt standing by his bed. The
good old gentleman took the young man's hand in silence, and pressed it
with a pressure which told all.

They laid the disfigured dead body of him who but yesterday had been
the beloved and honoured master of the house in the library, where he
had received the ineffectual warning of the gipsy. It was while Douglas
Dale was contemplating the pale, still features of his brother, with
grief unutterable, that a servant tapped gently at the door, and called
Mr. Mordaunt out.

"'Niagara' is come home, sir," said the man. "He were found, just now,
on the lower road, a-grazing, and he ain't cut, nor hurt in any way,

"He's dirty and wet, I suppose?"

"Well, sir, he's dirty, certainly; and the saddle is soaking; but he's
pretty dry, considering."

"Are the girths broken?"

"No, sir, there's nothing amiss with them."

"Very well. Take care of the horse, but say nothing about him to Mr.
Dale at present."

The visitors at Hallgrove Rectory had received the intelligence which
Sir Reginald Eversleigh had communicated to them with the deepest
concern. Arrangements were made for the immediate departure of the
Grahams, and of Mrs. Mordaunt and her daughters. The squire and Sir
Reginald were to remain with Douglas Dale until the painful formalities
of the inquest and the funeral should be completed.

Douglas Dale was not a weak man, and no one more disliked any
exhibition of sentiment than he. Nevertheless, it was a hard task for
him to enter the breakfast-room, and bid farewell to the guests who had
been so merry only yesterday. But it had to be done, and he did it. A
few sad and solemn words were spoken between him and the Mordaunts, and
the girls left the room in tears. Then he advanced to Lydia Graham, who
was seated in an arm-chair by the fire, still, and pale as a marble
statue. There were no tears in her eyes, no traces of tears upon her
cheeks, but in her heart there was angry, bitter, raging
disappointment--almost fury, almost despair.

Douglas Dale could not look at her without seeing that in very truth
the event which was so terrible to him was terrible to her also, and
his manly heart yearned towards the woman whom he had thought but
little of until now; who had perhaps loved, and certainly now was
grieving for, his beloved brother.

"Shall we ever meet again, Mr. Dale?" she said, wonderingly.

"Why should we not?"

"You will not be able to endure England, perhaps, after this terrible
calamity. You will go abroad. You will seek distraction in change of
scene. Men are such travellers now-a-days."

"I shall not leave England, Miss Graham," answered Douglas, quietly; "I
am a man of the world--I venture to hope that I am also a Christian--
and I can nerve myself to endure grief as a Christian and a man of the
world should endure it. My brother's death will make no alteration in
the plan of my life. I shall return to London almost immediately."

"And we may hope to see you in London?"

"Captain Graham and I are members of the same club. We are very likely
to meet occasionally."

"And am I not to see you as well as my brother?" asked Lydia, in a low

"Do you really wish to see me?"

"Can you wonder that I do so--for the sake of old times. We are friends
of long standing, remember, Mr. Dale."

"Yes," answered Douglas, with marked gravity. "We have known each other
for a long time."

Captain Graham entered the room at this moment.

"The carriage which is to take us to Frimley is ready, Lydia," he said;
"your trunks are all on the roof, and you have only to wish Mr. Dale

"A very sad farewell," murmured Miss Graham. "I can only trust that we
may meet again under happier circumstances."

"I trust we may," replied Douglas, earnestly.

Miss Graham was bonneted and cloaked for the journey. She had dressed
herself entirely in black, in respectful regard of the melancholy
circumstances attending her departure. Nor did she forget that the
sombre hue was peculiarly becoming to her. She wore a dress of black
silk, a voluminous cloak of black velvet trimmed with sables, and a
fashionable bonnet of the same material, with a drooping feather.

Douglas conducted his guests to the carriage, and saw Miss Graham
comfortably seated, with her shawls and travelling-bags on the seat

It was with a glance of mournful tenderness that Miss Graham uttered
her final adieu; but there was no responsive glance in the eyes of
Douglas Dale. His manner was serious and subdued; but it was a manner
not easy to penetrate.

Gordon Graham flung himself back in his seat with a despairing groan.

"Well, Lydia," he said, "this accident in the hunting-field has been
the ruin of all our hopes. I really think you are the most unlucky
woman I ever encountered. After angling for something like ten years in
the matrimonial fisheries, you were just on the point of landing a
valuable fish, and at the last moment your husband that is to be goes
and gets drowned during a day's pleasure."

"What should you say if this accident, which you think unlucky, should,
after all, be a fortunate event for us?" asked Lydia, with

"What the deuce do you mean?"

"How very slow of comprehension you are to-day, Gordon!" exclaimed the
lady, impatiently; "Lionel Dale's income was only five thousand a
year--very little, after all, for a woman with my views of life."

"And with your genius for running into debt," muttered her brother.

"Do you happen to remember the terms of Sir Oswald Eversleigh's will?"
"I should think I do, indeed," replied the captain; "the will was
sufficiently talked about at the time of the baronet's death."

"That will left five thousand a year to each of the two brothers,
Lionel and Douglas. If either should die unmarried, the fortune left to
him was to go to the survivor. Lionel Dale's death doubles Douglas
Dale's income. A husband with ten thousand a year would suit me very
well indeed. And why should I not win Douglas as easily as I won

"Because you are not likely to have the same opportunities."

"I have asked Douglas to visit us in London."

"An invitation which must be very flattering to him, but which he may
or may not accept. However, my dear Lydia, I have the most profound
respect for your courage and perseverance; and if you can win a husband
with ten thousand a year instead of five, so much the better for you,
and so much the better for me, as I shall have a richer brother-in-law
to whom to apply when I find myself in difficulties."

The carriage had reached Frimley by this time. The brother and sister
took their places in the coach which was to convey them to London.

Lydia drew down her veil, and settled herself comfortably in a corner
of the vehicle, where she slept through the tedium of the journey.

At thirty years of age a woman of Miss Graham's character is apt to be
studiously careful of her beauty; and Lydia felt that she needed much
repose after the fever and excitement of her visit to Hallgrove

* * * * *

Sir Reginald Eversleigh played his part well during the few days in
which he remained at the rectory. No mourner could have seemed more
sincere than he, and everybody agreed that the spendthrift baronet
exhibited an unaffected sorrow for his cousin's fate, which proved him
to be a very noble-hearted fellow, in spite of all the dark stories
that had been told of his youth.

Before leaving Hallgrove, Reginald took care to make himself thoroughly
acquainted with his cousin's plans for the future. Douglas, with ten
thousand a year, was, of course, a more valuable acquaintance than he
had been as the possessor of half that income, even if there had been
no dark influence ever busy weaving its secret and fatal web.

"You will go back to your old life in London, Douglas, I suppose?"
said Sir Reginald. "There you will soonest forget the sad affliction
that has befallen you. In the hurrying whirlpool of modern life there
is no leisure for sorrow."

"Yes, I shall come to London," answered Douglas.

"And you will occupy your old quarters?"


"And we shall see as much of each other as ever--eh, Douglas?" said Sir
Reginald. "You must not let poor Lionel's fate prey upon your mind, you
know, my dear fellow; or your health, as well as your spirits, will
suffer. You must go down to Hilton House, and mix with the old set
again. That sort of thing will cheer you up a little."

"Yes," answered Douglas. "I know how far I may rely upon your
friendship, Reginald. I shall place myself quite in your hands."

"My dear fellow, you will not find me unworthy of your confidence."

"I ought not to find you so, Reginald."

Sir Reginald looked at his kinsman thoughtfully for a moment, fancying
there was some hidden meaning in Douglas Dale's words. But the tone in
which he had uttered them was perfectly careless; and Reginald's
suspicion was dispelled by the frank expression of his face.

Sir Reginald left Hallgrove a few days after the fatal accident in the
hunting-field, and went back to his London lodging, which seemed very
shabby and comfortless after the luxury of Hallgrove Rectory. He did
not care to spend his evenings at Hilton House, for he shrank from
hearing Paulina's complaints about her loneliness and poverty. The
London season had not yet begun, and there were few dupes whom the
gamester could victimize by those skilful manoeuvres which so often
helped him to success. It may be that some of the victims had
complained of their losses, and the villa inhabited by the elegant
Austrian widow had begun to be known amongst men of fashion as a place
to be avoided.

Reginald Eversleigh feared that it must be so, when he found the few
young men he met at his club rather disinclined to avail themselves of
Madame Durski's hospitality.

"Have you been to Fulham lately, Caversham?" he asked of a young
lordling, who was master of a good many thousands per annum, but not
the most talented of mankind.

"Fulham!" exclaimed Lord Caversham; "what's Fulham? Ah, to be sure, I
remember--place by the river--very nice--villas--boat-races, and that
kind of thing. Let me see, bishops, and that kind of church-going
people live at Fulham, don't they?"

"I thought you would have remembered one person who lives at Fulham--a
very handsome woman, who made a strong impression upon you."

"Did she--did she, by Jove?" cried the viscount; "and yet, upon my
honour, Eversleigh, I can't remember her. You see, I know so many
splendid women; and splendid women are perpetually making an impression
upon me--and I am perpetually making an impression upon splendid women.
It's mutual, by Jove, Eversleigh, quite mutual. And pray, who is the
lady in question?"

"The beautiful Viennese, Paulina Durski."

The lordling made a wry face.

"Paulina Durski! Yes, Paulina is a pretty woman," he murmured,
languidly; "a very pretty woman; and you're right, Eversleigh--she did
make a profound impression upon me. But, you see, I found the
impression cost me rather too much. Hilton House is the nicest place in
the world to visit; but if a fellow finds himself losing two or three
hundred every time he crosses the threshold, you can be scarcely
surprised if he prefers spending his evenings where he can enjoy
himself a little more cheaply. However, perhaps you'll hardly
understand my feelings on this subject, Eversleigh; for if I remember
rightly you were always a winner when I played at Madame Durski's."

"Was I?" said Sir Reginald, with the air of a man who endeavours to
recall circumstances that are almost forgotten.

The lordling was not altogether without knowledge of the world and of
his fellow-men, and there had been a certain significance in his speech
which had made Eversleigh wince.

"Did I win when you were there?" he asked, carelessly. "Upon my word, I
have forgotten all about it."

"I haven't," answered Lord Caversham. "I bled pretty freely on several
occasions when you and I played _ecarte_; and I have not forgotten the
figures on the cheques I had the pleasure of signing in your favour.
No, my dear Eversleigh, although I consider Madame Durski the most
charming of women, I don't feel inclined to go to Hilton House again."

"Ah!" said Sir Reginald, with a sneer; "there are so few men who have
the art of losing with grace. We have no Stavordales now-a-days. The
man who could win eleven thousand at a coup, and regret that he was not
playing high, since in that case he would have won millions, is an
extinct animal."

"No doubt of it, dear boy; the gentlemanly art of losing placidly is
dying out; and I confess that, for my part, I prefer winning," answered
Lord Caversham, coolly.

This brief conversation was a very unpleasant one for Sir Reginald
Eversleigh. It told him that his career as a gamester must soon come to
a close, or he would find himself a disgraced and branded wretch,
avoided and despised by the men he now called his friends.

It was evident that Viscount Caversham suspected that he had been
cheated; nor was it likely that he would keep his suspicions secret
from the men of his set.

The suspicion once whispered would speedily be repeated by others who
had lost money in the saloons of Madame Durski. Hints and whispers
would swell into a general cry, and Sir Reginald Eversleigh would find
himself tabooed.

The prospect before him looked black as night--a night illumined by one
lurid star, and that was the promise of Victor Carrington.

"It is time for me to have done with poverty," he said to himself.
"Lord Caversham's insolent innuendoes would be silenced if I had ten
thousand a year. It is clear that the game is up at Hilton House.
Paulina may as well go back to Paris or Vienna. The pigeons have taken
fright, and the hawks must seek a new quarry."

Sir Reginald drove straight from his club to the little cottage beyond
Malda Hill. He scarcely expected to find the man whom he had last seen
at an inn in Dorsetshire; but, to his surprise, he was conducted
immediately to the laboratory, where he discovered Victor Carrington
bending over an alembic, which was placed on the top of a small

The surgeon looked up with a start, and Reginald perceived that he wore
the metal mask which he had noticed on a former occasion.

"Who brought you here?" asked Victor, impatiently.

"The servant who admitted me," answered Reginald. "I told her I was
your intimate friend, and that I wanted to see you immediately. She
therefore brought me here."

"She had no right to do so. However, no matter. When did you return? I
scarcely expected to see you in town as soon."

"I scarcely expected to find you hereafter our meeting at Frimley,"
replied the baronet.

"There was nothing to detain me in the country. I came back some days
ago, and have been busy with my old studios in chemistry."

"You still dabble with poisons, I perceive," said Sir Reginald,
pointing to the mask which Victor had laid aside on a table near him.

"Every chemist must dabble in poisons, since poison forms an element of
all medicines," replied Victor. "And now tell me to what new dilemma of
yours do I owe the honour of this visit. You rarely enter this house
except when you find yourself desperately in need of my humble
services. What is the last misfortune?"

"I have just come from the Phoenix, where I met Caversham, I thought I
should be able to get a hundred or so out of him at _ecarte_ to-night;
but the game is up in that quarter."

"He suspects that he has been--_singularly_ unfortunate?"

"He knows it. No man who was not certain of the fact would have dared
to say what he said to me. He insulted me, Carrington-insulted me
grossly; and I was not able to resent his insolence."

"Never mind his insolence," answered Victor; "in six months your
position will be such that no man will presume to insult you. So the
game is up at Hilton House, is it? I thought you were going on a little
too fast. And pray what is to be the next move?"

"What can we do? Paulina's creditors are impatient, and she has very
little money to give them. My own debts are too pressing to permit of
my helping her; and such being the case, the best thing she can do will
be to get back to the Continent as soon as she can."

"On no account, my dear Reginald!" exclaimed Carrington. "Madame Durski
must not leave Hilton House."

"Why not?"

"Never mind the why. I tell you, Reginald, she must stay. You and I
must find enough money to stave off the demands of her sharpest

"I have not a sixpence to give her," answered the baronet; "I can
scarcely afford to pay for the lodging that shelters me, and can still
less afford to lend money to other people."

"Not even to the woman who loves you, and whom you profess to love?"
said Victor, with a sneer. "What a noble-minded creature you are, Sir
Reginald Eversleigh--a pattern of chivalry and devotion! However,
Madame Durski must remain; that is essential to the carrying out of my
plans. If you will not find the money, I know who will."

"And pray who is this generous knight-errant so ready to rush to the
rescue of beauty in distress?"

"Douglas Dale. He is over head and ears in love with the Austrian
widow, and will lend her the money she wants. I shall go at once to
Madame Durski and give her a few hints as to her line of conduct."

There was a pause, during which the baronet seemed to be thinking

"Do you think that a wise course?" he asked, at last.

"Do I think what course wise?" demanded his friend.

"The line of conduct you propose. You say Douglas is in love with
Paulina, and I myself have seen enough to convince me that you are
right. If he is in love with her, he is just the man to sacrifice every
other consideration for her sake. What if he should marry her? Would
not that be a bad look-out for us?"

"You are a fool, Reginald Eversleigh," cried Victor contemptuously;
"you ought to know me better than to fear my discretion. Douglas Dale
loves Paulina Durski, and is the very man to sacrifice all worldly
interests for her sake; the man to marry her, even were she more
unworthy of his love than she is. But he never will marry her,

"How will you prevent such a marriage?"

"That is my secret. Depend upon it I will prevent it. You remember our
compact the night we met at Frimley."

"I do," answered Reginald, in a voice that was scarcely above a

"Very well; I will be true to my part of that compact, depend upon it.
Before this new-born year is out you shall be a rich man."

"I have need of wealth, Victor," replied the baronet, eagerly; "I have
bitter need of it. There are men who can endure poverty; but I am not
one of them. If my position does not change speedily I may find myself
branded with the stigma of dishonour--an outlaw from society. I must be
rich at any cost--at any cost, Victor."

"You have told me that before," answered the Frenchman, coolly, "and I
have promised that you shall be rich. But if I am to keep my promise,
you must submit yourself with unquestioning faith to my guidance. If
the path we must tread together is a dark one, tread it blindly. The
end will be success. And now tell me when you expect to see Douglas
Dale in London."

Sir Reginald explained his cousin's plans, and after a brief
conversation left the cottage. He heard Mrs. Carrington's birds
twittering in the cold January sunshine, and a passing glimpse through
the open doorway of the drawing-room revealed to him the exquisite
neatness and purity of the apartment, which even at this season was
adorned with a few flowers.

"Strange!" he thought to himself, as he left the house; "any stranger
entering that abode would imagine it the very shrine of domestic peace
and simple happiness, and yet it is inhabited by a fiend."

He went back to town. He dined alone in his dingy lodging, scarcely
daring to show himself at his club--Lord Caversham had spoken so
plainly; and had, no doubt, spoken to others still more plainly.
Reginald Eversleigh's face grew hot with shame as he remembered the
insults he had been obliged to endure with pretended unconsciousness.

He feared to encounter other men who also had been losers at Hilton
House, and who might speak as significantly as the viscount had spoken.
This man, who violated the laws of heaven and earth with little terror
of the Divine vengeance, feared above all to be cut by the men of his

This is the slavery which the man of fashion creates for himself--these
are the fetters which such men as Reginald Eversleigh forge for their
own souls.

But before we trace the progress of Sir Reginald from step to step in
this terrible career, we must once more revert to the strange visitors
at Frimley.

Jane Payland by no means approved of passing Christmas-day in the
uninteresting seclusion of a country inn, with nothing more festive to
look forward to than a specially ordered, but lonely dinner, and
nothing to divert her thoughts but the rural spectacle afforded by the
inn-yard. As to going out for a walk in such weather, she would not
have thought of such a thing, even if she had any one to walk out with;
and to go alone--no--Jane Payland had no fancy for amusement of that
order. The day had been particularly dreary to the lady's maid, because
the lady had been busily engaged in affairs of which she had no
cognizance, and this ignorance, not a little exasperating even in town,
became well-nigh intolerable to her in the weariness, the idleness, and
the dullness of Frimley. When Lady Eversleigh went out in the dark
evening, accompanied by the mysterious personage in whom Jane Payland
had recognized their fellow-lodger, the amazement which she experienced
produced an agreeable variety in her sensations, and the fact that the
man with the vulture-like beak carried a carpet-bag intensified her

"Now I'm almost sure she is something to him; and she has come down
here with him to see her people," said Jane Payland to herself, as she
sat desolately by the fire in her mistress's room, a well-thumbed novel
lying neglected on her knee; "and she's mean enough to be ashamed of
them. Well, I don't think I should be that of my own flesh and blood,
if I was ever so great and so grand. I suppose the bag is full of
presents--I'm sure she might have told me if it was clothes she was
going to give away; I shouldn't have grudged 'em to the poor things."

Grumbling a good deal, wondering more, and feasting a little, Jane
Payland got through the time until her mistress returned. But for all
her grumbling, and all her suspicion, the girl was daily growing more
and more attached to her mistress, and her respect was increasing with
her liking. Lady Eversleigh returned to the inn alone late on that
dismal Christmas-night, and she looked worn, troubled, and weary. After
a few kind words to Jane Payland, she dismissed the girl, and went to
bed, very tired and heart-sick. "How am I to prove it?" she asked
herself, as she lay wearily awake. "How am I to prove it? in my
borrowed character I am suspected; in my own, I should not be believed,
or even listened to for a moment. He is a good man, that Lionel Dale,
and he is doomed, I fear."

On the morning of the twenty-sixth Mr. Andrew Larkspur had another long
private conference with Lady Eversleigh, the immediate result of which
was his setting out, mounted on the stout pony which we have seen in
difficulties in a previous chapter, and vainly endeavouring to come up
with Lionel Dale at the hunt. When Mr. Andrew Larkspur arrived at the
melancholy conviction that his errand was a useless one, and that he
must only return to Frimley, and concert with Lady Eversleigh a new
plan of action, he also became aware that he was more hurt and shaken
by his fall than he had at first supposed. When he reached Frimley he
felt exceedingly sick and weak, ("queer," he expressed it), and was
constrained to tell his anxious and unhappy client that he must go away
and rest if he hoped to be fit for anything in the evening, or on the
next day. "I will see Mr. Dale to-night, if he and I are both alive,"
said Mr. Larkspur; "but if he was there before me I could not say a
word to him now. I don't mean to say I have not had a hurt or two in
the course of my life before now, but I never was so regularly dead-
beat; and that's the truth."

Thus it happened that the acute Mr. Larkspur was _hors de combat_ just
at the time when his acuteness would have found most employment, and
thus Lady Eversleigh's project of vengeance received, unconsciously,
the first check. The game of reprisals was, indeed, destined to be
played, but not by her; Providence would do that, in time, in the long
run. Meanwhile, she strove, after her own fashion, to become the
executor of its decrees.

The news of Lionel Dale's sudden disappearance, and the alarm to which
it gave rise, reached the little town of Frimley in due course; but it
was slow to reach the lonely lady at the inn. Lady Eversleigh had taken
counsel with herself after Mr. Larkspur had left her, and had come to
the determination that she would tell Lionel Dale the whole truth. She
resolved to lay before him a full statement of all the circumstances of
her life, to reveal all she knew, and all she suspected concerning Sir
Reginald Eversleigh, and to tell him of Carrington's presence in her
neighbourhood, as well as the designs which she believed him to
cherish. She told herself that her dead husband's kinsman could
scarcely refuse to believe her statement, when she reminded him that
she had no object to serve in this revelation but the object of truth
and respect for her husband's memory. When he, Lionel Dale, could have
rehabilitated her in public opinion by taking his place beside her, he
had not done so; it was too late now, no advance on his part could undo
that which had been done, and he could not therefore think that in
taking this step she was trying to curry favour with him in order to
further her own interest. After debating the question for some time,
she resolved to write a letter, which Larkspur could carry to the

A great deal of time was consumed by Lady Eversleigh in writing this
letter, and the darkness had fallen long before it was finished. When
she rang for lights, she took no notice of the person who brought them,
and she directed that her dinner should not be served until she rang
for it. Thus no interruption of her task occurred, until Mr. Larkspur,
looking very little the better for his rest and refreshment, presented
himself before her. Lady Eversleigh was just beginning to tell him what
she had done, when he interrupted her, by saying, in a tone which would
have astonished any of his intimates, for there was a touch of real
feeling in it, apart from considerations of business--

"I'm afraid we're too late. I'm very much afraid Carrington has been
one too many for us, and has done the trick."

"What do you mean?" asked Lady Eversleigh, rising, in extreme
agitation, and turning deadly pale. "Has any harm come to Lionel Dale?"

Then Mr. Andrew Larkspur told Lady Eversleigh the report which had
reached the town, and of whose truth a secret instinct assured them
both, only too completely. They were, indeed, powerless now; the enemy
had been too strong, too subtle, and too quick for them. Mr. Larkspur
did not remain long with Lady Eversleigh; but having counselled her to
keep silence on the subject, to ask no questions of any one, and to
preserve the letter she had written, which Mr. Larkspur, for reasons of
his own, was anxious to see, he left her, and set off for the rectory.
He reached his destination before the return of the party who had gone
to search for the missing man. He mingled freely, almost unnoticed,
with the servants and the villagers who had crowded about the house and
lodges, and all he heard confirmed him in his belief that the worst had
happened, that Lionel Dale had, indeed, come by his death, either
through the successful contrivance of Carrington, or by an
extraordinary accident, coincident with his enemy's fell designs. Mr.
Larkspur asked a great many questions of several persons that night,
and as talking to a stranger helped the watchers and loiterers over
some of the time they had to drag through until the genuine
apprehension of some, and the curiosity of others, should be realized
or satisfied, he met with no rebuffs. But, on the other hand, neither
did he obtain any information of value. No stranger had been seen to
join the hunt that day, or noticed lurking about Hallgrove that
morning, and Mr. Larkspur's own reliable eyes had assured him that
Carrington was not among the recipients of the rector's hospitality on
Christmas-day. The footman, who had directed the unknown visitor by the
way past the stables to the lower road, did not remember that
circumstance and so it did not come to Mr. Larkspur's knowledge. When
the party who had led the search for Lionel Dale returned to the
rectory, and the worst was known, Mr. Larkspur went away, after having
arranged with a small boy, who did odd jobs for the gardener at
Hallgrove, that if the body was brought home in the morning, he should
go over to Frimley, on consideration of half-a-crown, and inquire at
the inn for Mr. Bennett.

"It's no good thinking about what's to be done, till the body's found,
and the inquest settled," thought Mr. Larkspur. "I don't think anything
can be done _then_, but it's clear there's no use in thinking about it
to-night. So I shall just tell my lady so, and get to bed. Confound
that pony!"

At a reasonably early hour on the following morning, the juvenile
messenger arrived from Hallgrove, and, on inquiring for Mr. Bennett,
was ushered into the presence of Mr. Larkspur. The intelligence he
brought was brief, but important. The rector's body had been found,
much disfigured; he had struck against a tree, the doctors said, in
falling into the river, and been killed by the blow, "as well as
drownded," added the boy, with some appreciation of the additional
piquancy of the circumstance. He was laid out in the library. The fine
folks were gone, or going, except Squire Mordaunt and Sir Reginald, the
rector's cousin. Mr. Douglas took on about it dreadfully; the bay horse
had come home, with his saddle wet, but he was not hurt or cut about,
as the boy knew of. This was all the boy had to tell.

Mr. Larkspur dismissed the messenger, having faithfully paid him the
stipulated half-crown, and immediately sought the presence of Lady
Eversleigh. The realization of all her fears shocked her deeply, and in
the solemnity of the dread event which had occurred she almost lost
sight of her own purpose, it seemed swallowed up in a calamity so
appalling. But Mr. Larkspur was of a tougher and more practical
temperament. He lost no time in setting before his client the state of
the case as regarded herself, and the purpose with which she had gone
to Frimley, now rendered futile. Mr. Larkspur entertained no doubt that
Carrington had been in some way accessory to the death of Lionel Dale,
but circumstances had so favoured the criminal that it would be
impossible to prove his crime.

"If I told you all I know about the horse and about the man," said Mr.
Larkspur, "what good would it do? The man bought a horse very like Mr.
Dale's, and he rode away from here mounted on that horse, on the same
day that Mr. Dale was drowned. I believe he changed the horses in Mr.
Dale's stable; but there's not a tittle of proof of it, and how he
contrived the thing I cannot undertake to say, for no mortal saw him at
the rectory or at the meet; and the horse that every one would be
prepared to swear was the horse that Mr. Dale rode, is safe at home at
the rectory now, having evidently been in the river. Seeing we can't
prove the matter, it's my opinion we'd better not meddle with it, more
particularly as nothing that we can prove will do Sir Reginald
Eversleigh any harm, and, if either of this precious pair of rascals is
to escape, you don't want it to be him."

"Oh, no, no!" said Lady Eversleigh, "he is so much worse than the other
as his added cowardice makes him."

"Just so. Well, then, if you want to punish him and his agent, this is
certainly not the opportunity. Next to winning, there's nothing like
thoroughly understanding and acknowledging what you've lost, and we
have lost this game, beyond all question. Let us see, now, if we cannot
win the next. If I understand the business right, Mr. Douglas Dale is
his brother's heir?"

"Yes," said Lady Eversleigh; "his life only now stands between Sir
Reginald and fortune."

"Then he will take that life by Carrington's agency, as I believe he
has taken Lionel Dale's," said Mr. Larkspur; "and my idea is that the
proper way to prevent him is to go away from this place, where no good
is to be done, and where any movement will only defeat our purpose, by
putting him on his guard--letting him know he is watched (forewarned,
forearmed, you know)--and set ourselves to watch Carrington in London."

"Why in London? How do you know he's there?"

Mr. Larkspur smiled.

"Lord bless your innocence!" he replied. "How do I know it? Why, ain't
London the natural place for him to be in? Ain't London the place where
every one that has done a successful trick goes to enjoy it, and every
one that has missed his tip goes to hide himself? I'll take my davy,
though it's a thing I don't like doing in general, that Carrington's
back in town, living with his mother, as right as a trivet."

So Lady Eversleigh and Jane Payland travelled up to town again, and
took up their old quarters. And Mr. Larkspur returned, and resumed his
room and his accustomed habits. But before he had been many hours in
London, he had ascertained, by the evidence of his own eyes, that
Victor Carrington was, as he had predicted, in town, living with his
mother, and "as right as a trivet."



In the afternoon of the day following that on which Sir Reginald paid a
visit to Victor Carrington, the latter gentleman presented himself at
the door of Hilton House. The frost had again set in, and this time
with more than usual severity. There had been a heavy fall of snow, and
the park-like grounds surrounding Madame Durski's abode had an almost
fairy-like appearance, the tracery of the leafless trees defined by the
snow that had lodged on every branch, the undulating lawn one bed of
pure white.

He knocked at the door and waited. The woman at the lodge had told him
that it was very unlikely he would be able to see Madame Durski at this
hour of the day, but he had walked on to the house notwithstanding.

It was already nearly four o'clock in the afternoon; but at that hour
Paulina had rarely left her own apartments.

Victor Carrington knew this quite as well as the woman at the lodge,
but he had business to do with another person as well as Paulina
Durski. That other person was the widow's humble companion.

The door was opened by Carlo Toas, Paulina's confidential courier and
butler. This man looked very suspiciously at the visitor.

"My mistress receives no one at this hour," he said.

"I am aware that she does not usually see visitors so early," replied
Carrington; "but as I come on particular business, and as I come a long
way to see her, she will perhaps make an exception in my favour."

He produced his card-case as he spoke, and handed the man a card, on
which he had written the following words in pencil:

"_Pray see me, dear madame. I come on really important business, which
will bear no delay. If you cannot see me till your dinner-hour, I will

The Spaniard ushered Victor into one of the reception-rooms, which
looked cold and chill in the winter daylight. Except the grand piano,
there was no trace of feminine occupation in the room. It looked like
an apartment kept only for the reception of visitors--an apartment
which lacked all the warmth and comfort of home.

Victor waited for some time, and began to think his message had not
been taken to the mistress of the house, when the door was opened, and
Miss Brewer appeared.

She looked at the visitor with an inquisitive glance as she entered the
room, and approached him softly, with her light, greenish-grey eyes
fixed upon his face.

"Madame Durski has been suffering from nervous headache all day," she
said, "and has not yet risen. Her dinner-hour is half-past six. If your
business is really of importance, and if you care to wait, she will be
happy to see you then."

"My business is of real importance; and I shall be very glad to wait,"
answered Victor. "Since Madame Durski is, unhappily, unable to receive
me for some time, I shall gladly avail myself of the opportunity, in
order to enjoy a little conversation with you, Miss Brewer," he said,
courteously, "always supposing that you are not otherwise engaged."

"I have no other engagement whatever," answered the lady, in a cold,
measured voice.

"I wish to speak to you upon very serious business," continued Victor,
"and I believe that I can venture to address you with perfect candour.
The business to which I allude concerns the interests of Madame Durski,
and I have every reason to suppose that you are thoroughly devoted to
her interests."

"For whom else should I care?" returned Miss Brewer, with a bitter
laugh. "Madame Durski is the only friend I can count in this world. I
have known her from her childhood--and if I can believe anything good
of my species, which is not very easy for me to do, I can believe that
she cares for me--a little--as she might care for some piece of
furniture which she had been accustomed to see about her from her
infancy, and which she would miss if it were removed."

"You wrong your friend," said Victor. "She has every reason to be
sincerely attached to you, and I have little doubt that she is so."

"What right have you to have little doubt or much doubt about it?"
exclaimed Miss Brewer, contemptuously; "and why do you try to palm off
upon me the idle nonsense which senseless people consider it incumbent
on them to utter? You do not know Paulina Durski--I do. She is a woman
who never in her life cared for more than two things."

"And these two things are--"

"The excitement of the gaming-table, and the love of your worthless
friend, Sir Reginald Eversleigh."

"Does she really love my friend?"

"She does. She loves him as few men deserve to be loved--and least of
all that man. She loves him, although she knows that her affection is
unreturned, unappreciated. For his sake she would sacrifice her own
happiness, her own prosperity. Women are foolish creatures, Mr.
Carrington, and you men do wisely when you despise them."

"I will not enter into the question of my friend's merits," said
Victor; "but I know that Madame Durski has won the love of a man who is
worthy of any woman's affection--a man who is rich, and can elevate her
from her present--doubtful--position."

The Frenchman uttered these last words with a great appearance of
restraint and hesitation.

"Say, miserable position," exclaimed Miss Brewer; "for Paulina Durski's
position is the most degraded that a woman--whose life has been
comparatively sinless--ever occupied."

"And every day its degradation will become more profound," said Victor.
"Unless Madame Durski follows my advice, she cannot long remain in
England. In her native city she has little to hope for. In Paris, her
name has acquired an evil odour. What, then, lies before her?"

"Ruin!" exclaimed Miss Brewer, abruptly; "starvation it may be. I know
that our race is nearly run, Mr. Carrington. You need not trouble
yourself to remind me of our misery."

"If I do remind you of it, I only do so in the hope that I may be able
to serve you," answered Victor. "I have tasted all the bitterness of
poverty, Miss Brewer. Forgive me, if I ask whether you, too, have been
acquainted with its sting?"

"Have I felt its sting?" cried the poor faded creature. "Who has felt
the tooth of the serpent, Poverty, more cruelly than I? It has pierced
my very heart. From my childhood I have known nothing but poverty.
Shall I tell you my story, Mr. Carrington? I am not apt to speak of
myself, or of my youth; but you have evoked the demon, Memory, and I
feel a kind of relief in speaking of that long-departed time."

"I am deeply interested in all you say, Miss Brewer. Stranger though I
am, believe me that my interest is sincere."

As Victor Carrington said this, Charlotte Brewer looked at him with a
sharp, penetrating glance. She was not a woman to be fooled by shallow
hypocrisies. The light of the winter's day was fading; but even in the
fading light Victor saw the look of sharp suspicion in her pinched

"Why should you be interested in me?" she asked, abruptly.

"Because I believe you may be useful to me," answered Victor, boldly.
"I do not want to deceive you, Miss Brewer. Great triumphs have been
achieved by the union of two powerful minds."

I know you to possess a powerful mind; I know you to be a woman above
ordinary prejudices; and I want you to help me, as I am ready to help
you. But you were about to tell me the story of your youth.

"It shall be told briefly," said Miss Brewer, speaking in a rapid,
energetic manner that was the very reverse of the measured tones she
was wont to use. "I am the daughter of a disgraced man, who was a
gentleman once; but I have forgotten that time, as he forgot it long
before he died.

"My father passed the last ten years of his life in a prison. He died
in that prison, and within those dingy smoke-blackened walls my
childhood was spent--a joyless childhood, without a hope, without a
dream, haunted perpetually by the dark phantom, Poverty. I emerged from
that prison to enter a new one, in the shape of a West-end boarding-
school, where I became the drudge and scape-goat of rich citizens'
daughters, heiresses presumptive to the scrapings of tallow-chandlers
and coal-merchants, linen-drapers and cheesemongers. For six years I
endured my fate patiently, uncomplainingly. Not one creature amongst
that large household loved me, or cared for me, or thought whether I
was happy or miserable.

"I worked like a slave. I rose early, and went to bed late, giving my
youth, my health, my beauty--you will smile, perhaps, Mr. Carrington,
but in those days I was accounted a handsome woman--in exchange for
what? My daily bread, and the education which was to enable me to earn
a livelihood hereafter. Some distant relations undertook to clothe me;
and I was dressed in those days about as shabbily as I have been
dressed ever since. In all my life, I never knew the innocent pleasure
which every woman feels in the possession of handsome clothes.

"At eighteen, I left the boarding-school to go on the Continent, where
I was to fill a situation which had been procured for me. That
situation was in the household of Paulina Durski's father. Paulina was
ten years of age, and I was appointed as her governess and companion.
From that day to this, I have never left her. As much as I am capable
of loving any one, I love her. But my mind has been embittered by the
miseries of my girlhood, and I do not pretend to be capable of much
womanly feeling."

"I thank you for your candour," said Victor. "It is of importance for
me to understand your position, for, by so doing, I shall be the better
able to assist you. I may believe, then, that there is only one person
in the world for whom you care, and that person is Paulina Durski?"

"You may believe that."

"And I may also believe that you, who have drained to the dregs the
bitter cup of poverty, would do much, and risk much, in order to be

"You may."

"Then, Miss Brewer, let me speak to you openly, as one sincerely
interested in you, and desirous of serving you and your charming but
infatuated friend. May I hope that we shall be uninterrupted for some
time longer, for I am anxious to explain myself at once, and fully, now
that the opportunity has arisen?"

"No one is likely to enter this room, unless summoned by me," said Miss
Brewer. "You may speak freely, and at any length you please, Mr.
Carrington; but I warn you, you are speaking to a person who has no
faith in any profession of disinterested regard."

As she spoke, Miss Brewer leaned back in her chair, folded her hands
before her, and assumed an utterly impassible expression of
countenance. No less promising recipient of a confidential scheme could
have been seen: but Victor Carrington was not in the least discouraged.
He replied, in a cheerful, deferential, and yet business-like tone:

"I am quite aware of that, Miss Brewer; and for my part, I should not
feel the respect I do feel for you if I believed you so deficient in
sense and experience as to take any other view. I don't offer myself to
you in the absurd disguise of a _preux chevalier_, anxious to espouse
the unprofitable cause of two unprotected women in an equivocal
position, and in circumstances rapidly tending to desperation."

Here Victor Carrington glanced at his companion; he wanted to see if
the shot had told. But Miss Brewer cared no more for the almost open
insult, than she had cared for the implied interest conveyed in the
exordium of his discourse. She sat silent and motionless. He continued:

"I have an object to gain, which I am resolved to achieve. Two ways to
the attainment of this object are open to me; the one injurious, in
fact destructive, to you and Madame Durski, the other eminently
beneficial. I am interested in you. I particularly like Madame Durski,
though I am not one of the legion of her professed admirers."

Miss Brewer shook her head sadly. That legion was much reduced in its
numbers of late.

"Therefore," continued Carrington, without seeming to observe the
gesture, "I prefer to adopt the latter course, and further your
interests in securing my own. I suppose you can at least understand and
credit such very plain motives, so very plainly expressed, Miss

"Yes," she said, "that may be true; it does not seem unlikely; we shall

"You certainly shall. My explanation will not, I hope, be unduly
tedious, but it is indispensable that it should be full. You know, Miss
Brewer, that Sir Reginald Eversleigh and I are intimate friends?"

Miss Brewer smiled--a pale, prolonged, unpleasant smile, and then
replied, speaking very deliberately:

"I know nothing of the kind, Mr. Carrington. I know you are much
together, and have an air of familiar acquaintance, which is the true
interpretation of friendship, I take it, between men of the world--of
_your_ world in particular."

The hard and determined expression of her manner would have discouraged
and deterred most men. It did not discourage or deter Victor

"Put what interpretation you please upon my words," he said, "but
recognize the facts. There is a strict alliance, if you prefer that
phrase, between me and Sir Reginald Eversleigh, and his present
intimacy, with his seeming devotion to Madame Durski, prevents him from
carrying out the terms of that alliance to my satisfaction. I am
therefore resolved to break off that intimacy. Do you comprehend me so

"Yes, I comprehend you so far," answered Miss Brewer, "perfectly."

"Considering Madame Durski's feelings for Sir Reginald--feelings of
which, I assure you, I consider him, even according to my own
unpretending standard, entirely unworthy--this intimacy cannot be
broken off without pain to her, but it might be destroyed without any
profit, nay, with ruinous loss. Now, I cannot spare her the pain; that
is necessary, indispensable, both for her good, and--which I don't
pretend not to regard more urgently--my own. But I can make the pain
eminently profitable to her, with your assistance--in fact, so
profitable as to secure the peace and prosperity of her whole future

He paused, and Miss Brewer looked steadily at him, but she did not

"Reginald Eversleigh owes me money, Miss Brewer, and I cannot afford to
allow him to remain in my debt. I don't mean that he has borrowed money
from me, for I never had any to lend, and, having any, should never
have lent it." He saw how the tone he was taking suited the woman's
perverted mind, and pursued it. "But I have done him certain services
for which he undertook to pay me money, and I want money. He has none,
and the only means by which he can procure it is a rich marriage. Such
a marriage is within his reach; one of the richest heiresses in London
would have him for the asking--she is an ironmonger's daughter, and
pines to be My Lady--but he hesitates, and loses his time in visits to
Madame Durski, which are only doing them both harm. Doing her harm,
because they are deceiving her, encouraging a delusion; and doing him
harm, because they are wasting his time, and incurring the risk of his
being 'blown upon' to the ironmonger. Vulgar people of the kind, you
know, my dear Miss Brewer, give ugly names, and attach undue importance
to intimacies of this kind, and--and--in short, it is on the cards that
Madame Durski may spoil Sir Reginald's game. Well, as that game is also
mine, you will find no difficulty in understanding that I do not intend
Madame Durski shall spoil it."

"Yes, I understand that," said Miss Brewer, as plainly as before; "but
I don't understand how Paulina is to be served in the affair, and I
don't understand what my part is to be in it."

"I am coming to that," he said. "You cannot be unaware of the
impression which Madame Durski has made upon Sir Reginald's cousin,
Douglas Dale."

"I know he did admire her," said Miss Brewer, "but he has not been here
since his brother's death. He is a rich man now."

"Yes, he is--but that will make no change in him in certain respects.
Douglas Dale is a fool, and will always remain so. Madame Durski has
completely captivated him, and I am perfectly certain he would marry
her to-morrow, if she could be brought to consent."

"A striking proof that Mr. Douglas Dale deserves the character you have
given him, you would say, Mr. Carrington?"

"Madam, I am at the mercy of your perspicuity," said Victor, with a
mock bow; "however, a truce to badinage--Douglas Dale is a rich man,
and very much in love with Madame Durski; but he is the last man in the
world to interfere with his cousin, by trying to win her affections, if
he believes her attached to Sir Reginald. He is a fool in some things,
as I have said before, and he is much more likely, if he thinks it a
case of mutual desperation, to contribute a thousand a year or so to
set the couple up in a modest competence, like a princely proprietor in
a play, than to advance his own claims. Now, this modest competence
business would not suit Sir Reginald, or Madame Durski, or me, but the
other arrangement would be a capital thing for us all."

"H--m, you see she really loves your friend, Sir Reginald," said Miss

"Tush," ejaculated Victor Carrington, contemptuously; "of course I know
she does, but what does it matter? She would be the most wretched of
women if Reginald married her, and _he won't_,--after all, that's the
great point, he won't. Now Dale will, and will give her unlimited
control of his money--a very nice position, _not_ so elevated as to
ensure an undesirable raking-up of her antecedents, and the means of
proving her gratitude to you, by providing for you comfortably for

"That is all possible," replied Miss Brewer, as calmly as before; "but
what am I to do towards bringing about so desirable a state of

"You have to use the influence which your position _aupres de_ Madame
Durski gives you. You can keep her situation constantly before her, you
can perpetually harp upon its exigencies--they are pressing, are they
not? Yes--then make them more pressing. Expose her to the constant
worry and annoyance of poverty, make no effort to hide the
inconvenience of ruin. She is a bad manager, of course--all women of
her sort are bad managers. Don't help her--make the very worst of
everything. Then, you can take every opportunity of pointing out
Reginald's neglect, all his defalcations, the cruelty of his conduct to
her, the evidence of his never intending to marry her, the selfishness
which makes him indifferent to her troubles, and unwilling to help her.
Work on pride, on pique, on jealousy, on the love of comfort and
luxury, and the horror of poverty and privation, which are always
powerful in the minds of women like Madame Durski. Don't talk much to
her at first about Douglas Dale, especially until he has come to town
and has resumed his visiting here; but take care that her difficulties
press heavily upon her, and that she is kept in mind that help or hope
from Reginald there is none. I have no doubt whatever that Dale will
propose to her, if he does not see her infatuation for Reginald."

"But suppose Mr. Dale does not come here at all?" asked Miss Brewer;
"he has broken through the habit now, and he may have thought it over,
and determined to keep away."

"Suppose a moth flies away from a candle, Miss Brewer," returned
Carrington, "and makes a refreshing excursion out of window into the
cool evening air! May we not calculate with tolerable certainty on his
return, and his incremation? The last thing in all this matter I should
think of doubting would be the readiness of Douglas Dale to tumble
head-foremost into any net we please to spread for him."

A short pause ensued--interrupted by Miss Brewer, who said, "I suppose
this must all be done quickly--on account of that wealthy Philistine,
the ironmonger?"

"On account of my happening to want money very badly, Miss Brewer, and
Madame Durski finding herself in the same position. The more quickly
the better for all parties. And now, I have spoken very plainly to you
so far, let me speak still more plainly. It is manifestly for your
advantage that Madame Durski should be rich and respectable, rather
than that she should be poor and--under a cloud. It is no less
manifestly, though not so largely, for your advantage, that I should
get my money from Reginald Eversleigh, because, when I do, get it, I
will hand you five hundred pounds by way of bonus."

"If there were any means by which you could be legally bound to the
fulfilment of that promise, Mr. Carrington," said Miss Brewer, "I
should request you to put it in writing. But I am quite aware that no
such means exist. I accept it, therefore, with moderate confidence, and
will adopt the course you have sketched, not because I look for the
punctual payment of the money, but because Paulina's good fortune, if
secured, will secure mine. But I must add," and here Miss Brewer sat
upright in her chair, and a faint colour came into her sallow cheek, "I
should not have anything to do with your plots and plans, if I did not
believe, and see, that this one is for Paulina's real good."

Victor Carrington smiled, as he thought, "Here is a rare sample of
human nature. Here is this woman, quite pleased with herself, and
positively looking almost dignified, because she has succeeded in
persuading herself that she is actuated by a good motive."

The conversation between Miss Brewer and Victor Carrington lasted for
some time longer, and then he was left alone, while Miss Brewer went to
attend the _levee_ of Madame Durski. As he paced the room, Carrington
smiled again, and muttered, "If Dale were only here, and she could be
persuaded to borrow money of him, all would be right. So far, all is
going well, and I have taken the right course. My motto is the motto of
Danton--'_De l'audace, de l'audace, et toujours de l'audace_.'"

* * * * *

Victor Carrington dined with Madame Durski and her companion. The meal
was served with elegance, but the stamp of poverty was too plainly
impressed upon all things at Hilton House. The dinner served with such
ceremony was but a scanty banquet--the wines were poor--and Victor
perceived that, in place of the old silver which he had seen on a
previous occasion, Madame Durski's table was furnished with the most
worthless plated ware.

Paulina herself looked pale and haggard. She had the weary air of a
woman who finds life a burden almost too heavy for endurance.

"I have consented to see you this evening, Mr. Carrington, in
accordance with your very pressing message," she said, when she found
herself alone in the drawing-room with Victor Carrington after dinner,
Miss Brewer having discreetly retired; "but I cannot imagine what
business you can have with me."

"Do not question my motives too closely, Madame Durski," said Victor;
"there are some secrets lying deep at the root of every man's
existence. Believe me, when I assure you that I take a real interest in
your welfare, and that I came here to-night in the hope of serving you.
Will you permit me to speak as a friend?"

"I have so few friends that I should be the last to reject any honest
offer of friendship," answered Paulina, with a sigh. "And you are the
friend of Reginald Eversleigh. That fact alone gives you some claim to
my regard."

The widow had admitted Victor Carrington to a more intimate
acquaintance than the rest of her visitors; and it was fully understood
between them that he knew of the attachment between herself and Sir

"Sir Reginald Eversleigh is my friend," replied Victor; "but do not
think me treacherous, Madame Durski, when I tell you he is not worthy
of your regard. Were he here at this moment, I would say the same. He
is utterly selfish--it is of his own interest alone that he thinks; and
were the chance of a wealthy marriage to offer itself, I firmly believe
that he would seize it--ay! even if by doing so he knew that he was to
break your heart. I think you know that I am speaking the truth, Madame

"I do," answered Paulina, in a dull, half despairing tone. "Heaven help
me! I know that it is the truth. I have long known as much. We women
are capable of supreme folly. My folly is my regard for your friend
Reginald Eversleigh."

"Let your pride work the cure of that wasted devotion, madame," said
Victor, earnestly. "Do not submit any longer to be the dupe, the tool,
of this man. Do you know how dearly your self-sacrifice has cost you? I
am sure you do not. You do not know that this house is beginning to be
talked about as a place to be shunned. You have observed, perhaps, that
you have had few visitors of late. Day by day your visitors will grow
fewer. This house is marked. It is talked of at the clubs; and Reginald
Eversleigh will no longer be able to live upon the spoils won from his
dupes and victims. The game is up, Madame Durski; and now that you can
no longer be useful to Reginald Eversleigh, you will see how much his
love is worth."

"I believe he loves me," murmured Paulina, "after his own fashion."

"Yes, madame, after his own fashion, which is, at the best, a strange
one. May I ask how you spent your Christmas?"

"I was very lonely; this house seemed horribly cold and desolate. No
one came near me. There were no congratulations; no Christmas gifts.
Ah! Mr. Carrington, it is a sad thing to be quite alone in the world."

"And Reginald Eversleigh--the man whom you love--he who should have
been at your side, was at Hallgrove Rectory, among a circle of
visitors, flirting with the most notorious of coquettes--Miss Graham,
an old friend of his boyish days."

Victor looked at Paulina's face, and saw the random shot had gone home.
She grew even paler than she had been before, and there was a nervous
working of the lips that betrayed her agitation.

"Were there ladies amongst the guests at Hallgrove?" he asked.

"Yes, Madame Durski, there were ladies. Did you not know that it was to
be so?"

"No," replied Paulina. "Sir Reginald told me it was to be a bachelors'

Victor saw that this petty deception on the part of her lover stung
Paulina keenly.

She had been deeply wounded by Reginald's cold and selfish policy; but
until this moment she had never felt the pangs of jealousy.

"So he was flirting with one of your fashionable English coquettes,
while I was lonely and friendless in a strange country," she exclaimed.
And then, after a brief pause, she added, passionately, "You are right,
Mr. Carrington; your friend is unworthy of one thought from me, and I
will think of him no more."

"You will do wisely, and you will receive the proof of what I say ere
long from the lips of Reginald Eversleigh himself. Tell me the truth
dear madame, are not your pecuniary difficulties becoming daily more

"They have become so pressing," answered Paulina, "that, unless
Reginald lends me money almost immediately, I shall be compelled to fly
from this country in secret, like a felon, leaving all my poor
possessions behind me. Already I have parted with my plate, as you no
doubt have perceived. My only hope is in Reginald."

"A broken reed on which to rely, madame. Sir Reginald Eversleigh will
not lend you money. Since this house has become a place of evil odour,
to be avoided by men who have money to lose, you are no longer of any
use to Sir Reginald. He will not lend you money. On the contrary he
will urge your immediate flight from England; and when you have gone--"

"What then?"

"There will be an obstacle removed from his pathway; and when the
chance of a rich marriage arises, he will be free to grasp it."

"Oh, what utter baseness!" murmured Paulina; "what unspeakable infamy!"

"A selfish man can be very base, very infamous," replied Victor. "But
do not let us speak further of this subject, dear Madame Durski. I have
spoken with cruel truth; but my work has been that of the surgeon, who
uses his knife freely in order to cut away the morbid spot which is
poisoning the very life-blood of the sufferer. I have shown you the
disease, the fatal passion, the wasted devotion, to which you are
sacrificing your life; my next duty is to show you where your cure

"You may be a very clever surgeon," replied Paulina, scornfully; "but
in this case your skill is unavailing. For me there is no remedy."

"Nay, madame, that is the despairing cry of a romantic girl, and is
unworthy the lips of an accomplished woman of the world. You complained
just now of your loneliness. You said that it was very sad to be
without a friend. How if I can show you that you possess one attached
and devoted friend, who would be as willing to sacrifice himself for
your interests as you have been willing to devote yourself to Reginald

"Who is that friend?"

"Douglas Dale."

"Douglas Dale!" exclaimed Paulina. "Yes, I know, that Mr. Dale admires
me, and that he is a good and honourable man; but can I take advantage
of his admiration? Can I trade upon his love? I--who have no heart to
give, no affection to offer in return for the honest devotion of a good
man? Do not ask me to stoop to such baseness--such degradation."

"I ask nothing from you but common sense," answered Victor impatiently.
"Instead of wasting your love upon Reginald Eversleigh, who is not
worthy a moment's consideration from you, give at least your esteem and
respect to the honourable and unselfish man who truly loves you.
Instead of flying from England, a ruined woman, branded with the name
of cheat and swindler, remain as the affianced wife of Douglas Dale--
remain to prove to Reginald Eversleigh that there are those in the
world who know how to value the woman he has despised."

"Yes, he has despised me," murmured Paulina, speaking to herself rather
than to her companion; "he has despised me. He left me alone in this
dreary house; in the Christmas festival time, when friends and lovers
draw nearer together all the world over, united by the sweet influences
of the season; he left me to sit alone by this desolate hearth, while
he made merry with his friends--while he sunned himself in the smiles
of happier women. What truth can he claim from me--he who has been
falsehood itself?"

She remained silent for some minutes after this, with her eyes fixed on
the fire, her thoughts far away. Victor did not arouse her from that
reverie. He knew that the work he had to do was progressing rapidly.

He felt that he was moulding this proud and passionate woman to his
will, as the sculptor moulds the clay which is to take the form of his

At last she spoke.

"I thank you for your good advice, Mr. Carrington," she said, calmly;
"and I will avail myself of your worldly wisdom. What would you have me

"I would have you tell Douglas Dale, when he returns to town and comes
to see you, the position in which you find yourself with regard to
money matters, and ask the loan of a few hundreds. The truth and depth
of his love for you will be proved by his response to this appeal."

"How came you to suspect his love for me?" asked Paulina. "It has never
yet shaped itself in words. A woman's own instinct generally tells her
when she is truly loved; but how came you, a bystander, a mere looker-
on, to discover Douglas Dale's secret?"

"Simply because I am a man of the world, and somewhat of an observer,
and I will pledge my reputation as both upon the issue of your
interview with Douglas Dale."

"So be it," said Paulina; "I will appeal to him. It is a new
degradation; but what has my whole life been except a series of
humiliations? And now, Mr. Carrington, this interview has been very
painful to me. Pardon me, if I ask you to leave me to myself."

Victor complied immediately, and took leave of Madame Durski with many
apologies for his intrusion. Before leaving the house he encountered
Miss Brewer, who came out of a small sitting-room as he entered the

"You are going away, Mr. Carrington?" she asked.

"Yes," he answered; "but I shall call again in a day or two. Meantime,
let me hear from you, if Dale presents himself here. I have had some
talk with your friend, and am surprised at the ease with which the work
we have to do may be done. She despises Reginald now; she won't love
him long. Good night, Miss Brewer."



After the lapse of a few days, during which Victor Carrington carefully
matured his plans, while apparently only pursuing his ordinary
business, and leading his ordinary life of dutiful attention to his
mother and quiet domestic routine, he received a letter in a
handwriting which was unfamiliar to him. It contained the following

"_In accordance with your desire, and my promise, I write to inform you
that, D. D. has notified his return to London and his intention to
visit P. He did not know whether she was in town, and, therefore, wrote
before coming. She seemed much affected by his letter, and has replied
to it, appointing Wednesday after-noon for receiving him, and inviting
him to luncheon. No communication has been received from R. E., and she
takes the fact easily. If you have any advice, or I suppose I should
say instructions, to give me, you had better come here to-morrow
(Tuesday), when I can see you alone.--C. B._"

Victor Carrington read this note with a smile of satisfaction, which
faithfully interpreted the feelings it produced. There was a business-
like tone in his correspondent's letter which exactly suited his ideas
of what it was advisable his agent should be.

"She is really admirable," he said, as he destroyed Miss Brewer's note;
"just clever enough to be useful, just shrewd enough to understand the
precise force and weight of an argument, but not clever enough, or
shrewd enough, to find out that she is used for any purpose but the one
for which she has bargained."

And then Victor Carrington wrote a few lines to Miss Brewer, in which
he thanked her for her note, and prepared her to receive a visit from
him on the following day. This written and posted, he walked up and
down his laboratory, in deep thought for some time, and then once more
seated himself at his desk. This time his communication was addressed
to Sir Reginald Eversleigh, and merely consisted of a request that that
gentleman should call upon him--Victor Carrington--on a certain day, at
a week's distance from the present date.

"I shall have more trouble with this shallow fool than with all the
rest of them," said Victor to himself, as he sealed his letter; and,
as he said it, he permitted his countenance to assume a very unusual
expression of vexation; "his vanity will make him kick against letting
Paulina turn him off; and he will run the risk of destroying the game
sooner than suffer that mortification. But I will take care he _shall_
suffer it, and _not_ destroy the game.

"No, no, Sir Reginald Eversleigh, _you_ shall not be my stumbling-block
in this instance. How horribly afraid he is of me," thought Victor
Carrington, and a smile of cruel satisfaction, which might have become
a demon, lighted his pale face at the reflection; "he is dying to know
exactly how that business of Dale the elder was managed; he has the
haziest notions in connection with it, and, by Jove, he dare not ask
me. And yet, I am only his agent,--his _to be paid_ agent,--and he
shakes in his shoes before me. Yes, and I will be paid too, richly
paid, Sir Reginald, not only in money, but in power. In power--the best
and most enjoyable thing that money has to buy."

Victor Carrington sent his letter to the post, and joined his mother in
her sitting-room, where her life passed placidly away, among her birds
and her flowers. Mrs. Carrington had none of the vivacity about her
which is so general an attribute of French women. She liked her quiet
life, and had little sympathy with her son's restless ambition and
devouring discontent. A cold, silent, self-contained woman, she shut
herself up in her own occupations, and cared for nothing beyond them.
She had the French national taste and talent for needlework, and
generally listened to her son, as he talked or read to her, with a
piece of elaborate embroidery in her hand. On the present occasion, she
was engaged as usual, and Victor looked at her work and praised it,
according to his custom.

"What is it for, mother?" he asked.

"An altar-cloth," she replied. "I cannot give money, you know, Victor,
and so I am glad to give my work."

The young man's dark eyes flashed, as he replied;--

"True, mother, but the time will come--it is not far off now--when you
and I shall both be set free from poverty, when we shall once more take
our place in our own rank--when we shall be what the Champfontaines
were, and do as the Champfontaines did--when this hateful English name
shall be thrown aside, and this squalid English home abandoned, and the
past restored to us, we to the past." He rose as he spoke, and walked
about the room. A faint flush brightened his sallow face, an unwonted
light glittered in his deep-set eyes. His mother continued to ply her
needle, with downcast eyes, and a face which showed no sign of sympathy
with her son's enthusiasm.

"Industry and talent are good, my Victor," she said, "and they bring
comfort, they bring _le bienetre_ in their train; but I do not think
all the industry and talent you can display as a surgeon in London will
ever enable you to restore the dignity and emulate the wealth of the
old Champfontaines."

Victor Carrington glanced at his mother almost angrily, and for an
instant felt the impulse rise within him which prompted him to tell her
that it was not only by the employment of means so tame and common-
place that he designed to realize the cherished vision of his ambition.
But he checked it instantly, and only said, with the reverential
inflection which his voice never failed to take when he addressed his
mother, "What, then, would you advise me to try, in addition?"

"Marry a rich woman, my Victor; marry one of these moneyed English
girls, who are, for the most part, permitted to follow their
inclinations--inclinations which would surely, if encouraged, lead many
of them your way." Mrs. Carrington spoke in the calmest tone possible.

"Marry--I marry?" said Victor, in a tone of surprise, in which a quick
ear would have noticed something also of disappointment. "I thought you
would never like that, mother. It would part us, you know, and then
what would you do?"

"There is always the convent for me, Victor," said his mother, "if you
no longer needed me." And she composedly threaded her needle, and began
a very minute leaf in the pattern of her embroidery.

Victor Carrington looked at his mother with surprise, and some vague
sense of pain. She _could_ make up her mind to part with him--she had
thought of the possibility, and with complacence. He muttered something
about having something to do, and left her, strangely moved, while she
calmly worked in at her embroidery.



On the following day Victor Carrington presented himself at Hilton
House, and was received by Miss Brewer alone. She was pale, chilly, and
ungracious, as usual, and the understanding which had been arrived at
between Carrington and herself did not move her to the manifestation of
the smallest additional cordiality in her reception of him.

"I have to thank you for your prompt compliance with my request, Miss
Brewer," said Victor.

She made no sound nor sign of encouragement, and he continued. "Since I
saw you, another complication has arisen in this matter, which makes
our game doubly safe and secure. In order to explain this complication
thoroughly, I must ask you to let me put you through a kind of
catechism. Have I your permission, Miss Brewer?"

"You may ask me any questions you please," returned Miss Brewer, in a
hard, cold, even voice; "and I will answer them as truthfully as I

"Do you know anything of Douglas Dale's family connections and

"I know that his mother was Sir Oswald Eversleigh's sister, and that he
and Lionel Dale, who was drowned on St. Stephen's day, were left large
incomes by their uncle, in addition to some inconsiderable family
property which they inherited from their father, Mr. Melville Dale, who
was a lawyer, and, I believe, a not very successful one."

"Did you ever hear anything of the family history of this Mr. Melville
Dale, the father of Lionel and Douglas?"

"I never heard more than his name, and the circumstance I have already

"Listen, then. Melville Dale had a sister, towards whom their father
conceived undue and unjust partiality (according to the popular
version) from their earliest childhood. This sister, Henrietta Dale,
married, when very young, a country baronet of good fortune, one Sir
George Verner, and thereby still further pleased her father, and
secured his favour. Melville Dale, on the contrary, opposed the old
gentleman in everything, and ultimately crowned the edifice of his
offences by publishing a deistical treatise, which made a considerable
sensation at the time of its appearance, and caused the author's
expulsion from Balliol, where he had already attained a bad eminence by
numerous escapades of the Shelley order. This proceeding so incensed
his father that he made a will, in the heat of his anger, by which he
disinherited Melville Dale, and left the whole of his fortune to his
daughter, Lady Verner. If he repented this summary and vindictive
proceeding, neither I nor any one else can tell. The disinherited son
reformed his life very soon after the breach between himself and his
father, and was lucky enough to win the affections of Sir Oswald
Eversleigh's sister. But he was too proud to ask for his father's
forgiveness, and the father died a year after Douglas Dale's birth--
never having seen Mrs. Dale or his grandchildren. At the time of her
father's death, Lady Verner had no children, and she was, I believe,
disposed to treat her brother very generously; but he was an obstinate,
headstrong man, and persisted in believing that she had purposely done
him injury with his father. He would not see her. He refused to accept
any favour at her hands, and a complete estrangement took place. The
brother and sister never met again; and it was only through the medium
of the newspapers that Lionel and Douglas Dale learned, some time after
their father's death (Melville Dale died young), that severe affliction
had befallen their aunt, Lady Verner. The bitter and deadly breach
between father and son, and between brother and sister, was destined
never to be healed. Lionel and Douglas grew up knowing nothing of their
father's family, but treated always with persistent kindness by their
uncle, Sir Oswald Eversleigh, who insisted upon their making Raynham
Castle a second home."

"Their cousin Reginald must have liked _that_, I fancy," remarked Miss
Brewer, in her coldest tone.

"He _did_, as you suppose," said Carrington; "he hated the Dales, and I
fancy they had but little intimacy with him. He was early taken up by
Sir Oswald, and acknowledged and treated as his heir. You know, of
course, how all that came to grief, and how Sir Oswald married a
nobody, and left her the bulk of his fortune?"

"Yes, I have heard all that," said Miss Brewer. "Sir Reginald did not
spare us the details of the injustice Sir Oswald had done him, or the
expression of his feelings regarding it. Sir Reginald is the most
egotistical man I know."

"Well, then, as you are in possession of the family relations so far,
let me return to Lady Verner, of whom her nephews knew nothing during
their father's lifetime. She had lost her husband shortly after the
birth of her only child, and continued to live at Naples, whither Sir
George had been taken, in the vain hope of prolonging his life. A short
time after Sir George Verner's death, and while his child was almost an
infant, Lady Verner's villa was robbed, and the little girl, with her
nurse, disappeared. The general theory was, that the nurse had connived
at the robbery, and gone off with the thieves; and being, after the
fashion of Italian nurses, extraordinarily fond of the child, had
refused to be parted from her. Be that as it may, the nurse and child
were never heard of again, and though the case was put into the hands
of the cleverest of the police, in Paris and London, no discovery has
ever been made. Lady Verner fell into a state of hopeless melancholy,
in which she continued for many years, and during that period, of
course, her wealth accumulated, and is now very great indeed. I see by
your face, Miss Brewer, that you are growing impatient, and are
disposed to wonder what the family history of the Dales, and the
troubles of Lady Verner, have to do with Paulina Durski and our designs
for her future. Bear with my explanation a little longer, and you will
perceive the importance of the connection between them."

Miss Brewer gave her shoulders a slight shrug, expressive of supreme
resignation, and Victor continued.

"Lady Verner has now recovered, under the influence of time and medical
skill, and has come to London with the avowed purpose of arranging the
affairs of her large property. She has heard of Lionel Dale's death,
and, therefore, knows that there is a candidate the less in the field.
Sir Reginald Eversleigh has obtained access to this lady, and he has
carefully nipped in the bud certain symptoms of interest which she
betrayed in the fate of Sir Oswald Eversleigh's widow and orphan
daughter. Lady Verner is an exceedingly proud woman, and you may
suppose her maternal instincts are powerful, when the loss of her child
caused her years of melancholy madness. My gifted friend speedily
discovered these characteristics, and practised on them. Lady Verner
was made aware that the widow of Sir Oswald Eversleigh was a person of
low origin, and dubious reputation, and cared so little for her child
that she had gone abroad, for an indefinite time, leaving the little
girl at Raynham, in the care of servants. The result of this
representation was, that Lady Verner felt and expressed extreme
disgust, and considerable satisfaction that she had not committed
herself to a course from which she must have receded, by opening any
communication with Lady Eversleigh. One danger thus disposed of--and I
must say I think Reginald did it well--he was very enthusiastic, he
tells me, on the virtues of his uncle, and his inextinguishable regret
for that benefactor of his youth."

Miss Brewer's cold smile, and glittering, baleful eye, attracted
Carrington's attention at this point.

"That shocks you, does it, Miss Brewer?" he asked.

"Shock me? Oh no! It rather interests me; there's an eminence of
baseness in it."

"So there is," said Carrington, with pleased assent, "especially to one
who knows, as I do, how Reginald hated his uncle, living-how he hates
his memory, dead. However, he did this, and did it well; but it was
only half his task. Lady Verner would keep herself clear of Lady
Eversleigh, but she must be kept clear of Douglas Dale."

"Ha!" said Miss Brewer, with a slight change of attitude and
expression, "I see now; she must be turned against him by means of
Paulina--poor Paulina! She says she is fatal to him; she says he ought
to fly from her. This looks still more like her being right."

"It does, indeed, Miss Brewer," said Carrington, gravely. "You are
right. It was by means of Madame Durski that the trick was done; but
neither you nor I--and I assure you I like your friend immensely--can
afford to take objection to the manner of doing it. Lady Verner was
made to understand that by extending her countenance to, or enriching
Douglas Dale, she would only be giving additional security and _eclat_
to a marriage scarcely less disgraceful than that which Sir Oswald
Eversleigh had contracted. The device has been successful, so far. And
now comes the third portion of Sir Reginald's game--the substitution of
himself in Lady Verner's good graces for the nephew he has ousted. This
is only fair, after all. Dale cut him out with his uncle--he means to
cut Dale out with his aunt. You understand our programme now, Miss
Brewer, don't you?"

"Yes," she replied, slowly, "but I don't see why I should lend him any
assistance. It would be more to my interest that Douglas Dale should
inherit this lady's fortune; the richer Paulina's husband is, the
better for me."

"Unquestionably, my dear Miss Brewer," said Carrington. "But Dale will
not marry Paulina if Sir Reginald Eversleigh chooses to prevent it; and
Douglas Dale will not give you five hundred pounds for any services
whatever, because there are none which you can render him. I think you
can see that pretty plainly, Miss Brewer. And you can also see, I
presume, that, provided _I_ get _my_ money from Eversleigh, it is a
manner of total indifference to me whether he gets _Lady Verner's_
money, or whether Dale gets it. The only means by which I can get my
money is by detaching Sir Reginald from Paulina, and making him marry
the ironmonger's heiress. When that is done, and the money is paid, I
am perfectly satisfied that Dale should get the fortune, and I think it
very likely he will; but you must perceive that I cannot play my own
game except by appearing to play Reginald's."

"Is Lady Verner likely to think the ironmonger's heiress a good match
for Sir Reginald Eversleigh?" Miss Brewer asked, in a coldly sarcastic

"How is she to know anything of her origin?" returned Carrington, who
was, however, disconcerted by the question. "She lives a most retired
life; no one but Reginald has any access to her, and he can make her
believe anything he likes."

"That's fortunate," said Miss Brewer, drily; "pray proceed."

"Well, then, you see these points as clearly as I do--the next thing to
be done is to secure Paulina's marriage with Douglas Dale."

"I don't think that needs much securing," said Miss Brewer. "Judging
from his manner before he left town, and from the tone of his letter, I
should think very little encouragement from her would ensure a proposal
of marriage from him."

"And will she give him that encouragement?"

"Undoubtedly--I fully believe she will marry Douglas Dale. She has
certainly learned to despise Sir Reginald Eversleigh, and I think Mr.
Dale has caught her heart in the rebound."

"Have you attended to my instructions about impressing her money
difficulties on her mind--have you made things as bad as possible?"

"Certainly," answered Miss Brewer. "Only this morning I have sent into
her room several pressing and impertinent letters from her
tradespeople, and I put some accounts of the most dispiriting character
before her last night. She is in dreadfully low spirits."

"So much the better! If we can but induce her to borrow money from
Dale, all will be well; he will take that as a convincing proof of
regard and confidence, and will propose to her at once. I am sure of
it. So sure, that I will pass that matter by, and take it for granted.
And now--if this comes to pass, and Douglas Dale is here as the
accepted lover of Paulina, I must have constant access to the house,
and he must not know me as Victor Carrington. He has never seen me,
though I am familiar with his appearance."

"Why?" asked Miss Brewer, in a tone of suspicious surprise.

"I will tell you, by-and-by. Suffice it for the present that it must be
so. Then again, it would not do to have a man, who is not a relative,
established _l'ami de la maison_. That it is not the sort of thing that
an affianced lover could be expected to like. You must introduce me to
Douglas Dale as your cousin, and by the name of Carton. It is
sufficiently like my real name to prevent the servants knowing my name
is changed, since they always bungle over the 'Carrington.' As Victor
Carrington, Dale might refuse to know me, and certainly would not form
any intimacy with me, and that he should form an intimacy with me is
essential to my purpose."

"Why?" said Miss Brewer, in exactly the same tone as before.

"I will tell you by-and-by," said Carrington. "You consent, do you

"I am not sure," she answered. "But, even supposing I do consent, there
is Paulina to be consulted. How is she to be induced to call you Mr.
Carton and my cousin?"

"I will undertake to persuade Madame Durski that it will be for her
best interests to consent," said Carrington. "And now to my
explanation. Reginald Eversleigh is a man who is not to be trusted for
a moment, even where his own interests are closely concerned. He cares
nothing for Paulina; he knows the best thing that can happen to him
would be her marriage with Dale, for he calculates upon his hold over
the wife giving him the chance of a good share of the husband's money
in some way. Yet, such is his vanity, so unmanageable is his temper,
that if he were not too much afraid of me, too much in my power, he
would indulge them both at the cost of destroying our plan. If he knew
me to be absent, or unable to present myself freely here, he would
persecute Paulina--she would never be free from him. He would
compromise his own chance with the heiress, which is, naturally, my
chief consideration, and compromise her with Douglas Dale. Again, I do
not mind admitting to you, Miss Brewer, that I am of a cautious and
suspicious temperament; and when I pay an agent liberally, as I intend
to pay you, I always like to see for myself how the work is done."

"That argument, at least, is unanswerable," she replied. "You shall, so
far as I can answer for it, pass as my cousin and Mr. Carton, and have
a free _entre_ here."

"Good," said Carrington, rising. "And now there is nothing more to be
said just at present."

"Pardon me; you have not told me why an intimacy with Mr. Dale is
essential to your purpose."

"Because I must watch his proceedings and intentions--in fact, know all
about him--in order to discover whether it will suit my interests best
to forward Eversleigh's plans with respect to Lady Verner, or to betray
them to Dale."

Miss Brewer looked at him with something like admiration. She thought
she understood him so perfectly now, that she need ask nothing farther.
So they parted with the understanding that she was to report fully on
Douglas Dale's visit, and Carrington was to call on Paulina on the day
succeeding it. When she was alone, Miss Brewer remembered that
Carrington had not explained why it was he felt certain Dale would not
form any intimacy with him as Victor Carrington. As he walked
homewards, Victor muttered to himself--

"Heavens, what a clever fool that woman is. Once more I have won, and
by boldness."

* * * * *

The feelings with which Douglas Dale prepared for his visit to Hilton
House on the day following that on which Victor Carrington had made
his full and candid explanation to Miss Brewer, were such as any
woman--the purest, the noblest, the best--might have been proud of
inspiring. They were full of love, trust, pity, and hope. Douglas Dale
had by no means ceased to feel his brother's loss. No, the death of
Lionel, and, even more, the terrible manner of that death, still
pursued him in every waking hour--still haunted him in his dreams; but
sorrow, and especially its isolating tendency, does but quicken and
intensify feelings of tenderness in true and noble hearts.

He drove up to Hilton House with glad expectancy, and his eyes were dim
as he was ushered into the drawing-room in which Paulina sat.

Madame Durski's emotions on this occasion were unspeakably painful. So
well had Miss Brewer played her part, that she had persuaded Paulina
her only chance of escape from immediate arrest lay in borrowing money,
that very day, from Douglas Dale. Paulina's pride revolted; but the
need was pressing, and the unhappy woman yielded.

As she rose to return her visitor's greeting, and stood before him in
the cold January sunset, she was indeed, in all outward seeming, worthy
of any man's admiration.

Remorse and suffering had paled her cheeks; but they had left no
disfiguring traces on her perfect face.

The ivory whiteness of her complexion was, perhaps, her greatest charm,
and her beauty would scarcely have been enhanced by those rosy tints
so necessary to some faces.

To-day she had dressed herself to perfection, fully conscious of the
influence which a woman's costume is apt to exercise over the heart of
the man who loves her.

Half an hour passed in conversation of a general nature, and then
luncheon was announced. When Paulina and her visitor returned to the
dreary room, they were alone; Miss Brewer had discreetly retired.

"My dear Madame Durski!" exclaimed Douglas, when the widow had seated
herself and he had placed himself opposite to her, "I cannot tell you
what intense pleasure it gives me to see you again, and most of all
because it leads me to believe that I can in some manner serve you. I
know how secluded your habits have been of late, and I fancy you would
scarcely so depart from them in my favour if you had not some real need
of my service."

This speech was peculiarly adapted to smoothe away the difficulties of
Paulina's position. Douglas had long guessed the secret of her poverty,
and had more than half divined the motive of her letter. He was eager
to save her, as far as possible, from the painfulness of the request
which he felt almost sure she was about to make to him.

"Your cordial kindness affects me deeply, Mr. Dale," said Paulina, with
a blush that was the glow of real shame. "You are right; I should be
the last woman in the world to appeal to you thus if I had not need of
your help--bitter need. I appeal to you, because I know the goodness
and generosity of your nature. I appeal to you as a beggar."

"Madame Durski, for pity's sake, do not speak thus," cried Douglas,
interrupting her. "Every penny that I possess in the world is at your
command. I am ready to begin life again, a worker for my daily bread,
rather than that you should suffer one hour's pain, one moment's
humiliation, that money can prevent."

"You are too generous, too noble," exclaimed Paulina, in a broken
voice. "The only way in which I can prove my gratitude for your
delicate goodness is by being perfectly candid. My life has been a
strange one, Mr. Dale--a life of apparent prosperity, but of real
poverty. Before I was old enough to know the value of a fortune, I was
robbed of that which should have been mine, and robbed by the father
who should have protected my interests. From that hour I have known
little except trouble. I was married to a man whom I never loved--
married at the command of the father who had robbed me. If I have not
fallen, as many other women so mated have fallen, I take no pride in my
superior strength of mind. It may be that temptation such as lures
other women to their ruin never approached me. Since my husband died,
my life, as you too well know, has been a degraded one. I have been the
companion and friend of gamesters. It is, indeed, only since I came to
England that I have myself ceased to be a gambler. Can you remember all
this, Mr. Dale, and yet pity me?"

"I can remember it all, and yet love you, Paulina," answered Douglas,
with emotion. "We are not masters of our own affections. From the hour
in which I first saw you I have loved you--loved you in spite of
myself. I will admit that your life has not been that which I would
have chosen for the woman I love; and that to remember your past
history is pain to me. But, in spite of all, I ask you to be my wife;

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