Part 7 out of 11
crest by double-edged assents to all her propositions."
"You will not have that pleasure," said Alick. "I only go to dinner
"At any rate," said the Colonel, "supposing your test takes effect by
some extraordinary chance, don't take any further steps without
letting me know."
The inference was drawn that he expected great results, but he
continued to laugh at Alick's expectations of producing any effect on
the Clever Woman, and the debate of the woodcuts was adjourned to the
In good time, Rachel made her appearance in Miss Williams's little
sitting-room. "I am ready to submit to any test that Captain Keith
may require to confute himself," she said to Ermine; "and I do so the
more readily that with all his mocking language, there is a genuine
candour and honesty beneath that would he quite worth convincing.
I believe that if once persuaded of the injustice of his suspicions
he would in the reaction become a fervent supporter of Mr. Mauleverer
and of the institution; and though I should prefer carrying on our
work entirely through women, yet this interest would be so good a
thing for him, that I should by no means reject his assistance."
Rachel had, however, long to wait. As she said, Captain Keith was
one of those inborn loiterers who, made punctual by military duty,
revenge themselves by double tardiness in the common affairs of life.
Impatience had nearly made her revoke her good opinion of him, and
augur that, knowing himself vanquished, he had left the field to her,
when at last a sound of wheels was heard, a dog-cart stopped at the
door, and Captain Keith entered with an enormous blue and gold volume
under his arm.
"I am sorry to be so late," he said, "but I have only now succeeded
in procuring my ally."
"Yes, in this book. I had to make interest at the Avoncester
Library, before I could take it away with me." As he spoke he placed
the book desk-fashion on a chair, and turned it so that Ermine might
see it; and she perceived that it was a bound-up volume of the
"Illustrated London News." Two marks were in it, and he silently
parted the leaves at the first.
It revealed the lace-making beauty in all her rural charms.
"I see," said Rachel; "it is the same figure, but not the same shaped
Without another word, Alick Keith opened the pages at the lace-
school; and here again the figures were identical, though the margin
had been differently finished off.
"I perceive a great resemblance," again said Rachel, "but none that
is not fully explained by Mr. Mauleverer's accurate resemblance and
desire to satirize foolish sentiment."
Alick Keith took up the woodcut. "I should say," he observed, holding
it up to the light, "that it was unusual to mount a proof engraving
so elaborately on a card."
"Oh, I see what your distrust is driving at; you suspect the designs
of being pasted on."
"There is such a test as water," suggested Alick.
"I should be ashamed to return the proof to its master, bearing
traces of unjust suspicion."
"If the suspicion you impute to me be unjust, the water will produce
no effect at all."
"And you engage to retract all your distrust and contempt, if you are
convinced that this engraving is genuine?"
"I do," he answered steadily.
With irritated magnanimity Rachel dipped her finger into the vase of
flowers on the table, and let a heavy drop of water fall upon the
cottage scene. The centre remained unaltered, and she looked round
in exultation, saying, "There, now I suppose I may wipe it off."
Neither spoke, and she applied her pocket handkerchief. What came
peeling away under her pressure? It was the soft paper, and as she
was passing the edge of the figure of the girl, she found a large
smear following her finger. The peculiar brown of Indian ink was
seen upon her handkerchief, and when she took it up a narrow hem
of white had become apparent between the girl's head and its
surroundings. Neither spectator spoke, they scarcely looked at her,
when she took another drop from the vase, and using it more boldly
found the pasted figure curling up and rending under her hand, lines
of newspaper type becoming apparent, and the dark cloud spreading
"What does it mean?" was her first exclamation; then suddenly turning
on Ermine, "Well, do you triumph?"
"I am very, very sorry," said Ermine.
"I do not know that it is come to that yet," said Rachel, trying to
collect herself. "I may have been pressing too hard for results."
Then looking at the mangled picture again as they wisely left her to
herself, "But it is a deception! A deception! Oh! he need not have
done it! Or," with a lightened look and tone of relief, "suppose he
did it to see whether I should find it out?"
"He is hardly on terms with you for that," said Ermine; while Alick
could not refrain from saying, "Then he would be a more insolent
scoundrel than he has shown himself yet."
"I know he is not quite a gentleman," said Rachel, "and nothing else
gives the instinct of the becoming. You have conquered, Captain
Keith, if it be any pleasure to you to have given my trust and hope a
"With little satisfaction to myself," he began to say; but she
continued, "A shock, a shock I say, no more; I do not know what
conclusion I ought to draw. I do not expect you to believe in this
person till he has cleared up the deceit. If it be only a joke in
bad taste, he deserves the distrust that is the penalty for it. If
you have been opening my eyes to a deception, perhaps I shall thank
you for it some day. I must think it over."
She rose, gathered her papers together, and took her leave gravely,
while Alick, much to Ermine's satisfaction, showed no elation in his
victory. All he said was, "There is a great deal of dignity in the
strict justice of a mind slow to condemn, or to withdraw the trust
"There is," said Ermine, much pleased with his whole part in the
affair; "there has been full and real candour, not flying into the
other extreme. I am afraid she has a great deal to suffer."
"It was very wrong to have stood so still when the rascal began his
machinations," repeated Alick, "Bessie absolutely helping it on! But
for her, the fellow would have had no chance even of acquaintance
"Your sister hardly deserves blame for that."
"Not exactly blame; but the responsibility remains," he replied
gravely, and indeed he was altogether much graver than his wont,
entirely free from irony, and evidently too sorry for Rachel, and
feeling himself, through his sister, too guilty of her entanglement,
to have any of that amused satisfaction that even Colin evidently
felt in her discomfiture. In fact Ermine did not fully enter into
Colin's present tactics; she saw that he was more than usually
excited and interested about the F. U. E. E., but he had not
explained his views to her, and she could only attribute his desire,
to defer the investigation, to a wish that Mr. Mitchell should have
time to return from London, whither he had gone to conclude his
arrangements with Mr. Touchett, leaving the duty in commission
between three delicate winter visitors.
Rachel walked home in a kind of dreamy bewilderment. The first stone
in her castle had been loosened, and her heart was beginning to fail
her, though the tenacity of her will produced a certain incapacity of
believing that she had been absolutely deceived. Her whole fabric
was so compact, and had been so much solidified by her own intensity
of purpose, that any hollowness of foundation was utterly beyond
present credence. She was ready to be affronted with Mauleverer for
perilling all for a bad joke, but wildly impossible as this
explanation would have seemed to others, she preferred taking refuge
in it to accepting the full brunt of the blow upon her cherished
She had just re-entered the house on her return, when Grace met her,
saying, "Oh, Rachel dear, Mrs. Rossitur is here."
"I think old servants have a peculiar propensity for turning up when
the house is in a state of turmoil," returned Rachel.
"I have been walking round the garden with her, and doing my best to
suffice for her entertainment," said Grace, good-naturedly, "but she
really wants to see you on business. She has a bill for the F. U. E.
E. which she wants you to pay."
"A bill for the F. U. E. E.?"
"Yes; she makes many apologies for troubling you, but Tom is to be
apprenticed to a grocer, and they want this fifteen pounds to make up
"But I tell you, Grace, there can't have been fifteen pounds' worth
of things had in this month, and they were paid on the 1st."
"She says they have never been paid at all since the 1st of
"I assure you, Grace, it is in the books. I made a point of having
all the accounts brought to me on the 1st of every month, and giving
out the money. I gave out £3. 10s. for the Rossiturs last Friday,
the 1st of February, when Mr. Mauleverer was over here. He said
coals were dearer, and they had to keep more fires."
"There must be some mistake," said Grace. "I'll show you the books.
Mr. Mauleverer keeps one himself, and leaves one with me. Oh,
botheration, there's the Grey carriage! Well, you go and receive
them, and I'll try to pacify Mrs. Rossitur, and then come down."
Neatly kept were these account books of the F. U. E. E,, and sure
enough for every month were entered the sums for coals, wood, and
potatoes, tallying exactly with Mrs. Rossitur's account, and each
month Mr. Mauleverer's signature attested the receipt of the sum paid
over to him by Rachel for household expenses. Rachel carried them
down to Mrs. Rossitur, but this evidence utterly failed to convince
that worthy personage that she had ever received a farthing after the
1st of December. She was profuse in her apologies for troubling Miss
Rachel, and had only been led to do so by the exigencies of her son's
apprentice fee, and she reposed full confidence in Rachel's eager
assurance that she should not be a loser, and that in another day the
matter should be investigated.
"And, Miss Rachel," added the old servant, "you'll excuse me, but
they do say very odd things of the matron at that place, and I doubt
you are deceived in her. Our lads went to the the-a-ter the other
night, and I checked them well for it; but mother, says they, we had
more call to be there than the governess up to Miss Rachel's schule
in Nichol Street, dressed out in pink feathers."
"Well, Mrs. Rossitur, I will make every inquiry, and I do not think
you will find anything wrong. There must be some one about very like
Mrs. Rawlins. I have heard of those pink feathers before, but I know
who the matron is, and all about her! Good-bye. I'll see you again
before you go, I suppose it won't be till the seven o'clock train."
Mrs. Rossitur remained expressing her opinion to the butler that dear
Miss Rachel was too innocent, and then proceeded to lose all past
cares in a happy return to "melting day," in the regions of her past
glories as cook and housekeeper.
Rachel repaired to her room to cool her glowing cheeks, and repeat to
herself, "A mistake, an error. It must be a blunder! That boy that
went to the theatre may have cheated them! Mrs. Rawlins may have
deceived Mr. Mauleverer. Anything must be true rather than--No, no!
such a tissue of deception is impossible in a man of such sentiments!
Pursecuted as he has been, shall appearances make me--me, his only
friend-turn against him? Oh, me! here come the whole posse purring
upstairs to take off their things! I shall be invaded in a moment."
And in came Grace and the two younger ladies, and Rachel was no more
her own from that moment.
THE FORLORN HOPE.
"She whipped two female 'prentices to death,
And hid them in the coal-hole. For her mind
Shaped strictest plans of discipline, sage schemes,
Such as Lycurgus taught."--Canning and Frere.
The favourite dentist of the neighbourhood dwelt in a grand mansion
at St. Norbert's, and thither were conducted Conrade and Francis, as
victims to the symmetry of their mouths. Their mother accompanied
them to supply the element of tenderness, Alison that of firmness;
and, in fact, Lady Temple was in a state of much greater trepidation
than either of her sons, who had been promised five shillings each as
the reward of fortitude, and did nothing but discuss what they should
buy with it.
They escaped with a reprieve to Conrade, and the loss of one tooth of
Francis's, and when the rewards had been laid out, and presents
chosen for all the stay-at-home children, including Rose, Lady Temple
became able to think about other matters. The whole party were in a
little den at the pastrycook's; the boys consuming mutton pies, and
the ladies ox-tail soup, while waiting to be taken up by the
waggonette which had of late been added to the Myrtlewood
establishment, when the little lady thus spoke--
"If you don't object, Miss Williams, we will go to Rachel's asylum on
our way home."
Miss Williams asked if she had made the appointment.
"No," said Lady Temple, "but you see I can't be satisfied about those
woodcuts; and that poor woman, Mrs. Kelland, came to me yesterday
about my lace shawl, and she is sadly distressed about the little
girl. She was not allowed to see her, you know, and she heard such
odd things about the place that I told her that I did not wonder she
was in trouble, and that I would try to bring the child home, or at
any rate see and talk to her."
"I hope we may be able to see her, but you know Colonel Keith could
not get in without making an appointment."
"I pay for her," said Lady Temple, "and I cannot bear its going on in
this way without some one seeing about it. The Colonel was quite
sure those woodcuts were mere fabrications to deceive Rachel; and
there must be something very wrong about those people."
"Did she know that you were going?"
"No; I did not see her before we went. I do not think she will mind
it much; and I promised." Lady Temple faltered a little, but
gathered courage the next moment. "And indeed, after what Mrs.
Kelland said, I could not sleep while I thought I had been the means
of putting any poor child into such hands."
"Yes," said Alison, "it is very shocking to leave them there without
inquiry, and it is an excellent thing to make the attempt."
And so the order was given to drive to the asylum, Alison marvelling
at the courage which prompted this most unexpected assault upon the
fortress that had repulsed two such warriors as Colonel Keith and
Mrs. Kelland. But timid and tender as she might be, it was not for
nothing that Fanny Temple had been a vice-queen, so much accustomed
to be welcomed wherever she penetrated, that the notion of a rebuff
never suggested itself.
Coombe rang, and his lady made him let herself and Miss Williams out,
so that she was on the step when the rough charwoman opened the door,
and made the usual reply that Mr. Mauleverer was not within. Lady
Temple answered that it was Mrs. Rawlins, the matron, that she wished
to see, and with more audacity than Alison thought her capable of,
inserted herself within the doorway, so as to prevent herself from
being shut out as the girl took her message. The next moment the
girl came back saying, "This way, ma'am," opened the door of a small
dreary, dusty, cold parlour, where she shut them in, and disappeared
before a word could be said.
There they remained so long, that in spite of such encouragement as
could be derived from peeping over the blinds at Coombe standing
sentinel over his two young masters at the carriage window, Lady
Temple began to feel some dismay, though no repentance, and with
anxious iteration conjured Miss Williams to guess what could be the
cause of delay.
"Making ready for our reception," was Alison's answer in various
forms; and Lady Temple repeated by turns, "I do not like it," and "it
is very unsatisfactory. No, I don't like it at all," the at all
always growing more emphatic.
The climax was, "Things must be very sad, or they would never take so
much preparation. I'll tell you, Miss Williams," she added in a low
confidential tone; "there are two of us, and the woman cannot be in
two places at once. Now, if you go up and see the rooms and all,
which I saw long ago, I could stay and talk to the poor children."
Alison was the more surprised at the simple statecraft of the
General's widow, but it was prompted by the pitiful heart yearning
over the mysterious wrongs of the poor little ones.
At last Mrs. Rawlins sailed in, crape, streamers, and all, with the
lowest of curtsies and fullest of apologies for having detained her
Ladyship, but she had been sending out in pursuit of Mr. Mauleverer,
he would be so disappointed! Lady Temple begged to see the children,
and especially Lovedy, whom she said she should like to take home for
"Why, my lady, you see Mr. Mauleverer is very particular. I hardly
know that I could answer it to him to have one of his little darlings
out of his sight. It unsettles a child so to be going home, and
Lovedy has a bad cold, my lady, and I am afraid it will run through
the house. My little Alice is beginning of it."
However, Lady Temple kept to her desire of seeing Lovedy, and of
letting her companion see the rest of the establishment, and they
were at last ushered into the room already known to the visitors of
the F. U. E. E., where the two children sat as usual in white
pinafores, but it struck the ladies that all looked ill, and Lovedy
was wrapped in a shawl, and sat cowering in a dull, stupified way,
unlike the bright responsive manner for which she had been noted even
in her lace-school days. Mary Morris gazed for a moment at Alison
with a wistful appealing glance, then, with a start as of fright, put
on a sullen stolid look, and kept her eyes on her book. The little
Alice, looking very heavy and feverish, leant against her, and Mrs.
Rawlins went on talking of the colds, the gruel she had made, and her
care for her pupils' ailments, and Lady Temple listened so graciously
that Alison feared she was succumbing to the palaver; and by way of
reminder, asked to see the dormitory.
"Oh, yes, ma'am, certainly, though we are rather in confusion," and
she tried to make both ladies precede her, but Lady Temple, for once
assuming the uncomprehending nonchalance of a fine lady, seated
herself languidly and motioned Alison on. The matron was evidently
perplexed, she looked daggers at the children, or Ailie fancied so,
but she was forced to follow the governess. Lady Temple breathed
more freely, and rose. "My poor child," she said to Lovedy, "you
seem very poorly. Have you any message to your aunt?"
"Please, please!" began Lovedy, with a hoarse sob.
"Lovedy, don't, don't be a bad girl, or you know--"interposed the
little one, in a warning whisper.
"She is not naughty," said Lady Temple gently, "only not well."
"Please, my lady, look," eagerly, though with a fugitive action of
terror, Lovedy cried, unpinning the thin coarse shawl on her neck,
and revealing the terrible stripes and weals of recent beating, such
as nearly sickened Lady Temple.
"Oh, Lovedy," entreated Alice, "she'll take the big stick."
"She could not do her work," interposed Mary with furtive eagerness,
"she is so poorly, and Missus said she would have the twenty sprigs
if she sat up all night."
"Yes, ma'am, we makes lace more than ever we did to home, day and
night; and if we don't she takes the stick."
"Oh, Mary," implored the child, "she said if you said one word."
"Mary," said Lady Temple, trembling all over, "where are your
"We haven't none, ma'am," returned Mary, "she pawned them. But, oh,
ma'am, please take us away. We are used dreadful bad, and no one
Lady Temple took Lovedy in one hand, and Mary in the other; then
looked at the other little girl, who stood as if petrified. She
handed the pair to the astonished Coombe, bidding him put them into
the carriage, and let Master Temple go outside, and then faced about
to defend the rear, her rustling black silk and velvet filling up the
passage, just as Alison and the matron were coming down stairs.
"Mrs. Rawlins," she said, in her gentle dignity, "I think Lovedy is
so poorly that she ought to go home to her aunt to be nursed, and I
have taken little Mary that she may not be left behind alone. Please
to tell Mr. Mauleverer that I take it all upon myself. The other
little girl is not at all to blame, and I hope you will take care of
her, for she looks very ill."
So much for being a Governor's widow! A woman of thrice Fanny's
energy and capacity would not have effected her purpose so simply,
and made the virago in the matron so entirely quail. She swept forth
with such a consciousness of power and ease that few could have had
assurance enough to gainsay her, but no sooner was she in the
carriage than she seized Mary's hand, exclaiming, "My poor, poor
little dear! Francis, dear boy, the wicked people have been beating
her! Oh, Miss Williams, look at her poor neck!"
Alison lifting Lovedy on her knee, glanced under the shawl, and saw
indeed a sad spectacle, and she felt such a sharpness of bone as
proved that there was far from being the proper amount of clothing or
of flesh to protect them. Lady Temple looked at Mary's attenuated
hand, and fairly sobbed, "Oh, you have been cruelly treated!"
"Please don't let her get us," cried the frightened Mary.
"Never, never, my dear. We are taking you home to your mother."
Mary Morris was the spokeswoman, and volunteered the exhibition of
bruises rather older, but no less severe than those of her companion.
All had been inflicted by the woman; Mr. Mauleverer had seldom or
never been seen by the children, except Alice, who used often to be
called into Mrs. Rawlins's parlour when he was there, to be played
with and petted. A charwoman was occasionally called in, but
otherwise the entire work of the house was exacted from the two
girls, and they had been besides kept perpetually to their lace
pillows, and severely beaten if they failed in the required amount of
work; the ample wardrobe with which their patronesses had provided
them had been gradually taken from them, and their fare had latterly
become exceedingly coarse, and very scanty. It was a sad story, and
this last clause evoked from Francis's pocket a large currant bun,
which Mary devoured with a famished appetite, but Lovedy held her
portion untasted in her hand, and presently gave it to Mary, saying
that her throat was so bad that she could not make use of anything.
She had already been wrapped in Lady Temple's cloak, and Francis was
desired to watch for a chemist's shop that something might be done
for her relief, but the region of shops was already left behind, and
even the villas were becoming scantier, so that nothing was to be
done but to drive on, obtaining from time to time further doleful
narratives from Mary, and perceiving more and more how ill and
suffering was the other poor child.
Moreover, Lady Temple's mind became extremely uneasy as to the manner
in which Rachel might accept her exploit. All her valour departed as
she figured to herself that young lady discrediting the alarm, and
resenting her interference. She did not repent, she knew she could
not have helped it, and she had rather have been tortured by Rachel
than have left the victims another hour to the F. U. E. E., but she
was full of nervous anxiety, little as she yet guessed at the full
price of her courage; and she uttered more than once the fervent wish
that the Colonel had been there, for he would have known what to do.
And Alison each time replied, "I wish it with all my heart!"
Wrought up at last to the pitch of nervousness that must rush on the
crisis at once, and take the bull by the horns, this valiant piece of
cowardice declared that she could not even return the girls to their
homes till Rachel knew all about it, and gave the word to drive to
the Homestead, further cheered by the recollection that Colonel Keith
would probably be there, having been asked to luncheon, as he could
not dine out, to meet Mr. Grey. Moreover, Mr. Grey was a magistrate
and would know what was to be done.
Thus the whole party at the Homestead were assembled near the door,
when, discerning them too late to avoid them, Lady Temple's equipage
drew up in the peculiarly ungraceful fashion of waggonettes, when
they prepare to shoot their passengers out behind.
Conrade, the only person who had the advantage of a previous view,
stood up on the box, and before making his descent, shouted out, "Oh,
Aunt Rachel, your F. U. thing is as bad as the Sepoys. But we have
saved the two little girls that they were whipping to death, and have
got them in the carriage."
While this announcement was being delivered, Alison Williams, the
nearest to the door, had emerged. She lifted out the little muffled
figure of Lovedy, set her on her feet, and then looking neither to
the right nor left, as if she saw and thought of no one else, made
but one bound towards Colonel Keith, clasped both hands round his
arm, turned him away from the rest, and with her black brows drawn
close together, gasped under her breath, "0, Colin, Colin, it is
"What! the matron?"
"Yes, the woman that has used these poor children like a savage.
0, Colin, it is frightful."
"You should sit down, you are almost ready to faint."
"Nothing! nothing! But the poor girls are in such a state. And that
Maria whom we taught, and--" Alison stopped.
"Did she know you?"
"I can't tell. Perhaps; but I did not know her till the last
"I have long believed that the man that Rose recognised was
Mauleverer, but I thought the uncertainty would be bad for Ermine.
What is all this?"
"You will hear. There! Listen, I can't tell you; Lady Temple did it
all," said Alison, trying to draw away her arm from him, and to
assume the staid governess. But he felt her trembling, and did not
release her from his support as they fanned back to the astonished
group, to which, while these few words were passing, Francis, the
little bareheaded white-aproned Mary Morris, and lastly Lady Temple,
had by this time been added; and Fanny, with quick but courteous
acknowledgment of all, was singling out her cousin.
"Oh, Rachel, dear, I did not mean it to have been so sudden or before
them all, but indeed I could not help it," she said in her gentle,
imploring voice, "if you only saw that poor dear child's neck."
Rachel had little choice what she should say or do. What Fanny was
saying tenderly and privately, the two boys were communicating open-
mouthed, and Mrs. Curtis came at once with her nervous, "What is it,
my dear; is it something very sad? Those poor children look very
cold, and half starved."
"Indeed," said Fanny, "they have been starved, and beaten, and
cruelly used. I am very sorry, Rachel, but indeed that was a
dreadful woman, and I thought Colonel Keith and Mr. Grey would tell
us what ought to be done."
"Mr. Grey!" and Mrs. Curtis turned round eagerly, with the comfort of
having some one to support her, "will you tell us what is to be done?
Here has poor dear Rachel been taken in by this wicked scheme, and
"Mother, mother," muttered Rachel, lashed up to desperation; "please
not out here, before the servants and every one."
This appeal and Grace's opening of the door had the effect of
directing every one into the hall, Mr. Grey asking Mrs. Curtis by the
way, "Eh? Then this is Rachel's new female asylum, is it?"
"Yes, I always feared there was something odd about it. I never
liked that man, and now--Fanny, my love, what is the matter?"
In a few simple words Fanny answered that she had contrived to be
left alone with the children, and had then found signs of such
shocking ill-treatment of them, that she had thought it right to
bring them away at once.
"And you will commit those wretches. You will send them to prison at
once, Mr. Grey. They have been deceiving my poor Rachel ever so
long, and getting sums upon sums of money out of her," said Mrs.
Curtis, becoming quite blood-thirsty.
"If there is sufficient occasion I will summon the persons concerned
to the Bench on Wednesday," said Mr. Grey, a practical, active
"Not till Wednesday!" said Mrs. Curtis, as if she thought the course
of justice very tardy. But the remembrance of Mr. Curtis's
magisterial days came to her aid, and she continued, "but you can
take all the examinations here at once, you know; and Grace can find
you a summons paper, if you will just go into the study."
"It might save the having the children over to-morrow, certainly,"
said Mr. Grey, and he was inducted almost passively into the leathern
chair before the library table, where Mr. Curtis had been wont to
administer justice, and Grace was diving deep into a bureau for the
printed forms long treasured there, her mother directing her, though
Mr. Grey vainly protested that any foolscap would do as well. It was
a curious scene. Mrs. Grey with her daughters had the discretion to
remove themselves, but every one else was in a state of excitement,
and pressed into the room, the two boys disputing under their breath
whether the civilians called it a court martial, and, with some
confusion between mutineers and Englishwomen, hoping the woman would
be blown from the mouth of a cannon, for hadn't she gone and worn a
cap like mamma's? They would have referred the question to Miss
Williams, but she had been deposited by the Colonel on one of the
chairs in the furthest corner of the room, and he stood sheltering
her agitation and watching the proceedings. Lady Temple still held a
hand of each of her rescued victims, as if she feared they were still
in danger, and all the time Rachel stood and looked like a statue,
unable to collect her convictions in the hubbub, and the trust, that
would have enabled her to defy all this, swept away from her by the
morning's transactions. Yet still there was a hope that appearances
might be delusive, and an habitual low estimate of Mr. Grey's powers
that made her set on looking with her own eyes, not with his.
His first question was about the children's names and their friends,
and this led to the despatching of a message to the mother and aunt.
He then inquired about the terms on which they had been placed at St.
Norbert's, and Rachel, who was obliged to reply, felt under his
clear, stringent questions, keeping close to the point, a good deal
more respect for his powers than she had hitherto entertained. That
dry way of his was rather overwhelming. When it came to the children
themselves, Rachel watched, not without a hope that the clear
masculine intellect would detect Fanny in a more frightened woman's
fancy, and bring the F. U. E. E. off with flying colours.
Little Mary Morris stood forth valiant and excited. She was eleven
years old, and intelligent enough to make it evident that she knew
what she was about. The replies were full. The blows were
described, with terrible detail of the occasions and implements.
Still Rachel remembered the accusation of Mary's truth. She tried to
"I saw her with a bruised eye," said the Colonel's unexpected voice
in a pause. "How was that?"
"Please, sir, Mrs. Rawlins hit me with her fist because I had only
done seven sprigs. She knocked me down, and I did not come to for
ever so long."
And not only this, and the like sad narratives, but each child bore
the marks in corroboration of the words, which were more reluctant
and more hoarse from Lovedy, but even more effective. Rachel doubted
no more after the piteous sight of those scarred shoulders, and the
pinched feeble face; but one thing was plain, namely, that Mr.
Mauleverer had no share in the cruelties. Even such severities as
had been perpetrated while he was in the house, had, Mary thought,
been protested against by him, but she had seldom seen him, he paid
all his visits in the little parlour, and took no notice of the
children except to prepare the tableau for public inspection. Mr.
Grey, looking at his notes, said that there was full evidence to
justify issuing a summons against the woman for assaulting the
children, and proceeded to ask her name. Then while there was a
question whether her Christian name was known, the Colonel again
said, "I believe her name to be Maria Hatherton. Miss Williams has
recognised her as a servant who once lived in her family, and who
came from her father's parish at Beauchamp."
Alison on inquiry corroborated the statement, and the charge was made
against Maria Rawlins, alias Hatherton. The depositions were read
over to the children, and signed by them; with very trembling fingers
by poor little Lovedy, and Mr. Grey said he would send a policeman
with the summons early next day.
"But, Mr. Grey," burst out Mrs. Curtis, "you don't mean that you are
not going to do anything to that man! Why he has been worse than the
woman! It was he that entrapped the poor children, and my poor
Rachel here, with his stories of magazines and illustrations, and I
don't know what all!"
"Very true, Mrs. Curtis," said the magistrate, "but where's the
charge against him?"
It may be conceived how pleasant it was to the clever woman of the
family to hear her mother declaiming on the arts by which she had
been duped by this adventurer, appealing continually to Grace and
Fanny, and sometimes to herself, and all before Mr. Grey, on whose
old-world prejudices she had bestowed much more antagonism than he
had thought it worth while to bestow on her new lights. Yet, at the
moment, this operation of being written down an ass, was less acutely
painful to her than the perception that was simultaneously growing on
her of the miserable condition of poor little Lovedy, whose burning
hand she held, and whose gasping breath she heard, as the child
rested feebly in the chair in which she had been placed. Rachel had
nothing vindictive or selfish in her mood, and her longing was, above
all, to get away, and minister to the poor child's present
sufferings; but she found herself hemmed in, and pinned down by the
investigation pushed on by her mother, involving answers and
explanations that she alone could make.
Mr. Grey rubbed his forehead, and looked freshly annoyed at each
revelation of the state of things. It had not been Mauleverer, but
Rachel, who had asked subscriptions for the education of the
children, he had but acted as her servant, the counterfeit of the
woodcuts, which Lady Temple suggested, could not be construed into an
offence; and it looked very much as if, thanks to his cleverness, and
Rachel's incaution, there was really no case to be made out against
him, as if the fox had carried off the bait without even leaving his
brush behind him. Sooth to say, the failure was a relief to Rachel,
she had thrown so much of her will and entire self into the upholding
him, that she could not yet detach herself or sympathize with those
gentle souls, the mother and Fanny, in keenly hunting him down.
Might he not have been as much deceived in Mrs. Rawlins as herself?
At any rate she hoped for time to face the subject, and kneeling on
the ground so as to support little Lovedy's sinking head on her
shoulder, made the briefest replies in her power when referred to.
At last, Grace recollected the morning's affair of Mrs. Rossitur's
bills. Mr. Grey looked as if he saw daylight, Grace volunteered to
fetch both the account-book and Mrs. Rossitur, and Rachel found the
statement being extracted from her of the monthly production of the
bills, with the entries in the book, and of her having given the
money for their payment. Mr. Grey began to write, and she perceived
that he was taking down her deposition. She beckoned Mary to support
her poor little companion, and rising to her feet, said, to the
horror and consternation of her mother, "Mr. Grey, pray let me speak
He rose at once, and followed her to the hall, where he looked
prepared to be kind but firm.
"Must this be done to-day?" she said.
"Why not?" he answered.
"I want time to think about it. The woman has acted like a fiend,
and I have not a word to say for her; but I cannot feel that it is
fair, after such long and entire trust of this man, to turn on him
suddenly without notice."
"Do you mean that you will not prosecute?" said Mr. Grey, with a
dozen notes of interjection in his voice.
"I have not said so. I want time to make up my mind, and to hear
what he has to say for himself."
"You will hear that at the Bench on Wednesday."
"It will not be the same thing."
"I should hope not!"
"You see," said Rachel, perplexed and grievously wanting time to
rally her forces, "I cannot but feel that I have trusted too easily,
and perhaps been to blame myself for my implicit confidence, and
after that it revolts me to throw the whole blame on another."
"If you have been a simpleton, does that make him an honest man?"
said Mr. Grey, impatiently.
"No," said Rachel, "but--"
"My credulity may have caused his dishonesty," she said, bringing, at
last, the words to serve the idea.
"Look you here, Rachel," said Mr. Grey, constraining himself to argue
patiently with his old friend's daughter; "it does not simply lie
between you and him--a silly girl who has let herself be taken in by
a sharper. That would be no more than giving a sixpence to a fellow
that tells me he lost his arm at Sebastopol when he has got it sewn
up in a bag. But you have been getting subscriptions from all the
world, making yourself answerable to them for having these children
educated, and then, for want of proper superintendence, or the merest
rational precaution, leaving them to this barbarous usage. I don't
want to be hard upon you, but you are accountable for all this; you
have made yourself so, and unless you wish to be regarded as a sharer
in the iniquity, the least you can do by way of compensation, is not
to make yourself an obstruction to the course of justice."
"I don't much care how I am regarded," said Rachel, with subdued tone
and sunken head; "I only want to do right, and not act spitefully and
vindictively before he has had warning to defend himself."
"Or to set off to delude as many equal foo--mistaken people as he can
find elsewhere! Eh, Rachel? Don't you see, it this friend of yours
be innocent, a summons will not hurt him, it will only give him the
opportunity of clearing himself."
"Yes, I see," owned Rachel, and overpowered, though far from
satisfied, she allowed herself to be brought back, and did what was
required of her, to the intense relief of her mother. During her
three minute conference no one in the study had ventured on speaking
or stirring, and Mrs. Curtis would not thank her biographer for
recording the wild alarms that careered through her brain, as to the
object of her daughter's tete-a-tete with the magistrate.
It was over at last, and the hall of justice broke up. Mary Morris
was at once in her mother's arms, and in a few minutes more making up
for all past privations by a substantial meal in the kitchen. But
Mrs. Kelland had gone to Avoncester to purchase thread, and only her
daughter Susan had come up, the girl who was supposed to be a sort of
spider, with no capacities beyond her web. Nor did Rachel think
Lovedy capable of walking down to Mackarel Lane, nor well enough for
the comfortless chairs and the third part of a bed. No, Mr. Grey's
words that Rachel was accountable for the children's sufferings had
gone to her heart. Pity was there and indignation, but these had
brought such an anguish of self-accusation as she could only appease
by lavishing personal care upon the chief sufferer. She carried the
child to her own sitting-room and made a couch for her before the
fire, sending Susan away with the assurance that Lovedy should stay
at the Homestead, and be nursed and fed till she was well and strong
again. Fanny, who had accompanied her, thought the child very ill,
and was urgent that the doctor should be sent for; but between Rachel
and the faculty of Avonmouth there was a deadly feud, and the
proposal was scouted. Hunger and a bad cold were easily treated, and
maybe there was a spark of consolation in having a patient all to
herself and her homoeopathic book.
So Fanny and her two boys walked down the hill together in the dark.
Colonel Keith and Alison Williams had already taken the same road,
anxiously discussing the future. Alison asked why Colin had not
given Mauleverer's alias. "I had no proof," he said. "You were sure
of the woman, but so far it is only guess work with him; though each
time Rose spoke of seeing Maddox coincided with one of Mauleverer's
visits. Besides, Alison, on the back of that etching in Rose's book
is written, Mrs. Williams, from her humble and obliged servant, R.
"And you said nothing about it?"
"No, I wished to make myself secure, and to see my way before
"What shall you do? Can you trust to Rose's identifying him?"
"I shall ride in to-morrow to see what is going on, and judge if it
will be well to let her see this man, if he have not gone off, as I
should fear was only too likely. Poor little Lady Temple, her
exploit has precipitated matters."
"And you will let every one, Dr. Long and all, know what a wretch
they have believed. And then--"
"Stay, Alison, I am afraid they will not take Maddox's subsequent
guilt as a proof of Edward's innocence."
"It is a proof that his stories were not worth credit."
"To you and me it is, who do not need such proof. It is possible
that among his papers something may be found that may implicate him
and clear Edward, but we can only hold off and watch. And I greatly
fear both man and woman will have slipped through our fingers,
especially if she knew you."
"Poor Maria, who could have thought of such frightful barbarity?"
sighed Alison. "I knew she was a passionate girl, but this is worse
than one can bear to believe."
She ceased, for she had been inexpressibly shocked, and her heart
still yearned towards every Beauchamp school child.
"I suppose we must tell Ermine," she added; "indeed, I know I could
not help it."
"Nor I," he said, smiling, "though there is only too much fear that
nothing will come of it but disappointment. At least, she will tell
us how to meet that."
THE BREWST SHE BREWED.
"Unwisely, not ignobly, have I given."
Timon of Athens.
Under the circumstances of the Curtis family, no greater penance
could have been devised than the solemn dinner party which had to
take place only an hour after the investigation was closed. Grace in
especial was nearly distracted between her desire to calm her mother
and to comfort her sister, and the necessity of attending to the Grey
family, who repaid themselves for their absence from the scene of
action by a torrent of condolences and questions, whence poor Grace
gathered to her horror and consternation that the neighbourhood
already believed that a tenderer sentiment than philanthropy had
begun to mingle in Rachel's relations with the secretary of the F. U.
E. E. Feeling it incumbent on the whole family to be as lively and
indifferent as possible, Grace, having shut her friends into their
rooms to perform their toilette, hurried to her sister, to find her
so entirely engrossed with her patient as absolutely to have
forgotten the dinner party. No wonder! She had had to hunt up a
housemaid to make up a bed for Lovedy in a little room within her
own, and the undressing and bathing of the poor child had revealed
injuries even in a more painful state than those which had been shown
to Mr. Grey, shocking emaciation, and most scanty garments. The
child was almost torpid, and spoke very little. She was most
unwilling to attempt to swallow; however, Rachel thought that some of
her globules had gone down, and put much faith in them, and in warmth
and sleep; but incessantly occupied, and absolutely sickened by the
sight of the child's hurts, she looked up with loathing at Grace's
entreaty that she would, dress for the dinner.
"Impossible," she said.
"You must, Rachel dear; indeed, you must."
"As if I could leave her."
"Nay, Rachel, but if you would only send--"
"Nonsense, Grace; if I can stay with her I can restore her far better
than could an allopathist, who would not leave nature to herself.
0 Grace, why can't you leave me in peace? Is it not bad enough
"Dear Rachel, I am very sorry; but if you did not come down to
dinner, think of the talk it would make."
"Let them talk."
"Ah, Rachel, but the mother! Think how dreadful the day's work has
been to her; and how can she ever get through the evening if she is
in a fright at your not coming down?"
"Dinner parties are one of the most barbarous institutions of past
stupidity," said Rachel, and Grace was reassured. She hovered over
Rachel while Rachel hovered over the sick child, and between her own
exertions and those of two maids, had put her sister into an evening
dress by the time the first carriage arrived. She then rushed to her
own room, made her own toilette, and returned to find Rachel in
conference with Mrs. Kelland, who had come home at last, and was to
sit with her niece during the dinner. Perhaps it was as well for all
parties that this first interview was cut very short, but Rachel's
burning cheeks did not promise much for the impression of ease and
indifference she was to make, as Grace's whispered reminders of "the
mother's" distress dragged her down stairs among the all too curious
glances of the assembled party.
All had been bustle. Not one moment for recollection had yet been
Rachel's. Mr. Grey's words, "Accountable for all," throbbed in her
ears and echoed in her brain--the purple bruises, the red stripes,
verging upon sores, were before her eyes, and the lights, the
flowers, the people and their greetings, were like a dizzy mist.
The space before dinner was happily but brief, and then, as last
lady, she came in as a supernumerary on the other arm of Grace's
cavalier, and taking the only vacant chair, found herself between a
squire and Captain Keith, who had duly been bestowed on Emily Grey.
Here there was a moment's interval of quiet, for the squire was
slightly deaf, and, moreover, regarded her as a little pert girl, not
to be encouraged, while Captain Keith was resigned to the implied
homage of the adorer of his cross; so that, though the buzz of talk
and the clatter of knives and forks roared louder than it had ever
seemed to do since she had been a child, listening from the outside,
the immediate sense of hurry and confusion, and the impossibility of
seeing or hearing anything plainly, began to diminish. She could not
think, but she began to wonder whether any one knew what had
happened; and, above all, she perfectly dreaded the quiet sting of
her neighbour's word and eye, in this consummation of his victory.
If he glanced at her, she knew she could not bear it; and if he never
spoke to her at all, it would be marked reprehension, which would be
far better than sarcasm. He was evidently conscious of her presence;
for when, in her insatiable thirst, she had drained her own supply of
water, she found the little bottle quietly exchanged for that before
him. It was far on in the dinner before Emily's attention was
claimed by the gentleman on her other hand, and then there was a
space of silence before Captain Keith almost made Rachel start, by
"This has come about far more painfully than could have been
"I thought you would have triumphed," she said.
"No, indeed. I feel accountable for the introduction that my sister
brought upon you."
"It was no fault of hers," said Rachel, sadly.
"I wish I could feel it so."
"That was a mere chance. The rest was my own doing."
"Aided and abetted by more than one looker-on."
"No. It is I who am accountable," she said, repeating Mr. Grey's
"You accept the whole?"
It was his usual, cool, dry tone; but as she replied, "I must," she
involuntarily looked up, with a glance of entreaty to be spared, and
she met those dark, grey, heavy-lidded eyes fixed on her with so much
concern as almost to unnerve her.
"You cannot," he answered; "every bystander must rue the apathy that
let you be so cruelly deceived, for want of exertion on their part."
"Nay," she said; "you tried to open my eyes. I think this would have
come worse, but for this morning's stroke."
"Thank you," he said, earnestly.
"I daresay you know more than I have been able to understand," she
presently added; "it is like being in the middle of an explosion,
without knowing what stands or falls."
"And lobster salad as an aggravation!" said he, as the dish
successively persecuted them. "This dinner is hard on you."
"Very; but my mother would have been unhappy if I had stayed away.
It is the leaving the poor child that grieves me. She is in a
fearful state, between sore throat, starvation, and blows."
The picture of the effect of the blows coming before Rachel at that
moment, perilled her ability even to sit through the dinner; but her
companion saw the suddening whitening of her cheek, and by a
dexterous signal at once caused her glass to be filled. Habit was
framing her lips to say something about never drinking wine; but
somehow she felt a certain compulsion in his look, and her compliance
restored her. She returned to the subject, saying, "But it was only
the woman that was cruel."
"She had not her Sepoy face for nothing."
"Did I hear that Miss Williams knew her?"
"Yes, it seems she was a maid who had once been very cruel to little
Rose Williams. The Colonel seems to think the discovery may have
important consequences. I hardly know how."
This conversation sent Rachel out of the dining-room more like
herself than she had entered it; but she ran upstairs at once to
Lovedy, and remained with her till disinterred by the desperate
Grace, who could not see three people talking together without
blushing with indignation at the construction they were certainly
putting on her sister's scarlet cheeks and absence from the drawing-
room. With all Grace's efforts, however, she could not bring her
truant back before the gentlemen had come in. Captain Keith had seen
their entrance, and soon came up to Rachel.
"How is your patient?" he asked.
"She is very ill; and the worst of it is, that it seems such agony to
her to attempt to swallow."
"Have you had advice for her?"
"No; I have often treated colds, and I thought this a case,
aggravated by that wicked treatment."
"Have you looked into her mouth?"
"Yes; the skin is frightfully brown and dry."
He leant towards her, and asked, in an under tone--
"Did you ever see diphtheria"
"No!"--her brow contracting--"did you?"
"Yes; we had it through all the children of the regiment at
"You think this is it?"
He asked a few more questions, and his impression was evidently
"I must send for Mr. Frampton," said Rachel, homeopathy succumbing to
her terror; but then, with a despairing glance, she beheld all the
male part of the establishment handing tea.
"Where does he live? I'll send him up."
"Thank you, oh! thank you. The house with the rails, under the east
He was gone, and Rachel endured the reeling of the lights, and the
surges of talk, and the musical performances that seemed to burst the
drum of her ear; and, after all, people went away, saying to each
other that there was something very much amiss, and that poor dear
Mrs. Curtis was very much to blame for not having controlled her
They departed at last, and Grace, without uttering the terrible word,
was explaining to the worn-out mother that little Lovedy was more
unwell, and that Captain Keith had kindly offered to fetch the
doctor, when the Captain himself returned.
"I am sorry to say that Mr. Frampton is out, not likely to be at home
till morning, and his partner is with a bad accident at Avonford.
The best plan will be for me to ride back to Avoncester, and send out
Macvicar, our doctor. He is a kind-hearted man, of much experience
in this kind of thing."
"But you are not going back," said polite Mrs. Curtis, far from
taking in the urgency of the case. "You were to sleep at Colonel
Keith's. I could not think of your taking the trouble."
"I have settled that with the Colonel, thank you. My dog-cart will
be here directly."
"I can only say, thank you," said Rachel, earnestly. "But is there
nothing to be done in the meantime? Do you know the treatment?"
He knew enough to give a few directions, which revealed to poor Mrs.
Curtis the character of the disease.
"That horrible new sore throat! Oh, Rachel, and you have been
hanging over her all this time!"
"Indeed," said Alick Keith, coming to her. "I think you need not be
alarmed. The complaint seems to me to depend on the air and
locality. I have been often with people who had it."
"And not caught it?"
"No; though one poor little fellow, our piper's son, would not try to
take food from any one else, and died at last on my knee. I do not
believe it is infectious in that way."
And hearing his carriage at the door, he shook hands, and hurried
off, Mrs. Curtis observing--
"He really is a very good young man. But oh, Rachel, my dear, how
could you bring her here?"
"I did not know, mother. Any way it is better than her being in Mrs.
Kelland's hive of children."
"You are not going back to her, Rachel, I entreat!"
"Mother, I must. You heard what Captain Keith said. Let that
comfort you. It would be brutal cruelty and cowardice to stay away
from her to night. Good night, Grace, make mother see that it must
She went, for poor Mrs. Curtis could not withstand her; and only
turned with tearful eyes to her elder daughter to say, "You do not go
into the room again, Grace, I insist."
Grace could not bear to leave Rachel to the misery of such a vigil,
and greatly reproached herself for the hurry that had prevented her
from paying any heed to the condition of the child in her anxiety to
make her sister presentable; but Mrs. Curtis was in a state of
agitation that demanded all the care and tenderness of this "mother's
child," and the sharing her room and bed made it impossible to elude
the watchfulness that nervously guarded the remaining daughter.
It was eleven o'clock when Alexander Keith drove from the door. It
was a moonlight night, and he was sure to spare no speed, but he
could hardly be at Avoncester within an hour and a half, and the
doctor would take at least two in coming out. Mrs. Kelland was the
companion of Rachel's watch. The woman was a good deal subdued. The
strangeness of the great house tamed her, and she was shocked and
frightened by the little girl's state as well as by the young lady's
grave, awe-struck, and silent manner.
They tried all that Captain Keith had suggested, but the child was
too weak and spent to inhale the steam of vinegar, and the attempts
to make her swallow produced fruitless anguish. They could not
discover how long it was since she had taken any nourishment, and
they already knew what a miserable pittance hers had been at the
best. Mrs. Kelland gave her up at once, and protested that she was
following her mother, and that there was death in her face. Rachel
made an imperious gesture of silence, and was obeyed so far as voice
went, but long-drawn sighs and shakes of the head continued to
impress on her the aunt's hopelessness, throughout the endeavours to
change the position, the moistening of the lips, the attempts at
relief in answer to the choked effort to cough, the weary, faint
moan, the increasing faintness and exhaustion.
One o'clock struck, and Mrs. Kelland said, in a low, ominous voice,
"It is the turn of the night, Miss Rachel. You bad best leave her to
"I will never leave her," said Rachel impatiently.
"You are a young lady, Miss Rachel, you ain't used to the like of
"Hark!" Rachel held up her finger.
Wheels were crashing up the hill. The horrible responsibility was
over, the immediate terror gone, help seemed to be coming at the
utmost speed, and tears of relief rushed into Rachel's eyes, tears
that Lovedy must have perceived, for she spoke the first articulate
words she had uttered since the night-watch had begun, "Please,
ma'am, don't fret, I'm going to poor mother."
"You will be better now, Lovedy, here is the doctor," said Rachel,
though conscious that this was not the right thing, and then she
hastened out on the stairs to meet the gaunt old Scotsman and bring
him in. He made Mrs. Kelland raise the child, examined her mouth,
felt her feet and hands, which were fast becoming chill, and desired
the warm flannels still to be applied to them.
"Cannot her throat be operated on?" said Rachel, a tremor within her
heart. "I think we could both be depended on if you wanted us."
"She is too far gone, poor lassie," was the answer; "it would be mere
cruelty to torment her. You had better go and lie down, Miss Curtis;
her mother and I can do all she is like to need."
"Is she dying?"
"I doubt if she can last an hour longer. The disease is in an
advanced state, and she was in too reduced a state to have battled
with it, even had it been met earlier."
"As it should have been! Twice her destroyer!" sighed Rachel, with a
bursting heart, and again the kind doctor would have persuaded her to
leave the room, but she turned from him and came back to Lovedy, who
had been roused by what had been passing, and had been murmuring
something which had set her aunt off into sobs.
"She's saying she've been a bad girl to me, poor lamb, and I tell her
not to think of it! She knows it was for her good, if she had not
been set against her work."
Dr. Macvicar authoritatively hushed the woman, but Lovedy looked up
with flushed cheeks, and the blue eyes that had been so often noticed
for their beauty. The last flush of fever had come to finish the
"Don't fret," she said, "there's no one to beat me up there! Please,
the verse about the tears."
Dr. Macvicar and the child both looked towards Rachel, but her whole
memory seemed scared away, and it was the old Scotch army surgeon
"'The Lord God shall wipe off tears from all eyes.' Ah! poor little
one, you are going from a world that has been full of woe to you."
"Oh, forgive me, forgive me, my poor child," said Rachel, kneeling by
her, the tears streaming down silently.
"Please, ma'am, don't cry," said the little girl feebly; "you were
very good to me. Please tell me of my Saviour," she added to Rachel.
It sounded like set phraseology, and she knew not how to begin; but
Dr. Macvicar's answer made the lightened look come back, and the
child was again heard to whisper--"Ah! I knew they scourged Him--for
This was the last they did hear, except the sobbing breaths, ever
more convulsive. Rachel had never before been present with death,
and awe and dismay seemed to paralyse her whole frame. Even the
words of hope and prayer for which the child's eyes craved from both
her fellow-watchers seemed to her a strange tongue, inefficient to
reach the misery of this untimely mortal agony, this work of neglect
and cruelty--and she the cause.
Three o'clock had struck before the last painful gasp had been drawn,
and Mrs. Kelland's sobbing cry broke forth. Dr. Macvicar told Rachel
that the child was at rest. She shivered from head to foot, her
teeth chattered, and she murmured, "Accountable for all."
Dr. Macvicar at once made her swallow some of the cordial brought for
the poor child, and then summoning the maid whom Grace had stationed
in the outer room, he desired her to put her young mistress to bed
without loss of time. The sole remaining desire of which she was
conscious was to be alone and in the dark, and she passively
THE SARACEN'S HEAD.
"Alas, he thought, how changed that mien,
How changed those timid looks have been,
Since years of guilt and of disguise
Have steeled her brow and armed her eyes."
"Are you sleepy, Rose? What a yawn!"
"Not sleepy, Aunt Ailie; only it is such a tiresome long day when the
Colonel does not come in."
"Take care, Rosie; I don't know what we shall be good for at this
"We? 0 Aunt Ermine, then you think it tiresome too. I know you do--"
"What's that, Rose!"
"It is! it is! I'll open the door for him."
The next moment Rose led her Colonel in triumph into the lamp-light.
There was a bright light in his eye, and yet he looked pale, grave,
and worn; and Ermine's first observation was--
"How came Tibbie to let you out at this time of night?"
"I have not ventured to encounter Tibbie at all. I drove up to your
"You have been at St. Norbert's all this time," exclaimed Alison.
"Do you think no one can carry on a campaign at St. Norbert's but
yourself and your generalissima, Miss Ailie?" he said, stroking down
Rose's brown hair.
"Then, if you have not gone home, you have had nothing to eat, and
that is the reason you look so tired," said Ermine.
"Yes; I had some luncheon at the Abbey."
"Then, at any rate, you shall have some tea. Rosie, run and fetch
the little kettle."
"And the Beauchamp cup and saucer," added Rose, proudly producing the
single relic of a well-remembered set of olden times. "And please,
please, Aunt Ermine, let me sit up to make it for him. I have not
seen him all day, you know; and it is the first time he ever drank
tea in our house, except make-believe with Violetta and Colinette."
"No, Rose. Your aunt says I spoil that child, and I am going to have
my revenge upon you. You must see the wild beast at his meals
another time; for it just happens that I have a good deal to say to
your aunts, and it is not intended for your ears."
Rose showed no signs of being spoilt, for she only entreated to be
allowed "just to put the tea-things in order," and then, winking very
hard, she said she would go.
"Here, Rose, if you please," said Ermine, clearing the space of table
"Why, Aunt Ermine, I did not know you could make tea!"
"There are such things as extraordinary occasions, Rose. Now, good
night, my sweet one."
"Good night, my Lady Discretion. We will make up for it one of these
days. Don't stay away, pray, Ailie," as Alison was following the
child. "I have nothing to say till you come back."
"I know it is good news," said Ermine; "but it has cost you
Instead of answering, he received his cup from her, filled up her
tea-pot, and said--
"How long is it since you poured out tea for me, Ermine?"
"Thirteen years next June, when you and Harry used to come in from
the cricket field, so late and hot that you were ashamed to present
yourself in civilized society at the Great House."
"As if nobody from the Parsonage ever came down to look on at the
"Yes; being summoned by all the boys to see that nothing would teach
a Scotchman cricket."
"Ah! you have got the last word, for here comes Ailie."
"Of course," said Alison, coming in; "Ermine has had the pith of the
story, so I had better ask at once what it is."
"That the Beauchamp Eleven beat Her Majesty's -th Foot on Midsummer
Day, 1846, is the pith of what I have as yet heard," said Ermine.
"And that Beauchamp ladies are every whit as full of mischief as they
used to be in those days, is the sum of what I have told," added
"Yes," said Ermine, "he has most loyally kept his word of reserving
all for you. He has not even said whether Mauleverer is taken."
"My story is grave and sad enough," said Colin, laying aside all his
playfulness, and a serious expression coming over his features; but,
at the same time, the landlady's sandy cat, which, like all other
animals, was very fond of him, and had established herself on his
knee as soon as Rose had left it vacant, was receiving a certain
firm, hard, caressing stroking, which resulted in vehement purrs on
her part, and was evidently an outlet of suppressed exaltation.
"Is he the same? " asked Alison.
"All in due time; unless, like Miss Rachel, you wish to tell me my
story yourselves. By-the-bye, how is that poor girl to-day?"
"Thoroughly knocked down. There is a sort of feverish lassitude
about her that makes them very anxious. They were hoping to persuade
her to see Mr. Frampton when Lady Temple heard last."
"Poor thing! it has been a sad affair for her. "Well, I told you I
should go over this morning and see Mr. Grey, and judge if anything
could be done. I got to the Abbey at about eleven o'clock, and found
the policeman had just come back after serving the summons, with the
news that Mauleverer was gone."
"Clean gone! Absconded from his lodgings, and left no traces behind
him. But, as to the poor woman, the policeman reported that she had
been left in terrible distress, with the child extremely ill, and not
a penny, not a thing to eat in the house. He came back to ask Mr.
Grey what was to be done; and as the suspicion of diphtheria made
every one inclined to fight shy of the house, I thought I had better
go down and see what was to be done. I knocked a good while in vain;
but at last she looked out of window, and I told her I only wanted to
know what could be done for her child, and would send a doctor. Then
she told me how to open the door. Poor thing! I found her the
picture of desolation, in the midst of the dreary kitchen, with the
child gasping on her lap; all the pretence of widowhood gone, and her
hair hanging loose about her face, which was quite white with hunger,
and her great eyes looked wild, like the glare of a wild beast's in a
den. I spoke to her by her own name, and she started and trembled,
and said, 'Did Miss Alison tell you?" I said, 'Yes,' and explained
who I was, and she caught me up half way: '0 yes, yes, my lady's
nephew, that was engaged to Miss Ermine!' And she looked me full and
searchingly in the face, Ermine, when I answered 'Yes.' Then she
almost sobbed, 'And you are true to her;' and put her hands over her
face in an agony. It was a very strange examination on one's
constancy, and I put an end to it by asking if she had any friends at
home that I could write to for her; but she cast that notion from her
fiercely, and said she had no friend, no one. He had left her to her
fate, because the child was too ill to be moved. And indeed the poor
child was in such a state that there was no thinking of anything
else, and I went at once to find a doctor and a nurse."
"Yes; and she, poor thing, was in no state to give it the resolute
care that is the only chance. Doctors could be easily found, but I
was at my wit's end for a nurse, till I remembered that Mr. Mitchell
had told me of a Sisterhood that have a Home at St. Norbert's, with a
nursing establishment attached to it. So, in despair, I went there,
and begged to see the Superior, and a most kind and sensible lady I
found her, ready to do anything helpful. She lent me a nice little
Sister, rather young, I thought; but who turned out thoroughly
efficient, nearly as good as a doctor. Still, whether the child
lives is very doubtful, though the mother was full of hope when I
went in last. She insisted that I had saved it, when both she and it
had been deserted by Maddox, for whom she had given up everything."
"Then she owned that he was Maddox?"
"She called him so, without my even putting the question to her. She
had played his game long enough; and now his desertion has evidently
put an end to all her regard for him. It was confusedly and shortly
told; the child was in a state that prevented attention being given
to anything else; but she knows that she had been made a tool of to
ruin her master and you, and the sight of you, Ailie, had evidently
stirred up much old affection, and remembrance of better days."
"Is she his wife?"
"No, or the evidence she promises could not be used against him. Do
you know this, Ermine?" as he gave her a cover, with a seal upon it.
"The Saracen! the Saracen's head, Colin; it was made with the lost
"The ring was taken from Edward's dressing-room the night when Rose
was frightened with the phosphorus. Maria declares that she did not
suspect the theft, or Maddox's purpose, till long after she had left
her place. He effected his practices under pretence of attachment to
her, and then could not shake her off. She went abroad with him
after the settlement of affairs; but he could not keep out of
gambling speculation, and lost everything. Then he seems to have
larked about, obtaining means she knew not how--as artist, lecturer,
and what not--till the notable F. U. E. E. was started. Most likely
he would have collected the subscriptions and made off with them, if
Rachel Curtis had not had just sense enough to trust him with nothing
without seeing some result, so that he was forced to set the affair
going with Maria at its head, as the only person who could co-operate
with him. They kept themselves ready for a start whenever there
should be symptoms of a discovery, but, in the meantime, he gambled
away all that he got into his hands, and never gave her enough to
feed the children. Thus she was absolutely driven to force work from
them for subsistence; and she is a passionate creature, whom jealousy
embittered more and more, so that she became more savage than she
knew. Poor thing! She has her punishment. Maddox only came home,
yesterday, too late for any train before the mail, and by that time
the child was too ill to be moved. He must have thought it all up
with him, and wished to be rid of both, for they quarrelled, and he
left her to her misery."
"Yes, but she told us of his haunts--haunts that he thought she did
not know--a fancy shop, kept by a Mrs. Dench at Bristol, where it
seems that he plays the philanthropical lecturer, and probably has
been trying to secure a snug berth for himself unknown, as he
thought, to Maria; but she pried into his letters, and kept a keen
watch upon him. He was to be inquired for there by his Mauleverer
name, and, I have little doubt, will be captured."
"He will be committed for trial at the sessions; and, in the
meantime, I must see Beauchamp and Dr. Long, and arrange that he
should be prosecuted for the forgery, even though he should slip
through our fingers at the sessions."
"Oh, could that be?"
"This Clever Woman has managed matters so sweetly, that they might
just as well try her as him for obtaining money on false pretences;
and the man seems to have been wonderfully sharp in avoiding
committing himself. Mrs. Curtis's man of business has been trying
all day to get up the case, but he has made out nothing but a few
more debts such as that which turned up yesterday; and it is very
doubtful how far a case can be made out against him."
"And then we should lose him."
"That is exactly what I wish to avoid. I want to bring up my forces
at once, and have him laid hold of at once for the forgery of those
letters of Edward's. How long would it take to hear from
Ekaterinburg? I suppose Edward could travel as fast as a letter."
Alison fairly sprang to her feet.
"0, Colin, Colin! you do not think that Edward would be here by the
"He ought," said Colin. "I hope to induce Dr. Long and Harry to
write him such letters as to bring him home at once."
Self-restrained Alison was fairly overcome. She stretched out both
hands, pressed Colin's convulsively, then turned away her face, and,
bursting into tears, ran out of the room.
"Poor dear Ailie," said Ermine; "she has suffered terribly. Her
heart is full of Edward. Oh, I hope he will come."
"He must. He cannot be so senseless as to stay away."
"There is that unfortunate promise to his wife; and I fear that he is
become so much estranged from English ways that he will hardly care
to set himself straight here, after the pain that the universal
suspicion gave him."
"He cannot but care. For the sake of all he must care," vehemently
repeated Colin, with the punctilious honour of the nobly-born
soldier. "For his child's sake, this would be enough to bring him
from his grave. If he refused to return to the investigation, it
would be almost enough to make me doubt him."
"I am glad you said almost," said Ermine, trying to smile; but he had
absolutely brought tears into her eyes.
"Dear Ermine," he said, gently, "you need not fear my not trusting
him to the utmost. I know that he has been too much crushed to
revive easily, and that it may not be easy to make him appreciate our
hopes from such a distance; but I think such a summons as this must
"I hope it will," said Ermine. "Otherwise we should not deserve that
you should have any more to do with us."
"Ermine, Ermine, do you not know that nothing can make any difference
Ermine had collected herself while he spoke.
"I know," she said, "that all you are doing makes me thank and bless
you--oh! more than I can speak."
He looked wistfully at her, but, tearful as were her eyes, there was
a resolution, about her face that impressed upon him that she trusted
to his promise of recurring no more within the year to the subject so
near his heart; and he could say no more than, "You forgive me,
Ermine, you know I trust him as you do."
"I look to your setting him above being only trusted," said Ermine,
trying to smile. "Oh! if you knew what this ray of hope is in the
dreary darkness that has lasted so long!"
Therewith he was obliged to leave her, and she only saw him for a few
minutes in the morning, when he hurried in to take leave, since, if
matters went right at the magistrates' bench, he intended to proceed
at once to make such representations in person to Mr. Beauchamp and
Dr. Long, as might induce them to send an urgent recall to Edward in
time for the spring sessions, and for this no time must be lost.
Ermine remained then alone with Rose, feeling the day strangely long
and lonely, and that, perhaps, its flatness might be a preparation
for the extinction of all the brightness that had of late come into
her life. Colin had said he would trust as she did, but those words
had made her aware that she must trust as he did. If he, with his
clear sense and kindly insight into Edward's character, became
convinced that his absence proceeded from anything worse than the
mere fainthearted indifference that would not wipe off a blot, then
Ermine felt that his judgment would carry her own along with it, and
that she should lose her undoubting faith in her brother's perfect
innocence, and in that case her mind was made up; Colin might say and
do what he would, but she would never connect him through herself
with deserved disgrace. The parting, after these months of
intercourse and increased knowlege of one another, would be
infinitely more wretched than the first; but, cost her what it would-
-her life perhaps--the break should be made rather than let his
untainted name be linked with one where dishonour justly rested.
But with her constant principle of abstinence from dwelling on
contingencies, she strove to turn away her mind, and to exert
herself; though this was no easy task, especially on so solitary a
day as this, while Alison was in charge at Myrtlewood in Lady
Temple's absence, and Rachel Curtis was reported far too ill to leave
her room, so that Ermine saw no one all day except her constant
little companion; nor was it till towards evening that Alison at
length made her appearance, bringing a note which Colin had sent home
by Lady Temple.
All had so far gone well. Maria Hatherton had been committed to take
her trial at the quarter sessions for the assault upon the children;
but, as her own little girl was still living, though in extreme
danger, and the Sisters promised to take charge of both for the
present, Colonel Keith had thought it only common humanity to offer
bail, and this had been accepted. Later in the day Mauleverer
himself had been brought down, having been taken up at a grand
meeting of his Bristol friends, who had all rallied round him,
expressing strong indignation at the accusation, and offering
evidence as to character. He denied any knowledge of the name of
Maddox, and declared that he was able to prove that his own account
of himself as a popular, philanthropical lecturer was perfectly
correct; and he professed to be much amazed at the charges brought
against him, which could only have arisen from some sudden alarm in
the young lady's mind, excited by her friends, whom he had always
observed to be prejudiced against him. He appealed strongly against
the hardship of being imprisoned on so slight a charge; but, as he
could find no one to take his part, he reserved his defence for the
quarter sessions, for which he was fully committed. Colin thought,
however, that it was so doubtful whether the charges against him
could be substantiated, that it was highly necessary to be fully
prepared to press the former forgery against him, and had therefore
decided upon sleeping at St. Norbert's and going on by an early train
to obtain legal advice in London, and then to see Harry Beauchamp.
Meantime, Ermine must write to her brother as urgently as possible,
backing up Colin's own representations of the necessity of his
Ermine read eagerly, but Alison seemed hardly able to command her
attention to listen, and scarcely waited for the end of the letter
before her own disclosure was made. Francis was sickening with
diphtheria; he had been left behind in the morning on account of some
outbreak of peevishness, and Alison, soon becoming convinced that
temper was not solely in fault, had kept him apart from his brothers,
and at last had sent for the doctor, who had at once pronounced it to
be the same deadly complaint which had already declared itself in
Rachel Curtis. Alison had of course devoted herself to the little
boy till his mother's return from St. Norbert's, when she had been
obliged to give the first intimation of what the price of the loving
little widow's exploit might be. "I don't think she realizes the
extent of the illness," said Alison; "say what I would, she would
keep on thanking me breathlessly, and only wanting to escape to him.
I asked if we should send to let Colin know, and she answered in her
dear, unselfish way, 'By no means, it would be safer for him to be
out of the way,' and, besides, she knew how much depended on his
"She is right," said Ermine; "I am thankful that he is out of reach
of trying to take a share in the nursing, it is bad enough to have
one in the midst!"
"Yes," said Alison. "Lady Temple cannot be left to bear this
grievous trouble alone, and when the Homestead cannot help her.
Yet, Ermine, what can be done? Is it safe for you and Rose?"
"Certainly not safe that you should come backwards and forwards,"
said Ermine. "Rose must not be put in danger; so, dear, dear Ailie,
you had better take your things up, and only look in on us now and
then at the window."
Alison entirely broke down. "Oh, Ermine, Ermine, since you began to
mend, not one night have we been apart!"
"Silly child," said Ermine, straining her quivering voice to be
cheerful, "I am strong, and Rose is my best little handmaid."
"I know it is right," said Alison, "I could not keep from my boys,
and, indeed, now Colin is gone, I do not think any one at Myrtlewood
will have the heart to carry out the treatment. It will almost kill
that dear young mother to see it. No, they cannot be left; but oh,
Ermine, it is like choosing between you and them."
"Not at all, it is choosing between right and wrong."
"And Ermine, if--if I should be ill, you must not think of coming
near me. Rose must not be left alone."
"There is no use in talking of such things," said Ermine, resolutely,
"let us think of what must be thought of, not of what is in the only
Wise Hands. What has been done about the other children?"
"I have kept them away from the first; I am afraid for none of them
"It would be the wisest way to send them, nurses and all, to
"Wise, but cool," said Alison.
"I will settle that," returned Ermine. "Tibbie shall come and invite
them, and you must make Lady Temple consent."
The sisters durst not embrace, but gazed at one another, feeling that
it might be their last look, their hearts swelling with unspoken
prayer, but their features so restrained that neither might unnerve
the other. Then it was that Alison, for the first time, felt
absolute relief in the knowledge, once so bitter, that she had ceased
to be the whole world to her sister. And Ermine, for one moment,
felt as if it would be a way out of all troubles and perplexities if
the two sisters could die together, and leave little Rose to be
moulded by Colin to be all he wished; but she resolutely put aside
the future, and roused herself to send a few words in pencil,
requesting Tibbie to step in and speak to her.
That worthy personage had fully adopted her, and entering, tall and
stately, in her evening black silk and white apron, began by
professing her anxiety to be any assistance in her power, saying,
"she'd be won'erfu' proud to serve Miss Williams, while her sister
was sae thrang waitin' on her young scholar in his sair trouble."
Emmie thanked her, and rejoiced that the Colonel was out of harm's
"Deed, aye, ma'am, he's weel awa'. He has sic a wark wi' thae
laddies an' their bit bairn o' a mither, I'll no say he'd been easy
keepit out o' the thick o' the distress, an' it's may be no
surprisin', after a' that's come and gane, that he seeks to take
siccan a lift of the concern. I've mony a time heard tell that the
auld General, Sir Stephen, was as good as a faither to him, when he
was sick an' lonesome, puir lad, in yon far awa' land o' wild beasts
"Would it not be what he might like, to take in the children out of
the way of infection?"
"'Deed, Miss Ermine," with a significant curtsey, "I'm thinkin' ye
ken my maister Colin amaist as weel as I do. He's the true son of
his forbears, an' Gowanbrae used to be always open in the auld lord's
time, that's his grandfather Foreby, that he owes so much kindness to
Ermine further suggested that it was a pity to wait for a letter from
the Colonel, and Tibbie quite agreed. She "liked the nurse as an
extraordinar' douce woman, not like the fine English madams that Miss
Isabel--that's Mrs. Comyn Menteith--put about her bairns; and as to
room, the sergeant and the tailor bodie did not need much, and the
masons were only busy in the front parlour."
"Masons?" asked Ermine.
"On, aye? didna ye ken it's for the new room, that is to be built out
frae the further parlour, and what they ca' the bay to the drawin'-
room, just to mak' the house more conformable like wi' his name and
forbears. I never thocht but that ye'd surely seen the plans and a',
Miss Ermine, an' if so be it was Maister Colin's pleasure the thing
suld be private, I'm real vext to hae said a word; but ye'll may be
no let on to him, ma'am, that ye ken onything about it."
"Those down-stairs rooms so silently begun," thought Ermine. "How
fixed his intention must be? Oh, how will it end? What would be
best for him? And how can I think of myseif, while all, even my
Ailie, are in distress and danger?"
Ermine had, however, a good deal to think of, for not only had she
Colin's daily letter to answer, but she had Conrade, Leoline, and
Hubert with her for several hours every day, and could not help being
amused by Rose's ways with them, little grown-up lady as she was
compared to them. Luckily girls were such uncommon beings with them
as to be rather courted than despised, and Rose, having nothing of
the tom-boy, did not forfeit the privileges of her sex. She did not
think they compensated for her Colonel's absence, and never durst
introduce Violetta to them; but she enjoyed and profited by the
contact with childhood, and was a very nice little comforter to
Conrade when he was taken with a fit of anxiety for the brother whom
he missed every moment.
Quarantine weighed, however, most heavily upon poor Grace Curtis.
Rachel had from the first insisted that she should be kept out of her
room; and the mother's piteous entreaty always implied that saddest
argument, "Why should I be deprived of you both in one day?" So
Grace found herself condemned to uselessness almost as complete as
Ermine's. She could only answer notes, respond to inquiries, without
even venturing far enough from the house to see Ermine, or take out
the Temple children for a walk. For indeed, Rachel's state was
The feverish misery that succeeded Lovedy's death had been utterly
crushing, the one load of self-accusation had prostrated her, but
with a restlessness of agony, that kept her writhing as it were in
her wretchedness; and then came the gradual increase of physical
suffering, bearing in upon her that she had caught the fatal
disorder. To her sense of justice, and her desire to wreak vengeance
on herself, the notion might be grateful; but the instinct of self-
preservation was far stronger. She could not die. The world here,
the world to come, were all too dark, too confused, to enable her to
bear such a doom. She saw her peril in her mother's face; in the
reiterated visits of the medical man, whom she no longer spurned; in
the calling in of the Avoncester physician; in the introduction of a
professional nurse, and the strong and agonizing measures to which
she had to submit, every time with the sensation that the suffering
could not possibly be greater without exceeding the powers of
Then arose the thought that with weakness she should lose all chance
of expressing a wish, and, obtaining pencil and paper, she began to
write a charge to her mother and sister to provide for Mary Morris;
but in the midst there came over her the remembrance of the papers
that she had placed in Mauleverer's hands--the title-deeds of the
Burnaby Bargain; an estate that perhaps ought to be bringing in as
much as half the rental of the property. It must be made good to the
poor. If the title-deeds had been sold to any one who could claim
the property, what would be the consequence? She felt herself in a
mist of ignorance and perplexity; dreading the consequences, yet
feeling as if her own removal might leave her fortune free to make up
for them. She tried to scrawl an explanation; but mind and fingers
were alike unequal to the task, and she desisted just as fresh
torture began at the doctor's hands--torture from which they sent her
mother away, and that left her exhausted, and despairing of holding
out through a repetition.
And then--and then! "Tell me of my Saviour," the dying child had
said; and the drawn face had lightened at the words to which Rachel's
oracles declared that people attached crude or arbitrary meanings;
and now she hardly knew what they conveyed to her, and longed, as for
something far away, for the reality of those simple teachings--once
realities, now all by rote! Saved by faith! What was faith? Could
all depend on a last sensation? And as to her life. Failure,
failure through headstrong blindness and self-will, resulting in the
agony of the innocent. Was this ground of hope? She tried to think
of progress and purification beyond the grave; but this was the most
speculative, insecure fabric of all. There was no habit of trust to
it--no inward conviction, no outward testimony. And even when the
extreme danger subsided, and Francis Temple was known to be better,
Rachel found that her sorrow was not yet ended: for Conrade had been
brought home with the symptoms of the complaint--Conrade, the most
beloved and loving of Fanny's little ones, the only one who really
remembered his father, was in exceeding, almost hopeless peril,
watched day and night by his mother and Miss Williams.
The little Alice, Maria Hatherton's own child, had lingered and
struggled long, but all the care and kindness of the good Sisters at
St. Norbert's had been unavailing, she had sunk at last, and the
mother remained in a dull, silent, tearless misery, quietly doing all
that was required of her, but never speaking nor giving the ladies
any opening to try to make an impression upon her.
Rachel gleaned more intelligence than her mother meant her to obtain,
and brooded over it in her weakness and her silence.
Recovery is often more trying than illness, and Rachel suffered
greatly. Indeed, she was not sure that she ought to have recovered
at all, and perhaps the shock to her nerves and spirits was more
serious than the effect of the sharp passing disorder, which had,
however, so much weakened her that she succumbed entirely to the
blow. "Accountable for all," the words still rang in her ears, and
the all for which she was accountable continually magnified itself.
She had tied a dreadful knot, which Fanny, meek contemned Fanny had
cut, but at the cost of grievous suffering and danger to her boys,
and too late to prevent that death which continually haunted Rachel;
those looks of convulsive agony came before her in all her waking and
sleeping intervals. Nothing put them aside, occupation in her
weakness only bewildered and distracted her, and even though she was
advancing daily towards convalescence, leaving her room, and being
again restored to her sister, she still continued listless, dejected,
cast down, and unable to turn her mind from this one dreary
contemplation. Of Fanny and her sons it was hardly possible to
think, and one of the strange perturbations of the mind in illness
caused her to dwell far less on them than on the minor misery of the
fate of the title-deeds of the Burnaby Bargain, which she had put
into Mauleverer's hand. She fancied their falling into the hands of
some speculator, who, if he did not break the mother's heart by
putting up a gasometer, would certainly wring it by building hideous
cottages, or desirable marine residences. The value would be
enhanced so as to be equal to more than half that of the Homestead,
the poor would have been cheated of it, and what compensation could
be made? Give up all her own share? Nay, she had nothing absolutely
her own while her mother lived, only £5,000 was settled on her if she
married, and she tortured herself with devising plans that she knew
to be impracticable, of stripping herself, and going forth to suffer
the poverty she merited. Yes, but how would she have lived? Not
like the Williamses! She had tried teaching like the one, and
writing like the other, but had failed in both. The Clever Woman had
no marketable or available talent. She knew very well that nothing
would induce her mother and sister to let her despoil herself, but to
have injured them would be even more intolerable; and more than all
was the sickening uncertainty, whether any harm had been done, or
what would be its extent.
Ignorant of such subjects at the best, her brain was devoid of force
even to reason out her own conjectures, or to decide what must be
impossible. She felt compelled to keep all to herself; to alarm her
mother was out of the question, when Mrs. Curtis was distressed and
shaken enough already, and to have told Grace would only have brought
her soothing promises of sharing the burthen--exactly what she did
not want--and would have led to the fact being known to the family
man of business, Mr. Cox, the very last person to whom Rachel wished
to confess the proceeding. It was not so much the humiliation of
owning to him such a fatal act of piracy upon his province, as
because she believed him to have been the cause that the poor had all
this time been cheated of the full value of the estate. He had
complacently consulted the welfare of the Curtis family, by charging
them with the rent of the fields as ordinary grass land, and it had
never dawned on him that it would be only just to increase the rent.
Rachel had found him an antagonist to every scheme she had hatched,
ever since she was fifteen years old, her mother obeyed him with
implicit faith, and it was certain that if the question were once in
his hands, he would regard it as his duty to save the Curtis funds,
and let the charity sink or swim. And he was the only person out of
the house whom Rachel had seen.
As soon as--or rather before--she could bear it, the first day that
her presence was supposed not to be perilous to others, she was
obliged to have an interview with him, to enable him to prepare the
case for the quarter sessions. Nothing could be much worse for her
nerves and spirits, but even the mother was absolutely convinced of
the necessity, and Rachel was forced to tax her enfeebled powers to
enable her to give accurate details of her relations with Mauleverer,
and enable him to judge of the form of the indictment. Once or twice
she almost sunk back from the exceeding distastefulness of the task,
but she found herself urged on, and when she even asked what would
happen if she were not well enough to appear, she was gravely told
that she must be--it would be very serious if she did not make a
great effort, and even her mother shook her head, looked unhappy, but
confirmed the admonition. A little revenge or hatred would have been
a great help to her, but she could not feel them as impulses. If it
had been the woman, she could have gladly aided in visiting such
cruelty upon her, but this had not been directly chargeable upon
Mauleverer; and though Rachel felt acutely that he had bitterly
abused her confidence, she drooped too much to feel the spirit of
retort. The notion of being confronted with him before all the world
at Avoncester, and being made to bring about his punishment, was
simply dreadful to her, but when she murmured some word of this to
her mother, Mrs. Curtis fairly started, and said quite fiercely, "My
dear, don't let me hear you say any such thing. He is a very wicked
man, and you ought to be glad to have him punished!"
She really spoke as if she had been rebuking some infringement of
decorum, and Rachel was quite startled. She asked Grace why the
mother was so bent on making her vindictive, but Grace only answered
that every one must be very much shocked, and turned away the
Prudent Grace! Her whole soul was in a tumult of wrath and shame at
what she knew to be the county gossip, but she was aware that
Rachel's total ignorance of it was the only chance of her so
comporting herself in court as to silence the rumour, and she and her
mother were resolutely discreet.
Mrs. Curtis, between nursing, anxiety, and worry, looked lamentably
knocked up, and at last Grace and Rachel prevailed on her to take a
drive, leaving Rachel on a sofa in her sitting-room, to what was no
small luxury to her just at present--that of being miserable alone--
without meeting any one's anxious eyes, or knowing that her
listlessness was wounding the mother's heart. Yet the privilege only
resulted in a fresh perturbation about the title-deeds, and longing
to consult some one who could advise and sympathize. Ermine Williams
would have understood and made her Colonel give help, but Ermine
seemed as unattainable as Nova Zembla, and she only heard that the
Colonel was absent. Her head as aching with the weary load of doubt,
and she tried to cheat her woe by a restless movement to the windows.
She saw Captain Keith riding to the door. It suddenly darted into
her mind that here was one who could and would help her. He could
see Mauleverer and ascertain what had become of the deeds; he could
guess at the amount of danger! She could not forget his kindness on
the night of Lovedy's illness, or the gentleness of his manner about
the woodcuts, and with a sudden impulse she rang the bell and desired
that Captain Keith might be shown in. She was still standing leaning
on the table when he entered.
"This is very good in you," he said; "I met your mother and sister on
my way up, and they asked me to leave word of Conrade being better,
but they did not tell me I should see you."
"Conrade is better?" said Rachel, sitting down, unable to stand
"Yes, his throat is better. Miss Williams's firmness saved him.
They think him quite out of danger."
"Thank Heaven! Oh, I could never have seen his mother again! Oh,
she has been the heroine!"
"In the truest sense of the word," he answered. And Rachel looked
up with one moment's brightening at the old allusion, but her
oppression was too great for cheerfulness, and she answered--
"Dear Fanny, yes, she will be a rebuke to me for ever! But," she
added, before he had time to inquire for her health, "I wanted--I