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Published in 3 volumes by F.V. White & Co., London, 1883

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Florence Marryat (1833-1899)

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"A Moment Of Madness,"
F.V. White & Co., London, 1883


In offering a re-issue of these Stories to the public, I desire to express my sincere thanks to the Proprietors of 'Temple Bar,' 'Belgravia,' 'The East Anglian Holiday Annual,' 'Judy's Annual,' 'Diprose's Annual,' 'The Editor's Box,' and 'The Bolton Evening News,' for their kindness in giving me permission to reprint them.

Florence Marryat Lean.

20 Regent's Park Terrace, N.W., May 1883.




IT is the middle of July, but the London season has not, as yet, shown any symptoms of being on the wane, and the drawing-room of the Honourable Mrs Carnaby-Hicks is arranged for the reception of visitors. Curtains of guipure lace, looped with pale-blue ribbons, shroud every window, purple irises and yellow jonquils as displayed in art needlework, adorn each chair and sofa; fanciful little tables of silk and velvet, laden with Sevres and Dresden china are placed in everybody's way, and a powerful odour of hot-house flowers pervades the apartment. A double knock sounds at the door, and the Honourable Mrs Carnaby-Hicks starts from the dose into which she has fallen, and seizing a novel, sits upright, and pretends that she is deep in its contents. But she need not have been so punctilious, for the footman, throwing open the door, announces her brother, Mr Tresham. Roland enters the room, looking fagged, dusty, and out of sorts, a complete contrast to the dainty adornments of his sister's drawing-room.

'Well, Roland!' exclaims Mrs Carnaby-Hicks, 'and what is your news? It is an age since we have seen you! I was beginning to think you must have made away with yourself.'

'No such luck,' replies her brother, moodily, 'though I believe it would be the best thing that I could do.'

He is a handsome man of only thirty years of age, but the look of care upon his brow makes him appear older. His dress is not exactly shabby, but it is the dress of a needy gentleman, and did not issue from the tailor's hands this season, nor even last.

'How are you all at home?' continues the lady.

'Just the same as usual; a medley of dirt, ill-management, and unpunctuality! I dread to enter the house.'

'Ah! Roland, it is too late to advise you now, but that marriage was the worst day's work you ever did. Not thirty till September, and with a wife and six children on your hands. It is a terrible misfortune!'

'And two hundred a-year on which to support them,' laughs Mr Tresham, bitterly. 'Don't speak of it, Valeria, unless you wish to drive me mad. And to add to my troubles I have just received this letter;' tossing it over to her.

'Who is it from?'

'Lady Tresham! Her generosity seems to be on a par with his! You see how she writes me word that Sir Ralph is in Switzerland mountain-climbing with Handley Harcourt, but that if he were at home she fears he would be unlikely to comply with my request.'

'Did you ask Ralph for money then?'

'Not as a gift. I wrote to him for a loan of fifty pounds, to carry on the war, but of course I should regard it as a debt. The fact is, Valeria, I don't know where to look for money; my profession brings me in nothing, and we cannot live on the miserable pittance my father left me. It is simply impossible!'

If Roland Tresham has entertained any hope that, on hearing of his difficulty, his rich sister will offer to lend or give him the money, which would be a trifle out of her pocket, he has reckoned without his host. She likes Roland in her way, and is always pleased to see him in her house, but the woman and the children may starve for aught she will do to help them. She considers them only in the light of a burthen and disgrace.

'I don't see why you shouldn't live on two hundred a-year,' she answers shortly. 'Of course it is very little, but if your wife were worth her salt she would make you comfortable on it. But that is what comes of marrying a beauty. They're seldom good for anything else.'

'There's not much beauty left about Juliet now,' replies Roland Tresham, 'but I don't think it is entirely her fault. The children worry her so, she has no energy left to do anything.'

'It's a miserable plight to be in,' sighs the Honourable Mrs Carnaby-Hicks, 'and I can see how it tells upon your health and spirits. What do you propose to do?'

'Do! I should like to hang myself. Do you think there is any chance, Valeria, of your husband getting me a foreign appointment? I don't care where it is. I would go out to the Fiji Islands, or Timbuctoo, or to the devil himself, to get away from it all.'

'And leave them at home?' says Mrs Carnaby-Hicks.

'Yes! Juliet should have the two hundred, and I would keep myself. Perhaps if she had only the children to look after, she might get on better. And the happiest thing for me would be, never to return!'

'I will ask Mr Carnaby-Hicks about it,' replies his sister. 'If it is to be done at all, it must be before Parliament is prorogued. But I wouldn't lose all hope with regard to Ralph on account of Lady Tresham's letter. When he returns he can hardly refuse to lend you such a trifling sum as fifty pounds.'

It does not seem to occur to her that she would miss the money as little as Sir Ralph himself.

'I shall not ask him a second time,' says Roland, 'nor Lady Tresham either. They may keep their money to themselves. But how a father can justify to himself the fact of leaving ten thousand a-year to one son, and two hundred to the other, beats me altogether!'

'The money must go with the baronetcy,' remarks his sister coolly, 'and your portion was only intended to supplement your professional income. You ought to have made a competency by this time, Roland. You would have done so, had you not hampered yourself in such a reckless manner!'

At this moment the conversation is interrupted by the entrance of a young lady, dressed in the height of the reigning fashion.

'My husband's niece, Miss Mabel Moore,' says Mrs Carnaby-Hicks, and then extending a hand to the girl, she draws her forward. 'Mabel, dear, this is my younger brother, of whom you have heard me speak. Ring the bell and let us have tea. Roland and I have had a long conversation, and I feel quite fatigued.'

Roland Tresham stares at his new acquaintance with unmitigated surprise. Miss Moore is a tall, dark girl with a commanding figure, clad in a pale, cream-coloured dress that fits it like a skin. Her rounded arms, her well-developed bust and shapely waist are as distinctly displayed as if the material had been strained across them; and the uninitiated Roland gazes at her in astonishment.

'Such a sweet girl,' whispers Mrs Carnaby-Hicks to him, as Mabel quits her side; 'I love her as if she were my daughter. As soon as the season is over, Mr Carnaby-Hicks and I are going to take her for a tour in Italy. And, by the way, Roland, could you not manage to accompany us? A second gentleman would be a great acquisition on the journey, and you would be invaluable to Mabel and me as a cicerone. Do come!'

'You might as well talk of my going to the moon, Valeria. I should enjoy it above all things, but it is impossible. Only fancy the delight though of change of scene and air and freedom from all the horrors of Camden Town. It would be like a taste of Heaven to me!'

'I am sure you could manage it if you tried! Come here, Mabel, and persuade my brother to join us in our trip to Italy.'

'Oh! Mr Tresham, do come,' says Mabel, throwing a glance at him from a pair of dark, languishing eyes. 'It will double Aunt Valeria's pleasure to have your company.'

Roland Tresham has not, as a rule, admired dark eyes in women nor commanding figures. His wife is very fair, and slight and fragile in appearance, and when he married her eight years before, he thought her the loveliest creature God ever made. But as Mabel Moore casts her black-lashed eyes upon him, he feels a very strong desire to join the travelling party to Italy.

'You hold out powerful temptations to me, Miss Moore,' he answers, 'but it is too important a matter to be settled in a day. But if I can go, you may be sure I will.'

And then he falls to wondering whether Mrs Carnaby-Hicks intends her offer to be taken as an invitation, and means to defray his expenses. For she must know he has no money to pay them himself. Meanwhile Miss Moore pours out his tea, and hands it to him in a porcelain cup with the most gracious and encouraging of smiles. It is a strange contrast to the man who knows what he will encounter on reaching home, to be seated among all the refinement of his sister's drawing-room, sipping the most fragrant Pekoe from a costly piece of china, whilst he is waited on by a handsome woman clad in a cream-coloured skin, every fold of the train of which shakes out the essence of a subtle perfume. He revels in it whilst it lasts, though after a while he rises with a sudden sigh of recollection, and says he must be going home.

'Don't forget to ask Hicks about the appointment,' he whispers to his sister as he takes his leave. 'Remember, I will take anything and go anywhere just to get away from this.'

'Very good,' she answers, 'and don't you forget that we expect you to be one of our party to Italy.'

'Yes! indeed,' echoes Mabel with a parting glance, 'I shall not enjoy my trip at all now, unless Mr Tresham goes with us!'

'What a good-looking fellow!' she exclaims as soon as the door has closed behind him. 'Aunty! why did you never tell me what he was like?'

'My dear child, where was the use of talking of him? The unfortunate man is married, and has no money. Had he been rich and a bachelor, it would have been a different thing!'

'I don't know that,' says Miss Mabel, 'for my part I prefer married men to flirt with; they're so safe. Besides, it's such fun making the wives jealous.'

'It would take a great deal to make Mrs Tresham jealous,' says the elder lady. 'They're past all that, my dear. So you can flirt with Roland to your heart's content, only don't go too far. Remember Lord Ernest Freemantle!'

'Bother Lord Ernest,' returns the fashionable young lady in precisely the same tone as she would have used the stronger word had she been of the stronger sex.

Meanwhile the gentleman is going home by train to Camden Town: a locality which he has chosen, not on account of its convenience, but because he can rent a house there for the modest sum of thirty pounds a-year. His immediate neighbours are bankers' clerks, milliners, and petty tradesmen from the West End, but the brother of Sir Ralph Tresham of Tresham Court, and the Honourable Mrs Carnaby-Hicks, of 120 Blue Street, Mayfair, has no alternative but to reside amongst them. He has chosen a profession in which he has signally failed, and has hampered himself with a wife and six children, when his private means are not sufficient to support himself. He fancies he can hear his children shouting even before he has gained the little terrace in which they reside. They are all so abominably strong and healthy: their voices will reach to any distance. And as he comes in sight of the familiar spot, his suspicions turn to certainties. Wilfrid and Bertie and Fred, three sturdy rascals with faces surrounded by aureoles of golden hair like angels' crowns, but plastered with dirt like the very lowest of human creatures, are hanging on to the palings which enclose a patch of chickweed and dandelions in front of the house, and shouting offensive epithets to every passer-by.

'Can't you keep inside and behave yourselves? How often have I ordered you not to hang about the garden in this way?' exclaims Roland Tresham, as he cuffs the little urchins right and left. The two youngest rush for protection to their mother, howling, whilst the eldest sobs out,—

'Mamma said we might play here.'

'Then your mother's as great a fool as you are,' replies the father, angrily, as he strides into the house.

Juliet Tresham is waiting to receive him, with a deep frown upon her brow. Any unprejudiced observer would see at a glance that she is a lovely woman, but it is the loveliness of beauty unadorned. Her luxuriant golden hair is all pushed off her face, and strained into a tight knot at the back of her head. Her large blue eyes are dull and languid; her lips are colourless, and her ill-fitting, home-made dress hangs awkwardly upon her figure. In her husband's eyes, all her beauty and her grace have faded long ago. He associates her with nothing now, but weak lungs and spirits, squalling children, badly-cooked dinners, and an untidy home. It is scarcely to be wondered at that she does not smile him a welcome home.

'You might inquire whether the children are in the right or wrong, before you hit them,' she says sharply. 'I told them they might play in the front garden.'

'Then they must suffer for your folly, for I won't have them hanging about the place like a set of beggars' brats.'

'It's all very fine for you to talk, but what am I to do with them cooped up in the house, on a day like this? If you had the charge of them, you'd turn them out anywhere, just to get rid of them.'

'Why don't you let the girl look after them?'

'"The girl!" That's just how you men talk! As if one wretched girl of fourteen had not enough to do to keep the house clean, and cook the dinner, without taking charge of half-a-dozen children!'

'Oh! well, don't bother me about it. Am I to have any dinner to-day or not?'

'I suppose Ann will bring it up when it is ready,' says his wife indifferently; 'you can't expect to be waited on as if you were the owner of Tresham Court.'

'D—n you! I wish you'd hold your tongue!' he answers angrily.

He calls it his dinner, for the good reason that it is the only dinner he ever gets, but it is a wretched mockery of the meal.

'What do you call this?' he says, as he examines the untempting-looking viands, and views with disgust the evident traces of black fingers on the edge of the dish. 'Take it away, and serve it me on a clean plate. I may be obliged to swallow any dog's meat you chose to put before me, but I'll be hanged if I'll eat the smuts off your servant's hands as well.'

Mrs Tresham, who is occupied at the other end of the table in cutting slices of bread and salt butter for the tribe of little cormorants by which she is surrounded, just turns her head and calls through the open door to the maid-of-all-work in the kitchen.

'Ann, come and fetch away this dish; your master says it is dirty.'

'Do it yourself!' roars her exasperated husband. 'It is quite bad enough that you are so lazy, you won't look after any of my comforts in my absence, without your refusing to set matters right now.'

His wife takes up the dish in silence, and leaves the apartment, whereupon two of the children, disappointed of their bread and butter, begin to cry. Roland Tresham, after threatening to turn them out of the room if they do not hold their tongues, leaves his seat and leans out of the open window, disconsolately. What a position it is in which to find his father's son! Outside, his neighbours are sitting in their shirt sleeves, smoking clay pipes in their strips of garden, or hanging over the railings talking with one another; in the road itinerant merchants are vending radishes, onions, and shellfish; whilst a strong, warm smell is wafted right under his nostrils from the pork-pie shop round the corner. Inside, the children are whimpering for the return of their mother round a soiled table-cloth which bears a piece of salt butter, warm and melting, a jar of treacle with a knife stuck in it, a stale loaf, a metal teapot, and knives and forks which have been but half-cleaned. A vision comes over Roland of that art-decorated drawing-room in Blue Street, with the porcelain tea-service, the silken clad figure, and the subtle perfume that pervaded the scene; and a great longing for all the delicacies and refinements of life comes over him, with a proportionate disgust for his surroundings. When his wife returns with the beefsteak, he pushes it from him. His appetite has vanished with the delay.

'I can't eat it,' he says impatiently. 'Take the filth away.'

'Well, it's the best I can do for you,' is her reply. 'It's quite enough for a woman to be nurse and housemaid, without turning cook into the bargain.'

'It is a long time since I have expected you to do anything to please me, Juliet; however, stop the mouths of those brats of yours, and send them to bed. I want the room to myself. I have work which must be done this evening.'

She supplies the children's wants, and hurries them from the room, whilst her husband sits sulking and dreaming of Blue Street. If his brother-in-law can only get him a foreign appointment, how gladly he will fly from this squalid home for ever. He pictures a life by the shores of the Mediterranean, in the forests of Brazil, on the plains of India, or the Australian colonies, and each and every one seems a paradise compared with that which he leads at present.

Mrs Tresham, putting her little ones to rest, feels also that, except for them, she would lay down her existence. She is utterly sick and wearied of her life. She is almost cross with Wilfrid and Bertie and Fred, because they will bolster one another, instead of lying down in their cots and going to sleep like pattern boys. For Baby Roland is whimpering for the breast, and two-year-old May is fractious with the pain of cutting her double teeth. Lily, her mother's help and companion, is the only one that waits patiently until her turn arrives to be undressed. But when the rest are at last subdued, or satisfied, and Juliet Tresham turns to attend to her eldest daughter, her trembling fingers have busied themselves but for a few seconds with strings and buttons, before her arms are cast around the child, and she bursts into a storm of tears.

'Mamma, why do you cry?' asks Lily anxiously.

'Oh, Lily, Lily! It is not my fault—it is not my fault.'

God help her, poor Juliet, it is not! Almost a girl in years, yet laden with cares such as few wives in her position are ever called upon to bear, she has sunk beneath the weight of an overwhelming load. Health and energy have failed her, and her husband's patience has not proved equal to the occasion, and so irritability and discontent have crept in on the one hand, and disgust and indifference on the other. And yet they loved each other once, oh! so dearly, and believed from their hearts they would have died sooner than give up their mutual affection.

But Mrs Tresham does not cry long. She persuades herself that the man downstairs is not worth crying for.

'Get into bed, Lily, darling, or papa will be coming up to see what we are about.'

'I didn't kiss papa nor wish him good-night,' says the child.

'No, no! it doesn't signify. He doesn't care for your kisses, nor for mine.'

She tucks her little girl into her bed and descends to the sitting-room again, feeling injured and hard of heart. Roland, as she enters, glances at her with a look of disgust.

'Your hair is half way down your back.'

She laughs slightly, and, pulling out the fastenings of her hair, lets the rippling mass fall over her shoulders. Roland used to admire it so much in the days gone by, and say it was the only gold he cared to possess. Has she any hope that he will recall his former feelings at the sight of her loosely falling locks? If so, she is mistaken, for he only remarks coldly,—

'I must beg you not to turn my room into a dressing-room. Go and put your hair up tidily. I hate to find it amongst my papers.'

'I believe you hate everything except your own comfort,' she replies. 'You're the most selfish man I ever came across.'

'Perhaps so! But as long as this house belongs to me, you'll be good enough to keep your opinions to yourself. If I can't have comfort when I come home, I will at least have peace.'

'And much peace I get, day or night.'

'It is by your own mismanagement if you do not.'

'How do you make that out? Has your want of money anything to do with my mismanagement? Have the children anything to do with it? You ought to be ashamed of yourself.'

'Ought I?' he returns, biting his lip. 'Then, perhaps, you'll be glad to hear that I have applied for a foreign appointment that will take me out to India, or the Brazils, for the remainder of my life.'

'Oh, Roland!' she cries, catching her breath; 'but not to leave us?'

'Certainly to leave you. That was the sole object of my application. Aren't you delighted to hear it? We lead a cat-and-dog life as things are at present, and the sooner we are separated the better.'

'But the children—and me!' she gasps, with a face of chalky whiteness.

'Oh, don't be afraid! you will be provided for.'

'But if you should be ill?' suggests the woman fearfully.

'Then I shall die, perhaps, and so much the better. You have not made my life such a heaven to me that I shall lose much by its resignation.'

Then she falls upon his neck, weeping.

'Oh, Roland, Roland! do not speak to me like that.'

But he pushes her from him. He has had no dinner, and that is a trial that never improves the masculine temper.

'Don't make a fool of yourself!' he says roughly.

Juliet raises her head and dries her eyes. She is a proud woman and a high-spirited one, and never disposed to take a rebuff meekly.

'I am a fool,' she answers. 'Any woman would be a fool who wasted a regret upon such an icicle as you are. I hope to Heaven you may get your appointment and go out to the Brazils, and never come back again; for the less I see and hear of you the better.'

'Just what I said,' remarks her husband indifferently. 'You are as sick of me as I am of you, and it's of no use disguising the truth from one another.'

'There was a time when you thought nothing too good to say of me,' she cries, hysterically.

'Was there? Well, you can't expect such things to last for ever, and you have really made my life such a hell to me of late that you can't be surprised if I look forward to any change as a blessing.'

'Oh! It has come to that, has it—that you want to get rid of me? Why don't you put the finishing stroke to your cruelty and say at once that you hate me?'

'I am afraid you are making me do something very much like it.'

'The truth is, you are tired of me, Roland! It is nursing your children and trying out of our scanty income to provide for your wants that has brought me down to what I am, and since I have ceased to please your eyes, I have wearied out your fancy.'

'Yes! my dear,' he says, with provoking nonchalance. 'You are quite right; I am very tired of you, and particularly at this moment. Suppose you leave me to my writing, and go to bed.'

Mrs Tresham rushes from the little room and slams the door behind her. But she does not go to bed. She takes a seat amongst her sleeping children, and, resting her head upon her hands, weeps for the past which is slumbering like them, although she thinks it dead. It is just nine o'clock, and as the hour strikes from a neighbouring church tower, she sees the postman coming up the street. He enters the parterre of chickweed and dandelions, and gives a double knock at the front door, whilst Mrs Tresham, sitting at her bedroom window, wonders vaguely who the letter can be from. But presently she hears a shout from below—a mingled shout of surprise and horror and excitement, and startled and curious she runs downstairs to learn the cause.

Her husband's handsome face—flushed and animated—turns towards her as she opens the door.

'What is the matter?' she exclaims hurriedly.

'What is the matter?' he repeats. 'What is not the matter? My God! can it possibly be true?'

He has leapt from his seat and passed his fingers through his hair, which is all on end. His eyes flame like living fire; his whole frame is trembling; she thinks for the moment that he has gone mad.

'Roland, you are frightening me terribly! Have you had bad news?'

'Bad news! No. Glorious news! At least I suppose I ought not to call it so, because he's my brother, but he has never been like a brother to me. Juliet! Only fancy—Ralph is dead, killed by a fall down the mountain side.'

'Oh! Poor Sir Ralph! How terrible! But perhaps it is not true.'

'It is true. This letter is from Lady Tresham's nephew, Handley Harcourt, who was with Ralph at the time of his death. And they are bringing the body to England. And—and—can't you understand? I am Sir Roland Tresham, of Tresham Court—with ten thousand a-year to keep it up on, and—Oh, my God!—my God! I believe the news will drive me mad.'

He casts himself face downwards on the rickety couch in the corner of the room, and sobs as if, without that relief, his heart would burst with joy. Meanwhile his wife stands motionless, almost unable to comprehend the sudden change in their condition, until her husband starts up again, exclaiming,—

'What a child I am. But it only proves what I have suffered. To be free, once and for ever, of all this struggling and starvation—to see my poor children placed in the position to which they were born—It is too great a change to be believed in, all at once. My boys shall enter the army and navy—and my girls have every advantage my wealth can procure them. Oh, it is too much! It has all happened so suddenly. I feel as if I should die before I come into it. Sir Roland Tresham, of Tresham Court! Sir Roland Tresham, of Tresham Court! Merciful heavens, am I awake or in a dream?'

He has never mentioned his wife whilst enumerating the advantages his new fortune will bring him. He has never once congratulated himself on the fact that she will no longer be obliged to slave and work and deny herself as she has been used to do. All he thinks of are the children and himself.

'When will you come into all this, Roland?' she asks.

'I am it now! I was the Baronet from the moment of my poor brother's death.'

'And shall we go to Tresham Court soon?'

'Directly the funeral is over. I shall see the lawyers and Valeria the first thing in the morning, and know all about it. But I would rather you went upstairs and left me alone. I must have time to become accustomed to the idea of this wonderful transformation scene. By to-morrow morning I shall be all right. Good-night! Good-night! There will be no more trouble about money now. And Sir Wilfrid shall be at Eton before he knows what he is about. By Jove! How marvellously things do come round.'

He nods her a careless farewell in an excited sort of manner, and the new Lady Tresham creeps up to her bed and takes baby Roland in her arms, and sobs herself to sleep with his chubby face pressed close against her bosom.


'Now you will be able to take that trip to Italy with us,' says the Honourable Mrs Carnaby-Hicks a few days later, as Sir Roland and she sit in the artistic drawing-room in Blue Street together. The funeral of the late baronet is over—and the new one is installed in his stead. Lady Tresham and the children are already at the Court, and Sir Roland has come up to town to see his sister. 'You can come to Italy with us,' repeats Mrs Carnaby-Hicks. 'You are sadly in need of rest and change, and it will do you all the good in the world. You will find our dear Mabel a most charming companion, and I am sure you have earned the right to take a holiday!'

'I should enjoy it above all things,' replies Sir Roland, as he glances at Miss Moore. 'But do you think it would be advisable. Shall I not be expected to take up my residence at Tresham Court, at all events for a while?'

'Not a bit of it! I hope you are not going to make yourself a slave to your position. Besides, from what you tell me, I should imagine it will be all the better for Lady Tresham to get a little accustomed to housekeeping before you rejoin her. She must need practice.'

Sir Roland lifts his hands deprecatingly.

'Heaven help my guests if she doesn't improve! But there seems to be an excellent staff of servants down there, and the majority will remain with us. And it would be so delightful to get away from it all. I thirst to leave the remembrance of the past entirely behind me—when do you start, Valeria?'

'The day after to-morrow!'

'That is sharp work. I shall hardly have time to do my business here and run down to Tresham Court and back again in a couple of days.'

'Why go down to the Court? There will only be a scene if you do. Write and tell Lady Tresham of your intention.'

'Oh, Sir Roland, I shall never forgive you if you cry off now,' interposes Mabel. 'You know it was a bargain that you should go with us if you could. And aunty means to take Venice on our way. Fancy Venice and gondolas in this heavenly weather! It will be too delicious.'

Gondolas and Mabel Moore win the day, and Sir Roland agrees to write to his wife instead of going down to Tresham Court.

'Now, you are quite, quite sure you are not telling us a story,' says Miss Moore, with a winning smile, 'because I know if you go home that Lady Tresham will not let you return to us again. You promise only to write, don't you?'

'I promise!' repeats Sir Roland, with an uneasy twinge of conscience nevertheless. But he keeps his word, and a letter by the next day's post informs Juliet that her husband is going to visit Italy with his sister, and that she must manage matters at Tresham Court as best she can until his return. This intelligence falls upon the wife like a sudden blow. She feels very strange and awkward as the mistress of this great rambling house, with its retinue of servants, but she has been seizing the opportunity of Sir Roland's absence to try and become acquainted with the ménage of the kitchen and the housekeeper's room, that she may astonish him with her aptitude on his return. And now he is going to leave her to fight with all her new responsibilities alone, whilst he is enjoying a trip upon the Continent. Well, she will not be so mean spirited a creature as to sit down and weep for his absence. She will show him that she can enjoy life as well as himself when she has the means to do so. Yet the tears chase themselves rapidly down her cheeks as she thinks thus to herself, for Lady Tresham has two nurses now to look after her children, and can afford to indulge her feelings without spectators. It is a bright sunny morning in the first week of August; the grounds of Tresham Court are filled with beautiful flowers and leafy trees and singing birds, and the pale-faced, weary woman takes her husband's letter in her hand, and seats herself beneath the shade of a cedar tree on the smooth green lawn, and indulges her sorrowful thoughts to their fullest extent.

Presently she hears a soft voice calling her by name. She looks up in surprise; beside her stands an elderly lady, dressed in widow's weeds.

'Your servants said you were not at home, Lady Tresham, but I caught a glimpse of your dress through the trees, and hoped you would not deem it a liberty if I introduced myself to you as the widow of your husband's brother.'

'Lady Tresham!' cries Juliet, springing to her feet. 'I am glad to see you, but I am very untidy; I did not expect any one to call to-day. I did not even know that you were in the county.'

'I have a house of my own about five miles from here, but I only returned to it yesterday. And so you are really Sir Roland's wife. Why, you are a mere girl.'

'Indeed, you are mistaken. It is a long time since I was a girl. I am twenty-six!'

'And I am twenty years older than yourself, so you see I have a right to consider you a girl. But you have been crying. Surely you have no trouble now. I thought all your troubles lay in the want of means.'

'We were very, very poor,' says Juliet, with proud simplicity, 'and I am hardly accustomed to the use of money yet. But I was crying—it is very foolish of me, I know, but I cannot help it—because my husband is going away.'

'Going away! and where?'

'To Italy, with his sister, Mrs Carnaby-Hicks. He has been very worried and upset lately, Lady Tresham, and he wants change, and I know it will be best for him—but—but—'

'You feel the responsibility of being left alone; that is very natural. Yet, perhaps, it will teach you self-dependence. And for my own part, I am glad Sir Roland is away just now. I want to make friends with you, my dear; to help you, if it is in my power. I know your husband has thought hard things of me, and, perhaps, of poor Sir Ralph into the bargain; but in what we did we believed we were acting for the best. Now, all that is over; you will neither of you ever want money again, but you may need advice. And I should like to begin by advising you. Why do you not take this trip with your husband? You look pale and worn out. It would do you good as well as him.'

'He does not want me,' says Juliet, sadly; 'he is only going in order to get away from me.'

'That is hardly possible. You are a wife of whom any man must be proud.'

'I used to be told I was pretty,' replies Lady Tresham, with a faint blush; 'but that was a long time ago.'

'Rubbish, child; you are in your prime. And you have six children; and I have not even one. What a happy woman you ought to be.'

But Lady Tresham does not answer. The tears are rising thickly to her eyes, and falling down her cheeks again.

'I would give them all up—yes, every one!' she cries, hysterically, 'to regain their father's love. Oh, Lady Tresham, what must you think of me for speaking like this to an utter stranger?'

'Cease to look on me as a stranger, then, dear child, and let us be friends. Cannot I do anything to help you out of this heavy trouble?'

'Nothing; nothing. It is incurable, and I must bear it as best I can. He loved me whilst I had the means to make myself look pretty; when I had a colour in my cheeks, and a gloss upon my hair. But I have lost all that, Lady Tresham. Days and nights of sickness and privation have robbed me of my beauty and his love. And then my temper grew irritable, and he sickened of his home and me; and I shall never know any happiness in this world again.'

'If you have somewhat wearied your husband's love in poverty, you must regain it in prosperity,' says Sir Ralph's widow.

'Indeed, you do not know him, Lady Tresham.'

'I do not know Sir Roland, my dear, but I have known many men, and they are all alike. The philosophy of few of them will survive their personal discomfort. Sir Roland will find things very different on his return to England, and the old feelings will have an opportunity of revival. Come, my dear girl, you must not lose heart.'

'But I am so ignorant how to order things aright,' sighs Juliet, 'I have had so little experience.'

'I will be your teacher, if you will permit me. Tresham Court always had the credit of being well governed under my reign. And first, I would make an improvement in your dress. Such a beautiful figure was never meant to be concealed under that clumsy thing.'

'I was obliged to get my mourning ready made,' says Juliet, looking down at her ill-fitting black robe.

'True; but I must send my dressmaker to you forthwith. And now let me see the dear little ones. I love children all the more that I have never been a mother.' And so the ladies, already friends, drift away into that most interesting of feminine topics, the nursery, and great plans are laid for the benefit of Juliet's little family before they separate again. On the same day Sir Roland is making his final preparations to join his sister's party, though not without a few self-reproaches, which he stifles by recalling the establishment at Forthill Terrace, Camden Town. It is only fair, he tells himself, that after so many years of domestic misery he should use his unexpected liberty by taking a little change. And for the first few days the change bids fair to fulfil its promise. The Carnaby-Hicks proceed South leisurely, taking the Rhine on their way, and Sir Roland can conceive of no more delicious sensation than floating down the River of Romance on those balmy August evenings by the side of Mabel Moore. That young lady does not spare him in any way. From the beginning she claims his attendance for herself, and exercises all her fascination freely upon the unfortunate man, who cannot help being attracted by the charms of her person, and the meaning glances she so liberally bestows upon him.

'What a pity that Juliet has not a more commanding appearance,' he thinks to himself, as he watches Mabel's fine form distinctly outlined in the moonlight. 'Miss Moore has twice her importance; she looks as if she had been born to a title.' And Mabel interrupts his reverie by a heavy sigh.

'Why do you sigh, Miss Moore?'

'I was thinking how unequally this world is balanced, Sir Roland. Everything goes wrong, doesn't it?'

'I cannot quite agree with that sentiment; not, at least, whilst you and I are floating down the Rhine together.'

'But it won't last.'

'Not for ever, unfortunately. But let us enjoy it whilst it does.'

'I cannot thoroughly enjoy myself when I know my pleasure must come to an end. When I am most happy, I remember that in a few weeks it will all be over, and we shall be back in Blue Street, and you down at Tresham Court with your wife and family.'

'Don't talk of it please,' says Sir Roland with a shudder.

'Why?' asks Miss Moore innocently; 'don't you love little children?'

'Not particularly. Do you?'

'I don't care for most people's children, but I should for yours.'

'You are very good to say so', replies Sir Roland: but he knows they are treading on dangerous ground, and the subject had better be dropped. As he lies in his berth that night, and thinks over the events of the day, he remembers how his wife told him before their marriage that she disliked children, and he had twitted her with the fact on seeing her devotion to their firstborn. And he recalls how she had looked into his face with her large blue eyes—so clear and lovely and loving as they were in those days—and whispered, 'But this is yours, Roland.' There is something like a tear in Sir Roland Tresham's eye as he turns uneasily in his berth, and thinks how those happy days have faded; but it is of Juliet, and not of Mabel, he dreams as he falls asleep. The Honourable Mrs Carnaby-Hicks sees the flirtation going on between her niece and her brother, but does not concern herself in the matter. Miss Moore knows what she is about, and is perfectly able to take care of herself; indeed, Mrs Carnaby-Hicks thinks she can already discern the instinct by which the young lady is guided. But Sir Roland, who can only interpret her words and glances by his own lights, believes himself to be on the verge of a precipice, and yet has not the moral courage to fly from a temptation that is so flattering to his vanity. Mabel's chief weapon is melancholy. She professes melancholy whenever it occurs to her, until Sir Roland is forced to demand the reason of her serious looks.

'How can you ask?' she says one evening—the first of their arrival in Venice—'when you know that auntie has asked Lord Ernest Freemantle to join our party to-morrow?'

'What difference will that make to us?'

'Why, will he not expect to be always by my side, and break in upon the pleasant têtes-à-tête we have had together?'

'Have they been so very pleasant to you then, Mabel?'

'Oh, Sir Roland, cannot you judge of my feelings by your own?'

'If I did that—' he commences fervently, but there he stops. The vision of two blue eyes, dimmed with tears, rises before him, and he stamps the temptation down.

'Whatever I may feel,' he says to himself afterwards, 'I will not allow my tongue to turn traitor,' and so Miss Moore is disappointed of her answer.

Letters came to him frequently from his wife—long letters, in which she gives him a full account of her friendship with Sir Ralph's widow, but not a word of the way in which she is managing the household.

'I shouldn't think the presence of the dowager will do much to enliven the Court,' remarks Mrs Carnaby-Hicks spitefully.

'She is not likely to teach my wife extravagance,' laughs Sir Roland; 'but Juliet and she seem to get on very well together.'

'Perhaps she is a style that suits Lady Tresham,' says his sister. 'I have always understood she was a dowdy and a screw.'

'Oh, I don't mean to let my wife screw,' replies the baronet uneasily. 'She has had little enough pin-money hitherto, poor girl, and she shall have a liberal allowance now, if nothing else.'

'Why do you call Lady Tresham "poor"?' whispers Mabel in his ear. 'I should have said she was the richest of women.'

'Not quite that,' he answers, wilfully misunderstanding her, 'though she need have no fear for the future. But she has had barely enough for comfort until now.'

'She has always had you,' says Miss Moore, softly.

'Some ladies might consider that an extra misfortune!'

'Some might,' echoes the girl with a heavy sigh, the meaning of which it is impossible to misconstrue. Lord Ernest Freemantle proves to be a simple, undersized little gentleman, who is very much enamoured of Miss Mabel Moore, and becomes proportionately jealous of Sir Roland Tresham. And the latter, delighted at the feeling he has provoked, takes pleasure in exciting it to the last degree, by a still closer attendance on the young lady. One evening, when she has refused to accompany Lord Ernest and her aunt on a walking expedition through the town, Sir Roland persuades her to go on the water with him in a gondola. Mabel assents with alacrity, and they are soon floating together over the placid surface of the canal, seated under the canopy at one end of the boat, whilst the gondoliers ply their oars to the music of their own voices at the other.

'How I wish we could go floating on like this into eternity,' remarks Sir Roland, presently.

'It would be very easy,' replies Mabel in a low voice. 'It is but to cast ourselves over the side into those dark waters and sink out of sight for ever. It would be a happier fate—at least for me—than any I have to look forward to.'

'You mustn't talk like that. You are young, and have every prospect of a happy life before you.'

'Indeed, I have not.'

'My dear Mabel, why those tears?' exclaims Sir Roland, as the girl dashes her hand across her eyes. 'What have I said to vex you?'

'Nothing. But life is so hard, and—and—disappointing.'

He passes his arm around her waist.

'Tell me what makes it so to you.'

'Oh, Roland,' she whispers, 'you know.'

The tone, the words, are too much for him. To hold a pretty woman in his arms and hear her murmuring her love for himself would be perhaps too much for any man. Anyway, it disperses all Sir Roland's prudence.

'My darling,' he says emphatically, 'why cannot we end all this misery, and live for each other from this time forward?' But as he speaks, the gondoliers alter their chant, and strike up a little Neapolitan barcarolle. It is a simple plaintive air, without much merit in itself, but the last time Sir Roland heard it, it came from Juliet's lips as she was hushing a fractious child to rest. In a moment the past scene rises before him. He can see his wife's drooping figure, the sad look in her eyes; can hear the faltering tones of her weary voice. He recalls, in fact, the mother of his children, the woman who has borne, however impatiently, the burden and heat of the day with him; and all the best part of the man's nature rises up to condemn his present faithless action.

'God in heaven!' he exclaims aloud; 'what am I saying and doing? Mabel, forgive me! It was the madness of a moment. It shall never be repeated.'

But he has said the words, and they are not to be unsaid. Miss Moore enjoys the situation. It appeals to her romantic proclivities, and she clings to him tightly even whilst she murmurs.

'Oh no; you mustn't say such things to me. It is very, very wrong. But, Roland, to know you love me atones for everything. I can die happy now.'

'Indeed, I had no right to speak to you in such a manner, but your tears made me lose sight of prudence. Mabel, promise me that you will forget what I said.'

'Don't ask me that, it will be so sweet to remember,' she says, still clinging to him. He tries gently to disengage himself.

'Sit back on your seat, there's a good girl. These fellows are looking at us. Mabel, try and be calm. We must never mention this subject again. It is too painful.'

'But why should we deny ourselves the poor delights of memory, since it is all that is left?'

'We must stamp it out. It can lead to no good for either of us; and for you, perhaps, to irreparable harm. I am not a Trojan in virtue, Mabel; you must not try me too hard.'

'But you will love me always, Roland, will you not?'

What can he say? He knows already that he does not love her at all. But he is a man, and she is a woman, and he does as many other men would do—he swears he shall never cease to care for her.

'If I were free!' he murmurs; 'but you see how it is, my darling. I am bound hand and foot, and we never can be anything more than we are to one another. I must not quite forget my poor children.'

'But we shall be friends always, shall we not?'

'The very best and closest of friends, but we mustn't trust ourselves alone again. You are too lovely, Mabel, and I—I am too weak. I am sure you must see the reason of what I say?'

'Yes; yes. But let us enjoy this one last evening together. Don't go home just yet. Remember it is for the last time.'

He cannot but yield to her entreaty, but when they reach the hotel he resolves that it must never occur again. Mabel Moore is not the woman to let him off easily. She will make him remember his avowal of that evening for ever afterwards, and Sir Roland feels that his only safety lies in flight. During the self-reproachful night that follows, when the thought of his wife and children rises up to make him acknowledge that nothing in the whole world could compensate him for the loss of that which he has held so loosely, he makes a resolution to return to Tresham Court the very next morning. Poor Juliet! Now he comes to think of it, he does not believe he has given her one kiss of congratulation on her newly-acquired dignity. They were beginning to be very unhappy in the past, he knows, but it seems hard now that he should have visited the entire blame on the head of the woman who had so much the heavier portion of the load to bear. When he rises the following morning his first act is to seek the apartments of his sister, and inform her of his determination to return to England. He finds Mrs Carnaby-Hicks radiantly triumphant, and apparently quite indifferent as to whether he remains with them or not.

'My dear Roland, you must do just as you think best, and indeed I have this moment received news that renders it very improbable that we shall be able to extend our trip to Italy this year. Lord Ernest Freemantle has proposed to our dear Mabel. Mr Carnaby-Hicks is delighted, and so am I. I have had hopes of such an occurrence for a long time (for no one could help seeing how Lord Ernest admired our dear girl), but your taking her out in the gondola alone last evening brought matters to a crisis. And indeed, were it not for the issue, I should feel almost disposed to quarrel with you, Roland, for being so careless of her reputation. It might have turned matters just the other way. You are too young and handsome to play such freaks with an unmarried girl.'

'From what you say, then, I may conclude Miss Moore has accepted Lord Ernest's offer.'

'Why, of course! What else should she do? And as he is anxious the marriage should take place as soon as possible, I suppose we shall have to go home again.'

'Then, will you convey my warmest congratulations to the bride-elect, and tell her that I trust we shall meet again in England?'

'Won't you stop and see her yourself?'

'I think not—thanks! I see there is a midday train to Paris, which I can catch if I lose no time. So I will wish you good-bye at once, Valeria!'

'Good-bye, my dear Roland! We shall, as you say, soon meet again, and I think you are wise to return, for I am afraid all our fun is over for this season!'

The midday train takes him to Paris, and the next day he finds himself on his road to Glamorganshire. The carriage in which he travels is filled with men, all strangers to him, but who converse freely with one another.

'Have you seen the new owner of Tresham Court, Conway?' asks one fellow of his neighbour.

'What, Sir Roland? Not yet! He is abroad, so I am told, and won't be home till Christmas!'

'By George! Well, if I were the owner of Lady Tresham the country wouldn't see me that didn't hold her!'

'Is she so handsome then?'

'She's better than handsome! She's one of the sweetest-looking women I ever saw. I met her at General Carroll's last week with the dowager.'

'Fair or dark?'

'Fair as a lily, with glorious golden hair, and great blue eyes as clear as spring water. She's as graceful as a gazelle, too, and got a voice like a thrush. She said she was awfully out of practice, but she sung better than anyone there.'

'I shall get my mother to take me over to Tresham Court,' says a young dandy in the corner; 'a pretty woman is not to be despised in Glamorganshire.'

'You won't get anything by that, my boy,' says the first speaker. 'Handley Harcourt, the dowager's nephew, has found her out already, and is there morning, noon, and night.'

Sir Roland is just about to proclaim that the beautiful woman they speak of is his wife, when the last sentence makes him shrink back in his seat instead. He feels ashamed to acknowledge her now. What if the scandal should be true! But no, it is impossible! Juliet has been his wife for eight long years, and faithful to him in thought, word, and deed. He would answer for her fidelity as for his own. His own! At that thought the hot blood courses through Sir Roland's veins, and mantles in his handsome face. He has not been faithful to her—he acknowledges it with shame—but he will atone as there is a heaven above him.

'Gentlemen,' he says suddenly, 'the lady you speak of is my wife, and had you all been at Tresham Court during my absence, 'morning, noon, and night,' it would not have given me a moment's uneasiness.' His confession is naturally followed by apologies, introductions, hand-shaking, and general invitations to the Court. Sir Roland even assures the somewhat shy little dandy in the corner that he has his hearty permission to flirt with Lady Tresham as much as possible. And then they all light up and try each other's cigars, and become the fastest of friends in a very few minutes. Yet as he leaves them at the station, where the carriage is in waiting to convey him home, he cannot help wondering at the enthusiasm his wife's looks have provoked amongst them. She used to be very pretty in their first wedded days, before she grew so careless of her personal appearance—when she took pride in arraying her graceful little form, and dressing her beautiful hair, but slatternly clothes and unbecoming coiffure are sufficient to conceal the beauty of any woman. Well! Sir Roland supposes that such things can be altered, but if he finds that Juliet's bad taste is irreparable, he will be content with her as she is. He has brought enough trouble on her head already—the present shall never be clouded by his reproaches nor complaints. He is so eager to make atonement for the past, that the five miles between the station and Tresham Court appear like ten; but they are accomplished at last, and the carriage rolls through the iron gates and up the wooded drive. Half-way they come upon a group of children escorted by their nurses and a groom. Two beautiful boys in velvet suits, with golden curls falling over their Vandyke collars, are mounted on one pony, whilst another animal carries a pair of panniers, from which familiar little faces and blue eyes gaze up expectantly to meet his own.

'Can those be my children?' exclaims Sir Roland to himself; and then he gives the order to stop, and another minute sees him in the midst of them. But what a change! He can scarcely believe they are the same brats who, six weeks ago, used to hang over the garden palings in Camden Town, and put out their tongues at the passers-by—Lily and May in their white frocks and black ribbons, and little Roland in his smart pelisse; and the boys looking such noble fellows in their jackets and knickerbockers, with sunny hair, and clean faces and hands—it seems like a dream to the father as he kisses them all round, and admires the ponies and the panniers to their hearts' content. He strides on to the house with his bosom swelling with pride at the appearance of his little ones, and is almost too pre-occupied to notice that everything is perfectly arranged within the Court and out.

A footman meets him at the door with the information that her ladyship awaits him in the morning-room, and thither, still in a dream, Sir Roland rapidly proceeds. As he enters the apartment he starts back, thunderstruck with amazement. A lady stands upon the hearthrug—a woman delicately fair, and very lovely, though still too thin and pale, and with tears of expectation and suspense within her eyes.

She is robed in black velvet, fitting closely to her graceful figure—at her throat and wrists are falls of Venetian lace—and her dainty feet are cased in silk stockings and buckled shoes. Her golden hair cut short upon her brow, is piled in innumerable little curls upon the top of her head, which grow longer and longer until they lay in a flossy mass upon her neck and shoulders. For a moment, Sir Roland gazes at this unlooked-for apparition in utter silence.

'Husband!' says Juliet shyly, 'don't you know me?'

'My dearest!' he exclaims, rushing forward and clasping her in his arms; 'how beautiful you have become.'

Then, with the touch of his arms and lips, all her womanhood asserts itself, and she casts herself, sobbing, on his breast.

'Oh, Roland! forgive me! forgive me! Take me back and love me as you used to do!'

'What have I to forgive you, darling?'

'All my ill-temper and impatience and want of fortitude. I bore our lot so badly—I did not deserve to have it bettered—and now that prosperity has come to us, I feel it will be worthless without your love.'

'But you have my love, Juliet! you have never lost it. The ills and discomforts of poverty soured my nature, and made me behave like a brute to you; but my heart has been yours through it all, dearest wife, and I have never been more convinced of the fact than during our present separation.'

She looks up at him and smiles—oh! such a heavenly smile of renewed happiness and hope.

'And, Roland, you are quite, quite sure that you love me best of all the world! That there is no other woman dearer to you than myself?'

He has just one twinge as she puts the question to him; but men are used to twinges, and he can answer honestly,—

'Not one, my love!—not a single one! nor ever shall be. Take your husband's word for it, and let us resolve from this moment to banish the painful memory of the Past, and live for each other only in the Future.'

And so they have and do, and there is only one thing that Lady Tresham cannot understand, which is Sir Roland's rooted aversion to Lady Ernest Freemantle. He will not let his wife invite her down to Tresham Court, although she has often hinted she would like to visit them, and all the excuse he can give for his conduct is that he does not choose to cultivate the lady's acquaintance.

So the matter rests, and as long as Sir Roland does not renew it, there is no need he should confess the little scene that took place in the gondola on the moonlighted Venice canal.




June 4th, 18—.—Thermometer at 100 in the shade, and up to heaven knows where in the sun; somewhere about boiling heat, I should imagine, if I may judge by the state of my shirt sleeves. A cheerful climate in which to ask a man to spend the best days of his life, for the visionary prospect of surviving twenty years' service and retiring on half-pay. If it were not for Janie, I could not stand it. Here we are, cooped up in an old Dutch fort, with three miles of desert plain between us and the sea; the very house we live in built on the remains of a cemetery; the ruined graves of which stare us in the face every time we look out of the drawing-room windows. The consequence of which is, that Janie would not stay in the house by herself after dark for any earthly consideration; and if she cannot procure a female friend to dance attendance on her fears, I am cut out of my bachelor entertainments. Not that I wish to complain; far from it; it would be hard if I could not give up some pleasures in exchange for such a wife as mine—but I have found it awkward at times. Then we have no society but such as the regiment affords; and as a married man I am, of course, not so much at the mess as heretofore. Altogether Mushin-Bunda is not lively; and my wife is the only creature who makes it bearable to me.

I don't wonder that the whole cantonment voted me a lucky fellow when I obtained the promise of her hand. The first time I ever saw her at the house of her married sister—the wife of Delville, of our 44th, since ordered to Burmah—I thought her the prettiest, most lovable little woman I had ever seen; and during the twelve months of our happy married life, I have had no reason to alter my opinion. Janie is all that a man could possibly desire in a wife; and so I tell myself twenty times a day. Never have I seen her face clouded with passion or ill-humour: whatever I propose to do is invariably the thing she has just been wishing for; she never dissents from me either in opinion or desire; she never even meets me without the same quiet smile, which has deservedly gained her the credit of being such 'a very sweet young woman.' She is a cushat-dove, made to nestle into a man's affections and to remain there; for who with a heart could bear to wound the feelings of one so sensitive and pure? I don't believe at this moment, that in all the length and breadth of India there exists a happier or more contented fellow than myself; and if we only had a little more society, a little company occasionally to turn our thoughts from dwelling incessantly upon ourselves, our life would leave nothing to be desired. Not but what my Janie is the world to me; still, a woman is but a woman after all, and the days are apt to become monotonous.

Oh, this horrid Mushin-Bunda! could anything reconcile me to a life-long expatriation in a place like this? The very thought is desolation.

June 6th.—Two days ago I was complaining of the lack of company to be found in Mushin-Bunda. This evening I feel inclined to write myself down an ass, and say that my foolishness has returned upon my own pate, for we are likely to have more company than we care for. I was in the verandah this morning smoking and grumbling, and as I turned from the contemplation of the glaring compound to where Janie sat in her white dress, bending over some letters she had just received, I decided she was the only cool thing within my range of sight. The dogs were lying panting on the gravel with their tongues out. The constant motion of the flapping punkah did not appear to do more than stir the heat. Even the quiet easy-going tailor sitting cross-legged at my feet, could not proceed with his work unless he dipped his black fingers every minute in a bowl of water. Everything looked hot, horrible, and sticky, except Janie herself. But there sat my cushat-dove—half buried in the flounces of her muslin dress—a fair, plump, placid little woman; the effect of heat on whom is only to make her look more white and cool, with her sunny hair drawn off her tranquil features, and her calm blue eyes riveted on the open letter which she held in her hand. None of your passionate, raving, storming creatures this, who nearly squeeze you to death one moment, and stick a knife into you the next; but a proper sort of woman for a wife and mother, or so I choose to call her; and I really couldn't take my eyes off her moonlight beauty, until I was roused from my reverie by hearing her plaintive voice exclaiming,—

'Oh dear! oh dear! how very unfortunate! Whatever will the poor girl do?'

'Of whom are you talking, my darling?' I asked, as I cast away the remains of my cigar, and advanced towards her.

'Of my cousin Lionne, Robert dear; Margaret Anstruther, of whom I have so often spoken to you. I told you some time ago, didn't I, that in consequence of her mother's death she was coming out to the care of our uncle, Colonel Anstruther, at Madras?'

'Well, what of it? Has she arrived?'

'No; but this letter is from Uncle Henry, and he is in such a dilemma. He expected Margaret to be with him four or five mails ago; but her guardians have delayed and delayed to send her out; and now, just as he is ordered off to China to join his regiment, he receives a letter to say that she will arrive by the next steamer.'

'And he will have left Madras?'

'Yes; and for six months at least. He does not know what on earth to do about it.'

And Janie, in an uncertain manner, kept turning the sheet of paper over and over in her hands.

'He must ask one of his lady friends to receive Miss Anstruther,' I suggested.

'So he would, Robert, were it not for so long a time. But a six months' visit is too much to expect from any stranger. If Emma were only here, Uncle Henry would have sent Margaret to her.'

'It is certainly very inconvenient,' I remarked carelessly.

'I suppose, Robert dear,' said Janie, in a dubious and hesitating manner,—'I suppose we could not offer to take in Margaret till Uncle Henry returns from China?'

I started. The idea had not presented itself to me before, and it was certainly not a pleasant one. I hope I am not of an inhospitable turn of mind; but the prospect of having a perfect stranger located beneath our roof for such a length of time was anything but agreeable to me. I remembered Janie's want of companionship, and the many times I had had to resign the society of my brother-officers on her account, and felt resigned; but the next moment I thought of all my quiet evenings with my loving little wife being broken in upon; of our cosy walks, and talks, and drives being done away with, and for six long months—and I daresay I did look blank. Indeed, I must have done so; for Janie, who is not, generally speaking, what is termed quick of observation, saw the change in my countenance and commented upon it.

'You don't like the notion, Robert dear?' she said, in a tone of disappointment.

'Well, Janie, I can't say I do; but if it must be, it must be. What does your uncle say on the subject?'

'He says it would be a great convenience, of course, and that he does not know to whom else to apply, or he would not trouble us. And Margaret and I were at school together, Robert: we were brought up quite like sisters; so it would seem strange if she were to go to anyone else. And it is only for six months; and Uncle Henry says that he does not expect us to be put to any expense about it, for that he—'

'Oh, blow the expense!' I irreverently interrupted. 'When does Colonel Anstruther leave Madras, Janie?'

'Next week; and Margaret is to arrive the week after.'

'And what arrangements can he make for her joining us at Mushin-Bunda?'

'Mrs Grant, a friend of his, has offered to receive Margaret on her arrival, and to keep her until a steamer starts for here, which will probably not be long first.'

'Very well. Write to your uncle, and say that we shall be proud to give Miss Anstruther house-room until such time as he may be able to reclaim her.'

'And you're not vexed about it, Robert dear?' said Janie timidly.

I stooped and kissed her.

'Not a bit, darling,' I answered gaily. 'Half-a-dozen cousins could make no difference to our love; and as long as that remains unaltered, I care for nothing else.' Upon which my little wife brightened up again, and prepared to write an answer to her uncle's letter; and I lit another cigar, and resumed my old position in the verandah.

I told Janie that the stranger's coming could make no difference to me; but I feel that I have not spoken the truth in saying so, and I blame myself for thinking as strongly as I do upon the subject. Surely I am swayed by prejudice.

After all, supposing that Miss Anstruther does remain with us during the whole of her uncle's sojourn in China, where will be the great misfortune of entertaining a young lady for a few months? and how could we have done otherwise than offer to receive a friendless girl, arriving in the country under such peculiar circumstances? who has also, by marriage, become a connection of my own, and been reared in such intimate relations with my wife, as to be looked on by Janie almost in the light of a sister. It would have been quite impossible to act otherwise; therefore I feel I had better make a virtue of a necessity. At the same time, try as I will, I cannot bring myself to look on the anticipated visit as a pleasure, although I am sure that much of my prejudice arises from my wife's innocent praises of her cousin, which prove Miss Anstruther to be so opposite, in appearance and disposition, to herself, that I feel I shall never like the girl. Well, I was wishing for more society in Mushin-Bunda; and now I shall have it. Some one to dance attendance on, and to mind my p's and q's before, for the next six months; and if I haven't had enough of society before the end of that time, it's a pity. Warren says it's all nonsense; that he had a friend of his wife's once staying in the house for several weeks, and that it was great fun; and that before Miss Anstruther has been with us half that time, I shall look on her as a sister, and forget all about my p's and q's.

I laugh at the idea, and pretend to agree with him; but it is of no use; a presentiment of annoyance for me seems to cling to the name of Margaret Anstruther, until I wish I had never even heard its sound. However, as I said to my wife, what must be, must be, and the best method of evading a worry is not to think about it. Easier said than done!

June 16th.—If anything were necessary to make me take a still farther dislike to the idea of our expected guest, it would be provided in the fact that Janie and I have nearly come to words about her, for the first time in our married life.

'Come, darling,' I said to her this evening, when at last the fierce sun had sunk below the horizon, and it was possible to quit the house; 'put on your hat, and let us have a little stroll in the compound together, we may not have many more opportunities of walking alone.'

Our 'compound,' as the ground surrounding an Indian bungalow is usually called, is a large piece of uncultivated land, sheltered by lanky cocoa-nut trees, and carpeted with burnt-up turf from end to end, whereof is cut a sandy track, which we term our carriage-drive.

Janie was ready in a moment, and up and down the track of sand we wandered, arm-in-arm, inhaling eagerly the faint breath of sea-air wafted to us from across the plain which separates us from the ocean.

'Oh, Robert dear!' said Janie, casting up her pensive blue eyes to meet my own, 'I wish I had never written that letter to Uncle Henry. I am more sure every day that you don't like the notion of Lionne staying with us.'

I can't think what put the letter or her cousin into my wife's head at that particular moment; for I have not alluded to the subject for several days past.

'My dearest child,' I answered her, 'whether I like it or not is of little consequence. There is no alternative; therefore we must bear the infliction as best we may. Thank heaven, it will not be for ever.'

'But you are not to look upon it as an infliction, Robert,' said Janie, as she squeezed my arm, 'because, directly you see Margaret, you will like her.'

I shrugged my shoulders incredulously.

'But indeed you will,' continued my little wife with, for her, a most unusual display of energy. 'You don't know how nice-looking she is; tall and slight, with large dark eyes and—'

'Yes, yes, I know,' I interrupted impatiently. 'Six feet high, and gaunt as a cab-horse, with flaming black eyes and hair, and a complexion like Spanish olives. I know the sort of woman, Janie; you've described her to me often enough. The less said about her beauty the better.'

'But she's not a bit like that,' said dear little Janie, almost ready to cry at my description of her cousin. 'Lionne is very graceful and exceedingly handsome; every one says so. Indeed, Robert dear, you are quite mistaken.'

'She won't be handsome to me,' I answered, appeasing her with a kiss, 'since she must be so different from yourself, Janie. Nothing will go down with me, darling, except it be golden hair and a marble skin; and then they must be the hair and the skin of but one woman in the world.' And I looked into the face of my cushat-dove until I made her blush and laugh nervously with her tremulous happiness. Dear little Janie! God keep me ever true to her!—'Why do you call your cousin "Lionne," instead of by her proper name?' I asked, as soon as the billing and cooing episode had somewhat subsided, and we had leisure to revert to the subject under discussion. 'Margaret is pretty enough, and the other has no connection with it, let alone its signification rendering it very unsuitable for a lady.'

At this question my wife reddened; but, after a little pressing, confessed it was a nickname which had been bestowed on Miss Anstruther at school.

'She is a dear, generous creature, Robert dear,' she pleaded; 'but just a little hasty, or at least she used to be; but of course she will have got over all that by this time' (not so sure, thought I); 'and we girls used to call her 'La Lionne' just for fun, you know, and somehow the name stuck to her. Oh, you should have seen her in a rage!' continued Janie, warming beneath the recollection; 'her eyes used to flash such glorious fire, and she didn't seem to care what she did. Once, when I offended her, she flew at me just like a little cat, and bit me on the arm.' And Janie laughed softly at the remembrance which made my blood boil.

'What a she-devil!' I exclaimed indignantly, as I thought of the fair flesh, of which I was so tender, lacerated by the teeth of a gaunt school-girl with vicious black eyes. 'I should like to have caught her at it!'

Then Janie seemed to think she had said too much, and tried to retract.

'Oh, but, Robert dear!' she exclaimed, 'she is very different now, you know; that all happened long ago; and though we still call her Lionne, it is seldom that she ever gives way to her temper. I have not seen her for some years; but when we last met we had not a word together during the whole period of her stay.'

'And how long may that have been, Janie?'

'For three weeks; and she was so pleasant and kind, you can't think.'

Three weeks! I groaned in my spirit; and we are to endure six months of the company of this lady who is called Lionne, in compliment to the amiability of her disposition, and bites and scratches like a cat whenever she is offended. I began to think of clothing myself and my wife in mail armour during the period of her stay, so that we might be invulnerable to her attacks; but a remark to that effect to Janie seemed greatly to discompose her.

'It is not fair of you, Robert dear,' she said, with knitted brows, 'to take my confidence in such a spirit. It is all nonsense to suppose that Margaret will be like that now; she is a charming girl, who is universally admired.'

'I am delighted to hear it,' I replied sarcastically. 'I hope, however, that she won't take a liking to me; or that, if she does, she will keep her charming teeth to herself.'

'I daresay you won't be troubled with her long,' exclaimed Janie, with a degree of excitement which I foresaw would end in tears. 'Margaret attracts lovers wherever she goes, and we shall have her engaged and married most likely before she has been many weeks in Mushin-Bunda.'

'Worse and worse,' I inadvertently replied. 'If I thought that was to be the end of it, Janie, I should cut and run at once.'

Visions of my brother officers lounging about the drawing-room all day, and snarling at each other like rival curs—of a wedding, and all the paraphernalia and fuss attendant on it—made me give vent to the horror which I felt in the anticipation.

'Ah! you didn't think it all so horrid a year ago!' said my wife, melting into the promised tears; 'but I suppose you have forgotten that by this time, or wish, perhaps, that it had never been.'

The conclusion struck me as unreasonable; but when women arrive at that stage they are not in a fit state to be argued with, and are best left alone.

'It's very different when one plays first fiddle in the case, dear child,' I answered soothingly; but Janie was no longer in a humour to be soothed.

'I don't believe you think so, Robert,' she said; 'and as for poor Lionne, I'm sure—'

'Oh, for heaven's sake! let's talk of something else than poor Lionne!' I answered hastily. 'I'm sure we've had enough of her for one evening; and, for my part, I'm getting quite sick of her name.'

It was a foolish, unthinking speech to make; and Janie took it so thoroughly to heart, that she walked away from my side into the house, and had cried herself sick and ill before I had the manliness to find her out and ask her pardon for my rudeness, and promise to try and like her cousin for her sake. I must be more careful of Janie. She is not strong enough to endure much emotion; and she loves me so tenderly, that the least suspicion of unkindness on my part upsets her.

Well, this is the first shadow of a disagreement that we have ever had; may it be the last! That it has occurred on the subject of Margaret Anstruther, is not likely to increase my predilection in favour of that young lady.

June 17th.—I did not go to bed till late last evening, for I was vexed at what had taken place between myself and Janie, and could not readily compose myself to sleep. However, I did so at last, vowing to endure all the cousins in creation fastened upon me for all time, sooner than bring another needless tear into the tender eyes of my cushat-dove; and was wakened at gun-fire this morning by the intelligence that the Ostrich (the steamer by which we expected Miss Anstruther to arrive) was telegraphed from Coeranapoot, and would be off Mushin-Bunda in the course of a few hours.

Owing to the agreeable peculiarities of the place we live in, I was obliged at once to rise from my bed, and prepare to ride down to the fort, the currents here being of such a nature that vessels cannot come within a couple of miles of land; and if boats are not ready on their arrival to convey the passengers on shore, they carry them on without ceremony to the next port. I wakened Janie with a dozen kisses, begged and prayed of her to think no more of what happened last night, assured her that I intend to be all that is amiable, and learn to like her cousin as much as she does, and having thrown myself into my clothes, departed full of good resolutions, leaving her childish face radiant with smiles, and beaming in expectation of the coming meeting.

As I turned my horse out of the compound, I met a brother officer, Forster by name, also mounted, and riding apparently in the same direction.

'Where are you off to so early?' I inquired.

'I am going on board the Ostrich,' he replied, 'to try and get a sight of my friend Dunn, who is to cross to Burmah in her. Will you come with me?'

'It is where I am bound for. I am on my way to meet Miss Anstruther, my wife's cousin.'

'Lucky dog!' said Forster. He is one of those fellows who imagine that no age, position, or circumstances are powerful enough to prevent a man admiring a pretty woman. 'If all I have heard about her from Dunn is true, you are not likely to have your house much to yourself whilst Miss Anstruther is in it, Norton.'

'Well, I shall go out of it, then,' I answered, not over pleased at the notion of never being left in peace with Janie.

'Dunn says she's beautiful. I didn't know you expected her in the Ostrich. He'll never believe now that I went on board with the intention of seeing himself.'

'He must have but a small opinion of your friendship for him.'

'Ah, yes, perhaps; but this is not an ordinary occasion. From all I hear, Norton, Miss Anstruther must be—you'll excuse my saying so—a regular out-and-outer.'

'Indeed! You know more about her than I do. She has not been above a week or ten days in Madras.'

'I know; but Dunn was introduced to her in England, and quite excited to find she had come out to this country. Will she remain long with you?'

'Till Colonel Anstruther returns from China,' I replied, with an inward sigh.

'Lucky fellow!' repeated Forster, with a grin. 'Don't you wish he may lay his venerable bones there?'

I did not feel equal to pursuing this conversation in the strain which Forster evidently expected of me, and so I tried to turn it.

'The tide is very high to-day,' I remarked, as we rode into the fort, and came in sight of the sea.

'By Jove! so it is; and yesterday it barely washed the landing-quay. What a sell it would be, Norton, if some day this sea, with its changeable tides, was to take it into its head to overflow the fort and flood the cantonment!'

'How could it?' I exclaimed, hastily.

The idea is ridiculous, and as ridiculous my feeling annoyed at it, for I have never heard it mooted by any one before; and yet it is not a pleasant one; for the plain is so very level, and we have no protection whatever from the encroachments of the ocean.

'Well, I don't know,' he answered; 'but I think I've read of such things. It would be a regular washing for these poor devils in the fort, though, wouldn't it?'

'Don't talk of anything so horrible!' I answered.

And then we hailed a boat; and dismounting from our horses, gave them into the charge of their native grooms, and were soon dancing over the sunny waves. It was dancing with a vengeance; for the cross-currents are so various, that at one moment we were driven a long way out of our course, and the next shot back again in the opposite direction with a rapidity which threatened to upset the frail structure to which we had trusted ourselves. Meanwhile the Ostrich steamed slowly into sight, and took up her station at the usual distance from land; whilst we beat about the harbour for more than an hour, wondering if we should ever board her; and half afraid, more than once, that she would depart again without our having accomplished it. But we were successful at last; and the first object which I saw on reaching the deck was the figure of a girl, sitting apart by herself in a distant and reserved manner, which I immediately singled out as that of Miss Anstruther, and the sequel proved that I was right.

'Is Miss Anstruther on board?' was the query which Forster put to his friend Dunn, as they met at the head of the gangway.

'Yes, she is,' was the reply; 'but I can't say I've seen much of her. She seems very different from what she was in England last year. But I think she hates this country, and—'

'Dunn, this is my friend Captain Norton; allow me to introduce you. Mrs Norton is Miss Anstruther's cousin, Dunn; he has come on board expressly to meet her.'

'Oh yes, of course; very happy, I'm sure,' said Mr Dunn; and in consequence no farther allusion was made to Miss Anstruther's likes or dislikes.

Meanwhile I found the captain, and got him to introduce me to the young lady. It was a proud cold face which she turned towards me as my name was mentioned to her, and the hand she offered lay very passive in my grasp; but she said all that was pleasant and polite, and intimated that her luggage was ready to be put into the boat, and she to follow me at any time, so that there was no reason for delay; and after I had assured her how eagerly Janie was on the look-out for her arrival, and she had bidden adieu to the captain, we prepared to return to shore. We were obliged to have two boats on account of the luggage; and what was my surprise to see Forster slip down after us into the second, as though he were one of the party.

'You have deserted the company of your friend Dunn very quickly,' I remarked to him. 'The Ostrich does not leave for another hour. I thought you were going to breakfast on board.'

'I thought of doing so,' he answered carelessly (he had been talking of nothing else on our way there); 'but perhaps it's better not—might miss the boat, you see, which would be awkward. Will you introduce me to Miss Anstruther?'

I went through the required formula; but after the customary acknowledgment of it, Miss Anstruther took no further notice of Mr Forster or myself, and the conversation, after several ineffectual attempts to draw her into it, was kept up between us alone. Meanwhile, I could not help stealing an occasional glance to where my wife's cousin sat, calm and silent, gazing on the bright glancing waters, and answering the occasional remarks directed to her with a smile which was almost too faint to be called so. Only once did I see the expression of her face change; and that was when the cross-current caught the boat and drove it all slanting and edgeways, like a bird across the bay, with a velocity which, for the moment, considerably unsettled each of us. She grew a little paler then, and I saw her hand (rather a nice hand, by-the-bye) grasp the seat which she occupied; but still she said nothing.

'Don't be frightened, Miss Anstruther,' I interposed hastily; 'there is no real danger. The native boatmen are so skilful that it is very seldom a boat is upset here.'

'Thank you,' she murmured, in answer to my information, and for a moment her eyes met mine (she has fine eyes, certainly); and the next time the boat was driven out of her course I saw, by the unmoved expression of her face, that she remained at ease.

I suppose it was very courageous, and all that sort of thing; but I don't think I liked her any the better for it. A woman, in my idea, is a creature to be protected, and not to take care of herself. I remember how Janie shrieked and screamed and clung to me when I brought her on shore in one of those very boats; and I think I should have liked it better if Miss Anstruther had exhibited a little more fear. However, everybody is not like my Janie. When we landed at the fort, Forster, who is our adjutant, was obliged to leave us, and allow me to take my guest home in a carriage; but though she talked a little more when we found ourselves alone, she was anything but sociable; and I was thankful when we had turned into our own compound, and I could tell her to look out for Janie on the steps. There was my little bird, of course; all fluttering with pleasure at the delight of meeting her cousin again; and as soon as Miss Anstruther had reached the porch she flew into her arms, and her happiness found vent in a burst of excited tears. I expected to see the stranger follow suit, knowing that women often cry most when they are most pleased; but not a drop fell from her eyes. She clasped my wife very closely to her, it is true, and I saw her lip and nostril twitching; but she showed no further signs of emotion, though Janie did tell me that, after they had passed into the bedroom together, her cousin indulged in what she technically termed 'a good cry.' However, of this I knew nothing. The two girls (Janie is but eighteen, and Miss Anstruther a year older) remained closeted together for more than an hour; and when they reappeared at the breakfast-table they looked as fresh as their muslin dresses, and as far from tears as the day was from rain.

And now, what am I to say of Miss Anstruther's personal appearance? She is certainly very different from what I imagined—altogether different. I will acknowledge so far; and yet I don't know if I am agreeably surprised in her or not. She is tall and slight, though not at all thin, with a lithe figure which reminds me of a leopard or some such animal; and every time she moves I expect to see her take a waving serpentine leap which shall land her noiselessly on the opposite side of the room; which peculiarity brings so forcibly to my mind her nickname of 'Lionne' that I have very nearly called her by it more than once to-day. Her complexion is pale and sallow (Janie calls it 'creamy'—so I suppose that is the right name for it), and her eyes, which are enormous (much too big, in my opinion; I dislike startling eyes in animals or women), are black, and very variable in their expression. Her nose is straight, and rather sharp; and she has an absurdly short upper lip, with a deep channel in the centre of it—in fact, scarcely any upper lip at all. But she has a pretty set of teeth (I record this fact to show that I am not permitting myself to be in the least swayed by prejudice), and apparently a large quantity of dark hair—at least Janie tells me that when unbound it reaches to her knees.

Still, although doubtless she can boast of some good features, to call such a woman beautiful is absurd; and one has only to see her stand side by side with my rosebud wife to perceive the worse points which she possesses. It brings out at once, as I made Janie laugh by observing, all the yellow that is in her. She is not so plain, perhaps, as I expected; but 'beautiful' is the last epithet I should apply to Margaret Anstruther. No woman who is not fair can possibly be pretty; and how any man can prefer a dark face is to me inexplicable.

June 18th.—She certainly is a most extraordinary girl, and even more disagreeable than I thought her yesterday. We really got on so well together the first day; she chatted so pleasantly during the forenoon to Janie and myself, and sung to us in the evening (she has not got a bad voice by any means), that I began to think I had made a mistake about her cold, reserved manner, and that if her visit were to last for six weeks instead of six months, it might not prove such an affliction. And so, wishing to make myself agreeable, I told Janie this morning at breakfast that she must be sure and order a very good dinner, as I intended to ask some of my brother officers to dine with us. I knew that Forster and others were anxious to make Miss Anstruther's acquaintance; and a bright thought struck me this morning, that if I manage well we may get her engaged and married, and out of the way altogether in the course of a month. Of course, it will be a great deal of bother; but it will be much better to get it over in that manner than to have it spun out for several months, and to wind up perhaps with a wedding after all. So I have determined to be very hospitable, and keep open house for the next few weeks; and I sha'n't let Janie interfere with her cousin in any way; and we will see what that will do. My wife opened her blue eyes when I informed her of the impending guests, and said no one had called on Miss Anstruther yet.

'Of what consequence is that?' I said. 'The whole regiment will call this morning, and I know they will be dying for an invitation afterwards;' and I nodded in a knowing manner at Miss Anstruther, as much as to say that I knew all about it.

'I hope you do not invite them on my account,' she said, curtly, answering my look.

'I invite them on their own, Miss Anstruther. You do not seem to know your value. Young ladies are very scarce in Mushin-Bunda; you could not have come to a better place, if you want to have it all your own way. I don't think you will find a rival here.'

'A glorious thought to goad one on to victory,' she said, sarcastically, and her manner seemed to change from that moment. She became again reserved and haughty; and when I returned home from my professional duties, Janie met me almost in tears, with the intelligence that she was sure dear Lionne was not well, for she had scarcely spoken a word all day, and had sat so silent during the visits of the officers of the regiment that Janie had had all the talking to do.

'Never mind!' I answered soothingly; 'she will be different after dinner. A glass of champagne will thaw her reserve, and draw her out of herself.'

'But I so much wished that they should admire her,' said dear little Janie in a despondent voice.

My predictions, however, with respect to Miss Anstruther were not verified. She looked very handsome this evening in a sweeping white dress ('handsome' is the correct term of her style of beauty; no one could call her 'pretty,' like Janie for instance, but she certainly looks handsome, particularly by candle-light), but nothing prevailed to make her sociable; neither my champagne nor my wife's coaxing could induce her to talk or sing as she did last night. She spoke in monosyllables, and professed herself too tired for any display; and the five men whom I had asked to dine with us sat alternately talking to my wife, and staring at her guest, until the time for their departure had arrived. Janie sung us two or three ballads in her sweet plaintive little voice, but we had heard them before, of course, and should have been glad of something new. But all our pressing and entreaty were in vain. Miss Anstruther said she was too fatigued to sing; and declining even to sit amongst the company, stood by a window gazing out upon the night. Presently, almost too vexed at her singular behaviour to remember my politeness, I approached her side, and said, perhaps rather abruptly,—

'Why won't you sing for us?'

'Because I don't choose,' she answered, fearlessly.

'I thought so,' I said; and turning away I quitted her again, and took a seat by Janie's side. But after a while some fascination, for which I am unable to account (but which has been felt at times by all people who on earth do dwell), made me feel that Miss Anstruther was regarding me, and lifting my eyes, I encountered the glance of hers fixed on my face. She withdrew them quickly; but not before their gaze had made me feel uncomfortable—a sensation which I attribute to the fact of their colour, which I have never liked, and believe I never shall.

The rest of the evening passed dully enough, and I am sure Janie was as relieved as I was when our friends rose to take their leave, and Miss Anstruther disappeared in the privacy of her own room.

'You can't say that Mademoiselle Lionne has made herself very agreeable to-night,' I exclaimed rather triumphantly, as Janie and I found ourselves alone.

But Janie was hardly a subject to be triumphed over, she was so very humble and apologetic.

'I can't think what is the matter with her, Robert dear; but I assure you she is not sulky. Only this moment she put her arms round my neck and kissed me—oh, so nicely! but I don't think she likes dinner-parties. We won't give another.'

'Not like dinner-parties!' I exclaimed.

'No—nor men. She told me she wouldn't sit in the drawing-room to-morrow morning.'

'Not like dinner-parties or men!' I exclaimed, aghast at the intelligence. 'And how the deuce is she to get married, then?'

'Perhaps she doesn't want to get married,' said Janie demurely.

'Doesn't want to get married!' I growled. 'Don't tell me such nonsense! If she doesn't want to get married, what is she out here for?'

'Oh, hush! Robert dear; don't speak so loud,' interposed my wife, as she laid her little hand across my mouth. 'Do remember, her room is the next one to this.'

So the conference was stopped, and I cut into my dressing-room to write my diary. But I never heard such nonsense, and I wouldn't believe it on the girl's own oath. Not like men or dinner-parties, forsooth! It is only a young lady's trick to attract attention by appearing to decline it. We shall never get rid of her at this rate.

N.B.—Her eyes are not black. I was mistaken. They are grey, and not such a very dark grey either, except when she is annoyed. It is only in some lights that they look black. They are fine eyes; but more suited, I should think, to war than love.

June 19th.—In some way or other I have offended my lady, for she will hardly speak to me; and when I proposed to drive her to hear the regimental band play this evening (Janie not being well), rejected my offer with a decision which amounted to scorn. Yet she stayed by Janie's sofa (so I was told afterwards) during the whole term of my absence, bathing her head with eau de Cologne, and fanning her, and attending to all her wants in the most womanly manner; so I suppose she has some good in her, after all. But so have serpents and tigers, and other beasts of prey. All I know is, that I'm not going to be insulted by a girl in my own house, and I shall let Miss Anstruther feel this by keeping up a distance between us, and treating her with the coldest reserve. Just when I had been forcing myself to show her politeness, in spite of all the repulsion I feel to her society, to have my offer rudely rejected is more than any man can stand. It makes my blood boil to recall the tone in which she told me she was 'infinitely obliged,' but thought, on the whole, she would rather 'remain at home.' She may remain at home for ever for me now; it will be a long time before I offer to take her out again.

June 21st.—We have been at it now for two days, bowing to each other when we meet, and scarcely exchanging a word except in the most formal manner. Janie sees the change, of course, and is wretched about it. She keeps turning her wistful glances from one to the other, as if to entreat us to make it up and be friends; but when she appeals to me in private, I tell her that it is the fault of her cousin, who is the one to make the first advances towards reconciliation, as I have not the slightest idea in what I have offended; and when she talks in her turn to Lionne, I believe she hears pretty much the same argument. I hope, however, for all our sakes, that this kind of thing won't go on much longer; for I know that it's deucedly disagreeable, and that I've never felt at home since Miss Anstruther came into the house.

June 23d.—Colonel Anstruther has sent up a fine Arab from Madras for the use of his niece, and to-day it arrived under the charge of its native groom, rather foot-worn and travel-stained, but otherwise in good condition. It is such a beautiful creature, and my fancy for horses is so strong, that I really couldn't help coming a little out of my shell on its arrival, and expressing my admiration of its various points to its mistress. She also seemed to forget herself in her pleasure in the new acquisition; but when I remarked that she would now have some delightful rides, and would find no lack of cavaliers to accompany her in Mushin-Bunda, the old expression re-gathered on her face, and she retreated to the house, and sat for the greater part of the evening in her own room. What an unpleasant woman! I would rather she bit me than treated me like this, and suggested to Janie that the alternative would be pleasant for a change. But Janie wouldn't laugh; she is too really unhappy about the state of things.

June 25th.—Matters remained in statu quo until to-day; but the thaw has come at last, and, as it should do, from the female side. The horses were brought round this morning, as usual, to eat their 'gram' in front of the house; and the Arab, having enjoyed two days' rest and a thorough grooming, looked in such good condition, that Janie was eager in her entreaties that her cousin should take her first ride on him this evening, and form an opinion of her new acquisition. Knowing that my attendance would be necessary (I have never been able to persuade Janie to become a horsewoman, she is far too timid), I made an effort to be more agreeable, and joined my persuasions to those of my wife; but Miss Anstruther would give no definite answer, and rather put the question to one side than otherwise; so I thought no more about it. Going towards the stables, however, in the afternoon, I saw the Arab standing ready saddled in his stall; and hearing it was by order of the 'missy,' concluded that I had either misunderstood her reticence, or she had changed her mind; so, telling the horsekeeper to get my animal also ready, returned to the house to hear what plans had been made in my absence. There I found Miss Anstruther standing by herself in the verandah, ready attired for her ride, and looking better in her hat and habit than I remember to have seen her look before.

'Janie has a headache, Captain Norton, and is lying down until dinner time. I believe she is asleep,' she said, as she observed the roving look I cast about in search of my wife.

'Ah, poor little woman, it will be the best thing for her,' I replied. 'The horses will be round directly, Miss Anstruther; but I am sorry you did not make me understand your intention of riding more plainly; it was quite by chance that I returned home so early.'

At this she turned and regarded me with serious surprise.

'I had no intention of troubling you,' she said quickly; 'I can ride by myself.'

'By yourself, and on a strange animal, Miss Anstruther! It is quite out of the question.'

'I have ridden all sorts of animals.'

'Perhaps; but not without an attendant. What would the regiment think to see you riding alone?'

'I am sorry, I have mistaken the place,' she said gravely. 'I thought Mushin-Bunda was so very quiet that one might do anything here. I should not think of troubling you to accompany me.'

And she turned towards the house as though with the intention of giving up her ride. But I placed myself upon the threshold, and barred her entrance.

'You have not been treating me fairly for some days past, Miss Anstruther. What have I done to offend you?'

'Nothing,' she answered in a low voice.

'Then don't add insult to your injury by refusing my escort on this occasion. You need take no more notice of me, you know, than if I were your groom; and that will not be much alteration from your usual behaviour.'

She held her head so low that I could hardly see her face; but she re-entered the verandah as I spoke, and I concluded that my terms were accepted. In another moment the horses were at the door.

'Come,' I said, as gaily as I could, as I held out my hand to aid her in descending the steps; and as I took hers, I felt that it was trembling. I put her on her horse. Notwithstanding her height, she is almost feather-weight; and her elastic figure sprang into the saddle, from the impetus it received from me, as though she had really been the animal to which I am so fond of comparing her. So I settled her in her seat, arranging her skirt and stirrup-leather for her, and handing her the reins, without once looking in her face; and then I mounted my own horse, and we rode out of the compound side by side. The silence that we maintained was ominous. She did not speak a word, and I could think of nothing to say, although I felt that an explanation was about to take place between us. I was glad, therefore, when we came to a long strip of green turf, and I could suggest that she should try of what mettle her animal was made; a suggestion to which she dumbly assented by breaking into a canter. As we rode along together, I glanced at her light figure, poised like a bird upon the saddle, and saw that she rode well, sitting home to her crupper, and handling her reins as though she were accustomed to them.

(N.B.—I have read and heard a good deal about the want of grace in a woman's seat on horseback, but, for my own part, I never think a lady looks so well as in that position, always provided that she understands her business and has a figure worth looking at. A handsome woman on a handsome horse is a sight for royalty, and I never know which to admire most, the mortal or the equine.)

We cantered for a mile or more, and the action of the Arab seemed very perfect. I made an observation to this effect, when, having left the running horse-keepers far behind us, we at last drew rein, and found ourselves alone. But still my remark received no answer, and I was determined to make her speak.

'Am I intruding too much upon my privileges, Miss Anstruther, in venturing an opinion on the subject? Even a groom is sometimes permitted, you know, to pass his judgment on the new acquisitions to his mistress's stables.'

'Don't, Captain Norton; oh, pray, don't.'

The words were uttered so hurriedly that I scarcely understood them; but when I looked into her face for an explanation, I saw that she was crying. Now I cannot bear to see a woman cry. They may do anything they like with me—tease, bully, even insult me—so long as they keep their eyes dry; but Miss Anstruther's tears were falling fast upon the bosom of her riding-habit.

I could not endure to think that she might be annoyed with me and my bantering; perhaps unhappy at having to live at Mushin-Bunda, for it is a very dull and uninteresting place; and I said the first thing which came into my head.

'My dear girl, what is the matter with you?'

I suppose the question was stupid or ill-timed, or perhaps I don't understand the ways of women, for instead of doing Miss Anstruther any good, it changed her silent tears into such a storm of grief that I was quite alarmed. I have often seen Janie cry (indeed, my little woman is rather fond of working her hydraulics on very small occasions), and I have been the unwilling witness at times to a good many tears from various members of the fair sex; but never in all my life have I seen such a tempest of passionate rain as poured from Margaret Anstruther's eyes this evening. She sobbed so violently and with so little restraint, that I began to be alarmed for the effect of her emotion, both on her horse and herself, and begged and entreated her to be calm, when all of a sudden, to my astonishment, the storm passed as quickly as it had arisen; and, except for her heaving bosom and sobbing breath, she was herself again.

'What must you think of me?' she inquired, turning her liquid eyes, still swimming in tears, upon my countenance. 'I must have seemed so rude, so ungrateful to you both.'

'Think!' I stammered, remembering all I have thought of her conduct during the last few days; 'I don't think anything, Miss Anstruther; only I am afraid you cannot be happy with us or here.'

'Oh, it is not that!' she exclaimed earnestly. 'Neither place nor people can make any difference to me. Dear Janie is everything that is kind; and you—you have been very patient with me—but nothing can lift off the humiliation, the degradation, that I feel in being here at all.'

'Degradation!' I repeated, rather nettled at the term.

'Yes, degradation!' she said emphatically; 'else why am I in this country? what is my place in India? I have an uncle here, it is true; but so have I uncles in England. Why was Colonel Anstruther chosen by my guardians as the one most fitted to offer me a home? Tell me that.'

'He is rich, and a bachelor,' I commenced; 'and living alone, naturally—'

'It is not so,' she interrupted me; 'and you know it, Captain Norton. It is because he lives in a country where women are scarce, and men have few opportunities of choice; where a girl may pick up a husband who might remain for ever unmarried at home; where we are looked at on arrival much as though we were articles of sale, and often purchased for motives unworthy the name of love or honour or esteem. You cannot deny it, because it is true, and I am wretched;' and with this Lionne buried her burning face in her hands.

'But I can deny it!' I exclaimed; 'for if this is the case with some girls sent out to this country, it is not with all. Look at your cousin Janie; surely you would never speak of her in that strain.'

'Janie came out to the care of her sister, her nearest relation,' was the low reply.

'And you have come out to your relations, Miss Anstruther; to friends who have but one wish, to see you happy and comfortable, and who would never dream of imputing such motives to an action which—'

'Did you not dream of it?' she retorted quickly, as she turned her glowing glance upon me. 'What was the question that you put to Janie the second evening of my arrival. "If she doesn't want to get married, what is she here for?" I ought not to have heard it, perhaps, but you spoke so loudly that it was impossible to avoid doing so. And do you think I didn't feel it?'

She spoke so decidedly, and yet so mournfully, her eyes flashed with such proud indignant fire, whilst her figure seemed bowed beneath the weight of her humiliation, that I had nothing to say for myself; and having attempted some stammering reply, which ended very abruptly, found that she was speaking again, though more to herself than me, and felt myself constrained to be silent and attend.

'I saw it from the first day I landed,' she went on sadly. 'I perceived in Mrs Grant's insinuations, and the remarks of her lady friends, that I was supposed to have been sent out to India with but one object—to get a husband; and it sickened me. But when I came here,' she added in a lower voice, 'I hoped it would be different; I hoped that you and Janie, being so lately married, would look on love and marriage in a holier light—as something too far removed from earthly calculations to be made the subject of mere speculation or convenience.'

'Oh, Miss Anstruther, forgive me!' I exclaimed.

'It is I who should have said those words, Captain Norton. You disappointed me, and I have disappointed you. You raised in me a demon of a temper, which I should have been ashamed to manifest, which I am now most heartily ashamed even to recall. And you have been very patient with me, very good and very gentlemanly. Please forgive me, in your turn.'

And she placed her hand firmly and warmly into mine.

'You are too kind,' I stammered, confused beyond measure at this rapid change of manner in my guest. 'I spoke thoughtlessly; but I see that I misjudged you. Only tell me now what you wish to be done, and I will execute it to the letter.'

'I don't deserve that you should do anything, Captain Norton, but hate me for a rude and sulky wretch; but I am so heartily sorry to have annoyed you.'

'Let us forget all that,' I responded, earnestly; 'the annoyance was mutual, and I was the most to blame. Only tell me what to do in future, Margaret—I may call you Margaret, may I not, since we are cousins?—in order to make you happy, and then I shall feel that I am quite forgiven.'

'Treat me as a human being,' she answered, gaily, 'and not as an animal for sale. Don't ask your brother officers to the house on my account, nor thrust me forward for their contemplation in any way. Look on me as what I am: a creature who may stand alone all her life, and be contented so to stand; to whom marriage is but a chance in the future; so great a chance indeed, and so undesired a certainty, that she does not even care to contemplate it nearer; to whom her friends, if they will be her true and honest friends, are more valuable than a score of admirers.'

'Whatever I have been, you shall have a true and honest friend in me henceforward, Margaret.'

'That's right; so let us look upon our difference as settled, and make Janie's heart glad by the beaming faces we take back with us. And now, let me hear your true opinion of my uncle's present to me.'

We discoursed gaily on in different topics till we reached home; when Janie was indeed made glad (as Margaret had predicted) by the cheerful conversation we maintained at the dinner-table, and the little bit of confidence I reposed in her when we found ourselves alone. She was so delighted to think I should appreciate her dear Lionne at her true value at last. Not that I told Janie every word that had passed between her cousin and myself; for, added to its being unnecessary, I am not sure that my little girl would understand Miss Anstruther's feelings on the subject, or properly respect her pride. She would mention it again to her probably; and in her simplicity, wishing to be kind and interested, try to sift her reasons to the bottom, and perhaps annoy where she desired to please. So I only said that our quarrel was altogether done away with, and would never be renewed; and that, as her cousin seemed to prefer a quiet life, we would inaugurate no farther dinner-parties on her account; which would suit us better, I concluded, and be more in accordance with our usual style of living. To all which my wife heartily agreed; and I feel more at charity with myself and all mankind than I have done for some time past. I shall keep my word with Margaret Anstruther; and extend no farther encouragement to the bachelors who may come lounging about my house. It is a strange taste on her part; but she must be a girl in a thousand to dislike admiration, and to look upon careless attentions as an offence against the solemnity of marriage. It is a solemn thing, when you come to think, that if you make a mistake upon the subject, you are in for it, and nothing can pull you out again. I wonder if Margaret has had an unrequited attachment; I should not be in the least surprised were I told so; it would be quite in accordance with the grave, melancholy expression of her eyes, and her dislike to society. I must try and discover.


July 20th.—Is it possible that I can have let nearly a whole month slip away without writing a line in my diary? I had no idea of it till I saw the last date inscribed here; and the month itself seems to have gone so swiftly, that had it not been for this reminder, I should have imagined it was not more than a week since I recorded my experiences. I suppose it is the monotony of the place which makes the time go so fast. My poor little Janie has not been well during this month: the heat has been unusually trying, and she lies on her sofa half the day, suffering from nervous headaches, and a general disinclination to get up and do anything. In this emergency her cousin has been invaluable; she is constantly by her side, reading to her, writing her letters, or amusing her with quiet conversation; indeed, I may say we share the duty, for, of course, I like to wait on Janie; and the novels which Margaret brought out from England with her are very entertaining to listen to, and to me an entirely new field of fancy, as I have scarcely ever looked into a work of fiction in my life. I imagined novels, particularly modern ones, were such rubbish; and so I suppose they are. Yet, on a hot day, and when there is nothing else to do, it is very pleasant to sit still, fanning Janie and listening to Margaret's mellow voice as she reads them to us. We are engaged upon the Newcomes at present. I pity that poor devil Clive, with such a little fool as Rosy for a wife, and especially when he might have had a girl like Ethel Newcome. I didn't care a pin about the story at first, but I feel quite interested in it now, and anxious to know if he gets rid of Rosy by any means, so that he may marry the other. I think it will be very hard lines if he doesn't. Margaret laughs at me, and says I am a bloodthirsty monster, and that Clive should be made to abide the consequences of his folly; and so, I suppose, by rights he should.

What a genial laugh she has, and how pleasant it is to see her blush and smile! I can understand now what Janie means by calling her complexion creamy; it is so smooth and equable, not easily flushed, but at the same time not liable to become florid and irritable-looking, which is so often the case with fair skins. We have certainly had some very quiet peaceful days together. I have faithfully kept the compact I made with her to be her friend, and I think she appreciates my wish to give her pleasure. We have had no parties since she expressed a contrary desire, and I have even told Forster—who is evidently most absurdly spoony on her—that she does not favour his suit—as I can see by her manner towards him—and that he really must not come to the house so often. He says, 'Why not let him try his luck?' but I am firm in making him understand that trial would only end in disappointment for himself. He grumbles; so do several others; but my wife's state of health is sufficient excuse for our not entertaining at present. I told Margaret of what I had said to Forster relative to her not liking his attentions, and she blushed so crimson that I stopped in alarm to ask if I had done wrong; but she assured me to the contrary, and that she does not like the man. I have not had a good opportunity yet of probing her concerning that former attachment of which I am suspicious; but I fancy I see signs of it almost every day; also that she has somehow guessed at my intentions, for I am sure she has avoided being alone with me lately. Notwithstanding all which we are very happy, and Lionne is very different from what I expected her to be. She has not been in a temper once since we arrived at that mutual understanding.

July 21st.—Talk of the old gentleman, they say, and he is sure to appear. I hope I did not raise the slumbering demon in Miss Anstruther's breast by my innocent remark of last night; but she has certainly given us a peep of him since.

I was sitting in my own room this afternoon, occupied with some official papers, when I heard a confusion of tongues in the compound, and Janie's frightened voice, in tones of agitation, entreating me to go to her assistance. I ran, of course, to find that the cause of her alarm was a loud altercation going on between Miss Anstruther and some natives in the back verandah.

'Oh, do go to them, Robert dear!' Janie plaintively exclaimed; 'Lionne is so angry, and I can't think what for.'

I dashed upon the scene of action, and took in the circumstances at a glance. In the centre stood Lionne—a lionne indeed, looking—I could not help observing it, even whilst I blamed the exhibition—most beautiful under the influence of her rage. Her dark face glowing with passion, her arm extended, though powerless to command attention, and her lips pouring forth a torrent of generous indignant words, alike uncomprehended and unheeded by those around her. By her side stood two or three servants, who stared at the lady's vehemence without attempting to execute her wishes; whilst before her, in the compound was a group of natives actively employed in torturing a poor pariah dog by methods too horrible to relate, and only abating their cruelty to exchange significant grins and glances with one another at Lionne's impotent rage. But my appearance amongst them had the effect of an electric shock upon the herd.

'What is all this about?' I demanded angrily of my servants. 'How dare you let such a scene go on in my compound?'

'Oh, Robert! Robert!' exclaimed Lionne—it is the first time in her life that she has called me by my Christian name—'stop them; make them leave off such horrid cruelty. I did not know you were at home, or I would have sent for you before.'

The natives had already shrunk back and huddled together, whilst the unfortunate victim of their experiments still lay panting on the sand before us.

'Oh, look at it! look at it!' she cried excitedly; 'it is in agony; it is dying! Oh, you wretches! you inhuman, barbarous savages!' with an expression and emphasis which must have made even her English phrases intelligible to the creatures she addressed; 'I should like to see every one of you served in the same way. You are not men, you are devils!'

'Lionne,' I said firmly, as I laid my hand on the excited girl's arm, 'this is no place for you. Leave me to deal with these men by myself.'

She shook off my grasp impatiently, as though disdaining my control; but I caught her eye and chained it.


'But, Captain Norton—'

'Go in to Janie—you have frightened her enough already—and leave me by myself. I will come to you by-and-by.'

She saw I was in earnest, and with a heightened colour turned from the verandah and re-entered the house, where, after having severely reprimanded my servants, thrashed one or two of the natives, and seen the tortured animal put out of its misery, I followed her. She was seated by Janie's couch, her hand clasped in that of her cousin, her beautiful head drooped and lowering. I saw that she was ashamed of what had passed; and so I made no reference to it, but asked my wife in an indifferent tone on what she had decided to do this evening. She had decided on nothing—in fact, she wished to do nothing, but to be left to lie still in peace. So, after a while, I proposed a stroll in the compound to Miss Anstruther; and she rose to her feet and prepared to follow me.

I think I have already spoken of our compound, which is full of graves. These graves are very inconveniently situated for a gentleman's pleasure-grounds; or perhaps it would be more correct to say that the gentleman's pleasure-grounds are inconveniently situated for the graves, which stretch up to the very windows of the house, and by their inequality greatly impede the facility of a stroll. We stumbled over them, and made circuits round about them, for some time in silence, until both that and the exercise seemed to become oppressive; and by mutual consent, as it were, we sat down together on a broad flat stone which covers one of them; and for a few moments neither of us spoke. Then I stole a glance at Margaret's face, and saw that it was still clouded and downcast; and I felt a strange longing to see it brighten up again and smile upon me.

'I am sorry you should have been witness to so painful and disgraceful a scene, Miss Anstruther,' I ventured to remark.

'I am sorry you should have been witness to so painful and disgraceful a scene, Captain Norton,' she echoed gloomily. 'Mine was the worst exhibition of the two: I see it now plainly. Oh, what a wretch you must think me! What an undisciplined, passionate, unwomanly creature!' and up went her hands as shelter to her burning face.

'Please don't call yourself names; I can't subscribe to them. I think you only what you are—a generous, warm-hearted girl, indignant at the sight of wrong, only inclined to be a little too hot and hasty in expressing your indignation. Never be afraid of falling in my good opinion by showing your true nature, Margaret.'

'But my nature is so bad, Captain Norton; you cannot think how bad it is. My temper is so violent; and when it rises, I remember nothing else, except that I am angry and must show it.'

'If you never display it in a worse cause, Margaret, than you did this afternoon, you cannot go far wrong. It was a disgraceful and disgusting act of cruelty.'

'Oh, was it not cruel,' she eagerly exclaimed, 'to torture one so utterly defenceless and unarmed? I could look on at men, or dogs, or any creatures of equal power, fighting with each other, and applaud the victor; but when it comes to one against such fearful odds, one innocent creature suffering because of its innocence, I cannot bear it. Many such sights would kill me; I think that I should burst with rage.'

'And yet in this world, Margaret, it is usually the defenceless and the innocent who suffer.'

'We who are strong should shield them,' she answered, hastily.

I wonder what made her link her nature with mine in that word 'we?' And yet I feel that I am strong—as she is. The tombstone on which we were sitting professes to cover the remains of two lovers who died within a few hours of each other. I told her the story, as it has been related to me by one of our officers, who has taken the trouble to decipher the old Dutch letters upon the stone, and asked her if she believed it possible that grief could have such an effect as to kill within so short a space of time.

'It seems unlikely,' she replied indifferently; 'but natures are so various. If true, she must have loved him very devotedly.'

'And you are the last person to believe in such affection,' I remarked. I thought it would be a good occasion to find out if she had ever had an unfortunate attachment.

'What makes you think so?' she answered quickly.

'Because you have never tried it—have you? You have never been in love yourself, Margaret?'

I spoke laughingly; but I wish I had not mentioned it. A scarlet flush mounted to her very forehead as I said the words; and when I pulled her by the hand and repeated my assertion, she burst into tears, and ran from me to the house. What a fool I was to touch on such a subject! I don't believe, all the same, that it is true, that she has ever been in love; but I may have wounded her sensitive pride by mentioning it, and cause her to be reserved with me in future. Indeed, I am sure that she behaved more distantly towards me even during the remainder of the evening; and a little circumstance which happened just before we went to bed confirms me in this opinion.

Janie was quite brisk and lively compared to what she has been lately, and sung us several songs; but Lionne excused herself from singing, and remained in a corner with her face buried in a book.

'Make her come, Robert dear,' said Janie playfully. 'Go and pull her out.'

'Captain Norton knows better than to attempt such a rudeness,' was the measured reply, which fell rather as a wet blanket on the other little woman's mirth.

'Why do you call him Captain Norton?' she said, pouting. 'You called him Robert this afternoon when you were in the verandah, Lionne, because I heard you. Why can't you do so always?'

Miss Anstruther had disappeared still lower behind her book; but to my wife's demand she made no reply.

'Why won't you call him Robert?' said Janie, as she rose from the piano and took possession of her cousin's book; 'he always calls you Margaret.'

The face which she thus disclosed was crimson, and the dark eyes swam in a blurred mist which was half tears. So painful indeed was the expression of the whole countenance, that I turned away, and could not contemplate it.

'Because I can't, I really can't,' was the reply at last extracted.

'And why not?' persisted Janie.

'It is not pleasant to me; I do not wish it,' said Miss Anstruther, until I felt myself constrained to interfere, and desire Janie not to tease her cousin.

So she released the glowing face with an expression of impatience at her obstinacy, and Miss Anstruther made use of her liberty by effecting an immediate disappearance. This confirms me in my impression that I offended her in the compound this evening, and that it will cause a difference in our future intercourse. I am very much vexed about it: I had really begun quite to like the girl. And I cannot dismiss from my mind the tone in which she said the words, 'We who are strong should shelter them.' Does she imagine that I am not capable of acting a generous part? I should like to have some opportunity of showing her what stuff I am made of.

July 30th.—I have been very much vexed to-day; and though the circumstance appears trifling, it threatens to lead to serious results. When we first arrived in Mushin-Bunda—now some eight months ago—I, in common with others of my regiment, heard several absurd stories concerning the houses supposed to be haunted in the cantonment and its neighbourhood—(natives always have a stock of such lies on hand, with which to feed the imagination of any one fool enough to listen to them); but of course I placed no credence in their statements, which only excited a smile from their stupidity. This well was said to be the quarters of a devil, for which cause no one would ever draw or use the water from it; and that clump of bamboos to harbour another, which, issuing in the form of a boa-constrictor, attacked those who were hardy enough to linger in the compound after dark. With regard to our own house, I heard that the spirits of the dead who lay buried beneath our windows had been seen to wander about at night in their grave-clothes; but of course I took care that such rubbish should not reach the ears of my wife; equally of course I forbade my servants chattering about it, and never gave the subject another thought. What was my surprise and vexation, therefore, when I returned home this afternoon, to find my wife supported by her cousin in a state of hysterical agitation, whilst she listened to the garbled statements of half-a-dozen natives, who all talked together, and interrupted one another, and did everything they could to render their relation as confused and unintelligible as possible. My 'chokra' or 'dressing-boy' was gesticulating in Hindustani; the butler was vociferating in broken English; and the cook in his native tongue of Tamil; whilst the 'maty' and tailor and 'cook-boy' tripped over each other in any words they could first lay hold of. Margaret was looking incredulous and a little scornful; Janie was all tears and flushed cheeks and wide-open eyes; and for the moment I was struck speechless with astonishment to think what could possibly have happened during my absence.

'What is all this about?' I exclaimed, as I advanced to the centre of the group.

The servants fell back, conscious they had no business there, and evidently somewhat doubtful of my reception of their news. But Margaret gave a sigh of relief at my appearance, and Janie flew to my arms as to an ark of safety.

'These men have been frightening Janie out of her wits,' said Margaret in a tone of annoyance; 'and all I could say was insufficient to stop them.'

'What is it, my dear?' said I, addressing my wife. 'What have they told you?'

'Oh Robert, do take me away!' she answered with a convulsive shudder. 'I never shall be able to sleep in this house again. They say they have seen it: a dreadful thing all in white, walking about the graves, and moaning to itself, and wringing its hands. Oh, Robert dear, do let us go! It will come into the house next; I am sure it will. I shall die of fright if you don't take me away at once.'

She clung to me like a terrified child, and as I marked her burning face and felt the feverish clasp of her hands, I could not tell what injury these idiots might not have done her by their folly.

'What do you mean by this?' I inquired sternly, as I turned to the group of natives.

Then they began to cringe and salaam before me, as they attempted to repeat the story which had so alarmed my wife. But I would not permit them to do so, but ordered them all out of the room, and turned my attention towards soothing Janie's fears.

'You must not be a child, my dear Janie,' I said, as I replaced her on the sofa, and arranged her pillows for her. 'These natives are always full of their stupid ghost-stories; but you know better surely than to believe such folly. There are no such things as ghosts, therefore how could they have seen one?'

'Oh, but indeed—indeed, Robert, it is true!' she said with painful earnestness. 'They saw it themselves only last night, and they say it is like a woman with long hair down her back; and when they tried to touch it, it vanished away.'

At this I could not help laughing.

'A pack of heroes!' I exclaimed. 'Why, Janie, there is not one amongst them man enough to inquire into such a mystery, even if they saw it, which I don't believe. I've a good mind to give them a hiding all round to make their eyesight a little clearer.'

'But what should be their object in repeating it?' inquired Janie fearfully.

'If you will condescend to listen, my dear, you will always find them ready to talk. They are full to the brim with such idle tales. You should refuse to hear them, and send them about their business.'

'Oh but, Robert, can't we go away from this house? I never could bear those graves, and now I shall be more frightened of them than ever.'

'Janie, I thought you were more of a woman,' I said reproachfully. 'Where could we go to? You know that all the houses in Mushin-Bunda are occupied;' to which fact poor Janie assented with a deep sigh.

'But, at all events, you won't go out this evening, Robert, will you?' she continued imploringly. 'I could not bear to stay in the house alone with Margaret and that awful thing.'

I was engaged to attend a public dinner at our mess this evening, for a couple of officers of the 18th are passing through Mushin-Bunda on their way to England, and we wished to show them a little civility. I had been looking forward to the occasion (one sees so few strangers in this place); but I told my poor little timid wife that I would give it up and remain at home with her. However, Miss Anstruther very kindly came to my assistance, and, begging me to keep my engagement, promised not to leave Janie for a single moment till my return. Upon which, although with much reluctance, the other consented to my leaving her; and as soon as I could get away, I went after my servants to learn what folly had induced them to fly into the presence of their mistress with such a rumour. I found them almost as frightened as herself, and, oddly enough (for you can generally catch a native tripping when you cross-examine him), perfectly firm in adhering to their first statement. Their story is, that as three of them were returning to their godowns (as they call the huts in the compound) rather late last night, they saw a tall figure dressed in white wandering about the graves, and moving its hands in a distressed manner; and that, as they cried out at the sight (for natives are terribly superstitious and cowardly), they wakened the other three, who ran out just in time to see the figure vanish round the house, and they were too much alarmed to follow up the search. In relating the story to me they dropped all mention of having touched the supposed ghost, being aware, I suppose, that I was not likely to credit such an act of bravery on their parts. I spoke to them all six, both together and individually; and it is curious that I could not make them contradict themselves in the statement that they have seen such an apparition. Of course it is all nonsense. They saw something doubtless; most likely Janie's 'ayah' in her white cloth, out without leave; but as for a ghost!—folly!

I scolded them well all round for a pack of idiots, forbade their mentioning the subject again, and threatened them with the stick and stoppage of wages if they were ever the means of carrying such stories to their mistress's ears; so I hope we have heard the last of the ghost. However, the fright has evidently done Janie no good. When I returned home from mess this evening, I found that she had had another violent attack of hysterics, and that her cousin had thought right to send for our doctor, who happened to be at his own house. He reports my wife very nervous and feverish, and orders her to be kept as quiet as possible. I would give a thousand pounds this moment, if I had them, sooner than this story had reached her ears. She is so sensitive and timid, and her health is at present so delicate, that I fear the shock may have some ill effect upon her.

July 31st.—Janie better, but still feverish. Miss Anstruther watches over her like a sister. After they had both retired to bed to-night, I sat at the window for more than a couple of hours, hoping to see something which might account for the servants' story, but nothing was visible. The bright moon lit up the compound till it appeared almost like day, and the air was so still that I must have heard the slightest rustle; but I neither saw nor heard anything except my own breathing and the smoke from my cigar. What awful fools these niggers must be to believe in ghosts at all!

August 1st.—Janie was on her sofa again to-day, and so cheerful, that I hope she has already forgotten her alarm, and that the remembrance may never be revived. But what has come to Margaret Anstruther? She looked so careworn this afternoon, so haggard and miserable, compared to her usual appearance, that, after asking her what was the matter, without obtaining any satisfactory response, I ventured to remark that I hoped the ghost-story had not had any effect on her. The start which she gave on hearing my words, and the flush which mounted to her face, would almost have made me think that inadvertently I had struck a right chord, had not the supercilious smile with which she repeated the word 'effect' denied the expression of her countenance.

'I thought it could not be the case,' I said apologetically; 'but you are really looking so ill, Lionne. Will you not come for a ride this evening?'

No; she declined to ride or to walk; she only desired to remain by Janie's side and minister to her comfort. So be it, then. I suppose it is natural she should prefer her cousin's company to mine, though I am not aware that I have done anything lately to make her shrink from me as she appears to do.

August 4th.—The ghost has appeared again—or rather Janie imagines she has seen it, which is just as hurtful to her health and spirits. She had seemed so merry all to-day, and so far removed from the fanciful fears engendered by the natives' stupid story, that after she and her cousin had retired to rest I took my cigar up to the roof of the house, as the heat has been most oppressive lately, and I longed for a breath of fresh air. Our house (like most others in Mushin-Bunda) is built with a flat roof, surrounded by a high parapet, which roof is reached from the verandah by a flight of steps so much resembling a ladder, that it is not often I can persuade the ladies to mount it. But, for my own part, I am constantly in the habit of taking my book and pipe (not to say my glass of brandy-and-water) to this elevated retreat, and, when there, thinking on anything or nothing, as the humour may take me. To-night my thoughts were not very cheerful ones; for, without any especial reason, I felt what is technically termed 'dummy.'

Perhaps it is the excessive heat, perhaps the continued weakness of Janie, but somehow life has not appeared quite so sunny to me lately as it used to do. I feel so weary by the time the day is at an end, and so dissatisfied with the manner in which I have spent it, and I seem to rise each morning with some undefined hope which is never realised. I suppose it is the monotonous life we lead which breeds discontented thoughts; we so seldom encounter anything to draw us out of ourselves and our own concerns. And Margaret Anstruther's disinclination to society has increased this disadvantage; for we three—Janie and she and I—have been thrown completely on each other for company during the last two months. And yet they have not passed unpleasantly. It is strange that I, who so much dreaded this interruption to the quiet life which I led with my wife, should be able to write those words and mean them.

Yet I do mean them—though, at the same time, I cannot believe that the interruption has made me any happier, for I don't think I ever felt so restless and unsettled as I do at present. I keep on fancying that something is going to happen to me; and start to remember that there is nothing at all the matter, and that if I have a cause for dissatisfaction, it must rest with myself. It must be Janie's illness that affects me in this manner; it is so unnatural to see the poor little woman always lying on the sofa, instead of running about with her cousin and myself.

I had been dreaming somewhat after this fashion on the roof of the house to-night, for how long or how short a time I should have been quite unable to say, when I was startled from my reverie by hearing a most piercing scream in Janie's voice and proceeding from Janie's bedroom, which sounded so shrill and alarming, as it rung through the still night air, that, though I rose at once to my feet, I felt for the first moment so paralysed with fear, that it was not until the cry had been repeated that I ran down to her assistance. I found her in a half-fainting state on the sill of the bedroom window, which was wide open; but my appearance changed her condition to one of hysterical weeping, which, whilst it was more painful to witness, greatly relieved her. Meanwhile the native servants, lying about the verandah on their mats, were slumbering as heavily as is their nature, and would not have awakened of themselves had the cry been twice as piercing, the alarm twice as great.

'My darling!' I exclaimed, as I took the shivering form of my wife (shivering with fear, not cold) into my arms and pressed it to me, 'what can have startled you? Have you been dreaming?'

'Dreaming!' she repeated in a faint whisper. 'Oh no, Robert, I was not dreaming; I was wide awake, and it passed close to me.'

'Itit—what do you mean, Janie?' though I had guessed at once her fancy.

'The ghost, Robert!—the dreadful ghost! Ah' (with another convulsive shudder), 'I shall never, never forget the sight!'

'The ghost! my dear girl, you have really been dreaming. Where do you fancy you saw it?—in this room?' for I had entered the room by the window by this time, and still sat on the sill supporting my wife in my arms.

'I did not fancy,' she replied, with an earnestness which proved that she thought she was right; 'it passed so close to me, Robert, that I could have touched it with my finger. Ah, why did we ever come to this fearful place!'

I lifted her up and placed her on her bed again, and then, without releasing my hold of her trembling fingers, I sat down beside her and entreated her to tell me all. 'Let me hear how you saw the ghost, and where, Janie; and perhaps I may be able to account for the apparent mystery. And first, why did you leave your bed at all? What waked you? You were so fast asleep when I left you.'

'I don't know what waked me,' she said nervously; 'perhaps the heat, for I felt so restless that I could not sleep, and after a good deal of tossing about, I got up and walked to the window to cool myself, and see if you were in the compound anywhere. I was not thinking of the ghost, Robert, indeed I was not; but directly I reached the window I saw it—ah, just as they told me, wandering about the graves!'

'Janie dear, indeed you must be mistaken; it was the moonlight shining on the white lining of the silver bamboos, or—'

'Robert!' she exclaimed, starting up in bed as she clutched me by my arm, 'I tell you I saw it. It was no fancy, but a tall woman dressed all in white walking in and out of the graves.'

'You are sure it was a woman?'

'Oh yes; oh yes; because, when I screamed, it turned round and came close by this window, and it had long hair hanging right down its back. Oh, Robert, I thought I should have died!'

'My poor girl,' I answered, as I forced her to lie down again, 'I am not going to have you frightened in this abominable manner. This is some trick on the part of the natives; to what end I cannot imagine, but they shall pay dearly for their little game. Where did this woman go after she had passed the window?'

'Oh, I can't tell, Robert; I don't know; but I think it vanished round the house.'

'Well then, if you will let me leave you, Janie (I will call the ayah to come and sit by your bedside), I will just look round the compound, and see if I can find any one loitering about.'

'Oh, don't go after it, Robert; pray don't go after it; it might hurt you.'

But I could not wait to silence any more of Janie's fears; had I stayed to reason them all away, I should have been kept prisoner till morning. I roused the ayah, bid her stay with her mistress till I returned, selected a thick stick from my whip-stand, and proceeded on my voyage of discovery. As I did so, I glanced at my watch, and discovered to my amazement that it was past one.

What a time I must have been dreaming on the housetop!

I searched the compound and all the accessible portions of the house thoroughly, but I found and saw nothing. I wakened all the slumbering occupants of the 'godowns,' to see if they had any strangers amongst them, but only my own domestics came yawningly to be inspected, and certainly not one of them answers to the description of the supposed ghost. As I returned, I rapped at the closed venetians of Miss Anstruther's bedroom, and, to my astonishment, her voice replied to me immediately.

'What! are you awake, Margaret?' I demanded. 'Was it the noise disturbed you?'

'What noise?' she asked, as she came near to the venetians.

'Janie's scream. She fancies that she saw the ghost (which I hoped she had almost forgotten), and that it passed close under her windows.'

'Poor child!' in a voice of compassion. 'No, I did not hear, or I should have gone to her; but I have not been long awake;' which, indeed, her voice seemed to testify.

'Why are you out of your bed?'

'I cannot sleep; it is so hot,' she answered with a deep sigh.

'And you have seen nothing?'

'Certainly not; and have been sitting at the window till within a minute ago. I have only just closed the venetians because the moon is so bright. It must be all Janie's fancy.'

'Of course it is her fancy that she has seen a ghost,' I answered; 'but I am not so sure about her having seen nothing at all. However, I shall find out more about it to-morrow; meanwhile I must not keep you up any longer. Good-night.'

'Shall I go to Janie?' she asked in the same sleepy tone she had employed before.

'No, thank you; I am going to her myself.' And with that I passed on to resume my guardianship over poor Janie and her terrors. But I am determined to follow up this mystery until I am enabled to dispel it; for which reason I shall watch, night after night, for the appearance of the person who dares to act 'ghost' in my compound until I see him; for which reason also I shall keep my watching a secret even from Janie and Margaret.

Meanwhile I pooh-pooh the subject to my wife, who easily takes her cue from me, and will laugh at her own alarm by this time to-morrow.

N.B.—She must rest with closed venetians until this mystery is unravelled; and I will steal out of bed after she is fast asleep, and spend my nights upon the housetop, which commands a view of every part of the compound. And if I catch the ghost, woe betide his bones; for if I don't make them rattle, it's a pity!

Meanwhile, thinking over matters, it seems strange to me that Margaret Anstruther, sitting at her window, should not have heard the scream which reached me so easily upon the roof; or that, at all events, the conversation which subsequently I held with my wife should not have been patent to her, as her room is next to ours. However, she appeared half asleep, even whilst she spoke to me; for her voice was low and dreamy, and I could hardly catch her words. I wonder what prevents the girl sleeping! The same mania seems to have fallen upon all of us; for I don't feel myself as though I should close my eyes to-night, and every now and then, as I steal a glance from my writing-table to the bed, I see Janie's blue orbs wide open, and watching for the moment when I shall rejoin her. So I lay down my pen, and go to afford her the protection of my presence.

August 6th.—I spend my nights now like a sparrow, on the housetop, so am obliged to write my diary in the daytime. I watched from eleven last night to four this morning; but I saw nothing. The air was so jolly and soft, that I had great difficulty in keeping myself awake; but with tobacco I managed to do it. Janie wondered that I was so sleepy after parade this morning, and accused me of growing abominably lazy and old. She has almost recovered her fright again, I am happy to say. Miss Anstruther, on the contrary, looks worn and ill. I don't think this climate can agree with her. I wish she would consent to see the doctor who attends Janie.

August 7th.—Was on the roof again all last night. If, under the pursuit of knowledge, it were only allowable for me to fall asleep, it would be much pleasanter than remaining downstairs. Towards three o'clock I thought I had caught the ghost; for I distinctly saw a 'tall figure, dressed all in white,' hovering about the graves; but it proved to be only an early milkman, going to recover his cows from their jungle pasture-ground, who thought to make a short-cut by passing through our compound. This was provoking, after I had taken the trouble to rush down after him, stick in hand, fully prepared to administer a wholesome castigation. But this fact tends still more to confirm me in my belief that what Janie saw was a native wandering about in the moonlight after his own business.

All domestic servants, and a good many other classes, habitually wear white clothing; and nothing would be easier, when the imagination is in a heated and unnatural condition, than for one to mistake their appearance for that of a ghost. However, I shall not yet give up my search for the delinquent.

August 9th.—I have now watched four nights without seeing anything, and I am beginning to get rather tired of the joke. If the ghost doesn't soon make his or her appearance, I shall resume my lawful place of rest, and wait patiently until it sees fit to call upon me.

August 10th.—At last I have seen the so-called phantom; and had it been a lost spirit sent from the nethermost hell to inform me of my future fate, my hand could hardly shake more than it does now, in recalling the recollection. But not for the reason which made its appearance one of terror to the native servants and to my poor Janie.

My terror, my horror, and my shrinking arise from a totally different cause, and make me wonder, as I write, that I should have heard what I heard last night, and live to repeat it.

I wish I had not lived; I wish that I were dead!

I was on the roof, as usual, very tired, rather dispirited, and more than half-disposed to throw up the whole affair, and go downstairs to bed. Where was the use, I argued with myself, of watching night after night in that fashion for a ghost which never came? I was convinced that I was troubling myself for a mere illusion—that the phantom had never existed, except in Janie's imagination, or that if a trick had really been played upon my wife by some of the servants, the rascals had discovered that I was watching for them, and were too wide awake to repeat it until I should have given up pursuit. And then with my eyes always fixed upon that part of the compound where the old Dutch graves are thickest, I lit a cigar, and watching the thin wreath of smoke which curled from it into the air, sighed to think how transitory all happiness is in this world, and how seldom one's earthly wishes, even when realised, fulfil the promise of their attainment; until I sufficiently forgot myself, and the purpose of my being on the housetop in the middle of the night, to permit the soothing influence of tobacco, added to a soft light breeze, which fanned me as delicately as though I had been a sleeping infant to lull me off into a doze. How long I slept I can hardly tell; but I know that I woke with a start and a shiver, and that the first thing I did was to rub my eyes, and quickly turn them in the direction of the tombstones and the graves. What was that which I saw wandering up and down that plot of ground, just as I had been told it was wont to do? Was it hallucination or reality? Had the impression with which I fell to sleep remained upon the retina of my eye to delude my waking fancy? or was that which I gazed upon a thing of flesh and blood? I rubbed my eyes again, and shook myself, to be assured that I was quite awake; and then I advanced to the parapet and leant well over it.

Yes, it was no mistake. A female figure (or a figure dressed up so as to look like a female), clothed in white, with long dark hair streaming down her back, was feeling her way, rather than wandering up and down, between the rows of graves, and, with her hands stretched out before her, seemed to be muttering or murmuring to herself. I gave myself but time to be assured that I did see it—that it was there; and then I grasped my stick and loaded pistol, and prepared to descend and encounter it.

'Take heed, my fine fellow,' I said to myself, as I carefully picked my way down the flight of steps which led to the verandah; 'don't insult me, or attempt to frighten me, as you value the brains in your head, or a whole bone in your body. I can bear as much as most men when I am put to the test; but I won't have my wife frightened out of her wits for the lives of all the niggers in the world.'

I slunk beneath the shadows cast by the verandah, past the places where my servants lay asleep to that side of the house where are situated the bedrooms of my wife and Miss Anstruther, and was glad to see that the venetians of both windows were closed, so that I trusted no alarm might reach their ears.

And now, though I was close upon it, the figure seemed to take no notice of my presence, but still walked cautiously up and down between the rows of graves, whilst it kept up a sort of moaning to itself. It looked so strange and unearthly as it thus wandered beneath the moonlight, that I felt myself shiver as I gazed at it, and yet my belief in the whole business turning out a trick was strong as ever.

So, after a pause, just sufficient to permit the figure to get as far as possible away from the vicinity of my wife's bedroom windows, I sprang after it; and just as it had turned again towards the house, we met face to face. What was my surprise, my consternation, in the ghost which had caused us such trouble and vexation to encounter—Margaret Anstruther! Yet there she was, no clothing on but her light night-dress; with her unbound tresses streaming over her shoulders, and her bare feet pressing the turf as though it pained them.

'Good God!' I exclaimed, as I staggered back at the sight of this earthly apparition, far more alarming to me than if I had seen twenty ghosts; 'Margaret—Lionne—what are you doing here?'

At the sound of my voice she halted, and turned her head slightly to one side, as though to listen; and then by the moonlight I perceived to my horror that her eyes were lifeless although open, and that she was walking in her sleep. I had never encountered such a sight before, and for a moment I knew not what to do.

'Was that Robert?' she murmured, presently, in a low, husky voice utterly unlike her own, and as though she were addressing herself, or nobody.

'Yes, it is I,' I answered, trying to control my agitation and my tones. 'Margaret, why are you here? why have you left your bed?'

'Oh, Robert, Robert!' she exclaimed, with an expression of anguish which I shall never forget, 'save me, save me!'

'From what am I to save you, Lionne?'

'From yourself—from yourself, and from me—from my weakness and my folly. Oh, don't let me fall! don't let me fall!'

Although she still spoke dreamily, the sightless orbs which she had turned upon me were contracted with pain, and I saw that her whole frame was trembling, I ventured to go close to her, and gently take her hand.

'You shall not fall, dear Lionne,' I whispered to her; 'trust to me. I will lead you the right way.'

'Dear Lionne!' she repeated to herself, 'dear Lionne! he says to me, dear Lionne!'

What was that quick fear which seized me as I listened to her unconscious words? What that trembling which assailed my limbs, and rendered me incapable of moving either backwards or forwards? The fear and trembling fell so suddenly upon me, that I had hardly time to realise their presence, until they had resolved themselves into a knowledge, fearful as a thunderbolt from heaven, but certain as that I live—or I must die!

I love her—and she loves me! We have destroyed each other's happiness.

As this conviction smote me, I dropped her cold fingers, and sinking down upon the hillock beside which she stood, buried my face in my hands.

Good heavens! how was it that I had never anticipated this—never seen it coming—never dreamt of such a contingency?—that I had spent day after day in her company; reading with her, singing with her, riding with her, listening to her amusing conversation, watching all her womanly kindness to my wife (ah, my poor wife!), contemplating her beauty from hour to hour, and never once suspected that I might grow to love her more than was good or right? And she, the girl whose advent I had dreaded, whose manners I had so disliked, whose beauty was to me no beauty at all!

Ah, Margaret, Margaret! you may have your revenge now if you will, in the assurance that never, never more shall the remembrance of that fatal beauty be purged from my existence.

All was now explained; her worn looks and dispirited appearance; my own restless and uneasy sensations; the guilty feeling had been growing in us, surely though unconsciously, for many long days past, and needed but some such accident as the present to warm it into life.

Have I not reason to wish that I were dead?

I did not sit upon the hillock long; something was waiting to be done, and that was not the time for thought. I could not even stay to watch her as she again commenced to pace beneath the moonlight, with the evening breeze playing with her flimsy raiment, and making it cling about her graceful figure. I felt that she must be coaxed to return into the house, and that I was neither the right person nor in a right state of mind to do it.

So I rose quickly, and explaining the circumstances to Janie's ayah (an old woman with more sense than the generality of her tribe), directed her how to speak soothingly to the young lady, and persuade her to return to the house, where she need be none the wiser for the untimely stroll which she had taken; and after a little while I was relieved to see the white hand in the grasp of the dark one, and the two women, so unlike each other in all outward appearance, pass into the house together.

So now it is all over; and the grey dawn is here; and as it was not worth while for me to turn in before going to parade, I sit down to transcribe the particulars of this adventure before I forget it.

Shall I ever forget it?

I am aware that henceforward, and before the world, I must play a part; but it is useless to dissemble with my own heart. This night has revealed to me what I had rather have died than hear, but the truth will make itself known.

I love her with my whole heart—passionately, fervently, devotedly, as I have never loved before. What is to come of it? What is to become of her, of me, of Janie? Are we all to be sacrificed?

As I write, there come into my mind these sentences: one which fell from her mouth (sweet mouth, that shall never be mine!), and one which proceeded from my own:

'We who are strong should shield them;' and, 'You shall not fall, trust to me—I will lead you the right way.'

No, dear Janie, poor innocent child! and you, my beloved one, do not fear. I will shield both the weak and the strong; you shall not suffer for my imprudence or my guilt.

Yet how to comfort, how to cure, how to make up to her for the misery I have entailed on her dear head? Oh, my God! the task will be a hard one!


August 11th.—I returned from parade this morning tired, feverish, and with a weight upon my conscience as though I had committed an unpardonable crime. I felt as if I dared not face my injured wife, still less the woman who has usurped her place in my affections, or rather who holds the place in which the other should have reigned.

Yet I was not only obliged to encounter both of them, but to go through all the formalities of daily life, without which perhaps the trial would have proved too much for my endurance.

Janie was the first; for since her illness she has not risen to breakfast, and I have been in the habit of carrying in her tray for her. It was with a shaking hand that I lifted it to-day; and the poor child noticed the difference in my demeanour, and asked me tenderly if I were ill or tired. I had not quite made up my mind, before that, whether I should inform Janie of her cousin's propensity for somnambulism or not; but as I met the trusting glance of her blue eyes, I resolved to do so, not only because it was a thing which might occur again and frighten her as before, but also that by confiding even so far in my wife, I seemed voluntarily to place a wider barrier between Lionne and myself. Therefore I sat down on the bed, and first binding her to secrecy, I related to her how I had spent my late nights upon the roof of the house, and by that means arrived at a solution of the mystery which had alarmed the native servants and herself.

'Didn't I tell you that your ghost would prove to be nothing?' I said, trying to speak gaily, in conclusion.

'Oh, Robert dear,' was her reply, 'do you call poor Lionne walking in her sleep nothing? I think it is horrible—almost as bad as a real ghost; and if I had been you, I couldn't have gone near her for worlds. I should have died of fright first.'

'But, Janie, you see that I am not a silly little girl, ready to believe every idle tale which is repeated to her. And you must show yourself to be a wise woman on this occasion, and be very careful that the story does not reach your cousin's ears, as the knowledge is likely to make her worse instead of better. I shall give the ayah orders to hold her tongue, and sleep outside the door in future, so that Miss Anstruther may not wander about again unobserved.'

'And I mustn't tell Lionne, then, that you caught her?' said Janie, in a voice of disappointment.

'Certainly not,' I replied, decidedly; and I rose to leave her, only half-satisfied that my wishes would be respected. Janie would not disobey me knowingly for the world—she has never attempted such a thing; but her little tongue goes so fast, that she is apt to part with a secret before she knows that it has left her keeping.

When I returned to the breakfast-room, Lionne was already there, pale indeed and rather silent, as she has been for several weeks past, but showing no signs that she was aware of our nocturnal meeting. But as I took her hand in mine, I felt the blood rush up to my temples, and my morning greeting must have been nearly unintelligible to her.

Why did I behave so foolishly? She is in all respects the same woman whom I met yesterday with an ordinary salutation—her manner even has not altered towards me; and yet the mere consciousness that that of which I had been vaguely dreaming is reality, was sufficient to make me almost betray what I feel by the expression of my features.

Is this my boasted strength?

We took a silent meal, and altogether an unprofitable one. I had no appetite; Lionne only trifled with the eatables upon her plate; and I think we both felt relieved when the ceremony was concluded.

I did not see her for the remainder of the morning, for I made an excuse of business, and took my tiffin at the mess. When I returned home at five o'clock, however, I found Janie earnestly persuading her cousin to take a ride on horseback.

'Do make her go, Robert dear,' she exclaimed, as soon as I came upon the scene of action. 'She has not ridden for weeks past, and she does look so pale. I am sure it will be good for her; you know it will, Robert,' with violent winks and blinks which were sufficient in themselves to make the uninitiated stop to inquire their reason.

'I daresay it will,' I answered, obliged to say something. 'Won't you be persuaded?' addressing Lionne.

She hesitated a little, but had no good reason to advance for her hesitation; and after a little more pressing on Janie's part, retired to put on her habit.

'I am so glad that she is going,' exclaimed my poor little caged bird, clapping her hands at her success. 'Take great care of her, Robert; she is so kind to me.'

'I will take care of her, Janie,' I answered, earnestly, 'and of you too. You may trust me, my dear; at least I hope so.'

'Of course you take care of me, sir,' she replied, with a pretty pretension of pouting, 'because I am your wife; but I am not so sure about my poor cousin.'

'Be sure, then, Janie, if you can. I shall try to do my duty by both of you.'

'Who talked of duty?' cried my wife, shrugging her shoulders. 'I never saw any one grown so grave as you have, Robert; you never seem now to be able to take a joke.'

I defended myself from this accusation on the plea of having found several grey hairs in my moustache last week; and before Janie had done laughing at the idea, Miss Anstruther reappeared, and I lifted her on her horse as though she were an ordinary friend to me, and my hands did not tremble under the burden of the creature I loved best in the world.

We rode on in silence together for some moments, and then I turned my horse's head towards the sandy plain which I have before mentioned as lying between us and the ocean, and told her that I was about to take her down to the beach, that she might derive a little benefit from the sea-breeze.

'Colonel Anstruther will not think that we have been taking sufficient care of you, Margaret, if we send you to him with such pale cheeks as you have now. I am afraid you find the hot weather very trying.'

'I never liked the hot weather, even in England,' she answered vaguely, whilst the rich blood mounted to her cheek beneath the scrutinising glance which I had turned towards her.

Our beach at Mushin-Bunda is hardly to be called a beach; for it possesses scarcely any shingles, but is composed of hillocks of loose sand which never stay in one place two nights together, but are ever shifting quarters, and are about as treacherous footing for an animal as one could desire. We passed over these carefully, however, and then we found ourselves upon the lower sands, which are daily washed by the sea, and rendered firm and level. Here we halted; for it was low tide, and the refreshing salt breeze fanned our hot faces, whilst the horses we rode stretched out their necks, and dilated their nostrils as though to drink in as much of it as they could.

Still we were very silent, and under the knowledge which had come to me the night before, the silence was even more oppressive than usual.

'This is delicious!' I exclaimed at last; 'worth coming farther than three miles to enjoy. This will do you good, Margaret.'

'Yes,' she sighed. 'What would one not give for a little of it occasionally during these hot nights!'

'You do not sleep well,' I said, struck by a sudden impulse.

She coloured as I addressed her; but that is nothing new.

'I don't think I sleep badly,' she replied, after a pause. 'I seldom lie awake for any length of time, but—'

'But when you rise in the morning, you feel unrefreshed and tired.'

'How do you know that?' she demanded quickly.

'I guessed it, Margaret. I guess it from your looks, your demeanour, your languor. I know that you do not rest properly at night, and that if you will not take seasonable advice you will be ill.'

'I am not ill,' she answered in a low voice.

'But you will be, which, under present circumstances, would greatly distress Janie. Will you not consent to see a doctor—if not for your own sake, for ours?'

I thought that physical care might in some measure relieve the mental disturbance under which she labours, or, at all events, prevent a repetition of her somnambulistic tendencies by which her secret may, some day, be made patent to the world. I never imagined she would guess my meaning; but the next moment I saw the mistake which I had made.

'What have I been doing?' she exclaimed, turning round with a rapidity for which I was totally unprepared. 'What have I been saying? Tell me at once, Captain Norton; don't keep me in suspense.' And her dark eyes blazed upon me as though they would search into my very heart.

I trembled beneath the look, and was dumb.

'Why do you think I cannot rest—that I shall be ill?' she re-demanded almost angrily; and then reading the truth, I suppose, in my confused demeanour, she added in a lower voice, a voice almost of terror, Have I been walking in my sleep?'

The ice was broken, then; and although I still felt very uncomfortable in speaking to her of the circumstance, I did not see any other course open to me than to tell her briefly of my endeavour to find out the reason of my wife's alarm, and the consequences which had ensued from it.

'I had not wished to mention this to you,' I said apologetically, 'and only the directness of your question should have drawn it from me. However, as it is, I daresay it is for the best; for though the occurrence is a common one, it is as well to guard against its repetition.'

'What did I say?' was the only reply which she made to my concluding observation.

I had so slurred over the fact of her speaking at all that I hoped it had escaped her notice; but the tone in which she put this question portended that she meant to have it answered.

'What did I say to you, Captain Norton?' she repeated firmly.

I began to mumble something about the words of sleep-walkers being always unintelligible, but she brought me back to the point.

'You must have heard me; in fact, I can see by your face that you did hear. What was it that I said?'

'I was so sleepy, Margaret,' I commenced, but I felt my voice shaking audibly,—'so sleepy, and altogether so confused, and my memory not being of the best, that I—I—really I—'

She gazed at me for a minute earnestly, almost hungeringly—I could feel it, though I did not see it—but I kept my eyes fixed over the sea, and a dead silence ensued between us. A dead silence, until it was broken by the living sound of tears; and I turned to see her dear head bent to her saddle-bow, and her slight figure shaken with her grief.

'Margaret, dear Margaret!' I exclaimed, forgetting everything but herself, 'it was nothing—indeed it was nothing; a few words spoken at random, of which no one in his senses would think twice, or be so presumptuous as to understand as the interpretation of your true feelings towards him.'

But in my anxiety and ardour I had blurted out far more than I intended.

'Be silent!' she cried, as she lifted an indignant burning face to mine—'be silent, Captain Norton! if you do not wish to insult me, or make me hate myself and you.' And with that she dashed her hand impetuously across her eyes, and gathering up her reins, turned her horse's head away from the sea-beach and began to canter towards home. I followed her, of course; but we did not exchange another word, and she would not even condescend to meet the imploring glance which, as I took her from the saddle, I lifted towards her face, mutely entreating for forgiveness.

She behaved much the same as usual during the remainder of the evening; only that I saw she studiously avoided coming in contact with myself. What a fool I was to say as much as I did! I, who almost registered a vow this morning that nothing should tear the secret from my lips. And now I have betrayed her to herself. I see she shuns me; I know she fears me; I almost believe I have made her hate me. Well, I have brought it on myself, and I must bear it as best I may; it only proves how little we know when we think—as I did this morning—that the world cannot hold a greater misfortune for us than the one we then endure.

Oh, Lionne, Lionne! what is to be the end of this?

August 12th.—I was scarcely surprised when Janie came to-day to tell me in a broken voice that her cousin had just informed her of her intention to leave Mushin-Bunda as soon as possible, and that she had already written to Mrs Grant to ask if she could receive her at Madras until her uncle's wishes with respect to her movements should be made known. I was not surprised, because I felt convinced that, after what had passed between us yesterday afternoon, her proud spirit would forbid her remaining under the same roof with me, if any alternative were open to her; at the same time I felt deeply hurt to think that my imprudence should be the means of driving her from the shelter of it. Janie, on the other hand, innocent as to the cause, had no reason to feel hurt, except by the want of confidence reposed in her; but she was wonderfully astonished, and disposed to resent my not being so as an additional grievance.

'Why, you don't seem in the least surprised to hear it, Robert!' she complained. 'Has Margaret said anything about it to you before?'

'The subject has never been broached between us; but Miss Anstruther has a right, of course, to follow her own inclinations, and we none to interfere with them.'

'No; but what can be the reason?'

'Did you not ask her, Janie?'

'Of course; but she only says that she does not feel so well here as she did at Madras.'

'I think that is quite sufficient to account for her desiring a change. Strength soon gives way in this country; and I don't think your cousin has been looking well or strong lately. What we know of her sleep-walking propensity is a proof of that.'

'Then I mustn't persuade her to stop with us, Robert?' continued Janie, pleadingly.

'By no means, dear. Let her follow the bent of her own wishes; it will be best for all of us.'

'But Uncle Henry will be so surprised; and I am afraid he will be angry—and—and I had so hoped she was going to stay with me, Robert; and I feel so ill—and—and—so nervous, and I can't bear that Margaret should go away.' And here the poor girl was quite overcome by the prospect of her own weakness and her companion's departure, and burst into a flood of childish tears.

I felt very sorry for Janie. She has so thoroughly enjoyed the society of her cousin, and she is not in a condition to be vexed and thwarted with impunity. And then again I thought of Lionne travelling all the way back to Madras by herself, to accept a home from strangers, with nothing but her present unhappiness and her future uncertainty to bear her company; and I felt that neither of these should be the one to suffer, and that if the circumstances required a victim, it should be myself. I did not particularly wish to leave my regiment, nor my wife, nor any one else; but if it is impossible for us to continue on the same footing with one another, I felt that I should be the one to go. So I did not hesitate; but telling Janie to keep her tears until she should be sure they were required, went in search of Margaret Anstruther.

She was neither in the drawing-room nor in the dining-room, but in a little antechamber which it pleases my wife to call her boudoir, but which is the dullest and most unfrequented apartment in the house. There I found her, lying on the sofa, shading her eyes with her hand, but making no attempt at work or reading.

'Margaret, may I speak to you?'

I could not, because I had offended her, go back to the more formal appellation of 'Miss Anstruther;' it seemed so much as though we had quarrelled.

'If it is of anything I should care to hear,' she said languidly.

'It is of something to which I much desire you should listen,' I replied. 'Janie has just been telling me that you purpose leaving us. Is that true?'

'It is,' she answered curtly, but not unkindly.

'I will not ask you for what reason,' I went on to say, 'because your wishes are your own, and shall be sacred; but if your decision is not irrevocable, think twice before you inflict such a disappointment on poor Janie. You know how weak and ill she is at present.'

'Captain Norton, I must go.'

'Must you? If I leave the house myself—if I leave the cantonment, and do not return?'

'You are not in earnest?' she said, raising her eyes to mine, too weary to be called surprised.

'I am. I have long intended going to Haldabad on a shooting excursion, which may detain me for two or three months. Inadvertently almost I have delayed it, your visit and Janie's illness coming in the way; but now I am ready to start at twelve hours' notice, if need be—indeed, I am anxious to be gone.'

'And what will Janie say to that, Captain Norton?' she demanded in a lowered voice.

'At this moment I believe that my absence will affect Janie less than your departure would do. She is very much attached to you, and she feels the comfort of a woman's presence. Added to which, Margaret, I am in a great measure responsible to your uncle for your proceedings, and I shall not feel easy if you leave my house for a stranger's without previously asking his consent. He will imagine I have proved unfaithful to my trust. Do you wish others to think as badly of me as I do of myself?'

As I uttered these words I dropped my voice almost to a whisper, but she heard them plainly.

'Oh, let me go! let me go!' she exclaimed wildly. 'It will be better, far better, for all of us. I cannot, indeed I cannot, remain here; the air of this place stifles me.'

'I have made you despise me,' I said despondently.

'No; oh no!' and her dark eyes were fixed upon me for a moment with an expression which I would have kept in them for ever; 'but—you know, Captain Norton, that it is best—that, in fact, we must part.'

'I do know it,' I replied; 'and therefore I am going. By this time to-morrow I hope to have made all necessary preparations, and to be ready for a start. Meanwhile you will stay here—I know you will, because I ask you—to comfort and look after Janie until you receive your uncle's consent to go to Madras. And when it arrives, and you have left Mushin-Bunda, I will return to it.'

'And we shall never, never meet again!' she said, in a voice so broken as to be almost inarticulate.

I dared not answer her; had I spoken, I must have poured out all my heart.

'You have consented?' were my next words.

'Yes, since you think it best; only I am sorry to be the means of driving you from home.'

'If you are—though you have no need to be—will you give me one recompense, Margaret?'

She lifted her eyes inquiringly; speech seemed almost lost to her.

'Say you forgive me for what I told you yesterday. I have sorely reproached myself since.'

She stretched out her hand, and met mine in a grasp which, though firm, was cold as that of death.

'Then we part friends?'

It was again myself who spoke; she nodded her head in acquiescence, and I felt my prudence evaporating, and rushed from the apartment.

Written down, this interview seems nothing; but to those who feel as we do, the misery of years may be compressed into an hour; and that small room, for both of us, was worse than a torture-chamber.

I have scarcely seen her since, except at meals; but, as I anticipated, my wife was so delighted to learn that she should retain her cousin's company, that she thought next to nothing of my proposed shooting excursion, except to beg that I would take care of myself, and to wonder how I could like going after those 'horrid bears' and 'awful tigers.' Indeed, on the whole, I half suspect the little woman is rather glad to get rid of me, and pleased at the idea of having Margaret all to herself for a few weeks; for she has occasionally displayed the faintest touch of jealousy when I have broken up their tête-à-tête conferences. So I have sent them word down to the Fort to lay my 'dawk' for me, and I shall start as soon as to-morrow's sun goes down.

I almost think we shall have a storm first, which would pleasantly clear the air; for the sky has been indigo-colour all to-day, and there is a strange heaviness over everything as I write.

I have been packing my portmanteau and cleaning my weapons, until I have fairly tired myself out; but were I to stop to think, I could never summon courage enough to go. The household is asleep, and has been for hours; and I am sadly in want of rest; for I can hardly keep my eyes open or guide my pen upon the paper—and yet I feel as though I should never sleep again.

Bah! I must be mad or dreaming. I am only starting on an ordinary shooting excursion, and I feel as though I were going to my grave.

This is folly—monomania; I shall be thankful when the hour comes for me to leave.

* * * * *

Madras, October 20th.—It is more than two months since I transcribed a line in this written record of my inmost thoughts—more than two months since that awful, horrible, and most unexpected catastrophe occurred, which I cannot now recall without a shudder, and which, for a time, seemed as if it must obliterate my reason or my life. But I am spared (though I cannot yet say, thank God that it is so); and were it not that my soul seems to die within me, and my energy to languish for want of some one or thing to which I may confide my sorrow, I should not have the courage even now to write the story down. But I must speak, even though it be but to a silent confidant, for my spirit fails for lack of sympathy; and therefore I draw out my old diary, and having read (shall I be ashamed to say with tears?) what I have written in these foregoing pages, proceed to bring the tale to a conclusion.

Let me try to collect my scattered thoughts, so apt to wander when I approach this miserable subject, and carry them back to the eventful moment when I last left off—to the night of the 12th of August.

I had sat up, packing my wardrobe and writing my diary, until I had fairly tired myself out, and then, having put away my book and writing materials into the table-drawer, I locked it, and lighting a cigar, sat down to think; of what, and in what strain, I and these pages, to my misery, best know.

I had no intention of permitting myself to fall asleep; but it is my custom to smoke just before retiring to bed, and I should have anticipated a broken rest without the indulgence. At the same time my fatigue was greater than I thought, and after a little while drowsiness came over me, and before I knew that sleep was coming, I was in the land of dreams.

And such a land! Thank heaven, for those who are not destined in this world to know substantial happiness, that dreams remain to them.

I dreamt that I was with Margaret again on the sea-shore; not riding, but wandering hand-in-hand; not speaking coldly or with averted faces, but eyes to eyes, and heart to heart. I dreamt that I was watching the damask blush which mantled on her cheek, and listening to the low, mellow sound of her rich voice, and that mingled with my own reply came the hoarse murmur of the ocean as it swelled and surged upon the shore.

I dreamt that we were one; one not in the earthly acceptation of the word, but in that fuller sense by which spirits are united to each other, never more to part; and that as we strolled upon the beach together we knew that neither death nor injury could sever us again. And amidst it all I was listening to the hoarse murmur of the waves, which rolled up to our very feet, and broke away, but to return with an energy louder and more imperative than before. I dreamt that as I stood thus, enfolding my new-found treasure in my arms, I started to find that the sky was overcast, and that the tide had surrounded us, and was behind as well as before, and threatening to overwhelm my darling. I dreamt that in my fear and solicitude I drew her backwards, trembling for her safety, and that as I whispered words of love and reassurance, I woke—to dream no more.

I woke, at the bidding of a loud and terrified scream from the lips of my native servants, and springing to my feet, became first aware of a sensation of intense chillness, and next, as my remaining senses gradually returned to me, of a hoarse murmur somewhere near me, which recalled the memory of my dream.

The night was intensely dark; there seemed to be neither moon nor stars, and for one moment I stood, uncertain which way to move, and waiting to hear if the cry had only been my fancy, or would be repeated. Too soon it came again, this time louder, more terrified, more piercing than before; and its burden words of fearful import, too fearful to be at first believed. 'Master! master!' it said in Hindustani; 'master, the sea is on us!' And before I could scarcely realise the meaning of the words, the natives who slept in the verandah had rushed into my presence, and were immediately followed by a huge wave of water, which, with the hollow roar to which I had listened in my dreams, burst into the unprotected sitting-rooms, and washed over my feet.

'Master!' cried the natives, as they clambered upon tables and chairs, 'the sea has burst its bounds; the sea is coming on us; the whole cantonment will be under water!'

'Close the doors and windows!' I exclaimed loudly; but no one stirred, and I attempted to set them the example of doing as I said, but it was too late. I perceived a dark volume of water stealing stealthily upon us from all sides, and even as I advanced towards the verandah, a huge wave dashed against me, washing me to the middle, knocking me backwards on the drawing-room table, and carrying away a chair as it retreated. At the same moment, a scream from the women's apartments told me that the sea had reached that quarter; and with no thought but for the safety of those dear to me, I dashed without ceremony into Miss Anstruther's room. I found her pale and trembling, but just awakened, sitting on the side of her bed with her bare feet in a river of sea water.

'What is the matter?' she gasped as I entered.

'The sea has overflowed the cantonment,' I replied hastily, as I quickly lifted her in my arms; 'but trust to me, Lionne, and I will take you to a place of safety.'

She shuddered but made no resistance, until I had carried her to the dining-room, now half full of water, and was preparing to wade with her through the verandah, and place her on the roof of the house.

'But where is Janie?' she exclaimed, as she looked with horror on the advancing mass of water; 'oh, where is Janie?'

At her question I nearly dropped my burden; for the moment I had entirely forgotten my poor wife, whose screams were patent from the adjoining room.

'Go to her,' said Lionne, as she struggled from my embrace, and slid down into the cold waves, against the violence of which she could hardly support herself. 'Go at once! What were you thinking of? She will drown, if you do not take care.'

'I am doing as much as I can,' I answered hurriedly. 'Let me place you in safety first, and then I will return for her. I cannot carry two at once.'

'And you would leave her to the last?' she said indignantly; 'she, in whom two lives are wrapt in one! Oh, Robert! I did not think it of you.'

'But, my beloved—' I commenced, in an agony at her delay.

'Go!' she said authoritatively; and I left her to her fate, and went.

I found my poor little wife wet through and screaming for help; and lifting her in my arms, I carried her, buffeting with the water as I went, through the dining and drawing-rooms to the outer verandah.

'Hold fast—take the greatest care of yourself,' I exclaimed in an agony of fear, as I battled past the white-clad figure which was clinging to the door-posts. 'I will return, Lionne, as soon as ever I can.'

'I am not afraid; God will take care of me,' was the calm reply; and I strode forwards into deeper and deeper water with each step. When I reached the verandah the struggle was severe, for there the waves were highest and strongest; but although much impeded by Janie's terrified clasp, I managed to wade with her to the foot of the ladder, and as soon as I had accomplished two or three steps of that, the rest was easy. I toiled with my helpless burden up to the roof, despair lending strength to my limbs; and as soon as I had reached it, I found myself in a goodly company of natives, who, with a few unfortunate exceptions, had managed to gain the top of the house as soon as the flood had surprised them. Having delivered Janie to the care of the ayah, I rushed down again to the assistance of Lionne, my heart throbbing as though it would burst with the fear that my efforts might be made too late. The water was now higher than ever in the verandah, and I began to be afraid that I should have to swim back again. I dashed on as vigorously and quickly as I could towards the door, to the lintels of which I had left her clinging. She was not there!

The dark water was swaying and surging through the deserted rooms; the furniture was floating about in the most dire confusion; trunks, portmanteaus, and other trivial articles knocked up against me at every turn before they drifted out to sea; but my beloved I saw nowhere. In an agony I called upon her name, making the walls resound with my voice, caring nothing who heard or listened to me.

'Lionne, Lionne! my dearest, my beloved! where are you? Speak to me.'

But no voice answered mine, no moan or groan reached my ears; and I waded into the chamber which had been my wife's.

Ah, what was that?—that helpless mass of white drapery clinging about delicately-moulded limbs, which swayed about in one corner, prevented by the wall—thank gracious heaven!—from floating out to sea with chairs and tables, but being knocked against that cruel wall with every motion of the waves, until no apparent life was left in it.

I took her senseless body in my arms, thankful even in that condition to have it there; and lifting the dear white face above the reach of the impetuous tide, laid my cheek against her own, although I believed that human warmth would never again visit it. It was no time for words or even thought. I pressed her to me as fondly as though the waves had been our bridal bed; and resenting the despair which urged me to let the cruel water carry us both away together then and there, battled with it once more, and bore my treasure to the place of safety. But it was with feelings such as no words of mine can describe, that I laid her beauteous form, cold, dripping, on the bare bricks with which the roof is paved. I had already stripped myself of coat and waistcoat for Janie; and there was nothing on which to lay the senseless body of my darling but the wet cloths which the natives could contribute, and an old piece of carpet which was kept up there.

Meanwhile the hoarse flood continued to roll and murmur below, becoming deeper and deeper with each surge of the mass of waters; and cries of distress were heard from the surrounding houses; and the articles of furniture which floated past us began to be mingled with a vision of dead faces turned sightlessly towards the moon, now beginning to struggle out from behind the canopy of dark clouds which had hitherto concealed her. And still I bent above the face which had become so unutterably dear to me, and prayed heaven to let her know me once more, if but for a moment's time.

Meanwhile poor Janie, exhausted by the fright she had undergone, and the grief she felt at the condition of her cousin, had fallen into a state which was half sleep and half syncope, and lay reclining with her head upon her ayah's lap.

And brother officers shouted to me from the roofs of neighbouring houses, asking if we were all safe—all well; and I answered that I hoped, I trusted so; and prayed heaven again to let her know me once more before she died.

And God granted me my prayer. Towards morning she awoke to consciousness. Just as the grey dawn commenced to break, and that dreadful flood, which continued for forty-eight hours to pervade the devoted cantonment, began to show symptoms of being at its height, she opened her dark eyes and gazed at me.

'Where am I?' she said, faintly.

'Here, dearest,' I replied, all reserve vanished in the face of death,—'here in my arms; in the arms of him who loves you better than his life.'

'It is not hard to die so,' she whispered; but as she spoke an expression of agony passed over her countenance.

'Are you in great pain, Lionne?'

'Yes,' she replied with effort.

'Where, dearest? tell me.'

'Everywhere—all over. I was knocked down so often.'

'Ah, my beloved! and I not there to help you.'

'You were doing your duty, Robert; and it will soon be over now—all will be over soon—all pain—all—'

'Not mine,' I murmured in an agony. 'Lionne, tell me—but once before we part—say that you love me!'

'My legacy,' she whispered, with a faint smile. 'Yes, Robert; with all my heart—as my life, better than my life.'

'O God, spare her!' I cried aloud.

'O God, take me!' she said herself; 'take me from misery and disappointment to where there are no tears.'

'And how am I to live without you?' I exclaimed.

Her dark eyes met mine reproachfully.

'Janie—your child,' she gasped. 'I—I could have been—nothing.'

'You are all the world to me!' I exclaimed, passionately.

She lay quiet for a few moments, and then she opened her eyes wide, and fixed them upon mine.

'Promise,' she gasped—'Janie—to love—to love—to comfort—to—'

She fell back in my arms, and for a few minutes I watched with inexpressible pain the convulsive working of her beautiful features.

'Better—so much better—that I should go,' she whispered, after a long pause; and as she said the words she went.

It was the corpse of Margaret Anstruther, and of all my earthly happiness, that I laid down upon the sodden rags and piece of carpet.

I have no heart to write down the details of what followed. For two days that cruel flood pervaded Mushin-Bunda before it showed symptoms of subsiding; and before that time arrived, several hundred lives (chiefly natives) had been sacrificed. We lost nearly all our furniture, though several pieces were left stranded in the compound when the waters retired; amongst others, the writing-table which held my diary.

But what avails it to speak of personal loss at such a time as this? My poor wife, from the combined effects of cold, fatigue, and terror, had a very serious illness, from which at one time I almost feared she might not recover; and on her return to health I brought her to Madras, from which place I write. She is now herself again; and I am in good health and tolerable spirits; and—and Margaret sleeps alone in a shady corner of the English burying-ground at Mushin-Bunda. No, not alone! God is my witness that my heart sleeps with her!

Note added ten years later.

I have been looking over my old diaries to-day, and burning most of them; but something within me seems to forbid that I should destroy these few pages which record the history of my brief acquaintanceship with Margaret Anstruther. They are the only remembrance I have left of her.

Ten years have waxed and waned since the dark night she died; what have they left me? A wife whom I love and in whom I trust; who, I may safely say, I would exchange for no woman living; who has brought me children, loving and docile as herself, and very dear to me; a happy peaceful home (no longer in the East); a moderate competence; and a name which I trust no man holds lightly.

And to these many blessings I add contentment, and wonder what more good on this earth a mortal could expect.

On this earth none; but whilst I ponder, I thank God that this earth is not the end of all things.

There was a time when I used to think and say that all my happiness lay buried in the grave of Lionne; but I have lived to learn and believe that at the Last Day it shall rise again, with her to bloom, ten thousand times renewed, in heaven!


IT was at the close of a sultry day in June, that the passenger vessel, 'Star of the North,' coasted the island of Martinique on her way to Barbadoes. The sea was calm as a summer lake, and an ominous stillness reigned in the surrounding atmosphere that made the words of a song, trolled out by a free, manly voice from the forecastle, distinctly heard in every part of the vessel,—

'Wherever you be, by land or sea,
Why, set your heart at rest;
For you may be sure, come kill or cure
Whatever is, is best!'

'Don't believe it,' grumbled an old seaman, who was seated on a coil of rope mending a sail. 'I wish I'd had the ordering of my own life, any way. I'd have soon seen if it was best for me to be situated as I am at this here present!'

He was a fine old man, with rugged but well-cut features and muscular limbs. He had a clear blue eye, and silvery locks that showed he had been a handsome fellow in his day; but something or other had put him out of love with life, and his habitual mood was one of discontent. A passenger, who was pacing the quarter-deck, with a thoughtful countenance, turned at the old sailor's words and confronted the speaker.

'Don't you believe in a Providence that overrules all our actions, Williams?' he demanded abruptly.

'Oh yes, Mr Egerton, I believe in Providence fast enough; but when I see want and misery and injustice on every side of me, I cannot help thinking as our actions might be ruled a little straighter for us.'

'We are all apt to think the same, but that is because we cannot see the end of the beginning. Perhaps, too, you have never prayed that Providence might extend its fostering care over you?'

'You're mistaken, sir. No man ever prayed more than I used to do. I was a reg'lar conwarted Christian at one time; and a morial example, but 'twarn't no manner of use. No one never heard nor answered my prayers, and so I left off a saying 'em, and I don't see as my troubles are a bit the wuss for it, neither. Everybody seems to get much of a muchness in this world, let 'em wear out their marrer bones or not.'

He re-applied himself to the patching of his sail, and the young man who had addressed him looked over the dark blue waters and sighed. He, too, had prayed for some weeks past that a certain blessing on which he had set his heart might be granted him, and his prayers had been returned upon his hands, as it were, unanswered. He was a very sad and disappointed man that evening, but his faith in Heaven was not one whit shaken by the trouble that had overtaken him. Even the clear, ringing laughter of Miss Herbert, as she sat on the poop and responded to the badinage and compliments of the group of gentlemen by which she was surrounded, although it made Egerton's brave heart quiver with pain, had not the power to cause it to despair.

'Williams,' he said, after a pause, 'you are altogether wrong. Prayer may not be answered at once, nor in the manner we anticipate, but it is always heard, and what that song says is true,—"Whatever is, is best." It must be.'

But Williams still looked dubious.

'It's all very well for them, sir, as is rich and young, and got all their life before 'em, to think so. I dare say everything do seem best to them; but let 'em be sick and sorry and old, and obliged to work hard for their living, and I warrant they'd sing to a different sort of tune.'

'Are you sick, Williams?'

'Pretty middlin', sir. I've done a deal of hard work in my time, and I has the rhoomatics that bad in my hands sometimes as makes every stitch I put a trouble to me.'

'Are you sorry?'

'Well, I've had my share of that lot, Mr Egerton; but as I've told you already, 'twas nothin' to nobody what I suffered nor what I felt, and so I've larned to hold my tongue upon the matter.'

Richard Egerton looked at the old sailor's rugged face, down which time or trouble had made many a furrow, and his heart went out to this fellow-creature, who had sorrowed perhaps as much as he was doing himself, and had no outward alleviation for the world's injustice.

'Did you ever watch two people play a game of chess, Williams?' he asked, presently.

'Do you mean them little figures as they move about on a black-and-white board, same as we use for draughts, sir?'

'I do.'

'Oh yes! I've watched the passengers playing that game many a time.'

'Didn't it puzzle you at first to understand why the players should sometimes allow their men to be taken from them, or even place them in positions of danger where they could not possibly escape being captured?'

'Yes, sir!' cried old Williams, brightening up with intelligence. 'I remember there was one gentleman that crossed with us last year to Trinidad, and he used to boast that there was no one on board could beat him at that game. And no more there was, and his play was always to let the other sweep near half his men off the board afore he'd begin in arnest at all. Lord! I've stood and watched 'em when I was off duty, many and many a time, and been as near as possible a-crying out to him to take care; but he had got the game, sir, at his fingers' end, and always came off victor, whoever sat down with him.'

'Just so. That gentleman's plan must have seemed inexplicable to anyone who was ignorant of the rules of chess, but those who knew them and watched them to the end, would have understood that he allowed his knights and pawns to be taken only, that he might preserve his queen and his castle, and win the game for them all. Do you follow me?'

'I think I can, sir, though I don't know where the dickens you're a leading me to.'

'Only to this point—that you must try and think in the same way of the dealings of Providence with men. We cannot tell why one of us is rich and the other poor; why one has blessings in this life and the other nothing but troubles. But God does. We only see the effect; He knows the cause. He is the player of the game, Williams, and does not allow one piece to be taken captive by the enemy, except with a view to final victory.'

'Well, sir, that's all very clever argumentation, but it don't convince me. It's sorry work listenin' to reason for comfort. He's swept away all my pieces, one arter another—there's no question about that—and left me alone in the world, and I can't see the mercy of it nor the justice either,' replied the old man in a discontented tone.

'But it is not only to the sick and the old and the poor that He deals out His judgments,' continued Egerton sadly. 'We all have our troubles, in whatever position we may be placed.'

At this moment the man up on the forecastle shouted again at the top of his voice, 'Whatever is, is best.'

'I wish that Ben's tongue was a little shorter,' exclaimed Williams hastily. 'He's always a bawlin' out them cheerful songs, as makes a feller feel twice as downhearted as he did afore.'

''Twould be all the same to you, "Old Contrairy," whatever he sung,' remarked another sailor in passing; 'for the song ain't written yet as would give you any satisfaction to listen to.'

'Well, I likes to hear sense, whatever it be,' shouted "Old Contrairy" after him. 'Look at that bank of clouds, rolling up from leeward. We shall have a squall before long, as sure as I sits here. However, I suppose that fool Ben would go on shoutin' "Whatever is, is best," if the "Star of the North" was split into fifty pieces, and he was just goin' under water with his mouth choke full of weed.'

'Heaven forbid!' exclaimed Egerton, as he turned away to seek his cabin. His conversation with the old seaman had had the effect of increasing his depression, and he felt as if he could not trust himself to argue with him any longer. He would have much preferred on this sultry evening to take up his usual quarters on the poop, where the rest of the passengers were assembled; but he had not the courage to go there. So the poor young fellow left the deck, and, entering his cabin threw himself down upon the sofa, which served him for a bedstead, and abandoned himself to the luxury of grief. He was altogether too young and too good-looking to feel so utterly bereft of hope. His bright brown curls covered a brow which was full of intellect, and bore upon its broad expanse the best sign of an honourable man—the impress of frankness and truth. His deep blue eyes, now so dull and troubled with disappointment, were generally bright and mirthful, and his athletic limbs, although but the growth of four-and-twenty years, gave promise of an unusual acquisition of manly strength and power.

And Richard Egerton had other heritages besides those of youth and beauty. He was the possessor, as the old seaman had intimated, of wealth and influence. He had been adopted in his infancy by a rich relation, who had lately died, leaving him the whole of his fortune and his large estates in Barbadoes, on the condition that he assumed the name of Egerton, instead of that which had been his by birth. But what did all these advantages avail the poor lad to-day?—this day which had dawned so full of hope, and was now about to set upon the heaviest heart he had ever carried in his bosom. And pretty Amy Herbert, whose laughter still reached his ear at times, even where he lay, was the cause of all this trouble. They were not entirely new acquaintances. He had met her in England some months before, and had taken his passage to Barbadoes by the "Star of the North" only because he heard that she was going to travel in it to join her father, who was a civilian of some repute in Trinidad. He had admired her from the first moment of their acquaintance, and the weeks they had spent on board had ripened his admiration into love, and made him hope, as he had had every reason to do, that she was not indifferent to himself. He believed that his position as owner of considerable property in the West Indies would have ensured a favourable reception at the hands of her father, and had approached the subject of marriage with her, if not with the certainty of being met halfway, at least with a modest hope that she could not think him presumptuous. And Amy Herbert had refused his offer—point-blank and without hesitation—unequivocally and decidedly refused it. It had fallen upon him as an unmitigated blow. How lovely she had looked that morning when he found her sitting in her basket-chair in a corner of the poop, shading her sweet, soft eyes from the glaring light with a rose-lined parasol. How confidently he had believed that he should see the long lashes lowered over those beautiful eyes, and the maiden flush of combined shyness and pleasure mount to that delicate cheek, as he poured forth his tale of love to her.

Others had watched the young couple sitting so close together on the poop that morning, and guessed what was going on. Others had seen Richard Egerton bending lower and lower over his pretty fellow-passenger, and gazing into her eyes as though he would read her very soul, as he whispered his hopes to her. The poor young fellow had been very modest over it, but he had made so sure that Amy Herbert's looks and actions could not have deceived him, that he had almost thanked her beforehand for the answer he expected to receive. And she had listened to his proposal with well-feigned surprise, and rejected it with ill-advised haste. She had thought in her silly, girlish inexperience that it was more correct and womanly to appear horrified at the first idea of marriage, and she had been almost as despairing as himself as she saw Richard Egerton take her at her word and turn away without a second appeal, to hide his wounded pride below. She was deeply repenting her abrupt dismissal of him as she flirted on the poop with Captain Barrington, who was returning from leave to join his regiment in Barbadoes. But how was poor Egerton to know that, as he cast himself dejectedly upon his narrow berth and lay, face downwards, with his eyes pressed upon the pillow, lest the hot tears that scorched them should overflow and betray his weakness? The sound of her voice tortured him. He believed that she must be in earnest in showing a preference for Captain Barrington, and he was not yet strong enough to watch her fair face smiling on another man. So he delivered himself over to melancholy, and tried hard to believe that he would not have things other than they were.

'Whatever is, is best,' he kept on repeating inwardly. 'It will not do for me to preach a lesson to another man that I am unable to apply to myself. Besides, it is true. I know it to be so. My whole existence has proved it hitherto.'

Yet the smiling, sunlit pastures and cane fields, to which he was taking his way, and which had seemed so beautiful in prospect when he had hoped to secure fair Amy Herbert to reign over them as mistress, appeared to afford him but dull anticipation now.

'How shall I ever get through the work?' he thought, 'and my heavy heart and sluggish spirit will lay me open to the worst influences of the country. But I will not despair. My wants and my weakness are not unknown, and a way will be found for me even out of this "Slough of Despond."'

He was suddenly roused from his love-sick reverie by the sound of a low moaning, which seemed to pervade the surrounding atmosphere. Starting up on his couch, Egerton now perceived through the porthole that the sky had become dark, and the noise of the captain of the vessel shouting his orders through a speaking-trumpet, and the sailors rushing about to execute them, made him aware that something was wrong. He was not the man to keep out of the way of danger. Brave as a lion and intrepid as an eagle, Richard Egerton, from a boy, had ever been the foremost in any emergency or danger. Now, as the warning sounds reached his ear, he rushed at once on deck. He remembered 'Old Contrairy's' prophecy of a squall, and his first thoughts were for the comfort and safety of Miss Herbert. But as he issued from the passengers' saloon a fearful sight awaited him. One of those sudden hurricanes, for which the West Indies are famous, and which will sometimes swamp the stoutest vessel in the course of a few seconds, had arisen, and the whole ship's company was in confusion. As Egerton sprang upon deck he could distinctly see what appeared to be a black wall of water advancing steadily to meet the unfortunate 'Star of the North.' With the exception of the noise consequent on attempting to furl the sails in time to receive the shock of the approaching storm, there was but little tumult upon deck, for everyone seemed paralysed with terror.

At the first alarm, Miss Herbert, with the remainder of the passengers from the poop, had attempted to go below, but, having reached the quarter-deck, was crouching at the foot of the companion-ladder, too terrified by the violence of the tornado to proceed further. As for Egerton, he had to hold on fast to the bulwarks to prevent himself being washed overboard. His head was bare, and as he stood there, with the wind blowing his curls about in the wildest disorder, and his handsome face knit with anxiety and pain, Amy Herbert looked up and saw him, and registered a vow, in the midst of her alarm, that if they ever came safely out of that fearful storm she would humble her pride before him and confess that she had been in the wrong. The moaning of the tempest increased to a stunning roar, and then the huge wall of water broke upon the 'Star of the North' with a violence to which no thunder can bear comparison.

All hands were aghast, and the men were dashed about the deck hither and thither as the wind caught the vessel on her broadside. The awful noise of the hurricane rendered all communication by speech impossible, but the captain, by setting the example, stimulated his men to cut away the masts in order to right the ship, which had been thrown almost on her beam-ends.

In a moment Egerton perceived the danger to which Amy Herbert would be exposed by the fall of the crashing timber. She was crouching in the most exposed part of the quarter-deck, her lovely eyes raised upwards, full of the wildest fear.

'There! there! Go there!' he exclaimed frantically, though his voice had no power to reach her, as he pointed to a more sheltered position under the companion-ladder. 'Get under there, for Heaven's sake!'

She saw the warning gesture of his hand, the agony depicted in his face, and understood the meaning of them, just as the huge mast bowed itself towards the sea. Egerton continued his efforts to make her see the necessity of moving, and she was just about to take advantage of the hint, when Captain Barrington crawled on all fours into the place himself. The little man was not too brave by nature, and fear had driven all thoughts of chivalry out of his head. For the moment the girl did not see who had forestalled her intention; she only perceived that she had lost her chance of safety, and waited the event in trembling anxiety. Down came the topmast with a crashing shock that threatened to sink the vessel. Yet Amy Herbert was sheltered from possible injury, for, with a mighty effort, Richard Egerton had quitted his stronghold and flung his body upon the deck before her. For one moment he was conscious—happily conscious—that she was safe, and he had saved her; the next, he had fainted from a blow on the head and the pain of a large splinter of wood that had been broken from the falling mast and driven with violence into his arm. He did not hear the scream with which Amy Herbert viewed the accident, nor see the agonised face which bent above his prostrate form. He heard, and saw, and knew nothing, until he opened his eyes in his own cabin and perceived, with the dazed wonder of returning consciousness, that the old sailor, Williams, and the ship's doctor, Mr French, were bending over him.

* * * * *

'You'll do now,' remarked the doctor as he held a cordial to his lips.

'Is she safe?' was all Richard Egerton said in reply, as he looked at his splintered arm. They thought he meant the 'Star of the North.'

'Oh yes, she's safe enough now, sir,' replied the old seaman; 'but we've had an awful time of it, and no mistake. We've lost our top-gallant mast, and our spars and hen-coops have been washed overboard, and one of the boats got adrift in the squall, and the poor "Star" is stript of half her toggery.'

'But are any of the passengers injured?'

'No one but yourself, sir; but two of our best men went over with the mast, and Ralph White has broke his leg, and there'll be a tidy little bill for some one to pay when we gets into port again.'

'And that reminds me, Williams, that I must go and look after poor White,' said the doctor. 'I think I may leave my patient in your care now. All you have got to do is to see that he lies there till I come back again.'

'I'll look after the gentleman, doctor, never you fear,' replied the old seaman as Mr French left the cabin.

'It was an awful hurricane, Williams,' remarked Egerton, with a sigh of remembrance, as he turned uneasily upon his pillow.

'You may well say that, sir; and it's just a miracle as we're still afloat.'

'How little we thought, as we talked together on deck an hour or two ago, that death was so close at hand for some of us.'

'Ay, indeed, and with that smiling, burning, treacherous blue sky above us. You have seen some of the dangers now, sir. I suppose you ain't going, in the face of this storm, to hold to Bill's song, that "Whatever is, is best."'

'Yes, I am, Williams,' replied the young man firmly.

'What! with our tight little ship knocked to pieces in this fashion, and your arm broken in two places?'

'Just so, Williams. Heaven sent both the storm and the accident. They must be for the best.'

'Well, I'm blowed!' exclaimed the old sailor in sheer amazement. The announcement seemed to have taken all the wind out of his sails, and he sat staring at the wounded man as if he had charge of a lunatic.

'How comes it that you are attending on me?' asked Egerton, as Williams handed him a glass of water.

'Well, sir, I seem to have took a fancy to your way of talking; so when they wanted some one here to help the doctor with your arm I offered to come, that's all.'

'It was very good of you. You told me this morning that you had had troubles, and prayer had never availed to get you out them. Do you mind telling me what those troubles are?'

'Not a bit, sir, if I sha'n't tire you; but it is a long story. I had a sweetheart when I was a young chap—most young chaps have, you know, sir—I daresay you've had one yourself before now—and I had a school-mate, too, by name—well! we'll call him Robert—and we both loved the girl dearly; but he got her, sir, and I had to go to the wall.'

'That was very unlucky for you.'

'Well, it was unfortunate, though he courted her above-board, and all was fair enough at the time. But the worst of it was that he turned out a regular bad 'un, and ill-treated his wife shamefully arter he'd married her. When I came home from sea, it used to make my blood reg'lar boil to hear poor Lottie tell how he'd beaten and kicked and starved her, for he'd taken to drink, you see, sir, and all his love had gone like a flash of lightning.'

'Was he a sailor too?'

'Yes, sir, and once, when I come off a long voyage to China and Australy, and round home by San Francisco, I heard that Lottie was a widder and in great distress, without hardly a bit of money. Well, I looked her up pretty sharp, as you may guess, and I found it was all true.'

'And then you married her.'

'No, I didn't sir. I've never been married. I don't deny I asked her, but she wouldn't have me, nor no one. She said it was too late, and she was dyin', which sure enough she was. But she had a child, sir—little Dickey—such a dear little chap, with blue eyes—just like her own—and pretty yeller curls; and when she died she left him on my hands, and lor', how fond I was of that little creetur! He took his poor mammy's place in my heart altogether.'

The old sailor stopped here, and drew his hand across his eyes.

'Did he die too, Williams?' inquired Egerton.

'Not as I knows of, sir. He may be dead or livin'. It's all the same to me now. That was the time I used to pray, Mr Egerton, night and day, that the little feller I was so proud on might grow up a good man and a good son to me and a comfort to my old age, and when I lost him I chucked up religion altogether.'

'How did you lose him?'

'In the crudest of ways, sir. He had grow'd up beside me five years, and I had done everythink for him; and when he'd put his two little arms round my neck and kiss me, and look so like his poor mother—who was the only sweetheart I ever had, Mr Egerton—I used to thank the Lord, with tears in my eyes, for His goodness to me. But it was all a delusion, sir.'

'Tell me the end of it.'

'The end of it was that, when my pretty Dickey was a smart little feller of about ten years old, I got him a place as ship-boy aboard the 'Lady Bird,' and we sailed for the Brazils together, as proud and 'appy as the days was long. And I was a teachin' the boy everythink, Mr Egerton, and he was gettin' that 'cute and handy—when, in an evil moment, that man whom we all thought dead and buried, turned up again somewhere down by Rio Janeiro, and claimed his boy of me.'

'What! the father?'

'Yes, sir. Of course he had the right to do it, and that's what the skipper tried to make me understand; but it broke my heart entirely. He thought he'd make money out of the lad's wages, and so he took him away from me, who was just like a father to him; and his screams, as we parted, have never left my ears since. And when I heard afterwards that the brute ill-treated Dickey, just as he'd done his poor mammy, I nearly went mad. The men calls me sulky, and "Old Contrairy," and sich like names; but many's the time when they think me cross, I'm only dreaming over that time ag'in and cursin' them as brought me to sich a pitch. I shall never see my pretty Dickey ag'in, sir, till I meets 'im up above; and I shall owe Robert Hudson a grudge to the day of my death for robbin' me of him in that there cruel manner.'

'Who did you say?' cried Egerton, starting up in his berth.

'Please to lie down, sir? The doctor will be arter me if I lets you knock about in that manner. The name slipped out unawares, for 'tain't of no use raking it up ag'in. It has nothin' to do with my story.'

'But, pray, tell it me again?'

'It was Robert Hudson, sir.'

'But Robert Hudson was the name of my father!'

'Your father, sir! But, beggin' your pardon, how can that be, when you're called Egerton?'

'I know I am; but I took the name from a relation who left me his money on condition that I did so. My real name is Richard Hudson, and I was brought up to the sea and adopted by my mother's cousin, Henry Egerton, because my father treated me so brutally. He was had up by the police for thrashing me till I fainted, and then the magistrates gave me over to the guardianship of Mr Egerton——; and, Williams, can it possibly be?'

'Sir, sir! don't keep me in suspense. What was the maiden name of your mother?'

'Charlotte Erskine, and she was born in Essex.'

'At Pinfold?'

'That is the place. My grandfather had the "Peartree Farm" there, and she is buried in Kensal Green Cemetery. Mr Egerton used often to take me to see her grave.'

'Oh, sir! this is very, very wonderful! Is it possible you can be my little Dickey?'

'It is quite true that I am the son of Robert and Charlotte Hudson, and that if I had not changed my name, we should have recognised each other before now. Do not think I have forgotten you, Williams? I cannot remember the face of my sailor friend; but I have never forgotten all his kindness to me. But surely I used to call you "Caleb" in those days, and have always thought of you by that name since.'

'True, enough, sir, that's me—Caleb Williams, and I can hear your sweet little voice a-callin' Caleb from the top of the house to the bottom now; you was never long out of my arms, Mr Egerton. Day and night you was on this bosom, as you may say, and my heart's been as empty as a dried gourd since I lost sight of you. And so you're my own boy—leastways, what I used to call my own—and I've been a nussin' you again as I used to nurse you in the olden times. Oh, bless the Lord for all His mercies!' cried the old seaman, as he fairly broke down, and sobbed with his face in his hands.

* * * * *

They talked for a long time over the past; Richard Egerton being scarcely less affected than old Williams, as, one by one, little incidents and reminiscences came to light to confirm their several identities, and make him see still more clearly how much he owed to the old man who sat beside him.

'And now, Caleb,' he said, when the evening shadows had deepened into dusk, 'this will be your last voyage. I cannot let you work any more. You know that I have riches, and you must share them.'

'Oh, sir, you are too good!'

'Don't call me "sir" again, please. Call me Richard, Caleb, or "Dickey," or anything that pleases your fancy; but the man who acted as a father to me when I had worse than none, shall never address me as though I were his superior. What was it you prayed for me to become, Caleb, in those days when I used to sit on your knee with my little hands clasped about your neck?'

'A good man and a good son, my dear, dear boy,' quavered the old seaman.

'Well, I will try, at all events, to fulfil the last clause. My cousin Egerton, who was a rich tradesman, has left me all his property. I have land and houses in Barbadoes, and I intend to settle there; at least, for the next few years. You must come and live with me. You will find plenty of work on the estate to employ your time, if you wish to work; and if you wish to rest, you shall be idle. My father has been dead in reality for many years past, so that we shall be left alone and in peace this time to end our days together.'

'And there is no one else, my dear boy?' inquired Williams anxiously.

'How do you mean?'

'You are not married, nor likely to be?'

'I am not married, nor likely to be. There is no one else,' repeated Richard Egerton, with a bitter sigh.

'Don't sigh like that, sir.'

'Dickey, please, Caleb.'

'Dickey, then—my little Dickey, as I loved so hearty. To think I should have found you again arter all these years—grow'd to such a fine man, too—and in that awful storm! It beats everythink I ever heard of.'

'Whatever is, is best,' replied Egerton. 'You won't grumble again, will you, Caleb, because the answer to your prayer may be delayed a little?'

'Don't mention it, my boy. I feels ashamed even to remember it.'

'You see that even the hurricane has borne its good fruit as well as its evil. Without it we might never have been made known to each other.'

'It's bin a marciful interposition of Providence from beginning to end,' said old Williams, wiping his eyes. 'But I should like to see you a bit more cheerful, Dickey. There has been a sad look in your face the last four days, which I couldn't help noticin', and now that I knows you to be who you are, I sha'n't rest satisfied till you smiles in the old way again.'

Egerton was just about to answer him, when a gentle knock sounded on the cabin door, which stood ajar in consequence of the heat.

'Who's that?' demanded the old sailor gruffly.

'It is only I,' responded a soft, trembling voice, which Egerton at once recognised as that of Amy Herbert. 'I came to inquire how Mr Egerton is getting on, and if I can do anything for him.'

'No, miss, thank ye, you can't do nothin'; he's a-goin' on very nicely, and I'm here,' responded Williams.

'May I speak to him for a minute?'

'Oh yes,' said Richard eagerly, raising himself to a sitting position.

The young lady pushed open the cabin door and stood on the threshold, blushing like a rose. She looked very beautiful, although her eyes were swollen with crying, and her dress and hair were in disorder.

'I felt I could not sleep until I had thanked you for what you did for me, Mr Egerton,' she uttered tearfully. 'You endangered your own life to save mine, who have done nothing to deserve such a sacrifice on your part.'

'Ay, that he did!' interrupted Williams.

'It is nothing—nothing,' said Egerton faintly, for the sight of her had upset all his courage. 'You could not help it. It is not your fault if—if—'

'If—what?' demanded Amy Herbert.

He turned his eyes towards her, and a new hope ran through his veins like a reviving cordial. 'Caleb, my dear old friend,' he exclaimed tenderly, 'leave me for five minutes to myself.'

'What! all alone with the lady?' returned Caleb, regarding Miss Herbert as though she were a dangerous animal.

'Yes, for one moment only. I have something to say for her ear alone.'

He had sprung off the berth in his excitement, and was about to quit the cabin.

'Don't go out, then, my dear boy, for mercy's sake,' said Williams, 'for you've lost a deal of blood, and are weaker than you think for. Will you promise me?'

'I do promise, if you will only go.'

The old man shambled out of the cabin as he spoke, and the two were left alone.

'I want so much to tell you,' said Egerton, speaking with some difficulty, 'what I had not the courage to say this morning, that I know it is not your fault. The blame rests entirely on me. It was my presumption—my madness, if you will—that led me on to speak to you as I did, and I acquit you of all blame. I know you feel for my disappointment now—and I thought it would make you easier to hear this—that is all.'

'Oh, if I could only make you understand!' she sobbed.

'Pray don't distress yourself. I do understand it all. How can you help it if you find it impossible to love me?'

'But I do not—I mean, I can—that is to say, I did not mean—' stammered the girl, colouring scarlet at the admission she had been betrayed into making.

'Am I to understand that you did not mean what you said this morning?' exclaimed the young man as he grasped her hand. 'Amy, you have given me fresh life. Oh, do not take it back again! Say if you love me!'

Her maidenly bashfulness struggled for a moment with her probity, but the latter conquered.

'Yes, I do love you! It was my egregious vanity and love of conquest that made me trifle with your feelings this morning. I have been very miserable ever since. I have hoped you would speak to me again, and when I saw you risk your life for my sake, I wished that I might have died for you instead.'

'O Amy, Amy! Your words are opening heaven to me. Darling, is it possible that you will be my wife?'

'If you can forgive my heartless rejection of you, Richard. If you can believe that I am true in saying that I hated each word even as I uttered it. If you still think me worthy of being your life-companion, I will give you a very different answer now.'

'You have made me the very happiest man on earth,' he cried exultantly, as he folded her in his arms.

'Lor', sir!—I mean my boy, Dickey—you mus'n't be a-goin' on like this!' exclaimed old Caleb, appearing on the scene when least expected. 'The doctor's particular orders was that you were to keep quiet and not bounce about.'

'Caleb, my dear friend, I will be as quiet as your heart can wish now, for mine is at rest. Don't stare so. Come here, and sit down again, whilst I explain to this young lady all that you have been to me, and tell you all that I trust she will very soon be to me.'

'Oh, we're to have a missus arter all, then!' cried the old sailor meaningly. 'Why, I thought you told me just now, my boy, that you warn't a-goin' to be spliced!'

'Ah, Caleb, the storm has sent me a wife as it brought you a son. Had it not been for that awful hurricane, and the peril in which it placed this precious life, I am not quite sure if we should ever have been so happy as we are this evening. Never mind my wounded arm and the gash upon my cheek; Miss Herbert says she shall like it all the better for a scar. The wound in my heart is healed, Caleb, and life looks very fair for us all henceforward. And yet you could not believe "Old Contrairy,"' he added playfully, that 'Whatever is, is best.'


I CAME down to breakfast one morning last autumn, and found a letter on the table from my old friend Bessie Maclean.

Bessie and I were girls at school together, and continued our intimacy after we left, until we married and went to different parts of the country. Marriage is a terrible breaker up of old ties; not only by reason of the separation which generally ensues, but because of the new duties it entails. We had both married the men of our hearts, however, and in comfortable circumstances; and so far all was well. But little by little our correspondence, which at first had been so voluminous and detailed, became scanty and irregular.

Bessie had half-a-dozen children to occupy her time and attention; and I—I had my dear husband to fill up the measure of my life, and felt myself a wicked and ungrateful woman if I even wished for more.

But—there is always a 'but' in the happiest worldly existence, is there not?—Dick and I had no children; and the disappointment had sometimes caused me to shed bitter tears. In secret though; I had never told my husband one-half I felt upon the subject.

Of course he twitted me with it sometimes in a playful manner, which showed that the fact did not sink very deep into his heart, whatever it did in mine. Yet I had thought occasionally that he looked more thoughtful than usual when children were in the room: and the idea made me thoughtful too. Especially I had noticed it when we paid our first visit to Bessie in her new house; for I must tell you that a few months before my story commences, Tom Maclean had bought a large farm in the vicinity of the town where the gaol stands, of which my husband is the governor. Of course, after so long a separation, Bessie and I were delighted to find we had become near neighbours again; and as soon as ever the Macleans were settled, they invited us both over to Poplar Farm, to stand sponsors to the latest arrival—a little boy whom they called Richard, after my Dick, God bless him! Poplar Farm was ten or twelve miles from Chesterwick, however, so I had not seen my friends more than five or six times since the christening day; and the visits I had paid them had not quite realised the expectations I had formed of meeting Bessie again.

I suppose it was my vile envious nature, or perhaps the quiet life I have led with Dick has made me selfish; but it seemed to me as though all the time my old school-fellow spent with me was devoted, not to our friendship, or reminiscences of our girlish days, but to talking about her children and telling me of their accomplishments or complaints, or consulting me as to their dresses or amusements. Of course I was pleased at first to be introduced to her fine brood of boys and girls; but I could hardly be expected to feel as much interest in them as their mother did, and I was sorely disappointed to find she had lost so much of hers in me. She did not seem to care to hear anything about my husband, or how we loved each other in our happy, peaceful home; nor did she even talk much about Tom, with her affection for whom I could have sympathised better than with any other. But he appeared to be almost forgotten or overlooked in her maternal care for the little ones; and she was more anxious that Lily's new hat should become her, or Charley's medicine be swallowed without a fit of obstinacy, than that Mr Maclean should appreciate his dinner, or have his evening hours undisturbed for settling his accounts. I have observed the same thing—oh! scores of times—amongst my married female acquaintances; and the fact has done more to reconcile me to the want of a family than any other.

Not that I believe that the charge of a hundred children could ever make me forget my darling's wants—but there, this is not a love story, so I must try and keep my Dick's name out of it as much as possible.

I had received several letters from Bessie during the last month, which had rather surprised me, as she had grown very lazy at correspondence, as I have said before, and naturally, taking up her residence at Poplar Farm had not made her write oftener, excepting when she required the benefit of my experience with regard to the advantages of her new home. Her two last letters, however, had been written in a very unaccountable strain; and if I had not known she was comfortably and happily situated, I should have imagined it was just the reverse.

'Another letter from Bessie!' I exclaimed, as I broke the seal. 'What on earth can she want now? I suppose she has found out somebody sells whiter flour than Watkins, or better tea than Amyott? I almost believe, Dick, she regrets having left Lincolnshire.'

'I don't know why she should,' replied Dick, as he commenced a raid upon the breakfast-table; 'for, according to Maclean's account, they lived in a perfect swamp there. But why can't the woman look after her own flour and tea? Why is she to worry you about everything in this fashion?'

'Oh! I suppose she thinks, as I have no children, I cannot possibly have anything to do,' I said, laughing; 'for I heard her remark, with regard to Mrs Anderson, who is in the same plight as myself, that it must be quite a charity to give her any employment!'

'Like her impudence,' growled Dick—(I don't think Bessie is a favourite with my husband; perhaps I talked too much about her beforehand),—'I should let her know to the contrary if I were you, Dolly. I believe, with all her fuss and bustle, that you do twice her work in half the time.'

'Ah! I have only one baby to look after, you see, though he's a big one,' I said, as I gave his head a squeeze with my disengaged hand; 'but goodness me, Dick, this letter is worse than the last even. Bessie seems really in low spirits now. She says that Mr Maclean's business will take him away from home for a few nights next week, and she wants me to go over and spend them with her in—yes, she actually calls Poplar Farm—"this gloomy ramshackle old place."'

'It's old enough,' said Dick, 'and all the better for it; but it's not "ramshackle." Better walls and roof were never built than those of Poplar Farm. It stands as steady as the gaol.'

'But about my going to her, Dick—can you spare me?'

'Can I spare you!' repeated my husband in that tone of voice that, after ten years' marriage, has still the power to make my heart beat faster. 'Of course I can! I could spare you for good and all, if someone would only be obliging enough to take you off my hands; but there's no such luck in store for me. Only mind the days don't stretch themselves into weeks, sweetheart!'

'Into weeks!' I replied, indignantly. 'Have I ever stayed weeks away from you yet, Dick? I'm not even sure that I shall go at all.'

'Yes! you'd better go, Dolly; Bessie Maclean is selfish and egotistical, and somewhat of a fool; but I daresay she's nervous at the idea of remaining in that isolated home by herself, particularly as it is all so strange to her. And you don't know what fear is, old woman!'

'I wish she could overhear the character you give her,' I answered, laughingly. But Dick was right. I am not a nervous woman, and if I had been, he would have cured me of it long before. Living in a gaol, and having, of my own free will, constant access to the prisoners, had effectually dispersed any ladylike unreasonable fears I may once have thought womanly and becoming, and made me ashamed of starting at shadows. So, having sent an affirmative answer to my friend's appeal, I set out for Poplar Farm, when the time came, with as much confidence in my powers of protection as though I had been of the sterner sex.

Dick drove me over in the curricle.

It was a bright November morning: one of those days when the air is crisp and exhilarating without being in the least degree cold; a day on which one feels younger, and more hopeful and capable of good—on which one's sorrows seem too paltry for consideration, and one's happiness far more than one deserves. I experienced this sensation in the fullest sense, as I crept as close as I could to my husband's side, and smuggled one hand beneath his arm.

'Holloa!' cried Dick; 'why, what's this? Repenting of your promise already, eh? Oh! you spoony woman, I'm ashamed of you!'

I was repenting it, but I did not tell him so. It is good for people who love very much to part sometimes, if only to teach them how great a blessing they possess in each other's affection.

As we drove up the long-neglected drive of Poplar Farm, I could not help thinking that Bessie was right in considering it gloomy. The sun had disappeared again behind an autumn cloud. The trees had shed most of their leaves, which lay in sodden heaps along the paths, and a chilly wind had commenced to blow. I drew my cloak closer against my shoulders, and told Dick what I thought.

'Nonsense, Dolly!' he replied. 'The place is well enough; and when Maclean has had time to put it in order, will be one of the prettiest farms in the county. I only wish I had the money to buy such another. But naturally it does not look its best when the trees are bare.'

'Stop!' I cried, suddenly; 'there's the baby. Let me get down and kiss him. That must be the new nurse carrying him, Dick. But what a lugubrious looking young person she is!'

My husband had good-naturedly drawn up by this time, and I had scrambled down to meet my little godson, who was about three months old. But as soon as I had pulled aside the veil that covered his face, I started with surprise.

'Oh! how he has gone off!' I exclaimed.

The baby, who had been so fat and dimpled and red-faced last time I saw him, was now drawn and white and thin. The change was apparent so that even Dick could see it from the box-seat.

'Whew!' he whistled; 'why, what's the matter with the little chap—is he ill?'

'Oh no! he's not ill. He is perfectly well. You don't think he looks ill, madam?' said the girl who was carrying him, anxiously.

'I don't think I ever saw a child so changed in my life,' I answered, in my blunt fashion. 'Are you the wet-nurse Mrs Maclean told me she had engaged for him?'

'Yes, madam,' she said, in a very low voice.

I raised my eyes, and examined her then for the first time thoroughly; and I could not help observing what a remarkable-looking girl she was. She had the very palest and clearest of complexions—so colourless that it looked like the finest white wax, and her skin was of the texture of satin. Her large, clear, grey eyes, which shone with a limpid light, like agates with water running over them, had a startled look, which might almost have been mistaken for fear, and her delicately cut mouth drooped in the most pathetic manner. To add to the mournfulness of her appearance, her hair was almost completely hidden beneath her cap, and her dress was the deepest widow's mourning. I made a few indifferent remarks about the child, kissed it, and jumped up to my seat again. The nurse was not the person I felt to whom to speak on the subject of the baby's appearance. She made a deep reverence as the carriage moved off, and I saw she was a very superior sort of young woman; but of what account was that, where little Dick's health, and perhaps his life, was concerned?

'Bessie's a greater fool than I took her for,' I exclaimed, indignantly, as we drove on towards the house.

'What's in the wind now?' said Dick.

'Fancy, choosing a wet-nurse for a baby all crape and bombazine and tears. Why, that girl looks as if she cried night and day. I knew Bessie had been weak enough to be persuaded by the doctor to give up nursing baby herself, but she might have exercised a little discretion in the choice of a substitute. The child is half the size he was last month.'

'What a lot we know about babies!' said Dick, in his chaffing way.

'I should hope I know more than half the mothers I meet,' I continued, with some warmth. 'I should be ashamed to be as ignorant as Bessie herself, for instance, though she has had six children,' I added, with a little droop in my voice.

'My own Dolly!' said Dick, fondly; and when he says those words in that voice, I don't care for anything else in all the wide, wide world. He wouldn't stay—even to dismount from his box, for we knew Mr Maclean had already left the house, and he thought our chatter would get on better without him, added to which he had duties demanding him at home. So I gave him one long, long kiss, and let him go; and as soon as he was out of sight, turned into the door of Poplar Farm.

Bessie was in the dining-room, where the dinner was already spread, surrounded by her batch of self-willed unruly children. As she came forward to meet me, I saw that she looked tired and worn out, and that her dress was untidy and neglected.

'It is so good of you to come, Dolly,' was her greeting, 'for I am so worried I don't know what I should have done without you.'

'I am very glad to be of use, Bessie; but what worries you—the baby?'

'Dear me! no. It is something quite different. Why should baby worry me? He has his wet-nurse, and she takes him completely off my hands.'

'He is so pulled down,' I said unhesitatingly, for I took an interest in my little godson. 'I met him just now in the drive, and hardly recognised the child. Are you satisfied his nurse does him justice?'

'Oh, perfectly so. She is a most estimable young woman, so quiet and ladylike in her way of speaking. Did you notice her eyes? such a remarkable colour; and her hands are as white as yours or mine.'

'But the baby does not appear to be thriving. He can't inherit her eyes or her hands, you know, and if he could, I don't see that they would be much use to him. What's her name? Where did you find her?'

'She's a Mrs Graham; and she was recommended to me from the Lying-in Hospital at Chesterwick. I'm sorry you don't think baby looks well. Perhaps the change has pulled him down a little, though I really can't see it myself.'

I daresay she did not. Bessie is that sort of woman that never will see anything until it has actually occurred. If her children died, she would make as great a fuss over them—perhaps more—than mothers who have guarded theirs from their infancy upwards; yet she will let them eat improper food, and get damp feet, and remain out in the burning sun without any covering to their heads; and if you remonstrate with her, her invariable excuse is, that they have always done so before and got no harm. As if the fact of a wrong being permitted should make it a right; or because we have fallen from the top of a house once without injury, we may cast ourselves thence headlong each day without impunity.

I really never did think, when Bessie and I were girls together, that she would turn out such a ninny.

'What has worried you then, since it is not the baby?' I demanded presently.

'Hush! I can't tell you before the children. It's an awful business, and I wouldn't have them hear of it for worlds. Will you lay your bonnet aside, and have dinner with us as you are? or I'm afraid it may get cold. Lily—Charley—Tommy, lay down these toys, and come to the table at once. Put Bessie up on her high chair; and somebody go and call Annie. Ah! Dolly, my dear, how well you have kept your figure! What would I not give to be as slim and neat as you are.'

And although, of course, I would not compare one advantage with the other, yet I must say that the pleasures of having a family would possess a great drawback to me, if I were compelled at the same time to become as rotund and untidy in appearance as poor Bessie is at present. And I believe the chief thing Tom Maclean fell in love with was her pretty rounded little figure. Alas! alas!

But I am keeping the early dinner waiting. As soon as it was despatched, with the usual accompaniments of cutting up the children's meat, wiping their mouths, and preventing their throwing the tumblers at each other's heads, Mrs Maclean rose and offered to show me to my bedroom. It was next to her own, and communicated with it by a door.

'This dear old place!' I exclaimed as I entered it; 'you are making it very pretty, Bessie. Aren't you glad that you have come into such a handsome property, instead of having been stuck down in a modern villa, with the plaster on the walls only half-dry?'

But Bessie did not appear to appreciate my congratulations.

'Dolly,' she said, as she sunk down into a chair, 'I would change Poplar Farm for the poorest little villa that was ever built.'

'My dear girl, what do you mean?'

'Mean! That the house is haunted, Dolly—'

I confess it; I could not help it: I burst into the loudest and rudest laugh imaginable.

Poplar Farm haunted! What an absurdly unreasonable idea! Why, the last tenants had only just moved out in time to let the Macleans come in, and the house had been freshly papered and painted from basement to attic. There was not a nook nor a corner for a ghost to hide in.

I could not help laughing; and what is worse, I could not stop laughing, until my friend was offended.

'You may laugh as much as you like,' she said at last; 'but I have told you nothing but the truth. Do you mean to say that you consider such a thing impossible?'

'No! I won't go as far as that; but I think it is very uncommon, and very unlikely to occur to—to—to—'

Here I was obliged to halt, for the only words I could think of were, 'to anyone so material as yourself;' and I couldn't quite say that. For though I do not deny the possibility of apparitions, I believe that the person who is capable of perceiving them must be composed of more mind than matter, and there is nothing spiritual nor æsthetic about poor Bessie.

'What is the ghost like, and who has seen it?' I demanded, as soon as I could command my countenance.

'Several of the servants and myself,' replied Bessie; 'and Tom might have seen it, too, if he were not so lazy. But one night when the noises were close to our door, he refused to rouse himself even to listen to them, and told me to go—Well, dear, I really can't repeat what he said; but husbands do not always use the politest language when out of temper, you know!'

'Noises! Then the ghost has been heard as well as seen?'

'Oh yes! and such mournful noises, too. Such weeping and wailing, enough to break one's heart. The first time I saw it, Dolly, I thought I should have died of fright.'

'Tell me all about it.'

'I had been sitting up late one Saturday night mending the children's socks for Sunday, and Tom had been in bed for a good two hours. Everybody was in bed but myself, and I thought, as I carried my single candle up the dark staircase, how silent and ghastly everything appeared. As I turned into the corridor, I heard a gasping sound like a stifled sob. At first I could hardly believe my ears; but when it was repeated, my heart seemed to stand still. I was hesitating whether to go back or forward, and trembling in every limb, when it—this dreadful thing—crossed me. It sprung up, I don't know from where, in the darkness, and just looked at me once and rushed away. I nearly sunk to the ground, as you may well imagine. I had only just time to get inside my own door, when I tumbled right across the bed, and Tom had to get up and pick up the candlestick, and help undress me; and really, by the way he went on about it, you'd have thought it was all my fault.'

'What was it like? that is the main thing, Bessie.'

'My dear, you don't suppose I looked at it more than I was absolutely obliged. I know it was dressed all in white, with snow-white hair hanging over its face, and fearful staring eyes. It's a perfect wonder to me I stand alive here now.'

'And it has been seen since then?'

'Oh, several times, and we hear it every night as regularly as possible about two o'clock in the morning. The cook has seen it—so has the housemaid; and not a servant amongst them would fetch a glass of water from downstairs after ten o'clock, if we were all dying for want of it.'

'A pleasant state of affairs,' I ejaculated; 'and will you take no steps to investigate the mystery, and dissolve the household fears?'

'What steps could I take?'

'Sit up for the apparition, and speak to it; and if it won't answer, take hold of it and see if it is flesh and blood or air.'

'My dear Dolly, I would rather die.'

'Well, I hope you'll wake me up when the sounds begin to-night,' I answered, 'for I am curious to hear them.'

But I didn't tell Bessie that I would be the one to 'bell the cat;' for, though I have little fear, I have no foolhardiness; and if her ghost turned out to be a real one, I had no wish to interfere with it.

In the evening, as much with a view of pointing out the baby's condition to Bessie as for any other reason, I asked her to accompany me to the nursery, and see him put to bed. I found that he slept in a room alone with his wet-nurse, who was engaged in bathing the little creature as we entered. Mrs Graham looked very pretty and delicate as she bent over the bath, attending to the child; but I observed that she never once smiled at nor played with him, as nurses usually do with infants during the process of washing. Little Dick was certainly very attenuated and languid, and even his mother seemed to observe it when pointed out to her. Mrs Graham listened to our conversation with rather an anxious expression on her countenance, and I thought by drawing her out we might gain some clue to the baby's ill health.

'Is your own child strong and vigorous?' I asked her.

'My own child is dead, madam,' she replied.

'It was your first, I presume? You appear very young.'

'It was my first. I was twenty last birthday.'

She seemed unwilling to be more communicative, and I did not like to enter directly on the subject of her husband's death. Poor child! she might have loved him as I did Dick. So, as Bessie had sauntered into the general nursery and left us alone together, I ventured to sound her on another matter, which I thought might be having a secret effect upon her.

'Have you seen anything of this apparition the servants speak of, Mrs Graham?'

'No, madam,' she replied, quietly.

'It is very foolish of people to be frightened of they really don't know what; but no one seems to have been brave enough to try and find out the reason of the mysterious noises heard at night here. You have heard them, perhaps?'

'No, madam,' she said again, without further comment.

'Would it alarm you to see or hear it?' I had forced her now to say something in reply.

'I think not,' she answered, 'I think if spirits can come back from the dead, they must do so only in sympathy with those they have left behind; and, if that is possible, and I thought this one came for me, I should only be too thankful to have a glimpse of its face, or to hear the sound of its voice. I think those people who have so much fear of spirits can never have known what it is to lose any one they would lay down their lives to follow wherever it might lead them.'

She spoke in a low, mournful cadence that touched my heart. Poor girl! she was thinking of her husband and her own desolate condition. I felt for and sympathised with her, and before I left the nursery I took her thin hand and pressed it. She looked surprised, but I had only to say, 'I love my own husband as my life,' to see the tears run into her eyes, and to know she understood me. Still she was by no means a proper person to perform the part of a mother towards little Dick, and I resolved before I left Poplar Farm to try and persuade Bessie to change her.

The rest of the day passed rather monotonously. I worked at one of Dick's shirts, and wondered how I ever could have thought Bessie such a charming companion, whilst she alternatively indulged and scolded her very unpleasant young family. At last they were all despatched to bed, and as soon as decency would permit, I yawned and said I should like to follow their example. So we were all packed away by ten o'clock, my last act having been to pay a visit to Mrs Graham's room, where I had left her fast asleep with my little godson tucked in snugly on her arm. Bessie lay awake for some time talking of the celebrated ghost, but I was too sleepy to be a good listener, and am afraid I dropped off in the midst of her recital. When I waked again, it was by dint of feeling her shake my arm.

'Dolly! Dolly!' she was exclaiming, in a low, hurried voice. 'Listen! there is the sound, and close against the door.'


SENT TO HIS DEATH (Continued).

I had been dreaming of the ghost, and was conscious in a moment, and sitting up in bed. Whatever I had thought of Bessie's tales before, I believed them now, for I could distinctly hear the low, gasping breath which follows an inordinate fit of sobbing, drawn apparently close to us.

'What time is it?' I exclaimed.

'It is just three. I have been listening to it for some time, but did not like to rouse you till I was sure. Is the door locked?'

'Yes; but I will unlock it at once,' I said, springing out of bed.

'No, no! pray do not,' cried Bessie, clinging to me. 'What are you doing? It might come into the room.'

'My dear Bessie, if it is a ghost, no locks can keep it out; and if it is not a ghost, what harm can it do us by entering? Pray be reasonable. We shall never clear up this mystery if we are not a little brave!'

I shook her off, and approached the door, whilst she rushed back to her own bed.

I confess that as I turned the key in the lock I felt very nervous. Do what we will, it is hard to accustom ourselves to think lightly of communication with the dead; neither did I relish the idea of a trick being played us in that lonely house at dead of night. The light was burning brightly in my room, but as I threw the door open, the corridor seemed dark and empty. I stood upon the threshold and looked from right to left. What was that white, tall shadow in the doorway of the spare room?

I called out, 'Who are you? What do you want?' The answer I received was a quick sob and a rustle. Then I saw an indistinct figure move down the passage with a hurried step, and disappear somewhere at the further end.

Shall I confess that for all my boasted strength I had not the courage to follow it? It was one thing to have stood on the threshold of my lighted room and addressed the apparition, and another to venture out into the cold and darkness in pursuit of it. I retreated to Bessie's bedroom instead.

'I have seen it!' I exclaimed. 'I believe that you are right, Bessie, and for the first time in my life I have seen a ghost. I meant to have followed it; but I really felt I couldn't. To-morrow night I may have more courage. But hark! what is that noise? Isn't it baby crying?'

'Never mind baby; Mrs Graham will attend to him,' said Bessie. 'Lock the door again, Dolly dear, do, and get into bed with me, or I sha'n't sleep another wink to-night. I'm shaking from head to foot as it is.'

But the cries from baby's room became more distinct; and my courage had returned to me.

'Let me go and see what is the matter with little Dick first,' I said, taking up the lighted candle.

Bessie yelled at being kept alone in the dark, but I could not have lain down again without ascertaining what ailed the little fellow; so, disregarding her remonstrances, I walked off to Mrs Graham's room. Her door was unlocked, and I entered without knocking.

The child was still crying lustily; and what was my surprise to find his nurse, utterly regardless of the noise, sitting up in bed, with scared wide-open eyes, talking vehemently.

'Go away!' she was exclaiming in a loud voice; 'Go away! and don't come back again. You let the water in each time you open the door: I tell you we don't want you! Go away, I say, and don't come back again!'

She halted for a moment at this juncture, and I was about to waken her from what I perceived was a nightmare, when she suddenly clapped her hands before her eyes and screamed.

'Ah, Heavens! a wave—a fearful wave that covers the deck—that covers everything. Where is he? Where is he gone to? I have sent him to his death! Edward! Edward! come back to me! I didn't mean it—I didn't mean it! Ah! Lord have pity on me.'

Her agitation was rising so rapidly, and the baby was crying so violently, that I thought it time to interfere.

'Mrs Graham!' I exclaimed, shaking her by the arm, 'wake up. Don't you hear the baby wants you?'

She turned her big eyes upon me in such a pitiful vacuous way. Then she recognised me, and looked frightened.

'Have I been dreaming? Have I been saying anything? Oh! I am so sorry,' she said apologetically, as she caught up the child and held it to her breast.

'You have only been talking a little in your sleep,' I replied soothingly; 'don't be alarmed; you said nothing out of the common way, and there is no one here but myself.'

She did not answer, but as she held the child I saw how her arms trembled.

'Your agitation is the worst thing possible for the baby, you know; and you must try and calm yourself for his sake,' I continued.

'I should be so sorry to hurt him,' she murmured; 'and I will try and not dream again, if it is possible.'

'Shall I fetch you anything?'

'Oh no, madam, thank you. The best thing I can do is to go to sleep again. There is nothing for me but sleep—and prayer,' she added in a whisper.

I felt deeply interested in this young woman. There was an air of patient mournfulness about her that betokened deep suffering; and as I returned to my room I resolved to do my best to be of use to her. She so completely occupied my thoughts, indeed, that I had forgotten all about the ghost, till Bessie asked me how I could possibly walk through the corridor with so composed a step.

'My dear, I was thinking about baby and his nurse, and quite forgot to be frightened. Yes, they are all right now, and going to sleep again comfortably; and I think the ghost must have followed their example, for certainly there were no signs of its presence as I returned: so I think we had better try to make up for our broken rest by a few hours' sleep.'

Bessie was quite ready to do so; but for my own part I lay awake until the loitering dawn broke through the shuttered windows.

Mr Maclean's absence was really, I found, not to be prolonged beyond the two nights; so I could write Dick word to fetch me home on the following day; but I resolved, before I went, to have some sort of explanatory conversation with Mrs Graham, with respect to her dream of the night before. I told nothing of it to Bessie; for I felt she would spoil everything perhaps by her awkwardness in handling the subject, or wound the poor girl's feelings by too abrupt a reference to her grief. But I watched Mrs Graham leave the house at about eleven o'clock to take her little charge out for his morning walk, and as soon as Bessie descended to the kitchen quarters to give her orders for the day, I put on my bonnet and shawl and ran after the nurse. There was a cold wind blowing from the north, and I knew I should find her in the sheltered shrubbery, where she had been told to take the child. It extended for some distance, and when I came up with her we were quite out of sight and hearing of the house.

'A fine cold morning!' I remarked, by way of a beginning.

'Very cold, madam.'

'With the wind in the north. A nasty day for the sea—I pity the ships in the channel.'

To this she made no response.

'Have you ever been on the sea, Mrs Graham?'

'Yes! once!' with a shudder.

'And did you like it?'

'Like it? Oh! for God's sake, madam, don't speak of it, for I cannot bear the thought even.'

'You were unfortunate, perhaps? You had experience of a storm? But the sea is not always rough, Mrs Graham.'

She was silent, and I looked in her face, and saw the tears streaming down it.

'My dear girl,' I said, placing my hand on her shoulder, 'don't think me unkind. I have guessed somewhat of your history, and I feel for you—oh, so deeply. Confide in me; my husband is a man of influence, and I may be of use to you. I see that you are superior to the position you hold, and I have conceived an interest in you. Don't keep your sorrows locked in your own breast, or they will eat out your very heart and life.'

As I spoke she began to sob piteously.

'You are not doing right by this poor little baby, nor his parents,' I continued, 'by brooding over a silent grief. You will injure his health, when perhaps if you will tell us all, we may be able to comfort you.'

'No one can comfort me, madam! I am beyond all relief.'

'No one dare say that in this world, which God rules according to His will. You cannot tell what solace He may hold in the future for you.'

'I have no future,' she said sadly. 'If you think I am likely to injure this little one,' pressing it tightly to her bosom, 'I am very, very sorry; but to have something to love and care for, seemed to be the only thing to prevent my going mad.'

'Mrs Graham, I don't wish to be impertinently curious, but I want to hear your story. Won't you tell it to me?'

'If you do, you will hate me—as I hate myself.'

'I hardly think that possible. Of what crime can you be guilty, to accuse yourself so bitterly.'

'I am a murderess!'

She brought out the words so vehemently that I started. Was it possible she spoke the truth? And yet I had seen in our gaol, such young and superior-looking criminals, that I knew it might be possible. My thoughts flew at once to her child.

'Was it the baby?' I cried. 'Oh! my poor child! what drove you to such an awful deed?'

'Do you pity me still?'

'I pity you with all my heart.'

'Ah! madam; you are too good.'

She trembled so violently that I had taken the child from her arms, and as I stood there in the wintry path, she sank down upon her knees before me and kissed the border of my shawl, and hid her face in it and cried.

'Mrs Graham, I cannot believe it!'

'No! you need not believe it. In that sense I did not kill my child. God took it away from me in anger; but I sent its father, my dearly-loved husband, to his death.'

'Sent him to his death!'

'Ah, madam! have pity on me and listen. We had been married but six months, and we loved each other, ah! so dearly. He was a clerk in a city firm, and his employers sent him over to Ireland on business. We could not bear to part—we went together. In order to return to England we embarked in a small sailing vessel, and we had a fearful storm in crossing. The sea ran mountains high, and the women on board were assembled together in a deck cabin. The men to whom they belonged kept looking in every now and then to tell them how we were getting on, and every time the door of the cabin was opened, the sea rushed in and wetted them. They grew impatient, I the most of all; and when my dear husband, in his anxiety lest I should be frightened at our danger, put his head in for the third or fourth time I called out, saying, 'Go away, Edward, and don't come back again.' And he went away, and he never did come back. Ah, Heaven! have mercy upon me!'

'My poor girl! how did it happen?'

'He was washed off the deck, madam, by a huge wave that nearly swamped the ship—so they told me afterwards. But I never saw him more! The glimpse I had of his bonnie face as it was thrust in at the half-opened door, beaming with love and anxiety, was the last glimpse I was ever to have in this world—and I sent him to his death. I said, 'Go away, and don't come back'—and he never came back!—he never came back!'

Her grief was so violent I almost thought she would have swooned at my feet. I tried to direct her thoughts in another direction.

'Have you no friends to go to, Mrs Graham?'

'None of my own, madam. I was a soldier's orphan from the Home when Edward married me. And I could not go to his.'

'How did you lose your baby?'

'It died of my grief, I suppose; it only lived a few days. And then they advised me at the hospital to get a situation as wet nurse; and I thought the care of an infant might soothe me a little. But my sorrow is past cure.'

'You have bad dreams at night, I fear.'

'Oh! such awful dreams! He is always calling me—calling me to go to him, and I can find him nowhere; or else I am in the ship again, and see that which I never did see—the cruel wave that washed him from me!'

'Do you feel strong enough to take the child again?'

She had risen by this time, and was, comparatively speaking, calm. She held out her arms mechanically. I put the baby in them, and then stooped and kissed her swollen eyes and burning forehead.

'I will not discuss this subject with you further to-day,' I said; 'but you have found a friend. Go on with your walk, child, and may God comfort you. I am glad you have told me the story of your grief.'

I hurried back to Bessie, fearful lest she might come in search of me, and insist upon hearing the reason of Mrs Graham's tears. There was no doubt of one thing—another nurse must be found as soon as possible for little Dick, and I must take on myself the responsibility of providing for his present one. But all that required my husband's permission and advice, and I must wait till I had seen and confided in him.

Bessie, who had discovered that, notwithstanding my deplorable deficiency in the way of children, I could cut out their garments far better than she could do herself, had provided a delightful entertainment for me in the shape of half-a-dozen frocks to be made ready for the nurse's hands, and the whole afternoon was spent in snipping and piecing and tacking together. But I didn't grumble; my mind was too much occupied with poor Mrs Graham and her pathetic story. I thought of it so much that the temporary fear evoked by the apparition of the night before had totally evaporated. In the presence of a real, substantial human grief, we can hardly spare time for imaginary horrors.

As bed-time recurred, and Bessie and I locked ourselves into our stronghold, I refused the half of the bed she offered me, and preferred to retain my own. I even made up my mind, if possible, not to sleep, but to watch for the mysterious sounds, and be the first to investigate them. So I would not put out my candle, but lay in bed reading long after Bessie's snores had announced her departure to the land of dreams.

I had come to the end of my book, my candle, and my patience, and was just about to give up the vigil as a failure, when I heard footsteps distinctly sounding along the corridor. I was out of bed in a moment, with my hand upon the lock of the door. I waited till the steps had passed my room, and then I turned the key and looked gently out. The same white figure I had seen the night before was standing a little beyond me, its course arrested, as it would appear, by the slight sound of unlocking the door.

'Now or never,' I thought to myself. 'Dick always says I am the bravest woman he ever met, and I will try and prove him true. Why should I be afraid? Even if this is a spirit, God is over it and us, alike!'

So I stepped out into the passage, just as I should sit down to have a tooth drawn. The figure had recommenced walking, and was some paces farther from me. I followed it, saying softly, 'What are you? Speak to me.' But it did not turn, but went on, clasping its hands, and talking rapidly to itself.

A sudden thought flashed across my mind. In a moment I felt sure that I was right, and had solved the mystery of Poplar Farm. I placed myself full in the path of the apparition, and as the end of the corridor forced it to turn and retrace its steps, I met face to face my poor, pretty Mrs Graham, with the flaxen hair she usually kept concealed beneath her widow's cap, streaming over her shoulders and giving her a most weird and unearthly appearance.

'Edward! Edward!' she was whispering in a feverish, uncertain manner, 'where are you? It is so dark here and so cold. Put out your hand and lead me. I want to come to you, darling; I want to come to you.'

I stretched out my own hand and took hers. She clung to me joyfully.

'Is it you?' she exclaimed, in the undisturbed voice of a sleep-walker. 'Have I found you again? Oh, Edward! I have been trying to find you for so long—so long, and I thought we were parted for ever.'

I drew her gently along to her own room and put her in her bed, whilst she continued to talk to me in the fond, low tones in which she thought she was addressing her dead husband.

* * * * *

Bessie slept through it all.

Of course I told her all about it next day, and equally, of course, she did not believe half what I said. She did not like the idea of parting with her cherished grievance in the shape of the ghost, nor having the trouble of changing her wet nurse. So I left her, as soon as ever Dick arrived, rather disgusted with the manner in which she had received my efforts for her good, but still determined to do what I could in the way of befriending Mrs Graham. As I told her the last thing, when I ran up to the nursery to say good-bye to little Dick, and received her grateful thanks in reply. 'Only nothing,' she said with a deep sigh, 'could ever do her any good in this world again.'

'But I'm determined to get her out of Poplar Farm,' I said to Dick, as we drove homeward, after I had told him this long-winded story. 'She's killing the baby and herself too. She ought to have a much more cheerful home and active employment. Now, can't you think of something for her to do about the gaol or the hospital, like a dear, darling old boy as you are?'

'Well, I don't quite see how you can take Mrs Maclean's servant away from her against her will, Dolly. If Mrs Graham leaves, it will be a different thing; but as things are, I'm afraid you ought not to interfere.'

I called him a wretch; but I knew he was right for all that, and determined to take his advice and wait patiently to see how things turned out. And, as it happened, I had not long to wait, for a week afterwards I received this doleful epistle from Bessie:—

'My dear Dolly,—I am perfectly miserable; nothing ever goes right with me. Tom threw Charlie out of the wheel-barrow yesterday, and cut his forehead right across. He will be scarred for life. And nurse has entirely spoiled those frocks you were so kind as to cut out for Lily and Bessie. She is so obstinate, she would have her own way, and the children positively cannot get into them. But the worst news of all is, that Mrs Graham is going to leave me, and I have had to wean baby, and put him on the bottle.'

'Hurrah!' I cried, 'it's all right. I shall get that poor child here after all, and be able to patch up her broken life. No, I sha'n't, though,' I continued, as I went on reading, and then, to my husband's astonishment, I fell on his neck, and burst into tears. 'Oh, Dick, Dick, Dick, I am so glad!'

'Halloa! what's up now?' said that vulgar Dick, in his own way of expressing things.

'My darling, she's got him again.'

'Who's got which?'

'Mrs Graham's husband has returned. He wasn't drowned, but let me finish the letter,' and drying my eyes I went on—

'Just imagine how awkward and unpleasant for me. The other evening there was an awful screaming in the kitchen, and when I went down, I found Mrs Graham fainted dead away in the arms of a man. I was very angry at first, naturally; but when she recovered I found it was her husband whom she thought was drowned at sea three months ago. It seems he was picked up insensible by some ship, and taken to Spain, where he had a fever, and was delirious, and all that sort of thing; and when he recovered, he worked his way home before the mast, and had only just found out where his wife lived. But I think it is excessively unreasonable of people to take situations, and say they're widows, and then—'

'Oh, don't read any more of that rubbish, for heaven's sake!' said Dick, irreverently. 'The long and the short of the matter is, that the girl's got her man again.'

'Oh! I am so thankful!' I exclaimed, with the tears still in my eyes; I couldn't help it, they would come. 'Poor child! poor, desolate, heart-broken child! What a heaven earth must appear to her to-day. Dick, will you drive me over to the farm directly after breakfast? I want to see her and congratulate her.'

'You seem to take a vast interest in this Mrs Graham, and her joys and sorrows,' said Dick; 'why is it, Dolly?'

'Because I can sympathise with them so deeply. Because—because—oh, Dick, you know—because God has given me—you, and I am the very happiest woman in all the world.'


ON the east coast of the county of Norfolk, there lay a village which shall be distinguished by the name of Corston. It was bounded on the one side by the sea, on the other by the open country, and beside the two or three gentleman farmers whose possessions comprised all the agricultural land within a radius of five miles, it could boast of a church and resident parson—a coastguard with its attendant officer, and above all, close contiguity with Rooklands, the estate of the Earl of Worcester. And those who are acquainted with the moral and social aspect, as it existed forty or fifty years ago, of the more insignificant villages of Norfolk, will acknowledge that Corston was favoured above its fellows. The sea coast in its vicinity brought many a gay riding party over from Rooklands, either to enjoy the fresh breezes, or to bathe in the sparkling waves from some sequestered nook, whilst the congregation of the church was made up of drafts from some four or five outlying hamlets which had not the advantage of a place of worship of their own. Conceive then what a much larger audience the Corston parson could depend upon, when the women had a prospect of seeing the bonnets from ten miles round (to say nothing of a chance of the Rookland aristocrats taking it into their heads to drive out), in addition to listening to his somewhat uninteresting sermons. The coastguard, too, was a cause of constant excitement, on account of the Admiralty having been in the habit of bestowing the appointment on old, worn-out, half-pay lieutenants who chose to expire almost as soon as they obtained it, and really, notwithstanding the church and the parson and Rooklands, there was not much in Corston worth living for. But at the time this story opens, the charge of the coast had not long been put in the hands of (comparatively speaking) a young and hale man who bid fair to keep anybody else out of it for a long while to come. His office was no sinecure though, for, notwithstanding the difficulty of landing, the coast was a celebrated one for smugglers, and as soon as the dark months of winter set in there was no lack of work for the preventive officers. For the village of Corston did not, of itself, run down to the sea. Between it and the ocean there lay the salt marshes, a bleak, desolate tract of land, which no skill or perseverance could reclaim from apparent uselessness. Except to the samphire and cockle-gatherers, the salt marshes of Corston were an arid wilderness which could yield no fruit. Many a farmer had looked longingly across the wide waste which terminated only with the shingled beach, and wondered if it were possible to utilise it. But as it had been from the beginning, so it remained until that day; its stinted vegetation affording shelter for sea-fowl and smugglers' booty only, and its brackish waters that flowed and ebbed with the tides, tainting the best springs on the level ground of Corston. It was the existence of these marshes that rendered the coastguard necessary to the village, which would otherwise have become a perfect nest of smugglers. As it was, notwithstanding all the vigilance of Mr John Burton and his men, many a keg of spirits and roll of tobacco were landed on the coast of Corston, and many a man in the place was marked by them as guilty, though never discovered. For they who had lived by the salt marshes all their lives were cunning as to their properties, and knew just where they might bury their illegal possessions with impunity when the tide was low, and find them safe when it had flowed and ebbed again. Everyone was not so fortunate. Lives had been lost in the marshes before now—ay, and of Corston men too, and several dark tales were told by the gossips of the village of the quagmires and quicksands that existed in various parts of them, which looked, although they never were, both firm and dry, but had the power to draw man and horse with the temerity to step upon them, into their unfathomable depths. But if the smugglers kept Mr Burton and his men fully occupied on the sea shore, the poachers did no less for Lord Worcester's band of gamekeepers at Rooklands; and Farmer Murray, who had a drop of Scotch blood running in his veins, and was never so much alive as when his own interests were concerned, had only saved his game for the last three years by having been fortunate enough to take the biggest poacher in Corston, red-handed, and let him off on condition that he became his keeper and preserved his covers from future violence. 'Set a thief to catch a thief' is a time-honoured saying, and Farmer Murray found it answer. Isaac Barnes, the unscrupulous poacher, became a model gamekeeper, and the midnight rest of the inhabitants of Mavis Farm had never been disturbed by a stray shot since; though the eldest son, George Murray, had been heard to affirm that half the fun of his life was gone now that there was no chance of a tussle with the poachers. Such was the state of Corston some forty years ago. The villagers were rough, uneducated, and lawless, and the general condition of the residents, vapid and uninteresting enough to have provoked any amount of wickedness, if only for the sake of change or excitement.

It was the end of September, and the close of a glorious summer. The harvest had been abundant and the Norfolk soil, which knows so well how to yield her fruits in due season, was like an exhausted mother which had just been delivered of her abundance. The last sheaves of golden corn were standing in the fields ready to be carried to the threshing-barn, the trees in the orchards were weighed down with their wealth of pears and apples, and in every lane clusters of bare-headed children with their hands full of nuts and their faces stained with blackberry juice, proved how nature had showered her bounties on rich and poor alike. Lizzie Locke, who was making her way slowly in the direction of the village, with a huge basket on her arm, stopped more than once to wipe her hot face, and pull the sun bonnet she wore further over her eyes, although in another couple of days the October moon would have risen upon the land. She was a young girl of not more than eighteen or twenty years, and, as her dress denoted, bred from the labouring classes. Not pretty—unless soft brown hair, a fair skin and delicate features, can make a woman so—but much more refined in appearance than the generality of her kind. The hands that grasped the handle of her heavy basket had evidently never done much hard work, nor were her feet broadened or her back bent with early toiling in the turnip and the harvest fields. The reason of this was apparent as soon as she turned her eyes toward you. Quiet blue eyes shaded by long lashes, that seldom unveiled them—eyes that, under more fortuitous circumstances, might have flashed and sparkled with roguish mirth, but that seemed to bear now a settled melancholy in them, even when her mouth smiled: eyes, in fact, that had been blinded from their birth.

Poor Lizzie Locke! There was a true and great soul burning in her breast, but the windows were darkened and it had no power to look out upon the world. As she stood still for a few moments' rest for the third or fourth time between the salt marshes and Corston, her quick ear caught the sound of approaching horses' feet, and she drew on one side of the open road to let the rider pass. But instead of that, the animal was drawn up suddenly upon its haunches, and a pleasant young voice rang out in greeting to her.

'Why, Lizzie, is that you? What a careless girl you are—I might have ridden over you.'

'Miss Rosa,' exclaimed the blind girl, as she recognised the voice and smiled brightly in return.

'Of course it's Miss Rosa, and Polly is as fresh as a two-year-old this morning. She always is, when she gets upon the marshes. It's lucky I pulled up in time.'

The new comer, a handsome girl of about the same age as Lizzie, was the only daughter of Farmer Murray, of Mavis Farm. Spoilt, as one girl amongst half-a-dozen boys is sure to be, it is not to be wondered at that Rosa Murray was impetuous, saucy, and self-willed. For, added to her being her father's darling, and not knowing what it was to be denied anything in his power to give her, Miss Rosa was extremely pretty, with grey eyes and dark hair, and a complexion like a crimson rose. A rich brunette beauty that had gained for her the title of the Damask Rose of Corston, and of which no one was better aware than herself. Many a gentleman visitor at Rooklands had heard of the fame of the farmer's pretty daughter, and ridden over to Corston on purpose to catch a glimpse of her, and it was beginning to be whispered about the village that no one in those parts would be considered good enough for a husband for Miss Rosa, and that Mr Murray was set upon her marrying a gentleman from London, any gentleman from 'London' being considered by the simple rustics to be unavoidably 'the glass of fashion and the mould of form.' Mr Murray was termed a 'gentleman farmer' in that part of the county, because he lived in a substantially-built and well-furnished house, and could afford to keep riding-horses in his stable and sit down to a dinner spread on a tablecloth every day. But, in reality, his father had commenced life as a ploughman in that very village of Corston, and it was only necessary to bring Farmer Murray into the presence of Lord Worcester and his fashionable friends to see how much of a 'gentleman' he was. He had made the great mistake, however, of sending his children to be educated at schools above their station in life, the consequence of which was that, whilst their tastes and proclivities remained plebeian as his own, they had acquired a self-sufficiency and idea of their merits that accorded ill with their surroundings and threatened to mar their future happiness. The Damask Rose of Corston was the worst example amongst them of the evil alluded to. She had unfortunately lost her mother many years before, so was almost completely her own mistress, and the admiration her beauty excited was fast turning her from a thoughtless flirt into a heartless coquette, the most odious character any woman can assume.

But with her own sex, and when it suited her, Rosa Murray could be agreeable and ingenuous enough, and there was nothing but cordiality in the tone in which she continued her conversation with Lizzie Locke.

'What are you doing out here by yourself, child? You really ought not to go about alone. It can't be safe.'

'Oh, it's safe enough, Miss Rosa. I've been used to find my way about ever since I could walk. I've just come up from the marshes, and I was going to take these cockles to Mavis Farm to see if the master would like them for his breakfast to-morrow.'

'I daresay they will be very glad of them. George and Bob are awfully fond of cockles. What a lot you've gathered, Lizzie. How do you manage to find them, when you can't see?'

'I know all the likeliest places they stick to, Miss Rosa, as well as I do the chimney corner at home. The tide comes up and leaves them on the bits of rocks, and among the boulders, and some spots are regular beds of them. I've been at it half my life, you see, miss, and I just feel for them with my fingers and pick them off. I can tell a piece of samphire, too, by the sound it makes as I tread over it.'

'It's wonderful,' said Rosa; 'I have often been surprised to see you go about just as though you had the use of your eyes. It seems to make no difference to you.'

Poor Lizzie sighed.

'Oh, miss! it makes a vast difference—such a difference as you could never understand. But I try to make the best of it, and not be more of a burden upon aunt and Larry than I need to be.'

'I'm sure they don't think you a burden,' said the other girl, warmly. 'But I wonder I didn't meet you on the marshes just now. I've been galloping all over them.'

'Not past Corston Point, I hope, miss,' exclaimed Lizzie, hurriedly.

'Yes, I have! Why not?'

'Oh, don't go there again, Miss Rosa. It isn't safe, particularly on horseback. There's no end of quagmires beyond the Point, and you can never tell when you'll come on one and be swallowed up, horse and all.'

Rosa Murray laughed.

'Why aren't you swallowed up then, Lizzie?'

'I know my way, miss, and I know the tread of it too. I can tell when the soil yields more than it should at low tide that I'm nearing a quicksand. When the Almighty takes away one sense He sharpens the others to make up for it. But the sands are full of danger; some of them are shifting too, and you can never tell if they're firm to-day whether they won't be loose to-morrow. Do take heed, Miss Rosa, and never you ride beyond Corston Point without one of the young gentlemen to take care of you.'

'Well, I'll remember your advice, Lizzie, for I don't want to be swallowed up alive. Good-bye.'

She put her horse in motion and cantered on some little way in advance—then suddenly checked him again and turned back. All Rosa Murray's actions, like her disposition, were quick and impulsive.

'By the way, Lizzie, it's our harvest-home supper to-night. You must be sure and make Larry bring you up to the big barn with him.'

The blind girl crimsoned with pleasure.

'Oh, Miss Rosa! but what should I be doing at your supper? I can't dance, you know. I shall only be in the way.'

'Nonsense! You can hear the singing and the music; we have made papa get a couple of fiddlers over from Wells; and you can eat some supper. You will enjoy yourself, won't you, Lizzie?'

'Yes, miss, I think so—that is, if Larry and aunt are willing that I should go; but it's very good of you to ask me.'

'You must be sure and come. Tell Larry I insist upon it. We shall all be there, you know, and I shall look out for you, Lizzie, and if I don't see you I shall send some one round to your cottage to fetch you.'

Lizzie Locke smiled and curtsied.

'I'll be sure and tell Larry of your goodness, miss' she said, 'and he'll be able to thank you better than I can. Here comes a gentleman,' she added, as she withdrew herself modestly from the side of the young lady's horse.

The gentleman, whom Lizzie Locke could have distinguished only as such from the different sound produced by his boots in walking, was Lord Worcester's head gamekeeper, Frederick Darley. He was a young fellow to hold the responsible position he did, being only about thirty years of age, and he had not held it long; but he was the son of the gamekeeper on one of Lord Worcester's estates in the south of England, and his lordship had brought him to Rooklands as soon as ever a vacancy occurred. He was a favourite with his master and his master's guests, being a man of rather superior breeding and education, but on that very account he was much disliked by all the poor people around. Gamekeepers are not usually popular in a poaching district, but it was not Frederick Darley's position alone that made him a subject for criticism. His crying sin, to use their own term, was that he 'held his head too high.' The velveteen coat he usually wore, with a rose in the button-hole, his curly black hair and waxed moustache, no less than the cigars he smoked and the air with which he affected the society of the gentry, showed the tenants of Rooklands that he considered himself vastly above themselves in position, and they hated him accordingly. The animus had spread to Corston, but Mr Darley was not well enough known there yet to have become a subject for general comment. Lizzie Locke had never even encountered him before.

He was walking from the village on the present occasion swinging a light cane in his hand, and as Rosa Murray looked up at the blind girl's exclamation, she perceived him close to her horse's head.

'Good morning, Miss Murray,' he said, lifting his hat.

'Good morning,' she replied, without mentioning any name, but Lizzie Locke could detect from the slight tremor in her voice that she was confused at the sudden encounter. 'Were you going down to the beach?'

'I was going nowhere but in search of you.'

'Shall we walk towards home then?' said Rosa, suiting the action to the word. She evidently did not wish the blind girl to be a party to their conversation. She called out 'Good-bye, Lizzie,' once more as she walked her horse away, but before she was out of hearing, the little cockle-gatherer could distinguish her say to the stranger in a fluttered voice,—

'I am so glad you are coming over to our harvest-home to-night.'

'One of the grand gentlemen over from Rooklands come to court Miss Rosa,' she thought in the innocence of her heart, as she turned off the road to take a short cut across the country to Mavis Farm. Meanwhile the couple she alluded to were making their way slowly towards Corston; she, reining in her horse to the pace of a tortoise, whilst he walked by the side with his hand upon the crutch of her saddle.

'Could you doubt for a moment whether I should come?' said Frederick Darley in answer to Rosa's question. 'Wouldn't I go twenty—fifty miles, for the pleasure of a dance with you?'

'You're such an awful flatterer,' she replied, bridling under the compliment; 'but don't make too sure of a dance with me, for papa and my brothers will be there, and they are so horribly particular about me.'

'And not particularly fond of me—I know it, Miss Murray—but I care nothing at all about it so long as—as—'

'As what?'

'As you are.'

'Oh, Mr Darley! how can you talk such nonsense?'

'It's not nonsense! it's sober sense—come, Rosa, tell me the truth. Are you playing with me, or not?'

'What do you mean by "playing"?'

'You know. Are you in earnest or in jest? In fact—do you love me better than you love your father and your brothers?'

'Mr Darley! You know I do!'

'Prove it then, by meeting me to-night.'

'Meeting you? Are you not coming to the harvest-home?'

'I may look in, but I shall not remain long; I shall only use it as an excuse to come over to Corston. Mr Murray is suspicious of me—I can see that—and your brothers dislike me. I don't care to sit at the table of men who are not my friends, Rosa. But if you will take an opportunity to slip out of the barn and join me in the apple copse, I will wait there for you at ten o'clock.'

'Oh! Frederick—if papa should catch me!'

'I will take care of that! Only say you'll come.'

'I should like to come—it will be so lovely and romantic. Just like a scene in a novel. But I am afraid it is very wrong.'

'What is there wrong in a moonlight stroll? "The summer nights were made for love," Rosa, and we shall have a glorious moon by nine o'clock to-night. You won't disappoint me, will you?'

'No, indeed I won't; but if anything should be discovered you will promise me—'

'What? I will promise you anything in the world.'

'Only that you will shield me from papa's anger—that you will say it was all your fault. For papa is dreadful when he gets in a temper.'

'If you should be discovered—which is not at all likely—I promise you that, rather than give you back into papa's clutches, I will carry you straight off to Rooklands and marry you with a special licence. Will that satisfy you? Would you consent to be my wife, Rosa?'

'Yes!' she replied, and earnestly, for she had been captivated by the manner and appearance of Frederick Darley for some weeks past, and this was not the first meeting by many that they had held without the knowledge of her father.

'That's my own Damask Rose,' he exclaimed triumphantly; 'give me a kiss, dear, just one to seal the contract; there's no one looking!' He held up his face towards her as he spoke—his handsome insouciant face with its bright eyes and smile, and she stooped hers to meet it, and give the embrace he petitioned for.

But someone was looking. Almost as Rosa's lips met Darley's a frightened look came into her eyes, and she uttered a note of alarm.

'What is it, darling?'

'It's my brother George! He's coming this way. Oh! go, Mr Darley—pray go across the field and let me canter on to meet him.' He would have stayed to remonstrate, but the girl pushed him from her, and thinking discretion the better part of valour, he jumped over a neighbouring stile and walked away in the direction she had indicated, whilst she, with a considerable degree of agitation, rode on to make what excuses she best could for the encounter to her brother. George Murray was sauntering along the hedge-row switching the leaves off the hazel bushes as he went, and apparently quite unsuspicious of anything being wrong. But the first question he addressed to his sister went straight to the point.

'Who was that fellow that was talking to you just now, Rosa?'

She knew it would be of no use trying to deceive him, so she spoke the truth.

'It was Mr Darley!'

'What's he doing over here?'

'How should I know? You'd better ask him yourself! Am I accountable for Mr Darley's actions?'

'Don't talk nonsense. You know what I mean perfectly well. Did he come over to Rooklands to see you?'

'To see me—what will you get into your head next?'

'Well, you seemed to be hitting it off pretty well together. What were you whispering to him about just now?'

'I didn't whisper to him.'

'You did! I saw you stoop your head to his ear. Now look here, Rosa! Don't you try any of your flirtation games on with Darley, or I'll go straight to the governor and tell him.'

'And what business is it of yours, pray?'

'It would be the business of every one of us. You don't suppose we're going to let you marry a gamekeeper, do you?'

'Really, George, you're too absurd. Cannot a girl stop to speak to a man in the road without being accused of wanting to marry him? You will say I want to marry every clodhopper I may dance with at the harvest-home to-night next.'

'That is a very different thing. The ploughboys are altogether beneath you, but this Darley is a kind of half-and-half fellow that might presume to imagine himself good enough to be a match for you.'

'Half-and-half indeed!' exclaimed Rosa, nettled at the reflection on her lover; 'and pray, what are we when all's said and done? Mr Darley's connections are as good as our own, and better, any day.'

'Halloa! what are you making a row about? I'll tell you what, Rosa. It strikes me very forcibly you want to "carry on" with Lord Worcester's keeper, and you ought to be ashamed of yourself for thinking of it. You—who have been educated and brought up in every respect like a lady—to condescend to flirt with an upstart like that, a mere servant! Why, he's no better than Isaac Barnes, or old Whisker, or any of the rest of them, only he's prig enough to oil his hair, and wear a button-hole, in order to catch the eye of such silly noodles like yourself.'

'You've no right to speak to me in this way, George. You know nothing at all about the matter.'

'I know that I found Darley and you in the lane with your heads very close together, and that directly he caught sight of me he made off. That doesn't look as if his intentions were honourable, does it? Now, look you here, Rosa. Is he coming to the barn to-night?'

'I believe so!'

'And who asked him?'

'I don't know,' she replied, evasively; 'papa, perhaps—or very likely Mr Darley thought he required no invitation to join a ploughman's dance and supper.'

'Well, you're not to dance with him if he does come.'

'I don't know what right you have to forbid it.'

'None at all! but if you won't give me the promise I shall go straight to the governor, and let him know what I saw to-day. He's seen something of it himself, I can tell you, and he told me to put you on your guard, so you can take your choice of having his anger or not.'

This statement was not altogether true, for if Farmer Murray had heard anything of his daughter's flirtation with the handsome gamekeeper, it had been only what his sons had suggested to him, and he did not believe their reports. But the boys, George and Robert, now young men of three or four-and-twenty, had had more than one consultation together on the subject, and quite made up their minds that their sister must not be allowed to marry Frederick Darley. For they were quite alive to the advantages that a good connection for her might afford to themselves, and wanted to see her raise the family instead of lowering it.

Rosa, however, believed her brother's word. Dread of her father's anger actuated in a great measure this belief, and she began to fear lest all communication between Darley and herself might be broken off if she did not give the required promise. And the very existence of the fear opened her eyes to the truth, that her lover was become a necessary part of life's enjoyment to her. So, like a true woman and a hunted hare, she temporised and 'doubled.'

'Does papa really think I am too intimate with Mr Darley, George?' she inquired, trembling.

'Of course he does, like all the rest of us.'

'But it's a mistake. I don't care a pin about him.'

'Then it will be no privation for you to give up dancing with him to-night.'

'I never intended to dance with him.'

'Honour bright, Rosa?'

'Well, I can't say more than I have. However, you will see. I shall not dance with him. If he asks me, I shall say I am engaged to you.'

'You can say what you like, so long as you snub the brute. I wonder at his impudence coming up to our "Home" at all. But these snobs are never wanting in "cheek." However, if Bob and I don't give him a pretty broad hint to-night that his room is preferable to his company, I'm a duffer! Are you going in, Rosa?'

For the young people had continued to walk towards their own home, and had now arrived at the farm gates.

'Yes. I've been in the saddle since ten o'clock this morning, and have had enough of it.'

'Let me take Polly round to the stables before the governor sees the state you've brought her home in, then,' said George, as his sister dismounted and threw him the reins. He could be good-natured enough when he had his own way, and he thought he had got it now with Rosa. But she went up to her chamber bent but on one idea—how best to let Mr Darley know of what had passed between her brother and herself, that he might not be surprised at the caution of her behaviour when they met in the big barn.

Meanwhile Lizzie Locke having left her basket of cockles at Mavis Farm, had reached her cottage home. Her thoughts had been very pleasant as she journeyed there and pondered on the coming pleasure of the evening. It was not often the poor child took any part in the few enjoyments to be met in Corston. People were apt to leave her out of their invitations, thinking that as she was blind she could not possibly derive any amusement from hearing, and she was of too shrinking and modest a nature to obtrude herself where she was not specially required. She had never been to one of the harvest-home suppers given by Farmer Murray (in whose employ her cousin Laurence worked), though she had heard much of their delights. But now that Miss Rosa had particularly desired her to come, she thought Larry would be pleased to take her. And she had a print dress nice and clean for the occasion, and her aunt would plait her hair neatly for her, and she should hear the sound of Larry's voice as he talked to his companions, and of his feet whilst he was dancing, and, perhaps, after supper one of his famous old English songs—songs which they had heard so seldom of late, and the music of which her aunt and she had missed so much.

It was past twelve o'clock as she entered the cottage, but she was so full of her grand news that she scarcely remembered that she must have kept both her relations waiting for their dinner of bacon and beans.

'Why, Lizzie, my girl, where on earth have you been to?' exclaimed her aunt, Mrs Barnes, as she appeared on the threshold. Mrs Barnes' late husband had been brother to the very Isaac Barnes, once poacher, now gamekeeper on Farmer Murray's estate, and there were scandal-mongers in Corston ill-natured enough to assert that the taint was in the blood, and that young Laurence Barnes was very much inclined to go the same way as his uncle had done before him. But at present he was a helper in the stables of Mavis Farm.

'I've been along the marshes,' said Lizzie, 'gathering cockles, and they gave me sixpence for them up at the farm; and oh, aunt! I met Miss Rosa on my way back, and she says Larry must take me up to the big barn this evening to their harvest-home supper.'

Laurence Barnes was seated at his mother's table already occupied in the discussion of a huge lump of bread and bacon, but as the name of his master's daughter left Lizzie's lips it would have been very evident to any one on the look-out for it that he started and seemed uneasy.

'And what will you be doing at a dance and a supper, my poor girl?' said her aunt, but not unkindly. 'Come, Lizzie, sit down and take your dinner; that's of much more account to you than a harvest merry-making.'

'Not till Larry has promised to take me up with him this evening,' replied the girl gaily, and without the least fear of a rebuff. 'You'll do it, Larry, won't you? for Miss Rosa said they'd all be there, and if she didn't see me she'd send round to the cottage after me. She said, "Tell Larry I insist upon it; she did, indeed!"'

'Well, then, I'm not going up myself, and so you can't go,' he answered roughly.

'Not going yourself!'

The exclamation left the lips of both women at once. They could not understand it, and it equally surprised them. Larry—the best singer and dancer for twenty miles round, to refuse to go up to his master's harvest-home! Why, what would the supper and the dance be without him? At least, so thought Mrs Barnes and Lizzie.

'Aren't you well, Larry?' demanded the blind girl, timidly.

'I'm well enough; but I don't choose to go. I don't care for such rubbish. Let 'em bide! They'll do well enough without us.'

Lizzie dropt into her seat in silence, and began in a mechanical way to eat her dinner. She was terribly disappointed, but she did not dream of disputing her cousin's decision. He was master in that house; and she would not have cared to go to the barn without Larry. Half the pleasure would be gone with his absence. He did not seem to see that.

'Mother can take you up, Liz, if she has a mind to,' he said, presently.

'I take her along of me!' cried Mrs Barnes, 'when I haven't so much as a clean kerchief to pin across my shoulders. You're daft, Larry. I haven't been to such a thing as a dance since I laid your father in the churchyard, and if our Liz can't go without me she must stop at home.'

'I don't want to go, indeed I don't, not without Larry,' replied the blind girl, earnestly.

'And what more did Miss Rosa say to you?' demanded her aunt, inquisitively.

'We talked about the sands, aunt. She'd been galloping all over them this morning, and I told her how dangerous they were beyond Corston Point, and we was getting on so nice together, when some one came and interrupted us.'

'Some one! Who's some one?' said Laurence Barnes, quickly.

'I can't tell you; I never met him before.'

''Twas a man, then?'

'Oh yes! 'twas a man—a gentleman! I knew that, because there were no nails in his boots, and he didn't give at the knees as he walked.'

'What more?' demanded Larry, with lowered brows.

'Miss Rosa knew him well, because they never named each other, but only wished "good morning." She said, "What are you doing here?" and he said, "Looking after you." He carried a rose in his hand or his coat, I think, for I smelt it, and a cane, too, for it struck the saddle flap.'

'Well, that's enough,' interrupted Laurence, fiercely.

'I thought you wanted to hear all about it, Larry?'

'Is there any more to tell, then?'

'Only that as they walked away together, Miss Rosa said she was so glad he was coming up to the harvest-home to-night.'

'So he's a-going, the cur!' muttered the young man between his teeth. 'I know him, with his cane, and his swagger, and his stinking roses; and I'll be even with him yet, or my name's not Larry Barnes.'

It was evident that Mr Frederick Darley was no greater favourite in the cottage than the farm.

'Whoever are you talking of?' said Larry's mother. 'Do you know the gentleman Lizzie met with Miss Rosa?'

'Gentleman! He's no gentleman. He's nothing but a common gamekeeper, same as uncle. But don't let us talk of him any more. It takes the flavour of the bacon clean out of my mouth.'

The rest of the simple meal was performed in silence, and then Mrs Barnes gathered up the crockery and carried it into an outer room to wash.

Larry and Lizzie were left alone. The girl seemed to understand that in some mysterious way she had offended her cousin, and wished to restore peace between them, so she crept up to where he was smoking his midday pipe on the old settle by the fire, and laid her head gently against his knees. They had been brought up from babes together, and were used to observe such innocent little familiarities towards each other.

'Never mind about the outing, Larry. I'm not a bit disappointed, and I'm sorry I said anything about it.'

'That's not true, Liz. You are disappointed, and it's my doing; but I couldn't help it. I didn't feel somehow as if I had the heart to go. But I've changed my mind since dinner, and we'll go up to the harvest-home together, my girl. Will that content you?'

'Oh, Larry! you are good!' she said, raising herself, her cheeks crimsoned with renewed expectation; 'but I'd rather stop at home a thousand times over than you should put yourself out of the way for me.'

A sudden thought seemed to strike the young man as he looked at Lizzie's fair, sightless face. He had lived with her so long, in a sisterly way, that it had never struck him to regard her in any other light. But something in the inflection of her voice as she addressed him, made him wonder if he were capable of making her happier than she had ever been yet. He cherished no other hopes capable of realisation. What if he could make his own troubles lighter by lightening those of poor Liz? Something of this sort, but in much rougher clothing, passed through his half-tutored mind. As it grasped the idea he turned hurriedly towards the girl kneeling at his knee.

'Do you really care about me, lass?' he said. 'Do you care if I'm vexed or not? Whether I come in or go out? If I like my dinner or I don't like it? Does all this nonsense worry you? Answer me, for I want to know.'

'Oh! Larry, what do you mean? Of course I care. I can't do much for you—more's the pity—without my poor eyes, but I can think of you and love you, Larry, and surely you know that I do both.'

'But would you like to love me more, Liz?'

'How could I love you more?'

'Would you like to have the right to care for me—the right to creep after me in your quiet way wherever I might happen to go—the right to walk alongside of me, with your hand in mine, up to the harvesting home to-night; eh, Liz?'

The girl half understood her cousin's meaning, but she was too modest not to fear she might be mistaken. Larry could never wish to take her, blind and helpless, for his wife.

'Larry, speak to me more plainly; I don't catch your meaning quite.'

'Will you marry me then, Liz, and live along of mother and me to the end of your life?'

'Marry you!—Be your wife!—Me! Oh, Larry, you can't mean it! never.'

'I do mean it,' replied her cousin with an oath; 'and I'll take you as soon as ever you'll take me if you will but say the word.'

'But I am blind, Larry.'

'Do you suppose I don't know that? Perhaps I likes you blind best.'

'But I am so useless. I get about so slowly. If anything was to happen to aunt, how could I keep the house clean and cook the dinners, Larry? You must think a bit more before you decide for good.'

But the poor child's face was burning with excitement the while, and her sightless eyes were thrown upwards to her cousin's face as though she would strain through the darkness to see it.

'If anything happened to mother, do you suppose I'd turn you out of doors, Liz? And in any case, then, I must have a wife or a servant to do the work—it will make no difference that way. The only question is, do you want me for a husband?'

'Oh! I have loved you ever so!' replied the girl, throwing herself into his arms. 'I couldn't love another man, Larry. I know your face as well as if I had seen it, and your step, and your voice. I can tell them long before another body knows there's sound a-coming.'

'Then you'll have me?'

'If you'll have me,' she murmured in a tone of delight as she nestled against his rough clothes.

'That's settled, then, and the sooner the banns are up the better! Here, mother! Come along and hear the news. Lizzie has promised to marry me, and I shall take her to church as soon as we've been cried.'

'Well! I am pleased,' said Mrs Barnes. 'You couldn't have got a neater wife, Larry, though her eyesight's terribly against her, poor thing! But I'm sure of one thing, Liz, if you can't do all for him that another woman might, you'll love my lad with the best among them, and that thought will make me lie quiet in my grave.'

The poor cannot afford the time to be as sentimental over such things as the rich. Larry kissed his cousin two or three times on the forehead in signification of the compact they had just entered into, and then he got up and shook himself, and prepared to go back to his afternoon work.

'That's a good job settled,' he thought as he did so; 'it will make Lizzie happy, and drive a deal of nonsense may be out of my head. But if ever I can pay out that scoundrel Darley I'll do it, if it costs me the last drop of my blood.'

The blind girl regarded what had passed between her cousin and herself with very different feelings. Condemned, by reason of her infirmity, to pass much of her young life in solitude, the privation had repaid itself by giving her the time and opportunity for an amount of self-culture which, if subjected to the rough toil and rougher pleasures of her class, she never could have attained. Her ideas regarding the sanctity of love and marriage were very different from those of other Corston girls. She could never have 'kept company,' as they termed it, with one man this month and another the next. Her pure mind, which dwelt so much within itself, shrank from the levity and coarseness with which she had heard such subjects treated, and believing, as she had done, that she should never be married, she had pleased herself by building up an ideal of what a husband should be, and how his wife would love and reverence him. And this ideal had always had for its framework a fancied portrait of her cousin Laurence. In reality, this young fellow was an average specimen of a fresh-faced country youth, with plenty of colour and flesh and muscle. But to the blind girl's fancy he was perfection. Her little hands from babyhood had traced each feature of his face until she knew every line by heart, and though she had never acknowledged it even to herself, she had been in love with him ever since she was capable of understanding the meaning of the term. So that although his proposal to marry her had come as a great surprise, it had also come as a great glory, and set her heart throbbing with the pleasant consciousness of returned affection.

She was in a flutter of triumph and delight all the afternoon, whilst Larry was attending to his horses, and hardly knew how to believe in her own happiness. Her aunt brushed and plaited her long hair for her till it was as glossy and neat as possible, and tied her new cherry-coloured ribbon round the girl's throat that she might not disgrace her son's choice at the merry-making. And then Lizzie sat down to wait for her affianced lover's return, the proudest maid in Corston. Larry came in punctually for his tea, and the first thing he did was to notice the improvement in his little cousin's appearance; and indeed joy had so beautified her countenance that she was a different creature from what she had been on the sands that morning. The apathy and indifference to life had disappeared, and a bright colour bloomed in her soft cheeks. As she tucked her hand through her cousin's arm, and they set off to walk together to Farmer Murray's harvest-home, Mrs Barnes looked after them with pride, and declared that if poor Liz had only got her sight they would have made the handsomest couple in the parish.

Larry was rather silent as they went up to the barn together, but Liz was not exigeante, and trotted by his side with an air of perfect content. When they arrived they found the place already full, but the 'quality' had not yet arrived, and until they did so, no one ventured to do more than converse quietly with his neighbour, although the fiddlers from Wells were all ready and only waiting a signal to strike up. But in those days the working men did not consider their festival complete without the presence of the master, and it would have been a sore affront if the members and guests of the household had not also joined them in order to open the ball and set the liquor flowing. In these days of Radicalism perhaps they find they can get on just as well without them. Larry still kept Lizzie's arm snugly tucked within his own as he described to her how beautiful the walls of the barn looked hung with flags and decorated with flowers and evergreens, and what a number of lamps there were, and what a lot of liquor and eatables were stowed away at the further end. He was still talking to her rapidly, and, as she imagined, somewhat uneasily, when a cheer rose up from a group of rustics outside, and Larry gave a start that almost disengaged her from his clasp.

'What's the matter?' she demanded. 'Is it the gentry coming, Larry?'

'Yes! 'tis they, sure enough. Keep close to me, Liz—I don't want to part from you, not for one moment.'

'Oh, Larry! that do make me feel so happy,' she whispered. As she spoke, the party from Mavis Farm entered the barn and were received with a shout of welcome. Mr Murray, a fine, hale old gentleman, and his sons came first; then Miss Rosa, looking rather conscious, tripping after her brothers in a white muslin dress. The farmer advanced to the beer barrel, and having filled his glass, drank success to all present, and asked them to give three cheers for a bountiful harvest. When that ceremony was completed the fiddlers struck up a merry country dance, and every one was at liberty to drink and caper about. The young people from Mavis Farm all took part in the first dance, and Rosa Murray came up and asked Larry if he would be her partner on the occasion. She ought in fairness to have opened the ball with her father's bailiff or one of the upper servants, but she preferred the young groom, with whom she held daily intercourse, and she was accustomed to go her own way without reference to anybody's feelings. As she approached the cousins she gave Lizzie a kindly welcome.

'I am so glad you have come up, Lizzie; and now your cousin must get you a nice seat until this dance is ended, for I intend him to open the ball with me.'

This was considered a great honour on the part of the villagers, and the blind girl coloured with pleasure to think that her fiancé had been selected for the ceremony.

'Oh, Miss Rosa, you are good! Larry, why don't you thank the young lady, and say how proud you shall be to dance alongside of her?'

But Larry said nothing. He reddened, it is true, but more from confusion than pleasure, and he was so long a time settling Lizzie to his satisfaction, that Rosa was disposed to be angry at his dilatoriness, and called out to him sharply that if he were not ready she should open the ball with some one else. Then he ran and took his place by her side, and went through the evolutions of 'down the middle' and 'setting at the corners' with a burning face and a fast-beating heart. Poor Laurence Barnes! His young mistress's constant presence in the stables and familiarity with himself had been too much for his susceptible nature. She was to him, in the pride of her youthful loveliness and the passport it afforded her for smiling upon all classes of men, as an angel, rather than a woman, something set too high above for him ever to reach, but yet with the power to thrill his veins and make his hot blood run faster. The touch of her ungloved hand in the figures of the dance made him tremble, and the glance of her eyes sickened him, so that as soon as the terrible ordeal was concluded he made her an awkward salute, and rushed from her side to that of the beer barrel, to drown his excitement in drink. And it was just there that he had left Lizzie Locke.

'That was beautiful, Larry,' she exclaimed, with glowing cheeks. 'I could hear the sound of your feet and Miss Rosa's above all the others, even when you went to the further end of the barn. It must be lovely to be able to dance like that. But it has made you thirsty, Larry. That's the third glass, isn't it?'

'Yes, lass, it's made me thirsty. But don't you keep counting my glasses all the evening, or I shall move your chair a bit further off.'

She laughed quietly, and he flung himself upon the ground and rested his arm upon her knee. He seemed to feel safer and more at peace when by Lizzie's side, and she was quite happy in the knowledge that he was there. The Mavis Farm party did not dance again after the ball had been opened, at least Miss Rosa did not. But she moved about the barn restlessly. Sometimes she was in, and sometimes she was out. She did not seem to know her own mind for two minutes together.

'Why is that fellow Darley skulking about here, Larry?' demanded Isaac Barnes of his nephew. 'I've seen his ugly face peeping into the barn a dozen times. Why don't he come in or stay out? I hate such half-and-half sneaking ways.'

Larry muttered an oath, and was about to make some reply, when George Murray came up to them.

'Is that Mr Darley I see hanging about the barn door, Isaac?' he inquired of their own keeper.

'That it be, Master George; and as I was just saying to Larry here, why not in or out? What need of dodging? He don't want to catch no one here, I suppose?'

'He'd better try. I'd soon teach him who the barn belongs to.'

'And I'd back you, Master George,' cried Larry resolutely. The strong-brewed Norfolk ale was giving him a dash of Dutch courage.

'Would you, Larry? That's right! Well, I can't be in all parts of the barn at once, and father wants me to take the bottom of the supper-table, so you keep your eye on Mr Darley for me, will you? and if he looks up to anything, let me know.'

'I'm your man, Master George,' replied Larry heartily.

Rosa was near enough to them to overhear what had passed. Her brother had intended she should do so. But when he set his wit against that of a woman he reckoned without his host. Rosa had been on the look-out for Frederick Darley from the beginning of the evening, and during the first greeting, had managed to slip a little note into his hand, warning him of her brother's animosity, and begging him to keep as much as possible out of their sight until an opportunity occurred for her joining him in the apple copse. Now, she felt afraid of what might happen if there were an encounter between the two young men, and decided at once that her best plan would be, as soon as she saw George safely disposed of at the supper-table, to tamper with his spy. And unfortunately Rosa Murray knew but too well how to accomplish this. Young Barnes' infatuation had not been unnoticed by her. She would have been aware of it if a cat had admired her. She knew his hand trembled when he took her foot to place her in the saddle, and that he became so nervous and agitated when she entered the stable as often to have to be recalled to a sense of his duty by a sharp rebuke from the head groom. She had known it all for months past, and it had pleased her. She was so vain and heartless that she thought nothing of what pain the poor fellow might be undergoing. She laughed at his presumption, and only considered it another feather in her cap. But now she saw her way to make use of it. The dancing had recommenced, and was proceeding with vigour, and the huge rounds of beef and legs of mutton on the supper-table were beginning to be served out. George was in full action, leading the onslaught with his carving-knife, when Rosa Murray approached Laurence Barnes.

'Won't you dance again, nor go and have your supper, Larry dear?' Lizzie was asking, with a soft caress of her hand upon the head laid on her knee.

'I don't want to dance no more,' said Larry, 'and I sha'n't sup till the table's clearer and you can sup with me, Liz.'

'That's very good of you, Barnes,' said Rosa, who had caught the words; 'but if you'll take Lizzie to the table now, I'm sure George will find room for you both.'

'No thank you, miss,' he answered; 'I promised Master George to bide here till he came back, and I mustn't break my word.'

'Then I shall sit here with you, and we'll all have supper together by-and-by,' replied Rosa. 'Have you been gathering cockles again this afternoon, Lizzie?'

'Oh no, miss!' said Lizzie, blushing at the recollection of how her afternoon had been employed; 'it's high tide at four o'clock now, and I haven't been out of the house again to-day.'

'Did your cousin tell you how she scolded me for riding in the salt marshes, Barnes?'

'Well! it is dangerous, miss, for such as don't know the place. I mind me when Whisker's grandfather strayed out there by himself—'

'Oh, Larry!' cried Lizzie, 'don't go to tell that terrible tale. It always turns me sick!'

'Is that what they call the Marsh Ghost, Barnes? Oh! I must know all about it. I love ghost stories, and I have never been able to hear the whole of this one. Where does it appear, and when?'

'Lizzie here can tell you better than me, miss—she knows the story right through.'

'It's a horrible tale, Miss Rosa. You'll never forget it, once heard.'

'That's just why I want to hear it; so, Lizzie, you must tell it me directly. Don't move, Barnes, you don't inconvenience me. I can sit up in this corner quite well.'

'Well, miss, if you must hear it,' began the blind girl, 'it happened now nigh upon twenty years ago. Whisker's grandfather, that used to keep the lodge at Rooklands, had grown so old and feeble the late lord pensioned him off and sent him home to his own people. He hadn't no son in Corston then, miss, because they was both working in the south, but his daughter-in-law, his first son's widdy, that had married Skewton the baker, she offered to take the old man in and do for him. Lord Worcester allowed him fifty pounds a-year for life, and Mrs Skewton wanted to take it all for his keep, but the old man was too sharp for that, and he only gave her ten shillings a-week and put by the rest, no one knew where nor for what. Well, miss, this went on for three or four years may be, and then poor Whisker had grown very feeble and was a deal of trouble, and his sons didn't seem to be coming back, and the Skewtons had grown tired of him, so they neglected him shamefully. I shouldn't like to tell you, miss, all that's said of their beating the poor old man and starving him, and never giving him no comforts. At last he got quite silly and took to wandering about alone, and he used to go out on the marshes, high or low tide, without any sense of the danger, and everybody said he'd come to harm some day. And so he did, for one day they carried his body in from Corston Point quite dead, and all bruised with the rocks and stones. The Skewtons pretended as they knew nothing about how he'd come to his death, but they set up a cart just afterwards, and nothing has ever been heard of the old man's store of money, though his sons came back and inquired and searched far and near for it. But about six months after—Larry! 'tisn't a fit tale for Miss Rosa to listen to!'

'Nonsense, Lizzie! I wouldn't have the ghost left out for anything. It's just that I want to hear of.'

'Well, miss, as I said, six months after old Whisker's death he began to walk again, and he's walked ever since.'

'Where does he walk?'

'Round and round Corston Point every full moon, wringing his hands and asking for his money. They say it's terrible to see him.'

'Have you ever seen him, Barnes?'

Larry coloured deeply and shook his head. The peasantry all over England are very susceptible to superstition, and the Corston folk were not behindhand in their fear of ghosts, hobgoblins, and apparitions of all sorts. This young fellow would have stood up in a fight with the best man there, but the idea of seeing a ghost made his blood curdle.

'Dear me, miss, no,' said Lizzie, answering for him, 'and I hope he never may. Why, it would kill him.'

'Nonsense, Lizzie. Barnes is not such a coward, I hope.'

Something in Miss Murray's tone made the blood leap to her retainer's face.

'I'm not a coward, miss,' he answered quickly.

'Of course not; I said so. But any man would be so who refused to go to Corston Point by night for fear of seeing old Whisker's ghost. He walks at full moon, you say! Why, he must be at it to-night, then! There never was a lovelier moon.'

'Don't, miss,' urged Lizzie, shivering.

'You silly goose! I don't want you to go. But, I must say, I should like to try the mettle of our friend here.'

'I beg your pardon, miss; did you mean that for me?' said Larry quickly.

'Yes, I did, Barnes. What harm? I should like to see some one who had really seen this ghost, and I'll give my gold watch chain to the man who will go to Corston Point to-night and bring me a bunch of the samphire that grows upon the top of it.'

Larry's mind was in a tumult. Some wild idea of rendering himself admirable in Rosa Murray's eyes may have influenced his decision—or the delight of possessing her watch chain may have urged him on to it. Anyway, he rose up from the floor, and with chattering teeth, but a resolute heart, exclaimed,—

'I'll take you at your word, miss. I'll go to Corston Point and bring you the samphire, and prove to you that Larry Barnes is not a coward.'

'Larry, Larry, you'll never do it!' cried Lizzie.

'Let me alone, my girl. I've made up my mind, and you won't turn it.'

'You are a brave fellow, Barnes,' said Rosa. 'I believe you're the only man in Corston that would have taken my wager. And, mind, it's a bargain. My gold watch chain for your bunch of samphire and news of old Whisker's ghost.' She was delighted at the idea of getting him out of the way.

'But, Larry! Miss Rosa! Think of the danger,' implored poor Lizzie. 'Oh, he'll never come back; I know he'll never come back.'

'What are you afraid of, Lizzie? Doesn't Barnes know the sands as well as you do? And the moonlight is as bright as day. It's silly to try and stop him.'

'But he's going to be my husband, miss,' whispered Lizzie, weeping, into Miss Murray's ear.

'Oh! if that's the case, perhaps he'd better follow your wishes,' rejoined Rosa coldly. 'Mine are of no consequence, of course, though I'd have liked Barnes to wear my chain—we've been such good company together, haven't we, Larry?'

Her smile, and the way in which she spoke his name, determined him. He had heard the whispered conversation between her and Lizzie, and he felt vexed—he didn't know why—that it should have occurred.

'Be quiet, Liz,' he said, authoritatively. 'What's to be has nothing to do with this. I'm only too glad to oblige Miss Rosa, even with a bit of samphire. Good-bye, my girl, and good-bye, miss; it's close upon the stroke of ten, so you mayn't see me again till to-morrow morning; but when you do, it'll be with the bunch of samphire in my hand!'

He darted away from them as he spoke, and left the barn; whilst Lizzie Locke, disappointed at his departure, and frightened for his safety, wept bitterly. But the noise around them was so great, and everyone was so much occupied with his or her own pleasure, that little notice was taken of the girl's emotion.

'Come, Lizzie, don't be foolish,' urged Miss Murray, in a whisper, afraid lest the errand on which she had sent Larry should become public property. 'Your lover will be back in an hour, at the latest.'

'He'll never come back, miss! You've sent him to his death; I feel sure of it,' replied Lizzie, sobbing.

'This is too ridiculous,' said Rosa. 'If you intend to make such a fool of yourself as this, Lizzie, I think you had much better go home to your aunt. Shall I send Jane Williams back with you? You know her; she's a kind girl, and she'll lead you as safely as Larry would.'

'No; thank you, miss; Larry said he would return to the barn with your samphire, and I must wait here till he comes—if ever he comes,' she added mournfully.

'Well, you've quite upset me with all this nonsense, and I must have a breath of fresh air. If Master George, or papa, should ask for me, Lizzie, say I've got a headache, and gone home for a little while. I'll be round again before Larry's back; but if anything should keep me, tell him he shall have the chain to-morrow morning. For he's a brave fellow, Lizzie, and whether he sees the ghost or not, he shall keep my watch chain as a wedding present.'

She patted the blind girl's hand before she tripped away; but no amount of encouragement could have driven the conviction from Lizzie Locke's breast that her lover was a doomed man; and added to this, she had an uncomfortable feeling in her heart (though too undefined to be called jealousy), that his alacrity in complying with his young mistress's request arose from something more than a desire to maintain his character for courage in her eyes. So the poor child sat by the beer barrel, sad and silent, with her face buried in her hands; and so she remained till midnight had sounded from the church clock, and the lights were put out, and the festivities concluded, and some kind neighbour led her back to her aunt's house. But neither Miss Rosa nor Larry had returned.

* * * * *

Miss Rosa's 'breath of fresh air' meant, of course, her appointment with Frederick Darley in the apple copse. She had got Larry nicely out of the way (notwithstanding the fears of his betrothed), and there was no obstacle in her path as she left the barn and approached the place of meeting. She had taken the precaution to wrap a large dark shawl round her white dress, and, thus concealed, crept softly down the lane and through the lower meadow unobservant or unheeding that her father's terrier, Trim, had followed her footsteps. Mr Darley was in waiting for her, and a lover-like colloquy ensued. He did not again mention the subject of marriage, at which Rosa was somewhat disappointed; for she believed that, notwithstanding her brother's assertions to the contrary, Mr Murray might not refuse his consent to her becoming Frederick Darley's wife; and he certainly was the handsomest man round about, Lord Worcester himself not excepted. But in the midst of their tender conversation, as Darley was telling Rosa he loved her better than ever man had loved woman in this world before, Trim commenced wagging his tail and snuffing the grass.

'What is the matter?' cried Rosa in alarm. 'Down, Trim, down—be quiet, sir! Oh, Frederick! surely no one can be coming this way.'

'Don't be afraid,' said her companion; 'throw your shawl over your head and trust to me. I will answer for it that no one shall molest you whilst under my protection.'

But he had not calculated upon having to make his words good in the presence of her father and brother.

Trim would not lie down, nor be quiet, but kept on with his little signals of warning, until two dark figures could be discerned making their way towards them over the grass, when he bounded away to meet them. Rosa guessed who the newcomers must be, and her heart died within her for fear. She would have screamed, but Darley placed his hand before her mouth. There was no escape for the lovers, even if an attempt to escape would not have increased suspicion, for the apple copse was a three-cornered field that had but the one entrance through which they had come. In another moment the four had met, and Rosa recognised her father and her brother George. How they had guessed they would find her there she did not stay to ask or even think. All her thought was how to shield herself from the farmer's anger. The fact was that George had wished to seat his sister at the supper-table, when, finding that she and Darley and Larry had all three mysteriously disappeared, he had communicated his suspicions and the events of the morning to his father, and they had sallied forth together in search of the missing daughter, and were on their way to the farm, where they had been told she had gone, when Trim's unwarrantable interference led them to the very spot.

Mr Murray's rage was unbounded. He did not wait for any explanations, but walked up straight to Rosa and demanded,—

'Is this my daughter?'

The girl was too frightened to speak as she clung to her lover's arm, but Darley, perceiving that an amicable settlement was out of the question, replied in the same tone,—

'What right have you to ask, sir?'

'The right of a father, Mr Darley, who has no intention to let disgrace be brought into his family by such as you.'

He pulled Rosa by the arm roughly as he spoke, and dragged the shawl from her face.

'So it is you, you jade; and you would try and deceive your father, who has never refused you a thing in his life. That's the gratitude of women. However, you'll pay for it. You've had your first clandestine meeting and your last. No more gamekeeper's courtships for you if I know it.'

'By what right, Mr Murray, do you insult me, or this young lady, in my presence? If I have persuaded her to do a foolish thing, I am sorry for it, but you cannot give a harsher name to a lover's moonlight walk.'

'I do give it a harsher name, sir, and you know it deserves it. A lover's moonlight walk indeed! You mean a scoundrel's endeavour to get an innocent girl into his clutches.'

'Papa! papa! you are quite mistaken. Mr Darley has asked me to marry him. He will marry me to-morrow by special licence if you will only give your consent.'

'Marry you to-morrow! you poor fool! You've been swallowing every lie he chose to tell you. He can't marry you to-morrow nor any day, and for a good reason. He's a married man already.'

Rosa screamed, George uttered an oath, and Darley darted forward.

'Who told you so, Mr Murray?'

'Never mind who told me; you know it is true. Can you deny that you left a wife down south when you came to Rooklands? Lord Worcester does not know it, perhaps, but there are those who do.'

'Who is your informant?' repeated Darley.

'I shall not tell you; but if you don't clear out of my meadow and Corston within half-an-hour, and promise never to show your face here again, I'll lay the whole story before his lordship.'

'Are you going, or shall I kick you out?' inquired George.

Frederick Darley thought upon the whole he'd better go. He turned on his heel with an oath, and slunk out of the apple copse like a beaten cur.

'Come, my girl,' said Farmer Murray, not unkindly, as he commenced to walk homeward, with his hand still on Rosa's arm; 'you've been a fool, but I hope you've been nothing worse. Never see nor speak to the man again, and I'll forgive you.'

'Oh, papa! is it really true?' she answered, sobbing.

'It's as true as Heaven, Rosa! It was Larry Barnes told it me a week ago, and he had it from one of the Whiskers, who worked near Lord Worcester's estate in Devon, and knew Mrs Frederick Darley by sight. You've had a narrow escape, my girl, and you may thank Larry for it.'

'Poor Larry!' sighed Rosa; and if she could have known what was happening to poor Larry at that moment, she would have sighed still deeper. He had accepted her wager, and rushed off at her bidding to get the bunch of samphire that grew at the top of Corston Point. His brain was rather staggered at the idea of what he had undertaken, but he had been plentifully plied with Farmer Murray's "Old October," and it was a bright, moonlight night, so that he did not find the expedition after all so terrible as he had imagined. The salt marshes were very lonely, it is true, and more than once Larry turned his head fearfully over his shoulder, to find that nothing worse followed him than his own shadow; but he reached the Point in safety, and secured the samphire, without having encountered old Whisker's ghost. Then his spirits rose again, and he whistled as he commenced to retrace his steps to the village. He knew he had been longer over the transaction than he had expected, and that he should be unable to see Miss Rosa that night; but he intended to be up at the farm the very first thing in the morning, and give the bunch of samphire into her own hands. He did not expect to receive the watch chain; he had not seen the ghost, and had not earned it; but Larry's heart was all the lighter for that. He would not have exchanged a view of the dreaded spectre even for the coveted gold chain that had hung so long round the fair neck of his divinity. But as he turned Corston Point again, he started back to see a figure before him. The first moment he thought it must be old Whisker's ghost, but the next convinced him of his error. It was only Mr Darley—Lord Worcester's gamekeeper! He had been so absorbed in angry and remorseful thought since he left the apple copse that he had unwittingly taken the wrong turning, and now found himself upon the wide, desolate waste of the salt marshes, and rather uncertain on which side to find the beaten track again which led to the road to Rooklands. The two men were equally surprised and disgusted at encountering one another.

'What are you doing here?' demanded Darley, insolently.

'What business is that of yours?' replied the other. 'The salt marshes belong to me, I suppose, as much as they do to you.'

'You're not likely to have business here at this time of night. You've been dogging my footsteps,' said Darley, without the least consideration for probability.

'Follow you!' exclaimed Larry, with a big oath; 'it would be a long time before I'd take the trouble to care what happened to you. And since you ask my business here, pray what may yours be? You didn't think to find Farmer Murray's daughter in the marshes at twelve o'clock at night, did you?'

'You insolent hound! how dare you take that young lady's name upon your lips in my presence?'

'I've as good a right to name her as you have—perhaps better. It was at her bidding I came here to-night. Did she send you here, too?'

'I shall not condescend to answer your question nor to link our names together. Do you know what you are?'

'I know what you are, Mr Darley, and that's a villain!'

Poor Larry had said he would have it out with him, and he thought his time had come. A sudden thought flashed through Darley's brain that here was the informer who had stopped his little game with the farmer's pretty daughter.

'Are you the man,' he demanded fiercely, 'who has thought fit to inform Mr Murray of my antecedents?'

'Antecedents' was a long word for Larry's comprehension, but he grasped the meaning somehow.

'If you'd say, am I the man who told the master that you have got a wife and children down in Devonshire, I answer "Yes;" and I hope he's told you of it, and kicked you out of the barn to-night for a scoundrel, as you are, to try and make love to his daughter.'

'You brute!' cried Darley, throwing off his coat; 'I'll be revenged on you for this if there's any strength left in my arm.'

'All right,' replied the young country-man; 'I've longed to punch your head many and many a day. I'm glad it's come at last. There's plenty of room for us to have it out here, and the devil take the hindmost.'

He flew at his adversary as he spoke, and fastened his hands on to his coat-collar. Larry was the younger and the stronger built man of the two; but Frederick Darley had had the advantage of a politer education, in which the use of his fists was included, so that after a very little while it would have been evident to any bystander that Barnes was getting the worst of it. He had energy and muscle and right on his side, but his antagonist, unfortunately, possessed the skill, and after he had stood on the defensive four or five times, he seized his opportunity, and with a dexterous twist threw Larry heavily from him on the ground. The young man fell backward, crashing his skull against a projecting fragment of rock, and then lay there, bleeding and unconscious. Darley glanced around him—not a creature was in sight. The broad harvest moon looked down placidly upon the deed of blood he had just committed, but human eyes to see it there were none. Finding that Barnes neither stirred nor groaned, he stooped down after a while, and laid his hand upon his heart. It had stopped beating. The body was getting cold. The man was dead!

Darley had not intended this, and it alarmed him terribly. His first idea was what he should do to secure his own safety. If he left the body there, would it be discovered, and the guilt traced home to him, or would the in-coming tide carry it out to sea, and wash it up again, weeks hence perhaps, as a drowned corpse upon the shore? He thought it might. He hoped it would. He remembered Larry's words, that Miss Rosa had sent him there that night. It was known, then, that he had gone to the marshes, and the fact was favourable.

He dragged the corpse a little way upon the sands that it might the sooner be covered by the water; but finding it left deep traces of its progress, he lifted it with some difficulty upon his shoulders, and after carrying it perhaps a couple of dozen yards towards the sea, flung it with all his force before him. What was his amazement at seeing the body immediately sink in what appeared to be the solid ground, and disappear from view? Was it magic, or did his senses deceive him? Darley rubbed his eyes once or twice, but the miracle remained the same. The sand, with its smooth, shining surface, was before him, but the corpse of Larry Barnes had vanished. With a feeling of the keenest relief—such relief as the cowardly murderer who has cheated the gallows must experience—the gamekeeper settled his clothes, glanced once or twice fearfully around him, and then, retracing his steps, ran until he had gained the high road to Rooklands. But retribution dogged his murderous feet, and he was destined never to reach his master's home. When the morning dawned upon Corston, a fearful tale was going the round of its cottages. The dead body of Lord Worcester's gamekeeper had been found on the borders of the estate, shot through the heart, as it was supposed, in an encounter with poachers, as traces of a fierce struggle were plainly visible around him.

And Laurence Barnes was missing!

The two circumstances put together seemed to provide a solution of the mystery. Everyone in Corston knew that poor Larry had not been entirely free from the suspicion of poaching, and most people had heard him abuse Frederick Darley, and vow to have vengeance upon him. What more likely, then, that Larry, having been taken at his old tricks, had discharged his rusty gun at the gamekeeper, and sent him out of the world to answer for all his errors. This was the light by which Corston folk read the undiscovered tragedy. All, that is to say, but two, and those two were the dead man's mother and his betrothed, who knew of his visit to the Point, and fully believed that old Whisker had carried him off.

The murder of Frederick Darley made quite a sensation in Corston. Lord Worcester gave his late gamekeeper a handsome funeral, and monument in the churchyard; and Rosa Murray lost her spirits and her looks, and wore a black ribbon on her bonnet for three months, although she dared not let her father know the reason why. But Darley had been so generally disliked that, when the first horror at his death had subsided, people began to think he was a very good riddance, and though Rosa still looked grave if anyone mentioned his name, there was a certain young farmer who rode over from Wells to see her every Sunday, on whom the gossips said she seemed to look with considerable favour. And so, in due course of time, the name of Darley appeared likely to become altogether forgotten.

But not so Larry Barnes. Larry was a native of Corston, and had been a general favourite there, and his mother still lived amongst them to keep his memory green. No one in the village thought Larry was dead, except Lizzie and Mrs Barnes. The rustics believed that, finding he had shot Darley, he had become alarmed and ran away—left the country, perhaps, in one of the numerous fishing smacks that infest the coast, and gone to make his fortune in the 'Amerikys.' Larry would come back some day—they were assured of that—when the present lord was dead and gone, perhaps, and the whole affair was forgotten; but they were certain he was alive, simply because they were. But Lizzie Locke knew otherwise—Lizzie Locke, to whom a glimpse of heaven had been opened the day of his death, and to whom the outer life must be as dark as the inner henceforward. She mourned for Larry far more than his mother did. Mrs Barnes had lived the best part of her life, and her joys and her sorrows were well-nigh over, but the poor blind girl had only waked up to a consciousness of what life might hold for her on the awful day on which hope seemed blotted out for ever. From the moment her cousin left the barn at Rosa's bidding, Lizzie drooped like a faded flower. That he never returned from that fatal quest was no surprise to her. She had known that he would never return. She had waited where he had left her till all the merry-making was over, and then she had gone home to her aunt, meek, unrepining, but certain of her doom. She had never been much of a talker, but she seldom opened her mouth, except it was absolutely necessary, after that day. But she would take her basket whenever the tide was low, and walk down to Corston Point and sit there—sometimes gathering cockles, but oftener talking to the dead, and telling him how much she had loved him. The few who had occasionally overheard her soliloquies said they were uncanny, and that Lizzie Locke was losing her wits as well as her eyes. But the blind girl never altered her course. Corston Point became her home, and whenever it was uncovered by the tide, she might be seen sitting there beside her cockle basket, waiting for—she knew not what, talking to—she knew not whom.

The autumn had passed, and the winter tides had set in. Rosa Murray never rode upon the Corston marshes now—she was more pleasantly engaged traversing the leafless lanes with the young farmer from Wells. Most people would have thought the fireside a better place to mourn one's dead by than out on the bleak marsh; yet Lizzie Locke, despite her cotton clothing and bare head, still took her way there every morning, her patient, sightless eyes refusing to reveal the depths of sorrow that lay beneath them. One day, however, Mrs Barnes felt disposed to be impatient with the girl. She had left the house at eight o'clock in the morning and had not returned home since, and now it was dark, and the neighbours began to say it was not safe that Lizzie should remain out alone on such a bitter night, and that her aunt should enforce her authority to prevent such lengthy rambles. Two or three of the men went out with lanterns to try and find her, but returned unsuccessful, and they supposed she must have taken shelter at some friend's house for the night. Lizzie Locke knew the marshes well, they said (no one in Corston better), and would never be so foolish as to tempt Providence by traversing them in the dark, for the currents were at their worst now, and the quicksands were shifting daily. The logs and spars of a ruined wreck of a year before had all come to the surface again within a few days, and with them a keg of pork, preserved by the saline properties of the ground in which it had been treasured, so that its contents were as fresh as though they had been found yesterday. Inquiries were made for the blind girl throughout the village, but no one had seen anything of her, and all that her friends could do was to search for her the first thing in the morning, when a large party set out for Corston Point, Mrs Barnes amongst them. Their faces were sad, for they had little hope that the cruel tide had not crawled over the watching girl before she was aware of it, and carried her out to sea. But as they neared the Point they discovered something still crouched upon the sand.

'It can't be Lizzie,' said the men, drawing closer to each other, though a bright, cold sun was shining over the February morning. 'It can't be nothing mortal, sitting there in the frost, with the icy waves lapping over its feet.'

But Mrs Barnes, who had rushed forward, waved her arms wildly, and called to them,—

'It's him! It's my Larry, washed up again by the sands; and poor Lizzie has found him out by the touch of her finger.'

The men ran up to the spot, and looked upon the sight before them. The corpse of Larry Barnes, with not so much as a feature changed by the hand of Time—with all his clothes intact and whole, and a bunch of samphire in his breast—lay out upon the shining sands, stiff as marble, but without any trace of decomposition upon his fresh young features and stalwart limbs.[*] And beside him, with her cheek bowed down upon his own, knelt Lizzie Locke. Lizzie, who had braved the winter's frost, and withstood the cold of a February night, in order to watch beside the recovered body of her lover.

[*] This is a fact, the corpse of a fisherman having been preserved in like manner for some nine months when buried in the salt marshes of Norfolk.

'Lizzie!' exclaimed Mrs Barnes. 'Look up now; I've come to comfort thee! Let us thank Heaven that he's found again, and the evil words they spoke of him must be took back.'

But the blind girl neither spoke nor stirred.

'Can't thee answer, my lass?' said Isaac the poacher, as he shook her by the arm.

The answer that she made was by falling backwards and disclosing her fair, gentle face—white and rigid as her lover's.

'Merciful God! she is dead!' they cried.

Yes, they were right. She was dead—she was at rest. What she had waited for she had found. What she had striven for she had gained. How many of us can say the same? Larry had been restored to her. The shifting quicksand had thrown him upon earth again, and had she not been there, his body might have been washed out to sea, and no further knowledge gained of his fate. But she had saved his dust for consecrated ground—more, she had saved his character for the healing of his mother's heart. For in his breast there still reposed the bunch of samphire he had perilled his life to gather for the farmer's daughter, and, grasped tight in his hand, they found the neckcloth of Lord Worcester's gamekeeper—a crimson, silk neckcloth, recognised by all three—and which Larry had seized and held in the last deadly struggle. And the men of Corston looked on it and knew the truth—that their comrade was no murderer, but had fallen where he was found in a quarrel (probably pre-arranged) with Frederick Darley; and they cursed the gamekeeper in their hearts.

But Lizzie was at rest—happy Lizzie Locke! sleeping in the quiet churchyard at Corston, with her cheek pillowed on her Larry's breast.


'On the banks of the Wye, Monmouthshire.—To be Let, furnished, a commodious Family Mansion, surrounded with park-like grounds. Stabling and every convenience. Only two and a-half miles from station, church, and post-office. Excellent fishing to be procured in the neighbourhood. Rent nominal to a responsible tenant.'

Such, with a few trifling additions, was the advertisement that caught my eye in the spring of 18—.

'My dear Jane,' I said, as I handed the paper over to my wife, 'this, I think, is the very thing we want.'

I was a London practitioner, with a numerous family and a large circle of patients; but the two facts, though blessings in themselves, were not without their disadvantages.

The hostages which I had given to fortune had made that strenuous action which attention to my numerous patients supplied incumbent on me; but the consequent anxiety and want of rest had drawn so largely on my mental and physical resources, that there was no need for my professional brethren to warn me of the necessity of change and country air. I felt myself that I was breaking down, and had already made arrangements with a friend to take my practice for a few months, and set me at liberty to attend to my own health. And being passionately fond of fishing, and all country pleasures and pursuits, and looking forward with zest to a period of complete quiet, the residence alluded to (if it fulfilled the promise of its advertisement) appeared to be all that I could desire.

'Park-like grounds!' exclaimed my wife, with animation. 'How the dear children will enjoy themselves.'

'And two and a-half miles from church or station,' I responded eagerly. 'No neighbours, excellent fishing, and at a nominal rent. It sounds too good to be true.'

'Oh, Arthur! you must write, and obtain all the particulars this very day. If you put it off, some one will be sure to take the house before we have time to do so.'

'I shall go and see the city agents at once,' I replied, resolutely. 'It is too rare an opportunity to be lost. Only, don't raise your hopes too high, my dear. Advertisements are apt to be deceptive.'

But when I had seen Messrs Quibble & Lye on the subject, it really seemed as though for once they had spoken the truth. Rushmere, the house in question, had been built and furnished for his own use by an old gentleman, who died shortly afterwards, and his heirs, not liking the situation, had placed the property in the agents' hands for letting. The owners were wealthy, cared little for money, and had authorised the agents to let the house on any reasonable terms, and it was really a bargain to anyone that wanted it. They frankly admitted that the loneliness of the position of Rushmere was the reason of its cheapness; but when I heard the rent at which they offered to let me take it, if approved of, for three months, I was quite ready to agree with Messrs Quibble & Lye in their idea of a bargain, and that, for those who liked solitude, Rushmere offered extraordinary advantages.

Armed with the necessary authority, I found my way down into Monmouthshire, to inspect the premises on the following day; and when I saw Rushmere, I felt still more disposed to be surprised at the opportunity afforded me, and to congratulate myself on the promptitude with which I had embraced it. I found it to be a good-sized country house, comfortably furnished, and, to all appearance, well built, standing in enclosed grounds, and on a healthy elevation; but, notwithstanding its isolated situation, I was too much a man of the world to believe, under the circumstances, that its greatest disadvantage lay in that fact. Accordingly, I peered eagerly about for damp walls, covered cesspools, unsteady joists, or tottering foundations, but I could find none.

'The chimneys smoke, I suppose?' I remarked, in a would-be careless tone, to the old woman whom I found in charge of the house, and who crept after me where-ever I went.

'Chimbleys smoke, sir? Not as I knows of.'

'The roof leaks, perhaps?'

'Deary me, no. You won't find a spot of damp, look where you may.'

'Then there's been a fever, or some infectious disorder in the house?'

'A fever, sir? Why, the place has been empty these six months. The last tenants left at Christmas.'

'Empty for six months!' I exclaimed. 'How long is it, then, since the gentleman who built it died?'

'Old Mr Bennett, sir? He's been dead a matter of fifteen years or more.'

'Indeed! Then why don't the owners of the place sell it, instead of letting it stand vacant?' thought I to myself.

But I did not say so to the old woman, who was looking up in my face, as though anxious to learn what my decision would be.

'No vermin, I hope?' I suggested, as a last resource. 'You are not troubled with rats or mice at night, are you?'

'Oh, I don't sleep here at night, sir, thank heaven!' she answered in a manner which appeared to me unnecessarily energetic. 'I am only employed by day to air the house, and show it to strangers. I go home to my own people at night.'

'And where do your people live?'

'Better than half a mile from here, sir, and ours is the nearest cottage to Rushmere.'

And then—apprehensive, perhaps, that her information might prove a drawback to the letting of the property—she added, quickly,—

'Not but what it's a nice place to live in, is Rushmere, and very convenient, though a bit lonesome.'

I perfectly agreed with her, the 'lonesomeness' of the situation proving no detraction in my eyes.

On my return to London I gave my wife so glowing a description of the house and its surroundings, that she urged me to conclude the bargain at once; and, in the course of a few weeks, I and my family were transplanted from the purlieus of Bayswater to the banks of the Wye. It was the middle of May when we took possession, and the country wore its most attractive garb. The children were wild with delight at being let loose in the flower-bespangled fields, and, as I watched the tributaries of the river, and perceived the excellent sport they promised me, I felt scarcely less excited than the children. Only my wife, I thought, became inoculated with some of the absurd fears of the domestics we had brought with us from town, and seemed to consider the locality more lonely and unprotected than she had expected to find it.

'It's a charming place, Arthur,' she acknowledged, 'and marvellously cheap; but it is certainly a long way from other houses. I find we shall have to send for everything to the town. Not even the country carts, with butter and poultry, seem to call at Rushmere.'

'My dear Jane, I told you distinctly that it was two and a-half miles from church or station, and you read it for yourself in the paper. But I thought we looked out for a retreat where we should run no risk of being intruded on by strangers.'

'Oh yes, of course; only there are not even any farmhouses or cottages near Rushmere, you see; and it would be so very easy for anyone to break in at night, and rob us.'

'Pooh, nonsense! What will you be afraid of next? The locks and bolts are perfectly secure, and both Dawson and I have firearms, and are ready to use them. Your fears are childish, Janie.'

But all my arguments were unavailing, and each day my wife grew more nervous, and less willing to be left alone. So much so, indeed, that I made a practice of seeing that the house fastenings were properly secured each night myself, and of keeping a loaded revolver close to my hand, in case of need. But it damped my pleasure to find that Jane was not enjoying herself; and the country looked less beautiful to me than it had done at first. One night I suddenly awoke, to find that she was sitting up in bed, and in an attitude of expectation.

'My dear, what is the matter with you?'

'Oh, hush! I am sure that I hear footsteps on the stairs—footsteps creeping up and down.'

I listened with her, but could detect no sound whatever.

'Lie down again, Jane—it is only your imagination. Every one is fast asleep in bed.'

'I assure you, Arthur, I am not mistaken. Once they came quite near the door.'

'If so, it can only be one of the servants. You don't wish me to get up and encounter Mary or Susan in her night-dress, do you? Consider my morals!'

'Oh no, of course not,' she replied with a faint smile; yet it was some time before she fell to sleep again.

It was not many nights before my wife roused me again with the same complaint.

'Arthur, don't call me silly, but I am certain I heard something.'

To appease her fears, I shook off my drowsiness, and, with a lighted candle, made a tour of the house; but all was as I had left it.

Once, indeed, I imagined that I heard at my side the sound of a quick breathing; but that I knew must be sheer fancy, since I was alone.

The only circumstance that startled me was finding Dawson, the man servant, who slept on the ground floor, also awake, and listening at his door.

'What roused you, Dawson?'

'Well, sir, I can hardly say; but I fancied I heard some one going up the stairs a little while ago.'

'You heard me coming down, you mean.'

'No, sir, begging your pardon, it was footsteps going up—lighter than yours, sir. More like those of a woman.'

Yet, though I privately interrogated the female servants on the following day, I could not discover that any of them had been out of their beds; and I forbore to tell my wife what Dawson had said in corroboration of her statement.

Only I was as much annoyed as astonished when, as I finished my catechism of Mary, our head nurse, she informed me that she had made up her mind to leave our service. Mary—my wife's right hand—who had been with us ever since the birth of our first child! The announcement took me completely aback.

'What on earth is your reason for leaving us?' I demanded angrily; for I knew what a blow her decision would be to Jane. 'What have you to find fault with?'

'Nothing with you or the mistress, sir; but I can't remain in this house. I wouldn't stay in it a night longer, if it were possible to get away; and I do hope you and Mrs Delamere will let me go as soon as ever you can, sir, as it will be the death of me.'

'What will be the death of you?'

'The footsteps, sir, and the voices,' she answered, crying. 'I can hear them about the nurseries all night long, and it's more than any mortal can stand—it is, indeed.'

'Are you infected with the same folly?' I exclaimed. 'I see what it is, Dawson has been talking to you. I didn't know I had such a couple of fools in my establishment.'

'Mr Dawson has said nothing to me about nothing, sir,' she answered. 'I hear what I hear with my own ears; and I wouldn't stay a week longer in this 'aunted place, not if you was to strew the floor with golden guineas for me.'

Not possessing either the capability or the inclination to test Mary's fidelity by the means she alluded to, and finding her determination unalterable, I gave her the desired permission to depart; only making it a stipulation that she should not tell her mistress the real reason for her leaving us, but ascribe it to bad news from home, or any other cause.

But though I could not but believe that the woman's idiotic terrors had blinded her judgment, I was extremely surprised to find she should have been so led astray, as I had always considered Mary to possess a remarkably clear head and good moral sense. The wailing and lamentation, from both mother and children, at the announcement of her departure made me still more angry with her obstinacy and folly. But she continued resolute; and we were driven to try and secure some one to fulfil her duties from the neighbouring town. But here a strange difficulty met us. We saw several fresh, rosy-cheeked maidens, who appeared quite willing to undertake our service, until they heard where we resided, when, by an extraordinary coincidence, one and all discovered that some insurmountable obstacle prevented their coming at all. When the same thing had occurred several times in succession, and Jane appeared worn out with disappointment and fatigue, the landlord of the inn where we had put up for the day appeared at the door, and beckoned me out.

'May I make bold enough to ask if you want a servant to go to Rushmere?' he inquired of me in a whisper.

'Certainly, we do. Our nurse has been obliged to leave us suddenly, and we want some one to supply her place.'

'Then you may give it up as a bad job, sir; for you'll never get one of the country people here about to set a foot in Rushmere—not if you were to live there till the day of your death.'

'And why not?' I demanded, with affected ignorance.

'What! haven't you heard nothing since you've been there, sir?'

'Heard? What should I have heard, except the ordinary noises of the household?'

'Well, you're lucky if you've escaped so far,' returned the landlord, mysteriously; 'but it ain't for long. No one who lives in Rushmere lives there alone. I can tell you the whole story if you like?'

'I have no desire to listen to any such folly,' I replied, testily. 'I am not superstitious, and do not believe in supernatural sights or sounds. If the people round about here are foolish enough to do so, I cannot help it; but I will not have the minds of my wife or family imbued with their nonsense.'

'Very good, sir; I hope you may be able to say as much two months hence,' said the man, civilly.

And so we parted.

I returned to Janie, and persuaded her he had told me that all the girls of that town had a strong objection to leave it, which was the reason they refused to take service in the country. I reminded her that Susan was quite competent to take charge of the whole flock until we returned to London; and it would be better after all to put up with a little inconvenience than to introduce a stranger to the nursery. So my wife, who was disappointed with the failure of her enterprise, fell in with my ideas, and we returned to Rushmere, determined to do as best we could with Susan only.

But I could not forget the landlord's earnestness, and, notwithstanding my incredulity, began to wish we were well out of Rushmere.

For a few days after Mary's departure we slept in peace; but then the question of the mysterious footsteps assumed a graver aspect, for my wife and I were roused from deep slumber one night by a loud knock upon the bedroom door, and springing up to answer it, I encountered, on the threshold, Dawson, pale with fright, and trembling in every limb.

'What do you mean by alarming your mistress in this way?' I inquired, angrily.

'I'm very sorry, sir,' he replied, with chattering teeth, 'but I thought it my duty to let you know. There's some one in the house to-night, sir. I can hear them whispering together at this moment; and so can you, if you will but listen.'

I advanced at once to the banisters, and certainly heard what seemed to be the sound of distant voices engaged in altercation; and, light in hand, followed by Dawson, I dashed down the staircase without further ceremony, in hopes of trapping the intruders.

But all in vain. Though we entered every room in turn, not a soul was visible.

I came to the conclusion that the whole alarm was due to Dawson's cowardice.

'You contemptible fool, you are as chicken-hearted as a woman!' I said, contemptuously. 'You hear the frogs croaking in the mere, or the wind blowing through the rushes, and you immediately conclude the house is full of thieves.'

'I didn't say it was thieves,' the man interposed, sullenly; but I took no notice of the muttered remark.

'If you are afraid to sleep downstairs by yourself,' I continued, 'say so; but don't come alarming your mistress again, in the middle of the night, for I won't allow it.'

The man slunk back into his room, with a reiteration that he had not been mistaken; and I returned to bed, full of complaints at having been so unnecessarily roused.

'If this kind of thing goes on,' I remarked to my wife, 'I shall regret ever having set eyes on Rushmere. That a pack of silly maid-servants should see a robber in every bush is only to be expected; but how a sensible man like Dawson, and a woman of education like yourself, can permit your imagination to betray you into such foolish fears, is quite past my comprehension.'

Yet, notwithstanding my dose of philosophy, poor Jane looked so pale upon the following morning, that I was fain to devise and carry into execution a little excursion into the neighbouring country before she regained her usual composure.

Some time passed without any further disturbance, and though upon several occasions I blamed myself for having brought a family, used to a populous city like London, to vegetate in so isolated a spot as Rushmere, I had almost forgotten the circumstances that had so much annoyed me.

We had now spent a month in our temporary home. The fields and hedgerows were bright with summer flowers, and the children passed most of their time tumbling amongst the new-mown hay. Janie had once more regained courage to sit by herself in the dusk, and to rest with tolerable security when she went to bed. I was rejoicing in the idea that all the folly that had marred the pleasure of our arrival at Rushmere had died a natural death, when it was vividly and painfully recalled to my mind by its actual recurrence.

Our second girl, a delicate little creature of about six years old, who, since the departure of her nurse, had slept in a cot in the same room as ourselves, woke me up in the middle of the night by exclaiming, in a frightened, plaintive voice, close to my ear,—

'Papa! papa! do you hear the footsteps? Some one is coming up the stairs!'

The tone was one of terror, and it roused my wife and myself instantly. The child was cold, and shaking all over with alarm, and I placed her by her mother's side before I left the room to ascertain if there was any truth in her assertion.

'Arthur, Arthur! I hear them as plainly as can be,' exclaimed my wife, who was as terrified as the child. 'They are on the second landing. There is no mistake about it this time.'

I listened at the half-opened door, and was compelled to agree with her. From whatever cause they arose, footsteps were to be distinctly heard upon the staircase—sometimes advancing, and then retreating, as though afraid to venture farther; but, still, not to be mistaken for anything but the sound of feet.

With a muttered exclamation, I seized my revolver.

'Don't be alarmed,' I said, hurriedly; 'there is not the slightest occasion for it. And, whatever happens, do not venture on the landing. I shall be quite safe.'

And without further preamble, only desirous to settle the business once for all, and give the intruders on my domains a sharp lesson on the laws of meum and tuum, I sprang down the staircase. I had not stayed to strike a light; but the moon was shining blandly in at the uncurtained passage window, and the landing was as bright as day. Yet I saw no one there. The thief (if thief it were) must have already taken the alarm, and descended to the lowest regions. I fancied I could detect the same footsteps, but more distinctly marked, walk by me with a hurried, frightened movement, accompanied by a quick, sobbing breath; and, as I paused to consider what such a mystery could indicate, a pair of heavily-shod feet rushed past me, or seemed to rush, upon the stairs. I heard an angry shout commingle with a faint cry of terror below the landing whereon I stood; then, the discharge of a firearm, followed by a low groan of pain—and all was still.

Dark and mysterious though it appeared to be, I did not dream of ascribing the circumstance to any but a natural cause. But there was evidently no time for hesitation, and in another moment I had flown down the stairs, and stood in the moonlighted hall. It was empty! Chairs, table, hatstand, stood in their accustomed places; the children's garden hats and my fishing tackle were strewn about; but of animated nature there was not a sign, of the recent scuffle not a trace!

All was quiet, calm, and undisturbed, and, as I gazed around in mute bewilderment, the perspiration stood in thick drops upon my brow and chin.

My first collected thought was for my wife and the best means by which to prevent her sharing the mystification and dread which I have no hesitation in confessing that I now experienced; but as I turned to remount the staircase, I caught sight of some dark mass lying at the further end of the passage, and going up to it, found to my surprise the body of Dawson, cold and insensible.

The explanation of the mystery was before me—so I immediately determined. The man, whom I knew to be replete with superstitious terror, imagining he heard the unaccountable noise of footsteps, had evidently supplied that which had reached my ear, and in his alarm at my approach had discharged his firearm at the supposed marauder. Pleasant for me if he had taken a better aim: So I thought as I dragged his unconscious body into his bedroom, and busied myself by restoring it to sensation.

As soon as he opened his eyes, and was sufficiently recovered to answer me, I asked,—

'What on earth made you discharge your gun, Dawson? I must take it out of your keeping, if your are so careless about using it.'

'I didn't fire, sir.'

'Nonsense! you don't know what you are talking about. I heard the shot distinctly as I came downstairs.'

'I am only telling you the truth, sir. There is the fowling-piece in that corner. I have not drawn the trigger since you last loaded it.'

I went up and examined the weapon. What Dawson had said was correct. It had not been used.

'Then who did fire?' I said, impatiently. 'I could swear to having heard the report.'

'And so could I, sir. It was that that knocked me over.'

'What do you mean?'

'Oh, sir, pray take the mistress and the children away from this place as soon as possible. It's no robbers that go up and down these stairs of nights, sir. It's something much worse than that.'

'Dawson, if you begin to talk such folly to me, I'll discharge you on the spot. I believe the whole lot of you have gone mad.'

'But listen to my story, sir. I had gone to bed last night, as tired as possible, and thinking of nothing but getting a good long sleep. The first thing that roused me was some one trying the handle of my door. I lay and listened to it for some time before I was fully awake, and then I thought maybe you wanted something out of my room, and was trying not to wake me; so I got out of bed and opened the door. But there was nobody there, though I fancied I heard some one breathing hard a few yards off from me. Well, I thought to myself, sir, this is all nonsense; so I came back to bed again, and lay down. But I couldn't sleep; for directly the door was closed, I heard the footsteps again, creep, creeping along the passage and the wall, as though some one was crouching and feeling his way as he went. Then the handle of the door began to creak and turn again—I saw it turn, sir, with my own eyes, backwards and forwards, a dozen times in the moonlight; and then I heard a heavier step come stumbling downstairs, and there seemed to be a kind of scuffle. I couldn't stand it no longer, so I opened the door again; and then, as I'm a living Christian, sir, I heard a woman's voice say 'Father!' with a kind of sob, and as the sound was uttered there came a report from the first landing, and the sound of a fall, and a deep groan in the passage below. And it seemed to go right through me, and curdle my blood, and I fell all of a heap where you found me. And it's nothing natural, sir, you may take my word for it; and harm will come of your stopping in this house.'

So saying, poor Dawson, who seemed in real earnest, fell back on his pillow with a heavy sigh.

'Dawson,' I said, critically, 'what did you eat for supper last night?'

'You're never going to put down what I've told you, sir, to supper. I took nothing but a little cold meat, upon my word. And I was as sensible, till that shot knocked me over, as you are this moment.'

'Do you mean to tell me that you seriously believe the report of a firearm could have reached your ears without one having been discharged?'

'But didn't you say you heard it yourself, sir?'

This knocked me over, and I did not know what to answer him. In the attempt to allay what I considered his unreasonable fear, I had forgotten my own experience in the matter. And I knew that I had heard, or imagined I heard, a shot fired, and it would be very difficult for any one to persuade me I was mistaken. Still, though I held no belief in supernatural agencies, I was an earnest student of the philosophical and metaphysical school of Germany, and acquainted with all the revealed wonders of magnetism and animal electricity. It was impossible to say whether some such effect as I have described might not have been produced upon my brain by the reflection of the fear or fancy on that of my servant; and that as he had imagined the concussion of firearms, so I might have instantaneously received the impression of his mind. It was a nice question for argument, and not one to be thought over at that moment. All my present business lay in the effort to disabuse Dawson's mind of the reality of the shock it had received.

'I said I fancied I heard something like the report of a firearm; but as none had been fired, of course I must have been mistaken. Come, Dawson, I must go back, or Mrs Delamere will wonder what has become of me. I conclude you are not such a coward as to be afraid to be left by yourself?'

'I never feared a man in my life, sir; but the strongest heart can't stand up against spirits.'

'Spirits!' I exclaimed, angrily. 'I wonder what on earth you will talk to me about next? Now, I'll tell you what it is, Dawson—if I hear anything more of this, or am disturbed again at night by your folly, I'll pack you back to London without a character. Do you understand me?'

'I understand you, sir,' the man answered, humbly; and thereupon I left him to himself.

But, as I reascended the staircase, I was not satisfied either with my own half-formed solution of the mystery, or my servant's reception of my rebuke. He evidently would prefer dismissal to passing such another night. I could read the resolution in his face, although he had not expressed it in so many words. When I reached my wife's room, I was still more surprised. Janie and the child lay in a profound slumber. I had expected to find both of them in a state of anxious terror to learn the meaning of the noise that was going on below; but they had evidently heard nothing. This welcome fact, however, only tended to confirm me in the belief I had commenced to entertain, of the whole circumstance being due to some, perhaps yet undiscovered, phase of brain reading, and I fell to sleep, resolved to make a deeper study of the marvels propounded by Mesmer and Kant. When I awoke, with the bright June sun streaming in at the windows, I had naturally parted with much of the impression of the night before. It is hard to associate any gloomy or unnatural thoughts with the unlimited glory of the summer's sunshine, that streams into every nook and cranny, and leaves no shadows anywhere. On this particular morning it seemed to have cleared the cobwebs off all our brains. The child had forgotten all about the occurrence of the night. I was, as usual, ready to laugh away all ghostly fears and fancies; and even Janie seemed to regard the matter as one of little moment.

'What was the matter last night, Arthur, dear?' she asked, when the subject recurred to her memory. 'I was so sleepy I couldn't keep awake till you came up again.'

'Didn't you hear the fearful battle I held with the goblins in the hall?' I demanded, gaily, though I put the question with a purpose,—'the shots that were exchanged between us, and the groans of the defeated, as they slunk away into their haunted coal-cellars and cupboards?'

'Arthur, what nonsense! Was there any noise?'

'Well, I frightened Dawson, and Dawson frightened me; and we squabbled over it for the best part of an hour. I thought our talking might have disturbed you.'

'Indeed, it didn't, then. But don't mention it before Cissy, Arthur, even in fun, for she declares she heard some one walking about the room, and I want her to forget it.'

I dropped the subject; but meeting Dawson as I was smoking my pipe in the garden that afternoon, I ventured to rally him on his fright of the night before, and to ask if he hadn't got over it by that time.

'No, sir; and I never shall,' he replied, with a sort of shiver. 'And I only hope you may come to be convinced of the truth of it before it's too late to prevent harm you may never cease to repent of.'

There was so much respectful earnestness in the man's manner, that I could not resent his words nor laugh at them, as I had done before; and I passed by him in thoughtful silence.

What if there were more in all this than I had ever permitted myself to imagine? What if the assertions of my man-servant, the unaffected terror of my wife and child, the fears of my nurse, the evident shrinking of the old woman who had charge of the house, the opposition from the servants of the neighbouring town, combined with what I had heard myself, were not simple chimeras of the brain—fancies engendered by superstition or timidity or ignorance; but indications of a power beyond our control, the beginning and the end of which may alike remain unknown until all things are revealed? I had, with the majority of educated men, manfully resisted all temptation to believe in the possibility of spirits, of whatever grade, making themselves either seen or heard by mortal senses. I use the word 'manfully,' although I now believe it to be the height of manliness to refuse to discredit that which we cannot disprove, and to have sufficient humility to accept the belief that there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophy. But at that juncture I should have considered such a concession both childish and cowardly. Yet, there was sufficient doubt in my mind, notwithstanding the glorious June sun, respecting my adventure of the night before, that I resolved, whatever happened, that I would satisfy myself as to the value of the fears of those about me.

I could not keep my wife and children in a house where they might be liable at any moment to be frightened out of their seven senses, from whatever cause, without ascertaining the reason of it. Some reason there must be, either natural or otherwise; and I determined, if possible, to learn it that very night. I would not tell Dawson or anyone of my intention; but I would keep watch and ward in the old parlour on the ground floor, so as to be ready to rush out at a moment's notice, and seize any intruder who might attempt to disturb us. I still believed—I could not but believe—that the footsteps which so many of us had heard were due to some trickster, who wished to play upon our nerves in that lonely old house. I had heard of such things being done, purposely to keep visitors away; and I determined, whosoever it might be, whether our own servants or strangers, that they must take their chance of being shot down like any other robber.

According to my resolution, I said nothing to Janie, but tried to render the evening as cheerful and merry a one as possible.

I ordered strawberries and cream into the hay-field, and played with my troop of little ones there, until they were so tired they could hardly walk for the short distance that lay between them and their beds. As soon as they were dismissed, and we had returned to the house, I laid aside the newspapers that had arrived by that morning's post, and which I usually reserved for the evening's delectation, and taking my wife upon my knee, as in the dear old courting days, talked to her until she had forgotten everything but the topics on which we conversed, and had no time to brood upon the coming night, and the fears it usually engendered. Then, as a last duty, I carried to Dawson with my own hands a strong decoction of brandy and water, with which I had mixed something that I knew, under ordinary circumstances, must make him sleep till daylight.

'Drink this,' I said to him. 'From whatever cause, our nerves were both shaken last night, and a little stimulant will do neither of us harm.'

'Thank you, sir,' he replied, as he finished the tumbler at a draught; 'I don't deny I'm glad to have it. I dread the thoughts of the night before us.'

'Lock your door on the inside,' I added as I left him, 'and don't get up whether the handle moves or not. Then, at all events, you will feel secure till the morrow.'

'Keys won't keep them out,' muttered Dawson, as he entered his sleeping apartment.

But I would not notice the allusion, though I understood it.

I went up to bed with my wife as usual; and it was not until I saw she was sound asleep that, habited in my dressing-gown and slippers, I ventured to creep softly out of the room and take my way downstairs again.

It was then about twelve o'clock. The moonlight was as bright as it had been the night before, and made every object distinctly visible. From the loud snoring which proceeded from Dawson's room, I concluded that my opiate had taken due effect, and that I should be permitted to hold my vigil undisturbed. In one hand I grasped a loaded revolver, and in the other a huge knotted stick, so determined was I not to be taken by my tormentors at a disadvantage. I turned into the general sitting-room, which opened on the hall. All was as we had left it; and I ensconced myself on one of the large old-fashioned sofas, trusting to my curiosity to keep me awake.

It was weary waiting. I heard one and then two sound from the big clock in the hall; still there was no other noise to break the silence. I began to relapse into my first belief that the whole business was due to imagination. From this I passed to self-satisfaction; self-satisfaction induced inertion, and inertion brought on heavy sleep. How long I slept I do not know, but I had reason afterwards to think, not more than half-an-hour.

However, that point is immaterial. But what waked me—waked me so completely that in a moment all my faculties were as clear as daylight—was the sound of a hoarse breathing. I sat up on the sofa and rubbed my eyes.

The room was fully lighted by the moon. I could see into each corner. Nothing was visible. The sound I had heard must then have proceeded from outside the door, which was open; and I turned towards it, fully expecting to see Dawson enter in a somnambulistic condition, brought on by his dreams and my soporific.

But he did not appear. I rose and looked into the hall. It was empty, as before. Still the breathing continued, and (as I, with now fully-awakened faculties, discovered) proceeded from a corner of the parlour where stood an old-fashioned secretary and a chair. Not daring to believe my senses, I advanced to the spot and listened attentively. The sound continued, and was unmistakably palpable. The breathing was hoarse and laboured, like that of an old man who was suffering from bronchitis or asthma. Every now and then it was interrupted by a short, roupy cough. What I suffered under this mysterious influence I can hardly tell. Interest and curiosity got the better of my natural horror; but even then I could not but feel that there was something very awful in this strange contact of sound without sight. Presently my eyes were attracted by the chair, which was pushed, without any visible agency, towards the wall. Something rose—I could hear the action of the feet. Something moved—I could hear it approaching the spot where I stood motionless. Something brushed past me, almost roughly—I could feel the contact of a cloth garment against my dressing-gown, and heard the sound of coarsely shod feet leaving the room. My hair was almost standing on end with terror; but I was determined to follow the mystery to its utmost limits, whether my curiosity were satisfied by the attempt or not.

I rushed after the clumping feet into the hall; and I heard them slowly and painfully, and yet most distinctly, commence to toil up the staircase. But before they had reached the first landing, and just as I was about to follow in their wake, my attention was distracted by another sound, which appeared to be close at my elbow—the sound of which Dawson had complained the night before—that of a creeping step, and a stifled sobbing, as though a woman were feeling her way along the passage in the dark. I could discern the feeble touch as it felt along the wall, and then placed an uncertain hold upon the banisters—could hear the catching breath, which dared not rise into a cry, and detect the fear which caused the feet to advance and retreat, and advance a little way again, and then stop, as though dread of some unknown calamity overpowered every other feeling. Meanwhile, the clumping steps, that had died away in the distance, turned, and appeared to be coming downstairs again. The moon streamed brightly in at the landing window. Had a form been visible, it would have been as distinctly seen as by day. I experienced a sense of coming horror, and drew back in the shadow of the wall. As the heavy footsteps gained the lower landing, I heard a start—a scuffle—a faint cry of 'Father!' and then a curse—the flash of a firearm—a groan—and I remember nothing more.

When I recovered my consciousness, I was lying on the flat of my back in the passage, as I had found poor Dawson the night before, and the morning sun was shining full upon my face. I sat up, rubbed my eyes, and tried to remember how I had come there. Surely the moon had looked in at that window when I saw it last. Then in a moment came back upon my mind all that I had heard whilst holding my vigil during the past night; and I sprang to my feet, to see if I could discover any traces of the tragedy which seemed to have been enacted in my very presence.

But it was in vain I searched the parlour, the passage, and the stairs. Everything remained in its usual place. Even the chair, which I could swear I saw pushed against the wall, was now standing primly before the secretary, and the door of the room was closed, as it usually was when we retired for the night. I slunk up to my dressing-room, anxious that my wife should not discover that I had never retired to rest; and having plunged my head and face into cold water, took my way across the sunlighted fields, to see if the fresh morning air might not be successful in clearing away the confusion with which my brain was oppressed. But I had made up my mind on one point, and that was that we would move out of Rushmere as soon as it was possible to do so. After a stroll of a couple of hours, I re-approached the house. The first person I encountered was the under nurse, Susan, who ran to meet me with a perturbed countenance.

'Oh, sir, I'm so thankful you've come back! Dawson has been looking for you for the last hour, for poor missus is so ill, and we don't know what on earth to do with her.'

'Ill! In what way?' I demanded quickly.

'That's what we can't make out, sir. Miss Cissy came up crying to the nursery, the first thing this morning, to tell me that her mamma had tumbled out of bed, and wouldn't speak to her; and she couldn't find her papa. So I ran downstairs directly, sir; and there I found my mistress on the ground, quite insensible, and she hasn't moved a limb since.'

'Good heavens!' I inwardly exclaimed, as I ran towards the house, 'is it possible she can have been affected by the same cause?'

I found Janie, as the nurse had said, unconscious; and it was some time before my remedies had any effect on her. When she opened her eyes, and understood the condition she had been in, she was seized with such a fit of nervous terror that she could do nothing but cling to me, and entreat me to take her away from Rushmere.

Remembering my own experience, I readily promised her that she should not sleep another night in the house if she did not desire it. Soothed by my words, she gradually calmed down, and was at last able to relate the circumstance which had so terrified her.

'Did you sleep in my room last night, dear Arthur?' she asked, curiously.

'I did not. But since you awoke, you surely must have been aware of my absence.'

'I know nothing, and remember nothing, except the awful horror that overpowered me. I had gone to sleep very happy last night, and none of my silly fears, as you have called them, ever entered my head. Indeed, I think I was in the midst of some pleasant dream, when I was awakened by the sound of a low sobbing by the bedside. Oh! such a strange, unearthly sobbing' (with a shudder). 'I thought at first it must be poor little Cissy, who had been frightened again, and I put out my hand to her, saying,—"Don't be afraid, dear. I am here." Directly, a hand was placed in mine—a cold, damp hand, with a death-like, clayey feel about it that made me tremble. I knew at once it was not the child's hand, and I started up in bed, exclaiming,—"Who are you?"

'The room was quite dark, for I had pinned my shawl across the blind to keep the moon out of my eyes before I went to bed, and I could distinguish nothing. Yet still the cold, damp hand clung to mine, and seemed to strike the chill of death into my very bones. When I said, "Who are you?" something replied to me. I cannot say it was a voice. It was more like some one hissing at me through closed teeth, but I could distinguish the name "Emily."

'I was so frightened, Arthur, I did not know what to do. I wrenched my hand away from the dead hand. You were not there, and I called out loudly. I would have leaped out of bed, but that I heard the creeping footsteps, accompanied by the sobbing breath, go round the room, crying, "Father, father!"

'My blood seemed to curdle in my veins. I could not stir until it was gone. I heard it leave the room distinctly, although the door was never opened, and walk upon the landing as though to go downstairs. I was still sitting up in bed listening—listening—only waiting till the dreadful thing had quite gone away, to seek your presence, when I heard a heavy step clumping downstairs, then the report of a gun. I don't know what I thought. I remember nothing that followed; but I suppose I jumped out of bed with the intention of finding you, and fainted before I could reach the dressing-room. Oh, Arthur! what was it? What is it that haunts this house, and makes even the sunshine look as gloomy as night? Oh, take us away from it, or I am sure that something terrible will happen!'

'I will take you away from it, my dear. We will none of us sleep another night beneath its roof. What curse hangs over it, I cannot tell; but whether the strange sounds we have heard proceed from natural or supernatural causes, they alike render Rushmere no home for us. We will go to the hotel at —— this very day, Janie, and deliver up the keys of Rushmere again to Messrs Quibble & Lye.'

I then related to her my own experience, and that of Dawson; and though she trembled a little whilst listening to me, the idea of leaving the place before nightfall rendered the heavy fear less alarming than it would otherwise have been.

The servants, upon learning the resolution we had arrived at, were only too ready to help us to carry it out. Our personal possessions were packed in an incredibly short time, and we sat down that evening to a comfortable family dinner in the good old-fashioned inn at ——. As soon as the meal was concluded, and the children sent to bed, I said to my wife,—

'Janie, I am going to ring for the landlord, to see if he can throw any light on the cause of our experiences. I never told you that, when we came to this inn to try for a nurse to supply Mary's place, he informed me that nobody from his countryside would live at Rushmere; and asked me, in a manner which assured me he could have said more if he had chosen, if we had not heard anything whilst there. I laughed at the question then, but I do not feel so disposed to laugh at it now; and I am going to beg him to tell me all he may know. If nothing more, his story may form the stratum of a curious psychological study. Would you like to be present at our interview?'

'Oh yes, Arthur; I have quite recovered my nerves since I've lost sight of Rushmere, and I feel even curious to learn all I can upon the subject. That poor, sobbing voice that whispered "Emily"—I shall not forget its sound to my dying day.'

'Ring the bell, dear, and let us ask if the landlord is at leisure. To my mind, your experience of the details of this little tragedy appears the most interesting of all.'

The landlord, a Mr Browser, entered at once; and as soon as he heard my request, made himself completely at home with us.

'After the little rebuff you gave me t'other day, I shouldn't have ventured to say nothing, sir; but when I see your family getting out of the fly this afternoon, I says to Mrs Browser, "If that don't mean that they can't stand Rushmere another night, I'm a pumpkin." And I suppose, now, it did mean it, sir?'

'You are quite right, Mr Browser. The noises and voices about the house have become so intolerable, that it is quite impossible I can keep my family there. Still, I must tell you that, though I have been unable to account for the disturbances, I do not necessarily believe they are attributable to spirits. It is because I do not believe so that I wish to hear all you may be able to tell us, in order, if possible, to find a reason for what appears at present to be unreasonable.'

'Well, sir, you shall hear, as you say, all we have to tell you, and then you can believe what you like. But it ain't I as can relate the story, sir. Mrs Browser knows a deal more than I do; and with your leave, and that of this good lady here, I'll call her to give you the history of Rushmere.'

At this information, we displayed an amount of interest that resulted in a hasty summons for Mrs Browser. She was a fat, fair woman, of middle age, with ruddy cheeks, and a clear blue eye—not at all like a creature haunted by her own weak imagination, or who would be likely to mistake a shadow for a substance. Her appearance inspired me with confidence. I trusted that her relation might furnish me with some clue to the solution of the occurrences that had so confounded us. Safe out of the precincts of Rushmere, and with the lapse of twelve hours since the unaccountable swoon I had been seized with, my practical virtues were once more in the ascendant, and I was inclined to attribute our fright to anything but association with the marvellous.

'Be I to tell the story from the beginning, Browser?' was the first sentence that dropped from Mrs Browser's lips.

Her lord and master nodded an affirmative, whereupon she began:—

'When the gentleman as built Rushmere for his own gratification, sir, died, the house let well enough. But the place proved lonely, and there was more than one attempt at robbery, and people grew tired of taking it. And above all, the girls of the village began to refuse to go to service there. Well, it had been standing empty for some months, when a gentleman and his wife came to look after it. Browser and I—we didn't own this inn at that time, you will understand, sir, but kept a general shop in the village, and were but poorly off altogether, although we had the post-office at our place, and did the best business thereabouts. The key of Rushmere used always to be left in our keeping, too, and our boy would go up to show folks over the house. Well, one damp autumn day—I mind the day as if 'twere yesterday, for Browser had been ailing sadly with the rheumatics for weeks past, and not able to lift his hand to his head—this gentleman and lady, who went by the name of Greenslade, came for the keys of Rushmere. I remember thinking Mr Greenslade had a nasty, curious look about his eyes, and that his wife seemed a poor, brow-beaten creature; but that was no business of mine, and I sent Bill up with them to show the house. They took it, and entered on possession at once; and then came the difficulty about the servants. Not a soul would enter the place at first. Then a girl or two tried it, and came away when their month was up, saying the house was so lonesome, they couldn't sleep at nights, and the master was so queer-spoken and mannered, they were afraid of him.'

'Don't forget to say what he was used to do at nights,' here put in the landlord.

'La, Browser, I'm a-coming to it. Everything in its time. Well, sir, at last it came to this, that Mrs Greenslade hadn't a creature to help her in anythink, and down she came to ask if I would go to them for a few days. I stared; for there was the shop to be tended, and the post-office looked after, and I hadn't been used to odd jobs like that. But my husband said that he could do all that was wanted in the business; and we were very hard drove just then, and the lady offered such liberal pay, he over-persuaded me to go, if only on trial. So I put my pride in my pocket, and went out charing. I hadn't been at Rushmere many days, sir, before I found something was very wrong there. Mr Greenslade hardly ever spoke a word, but shut himself up in a room all day, or went mooning about the fields and common, where he couldn't meet a soul; and as for the poor lady, la! my heart bled for her, she seemed so wretched and broken-down and hopeless. I used often to say to her,—

'"Now, ma'am, do let me cook you a bit of something nice, for you've eaten nothing since yesterday, and you'll bring yourself down to death's door at this rate."

'And she'd answer,—

'"No, thank you, Mrs Browser: I couldn't touch it. I feel sometimes as if I'd never care to eat or drink again."

'And Mr Greenslade, he was just as bad. They didn't eat enough to keep a well-grown child between the two of them.'

'What-aged people were they?' I asked.

'Well, sir, I can hardly say; they weren't young nor yet old. Mr Greenslade, he may have been about fifty, and his lady a year or two younger; but I never took much count of that. But the gentleman looked much the oldest of the two, by reason of a stoop in his shoulders and a constant cough that seemed to tear his chest to pieces. I've known him shut himself up in the parlour the whole night long, coughing away fit to keep the whole house awake. And his breathing, sir—you could hear it half a mile off.'

'He was assmatical, poor man! that's where it was,' interposed Mr Browser.

'Well, I don't know what his complaint was called, Browser; but he made noise enough over it to wake the dead. But don't you go interrupting me no more after that fashion, or the gentleman and lady will never understand the half of my story, and I'm just coming to the cream of it.'

'I assure you we are deeply interested in what you are telling us,' I said, politely.

'It's very good of you to compliment me, sir, but I expect it will make matters clearer to you by-and-by. You're not the first tenants of Rushmere I've had to tell this tale to, I can tell you, and you won't be the last, either. One night, when I couldn't sleep for his nasty cough, and lay awake, wishing to goodness he'd go to bed like a Christian, I made sure I heard footsteps in the hall, a-creeping and a-creeping about like, as though some one was feeling their way round the house. "It can't be the mistress," I thought, "and maybe it's robbers, as have little idea the master's shut up in the study." So I opened the door quickly, but I could see nothing.'

'Exactly my own experience,' I exclaimed.

'Ah, sir, maybe; but they weren't the same footsteps, poor dear. I wish they had been, and she had the same power to tread now she had then. The hall was empty; but at the same time I heard the master groaning and cursing most awful in the parlour, and I went into my own room again, that I mightn't listen to his wicked oaths and words. I always hated and distrusted that man from the beginning. The next day I mentioned I had heard footsteps, before 'em both, and the rage Mr Greenslade put himself into was terrible. He said no robbers had better break into his house, or he'd shoot them dead as dogs. Afterwards his wife came to me and asked me what sort of footsteps they seemed; and when I told her, she cried upon my neck, and begged me if ever I heard a woman's step to say nothing of it to her husband.

'"A woman's step, ma'am," I replied; "why, what woman would dare break into a house?"

'But she only cried the more, and held her tongue.

'But that evening I heard their voices loud in the parlour, and there was a regular dispute between them.

'"If ever she should come, Henry," Mrs Greenslade said, "promise me you won't speak to her unless you can say words of pity or of comfort."

'"Pity!" he yelled, "what pity has she had for me? If ever she or any emissary of hers should dare to set foot upon these premises, I shall treat them as house-breakers, and shoot them down like dogs!"

'"Oh no! Henry, no!" screamed the poor woman; "think who she is. Think of her youth, her temptation, and forgive her."

'"I'll never forgive her—I'll never own her!" the wretch answered loudly; "but I'll treat her, or any of the cursed crew she associates with, as I would treat strangers who forced their way in to rob me by night. 'Twill be an evil day for them when they attempt to set foot in my house."

'Well, sir, I must cut this long story short, or you and your good lady will never get to bed to-night.

'The conversation I had overheard made me feel very uncomfortable, and I was certain some great misfortune or disgrace had happened to the parties I was serving; but I didn't let it rest upon my mind, till a few nights after, when I was wakened up by the same sound of creeping footsteps along the passage. As I sat up in bed and listened to them, I heard the master leave the parlour and go upstairs. At the same moment something crouched beside my door, and tried to turn the handle; but it was locked, and wouldn't open. I felt very uneasy. I knew my door stood in the shadow, and that whoever crouched there must have been hidden from Mr Greenslade as he walked across the hall. Presently I heard his footsteps coming downstairs again, as though he had forgotten something. He used to wear such thick boots, sir, you might hear his step all over the house. His loaded gun always stood on the first landing; when he reached there he stopped, I suppose it was his bad angel made him stop. Anyway, there was a low cry of "Father, father!"—a rush, the report of the gun, a low groan, and then all was still.

'La! sir, I trembled so in my bed, you might have seen it shake under me.'

'I've seen it shake under you many a time,' said Browser.

'Perhaps you would like to tell the lady and gentleman my exact weight, though I don't see what that's got to do with the story,' replied his better half, majestically.

'I don't think I should ever have had the courage to leave my room, sir, unless I had heard my poor mistress fly down the staircase, with a loud scream. Then I got up, and joined her. Oh, it was an awful sight! There, stretched on the floorcloth, lay the dead body of a young girl; and my mistress had fainted dead away across her, and was covered with the blood that was pouring from a great hole in her forehead. On the landing stood my master, white as a sheet, and shaking like an aspen leaf.

'"So, this is your doing!" I cried, angrily. "You're a nice man to have charge of a gun. Do you see what you've done? Killed a poor girl in mistake for a robber, and nearly killed your wife into the bargain. Who is this poor murdered young creature? Do you know her?"

'"Know her!" he repeated, with a groan. "Woman, don't torture me with your questions. She is my own daughter!"

'He rushed upstairs as he spoke, and I was in a nice quandary, left alone with the two unconscious women. When my poor mistress woke up again, she wanted me to fetch a doctor; but it would have been of no use. She was past all human help.

'We carried the corpse upstairs between us, and laid it gently on the bed. I've often wondered since where the poor mother's strength came from, but it was lent her for the need. Then, sitting close to me for the remainder of the night, she told me her story—how the poor girl had led such an unhappy life with her harsh, ill-tempered father, that she had been tempted into a foolish marriage by the first lover that offered her affection and a peaceful home.

'"I always hoped she would come back to us," said Mrs Greenslade, "for her husband had deserted her, leaving her destitute; and yet, although she knew how to enter the house unobserved, I dreaded her doing so, because of her father's bitter enmity. Only last night, Mrs Browser, I awoke from sleep, and fancied I heard a sobbing in my room. I whispered, 'Who is there?' and a voice replied, 'Emily!' But I thought it was a dream. If I had known—if I had but known!"

'She lay so quiet and uncomplaining on my knee, only moving now and then, that she frightened me; and when the morning broke, I tried to shift her, and said,—

'"Hadn't I better go and see after the master, ma'am?"

'As I mentioned his name, I could see the shudder that ran through her frame; but she motioned me away with her hand.

'I went upstairs to a room Mr Greenslade called his dressing-room, and where I guessed he'd gone; and you'll never believe, sir, the awful sight as met my eyes. I didn't get over it for a month—did I, Browser?'

'You haven't got over it to this day, I'm sometimes thinking, missus.'

'That means I'm off my head; but if it wasn't for my head, I wonder where the business would go to. No, sir—if you'll believe me, when I entered the room, there was the old man dead as mutton, hanging from a beam in the ceiling. I gave one shriek, and down I fell.'

'I don't wonder at it,' cried Janie.

'Well, ma'am, when I came to again, all was confusion and misery. We had the perlice in, and the crowner's inquest, and there was such a fuss, you never see. Some of Mrs Greenslade's friends came and fetched her away; but I heard she didn't live many months afterwards. As for myself, I was only too glad to get back to the shop and my old man, and the first words I said to him was,—

'"No more charing for me."'

'And now, sir, if I may make so bold, what do you think of the story?' demanded the landlord. 'Can you put this and that together now?'

'It is marvellous!' I replied. 'Your wife has simply repeated the scene which we have heard enacted a dozen times in Rushmere. The footsteps were a nightly occurrence.'

'I heard the voice!' exclaimed Janie, 'and it whispered "Emily."'

'The handle of my servant's door was turned. The report of the gun was as distinct as possible.'

'That is what everybody says as goes to Rushmere, sir. No one can abide the place since that awful murder was committed there,' said Mrs Browser.

'And can you account for it in any way, sir?' demanded her husband, slyly. 'Do you think, now that you've heard the story, that the noises are mortal, or that it's the spirits of the dead that causes them?'

'I don't know what to think, Browser. There is a theory that no uttered sound is ever lost, but drifts as an eddying circle into space, until in course of time it must be heard again. Thus our evil words, too often accompanied by evil deeds, live for ever, to testify against us in eternity. It may be that the Universal Father ordains that some of His guilty children shall expurgate their crimes by re-acting them until they become sensible of their enormity; but this can be but a matter for speculation. This story leaves us, as such stories usually do, as perplexed as we were before. We cannot tell—we probably never shall tell—what irrefragable laws of the universe these mysterious circumstances fulfil; but we know that spirit and matter alike are in higher hands than ours; and, whilst nature cannot help trembling when brought in contact with the supernatural, we have no need to fear that it will ever be permitted to work us harm.'

This little analysis was evidently too much for Mr and Mrs Browser, who, with a look of complete mystification on their countenances, rose from their seats, and wished us respectfully good-night; leaving Janie and me to evolve what theories we chose from the true story of the Invisible Tenants of Rushmere.


IT was five o'clock—five o'clock on a dull November afternoon—as I, Elizabeth Lacy, the wretched companion of Lady Cunningham, of Northampton Lodge, in the town of Rockledge, stood gazing from the dining-room windows at the grey curtain of fog which was slowly but surely rising between my vision and all outward things, and thinking how like it was in colour and feeling and appearance to my own sad life. I have said that I was the 'wretched' companion of Lady Cunningham: is it very ungrateful of me to have written down that word? I think not; for if a wearisome seclusion and continual servitude have power to make a young life miserable, mine had fairly earned its title to be called so. I had withered in the cold and dispiriting atmosphere of Northampton Lodge for four years past, and had only been prevented rupturing my chains by the knowledge that I had no alternative but to rush from one state of bondage to another. To attend upon old ladies like an upper servant—to write their letters, carry their shawls, and wait upon them as they moved from room to room—this was to be my lot through life; and if I ever dreamed that a brighter one might intervene, the vision was too faint and idealistic to gild the stern realities which were no dreams.

I daresay there are plenty of people in this world more miserable than I: indeed, I knew it for a fact even at the time of which I speak; and the few friends I possessed were never tired of telling me that I was better off than many, and that I should strive to look on the bright side of things, and to thank heaven who had provided me with a safe and respectable home, when I might have been upon the parish. Did not Job have friends to console him in his trouble? Do not we all find in the day of our distress that, whatever else fails, good advice is always forthcoming? Well! perhaps I was ungrateful: at all events, I was young and headstrong, and good advice irritated and worried, instead of making me any better. I knew that I was warmly clothed, whilst beggars stood shivering at the corner of the streets, and that beneath the care of Lady Cunningham no harm could happen to me, whilst women younger than myself broke God's holy laws to put bread in their mouths. And yet, and yet, so perverse is human nature, and so perverse was mine above all others, that, engaged on my monotonous round of duty, I often envied the beggars their liberty and their rags; and even sometimes wished that I had not been reared so honestly, and had the courage to be less respectable and more free. Perhaps one reason why my life chafed me so fearfully, was because I had not been brought up to it. Five years before, I had been the child of parents in good circumstances, and loved and made much of, as only daughters generally are. My father, who held the comfortable living of Fairmead in Dorsetshire, had always managed to keep up the household of a gentleman, and my poor delicate mother and myself had enjoyed every luxury consistent with our station in life. She had had her flower-garden and her poultry and her pony-chair, and I my pets and my piano and—my lover. Ah! as I stood at the wire-blinded windows of Lady Cunningham's dining-room that sad November afternoon, and recalled these things, I knew by the pang which assailed me at the thought of Bruce Armytage, which loss of them all had affected me most. My father and mother, who from my youth up had so tenderly loved and guarded me, were in their graves, and with them had vanished all the luxuries and possessions of my early days. But though I stood there a penniless orphan, with no joy in my present and very little hope in my future, the tears had not rushed to my eyes until my memory had rested on Bruce Armytage; and then they fell so thickly that they nearly blinded me; for mingled with his memory came shame as well as regret, and to a woman perhaps shame is the harder feeling of the two. His conduct had been so very strange, so marvellously strange and unaccountable to me, that to that day I had found no clue to it. When he first came down and took lodgings in Fairmead—for the purpose of studying to pass his examination for the law, he said—he had seemed so very, very fond of me that our engagement followed on the avowal of his love as a matter of course. But then his family interfered; they thought, perhaps, that he ought to marry some one higher than myself, though my father was a gentleman, and no man can be more; at any rate, his father wrote to say that Bruce was far too young (his age was then just twenty) to fix upon his choice for life, and that no regular engagement must be made between us until he returned from the two years' foreign tour he was about to make. My father and mother said that old Mr Armytage was right, and that in two years' time both I and my lover would be better able to form an opinion on so serious a matter. Bruce and I declared it was all nonsense, that fifty years of separation could make no difference to us, and that what we felt then, we should feel to our lives' end. And they smiled, the old people, whilst our young hearts were being tortured, and talked about the evanescence of youthful feelings, whilst we drank our first draught of this world's bitterness. How seldom can old people sympathise with the young! How soon they become accustomed to the cold neutral tints of middle age, and forget even the appearance of the warm fires of youth at which they lighted those passions which time has reduced to ashes! It was so with my parents: they were not unkind, but they were unsympathetic; they rather hoped, upon the whole, that I should forget Bruce Armytage; and, in order to accomplish their end, they pretended to believe it. But he went, with the most passionate protestations upon his lips, that as soon as he returned to England, no earthly power should keep us separate; and he never came back to me again! My father and mother had died rather suddenly, and within a few months of each other; our home had been broken up, and at the age of nineteen I had been sent forth upon the world to earn my own living; and, at the age of three-and-twenty, I was at the same trade, neither richer nor poorer than at first, but with all my faith in the constancy and honour of mankind broken and destroyed; for Bruce Armytage had never found me out, or, as far as I knew, inquired after me. His family had permitted me to leave Fairmead and enter on my solitary career without a word of remonstrance or regret; since which time I had had no communication with them, though at that period my pride would not have forbidden my sending an account of my trouble to Bruce, believing that he cared for me. Correspondence between us during his foreign tour had been strictly prohibited, and I had no means of ascertaining his address. For a while I had expected he would write or come to me; but that hope had long died out, and the only feeling I had left for him was contempt—contempt for his fickleness and vacillation, or the pusillanimity which could permit him to give up the woman he had sworn to marry because his father ordered him to do so. No! filial obedience carries very little weight with the heart that is pitted against it; and as I thought of it and him, I bit my lip, dashed my hand across my eyes, and hoped the day might yet come when I should be able to show Bruce Armytage how greatly I despised him.

At this juncture the housemaid came bustling into the room with a little note for me—a dear little cocked-hat note—which seemed to speak of something pleasant, and at the writer of which I had no need to guess, for I had but one friend in Rockledge who ever sent such notes to me.

'Waiting for an answer,' said the bearer curtly; and I tore it open and devoured its contents.

'Dear Lizzie,—

I think you will be very much surprised to hear that your little friend Amy is engaged to be married! However, it is quite true, although the business was only settled this morning; and the young gentleman has promised to spend the evening with us, and to bring a cousin whom he is anxious to introduce. Will you come and take tea with us also? The doctor has only just told me that Lady Cunningham dines out to-night, or I should have sent before. Do come, Lizzie. Amy is crazy to see you and tell you all her secrets, and you know that you are always sure of a welcome from your affectionate friend,

'Mary Rodwell.'

The perusal of this little epistle threw me into a perfect whirl of excitement and delight, which would have appeared extraordinary to any one who had not been acquainted with the maddening monotony of my daily existence. These Rodwells, the family of the good old doctor who attended Lady Cunningham, were my only friends in Rockledge, the only people with whom I ever caught a glimpse of a happy domestic life, such as had been once my own. To spend the evening at their large, old-fashioned house, which rang from basement to attic with the sound of happy voices, was the only dissipation by which my days were ever varied, and a relaxation all the more precious because, on account of Lady Cunningham's requirements, it came so rarely to me. And on the afternoon in question, when I had allowed myself to become absorbed by fanciful thought, the cordial and unexpected invitation warmed my chilled spirits like a draught of generous wine. All things seemed changed for me: I no longer saw the grey fog nor remembered my mournful past, but in their stead pictured to myself the brightly-lighted, crimson-curtained room at Dr Rodwell's house, and heard the ringing laughter and merry jests of his many boys and girls. In a moment I had shaken off my despondency—my eyes sparkled, my heart beat: I was in a flutter of anticipation at the pleasure in store for me.

'Is there any answer, miss?' demanded the housemaid, who had been waiting whilst I read my note.

'Yes, yes; I will go, of course. Say I will be there in half-an-hour,' I replied, for my evening, in consequence of Lady Cunningham's absence, was at my own disposal. 'And, Mary, please bring me up a jug of hot water; I am going to take tea with Mrs Rodwell.'

'Well, I'm very glad of it, miss; it's a shame you shouldn't have a holiday oftener than you do,' returned my sympathising hearer as she departed with my answer.

I must say that, during my years of servitude, I had nothing to complain of respecting the treatment I received from the hands of servants. I have read of needy companions and governesses being cruelly insulted and trampled on by their inferiors; I never was. From the first they saw I was a gentlewoman, and to the last they treated me as such.

With a hasty vote of thanks to Mary for her kind speech, I ran upstairs to my own bedroom to make the few preparations needful for my visit. I knew that Mrs Rodwell would not desire me to dress; but to arrange my hair anew with a blue ribbon woven in it, and to change my dark merino body for a clear muslin Garibaldi, made me look fresh and smart, without taking up too much of the precious time I had to spend at her house. Besides, were there not to be some gentlemen present? At that thought my mind reverted to the wonderful news of Amy's engagement, and I could scarcely proceed with my toilet for thinking of it. Little Amy! younger by five years than myself, who had always appeared so shy and modest and retiring—was it possible she could have had a lover without my knowing it? And now to be actually engaged! going to be married at her age! It almost seemed incredible, until I remembered with a sudden sigh that I had been no older myself when Bruce Armytage proposed to me, and had been able to keep my secret very well until the necessity for doing so was over.

But I would not let such thoughts engross me now, for I had no wish to carry a long face to Mrs Rodwell's house; and so I hurried on the remainder of my things, and wrapping myself up warmly in a dark cloak, hurried bravely out into the evening air. It was then six o'clock, and the fog was denser than before; but what cared I for outer dulness any longer? My imagination ran on before me, vividly picturing the cheerful scene in which I should so soon mingle, and my feet tripped after it joyous as my heart. I had not far to go, and my eagerness shortened the way; so that in a few minutes I was rapping at Dr Rodwell's hall door and scraping my feet upon his scraper. How quickly it was opened by little Amy herself! And what a mixture of bashfulness, pleasure, and self-importance was in her blushing face as I threw my arms around her neck and warmly congratulated her.

'Come upstairs, Lizzie,' she entreated in a whisper; 'come up and take off your things, and I'll tell you all about it.'

We were soon in her own room—that cosy room in which she and her younger sister Mattie slept, and which bore so many evidences of their mother's tender care and thought for them.

'And so you are really engaged to be married, Amy?' I exclaimed as the door closed behind us. 'That was a very astounding piece of intelligence to me, who had never heard the faintest whisper of such a thing before.'

'You forget you have not been near us for a month,' she answered, laughing; 'but the truth is, Lizzie, it was all so uncertain till this morning that mamma said it would be very unwise to mention it to anybody; so that you were the first recipient of the news, after all.'

'Well, I suppose I must be satisfied with that; and when did you meet him, Amy?'

'Last month, up in London, while I was staying with my Aunt Charlesworth.'

'And is it a settled thing, then?'

'Oh yes! His parents have consented, and are coming to Rockledge on purpose to call on us. And—and—he came down this morning to tell papa; and I believe we are to be married in the spring.'

'So soon?' I ejaculated, thinking how easily some people's courtships ran.

'Yes,' replied Amy, blushing; 'and he is here this evening, you know, with his cousin, who is staying at Rockledge with him. He talked so much about this cousin, but oh! he is not half so nice-looking as himself; and—and—I hope you will like him, Lizzie dear,' kissing me affectionately as she spoke, 'for I have told him so much about you.'

'I am sure I shall, Amy,' I replied as I returned her caress; we were on the staircase at the time, descending to the dining-room. 'I assure you I am quite impatient to see your hero. By-the-bye, dear, what is his name?'

'Armytage.' And then, seeing my blank look of amazement, she repeated it—'Armytage. Have you never heard the name before? I think it's such a pretty one. Amy Armytage,' she whispered finally in my ear, as, laughing merrily, she pushed me before her into the dining-room.

It was all done so suddenly that I had no time to think about it, for before the echo of her words had died away, I was in the midst of the family group, being warmly kissed by Mrs Rodwell, and Mattie, and Nelly, and Lotty, and shaken hands with by the dear, kind old doctor, and his rough school-boys.

'Well, Lizzie dear,' exclaimed my motherly hostess, as she claimed me for a second embrace, 'this is quite an unexpected treat, to have you here to-night; I thought we were never going to see you again. But you look pale, my child; I am afraid you are kept too much in the house. Doctor, what have you been about, not to take better care of Lizzie? You should give her a tonic, or speak to Lady Cunningham on the subject.'

But the good old doctor stuck both his fingers into his ears.

'Now, I'm not going to have any talk about pale looks or physic bottles to-night,' he said; 'the time for doctoring to-day is over. Miss Lizzie, you just come and sit between Tom and me, and we'll give you something that will beat all the tonics that were ever invented. Here, Mattie, pass the scones and oatcakes down this way, will you? If you children think you are going to keep all the good things up at your end of the table, you are very much mistaken,' and with no gentle touch my hospitable friend nearly pulled me down into his own lap.

'Now, doctor!' exclaimed Mrs Rodwell, with an affectation of annoyance, 'I will not have you treat my guests in this way. Lizzie has come to see me, not you, and she sits by no side but mine. Besides, you have not even given me time to introduce the gentlemen to her. Lizzie, my dear, we must all be friends here this evening. Mr Bruce Armytage, Mr Frederick Armytage—Miss Lacy. And now, doctor, we'll go to tea as soon as you please.'

I had known from the moment of my entering the room that there were strangers in it, but I had not dared to glance their way. Amy's announcement of her lover's name had come too unexpectedly to permit me to form any fixed idea upon the subject, excepting that it was the same as mine had borne, and yet, when Mrs Rodwell repeated it with the familiar prefix, strange to say, I seemed to hear it with no second shock, but to have known the bitter truth all along.

Not so, however, Bruce Armytage; for Mrs Rodwell's introduction was scarcely concluded before I heard his voice (unforgotten through the lapse of years) exclaim, 'Miss Lacy!' in a tone of surprise, which could not but be patent to all.

Cold and pulseless as I had felt before, the mere tones of his voice sent the blood rushing from my heart to my head, till the room and the tea-table and the group of living figures swam before my dazzled eyes. I felt my weakness, but I determined all the more that no one else should guess at it, and mentally stamped upon my heart to make it steady against the moment when its energies should be required.

'You have met Mr Armytage before, Lizzie?' said Mrs Rodwell, with a pleasant astonishment.

Then I lifted my eyes and looked at him. Good God! What is the vital force of this feeling, called love, which Thou hast given to us, far oftener to prove a curse than a blessing, that after years of separation, coldness, and neglect, it has the strength to spring up again, warm and passionate as ever, at the sight of a face, the tone of a voice, or the touch of a hand? Has nothing the power to trample life out of it? Will it always revive when we think it most dead, and turn its pale mutilated features up to the glare of day? Shall our mortal dust, even when coffined in the mould, stir and groan and vainly strive to make itself heard, as the step of one whom we have loved passes sorrowfully over the fresh grass beneath which we lie?

I lifted up my eyes, and looked upon Bruce Armytage, to be able to say truly if I had met him before. Yes, it was he, but little altered during our five years of separation, excepting that he had passed from a boy to a man. He coloured vividly beneath my steady gaze; for a moment I thought he was about to seize my hand, but my eyes forbade him, and he shrank backward.

'Mr Armytage and I have met before,' I said, with a marvellous quietness, in answer to Mrs Rodwell's previous question—'when I was living in my old home at Fairmead; but that is so many years ago that we are nothing but strangers to each other now.'

At these words any purpose which he might have entertained of claiming me as an old acquaintance evidently died out of Bruce Armytage's mind; for, retreating a few paces, he bowed coldly to me, and took a seat, where his proper place now was, by Amy's side.

'Oh, not strangers, my dear—oh no!' exclaimed Mrs Rodwell, who had taken my answer in its literal sense. 'You must all be friends together here, you know, if it is only for Amy's sake. Mr Frederick Armytage, will you be so kind as to pass the muffins up this way? Thank you! Now, Lizzie, my dear, you must make a good tea.'

I sat down between my host and hostess, triumphant on the subject of the manner in which I had acquitted myself, and feeling strong enough for any future trial; but before many minutes had elapsed I was overtaken by a sickly and oppressive sensation for which I was quite unable to account. The hot flush which had risen to my face whilst speaking to Bruce Armytage died away, leaving a cold, leaden weight upon my breast instead; my pulses ceased their quick leap and took to trembling; the rich dainties which the doctor and his wife heaped upon my plate nauseated me even to contemplate; and a whirring confusion commenced in my head, which obliged me to rally all my forces before I could answer a simple question. The noise and laughter of the tea-table seemed to increase every minute; and if one might judge from the incessant giggling of Amy, Mattie, Nelly, and Lotty, the two gentlemen at the other end were making themselves very agreeable. I tried to eat; I tried to force the buttered toast and plum cake and rich preserves down my throat, but there was something there which utterly prevented my swallowing them.

'Lizzie, my dear, are you not well?' inquired Mrs Rodwell, presently. The friendly interrogation saved me. I had just been relapsing into a state of weakness which might have resulted in hysteria: her words recalled me to myself. Should all the table know that I was grieving? Or rather should he—he who had deserted me, and had forsworn himself, who now sat by the side of his newly betrothed—guess that his presence had the slightest power to affect me? Good heavens! where was my pride? where the contempt which I had hoped to have an opportunity of showing for him? I almost sprang from my chair at the thought.

'Not well, dear Mrs Rodwell!' I exclaimed, speaking as fast and as shrilly as people generally do under the circumstances; 'why, what can make you think so? I never felt better in my life. But, really, you do so oppress me with good things that it is quite impossible I can do justice to them all, and talk at the same time. No, doctor, not another piece of cake. I couldn't, really; thank you all the same. You know there is a limit to all things, though you never seem to think so where I am concerned.'

Whilst my voice thus rang out, harshly and unnaturally, across the table, I felt the dark eyes of Bruce Armytage were regarding me from the other end, and I wished I had the courage to stare him down, but I had not. By-and-by, however, when he was again engaged in conversation, I tried to let my eyes rove in his direction, as though I were an uninterested hearer, but the moment that they reached him, he raised his own as if by intuition, and my lids dropped again. I hated myself for this indecision, though I felt it was but nervousness, and that were we alone together but for five minutes I should have strength of mind to look him in the face, and tell him what I thought of his behaviour. As it was, however, it was a great relief to me when the doctor gave the order to march, and the whole party adjourned to the drawing-room. As soon as we had entered it, Amy left her lover's side and flew to mine.

'Oh, Lizzie,' she whispered as we sat in a corner together, 'do tell me what you think of him! I am dying to hear. Is he not very handsome?'

'Very handsome,' I answered with closed lips.

'Much better looking than his cousin?'

'Yes, certainly; there is no comparison between them,' which was true, inasmuch as Frederick Armytage, with his fair hair and blue eyes, was a washed-out, sickly-looking creature by the side of his dark, stalwart cousin Bruce.

'I knew you would say so, Lizzie; I was sure you would agree with me. But just fancy your having met Bruce before! Where was it, and when? I couldn't ask you a lot of questions at tea-time, but you made me so curious.'

'Amy,' I said suddenly, for I felt this was a subject on which she must not be inquisitive, 'when I knew Mr Bruce Armytage, I was living at home with my dear father and mother at Fairmead, and you must be aware that an allusion to those days cannot be a pleasant allusion to me. So, please, like a dear girl, don't ask me any more questions about it, or let me remember that I ever saw your friend before I met him here to-night.'

'I won't,' said Amy, submissively. 'Poor, dear Lizzie!' and she stroked my hand with her soft little palm.

'And do not mention me to him, either. Our acquaintance was but a brief one: he can have no interest left in the matter.'

'Oh, but he has though, Lizzie,' with a shy upward glance. 'He was talking about you all tea-time; his cousin and I thought he would never stop. He asked where you were, and what you were doing, and seemed so sorry when I told him of Lady Cunningham, and what a cross old thing she is, and said several times that he could not get over the surprise of having met you here to-night.'

'Indeed! He has a more retentive memory than I have; you can tell him so next time he speaks of me.' I answered so haughtily that little Amy looked timidly up in my face, and I remembered suddenly that I was speaking of her lover. 'There is your mamma beckoning to you, Amy; and Mattie and Tom are clearing away the chairs and tables. I suppose they want a dance. Tell them I shall be charmed to play for them;' and then, seeing that Bruce Armytage was crossing the room with a view to seeking Amy, I quickly left my seat, and taking possession of the music-stool, commenced to rattle off a polka. Soon they were all busily engaged in dancing, and the noise occasioned by their feet and voices almost prevented my hearing the conversation which Mrs Rodwell, who had taken up a station with her knitting close to the piano, addressed to me.

'You were very much surprised to hear our news, Lizzie, I'm sure,' she began, as she bent toward my ear.

'Very much surprised, Mrs Rodwell—never more so.'

'Ah!' with a sigh, 'dear Amy is full young—only eighteen last October, you know, Lizzie; but I think she'll be happy. I'm sure I trust so. He is a very steady young man, and they are to live in Rockledge, which is a great comfort to me.'

'In Rockledge!' Was I to undergo the pain of continual intercourse with him, or the alternative of quitting my present situation? 'Did I hear you rightly, Mrs Rodwell?'

'Yes, my dear. His papa, who appears to be a very pleasant old gentleman, has decided to set him up in an office here, that Amy may not be separated from her family. So thoughtful of him, Lizzie, is it not?'

'Very!' I remembered the pleasant old gentleman's conduct on a similar occasion more immediately concerning myself, and could scarcely trust my voice to answer her.

'You have heard that Mr Armytage is in the law, have you not?' I nodded my head: I had heard it. 'A nice profession—so gentlemanly; and he is a fine-looking young man too; don't you think so? I have heard that some people prefer his cousin's looks to his; but beauty is such a matter of taste, and Amy is quite satisfied on the subject. You may stop playing now, my dear, for they have all done dancing. Nelly, child, how hot you are! Come away at once from the draught of the door.'

'A waltz, a waltz, Lizzie!' they all shouted as they surrounded the piano.

'Perhaps Miss Lacy is tired,' suggested the deep voice of Bruce Armytage. I had been going to plead for a brief respite, but at that sound the desire for repose fled, and without a look in his direction I returned to the instrument and began to play the dance they had asked for. But I had not been so occupied long before I became aware that some one amongst them continued to hover about the piano, and felt by intuition that it was Bruce Armytage. At that discovery my fingers flew faster and more gaily, and I regarded the notes before me with a fixed smile, whilst, in order to keep up my courage, I kept repeating to myself: 'He deserted me: he left me for no fault of mine. My father and mother died, and he never came near me in my sorrow. He is fickle, base, dishonourable—unworthy of regard.' I tried to set the notes of the waltz that I was playing to the words, 'Fickle, base, dishonourable!' but they refused to be so matched, and only seemed to repeat instead, 'I loved him, I loved him, I loved him!' and then a blurred mist came before my eyes, and I had to play from memory; for Bruce Armytage had taken up his station at the back of the piano and was looking me full in the face.

'It is a long time since we met, Miss Lacy,' he remarked presently, but in so low a voice that had my hearing not been sharpened by anger at his daring to address me, I do not think I should have caught the words.

'Do you think so?' I answered carelessly, for I felt that I must say something.

'How can you ask? Have the last five years passed so pleasantly as to leave no evidence of the flight of time?'

'Considering,' I replied, panting with indignation at what appeared to me such thorough indifference to my feelings, 'considering, Mr Armytage, that during the years you speak of I have lost both my dear parents, I should think you might have spared me the allusion.'

'Forgive me. I did not mean to wound you. But if the loss of your parents is the only loss you have to regret during those five years, you are happier than some, Miss Lacy. Death is natural, but there are griefs (the loss of love and hope, for instance) almost too unnatural to be borne.'

How dared he, how dared he—he who had treated me in so cruel and unnatural a manner himself, who had but just plighted his faith afresh to my friend—quietly stand there, looking me in the face with his dark, searching eyes, and taunt me with the barrenness of the life which he had made sterile? Much as I had loved him—much as I feared I loved him still—I could have stood up at that moment and denounced him to them all as a traitor and a coward. But I thought of Amy, dear little innocent, confiding Amy, and I was silent.

'I have not lost them,' I answered him, quietly. 'Therefore I cannot sympathise with your allusion. The death of my dear parents was more than sufficient trouble for me; all else of solace that this world can give me is mine.'

'Do you mean to tell me—' he commenced quickly.

'I mean to tell nothing,' I replied in the same cold tones. 'I am not in the habit of discussing my private affairs with strangers. Had you not better go to Amy? I see that she is sitting out this dance.'

Upon which he gravely inclined his head in acquiescence, and left me to myself.

'Lizzie, Lizzie, how fast you have been playing! We are all out of breath,' exclaimed Mattie, as she and Tom danced up to my side. 'Get up, there's a good girl, and let me take your place; we are going to have a game of "Magical Music." Tom, will you go out first? That's right; now, girls, what shall we hide? Oh, papa's keys; they will do, and then, if he wants them, he will take quite an interest in coming and joining in the game himself.'

I resigned my seat, and stole a hasty glance at the other end of the room. Mrs Rodwell was busily engaged upon her knitting, and Bruce was sitting on an ottoman close by Amy's side; so, gasping for fresh air and one moment's solitude, and unperceived by the laughing group of children, I left the apartment and ran hastily up to the bedroom which I had first entered. The gas was lighted there, and the fire burned warmly on the hearth, but in my present state of feeling neither warmth nor light was what I most desired. I felt as though I were choking—as though, if no relief were at hand, I must scream aloud, or dash my head against the wall, for my nerves were overstrung, and the demon of hysteria was gaining strength with every minute, and I almost feared would win the victory. But pride came to my assistance—that mighty supporter of human weakness—and flying to the window, I raised the sash and leaned my head out of it, drinking in deep draughts of the foggy night air. And as I did so, watching the bustle in the street below, and the calm stars in the sky above, I felt strength return to me,—strength, not to avoid suffering, but to suffer in patience. The tears rose to my eyes and fell quietly over my cheeks, and as they fell they seemed to dissolve the hard, dry lump which had settled in my throat and threatened to deprive me of breath. I thought of Bruce Armytage as I had known him in the past, and my tears fell fast for the loss I had sustained in him; but I thought of him also as I saw him in the present, and pride and jealousy made me dash them from my eyes, and resolve that if I died—yes, if I died of grief and love and longing combined—he should never have the gratification of knowing that I had retained one particle of my old affection for him. With which intent I hurried on my walking things, determined not to expose myself any longer to the danger of betrayal; but before I had finished doing so, Mrs Rodwell was in the room, all anxiety to know what had occasioned my sudden absence.

'What is the matter, Lizzie? Did you feel the heat of the room? Why, my dear child, you are never going! It is only just nine o'clock.'

'Yes, dear Mrs Rodwell, I think I had better do so. Lady Cunningham will not be late to-night, and you know how particular she is about my being home before her. Please let me go.'

'Well, dear, it must not be so long again before we see you. We must try and get up a few parties this winter, as it will be Amy's last in the home circle. And mind, Lizzie, you are to be one of her bridesmaids; she insists upon it.'

'Ah! She is very kind, as you all are, but we will talk of that when the time comes. Good-night, dear Mrs Rodwell. Kiss the girls for me. I won't go into the drawing-room, such a figure as I am.'

But Mrs Rodwell accompanied me down the stairs, conversing as she went.

'I am sorry the doctor is from home, my dear; he would have seen you round to Northampton Lodge; but he is never to be depended on from one hour to another, you know.'

'Oh, it is of no consequence, Mrs Rodwell; I am used to going alone.'

'But I don't half like your doing it, Lizzie: the night is so very dark, and—'

'Allow me to have the pleasure of accompanying Miss Lacy, Mrs Rodwell,' said the voice of Bruce Armytage. We had reached the drawing-room floor by that time, and he stood on the threshold of the open door.

'No, no!' I exclaimed, as I shrank backward; 'I do not desire it—I would rather go alone;' and with a hasty kiss on Mrs Rodwell's cheek, I ran down the remaining stairs and out at the hall door. The wind was blowing fresh and cold as I turned into the open air, and the night was very dark, but I thought of nothing but his offer to accompany me, and I hurried onward. Did he wish to add insult to injury?

But I had not gone far when I heard the sound of footsteps running after me; and I had hardly realised it was indeed himself before he was by my side, apologising for his presence by the excuse that Mrs Rodwell had desired him to overtake me and see me home. Would I forgive what might otherwise seem an intrusion to me? I was too indignant to vouchsafe him any answer.

We walked on in silence side by side for several minutes, I with my head bent down and holding my thick cloak around me, and he vainly endeavouring to look me in the face. At last, as though making a great effort, he cleared his throat, and said,—

'I suppose, after the manner in which you spoke to me at the piano this evening, my pride ought to forbid my attempting any further explanation with you, but in this case I have one feeling more powerful than pride, Miss Lacy, and I must ask you what you meant by saying that all that this world could give of solace was yours?'

'I meant what I said,' I answered abruptly, 'or rather, that I require no pity from you or any other stranger. Our paths in life are widely enough divided now: let each walk in his own track, without interfering with the other.'

'That is easier said than done, perhaps,' he replied; 'it is difficult in this world for people to forget what they have been.'

'It does not appear so to me.'

'Ah, perhaps you are differently, more happily, constituted than most. They told me so long ago, though I did not believe them. Will you consider an old friend impertinent for asking if that from which you derive your solace now is the same from which you derived it then? and if so, why I still find you unsettled in life?'

'You are speaking in riddles,' I replied. 'I do not understand you.'

'Your present engagement—is it the same which separated us? Do not be afraid to tell me the truth, Lizzie. I have borne a good deal in my lifetime, and am proof against suffering.'

His voice was so tender and kind, so much like the voice which I remembered in the old days of our love, that it won me to listen to him quietly.

'My engagement!' I echoed in surprise. 'What are you talking of? I have never been engaged—never since'—and then I halted, fearing what my revelation might suggest to him.

'What do you tell me?' he exclaimed. 'What object have you in deceiving me? Were you not engaged, even before your parents' death, to young Hassell, of Fairmead, and was it not by his father's means that your present situation was procured for you? I little thought to meet you here,' he added bitterly. 'I imagined you were married long ago, or I should have been more careful of my own feelings. And now you are engaged for the third time! How easily life runs for some people!'

'Who could have told you such a falsehood?' I said, turning to him. 'It is true that old Mr Hassell stood my friend when I had not one in the world, and that he found my present situation for me; but as to being engaged to his son, why, he is a married man—he married my own cousin.'

'Could the mistake have arisen so?' said Bruce Armytage, as he seized my hand. 'Oh, Lizzie, do not be angry; think what I have gone through! When I returned home from that wretched foreign tour, during which I was not allowed to correspond with you, the first news which I heard from my own family was, that your father and mother had died some eighteen months before, and that you were engaged to Robert Hassell, and living with some old lady (no one could tell me where) until the time for your marriage arrived. I would not believe them; I rushed down to Fairmead myself to make inquiries, and reached there on the very day of young Hassell's wedding with Miss Lacy. Do you think I was a coward not to stop and see the bride, believing her to be yourself? Perhaps I was; but I flew from the spot as though I had been haunted; and I suffered—ah, Lizzie, I cannot tell how much! It is so fearful, so awful a thing to teach one's self to believe the heart in which we have trusted to be faithless and unworthy.'

'I know it,' I said in a low voice, which was nearly choked by my tears.

'How I have lived since that time I can hardly tell you,' he continued as he pressed my hand. (I knew it ought not to remain in his, but it was so sweet to feel it there.) 'I have had very little hope, or peace, or happiness, though I have struggled on through it all, and made myself a name in my profession. And then to meet you again to-night so unexpectedly, still free, but promised to another, myself and my love so evidently forgotten, and to feel that it has been but a chance that separated us! Oh! Lizzie, it is almost harder than it was at first!'

'I am not engaged,' I answered, sobbing; 'you choose to take my words at the piano as meaning so, but it was your mistake, not mine. I have lived much in the manner you describe yourself to have done—not very happily, perhaps, and finding my best relief in work. But I am glad to have met you, Bruce—glad to have heard from your own lips what parted us; and I thank you for this explanation, though it comes too late.'

'But why too late, my dearest?' he exclaimed joyfully. 'Why, if you are free to accept my hand, and can forgive all that has made us so unhappy in the past, should we not bury our mutual trouble in mutual love? Oh, Lizzie, say that you'll be mine—say that you'll be my own wife, and help me to wipe out the remembrance of this miserable mistake!'

I thought of Amy. I looked at him with astonishment; I recoiled from him almost with disgust. Was I to accept happiness at the expense of that of my dear friends, of the only creatures who had shown me any affection during my long years of exile from him? Oh no. I would rather perish in my solitude. The very fact that he could propose it to me made him sink lower in my estimation.

'Bruce,' I exclaimed, 'you must be mad, or I am mad so to tempt you from your duty. Think of all your offer involves—of the distress, the disappointment, the shame it would entail on those who have been more than friends to me; and consider if it is likely I could be so dishonourable to them as to take advantage of it.'

'I don't understand you, my darling,' he said, with a puzzled look.

'Not understand?' I reiterated, in surprise, 'when your engagement to Amy Rodwell was only settled this morning, and the preliminaries for your marriage are already being talked of! Would you break her heart in the attempt to heal mine? Bruce, we must never see each other again after this evening.'

'Oh, Lizzie, Lizzie!' he said, shaking his head, 'we are playing at dreadful cross-purposes. Did it never enter into your wise little pate to inquire which Mr Armytage was going to marry Amy Rodwell? I can assure you I have no desire or intention to risk getting a pistol-shot through my heart for stepping into my cousin Frederick's shoes.'

'And is it really—is it really, then, Frederick whom she is going to marry?' I exclaimed, breathless with the shock of this new intelligence. 'Oh, how can she?'

'It is indeed,' he answered, laughing. 'Lizzie, did you seriously think that it was I? Why, what a taste you must give me credit for, to choose that pretty little piece of white-and-pink china, after having had the chance of such a woman as yourself! And now, what is my answer?'

What it was I leave for my readers to guess. Let those who have thirsted until life's blood lay as dry dust in their veins, thrust the chalice of sparkling wine from their parched lips if they will: I am not made of such stern stuff as that.


THE death of a child is at all times a subject of mournful interest: it is so sad to see the hereditary curse falling on the innocent heads of those who in themselves have done nothing to merit the punishment of sin. But when the lost child is an only child, or an only son, our sympathies with the bereavement are increased tenfold; so proud do we know each other to be, of perpetuating the frailties of which we are but too conscious, and leaving behind us an inheritor of the misery we have endured. And if ordinary children (of which a few hundreds more or less in the world make little difference) are to be thus bewailed, what words can paint strongly enough the condolence with which we should approach the subject of that royal parent who so lately lost at one stroke his only son, and (in the direct line) the sole heir to his throne! The interest felt by all Englishmen in the royal family of Belgium lies deeper than in the mere fact of their near connection with our own Sovereign and her lamented consort. From the time that the first Leopold came over, a gallant bridegroom, to our shores, to wed the Princess Charlotte (that darling of the nation), and left them so shortly afterwards widowed and childless, we have taken almost as keen an interest in all that concerned him and his children as though death had never stepped in to sever the link between us. And this feeling has been warmly kept up as much by the condescension with which Leopold II. has followed in the footsteps of his father, by taking an interest in all things British, and showing the utmost courtesy to, and consideration for, the foreigners of that nation residing in his dominions, as by the intimate relations maintained between the royal families of England and Belgium.

It may be said, then, and without exaggeration, that when the sad news that the young Duc de Brabant had at last succumbed to the cruel malady which had kept him in constant suffering, and the nation's hopes in a state of fluctuation for nine months past, was disseminated throughout Brussels, his royal parents received as much sympathy in their sorrow from the English residents in that capital as from their own people. The Belgians mourned their future king; but we wept with the father and mother over the cradle of their only son.

The loss was not an ordinary one, for the child was not an ordinary child; and this assertion is made, not from newspaper gleanings, but the report of those who knew him intimately. His photograph confirms this fact; for the calm, sensible face depicted there has none of the careless, laughter-loving expression which characterises his age; although when in health the Duc de Brabant is said to have been as playful and merry as other little children. But sickness came too soon to rob his features of all but the serene patience which became habitual to them, and before any change could arrive to restore their original expression he has passed away from amongst us, and nothing remains to recall his memory but the few words which can be written of so innocent and uneventful a life.

Leopold-Ferdinand-Elie-Victor-Albert-Marie, Duc de Brabant, Comte de Hainaut, and Duc de Saxe, was born at the palace of Laeken, on the 12th of June 1859. He was the second child of his parents, after ten years of wedded life, consequently his birth was hailed with all the greater acclamation for fulfilling hope deferred to the hearts of his people. When born, he had every appearance of possessing a robust constitution, being plump and well made, with broad shoulders and an open chest; with a formation, in fact, containing the promise of so much muscular strength, that the obstinate ravages of the fatal disease which has taken him from us have been a matter of surprise to all who knew the child as he once was.

The method of his bringing up, also, and the careful manner in which his studies and employments were regulated, should have tended to increase, rather than detract from, the bodily health which he bid fair to enjoy. His education, entrusted to M. le Comte Vanderstraeten-Ponthoz, and to Monsieur le Lieutenant Donny, was skilfully directed in such a way as to maintain a wholesome equilibrium between the development of his physical force and that of the brilliant mental faculties with which the young prince was gifted. The employment of his time was carved out with the greatest minuteness, and out-door exercises alternated with mental labour so as to procure for both mind and body the repose they needed. The prince invariably left his bed at six in summer, and seven in winter, and breakfasted an hour after he rose; when he worked with his tutor till ten o'clock. A run in the park or a ride on his pony served him for recreation; and at one he joined his father and mother at luncheon—a meal which the king and queen always took en famille. Before resuming his studies, the little prince went out again with his tutor, dined at six, and was then at liberty to amuse himself until his bed-time, which was fixed for eight o'clock. Such a life could hurt no one: no enforced studies were exacted from his tender brain, nor was the heir of Belgium sacrificed to the desire to see him turn out a prodigy; he lived as other happy and well-cared-for children live, making his short life one long holiday; and, until within ten months of his decease, showed no symptoms whatever of ill-health.

Then the first signs of sickness, said to be consequent on the suppression of some childish disorder, became apparent, and increased until they culminated in pericarditis, or inflammation of the membranes of the heart, the affection which ultimately destroyed him. At its commencement, this complaint had all the appearance of a heavy cold, accompanied by a dry, violent cough, which was soon followed by a pallid face and wasted figure, the sure signs of impoverished blood.

When the first grave consultation had confirmed the diagnostic of the attendant physicians, that the pericardium or membrane of the heart was affected, all the efforts of science were immediately put in requisition to arrest the progress of the evil; but without avail, for they proved powerless to stay the rapid decline of his natural powers, by dropsy, the usual effect of heart disease. The swelling of the stomach and chest of the poor little invalid now became enormous; the respiratory organs no longer performed their office, and the cough redoubled in intensity. It became most distressing, scarcely ceasing day or night; and the gravest fears began to be entertained for his lungs. The apartments of the prince, though large and airy, and situated on the ground floor of the right wing of the palace of Laeken, and opening on the park, did not contain sufficient vital air for his need. When it was necessary to close the windows of the chamber, which was only done at night (for the suffering child found no relief except in a free current of air), servants placed on either side his bed kept up a continual fanning, and by that means occasionally gained him a few moments of repose. Every morning, under the guardianship of his tutor, Monsieur Donny, the prince was taken into the park in a little pony-carriage led by a groom, and made the tour of the domain four or five times. Towards the middle of the journey the pony and servant were changed, for the promenade was long, and often occupied several hours; and, occasionally, the poor father and mother, so soon to be bereaved, might be seen following on horseback, and wistfully regarding the little carriage which held the object of their dearest hopes. It was a triste and melancholy procession, and resembled a funeral cortége more than anything else.

Towards one o'clock the prince would stop, generally near the aviary of pheasants, and lunch with his preceptor; for, strange to say, his appetite, though feeble, never abandoned him until the very last. Soon the carriage was again in motion and making the circuit of the park, for it was only by a continual change of air that the poor child was enabled to breathe with any ease. The affection of the prince for Monsieur Donny was incredible. Throughout his illness he insisted upon his being continually at his side, would not take his meals without him, and obliged him to sleep in his apartments; and Monsieur Donny (although he had been married but a few weeks when the first serious symptoms of illness appeared) never quitted the royal child for a moment until he was carried out of the palace of Laeken for the last time. About the month of October there appeared to be some amelioration in the prince's condition, and hopes were almost confidently entertained of his ultimate restoration to health. But these hopes were of short duration, although the bulletins, issued daily, fluctuated so much in their statements that it was difficult to arrive at a knowledge of the truth. The king is said to have had no hope from the commencement of the disorder, and his despair was proportionately great. His grief was so profound that he became a mere shadow of himself; and yet, with that manly fortitude which resists an open expression of what it feels, might be seen at all times, pacing the palace and gardens of Laeken with calm dry eyes, but a fixed, mournful look, which seemed as though he had always before him a vision of the pitiless death which was about to strike him in his tenderest affections.

At night he would constantly rise from his own bed to go with bare feet and noiseless step, and hang over the couch where his child, with angelic patience, was awaiting his doom. This patience, so calm as to appear almost unnatural, and which excites surprise in those who have not nursed little children through mortal illnesses, seems to have been a characteristic of this little child. Numberless anecdotes have, of course, been related of him during the last months, many of which are totally without foundation, but one in particular was so widely spread that it gained general credence. It was the fact of his feigning sleep when suffering great pain if he heard the approach of his father's footstep, lest he should be questioned relative to his state, and read the disappointment his answer must have caused. 'If I pretend to sleep,' he used to say to his attendants, 'my father will think that I am better.'

But during the daytime his father was seldom absent from his side, and was never weary of trying to extract some slight support on which to hang hope by questioning the child as to his feelings and symptoms. One day, when the little tragedy was drawing very near its close, and the prince was suffering from one of those attacks which so often threatened to be fatal, the king approached the bed to learn some news of his condition, and receiving, for the first time, no reply save such as was conveyed by the languid, half-raised eyes.

'Je vous ennuie, n'est ce pas, mon enfant!' he exclaimed; and unable to control his feelings, rushed away into the park in order to conceal them.

On Christmas-day the king, in an attempt, if possible, to distract the child's mind, had a large Christmas-tree set up in the midst of his apartment, made brilliant with wax tapers, and hung with numbers of beautiful playthings and other ornaments calculated to attract one of his age.

The Duc de Brabant, after having duly admired the tree and its belongings, and appearing to take pleasure in examining and handling the playthings with which it was laden, asked his attendants to bring a large box to his bedside; and having seen all his presents packed away in it, gave it to Doctor Henriette (one of his attendant physicians), and begged him to distribute its contents amongst the little invalids in the hospital. This is but one trait amongst a thousand from which might have been predicated what sort of king this child, if spared, would eventually have made. He was positively adored by the people of the royal household—those servants who were under his control; and by seeing him play at sovereign with whom one read the natural nobility of his yet undeveloped character. When any of his servants had committed a fault and deserved a reprimand from the officer on duty, the Duc de Brabant would accuse himself of the negligence in order to save the real offender from punishment. He was nursed throughout his illness by two Soeurs de Charité, who paid him the utmost attention, and of whom he became proportionately fond. It was said that on the first of January the Duc de Brabant asked his father for the sum of six thousand francs: 'Pour ces deux anges qui me veillaient.' This anecdote was afterwards contradicted; but it possesses at least the merit of giving the general idea of the disposition of Leopold-Ferdinand. His was the most generous little heart possible, and he would have despoiled himself of everything to make one creature happy.

On Thursday evening, the twenty-first of January, when it became known in Laeken that the prince was really dying, the whole community was in commotion; and when towards nine o'clock the report was spread that all was over, nothing was to be seen but mournful and downcast countenances, and the commissioner of police was forced to reassure the people by telling them that the child still lived. These sentiments were but natural, for the progress of the disease had been suspended during so many months that the dangerous state of the royal invalid was but thoroughly realised. The public had begun to think that the doctors must be mistaken in their diagnostics; and thus, when the bulletins from the palace intimated that there was a fatal aggravation of the symptoms, the news could not fail to throw the whole country into a state of consternation. The last agony of the unfortunate child (whose sufferings had been greatly accelerated ever since the fourteenth of January) commenced at five in the evening of the twenty-first, and did not terminate till forty minutes past twelve, at which time he drew his last breath in a long sigh of relief. MM. Henriette and Wimmer, who had so assiduously tended the royal child since the appearance of the disease to which he succumbed, were summoned to the palace of Laeken by a despatch from M. le Comte Vanderstraeten-Ponthoz a few minutes after the last crisis had commenced, and did not again quit the bedside of the invalid, though they had the grief of seeing all their science powerless to do more than assist at the last moments of him whose life but a few months before they had hoped to save.

From the time the crisis set in, Prince Leopold-Ferdinand recognised no one, although his intelligence was not completely obscured; for when the king or queen spoke to him, he appeared to understand what they said, although it was impossible for him to respond, even by a gesture, to the loving words which were lavished upon him. He died, as so beloved a child should die, between his father and mother, who, during the last hours, never quitted his side. In his chamber at this time were Madame la Duchesse d'Ursel, mistress of the queen's household; Monsieur le Comte Vanderstraeten-Ponthoz, maréchal of the palace; Monsieur Donny, the prince's preceptor; MM. Henriette and Wimmer, the two Soeurs de Charité who had nursed him through his illness, and the two valets-de-chambre of the Duc de Brabant. All were silent, as, awe-stricken, they waited, in the midst of that calm night, to hear the rustling wings of the Angel of Death; and the peaceful solemnity of the last hour was undisturbed, save by the voice of the chaplain who recited the prayers for the dying. Monseigneur le Comte de Flandre, brother to the king, who had been summoned to the palace by the same despatch which had brought MM. Henriette and Wimmer, arrived there at half-past ten, and quitted Laeken again at midnight; he was not, therefore, present at the last moments of his nephew. It was the same with Monsieur Devaux, the king's secretary, who retired at half-past nine to his own apartments.

When all was over, and life had finally quitted the poor little body which had suffered so much, the father and mother, one after another, strained the corpse in their arms, and covered it with kisses, until the king, desirous of sparing the queen so mournful a spectacle, led her by force from the couch where rested the inanimate remains of the sole heir to their crown. On the morning following his decease the body of the little prince was completely robed in white, and placed on the bed in the chamber where he had died, and which is next to that in which his grandfather, Leopold I., drew his last breath. A crown of white roses, fresh and pure as his own brief life, was placed on the pillar immediately above his head, and a little virgin, with several playthings with which he had essayed to wile away some of the weary hours of pain, were placed at the foot of his couch. An altar was improvised on a large chest of drawers, placed between two windows of his bedroom, where a crucifix hung in the midst of lighted candles, converting the chamber of death into a temporary chapel. Here the Soeurs de Charité watched the dead child through the night, as they had watched him for so many previous months.

The body of the little prince was not embalmed, as the queen steadfastly set her face against such a proceeding, but was interred in the same condition in which he had died. The corpse was not at all decomposed, but it was terribly thin. The face wore the pallor of marble, and was not at all swollen or otherwise disfigured. The child appeared to sleep, and so he did, although the sleep will be eternal. On the same day the following proclamation was placed on the walls of the capital:—

'Aux Habitants de Bruxelles.

'Concitoyens,—Le pays vient d'éprouver une perte immense. Le Prince Royal a succombé cette nuit au mal cruel qui menaçait depuis longtemps une existence si précieuse à tous les Belges. La population de Bruxelles, fidèle aux sentiments inaltérables qu'elle a voués à une dynastie bien-aimée pleurera longtemps le jeune Prince dont elle avait entouré le berçeau de tant d'amour et de si chères espérances.

'Fait à l'Hôtel de Ville, le 22 Janvier, 1869.
'Par le Collége, le Secrétaire,
'Le Collége,
'A. Lacomble. Jules Anspach.'

The following letter of condolence, addressed by the permanent deputation of the Provincial Council of Brabant, to their bereaved king and queen, appears to me so touchingly worded, that I give it in the original, fearful of spoiling by translating it:—

'Sire, Madame,—

Il a plu à la Providence de nous envoyer au milieu de nos prospérités, une bien douloureuse épreuve. Le Prince Royal est mort! ... mort avant d'avoir accompli sa dixième année!... Ce coup cruel, que nos voeux n'ont pu conjurer, nous frappe tous au coeur. Il ravit un fils à votre amour, à nous le jeune Prince promis à de hautes et si précieuses destinées. Dans une adversité si grande, nous le savons, toutes les paroles sont vaines. Il y a des afflictiones que rien ne console. Nous pouvons, du moins, mêler la tristesse de nos regrets à l'amertume des vôtres, et, associés à votre légitime douleur, souffrir et pleurer avec vous.

'Oui, pleurons! Mais gardons une entière confiance dans l'avenir! Dieu n'a pas cessé de protéger la Belgique et la dynastie qui lui est inséparablement unie.

'La députation permanente du Conseil Provincial du Brabant.'

After which followed the signatures of the president and those members of the council who signed the address in the name of the entire body.

But the loyal sympathy of the Belgians did not vent itself in words only. As soon as the death of their young prince was officially announced, black flags on the Belgian colours, smothered in crape, were displayed from the balconies of the principal houses, whilst the fronts of many of them were completely hung with funereal drapery, and most of the shops and all places of amusement were closed. The ships lying in the Belgian ports lowered their flags half-mast high, in sign of the general mourning; and all the principal families in Brussels, and most of the English residents appeared in black.

The bells of the cathedral and other churches kept tolling at intervals during the first and succeeding days, to announce the melancholy news; all fêtes and public rejoicing were suspended, as well as private balls and concerts; and the ministerial conferences were adjourned.

Meanwhile the body of the young prince, which had been watched ever since his death by the officers of the household, was placed in a triple coffin, lined with white silk, in the presence of the king and queen, the Archbishop of Malines, and several members of the royal household. This melancholy ceremony of bidding the last earthly adieu, is said to have been, as is natural, the occasion of a most heartrending scene. The young prince had received the insignia of the Chevalier de la Toison d'Or d'Espagne, shortly after the ascension of his father Leopold II. to the throne; and this insignia was placed on his coffin during the funeral obsequies—which were fixed to take place at eleven o'clock on Monday, the twenty-fifth; at which time also was to be performed (according to the rites of the Roman Catholic religion), in the church of Notre-Dame at Laeken, the first funeral mass for the repose of his innocent soul.

Accordingly, before eight o'clock on the morning of the day appointed, a procession of people eager to witness the ceremony lined the road to the church and palace of Laeken. At the palace, the guests were received in the rotunda, where they had to await the arrival of the body, to form themselves in cortége. Monsieur le Baron Prisse, adjutant of the Palace, and Monsieur de Wyckersloth were appointed to receive them. Only a very few were admitted into the temporary chapel, where rested the mortal remains of the little prince; and which was most tastefully decorated. The walls and ceiling were draped with black; an altar had been erected between the two windows, before which stood the coffin, supported on a small black bier. It was covered with a white pall, embroidered with a large golden cross, upon which lay a wreath of white roses. This erection, lighted by four gold candelabra on black pedestals, and a chandelier from the ceiling, under which the coffin rested, had a very solemn and imposing effect. On the black drapery with which the room was hung, were shields emblazoned with the royal arms. At a quarter to eleven the clergy arrived. They consisted of the Archbishop of Malines, the Bishops of Belgium, accompanied by their canons and secretaries; the rectors of the parishes of Laeken and the capital; several envoys from the provinces, and a representative of each of the religious orders now established in Brussels. At their arrival at the palace, which they entered two by two, the principal members of the clergy were admitted into the temporary chapel, where were already assembled H.M. the King; H.R.H. the Comte de Flandre; Monseigneur la Prince de Ligne; and several officers of the household, amongst which was Monsieur Donny, the prince's tutor, who since the morning could not be persuaded to quit the remains of his beloved pupil. After the usual prayers, the coffin was delivered into the hands of some of the non-commissioned officers of the army, and such of the Garde-Civique as had been deputed to carry it to its last resting-place. The coffin was of black wood, with silver nails and ornaments; lions' heads formed the handles, and a splendid ivory crucifix was on the lid, but there was no plate, descriptive of the name or distinctions of the deceased child.

As soon as the coffin had been placed on the bier on which it was to be carried, the white pall with its golden cross was thrown over it, and the funeral cortége was set in motion. The pall was held by MM. les Généraux Chazal and Pletinckx; MM. Frère-Orban, Minister of Finance, and Bara, Minister of Justice; Dolez, President of the Chamber, and Omalius d'Halloy, President of the Senate.

The king, with the Comte de Flandre, headed the procession. He was pale, and appeared sadly changed; his step was slow and faltering, and he was obliged to lean for support on the arm of his royal brother. They were attired in the uniform of lieutenant-generals of the army, and opposite to where they wore the ribbon of the Order of Leopold hung a long black crape scarf. Both seemed much affected, but the father had evidently great trouble in keeping back his tears; and one can well imagine that it must have been real courage on his part to attend the sad ceremony in person. Immediately after the king and his brother, who walked behind the little coffin, came the officers of the household of the king, queen, and Comte de Flandre; the ambassadors or plenipotentiary ministers of the various Powers, the generals of the army, and several other persons of distinction.

Amongst the representatives of the different Powers were two special envoys: these were M. de Jamund, aide-de-camp of the Prince Royal of Prussia, to represent his Prussian Majesty; and M. Schreckenstein, who did the same for the Prince of Hohenzollern. It was painful to see M. Donny, who formed part of the melancholy procession: his face bore such evident traces of the suffering he had passed through; and when the mortal remains of the little prince passed him in leaving the palace, he burst into tears. This long cortége was brought up at the rear by the invited guests and clergy already enumerated, after which came an empty hearse: first an ordinary one, of which the drapery had been exchanged for ornaments of black and gold, and escutcheons, with the Belgian lion placed on each side of the seat; whilst six horses, caparisoned with black, their heads surmounted with plumes, drew the funeral car. The dead child's little pony, sitting astride which he had been photographed in various positions, covered with crape and led by two grooms, followed the hearse; and twelve court carriages, their lamps enveloped in crape, and their coachmen in deep mourning, came after it. In this order, preceded and followed by troops of horse, as guards of honour, the procession slowly wended its way towards the church by Montagne du Tonnerre. Its departure from the palace was proclaimed by volleys of artillery, which continued throughout the ceremony, and indeed from daybreak canons fired at intervals, had announced the coming solemnity; first, every half-hour, and afterwards, every five minutes. The bells of all the churches, also of the capital and its suburbs did not cease tolling until the funeral obsequies of the young prince were completed. At the gate of the palace a company of Grenadiers presented arms to the coffin, and a little farther on the barrack-guard went through the same ceremony. Along the whole length of the road was assembled a silent crowd: at every window appeared eager and interested faces, amongst whom was a large number of women,—all dressed in deep mourning, and many weeping. It was reckoned, and without exaggeration, that more than forty thousand people went to Laeken that day to see the child of their king buried. From the palace to the church the coup d'oeil of the procession was very imposing.

A veil of black seemed to hover over the vast multitude, who, with uncovered heads, paced slowly beneath the wintry sky; and the rays of frosty sunshine, powerless as they were to warm on such a day, had yet sufficient brilliancy to outshine the lights which flickered in a sickly manner in the carriage lamps, overshadowed by their coverings of crape.

When the coffin arrived at the church, it was already nearly filled with the functionaries of the different administrations of Brussels and the provinces. There were also representatives of all the constituted bodies, most of the governors of the province, and deputations of the communal and provincial councils. MM. le Capitaine Nicaise and Lahure, junior, were appointed to keep order in the church; and the places for each body of functionaries were marked beforehand by printed bills. The king and the Comte de Flandre occupied seats in front of the altar; those belonging to their households sat behind. The diplomatic body was to the right of the bier, on which rested the coffin—the various deputations to the left; and all the rest of the assemblage were disposed in the two aisles of the church.

The building was completely hung with black: each pillar bore an escutcheon, in the centre of which was blazoned a golden lion, surmounted by the word 'Obiit,' and the date of the child's death. The bier, placed in the middle of the church, and at the entrance of the choir, was raised upon a pedestal covered with black velvet, bordered with ermine and embroidered with lions. The bier itself was covered with a white pall, on the top of which was placed a wreath of roses, just like the one which lay upon the coffin whilst in the temporary chapel, and was surmounted by a black canopy bordered with heavy gold fringe, from which fell four large curtains, enveloping the pedestal. Round the coffin burned numerous wax tapers, and on the four panels of this funereal erection, and at each corner of the altar, were the royal arms of Belgium. The Archbishop of Malines was the principal officiator at the ceremony, and it was he who pronounced the Absolution, standing beneath a canopy of crimson velvet fringed with gold, which had been raised for him, to the right of the altar. The suffragan bishops took a part in the service; but the mass was sung.

Directly it was concluded, the coffin was placed in the chapel in front of the vault where King Leopold I. and Queen Marie-Louise already rest, and there it will remain until the three coffins can be together moved to the permanent vault in course of erection in the new church at Laeken.

Then the king came forward, and, having placed on the coffin of his child a wreath of white flowers, left the church to return to the palace. He was terribly moved, and had difficulty in restraining his tears until he should have regained his carriage.

The Mass for the Dead was then resumed, and lasted for an hour and a-half; and it was two hours before the funeral ceremonies were finally completed.

On the following Wednesday, the church of Ste Gudule and St Michel at Brussels, having been hung in the same lavish manner with black and white, a second Grand Mass was said and sung there for the repose of the little prince's soul; and then the whole business was over, and people began to talk of something else. But it will be a long time before Belgium forgets her Prince Royal or the bereavement of her king.

The funeral was, perhaps, as grand a one as ever was given for a child, and the decorations of the churches, biers, and coffin, things to be remembered; but the way in which true Belgians will love best to think of Leopold-Ferdinand, Duc de Brabant, will be the recollection, treasured by his father and mother—the recollection of a pure dead face, freed from all suffering and pain, lying on its once familiar bed, a little virgin clasped in the inanimate hand, and a wreath of white roses laid upon the pillow; but above all, of a happy soul freed from the suffering of sin, and in the enjoyment of a kingdom from the possession of which the temptations attendant upon wearing an earthly crown might have debarred him.


I AM going to tell you a story which is as improbable an one as you have ever heard. I do not expect anybody to believe it; yet it is perfectly true. The ignorant and bigoted will read it to the end perhaps, and then fling it down with the assertion that it is all nonsense, and there is not one word of truth in it. The wiser and more experienced may say it is very wonderful and incredible, but still they know there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in their philosophy. But no one will credit it with a hearty, uncompromising belief. And yet neither ridicule nor incredulity can alter the fact that this is a true history of circumstances that occurred but a few years since, and to persons who are living at the present time.

The scene is laid in India, and to India, therefore, I must transplant you in order that you may be introduced to the actors in this veracious drama, premising that the names I give, not only of people but of places, are all fictitious.

It is Christmas time in a single station on the frontiers of Bengal, and a very dull Christmas the members of the 145th Bengal Muftis find it in consequence. For to be quartered in a single station means to be compelled to associate with the same people day after day and month after month and year after year; and to carry on that old quarrel with Jones, or to listen to the cackle of Mrs Robinson, or be bored with the twaddle of Major Smith, without any hope of respite or escape, and leaving the gentlemen out of the question, the ladies of the 145th Bengal Muftis are not in the best frame of mind at the time my story opens to spend the day of peace and goodwill towards men together. Regimental ladies seldom are. They are quarrelsome and interfering, and backbiting enough towards each other in an English garrison town, but that is a trifle compared to the way in which they carry on in our outlying stations in India. And yet, the ladies of the 145th Bengal Muftis are not bad specimens of the sex, taken individually. It is only when they come in contact that their Christian love and charity make themselves conspicuous. Mrs Dunstan, the wife of the colonel, is the most important of them all, and the most important personage, too, in this little story of a misfortune that involved herself, therefore let Mrs Dunstan be the first to advance for inspection.

As we meet her, she is seated in a lounging chair in her own drawing-room, at Mudlianah, with a decided look of discontent or unhappiness upon her countenance. The scene around her would seem fair enough in the eyes of those who were not condemned to live in it. Her room is surrounded by a broad verandah, which is so covered by creepers as to be a bower of greenery. Huge trumpet-shaped blossoms of the most gorgeous hues of purple, scarlet and orange, hang in graceful festoons about the windows and open doorways, whilst the starry jessamine and Cape honeysuckle fill the air with sweetness. Beyond the garden, which is laid out with much taste, though rather in a wild and tangled style, owing to the luxuriance of the vegetation, lie a range of snowy hills which appear quite close in the transparent atmosphere, although in reality they are many miles away.

Mrs Dunstan's room is furnished, too, with every luxury as befits the room of a colonel's wife, even in an up country station. The chairs and sofas are of carved ebony wood, and cane work from Benares; the table is covered with flowers, books, and fancy work; a handsome piano stands in one corner; the floor is covered with coloured matting, and in the verandah are scattered toys from various countries, a token that this comfortable home does not lack the chief of married joys, a child-angel in the house.

The mistress, too, is still young and still handsome, not wanting the capacity for intellectual nor the health for physical enjoyment, there must be some deeper reason than outward discomfort therefore for that sad far-away look in her eyes and the pain which has knitted her brow. Yes, 'Mees Mar-gie MacQueerk' (as she would style herself) has been giving Mrs Dunstan an hour of her company that morning, and as usual left her trail behind her.

'Mees Margie' is a tall, quaint, ill-favoured Scotchwoman on the wrong side of fifty, who has come out to India to keep the house of her brother, the doctor of the 145th. She is a rigid Presbyterian, with a brogue as uncompromising as her doctrine and a judgment as hard as nails. Never having been tempted to do anything wrong, she is excessively virtuous, and has an eye like a hawk for the misdoings of others; indeed, she is so excellent a detective that she discovers the sins before the sinners have quite made up their minds to commit them. She is the detestation of the regiment, and the colonel's wife has been compelled in consequence to show Miss MacQuirk more attention than she would otherwise have done to make up for the neglect of the others. For never does Miss Maggie pass half-an-hour without hinting at a fresh peccadillo on the part of somebody else. She has a rooted conviction that all soldiers are libertines, not fit to be trusted out of sight of their wives or sisters, and if she has no new misdemeanour to relate on the part of the masters, the servants are sure to come in for their share of abuse, and so Miss Maggie MacQuirk manages to find food for scandal all the year round. Ethel Dunstan ought to know her foibles well enough to mistrust her by this time, and had the doctor's sister come in with some new story of young Freshfield's flirting, on Mr Masterman's card-playing, she would have been as ready as ever to laugh at the old Scotchwoman's mountainous molehills, and to assure her she was utterly mistaken. But Miss MacQuirk's discourse this morning had taken a different turn. She had talked exclusively of the latest arrival in Mudlianah: lovely Mrs Lawless, who has just returned with her husband, Jack Lawless, from staff duty in the Northwest Provinces, and how her beauty seemed to have addled the heads of all the men of the 145th Bengal Muftis. And there was a great deal of truth in Miss MacQuirk's assertions, and that is what has made them go home to the heart of Ethel Dunstan. We are all so ready to believe anything that affects our own happiness.

'Deed, and it's jeest freetful,' said Miss Margie, in her provincial twang, 'to see a set o' dunderheids tairned the wrang way for the sake o' a wee bit o' a pasty face wi' two beeg eyes in the meedle o' it. It's eno' to mak' a God-fearing woman praise the Laird that has kept her in the straight path. For I'll no affairm that it's by mee ain doin' that I can haud up my heed the day with the Queen o' England herself if need be.'

'But Mrs Lawless is very, very lovely—there cannot be two opinions on that subject,' cried generous-hearted Mrs Dunstan. 'For my own part I never saw a more beautiful face than hers, and my husband says just the same thing.'

'Eh! I nae doot it! The cairnal's heed is tairned like all the rest o' them. But he cannot ca' it reet that men should rin after a leddy that has a lawfu' meeried husband o' her ain.'

'But you have such strange notions, Miss MacQuirk. If a gentleman shows a lady the least attention you call it "running after her." We are like one family shut up in this little station by ourselves. If we are not to be on friendly terms with each other, we are indeed to be pitied.'

'Friendly tairms,' exclaimed Miss Margie. 'Do you call it "friendly tairms" to be walking in the dairk with anither mon's wife? An' that's jeest what my gude brother saw yester e'en as he was comin' hame fra' mess.'

'What man! whose wife?' asked Ethel Dunstan, for once interested in Miss MacQuirk's scandal.

'Aye! I dinna ken the mon, but the leddy was Mrs Lawless hersel'. And her husband was at the mess the while, for Andrew left him at the table, and he was comin' home in the dark and he saw Mrs Lawless in her gairden at the dead o' neet walkin' with a strange mon—a tall mon, and stout, and not unlike the cairnal, Andrew says.'

'What nonsense; Charlie was back from mess by eleven o'clock,' said Mrs Dunstan, with an air of annoyance. 'When you repeat such stories, Miss MacQuirk, be good enough to keep my husband's name out of them, or you may get into trouble.'

'Ah, well, Mrs Dunstan, I only mentioned that it was like the cairnal. Doubtless he was at mess or at home the while. It was half-past ten when Andrew retairned. But it is hairdly reet that Mrs Lawless should be walking in her gairden at that hour o' neet and with anither mon than her husband. I doot but one should infairm Mr Lawless of the caircumstance.'

'Well, I advise you not to be the one,' replied Ethel Dunstan, tartly. 'Jack Lawless is considered a fire-eater amongst men, and I don't think he would spare the woman even who tried to take away his wife's character.'

'Eh, Mrs Doonstan, who talks o' takin' awa' her character? I doot it's but little she's got, puir thing, and it 'twould be a sin to rob her o' it. But it's a terrible thing to see how gude luiks air rated abuve guid deeds, and enough to mak' all honest men thank the Laird who has presairved them fra the wiles o' the enemy. And now I'll wish you the gude mairnin, Mrs Doonstan, for I have several other calls to pay before tiffin.'

And so the old scandal-monger had left the colonel's wife in the condition in which we found her.

Of course if there had been no more truth in it than in the generality of Miss MacQuirk's stories Ethel Dunstan would have laughed at and forgotten it. But there is just sufficient probability of its being a fact to give a colouring to the matter.

For Mrs Lawless is not a woman that the most faithful husband in creation could look at without some degree of interest, and Colonel Dunstan being guileless of harm, has expressed his admiration of her in the most open manner. She is a graceful, fairy-like creature, of two or three-and-twenty, in the flush of youth and beauty, and yet with sufficient knowledge of the world to render her the most charming companion. She has a complexion like a rose leaf, a skin as white as milk, large limpid hazel eyes, a pert nose, a coaxing mouth, and hair of a sunny brown. Fancy such a woman alighting suddenly in an out-of-the-way, dull, dried-up little hole of a station like Mudlianah, and in the midst of some twenty inflammable British officers! You might as well have sent a mitrailleuse amongst them for the amount of damage she did. They were all alight at the first view of her, and hopelessly burned up before the week was over. She is devoted to her Jack, and has in reality no eyes nor thoughts except for him; but he has become a little used to her charms, after the manner of husbands, and so she flirts with the rest of the regiment indiscriminately, and sheds the light of her countenance on all alike, from the colonel downwards. The wives of the 145th Bengal Muftis have received Mrs Lawless but coldly. How can they look into her heart and see how entirely it is devoted to her husband? All they see is her lovely, smiling face, and contrasting it with their own less beautiful and somewhat faded countenances, they imagine that no man can be proof against her fascinations, and jealousy reigns supreme in the 145th with regard to Cissy Lawless.

Ethel Dunstan has no need to fear a rival in her colonel's heart, because she possesses every atom of his affection, and he has proved it by years of devotion and fidelity, but when a woman is once jealous of another, she forgets everything except the fear of present loss. Colonel Dunstan is vexed when he comes in that morning from regimental duty to find his wife pale and dispirited, still more so to hear the tart replies she makes to all his tender questioning.

'Are you not well, my darling?' he asks.

'Quite well, thank you; at least as well as one can be in a hole like Mudlianah. Charlie! where have you been this morning?'

'Been, dear? Why, to mess and barracks, to be sure! Where else should I have been?'

'There are plenty of houses to call at, I suppose. What is the use of pretending to be so dull? You made a call late last night, if I am not much mistaken!'

'Last night! What, after mess? I only went home with Jack Lawless for a minute or two.'

'Did you go home with Mr Lawless?'

'Yes; at least—he didn't walk home with me exactly; but he came in soon afterwards.'

'Of course she was in bed?'

'Oh no, she wasn't. She was as brisk as a bee. We talked together for a long time.'

'So I have heard! In the garden,' remarks Mrs Dunstan pointedly.

'Yes! Was there any harm in that?' replies her husband. 'Our talk was solely on business. Is anything the matter, Ethel, darling? You are not at all like yourself this morning.'

But the only answer Mrs Dunstan gives him is indicated by her suddenly rising and leaving the room. She is not the sort of woman to tell her husband frankly what she feels. She thinks—and perhaps she is right—that to openly touch so delicate a matter as a dereliction from the path of marital duty, is to add fuel to the flame. But she suffers terribly, and in her excited condition Colonel Dunstan's open avowal appears an aggravation of his offence.

'He is too noble to deceive me,' she thinks, 'and so he will take refuge in apparent frankness. He confesses he admires her, and he will tell me every time he goes there, and then he will say,—

'How can you suspect me of any wrong intention when I am so open with you?'

'Business indeed! As if he could have any business with a doll like Mrs Lawless. It is shameful of her to flirt with married men in this disgraceful way.'

Yet Mrs Dunstan and Mrs Lawless meet at the band that evening, and smile and bow to and talk with one another as if they were the best friends in the world; but the colonel is prevented by duty from doing more than arrive in time to take his wife home to dinner, and so Ethel's heart is for the while at rest. But during dinner a dreadful blow falls upon her. A note is brought to the colonel, which he reads in silence and puts into the pocket of his white drill waistcoat.

'From Mr Hazlewood, dear?' says Ethel interrogatively.

'No, my love, purely on business,' replies the colonel, as he helps himself to wine. But when the meal is concluded he walks into his dressing-room, and reappears in his mess uniform.

'Going to mess, Charlie?' exclaims his wife, in a tone of disappointment.

'No, my darling—business! I may be late. Good-night!' and he kisses her and walks out of the house.

'Business!' repeats Mrs Dunstan emphatically; and as soon as his back is turned, she is searching his suit of drill. Colonel Dunstan has not been careful to conceal or destroy the note he received at dinner. It is still in his waistcoat pocket. His wife tears it open and reads:—

'Dear Colonel,—Do come over this evening if possible. I have had another letter, which you must see. I depend upon you for everything. You are the only friend I have in the world. Pray don't fail me.—Ever yours gratefully,

'Cissy Lawless.'

'Cat!' cries Mrs Dunstan indignantly, 'deceitful, fawning, hypocritical cat! This is the way she gets over the men—pretending to each one that he is the only friend she has in the world—a married woman, too! It's disgusting! Miss MacQuirk is quite right, and some one ought to tell poor Jack Lawless of the way she is carrying on. And Charlie is as bad as she is! It was only to-day he told me as bold as brass that that creature's eyes are so innocent and guileless-looking they reminded him of little Katie's—and not ten minutes afterwards, he said my new bonnet from England was a fright, and made me look as yellow as a guinea. Oh! what is this world coming to, and where will such wickedness end? I wish that I was dead and buried with poor mamma.' And so Mrs Dunstan cries herself to sleep, and when her husband comes home and kisses her fondly as she lies upon the pillow, he decides that she is feverish, and has not been looking well lately and must require change, and remains awake for some time thinking how he can best arrange to let her have it.

In the middle of that night, however, something occurs to occupy the minds of both father and mother to the exclusion of everything else. Little Katie, their only child, a beautiful little girl of three years old, is taken suddenly and dangerously ill with one of those violent disorders that annually decimate our British possessions in the east. The whole household is roused—Dr MacQuirk summoned from his bed—and for some hours the parents hang in mental terror over the baby's cot, fearing every minute lest their treasure should be taken from them. But the crisis passes. Little Katie is weak but out of danger, and then the consideration arises what is the best thing to facilitate her recovery. Dr MacQuirk lets a day or two pass to allow the child to gain a little strength, and then he tells the colonel emphatically that she must be sent away at once—to England if possible—or he will not answer for her life. This announcement is a sad blow to Colonel Dunstan, but he knows it is imperative, and prepares to break the news to his wife.

'Ethel, my dear, I am sorry to tell you that MacQuirk considers it quite necessary that Katie should leave Mudlianah for change of air, and he wishes her, if possible, to go to England at once.'

'But it is not possible, Charlie. We could never consent to send the child home alone, and you cannot get leave again so soon. Surely it is not absolutely necessary she should go to England.'

'Not absolutely necessary, perhaps, but very advisable, not only for Katie, but for yourself. You are not looking at all well, Ethel. Your dispirited appearance worries me sadly, and in your condition you should take every care of yourself. I hardly like to make the proposal to you, but if you would consent to take Katie home to your sister's, say for a twelvemonth, I think it would do your own health a great deal of good.'

But Colonel Dunstan's allusion to her want of spirits has recalled all her jealousy of Mrs Lawless to Ethel's mind, and the journey to England finds no favour in her eyes.

'You want me to go away for a twelvemonth,' she says sharply, 'and pray what is to become of you meanwhile?'

'I must stay here. You know I cannot leave India.'

'You will stay with Mrs—, I mean with the regiment, whilst I go home with the child.'

'Yes. What else can I do?'

'Then I shall not go. I refuse to leave you.'

'Not even for Katie's sake?'

'We will take her somewhere else. There are plenty of places in India where we can go for change of air; and if you cared for me, Charlie, you would never contemplate such a thing as a whole year's separation.'

'Do you think I like the idea, Ethel? What should I do left here all by myself? I only proposed it for your sake and the child's.'

'I will not go,' repeats Mrs Dunstan, firmly, and she sends for Dr MacQuirk and has a long talk with him.

'Dr MacQuirk, is it an absolute necessity that Katie should go to England?'

'Not an absolute neeceessity, my dear leddy, but, from a mee-dical point of view, advisable. And your own hee-alth also—'

'Bother my health!' she cries irreverently. 'What is the nearest place to which I could take the child for change?'

'You might take her to the heels, Mrs Doonstan—to the heels of Mandalinati, which are very salubrious at this time of the year.'

'And how far off are they?'

'A matter of a coople of hundred miles. Ye canna get houses there, but there is a cairs-tle on the broo' o' the heel that ye may have for the airsking.'

'A castle! that sounds most romantic? And whom must we ask, doctor?'

'The cairs-tle is the property of Rajah Mati Singh, and he bee-lt it for his ain plee-sure, but he doesna' ceer to leeve there, and so he will lend it to any Europeans who weesh for a change to the heels of Mandalinati.'

'Rajah Mati Singh! That horrid man! There will be no chance of seeing him, will there?'

'No, no, Mrs Doonstan! the Rajah will not trouble ye! He never goes near the cairs-tle noo, and ye will have the whoole place to yersel' in peace and quietude.'

'I will speak to the colonel about it directly he comes in. Thank you for your information, Dr MacQuirk. If we must leave Mudlianah, I shall be delighted to stay for a while at this romantic castle on the brow of the hill.

'Yes,' she says to herself, when the doctor is gone, 'we shall be alone there, I and my Charlie, and it will seem like the dear old honeymoon time, before we came to live amongst these horrid flirting cats of women, and perhaps some of the old memories will come back to him and we shall be happy, foolish lovers again as we used to be long ago before I was so miserable.'

But when Colonel Dunstan hears of the proposed visit to the Mandalinati hills, he does not seem to approve of it half so much as he did of the voyage to England.

'I am not at all sure if the climate will suit you or the child,' he says, 'it is sometimes very raw and misty up on those hills. And then it is very wild and lonely. I know the castle MacQuirk means—a great straggling building standing quite by itself, and in a most exposed position. I really think you will be much wiser to go to England, Ethel.'

'Oh, Charlie! how unkind of you, and when you know the separation will kill me!'

'It would be harder, just at first, but I should feel our trouble would be repaid. But I shall always be in a fidget about you at Mandalinati.'

'But, Charlie, what harm can happen when you are with us?'

'My dear girl, I can't go with you to the castle.'

'Why not?'

'Because business will detain me here. How do you suppose I can leave the regiment?'

'But you will come up very often to see us—every week at least; won't you, Charlie?'

'On a four days' journey! Ethel, my dear, be reasonable. If you go to Mandalinati, the most I can promise is to get a fortnight's leave after a time, and run up to see how you and the dear child are getting on. But I don't like your going, and I tell you so plainly. Suppose you are taken ill before your time, or Katie has another attack, how are you to get assistance up on those beastly hills? Think better of it, Ethel, and decide on England. If you go, Captain Lewis says he will send his wife at the same time, and you would be nice company for each other on the way home.'

'Mrs Lewis, indeed! an empty-headed noodle! Why, she would drive me crazy before we were half-way there. No, Charlie; I am quite decided. If you cannot accompany me to England, I refuse to go. I shall get the loan of the castle, and try what four weeks there will do for the child.'

And thus it came to pass that Mrs Dunstan's absurd jealousy of Mrs Lawless drives her to spend that fatal month at the lonely castle on the Mandalinati hills, instead of going in peace and safety to her native land. For a brief space Hope leads her to believe that she may induce Mrs Lawless to pass the time of exile with her. If her woman's wit can only induce the fatal beauty to become her guest, she will bear the loss of Charlie's society with equanimity. But though Cissy Lawless seems for a moment almost to yield, she suddenly draws back, to Mrs Dunstan's intense annoyance.

'The old castle on the hills!' she exclaimed. 'Are you and Colonel Dunstan really going there? How delightfully romantic! I believe no end of murders have been committed there, and every room is haunted. Oh, I should like to go, too, of all things in the world! I long to see a real ghost, only you must promise never to leave us alone, colonel, for I should die of fright if I were left by myself.'

'But I shall not be there, I am sorry to say,' replies the colonel. 'My wife and Katie are going for change of air, but I must simmer meanwhile at Mudlianah.'

Pretty Cissy Lawless looks decidedly dumfoundered, and begins to back out of her consent immediately. 'I pity you,' she answers, 'and I pity myself too, for I expect we shall have to simmer together. I should like it of all things, as I said before, but Jack would never let me leave him. He is such a dear, useless body without me. Besides, as you know, colonel, I have business to keep me in Mudlianah.'

Business again! Ethel turns away in disgust; but it is with difficulty she can keep the tears from rushing to her eyes. However, there is no help for it, and she must go. Her child is very dear to her, and at all risks it requires mountain air. She must leave her colonel to take his chance in the plains below—only as he puts her and the child into the transit that is to convey them to the hills, and bids her farewell with a very honest falter in his voice he feels her hot tears upon his cheek.

'Oh, Charlie, Charlie, be true to me! Think how I have loved you. I am so very miserable.'

'Miserable, my love, and for this short parting? Come, Ethel, you must be braver than this. It will not be long before we meet again, remember.'

'And, till then, you will be careful, won't you, Charlie, for my sake, and think of me, and don't go too much from home? and remember how treacherous women are; and I am not beautiful, I know, my darling; I never was, you know,' with a deep sob, 'like—like Mrs Lawless and others. But I love you, Charlie, I love you with all my heart, and I have always been faithful to you in thought as well as deed.' And so, sobbing and incoherent, Ethel Dunstan drives away to the Mandalinati hills, whilst the good colonel stands where she left him, with a puzzled look upon his honest sunburnt face.

'What does she mean?' he ponders, 'by saying she is not beautiful like Cissy Lawless, and telling me to remember how treacherous women are, as if I didn't know the jades. Is it possible Ethel can be jealous—jealous of that poor, pretty little creature who is breaking her heart about her Jack? No! that would be too ridiculous, and too alarming into the bargain; for even if I can get the boy out of the scrape, it is hardly a matter to trust to a woman's discretion. Well, well, I must do the best I can, and leave the rest to chance. Ethel to be jealous! the woman I have devoted my life to! It would be too absurd if anything the creatures do can possibly be called so.'

And then he walks off to breakfast with the Lawlesses, though his heart is rather heavy, and his spirits are rather dull for several days after his wife starts for the castle on the hill. Ethel, on the other hand, gets on still worse than her husband. As she lies in her transit, swaying about from side to side over the rough country roads, she is haunted by the vision of Charlie walking about the garden till the small hours of the morning, hand in hand with Cissy Lawless, with a mind entirely oblivious of his poor wife and child, or indeed of anything except his beautiful companion. Twenty times would she have decided that she could bear the strain no longer, and given the order to return to Mudlianah, had it not been for the warning conveyed in the fretful wailing of her sickly child—his child—the blossom of their mutual love. So, for Katie's sake, poor Ethel keeps steadfastly to her purpose, and soon real troubles take the place of imaginary ones, and nearly efface their remembrance. She is well protected by a retinue of native servants, and the country through which she travels is a perfectly safe one; yet, as they reach the foot of the hills up which they must climb to reach the celebrated castle, she is surprised to hear that her nurse (or Dye), who has been with her since Katie's birth, refuses to proceed any further, and sends in her resignation.

'What do you mean, Dye?' demands her mistress with a natural vexation, 'you are going to leave Katie and me just as we require your services most. What can you be thinking of? You, who have always professed to be so fond of us both. Are you ill?'

'No, missus. I not ill, but I cannot go up the hill. That castle very bad place, very cold and big, and bad people live there and many noises come, and I want to go back to Mudlianah to my husband and little children.'

'What nonsense, Dye! I didn't think you were so foolish. Who has been putting such nonsense into your head? The castle is a beautiful place, and you will not feel at all cold with the warm clothes I have given you, and we have come here to make Miss Katie well, you know, and you will surely never leave her until she is quite strong again.'

But the native woman obstinately declares that she will not go on to the Mandalinati hills, and it is only upon a promise of receiving double pay that she at last complainingly consents to accompany her mistress to the castle. Ethel has to suffer, however, for descending to bribery, as before the ascent commences every servant in her employ has bargained for higher wages, and unless she wishes to remain in the plains she is compelled to comply with their demands. But she determines to write and tell Charlie of their extortion by the first opportunity, and hopes that the intelligence may bring him up, brimming with indignation, to set her household in order. Her first view of the castle, however, repays her for the trouble she has had in getting there. She thinks she has seldom seen a building that strikes her with such a sense of importance. It is formed of a species of white stone that glistens like marble in the sunshine, and it is situated on the brow of a jutting hill that renders it visible for many miles round. The approach to it is composed of three terraces of stone, each one surrounded by mountainous shrubs and hill-bearing flowers, and Ethel wonders why the Rajah Mati Singh, having built himself such a beautiful residence, should ever leave it for the use of strangers. She understands very little of the native language, but from a few words dropt here and there she gathers that the castle was originally intended for a harem, and supposes the rajah's wives found the climate too cold for susceptible natures. If they disliked the temperature as much as her native servants appear to do, it is no wonder that they deserted the castle, for their groans and moans and shakings of the head quite infect their mistress, and make her feel more lonely and nervous than she would otherwise have done, although she finds the house is so large that she can only occupy a small portion of it. The dining-hall, which is some forty feet square, is approached by eight doors below, two on each side, whilst a gallery runs round the top of it, supported by a stone balustrade and containing eight more doors to correspond with those on the ground floor. These upper doors open into the sleeping chambers, which all look out again upon open-air verandahs commanding an extensive view over the hills and plains below. Mrs Dunstan feels very dismal and isolated as she sits down to her first meal in this splendid dining-hall, but after a few days she gets reconciled to the loneliness, and sits with Katie on the terraces and amongst the flowers all day long, praying that the fresh breeze and mountain air may restore the roses to her darling's cheeks. One thing, however, she cannot make up her mind to, and that is to sleep upstairs. All the chambers are furnished, for the Rajah Mati Singh is a great ally of the British throne, and keeps up this castle on purpose to ingratiate himself with the English by lending it for their use; but Ethel has her bed brought downstairs, and occupies two rooms that look out upon the moonlit terraces. She cannot imagine why the natives are so averse to this proceeding on her part. They gesticulate and chatter—all in double Dutch, as far as she is concerned—but she will have her own way, for she feels less lonely when her apartments are all together. Her Dye goes on her knees to entreat her mistress to sleep upstairs instead of down; but Ethel is growing tired of all this demonstration about what she knows nothing, and sharply bids her do as she is told. Yet, as the days go on, there is something unsatisfactory—she cannot tell what—about the whole affair. The servants are gloomy and discontented, and huddle together in groups, whispering to one another. The Dye is always crying and hugging the child, while she drops mysterious hints about their never seeing Mudlianah again, which make Ethel's heart almost stop beating, as she thinks of native insurrections and rebellions, and wonders if the servants mean to murder her and Katie in revenge for having been forced to accompany them to Mandalinati.

Meanwhile, some mysterious circumstances occur for which Mrs Dunstan cannot account. One day, as she is sitting at her solitary dinner with two natives standing behind her chairs, she is startled by hearing a sudden rushing wind, and, looking up, sees the eight doors in the gallery open and slam again, apparently of their own accord, whilst simultaneously the eight doors on the ground floor which were standing open shut with a loud noise. Ethel looks round; the two natives are green with fright; but she believes that it is only the wind, though the evening is as calm as can be. She orders them to open the lower doors again, and having done so, they have hardly returned to their station behind her chair before the sixteen doors open and shut as before. Mrs Dunstan is now very angry; she believes the servants are playing tricks upon her, and she is not the woman to permit such an impertinence with impunity. She rises from table majestically and leaves the room, but reflection shows her that the only thing she can do is to write to her husband on the subject, for she is in the power of her servants so long as she remains at the castle, where they cannot be replaced.

She stays in the garden that evening, thinking over this occurrence and its remedy, till long after her child has been put to bed—and as she re-enters the castle she visits Katie's room before she retires to her own, and detects the Dye in the act of hanging up a large black shawl across the window that looks cut upon the terrace.

'What are you doing that for?' cries Ethel impetuously, her suspicions ready to be aroused by anything, however trivial.

The woman stammers and stutters, and finally declares she cannot sleep without a screen drawn before the window.

'Bad people's coming and going at night here!' she says in explanation, 'and looking in at the window upon the child; and if they touch missy she will die. Missus had better let me put up curtain to keep them out. They can't do me any harm. It is the child they come for.'

'Bad people coming at night! What on earth do you mean, Dye? What people come here but our own servants? If you go on talking such nonsense to me I shall begin to think you drink too much arrack.'

'Missus, please!' replies the native with a deprecatory shrug of the shoulders; 'but Dye speaks the truth! A white woman walks on this terrace every night looking for her child, and if she sees little missy, she will take her away, and then you will blame poor Dye for losing her. Better let me put up the curtain so that she can't look in at window.'




Ethel calls the woman some opprobrious epithet, but walks away nevertheless, and lets her do as she will; only the next day she writes a full account to Charlie of what she has gone through, and tells him she thinks all the servants are going mad. In which opinion he entirely agrees with her.

'For "mad" read "bad,"' he writes back again, 'and I'm with you. There is no doubt upon the matter, my dear girl. The brutes don't like the cold, and are playing tricks upon you to try and force you to return to the plains. It is a common thing in this country. Don't give way to them, but tell them I'll stop their pay all round if anything unpleasant happens again. I think now you must confess it would have been better to take my advice and try a trip home instead. However, as you are at Mandalinati, don't come back until your object in going there is accomplished. I wish I could join you, but it is impossible just yet. Jack Lawless is obliged to go north on business, and I have promised to accompany him. Keep up a good heart, dearest, and don't let those brutes think they have any power to annoy or frighten you.'

'Going north on business!' exclaims Ethel bitterly; 'and she is going too, I suppose; and Charlie can find time to go with them, though he cannot come to me. Oh, it is too hard! It is more than any woman can be expected to bear! I'm sure I wish I had gone to England instead. Then I should at least have had my dear sister to tell my troubles to, and he—he would have been free to flirt with that wretched woman as much as ever he chose.'

And the poor wife lies in her bed that night too unhappy to sleep, while she pictures her husband doing all sorts of dishonourable things, instead of snoring, as he really is, in his own deserted couch. Her room adjoins that in which the Dye is sleeping with her little girl, and the door between them stands wide open. From where she lies, Ethel can see part of the floor of Katie's bedroom, from which the moonlight is excluded in consequence of the great black shawl which the nurse continues to pin nightly across the window-pane. Suddenly, as she watches the shaded floor without thinking of it, a streak of moonshine darts right athwart it, as if a corner of the curtain had been raised. Always full of fears for her child, Ethel slips off her own bed, and with noiseless, unslippered feet runs into the next room, only in time to see part of a white dress upon the terrace as some unseen hand hastily drops the shawl again. She crosses the floor, and opening the window, looks out. Nobody is in sight. From end to end of the broad terraces the moonlight lies undisturbed by any shadow, though she fancies her ear can discern the rustling of a garment sweeping the stone foundation. As she turns to the darkened chamber again, she finds the Dye is sitting up, awake and trembling.

'Who raised that shawl just now, Dye? Tell me—I will know!' says Mrs Dunstan.

'Oh, mam! How can poor Dye tell? Perhaps it was the English lady come to take my little missy! Oh! when shall we go back to Mudlianah and be safe again?'

'English fiddlesticks! Don't talk such rubbish to me. I am up to all your tricks, but you won't frighten me, and so you may tell the others. And I shall not go back to Mudlianah one day sooner for anything you may say or do—'

Yet Mrs Ethel does not feel quite comfortable, even though her words are so brave. But shortly afterwards her thoughts are turned into another direction, whether agreeably or otherwise, we shall see. As she is sitting at breakfast the next morning, a shouting of natives and a commotion in the courtyard warns her of a new arrival. She imagines it is her husband, and rushes to meet him. But, to her surprise and chagrin, the figure that emerges from the transit is that of Mrs Lawless looking as lovely in her travelling dress and rumpled hair as ever she did in the most extravagant costume de bal.

'Are you surprised to see me?' she cried, as she jumps to the ground. 'Well, my dear, you can hardly be more surprised than I am to find myself here. But the fact is, Jack and the colonel are off to Hoolabad on business, so I thought I would take advantage of their absence to pay you a visit. And I hope you are glad to see me?'

Of course Mrs Dunstan says she is glad, and in a measure her words are true. She is glad to keep this fascinating wicked flirt under her eye, where it is impossible she can tamper with the affections of her beloved Charlie, and she is glad of her company and conversation, which is as sociable and bright as a clever little woman can make it. Mrs Lawless is full of sympathy, too, with Mrs Dunstan's fears and the bad behaviour of her servants, and being a very good linguist, she promises to obtain all the information she can from them, and make them fully understand their mistress's intentions in return.

'It's lucky I came, my dear,' she says brightly, 'or they might have made themselves still more offensive to you. But you have the dear colonel and Jack to thank for that, for I shouldn't have left home if they had not done so.'

'Ah, just as I imagined,' thinks Ethel, 'she would not have left him unless she had been obliged, and she has the impudence to tell me so to my very face. However, she is here, and I must make the best of it, and be thankful it has happened so.' And so she lays herself out to please her guest in order to keep her by her as long as she possibly can.

But a few days after Cissy's arrival she receives a letter that evidently discomposes her. She keeps on exclaiming, 'How provoking!' and 'How annoying!' as she peruses it, and folds it up with an unmistakable frown on her brow.

'What is the matter?' demands Ethel. 'I hope it is not bad news.'

'Yes, it is very bad news. They have never gone after all, Mrs Dunstan, and Jack is so vexed I should have left Mudlianah before he started.'

'But now you are here, you will not think of returning directly, I hope,' says Ethel, in an anxious voice.

'Oh no, I suppose not—it would be so childish—that is, unless Jack wishes me to do so. But I have hardly recovered from the effects of the journey yet; those transits shake so abominably. No, I shall certainly stay here for a few weeks, unless my husband orders me to return.'

Yet Mrs Lawless appears undecided and restless from that moment, which Mrs Dunstan ascribes entirely to her wish to return to Mudlianah, and her flirtation with the colonel, and the suspicion makes her receive any allusions to such a contingency with marked coolness. Cissy Lawless busies herself going amongst the natives, and talking with them about the late disturbances at the castle, and her report is not satisfactory.

'Are you easily frightened, Mrs Dunstan?' she asks her one day suddenly.

'No, I think not. Why?'

'Because you must think me a fool if you like, but I am; and the stories your servants have told me have made me quite nervous of remaining at the castle.'

'A good excuse to leave me and go back to Mudlianah,' thinks Mrs Dunstan; and then she draws herself up stiffly, and says, 'Indeed! You must be very credulous if you believe what natives say. What may these dreadful stories consist of?'

'Oh! I daresay you will turn them into ridicule, because, perhaps, you don't believe in ghosts.'

'Ghosts! I should think not, indeed. Who does?'

'I do, Mrs Dunstan, and for the good reason that I have seen more than one.'

'You have seen a spirit? What will you tell me next?'

'That I hope you never may, for it is not a pleasant sight. But that has nothing to do with the present rumours. I find that your servants are really frightened of remaining at the castle. They say there is not a native in the villages round about who would enter it for love or money, and that the reason the Rajah Mati Singh has deserted it is on account of its reputation for being haunted.'

'Every one has heard of that,' replies Ethel, with a heightened colour, 'but no one believes it. Who should it be haunted by?'

'You know what a bad character the rajah bears for cruelty and oppression. They say he built this castle for a harem, and kidnapped a beautiful English woman, a soldier's daughter, and confined her here for some years. But, finding one day that she had been attempting to communicate with her own people, he had her most barbarously put to death, with her child and the servants he suspected of conniving with her. Then he established a native harem here, but was obliged to remove it, for no infant born in the house ever lived. They say that as soon as a child is born under this roof, the spirit of the white woman appears to carry it away in place of her own. But the natives declare that she is not satisfied with the souls of black children, and that she will continue to appear until she has secured a white child like the one that was murdered before her eyes. And your servants assure me that she has been seen by several of them since coming here, and they feel certain that she is waiting for your baby to be born that she may carry it away.'

'What folly!' cries Mrs Dunstan, whose cheeks have nevertheless grown very red. 'It's all a ruse in order to make me go home again. In the first place, I should be ashamed to believe in such nonsense, and in the second, I do not expect my baby to be born until I am back in Mudlianah.'

'But accidents happen some times, you know, dear Mrs Dunstan, and it would be a terrible thing if you were taken ill up here. Don't you think, all things considered, it would be more prudent for you to go home again?'

'No, I do not,' replied Mrs Dunstan, decidedly. 'I came here for my child's health, and I shall stay until it is re-established.'

'But you must feel so lonely by yourself.'

'I have plenty to do and to think of,' says Ethel, 'and I never want company whilst I am with my little Katie.'

She is determined to take neither pity nor advice from the woman who is so anxious to join the colonel again.

'I am glad to hear you say so,' replied Mrs Lawless, somewhat timidly, 'because it makes it easier for me to tell you that I am afraid I must leave you. I daresay you will think me very foolish, but I am too nervous to remain any longer at Mandalinati. I have not slept a wink for the last three nights. I must go back to Jack.'

'Oh! you must go back to Jack!' repeats Mrs Dunstan, with a sneer at Mrs Lawless. 'I hate duplicity! Why can't you tell the truth at once?'

'Mrs Dunstan! What do you mean?'

'I mean that I know why you are going back to Mudlianah as well as you do yourself. It's all very well to lay it upon "Jack," or this ridiculous ghost; but you don't deceive me. I have known your treachery for a long time past. It is not "Jack" you go back to cantonment for—but my husband, and you are a bad, wicked woman.'

'For your husband!' cried Cissy Lawless, jumping to her feet. 'How dare you insult me in this manner! What have I ever done to make you credit such an absurdity?'

'You may call it an absurdity, madam, if you choose, but I call it a diabolical wickedness. Haven't you made appointments with him, and walked at night in the garden with him, and done all you could to make him faithless to his poor, trusting wife? And you a married woman, too. You ought to be ashamed of yourself!'

'Mrs Dunstan, I will not stand this language any longer. I flirt with your husband!—a man old enough to be my father! You must be out of your senses! Why, he must be fifty if he's a day!'

'He's not fifty,' screams Ethel, in her rage. 'He was only forty-two last birthday.'

'I don't believe it. His hair is as grey as a badger. Flirt with the colonel, indeed. When I want to flirt I shall look for a younger and a handsomer man than your husband, I can tell you.'

'You'd flirt with him if he were eighty, you bold, forward girl, and I shall take good care to inform Mr Lawless of the way you have been carrying on with him.'

'I shall go down at once, and tell him myself. You don't suppose I would remain your guest after what has happened for an hour longer than is absolutely necessary. I wish you good morning, Mrs Dunstan, and a civil tongue for the future.'

'Oh, of course, you'll go to Mudlianah. I was quite prepared for that, and an excellent excuse you have found to get back again. Good day, madam, and the less we meet before you start the better. Grey haired, indeed! Why, many men are grey at thirty, and I've often been told that he used to be called "Handsome Charlie" when he first joined the service.'

But the wife's indignant protests do not reach the ears of Cissy Lawless, who retires to her own apartments and does not leave them until she gets into the transit again and is rattled back to Mudlianah. When she is fairly off there is no denying that Ethel feels very lonely and very miserable. She is not so brave as she pretends to be, and she is conscious that she has betrayed her jealous feelings in a most unladylike manner, which will make Charlie very angry with her when he comes to hear of it. So what between her rage and her despair, she passes the afternoon and evening in a very hysterical condition of weeping and moaning, and the excitement and fatigue, added to terror at the stories she has heard, bring on the very calamity against which Mrs Lawless warned her. In the middle of the night she is compelled by illness to summon her Dye to her assistance, and two frightened women do their best to alarm each other still more, until with the morning's light a poor little baby is born into the world, who had no business, strictly speaking, to have entered it till two months later, and the preparations for whose advent are all down at Mudlianah. Poor Ethel has only strength after the event to write a few faint lines in pencil to Colonel Dunstan, telling him she is dying, and begging him to come to her at once, and then to lie down in a state of utter despair, which would assail most women under the circumstances. She has not sufficient energy even to reprove the Dye, who laments over the poor baby as if it were a doomed creature, and keeps starting nervously, as night draws on again, at every shadow, as though she expected to see the old gentleman at her elbow.

She wears out Ethel's patience at last, for the young mother is depressed and feeble and longs for sleep. So she orders the nurse to lay her little infant on her arm, and to go into the next room as usual and lie down beside Katie's cot; and after some expostulation, and many shakings of her head, the Dye complies with her mistress's request. For some time after she is left alone, Ethel lies awake, too exhausted even to sleep, and as she does so, her mind is filled with the stories she has heard, and she clasps her little fragile infant closer to her bosom as she recalls the history of the poor murdered mother, whose child was barbarously slaughtered before her eyes. But she has too much faith in the teaching of her childhood quite to credit such a marvellous story, and she composes herself by prayer and holy thoughts until she sinks into a calm and dreamless slumber. When she wakes some hours after, it is not suddenly, but as though some one were pulling her back to consciousness. Slowly she realises her situation, and feels that somebody, the Dye she supposes, is trying to take the baby from her arms without disturbing her.

'Don't take him from me, Dye,' she murmurs, sleepily; 'he is so good—he has not moved all night.'

But the gentle pressure still continues, and then Ethel opens her eyes and sees not the Dye but a woman, tall and finely formed, and fair as the day, with golden hair floating over her shoulders, and a wild, mad look in her large blue eyes, who is quietly but forcibly taking the baby from her. Already she has one bare arm under the child, and the other over him—and her figure is bent forward, so that her beautiful face is almost on a level with that of Mrs Dunstan's.

'Who are you? What are you doing?' exclaims Ethel in a voice of breathless alarm, although she does not at once comprehend why she should experience it. The woman makes no answer, but with her eyes fixed on the child with a sort of wild triumph draws it steadily towards her.

'Leave my baby alone! How dare you touch him?' cries Ethel, and then she calls aloud, 'Dye! Dye! come to me!'

But at the sound of her voice the woman draws the child hastily away, and Ethel sees it reposing on her arm, whilst she slowly folds her white robes about the little form, and hides it from view.

'Dye! Dye!' again screams the mother, and as the nurse rushes to her assistance the spirit woman slowly fades away, with a smile of success upon her lips.

'Bring a light. Quick!' cries Ethel. 'The woman has been here; she has stolen my baby. Oh, Dye, make haste! help me to get out of bed. I will get it back again if I die in the attempt.'

The Dye runs for a lamp, and brings it to the bedside as Mrs Dunstan is attempting to leave it.

'Missus dreaming!' she exclaims quickly, as the light falls on the pillow. 'The baby is there—safe asleep. Missus get into bed again, and cover up well, or she will catch cold!'

'Ah! my baby,' cries Ethel, hysterically, as she seizes the tiny creature in her arms, 'is he really there? Thank God! It was only a dream. But, Dye, what is the matter with him, and why is he so stiff and cold? He cannot—he cannot be—dead!'

Yes, it was true! It was not a dream after all. The white woman has carried the soul of the white child away with her, and left nothing but the senseless little body behind. As Ethel realises the extent of her misfortune, and the means by which it has been perpetrated, she sinks back upon her pillow in a state of utter unconsciousness.

When she once more becomes aware of all that is passing around her, she finds her husband by her bedside, and Cissy Lawless acting the part of the most devoted of nurses.

'It was so wrong of me to leave you, dear, in that hurried manner,' she whispers one day when Mrs Dunstan is convalescent, 'but I was so angry to think you could suspect me of flirting with your dear old husband. I ought to have told you from the first what all those meetings and letters meant, and I should have done so only they involved the character of my darling Jack. The fact is, dear, my boy got into a terrible scrape up country—and the colonel says the less we talk of it the better—however, it had something to do with that horrid gambling that men will indulge in, and it very nearly lost Jack his commission, and would have done so if it hadn't been for the dear colonel. But he and I plotted and worked together till we got Jack out of his scrape, and now we're as happy as two kings; and you will be so too, won't you dear Mrs Dunstan, now that you are well again, and know that your Charlie has flirted no more than yourself?'

'I have been terribly to blame,' replies poor Ethel. 'I see that now, and I have suffered for it too, bitterly.'

'We have all suffered, my darling,' says the colonel, tenderly; 'but it may teach us a valuable lesson, never to believe that which we have not proved.'

'And never to disbelieve that which we have not disproved,' retorts Ethel. 'If I had only been a little more credulous and a little less boastful of my own courage, I might not have lived to see my child torn from my arms by the spirit of the white woman.'

And whatever Ethel Dunstan believed or not, I have only, in concluding her story, to reiterate my assertion that the circumstances of it are strictly true.


I OFTEN wonder if when, as the Bible tells us, 'the secrets of all hearts shall be revealed,' they will be revealed to our fellow-creatures as well as to the Almighty Judge of men.

I am not usually given to philosophise, but the above remark was drawn from me by the receipt of a letter this morning from my niece, Justina Trevor, announcing the death of her 'dear friend,' Mrs Benson, which recalled the remembrance of an incident that took place a few months since, whilst I was staying at Durham Hall, in Derbyshire, the estate of her late husband, Sir Harry Trevor. I am an old bachelor, though not so old as I look; yet when I confess that I write 'General' before my name, and have served most of my time in hot climates, it will readily be believed that no one would take me for a chicken. It was after an absence of fourteen years that, last November, I arrived in England, and put up at an hotel near Covent Garden, which had been a favourite resort of mine during my last stay in London. But I soon found that I had made a great mistake, for town was dark, damp, dirty, deserted, detestable; in fact, no adjective, however long and however strong, could convey an adequate idea of the impression made upon me by a review of the great metropolis; and it was with a feeling of intense relief that I perused a letter from my niece Justina, to whom I had duly announced my advent, in which she insisted that her 'dear uncle' must spend his first Christmas in England nowhere but at Durham Hall, with Sir Harry and herself. Now Justina, if not my only, is certainly my nearest relative, and I knew that she knew that I was an old fellow on the shady side of sixty-five, with a couple of pounds or so laid by in the Oriental Bank, and with no one to leave them to but herself or her children; but I was not going to let that fact interfere with my prospects of present comfort; and so, ordering my servant to repack my travelling cases, the next day but one saw us en route for Derbyshire.

It was evening when I arrived at Durham Hall, but even on a first view I could not help being struck with the munificent manner in which all the arrangements of the household seemed to be conducted, and reflected with shame on the unworthy suspicion I had entertained respecting those two pounds of mine in the Oriental Bank, which I now felt would be but as a drop in the ocean to the display of wealth which surrounded me. The hall was full of guests, assembled to enjoy the hunting and shooting season, and to spend the coming Christmas, and amongst them I heard several persons of title mentioned; but my host and hostess paid as much attention to me as though I had been the noblest there, and I felt gratified by the reception awarded me.

I found my niece but little altered, considering the number of years which had elapsed since I had last seen her; her children were a fine, blooming set of boys and girls, whilst her husband, both in appearance and manners, far exceeded my expectations. For it so happened that I had not seen Sir Harry Trevor before, my niece's marriage having taken place during my absence from England; but Justina had never ceased to correspond with me, and from her letters I knew that the union had been as happy as it was prosperous. But now that I met him I was more than pleased, and voted his wife a most fortunate woman. Of unusual height and muscular build, Sir Harry Trevor possessed one of those fair, frank Saxon faces which look as if their owners had never known trouble. His bright blue eyes shone with careless mirth and his yellow beard curled about a mouth ever ready to smile in unison with the outstretching of his friendly hand.

He was a specimen of a free, manly, and contented Englishman, who had everything he could desire in this world, and was thankful for it. As for Justina, she seemed perfectly to adore him; her eyes followed his figure wherever it moved; she hung upon his words, and refused to stir from home, even to take a drive or walk, unless he were by her side.

'I must congratulate you upon your husband,' I said to her, as we sat together on the second day of my visit. 'I think he is one of the finest fellows I ever came across, and seems as good as he is handsome.'

'Ah, he is, indeed!' she replied, with ready enthusiasm; 'and you have seen the least part of him, uncle. It would be impossible for me to tell you how good he is in all things. We have been married now for more than ten years, and during that time I have never had an unkind word from him, nor do I believe he has ever kept a thought from me. He is as open as the day, and could not keep a secret if he tried. Dear fellow!' and something very like a tear twinkled in the wife's eyes.

'Ay, ay,' I replied, 'that's right. I don't know much about matrimony, my dear, but if man and wife never have a secret from one another they can't go far wrong. And now perhaps you will enlighten me a little about these guests of yours, for there is such a number of them that I feel quite confused.'

Justina passed her hand across her eyes and laughed.

'Yes, that is dear Harry's whim. He will fill the house at Christmas from top to basement, and I let him have his way, though all my visitors are not of my own choosing. With whom shall I commence, uncle?'

We were sitting on a sofa together during the half-hour before dinner, and one by one the guests, amounting perhaps to fifteen or twenty, came lounging into the drawing-room.

'Who, then, is that very handsome woman with the scarlet flower in her hair?'

'Oh, do you call her handsome?' (I could tell at once from the tone of Justina's voice that the owner of the scarlet flower was no favourite of hers.) 'That is Lady Amabel Scott, a cousin of Harry's: indeed, if she were not, she should never come into my house. Now, there's a woman, uncle, whom I can't bear—a forward, presuming, flirting creature, with no desire on earth but to attract admiration. Look how she's dressed this evening—absurd, for a home party. I wonder that her husband, Mr Warden Scott (that is he looking over the photograph book), can allow her to go on so! It is quite disgraceful. I consider a flirting married woman one of the most dangerous members of society.'

'But you can have no reason to fear her attacks,' I said, confidently.

The colour mounted to her face. My niece is not a pretty woman—indeed, I had already wondered several times what made Trevor fall in love with her—but this little touch of indignation improved her.

'Of course not! But Lady Amabel spares no one, and dear Harry is so good-natured that he refuses to see how conspicuous she makes both him and herself. I have tried to convince him of it several times, but he is too kind to think evil of any one, and so I must be as patient as I can till she goes. Thank Heaven, she does not spend her Christmas with us! For my part, I can't understand how one can see any beauty in a woman with a turned-up nose.'

'Ho, ho!' I thought to myself; 'this is where the shoe pinches, is it? And if a lady will secure an uncommonly good-looking and agreeable man all to herself, she must expect to see others attempt to share the prize with her.'

Poor Justina! With as many blessings as one would think heart could desire, she was not above poisoning her life's happiness by a touch of jealousy; and so I pitied her. It is a terrible foe with which to contend.

'But this is but one off the list,' I continued, wishing to divert her mind from the contemplation of Sir Harry's cousin. 'Who are those two dark girls standing together at the side table? and who is that quiet-looking little lady who has just entered with the tall man in spectacles?'

'Oh, those—the girls—are the Misses Rushton; they are pretty, are they not?—were considered quite the belles of last season—and the old lady on the opposite side of the fireplace is their mother: their father died some years since.'

'But the gentleman in spectacles? He looks quite a character.'

'Yes, and is considered so, but he is very good and awfully clever. That is Professor Benson: you must know him and his wife too, the "quiet-looking little lady," as you called her just now. They are the greatest friends I have in the world, and it was at their house that I first met Harry. I am sure you would like Mary Benson, uncle; she is shy, but has an immense deal in her, and is the kindest creature I ever knew. You would get on capitally together. I must introduce you to each other after dinner. And the professor and she are so attached—quite a model couple, I can assure you.'

'Indeed! But whom have we here?' as the door was thrown open to admit five gentlemen and two ladies.

'Lord and Lady Mowbray; Colonel Green and his son and daughter; Captain Mackay and Mr Cecil St John,' whispered Lady Trevor, and as she concluded dinner was announced, and our dialogue ended.

As the only persons in whom my niece had expressed much interest were Lady Amabel Scott and Mrs Benson, I took care to observe these two ladies very narrowly during my leisure moments at the dinner-table, and came to the conclusion that, so far as I could judge, her estimate was not far wrong of either of them. Lady Amabel was a decided beauty, notwithstanding the 'turned-up nose' of which her hostess had spoken so contemptuously; it was also pretty evident that she was a decided flirt. During my lengthened career of five-and-sixty years, I had always been credited with having a keen eye for the good points of a woman or a horse; but seldom had I met with such vivid colouring, such flashing eyes, and such bright speaking looks as now shone upon me across the table from the cousin of Sir Harry Trevor. She was a lovely blonde, in the heyday of her youth and beauty, and she used her power unsparingly and without reserve. My observation quickened by what Justina's flash of jealousy had revealed, I now perceived, or thought I perceived, that our host was by no means insensible to the attractions of his fair guest, for, after conducting her in to dinner and placing her by his side, he devoted every second not demanded by the rights of hospitality to her amusement. Yet, Lady Amabel seemed anything but desirous of engrossing his attention; on the contrary, her arrows of wit flew far and wide, and her bright glances flashed much in the same manner, some of their beams descending even upon me, spite of my grey hairs and lack of acquaintanceship. One could easily perceive that she was a universal favourite; but as Mr Warden Scott seemed quite satisfied with the state of affairs, and calmly enjoyed his dinner, whilst his wife's admirers, in their fervent admiration, neglected to eat theirs, I could not see that any one had a right to complain, and came to the conclusion that my niece, like many another of her sex, had permitted jealousy to blind her judgment.

I felt still more convinced of this when I turned to the contemplation of the other lady to whom she had directed my attention—the professor's wife, who was her dearest friend, and through whose means she had first met Sir Harry Trevor. There was certainly nothing to excite the evil passions of either man or woman in Mrs Benson. Small and insignificant in figure, she was not even pleasing in countenance; indeed, I voted her altogether uninteresting, until she suddenly raised two large brown eyes, soft as a spaniel's and shy as a deer's, and regarded me. She dropped them again instantly, but as she did so I observed that her lashes were long and dark, and looked the longer and darker for resting on perfectly pallid cheeks. Au reste, Mrs Benson had not a feature that would repay the trouble of looking at twice, and the plain, dark dress she wore still farther detracted from her appearance. But she looked a good, quiet, harmless little thing, who, if she really possessed the sense Lady Trevor attributed to her, might prove a very valuable and worthy friend. But she was certainly not the style of woman to cause any one a heartache, or to make a wife rue the day she met her.

And indeed, when, dinner being over, we joined the ladies in the drawing-room, and I saw her surrounded by my grand-nephews and nieces, who seemed by one accord to have singled her out for persecution, I thought she looked much more like a governess or some one in a dependent situation than the most welcome guest at Durham Hall. Sir Harry seemed pleased with her notice of his children, for he took a seat by her side and entered into conversation with her, the first time that I had seen him pay his wife's friend so open a compliment. Now I watched eagerly for the 'great deal' that by Justina's account was 'in her;' but I was disappointed, for she seemed disinclined for a tête-à-tête, and after a few futile attempts to draw her out, I was not surprised to see her host quit his position and wander after Lady Amabel Scott into the back drawing-room, whither my niece's eyes followed him in a restless and uneasy manner.

'I promised to introduce you to Mrs Benson, uncle,' she exclaimed, as she perceived that I was watching her, and willy-nilly, I was taken forcible possession of, and soon found myself occupying the chair left vacant by Sir Harry.

'We can so very seldom persuade Mary to stay with us; and when she does come, her visits are so brief that we are obliged to make a great deal of them whilst they last,' was part of Justina's introduction speech; and on that hint I commenced to speak of the charms of the country and my wonder that Mrs Benson did not oftener take occasion to enjoy them. But barely an answer, far less an idea, could I extract from my niece's valued friend. Mrs Benson's brown eyes were not once raised to meet mine, and the replies which I forced from her lips came in monosyllables. I tried another theme, but with no better success; and had just decided that she was as stupid as she looked, when, to my great relief, the professor arrived with a message from Lady Trevor, and bore his wife off into another room.

Several days passed without bringing forth much incident. The gentlemen spent most of their time in the shooting-covers or hunting-field, and did not meet the ladies until evening re-assembled them in the drawing-room; on which occasions I used to get as far as I could from Lady Trevor and the professor's wife, and in consequence generally found myself in the vicinity of Sir Harry and Lady Amabel. Yet, free and intimate as seemed their intercourse with one another, and narrowly as, in Justina's interest, I watched them, I could perceive nothing in their conduct which was not justified by their relationship, and treated it as a matter of the smallest consequence, until one afternoon about a fortnight after my arrival at Durham Hall.

With the exception of Sir Harry himself, who had business to transact with his bailiff, we had all been out shooting, and as, after a hard day's work, I was toiling up to my bedroom to dress for dinner, I had occasion to pass the study appropriated to the master of the house, and with a sudden desire to give him an account of our sport, incontinently turned the handle of the door. As I did so I heard an exclamation and the rustle of a woman's dress, which were sufficient to make me halt upon the threshold of the half-opened door, and ask if I might enter.

'Come in, by all means,' exclaimed Sir Harry. He was lying back indolently in his arm-chair beside a table strewn with books and papers,—a little flushed, perhaps, but otherwise himself, and, to my astonishment, quite alone. Yet I was positive that I had heard the unmistakable sound of a woman's dress sweeping the carpet. Involuntarily I glanced around the room; but there was no egress.

Sir Harry caught my look of inquiry, and seemed annoyed. 'What are you staring at, Wilmer?' he demanded, in the curtest tone I had yet heard from him.

'May I not glance round your den?' I replied courteously. 'I have not had the honour of seeing it before.'

Then I entered into a few details with him concerning the day's sport we had enjoyed; but I took care to be brief, for I saw that my presence there displeased him, and I could not get the rustle of that dress out of my mind. As I concluded, and with some remark upon the lateness of the hour, turned to leave the room, a cough sounded from behind a large Indian screen which stood in one corner. It was the faintest, most subdued of coughs, but sufficiently tangible to be sworn to; and as it fell upon my ear I could not help a change of countenance.

'All right!' said my host, with affected nonchalance, as he rose and almost backed me to the door. 'We'll have a talk over all this after dinner, Wilmer; sorry I wasn't with you; but, as you say, it's late. Au revoir!' and simultaneously the study door closed upon me.

I was very much startled and very much shocked. I had not a doubt that I was correct in my surmise that Sir Harry had some visitor in his room whom he had thought it necessary to conceal from me; and though Hope suggested that it might have been his wife, Common Sense rose up to refute so absurd an idea. Added to which, I had not traversed twenty yards after leaving him before I met Justina attired in her walking things, and just returning from a stroll round the garden.

'Is it very late, uncle?' she demanded, with a smile, as we encountered one another. 'I have been out with the children. Have you seen Mary or Lady Amabel? I am afraid they will think I have neglected them shamefully this afternoon.'

I answered her questions indifferently, thinking the while that she had no occasion to blame herself for not having paid sufficient attention to Lady Amabel Scott, for that it was she whom I had surprised tête-à-tête with Sir Harry Trevor, I had not a shadow of doubt.

Well, I was not the one to judge them, nor to bring them to judgment; but I thought very hard things of Sir Harry's cousin during the dressing hour, and pitied my poor niece, who must some day inevitably learn that it was a true instinct which had made her shrink from her beautiful guest. And during the evening which followed my discovery, I turned with disgust from the lightning glances which darted from Lady Amabel's blue eyes, and the arch smile which helped to make them so seductive. I could no longer think her beauty harmless: the red curves of her mouth were cruel serpents in my mind; poisoned arrows flew from her lips; there was no innocence left in look, or word, or action; and I found myself turning with a sensation of relief to gaze at the Quaker-like attire, the downcast eyes, and modest appearance of the professor's wife, whilst I inwardly blamed myself for having ever been so foolish as to be gulled into believing that the flaunting beauty of Lady Amabel Scott was superior to Mrs Benson's quiet graces.

I did not have much to say to Sir Harry Trevor during that evening: indignation for his deception towards Justina made me disinclined to speak to him, whilst he, for his part, seemed anxious to avoid me. For a few days more all went on as usual: my host's affability soon returned, and every one, my niece included, appeared so smiling and contented, that I almost began to think I must have been mistaken, and that there could have been no real motive for concealing Lady Amabel in Sir Harry's room, except perhaps her own girlish love of fun. I tried to think the best I could of both of them; and a day came but too soon when I was thankful that I had so tried.

It was about a week after the little incident related above that Sir Harry Trevor was shooting over his preserves, accompanied by his guests. We had had a capital day's sport and an excellent luncheon—at which latter some of the ladies had condescended to join us—and were beating the last cover preparatory to a return to Durham Hall, when the report of a firearm was quickly followed by the news that Sir Harry Trevor had been wounded.

I was separated from him by a couple of fields when I first heard of the accident, but it did not take me long to reach his side, when I perceived, to my horror, that he was fast bleeding to death, having been shot through the lungs by the discharge of his own gun whilst getting through the hedge. I had seen men die from gunshot wounds received under various circumstances, and I felt sure that Sir Harry's hours were numbered; yet, of course, all that was possible was done at once, and five minutes had not elapsed before messengers were flying in all directions—one for the doctor, another for the carriage, a third for cordials to support the sinking man; whilst I entreated Mr Warden Scott and several others to walk back to the Hall as though nothing particular had happened, and try to prevent the immediate circulation of the full extent of the bad news. Meanwhile, I remained by the wounded man, who evidently suspected, by the sinking within him, that he was dying.

'Wilmer!' he gasped, 'old fellow, have I settled my hash?'

'I trust not, Sir Harry,' I commenced; but I suppose that my eyes contradicted my words.

'Don't say any more,' he replied, with difficulty. 'My head a little higher—thanks. I feel it will soon be over.'

And so he lay for a few moments, supported on my knee, with his fast glazing eyes turned upward to the December sky, and his breath coming in short, quick jerks.

The men who had remained with me seemed as though they could not endure the sight of his sufferings; one or two gazed at him speechless and almost as pale as himself; but the majority had turned away to hide their feelings.

'Wilmer,' he whispered presently, but in a much fainter voice than before, 'it's coming fast now;' and then, to my surprise, just as I thought he was about to draw his last breath, he suddenly broke into speech that was almost a sob—'Oh, if I could only have seen her again! I wouldn't mind it half so much if I could but have seen Pet again! Call her, Wilmer; in God's name, call her!—call Pet to me—only once again—only once! Pet! Pet! Pet!' And with that name upon his lips, each time uttered in a shorter and fainter voice, and with a wild look of entreaty in his eyes, Sir Harry Trevor let his head drop back heavily upon my knees and died.

When the doctor and the carriage arrived, the only thing left for us to do was to convey the corpse of its master back to Durham Hall.

For the first few hours I was too much shocked by the suddenness of the blow which had descended on us to have leisure to think of anything else. In one moment the house of feasting had been turned into the house of mourning; and frightened guests were looking into each other's faces, and wondering what would be the correct thing for them to do. Of my poor niece I saw nothing. The medical man had undertaken to break the news of her bereavement to her, and I confess that I was sufficiently cowardly to shrink from encountering the sorrow which I could do nothing to mitigate.

As I passed along the silent corridors (lately so full of mirth and revelry) that evening, I met servants and travelling-cases at every turn, by which I concluded, and rightly, that the Christmas guests were about at once to take their departure; and on rising in the morning, I found that, with the exception of Lady Amabel and Mr Warden Scott, who, as relatives of the deceased, intended to remain until after the funeral, and the professor and Mrs Benson, on whose delicate frame the shock of Sir Harry's death was said to have had such an effect as to render her unfit for travelling, Durham Hall was clear.

Lady Amabel had wept herself almost dry: her eyes were swollen, her features disfigured, her whole appearance changed from the violence of her grief, and every ten minutes she was ready to burst out afresh.

We had not been together half-an-hour on the following morning before she was sobbing by my side, entreating me to give her every particular of 'poor dear Harry's' death, and to say if there was anything she could do for Justina or the children; and notwithstanding the repugnance with which her conduct had inspired me, I could not repulse her then. However she had sinned, the crime and its occasion were both past—Sir Harry was laid out ready for his burial, and she was grieving for him.

I am an old man, long past such follies myself, and I hope I am a virtuous man; but all my virtue could not prevent my pitying Lady Amabel in her distress, and affording her such comfort as was possible. And so (a little curiosity still mingling with my compassion) I related to her in detail, whilst I narrowly watched her features, the last words which had been spoken by her cousin. But if she guessed for whom that dying entreaty had been urged, she did not betray herself.

'Poor fellow!' was her only remark as she wiped her streaming eyes—'poor dear Harry! Used he to call Justina "Pet?" I never heard him do so.'

Whereupon I decided that Lady Amabel was too politic to be very miserable, and that my pity had been wasted on her.

Of Mrs Benson I saw nothing, but the professor talked about attending the funeral, and therefore I concluded that my niece had invited them, being such intimate friends, to remain for that ceremony.

On the afternoon of the same day I was told that Justina desired to speak to me. I sought the room where she was sitting, with folded hands and darkened windows, with nervous reluctance; but I need not have dreaded a scene, for her grief was too great for outward show, and I found her in a state which appeared to me unnaturally calm.

'Uncle,' she said, after a moment's pause, during which we had silently shaken hands, 'will you take these keys and go down into—into—his study for me, and bring up the desks and papers which you will find in the escritoire? I do not like to send a servant.'

I took the keys which she extended to me, and, not able to trust myself to answer, kissed her forehead and left the room again. As I turned the handle of the study door I shuddered, the action so vividly recalled to me the first and last occasion upon which I had done so. The afternoon was now far advanced, and dusk was approaching: the blinds of the study windows also were pulled down, which caused the room to appear almost in darkness. As I groped my way toward the escritoire I stumbled over some article lying across my path, something which lay extended on the hearth-rug, and which even by that feeble light I could discern was a prostrated body.

With my mind full of murderous accidents, I rushed to the window and drew up the blind, when to my astonishment I found that the person over whom I had nearly fallen was no other than poor little Mrs Benson, who was lying in a dead faint before the arm-chair. Fainting women not being half so much in my line as wounded men, I felt quite uncertain in this case how to act, and without considering how the professor's wife had come to be in the study or for what reason, my first impulse was to ring for assistance. But a second thought, which came I know not how or whence, made me lift the fragile, senseless body in my arms and carry it outside the study door into the passage before I called for help, which then I did lustily, and female servants came and bore the poor 'quiet-looking little lady' away to her own apartments and the care of her husband, leaving me free to execute the errand upon which I had been sent. Still, as I collected the desk and papers required by my niece, I could not help reflecting on the circumstance I have related as being a strange one, and could only account for it in my own mind by the probable fact that Mrs Benson had required some book from the late Sir Harry's shelves, and, miscalculating her strength, had left her bedroom with the design of fetching it, and failed before she could accomplish her purpose. I heard several comments made on the occurrence, during the melancholy meal which we now called 'dinner,' by her husband and Lady Amabel Scott, and they both agreed with me as to the probable reason of it; and as soon as the cloth was removed the professor left us to spend the evening with his wife, who was considered sufficiently ill to require medical attendance.

We were a rather silent trio in the drawing-room—Lady Amabel, Mr Scott, and I—for ordinary occupations seemed forbidden, and every topic harped back to the miserable accident which had left the hall without a master. The servants with lengthened faces, as though attending a funeral, had dumbly proffered us tea and coffee, and we had drunk them without considering whether we required them, so welcome seemed anything to do; and I was seriously considering whether it would appear discourteous in me to leave the hall and return on the day of the funeral, when a circumstance occurred which proved more than sufficiently exciting for all of us.

I had taken the desk, papers, and keys, and delivered them into my niece's hands, and I had ventured at the same time to ask whether it would not be a comfort to her to see Mrs Benson or some other friend, instead of sitting in utter loneliness and gloom. But Justina had visibly shrunk from the proposal; more than that, she had begged me not to renew it. 'I sent for you, uncle,' she said, 'because I needed help, but don't let any one make it a precedent for trying to see me. I couldn't speak to any one: it would drive me mad. Leave me alone: my only relief is in solitude and prayer.'

And so I had left her, feeling that doubtless she was right, and communicating her wishes on the subject to Lady Amabel Scott, who had several times expressed a desire to gain admittance to her widowed cousin.

Judge, then, of our surprise, equal and unmitigated, when, as we sat in the drawing-room that evening, the door silently opened and Justina stood before us! If she had been the ghost of Sir Harry himself risen from the dead, she could hardly have given us a greater start.

'Justina!' I exclaimed, but as she advanced toward us with her eyes riveted on Lady Amabel, I saw that something more than usual was the matter, and drew backward. Justina's countenance was deadly pale; her dark hair, unbound from the night before, flowed over the white dressing-gown which she had worn all day; and stern and rigid she walked into the midst of our little circle, holding a packet of letters in her hand.

'Amabel Scott,' she hissed rather than said as she fixed a look of perfect hatred on the beautiful face of her dead husband's cousin, 'I have detected you. You made me miserable whilst he was alive—you know it—with your bold looks and your forward manners and your shameless, open attentions; but it is my turn now, and before your husband I will tell you that—'

'Hush, hush, Justina!' I exclaimed, fearful what revelation might not be coming next. 'You are forgetting yourself; this is no time for such explanations. Remember what lies upstairs.'

'Let her go on,' interposed Lady Amabel Scott, with wide-open, astonished eyes; 'I am not afraid. I wish to hear of what she accuses me.'

She had risen from her seat as soon as she understood the purport of the widow's speech, and crossed over to her husband's side; and knowing what I did of her, I was yet glad to see that Warden Scott threw his arm about her for encouragement and support. She may have been thoughtless and faulty, but she was so young, and he was gone. Besides, no man can stand by calmly and see one woman pitted against another.

'Of what do you accuse me?' demanded Lady Amabel, with heightened colour.

'Of what do I accuse you?' almost screamed Justina. 'Of perfidy, of treachery, toward him,' pointing to Mr Warden Scott, 'and toward me. I accuse you of attempting to win my dear husband's affections from me—which you never did, thank God!—and of rendering this home as desolate as it was happy. But you failed—you failed!'

'Where are your proofs?' said the other woman, quietly.

'There!' exclaimed my niece, as she threw some four or five letters down upon the table—'there! I brought them for your husband to peruse. He kept them; generous and good as he was, he would have spared you an open exposure, but I have no such feelings in the matter. Are you to go from this house into another to pursue the same course of action, and perhaps with better success? No, not if I can prevent it!'

Her jealousy, rage, and grief seemed to have overpowered her; Justina was almost beside herself. I entreated her to retire, but it was of no avail. 'Not till Warden Scott tells me what he thinks of his wife writing those letters with a view to seducing the affections of a married man,' she persisted.

Mr Scott turned the letters over carelessly.

'They are not from my wife,' he quietly replied.

'Do you dare to say so?' exclaimed Justina to Lady Amabel.

'Certainly. I never wrote one of them. I have never written a letter to Harry since he was married. I have never had any occasion to do so.'

The widow turned towards me with an ashen-grey face, which it was pitiful to behold.

'Whose are they, then?' she whispered, hoarsely.

'I do not know, my dear,' I replied; 'surely it matters little now. You will be ill if you excite yourself in this manner. Let me conduct you back to your room;' but before I could do so she had fallen in a fit at my feet. Of course, all then was hurry and confusion, and when I returned to the drawing-room I found Lady Amabel crying in her husband's arms.

'Oh, Warden dear,' she was saying, 'I shall never forgive myself. This all comes of my wretched flirting. It's no good your shaking your head; you know I flirt, and so does every one else; but I never meant anything by it, darling, and I thought all the world knew how much I loved you.'

'Don't be a goose!' replied her husband, as he put her gently away from him; 'but if you think I'm going to let you remain in this house after what that d—d woman—Oh, here is General Wilmer! Well, General, after the very unpleasant manner in which your niece has been entertaining us, you will not be surprised to hear that I shall take my wife away from Durham Hall to-night. When Lady Trevor comes to her senses you will perhaps kindly explain to her the reason of our departure, for nothing under such an insult should have prevented my paying my last respects to the memory of a man who never behaved otherwise than as a gentleman to either of us.'

I apologised for Justina as best I was able, represented that her mind must really have become unhinged by her late trouble, and that she would probably be very sorry for what she had said by-and-by; but I was not surprised that my arguments had no avail in inducing Mr Scott to permit his wife to remain at Durham Hall, and in a few hours they had left the house. When they were gone I took up the letters, which still lay upon the table, and examined them. They were addressed to Sir Harry, written evidently in a woman's hand, and teemed with expressions of the warmest affection. I was not surprised that the perusal of them had excited poor Justina's wrathful jealousy. Turning to the signatures, I found that they all concluded with the same words, 'Your loving and faithful Pet.' In a moment my mind had flown back to the dying speech of poor Sir Harry, and had absolved Lady Amabel Scott from all my former suspicions. She was not the woman who had penned these letters; she had not been in the last thoughts of her cousin. Who, then, had been? That was a mystery on which Death had set his seal, perhaps for ever. Before I retired to rest that night I inquired for my poor niece, and heard that she had Mrs Benson with her. I was glad of that: the women were fond of one another, and Justina, I felt, would pour all her griefs into the sympathising ear of the professor's wife, and derive comfort from weeping over them afresh with her. But after I had got into bed I remembered that I had left the letters lying on the drawing-room table, where they would be liable to be inspected by the servants, and blow the breath of the family scandal far and wide. It was much past midnight, for I had sat up late, and all the household, if not asleep, had retired to their own apartments; and so, wrapping a dressing-gown about me, and thrusting my feet into slippers, I lighted my candle, and descended noiselessly to the lower apartments. But when I reached the drawing-room the letters were gone: neither on the table nor the ottoman nor the floor were they to be seen; and so, vexed at my own carelessness, but concluding that the servants, when extinguishing the lights, had perceived and put the papers away in some place of safety, I prepared to return to my own room.

The bedrooms at Durham Hall were situated on either side of a corridor, and fearful of rousing the family or being caught in deshabile, I trod on tiptoe, shading my candle with my hand. It was owing to this circumstance, I suppose, that I had reached the centre of the corridor without causing the least suspicion of my presence; but as I passed by the apartment where the remains of my unfortunate host lay ready for burial, the door suddenly opened and a light appeared upon the threshold. I halted, expecting to see emerge the figure of my widowed niece, but lifting my eyes, to my astonishment I encountered the shrinking, almost terrified, gaze of the professor's wife. Robed in her night-dress, pallid as the corpse which lay within, her large frightened eyes apparently the only living things about her, she stood staring at me as though she had been entranced. Her brown hair floated over her shoulders, her feet were bare; one hand held a lighted candle, the other grasped the packet of letters of which I had been in search. So we stood for a moment regarding one another—I taking in these small but important details; she looking as though she implored my mercy and forbearance. And then I drew back with the gesture of respect due to her sex, and, clad in her white dress, she swept past me like a startled spirit and disappeared.

I gained my own room, but it was not to sleep. A thousand incidents, insignificant in themselves, but powerful when welded into one, sprang up in my mind to convince me that Justina and I and everybody had been on a wrong tack, and that in the professor's wife, the 'quiet-looking little lady' with her Quaker-like robes, downcast eyes and modest appearance, in the 'best friend' that my niece had ever possessed, I had discovered the writer of those letters, the concealed visitor in Sir Harry's room, the 'Pet' whose name had been the last sound heard to issue from his dying lips. For many hours I lay awake pondering over the best course for me to pursue. I could not bear the thought of undeceiving my poor niece, whose heart had already suffered so much; besides, it seemed like sacrilege to drag to light the secrets of the dead. At the same time I felt that Mrs Benson should receive some hint that her presence in Durham Hall, at that juncture, if desired, was no longer desirable. And the next day, finding she was not likely to accord me an interview, I made the reception of the missing letters a pretext for demanding one. She came to her room door holding them in her hand, and the marks of trouble were so distinct in her face that I had to summon all my courage to go through the task which I considered my duty.

'You found these in the drawing-room last night?' I said, as I received them from her.

'I did,' she answered, but her voice trembled and her lips were very white. She seemed to know by instinct what was coming.

'And you went to find them because they are your own?' She made no answer. 'Mrs Benson, I know your secret, but I will respect it on one condition—that you leave the Hall as soon as possible. You must be aware that this is no place for you.'

'I never wished to come,' she answered, weeping.

'I can believe it, but for the sake of your friend, of your husband, of yourself, quit it as soon as possible. Here are your letters—you had better burn them. I only wished to ascertain that they were yours.'

'General Wilmer—' she commenced gaspingly, and then she turned away and could say no more.

'Do you wish to speak to me?' I asked her gently.

'No—nothing; it is useless,' she answered with a tearless, despairing grief which was far more shocking to behold than either Justina's or Lady Amabel's. 'He is gone, and there is nothing left; but thank you for your forbearance—and good-bye.'

So we parted, and to this day, excepting that she is released from all that could annoy or worry her, I have learned nothing more. How long they loved, how much or in what degree of guilt or innocence, I neither know nor have cared to guess at; it is sufficient for me that it was so, and that while Justina was accusing the beautiful Lady Amabel Scott of attempting to win her husband's heart from her, it had been given away long before to the woman whom she termed her dearest friend—to the woman who had apparently no beauty, or wit, or accomplishments with which to steal away a man's love from its rightful owner, but who nevertheless was his 'loving and faithful Pet,' and the last thought upon his dying lips.

Professor and Mrs Benson never returned to Durham Hall. It was not long afterwards that I heard from my niece that his wife's failing health had compelled the professor to go abroad; and to-day she writes me news from Nice that Mrs Benson is dead. Poor Pet! I wonder if those scared brown eyes have lost their frightened look in heaven?

I believe that Justina has made an ample apology for her rudeness to Lady Amabel and Mr Warden Scott. I know I represented that it was her duty to do so, and that she promised it should be done. As for herself, she is gradually recovering from the effects of her bereavement, and finding comfort in the society of her sons and daughters; and perhaps, amongst the surprises which I have already spoken of as likely to await us in another sphere, they will not be least which prove how very soon we have been forgotten by those we left in the world behind us.


A COUPLE of springs ago, business compelling some friends of mine to cross over into Spain, I gladly accepted the cordial invitation they extended to me to visit with them that 'splendid realm of old romance.'

Our destination was Utrera, a small town situated between Seville and Xeres, and lying in the midst of those vast plains so often mentioned in the Conquest of Granada.

I confess that I was rather disappointed to find how hurriedly we passed through Madrid and Seville, and I longed to be permitted to linger for a little space within their walls; but ours was not entirely a party of pleasure, and a diversion was soon created in my thoughts by our arrival at Utrera, which, from a distance, presented a most Oriental appearance. The houses, many of which are built in the Moorish fashion and dazzlingly white, stand out clearly defined against the deep blue southern sky; the tall tower of Santiago, with little perhaps but its unusual height to recommend it to a stranger's notice, has, nevertheless, an imposing appearance; and even a palm tree, which, solitary and alone, rears its stately head in the centre of the town, puts in its claim for adding in no small degree to the effect of the whole picture. Notwithstanding, with all the combined advantages of white houses, tall towers, solitary palm trees and romantic situations, I would advise no one who is not a traveller at heart or intent upon his worldly profit to fix his residence in this primitive little Andalusian town.

We first took up our quarters at the posada, with the intention of remaining there during our stay, but were soon obliged to abandon the idea, for, though the best inn in Utrera, it was most uncomfortable, and noisy beyond description.

We began to look about us, therefore, and were soon installed in a small but beautifully clean and cool-looking house in a street leading out of the plaza, and found no reason to be discontented with our abode. It boasted of a pleasant patio (or inner courtyard) and a wide verandah or gallery, into which our rooms opened. As the days grew warmer (and very warm indeed they grew after a while) this patio was our greatest comfort; for, following the example of our neighbours, we had it covered with an awning, and spent the greater part of the day, seated with our books or work, beside its mimic fountain. But if we gained in material comfort by exchanging the noisy and dirty posada for apartments of our own, we had also drawn down upon ourselves the burden of housekeeping, which we found in Spain to be no sinecure. Some friends who had resided a few months in the town, and acquired a fair knowledge of the language, manners, and customs of the natives of Utrera, volunteered to send us a maid, warranted honest and a tolerable proficient in the art of cookery. But she proved a care-full blessing. To give her her due, she possessed one good quality, and we found by experience that it was about the only one she or her sisterhood could boast of: she was very fond of water. The floors of our new house were formed of stone, partially covered by strips of matting which were easily removed; and we soon lived in a perpetual swamp. Antonia was always both ready and willing to 'clean up,' and never seemed happier than when dashing water in all directions, or brushing away vigorously at the matting with her little short-handled broom.

By the way, I wonder why Spanish women prefer to bend double over their sweeping, instead of adopting our easier method of performing the same operation? In vain did I strive to convince Antonia of the advantages attendant on the use of a broom with a long handle: she only smiled, shook her head, and went obstinately on her weary way.

The water for our own consumption was drawn daily from the Moorish aqueduct just outside the town, and brought to us by the aguador, an old fellow who wore a rusty black velvet turban hat stuck full of cigarettes, besides having one always in his mouth. He would pour the water from his wooden barrels into a large butt which stood in the kitchen; but as we discovered that he (together with all who felt so inclined) dipped his glass, with the fingers that held it, into the reservoir whenever he wished to quench his thirst, we speedily invested in a filter.

We soon found that it was utterly impossible to infuse any ideas of cookery or housework into the head of the fair Antonia. If we showed her how to lay the tablecloth and place the dishes, she eyed us with surprise, bordering on contempt, that ladies should perform such menial offices; and the next day all our instructions were as though they had never been. It was the same with everything, until we decided that it was far less trouble to wait on ourselves, and our life at Utrera resolved itself into a picnic without an end.

Nevertheless, when we arose one morning to find that Antonia (wearied perhaps of English suggestions) had quietly walked off and left us to shift entirely for ourselves, we felt inclined to think that we had undervalued her. But she had received her wages on the day before, and we learned afterward that under those circumstances it is a common thing for Spanish servants to quit their places without any warning, and return home for a while to live at their ease on the produce of their labour.

Our next attendant was Pepa, a bright, dark-eyed girl, who always looked so picturesque, with a spray of starry jessamine or scarlet verbena coquettishly placed in her black hair, that it was impossible not to overlook her misdemeanours. She had such an arch way of tossing her head and shaking her long gold earrings that there was no resisting her; and indeed Pepa was but too well aware of the fact herself, and made the best use of her knowledge.

But the dinners were still our bêtes noirs, and in these, notwithstanding all her prettiness, she could help us little better than her predecessor. The meat which we procured was simply uneatable, but happily animal food is little needed in those southern climes, and we had plenty of game. Hares, partridges, and wild ducks were most abundant; and a woman used constantly to call on us with live quails for sale, which she would despatch by sticking one of their own feathers into their brains.

Of course, everything was more or less spoiled which we entrusted to the tender mercies of our handmaid; but fortunately there were no epicures amongst us, and we generally received the goods the gods provided with contentment if not gratitude, and had many resources to turn to in order to eke out a distasteful meal. The bread was excellent, and we always had an abundance of oranges, chestnuts, melons, and pomegranates; so that, under the circumstances, we were not to be pitied.

But one day Pepa, disheartened by her repeated failures, begged to be allowed to serve us a Spanish dinner, after tasting which, she affirmed, we should never desire to eat any other; and having received the permission of her mistress, she set to work, and at the usual hour triumphantly placed the national dish of 'puchero' upon the table. We gathered round it rather doubtfully, but after the first timid trial pronounced it 'not so bad, though rather rich.' It seemed to contain a little of everything—beef, lard, garlic, garbanzos (or small, hard beans), lettuce, pepper, potatoes, and I know not what besides; and the mixture had been kept simmering in an earthenware pot for hours. The next dish served by Pepa was 'gaspacho,' or a Spanish salad, which is mixed quite differently from an English one, and to most tastes not so palatable. And then she placed before us a large dish of rice, profusely sprinkled with cinnamon, and various small cakes fried in oil; and Pepa's Spanish dinner (which, by the way, was only a sample, I suppose, of the most ordinary national fare) was concluded.

We were thankful that it had been sufficiently good to enable us to praise it enough to give her satisfaction, though we were compelled to adopt more than one ruse in order, without hurting her feelings, to escape having the same feast repeated every day.

There are not many 'lions' in Utrera, but, such as they are, of course we visited them. The principal one perhaps is in the vaults beneath the church of Santiago, but we were scarcely prepared for the ghastly spectacle which met our gaze there. It appears that, many years ago, while digging for some purpose round the church, the workmen found several bodies, which, owing to some peculiar quality of the soil in which they had been buried, were in a wonderful state of preservation; and, by order of the authorities, they were placed in upright positions against the walls of the church vaults. The old sacristan, who acted as our cicerone, pointed out the bodies to us with his lighted torch, and directed our attention especially to one, evidently that of a very stout woman, which had still a jacket and skirt clinging to it. Strange to say, the bodies were all clothed, although in most cases it had become difficult to distinguish the garments from the remains, for all seemed to partake of the same hue and texture. It is a humbling sight to look upon the dead after they have turned again to their dust, and with but a semblance of the human frame left clinging to them, as though in mockery of our mortality. We could not bear to see the idlers who had followed our party down into the vaults jeering at the appearance of these poor carcases, and touching them in a careless and irreverent manner. Had we had our way, they should all have been tenderly consigned again to the bosom of their mother earth, and we experienced a strange sensation of relief as we turned our backs upon them and emerged once more into the open air.

The principal object of a stroll in Utrera is a visit to the Church of Consolation, which stands on the outskirts of the town, at the end of a long walk bordered with lines of olive trees. At intervals along the way benches are placed, and here on Sundays and feast-days the inhabitants congregate as they come to and from the church. The latter is an interesting edifice, though its architecture is unpretending enough.

Its nave is lofty, and on the whitewashed walls hang hundreds of little waxen and silver limbs, and effigies, with articles of children's clothing and an endless assortment of plaited tails of hair. These are all offerings made to 'Our Lady of Consolation,' in fulfilment of vows or as tokens of thanksgiving for recovery from sickness; and there is something very touching in the idea of these women giving up their most cherished possessions (for every one knows how justly proud the Spanish are of their magnificent hair) as tributes of gratitude to her from whom they have received the favours.

The walls near the western door of the Church of Consolation are hung with innumerable pictures, each bearing so strong a resemblance to the other, both in style and subject, that they might have been drawn by the same hand. As works of art they are valueless, for even the rules of perspective are ignored in a most comical manner, and with slight variations they all represent the same subject. On one hand is an invalid man, woman or child, as the case may be, and on the other a kneeling figure imploring aid for them of the 'Virgin of Consolation,' who is also portrayed appearing to the suppliant, and encircled by a golden halo. Beneath the painting is inscribed the name of the patient, the nature of his disease, and the date of his recovery.

At the back of the church is a large garden belonging to one of the richest proprietors in the neighbourhood of Utrera, and as the midday heat became more oppressive it was a favourite haunt of ours during the cool of the evening, when the air was laden with the perfume of orange blossoms and other sweet-smelling flowers. The owners of the garden permitted it to grow wild, but that circumstance only enhanced its beauty. The orange trees were laden with golden fruit, of which we were courteously invited to gather as much as we pleased. But our visits to this charming retreat were necessarily short, for, as in most southern latitudes, there was scarcely any twilight in Utrera, and it always seemed as though the ringing of the Angelus were a signal for the nights immediately to set in. But what glorious nights they were! The dingy oil-lamps in the streets (for gas is an innovation which had not yet found its way there) were little needed, as the sky always seemed to be one bright blaze of beautiful stars.

The cemetery at Utrera is a quiet spot, surrounded by a high white wall and thickly planted with cypress trees, which give it a most solemn and melancholy appearance. They have the custom there (I am not sure it is not prevalent in other parts of Spain) of burying the dead in recesses in the walls, which are built expressly of an immense thickness; the coffins are shoved into these large pigeon-holes, and the opening is closed with a marble slab, which bears the inscription usual in such cases, somewhat after the fashion of open-air catacombs. But little respect seemed to be shown to the dead.

One day I met some children bearing a bier, upon which was stretched the corpse of a little girl clothed in white garments, and with a wreath of flowers placed upon the placid brow. The children, apparently quite unaware of the reverence due to their sacred burden, carelessly laughed and chatted as they bore it along the highway, sometimes sitting down to rest, and then hurrying forward with unseemly haste, as though to make up for lost time. A tall man, wrapped in a huge cloak, and who evidently belonged to the little cortège, followed at a distance, but he too performed the duty at his leisure, and seemed to find nothing extraordinary or out of the way in the children's want of decorum.

With the exception of periodical visits to the Church of Consolation before mentioned, the people of Utrera rarely seemed to leave their houses. To walk for the sake of walking is an idea which finds little favour with a Spanish lady, and my friends and myself were looked upon as very strange beings for taking so much exercise and caring to explore the surrounding country.

But to our English taste it was pleasant to stroll up the Cadiz road until we reached a small mound situated thereon, which was belted with shady trees and amply provided with stone seats. This elevation commanded the view of a vast extent of country, with the grand frowning hills of the Sierra Nevada in the far distance, which the gorgeous sunsets always invested with a strange, unearthly beauty. The intense solitude of the scene, too, was not without its own peculiar charm. At intervals the silence would be broken by the approach of a picturesque-looking peasant bestriding a mule, the silvery jangle of whose bells had been heard in the calm atmosphere for some time before he made his personal appearance. These muleteers never failed to interrupt the monotonous chants they are so fond of singing, to wish us a friendly 'Buenas tardes' ('Good evening') while proceeding on their way, and then we would listen to the sound of the mule's bells and the low rich voice of his master until both died away in the distance, and the scene resumed its normal condition of undisturbed tranquility.

We made an expedition once, by the new railroad, to Moron, a very old town perched on an almost perpendicular rock and visible for miles distant. The heat was intense, but we toiled manfully up the steep and execrably-paved street from the station, and, weary and footsore, were thankful to find ourselves within the cool walls of the fine old church. It possesses some valuable Murillos—one of which, representing the head of our Blessed Lord, is especially beautiful. The altar-rails, screen and reredos are all richly gilt, and the sacristan, taking us into the vestry, unlocked several massively carved chests, which disclosed some valuable plate and precious stones; referring to which, he boasted, with pardonable pride, that Utrera could not produce anything half so handsome. And indeed the inhabitants of Moron may well congratulate themselves on these treasures having escaped the grasp of the French during the war, for the sacristan related to us how everything had been hidden away and miraculously preserved from the hands of the spoiler.

But my chit-chat is drawing to a close. It was not without a certain regret that we bade farewell to Utrera, for during the whole of our stay there we had experienced nothing but kindness from all with whom we had come in contact, and the memory of our sojourn in that little out-of-the-way Andalusian town, if not fraught with brilliant recollections, will, at all events take its rank with that portion of the past which has been too peaceful to rise up again to trouble us. And it were well if we could say the same for every part of our storm-ridden lives.


APPARENTLY, there has been much to say and write lately upon domestic economy. From the time, indeed, that the question of the possibility of marriage upon three hundred a-year was mooted, the subject has never fairly been dropped.

Men with incomes of less than three hundred a-year do not seem to like the idea, that they are bound in consequence to renounce all thoughts of matrimony, and inquiries respecting the matter from aggrieved bachelors are constantly cropping up in those corners of the weekly papers devoted to correspondence. They have even gone so far lately as to suggest, since it seems impossible in this century of riots and rinderpest to curtail one's expenses, whether it may not be both lawful and feasible to curtail one's family.

The question of, on how much, or on how little, a certain number of persons can exist, is certainly one which affects the mass, but which, to be answered with fairness, must be put individually. There are women and women. What one housekeeper can accomplish on three hundred a-year, another cannot effect on three thousand, for it is not incompatible with many luxuries to possess very little comfort; and comfort is, after all, the essence of domestic felicity.

Yet, it is not fair to lay the whole blame of the impossibility of marriage in these days upon a moderate income, on the extravagance of women, for the difficulty is just as often attributable to the disinclination of men to resign the luxuries to which they have been accustomed. For every really extravagantly disposed female mind there may be found two thriftily disposed ones; and had such minds but been endued with the proper knowledge to carry out their efforts to do well, existence might not be found so difficult a matter as it appears to be at present.

It is true that the 'girl of the period' (not the Saturday Reviewer's 'girl' by any manner of means), is, generally, better dressed and more accustomed to luxury than her mother was before her. But it must be remembered that the expenses of a girl before marriage are regulated by the wishes of her parents, and because they like to see her sail about in the last Parisian fashion, it by no means follows that she will always expect to be dressed the same, or that she will not cheerfully resign some of the luxuries she has been accustomed to, to meet the means of the man who has taken it upon himself to support her.

Apropos of which I have far oftener been called upon to remonstrate with newly-married female friends on their folly in stripping the trousseaux, which had been prepared for them with such care, of all their pretty trimmings of lace and ribbon and embroidery, in order to adorn the little frocks and caps which are scarcely ever noticed but by the mother herself, than to blame them for outrunning their husbands' means in order to procure such vanities.

Various reasons may combine to make the parent, who can afford it, take pleasure in seeing her daughter well dressed. A true mother is naturally proud of a girl's good looks; and anxious to show them off to the best advantage; or the feeling that her child may not long be with her may make her desirous to please her to the utmost whilst she remains. Of course, the indulgence may arise from lower and more mercenary motives, such as have been attributed for many a long year to the stereotyped 'Belgravian mother;' but even in such a case it does not follow that the girl will never be able contentedly to accommodate herself to a lower range of comfort. It is not to be expected that, single-handed, she should put away from her the luxuries which her parents' income can command; but it remains to be proved whether she will not willingly exchange them to become the mistress of a house of her own, even though it may be smaller than the one to which she has been accustomed. Naturally parents wish to see the children, for whom perhaps they have worked and slaved, comfortably settled in life; and it is folly for men with barely sufficient money to keep themselves to rave against fathers who refuse to sanction their daughters' starving with them.

But the idea as to what constitutes starvation has risen with the times. A little while ago, it used to be the clergyman with a large family on eighty pounds a-year: a twelvemonth back it rose to the celebrated 'three hundred;' and but a few weeks since I heard a lady gravely affirm that any one who contemplated marriage now-a-days with an income of less than two thousand, must be either a madman or a fool.

Knowing my incompetence for the task, I have no intention in this paper of trying to decide on how small a sum it is possible to maintain a family in this luxurious age. I only wish to say a few words upon what I consider to be the secret of the economy which has need to be exercised in these days in the largest household as well as in the smallest.

The order of her household is a true woman's battle-field, and the better she can manage it, the more comforts she can command, and the more regularity she can enforce upon a small income and with few servants, the greater is the triumph of her victory. If means are unlimited the triumph is lost; and the woman who has a thousand a-year for her housekeeping, and is content to let her husband enjoy no more luxury upon it than his friend who spends five hundred, allowing the surplus to be wasted for want of a little thought or supervision, is not a true woman or a good one. For if prodigality is not a sin in itself, it arises from the indulgence of a combination of sins, amongst which selfishness holds chief rank.

Take the care of her household out of a woman's hands and what remains for her to do? As a generality she would sit in idleness, for these are not the days when mothers nurse and look after their own children, and, thanks to the sewing-machine, the toil of needlework is over, even in the poorest families.

She would probably take up a novel the first thing in the morning, thereby unfitting herself for any solid work for the remainder of the day; or she would waste her time on fancy-work, or unnecessary letter-writing, or on anything but what sensible people who know they will be called to account hereafter for the use they have made of the brains God has given them would do.

And, as a rule, I believe few women would like to be lightened of their trouble in this respect. The sex is uncommonly fond of a 'little brief authority,' and even those who have every aid at their command, generally choose to dabble in their housekeeping affairs. And it is just this 'dabbling' which does harm, which often increases the expenses instead of lessening them.

I am not a second Mrs Warren; I have no ambition to try and teach my sex how to manage their husbands, houses and children on two hundred a-year, by wiping out the bread-pan every morning with a clean cloth; and making one stick of wood do the duty of two by placing it in the oven to dry the night before.

Mrs Warren's plan of economy is the general one; or rather, she follows the general idea of what economy consists of, namely, in exercising a constant supervision over servants, and straining every nerve to make the leg of mutton last a day longer than it does with other people. And I for my part believe that the women of England will never know the secret of true economy until they have dropped all such petty interference with the kitchen, and learned to guard their husbands' interests with their heads instead of their eyes. There is no doubt that in order to be thrifty it is necessary in a great measure to limit one's expenses, and it is a good plan habitually to ask oneself before completing a purchase, 'Can I do without it?'

In nine cases out of ten debts and difficulties are incurred unnecessarily, for articles which added neither to our respectability nor our comfort, and which, if seriously asked, we should have acknowledged we could have done just as well without. Take the generality of English families, cut off all the superfluities in which they indulge, all the things which are necessary neither to their existence nor their position as gentle-people, and, as a rule, it will be found that such absorb a third at least of their income.

It is not only men who have interested themselves in the questions which have lately sprung up respecting the general rise in prices, and the increasing difficulties which assail the householder. Women are constantly comparing notes with each other; wondering 'where on earth' the money can go to, and lamenting the exorbitant weekly bills they are called upon to pay.

Some have tried to meet their increased expenses by diminishing their number of servants; others by curtailing the kitchen fare (the worst and most unprofitable species of domestic economy); a few have gone another way to work, and simply tried with how many superfluities they could dispense; and I think these few have succeeded the best.

It was much the fashion a short time back for women to write to the papers complaining of the worthlessness of their servants, and it was not until more than one impertinent letter reflecting on their mistresses had been published from the pens (or the supposed pens) of servants themselves, that the correspondence was perceived to be infra dig., and dropped. We all know that we are very much in the power of our servants, both as regards comfort and economy; and to regulate their actions, we must sway themselves.

As a class, they are much what they have ever been; their characters varying with the authority placed over them. If ignorant, they are bigoted; if educated, presumptuous; they regard their superiors as their natural enemies, and not one in fifty of them is to be entirely trusted. They no longer look upon the house they enter as their home; they think of it more as a boarding-house which they can vacate at their convenience, and themselves as birds of passage, here to-day and gone to-morrow.

To deal with and to control such minds effectually, it needs to show them that ours is infinitely the superior. If we let them perceive that we have no means of keeping watch over them except we do it personally, we lower ourselves to their level, and fail to gain their respect.

Make your servants admire you; make them wonder at the clearness of your perception, the quickness of your calculations, and the retentiveness of your memory, and inwardly they will acknowledge themselves the inferior, and be afraid to disobey.

You will always hear servants speak with admiration of a mistress who has (to quote their own phraseology) 'eyes in her back;' the fact being that it requires a mind not only educated in the popular sense of the word, but sharpened by friction with the world, to enable one to perceive without seeing; and that is a state to which the lumpish minds of the mass never attain, and which consequently commands their wonder and respect.

The 'excellent housekeeper' who trots round her kitchen every morning as a rule, opening each dresser-drawer, and uncovering the soup-tureen and vegetable-dishes, to see that no 'perquisites' are concealed therein, may occasionally light on a piece of unhallowed fat, but she loses a hundred-fold what she gains. While she imagines she has made a great discovery, her servants are laughing in their sleeves at her simplicity; for they have a hundred opportunities of concealing to her one of finding, and are doubtless as cunning as herself. And for such a mistress—for one who is for ever prying and trying to find out something—the lower classes have the greatest contempt; they will neither obey nor save for her; they will even go the length of wasting in order to annoy.

But, by this, I have not the least notion of maintaining that the members of that community, of whom I said, but a page before, that not one in fifty is to be trusted, are to be left to do the housekeeping by themselves.

A lady of my acquaintance, married to an extremely obstinate man, was asked how she managed to influence him as she did. 'Because I never let him know I do it,' was the reply. 'I always have my own way, but I make him think my way is his.'

Something of the same sort of management is necessary with servants. Have your own way, but make them imagine that your way is theirs. They are truly but 'children of a larger growth.'

But, in order to do this, you must prove yourself cleverer than they are.

Let no one grumble at the stir which has been made lately regarding the improved education of women, nor that public schools and colleges are being organised for their benefit. If the knowledge thus acquired is never needed for the female doctors, and lawyers, and members of Parliament, which, as fixed institutions, England may never see, it will be only too welcome in domestic life; for the usual style of conducting a woman's education is sadly detrimental to her interests in housekeeping.

What is the use of their being able to play and sing and imperfectly splutter German and Italian, when they are puzzled by the simplest bookkeeping? Hardly a woman of modern times thoroughly understands arithmetic, either mental or otherwise; and many have forgotten, or never properly acquired, even the commonest rules of addition, subtraction, and division. How is it to be expected then that they are fit to be trusted with money, or having it in their hands to lay it out to the best advantage.

But to return to 'head-economy,' as it should be exercised with regard to servants.

We will suppose that a mistress, desirous of keeping within her allowance without curtailing the real comfort of her husband and children, has asked herself that simple question,—'Can we do without it?' on more than one occasion, and found it answer, in so far that, though several superfluities, such as dessert after dinner, and preserves and cakes for tea have disappeared, all the solid necessaries remain, and the weekly bills are no longer higher than they ought to be. How should she act in order to keep down her expenditure to a settled sum; to be sure that as much, but no more than is needful, is used in the kitchen, the dining-room, and the nursery; and yet to prevent her servants resenting her interference, or exclaiming at her meanness?

It is really very easy, far easier than the other plan, if women would only believe it to be so. It needs no store-room full of hoarded goods, with the key of which the servants are more familiar than yourself; no stated times for measuring out half-pounds of sugar and dispensing tea by ounces; no running down to the lower regions a dozen times a day to give out what may have been forgotten; or to satisfy oneself whether they really do cut the joint at the kitchen supper, or revel in fresh butter when they should be eating salt.

But it does require the knowledge necessary to keep the housekeeping books properly. A thorough acquaintance with the prices of articles, and the different quantities which a household should consume; and above all, to have what is commonly called 'one's wits about one.'

If every tradesman with whom you deal has a running account with you; if nothing in his book is paid for but what you have written down yourself; if your cook has orders to receive no meat without a check; has proper scales for weighing the joints as they come in, and makes a note of any deficiency (the checks being afterwards compared with the butcher's book); it is impossible that the tradespeople can cheat you, and if your money is wasted, you must waste it yourself.

It is an old-fashioned plan to pay one's bills at the end of each week; but it is a very good one. Little things which should be noticed may slip the memory at a longer period. Besides, it is a useful reminder; it shows how the money is going, and if the tradesmen find you are careful, it makes them so.

Following this plan, a quarter of an hour every morning sees the housekeeping affairs settled for the day, leaving the mistress at leisure to pursue her own avocations, and the cook to do her business in the kitchen. It is simply a glance at the larder, and then to write down all that will be required until that time on the morrow; the dinner and breakfast orders on a slate, and the other articles in the books appropriated to them. After a little while it will be found that the labour is purely mechanical; in a quiet family the consumption is so regular that the weekly bills will scarcely vary, and the mistress's eye will detect the least increase, and find out for what it has been incurred.

At the close of each month the debit and credit accounts should be balanced, and then, if the allowance is at any time exceeded, it will generally be proved that it has gone on the superfluities before mentioned, and not on the actual expense of maintaining the household. When people talk of the difficulties of 'living,' the thoughts of their listeners invariably fly to the cost of bread and meat, and they unite in abusing the tradespeople, who send their children to fashionable schools on the profits which they extort from us. But there are various ways in which men and women can save, besides dispensing with unnecessary eatables.

What woman, for instance, in these days, buying a dress, does not pay twice as much for its being made and trimmed ready for her use as she did for the original material? And who that has feet and fingers, and a sewing-machine, could not sit down and make it in a few hours for herself?

But she will tell you, most likely, that she cannot cut out properly, that she has not the slightest taste for trimming, and that she was not brought up to dressmaking like a dressmaker. Ah, my dear sisters! are not these the days when we should all learn? Men may go through life with the knowledge but of one thing—for if they are acquainted with the duties of their profession, they succeed—but women need to know everything, from putting on a poultice to playing the piano; and from being able to hold a conversation with the Lord Chancellor, to clear-starching their husbands' neckties.

I don't say we must do it, but I maintain that we should know how.

Men are really needed but in one place, and that is, public life; but we are wanted everywhere. In public and in private, upstairs and downstairs, in the nursery and the drawing-room,—nothing can go on properly without us; and if it does, if our husbands and our servants and our children don't need us, we cannot be doing our duty.

Above all, we have the training of the mistresses of future households, and the mothers of a coming generation—the bringing up, in fact, of the 'girls of the next period.'

If we cannot amend the faults we see in ourselves (an assertion which should be paradoxical to anyone gifted with the least energy), if we think it is too late to sit down in our middle age, and learn to rub the rust off our brains, and to work our heads with our fingers, we can rear them in a different fashion.

If we are wasteful and extravagant and useless—deserving of all the hard things which have been said of us lately, let us at least take heed that our daughters are not the same.

13. — 'MOTHER.'

IT was close upon Easter. The long, dark days of Lent, with their melancholy ceremonials, were nearly over, and, as if in recognition of the event, the sun was shining brightly in the heavens. The hawthorn bushes had broken into bloom, and the wild birds were bursting their little throats in gratitude. The boys were almost as wild and joyous as the birds, as they rushed about the playground, knocking each other over in the exuberance of their glee, and forgetting to be angry in the remembrance that the next day would be Holy Thursday, when they should all go home to their fathers and mothers to spend the Easter holidays. I alone of the merry throng sat apart under the quick-set hedge, joining in neither game nor gaiety, as I wondered, with the dull, unreasoning perception of childhood, why I had been the one selected, out of all that crowd of boys, to have no part in their anticipation or their joy. Even poor, lame Jemmy, who had no remembrance of his father or his mother, and who had been, in a way, adopted by our schoolmaster, and lived all the year round, from January to December, in the same dull house and rooms, looked more cheerful than I did. He was incapacitated by his infirmity from taking part in any of the noisy games that were going on around us, yet he smiled pleasantly as he came limping up towards me on his crutches, and told me that Mrs Murray (who bestowed on him all the mother's care he would ever know) had promised, if he were good, to give him a donkey ride during Easter week, and some seeds to plant in his strip of garden.

'What's the matter with you, Charlie?' he asked presently; 'aren't you glad to be going home?'

'Oh! I don't care,' I answered, listlessly.

'Don't care about seeing your father and mother again?'

'I haven't got a mother,' I rejoined, quickly.

'Is your mother dead, like mine? Oh, I am sorry! But your father loves you for them both, perhaps.'

'No, he doesn't! He doesn't care a bit about me. He never asks to see me when I do go home; and he frightens me. I wish I might stay all the holidays with Mrs Murray, like you do.'

'That is bad,' quoth the lame child. 'Well, maybe they'll forget to send for you, Charlie, and then we'll have fine times together, you and I.'

I had not the same hope, however. I knew that if by any oversight my father forgot to send the servant for me, that my schoolmaster would take the initiative and despatch me home himself.

How I dreaded it. The gloomy, half-closed house, the garden paths, green with damp and thick with weeds, the servants acting entirely upon their own authority, and the master querulous, impatient, and unjust, either shut up in his own room brooding over the past and present, or freely distributing oaths, complaints, and sometimes even blows, amongst the unfortunate inmates of his household. As for myself, I seldom came within the range of his arm without being terrified away, and it had been a great relief to me when I returned home for the previous Christmas holidays to find that he was absent, and the term of my penance passed peacefully, if nothing else. But now he was at home again, so my master informed me, my father had never dreamt of writing to me, and I looked forward to the coming visit with dread. A strange, unnatural state of things for a child of eight years old, who had never known a mother's love nor care, had never even heard her name mentioned by any one with whom he was connected.

'What was your mother like?' continued Jemmy, after a few minutes' pause, during which we two unfortunates had been ruminating upon our lot. 'Had she light-coloured hair, like Mrs Murray, or dark, like the cook?'

'I don't know,' I answered, sadly. 'I never saw her, that I remember.'

'Haven't you got a likeness of her at home?' he demanded with surprise. 'Wait till I show you mine.'

He fumbled about in his waistcoat, and produced a much faded daguerreotype of an ordinary-looking young woman in old-fashioned habiliments.

'Isn't she beautiful?' he exclaimed, with weak enthusiasm as he pressed the miniature to his lips.

'Oh, how I wish she hadn't died! I know I should have loved her so much!'

I made no reply. Poor Jemmy's imagination did not run so fast as mine. If my mother had lived to side with my father, where should I have been between them? I turned my face away, and sighed.

It was strange that I had no idea of what my mother had been like. I had never even formed one, neither had I any relation to whose memory I might have appealed on the subject. My father lived a solitary, aimless life in the old neglected house I have alluded to, seldom leaving his own apartments, except at meal times, and certainly never asking any friend to enter them to bear him company. The servants had their parents, or lovers, or brothers, to visit them by stealth in the kitchen, but the master sat by himself, gloomy and pre-occupied, and irritable almost to frenzy when provoked. No wonder I wished that I could have spent the Easter holidays with Mrs Murray. But a great surprise was in store for me. The boys had hardly concluded the game of football they had been carrying on during my colloquy with Jemmy, when Mrs Murray came smiling down the playground in search of me.

'I've a piece of news for you, Master Vere,' she exclaimed. 'Some one is waiting to see you in the parlour.'

'Not papa!' I said, quickly.

'No; not your papa,' replied Mrs Murray, laying her hand compassionately on my shoulder, 'but a new friend—a lady whom you will like very much indeed.'

'A lady!' I repeated, in utter bewilderment, whilst my schoolmates crowded round Mrs Murray, with the question, 'Is she come to take Vere home?'

'Perhaps! most probably,' was her answer, whilst exclamations of, 'Oh, I say, that's a jolly shame. It isn't fair. School doesn't break up till to-morrow. We sha'n't get off to-day, try as hard as we may,' greeted her supposition from every side, and I, trembling like a culprit, affirmed that I would much rather not be introduced to the pleasures of home one hour earlier than was needful.

'Come into the parlour, dear, and see the lady,' Mrs Murray replied, 'and we will decide what to do afterwards.'

So my face and hair were hurriedly washed and arranged, and I sheepishly followed my master's wife to the formal little apartment dedicated to the reception of visitors, where we found the lady she had alluded to.

Shall I ever forget her face as she rose to greet me, and drew me into her arms! Such a fair, sweet, fresh face as it was, but with an amount of sorrowful thought pictured in the serious eyes.

'And so this is Charlie Vere,' she said, as she gazed into my features. 'I should have known you anywhere, my darling, from your likeness to your father! And now do you guess who I am?'

'No!' I answered, shyly; for Mrs Murray had slipped away and left me all alone with the stranger.

'I am your mother, dear; your new mother who means to love you very dearly, and I have come to take you home!'

Mother and Home! How sweet the dear familiar words sounded in my ears; familiar alas! to everyone but me. The hawthorn blossoms in the playground seemed to smell sweeter than they had done before, as she pronounced them, and the birds' chorus rang out harmoniously.

'Will papa be there?' I asked, nervously.

'Papa! of course! What would home be without your father?'

I had found it much pleasanter without him than with him hitherto, but some instinct made me hold my tongue.

'Don't you love papa, dear?' the lady went on softly. 'Don't you think that he loves you?'

'I don't know,' I said, picking my fingers.

'Poor child! Perhaps you have thought not, but that will all be altered now. But you have not yet told me if you will like to have me for a mother!'

'I think I shall like you very much!'

'That's right, so we will go home together and try to make each other happy. You want a mother to look after you, dear child, and I want a little boy to love me. We will not part again, Charlie, now I have found you, not for the present, at all events. You have been too long away from home as it is. That is why I came to-day. I could not wait till to-morrow, even: I was so impatient to see you and to take you home.'

How she dwelt and lingered on the word and repeated it, as though it gave her as much happiness to listen to as it did me.

'Will you be there?' I asked, presently.

'Of course, I shall—always! What would be the use of a mother, Charlie, if she didn't live in the house close to you, always ready to heal your troubles and supply your wants to the utmost of her power?'

'Oh! let us go at once!' I exclaimed, slipping my hand into hers. All dread of my father seemed to have deserted me. The new mother was a guardian angel, under whose protection I felt no fear. She was delighted with my readiness.

'So we will, Charlie! We need not even wait for your box to be packed. Mrs Murray can send on everything to-morrow. And papa will be anxious until he sees us home again!'

My father anxious about me! That was a new thing to be wondered at. I was too much of a baby still to perceive that his anxiety would be for her—not for me! I had not yet been able to grasp the idea that she was his wife. I only regarded her as my new mother.

As we passed out of the house, I asked leave to say good-bye to my friend Jemmy.

'His mother is dead, like mine,' I said, in explanation. 'He will be so pleased to hear that I have got a new one.'

'Poor boy!' she sighed; 'we will ask him to spend the summer holidays with you Charlie. A great happiness like ours should make us anxious to make others happier.'

And when Jemmy came forward on his crutches, and smiled his congratulations on the wonderful piece of news I had to give him, she stooped down and kissed his forehead. Then we passed out of the playground together, I clinging to her hand, and proud already to hear the flattering comments passed upon her appearance by the other boys, and to remember that from that time forward she was to be called my mother.

* * * * *

Lilyfields, as my father's house was designated, was not more than ten or twelve miles from the school; but we had to make a little railway journey to reach it, and I thought I had never travelled so pleasantly before. My new mother laughed so often and chatted so continuously to me, that I caught the infection of her mirthful loquacity, and, long before we got home, had revealed so much of my past life and feelings, that more than once I brought a shadow over her sunny face, and closed her smiling lips with a sigh. But as we left the train and commenced to walk towards Lilyfields, my old fears showed symptoms of returning, and my sudden silence, with the tightening clasp of my hand, did not pass unobserved by my companion.

'What is the matter, Charlie? Of what are you afraid?'

'Won't papa be angry with me for coming back before the holidays begin?' I whispered.

Her clear laugh rang over the peaceful meadows we were traversing.

'If he is angry with any one, he must be so with me, as I fetched you home Charlie.'

'And you are not afraid of him?'

'Afraid!' The sweet serious eyes she turned upon me as she ejaculated the word were just about to deprecate so monstrous an idea, when they caught sight of an approaching figure, and danced with a thousand little joys instead.

'There he is!' she exclaimed excitedly. She ran up to him, dragging me with her.

He took her in his arms (there was not another living soul within sight of us) and embraced her fervently, whilst I stood by, open-mouthed with astonishment.

'My angel,' he murmured, as she lay there, with her face pressed close to his; 'life has been insupportable without you.'

'Ah, Harold! it does me good to hear you say so; and I am so glad to get back to you again. See! here is Charlie waiting for his father to welcome him home.'

She lifted me up in her arms—big boy as I was—and held me towards him for a kiss. How strange it was to feel my father kiss me; but he did so, though I think his eyes never left her face the while. Then he took her hand, and held it close against his heart, and they walked through the silent, balmy-breathed fields together. As I entered the house I could hardly help exclaiming aloud at the marvellous changes that had taken place there. Not an article of furniture had been changed, not a picture moved from its place, yet everything looked bright as the glorious spring. The rooms had been thoroughly cleaned, and lace curtains, snowy table-cloths, and vases of flowers, with here and there a bright bit of colour in the shape of a rug, or a piece of china, had transformed the house—not into a paradise—but into a home. Even my father was changed like his surroundings. He looked ten years younger, as with nicely kept hair, and a becoming velveteen lounging coat, he sunk down into an easy-chair, and deprecated, whilst he viewed with delight, the alacrity with which my new mother insisted upon removing his boots and fetching his slippers. It was such a novelty to both of us to be attended to in any way, that I was as much surprised as he to find that the next thing she did was to take me upstairs, and tidy me for tea herself, showering kisses and love words upon me all the while. Oh! the happy meal that followed. How unlike any we had taken in that house before! I, sitting up at table, with my plate well provided; my father in his arm-chair, looking up with loving eyes at each fresh proof of her solicitude for him, and my new mother seated at the tea-tray, full of smiles and innocent jests, watching us both with the utmost affection; but apparently too excited to eat much herself. Once my father noticed her want of appetite and reproached her with it.

'I am too happy to eat, Harold!' was her reply.

'Too happy,' he repeated in a low voice, 'really too happy! No regrets, my Mary, no fears! Your future does not terrify you. You would not undo the past if it were in your power!'

'Not one moment of it, Harold! If I ever think of it, with even a semblance of regret, it is that it did not begin ten years sooner.'

'God bless you!' was all he answered.

If I had not been such a child I should have echoed the words; for before many days were over my head, the whole of my joyous young life was an unuttered blessing upon her. The darkness of fear and despondency—the most unnatural feelings a young child can entertain—had all passed away. I no longer dreaded my father's presence; on the contrary, it was my greatest treat to bear him company as he worked in the garden, or whistled over his carpentering, or accompanied my mother in strolls about the country.

He never shut himself up in his room now, unless she was shut in too; and although his new-born love was for her, and not for me, the glory of it was reflected in his treatment of me.

So I was very happy, and so was he, and so most people would have thought my mother to be. But though she never appeared before my father without a bright face, she was not always so careful in my presence, thinking me, perhaps, too young to observe the changes in her countenance; and sometimes when she and I were alone together, I marked the same look steal over her which I had observed on the occasion of our first meeting—an undercurrent of thoughtful sadness—the look of one who had suffered, who still suffered, from a pain which she kept to herself.

Once I surprised her in tears—a violent storm of tears, which she was powerless for some time to control; and I eagerly inquired the reason of them.

'Mamma, mamma, what is it, mamma? Have you hurt your foot? Did Prince bite you? Have you got a pain anywhere?'

My childish mind could not comprehend that her tears should flow for any other than a physical reason. Did not papa and I love her dearly? and she was afraid of no one, and she never went to school. What possible cause could she have for tears?

My mother composed herself as soon as she was able, and laid her burning face against my cheek.

'Will my little boy love me always?' she asked—'always—always—whatever happens?'

'Always, dear mamma. Papa and I would die if we hadn't you. Oh, you don't know what it was like before you came here!'

'Then mamma will never again be so silly as to cry,' said my mother, as she busied herself over some occupation to divert her thoughts.

But although this was the only time she betrayed herself so openly before me, I often detected the trace of weeping on her face, which she would try to disguise by excessive mirth.

So the years went on, until one bright summer's day a little sister was born in our house. I hailed the advent of this infant with the greatest possible delight. It was such a new wonderful experience to have a playmate so dependent on me, and yet so entirely my own. I positively worshipped my little sister, although her birth was the signal for my being sent back to school, but this time only as a weekly boarder.

Hitherto my mother had taught me herself, and very sorry I was to give up those delightful lessons, which were rendered so easy by the trouble she took to explain them to me; but her time was too much taken up with her baby to allow her to devote sufficient to me. Besides, I was now eleven years old, growing a great lad, and able to take every advantage of the education afforded me at Mr Murray's school.

My old friend, lame Jemmy, who had spent many a pleasant week at Lilyfields meanwhile, was still there to welcome me back and make me feel less of a stranger; and my father took away the last sting of the new arrangement by buying me a sturdy pony on which to ride backwards and forwards every week to see my mother and him.

But the greatest pang which I experienced was parting, even for a few days, with baby Violet. I cried over her so much, indeed, that I made my mother cry too, as she asked God to bless the boy who had been a true son to her. I was very glad to think she loved me so much, for I loved her dearly in return; but as I galloped back to Lilyfields every Saturday afternoon, my thoughts were all for the dimpled baby sister whom I would carry about in my arms, or roll with amongst the newly-mown grass, rather than with those who had proved themselves to be real parents to me,—she from the commencement of her knowledge of me, and he from the date of his knowing her. It was my mother alone I had to bless for it all. But I had grown accustomed to happiness by this time, and took it as my due.

My parents were very proud of their little daughter, who grew into a lovely child, but she did not seem to afford them as much pleasure as pride. Sometimes I detected my mother looking at her as we romped together, with more pain in the expression of her face than anything else. Once she caught her suddenly to her bosom, and kissed her golden curls with passion, exclaiming,—

'Oh, my heart, if I were to go, what would become of you?—what would become of you?'

I was still too young to grasp the full meaning of her words, but I knew my mother meant that if she died, no one would take such good care of Violet as she had done. So I marched up to her confidently, with the assurance that I would take that responsibility upon my own shoulders.

'Don't be afraid, mamma! As soon as I am a man, I mean to get a house all to myself, and the best rooms in it shall be for Violet.'

She looked at me with her sweet, earnest, searching gaze for a moment, and then folded me in one embrace with her own child.

'Father's boy!' she murmured, caressingly over me—'father's brave, loving boy! No, Charlie, I will not be afraid! If it be God's will that I should go, I will trust Violet to father and to you.'

Meanwhile my father was a very contented man. He had undergone much the same change as myself, and forgotten, in the sunshine that now surrounded him, all the miserable years he had spent in that once desolate mansion.

I do not suppose a happier nor more peaceful family existed than we were. No jars nor bickering ever disturbed the quiet of the household; everything seemed to go as smoothly as though it had been oiled. We were like the crew of some ship, safely moored within a sunny harbour, never giving a thought to what tempests might be raging outside the bar.

Every Saturday when I rode home on my pony, I found my father either working out of doors if it were summer, or indoors if it were winter, but always with the same satisfied easy smile upon his countenance, as though he had no trouble in the world, as indeed he had not; for my mother warded off the most trifling annoyance from him as though he were a sick child, that must not be upset; whilst she threaded her quiet way through the kitchen and bedrooms, with little Violet clinging to her gown, regulating the household machinery by her own supervision, that no accident might occur to ruffle her husband's temper.

I believed her in those days—I believe her still to be the noblest woman ever planned. One thing alone puzzled me—or rather, I should say, seemed strange to me, for I did not allow it to go the length of puzzlement—and that was why we had so few visitors at Lilyfields. True, my father had made himself so unsociable in the old days that strangers might well have been shy of intruding themselves upon him now; but my mother was so sweet and gentle, I felt it must be their loss rather than hers, that so few people knew her. When, as a lad of fifteen, I mentioned this circumstance to her, she put it aside as a matter of course.

'When I made up my mind, Charlie, to try as far as in me lay, to render the remainder of your father's life happy, I was perfectly aware that I should have to depend for companionship upon him alone. We have each other, and we have you and Violet. We want no other society but yours.'

Still, I thought the clergyman and his wife might sometimes have come to see us, as they did the rest of their parishioners, and I should have liked an occasional game of play with the sons of Squire Roberts up at the Hall. But, with the exception of the doctor, who sometimes came in for a chat with my father, no one but ourselves ever took a meal at Lilyfields.

As I grew still older, and others remarked on the circumstance in my hearing, I came to the conclusion that my father must have offended his own friends by marrying my mother, whose connections might be inferior to his own. This idea was confirmed in my mind by observing that she occasionally received letters she was anxious to conceal, which, knowing the frankness of her disposition, and her great love for him, appeared very strange to me. One day, indeed, my suspicions became almost certainties. It so happened that my mother had appeared very fidgety and unlike herself at the breakfast-table, and more than once had spoken to Violet and me in a voice hardly to be recognised as her own. We felt instinctively that something was the matter, and were silent, but my father, who was not well, seemed irritated by the unusual annoyance. He wished to remain quietly at home that morning, but my mother found a dozen reasons why he should ride to the neighbouring town and take me with him. He combatted her wish for some time, till, finding that her arguments were revolving themselves into entreaty, his affection conquered his irresolution, and we set off together. It was not a genial day for a ride, and the trifling commissions my mother had given us to execute were not of sufficient consequence to turn the duty into a pleasure. I was rather pleased than otherwise, therefore, when we had left Lilyfields some miles behind us, to find that my pony had cast a shoe, and to be able, according to my father's direction, to turn back and walk it gently home again, whilst he went forward to do my mother's bidding.

When I reached Lilyfields I left the animal in the stables, and, walking up to the house, gained the hall before anyone was sensible of my approach. What was my surprise to hear a loud altercation going on within the parlour. My first impulse was to open the door; but as my mother turned and saw me standing on the threshold, she came forward and pushed me back into the hall.

'Go away!' she whispered hurriedly; 'go upstairs; hide yourself somewhere, and do not come down until I call you!'

Her eyes were bright as though with fever, and a scarlet spot burned on either cheek. I saw she was labouring under the influence of some strong excitement, and I became intensely curious to learn the reason.

'Whom have you in there?' I demanded, for I had caught sight of another figure in the drawing-room.

'Oh! you wish to know who I am, young man, do you?' exclaimed a coarse, uncertain voice from the other side the half-opened door. 'Well, I'm not ashamed of myself, as some people ought to be, and you're quite welcome to a sight of me if it'll give you any pleasure.'

The door was simultaneously pulled open, and a woman stood before me.

How shall I describe her.

She may have been beautiful, perhaps, in the days long past, but all trace of beauty was lost in the red, blotchy, inflamed countenance she presented to my gaze. Her eyes were bloodshot; her hair dishevelled; her dress tawdry and untidy, and if she had even been a gentlewoman, which I doubted, she had parted with every sign of her breeding. As she pushed her way up behind my mother—looking so sad and sweet and ladylike beside her—she inspired me with nothing but abhorrence.

'Who is this person?' I repeated, with an intimation of disgust that apparently offended the stranger, for in a shrill voice she commenced some explanation which my mother was evidently most anxious I should not hear.

'Oh, Charlie! do you love me?' she whispered.

'Mother! yes!'

'Then go up to your room, now, at once, and wait there till I come to you! I will speak to you afterwards—I will tell you all—only go now!'

She spoke so earnestly that I could not refuse her request, but did as she desired me at once, the woman I had seen, screaming some unintelligible sentence after me as I ascended the stairs. But when I found myself alone, the scene I had witnessed recurred rather unpleasantly to my memory. It was an extraordinary circumstance to see a stranger at all within our walls; still more so a woman, and one who dared to address my mother in loud and reproachful tones. And I was now sixteen, able and willing to defend her against insult, why, therefore, had she not claimed my services to turn this woman from the house, instead of sending me upstairs, as she might have done little Violet, until she had settled the matter for herself? But then I remembered the trouble my mother had taken to get my father and me away from Lilyfields that morning, and could not believe but that she had foreseen this visitation and prepared against it. It was then as I had often supposed. She had relations of whom she was ashamed, with whom she did not wish my father to come in contact. Poor mother! If this was one of them, I pitied her! I believed the story I had created myself so much, that I accepted it without further proof, and when my mother entered the room, and laying her head against my shoulder, sobbed as if her heart would break, I soothed her as well as I was able, without another inquiry as to the identity of the person with whom I had found her.

'Don't tell your father, Charlie!' she said, in parting. 'Don't mention a word to anyone of what you have seen to-day. Promise me, darling! I shall not be happy till I have your word for it!'

And I gave her my word, and thought none the less of her for the secrecy, although I regretted it need be.

Not long after this my father articled me, at my own request, to an architect in London, and my visits to the happy home at Lilyfields became few and far between. But I had the consolation of knowing that all went well there, and that I was taking my place in the world as a man should do.

I had worked steadily at my profession for two years, and was just considering whether I had not earned the right to take a real good long holiday at Lilyfields (where Violet, now a fine girl of seven years old, was still my favourite plaything), when I received a letter from the doctor of the village—desiring me to come home at once as my father was ill, beyond hope of recovery. I knew what that meant—that he was already gone; and when I arrived at Lilyfields I found it to be true; he had died of an attack of the heart after a couple of hours' illness. The shock to me was very great. I had never loved my father as I did my mother; the old childish recollections had been too strong for that, but the last few years he had permitted me to be very happy, and I knew that to her his loss must be irreparable. Not that she exhibited any violent demonstration of grief. When I first saw her, I was surprised at her calmness. She sat beside my father's body, day and night, without shedding a tear; and she spoke of his departure as quietly as though he had only gone on a journey from which she fully expected him to return. But though her eyes were dry, they never closed in sleep, and every morsel of colour seemed to have been blanched out of her face and hands. So the first day passed, and when the second dawned, I, having attained the dignity of eighteen years, thought it behoved me to speak of my late father's affairs and my mother's future.

'Where is father's will, mother?'

'He never made one, dear!'

'Never made a will! That was awfully careless.'

'Hush, Charlie!'

She would not brook the slightest censure cast on her dead love.

'But there must be a will, mother.'

'Darling, there is none! It was the one thought that disturbed his last moments. But I am content to let things be settled as they may.'

'Lilyfields will be yours of course, and everything in it,' I answered decidedly. 'No one has a better right to them than you have. And you and Violet will live here to your lives' end, won't you?'

'Don't ask me, dear Charlie, don't think of it—not just yet at least! Let us wait until—until—it is all over, and then decide what is best to be done!'

Before it was all over; matters were decided for us.

It was the day before the funeral. I had just gone through the mournful ceremony of seeing my father's coffin soldered down, and, sad and dispirited, had retired to my own room for a little rest, when I heard the sound of carriage wheels up on the gravel drive. I peered over the window blind curiously, for I had never heard of my father's relations, and had been unable in consequence to communicate with any of them. A lumbering hired fly, laden with luggage, stopped before the door, and from it descended, to my astonishment, the same woman with the fiery red face whom I had discovered in my mother's company two years before. I decided at once that, whatever the claims of this stranger might be, she could not be suffered to disturb the widow in the first agony of her crushing grief, and, quick, as thought, I ran down into the hall and confronted her before she had entered the house.

'I beg your pardon, madam,' I commenced, 'but Mrs Vere is unable to see anyone at present. There has been a great calamity in the family, and—'

'I know all about your calamity,' she interrupted me rudely 'if it were not for that I shouldn't be here.'

'But you cannot see Mrs Vere!' I repeated.

'And pray who is Mrs Vere?' said the woman.

'My mother,' I replied proudly, 'and I will not allow her to be annoyed or disturbed.'

'Oh! indeed, young man. It strikes me you take a great deal of authority upon yourself; but as I mean to be mistress in my own house, the sooner you stop that sort of thing the better! Here! some of you women!' she continued, addressing the servants who had come up from the kitchen to learn the cause of the unusual disturbance. 'Just help the flyman up with my boxes, will you—and look sharp about it.'

I was thunderstruck at her audacity.

For a moment I did not know what to answer. But when this atrocious woman walked past me into the parlour, and threw herself into my dead father's chair, I followed her, and felt compelled to speak.

'I do not understand what you mean by talking in this way,' I said. 'Mrs Vere is the only mistress in this house, and—'

'Well, young man, and suppose I am Mrs Vere!'

'I can suppose no such thing. You cannot know what you are talking about. My mother—'

'Your mother! And pray, what may your name be and your age?'

'Charles Vere; and I was eighteen last birthday,' I said, feeling compelled, I knew not by what secret agency, to reply.

'Just so! I thought as much! Well, I am Mrs Vere, and I am your mother!'

'My mother! You must be mad, or drunk! How dare you insult the dead man in his coffin upstairs. My mother! Why, she died years ago, before I can remember.'

'Did she? That's the fine tale, Madam, who's been taking my place here all this time, has told you, I suppose. But I'll be even with her yet. I'm your father's widow, and all he's left behind him belongs to me, and she'll be out of this house before another hour's over her head, or my name's not Jane Vere!'

'You lie!' I exclaimed passionately. This tipsy, dissipated, coarse-looking creature, the woman who bore me, and whom I had believed to be lying in her grave for sixteen years and more. Was it wonderful that at the first blush my mind utterly refused to credit it? The angry accusation I have recorded had barely left my lips, when I looked up and saw my mother—the woman who had come as an angel of light into my father's darkened home, and watched over me with the tenderest affection since—standing on the threshold, pale and peaceful in her mourning garb, as the Spirit of Death itself.

'Mother! say it is not true,' I cried as I turned towards her.

'Oh, Charlie, my darling boy! my brave, good son! Be quiet! bear it like a man; but it is true!'

'This—this woman was my father's wife!'

'She was!'

'And you, mother!' I exclaimed in agony.

'I was only the woman that he loved, Charlie,' she answered, with downcast eyes. 'You must think no higher of me than that!'

'I think the very highest of you that I can. You were my father's loving companion and friend for years: you saved his life and his reason! You were his true, true wife, and my mother. I shall never think of you in any lower light.'

My emotion had found vent in tears by that time. It was all so new and so horrible to believe, and my mother's hand rested fondly on my bowed head.

Then that other woman, whose existence I can never recall without a shudder, seized her hateful opportunity, and levelled the most virulent abuse at my poor martyr mother's head. Words, such as I had never heard from a female before, rained thickly from her lips, until I lost sight of my own grief in my indignation at the shower of inuendoes which were being hurled at the person dearest to me of all the world.

'Be silent,' I said in a loud authoritative voice. 'Were you twenty times my mother I would not permit you to speak as you are speaking now. If it is true that you were my father's wife, why were you not in your proper place, instead of leaving your lawful duties to another?'

'Oh! madam here can answer that question better than myself. She knows well enough there was no room left for me where she was.'

'Untrue!' murmured my mother, but without any anger. 'I would have shielded your character from your boy's censure, as I have done for so long, but justice to the dead compels me to speak. You left this home desolate for many miserable years before I entered it. You deserted your child in his infancy, but your husband had so good and forgiving a heart that, when you cried to him for pardon, he took you back again and condoned your great offence, and therefore, when you left him a second time, the law contained no remedy for his wrong. He was compelled to live on—alone—dishonoured and comfortless, whilst you—you can best tell your son what your life has been since.'

'Anyway I am Mrs Vere,' retorted the other, 'and my husband has died intestate, and his property belongs to me, so I'll thank you to take your brat, and clear out of my house before the sun goes down.'

'Oh! mother, this is infamous! It can never be!'

'It must be, Charlie! It is the law. I knew all this when I consented to come here as your father's wife. He never deceived me for a single moment; and if I have any regret that he put off providing against this contingency until it was too late, it is only for fear lest he should be regretting it also. But, my dear, dear love!' she added in a lower tone, 'I acquit you of this as of all things. I know your great love for me never failed, and I am content!'

'I will not believe it without further proof!' I exclaimed. 'I will send Ellen at once for the solicitor. I cannot leave you alone with this horrid woman!'

'Hush, Charlie! she is your mother.'

'I will not acknowledge it. You are the only mother I have ever had—the only mother I ever will have to my life's end.'

Mr Chorberry, the solicitor, came without delay, but he could give me no comfort. My poor father, by that strange indifference which has been the curse of so many, had put off making his will until it was too late, by reason of which he had left the one to whom he owed most in the world, the woman who had sacrificed friends and reputation to spend her life in a dull country home, administering to his pleasures, entirely dependent on her own resources for support—whilst the faithless, drunken creature he had the misfortune to be still chained to, walked in as the lawful wife, and claimed her share of the property. There was only one drop of balm in his decision. I, as my father's son, shared what he had left behind him, but my angel mother and dear baby-sister were cast upon the world to shift for themselves.

And this was the law.

Oh, father! did your spirit look down from whichever sphere it had been translated to, and witness this?

'But, surely,' I said to Chorberry, 'there can be no necessity for my mother leaving Lilyfields before the funeral?'

'Of course there is no necessity; but do you think it advisable, under the circumstances, that she should remain? Mrs Vere has the legal power to enforce her departure, and I am afraid will not be slow to use it.'

My mother evidently was of one mind with him, for in an incredibly short space of time she had packed her belongings. Mrs Vere, standing over her meanwhile to see she did not purloin anything from the house, and was waiting in the hall with little Violet, ready to go to the house of the clergyman's wife, who, to her honour, having heard how matters stood at Lilyfields, had promptly sent my mother an invitation to the vicarage for the night.

'Are you ready, dear mother?' I said sadly, as I joined her in the hall, and drew her arm within my own.

'Well, Mr Charles, I suppose I shall see you back again here before long?' screamed the shrill voice of Mrs Vere down the staircase.

I started.

See me back! Was it possible that this woman believed I intended to make friends with her?

'We've been parted long enough, it strikes me,' she continued; 'and now your father's gone, and left no one behind him but yourself, I suppose you'll be looking out for my share of the property at my death, so we may as well let bye-gones be bye-gones—eh?'

'I wish for none of your property, madam,' I answered haughtily, 'since the law gives it to you you are welcome to keep it.'

'Charlie, dear, think what you may be resigning,' urged my mother in my ear.

'I think of nothing but you, mother!'

'Hoity, toity! here's manners,' cried the other woman. 'You seem to forget, Master Charlie, that I'm your mother!'

Still holding my mother's hand, I turned and confronted her.

'I forget nothing, madam! I wish I could; but I remember that here stands the woman who laboured where you refused to work; who loved, where you had insulted and betrayed; who was faithful where you were faithless and undeserving; and, I say, that here stands my dead father's true wife; and here stands, in God's sight, my mother! The blessing of man may not have sanctified her union, but the blessing of heaven shall be upon it and upon her—upon the creatures she rescued from a living death and upon the gracious hand with which she did it, until time itself shall be no more.'

So saying, I passed with my mother beyond the gates of Lilyfields, to make a new life for her in some quiet spot where she might outlive her grief, and to repay, if possible, by the protection and support of my manhood, the love she had given me as a little child.


FEVER is raging in Brussels, and we are advised to quit the town as soon as possible. The question is, where to go. I suggest Rochefort in the Ardennes, having ascertained previously that the place is healthy; but my friends laugh at me. 'Rochefort in February! We shall all be frozen to death.' 'At least,' I argue, 'there is pure air to breathe.' 'But you can have no idea of the dulness,' is all the reply I receive; 'Rochefort, with its one street and its one resident is bad enough in the summer, but at this season it will be unendurable.' Yet I am not to be turned from my purpose. I consider it is better to be frozen outwardly than burned inwardly; and that when one is flying from a pestilence, there is no time to regret the numerous pleasures left behind, or the few that loom in the future. And so we settle finally that, notwithstanding its promised disadvantages, we will thankfully accept the refuge Rochefort can afford us; and having made up our minds to go, we start twenty-four hours afterwards.

Being pent-up in a railway carriage with half-a-dozen manikins and womanikins, who suck oranges half the time, and obtrude their little persons between your view and the window the other half, is not perhaps the most favourable situation from which to contemplate the beauties of nature; for which reason, perhaps, it is as well that for the first part of our journey nature presents no beauties for our contemplation, and thereby our naturally mild tempers are prevented from boiling over. But when we have accomplished about fifty miles (Rochefort being distant from Brussels seventy miles) the country begins to assume a different and far more engaging aspect. The flat table-land, much of it marshy and undrained, which has scarcely been varied hitherto, gives place to swelling hills, half rock, half heather, and charming copses of fir, some of which are very extensive. The scenery becomes altogether more wooded and naturally fertile-looking; and houses and farmsteads lose all trace of British contiguity, and become proportionately interesting to curious English eyes. The train is an express, and as it dashes past the fragile, roughly-built little stations with which the road is bordered, it is amusing, or rather I should say it would be amusing, did it not suggest the idea of accidents, to see the signal-flags displayed by peasant-women in every variety of attitude and costume.

Here stands a stolid, solid Belgian girl, of eighteen years of age probably, and stout enough for forty, with a waist like a tar-barrel, and legs to match, who nurses her flag as if it were a baby, and gazes at the flying train with a countenance which could not be more impassive were it carved in wood. We have hardly finished laughing at her, when the train rushes past another station, at which appears a withered old crone, her head tied up in a coloured handkerchief, and her petticoats, cut up to her knees, looking cruelly short for such a wintry day, and displaying a pair of attenuated legs and feet for which the huge wooden sabots look miles too large. She waves about the signal-flag in a nervous, agitated manner, which suggests the idea that she is not quite sure whether she has caught up the right one or not; but before we have time to be made uncomfortable by the fact, we are passing another of these Belgic 'shanties,' at the door of which appears for a moment a middle-aged woman, who waves the signal at us in a menacing manner, and rushes back immediately to her children or her cooking.

Remembering our own signalmen, and the importance attached to their capabilities and education for the important office assigned them, it ceases to be a matter of amusement to see the lives of hundreds daily intrusted to the direction of such ignorant creatures as these. I suppose that 'Monsieur,' smoking at his ease by the fireside in the little wooden station-house, directs the actions of his mother, wife, or daughter; but what are the authorities about not to insist on his performing his duty himself?

Notwithstanding all which, however, our train reaches Jemelle (the nearest station to Rochefort) in safety, and in the midst of a wind sufficient, if not to take our heads, to take our hats off, we and our belongings come to the ground. It takes some minutes to get our nine packages together; and when we present ourselves at the door of the diligence, it is nearly full. I look despairingly at the nurse and all the children, and decide that the younger members of the family must go by diligence, and the elder shall walk with me to Rochefort. But the Rochefortians are too polite to permit such a thing. Two of them insist upon getting out and giving up their places to the children. I protest against such a proceeding, of course, as in duty bound, but they will hear of no excuse, and start off walking at such a pace that they are out of sight before the diligence is set in motion. At last the luggage is all packed away on the top, and we are all packed away inside, in company with two gentlemen, who open the conversation pleasantly by asking us where we come from, and telling us that we must not expect to find Rochefort as large as Brussels, which, to say truth, we had scarcely anticipated. The talk becomes fragmentary, for the diligence rattles and jolts over the stony, hilly road, and the bells on the horses' collars jangle in unison; and the baby is so enchanted with the noise, that he shouts till no one can be heard but himself. But twenty minutes' purgatory brings us into a long, steep, narrow street, paved with stones, and bordered with grey-and-white houses; and I have hardly time to ask, 'Is this Rochefort?' when the diligence draws up before a whitewashed house with a sign swinging before the door, and I am asked if we are for the Hôtel Biron. No, we are for the Hôtel de la Cloche d'Or; and as no one seems to be for the Hôtel Biron, the diligence continues to climb the stony street until it reaches the summit, and halts before the Hôtel de la Cloche d'Or.

Here we all unpack ourselves; and a buxom German landlady, with a kind, motherly face, comes down the steps to greet us. She has received my letter; the beds are all ready for us; the dinner will be on the table in half-an-hour; we are to be pleased to enter, and make ourselves at home. We are very pleased; for we are dreadfully tired (not cold, for the weather is unnaturally mild), and have not had anything substantial to eat all the day. We climb up the steps of the hotel, which looks just like a farmhouse abutting on the main street, and find ourselves in a sanded room, containing a long wooden table, with benches either side of it, and bearing evident reminiscences of smoking and drinking—in fact, 'not to put too fine a point on it,' the public tap-room—but where we are met by the landlady's two eldest daughters, Thérèse and Josephine, who are beaming in their welcome. They usher us into a second room, where the children scream at the sight of a table laid for dinner, and the four corners of which bear bowls of whipped cream and custard, and rosy Ardennes apples, and biscuits just out of the oven. The little people want to begin at once, and cannot be brought to see the necessity of washing their faces and hands first, or waiting till the meat and potatoes shall be placed upon the table. Would Madame like to see the chambres-à-coucher at once? Madame saying yes, Thérèse catches up the youngest child but one, and, preceded by Josephine, we enter first a scullery, next a bricked passage, thence mount a most perilous set of dark narrow stairs, and stumble into a long whitewashed corridor, which terminates in a glass-door opening on to a garden. Here three doors successively thrown open introduce us to our bedrooms; and the trunks having been brought up the breakneck stairs, we take possession at once. The little white-curtained beds are small, but beautifully clean, and each one is surmounted by its eider-down quilt in a coloured cotton case. Two little islands of carpet in a sea of painted boards represent the coverings of the floors; and the washing-stands are only deal-tables, and there are no chests of drawers; but we inhale the fresh, vigorous breeze which is pouring through the windows (open even at that season), and think of fever-infected Brussels, and are content. But though it is all very nice and clean, we cannot possibly wash without water, nor dry our hands without towels.

An imbecile shout from the door for anybody or anything brings a broad-featured, rosy, grinning German girl to our aid, who, when she is asked her name, says it is Katrine, but we can call her by any name we please. The pronunciation of 'Katrine' not presenting those difficulties to our foreign tongues which the owner of it seems to anticipate, we prefer to adhere to her baptismal cognomen, instead of naming her afresh, and desire Katrine to bring us some hot water and towels; on which she disappears, still on the broad grin, and returns with a pail of warm water, which she sets down in the middle of the room. We manage well enough with that, however, but are at our wits' end when, on being asked for more of the same fluid with which to mix the baby's bottle, she presents it to us in a washing-basin. But as, a few minutes after, I encounter her in the corridor carrying a coffee-pot full to E—'s room, I conclude that in Rochefort it is the fashion to use vessels indiscriminately, and resolve thenceforth to take the goods the gods provide, without questioning.

On descending to the dining-room, we find that the gods have been very munificent in their gifts. After the soup appears roast beef; and as we are very hungry, we cause it to look foolish, and are just congratulating each other on having made an excellent dinner, when in trots Thérèse, pops our dirty knives and forks upon the tablecloth, whips away our plates, with that which contains the remainder of the beef, and puts down a dish of mutton-chops in its stead. We look at one another in despair; we feel it to be perfectly impossible to begin again upon mutton-chops, and I am obliged to hint the same to Thérèse in the most delicate manner in the world. She expostulates; but to no purpose, and leaves the room, mutton-chops in hand. But only to give place to her mother, who enters with a countenance of dismay to inquire what is wrong with the cooking that we cannot eat.

Nothing is wrong; we have eaten remarkably well. It is our capabilities of stowage which are at fault. Will we not have the hare, which is just ready to be served up?

Sorry as we are to do it, we must decline the hare; and as we affirm that we are ready for the pudding, and nothing else, we feel we have sunk in Madame's estimation.

The pudding, a compote of apples and preserves, with the whipped cream and custard, is delicious; and as soon as we have discussed it, we are very thankful to stretch ourselves under the eider-down quilts, and know the day to be over. We have done work enough that day to entitle us to twelve hours' repose; yet we are all wide-awake with the first beams of the morning sun.

We dress ourselves with the pleasurable anticipation of seeing new things, however simple, and come downstairs to a breakfast-table, in its way as plentifully spread as the dinner-table of the night before. We have an abundance of milk,—so fresh from the cow that it is covered with froth, and the jug which contains it is quite warm,—eggs, cold meat, home-made bread in huge brown loaves, good butter, and strong clear coffee. In fact, we come to the conclusion that our landlady knows how to live, and we no longer marvel at the rosy cheeks and full forms of Thérèse and Josephine, nor that Madame herself fills out her dresses in such a magnificent manner.

E— has been for a stroll before breakfast, and brings back a report of ruins on the high ground; he has already unpacked his sketch-books and sharpened his pencils. We, not being walking encyclopædias, seize our Continental Bradshaw, and find that the ruins are those of a castle in which Lafayette was made prisoner by the Austrians in 1792.

As soon as breakfast is concluded, we rush off to see the ruined castle, which stands on an eminence just above the hotel, and which our landlady (who walks into our sitting-room and takes a chair in the most confiding manner possible whenever she feels so inclined) informs us, although not open to the public, belongs to a lady whose house is built on the same ground, and who will doubtless allow us to look over it. We can see the remains of the castle before we reach them, and decide that it must have been uglier and less interesting when whole than now, having been evidently designed with a view to strength rather than beauty. The little winding acclivitous path which leads to it, bounded by a low wall fringed with ferns and mosses, is perhaps the prettiest part of the whole concern; but just as we have scaled it, and come upon the private dwelling-house, our poetic meditations are interrupted by the onslaught of half-a-dozen dogs (one of which is loose, and makes fierce snaps at our unprotected legs), which rush out of their kennels at chains' length, and bark so vociferously, that we feel we have no need to make our presence known by knocking at the door. A child appears at it; and we inquire politely if we may see the ruins, at which she shakes her head, and we imagine she doesn't understand our Parisian French.

But in another moment we are undeceived, for the shrill, vixenish voice of a woman (may dogs dance upon her grave!) exclaims sharply from the open door, 'Fermez, fermez; on ne peut pas entrer.' The child obediently claps it to in our faces, and we retrace our steps, with a conviction that the lady is like her castle—more strong than beautiful. E— is so disgusted that he will not even sketch the ruins from the opposite side of the road, up which another precipitous path leads us to a long walk, which in summer must be a perfect bower, from the interlacing of the branches of the trees with which it is bordered; and from which we have a far better view of the ruins than the utmost politeness of their owner could have afforded us. But no; judgment has gone out against them; we decide they are heavy and unpicturesque, and not worth the trouble; and we walk on in hopes of finding something better: and are rewarded. At the close of the long over-shadowed walk, a quaint little chapel, beside which stands a painted wooden crucifix nearly the size of life, excites our curiosity, and, walking round it, we come upon one of the loveliest scenes, even in the month of February, that Nature ever produced.

A green valley, creeping in sinuous folds between two ranges of high hills; one rocky and coated with heather, the other clothed with wood. Beneath the rocky range there winds a road bordered by trees,—along which we can see the red diligence which brought us from the station taking its jangling way,—and beside it runs a stream, terminating in a cascade and a bridge, and the commencement of the lower part of Rochefort. All the fields are cut upon the sides of hills, and are diversified by clumps of rock covered with ferns, and usually the groundwork of a well, protected by a few rough planks, or the fountain-head of a mountain-stream which trickles down until it joins the river. This is the valley of Jemelle, to see which in the proper season would alone be worth a journey to Rochefort. We look and admire, and lament the impossibility of ever transferring such a scene to canvas as it should be done; and then we turn back whence we came, and find we are standing at the entrance of an artificial cave, situated at the back of the crucifix before alluded to, and which forms perhaps as great a contrast to the natural loveliness we have just looked upon, as could well be. Apparently it is the tomb of some woman, by the framed requests which hang on either side that prayers may be offered for the repose of her soul; but had her friends turned out upon her grave all the maimed and motley rubbish to be found in a nursery playbox of some years' standing, they could scarcely have decorated it in a less seemly manner. At the end of the cave is a wooden grating, behind which is exhibited one of those tawdry assemblages of horrors which tend more perhaps than all else to bring ridicule on the Roman Catholic religion, so utterly opposed are they to our conceived ideas of what is sacred. Two or three rudely-carved and coarsely-painted, almost grotesque, wooden groups of the dead Christ, the Holy Family, and the Crucifixion, form the groundwork of this exhibition: the interstices being filled up with gold-and-white jars of dirty artificial flowers; framed prints of saints with lace borders, reminding one of the worst description of valentines; and composite figures, supposed to represent the same individuals, and which may have cost fifty centimes apiece. The collection is such as to make the spectator shudder to see holy things so unholily treated; and it is difficult to conceive how, in this century, when art has been carried to such a pitch that even our commonest jugs and basons have assumed forms consistent with it, anyone, even the lowest, can be satisfied with such designs and colouring as these things display.

Returning homeward by the lower part of the town, we pass a maison religieuse dedicated to St Joseph, and in the garden see the good little sisters joining their pupils, to the number of forty or fifty, in a merry game of 'Here we go round the mulberry-bush,' and apparently taking as much pleasure in the exercise as the youngest there. The church and churchyard stand at this end of Rochefort. There is nothing in the building to attract one's notice, except that we agree that it is the ugliest we have ever seen; but we walk round the little churchyard, the paucity of graves in which speaks well for the climate of the place. The crosses and railings, made of the commonest wood and in the most fragile manner, are all rotting as they stand or lie (several having assumed the recumbent position); and we are leaving the spot with the conviction that we have wasted five minutes, when we come against a crucifix fastened by heavy iron clamps against the wall of the church. A common iron cross, rusty and red from damp and age, with a figure nailed on it of the most perfect bronze, old and hard, and dark and bright, and as unchanged by weather and exposure as on the day (perhaps hundreds of years ago) it was first placed there.

Toiling up the street again, and examining the shops as we go, I say that, much as I like Rochefort, I do not advise any one to come here in order to purchase their wedding trousseau, or lay in a stock of winter clothing. We look in vain for something to buy in remembrance of the place; but can see nothing out of the way, except it is a yellow teapot, holding at the least four quarts, and with a curled spout to prevent the tea coming out too fast, which must be almost necessary with such a load of liquid. The teapot is delicious, and quite unique; but scarcely worth, we think, the trouble of transportation. We have but just decided this matter to our satisfaction when we come upon a 'miscellaneous warehouse,' upon whose front is painted 'Cartes pour les grottes de Rochefort,' and remember that we must see the famous grotto, and turn in to ask the price of admission. Five francs a-head; children half-price. We think the charge is high; but Monsieur C— (to whom the grotto belongs) takes us into his house and shows us prints of the different views of its interior, which fire our imagination to that degree, that we decide at once to see it the next morning. We look over a book also in which visitors to the grotto have written down their first impressions; and these testimonials excite our curiosity still further. A Persian describes himself as having been suddenly transported into fairyland; and can liken the vast caverns to nothing but the palace of his great master the Sultan, and the various forms assumed by the stalactites to those of lovely houris grouped about him. A French poet, in rapturous verse, compares the grotto to the enchanted halls of the Arabian Nights, and the stalactites to 'frozen tears.' Every traveller declares the sight to have been more wonderful and beautiful than anything he has ever seen before, until we become quite sorry to think we must put off seeing it until the morning; and our expectations are heightened by the rapid assurance of Monsieur C— (who always keeps his hands moving, and never stops to consider his commas), that it is 'trèsbeautrèsbeautrèsbeau!' However, we agree to return the next day at eleven o'clock, when he promises the guides shall be in readiness for us; and we go home to another excellent dinner, the pleasure of which is only marred by the fact that Thérèse will make us use the same knives and forks for every course; and we haven't the strength of mind to resist.

Yesterday I spoke to madame on the necessity of engaging someone during the mornings to read French and German with the girls, as we shall most likely be here for a month; and it is too long a time for them to be idle. Madame did not think I should find a demoiselle in Rochefort who could instruct them; but there is a professeur here who has passed all his college examinations, and who, if he has the time, will doubtless be very glad of the employment. I asked her to send for the professeur that I might speak to him on the subject; and here, just as we have done dinner, he arrives; for madame throws open the door, and with a certain pride in her voice (pride that Rochefort should possess such an article), announces 'Monsieur le Professeur.' I glance up, thinking of Charlotte Brontë and her professor, and hoping this one may not prove as dirty and seedy and snuffy, and, to my amazement, see standing on the threshold a lad of about seventeen or eighteen, dressed in green trousers and a blue blouse, and holding his cap in his hand. The two girls immediately choke, and bury their faces in their books, which renders my task of catechising rather a difficult one; and I glance at E— for aid, but his countenance is almost level with the table as he pretends to draw. So I find there is nothing to be done but to beg the professeur to be seated,—a request which he steadily refuses to comply with; and as he stands there, twisting his cap in his hands, he looks so like a butcher-boy, that it is a mercy I do not ask him what meat he has to-day.

But the poor young man is so horribly nervous, as he tells me that, though qualified for a tutor, he has never taught before, that I have not the heart to refuse him on account of his youth; besides, is he not the sole professeur in Rochefort? So I give him leave to come the next morning, and try, at all events, what he can do with the girls; and he looks very happy for the permission. And we see him a minute afterwards, striding proudly down the street, whistling as he goes, and holding his head half an inch higher for having 'got a situation.' Of course the children make merry over him for the rest of the evening, and cannot recall the appearance of their professeur without shrieks of laughter; but he comes the next morning, nevertheless, to commence his duties, and proves to be quite as particular as older teachers, and much more competent than some, and takes the youngest girl completely aback by telling her she shall be punished if she is not steady.

At eleven o'clock the next morning we are all ready to view the grottoes, and E— and I, with the two eldest children, start off on our expedition. The way to their entrance lies through Monsieur C—'s park, which in summer must be a very charming resort. He has collected here all the wild animals indigenous to the Ardennes, and shows them to us as we walk to the mouth of the grottoes. Close to his house he has a splendid wolf and three foxes—the golden, silver, and common fox. I should have preferred to keep these interesting specimens a little further off from my own nose; but there is no accounting for tastes. In the aviary he has squirrels, guinea-pigs, doves, pigeons, and the most magnificent pair of horned owls I have ever seen. These birds, which are as fierce as possible, have eyes of jet and amber, as big as half-crowns, and when in their rage they spring at passers-by, they make a noise with their beaks just like castanets.

A little farther up the park we come upon the Ardennes deer, which are thicker built and less graceful than the English fallow-deer, with which they are consorting; and a wild boar, with fierce tusks and a savage grunt, wallowing in a parterre of clay, which, nevertheless, knows his master, and puts his ugly snout out to be scratched between the palisades of his domain. Monsieur C— only conducts us as far as the entrance of the grotto, and there delivers us over to the care of the guides, two in number, who each carry a couple of petroleum lamps, and have 'Grottes de Rochefort' written on their hatbands. They ask us if we will have costumes to enter the caves with, and we decline, not knowing the dirt we shall encounter; but we exchange our own hats for little, grey linen ones, trimmed with a cockade and bunch of small red feathers in front, made after the pattern of those adopted by the monkeys on the organs, and in which we appear very comical to each other's eyes. Everything is ready, and down we go—down the first flight of steps, which is steep but easy, and which, Monsieur C— shouts after us, will be the most difficult descent of all (I wonder if he impresses that fable on all his visitors) until the ivy and fern-covered entrance is passed, and we enter the very mouth of the cave, which is yet light enough to let us see that several such flights have still to be descended. We have hardly reached the middle of the second, and daylight is not yet left behind us, when E— calls out that he cannot breathe, and must go up into the fresh air again. The guides insist that monsieur must be mistaken, and no one is ever taken ill there. I insist, on the other hand, that monsieur's wishes must be complied with, and we must reaccompany him to the top, which we do. I would rather not go back again then, and make the dark pilgrimage alone with the children, but E— begs we will, and the girls look disappointed; so we retrace our steps, leaving him in the park.

I confess that as I go down the second time I feel a little nervous, and my limbs shake. I don't like this going down, down, down into the shades of eternal night, with no companions but two little children.

But at last we stand on level ground again. There is no light anywhere except from the guides' lamps, the foremost one (who is always spokesman) waves his above his head, and introduces la grande salle. I look up and around me, but all is black as pitch. I feel that I am standing on broken flints and a great deal of mud; and as the guide's lamp throws its faint gleam here and there, I see that the cavern we stand in is very vast and damp, and uncommonly like a huge cellar; but I can't say I see anything more. In another minute the guide has turned, and leads us through a passage cut in the rock. We are not going up or downstairs now, but picking our way over slippery stones and between places sometimes so narrow and sometimes so low, that our shoulders get various bumps and bruises, and the guide's warning of 'Garde tête!' sounds continuously. Every now and then we come upon a larger excavation, which is called a salle, and given some name consequent on the likeness assumed by the stalactites contained in it. Thus one is called salle de Brahma, because it contains a large stalactite, somewhat resembling the idol of that name. Another salle du sacrifice, because its principal attraction is a large flat stone at the foot of which is another, shaped sausage-wise, and entitled tombeau de la victime. We pace after the guides through these cavernous passages for what appears to me miles, my mind meanwhile being divided between fear that I should leave my boots behind me in the slushy clay, or that either of my children should tumble down or knock her head. Every cavern is like the other, and I look in vain for stalactites which shall remind me of 'houris grouped about the sultan,' or 'frozen tears.' The guides occasionally produce a fine effect by burning a little red fire, or letting-off a rocket, or climbing singly up the more perilous places, that we may watch the gradual ascent of their flickering lamps, and judge of the height of the larger salles. But I suppose the enthusiastic scribblers in the visitors' book would consider me the possessor of a very darkened intellect if they heard me affirm that I have seen better effects on the stage, and climbed greater heights with much more convenience. Perhaps I have not a sufficiently appreciative soul for grottoes; but the greater part of the grotto of Rochefort comes up exactly to my idea of a mine, and nothing more.

The 'glittering' stalactites are nowhere. The cave is lined with stalactites, but (with the exception of a few white ones) they are all of a uniform pale-brown colour, and have no idea of glittering or being prismatic. The greatest wonder of the grotto is its vastness, which may be estimated from the fact that we are two hours going over it, and then have not traversed the whole on account of fresh works being carried on in parts. We penetrate to its very depths to see the river and the waterfall, but the mud is so excessive that we are compelled to stop, and let the guide descend with his lamp and flash it over the water, which is really very pretty, and, strange to relate, contains good trout.

Then we plough our way upwards again; up fungus-covered ladders, and wet, slippery stairs, upon which it is most difficult to keep a footing, until we arrive at decidedly the finest sight there—the salle du sabbat. Here the guides send up a spirit-balloon, to show us the height and extent of the vast cavern, and we are rather awe-struck, particularly as, in order that we may see the full effect, the other guide plants us on three chairs and takes away both the lamps, leaving us seated in the darkness, on the edge of a precipice. The blackness is so thick about us that we can almost feel it; and the silence is that of death. My youngest girl slips her little hand in mine, and whispers, 'Mamma, supposing he weren't to come back again!' and I can't say the prospect pleases. However, the balloon reaches the top of the cavern, and is hauled back again; and the guide does come back; and, whilst he is assisting his fellow to pack it away, I sing a verse of 'God save the Queen,' for the children to hear the echo, which is stupendous.

Then we see the prettiest thing, perhaps, we have seen yet. At the top of the salle du sabbat there is a kind of breakage in the side, and a large cluster of stalactites. One guide climbs up to this place and holds his lamp behind the group, whilst the other calls out 'la femme qui repose;' when lo! before us there appears almost an exact representation of a woman, reclining with crossed legs, and a child on her bosom. It is so good an imitation, that it might be a figure carved in stone and placed there, and I think the sight gave us more pleasure than anything in the grotto. We have come upon several groups of stalactites already, to which the guides have given names, such as l'ange de la résurrection, l'oreille de l'éléphant, and le lion Belge; but though they have, of course, borne some resemblance to the figures mentioned, the likeness is only admitted for want of a better. This likeness, however, is excellent, could hardly be more like; and we are proportionately pleased. With the salle du sabbat and the balloon the exhibition is ended; and we are thankful to emerge into the fresh air again, and to leave slippery staircases and the smell of fungi behind us.

We feel very heated when we stand on the breezy hill again, for the grotto, contrary to our expectation, has proved exceedingly warm, and the exercise has made us feel more so; and daylight looks so strange that we can scarcely persuade ourselves we have not been passing the night down below. We have picked up several little loose bits of stone and stalactite during our progress, and when we reach home, we spread them out before us on the table, and try to remember where they came from. Here is a bit of marble, veined black-and-white; and here is white stone, glistening and silvery. Here is the stalactite, a veritable piece of 'frozen tears' and couchant houris.

Well, we have been a little disappointed with the grottoes of Rochefort, perhaps; we have not found the crystallisations quite so purple-and-amber as we anticipated, or the foundations quite so clean; but, after all, it is what we must expect in this life. If the grotto is not so brilliant as we expected, it is at least a very wonderful and uncommon sight; and so in this life, if we can but forget the purple-and-gold, we may extract a great deal of amusement from very small things, if we choose to try. With which bit of philosophy I conclude.

Or, The Amateur Detective.

I AM an author. I am something worse than that—I am a Press writer. I am worse than that still—I am a Press writer with a large wife and a small family. And I am an Amateur Detective! I don't mean, of course, that I reckon the last item as part of my profession, but my friends always come to me if they are in any difficulty, and set me to do all kinds of queer jobs, from restoring and reconciling a truant husband to his wife, to making the round of the 'Homes for Lost Dogs' in order to find Lady Softsawder's pet poodle. Even Jones couldn't complete his great work, 'The Cyclopædia of the Brain,' without asking my assistance (for a consideration, of course) with his fifth section, 'The Origin of Dreams.' Jones is full of fire and imagination, but he does not care for plodding, and he knew me of old for a good steady compiler. I agreed with alacrity. 'The Origin of Dreams' would fill those hungry little mouths of mine for three months at the very least. But how to do it whilst they gaped around me!—how to cover the one table in my solitary sitting-room with valuable works of reference at the risk of their being touched by greasy fingers!—how to wade through volume after volume, placing a mental mark there and a material one here, whilst my offspring either surreptitiously removed the one or irretrievably obliterated remembrance of the other, by attracting my attention to the manner in which they attempted to scalp each other's heads or gouge out each other's eyes! I tried it for a week in vain.

My Press work I had been accustomed to do at office, but this, which was to be based upon the contents of certain ponderous black-lettered tomes which Jones had been collecting for ages past, must be carried on at home, and the noisy, wearisome day gave me no time for reflection, and left me without energy to labour at night. I was about to resign the task in despair—to tell Jones to give it to some more capable or more fortunate labourer in the wide field of speculation—when Fate came to my rescue in the person of the Hon. Captain Rivers, Lord Seaborne's son.

'My dad's in an awful way about his ward, young Cockleboat,' he remarked to me, in his friendly manner, 'and he wants your assistance, Trueman, if you'll give it him.'

'Why, what's the matter, Captain Rivers?'

'Haven't you heard? Cockleboat's made a fool of himself. He fell in love with a nursemaid, or a barmaid, or some such sort of person—he, with his twenty thousand a-year in prospect; and when the governor remonstrated with him—told him 'twas nonsense and couldn't be, and all that sort of thing, he actually ran away!'

'Left Lord Seaborne's house?'

'Of course, and without a word of explanation. Now, dad doesn't want to make the affair public, you know, unless it becomes necessary, so he hasn't said a word to the police; but he wants you to find out where Cockleboat is—you're so clever at that sort of thing—and just bring him home again.'

'An easy task, certainly. And you don't even know which way the lad has gone?'

'Well, we think we've traced him to Norwich, and dad thought if you wouldn't mind going up there for a bit, and keeping your eyes open; of course we should make it worth your while, you know, you might hear something of the young scamp for us.'

'What on earth can be his motive for leaving home?'

'Well, perhaps the lady lives up that way, or Julian may have got it into his head that he'll work to support her. He is but twenty last birthday, and will not be of age, by his father's will, for the next five years—very lucky for him, as it's turned out, that he will not be.'

'True. I think I remember seeing the lad at Lady Godiva's last season. Didn't he act there in some private theatricals or charades?'

'I believe he did. Now, Trueman, what's your decision? Will you go to Norwich for us or not?'

'I will start to-morrow if your father wishes it.'

The offer had come most opportunely; even as Captain Rivers was speaking it had flashed through my mind that here was the very opportunity that I desired to carry out my project of writing the fifth section of Jones' Cyclopædia;—a remote lodging in one of the back streets of the quiet old city of Norwich, whence I could carry on my inquiries all day, and where I might sit up and write out my notes all night. And Lord Seaborne's generosity in such cases was too well known to permit of any doubt on the subject whether I should not (by accepting his proposal) be killing two birds with one stone. So I did accept it, with gratitude, and having obtained all the information possible respecting the mysterious disappearance of Master Julian Cockleboat, I packed up the black-lettered tomes, and, embracing my smiling wife and children, who appeared rather pleased than otherwise at the prospect of getting rid of me for a few weeks, started for Norwich.

I have a great respect for old county towns: there is a dignified sobriety and sense of unimpeachable respectability about them that impresses me. I like their old-world institutions and buildings—their butter crosses and market steps; their dingy bye streets with kerbstones for pavements; their portentous churches and beadles; their old-fashioned shops and goods and shopmen. I like the quiet that reigns in their streets, the paucity of gas they light them up with, the strange conveyances their citizens ply for hire—in fact, I like everything with which the world in general finds fault. So it was with a sense of pleasure I found myself wandering about the streets of Norwich, on the look-out for some place in which to lay my head. I had rather have been there than at the seaside, although it was bright July weather, and I knew the waves were frothing and creaming over the golden sands beneath a canopy of cloudless blue sky. I preferred the shaded, cloister-like streets of the county town, with its cool flags under my feet, and its unbroken sense of calm.

I did not turn into the principal thoroughfares, with their gay shops and gayer passengers, but down the less-frequented bye-ways, where children playing in the road stopped open-mouthed to watch me pass, and women's heads appeared above the window-blinds, as my footfall sounded on the narrow pavement, as though a stranger were something to be stared at. Many windows held the announcement of 'Rooms to Let,' but they were too small—too modern, shall I say—too fresh-looking to take my fancy.

I connected space and gloom with solitude and reflection, and felt as if I could not have sat down before a muslin-draped window, filled with scarlet geraniums and yellow canariensis, to ponder upon 'The Origin of Dreams,' to save my life. At last I came upon what I wanted. Down a narrow street, into which the sun seemed never to have penetrated, I found some tall, irregular, dingy-looking buildings—most of which appeared to be occupied as insurance, wine, or law offices,—and in the lower window of one there hung a card with the inscription, 'Apartments for a Single Gentleman.'

It was just the place from which to watch and wait—in which to ponder, and compare, and compose,—and I ascended its broken steps, convinced that the birthplace of 'The Origin of Dreams' was found. A middle-aged woman, with an intelligent, pleasing face answered my summons to the door. The weekly rent she asked for the occupation of the vacant apartments sounded to me absurdly low, but perhaps that was due to my experience of the exorbitant demands of London landladies. But when I explained to her the reason for which I desired her rooms, namely, that I might sit up at night and write undisturbed, her countenance visibly fell.

'I'm afraid they won't suit you, then, sir.'

'Why not? Have you any objection to my studying by night?'

'Oh, no, sir. You could do as you pleased about that!'

'What then? Will your other lodgers disturb me?'

Her face twitched as she answered, 'I have no other lodgers, sir.'

'Do you live in this big house, then, by yourself?'

'My husband and I have been in charge of it for years, and are permitted to occupy the lower floor in consideration of keeping the upper rooms (which are only used as offices in the day-time) clean and in order. But the clerks are all gone by five o'clock, so they wouldn't interfere with your night-work.'

'What will, then?'

'I'm afraid there are a good many rats about the place, sir. They will breed in these old houses, and keep up a racket at night.'

'Oh, I don't mind the rats,' I answered, cheerfully. 'I'll catch as many as I can for you, and frighten away the others. If that is your only objection, the rooms are mine. May I see them?'

'Certainly, sir,' she said, as she closed the door behind me and led the way into two lofty and spacious chambers, connected by folding-doors, which had once formed the dining-saloon of a splendid mansion.

'The owners of the house permit us to occupy this floor and the basement, and as it's more than we require, we let these rooms to lodgers. They're not very grandly furnished, sir, but it's all neat and clean.'

She threw open the shutters of the further apartment as she spoke, and the July sun streamed into the empty room. As its rays fell upon the unmade bed, my eye followed them and caught sight of a deep indentation in the mattress. The landlady saw it also, and looked amazed.

'Some one has been taking a siesta here without your permission,' I said, jestingly; but she did not seem to take my remark as a jest.

'It must be my good man,' she answered, hurriedly, as she shook the mattress; 'perhaps he came in here to lie down for a bit. This hot weather makes the best feel weak, sir.'

'Very true. And now, if you will accept me as a lodger, I will pay you my first week's rent, and whilst I go back to the railway-station to fetch my valise, you must get me ready a chop or a steak, or anything that is most handy, for my dinner.'

All appeared to be satisfactory. My landlady assented to everything I suggested, and in another hour I was comfortably ensconced under her roof, had eaten my steak, and posted a letter to my wife, and felt very much in charity with all mankind. So I sat at the open window thinking how beautifully still and sweet all my surroundings were, and how much good work I should get through without fear of interruption or distraction. The office clerks had long gone home; the upper rooms were locked for the night; only an occasional patter along the wide uncarpeted staircase reminded me that I was not quite alone. Then I remembered the rats, and 'The Origin of Dreams;' and thinking it probable that my honest old couple retired to bed early, rang the bell to tell my landlady to be sure and leave me a good supply of candles.

'You're not going to sit up and write to-night, sir, are you?' she inquired. 'I am sure your rest would do you more good; you must be real tired.'

'Not at all, my good Mrs Bizzey' (Did I say her name was Bizzey?), 'I am as fresh as a daisy, and could not close my eyes. Besides, as your friends, the rats, seem to make so free in the house, I should burn a light any way to warn them they had better not come too near me.'

'Oh, I trust nothing will disturb you sir,' she said, earnestly, as she withdrew to fetch the candles.

I unpacked my book-box and piled the big volumes on a side table. How imposing they looked! But I had no intention of poring over them that night. 'The Origin of Dreams' required thought—deep and speculative thought; and how could I be better circumstanced to indulge in it than stationed at that open window, with a pipe in my mouth, looking up at the dark blue sky bespangled with stars, and listening (if I may be allowed to speak so paradoxically) to the silence—for there is a silence that can be heard?

When Mrs Bizzey brought me the candles, she asked me if I required anything else, as she and Mr Bizzey were about to retire to the marital couch, which I afterwards ascertained was erected in the scullery. I answered in the negative, and wished her good-night, hearing her afterwards distinctly close the door at the head of the kitchen stairs and descend step by step to the arms of her lord and master. But Mrs Bizzey's intrusion had murdered my reverie. I could not take up the chain of thought where she had severed the links. The night air, too, seemed to have grown suddenly damp and chilly, and I pulled down the window sash with a jerk, and taking out my note-book and writing-case drew a chair up to the table and commenced to think, playing idly with my pen the while. Soon the divine afflatus (the symptoms of which every successful writer knows so well) came down upon me. I ceased to think—or rather to be aware that I was thinking. My pen ran over the paper as though some other hand guided it than my own, and I wrote rapidly, filling page after page with a stream of ideas that seemed to pour out of my brain involuntarily. Time is of no account under such circumstances, and I may have been scribbling for one hour or for three, for aught I knew to the contrary, before I was roused to a sense of my position by hearing a footfall sound through the silent, deserted house.

Now, although I have described my condition to be such as to render me impervious to outer impressions, I am certain of one thing—that no noise, however slight, had hitherto broken in upon it. It was the complete absence of sound that had permitted my spirit to have full play irrespective of my body; and directly the silence was outraged, my physical life re-asserted its claims, and my senses became all alive to ascertain the cause of it. In another moment the sound was repeated, and I discovered that it was over my head—not under my feet. It could not, then, proceed from either of the old couple, whom I had heard lock themselves up together down below. Who could it be?

My first idea, emanating from my landlady's information that the noise might proceed from rats, I had already dismissed with contempt. It was the reverberation of a footstep. There could be no doubt about that; and my next thought naturally flew to burglars, who were making an attempt on the safes in the offices above. What could I do? I was utterly unarmed, and to go in pursuit of midnight robbers in so defenceless a condition would be simply delivering myself into their power. I certainly might have shied a couple of Jones' black-lettered books at their heads, for they were ponderous enough to knock any man down, but I might not take a steady aim, and it is better not to attempt at all than to attempt and fail.

Meanwhile, the sounds overhead had increased in number and become continuous, as though some one had commenced to walk up and down the room. Surely no midnight thief would dare to create so much disturbance as that! Detection of his crime would be inevitable. Or did he trust to the sound sleep of the porter and his wife in the kitchen below, not knowing that I, existent and wakeful, intervened between himself and them? In another minute I believe that I should have cast all consequences to the winds, and rushed, not in, but up to the rescue, forgetting I was a husband and a father, and armed with Jones' patent self-acting leveller, alone have ascended to the upper story to investigate the cause of the midnight disturbance I heard. Only—I didn't! For before I had had time to shoulder my weapons and screw my courage up to the sticking-point, another sound reached my ears that made the patent levellers drop on the table again with a thump,—the sound, not of a step, but a groan—a deep, hollow, unmistakable groan, that chilled the marrow in my bones to such a degree that it would have been a disgrace to any cook to send them up to table.

I knew then that I must have been mistaken in my first theory, and that the sounds I overheard, whether they proceeded from mortals or not, had no connection with the nefarious occupation of housebreakers. But they had become a thousand times more interesting, and I listened attentively.

The groan was followed by some muttered words that sounded like a curse, succeeded by louder tones of reproach or anger. Then the footsteps traversed the floor again, and seemed to be chasing someone or something round and round the room. At last I heard another groan, followed by a heavy fall.

I started to my feet. Surely Mr and Mrs Bizzey must have been roused by such an unusual commotion, and would come upstairs to learn the reason! But no!—they did not stir. All was silent as the grave below, and above also. The noises had suddenly ceased. I appeared to be alone in the empty house. It was all so strange that I put my hands up to my head and asked myself if I were properly awake. I was hardly satisfied on this point before the sounds recommenced overhead, and precisely in the same order as before. Again I listened to the pacing feet—the groan—the curse—the chase—the fall! Each phase of the ghostly tragedy—for such I now felt sure it must be—was repeated in rotation, not once, but a couple of dozen or more times; and then at last the disturbance ceased as suddenly and as unexpectedly as it had commenced.

I looked at my watch. It was three o'clock, and already the early birds on the look-out for the worm had begun to herald the dawn with a few faint twitters in the trees in the cloister. I threw off my clothes impatiently, and lying down in my bed, gave myself up, not to sleep, but reflection on what was best to be done. I had not the slightest doubt left as to the cause of the noises I had heard. My landlady might ascribe them to rats, but were she closely questioned she would probably acknowledge the truth—that she knew the sounds to proceed from spirits, popularly called ghosts; which accounted for all her hesitation and change of countenance when speaking to me about the apartments, also for the low price she asked for her rooms, and her evident wish to dissuade me from sitting up at night.

Naturally the poor woman was afraid she should never secure a lodger if the truth were known; but as far as I was concerned, she was altogether mistaken—I was not afraid of her ghosts. On the contrary, as I lay in bed and thought on what had just occurred, I congratulated myself that, by a third strange coincidence, my visit to Norwich promised to turn out all that I could desire.

I must 'lay' these ghosts, of course—i.e., if they interfered with my graver work; but to have the opportunity of doing so was the very thing my heart was set upon. Is my reader surprised to hear this? Then I must take him further into my confidence.

When I confessed I was an author, Press writer, amateur detective, and father of six children, I did not add the crowning iniquity, and write myself down a believer in ghosts and spiritualism. Every man acknowledges himself a spirit, and to have been created by the power of a spirit. Most men believe that spirits have the capability of free volition and locomotion, and many that they have exercised these powers by re-appearing to their fellow spirits in the flesh. But to assert publicly that you believe in all this because you have proved it to be the truth, is to throw yourself open to the charge of being a dupe, or a madman, or a liar. Therefore I had preferred until then to keep my faith a secret. My children's bread depended in a great measure on the reputation I kept up as a man of sense, and I had not dared to risk it by attempting to put my theories into practice. Not that I was entirely ignorant of the rules pertaining to the science of spiritualism. Under cover of the darkness that hides all delinquencies, I had attended several circles gathered for the sole purpose of investigating the mysteries of other worlds; but it had always been accomplished with the utmost secrecy, as my wife was hysterically disposed, and the mere mention of a spirit would have upset the house for days together.

I had never, therefore, had the opportunity of pursuing spiritualism on my own account; and until the day broke I lay awake, congratulating myself on the good luck that had thrown me, cheek by jowl, with a party of ready-made ghosts, whom a very little encouragement would, I trusted, induce to pay me a visit in my own apartments.

All the next day I wandered through the streets of Norwich and in the country surrounding them, speculating—not on the whereabouts of Julian Cockleboat, nor 'The Origin of Dreams'—but how I should persuade my landlady to help me unravel the mysterious occurrence of the night before. At last I bethought me that 'honesty is the best policy' after all, and decided that I would make a clean breast of my suspicions and desires. If Mrs Bizzey were a sensible woman, she would prove only too ready to aid me in ridding her apartments of visitors that must injure their reputation; and, at all events, I could but try her. So I opened the subject on the very first opportunity. The woman was clearing away my tea-things the same evening, when she remarked that I had not eaten well.

'I am afraid you sit up too much at night, sir, to make a good appetite.'

'Other people seem to sit up in this house at night as well as myself, Mrs Bizzey,' I replied, significantly.

'I don't understand you,' she said, colouring.

'Why, do you mean to say you never hear noises;—that you were not disturbed last night, for instance, by the sound of groans and voices, and of some one falling about in the upper rooms?'

'Oh, sir, you don't mean to tell me as you've heard them already!' exclaimed Mrs Bizzey, clasping her hands and letting a teacup fall in her agitation. 'If you go too, you'll be the third gentleman that has left within a fortnight on that account; and if a stop ain't put to it, the house will get such a name that nobody will put a foot inside the door for love or money.'

'But I don't mean to go, Mrs Bizzey; on the contrary, I should be very sorry to go; and if you and your husband will consent to help me, I will do my best to stop the noises altogether,' for the idea of forming a little circle with these worthy people had suddenly flashed into my mind.

'How can me and my good man help you, sir?'

'Is Mr Bizzey at home? If so, go downstairs and fetch him up here, and I will explain what I mean to you both at the same time.'

She left the room at once, and in a few minutes returned with a dapper-looking little old fellow, in knee-breeches and a red plush waistcoat, who pulled his forelock to me on entering.

'This is Mr Bizzey, sir, and I've been telling him all you say as we came up the stairs.'

I leant back in my chair, folded my hands, and looked important.

'I suppose you must have heard the science of spiritualism mentioned?' I commenced, grandly.

'The science of what, sir?' inquired Mr Bizzey, with a puzzled air.

'Of spiritualism—i.e., the power of converse or communication with disembodied spirits.'

'Lor'! you never mean "ghosts," sir?' said the old woman.

'I do, indeed, Mrs Bizzey. I suppose you believe that spirits (or ghosts, as you call them) may re-appear after death?'

'Oh, yes,' interposed the husband; 'for I mind the night that my poor mother lay dying, there was an apparition of a turkey-cock that sat upon the palings opposite our cottage, and when it fluttered off 'em with a screech, just for all the world like a real turkey, you know, sir, she turned on her side suddenly, and give up the ghost. I've always believed in apparitions since then.'

'And when my sister Jane lay in of her last,' chimed in Mrs Bizzey, 'there was a little clock stood on the mantel-shelf that had always been wound up regular and gone regular ever since she was married; and we was moving a lot of things to one side, and we moved that clock and found it had stopped; and the nurse, she said to me, "Mark my words if that's not a warning of death;" and, sure enough, Jane died before the morning, which makes me so careful of moving a clock since then that I'd rather go three miles round than touch one if a body lay sick in the house.'

'I see that you both take a most sensible view of the business, and are fully alive to the importance attached to it,' I answered; 'I hope, therefore, to secure your assistance to find out what these unusual and mysterious noises in your house portend, and what the authors require us to do for them.'

Then—whilst the old man scratched his head with bewilderment, and the old woman looked scared out of her seven senses—I explained to them, as well as I was able, the nature of a séance, and asked them if they would come and sit at the table with me that evening and hold one.

'But, lawk a mussy, sir, you never want to speak to them!' cried Mrs Bizzey.

'How else are we to ascertain for what reason these spirits disturb your lodgers and render your rooms uninhabitable by their pranks?'

'I should die of fright before we had been at it five minutes,' was her comment; but her husband was pluckier, and took a more practical view of the matter.

'You'll just do as I bid you, missus, and hold your chatter. There's no doubt these noises are a great nuisance—not to say a loss—and if this gentleman will be good enough to try and stop them, and can't do without us, I'll help him for one, and you will for another.'

Mrs Bizzey protested, and wept, and was even refractory, but it was all of no avail, and before we separated it had been agreed we should meet again at ten o'clock, and hold a séance. There was some whispering between the old couple after that that I did not quite understand, but as it ended by Mrs Bizzey ejaculating, 'Nonsense; I tell you the house will be quiet enough by ten o'clock,' I concluded he was referring to some expected visitor, and dismissed the subject from my mind. As soon as they had disappeared I delivered myself up to self-gratulation. I was really going to hold a séance, under my own direction and the most favourable circumstances, with a large haunted house at my command, and no one to be any the wiser for my dabbling in the necromantic art. I took out an old number of the 'Spiritualist,' and referred to the directions for forming circles at home. I prepared the paper, pencils, and speaking tubes, and symmetrically arranged the table and chairs.

Nothing was wanted when Mr and Mrs Bizzey entered my room at the appointed hour—he looking expectant, and she very much alarmed. I was prepared for this, however, and insisted upon their both joining me in a glass of whisky and hot water before commencing the sitting, alleging as a reason the fact that the presence of spirits invariably chills the atmosphere, whether in summer or winter. So I mixed three bumping tumblers of toddy, strong enough to give us the courage we required for the occasion; and after we had (according to the directions) engaged for some little time in light and friendly conversation, I induced my friends to approach the table.

It was now, I was glad to see by my watch, about half-past eleven—just about the time when the mysterious sounds had commenced the night before; and having lowered the lamp, much to Mrs Bizzey's horror, until it was represented by a mere glimmer of light, I instructed her husband and herself how to place their hands upon the table, linked with mine, and the séance began.

I had enjoined perfect silence on my companions, and after we had been sitting still for about fifteen minutes, during which I had watched in vain for some symptoms of movement on the part of the table, we all heard distinctly the sound of a foot creeping cautiously about the upper rooms, upon which Mrs Bizzey, too frightened to shriek, began to weep, and her husband, in order to stop her, pinched her violently in the dark.

'Hush!' I exclaimed, almost as agitated as the woman. 'Do not disturb them for your life, and whatever you may see, don't scream.'

'La, sir, you never mean to say that they'll come downstairs?'

'I cannot say what they may do. I think I hear a step descending now. But remember, Mrs Bizzey, they will not hurt you, and try and be brave for all our sakes.'

We were in a state of high nervous excitement for the next five minutes, during which the same noises I had heard the night before were repeated overhead, only that the curses were louder and delivered with more determination, and the falls appeared to succeed each other like hail.

'Oh, sir, what are they a-doing?' exclaimed Mrs Bizzey, paralysed with terror. 'They must be killing each other all round.'

'Hush!' I replied. 'Listen, now. Some one is pleading for love or for mercy. How soft and clear the voice is!'

'It sounds for all the world like my poor sister Jane when she was asking her husband to forgive her for everything she had done amiss,' said the old woman.

'Perhaps it is your sister Jane, or some of your relations,' I replied. 'She may want you to do something for her. Would you be afraid if she were suddenly to open the door and come into the room?'

'Oh, I don't know, I'm sure, sir; but I hope she mayn't. It makes me curdle all over only to think of it.'

'They're quieter now. Let us ask if there is any one present who wishes to speak to us,' I said; and addressing the table to that effect, I commenced to spell out the alphabet rather loudly—'A, B, C,' etc.

Whether from my nervousness, or the united strain we laid upon it, I know not, but the table certainly began to rock at that juncture, though I could make neither head nor tail of its intentions. Treating it in the orthodox manner by which Britons invariably attempt to communicate with a foreigner who does not understand one word of the language spoken, I began to bawl at the table, and my A, B, C must have reverberated through the empty house.

Again the old woman whispered mysteriously to the old man, but he dismissed her question with an impatient answer; and my attention was too much attracted in another direction at that moment to give much heed of what they were doing. My ear had caught the sound of a descending footstep, and I felt sure the spirits were at last about to visit us in propriæ personæ. But dreading the effect it might have on Mrs Bizzey's nerves, I purposely held my tongue, and applied myself afresh to a vigorous repetition of the alphabet, striving to cover the approaching footstep by the noise of my own voice, although I was trembling with excitement and delight at the successful issue of my undertaking. At last I plainly heard the footstep pause outside the door, as though deliberating before it opened it. The old man was apparently too deaf or too absorbed to notice it, and his wife was in a state of helpless fright. I alone sufficiently retained my senses to see the door slowly open, and a white-robed figure—a real, materialised spirit—stand upon the threshold. The gesture of delight, which I could not repress, roused my companions from their reverie; and as soon as Mrs Bizzey turned and saw the figure, she recognised it.

'It's Jane!' she screamed. 'It's my own poor sister Jane come back from the grave to visit me again, with her red hair and blue eyes; I can see 'em as plain as plain. I'll die of the shock, I know I shall!'

'Nonsense!' I exclaimed, sternly, fearful, lest by her folly she should scare the newly-born spirit back to the spheres. 'If it is your sister, speak to her as you used to do. Tell her you are glad to see her, and ask if she wants anything done.'

'Oh, Jane!' said the old woman, half falling upon her knees, 'don't come a-nigher me, for mercy's sake! I never kept nothing of yourn back from the children except the old blue dress, which it wouldn't have been no use for them to wear, and the ring, which I had asked you to give me a dozen times in your life, and you had always refused. I'd give 'em both back now if I could, Jane, but the gownd have been on the dust-heap these twenty years past, and the ring I sold the minute my man was laid up with rheumatis. Forgive me, Jane, forgive me!'

'Why, what on earth are you making such a row about?' replied the spirit.

I leapt to my feet in a moment.

'This is some shameful hoax!' I exclaimed. 'Who are you, and what do you do here?'

'I should think I might put the same question to you, since I find you sitting in the dark, at dead of night, with my landlord and landlady.'

'Lor', Mr Montmorency, it's never you, sir!' ejaculated old Bizzey, with a feeble giggle.

The voice seemed familiar to me. Who on earth was this Mr Montmorency, who had intruded upon our séance at the most important juncture? I turned up the lamp and threw its light full upon his features. 'Good heavens!' I exclaimed, 'it's Julian Cockleboat.'

The young man was equally astonished with myself.

'Did Lord Seaborne send you after me?' he said, guessing the truth at once. 'And how did you find out I was lodging here?'

'Aha, my boy!' I replied, unwilling to deny the kúdos with which he credited me, 'that's my secret. Do you suppose I have gained the name of the amateur detective among my friends for nothing? No, no! I am in Norwich expressly for the purpose of restoring you to your guardian, and as I knew that to show my hand more openly would be to scare you off to another hiding place, I devised this little plan for making you reveal yourself in your true character.'

'Did Robson tell you, then, that I had taken an engagement at the theatre here?'

'Never you mind, Mr Cockleboat; it is quite sufficient that I knew it. This is a proper sort of house to play hide-and-seek in, isn't it?'

I was dispersing the table and chairs again with angry jerks as I spoke, fearful lest my attempted investigation of the occult mysteries should be discovered before I had removed its traces.

'Still I can't understand how you discovered that Mr Montmorency was myself, although naturally my night rehearsals must have disturbed you. But you told me you had no other lodgers,' continued Julian Cockleboat reproachfully, to the Bizzeys.

'And you said the same thing to me,' I added, in similar tones.

'Well, sir—well, Mr Montmorency, I'm very sorry it should have happened so,' replied the landlord, turning from one to the other, 'but it's all my old woman's fault, for I said to her—'

'You did nothing of the sort,' interrupted his better half; 'for when I come to you and told you as a second gentleman wanted rooms here, it was you as said, "Let him have the little room upstairs, and no one will be ever the wiser if he takes his meals out of a day."'

'But we never thought—begging your pardon, Mr Montmorency—as you'd take such a liberty with the upper offices as to make noises in them as should disturb the whole house.'

'Well, what was I to do?' replied the young man, appealing to me. 'They've given me three leading parts to get up at a fortnight's notice, and if I don't study them at night I have no chance of being ready in time.'

'In fact,' I said, oracularly, 'you've been cheating each other all round. Mr Bizzey has cheated his employers by letting apartments to which he has no right; you have cheated the Bizzeys by using one which you never hired of them; and I have—' 'cheated myself,' I might have added, but I stopped short and looked wise instead.

'And it was never no ghosts after all!' said Mrs Bizzey, in accents of disappointment, as her husband marched her downstairs.

There is nothing more to tell. I reconciled Mr Julian Cockleboat to his guardian and his destiny; and I wrote 'The Origin of Dreams,' the best part, by the way (as all the critics affirmed), of 'The Cyclopædia of the Brain.' I made more money by my little trip than six months of ordinary labour would have brought me; and Lord Seaborne speaks of me to this day, amongst his acquaintances, as the 'very cleverest amateur detective he has ever known.'

And so I am.


MR SIGISMUND BRAGGETT was sitting in the little room he called his study, wrapped in a profound—not to say a mournful—reverie. Now, there was nothing in the present life nor surroundings of Mr Braggett to account for such a demonstration. He was a publisher and bookseller; a man well to do, with a thriving business in the city, and the prettiest of all pretty villas at Streatham. And he was only just turned forty; had not a grey hair in his head nor a false tooth in his mouth; and had been married but three short months to one of the fairest and most affectionate specimens of English womanhood that ever transformed a bachelor's quarters into Paradise.

What more could Mr Sigismund Braggett possibly want? Nothing! His trouble lay in the fact that he had got rather more than he wanted. Most of us have our little peccadilloes in this world—awkward reminiscences that we would like to bury five fathoms deep, and never hear mentioned again, but that have an uncomfortable habit of cropping up at the most inconvenient moments; and no mortal is more likely to be troubled with them than a middle-aged bachelor who has taken to matrimony.

Mr Sigismund Braggett had no idea what he was going in for when he led the blushing Emily Primrose up to the altar, and swore to be hers, and hers only, until death should them part. He had no conception a woman's curiosity could be so keen, her tongue so long, and her inventive faculties so correct. He had spent whole days before the fatal moment of marriage in burning letters, erasing initials, destroying locks of hair, and making offerings of affection look as if he had purchased them with his own money. But it had been of little avail. Mrs Braggett had swooped down upon him like a beautiful bird of prey, and wheedled, coaxed, or kissed him out of half his secrets before he knew what he was about. But he had never told her about Charlotte Cray. And now he almost wished that he had done so, for Charlotte Cray was the cause of his present dejected mood.

Now, there are ladies and ladies in this world. Some are very shy, and will only permit themselves to be wooed by stealth. Others, again, are the pursuers rather than the pursued, and chase the wounded or the flying even to the very doors of their stronghold, or lie in wait for them like an octopus, stretching out their tentacles on every side in search of victims.

And to the latter class Miss Charlotte Cray decidedly belonged. Not a person worth mourning over, you will naturally say. But, then, Mr Sigismund Braggett had not behaved well to her. She was one of the 'peccadilloes.' She was an authoress—not an author, mind you, which term smacks more of the profession than the sex—but an 'authoress,' with lots of the 'ladylike' about the plots of her stories and the metre of her rhymes. They had come together in the sweet connection of publisher and writer—had met first in a dingy, dusty little office at the back of his house of business, and laid the foundation of their friendship with the average amount of chaffering and prevarication that usually attend such proceedings.

Mr Braggett ran a risk in publishing Miss Cray's tales or verses, but he found her useful in so many other ways that he used occasionally to hold forth a sop to Cerberus in the shape of publicity for the sake of keeping her in his employ. For Miss Charlotte Cray—who was as old as himself, and had arrived at the period of life when women are said to pray 'Any, good Lord, any!'—was really a clever woman, and could turn her hand to most things required of her, or upon which she had set her mind; and she had most decidedly set her mind upon marrying Mr Braggett, and he—to serve his own purposes—had permitted her to cherish the idea, and this was the Nemesis that was weighing him down in the study at the present moment. He had complimented Miss Cray, and given her presents, and taken her out a-pleasuring, all because she was useful to him, and did odd jobs that no one else would undertake, and for less than any one else would have accepted; and he had known the while that she was in love with him, and that she believed he was in love with her.

He had not thought much of it at the time. He had not then made up his mind to marry Emily Primrose, and considered that what pleased Miss Cray, and harmed no one else, was fair play for all sides. But he had come to see things differently now. He had been married three months, and the first two weeks had been very bitter ones to him. Miss Cray had written him torrents of reproaches during that unhappy period, besides calling day after day at his office to deliver them in person. This and her threats had frightened him out of his life. He had lived in hourly terror lest the clerks should overhear what passed at their interviews, or that his wife should be made acquainted with them.

He had implored Miss Cray, both by word of mouth and letter, to cease her persecution of him; but all the reply he received was that he was a base and perjured man, and that she should continue to call at his office, and write to him through the penny post, until he had introduced her to his wife. For therein lay the height and depth of his offending. He had been afraid to bring Emily and Miss Cray together, and the latter resented the omission as an insult. It was bad enough to find that Sigismund Braggett, whose hair she wore next her heart, and whose photograph stood as in a shrine upon her bedroom mantelpiece, had married another woman, without giving her even the chance of a refusal, but it was worse still to come to the conclusion that he did not intend her to have a glimpse into the garden of Eden he had created for himself.

Miss Cray was a lady of vivid imagination and strong aspirations. All was not lost in her ideas, although Mr Braggett had proved false to the hopes he had raised. Wives did not live for ever; and the chances and changes of this life were so numerous, that stranger things had happened than that Mr Braggett might think fit to make better use of the second opportunity afforded him than he had done of the first. But if she were not to continue even his friend, it was too hard. But the perjured publisher had continued resolute, notwithstanding all Miss Cray's persecution, and now he had neither seen nor heard from her for a month; and, man-like, he was beginning to wonder what had become of her, and whether she had found anybody to console her for his untruth. Mr Braggett did not wish to comfort Miss Cray himself; but he did not quite like the notion of her being comforted.

After all—so he soliloquised—he had been very cruel to her; for the poor thing was devoted to him. How her eyes used to sparkle and her cheek to flush when she entered his office, and how eagerly she would undertake any work for him, however disagreeable to perform! He knew well that she had expected to be Mrs Braggett, and it must have been a terrible disappointment to her when he married Emily Primrose.

Why had he not asked her out to Violet Villa since? What harm could she do as a visitor there? particularly if he cautioned her first as to the peculiarity of Mrs Braggett's disposition, and the quickness with which her jealousy was excited. It was close upon Christmas-time, the period when all old friends meet together and patch up, if they cannot entirely forget, everything that has annoyed them in the past. Mr Braggett pictured to himself the poor old maid sitting solitary in her small rooms at Hammersmith, no longer able to live in the expectation of seeing his manly form at the wicket-gate, about to enter and cheer her solitude. The thought smote him as a two-edged sword, and he sat down at once and penned Miss Charlotte a note, in which he inquired after her health, and hoped that they should soon see her at Violet Villa.

He felt much better after this note was written and despatched. He came out of the little study and entered the cheerful drawing-room, and sat with his pretty wife by the light of the fire, telling her of the lonely lady to whom he had just proposed to introduce her.

'An old friend of mine, Emily. A clever, agreeable woman, though rather eccentric. You will be polite to her, I know, for my sake.'

'An old woman, is she?' said Mrs Braggett, elevating her eyebrows. 'And what do you call 'old,' Siggy, I should like to know?'

'Twice as old as yourself, my dear—five-and-forty at the very least, and not personable-looking, even for that age. Yet I think you will find her a pleasant companion, and I am sure she will be enchanted with you.'

'I don't know that: clever women don't like me, as a rule, though I don't know why.'

'They are jealous of your beauty, my darling; but Miss Cray is above such meanness, and will value you for your own sake.'

'She'd better not let me catch her valuing me for yours,' responded Mrs Braggett, with a flash of the eye that made her husband ready to regret the dangerous experiment he was about to make of bringing together two women who had each, in her own way, a claim upon him, and each the will to maintain it.

So he dropped the subject of Miss Charlotte Cray, and took to admiring his wife's complexion instead, so that the evening passed harmoniously, and both parties were satisfied.

For two days Mr Braggett received no answer from Miss Cray, which rather surprised him. He had quite expected that on the reception of his invitation she would rush down to his office and into his arms, behind the shelter of the ground-glass door that enclosed his chair of authority. For Miss Charlotte had been used on occasions to indulge in rapturous demonstrations of the sort, and the remembrance of Mrs Braggett located in Violet Villa would have been no obstacle whatever to her. She believed she had a prior claim to Mr Braggett. However, nothing of the kind happened, and the perjured publisher was becoming strongly imbued with the idea that he must go out to Hammersmith and see if he could not make his peace with her in person, particularly as he had several odd jobs for Christmas-tide, which no one could undertake so well as herself, when a letter with a black-edged border was put into his hand. He opened it mechanically, not knowing the writing; but its contents shocked him beyond measure.

'Honoured Sir,—I am sorry to tell you that Miss Cray died at my house a week ago, and was buried yesterday. She spoke of you several times during her last illness, and if you would like to hear any further particulars, and will call on me at the old address, I shall be most happy to furnish you with them.—Yours respectfully,

'Mary Thompson.'

When Mr Braggett read this news, you might have knocked him over with a feather. It is not always true that a living dog is better than a dead lion. Some people gain considerably in the estimation of their friends by leaving this world, and Miss Charlotte Cray was one of them. Her persecution had ceased for ever, and her amiable weaknesses were alone held in remembrance. Mr Braggett felt a positive relief in the knowledge that his dead friend and his wife would never now be brought in contact with each other; but at the same time he blamed himself more than was needful, perhaps, for not having seen nor communicated with Miss Cray for so long before her death. He came down to breakfast with a portentously grave face that morning, and imparted the sad intelligence to Mrs Braggett with the air of an undertaker. Emily wondered, pitied, and sympathised, but the dead lady was no more to her than any other stranger; and she was surprised her husband looked so solemn over it all. Mr Braggett, however, could not dismiss the subject easily from his mind. It haunted him during the business hours of the morning, and as soon as he could conveniently leave his office, he posted away to Hammersmith. The little house in which Miss Cray used to live looked just the same, both inside and outside: how strange it seemed that she should have flown away from it for ever! And here was her landlady, Mrs Thompson, bobbing and curtseying to him in the same old black net cap with artificial flowers in it, and the same stuff gown she had worn since he first saw her, with her apron in her hand, it is true, ready to go to her eyes as soon as a reasonable opportunity occurred, but otherwise the same Mrs Thompson as before. And yet she would never wait upon her again.

'It was all so sudden, sir,' she said, in answer to Mr Braggett's inquiries, 'that there was no time to send for nobody.'

'But Miss Cray had my address.'

'Ah! perhaps so; but she was off her head, poor dear, and couldn't think of nothing. But she remembered you, sir, to the last; for the very morning she died, she sprung up in bed and called out, 'Sigismund! Sigismund!' as loud as ever she could, and she never spoke to anybody afterwards, not one word.'

'She left no message for me?'

'None, sir. I asked her the day before she went if I was to say nothing to you for her (knowing you was such friends), and all her answer was, "I wrote to him. He's got my letter." So I thought, perhaps, you had heard, sir.'

'Not for some time past. It seems terribly sudden to me, not having heard even of her illness. Where is she buried?'

'Close by in the churchyard, sir. My little girl will go with you and show you the place, if you'd like to see it.'

Mr Braggett accepted her offer and left.

When he was standing by a heap of clods they called a grave, and had dismissed the child, he drew out Miss Cray's last letter, which he carried in his pocket, and read it over.

'You tell me that I am not to call at your office again, except on business' (so it ran), 'nor to send letters to your private address, lest it should come to the knowledge of your wife, and create unpleasantness between you; but I shall call, and I shall write, until I have seen Mrs Braggett, and, if you don't take care, I will introduce myself to her and tell her the reason you have been afraid to do so.'

This letter had made Mr Braggett terribly angry at the time of reception. He had puffed and fumed, and cursed Miss Charlotte by all his gods for daring to threaten him. But he read it with different feelings now Miss Charlotte was down there, six feet beneath the ground he stood on, and he could feel only compassion for her frenzy, and resentment against himself for having excited it. As he travelled home from Hammersmith to Streatham, he was a very dejected publisher indeed.

He did not tell Mrs Braggett the reason of his melancholy, but it affected him to that degree that he could not go to office on the following day, but stayed at home instead, to be petted and waited upon by his pretty wife, which treatment resulted in a complete cure. The next morning, therefore, he started for London as briskly as ever, and arrived at office before his usual time. A clerk, deputed to receive all messages for his master, followed him behind the ground-glass doors, with a packet of letters.

'Mr Van Ower was here yesterday, sir. He will let you have the copy before the end of the week, and Messrs Hanleys' foreman called on particular business, and will look in to-day at eleven. And Mr Ellis came to ask if there was any answer to his letter yet; and Miss Cray called, sir; and that's all.'

'Who did you say?' cried Braggett.

'Miss Cray, sir. She waited for you above an hour, but I told her I thought you couldn't mean to come into town at all, so she went.'

'Do you know what you're talking about, Hewetson? You said Miss Cray!'

'And I meant it, sir—Miss Charlotte Cray. Burns spoke to her as well as I.'

'Good heavens!' exclaimed Mr Braggett, turning as white as a sheet. 'Go at once and send Burns to me.' Burns came.

'Burns, who was the lady that called to see me yesterday?'

'Miss Cray, sir. She had a very thick veil on, and she looked so pale that I asked her if she had been ill, and she said "Yes." She sat in the office for over an hour, hoping you'd come in, but as you didn't, she went away again.'

'Did she lift her veil?'

'Not whilst I spoke to her, sir.'

'How do you know it was Miss Cray, then?'

The clerk stared. 'Well, sir, we all know her pretty well by this time.'

'Did you ask her name?'

'No, sir; there was no need to do it.'

'You're mistaken, that's all, both you and Hewetson. It couldn't have been Miss Cray! I know for certain that she is—is—is—not in London at present. It must have been a stranger.'

'It was not, indeed, sir, begging your pardon. I could tell Miss Cray anywhere, by her figure and her voice, without seeing her face. But I did see her face, and remarked how awfully pale she was—just like death, sir!'

'There! there! that will do! It's of no consequence, and you can go back to your work.'

But any one who had seen Mr Braggett, when left alone in his office, would not have said he thought the matter of no consequence. The perspiration broke out upon his forehead, although it was December, and he rocked himself backward and forward in his chair with agitation.

At last he rose hurriedly, upset his throne, and dashed through the outer premises in the face of twenty people waiting to speak to him. As soon as he could find his voice, he hailed a hansom, and drove to Hammersmith. Good Mrs Thompson opening the door to him, thought he looked as if he had just come out of a fever.

'Lor' bless me, sir! whatever's the matter?'

'Mrs Thompson, have you told me the truth about Miss Cray? Is she really dead?'

'Really dead, sir! Why, I closed her eyes, and put her in the coffin with my own hands! If she ain't dead, I don't know who is! But if you doubt my word, you'd better ask the doctor that gave the certificate for her.'

'What is the doctor's name?'

'Dodson; he lives opposite.'

'You must forgive my strange questions, Mrs Thompson, but I have had a terrible dream about my poor friend, and I think I should like to talk to the doctor about her.'

'Oh, very good, sir,' cried the landlady, much offended. 'I'm not afraid of what the doctor will tell you. She had excellent nursing and everything as she could desire, and there's nothing on my conscience on that score, so I'll wish you good morning.' And with that Mrs Thompson slammed the door in Mr Braggett's face.

He found Dr Dodson at home.

'If I understand you rightly,' said the practitioner, looking rather steadfastly in the scared face of his visitor, 'you wish, as a friend of the late Miss Cray's, to see a copy of the certificate of her death? Very good, sir; here it is. She died, as you will perceive, on the twenty-fifth of November, of peritonitis. She had, I can assure you, every attention and care, but nothing could have saved her.'

'You are quite sure, then, she is dead?' demanded Mr Braggett, in a vague manner.

The doctor looked at him as if he were not quite sure if he were sane.

'If seeing a patient die, and her corpse coffined and buried, is being sure she is dead, I am in no doubt whatever about Miss Cray.'

'It is very strange—most strange and unaccountable,' murmured poor Mr Braggett, in reply, as he shuffled out of the doctor's passage, and took his way back to the office.

Here, however, after an interval of rest and a strong brandy and soda, he managed to pull himself together, and to come to the conclusion that the doctor and Mrs Thompson could not be mistaken, and that, consequently, the clerks must. He did not mention the subject again to them, however; and as the days went on, and nothing more was heard of the mysterious stranger's visit, Mr Braggett put it altogether out of his mind.

At the end of a fortnight, however, when he was thinking of something totally different, young Hewetson remarked to him, carelessly,—

'Miss Cray was here again yesterday, sir. She walked in just as your cab had left the door.'

All the horror of his first suspicions returned with double force upon the unhappy man's mind.

'Don't talk nonsense!' he gasped, angrily, as soon as he could speak. 'Don't attempt to play any of your tricks on me, young man, or it will be the worse for you, I can tell you.'

'Tricks, sir!' stammered the clerk. 'I don't know what you are alluding to. I am only telling you the truth. You have always desired me to be most particular in letting you know the names of the people who call in your absence, and I thought I was only doing my duty in making a point of ascertaining them—'

'Yes, yes! Hewetson, of course,' replied Mr Braggett, passing his handkerchief over his brow, 'and you are quite right in following my directions as closely as possible; only—in this case you are completely mistaken, and it is the second time you have committed the error.'


'Yes!—as mistaken as it is possible for a man to be! Miss Cray could not have called at this office yesterday.'

'But she did, sir.'

'Am I labouring under some horrible nightmare?' exclaimed the publisher, 'or are we playing at cross purposes? Can you mean the Miss Cray I mean?'

'I am speaking of Miss Charlotte Cray, sir, the author of "Sweet Gwendoline,"—the lady who has undertaken so much of our compilation the last two years, and who has a long nose, and wears her hair in curls. I never knew there was another Miss Cray; but if there are two, that is the one I mean.'

'Still I cannot believe it, Hewetson, for the Miss Cray who has been associated with our firm died on the twenty-fifth of last month.'

'Died, sir! Is Miss Cray dead? Oh, it can't be! It's some humbugging trick that's been played upon you, for I'd swear she was in this room yesterday afternoon, as full of life as she's ever been since I knew her. She didn't talk much, it's true, for she seemed in a hurry to be off again, but she had got on the same dress and bonnet she was in here last, and she made herself as much at home in the office as she ever did. Besides,' continued Hewetson, as though suddenly remembering something, 'she left a note for you, sir.'

'A note! Why did you not say so before?'

'It slipped my memory when you began to doubt my word in that way, sir. But you'll find it in the bronze vase. She told me to tell you she had placed it there.'

Mr Braggett made a dash at the vase, and found the three-cornered note as he had been told. Yes! it was Charlotte's handwriting, or the facsimile of it, there was no doubt of that; and his hands shook so he could hardly open the paper. It contained these words:

'You tell me that I am not to call at your office again, except on business, nor to send letters to your private address, lest it should come to the knowledge of your wife, and create unpleasantness between you; but I shall call, and I shall write until I have seen Mrs Braggett, and if you don't take care I will introduce myself to her, and tell her the reason you have been afraid to do so.'

Precisely the same words, in the same writing of the letter he still carried in his breast-pocket, and which no mortal eyes but his and hers had ever seen. As the unhappy man sat gazing at the opened note, his whole body shook as if he were attacked by ague.

'It is Miss Cray's handwriting, isn't it, sir?'

'It looks like it, Hewetson, but it cannot be. I tell you it is an impossibility! Miss Cray died last month, and I have seen not only her grave, but the doctor and nurse who attended her in her last illness. It is folly, then, to suppose either that she called here or wrote that letter.'

'Then who could it have been, sir?' said Hewetson, attacked with a sudden terror in his turn.

'That is impossible for me to say; but should the lady call again, you had better ask her boldly for her name and address.'

'I'd rather you'd depute the office to anybody but me, sir,' replied the clerk, as he hastily backed out of the room.

Mr Braggett, dying with suspense and conjecture, went through his business as best he could, and hurried home to Violet Villa.

There he found that his wife had been spending the day with a friend, and only entered the house a few minutes before himself.

'Siggy, dear!' she commenced, as soon as he joined her in the drawing-room after dinner; 'I really think we should have the fastenings and bolts of this house looked to. Such a funny thing happened whilst I was out this afternoon. Ellen has just been telling me about it.'

'What sort of a thing, dear?'

'Well, I left home as early as twelve, you know, and told the servants I shouldn't be back until dinner-time; so they were all enjoying themselves in the kitchen, I suppose, when cook told Ellen she heard a footstep in the drawing-room. Ellen thought at first it must be cook's fancy, because she was sure the front door was fastened; but when they listened, they all heard the noise together, so she ran upstairs, and what on earth do you think she saw?'

'How can I guess, my dear?'

'Why, a lady, seated in this very room, as if she was waiting for somebody. She was oldish, Ellen says, and had a very white face, with long curls hanging down each side of it; and she wore a blue bonnet with white feathers, and a long black cloak, and—'

'Emily, Emily! Stop! You don't know what you're talking about. That girl is a fool: you must send her away. That is, how could the lady have got in if the door was closed? Good heavens! you'll all drive me mad between you with your folly!' exclaimed Mr Braggett, as he threw himself back in his chair, with an exclamation that sounded very like a groan.

Pretty Mrs Braggett was offended. What had she said or done that her husband should doubt her word? She tossed her head in indignation, and remained silent. If Mr Braggett wanted any further information, he would have to apologise.

'Forgive me, darling,' he said, after a long pause. 'I don't think I'm very well this evening, but your story seemed to upset me.'

'I don't see why it should upset you,' returned Mrs Braggett. 'If strangers are allowed to come prowling about the house in this way, we shall be robbed some day, and then you'll say I should have told you of it.'

'Wouldn't she—this person—give her name?'

'Oh! I'd rather say no more about it. You had better ask Ellen.'

'No, Emily! I'd rather hear it from you.'

'Well, don't interrupt me again, then. When Ellen saw the woman seated here, she asked her her name and business at once, but she gave no answer, and only sat and stared at her. And so Ellen, feeling very uncomfortable, had just turned round to call up cook, when the woman got up, and dashed past her like a flash of lightning, and they saw nothing more of her!'

'Which way did she leave the house?'

'Nobody knows any more than how she came in. The servants declare the hall-door was neither opened nor shut—but, of course, it must have been. She was a tall gaunt woman, Ellen says, about fifty, and she's sure her hair was dyed. She must have come to steal something, and that's why I say we ought to have the house made more secure. Why, Siggy! Siggy! what's the matter? Here, Ellen! Jane! come, quick, some of you! Your master's fainted!'

And, sure enough, the repeated shocks and horrors of the day had had such an effect upon poor Mr Braggett, that for a moment he did lose all consciousness of what surrounded him. He was thankful to take advantage of the Christmas holidays, to run over to Paris with his wife, and try to forget, in the many marvels of that city, the awful fear that fastened upon him at the mention of anything connected with home. He might be enjoying himself to the top of his bent; but directly the remembrance of Charlotte Cray crossed his mind, all sense of enjoyment vanished, and he trembled at the mere thought of returning to his business, as a child does when sent to bed in the dark.

He tried to hide the state of his feelings from Mrs Braggett, but she was too sharp for him. The simple, blushing Emily Primrose had developed, under the influence of the matrimonial forcing-frame, into a good watch-dog, and nothing escaped her notice.

Left to her own conjecture, she attributed his frequent moods of dejection to the existence of some other woman, and became jealous accordingly. If Siggy did not love her, why had he married her? She felt certain there was some other horrid creature who had engaged his affections and would not leave him alone, even now that he was her own lawful property. And to find out who the 'horrid creature' was became Mrs Emily's constant idea. When she had found out, she meant to give her a piece of her mind, never fear! Meanwhile Mr Braggett's evident distaste to returning to business only served to increase his wife's suspicions. A clear conscience, she argued, would know no fear. So they were not a happy couple, as they set their faces once more towards England. Mr Braggett's dread of re-entering his office amounted almost to terror, and Mrs Braggett, putting this and that together, resolved that she would fathom the mystery, if it lay in feminine finesse to do so. She did not whisper a word of her intentions to dear Siggy, you may be sure of that! She worked after the manner of her amiable sex, like a cat in the dark, or a worm boring through the earth, and appearing on the surface when least expected.

So poor Mr Braggett brought her home again, heavy at heart indeed, but quite ignorant that any designs were being made against him. I think he would have given a thousand pounds to be spared the duty of attending office the day after his arrival. But it was necessary, and he went, like a publisher and a Briton. But Mrs Emily had noted his trepidation and his fears, and laid her plans accordingly. She had never been asked to enter those mysterious precincts, the house of business. Mr Braggett had not thought it necessary that her blooming loveliness should be made acquainted with its dingy, dusty accessories, but she meant to see them for herself to-day. So she waited till he had left Violet Villa ten minutes, and then she dressed and followed him by the next train to London.

Mr Sigismund Braggett meanwhile had gone on his way, as people go to a dentist, determined to do what was right, but with an indefinite sort of idea that he might never come out of it alive. He dreaded to hear what might have happened in his absence, and he delayed his arrival at the office for half-an-hour, by walking there instead of taking a cab as usual, in order to put off the evil moment. As he entered the place, however, he saw at a glance that his efforts were vain, and that something had occurred. The customary formality and precision of the office were upset, and the clerks, instead of bending over their ledgers, or attending to the demands of business, were all huddled together at one end whispering and gesticulating to each other. But as soon as the publisher appeared, a dead silence fell upon the group, and they only stared at him with an air of horrid mystery.

'What is the matter now?' he demanded, angrily, for like most men when in a fright which they are ashamed to exhibit, Mr Sigismund Braggett tried to cover his want of courage by bounce.

The young man called Hewetson advanced towards him, with a face the colour of ashes, and pointed towards the ground-glass doors dumbly.

'What do you mean? Can't you speak? What's come to the lot of you, that you are neglecting my business in this fashion to make fools of yourselves?'

'If you please, sir, she's in there.'

Mr Braggett started back as if he'd been shot. But still he tried to have it out.

'She! Who's she?'

'Miss Cray, sir.'

'Haven't I told you already that's a lie.'

'Will you judge for yourself, Mr Braggett?' said a grey-haired man, stepping forward. 'I was on the stairs myself just now when Miss Cray passed me, and I have no doubt whatever but that you will find her in your private room, however much the reports that have lately reached you may seem against the probability of such a thing.'

Mr Braggett's teeth chattered in his head as he advanced to the ground-glass doors, through the panes of one of which there was a little peephole to ascertain if the room were occupied or not. He stooped and looked in. At the table, with her back towards him, was seated the well-known figure of Charlotte Cray. He recognised at once the long black mantle in which she was wont to drape her gaunt figure—the blue bonnet, with its dejected-looking, uncurled feather—the lank curls which rested on her shoulders—and the black-leather bag, with a steel clasp, which she always carried in her hand. It was the embodiment of Charlotte Cray, he had no doubt of that; but how could he reconcile the fact of her being there with the damp clods he had seen piled upon her grave, with the certificate of death, and the doctor's and landlady's assertion that they had watched her last moments?

At last he prepared, with desperate energy, to turn the handle of the door. At that moment the attention of the more frivolous of the clerks was directed from his actions by the entrance of an uncommonly pretty woman at the other end of the outer office. Such a lovely creature as this seldom brightened the gloom of their dusty abiding-place. Lilies, roses, and carnations vied with each other in her complexion, whilst the sunniest of locks, and the brightest of blue eyes, lent her face a girlish charm not easily described. What could this fashionably-attired Venus want in their house of business?

'Is Mr Braggett here? I am Mrs Braggett. Please show me in to him immediately.'

They glanced at the ground-glass doors of the inner office. They had already closed behind the manly form of their employer.

'This way, madam,' one said, deferentially, as he escorted her to the presence of Mr Braggett.

Meanwhile, Sigismund had opened the portals of the Temple of Mystery, and with trembling knees entered it. The figure in the chair did not stir at his approach. He stood at the door irresolute. What should he do or say?

'Charlotte,' he whispered.

Still she did not move.

At that moment his wife entered.

'Oh, Sigismund!' cried Mrs Emily, reproachfully, 'I knew you were keeping something from me, and now I've caught you in the very act. Who is this lady, and what is her name? I shall refuse to leave the room until I know it.'

At the sound of her rival's voice, the woman in the chair rose quickly to her feet and confronted them. Yes! there was Charlotte Cray, precisely similar to what she had appeared in life, only with an uncertainty and vagueness about the lines of the familiar features that made them ghastly.

She stood there, looking Mrs Emily full in the face, but only for a moment, for, even as she gazed, the lineaments grew less and less distinct, with the shape of the figure that supported them, until, with a crash, the apparition seemed to fall in and disappear, and the place that had known her was filled with empty air.

'Where is she gone?' exclaimed Mrs Braggett, in a tone of utter amazement.

'Where is who gone?' repeated Mr Braggett, hardly able to articulate from fear.

'The lady in the chair!'

'There was no one there except in your own imagination. It was my great-coat that you mistook for a figure,' returned her husband hastily, as he threw the article in question over the back of the arm-chair.

'But how could that have been?' said his pretty wife, rubbing her eyes. 'How could I think a coat had eyes, and hair, and features? I am sure I saw a woman seated there, and that she rose and stared at me. Siggy! tell me it was true. It seems so incomprehensible that I should have been mistaken.'

'You must question your own sense. You see that the room is empty now, except for ourselves, and you know that no one has left it. If you like to search under the table, you can.'

'Ah! now, Siggy, you are laughing at me, because you know that would be folly. But there was certainly some one here—only, where can she have disappeared to?'

'Suppose we discuss the matter at a more convenient season,' replied Mr Braggett, as he drew his wife's arm through his arm. 'Hewetson! you will be able to tell Mr Hume that he was mistaken. Say, also, that I shall not be back in the office to-day. I am not so strong as I thought I was, and feel quite unequal to business. Tell him to come out to Streatham this evening with my letters, and I will talk with him there.'

What passed at that interview was never disclosed; but pretty Mrs Braggett was much rejoiced, a short time afterwards, by her husband telling her that he had resolved to resign his active share of the business, and devote the rest of his life to her and Violet Villa. He would have no more occasion, therefore, to visit the office, and be exposed to the temptation of spending four or five hours out of every twelve away from her side. For, though Mrs Emily had arrived at the conclusion that the momentary glimpse she caught of a lady in Siggy's office must have been a delusion, she was not quite satisfied by his assertions that she would never have found a more tangible cause for her jealousy.

But Sigismund Braggett knew more than he chose to tell Mrs Emily. He knew that what she had witnessed was no delusion, but a reality; and that Charlotte Cray had carried out her dying determination to call at his office and his private residence, until she had seen his wife!


Roy Glashan's Library
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