Part 5 out of 8
"Grandmamma came in. She told mamma to keep up her spirits. She
says, 'It will all be over in a few hours more.' She says, 'What
a burden it will be off your mind!' She says, 'Is that child
asleep?' And mamma says, 'Yes.' And grandmamma took one of
mamma's towels. And I thought she was going to wash herself. What
would _you_ have thought?"
Mr. Sarrazin began to doubt whether he would do well to discuss
Mrs. Presty's object in taking the towel. He only said, "Go on."
"Grandmamma dipped it into the water-jug," Kitty continued, with
a grave face; "but she didn't wash herself. She went to one of
mamma's boxes. Though she's so old, she's awfully strong, I can
tell you. She rubbed off the luggage-label in no time. Mamma
says, 'What are you doing that for?' And grandmamma says--this is
the dreadful thing that I want you to explain; oh, I can remember
it all; it's like learning lessons, only much nicer--grandmamma
says, 'Before the day's over, the name on your boxes will be your
name no longer.'"
Mr. Sarrazin now became aware of the labyrinth into which his
young friend had innocently led him. The Divorce, and the wife's
inevitable return (when the husband was no longer the husband) to
her maiden name--these were the subjects on which Kitty's desire
for enlightenment applied to the wisest person within her reach,
her mother's legal adviser.
Mr. Sarrazin tried to put her off his knee. She held him round
the neck. He thought of the railway as a promising excuse, and
told her he must go back to London. She held him a little
tighter. "I really can't wait, my dear;" he got up as he said it.
Kitty hung on to him with her legs as well as her arms, and
finding the position uncomfortable, lost her temper. "Mamma's
going to have a new name," she shouted, as if the lawyer had
suddenly become deaf. "Grandmamma says she must be Mrs. Norman.
And I must be Miss Norman. I won't! Where's papa? I want to write
to him; I know he won't allow it. Do you hear? Where's papa?"
She fastened her little hands on Mr. Sarrazin's coat collar and
tried to shake him, in a fury of resolution to know what it all
meant. At that critical moment Mrs. Presty opened the door, and
stood petrified on the threshold.
"Hanging on to Mr. Sarrazin with her arms _and_ her legs!"
exclaimed the old lady. "You little wretch, which are you, a
monkey or a child?"
The lawyer gently deposited Kitty on the floor.
"Mind this, Samuel," she whispered, as he set her down on her
feet, "I won't be Miss Norman."
Mrs. Presty pointed sternly at the open door. "You were screaming
just now, when quiet in the house is of the utmost importance to
your mother. If I hear you again, bread and water and no doll for
the rest of the week."
Kitty retired in disgrace, and Mrs. Presty sharpened her tongue
on Mr. Sarrazin next. "I'm astonished, sir, at your allowing that
impudent grandchild of mine to take such liberties with you. Who
would suppose that you were a married man, with children of your
"That's just the reason, my dear madam," Mr. Sarrazin smartly
replied. "I romp with my own children--why not with Kitty? Can I
do anything for you in London?" he went on, getting a little
nearer to the door; "I leave Edinburgh by the next train. And I
promise you," he added, with the spirit of mischief twinkling in
his eyes, "this shall be my last confidential interview with your
grandchild. When she wants to ask any more questions, I transfer
her to you."
Mrs. Presty looked after the retreating lawyer thoroughly
mystified. What "confidential interview"? What "questions"? After
some consideration, her experience of her granddaughter suggested
that a little exercise of mercy might be attended with the right
result. She looked at a cake on the sideboard. "I have only to
forgive Kitty," she decided, "and the child will talk about it of
her own acc ord."
Mr. Herbert Linley.
Of the friends and neighbors who had associated with Herbert
Linley, in bygone days, not more than two or three kept up their
intimacy with him at the later time of his disgrace. Those few,
it is needless to say, were men.
One of the faithful companions, who had not shrunk from him yet,
had just left the London hotel at which Linley had taken rooms
for Sydney Westerfield and himself--in the name of Mr. and Mrs.
Herbert. This old friend had been shocked by the change for the
worse which he had perceived in the fugitive master of Mount
Morven. Linley's stout figure of former times had fallen away, as
if he had suffered under long illness; his healthy color had
faded; he made an effort to assume the hearty manner that had
once been natural to him which was simply pitiable to see. "After
sacrificing all that makes life truly decent and truly enjoyable
for a woman, he has got nothing, not even false happiness, in
return!" With that dreary conclusion the retiring visitor
descended the hotel steps, and went his way along the street.
Linley returned to the newspaper which he had been reading when
his friend was shown into the room
Line by line he followed the progress of the law report, which
informed its thousands of readers that his wife had divorced him,
and had taken lawful possession of his child. Word by word, he
dwelt with morbid attention on the terms of crushing severity in
which the Lord President had spoken of Sydney Westerfield and of
himself. Sentence by sentence he read the reproof inflicted on
the unhappy woman whom he had vowed to love and cherish. And
then--even then--urged by his own self-tormenting suspicion, he
looked for more. On the opposite page there was a leading
article, presenting comments on the trial, written in the tone of
lofty and virtuous regret; taking the wife's side against the
judge, but declaring, at the same time, that no condemnation of
the conduct of the husband and the governess could be too
merciless, and no misery that might overtake them in the future
more than they had deserved.
He threw the newspaper on the table at his side, and thought over
what he had read.
If he had done nothing else, he had drained the bitter cup to the
dregs. When he looked back, he saw nothing but the life that he
had wasted. When his thoughts turned to the future, they
confronted a prospect empty of all promise to a man still in the
prime of life. Wife and child were as completely lost to him as
if they had been dead--and it was the wife's doing. Had he any
right to complain? Not the shadow of a right. As the newspapers
said, he had deserved it.
The clock roused him, striking the hour.
He rose hurriedly, and advanced toward the window. As he crossed
the room, he passed by a mirror. His own sullen despair looked at
him in the reflection of his face. "She will be back directly,"
he remembered; "she mustn't see me like this!" He went on to the
window to divert his mind (and so to clear his face) by watching
the stream of life flowing by in the busy street. Artificial
cheerfulness, assumed love in Sydney's presence--that was what
his life had come to already.
If he had known that she had gone out, seeking a temporary
separation, with _his_ fear of self-betrayal--if he had suspected
that she, too, had thoughts which must be concealed: sad
forebodings of losing her hold on his heart, terrifying
suspicions that he was already comparing her, to her own
disadvantage, with the wife whom he had deserted--if he had made
these discoveries, what would the end have been? But she had,
thus far, escaped the danger of exciting his distrust. That she
loved him, he knew. That she had begun to doubt his attachment to
her he would not have believed, if his oldest friend had declared
it on the best evidence. She had said to him, that morning, at
breakfast: "There was a good woman who used to let lodgings here
in London, and who was very kind to me when I was a child;" and
she had asked leave to go to the house, and inquire if that
friendly landlady was still living--with nothing visibly
constrained in her smile, and with no faltering tone in her
voice. It was not until she was out in the street that the
tell-tale tears came into her eyes, and the bitter sigh broke
from her, and mingled its little unheard misery with the grand
rise and fall of the tumult of London life While he was still at
the window, he saw her crossing the street on her way back to
him. She came into the room with her complexion heightened by
exercise; she kissed him, and said with her pretty smile: "Have
you been lonely without me?" Who would have supposed that the
torment of distrust, and the dread of desertion, were busy at
this woman's heart?
He placed a chair for her, and seating himself by her side asked
if she felt tired. Every attention that she could wish for from
the man whom she loved, offered with every appearance of
sincerity on the surface! She met him halfway, and answered as if
her mind was quite at ease.
"No, dear, I'm not tired--but I'm glad to get back."
"Did you find your old landlady still alive?"
"Yes. But oh, so altered, poor thing! The struggle for life must
have been a hard one, since I last saw her."
"She didn't recognize you, of course?"
"Oh! no. She looked at me and my dress in great surprise and said
her lodgings were hardly fit for a young lady like me. It was too
sad. I said I had known her lodgings well, many years ago--and,
with that to prepare her, I told her who I was. Ah, it was a
melancholy meeting for both of us. She burst out crying when I
kissed her; and I had to tell her that my mother was dead, and my
brother lost to me in spite of every effort to find him. I asked
to go into the kitchen, thinking the change would be a relief to
both of us. The kitchen used to be a paradise to me in those old
days; it was so warm to a half-starved child--and I always got
something to eat when I was there. You have no idea, Herbert, how
poor and how empty the place looked to me now. I was glad to get
out of it, and go upstairs. There was a lumber-room at the top of
the house; I used to play in it, all by myself. More changes met
me the moment I opened the door."
"Changes for the better?"
"My dear, it couldn't have changed for the worse! My dirty old
play-room was cleaned and repaired; the lumber taken away, and a
nice little bed in one corner. Some clerk in the City had taken
the room--I shouldn't have known it again. But there was another
surprise waiting for me; a happy surprise this time. In cleaning
out the garret, what do you think the landlady found? Try to
Anything to please her! Anything to make her think that he was as
fond of her as ever! "Was it something you had left behind you,"
he said, "at the time when you lodged there."
"Yes! you are right at the first guess--a little memorial of my
father. Only some torn crumpled leaves from a book of children's
songs that he used to teach me to sing; and a small packet of his
letters, which my mother may have thrown aside and forgotten.
See! I have brought them back with me; I mean to look over the
letters at once--but this doesn't interest you?"
"Indeed it does."
He made that considerate reply mechanically, as if thinking of
something else. She was afraid to tell him plainly that she saw
this; but she could venture to say that he was not looking well.
"I have noticed it for some time past," she confessed. "You have
been accustomed to live in the country; I am afraid London
doesn't agree with you."
He admitted that she might be right; still speaking absently,
still thinking of the Divorce. She laid the packet of letters and
the poor relics of the old song-book on the table, and bent over
him. Tenderly, and a little timidly, she put her arm around his
neck. "Let us try some purer air," she suggested; "the seaside
might do you good. Don't you think so?"
"I daresay, my dear. Where shall we go?"
"Oh, I leave that to you."
"No, Sydney. It was I who proposed coming to London. You shall
decide this time."
She submitted, and promised to think of it. Leaving him, with the
first expression of trouble that had shown itself in her face, s
he took up the songs and put them into the pocket of her dress.
On the point of removing the letters next, she noticed the
newspaper on the table. Anything interesting to-day?" she
asked--and drew the newspaper toward her to look at it. He took
it from her suddenly, almost roughly. The next moment he
apologized for his rudeness. "There is nothing worth reading in
the paper," he said, after begging her pardon. "You don't care
about politics, do you?"
Instead of answering, she looked at him attentively.
The heightened color which told of recent exercise, healthily
enjoyed, faded from her face. She was silent; she was pale. A
little confused, he smiled uneasily. "Surely," he resumed, trying
to speak gayly, "I haven't offended you?"
"There is something in the newspaper," she said, "which you don't
want me to read."
He denied it--but he still kept the newspaper in his own
possession. Her voice sank low; her face turned paler still
"Is it all over?" she asked. "And is it put in the newspaper?"
"What do you mean?"
"I mean the Divorce."
He went back again to the window and looked out. It was the
easiest excuse that he could devise for keeping his face turned
away from her. She followed him.
"I don't want to read it, Herbert. I only ask you to tell me if
you are a free man again."
Quiet as it was, her tone left him no alternative but to treat
her brutally or to reply. Still looking out at the street, he
"Free to marry, if you like?" she persisted.
He said "Yes" once more--and kept his face steadily turned away
from her. She waited a while. He neither moved nor spoke.
Surviving the slow death little by little of all her other
illusions, one last hope had lingered in her heart. It was killed
by that cruel look, fixed on the view of the street.
"I'll try to think of a place that we can go to at the seaside."
Having said those words she slowly moved away to the door, and
turned back, remembering the packet of letters. She took it up,
paused, and looked toward the window. The streets still
interested him. She left the room.
She locked the door of her bedchamber, and threw off her
walking-dress; light as it was, she felt as if it would stifle
her. Even the ribbon round her neck was more than she could
endure and breathe freely. Her overburdened heart found no relief
in tears. In the solitude of her room she thought of the future.
The dreary foreboding of what it might be, filled her with a
superstitious dread from which she recoiled. One of the windows
was open already; she threw up the other to get more air. In the
cooler atmosphere her memory recovered itself; she recollected
the newspaper, that Herbert had taken from her. Instantly she
rang for the maid. "Ask the first waiter you see downstairs for
today's newspaper; any one will do, so long as I don't wait for
it." The report of the Divorce--she was in a frenzy of impatience
to read what _he_ had read--the report of the Divorce.
When her wish had been gratified, when she had read it from
beginning to end, one vivid impression only was left on her mind.
She could think of nothing but what the judge had said, in
speaking of Mrs. Linley.
A cruel reproof, and worse than cruel, a public reproof,
administered to the generous friend, the true wife, the devoted
mother--and for what? For having been too ready to forgive the
wretch who had taken her husband from her, and had repaid a
hundred acts of kindness by unpardonable ingratitude.
She fell on her knees; she tried wildly to pray for inspiration
that should tell her what to do. "Oh, God, how can I give that
woman back the happiness of which I have robbed her!"
The composing influence of prayer on a troubled mind was
something that she had heard of. It was not something that she
experienced now. An overpowering impatience to make the speediest
and completest atonement possessed her. Must she wait till
Herbert Linley no longer concealed that he was weary of her, and
cast her off? No! It should be her own act that parted them, and
that did it at once. She threw open the door, and hurried
half-way down the stairs before she remembered the one terrible
obstacle in her way--the Divorce.
Slowly and sadly she submitted, and went back to her room.
There was no disguising it; the two who had once been husband and
wife were parted irrevocably--by the wife's own act. Let him
repent ever so sincerely, let him be ever so ready to return,
would the woman whose faith Herbert Linley had betrayed take him
back? The Divorce, the merciless Divorce, answered:--No!
She paused, thinking of the marriage that was now a marriage no
more. The toilet-table was close to her; she looked absently at
her haggard face in the glass. What a lost wretch she saw! The
generous impulses which other women were free to feel were
forbidden luxuries to her. She was ashamed of her wickedness; she
was eager to sacrifice herself, for the good of the once-dear
friend whom she had wronged. Useless longings! Too late! too
She regretted it bitterly. Why?
Comparing Mrs. Linley's prospects with hers, was there anything
to justify regret for the divorced wife? She had her sweet little
child to make her happy; she had a fortune of her own to lift her
above sordid cares; she was still handsome, still a woman to be
admired. While she held her place in the world as high as ever,
what was the prospect before Sydney Westerfield? The miserable
sinner would end as she had deserved to end. Absolutely dependent
on a man who was at that moment perhaps lamenting the wife whom
he had deserted and lost, how long would it be before she found
herself an outcast, without a friend to help her--with a
reputation hopelessly lost--face to face with the temptation to
drown herself or poison herself, as other women had drowned
themselves or poisoned themselves, when the brightest future
before them was rest in death?
If she had been a few years older, Herbert Linley might never
again have seen her a living creature. But she was too young to
follow any train of repellent thought persistently to its end.
The man she had guiltily (and yet how naturally) loved was lord
and master in her heart, doubt him as she might. Even in his
absence he pleaded with her to have some faith in him still.
She reviewed his language and his conduct toward her, when she
had returned that morning from her walk. He had been kind and
considerate; he had listened to her little story of the relics of
her father, found in the garret, as if her interests were his
interests. There had been nothing to disappoint her, nothing to
complain of, until she had rashly attempted to discover whether
he was free to make her his wife. She had only herself to blame
if he was cold and distant when she had alluded to that delicate
subject, on the day when he first knew that the Divorce had been
granted and his child had been taken from him. And yet, he might
have found a kinder way of reproving a sensitive woman than
looking into the street--as if he had forgotten her in the
interest of watching the strangers passing by! Perhaps he was not
thinking of the strangers; perhaps his mind was dwelling fondly
and regretfully on his wife?
Instinctively, she felt that her thoughts were leading her back
again to a state of doubt from which her youthful hopefulness
recoiled. Was there nothing she could find to do which would
offer some other subject to occupy her mind than herself and her
Looking absently round the room, she noticed the packet of her
father's letters placed on the table by her bedside.
The first three letters that she examined, after untying the
packet, were briefly written, and were signed by names unknown to
her. They all related to race-horses, and to cunningly devised
bets which were certain to make the fortunes of the clever
gamblers on the turf who laid them. Absolute indifference on the
part of the winners to the ruin of the losers, who were not in
the secret, was the one feeling in common, which her father's
correspondents presented. In mercy to his memory she threw the
letters into the empty fireplace, and destroyed them by burning.
The next letter which she picked out from the little heap was of
some length, and was written in a clear and steady hand. By
comparison with the blotted scrawls which she had just burned, it
looked like the letter of a gentleman. She turned to the
signature. The strange surname struck her; it was "Bennydeck."
Not a common name, and not a name which seemed to be altogether
unknown to her. Had she heard her father mention it at home in
the time of her early childhood? There were no associations with
it that she could now call to mind.
She read the letter. It addressed her father familiarly as "My
dear Roderick," and it proceeded in these words:--
"The delay in the sailing of your ship offers me an opportunity
of writing to you again. My last letter told you of my father's
death. I was then quite unprepared for an event which has
happened, since that affliction befell me. Prepare yourself to be
surprised. Our old moated house at Sandyseal, in which we have
spent so many happy holidays when we were schoolfellows, is sold.
"You will be almost as sorry as I was to hear this; and you will
be quite as surprised as I was, when I tell you that Sandyseal
Place has become a Priory of English Nuns, of the order of St.
"I think I see you look up from my letter, with your big black
eyes staring straight before you, and say and swear that this
must be one of my mystifications. Unfortunately (for I am fond of
the old house in which I was born) it is only too true. The
instructions in my father's will, under which Sandyseal has been
sold, are peremptory. They are the result of a promise made, many
years since, to his wife.
"You and I were both very young when my poor mother died; but I
think you must remember that she, like the rest of her family,
was a Roman Catholic.
"Having reminded you of this, I may next tell you that Sandyseal
Place was my mother's property. It formed part of her marriage
portion, and it was settled on my father if she died before him,
and if she left no female child to survive her. I am her only
child. My father was therefore dealing with his own property when
he ordered the house to be sold. His will leaves the purchase
money to me. I would rather have kept the house.
"But why did my mother make him promise to sell the place at his
"A letter, attached to my father's will, answers this question,
and tells a very sad story. In deference to my mother's wishes it
was kept strictly a secret from me while my father lived.
"There was a younger sister of my mother's who was the beauty of
the family; loved and admired by everybody who was acquainted
with her. It is needless to make this long letter longer by
dwelling on the girl's miserable story. You have heard it of
other girls, over and over again. She loved and trusted; she was
deceived and deserted. Alone and friendless in a foreign country;
her fair fame blemished; her hope in the future utterly
destroyed, she attempted to drown herself. This took place in
France. The best of good women--a Sister of Charity--happened to
be near enough to the river to rescue her. She was sheltered; she
was pitied; she was encouraged to return to her family. The poor
deserted creature absolutely refused; she could never forget that
she had disgraced them. The good Sister of Charity won her
confidence. A retreat which would hide her from the world, and
devote her to religion for the rest of her days, was the one end
to her wasted life that she longed for. That end was attained in
a Priory of Benedictine Nuns, established in France. There she
found protection and peace--there she passed the remaining years
of her life among devoted Sister-friends--and there she died a
quiet and even a happy death.
"You will now understand how my mother's grateful remembrance
associated her with the interests of more than one community of
Nuns; and you will not need to be told what she had in mind when
she obtained my father's promise at the time of her last illness.
"He at once proposed to bequeath the house as a free gift to the
Benedictines. My mother thanked him and refused. She was thinking
of me. 'If our son fails to inherit the house from his father,'
she said, 'it is only right that he should have the value of the
house in money. Let it be sold.'
"So here I am--rich already--with this additional sum of money in
my banker's care.
"My idea is to invest it in the Funds, and to let it thrive at
interest, until I grow older, and retire perhaps from service in
the Navy. The later years of my life may well be devoted to the
founding of a charitable institution, which I myself can
establish and direct. If I die first--oh, there is a chance of
it! We may have a naval war, perhaps, or I may turn out one of
those incorrigible madmen who risk their lives in Arctic
exploration. In case of the worst, therefore, I shall leave the
interests of my contemplated Home in your honest and capable
hands. For the present good-by, and a prosperous voyage outward
So the letter ended.
Sydney dwelt with reluctant attention on the latter half of it.
The story of the unhappy favorite of the family had its own
melancholy and sinister interest for her. She felt the foreboding
that it might, in some of its circumstances, be her story
too--without the peaceful end. Into what community of merciful
women could _she_ be received, in her sorest need? What religious
consolations would encourage her penitence? What prayers, what
hopes, would reconcile her, on her death-bed, to the common doom?
She sighed as she folded up Captain Bennydeck's letter and put it
in her bosom, to be read again. "If my lot had fallen among good
people," she thought, "perhaps I might have belonged to the
Church which took care of that poor girl."
Her mind was still pursuing its own sad course of inquiry; she
was wondering in what part of England Sandyseal might be; she was
asking herself if the Nuns at the old moated house ever opened
their doors to women, whose one claim on their common
Christianity was the claim to be pitied--when she heard Linley's
footsteps approaching the door.
His tone was kind; his manner was gentle; his tender interest in
her seemed to have revived. Her long absence had alarmed him; he
feared she might be ill. "I was only thinking," she said. He
smiled, and sat down by her, and asked if she had been thinking
of the place that they should go to when they left London.
The one hotel in Sandyseal was full, from the topmost story to
the ground floor; and by far the larger half of the landlord's
guests were invalids sent to him by the doctors.
To persons of excitable temperament, in search of amusement, the
place offered no attractions. Situated at the innermost end of a
dull little bay, Sandyseal--so far as any view of the shipping in
the Channel was concerned--might have been built on a remote
island in the Pacific Ocean. Vessels of any importance kept well
out of the way of treacherous shoals and currents lurking at the
entrance of the bay. The anchorage ground was good; but the depth
of water was suited to small vessels only--to shabby old
fishing-smacks which seldom paid their expenses, and to dirty
little coasters carrying coals and potatoes. At the back of the
hotel, two slovenly rows of cottages took their crooked course
inland. Sailing masters of yachts, off duty, sat and yawned at
the windows; lazy fishermen looked wearily at the weather over
their garden gates; and superfluous coastguards gathered together
in a wooden observatory, and leveled useless telescopes at an
empty sea. The flat open country, with its few dwarf trees and
its mangy hedges, lay prostrate under the sky in all the
desolation of solitary space, and left the famous restorative air
free to build up dilapidated nerves, without an object to hinder
its passage at any point of the compass. The lonely drab-colored
road that led to the nearest town offered to visitors, taking
airings, a view of a low brown object in the distance, said to be
the convent in which the Nuns lived, secluded from mortal eyes.
At one side of the hotel, the windows looked on a little wooden
pier, sadly in want of repair. On the other side, a walled
accommodated yachts of light tonnage, stripped of their rigging,
and sitting solitary on a bank of mud until their owners wanted
them. In this neighborhood there was a small outlying colony of
shops: one that sold fruit and fish; one that dealt in groceries
and tobacco; one shut up, with a bill in the window inviting a
tenant; and one, behind the Methodist Chapel, answering the
double purpose of a post-office and a storehouse for ropes and
coals. Beyond these objects there was nothing (and this was the
great charm of the place) to distract the attention of invalids,
following the doctor's directions, and from morning to night
taking care of their health.
The time was evening; the scene was one of the private
sitting-rooms in the hotel; and the purpose in view was a little
Rich Mrs. Romsey, connected with commerce as wife of the chief
partner in the firm of Romsey & Renshaw, was staying at the hotel
in the interests of her three children. They were of delicate
constitution; their complete recovery, after severe illness which
had passed from one to the other, was less speedy than had been
anticipated; and the doctor had declared that the nervous system
was, in each case, more or less in need of repair. To arrive at
this conclusion, and to recommend a visit to Sandyseal, were
events which followed each other (medically speaking) as a matter
The health of the children had greatly improved; the famous air
had agreed with them, and the discovery of new playfellows had
agreed with them. They had made acquaintance with Lady Myrie's
well-bred boys, and with Mrs. Norman's charming little Kitty. The
most cordial good-feeling had established itself among the
mothers. Owing a return for hospitalities received from Lady
Myrie and Mrs. Norman, Mrs. Romsey had invited the two ladies to
drink tea with her in honor of an interesting domestic event. Her
husband, absent on the Continent for some time past, on business
connected with his firm, had returned to England, and had that
evening joined his wife and children at Sandyseal.
Lady Myrie had arrived, and Mr. Romsey had been presented to her.
Mrs. Norman, expected to follow, was represented by a courteous
note of apology. She was not well that evening, and she begged to
"This is a great disappointment," Mrs. Romsey said to her
husband. "You would have been charmed with Mrs.
Norman--highly-bred, accomplished, a perfect lady. And she leaves
us to-morrow. The departure will not be an early one; and I shall
find an opportunity, my dear, of introducing you to my friend and
her sweet little Kitty."
Mr. Romsey looked interested for a moment, when he first heard
Mrs. Norman's name. After that, he slowly stirred his tea, and
seemed to be thinking, instead of listening to his wife.
"Have you made the lady's acquaintance here?" he inquired.
"Yes--and I hope I have made a friend for life," Mrs. Romsey said
"And so do I," Lady Myrie added.
Mr. Romsey went on with his inquiries.
"Is she a handsome woman?"
Both the ladies answered the question together. Lady Myrie
described Mrs. Norman, in one dreadful word, as "Classical." By
comparison with this, Mrs. Romsey's reply was intelligible. "Not
even illness can spoil her beauty!"
"Including the headache she has got to-night?" Mr. Romsey
"Don't be ill-natured, dear! Mrs. Norman is here by the advice of
one of the first physicians in London; she has suffered under
serious troubles, poor thing."
Mr. Romsey persisted in being ill-natured. "Connected with her
husband?" he asked.
Lady Myrie entered a protest. She was a widow; and it was
notorious among her friends that the death of her husband had
been the happiest event in her married life. But she understood
her duty to herself as a respectable woman.
"I think, Mr. Romsey, you might have spared that cruel allusion,"
she said with dignity.
Mr. Romsey apologized. He had his reasons for wishing to know
something more about Mrs. Norman; he proposed to withdraw his
last remark, and to put his inquiries under another form. Might
he ask his wife if anybody had seen _Mr._ Norman?
"Or heard of him?"
Mrs. Romsey answered in the negative once more, and added a
question on her own account. What did all this mean?
"It means," Lady Myrie interposed, "what we poor women are all
exposed to--scandal." She had not yet forgiven Mr. Romsey's
allusion, and she looked at him pointedly as she spoke. There are
some impenetrable men on whom looks produce no impression. Mr.
Romsey was one of them. He turned to his wife, and said, quietly:
"What I mean is, that I know more of Mrs. Norman than you do. I
have heard of her--never mind how or where. She is a lady who has
been celebrated in the newspapers. Don't be alarmed. She is no
less a person than the divorced Mrs. Linley."
The two ladies looked at each other in blank dismay. Restrained
by a sense of conjugal duty, Mrs. Romsey only indulged in an
exclamation. Lady Myrie, independent of restraint, expressed her
opinion, and said: "Quite impossible!"
"The Mrs. Norman whom I mean," Mr. Romsey went on, "has, as I
have been told, a mother living. The old lady has been twice
married. Her name is Mrs. Presty."
This settled the question. Mrs. Presty was established, in her
own proper person, with her daughter and grandchild at the hotel.
Lady Myrie yielded to the force of evidence; she lifted her hands
in horror: "This is too dreadful!"
Mrs. Romsey took a more compassionate view of the disclosure.
"Surely the poor lady is to be pitied?" she gently suggested.
Lady Myrie looked at her friend in astonishment. "My dear, you
must have forgotten what the judge said about her. Surely you
read the report of the case in the newspapers?"
"No; I heard of the trial. and that's all. What did the judge
"Say?" Lady Myrie repeated. "What did he not say! His lordship
declared that he had a great mind not to grant the Divorce at
all. He spoke of this dreadful woman who has deceived us in the
severest terms; he said she had behaved in a most improper
manner. She had encouraged the abominable governess; and if her
husband had yielded to temptation, it was her fault. And more
besides, that I don't remember."
Mr. Romsey's wife appealed to him in despair. "What am I to do?"
she asked, helplessly.
"Do nothing," was the wise reply. "Didn't you say she was going
"That's the worst of it!" Mrs. Romsey declared. "Her little girl
Kitty gives a farewell dinner to-morrow to our children; and I've
promised to take them to say good-by."
Lady Myrie pronounced sentence without hesitation. "Of course
your girls mustn't go. Daughters! Think of their reputations when
they grow up!"
"Are you in the same scrape with my wife?" Mr. Romsey asked.
Lady Myrie corrected his language. "I have been deceived in the
same way," she said. "Though my children are boys (which perhaps
makes a difference) I feel it is my duty as a mother not to let
them get into bad company. I do nothing myself in an underhand
way. No excuses! I shall send a note and tell Mrs. Norman why she
doesn't see my boys to-morrow."
"Isn't that a little hard on her?" said merciful Mrs. Romsey.
Mr. Romsey agreed with his wife, on grounds of expediency. "Never
make a row if you can help it," was the peaceable principle to
which this gentleman committed himself. "Send word that the
children have caught colds, and get over it in that way."
Mrs. Romsey looked gratefully at her admirable husband. "Just the
thing!" she said, with an air of relief.
Lady Myrie's sense of duty expressed itself, with the strictest
adherence to the laws of courtesy. She rose, smiled resignedly,
and said, "Good-night."
Almost at the same moment, innocent little Kitty astonished her
mother and her grandmother by appearing before them in her
night-gown, after she had been put to bed nearly two hours since.
"What will this child do next?" Mrs. Presty exclaimed.
Kitty told the truth. "I can't go to sleep, grandmamma.
"Why not, my darling?" her mother asked.
"I'm so excited, mamma."
"About what, Kitty?"
"About my dinner-party to-morrow. Oh," said the child, clasping
her hands earnestly as s he thought of her playfellows, "I do so
hope it will go off well!"
Belonging to the generation which has lived to see the Age of
Hurry, and has no sympathy with it, Mrs. Presty entered the
sitting-room at the hotel, two hours before the time that had
been fixed for leaving Sandyseal, with her mind at ease on the
subject of her luggage. "My boxes are locked, strapped and
labeled; I hate being hurried. What's that you're reading?" she
asked, discovering a book on her daughter's lap,; and a hasty
action on her daughter's part, which looked like trying to hide
Mrs. Norman made the most common, and--where the object is to
baffle curiosity--the most useless of prevaricating replies. When
her mother asked her what she was reading she answered:
"Nothing!" Mrs. Presty repeated with an ironical assumption of
interest. "The work of all others, Catherine, that I most want to
read." She snatched up the book; opened it at the first page, and
discovered an inscription in faded ink which roused her
indignation. "To dear Catherine, from Herbert, on the anniversary
of our marriage." What unintended mockery in those words, read by
the later light of the Divorce! "Well, this is mean," said Mrs.
Presty. "Keeping that wretch's present, after the public exposure
which he has forced on you. Oh, Catherine!"
Catherine was not quite so patient with her mother as usual.
"Keeping my best remembrance of the happy time of my life," she
"Misplaced sentiment," Mrs. Presty declared; "I shall put the
book out of the way. Your brain is softening, my dear, under the
influence of this stupefying place."
Catherine asserted her own opinion against her mother's opinion,
for the second time. "I have recovered my health at Sandyseal,"
she said. "I like the place, and I am sorry to leave it."
"Give me the shop windows, the streets, the life, the racket, and
the smoke of London," cried Mrs. Presty. "Thank Heaven, these
rooms are let over our heads, and out we must go, whether we like
it or not."
This expression of gratitude was followed by a knock at the door,
and by a voice outside asking leave to come in, which was, beyond
all doubt, the voice of Randal Linley. With Catherine's book
still in her possession, Mrs. Presty opened the table-drawer,
threw it in, and closed the drawer with a bang. Discovering the
two ladies, Randal stopped in the doorway, and stared at them in
"Didn't you expect to see us?" Mrs. Presty inquired.
"I heard you were here, from our friend Sarrazin," Randal said;
"but I expected to see Captain Bennydeck. Have I mistaken the
number? Surely these are his rooms?"
Catherine attempted to explain. "They _were_ Captain Bennydeck's
rooms," she began; "but he was so kind, although we are perfect
strangers to him--"
Mrs. Presty interposed. "My dear Catherine, you have not had my
advantages; you have not been taught to make a complicated
statement in few words. Permit me to seize the points (in the
late Mr. Presty's style) and to put them in the strongest light.
This place, Randal, is always full; and we didn't write long
enough beforehand to secure rooms. Captain Bennydeck happened to
be downstairs when he heard that we were obliged to go away, and
that one of us was a lady in delicate health. This sweetest of
men sent us word that we were welcome to take his rooms, and that
he would sleep on board his yacht. Conduct worthy of Sir Charles
Grandison himself. When I went downstairs to thank him, he was
gone--and here we have been for nearly three weeks; sometimes
seeing the Captain's yacht, but, to our great surprise, never
seeing the Captain himself."
"There's nothing to be surprised at, Mrs. Presty. Captain
Bennydeck likes doing kind things, and hates being thanked for
it. I expected him to meet me here to-day."
Catherine went to the window. "He is coming to meet you," she
said. "There is his yacht in the bay."
"And in a dead calm," Randal added, joining her. "The vessel will
not get here, before I am obliged to go away again."
Catherine looked at him timidly. "Do I drive you away?" she
asked, in tones that faltered a little.
Randal wondered what she could possibly be thinking of and
acknowledged it in so many words.
"She is thinking of the Divorce," Mrs. Presty explained. "You
have heard of it, of course; and perhaps you take your brother's
"I do nothing of the sort, ma'am. My brother has been in the
wrong from first to last." He turned to Catherine. "I will stay
with you as long as I can, with the greatest pleasure," he said
earnestly and kindly. "The truth is, I am on my way to visit some
friends; and if Captain Bennydeck had got here in time to see me,
I must have gone away to the junction to catch the next train
westward, just as I am going now. I had only two words to say to
the Captain about a person in whom he is interested--and I can
say them in this way." He wrote in pencil on one of his visiting
cards, and laid it on the table. "I shall be back in London, in a
week," he resumed, "and you will tell me at what address I can
find you. In the meanwhile, I miss Kitty. Where is she?"
Kitty was sent for. She entered the room looking unusually quiet
and subdued--but, discovering Randal, became herself again in a
moment, and jumped on his knee
"Oh, Uncle Randal, I'm so glad to see you!" She checked herself,
and looked at her mother. "May I call him Uncle Randal?" she
asked. "Or has _he_ changed his name, too?"
Mrs. Presty shook a warning forefinger at her granddaughter, and
reminded Kitty that she had been told not to talk about names.
Randal saw the child's look of bewilderment, and felt for her.
"She may talk as she pleases to me," he said "but not to
strangers. She understands that, I am sure."
Kitty laid her cheek fondly against her uncle's cheek.
"Everything is changed," she whispered. "We travel about; papa
has left us, and Syd has left us, and we have got a new name. We
are Norman now. I wish I was grown up, and old enough to
Randal tried to reconcile her to her own happy ignorance. "You
have got your dear good mother," he said, "and you have got me,
and you have got your toys--"
"And some nice boys and girls to play with," cried Kitty, eagerly
following the new suggestion. "They are all coming here directly
to dine with me. You will stay and have dinner too, won't you?"
Randal promised to dine with Kitty when they met in London.
Before he left the room he pointed to his card on the table. "Let
my friend see that message," he said, as he went out.
The moment the door had closed on him, Mrs. Presty startled her
daughter by taking up the card and looking at what Randal had
written on it. "It isn't a letter, Catherine; and you know how
superior I am to common prejudices." With that defense of her
proceeding, she coolly read the message:
"I am sorry to say that I can tell you nothing more of your old
friend's daughter as yet. I can only repeat that she neither
needs nor deserves the help that you kindly offer to her."
Mrs. Presty laid the card down again and owned that she wished
Randal had been a little more explicit. "Who can it be?" she
wondered. "Another young hussy gone wrong?"
Kitty turned to her mother with a look of alarm. "What's a
hussy?" she asked. "Does grandmamma mean me?" The great hotel
clock in the hall struck two, and the child's anxieties took a
new direction. "Isn't it time my little friends came to see me?"
It was half an hour past the time. Catherine proposed to send to
Lady Myrie and Mrs. Romsey, and inquire if anything had happened
to cause the delay. As she told Kitty to ring the bell, the
waiter came in with two letters, addressed to Mrs. Norman.
Mrs. Presty had her own ideas, and drew her own conclusions. She
watched Catherine attentively. Even Kitty observed that her
mother's face grew paler and paler as she read the letters. "You
look as if you were frightened, mamma." There was no reply. Kitty
began to feel so uneasy on the subject of her dinner and her
guests, that she actually ventured on putting a question to her
"Will they be long, do you think, before they come?" she asked.
Th e old lady's worldly wisdom had passed, by this time from a
state of suspicion to a state of certainty. "My child," she
answered, "they won't come at all."
Kitty ran to her mother, eager to inquire if what Mrs. Presty had
told her could possibly be true. Before a word had passed her
lips, she shrank back, too frightened to speak.
Never, in her little experience, had she been startled by such a
look in her mother's face as the look that confronted her now.
For the first time Catherine saw her child trembling at the sight
of her. Before that discovery, the emotions that shook her under
the insult which she had received lost their hold. She caught
Kitty up in her arms. "My darling, my angel, it isn't you I am
thinking of. I love you!--I love you! In the whole world there
isn't such a good child, such a sweet, lovable, pretty child as
you are. Oh, how disappointed she looks--she's crying. Don't
break my heart!--don't cry!" Kitty held up her head, and cleared
her eyes with a dash of her hand. "I won't cry, mamma." And child
as she was, she was as good as her word. Her mother looked at her
and burst into tears.
Perversely reluctant, the better nature that was in Mrs. Presty
rose to the surface, forced to show itself. "Cry, Catherine," she
said kindly; "it will do you good. Leave the child to me."
With a gentleness that astonished Kitty, she led her little
granddaughter to the window, and pointed to the public walk in
front of the house. "I know what will comfort you," the wise old
woman began; "look out of the window." Kitty obeyed.
"I don't see my little friends coming," she said. Mrs. Presty
still pointed to some object on the public walk. "That's better
than nothing, isn't it?" she persisted. "Come with me to the
maid; she shall go with you, and take care of you." Kitty
whispered, "May I give mamma a kiss first?" Sensible Mrs. Presty
delayed the kiss for a while. "Wait till you come back, and then
you can tell your mamma what a treat you have had." Arrived at
the door on their way out, Kitty whispered again: "I want to say
something"--"Well, what is it?"--"Will you tell the donkey-boy to
make him gallop?"--"I'll tell the boy he shall have sixpence if
you are satisfied; and you will see what he does then." Kitty
looked up earnestly in her grandmother's face. "What a pity it is
you are not always like what you are now!" she said. Mrs. Presty
For some time, Catherine and her mother had been left together
Mrs. Presty had read (and destroyed) the letters of Lady Myrie
and Mrs. Romsey, with the most unfeigned contempt for the
writers--had repeated what the judge had really said, as
distinguished from Lady Myrie's malicious version of it--and had
expressed her intention of giving Catherine a word of advice,
when she was sufficiently composed to profit by it. "You have
recovered your good looks, after that fit of crying," Mrs. Presty
admitted, "but not your good spirits. What is worrying you now?"
"I can't help thinking of poor Kitty."
"My dear, the child wants nobody's pity. She's blowing away all
her troubles by a ride in the fresh air, on the favorite donkey
that she feeds every morning. Yes, yes, you needn't tell me you
are in a false position; and nobody can deny that it's shameful
to make the child feel it. Now listen to me. Properly understood,
those two spiteful women have done you a kindness. They have as
good as told you how to protect yourself in the time to come.
Deceive the vile world, Catherine, as it deserves to be deceived.
Shelter yourself behind a respectable character that will spare
you these insults in the future." In the energy of her
conviction, Mrs. Presty struck her fist on the table, and
finished in three audacious words: "Be a Widow!"
It was plainly said--and yet Catherine seemed to be at a loss to
understand what her mother meant.
"Don't doubt about it," Mrs. Presty went on; "do it. Think of
Kitty if you won't think of yourself. In a few years more she
will be a young lady. She may have an offer of marriage which may
be everything we desire. Suppose her sweetheart's family is a
religious family; and suppose your Divorce, and the judge's
remarks on it, are discovered. What will happen then?"
"Is it possible that you are in earnest?" Catherine asked. "Have
you seriously thought of the advice that you are giving me?
Setting aside the deceit, you know as well as I do that Kitty
would ask questions. Do you think I can tell my child that her
father is dead? A lie--and such a dreadful lie as that?"
"Nonsense!" said Mrs. Presty..
"Nonsense?" Catherine repeated indignantly.
"Rank nonsense," her mother persisted. "Hasn't your situation
forced you to lie already? When the child asks why her father and
her governess have left us, haven't you been obliged to invent
excuses which are lies? If the man who was once your husband
isn't as good as dead to _you_, I should like to know what your
Divorce means! My poor dear, do you think you can go on as you
are going on now? How many thousands of people have read the
newspaper account of the trial? How many hundreds of
people--interested in a handsome woman like you--will wonder why
they never see Mr. Norman? What? You will go abroad again? Go
where you may, you will attract attention; you will make an enemy
of every ugly woman who looks at you. Strain at a gnat,
Catherine, and swallow a camel. It's only a question of time.
Sooner or later you will be a Widow. Here's the waiter again.
What does the man want now?"
The waiter answered by announcing:
Catherine's mother was nearer to the door than Catherine; she
attracted the Captain's attention first. He addressed his
apologies to her. "Pray excuse me for disturbing you--"
Mrs. Presty had an eye for a handsome man, irrespective of what
his age might be. In the language of the conjurors a "magic
change" appeared in her; she became brightly agreeable in a
"Oh, Captain Bennydeck, you mustn't make excuses for coming into
your own room!"
Captain Bennydeck went on with his excuses, nevertheless. "The
landlady tells me that I have unluckily missed seeing Mr. Randal
Linley, and that he has left a message for me. I shouldn't
otherwise have ventured--"
Mrs. Presty stopped him once more. The Captain's claim to the
Captain's rooms was the principle on which she took her stand.
She revived the irresistible smiles which had conquered Mr.
Norman and Mr. Presty. "No ceremony, I beg and pray! You are at
home here--take the easy-chair!"
Catherine advanced a few steps; it was time to stop her mother,
if the thing could be done. She felt just embarrassment enough to
heighten her color, and to show her beauty to the greatest
advantage. It literally staggered the Captain, the moment he
looked at her. His customary composure, as a well-bred man,
deserted him; he bowed confusedly; he had not a word to say. Mrs.
Presty seized her opportunity, and introduced them to each other.
"My daughter Mrs. Norman--Captain Bennydeck." Compassionating him
under the impression that he was a shy man, Catherine tried to
set him at his ease. "I am indeed glad to have an opportunity of
thanking you," she said, inviting him by a gesture to be seated.
"In this delightful air, I have recovered my health, and I owe it
to your kindness."
The Captain regained his self-possession. Expressions of
gratitude had been addressed to him which, in his modest estimate
of himself, he could not feel that he had deserved.
"You little know," he replied, "under what interested motives I
have acted. When I established myself in this hotel, I was fairly
driven out of my yacht by a guest who went sailing with me."
Mrs. Presty became deeply interested. "Dear me, what did he do?"
Captain Bennydeck answered gravely: "He snored."
Catherine was amused; Mrs. Presty burst out laughing; the
Captain's dry humor asserted itself as quaintly as ever. "This is
no laughing matter," he resumed, looking at Catherine. "My vessel
is a small one. For two nights the awful music of my friend's
nose kept me sleepless. When I woke him, and said, 'Don't snore,'
he apologized in the sweetest manner, and bega n again. On the
third day I anchored in the bay here, determined to get a night's
rest on shore. A dispute about the price of these rooms offered
them to me. I sent a note of apology on board--and slept
peacefully. The next morning, my sailing master informed me that
there had been what he called 'a little swell in the night.' He
reported the sounds made by my friend on this occasion to have
been the awful sounds of seasickness. 'The gentleman left the
yacht, sir, the first thing this morning,' he said; 'and he's
gone home by railway.' On the day when you happened to arrive, my
cabin was my own again; and I can honestly thank you for
relieving me of my rooms. Do you make a long stay, Mrs. Norman?"
Catherine answered that they were going to London by the next
train. Seeing Randal's card still unnoticed on the table, she
handed it to the Captain.
"Is Mr. Linley an old friend of yours?" he asked, as he took the
Mrs. Presty hastened to answer in the affirmative for her
daughter. It was plain that Randal had discreetly abstained from
mentioning his true connection with them. Would he preserve the
same silence if the Captain spoke of his visit to Mrs. Norman,
when he and his friend met next? Mrs. Presty's mind might have
been at ease on that subject, if she had known how to appreciate
Randal's character and Randal's motives. The same keen sense of
the family disgrace, which had led him to conceal from Captain
Bennydeck his brother's illicit relations with Sydney
Westerfield, had compelled him to keep secret his former
association, as brother-in-law, with the divorced wife. Her
change of name had hitherto protected her from discovery by the
Captain, and would in all probability continue to protect her in
the future. The good Bennydeck had been enjoying himself at sea
when the Divorce was granted, and when the newspapers reported
the proceedings. He rarely went to his club, and he never
associated with persons of either sex to whom gossip and scandal
are as the breath of their lives. Ignorant of these
circumstances, and remembering what had happened on that day,
Mrs. Presty looked at him with some anxiety on her daughter's
account, while he was reading the message on Randal's card. There
was little to see. His fine face expressed a quiet sorrow, and he
sighed as he put the card back in his pocket.
An interval of silence followed. Captain Bennydeck was thinking
over the message which he had just read. Catherine and her mother
were looking at him with the same interest, inspired by very
different motives. The interview so pleasantly begun was in some
danger of lapsing into formality and embarrassment, when a new
personage appeared on the scene.
Kitty had returned in triumph from her ride. "Mamma! the donkey
did more than gallop--he kicked, and I fell off. Oh, I'm not
hurt!" cried the child, seeing the alarm in her mother's face.
"Tumbling off is such a funny sensation. It isn't as if you fell
on the ground; it's as if the ground came up to _you_ and
said--Bump!" She had got as far as that, when the progress of her
narrative was suspended by the discovery of a strange gentleman
in the room.
The smile that brightened the captain's face, when Kitty opened
the door, answered for him as a man who loved children. "Your
little girl, Mrs. Norman?" he said.
(A common question and a common reply. Nothing worth noticing, in
either the one or the other, at the time--and yet they proved to
be important enough to turn Catherine's life into a new course.)
In the meanwhile, Kitty had been whispering to her mother. She
wanted to know the strange gentleman's name. The Captain heard
her. "My name is Bennydeck," he said; "will you come to me?"
Kitty had heard the name mentioned in connection with a yacht.
Like all children, she knew a friend the moment she looked at
him. "I've seen your pretty boat, sir," she said, crossing the
room to Captain Bennydeck. "Is it very nice when you go sailing?"
"If you were not going back to London, my dear, I should ask your
mamma to let me take you sailing with me. Perhaps we shall have
The Captain's answer delighted Kitty. "Oh, yes, tomorrow or next
day!" she suggested. "Do you know where to find me in London?
Mamma, where do I live, when I am in London?" Before her mother
could answer, she hit on a new idea. "Don't tell me; I'll find it
for myself. It's on grandmamma's boxes, and they're in the
Captain Bennydeck's eyes followed her, as she left the room, with
an expression of interest which more than confirmed the favorable
impression that he had already produced on Catherine. She was on
the point of asking if he was married, and had children of his
own, when Kitty came back, and declared the right address to be
Buck's Hotel, Sydenham. "Mamma puts things down for fear of
forgetting them," she added. "Will you put down Buck?"
The Captain took out his pocketbook, and appealed pleasantly to
Mrs. Norman. "May I follow your example?" he asked. Catherine not
only humored the little joke, but, gratefully remembering his
kindness, said: "Don't forget, when you are in London, that
Kitty's invitation is my invitation, too." At the same moment,
punctual Mrs. Presty looked at her watch, and reminded her
daughter that railways were not in the habit of allowing
passengers to keep them waiting. Catherine rose, and gave her
hand to the Captain at parting. Kitty improved on her mother's
form of farewell; she gave him a kiss and whispered a little
reminder of her own: "There's a river in London--don't forget
Captain Bennydeck opened the door for them, secretly wishing that
he could follow Mrs. Norman to the station and travel by the same
Mrs. Presty made no attempt to remind him that she was still in
the room. Where her family interests were concerned, the old lady
was capable (on very slight encouragement) of looking a long way
into the future. She was looking into the future now. The
Captain's social position was all that could be desired; he was
evidently in easy pecuniary circumstances; he admired Catherine
and Catherine's child. If he only proved to be a single man, Mrs.
Presty's prophetic soul, without waiting an instant to reflect,
perceived a dazzling future. Captain Bennydeck approached to take
leave. "Not just yet," pleaded the most agreeable of women; "my
luggage was ready two hours ago. Sit down again for a few
minutes. You seem to like my little granddaughter."
"If I had such a child as that," the Captain answered, "I believe
I should be the happiest man living."
"Ah, my dear sir, all isn't gold that glitters," Mrs. Presty
remarked. "That proverb must have been originally intended to
apply to children. May I presume to make you the subject of a
guess? I fancy you are not a married man."
The Captain looked a little surprised. "You are quite right," he
said; "I have never been married."
At a later period, Mrs. Presty owned that she felt an inclination
to reward him for confessing himself to be a bachelor, by a kiss.
He innocently checked that impulse by putting a question. "Had
you any particular reason," he asked, "for guessing that I was a
Mrs. Presty modestly acknowledged that she had only her own
experience to help her. "You wouldn't be quite so fond of other
people's children," she said, "if you were a married man. Ah,
your time will come yet--I mean your wife will come."
He answered this sadly. "My time has gone by. I have never had
the opportunities that have been granted to some favored men." He
thought of the favored man who had married Mrs. Norman. Was her
husband worthy of his happiness? "Is Mr. Norman with you at this
place?' the Captain asked.
Serious issues depended on the manner in which this question was
answered. For one moment, and for one moment only, Mrs. Presty
hesitated. Then (in her daughter's interest, of course) she put
Catherine in the position of a widow, in the least blamable of
all possible ways, by honestly owning the truth.
"There is no Mr. Norman," she said.
"Your daughter is a widow!" cried the Captain, perfectly unable
to control his delight at that discovery.
"What else should she be?" Mrs. Presty repl ied, facetiously.
What else, indeed! If "no Mr. Norman" meant (as it must surely
mean) that Mr. Norman was dead, and if the beautiful mother of
Kitty was an honest woman, her social position was beyond a
doubt. Captain Bennydeck felt a little ashamed of his own
impetuosity. Before he had made up his mind what to say next, the
unlucky waiter (doomed to be a cause of disturbance on that day)
"I beg your pardon, ma'am," he said; "the lady and gentleman who
have taken these rooms have just arrived."
Mrs. Presty got up in a hurry, and cordially shook hands with the
Captain. Looking round, she took up the railway guide and her
knitting left on the table. Was there anything else left about?
There was nothing to be seen. Mrs. Presty crossed the passage to
her daughter's bedroom, to hurry the packing. Captain Bennydeck
went downstairs, on his way back to the yacht.
In the hall of the hotel he passed the lady and gentleman--and,
of course, noticed the lady. She was little and dark and would
have been pretty, if she had not looked ill and out of spirits.
What would he have said, what would he have done, if he had known
that those two strangers were Randal Linley's brother and
Roderick Westerfield's daughter?
Mr. and Mrs. Herbert.
The stealthy influence of distrust fastens its hold on the mind
by slow degrees. Little by little it reaches its fatal end, and
disguises delusion successfully under the garb of truth.
Day after day, the false conviction grew on Sydney's mind that
Herbert Linley was comparing the life he led now with the happier
life which he remembered at Mount Morven. Day after day, her
unreasoning fear contemplated the time when Herbert Linley would
leave her friendless, in the world that had no place in it for
women like herself. Delusion--fatal delusion that looked like
truth! Morally weak as he might be, the man whom she feared to
trust had not yet entirely lost the sense which birth and
breeding had firmly fastened in him--the sense of honor. Acting
under that influence, he was (if the expression may be permitted)
consistent even in inconsistency. With equal sincerity of
feeling, he reproached himself for his infidelity toward the
woman whom he had deserted, and devoted himself to his duty
toward the woman whom he had misled. In Sydney's presence--suffer
as he might under the struggle to maintain his resolution when he
was alone--he kept his intercourse with her studiously gentle in
manner, and considerate in language; his conduct offered
assurances for the future which she could only see through the
falsifying medium of her own distrust.
In the delusion that now possessed her she read, over and over
again, the letter which Captain Bennydeck had addressed to her
father; she saw, more and more clearly, the circumstances which
associated her situation with the situation of the poor girl who
had closed her wasted life among the nuns in a French convent.
Two results followed on this state of things.
When Herbert asked to what part of England they should go, on
leaving London, she mentioned Sandyseal as a place that she had
heard of, and felt some curiosity to see. The same day--bent on
pleasing her, careless where he lived now, at home or abroad--he
wrote to engage rooms at the hotel
A time followed, during which they were obliged to wait until
rooms were free. In this interval, brooding over the melancholy
absence of a friend or relative in whom she could confide, her
morbid dread of the future decided her on completing the parallel
between herself and that other lost creature of whom she had
read. Sydney opened communication anonymously with the
Benedictine community at Sandyseal.
She addressed the Mother Superior; telling the truth about
herself with but one concealment, the concealment of names. She
revealed her isolated position among her fellow-creatures; she
declared her fervent desire to repent of her wickedness, and to
lead a religious life; she acknowledged her misfortune in having
been brought up by persons careless of religion, and she
confessed to having attended a Protestant place of worship, as a
mere matter of form connected with the duties of a teacher at a
school. "The religion of any Christian woman who will help me to
be more like herself," she wrote, "is the religion to which I am
willing and eager to belong. If I come to you in my distress,
will you receive me?" To that simple appeal, she added a request
that an answer might be addressed to "S.W., Post-office,
When Captain Bennydeck and Sydney Westerfield passed each other
as strangers, in the hall of the hotel, that letter had been
posted in London a week since.
The servant showed "Mr. and Mrs. Herbert" into their
sitting-room, and begged that they would be so good as to wait
for a few minutes, while the other rooms were being prepared for
Sydney seated herself in silence. She was thinking of her letter,
and wondering whether a reply was waiting for her at the
Moving toward the window to look at the view, Herbert paused to
examine some prints hanging on the walls, which were superior as
works of art to the customary decorations of a room at a hotel.
If he had gone straight to the window he might have seen his
divorced wife, his child, and his wife's mother, getting into the
carriage which took them to the railway station.
"Come, Sydney," he said, "and look at the sea."
She joined him wearily, with a faint smile. It was a calm, sunny
day. Bathing machines were on the beach; children were playing
here and there; and white sails of pleasure boats were visible in
the offing. The dullness of Sandyseal wore a quiet homely aspect
which was pleasant to the eyes of strangers . Sydney said,
absently, "I think I shall like the place." And Herbert added:
"Let us hope that the air will make you feel stronger." He meant
it and said it kindly--but, instead of looking at her while he
spoke, he continued to look at the view. A woman sure of her
position would not have allowed this trifling circumstance, even
if she had observed it, to disturb her. Sydney thought of the day
in London when he had persisted in looking out at the street, and
returned in silence to her chair.
Had he been so unfortunate as to offend her? And in what way? As
that doubt occurred to Herbert his mind turned to Catherine.
_She_ never took offense at trifles; a word of kindness from him,
no matter how unimportant it might be, always claimed
affectionate acknowledgment in the days when he was living with
his wife. In another moment he had dismissed that remembrance,
and could trust himself to return to Sydney.
"If you find that Sandyseal confirms your first impression," he
said, "let me know it in time, so that I may make arrangements
for a longer stay. I have only taken the rooms here for a
"Thank you, Herbert; I think a fortnight will be long enough."
"Long enough for you?" he asked.
Her morbid sensitiveness mistook him again; she fancied there was
an undernote of irony in his tone.
"Long enough for both of us," she replied.
He drew a chair to her side. "Do you take it for granted," he
said, smiling, "that I shall get tired of the place first?"
She shrank, poor creature, even from his smile. There was, as she
thought, something contemptuous in the good-humor of it.
"We have been to many places," she reminded him, "and we have got
tired of them together."
"Is that my fault?"
"I didn't say it was."
He got up and approached the bell. "I think the journey has a
little over-tired you," he resumed. "Would you like to go to your
"I will go to my room, if you wish it."
He waited a little, and answered her as quietly as ever. "What I
really wish," he said, "is that we had consulted a doctor while
we were in London. You seem to be very easily irritated of late.
I observe a change in you, which I willingly attribute to the
state of your health--"
She interrupted him. "What change do you mean?"
"It's quite possible I may be mistaken, Sydney. But I have more
than once, as I think, seen something in your manner which
suggests that you distrust me."
"I distrust the evil life we are leading," she burst
out, "and I see the end of it coming. Oh, I don't blame you! You
are kind and considerate, you do your best to hide it; but you
have lived long enough with me to regret the woman whom you have
lost. You begin to feel the sacrifice you have made--and no
wonder. Say the word, Herbert, and I release you."
"I will never say the word!"
She hesitated--first inclined, then afraid, to believe him. "I
have grace enough left in me," she went on, "to feel the
bitterest repentance for the wrong that I have done to Mrs.
Linley. When it ends, as it must end, in our parting, will you
ask your wife--?"
Even his patience began to fail him; he refused--firmly, not
angrily--to hear more. "She is no longer my wife," he said.
Sydney's bitterness and Sydney's penitence were mingled, as
opposite emotions only _can_ be mingled in a woman's breast.
"Will you ask your wife to forgive you?" she persisted.
"After we have been divorced at her petition?" He pointed to the
window as he said it. "Look at the sea. If I was drowning out
yonder, I might as well ask the sea to forgive me."
He produced no effect on her. She ignored the Divorce; her
passionate remorse asserted itself as obstinately as ever. "Mrs.
Linley is a good woman," she insisted; "Mrs. Linley is a
"I have lost all claim on her--even the claim to remember her
virtues," he answered, sternly. "No more of it, Sydney! I am
sorry I have disappointed you; I am sorry if you are weary of
At those last words her manner changed. "Wound me as cruelly as
you please," she said, humbly. "I will try to bear it."
"I wouldn't wound you for the world! Why do you persist in
distressing me? Why do you feel suspicion of me which I have not
deserved?" He stopped, and held out his hand. "Don't let us
quarrel, Sydney. Which will you do? Keep your bad opinion of me,
or give me a fair trial?"
She loved him dearly; she was so young--and the young are so
ready to hope! Still, she struggled against herself. "Herbert! is
it your pity for me that is speaking now?"
He left her in despair. "It's useless!" he said, sadly. "Nothing
will conquer your inveterate distrust."
She followed him. With a faint cry of entreaty she made him turn
to her, and held him in a trembling embrace, and rested her head
on his bosom. "Forgive me--be patient with me--love me." That was
all she could say.
He attempted to calm her agitation by speaking lightly. "At last,
Sydney, we are friends again!" he said.
Friends? All the woman in her recoiled from that insufficient
word. "Are we Lovers?" she whispered.
With that assurance her anxious heart was content. She smiled;
she looked out at the sea with a new appreciation of the view.
"The air of this place will do me good now," she said. "Are my
eyes red, Herbert? Let me go and bathe them, and make myself fit
to be seen."
She rang the bell. The chambermaid answered it, ready to show the
other rooms. She turned round at the door.
"Let's try to make our sitting-room look like home," she
suggested. "How dismal, how dreadfully like a thing that doesn't
belong to us, that empty table looks! Put some of your books and
my keepsakes on it, while I am away. I'll bring my work with me
when I come back."
He had left his travelers' bag on a chair, when he first came in.
Now that he was alone, and under no restraint, he sighed as he
unlocked the bag. "Home?" he repeated; "we have no home. Poor
girl! poor unhappy girl! Let me help her to deceive herself."
He opened the bag. The little fragile presents, which she called
her "keepsakes," had been placed by her own hands in the upper
part of the bag, so that the books should not weigh on them, and
had been carefully protected by wrappings of cotton wool. Taking
them out, one by one, Herbert found a delicate china candlestick
(intended to hold a wax taper) broken into two pieces, in spite
of the care that had been taken to preserve it. Of no great value
in itself, old associations made the candlestick precious to
Sydney. It had been broken at the stem and could be easily mended
so as to keep the accident concealed. Consulting the waiter,
Herbert discovered that the fracture could be repaired at the
nearest town, and that the place would be within reach when he
went out for a walk. In fear of another disaster, if he put it
back in the bag, he opened a drawer in the table, and laid the
two fragments carefully inside, at the further end. In doing
this, his hand touched something that had been already placed in
the drawer. He drew it out, and found that it was a book--the
same book that Mrs. Presty (surely the evil genius of the family
again!) had hidden from Randal's notice, and had forgotten when
she left the hotel.
Herbert instantly recognized the gilding on the cover, imitated
from a design invented by himself. He remembered the inscription,
and yet he read it again:
"To dear Catherine, from Herbert, on the anniversary of our
The book dropped from his hand on the table, as if it had been a
new discovery, torturing him with a new pain.
His wife (he persisted in thinking of her as his wife) must have
occupied the room--might perhaps have been the person whom he had
succeeded, as a guest at the hotel. Did she still value his
present to her, in remembrance of old times? No! She valued it so
little that she had evidently forgotten it. Perhaps her maid
might have included it among the small articles of luggage when
they left home, or dear little Kitty might have put it into one
of her mother's trunks. In any case, there it was now, abandoned
in the drawer of a table at a hotel.
"Oh," he thought bitterly, "if I could only feel as coldly toward
Catherine as she feels toward me!" His resolution had resisted
much; but this final trial of his self-control was more than he
could sustain. He dropped into a chair--his pride of manhood
recoiled from the contemptible weakness of crying--he tried to
remember that she had divorced him, and taken his child from him.
In vain! in vain! He burst into tears.
With a heart lightened by reconciliation (not the first
reconciliation unhappily), with hopes revived, and sweet content
restored, Sydney's serenity of mind was not quite unruffled. Her
thoughts were not dwelling on the evil life which she had
honestly deplored, or on the wronged wife to whom she had been
eager to make atonement. Where is the woman whose sorrows are not
thrown into the shade by the bright renewal of love? The one
anxiety that troubled Sydney was caused by remembrance of the
letter which she had sent to the convent at Sandyseal.
As her better mind now viewed it, she had doubly injured
Herbert--first in distrusting him; then by appealing from him to
the compassion of strangers.
If the reply for which she had rashly asked was waiting for her
at that moment--if the mercy of the Mother Superior was ready to
comfort and guide her--what return could she make? how could she
excuse herself from accepting what was offered in kindly reply to
her own petition? She had placed herself, for all she knew to the
contrary, between two alternatives of ingratitude equally
unendurable, equally degrading. To feel this was to feel the
suspense which, to persons of excitable temperament, is of all
trials the hardest to bear. The chambermaid was still in her
room--Sydney asked if the post-office was near to the hotel.
The woman smiled. "Everything is near us, ma'am, in this little
place. Can we send to the post-office for you?"
Sydney wrote her initials. "Ask, if you please, for a letter
addressed in that way." She handed the memorandum to the
chambermaid. "Corresponding with her lover under her husband's
nose!" That was how the chambermaid explained it below stairs,
when the porter remarked that initials looked mysterious.
The Mother Superior had replied. Sydney trembled as she opened
the letter. It began kindly.
"I believe you, my child, and I am anxious to help you. But I
cannot correspond with an unknown person. If you decide to reveal
yourself, it is only right to add that I have shown your letter
to the Reverend Father who, in temporal as in spiritual things,
is our counselor and guide. To him I must refer you, in the first
instance. His wisdom will decide the serious question of
receiving you into our Holy Church, and will discover, in due
time, if you have a true vocation to a religious life. With the
Father's sanction, you may be sure of my affectionate desire to
Sydney put the letter back in the envelope, feeling gratefully
toward the Mother Superior, but determined by the conditions
imposed on her to make no further advance toward the Benedictine
Even if her motive in writing to the convent had remained
unchallenged, the allusions to the priest would still have
decided her on taking this step. The bare idea of opening her
inmost heart, and telling her saddest secrets, to a man, and that
man a stranger, was too repellent to be entertained for a moment.
In a few lines of reply, gratefully and respectfully written, she
thanked the Mother Superior, and withdrew from the
The letter having been closed, and posted in the hotel box, she
returned to the sitting-room free from the one doubt that had
troubled her; eager to show Herbert how truly she believed in
him, how hopefully she looked to the future.
With a happy smile on her lips she opened the door. She was on
the point of asking him playfully if he had felt surprised at her
long absence--when the sight that met her eyes turned her cold
with terror in an instant.
His arms were stretched out on the table; his head was laid on
them, despair confessed itself in his attitude; grief spoke in
the deep sobbing breaths that shook him. Love and compassion
restored Sydney's courage; she advanced to raise him in her
arms--and stopped once more. The book on the table caught her
eye. He was still unconscious of her presence; she ventured to
open it. She read the inscription--looked at him--looked back at
the writing--and knew the truth at last.
The rigor of the torture that she suffered paralyzed all outward
expression of pain. Quietly she put the book back on the table.
Quietly she touched him, and called him by his name.
He started and looked up; he made an attempt to speak to her in
his customary tone. "I didn't hear you come in," he said.
She pointed to the book, without the slightest change in her face
or her manner.
"I have read the inscription to your wife," she answered; "I have
seen you while you thought you were alone; the mercy which has so
long kept the truth from me is mercy wasted now. Your bonds are
broken, Herbert. You are a free man."
He affected not to have understood her. She let him try to
persuade her of it, and made no reply. He declared, honestly
declared, that what she had said distressed him. She listened in
submissive silence. He took her hand, and kissed it. She let him
kiss it, and let him drop it at her side. She frightened him; he
began to fear for her reason. There was silence--long, horrid,
She had left the door of the room open. One of the servants of
the hotel appeared outside in the passage. He spoke to some
person behind him. "Perhaps the book has been left in here," he
suggested. A gentle voice answered: "I hope the lady and
gentleman will excuse me, if I ask leave to look for my book."
She stepped into the room to make her apologies.
Herbert Linley and Sydney Westerfield looked at the woman whom
they had outraged. The woman whom they had outraged paused, and
looked back at them.
The hotel servant was surprised at their not speaking to each
other. He was a stupid man; he thought the gentlefolks were
strangely unlike gentlefolks in general; they seemed not to know
what to say. Herbert happened to be standing nearest to him; he
felt that it would be civil to the gentleman to offer a word of
"The lady had these rooms, sir. She has come back from the
station to look for a book that has been left behind."
Herbert signed to him to go. As the man turned to obey, he drew
back. Sydney had moved to the door before him, to leave the room.
Herbert refused to permit it. "Stay here," he said to her gently;
"this room is yours."
Sydney hesitated. Herbert addressed her again. He pointed to his
divorced wife. "You see how that lady is looking at you," he
said; "I beg that you will not submit to insult from anybody."
Sydney obeyed him: she returned to the room.
Catherine's voice was heard for the first time. She addressed
herself to Sydney with a quiet dignity--far removed from anger,
further removed still from contempt.
"You were about to leave the room," she said. "I notice--as an
act of justice to _you_--that my presence arouses some sense of
Herbert turned to Sydney; trying to recover herself, she stood
near the table. "Give me the book," he said; "the sooner this
comes to an end the better for her, the better for us." Sydney
gave him the book. With a visible effort, he matched Catherine's
self-control; after all, she had remembered his gift! He offered
the book to her.
She still kept her eyes fixed on Sydney--still spoke to Sydney.
"Tell him," she said, "that I refuse to receive the book."
Sydney attempted to obey. At the first words she uttered, Herbert
checked her once more.
"I have begged you already not to submit to insult." He turned to
Catherine. "The book is yours, madam. Why do you refuse to take
She looked at him for the first time. A proud sense of wrong
flashed at him its keenly felt indignation in her first glance.
"Your hands and her hands have touched it," she answered. "I
leave it to _you_ and to _her_."
Those words stung him. "Contempt," he said, "is bitter indeed on
"Do you presume to resent my contempt?"
"I forbid you to insult Miss Westerfield." With that reply, he
turned to Sydney. "You shall not suffer while I can prevent it,"
he said tenderly, and approached to put his arm round her. She
looked at Catherine, and drew back from his embrace, gently
repelling him by a gesture.
Catherine felt and respected the true delicacy, the true
penitence, expressed in that action. She advanced to Sydney.
"Miss Westerfield," she said, "I will take the book--from you."
Sydney gave back the book without a word; in her position silence
was the truest gratitude. Quietly and firmly Catherine removed
the blank leaf on which Herbert had written, and laid it before
him on the table. "I return your inscription. It means nothing
now." Those words were steadily pronounced; not the slightest
appearance of temper accompanied them. She moved slowly to the
door and looked back at Sydney. "Make some allowance for what I
have suffered," she said gently. "If I have wounded you, I regret
it." The faint sound of her dress on the carpet was heard in the
perfect stillness, and lost again. They saw her no more.
Herbert approached Sydney. It was a moment when he was bound to
assure her of his sympathy. He felt for her. In his inmost heart
he felt for her. As he drew nearer, he saw tears in her eyes; but
they seemed to have risen without her knowledge. Hardly conscious
of his presence, she stood before him--lost in thought.
He endeavored to rouse her. "Did I protect you from insult?" he
She said absently: "Yes!"
"Will you do as I do, dear? Will you try to forget?"
She said: "I will try to atone," and moved toward the door of her
room. The reply surprised him; but it was no time then to ask for
"Would you like to lie down, Sydney, and rest?"
She took his arm. He led her to the door of her room. "Is there
anything else I can do for you?" he asked.
"Nothing, thank you."
She closed the door--and abruptly opened it again. "One thing
more," she said. "Kiss me."
He kissed her tenderly. Returning to the sitting-room, he looked
back across the passage. Her door was shut.
His head was heavy; his mind felt confused. He threw himself on
the sofa--utterly exhausted by the ordeal through which he had
passed. In grief, in fear, in pain, the time still comes when
Nature claims her rights. The wretched worn-out man fell into a
restless sleep. He was awakened by the waiter, laying the cloth
for dinner. "It's just ready, sir," the servant announced; "shall
I knock at the lady's door?"
Herbert got up and went to her room.
He entered sof tly, fearing to disturb her if she too had slept.
No sign of her was to be seen. She had evidently not rested on
her bed. A morsel of paper lay on the smooth coverlet. There was
only a line written on it: "You may yet be happy--and it may
perhaps be my doing."
He stood, looking at that last line of her writing, in the empty
room. His despair and his submission spoke in the only words that
"I have deserved it!"
Hear the Lawyer.
"Mr. Herbert Linley, I ask permission to reply to your inquiries
in writing, because it is quite likely that some of the opinions
you will find here might offend you if I expressed them
personally. I can relieve your anxiety on the subject of Miss
Sydney Westerfield. But I must be allowed to do so in my own
way--without any other restraints than those which I think it
becoming to an honorable man to impose on himself.
"You are quite right in supposing that Miss Westerfield had heard
me spoken of at Mount Morven, as the agent and legal adviser of
the lady who was formerly your wife. What purpose led her to
apply to me, under these circumstances, you will presently
discover. As to the means by which she found her way to my
office, I may remind you that any directory would give her the
"Miss Westerfield's object was to tell me, in the first place,
that her guilty life with you was at an end. She has left your
protection--not to return to it. I was sorry to see (though she
tried to hide it from me) how keenly she felt the parting. You
have been dearly loved by two sweet women, and they have thrown
their hearts away on you--as women will.
"Having explained the circumstances so far, Miss Westerfield next
mentioned the motive which had brought her to my office. She
asked if I would inform her of Mrs. Norman's address.
"This request, I confess, astonished me.
"To my mind she was, of all persons, the last who ought to
contemplate communicating in any way with Mrs. Norman. I say this
to you; but I refrained from saying it to her. What I did venture
to do was to ask for her reasons. She answered that they were
reasons which would embarrass her if she communicated them to a
"After this reply, I declined to give her the information she
"Not unprepared, as it appeared to me, for my refusal, she asked
next if I was willing to tell her where she might find your
brother, Mr. Randal Linley. In this case I was glad to comply
with her request. She could address herself to no person worthier
to advise her than your brother. In giving her his address in
London, I told her that he was absent on a visit to some friends,
and that he was expected to return in a week's time.
"She thanked me, and rose to go.
"I confess I was interested in her. Perhaps I thought of the time
when she might have been as dear to her father as my own
daughters are to me. I asked if her parents were living: they
were dead. My next question was: 'Have you any friends in
London?' She answered: 'I have no friends.' It was said with a
resignation so very sad in so young a creature that I was really
distressed. I ran the risk of offending her--and asked if she
felt any embarrassment in respect of money. She said: 'I have
some small savings from my salary when I was a governess.' The
change in her tone told me that she was alluding to the time of
her residence at Mount Morven. It was impossible to look at this
friendless girl, and not feel some anxiety about the lodging
which she might have chosen in such a place as London. She had
fortunately come to me from the railway, and had not thought yet
of where she was to live. At last I was able to be of some use to
her. My senior clerk took care of Miss Westerfield, and left her
among respectable people, in whose house she could live cheaply
and safely. Where that house is, I refuse (for her sake) to tell
you. She shall not be disturbed.
"After a week had passed I received a visit from my good friend,
"He had on that day seen Miss Westerfield. She had said to him
what she had said to me, and had repeated the request which I
thought it unwise to grant; owning to your brother, however, the
motives which she had refused to confide to me. He was so
strongly impressed by the sacrifice of herself which this
penitent woman had made, that he was at first disposed to trust
her with Mrs. Norman's address.
"Reflection, however, convinced him that her motives, pure and