MR. SCARBOROUGH’S FAMILY
BY ANTHONY TROLLOPE
It will be necessary, for the purpose of my story, that I shall go back more than once from the point at which it begins, so that I may explain with the least amount of awkwardness the things as they occurred, which led up to the incidents that I am about to tell; and I may as well say that these first four chapters of the book–though they may be thought to be the most interesting of them all by those who look to incidents for their interest in a tale–are in this way only preliminary.
The world has not yet forgotten the intensity of the feeling which existed when old Mr. Scarborough declared that his well-known eldest son was not legitimate. Mr. Scarborough himself had not been well known in early life. He had been the only son of a squire in Staffordshire over whose grounds a town had been built and pottery-works established. In this way a property which had not originally been extensive had been greatly increased in value, and Mr. Scarborough, when he came into possession, had found himself to be a rich man. He had then gone abroad, and had there married an English lady. After the lapse of some years he had returned to Tretton Park, as his place was named, and there had lost his wife. He had come back with two sons, Mountjoy and Augustus, and there, at Tretton, he had lived, spending, however, a considerable portion of each year in chambers in the Albany. He was a man who, through many years, had had his own circle of friends, but, as I have said before, he was not much known in the world. He was luxurious and self-indulgent, and altogether indifferent to the opinion of those around him. But he was affectionate to his children, and anxious above all things for their welfare, or rather happiness. Some marvellous stories were told as to his income, which arose chiefly from the Tretton delf-works and from the town of Tretton, which had been built chiefly on his very park, in consequence of the nature of the clay and the quality of the water. As a fact, the original four thousand a year, to which his father had been born, had grown to twenty thousand by nature of the operations which had taken place. But the whole of this, whether four thousand or twenty thousand, was strictly entailed, and Mr. Scarborough had been very anxious, since his second son was born, to create for him also something which might amount to opulence. But they who knew him best knew that of all things he hated most the entail.
The boys were both educated at Eton, and the elder went into the Guards, having been allowed an intermediate year in order to learn languages on the Continent. He had then become a cornet in the Coldstreams, and had, from that time, lived a life of reckless expenditure. His brother Augustus had in the mean time gone to Cambridge and become a barrister. He had been called but two years when the story was made known of his father’s singular assertion. As from that time it became unnecessary for him to practise his profession, no more was heard of him as a lawyer. But they who had known the young man in the chambers of that great luminary, Mr. Rugby, declared that a very eminent advocate was now spoiled by a freak of fortune.
Of his brother Mountjoy,–or Captain Scarborough, as he came to be known at an early period of his life,–the stories which were told in the world at large were much too remarkable to be altogether true. But it was only too true that he lived as though the wealth at his command were without limit. For some few years his father bore with him patiently, doubling his allowance, and paying his bills for him again and again. He made up his mind,–with many regrets,–that enough had been done for his younger son, who would surely by his intellect be able to do much for himself. But then it became necessary to encroach on the funds already put by, and at last there came the final blow, when he discovered that Captain Scarborough had raised large sums on post-obits from the Jews. The Jews simply requested the father to pay the money or some portion of it, which if at once paid would satisfy them, explaining to him that otherwise the whole property would at his death fall into their hands. It need not here be explained how, through one sad year, these negotiations were prolonged; but at last there came a time in which Mr. Scarborough, sitting in his chambers in the Albany, boldly declared his purpose. He sent for his own lawyer, Mr. Grey, and greatly astonished that gentleman by declaring to him that Captain Scarborough was illegitimate.
At first Mr. Grey refused altogether to believe the assertion made to him. He had been very conversant with the affairs of the family, and had even dealt with marriage settlements on behalf of the lady in question. He knew Mr. Scarborough well,–or rather had not known him, but had heard much of him,–and therefore suspected him. Mr. Grey was a thoroughly respectable man, and Mr. Scarborough, though upright and honorable in many dealings, had not been thoroughly respectable. He had lived with his wife off and on, as people say. Though he had saved much of his money for the purpose above described, he had also spent much of it in a manner which did not approve itself to Mr. Grey. Mr. Grey had thoroughly disliked the eldest son, and had, in fact, been afraid of him. The captain, in the few interviews that had been necessary between them, had attempted to domineer over the lawyer, till there had at last sprung up a quarrel, in which, to tell the truth, the father took the part of the son. Mr. Grey had for a while been so offended as to find it necessary to desire Mr. Scarborough to employ another lawyer. He had not, however, done so, and the breach had never become absolute. In these circumstances Mr. Scarborough had sent for Mr. Grey to come to him at the Albany, and had there, from his bed, declared that his eldest son was illegitimate. Mr. Grey had at first refused to accept the assertion as being worth anything, and had by no means confined himself to polite language in expressing his belief. “I would much rather have nothing to do with it,” he had said when Mr. Scarborough insisted on the truth of his statement.
“But the evidence is all here,” said Mr. Scarborough, laying his hand on a small bundle of papers. “The difficulty would have been, and the danger, in causing Mountjoy to have been accepted in his brother’s place. There can be no doubt that I was not married till after Mountjoy was born.”
Mr. Grey’s curiosity was roused, and he began to ask questions. Why, in the first place, had Mr. Scarborough behaved so dishonestly? Why had he originally not married his wife? And then, why had he married her? If, as he said, the proofs were so easy, how had he dared to act so directly in opposition to the laws of his country? Why, indeed, had he been through the whole of his life so bad a man,–so bad to the woman who had borne his name, so bad to the son whom he called illegitimate, and so bad also to the other son whom he now intended to restore to his position, solely with the view of defrauding the captain’s creditors?
In answer to this Mr. Scarborough, though he was suffering much at the time,–so much as to be considered near to his death,–had replied with the most perfect good-humor.
He had done very well, he thought, by his wife, whom he had married after she had consented to live with him on other terms. He had done very well by his elder son, for whom he had intended the entire property. He had done well by his second son, for whom he had saved his money. It was now his first duty to save the property. He regarded himself as being altogether unselfish and virtuous from his point of view.
When Mr. Grey had spoken about the laws of his country he had simply smiled, though he was expecting a grievous operation on the following day. As for marriage, he had no great respect for it, except as a mode of enabling men and women to live together comfortably. As for the “outraged laws of his country,” of which Mr. Grey spoke much, he did not care a straw for such outrages–nor, indeed, for the expressed opinion of mankind as to his conduct. He was very soon about to leave the world, and meant to do the best he could for his son Augustus. The other son was past all hope. He was hardly angry with his eldest son, who had undoubtedly given him cause for just anger. His apparent motives in telling the truth about him at last were rather those of defrauding the Jews, who had expressed themselves to him with brutal audacity, than that of punishing the one son or doing justice to the other; but even of them he spoke with a cynical good-humor, triumphing in his idea of thoroughly getting the better of them.
“I am consoled, Mr. Grey,” he said, “when I think how probably it might all have been discovered after my death. I should have destroyed all these,” and he laid his hands upon the papers, “but still there might have been discovery.”
Mr. Grey could not but think that during the last twenty-four years,–the period which had elapsed since the birth of the younger son,–no idea of such a truth had occurred to himself.
He did at last consent to take the papers in his hands, and to read them through with care. He took them away with that promise, and with an assurance that he would bring them back on the day but one following–should Mr. Scarborough then be alive.
Mr. Scarborough, who seemed at that moment to have much life in him, insisted on this proviso:–
“The surgeon is to be here to-morrow, you know, and his coming may mean a great deal. You will have the papers, which are quite clear, and will know what to do. I shall see Mountjoy myself this evening. I suppose he will have the grace to come, as he does not know what he is coming for.”
Then the father smiled again, and the lawyer went.
Mr. Scarborough, though he was very strong of heart, did have some misgivings as the time came at which he was to see his son. The communication which he had to make was certainly one of vital importance. His son had some time since instigated him to come to terms with the “family creditors,” as the captain boldly called them.
“Seeing that I never owed a shilling in my life, or my father before me, it is odd that I should have family creditors,” the father had answered.
“The property has, then, at any rate,” the son had said, with a scowl.
But that was now twelve months since, before mankind and the Jews among them had heard of Mr. Scarborough’s illness. Now, there could be no question of dealing on favorable terms with these gentlemen. Mr. Scarborough was, therefore, aware that the evil thing which he was about to say to his son would have lost its extreme bitterness. It did not occur to him that, in making such a revelation as to his son’s mother he would inflict any great grief on his son’s heart. To be illegitimate would be, he thought, nothing unless illegitimacy carried with it loss of property. He hardly gave weight enough to the feeling that the eldest son was the eldest son, and too little to the triumph which was present to his own mind in saving the property for one of the family. Augustus was but the captain’s brother, but he was the old squire’s son. The two brothers had hitherto lived together on fairly good terms, for the younger had been able to lend money to the elder, and the elder had found his brother neither severe or exacting. How it might be between them when their relations with each other should be altogether changed, Mr. Scarborough did not trouble himself to inquire. The captain by his own reckless folly had lost his money, had lost all that fortune would have given him as his father’s eldest son. After having done so, what could it matter to him whether he were legitimate or illegitimate? His brother, as possessor of Tretton Park, would be able to do much more for him than could be expected from a professional man working for his bread.
Mr. Scarborough had looked at the matter all round for the space of two years, and during the latter year had slowly resolved on his line of action. He had had no scruple in passing off his eldest-born as legitimate, and now would have none in declaring the truth to the world. What scruple need he have, seeing that he was so soon about to leave the world?
As to what took place at that interview between the father and the son very much was said among the clubs, and in societies to which Captain Mountjoy Scarborough was well known; but very little of absolute truth was ever revealed. It was known that Captain Scarborough left the room under the combined authority of apothecaries and servants, and that the old man had fainted from the effects of the interview. He had undoubtedly told the son of the simple facts as he had declared them to Mr. Grey, but had thought it to be unnecessary to confirm his statement by any proof. Indeed, the proofs, such as they were,–the written testimony, that is,–were at that moment in the hands of Mr. Grey, and to Mr. Grey the father had at last referred the son. But the son had absolutely refused to believe for a moment in the story, and had declared that his father and Mr. Grey had conspired together to rob him of his inheritance and good name. The interview was at last over, and Mr. Scarborough, at one moment fainting, and in the next suffering the extremest agony, was left alone with his thoughts.
Captain Scarborough, when he left his father’s rooms, and found himself going out from the Albany into Piccadilly, was an infuriated but at the same time a most wretched man. He did believe that a conspiracy had been hatched, and he was resolved to do his best to defeat it, let the effect be what it might on the property; but yet there was a strong feeling in his breast that the fraud would be successful. No man could possibly be environed by worse circumstances as to his own condition. He owed he knew not what amount of money to several creditors; but then he owed, which troubled him more, gambling debts, which he could only pay by his brother’s assistance. And now, as he thought of it, he felt convinced that his brother must be joined with his father and the lawyer in this conspiracy. He felt, also, that he could meet neither Mr. Grey nor his brother without personally attacking them. All the world might perish, but he, with his last breath, would declare himself to be Captain Mountjoy Scarborough, of Tretton Park; and though he knew at the moment that he must perish,–as regarded social life among his comrades,–unless he could raise five hundred pounds from his brother, yet he felt that, were he to meet his brother, he could not but fly at his throat and accuse him of the basest villany.
At that moment, at the corner of Bond Street, he did meet his brother.
“What is this?” said he, fiercely.
“What is what?” said Augustus, without any fierceness. “What is up now?”
“I have just come from my father.”
“And how is the governor? If I were he I should be in a most awful funk. I should hardly be able to think of anything but that man who is to come to-morrow with his knives. But he takes it all as cool as a cucumber.”
There was something in this which at once shook, though it did not remove, the captain’s belief, and he said something as to the property. Then there came questions and answers, in which the captain did not reveal the story which had been told to him, but the barrister did assert that he had as yet heard nothing as to anything of importance. As to Tretton, the captain believed his brother’s manner rather than his words. In fact, the barrister had heard nothing as yet of what was to be done on his behalf.
The interview ended in the two men going and dining at a club, where the captain told the whole story of his father’s imagined iniquity.
Augustus received the tale almost in silence. In reply to his brother’s authoritative, domineering speeches he said nothing. To him it was all new, but to him, also, it seemed certainly to be untrue. He did not at all bring himself to believe that Mr. Grey was in the conspiracy, but he had no scruple of paternal regard to make him feel that this father would not concoct such a scheme simply because he was his father. It would be a saving of the spoil from the Amalekites, and of this idea he did give a hardly-expressed hint to his brother.
“By George,” said the captain, “nothing of the kind shall be done with my consent.”
“Why, no,” the barrister had answered, “I suppose that neither your consent nor mine is to be asked; and it seems as though it were a farce ordered to be played over the poor governor’s grave. He has prepared a romance, as to the truth or falsehood of which neither you nor I can possibly be called as witnesses.”
It was clear to the captain that his brother had thought that the plot had been prepared by their father in anticipation of his own death. Nevertheless, by the younger brother’s assistance, the much-needed sum of money was found for the supply of the elder’s immediate wants.
The next day was the day of terror, and nothing more was heard, either then or for the following week, of the old gentleman’s scheme. In two days it was understood that his death might be hourly expected, but on the third it was thought that he might “pull through,” as his younger son filially expressed himself. He was constantly with his father, but not a word passed his lips as to the property. The elder son kept himself gloomily apart, and indeed, during a part of the next week was out of London. Augustus Scarborough did call on Mr. Grey, but only learned from him that it was, at any rate, true that the story had been told by his father. Mr. Grey refused to make any farther communication, simply saying that he would as yet express no opinion.
“For myself,” said Augustus, as he left the attorney’s chambers, “I can only profess myself so much astonished as to have no opinion. I suppose I must simply wait and see what Fortune intends to do with me.”
At the end of a fortnight Mr. Scarborough had so far recovered his strength as to be able to be moved down to Tretton, and thither he went. It was not many days after that “the world” was first informed that Captain Scarborough was not his father’s heir. “The world” received the information with a great deal of expressed surprise and inward satisfaction,–satisfaction that the money-lenders should be done out of their money; that a professed gambler like Captain Scarborough should suddenly become an illegitimate nobody; and, more interesting still, that a very wealthy and well-conditioned, if not actually respectable, squire should have proved himself to be a most brazen-faced rascal. All of these were matters which gave extreme delight to the world at large. At first there came little paragraphs without any name, and then, some hours afterward, the names became known to the quidnuncs, and in a short space of time were in possession of the very gentry who found themselves defrauded in this singular manner.
It is not necessary here that I should recapitulate all the circumstances of the original fraud, for a gross fraud had been perpetrated. After the perpetration of that fraud papers had been prepared by Mr. Scarborough himself with a great deal of ingenuity, and the matter had been so arranged that,–but for his own declaration,–his eldest son would undoubtedly have inherited the property. Now there was no measure to the clamor and the uproar raised by the money-lenders. Mr. Grey’s outer office was besieged, but his clerk simply stated that the facts would be proved on Mr. Scarborough’s death as clearly as it might be possible to prove them. The curses uttered against the old squire were bitter and deep, but during this time he was still supposed to be lying at death’s door, and did not, in truth, himself expect to live many days. The creditors, of course, believed that the story was a fiction. None of them were enabled to see Captain Scarborough, who, after a short period, disappeared altogether from the scene. But they were, one and all, convinced that the matter had been arranged between him and his father.
There was one from whom better things were expected than to advance money on post-obits to a gambler at a rate by which he was to be repaid one hundred pounds for every forty pounds, on the death of a gentleman who was then supposed to be dying. For it was proved afterward that this Mr. Tyrrwhit had made most minute inquiries among the old squire’s servants as to the state of their master’s health. He had supplied forty thousand pounds, for which he was to receive one hundred thousand pounds when the squire died, alleging that he should have difficulty in recovering the money. But he had collected the sum so advanced on better terms among his friends, and had become conspicuously odious in the matter.
In about a month’s time it was generally believed that Mr. Scarborough had so managed matters that his scheme would be successful. A struggle was made to bring the matter at once into the law courts, but the attempt for the moment failed. It was said that the squire down at Tretton was too ill, but that proceedings would be taken as soon as he was able to bear them. Rumors were afloat that he would be taken into custody, and it was even asserted that two policemen were in the house at Tretton. But it was soon known that no policemen were there, and that the squire was free to go whither he would, or rather whither he could. In fact, though the will to punish him, and even to arrest him, was there, no one had the power to do him an injury.
It was then declared that he had in no sense broken the law,–that no evil act of his could be proved,–that though he had wished his eldest son to inherit the property wrongfully, he had only wished it; and that he had now simply put his wishes into unison with the law, and had undone the evil which he had hitherto only contemplated. Indeed, the world at large rather sympathized with the squire when Mr. Tyrrwhit’s dealings became known, for it was supposed by many that Mr. Tyrrwhit was to have become the sole owner of Tretton.
But the creditors were still loud, and still envenomed. They and their emissaries hung about Tretton and demanded to know where was the captain. Of the captain’s whereabouts his father knew nothing, not even whether he was still alive; for the captain had actually disappeared from the world, and his creditors could obtain no tidings respecting him. At this period, and for long afterward, they imagined that he and his father were in league together, and were determined to try at law the question as to the legitimacy of his birth as soon as the old squire should be dead. But the old squire did not die. Though his life was supposed to be most precarious he still continued to live, and became even stronger. But he remained shut up at Tretton, and utterly refused to see any emissary of any creditor. To give Mr. Tyrrwhit his due, it must be acknowledged that he personally sent no emissaries, having contented himself with putting the business into the hands of a very sharp attorney. But there were emissaries from others, who after a while were excluded altogether from the park.
Here Mr. Scarborough continued to live, coming out on to the lawn in his easy-chair, and there smoking his cigar and reading his French novel through the hot July days. To tell the truth, he cared very little for the emissaries, excepting so far as they had been allowed to interfere with his own personal comfort. In these days he had down with him two or three friends from London, who were good enough to make up for him a whist-table in the country; but he found the chief interest in his life in the occasional visits of his younger son.
“I look upon Mountjoy as utterly gone,” he said.
“But he has utterly gone,” his other son replied.
“As to that I care nothing. I do not believe that a man can be murdered without leaving a trace of his murder. A man cannot even throw himself overboard without being missed. I know nothing of his whereabouts,– nothing at all. But I must say that his absence is a relief to me. The only comfort left to me in this world is in your presence, and in those material good things which I am still able to enjoy.”
This assertion as to his ignorance about his eldest son the squire repeated again and again to his chosen heir, feeling it was only probable that Augustus might participate in the belief which he knew to be only too common. There was, no doubt, an idea prevalent that the squire and the captain were in league together to cheat the creditors, and that the squire, who in these days received much undeserved credit for Machiavellian astuteness, knew more than any one else respecting his eldest son’s affairs. But, in truth, he at first knew nothing, and in making these assurances to his younger son was altogether wasting his breath, for his younger son knew everything.
Mr. Scarborough had a niece, one Florence Mountjoy, to whom it had been intended that Captain Scarborough should be married. There had been no considerations of money when the intention had been first formed, for the lady was possessed of no more than ten thousand pounds, which would have been as nothing to the prospects of the captain when the idea was first entertained. But Mr. Scarborough was fond of people who belonged to him. In this way he had been much attached to his late brother-in-law, General Mountjoy, and had perceived that his niece was beautiful and graceful, and was in every way desirable, as one who might be made in part thus to belong to himself. Florence herself, when the idea of the marriage was first suggested to her by her mother, was only eighteen, and received it with awe rather than with pleasure or abhorrence. To her her cousin Mountjoy had always been a most magnificent personage. He was only seven years her senior, but he had early in life assumed the manners, as he had also done the vices, of mature age, and loomed large in the girl’s eyes as a man of undoubted wealth and fashion. At that period, three years antecedent to his father’s declaration, he had no doubt been much in debt, but his debts had not been generally known, and his father had still thought that a marriage with his cousin might serve to settle him–to use the phrase which was common with himself. From that day to this the courtship had gone on, and the squire had taught himself to believe that the two cousins were all but engaged to each other. He had so considered it, at any rate, for two years, till during the last final year he had resolved to throw the captain overboard. And even during this year there had been periods of hope, for he had not finally made up his mind till but a short time before he had put it in practice. No doubt he was fond of his niece in accordance with his own capability for fondness. He would caress her and stroke her hair, and took delight in having her near to him. And of true love for such a girl his heart was quite capable. He was a good-natured, fearless, but not a selfish man, to whom the fate in life of this poor girl was a matter of real concern.
And his eldest son, who was by no means good-natured, had something of the same nature. He did love truly,–after his own fashion of loving. He would have married his cousin at any moment, with or without her ten thousand pounds,–for of all human beings he was the most reckless. And yet in his breast was present a feeling of honor of which his father knew nothing. When it was explained to him that his mother’s fair name was to be aspersed,–a mother whom he could but faintly remember,–the threat did bring with it its own peculiar agony. But of this the squire neither felt or knew anything. The lady had long been dead, and could be none the better or the worse for aught that could be said of her. To the captain it was not so, and it was preferable to him to believe his father to be dishonest than his mother. He, at any rate, was in truth in love with his cousin Florence, and when the story was told to him one of its first effects was the bearing which it would have upon her mind.
It has been said that within two or three days after the communication he had left London. He had done so in order that he might at once go down to Cheltenham and see his cousin. There Miss Mountjoy lived, with her mother.
The time had been when Florence Mountjoy had been proud of her cousin, and, to tell the truth of her feelings, though she had never loved him, she had almost done so. Rumors had made their way through even to her condition of life, and she in her innocence had gradually been taught to believe that Captain Scarborough was not a man whom she could be safe in loving. And there had, perhaps, come another as to whom her feelings were different. She had, no doubt, at first thought that she would be willing to become her cousin’s wife, but she had never said as much herself. And now both her heart and mind were set against him.
Captain Scarborough, as he went down to Cheltenham, turned the matter over in his mind, thinking within himself how best he might carry out his project. His intention was to obtain from his cousin an assurance of her love, and a promise that it should not be shaken by any stories which his father might tell respecting him. For this purpose he he must make known to her the story his father had told him, and his own absolute disbelief in it. Much else must be confided to her. He must acknowledge in part his own debts, and must explain that his father had taken this course in order to defraud the creditors. All this would be very difficult; but he must trust in her innocence and generosity. He thought that the condition of his affairs might be so represented that the story should tend rather to win her heart toward him than to turn it away. Her mother had hitherto always been in his favor, and he had, in fact, been received almost as an Apollo in the house at Cheltenham.
“Florence,” he said, “I must see you alone for a few minutes. I know that your mother will trust you with me.” This was spoken immediately on his arrival, and Mrs. Mountjoy at once left the room. She had been taught to believe that it was her daughter’s duty to marry her cousin; and though she knew that the captain had done much to embarrass the property, she thought that this would be the surest way to settle him. The heir of Tretton Park was, in her estimation, so great a man that very much was to be endured at his hands.
The meeting between the two cousins was very long, and when Mrs. Mountjoy at last returned unannounced to the room she found her daughter in tears.
“Oh, Florence, what is the matter?” asked her mother.
The poor girl said nothing, but still continued to weep, while the captain stood by looking as black as a thunder-cloud.
“What is it, Mountjoy?” said Mrs. Mountjoy, turning to him.
“I have told Florence some of my troubles,” said he, “and they seemed to have changed her mind toward me.”
There was something in this which was detestable to Florence,–an unfairness, a dishonesty in putting off upon his trouble that absence of love which she had at last been driven by his vows to confess. She knew that it was not because of his present trouble, which she understood to be terrible, but which she could not in truth comprehend. He had blurted it all out roughly,–the story as told by his father of his mother’s dishonor, of his own insignificance in the world, of the threatened loss of the property, of the heaviness of his debts,–and added his conviction that his father had invented it all, and was, in fact, a thorough rascal. The full story of his debts he kept back, not with any predetermined falseness, but because it is so difficult for a man to own that he has absolutely ruined himself by his own folly. It was not wonderful that the girl should not have understood such a story as had then been told her. Why was he defending his mother? Why was he accusing his father? The accusations against her uncle, whom she did know, were more fearful to her than these mysterious charges against her aunt, whom she did not know, from which her son defended her. But then he had spoken passionately of his own love, and she had understood that. He had besought her to confess that she loved him, and then she had at once become stubborn. There was something in the word “confess” which grated against her feelings. It seemed to imply a conviction on his part that she did love him. She had never told him so, and was now sure that it was not so. When he had pressed her she could only weep. But in her weeping she never for a moment yielded. She never uttered a single word on which he could be enabled to build a hope. Then he had become blacker and still blacker, fiercer and still fiercer, more and more earnest in his purpose, till at last he asked her whom it was that she loved–as she could not love him. He knew well whom it was that he suspected;–and she knew also. But he had no right to demand any statement from her on that head. She did not think that the man loved her; nor did she know what to say or to think of her own feelings. Were he, the other man, to come to her, she would only bid him go away; but why she should so bid him she had hardly known. But now this dark frowning captain, with his big mustache and his military look, and his general aspect of invincible power, threatened the other man.
“He came to Tretton as my friend,” he said, “and by Heaven if he stands in my way, if he dare to cross between you and me, he shall answer it with his life!”
The name had not been mentioned; but this had been very terrible to Florence, and she could only weep.
He went away, refusing to stay to dinner, but said that on the following afternoon he would again return. In the street of the town he met one of his creditors, who had discovered his journey to Cheltenham, and had followed him.
“Oh, Captain Mountjoy, what is all dis that they are talking about in London?”
“What are they talking about?”
“De inheritance!” said the man, who was a veritable Jew, looking up anxiously in his face.
The man had his acceptance for a very large sum of money, with an assurance that it should be paid on his father’s death, for which he had given him about two thousand pounds in cash.
“You must ask my father.”
“But is it true?”
“You must ask my father. Upon my word, I can tell you nothing else. He has concocted a tale of which I for one do not believe a word. I never heard of the story till he condescended to tell it me the other day. Whether it be true or whether it be false, you and I, Mr. Hart, are in the same boat.”
“But you have had de money.”
“And you have got the bill. You can’t do anything by coming after me. My father seems to have contrived a very clever plan by which he can rob you; but he will rob me at the same time. You may believe me or not as you please; but that you will find to be the truth.”
Then Mr. Hart left him, but certainly did not believe a word the captain had said to him.
To her mother Florence would only disclose her persistent intention of not marrying her cousin. Mrs. Mountjoy, over whose spirit the glamour of the captain’s prestige was still potent, said much in his favor. Everybody had always intended the marriage, and it would be the setting right of everything. The captain, no doubt, owed a large sum of money, but that would be paid by Florence’s fortune. So little did the poor lady know of the captain’s condition. When she had been told that there had been a great quarrel between the captain and his father, she declared that the marriage would set that all right.
“But, mamma, Captain Scarborough is not to have the property at all.”
Then Mrs. Mountjoy, believing thoroughly in entails, had declared that all Heaven could not prevent it.
“But that makes no difference,” said the daughter; “if I–I–I loved him I would marry him so much the more, if he had nothing.”
Then Mrs. Mountjoy declared that she could not understand it at all.
On the next day Captain Scarborough came, according to his promise, but nothing that he could say would induce Florence to come into his presence. Her mother declared that she was so ill that it would be wicked to disturb her.
Together with Augustus Scarborough at Cambridge had been one Harry Annesley, and he it was to whom the captain in his wrath had sworn to put an end if he should come between him and his love. Harry Annesley had been introduced to the captain by his brother, and an intimacy had grown up between them. He had brought him to Tretton Park when Florence was there, and Harry had since made his own way to Cheltenham, and had endeavored to plead his own cause after his own fashion. This he had done after the good old English plan, which is said to be somewhat loutish, but is not without its efficacy. He had looked at her, and danced with her, and done the best with his gloves and his cravat, and had let her see by twenty unmistakable signs that in order to be perfectly happy he must be near her. Her gloves, and her flowers, and her other little properties were sweeter to him than any scents, and were more valuable in his eyes than precious stones. But he had never as yet actually asked her to love him. But she was so quick a linguist that she had understood down to the last letter what all these tokens had meant. Her cousin, Captain Scarborough, was to her magnificent, powerful, but terrible withal. She had asked herself a thousand times whether it would be possible for her to love him and to become his wife. She had never quite given even to herself an answer to this question till she had suddenly found herself enabled to do so by his over-confidence in asking her to confess that she loved him. She had never acknowledged anything, even to herself, as to Harry Annesley. She had never told herself that it would be possible that he should ask her any such question. She had a wild, dreamy, fearful feeling that, although it would be possible to her to refuse her cousin, it would be impossible that she should marry any other while he should still be desirous of making her his wife. And now Captain Scarborough had threatened Harry Annesley, not indeed by name, but still clearly enough. Any dream of her own in that direction must be a vain dream.
As Harry Annesley is going to be what is generally called the hero of this story, it is necessary that something should be said of the particulars of his life and existence up to this period. There will be found to be nothing very heroic about him. He is a young man with more than a fair allowance of a young man’s folly;–it may also be said of a young man’s weakness. But I myself am inclined to think that there was but little of a young man’s selfishness, with nothing of falseness or dishonesty; and I am therefore tempted to tell his story.
He was the son of a clergyman, and the eldest of a large family of children. But as he was the acknowledged heir to his mother’s brother, who was the squire of the parish of which his father was rector, it was not thought necessary that he should follow any profession. This uncle was the Squire of Buston, and was, after all, not a rich man himself. His whole property did not exceed two thousand a year, an income which fifty years since was supposed to be sufficient for the moderate wants of a moderate country gentleman; but though Buston be not very far removed from the centre of everything, being in Hertfordshire and not more than forty miles from London, Mr. Prosper lived so retired a life, and was so far removed from the ways of men, that he apparently did not know but that his heir was as completely entitled to lead an idle life as though he were the son of a duke or a brewer. It must not, however, be imagined that Mr. Prosper was especially attached to his nephew. When the boy left the Charter-house, where his uncle had paid his school-bills, he was sent to Cambridge, with an allowance of two hundred and fifty pounds a year, and that allowance was still continued to him, with an assurance that under no circumstances could it ever be increased. At college he had been successful, and left Cambridge with a college fellowship. He therefore left it with one hundred and seventy-five pounds added to his income, and was considered by all those at Buston Rectory to be a rich young man.
But Harry did not find that his combined income amounted to riches amid a world of idleness. At Buston he was constantly told by his uncle of the necessity of economy. Indeed, Mr. Prosper, who was a sickly little man about fifty years of age, always spoke of himself as though he intended to live for another half-century. He rarely walked across the park to the rectory, and once a week, on Sundays, entertained the rectory family. A sad occasion it generally was to the elder of the rectory children, who were thus doomed to abandon the loud pleasantries of their own home for the sober Sunday solemnities of the Hall. It was not that the Squire of Buston was peculiarly a religious man, or that the rector was the reverse: but the parson was joyous, whereas the other was solemn. The squire,–who never went to church, because he was supposed to be ill,–made up for the deficiency by his devotional tendencies when the children were at the Hall. He read through a sermon after dinner, unintelligibly and even inaudibly. At this his brother-in-law, who had an evening service in his own church, of course never was present; but Mrs. Annesley and the girls were there, and the younger children. But Harry Annesley had absolutely declined; and his uncle having found out that he never attended the church service, although he always left the Hall with his father, made this a ground for a quarrel. It at last came to pass that Mr. Prosper, who was jealous and irritable, would hardly speak to his nephew; but the two hundred and fifty pounds went on, with many bickerings on the subject between the parson and the squire. Once, when the squire spoke of discontinuing it, Harry’s father reminded him that the young man had been brought up in absolute idleness, in conformity with his uncle’s desire. This the squire denied in strong language; but Harry had not hitherto run loudly in debt, nor kicked over the traces very outrageously; and as he absolutely must be the heir, the allowance was permitted to go on.
There was one lady who conceived all manner of bad things as to Harry Annesley, because, as she alleged, of the want of a profession and of any fixed income. Mrs. Mountjoy, Florence’s mother, was this lady. Florence herself had read every word in Harry’s language, not knowing, indeed, that she had read anything, but still never having missed a single letter. Mrs. Mountjoy also had read a good deal, though not all, and dreaded the appearance of Harry as a declared lover. In her eyes Captain Scarborough was a very handsome, very powerful, and very grand personage; but she feared that Florence was being induced to refuse her allegiance to this sovereign by the interference of her other very indifferent suitor. What would be Buston and two thousand a year, as compared with all the glories and limitless income of the great Tretton property? Captain Scarborough, with his mustaches and magnificence, was just the man who would be sure to become a peer. She had always heard the income fixed at thirty thousand a year. What would a few debts signify to thirty thousand a year? Such had been her thoughts up to the period of Captain Scarborough’s late visit, when he had come to Cheltenham, and had renewed his demand for Florence’s hand somewhat roughly. He had spoken ambiguous words, dreadful words, declaring that an internecine quarrel had taken place between him and his father; but these words, though they had been very dreadful, had been altogether misunderstood by Mrs. Mountjoy. The property she knew to be entailed, and she knew that when a property was entailed the present owner of it had nothing to do with its future disposition. Captain Scarborough, at any rate, was anxious for the marriage, and Mrs. Mountjoy was inclined to accept him, encumbered as he now was with his father’s wrath, in preference to poor Harry Annesley.
In June Harry came up to London, and there learned at his club the singular story in regard to old Mr. Scarborough and his son. Mr. Scarborough had declared his son illegitimate, and all the world knew now that he was utterly penniless and hopelessly in debt. That he had been greatly embarrassed Harry had known for many months, and added to that was now the fact, very generally believed, that he was not and never had been the heir to Tretton Park. All that still increasing property about Tretton, on which so many hopes had been founded, would belong to his brother. Harry, as he heard the tale, immediately connected it with Florence. He had, of course, known the captain was a suitor to the girl’s hand, and there had been a time when he thought that his own hopes were consequently vain. Gradually the conviction dawned upon him that Florence did not love the grand warrior, that she was afraid of him rather and awe-struck. It would be terrible now were she brought to marry him by this feeling of awe. Then he learned that the warrior had gone down to Cheltenham, and in the restlessness of his spirit he pursued him. When he reached Cheltenham the warrior had already gone.
“The property is certainly entailed,” said Mrs. Mountjoy. He had called at once at the house and saw the mother, but Florence was discreetly sent away to her own room when the dangerous young man was admitted.
“He is not Mr. Scarborough’s eldest son at all,” said Harry; “that is, in the eye of the law.” Then he had to undertake that task, very difficult for a young man, of explaining to her all the circumstances of the case.
But there was something in them so dreadful to the lady’s imagination that he failed for a long time to make her comprehend it. “Do you mean to say that Mr. Scarborough was not married to his own wife?”
“Not at first.”
“And that he knew it?”
“No doubt he knew it. He confesses as much himself.”
“What a very wicked man he must be!” said Mrs. Mountjoy. Harry could only shrug his shoulder. “And he meant to rob Augustus all through?” Harry again shrugged his shoulder. “Is it not much more probable that if he could be so very wicked he would be willing to deny his eldest son in order to save paying the debts?”
Harry could only declare that the facts were as he told them, or at least that all London believed them to be so, that at any rate Captain Mountjoy had gambled so recklessly as to put himself for ever and ever out of reach of a shilling of the property, and that it was clearly the duty of Mrs. Mountjoy, as Florence’s mother, not to accept him as a suitor.
It was only by slow degrees that the conversation had arrived at this pass. Harry had never as yet declared his own love either to the mother or daughter, and now appeared simply as a narrator of this terrible story. But at this point it did appear to him that he must introduce himself in another guise.
“The fact is, Mrs. Mountjoy,” he said, starting to his feet, “that I am in love with your daughter myself.”
“And therefore you have come here to vilify Captain Scarborough.”
“I have come,” said he, “at any rate to tell the truth. If it be as I say, you cannot think it right that he should marry your daughter. I say nothing of myself, but that, at any rate, cannot be.”
“It is no business of yours, Mr. Annesley.”
“Except that I would fain think that her business should be mine.”
But he could not prevail with Mrs. Mountjoy either on this day or the next to allow him to see Florence, and at last was obliged to leave Cheltenham without having done so.
CAPTAIN SCARBOROUGH’S DISAPPEARANCE.
A few days after the visits to Cheltenham, described in the last chapters, Harry Annesley, coming down a passage by the side of the Junior United Service Club into Charles Street, suddenly met Captain Scarborough at two o’clock in the morning. Where Harry had been at that hour need not now be explained, but it may be presumed that he had not been drinking tea with any of his female relatives.
Captain Scarborough had just come out of some neighboring club, where he had certainly been playing, and where, to all appearances, he had been drinking also. That there should have been no policemen in the street was not remarkable, but there was no one else there present to give any account of what took place during the five minutes in which the two men remained together. Harry, who was at the moment surprised by the encounter, would have passed the captain by without notice, had he been allowed to do so; but this the captain perceived, and stopped him suddenly, taking him roughly by the collar of his coat. This Harry naturally resented, and before a word of intelligible explanation had been given the two young men had quarrelled.
Captain Scarborough had received a long letter from Mrs. Mountjoy, praying for explanation of circumstances which could not be explained, and stating over and over again that all her information had come from Harry Annesley.
The captain now called him an interfering, meddlesome idiot, and shook him violently while holding him in his grasp. This was a usage which Harry was not the man to endure, and there soon arose a scuffle, in which blows had passed between them. The captain stuck to his prey, shaking him again and again in his drunken wrath, till Harry, roused to a passion almost equal to that of his opponent, flung him at last against the corner of the club railings, and there left his foe sprawling upon the ground, having struck his head violently against the ground as he fell. Harry passed on to his own bed, indifferent, as it was afterwards said, to the fate of his antagonist. All this occupied probably five minutes in the doing, but was seen by no human eye.
As the occurrence of that night was subsequently made the ground for heavy accusation against Harry Annesley, it has been told here with sufficient minuteness to show what might be said in justification or in condemnation of his conduct,–to show what might be said if the truth were spoken. For, indeed, in the discussions which arose on the subject, much was said which was not true. When he had retired from the scuffle on that night, Harry had certainly not dreamed that any serious damage had been done to the man who had certainly been altogether to blame in his provocation of the quarrel. Had he kept his temper and feelings completely under control, and knocked down Captain Scarborough only in self-defence; had he not allowed himself to be roused to wrath by treatment which could not but give rise to wrath in a young man’s bosom, no doubt, when his foe lay at his feet, he would have stooped to pick him up, and have tended his wounds. But such was not Harry’s character,–nor that of any of the young men with whom I have been acquainted. Such, however, was the conduct apparently expected from him by many, when the circumstances of those five minutes were brought to the light. But, on the other hand, had passion not completely got the better of him, had he not at the moment considered the attack made upon him to amount to misconduct so gross as to supersede all necessity for gentle usage on his own part, he would hardly have left the man to live or die as chance would have it. Boiling with passion, he went his way, and did leave the man on the pavement, not caring much, or rather, not thinking much, whether his victim might live or die.
On the next day Harry Annesley left London and went down to Buston, having heard no word farther about the captain. He did not start till late in the afternoon, and during the day took some trouble to make himself conspicuous about the town; but he heard nothing of Captain Scarborough. Twice he walked along Charles Street, and looked at the spot on which he had stood on the night before in what might have been deadly conflict. Then he told himself that he had not been in the least wounded, that the ferocious maddened man had attempted to do no more than shake him, that his coat had suffered and not himself, and that in return he had certainly struck the captain with all his violence. There were probably some regrets, but he said not a word on the subject to any one, and so he left London.
For three or four days nothing was heard of the captain, nor was anything said about him. He had lodgings in town, at which he was no doubt missed, but he also had quarters at the barracks, at which he did not often sleep, but to which it was thought possible on the next morning that he might have betaken himself. Before the evening of that day had come he had no doubt been missed, but in the world at large no special mention was made of his absence for some time. Then, among the haunts which he was known to frequent, questions began to be asked as to his whereabouts, and to be answered by doubtful assertions that nothing had been seen or heard of him for the last sixty or seventy hours.
It must be remembered that at this time Captain Scarborough was still the subject of universal remark, because of the story told as to his birth. His father had declared him to be illegitimate, and had thereby robbed all his creditors. Captain Scarborough was a man quite remarkable enough to insure universal attention for such a tale as this; but now, added to his illegitimacy was his disappearance. There was at first no idea that he had been murdered. It became quickly known to all the world that he had, on the night in question, lost a large sum of money at a whist-club which he frequented, and, in accordance with the custom of the club, had not paid the money on the spot.
The fatal Monday had come round, and the money undoubtedly was not paid. Then he was declared a defaulter, and in due process of time his name was struck off the club books, with some serious increase of the ignominy hitherto sustained.
During the last fortnight or more Captain Scarborough’s name had been subjected to many remarks and to much disgrace. But this non-payment of the money lost at whist was considered to be the turning-point. A man might be declared illegitimate, and might in consequence of that or any other circumstance defraud all his creditors. A man might conspire with his father with the object of doing this fraudulently, as Captain Scarborough was no doubt thought to have done by most of his acquaintances. All this he might do and not become so degraded but that his friends would talk to him and play cards with him. But to have sat down to a whist-table and not be able to pay the stakes was held to be so foul a disgrace that men did not wonder that he should have disappeared.
Such was the cause alleged for the captain’s disappearance among his intimate friends; but by degrees more than his intimate friends came to talk of it. In a short time his name was in all the newspapers, and there was not a constable in London whose mind was not greatly exercised on the matter. All Scotland Yard and the police-officers were busy. Mr. Grey, in Lincoln’s Inn, was much troubled on the matter. By degrees facts had made themselves clear to his mind, and he had become aware that the captain had been born before his client’s marriage. He was ineffably shocked at the old squire’s villany in the matter, but declared to all to whom he spoke openly on the subject that he did not see how the sinner could be punished. He never thought that the father and son were in a conspiracy together. Nor had he believed that they had arranged the young man’s disappearance in order the more thoroughly to defraud the creditors. They could not, at any rate, harm a man of whose whereabouts they were unaware and who, for all they knew, might be dead. But the reader is already aware that this surmise on the part of Mr. Grey was unfounded.
The captain had been absent for three weeks when Augustus Scarborough went down for a second time to Tretton Park, in order to discuss the matter with his father.
Augustus had, with much equanimity and a steady, fixed purpose, settled himself down to the position as elder son. He pretended no anger to his father for the injury intended, and was only anxious that his own rights should be confirmed. In this he found that no great difficulty stood in his way. The creditors would contest his rights when his father should die; but for such contest he would be prepared. He had no doubt as to his own position, but thought that it would be safer,–and that it would also probably be cheaper,–to purchase the acquiescence of all claimants than to encounter the expense of a prolonged trial, to which there might be more than one appeal, and of which the end after all would be doubtful.
No very great sum of money would probably be required. No very great sum would, at any rate, be offered. But such an arrangement would certainly be easier if his brother were not present to be confronted with the men whom he had duped.
The squire was still ill down at Tretton, but not so ill but that he had his wits about him in all their clearness. Some said that he was not ill at all, but that in the present state of affairs the retirement suited him. But the nature of the operation which he had undergone was known to many who would not have him harassed in his present condition. In truth, he had only to refuse admission to all visitors and to take care that his commands were carried out in order to avoid disagreeable intrusions.
“Do you mean to say that a man can do such a thing as this and that no one can touch him for it?” This was an exclamation made by Mr. Tyrrwhit to his lawyer, in a tone of aggrieved disgust.
“He hasn’t done anything,” said the lawyer. “He only thought of doing something, and has since repented. You cannot arrest a man because he had contemplated the picking of your pocket, especially when he has shown that he is resolved not to pick it.”
“As far as I can learn, nothing has been heard about him as yet,” said the son to the father.
“Those limbs weren’t his that were picked out of the Thames near Blackfriars Bridge?”
“They belonged to a poor cripple who was murdered two months since.”
“And that body that was found down among the Yorkshire Hills?”
“He was a peddler. There is nothing to induce a belief that Mountjoy has killed himself or been killed. In the former case his dead body would be found or his live body would be missing. For the second there is no imaginable cause for suspicion.”
“Then where the devil is he?” said the anxious father.
“Ah, that’s the difficulty. But I can imagine no position in which a man might be more tempted to hide himself. He is disgraced on every side, and could hardly show his face in London after the money he has lost. You would not have paid his gambling debts?”
“Certainly not,” said the father. “There must be an end to all things.”
“Nor could I. Within the last month past he has drawn from me every shilling that I have had at my immediate command.”
“Why did you give ’em to him?”
“It would be difficult to explain all the reasons. He was then my elder brother, and it suited me to have him somewhat under my hand. At any rate I did do so, and am unable for the present to do more. Looking round about, I do not see where it was possible for him to raise a sovereign as soon as it was once known that he was nobody.”
“What will become of him?” said the father. “I don’t like the idea of his being starved. He can’t live without something to live upon.”
“God tempers the wind to the shorn lamb,” said the son. “For lambs such as he there always seems to be pasture provided of one sort or another.”
“You would not like to have to trust to such pastures,” said the father.
“Nor should I like to be hanged; but I should have to be hanged if I had committed murder. Think of the chances which he has had, and the way in which he has misused them. Although illegitimate, he was to have had the whole property,–of which not a shilling belongs to him; and he has not lost it because it was not his own, but has simply gambled it away among the Jews. What can happen to a man in such a condition better than to turn up as a hunter among the Rocky Mountains or as a gold-digger in Australia? In this last adventure he seems to have plunged horribly, and to have lost over three thousand pounds. You wouldn’t have paid that for him?”
“Not again;–certainly not again.”
“Then what could he do better than disappear? I suppose I shall have to make him an allowance some of these days, and if he can live and keep himself dark I will do so.”
There was in this a tacit allusion to his father’s speedy death which was grim enough; but the father passed it by without any expression of displeasure. He certainly owed much to his younger son, and was willing to pay it by quiescence. Let them both forbear. Such was the language which he held to himself in thinking of his younger son. Augustus was certainly behaving well to him. Not a word of rebuke had passed his lips as to the infamous attempt at spoliation which had been made. The old squire felt grateful for his younger son’s conduct, but yet in his heart of hearts he preferred the elder.
“He has denuded me of every penny,” said Augustus, “and I must ask you to refund me something of what has gone.”
“He has kept me very bare. A man with so great a propensity for getting rid of money I think no father ever before had to endure.”
“You have had the last of it.”
“I do not know that. If I live, and he lets me know his whereabouts, I cannot leave him penniless. I do feel that a great injustice has been done him.”
“I don’t exactly see it,” said Augustus.
“Because you’re too hard-hearted to put yourself in another man’s place. He was my eldest son.”
“He thought that he was.”
“And should have remained so had there been a hope for him,” said the squire, roused to temporary anger. Augustus only shrugged his shoulders. “But there is no good talking about it.”
“Not the least in the world. Mr. Grey, I suppose, knows the truth at last. I shall have to get three or four thousand pounds from you, or I too must resort to the Jews. I shall do it, at any rate, under better circumstances than my brother.”
Some arrangement was at last made which was satisfactory to the son, and which we must presume that the father found to be endurable. Then the son took his leave, and went back to London, with the understood intention of pushing the inquiries as to his brother’s existence and whereabouts.
The sudden and complete disappearance of Captain Scarborough struck Mrs. Mountjoy with the deepest awe. It was not at first borne in upon her to believe that Captain Mountjoy Scarborough, an officer in the Coldstreams, and the acknowledged heir to the Tretton property, had vanished away as a stray street-sweeper might do, or some milliner’s lowest work-woman. But at last there were advertisements in all the newspapers and placards on all the walls, and Mrs. Mountjoy did understand that the captain was gone. She could as yet hardly believe that he was no longer heir to Tretton: and in such short discussions with Florence as were necessary on the subject she preferred to express no opinion whatever as to his conduct. But she would by no means give way when urged to acknowledge that no marriage between Florence and the captain was any longer to be regarded as possible. While the captain was away the matter should be left as if in abeyance; but this by no means suited the young lady’s views. Mrs. Mountjoy was not a reticent woman, and had no doubt been too free in whispering among her friends something of her daughter’s position. This Florence had resented; but it had still been done, and in Cheltenham generally she was regarded as an engaged young lady. It had been in vain that she had denied that it was so. Her mother’s word on such a subject was supposed to be more credible that her own; and now this man with whom she was believed to be so closely connected had disappeared from the world among the most disreputable circumstances. But when she explained the difficulty to her mother her mother bade her hold her tongue for the present, and seemed to hold out a hope that the captain might at last be restored to his old position.
“Let them restore him ever so much, he would never be anything to me, mamma.” Then Mrs. Mountjoy would only shake her head and purse her lips.
On the evening of the day after the fracas in the street Harry Annesley went down to Buston, and there remained for the next two or three days, holding his tongue absolutely as to the adventure of that night. There was no one at Buston to whom he would probably have made known the circumstances. But there was clinging to it a certain flavor of disreputable conduct on his own part which sealed his lips altogether. The louder and more frequent the tidings which reached his ears as to the captain’s departure, the more strongly did he feel that duty required him to tell what he knew upon the matter. Many thoughts and many fears encompassed him. At first was the idea that he had killed the man by the violence of his blow, or that his death had been caused by the fall. Then it occurred to him that it was impossible that Scarborough should have been killed and that no account should be given as to the finding of the body. At last he persuaded himself that he could not have killed the man, but he was assured at the same time that the disappearance must in some sort have been occasioned by what then took place. And it could not but be that the captain, if alive, should be aware of the nature of the struggle which had taken place. He heard, chiefly from the newspapers, the full record of the captain’s illegitimacy; he heard of his condition with the creditors; he heard of those gambling debts which were left unpaid at the club. He saw it also stated–and repeated–that these were the grounds for the man’s disappearance. It was quite credible that the man should disappear, or endeavor to disappear, under such a cloud of difficulties. It did not require that he and his violence should be adduced as an extra cause. Indeed, had the man been minded to vanish before the encounter, he might in all human probability have been deterred by the circumstances of the quarrel. It gave no extra reason for his disappearance, and could in no wise be counted with it were he to tell the whole story, in Scotland Yard. He had been grossly misused on the occasion, and had escaped from such misusage by the only means in his power. But still he felt that, had he told the story, people far and wide would have connected his name with the man’s absence, and, worse again, that Florence’s name would have become entangled with it also. For the first day or two he had from hour to hour abstained from telling all that he knew, and then when the day or two were passed, and when a week had run by,–when a fortnight had been allowed to go,–it was impossible for him not to hold his tongue.
He became nervous, unhappy, and irritated down at Buston, with his father and mother and sister’s, but more especially with his uncle. Previous to this his uncle for a couple of months had declined to see him; now he was sent for to the Hall and interrogated daily on this special subject. Mr. Prosper was aware that his nephew had been intimate with Augustus Scarborough, and that he might, therefore, be presumed to know much about the family. Mr. Prosper took the keenest interest in the illegitimacy and the impecuniosity and final disappearance of the captain, and no doubt did, in his cross-examinations, discover the fact that Harry was unwilling to answer his questions. He found out for the first time that Harry was acquainted with the captain, and also contrived to extract from him the name of Miss Mountjoy. But he could learn nothing else, beyond Harry’s absolute unwillingness to talk upon the subject, which was in itself much. It must be understood that Harry was not specially reverential in these communications. Indeed, he gave his uncle to understand that he regarded his questions as impertinent, and at last declared his intention of not coming to the Hall any more for the present. Then Mr. Prosper whispered to his sister that he was quite sure that Harry Annesley knew more than he choose to say as to Captain Scarborough’s whereabouts.
“My dear Peter,” said Mrs. Annesley, “I really think that you are doing poor Harry an injustice.”
Mrs. Annesley was always on her guard to maintain something like an affectionate intercourse between her own family and the squire.
“My dear Anne, you do not see into a millstone as far as I do. You never did.”
“But, Peter, you really shouldn’t say such things of Harry. When all the police-officers themselves are looking about to catch up anything in their way, they would catch him up at a moment’s notice if they heard that a magistrate of the county had expressed such an opinion.”
“Why don’t he tell me?” said Mr. Prosper.
“There’s nothing to tell.”
“Ah, that’s your opinion–because you can’t see into a millstone. I tell you that Harry knows more about this Captain Scarborough than any one else. They were very intimate together.”
“Harry only just knew him.”
“Well, you’ll see. I tell you that Harry’s name will become mixed up with Captain Scarborough’s, and I hope that it will be in no discreditable manner. I hope so, that’s all.” Harry in the mean time had returned to London, in order to escape his uncle, and to be on the spot to learn anything that might come in his way as to the now acknowledged mystery respecting the captain.
Such was the state of things at the commencement of the period to which my story refers.
Harry Annesley, when he found himself in London, could not for a moment shake off that feeling of nervous anxiety as to the fate of Mountjoy Scarborough which had seized hold of him. In every newspaper which he took in his hand he looked first for the paragraph respecting the fate of the missing man, which the paper was sure to contain in one of its columns. It was his habit during these few days to breakfast at a club, and he could not abstain from speaking to his neighbors about the wonderful Scarborough incident. Every man was at this time willing to speak on the subject, and Harry’s interest might not have seemed to be peculiar; but it became known that he had been acquainted with the missing man, and Harry in conversation said much more than it would have been prudent for him to do on the understanding that he wished to remain unconnected with the story. Men asked him questions as though he were likely to know; and he would answer them, asserting that he knew nothing, but still leaving an impression behind that he did know more than he chose to avow. Many inquiries were made daily at this time in Scotland Yard as to the captain. These, no doubt, chiefly came from the creditors and their allies. But Harry Annesley became known among those who asked for information as Henry Annesley, Esq., late of St. John’s College, Cambridge; and even the police were taught to think that there was something noticeable in the interest which he displayed.
On the fourth day after his arrival in London, just at that time of the year when everybody was supposed to be leaving town, and when faded members of Parliament, who allowed themselves to be retained for the purpose of final divisions, were cursing their fate amid the heats of August, Harry accepted an invitation to dine with Augustus Scarborough at his chambers in the Temple. He understood when he accepted the invitation that no one else was to be there, and must have been aware that it was the intention of the heir of Tretton to talk to him respecting his brother. He had not seen Scarborough since he had been up in town, and had not been desirous of seeing him; but when the invitation came he had told himself that it would be better that he should accept it, and that he would allow his host to say what he pleased to say on the subject, he himself remaining reticent. But poor Harry little knew the difficulty of reticency when the heart is full. He had intended to be very reticent when he came up to London, and had, in fact, done nothing but talk about the missing man, as to whom he had declared that he would altogether hold his tongue.
The reader must here be pleased to remember that Augustus Scarborough was perfectly well aware of what had befallen his brother, and must, therefore, have known among other things of the quarrel which had taken place in the streets. He knew, therefore, that Harry was concealing his knowledge, and could make a fair guess at the state of the poor fellow’s mind.
“He will guess,” he had said to himself, “that he did not leave him for dead on the ground, or the body would be there to tell the tale. But he must be ashamed of the part which he took in the street-fight, and be anxious to conceal it. No doubt Mountjoy was the first offender, but something had occurred which Annesley is unwilling should make its way either to his uncle’s ears, or to his father’s, or to mine, or to the squire’s,–or to those of Florence.”
It was thus that Augustus Scarborough reasoned with himself when he asked Harry Annesley to dine with him.
It was not supposed by any of his friends that Augustus Scarborough would continue to live in the moderate chambers which he now occupied in the Temple; but he had as yet made no sign of a desire to leave them. They were up two pair of stairs, and were not great in size; but they were comfortable enough, and even luxurious, as a bachelor’s abode.
“I’ve asked you to come alone,” said Augustus, “because there is such a crowd of things to be talked of about poor Mountjoy which are not exactly fitted for the common ear.”
“Yes, indeed,” said Harry, who did not, however, quite understand why it would be necessary that the heir should discuss with him the affairs of his unfortunate brother. There had, no doubt, been a certain degree of intimacy between them, but nothing which made it essential that the captain’s difficulties should be exposed to him. The matter which touched him most closely was the love which both the men had borne to Florence Mountjoy; but Harry did not expect that any allusion to Florence would be made on the present occasion.
“Did you ever hear of such a devil of a mess?” said Augustus.
“No, indeed. It is not only that he has disappeared–“
“That is as nothing when compared with all the other incidents of this romantic tale. Indeed, it is the only natural thing in it. Given all the other circumstances, I should have foretold his disappearance as a thing certain to occur. Why shouldn’t such a man disappear, if he can?”
“But how has he done it?” replied Harry. “Where has he gone to? At this moment where is he?”
“Ah, if you will answer all those questions, and give your information in Scotland Yard, the creditors, no doubt, will make up a handsome purse for you. Not that they will ever get a shilling from him, though he were to be seen walking down St. James’s Street to-morrow. But they are a sanguine gentry, these holders of bills, and I really believe that if they could see him they would embrace him with the warmest affection. In the mean time let us have some dinner, and we will talk about poor Mountjoy when we have got rid of young Pitcher. Young Pitcher is my laundress’s son to the use of whose services I have been promoted since I have been known to be the heir of Tretton.”
Then they sat down and dined, and Augustus Scarborough made himself agreeable. The small dinner was excellent of its kind, and the wine was all that it ought to be. During dinner not a word was said as to Mountjoy, nor as to the affairs of the estate. Augustus, who was old for his age, and had already practised himself much in London life, knew well how to make himself agreeable. There was plenty to be said while young Pitcher was passing in and out of the room, so that there appeared no awkward vacancies of silence while one course succeeded the other. The weather was very hot, the grouse were very tempting, everybody was very dull, and members of Parliament more stupid than anybody else; but a good time was coming. Would Harry come down to Tretton and see the old governor? There was not much to offer him in the way of recreation, but when September came the partridges would abound. Harry gave a half-promise that he would go to Tretton for a week, and Augustus Scarborough expressed himself as much gratified. Harry at the moment thought of no reason why he should not go to Tretton, and thus committed himself to the promise; but he afterward felt that Tretton was of all places the last which he ought just at present to visit.
At last Pitcher and the cheese were gone, and young Scarborough produced his cigars. “I want to smoke directly I’ve done eating,” he said. “Drinking goes with smoking as well as it does with eating, so there need be no stop for that. Now, tell me, Annesley, what is it that you think about Mountjoy?”
There was an abruptness in the question which for the moment struck Harry dumb. How was he to say what he thought about Mountjoy Scarborough, even though he should have no feeling to prevent him from expressing the truth? He knew, or thought that he knew, Mountjoy Scarborough to be a thorough blackguard; one whom no sense of honesty kept from spending money, and who was now a party to robbing his creditors without the slightest compunction,–for it was in Harry’s mind that Mountjoy and his father were in league together to save the property by rescuing it from the hands of the Jews. He would have thought the same as to the old squire,–only that the old squire had not interfered with him in reference to Florence Mountjoy.
And then there was present to his mind the brutal attack which had been made on himself in the street. According to his views Mountjoy Scarborough was certainly a blackguard; but he did not feel inclined quite to say so to the brother, nor was he perfectly certain as to his host’s honesty. It might be that the three Scarboroughs were all in a league together; and if so, he had done very wrong, as he then remembered, to say that he would go down to Tretton. When, therefore, he was asked the question he could only hold his tongue.
“I suppose you have some scruple in speaking because he’s my brother? You may drop that altogether.”
“I think that his career has been what the novel-reader would call romantic; but what I, who am not one of them, should describe as unfortunate.”
“Well, yes; taking it altogether it has been unfortunate. I am not a soft-hearted fellow, but I am driven to pity him. The worst of it is that, had not my father been induced at last to tell the truth, from most dishonest causes, he would not have been a bit better off than he is. I doubt whether he could have raised another couple of thousand on the day when he went. If he had done so then, and again more and more, to any amount you choose to think of, it would have been the same with him.”
“I suppose so.”
“His lust for gambling was a bottomless quicksand, which no possible amount of winning could ever have satiated. Let him enter his club with five thousand pounds at his banker’s and no misfortune could touch him. He being such as he is,–or, alas! for aught we know, such as he was,–the escape which the property has had cannot but be regarded as very fortunate. I don’t care to talk much of myself in particular, though no wrong can have been done to a man more infinite than that which my father contrived for me.”
“I cannot understand your father,” said Harry. In truth, there was something in Scarborough’s manner in speaking of his father which almost produced belief in Harry’s mind. He began to doubt whether Augustus was in the conspiracy.
“No, I should say not. It is hard to understand that an English gentleman should have the courage to conceive such a plot, and the wit to carry it out. If Mountjoy had run only decently straight, or not more than indecently crooked, I should have been a younger brother, practising law in the Temple to the end of my days. The story of Esau and of Jacob is as nothing to it. But that is not the most remarkable circumstance. My father, for purposes of his own, which includes the absolute throwing over of Mountjoy’s creditors, changes his plan, and is pleased to restore to me that of which he had resolved to rob me. What father would dare to look in the face of the son whom he had thus resolved to defraud? My father tells me the story with a gentle chuckle, showing almost as much indifference to Mountjoy’s ruin as to my recovered prosperity. He has not a blush when he reveals it all. He has not a word to say, or, as far as I can see, a thought as to the world’s opinion. No doubt he is supposed to be dying. I do presume that three or four months will see the end of him. In the mean time he takes it all as quietly as though he had simply lent a five-pound note to Mountjoy out of my pocket.”
“You, at any rate, will get your property?”
“Oh, yes; and that, no doubt, is his argument when he sees me. He is delighted to have me down at Tretton, and, to tell the truth, I do not feel the slightest animosity toward him. But as I look at him I think him to be the most remarkable old gentleman that the world has ever produced. He is quite unconscious that I have any ground of complaint against him.”
“He has probably thought that the circumstances of your brother’s birth should not militate against his prospects.”
“But the law, my dear fellow,” said Scarborough, getting up from his chair and standing with his cigar between his finger and thumb,–“the law thinks otherwise. The making of all right and wrong in this world depends on the law. The half-crown in my pocket is merely mine because of the law. He did choose to marry my mother before I was born, but did not choose to go through that ceremony before my brother’s time. That may be a trifle to you, or to my moral feeling may be a trifle; but because of that trifle all Tretton will be my property, and his attempt to rob me of it was just the same as though he should break into a bank and steal what he found there. He knows that just as well as I do, but to suit his own purposes he did it.”
There was something in the way in which the young man spoke both of his father and mother which made Harry’s flesh creep. He could not but think of his own father and his own mother, and his feelings in regard to them. But here this man was talking of the misdoings of the one parent and the other with the most perfect _sang-froid._ “Of course I understand all that,” said Harry.
“There is a manner of doing evil so easy and indifferent as absolutely to quell the general feeling respecting it. A man shall tell you that he has committed a murder in a tone so careless as to make you feel that a murder is nothing. I don’t suppose my father can be punished for his attempt to rob me of twenty thousand a year, and therefore he talks to me about it as though it were a good joke. Not only that, but he expects me to receive it in the same way. Upon the whole, he prevails. I find myself not in the least angry with him, and rather obliged to him than otherwise for allowing me to be his eldest son.”
“What must Mountjoy’s feelings be!” said Harry.
“Exactly; what must be Mountjoy’s feelings! There is no need to consider my father’s, but poor Mountjoy’s! I don’t suppose that he can be dead.”
“I should think not.”
“While a man is alive he can carry himself off, but when a fellow is dead it requires at least one or probably two to carry him. Men do not wish to undertake such a work secretly unless they’ve been concerned in the murder; and then there will have been a noise which must have been heard, or blood which must have been seen, and the body will at last be forthcoming, or some sign of its destruction. I do not think he be dead.”
“I should hope not,” said Harry, rather tamely, and feeling that he was guilty of a falsehood by the manner in which he expressed his hope.
“When was it you saw him last?” Scarborough asked the question with an abruptness which was predetermined, but which did not quite take Harry aback.
“About three months since–in London,” said Harry, going back in his memory to the last meeting, which had occurred before the squire had declared his purpose.
“Ah;–you haven’t seen him, then, since he knew that he was nobody?” This he asked in an indifferent tone, being anxious not to discover his purpose, but in doing so he gave Harry great credit for his readiness of mind.
“I have not seen him since he heard the news which must have astonished him more than any one else.”
“I wonder,” said Augustus, “how Florence Mountjoy has borne it?”
“Neither have I seen her. I have been at Cheltenham, but was not allowed to see her.” This he said with an assertion to himself that though he had lied as to one particular he would not lie as to any other.
“I suppose she must have been much cut up by it all. I have half a mind to declare to myself that she shall still have an opportunity of becoming the mistress of Tretton. She was always afraid of Mountjoy, but I do not know that she ever loved him. She had become so used to the idea of marrying him that she would have given herself up in mere obedience. I too think that she might do as a wife, and I shall certainly make a better husband than Mountjoy would have done.”
“Miss Mountjoy will certainly do as a wife for any one who may be lucky enough to get her,” said Harry, with a certain tone of magnificence which at the moment he felt to be overstrained and ridiculous.
“Oh yes; one has got to get her, as you call it, of course. You mean to say that you are supposed to be in the running. That is your own lookout. I can only allege, on my own behalf, that it has always been considered to be an old family arrangement that Florence Mountjoy shall marry the heir to Tretton Park. I am in that position now, and I only throw it out as a hint that I may feel disposed to follow out the family arrangement. Of course if other things come in the way there will be an end of it. Come in.” This last invitation was given in consequence of a knock at the door. The door was opened, and there entered a policeman in plain clothes named Prodgers, who seemed from his manner to be well acquainted with Augustus Scarborough.
The police for some time past had been very busy on the track of Mountjoy Scarborough, but had not hitherto succeeded in obtaining any information. Such activity as had been displayed cannot be procured without expense, and it had been understood in this case that old Mr. Scarborough had refused to furnish the means. Something he had supplied at first, but had latterly declined even to subscribe to a fund. He was not at all desirous, he said, that his son should be brought back to the world, particularly as he had made it evident by his disappearance that he was anxious to keep out of the way. “Why should I pay the fellows? It’s no business of mine,” he had said to his son. And from that moment he had declined to do more than make up the first subscription which had been suggested to him. But the police had been kept very busy, and it was known that the funds had been supplied chiefly by Mr. Tyrrwhit. He was a resolute and persistent man, and was determined to “run down” Mountjoy Scarborough, as he called it, if money would enable him to do so. It was he who had appealed to the squire for assistance in this object, and to him the squire had expressed his opinion that, as his son did not seem anxious to be brought back, he should not interfere in the matter.
“Well, Prodgers, what news have you to-day?” asked Augustus.
“There is a man a-wandering about down in Skye, just here and there, with nothing in particular to say for himself.”
“What sort of a looking fellow is he?”
“Well, he’s light, and don’t come up to the captain’s marks; but there’s no knowing what disguises a fellow will put on. I don’t think he’s got the captain’s legs, and a man can’t change his legs.”
“Captain Scarborough would not remain loitering about in Skye where he would be known by half the autumn tourists who saw him.”
“That’s just what I was saying to Wilkinson,” said Prodgers. “Wilkinson seems to think that a man may be anybody as long as nobody knows who he is. ‘That ain’t the captain,’ said I.”
“I’m afraid he’s got out of England,” said the captain’s brother.
“There’s no place where he can be run down like New York, or Paris, or Melbourne, and it’s them they mostly go to. We’ve wired ’em all three, and a dozen other ports of the kind. We catches ’em mostly if they go abroad; but when they remains at home they’re uncommon troublesome. There was a man wandering about in County Donegal. We call Ireland at home, because we’ve so much to do with their police since the Land League came up; but this chap was only an artist who couldn’t pay his bill. What do you think about it, Mr. Annesley?” said the policeman, turning short round upon Harry, and addressing him a question. Why should the policeman even have known his name?
“Who? I? I don’t think about it at all. I have no means of thinking about it.”
“Because you have been so busy down there at the Yard, I thought that, as you was asking so many questions, you was, perhaps, interested in the matter.”
“My friend Mr. Annesley,” said Augustus, “was acquainted with Captain Scarborough, as he is with me.”
“It did seem as though he was more than usually interested, all the same,” said the policeman.
“I am more than usually interested,” replied Harry; “but I do not know that I am going to give you my reason. As to his present existence I know absolutely nothing.”
“I dare say not. If you’d any information as was reliable I dare say as it would be forthcoming. Well, Mr. Scarborough, you may be sure of this: if we can get upon his trail we’ll do so, and I think we shall. There isn’t a port that hasn’t been watched from two days after his disappearance, and there isn’t a port as won’t be watched as soon as any English steamer touches ’em. We’ve got our eyes out, and we means to use ’em. Good-night, Mr. Scarborough; good-night, Mr. Annesley,” and he bobbed his head to our friend Harry. “You say as there is a reason as is unknown. Perhaps it won’t be unknown always. Good-night, gentlemen.” Then Constable Prodgers left the room.
Harry had been disconcerted by the policeman’s remarks, and showed that it was so as soon as he was alone with Augustus Scarborough. “I’m afraid you think the man intended to be impertinent,” said Augustus.
“No doubt he did, but such men are allowed to be impertinent.”
“He sees an enemy, of course, in every one who pretends to know more than he knows himself,–or, indeed, in every one who does not. You said something about having a reason of your own, and he at once connected you with Mountjoy’s disappearance. Such creatures are necessary, but from the little I’ve seen of them I do not think that they make the best companions in the world. I shall leave Mr. Prodgers to carry on his business to the man who employs him,–namely, Mr. Tyrrwhit,–and I advise you to do the same.”
Soon after that Harry Annesley took his leave, but he could not divest himself of an opinion that both the policeman and his host had thought that he had some knowledge respecting the missing man. Augustus Scarborough had said no word to that effect, but there had been a something in his manner which had excited suspicion in Harry’s mind. And then Augustus had declared his purpose of offering his hand and fortune to Florence Mountjoy. He to be suitor to Florence,–he, so soon after Mountjoy had been banished from the scene! And why should he have been told of it?–he, of whose love for the girl he could not but think that Augustus Scarborough had been aware. Then, much perturbed in his mind, he resolved, as he returned to his lodgings, that he would go down to Cheltenham on the following day.
HARRY ANNESLEY TELLS HIS SECRET.
Harry hurried down to Cheltenham, hardly knowing what he was going to do or say when he got there. He went to the hotel and dined alone. “What’s all this that’s up about Captain Mountjoy?” said a stranger, coming and whispering to him at his table.
The inquirer was almost a stranger, but Harry did know his name. It was Mr. Baskerville, the hunting man. Mr. Baskerville was not rich, and not especially popular, and had no special amusement but that of riding two nags in the winter along the roads of Cheltenham in the direction which the hounds took. It was still summer, and the nags, who had been made to do their work in London, were picking up a little strength in idleness, or, as Mr. Baskerville called it, getting into condition. In the mean time Mr. Baskerville amused himself as well as he could by lying in bed and playing lawn-tennis. He sometimes dined at the hotel, in order that the club might think that he was entertained at friends’ houses; but the two places were nearly the same to him, as he could achieve a dinner and half a pint of wine for five or six shillings at each of them. A more empty existence, or, one would be inclined to say, less pleasurable, no one could pass; but he had always a decent coat on his back and a smile on his face, and five shillings in his pocket with which to pay for his dinner. His asking what was up about Scarborough showed, at any rate, that he was very backward in the world’s news.
“I believe he has vanished,” said Harry.
“Oh yes, of course he’s vanished. Everybody knows that–he vanished ever so long ago; but where is he?”
“If you can tell them in Scotland Yard they will be obliged to you.”
“I suppose it is true the police are after him? Dear me! Forty thousand a year! This is a very queer story about the property, isn’t it?”
“I don’t know the story exactly, and therefore can hardly say whether it is queer or not.”
“But about the younger son? People say that the father has contrived that the younger son shall have the money. What I hear is that the whole property is to be divided, and that the captain is to have half, on conditions that he keeps out of the way. But I am sure that you know more about it. You used to be intimate with both the brothers. I have seen you down here with the captain. Where is he?” And again he whispered into Harry’s ear. But he could not have selected any subject more distasteful, and, therefore, Harry repulsed Mr. Baskerville not in the most courteous manner.
“Hang it! what airs that fellow gives himself,” he said to another friend of the same kidney. “That’s young Annesley, the son of a twopenny-halfpenny parson down in Hertfordshire. The kind of ways these fellows put on now are unbearable. He hasn’t got a horse to ride on, but to hear him talk you’d think he was mounted three days a week.”
“He’s heir to old Prosper, of Buston Hall.”
“How’s that? But is he? I never heard that before. What’s Buston Hall worth?” Then Mr. Baskerville made up his mind to be doubly civil to Harry Annesley the next time he saw him.
Harry had to consider on that night in what manner he would endeavor to see Florence Mountjoy on the next day. He was thoroughly discontented with himself as he walked about the streets of Cheltenham. He had now not only allowed the disappearance of Scarborough to pass by without stating when and where, and how he had last seen him, but had directly lied on the subject. He had told the man’s brother that he had not seen him for some weeks previous, whereas to have concealed his knowledge on such a subject was in itself held to be abominable. He was ashamed of himself, and the more so because there was no one to whom he could talk openly on the matter. And it seemed to him as though all whom he met questioned him as to the man’s disappearance, as if they suspected him. What was the man to him, or the man’s guilt, or his father, that he should be made miserable? The man’s attack upon him had been ferocious in its nature,–so brutal that when he had escaped from Mountjoy Scarborough’s clutches there was nothing for him but to leave him lying in the street where, in his drunkenness, he had fallen. And now, in consequence of this, misery had fallen upon himself. Even this empty-headed fellow Baskerville, a man the poverty of whose character Harry perfectly understood, had questioned him about Mountjoy Scarborough. It could not, he thought, be possible that Baskerville could have had any reasons for suspicion, and yet the very sound of the inquiry stuck in his ears.
On the next morning, at eleven o’clock, he knocked at Mrs. Mountjoy’s house in Mountpellier Place and asked for the elder lady. Mrs. Mountjoy was out, and Harry at once inquired for Florence. The servant at first seemed to hesitate, but at last showed Harry into the dining-room. There he waited five minutes, which seemed to him to be half an hour, and then Florence came to him. “Your mother is not at home,” he said, putting out his hand.
“No, Mr. Annesley, but I think she will be back soon. Will you wait for her?”
“I do not know whether I am not glad that she should be out. Florence, I have something that I must tell you.”
“Something that you must tell me!”
He had called her Florence once before, on a happy afternoon which he well remembered, but he was not thinking of that now. Her name, which was always in his mind, had come to him naturally, as though he had no time to pick and choose about names in the importance of the communication which he had to make. “Yes. I don’t believe that you were ever really engaged to your cousin Mountjoy.”
“No, I never was,” she answered, briskly. Harry Annesley was certainly a handsome man, but no young man living ever thought less of his own beauty. He had fair, wavy hair, which he was always submitting to some barber, very much to the unexpressed disgust of poor Florence; because to her eyes the longer the hair grew the more beautiful was the wearer of it. His forehead, and eyes, and nose were all perfect in their form–
“Hyperion’s curls; the front of Jove himself; An eye like Mars, to threaten and command.”
There was a peculiar brightness in his eye, which would have seemed to denote something absolutely great in his character had it not been for the wavering indecision of his mouth. There was as it were a vacillation in his lips which took away from the manliness of his physiognomy. Florence, who regarded his face as almost divine, was yet conscious of some weakness about his mouth which she did not know how to interpret. But yet, without knowing why it was so, she was accustomed to expect from him doubtful words, half expressed words, which would not declare to her his perfected thoughts–as she would have them declared. He was six feet high, but neither broad nor narrow, nor fat nor thin, but a very Apollo in Florence’s eye. To the elders who knew him the quintessence of his beauty lay in the fact that he was altogether unconscious of it. He was a man who counted nothing on his personal appearance for the performance of those deeds which he was most anxious to achieve. The one achievement now essentially necessary to his happiness was the possession of Florence Mountjoy; but it certainly never occurred to him that he was more likely to obtain this because he was six feet high, or because his hair waved becomingly.
“I have supposed so,” he said, in answer to her last assertion.
“You ought to have known it for certain. I mean to say that, had I ever been engaged to my cousin, I should have been miserable at such a moment as this. I never should have given him up because of the gross injustice done to him about the property. But his disappearance in this dreadful way would, I think, have killed me. As it is, I can think of nothing else, because he is my cousin.”
“It is very dreadful,” said Harry. “Have you any idea what can have happened to him?”
“Not in the least. Have you?”
“None at all, but–“
“I was the last person who saw him.”
“You saw him last!”
“At least, I know no one who saw him after me.”
“Have you told them?”
“I have told no one but you. I have come down here to Cheltenham on purpose to tell you.”
“Why me?” she said, as though struck with fear at such an assertion on his part.
“I must tell some one, and I have not known whom else to tell. His father appears not at all anxious about him. His brother I do not altogether trust. Were I to go to these men, who are only looking after their money, I should be communicating with his enemies. Your mother already regards me as his enemy. If I told the police I should simply be brought into a court of justice, where I should be compelled to mention your name.”
“I must begin the story from the beginning. One night I was coming home in London very late, about two o’clock, when whom should I meet in the street suddenly but Mountjoy Scarborough. It came out afterward that he had then been gambling; but when he encountered me he was intoxicated. He took me suddenly by the collar and shook me violently, and did his best to maltreat me. What words were spoken I cannot remember; but his conduct to me was as that of a savage beast. I struggled with him in the street as a man would struggle who is attacked by a wild dog. I think that he did not explain the cause of his hatred, though, of course, my memory as to what took place at that moment is disturbed and imperfect; but I did know in my heart why it was that he had quarrelled with me.”
“Why was it?” Florence asked.
“Because he thought that I had ventured to love you.”
“No, no!” shrieked Florence; “he could not have thought that.”
“He did think so, and he was right enough. If I have never said so before, I am bound at any rate to say it now.” He paused for a moment, but she made him no answer. “In the struggle between us he fell on the pavement against a rail;–and then I left him.”
“He has never been heard of since. On the following day, in the afternoon, I left London for Buston; but nothing had been then heard of his disappearance. I neither knew of it nor suspected it. The question is, when others were searching for him, was I bound to go to the police and declare what I had suffered from him that night? Why should I connect his going with the outrage which I had suffered?”
“But why not tell it all?”
“I should have been asked why he had quarrelled with me. Ought I to have said that I did not know? Ought I to have pretended that there was no cause? I did know, and there was a cause. It was because he thought that I might prevail with you, now that he was a beggar, disowned by his own father.”
“I would never have given him up for that,” said Florence.
“But do you not see that your name would have been brought in,–that I should have had to speak of you as though I thought it possible that you loved me?” Then he paused, and Florence sat silent. But another thought struck him now. It occurred to him that under the plea put forward he would appear to seek shelter from his silence as to her name. He was aware how anxious he was on his own behalf not to mention the occurrence in the street, and it seemed that he was attempting to escape under the pretence of a fear that her name would be dragged in. “But independently of that I do not see why I should be subjected to the annoyance of letting it be known that I was thus attacked in the streets. And the time has now gone by. It did not occur to me when first he was missed that the matter would have been of such importance. Now it is too late.”
“I suppose that you ought to have told his father.”
“I think that I ought to have done so. But at any rate I have come to explain it all to you. It was necessary that I should tell some one. There seems to be no reason to suspect that the man has been killed.”
“Oh, I hope not; I hope not that.”
“He has been spirited away–out of the way of his creditors. For myself I think that it has all been done with his father’s connivance. Whether his brother be in the secret or not I cannot tell, but I suspect he is. There seems to be no doubt that Captain Scarborough himself has run so overhead into debt as to make the payment of his creditors impossible by anything short of the immediate surrender of the whole property. Some month or two since they all thought that the squire was dying, and that there would be nothing to do but to sell the property which would then be Mountjoy’s, and pay themselves. Against this the dying man has rebelled, and has come, as it were, out of the grave to disinherit the son who has already contrived to disinherit himself. It is all an effort to save Tretton.”
“But it is dishonest,” said Florence.
“No doubt about it. Looking at it any way it is dishonest, Either the inheritance must belong to Mountjoy still, or it could not have been his when he was allowed to borrow money upon it.”
“I cannot understand it. I thought it was entailed upon him. Of course it is nothing to me. It never could have been anything.”
“But now the creditors declare that they have been cheated, and assert that Mountjoy is being kept out of the way to aid old Mr. Scarborough in the fraud. I cannot but say that I think it is so. But why he should have attacked me just at the moment of his going, or why, rather, he should have gone immediately after he had attacked me, I cannot say. I have no concern whatever with him or his money, though I hope–I hope that I may always have much with you. Oh, Florence, you surely have known what has been within my heart.”
To this appeal she made no response, but sat awhile considering what she would say respecting Mountjoy Scarborough and his affairs.
“Am I to keep all this a secret?” she asked him at last.
“You shall consider that for yourself. I have not exacted from you any silence on the matter. You may tell whom you please, and I shall not consider that I have any ground of complaint against you. Of course for my own sake I do not wish it to be told. A great injury was done me, and I do not desire to be dragged into this, which would be another injury. I suspect that Augustus Scarborough knows more than he pretends, and I do not wish to be brought into the mess by his cunning. Whether you will tell your mother you must judge yourself.”
“I shall tell nobody unless you bid me.” At that moment the door of the room was opened, and Mrs. Mountjoy entered, with a frown upon her brow. She had not yet given up all hope that Mountjoy might return, and that the affairs of Tretton might be made to straighten themselves.
“Mamma, Mr. Annesley is here.”
“So I perceive, my dear.”
“I have come to your daughter to tell her how dearly I love her,” said Harry, boldly.
“Mr. Annesley, you should have come to me before speaking to my daughter.”
“Then I shouldn’t have seen her at all.”
“You should have left that as it might be. It is not at all a proper thing that a young gentleman should come and address a young lady in this way behind her only parent’s back.”
“I asked for you, and I did not know that you would not be at home.”
“You should have gone away at once–at once. You know how terribly the family is cut up by this great misfortune to our cousin Mountjoy. Mountjoy Scarborough has been long engaged to Florence.”