Birds of Prey
Part 7 out of 9
cluster of cottages, relieved by one farmhouse of moderate pretensions,
my hostelry of the Magpie, a general shop, which is also the
post-office, and a fine old Norman church, which lies away from the
village, and bears upon it the traces of better days. Near the church
there is an old granite cross, around which the wild flowers and
grasses grow rank and high. It marks the spot where there was once a
flourishing market-place; but all mortal habitations have vanished,
and the Huxter's Cross of the past has now no other memorial than this
The churchyard was unutterably still and solitary. A robin was perched
on the topmost bar of the old wooden gate, singing his joyous carol. As
I approached, he hopped from the gate to the low moss-grown wall, and
went on singing as I passed him. I was in the humour to apostrophise
skylark or donkey, or to be sentimental about anything in creation,
just then; so I told my robin what a pretty creature he was, and that I
would sooner perish than hurt him by so much as the tip of a feather.
Being bound to remember my Sheldon even when most sentimental, I
endeavoured to combine the meditative mood of a Hervey with the
business-like sharpness of a lawyer's clerk; and while musing on the
common lot of man in general, I did not omit to search the mouldering
tombstones for some record of the Meynells in particular.
I found none; and yet, if the daughter of Christian Meynell had been
buried in that churchyard, the name of her father would surely have
been inscribed upon her tombstone. I had read all the epitaphs when the
wooden gate creaked on its hinges, and admitted a wizen little old man
--one of those ancient meanderers who seem to have been created on
purpose to fill the post of sexton.
With this elderly individual I entered the church of Huxter's Cross,
which had the same mouldy atmosphere as the church at Spotswold. The
vestry was an icy little chamber, which had once been a family vault;
but it was not much colder than Miss Judson's best parlour; and I
endured the cold bravely while I searched the registries of the last
I searched in vain. After groping amongst the names of all the
nonentities who had been married at Huxter's Cross since the beginning
of the century, I found myself no nearer the secret of Charlotte
Meynell's marriage. And then I reflected upon all the uncertainties
surrounding that marriage. Miss Meynell had gone to Yorkshire, to visit
her mother's relations, and had married in Yorkshire; and the place
which Anthony Sparsfield remembered having heard of in connection with
that marriage was Huxter's Cross. But it did not by any means follow
that the marriage had taken place at that obscure village. Miss Meynell
might have been married at Hull, or York, or Leeds, or at any of the
principal places of the county. With that citizen class of people
marriage was a grand event, a solemn festivity; and Miss Meynell and
her friends would have been likely to prefer that so festive an
occasion should be celebrated anywhere rather than at that forgotten
old church among the hills. "I shall have to search every register in
Yorkshire till I light upon the record I want," I thought to myself,
"unless Sheldon will consent to advertise for the Meynell marriage
certificate. There could scarcely be danger in such an advertisement,
as the connection between the name of Meynell and the Haygarth estate
is only known to ourselves."
Acting upon this idea, I wrote to George Sheldon by that afternoon's
post, urging him to advertise for descendants of Miss Charlotte
Charlotte! dear name, which is a kind of music for me. It was almost a
pleasure to write that letter, because of the repetition of that
The next day I devoted to a drive round the neighbourhood, in a smart
little dog-cart, hired on very moderate terms from mine host. I had
acquainted myself with the geography of the surrounding country; and I
contrived to visit every village church within a certain radius of
Huxter's Cross. But my inspection of mildewed old books, and my heroic
endurance of cold and damp in mouldy old churches, resulted in nothing
I returned to my "Magpie" after dark a little disheartened and
thoroughly tired, but still very well pleased with my rustic quarters
and my adopted county. My landlord's horse had shown himself a very
model of equine perfection.
Candles were lighted and curtains drawn in my cosy little chamber, and
the table creaked beneath one of those luxurious Yorkshire teas which
might wean an alderman from the coarser delights of turtle or
conger-eel soup and venison.
At noon the following day a very primitive kind of postman brought me a
letter from Sheldon. That astute individual told me that he declined to
advertise, or to give any kind of publicity to his requirements.
"If I were not afraid of publicity, I should not be obliged to pay you
a pound a week," he remarked, with pleasing candour, "since
advertisements would get me more information in a week than you may
scrape together in a twelvemonth. But I happen to know the danger of
publicity, and that many a good thing has been snatched out of a man's
hands just as he was working it into shape. I don't say that this could
be done in my case; and you know very well that it could not be done,
as I hold papers which are essential to the very first move in the
I perfectly understand the meaning of these remarks, and I am inclined
to doubt the existence of those important papers. Suspicion is a
fundamental principle in the Sheldon mind. My friend George trusts me
because he is obliged to trust me--and only so far as he is obliged--
and is tormented, more or less, by the idea that I may at any moment
attempt to steal a march upon him.
But to return to his letter:
"I should recommend you to examine the registries of every town or
village within, say, thirty miles of Huxter's Cross. If you find
nothing in such registries, we must fall back upon the larger towns,
beginning with Hull, as being nearest to our starting-point. The work
will, I fear, be slow, and very expensive for me. I need scarcely again
urge upon you the necessity of confining your outlay to the minimum, as
you know that my affairs are desperate. It couldn't well be lower water
than it is with me, in a pecuniary sense; and I expect every day to
find myself aground.
"And now for my news. I have discovered the burial-place of Samuel
Meynell, after no end of trouble, the details of which I needn't bore
you with, since you are now pretty well up in that sort of work. I am
thankful to say I have secured the evidence that settles for Samuel,
and ascertained by tradition that he died unmarried. The _onus
probandi_ would fall upon any one purporting to be descended from the
said Samuel, and we know how uncommonly difficult said person would
find it to prove anything.
"So, having disposed of Samuel, I came back to London by the next mail;
Calais, in the month of November, not being one of those wildly-gay
watering-places which tempt the idler. I arrived just in time to catch
this afternoon's post; and now I look impatiently to your Miss
Charlotte Meynell, of Huxter's Cross.--Yours, &c. G.S."
I obeyed my employer to the letter; hired my landlord's dog-cart for
another day's exploration; and went further afield in search of Miss
Charlotte's marriage-lines. I came home late at night--this time
thoroughly worn out--studied a railway guide with a view to my
departure, and decided on starting for Hull by a train that would leave
Hidling station at four o'clock on the following afternoon.
I went to bed tired in body and depressed in spirit. Why was I so sorry
to leave Huxter's Cross? What subtle instinct of the brain or heart
made me aware that the desert region amongst the hills held earth's
highest felicity for me?
The next morning was bright and clear. I heard the guns of sportsmen
popping merrily in the still air as I breakfasted before an open
window, while a noble sea-coal fire blazed on the hearth opposite me.
There is no stint of fuel at the Magpie. Everything in Yorkshire seems
to be done with a lavish hand. I have heard Yorkshiremen called mean.
As if meanness could exist in the hearts of my Charlotte's countrymen!
My own experience of the county is brief; but I can only say that my
friends of the Magpie are liberality itself, and that a Yorkshire tea
is the very acme of unsophisticated bliss in the way of eating and
drinking. I have dined at Philippe's; I know every dish in the _menu_
of the Maison Doree; but if I am to make my life a burden beneath the
dark sway of the demon dyspepsia, let my destruction arrive in the
shape of the ham and eggs, the crisp golden-brown cakes, and undefiled
honey, of this northern Arcadia.
I told my friendly hostess that I was going to leave her, and she was
sorry. She was sorry for me, the wanderer. I can picture to myself the
countenance of a London landlady if informed thus suddenly of her
lodger's departure, and her suppressed mutterings about the
ill-convenience of such a proceeding.
After breakfast I went out to take my own pleasure. I had done my duty
in the matter of mouldy churches and mildewed registries; and I
considered myself entitled to a holiday during the few hours that must
elapse before the starting of the hybrid vehicle for Hidling.
I sauntered past the little cluster of cottages, admiring their
primitive aspect, the stone-crop on the red-tiled roofs, that had sunk
under the weight of years. All was unspeakably fresh and bright; the
tiny panes of the casement twinkled in the autumn sunlight, birds sang,
and hardy red geraniums bloomed in the cottage windows. What pleasure
or distraction had the good housewives of Huxter's Cross to lure them
from the domestic delights of scrubbing and polishing? I saw young
faces peeping at me from between snow-white muslin curtains, and felt
that I was a personage for once in my life; and it was pleasant to feel
one's self of some importance even in the eyes of Huxter's Cross.
Beyond the cottages and the post-office there were three roads
stretching far away over hill and moorland. With two of those roads I
had made myself thoroughly familiar; but the third remained to be
"So now for 'fresh fields and pastures new,'" I said to myself as I
quickened my pace, and walked briskly along my unknown road.
Ah, surely there is some meaning in the fluctuations of the mental
barometer. What but an instinctive consciousness of approaching
happiness could have made me so light-hearted that morning? I sang as I
hastened along that undiscovered road. Fragments of old Italian
serenades and barcarolles came back to me as if I had heard them
yesterday for the first time. The perfume of the few lingering
wild-flowers, the odour of burning weeds in the distance, the fresh
autumn breeze, the clear cold blue sky,--all were intensely delicious
to me; and I felt as if this one lonely walk were a kind of renovating
process, from which my soul would emerge cleansed of all its stains.
"I have to thank George Sheldon for a great deal," I said to myself,
"since through him I have been obliged to educate myself in the school
of man's best teacher, Solitude. I do not think I can ever be a
thorough Bohemian again. These lonely wanderings have led me to
discover a vein of seriousness in my nature which I was ignorant of
until now. How thoroughly some men are the creatures of their
surroundings! With Paget I have been a Paget. But a few hours
_tete-a-tete_ with Nature renders one averse from the society of Pagets,
be they never so brilliant."
From moralising thus, I fell into a delicious day-dream. All my dreams
of late had moved to the same music. How happy I could be if Fate gave
me Charlotte and three hundred a year! In sober moods I asked for this
much of worldly wealth, just to furnish a nest for my bird. In my
wilder moments I asked Fate for nothing but Charlotte.
"Give me the bird without the nest," I cried to Fortune; "and we will
take wing to some trackless forest where there are shelter and berries
for nestless birds. We will imitate that delightful bride and
bridegroom of Parisian Bohemia, who married and settled in an attic,
and when their stock of fuel was gone fell foul of the staircase that
led to their bower, and so supplied themselves merrily enough till the
staircase was all consumed, and the poor little bride, peeping out of
her door one morning, found herself upon the verge of an abyss.
"And then came the furious landlord, demanding restitution. But close
behind the landlord came the good fairy of all love-stories, with
Pactolus in her pocket. Ah, yes, there is always a providence for true
I had passed away by this time from the barren moor to the regions of
cultivation. The trimly-cut hedges on each side of the way showed me
that my road now lay between farm lands. I was outside the boundary of
some upland farm. I saw sheep cropping trefoil in a field on the other
side of the brown hedgerow, and at a distance I saw the red-tiled roof
of a farm-house.
I looked at my watch, and found that I had still half an hour to spare;
so I went on towards the farm-house, bent upon seeing what sort of
habitation it was. In a solitary landscape like this, every
dwelling-place has a kind of attraction for the wayfarer.
I went on till I came to a white gate, against which a girlish figure
It was a graceful figure, dressed in that semi-picturesque costume
which has been adopted by women of late years. The vivid blue of a
boddice was tempered by the sober gray of a skirt, and a bright-hued
ribbon gleamed among rich tresses of brown hair.
The damsel's face was turned away from me, but there was something in
the carriage of the head, something in the modelling of the firm full
throat, which reminded me of--
But then, when a man is over head and ears in love, everything in
creation reminds him more or less of his idol. Your pious Catholic
gives all his goods for the adornment of a church; your true lover
devotes his every thought to the dressing up of one dear image.
The damsel turned as my steps drew near, loud on the crisp gravel. She
turned, and showed me the face of Charlotte Halliday.
I must entreat posterity to forgive me, if I leave a blank at this
stage of my story. "There are chords in the human heart which had
better not be wibrated," said Sim Tappertit. There are emotions which
can only be described by the pen of a poet. I am not a poet; and if my
diary is so happy as to be of some use to posterity as a picture of the
manners of a repentant Bohemian, posterity must not quarrel with my
shortcomings in the way of sentimental description.
We stood at the white gate talking to each other, my Charlotte and I.
The old red-tiled roof which I had seen in the distance sheltered the
girl I love. The solitary farm-house which it had been my whim to
examine was the house in which my dear love made her home. It was here,
to this untrodden hillside, that my darling had come from the prim
modern villa at Bayswater. Ah, what happiness to find her here, far
away from all those stockbroking surroundings--here, where our hearts
expanded beneath the divine influence of Nature!
I fear that I was coxcomb enough to fancy myself beloved that day we
parted in Kensington-gardens. A look, a tone--too subtle for
definition--thrilled me with a sudden hope so bright, that I would not
trust myself to believe it could be realised.
"She is a coquette," I said to myself. "Coquetry is one of the graces
which Nature bestows upon these bewitching creatures. That little
conscious look, which stirred this weak heart so tumultuously, is no
doubt common to her when she knows herself beloved and admired, and has
no meaning that can flatter my foolish hopes." This is how I had
reasoned with myself again and again during the dreary interval in
which Miss Halliday and I had been separated. But, O, what a hardy
perennial blossom hope must be! The tender buds were not to be crushed
by the pelting hailstones of hard common sense. They had survived all
my philosophical reflections, and burst into sudden flower to-day at
sight of Charlotte's face. She loved me, and she was delighted to see
me. That was what her radiant face told me; and could I do less than
believe the sweet confession? For the first few moments we could
scarcely speak to each other, and then we began to converse in the
usual commonplace strain.
She told me of her astonishment on seeing me in that remote spot. I
could hardly confess to having business at Huxter's Cross, so I was
fain to tell my dear love a falsehood, and declare that I was taking a
holiday "up at the hills."
"And how did you come to choose Huxter's Cross for your holiday?" she
I told her that I had heard the place spoken of by a person in the
city--my simple-minded Sparsfield to wit.
"And you could not have come to a better place," she cried, "though
people do call it the very dullest spot in the world. This was my dear
aunt Mary's house--papa's sister, you know. Grandpapa Halliday had two
farms. This was one, and Hyley the other. Hyley was much larger and
better than this, you know, and was left to poor papa, who sold it just
before he died."
Her face clouded as she spoke of her father's death. "I can't speak
about that without pain even now," she said softly, "though I was only
nine years old when it happened. But one can suffer a great deal at
nine years old."
And then, after a little pause, she went on to speak of her Yorkshire
"My aunt and uncle Mercer are so kind to me; and yet they are neither
of them really related to me. My aunt Mary died very young, when her
first baby was born, and the poor little baby died too: and uncle
Mercer inherited the property from his wife, you see. He married again
after two years, and his second wife is the dearest, kindest creature
in the world. I always call her aunt, for I don't remember poor papa's
sister at all; and no aunt that ever lived could be kinder to me than
aunt Dorothy. I am always so happy here," she said; "and it seems such
a treat to get away from the Lawn--of course I am sorry to leave mamma,
you know," she added, parenthetically--"and the stiff breakfasts, and
Mr. Sheldon's newspapers that crackle, crackle, crackle so shockingly
all breakfast-time; and the stiff dinners, with a prim parlor-maid
staring at one all the time, and bringing one vegetables that one
doesn't want if one only ventures to breathe a little louder than
usual. Here it is Liberty Hall. Uncle Joe--he is aunt Dorothy's
husband--is the kindest creature in the world, just the very reverse of
Mr. Sheldon in everything. I don't mean that my stepfather is unkind,
you know. O, no, he has always been very good to me--much kinder than I
have deserved that he should be. But uncle Joe's ways are _so_
different. I am sure you will like him; and I am sure he will like you,
for he likes everybody, dear thing. And you must come and see us very
often, please, for Newhall farm is open house, you know, and the
stranger within the gates is always welcome."
Now my duty to my Sheldon demanded that I should scamper back to
Huxter's Cross as fast as my legs would carry me, in order to be in
time for the hybrid vehicle that was to convey me to Hidling station;
and here was this dear girl inviting me to linger, and promising me a
welcome to the house which was made a paradise by her presence.
I looked at my watch. It would have been impossible for me to reach
Huxter's Cross in time for the vehicle. Conscience whispered that I
could hire my landlord's dog-cart, and a boy to drive me to Hidling;
but the whispers of conscience are very faint; and love cried aloud,
"Stay with Charlotte: supreme happiness is offered to you for the first
time in your life. Fool that would reject so rare a gift!"
It was to this latter counsellor I gave my ear. My Sheldon's interests
went overboard; and I stayed by the white gate, talking to Charlotte,
till it was quite too late to heed the reproachful grumblings of
conscience about that dog-cart.
My Charlotte--yes, I boldly call her mine now--my dear is great in
agriculture. She enlightened my cockney mind on the subject of upland
farms, telling me how uncle and aunt Mercer's land is poor and sandy,
requiring very little in the way of draining, but producing by no means
luxuriant crops. It is a very picturesque place, and has a certain
gentlemanlike air with it pleasing to my snobbish taste. The house lies
in a tract of open grass-land, dotted here and there by trees, and
altogether of a park-like appearance. True that the mild and useful
sheep rather than the stately stag browses on that greensward, and few
carriages roll along the winding gravel road that leads to the house.
I felt a rapturous thirst for agricultural knowledge as I listened to
my Charlotte. Was there a vacancy for hind or herdsman on Newhall farm,
I wondered. What is the office so humble I would not fill for her dear
sake? O, how I sighed for the days of Jacob, that first distinguished
usurer, so that I might serve seven years and again seven years for my
I stayed by the white gate, abandoning all thought of my employer's
behests, unconscious of time--unconscious of everything except that I
was with Charlotte Halliday, and would not have resigned my position to
be made Lord Chancellor of England.
Anon came uncle Joe, with a pleasant rubicund visage beaming under a
felt hat, to tell Lotta that dinner was ready. To him I was immediately
"Mr. Mercer, my dear uncle Joseph--Mr. Hawkehurst, a friend of my
stepfather's," said Charlotte.
Two or three minutes afterwards we were all three walking across the
park-like sward to the hospitable farm-house; for the idea of my
departing before dinner seemed utterly preposterous to this friendly
Considered apart from the glamour that for my eyes must needs shine
over any dwelling inhabited by Charlotte Halliday, I will venture to
say that Newhall farm-house is the dearest old place in the world. Such
delightful old rooms, with the deepest window-seats, the highest
mantelpieces, the widest fireplaces possible in domestic architecture;
such mysterious closets and uncanny passages; such pitfalls in the way
of unexpected flights of stairs; such antiquated glazed
corner-cupboards for the display of old china!--everything redolent
of the past.
In one corner a spinning-wheel, so old that its spindle might be the
identical weapon that pierced Princess Sleeping Beauty's soft white
hand; in another corner an arm-chair that must have been old-fashioned
in the days of Queen Anne; and O, what ancient flowered chintzes, what
capacious sofas, what darling mahogany secretaries and bureaus, with
gleaming brazen adornments in the way of handles!--and about everything
the odour of rose-leaves and lavender.
I have grown familiar with every corner of the dear old place within
the last few days, but on this first day I had only a general
impression of its antiquated aspect and homely comfort. I stayed to
dine at the same unpretending board at which my Charlotte had sat years
ago, elevated on a high chair, and as yet new to the use of knives and
forks. Uncle Joe and aunt Dorothy told me this in their pleasant
friendly way; while the young lady sat by, blushing and dimpling like a
summer sea beneath the rosy flush of sunrise. No words can relate how
delightful it was to me to hear them talk of my dear love's childhood;
they dwelt so tenderly upon her sweetness, they dilated with such
enthusiasm upon her "pretty ways." Her "pretty ways!" ah, how fatal a
thing it is for mankind when Nature endows woman with those pretty
ways! From the thrall of Grecian noses and Castilian eyes there may be
hope of deliverance, but from the spell of that indescribable witchery
there is none.
I whistled my Sheldon down the wind without remorse, and
allowed myself to be as happy as if I had been the squire of valley and
hillside, with ten thousand a year to offer my Charlotte with the heart
that loves her so fondly. I have no idea what we had for dinner. I know
only that the fare was plenteous, and the hospitality of my new friends
unbounded. We were very much at ease with one another, and our laughter
rang up to the stalwart beams that sustained the old ceiling. If I had
possessed the smallest fragment of my heart, I should have delivered it
over without hesitation to my aunt Dorothy--pardon!--my Charlotte's
aunt Dorothy, who is the cheeriest, brightest, kindest matron I ever
met, with a sweet unworldly spirit that beams out of her candid blue
Charlotte seems to have been tenderly attached to her father the poor
fellow who died in Philip Sheldon's house--uncomfortable for Sheldon, I
should think. The Mercers talk a good deal of Thomas Halliday, for whom
they appear to have entertained a very warm affection. They also spoke
with considerable kindness of the two Sheldons, whom they knew as young
men in the town of Barlingford; but I should not imagine either uncle
Joseph or aunt Dorothy very well able to fathom the still waters of the
After dinner uncle Joe took us round the farm. The last stack of corn
had been thatched, and there was a peaceful lull in the agricultural
world. We went into a quadrangle lined with poultry sheds, where I saw
more of the feathered race than I had ever in my life beheld
congregated together; thence to the inspection of pigs--and it was
agreeable to inspect even those vulgar querulous grunters, with
Charlotte by my side. Her brightness shed a light on all those common
objects; and O, how I longed to be a farmer, like uncle Mercer, and
devote my life to Charlotte and agriculture!
When uncle Joe had done the honours of his farm-yards and
threshing-machinery, he left us to attend to his afternoon duties; and
we wandered together over the breezy upland at our own sweet wills, or
at _her_ sweet will rather, since what could I do but follow where she
pleased to lead?
We talked of many things: of the father whom she had loved so dearly,
whose memory was still so mournfully dear to her; of her old home at
Hyley; of her visits to these dear Mercers; of her schooldays, and her
new unloved home in the smart Bayswater villa. She confided in me as
she had never done before; and when we turned in the chill autumn
gloaming, I had told her of my love, and had won from her the sweet
confession of its return.
I have never known happiness so perfect as that which I felt as we
walked home together--home--yes; that old farm-house must be my home as
well as hers henceforward; for any habitation which she loved must be a
kind of home for me. Sober reflection tells me how reckless and
imprudent my whole conduct has been in this business; but when did ever
love and prudence go hand-in-hand? We were children, Charlotte and I,
on that blessed afternoon; and we told each other our love as children
might have told it, without thought of the future. We have both grown
wiser since that time, and are quite agreed as to our imprudence and
foolishness; but, though we endeavour to contemplate the future in the
most serious manner, we are too happy in the present to be able to
analyse the difficulties and dangers that lie in our pathway.
Surely there must be a providence for imprudent lovers.
The November dews fell thick, and the November air was chill, as we
walked back to the homestead. I was sorry that there should be that
creeping dampness in the atmosphere that night. It seemed out of
harmony with the new warmth in my heart. I pressed my darling's little
hand closer to my breast, and had no more consciousness of any
impediments to my future bliss than of the ground on which I walked--
and that seemed air.
We found our chairs waiting for us at aunt Dorothy's tea-table; and I
enjoyed that aldermanic banquet, a Yorkshire tea, under circumstances
that elevated it to an Olympian repast.
I thought of the Comic Latin Grammar:
"Musa, musae, the gods were at tea;
Musae musam, eating raspberry jam."
I was Jove, and my love was Juno. I looked at her athwart the misty
clouds that issued from the hissing urn, and saw her beautified by a
heightened bloom, and with a sweet, shy conscious look in her eyes
which made her indeed divine.
After tea we played whist; and I am bound to confess that my divinity
played execrably, persistently disdaining to return her partner's lead,
and putting mean little trumps upon her adversary's tricks, with a
fatuous economy of resources which is always ruin.
I stayed till ten o'clock, reckless of the unknown country which
separated me from the Magpie, and then walked home alone, under the
faint starlight, though my friendly host would fain have lent me a
dog-cart. The good people here lend one another dog-carts as freely as
a cockney offers his umbrella. I went back to Huxter's Cross alone, and
the long solitary walk was very pleasant to me.
Looking up at the stars as I tramped homeward, I could but remember an
Were you the earth, dear love, and I the skies,
My love should shine on you like to the sun,
And look upon you with ten thousand eyes,
Till heaven wax'd blind, and till the world were done.
I had ample leisure for reflection during that long night-walk, and
found myself becoming a perfect Young--Hervey--Sturm--what you will, in
the way of meditation. I could not choose but wonder at myself when I
looked back to this time last year, and remembered my idle evenings in
third-rate _cafes_, on the _rive gauche_, playing dominoes, talking the
foul slang of Parisian bohemia, and poisoning my system with
adulterated absinthe. And now I feast upon sweet cakes and honey, and
think it paradisiac enjoyment to play whist--for love--in a farm-house
parlour. I am younger by ten years than I was twelve months ago.
Ah, let me thank God, who has sent me my redemption.
I lifted my hat, and pronounced the thanksgiving softly under that
tranquil sky. I was almost ashamed to hear the sound of my own voice. I
was like some shy child who for the first time speaks his father's
TOO FAIR TO LAST.
In my confidences with my dear girl I had told her neither the nature
of my mission in Yorkshire, nor the fact that I was bound to leave
Huxter's Cross immediately upon an exploring expedition to nowhere in
particular, in search of the archives of the Meynells. How could I
bring myself to tell her that I must leave her?--how much less could I
bring myself to do it?
Rendered desperately unmindful of the universe by reason of my
all-absorbing happiness, I determined on giving myself a holiday
boldly, in defiance of Sheldon and the Sheldonian interests.
"Am I a bounden slave?" I asked myself, "that I should go here or there
at any man's bidding, for the pitiful stipend of twenty shillings a
It is to be observed that the rate of hire makes all the difference in
these cases; and while it is ignominious for a lawyer's clerk to hasten
to and fro in the earning of his weekly wage, it is in no way
dishonourable for the minister of state to obey the call of his chief,
and hurry hither and thither in abnegation of all his own
predilections, and to the aggravation of his chronic gout.
I wrote to my Sheldon, and told him that I had met with friends in the
neighbourhood of Huxter's Cross, and that I intended to give myself a
brief holiday; after which I would resume my labours, and do my
uttermost to make up for wasted time. I had still the remnant of my
borrowed thirty pounds, and amongst these northern hills I felt myself
Three thousand pounds at five per cent--one hundred and fifty pounds a
year. I felt that with such an income assured to us, and the fruits of
my industry, Charlotte and I might be secure from all the storms of
life. Ah, what happiness it would be to work for her! And I am not too
old to begin life afresh; not too old for the bar; not too old to make
some mark as a writer on the press; not too old to become a respectable
member of society.
After having despatched my letter to Sheldon, I made off for Newhall
farm with all speed. I had received a sort of general invitation from
the kindest of uncles and aunts, but I contrived with becoming modesty
to arrive after Mr. Mercer's dinner-hour. I found Charlotte alone in
the dear old-fashioned parlour, aunt Dorothy being engaged in some
domestic operations in the kitchen, and uncle Joseph making his usual
after-dinner rounds amongst the pig-styes and the threshing-machines. I
discovered afterwards that it was Miss Halliday's wont to accompany her
kind kinsman in this afternoon investigation; but to-day she had
complained of a headache and preferred to stay at home. Yet there were
few symptoms of the headache when I found her standing in the
bow-window, watching the path by which I came, and the face of Aurora
herself could scarcely be brighter or fresher than my darling's
innocent blushes when I greeted her with the privileged kiss of
We sat in the bow-window talking till the twilight shadows crept over
the greensward, and the sheep were led away to their fold, with
cheerful jingling of bells and barking of watchful dog. My dearest girl
told me that our secret had already been discovered by the penetrating
eyes of aunt Dorothy and uncle Joseph. They had teased her
unmercifully, it seemed, all that day, but were graciously pleased to
smile upon my suit, like a pair of imprudent Arcadians as they are.
"They like you very much indeed," my Lotta said joyously; "but I
believe they think I have known you much longer than I really have, and
that you are very intimate with my stepfather. It seems almost like
deceiving them to allow them to think so, but I really haven't the
courage to tell the truth. How foolish and bold they would think me if
they knew how very short a time I have known you!"
"Twenty times longer than Juliet had known Romeo when they met in the
Friar's cell to be married," I urged.
"Yes, but that was in a play," replied Charlotte, "where everything is
obliged to be hurried; and at Hyde Lodge we all of us thought that
Juliet was a very forward young person."
"The poets all believe in love at first sight, and I'll wager our dear
uncle Joe fell over head and ears in love with aunt Dorothy after
having danced with her two or three times at an assize ball," said I.
After this we became intensely serious, and I told my darling girl that
I hoped very soon to be in possession of a small fixed income, and to
have begun a professional career. I told her how dear an incentive to
work she had given me, and how little fear I had for the future.
I reminded her that Mr. Sheldon had no legal power to control her
actions, and that, as her father's will had left her entirely to her
mother's guardianship, she had only her mother's pleasure to consult.
"I believe poor mamma would let me marry a crossing-sweeper, if I cried
and declared it would make me miserable not to marry him," said
Charlotte; "but then, you see, mamma's wishes mean Mr. Sheldon's
wishes; she is sure to think whatever he tells her to think; and if he
is strongly against our marriage--"
"As I am sure he will be," I interjected.
"He will work upon poor mamma in that calm, persistent, logical way of
his till he makes her as much against it as himself."
"But even your mamma has no legal power to control your actions, my
love. Were you not of age on your last birthday?"
My darling replied in the affirmative.
"Then of course you are free to marry whom you please; and as I am
thankful to say you don't possess a single sixpence in your own right,
there need be no fuss about settlements or pin-money. We can marry any
fine morning that my dear girl pleases to name, and defy all the stern
stepfathers in creation."
"How I wish I had a fortune, for your sake!" she said with a sigh.
"Be glad for my sake that you have none," I answered. "You cannot
imagine the miserable complications and perplexities which arise in
this world from the possession of money. No slave so tightly bound as
the man who has what people call 'a stake in the country' and a balance
at his banker's. The true monarch of all he surveys is the penniless
reprobate who walks down Fleet-street with his whole estate covered by
the seedy hat upon his head."
Having thus moralized, I proceeded to ask Miss Halliday if she was
prepared to accept a humbler station than that enjoyed by her at the
"No useful landau, to be an open carriage at noon and a family coach at
night," I said; "no nimble page to skip hither and thither at his fair
lady's commands, if not belated on the way by the excitement of tossing
halfpence with youthful adventurers of the byways and alleys; no trim
parlour-maids, with irreproachable caps, dressed for the day at 11
o'clock A.M.--but instead of these, a humble six-roomed bandbox of a
house, and one poor hardworking slavey, with perennial smudges from
saucepan-lids upon her honest pug-nose. Consider the prospect
seriously, Charlotte, and ask yourself whether you can endure such a
descent in the social scale."
My Charlotte laughed, as if the prospect had been the most delightful
picture ever presented to mortal vision.
"Do you think I care for the landau or the page?" she cried. "If it
were not for mamma's sake, I should detest that prim villa and all its
arrangements. You see me so happy here, where there is no pretence of
"But I am bound to warn you that I shall not be able to provide
Yorkshire teas at the commencement of our domestic career," I remarked,
by way of parenthesis.
"Aunt Dorothy will send us hampers of poultry and cakes, sir, and for
the rest of our time we can live upon bread and water."
On this I promised my betrothed a house in Cavendish or Portman-square,
and a better-built landau than Mr. Sheldon's, in the remote future.
With those dear eyes for my pole-stars, I felt myself strong enough to
clamber up the slippery ascent to the woolsack. The best and purest
ambition must surely be that which is only a synonym for love.
After we had sat talking in the gloaming to our hearts' content, aunt
Dorothy appeared, followed by a sturdy handmaid with lighted candles,
and a still sturdier handmaid with a ponderous tea-tray. The two made
haste to spread a snow-white cloth, and to set forth the species of
banquet which it is the fashion nowadays to call high tea. Anon came
uncle Joseph, bringing with him some slight perfume from the piggeries,
and he and aunt Dorothy were pleased to be pleasantly facetious and
congratulatory in their conversation during the social meal which
followed their advent.
After tea we played whist again, aunt Dorothy and I obtaining a
succession of easy victories over Charlotte and uncle Joe. I felt
myself hourly more and more completely at home in that simple domestic
circle, and enjoyed the proud position of an accepted lover. My
Arcadian friends troubled themselves in nowise as to the approval or
disapproval of Mr. and Mrs. Sheldon, or with regard either to my
prospects or my antecedents. They saw me devoted to my dear girl, they
saw my dearest pleased by my devotion, and they loved her so well that
they were ready to open their hearts without reserve to the man who
adored her and was loved by her, let him be rich or poor, noble or
base-born. As they would have given her the wax-doll of her desire ten
or twelve years ago without question as to price or fitness of things,
so they now gave her their kindly smiles and approval for the lover of
her choice. "I know Phil Sheldon is a man who looks to the main
chance," said uncle Joe, in the course of a discussion about his
niece's future which dyed her cheeks with blushes in the present; "and
I'll lay you'll find him rather a difficult customer to deal with,
especially as poor Tom's will left all the money in Georgy's hands,
which of course is tantamount to saying that Sheldon has got the
disposal of it."
I assured uncle Joe that money was the very last thing which I desired.
"Then in that case I don't see why he shouldn't let you have
Charlotte," replied Mr. Mercer; "and if she's cheated out of her poor
dad's money, she shan't be cheated out of what her old aunt and uncle
may have to leave her by-and-by."
Here were these worthy people promising me an heiress with no more
compunction than if they had been offering me a cup of tea.
I walked homeward once more beneath the quiet stars. O, how happy I
was! Can happiness so perfect, joy so sinless, endure? I, the
friendless wanderer and penniless Bohemian, asked myself this question;
and again I paused upon the lonely moorland road to lift my hat as I
thanked God for having given me such bright hopes.
But George Sheldon's three thousand pounds must be mine before I can
secure the humblest shelter for my sweet one; and although it would be
bliss to me to tramp through the world barefoot with Charlotte by my
side, the barefooted state of things is scarcely the sort of prospect a
man would care to offer to the woman he loves. So once more to the
chase. One more day in this delicious island of the lotus-eaters,
Newhall farm; and then away!--hark forward!--tantivy!--and hey for the
marriage-lines of Charlotte Meynell, great-granddaughter of Matthew
Haygarth, and, if still in the flesh, rightful heiress to the one
hundred thousand pounds at present likely to be absorbed by the
ravening jaws of the Crown! One more day, one more delightful idle day,
in the land where it is always afternoon, and then away to Hidling in
the hybrid vehicle, and thence to Hull, from Hull to York, from York to
Leeds, then Bradford, Huddersfield--_toute la boutique!_
The rain beats against the diamond panes of my casement as I write. The
day has been hopelessly wet, so I have stayed in my snug little chamber
and occupied myself in writing this record. Foul wind or weather would
have little power to keep me from my darling; but even if it had been a
fine day, I could not with any grace have presented myself at Newhall
farm for a third afternoon. To-morrow my immediate departure will
afford me an excuse for presenting myself once more before my kind
uncle and aunt. It will be my farewell visit. I wonder whether
Charlotte will miss me this afternoon. I wonder whether she will be
sorry when I tell her that I am going to leave this part of the
country. Ah, shall we ever meet again under such happy auspices? Shall
I ever again find such kind friends or such a hospitable dwelling as
those I shall leave amidst these northern hills?
FOUND IN THE BIBLE.
_November_ 3d_. The most wonderful event has befallen--surely the
most wonderful that ever came to pass outside the realms of fiction.
Let me set down the circumstances of yesterday coolly and quietly if I
can. I invoke the placid spirit of my Sheldon. I invoke all the
divinities of Gray's Inn and "The Fields." Let me be legal and
specific, perspicacious and logical--if this beating heart, this
fevered brain, will allow me a few hours' respite.
The autumn sunshine blessed the land again yesterday. Moorland and
meadow, fallow and clover-field, were all the brighter for the steady
downfall of the previous day. I walked to Newhall directly after
breakfast, and found my dearest standing at the white five-barred gate,
dressed in her pretty blue jacket, and with ribbons in her bonny brown
She was pleased to see me, though at first just a little inclined to
play the _boudeuse_ on account of my absence on the previous day. Of
course I assured her that it had been anguish for me to remain away
from her, and quoted that divine sonnet of our William's to the like
"How like a winter hath my absence been!"
"O, never say that I was false of heart,
Though absence seemed my flame to qualify."
Equally of course my pet pretended not to believe me. After this little
misunderstanding we forgave each other, and adored each other again
with just a little more than usual devotion; and then we went for a
long ramble among the fields, and looked at the dear placid sheep, who
stared at us wonderingly in return, as if exclaiming to themselves,
"And these are a specimen couple of the creatures called lovers!"
We met uncle Joe in the course of our wanderings, and returned with him
in time for the vulgar superstition of dinner, which we might have
forgotten had we been left by ourselves. After dinner uncle Joe made
off to his piggeries; while aunt Dorothy fell asleep in a capacious old
arm-chair by the fire, after making an apologetic remark to the effect
that she was tired, and had been a good deal "tewed" that morning in
the dairy. "Tewed," I understand, is Yorkshire for "worried."
Aunt Dorothy having departed into the shadowy realm of dreams,
Charlotte and I were left to our own devices.
There was a backgammon board on a side-table, surmounted by an old
Indian bowl of dried rose-leaves; and, _pour nous distraire_, I
proposed that I should teach my dearest that diverting game. She
assented, and we set to work in a very business-like manner, Miss
Halliday all attention, I serious as a professional schoolmaster.
Unfortunately for my pupil's progress, the game of backgammon proved
less entertaining than our own conversation, so, after a very feeble
attempt on the one side to learn and on the other to teach, we closed
the board and began to talk;--first of the past, then of the future,
the happy future, which we were to share.
There is no need that I should set down this lovers' talk. Is it not
written on my heart? The future seemed so fair and unclouded to me, as
my love and I sat talking together yesterday afternoon. Now all is
changed. The strangest, the most surprising complications have arisen;
and I doubt, I fear.
After we had talked for a long time, Miss Halliday suddenly proposed
that I should read to her.
"Diana once told me that you read very beautifully," said this
flatterer; "and I should so like to hear you read--poetry of course.
You will find plenty of poems in that old bookcase--Cowper, and
Bloomfield, and Pope. Now I am sure that Pope is just the kind of poet
whose verses you would read magnificently. Shall we explore the
Now if there is any manner of beguiling an idle afternoon, which seems
to me most delightful, it is by the exploration of old bookcases; and
when that delight can be shared by the woman one fondly loves, the
pleasure thereof must be of course multiplied to an indefinite amount.
So Charlotte and I set to work immediately to ransack the lower shelves
of the old-fashioned mahogany bookcase, which contained the entire
library of the Mercer household.
I am bound to admit that we did not light upon many volumes of
thrilling interest. The verses of Cowper, like those of Southey, have
always appeared to me to have only one fault--there are too many of
them. One shrinks appalled from that thick closely-printed volume of
morality cut into lengths of ten feet; and beyond the few well-worn
quotations in daily use, I am fain to confess that I am almost a
stranger to the bard of Olney.
Half a dozen odd volumes of the _Gentleman's Magazine_, three or four
of the _Annual Register_, a neatly-bound edition of _Clarissa Harlowe_
and _Sir Charles Grandison_ in twelve volumes, Law's _Holy Call to a
Serious Life_, _Paradise Lost_, _Joseph Andrews_, _Hervey's
Meditations_, and _Gulliver's Travels_, formed the varied contents of
the principal shelves. Above, there were shabbily-bound volumes and
unbound pamphlets. Below, there were folios, the tops whereof were
thickly covered with the dust of ages, having escaped the care of the
handmaidens even in that neatly-appointed household.
I knelt down to examine these.
"You'll be covered with dust if you touch them," cried Charlotte. "I
was once curious enough to examine them, but the result was very
"And yet they look so delightfully mysterious," I said. "This one, for
"That is an old history of London, with curious plates and maps; rather
interesting if one has nothing more amusing to read. But the perennial
supply of novels from Mudie's spoils one for that kind of book."
"If ever I come to Newhall again, I shall dip into the old history. One
is never tired of dead and gone London. But after Mr. Knight's
delightful book any old history must seem very poor. What is my burly
"O, a dreadful veterinary-surgeon's encyclopaedia--_The Farmer's Friend_
I think it is called; all about the ailments of animals."
"And the next?"
"The next is an odd volume of the _Penny Magazine_. Dear aunt Dorothy
is rich in odd volumes."
"And the next,--my bulky friend number two,--with a cracked leather
back and a general tendency to decay?"
"O, that is the Meynell Bible."
The MEYNELL BIBLE! A hot perspiration broke out upon my face as I knelt
at Charlotte Halliday's feet, with my hand resting lightly on the top
of the book.
"The Meynell Bible!" I repeated; and my voice was faintly tremulous, in
spite of the effort I made to control myself. "What do you mean by the
"I mean the old family Bible that belonged to my grand-mamma. It was
her father's Bible, you know; and of course he was my great-grandfather
--Christian Meynell. Why, how you stare at me, Valentine! Is
there anything so wonderful in my having had a great-grandfather?"
"No, darling; but the fact is that I--"
In another moment I should have told her the entire truth; but I
remembered just in time that I had pledged myself to profound secrecy
with regard to the nature and progress of my investigation, and I had
yet to learn whether that pledge did or did not involve the observance
of secrecy even with those most interested in my researches. Pending
further communication with Sheldon, I was certainly bound to be silent.
"I have a kind of interest in the name of Meynell," I said, "for I was
once engaged in a business matter with people of that name."
And having thus hoodwinked my beloved with a bouncer, I proceeded to
extract the Bible from its shelf. The book was so tightly wedged into
its place, that to remove it was like drawing a tooth. It was a
noble-looking old volume, blue with the mould of ages, and redolent of
a chill dampness like the atmosphere of a tomb.
"I should so like to examine the old book when the candles come in," I
Fortunately for the maintenance of my secret, the darkness was closing
in upon us when I discovered the volume, and the room was only fitfully
illuminated by the flame that brightened and faded every minute.
I carried the book to a side-table, and Charlotte and I resumed our
talk until the candles came, and close behind them uncle Joe. I fear I
must have seemed a very inattentive lover during that brief interval,
for I could not concentrate my thoughts upon the subject of our
discourse. My mind would wander to the strange discovery that I had
just made, and I could not refrain from asking myself whether by any
extraordinary chance my own dear love should be the rightful claimant
to John Haygarth's hoarded wealth.
I hoped that it might not be so. I hoped that my darling might be
penniless rather than the heir to wealth, which, in all likelihood,
would create an obstacle strong enough to sever us eternally. I longed
to question her about her family, but could not as yet trust myself to
broach the subject. And while I doubted and hesitated, honest
blustering uncle Joe burst into the room, and aunt Dorothy awoke, and
was unutterably surprised to find she had slept so long.
After this came tea; and as I sat opposite my dearest girl I could not
choose but remember that gray-eyed Molly, whose miniature had been
found in the tulip-wood bureau, and in whose bright face I had seen the
likeness of Philip Sheldon's beautiful stepdaughter. And Mr. Sheldon's
lovely stepdaughter was the lineal descendant of this very Molly.
Strange mystery of transmitted resemblances! Here was the sweet face
that had bewitched honest, simple-minded Matthew Haygarth reproduced
after the lapse of a century.
My Charlotte was descended from a poor little player girl who had
smiled on the roisterous populace of Bartholomew Fair. Some few drops
of Bohemian blood mingled with the pure life-stream in her veins. It
pleased me to think of this; but I derived no pleasure from the idea
that Charlotte might possibly be the claimant of a great fortune.
"She may have cousins who would stand before her," I said to myself;
and there was some comfort in the thought.
After tea I asked permission to inspect the old family Bible, much to
the astonishment of uncle Joe, who had no sympathy with antiquarian
tastes, and marvelled that I should take any interest in so mouldy a
volume. I told him, with perfect truth, that such things had always
more or less interest for me; and then I withdrew to my little table,
where I was provided with a special pair of candles.
"You'll find the births and deaths of all poor Molly's ancestors on the
first leaf," said uncle Joe. "Old Christian Meynell was a rare one for
jotting down such things; but the ink has gone so pale that it's about
as much as you'll do to make sense of it, I'll lay."
Charlotte looked over my shoulder as I examined the fly-leaf of the
family Bible. Even with this incentive to distraction I contrived to be
tolerably business-like; and this is the record which I found on the
"Samuel Matthew Meynell, son of Christian and Sarah Meynell, b. March
9, 1796, baptised at St. Giles's, Cripplegate, in this city.
"Susan Meynell, daughter of Christian and Sarah Meynell, b. June 29,
1798, also baptised in the same church.
"Charlotte Meynell, second daughter of the above Christian and Sarah,
b. October 3, 1800, baptised at the above-mentioned church of St.
Below these entries, in blacker ink and in a different hand-writing--a
bold, business-like, masculine caligraphy--came the following:
"Charlotte Meynell married to James Halliday, in the parish church of
Barngrave, Yorks. April 15, 1819.
"Thomas Halliday, son of the above James and Charlotte Halliday, b.
Jan. 3d, 1821, baptised in the parish church of Barngrave, Feb. 20 in
the same year.
"Mary Halliday, daughter of the above-named James and Charlotte
Halliday, b. May 27th, 1823, baptised at Barngrave, July 1st in the
Below this there was an entry in a woman's penmanship:
"Susan, the beloved sister of C. H., died in London, July 11, 1835.
"Judge not, that ye be not judged.
"I came to call sinners, and not the righteous, to repentance."
This record seemed to hint vaguely at some sad story: "Susan, the
beloved sister;" no precise data of the death--no surname! And then
those two deprecating sentences, which seemed to plead for the dead.
I had been led to understand that Christian Meynell's daughters had
both died in Yorkshire--one married, the other unmarried.
The last record in the book was the decease of James Halliday, my dear
After pondering long over the strangely-worded entry of Susan Meynell's
death, I reflected that, with the aid of those mysterious powers Hook
and Crook, I must contrive to possess myself of an exact copy of this
leaf from a family history, if not of the original document. Again my
duty to my Sheldon impelled me to be false to all my new-born
instincts, and boldly give utterance to another bouncer.
"I am very much interested in a county history now preparing for the
press," I said to my honoured uncle, who was engaged in a hand at
cribbage with his wife; "and I really think this old leaf from a family
Bible would make a very interesting page in that work."
I blushed for myself as I felt how shamefully I was imposing upon my
newly-found kinsman's credulity. With scarcely any one but uncle Joe
could I have dared to employ so shallow an artifice.
"Would it really, now?" said that confiding innocent.
"Well, I suppose old papers, and letters, and such like, are uncommonly
interesting to some folks. I can't say I care much about 'em myself."
"Would you have any objection to my taking a copy of these entries?" I
"My word, no, lad; not I. Take half a dozen copies, and welcome, if
they can be of any use to you or other people. That's not much to ask
I thanked my simple host, and determined to write to a stationer at
Hull for some tracing-paper by the first post next morning. There was
some happiness, at least, in having found this unlooked-for end to my
researches. I had a good excuse for remaining longer near Charlotte
"It's only for my poor Mary's sake I set any value on that old volume,"
the farmer said, presently, in a meditative tone. "You see the names
there are the names of her relations, not mine; and this place and all
in it was hers. Dorothy and I are only interlopers, as you may say, at
the best, though I brought my fortune to the old farm, and Dorothy
brought her fortune, and between us we've made Newhall a much better
place than it was in old James Halliday's time. But there's something
sad in the thought that none of those that were born on the land have
left chick or child to inherit it." Uncle Joseph fell for a while into
a pensive reverie, and I thought of that other inheritance, well-nigh
fifty times the value of Newhall farm, which is now waiting for a
claimant. And again I asked myself, Could it be possible that this
sweet girl, whose changeful face had saddened with those old memories,
whose innocent heart knew not one sordid desire--could it be indeed she
whose fair hand was to wrest the Haygarthian gold from the grip of
The sight of that old Bible seemed to have revived Mr, Mercer's memory
of his first wife with unwonted freshness.
"She was a sweet young creature," he said; "the living picture of our
Lottie, and sometimes I fancy it must have been that which made me take
to Lottie when she was a little one. I used to see my first wife's eyes
looking up at me out of Lottie's eyes. I told Tom it was a comfort to
me to have the little lass with me, and that's how they let her come
over so often from Hyley. Poor old Tom used to bring her over in his
Whitechapel cart, and leave her behind him for a week or so at a
stretch. And then, when my Dorothy, yonder, took pity upon a poor
lonely widower, she made as much of the little girl as if she'd been
her own, and more, perhaps; for, not having any children of her own,
she thought them such out-of-the-way creatures, that you couldn't
coddle them and pet them too much. There's a little baby lies buried in
Barngrave churchyard with Tom Halliday's sister that would have been a
noble young man, sitting where you're sitting, Mr. Hawkehurst, and
looking at me as bright as you're looking, perhaps, if the Lord's will
hadn't been otherwise. We've all our troubles, you see, and that was
mine; and if it hadn't been for Dorothy, life would not have been worth
much for me after that time--but my Dorothy is all manner of blessings
rolled up in one."
The farmer looked fondly at his second wife as he said this, and she
blushed and smiled upon him with responsive tenderness. I fancy a
woman's blushes and smiles wear longer in these calm solitudes than
amid the tumult and clamour of a great city.
Finding my host inclined to dwell upon the past, I ventured to hazard
an indirect endeavour to obtain some information respecting that entry
in the Bible which had excited my curiosity.
"Miss Susan Meynell died unmarried, I believe?" I said. "I see her
death recorded here, but she is described by her Christian name only."
"Ah, very like," replied Mr. Mercer, with an air of indifference, which
I perceived to be assumed. "Yes, my poor Molly's aunt Susan died
"And in London? I had been given to understand that she died in
I blushed for my own impertinence as I pressed this inquiry. What right
had I to be given to understand anything about these honest Meynells? I
saw poor uncle Joe's disconcerted face, and I felt that the hunter of
an heir-at-law is apt to become a very obnoxious creature.
"Susan Meynell died in London--the poor lass died in London," replied
Joseph Mercer, gravely; "and now we'll drop that subject, if you
please, my lad. It isn't a pleasant one."
After this I could no longer doubt that there was some painful story
involved in those two deprecating sentences of the gospel.
It was some time before uncle Joe was quite his own jovial and rather
noisy self again, and on this evening we had no whist. I bade my
friends good night a little earlier than usual, and departed, after
having obtained permission to take a tracing of the fly-leaf as soon as
On this night the starlit sky and lonesome moor seemed to have lost
their soothing power. There was a new fever in my mind. The simple plan
of the future which I had mapped out for myself was suddenly shattered.
The Charlotte of to-night--heiress-at-law to an enormous fortune--ward
in Chancery--claimant against the Crown--was a very different person
from the simple maid "whom there were none"--or only a doating
simpleton in the person of the present writer--"to praise, and very few
The night before last I had hoped so much; to-night hope had forsaken
me. It seemed as if a Titan's hand had dug a great pit between me and
the woman I loved--a pit as deep as the grave.
Philip Sheldon might have consented to give me his stepdaughter
unpossessed of a sixpence; but would he give me his stepdaughter with a
hundred thousand pounds for her fortune? Alas! no; I know the
Sheldonian intellect too well to be fooled by any hope so wild and
baseless. The one bright dream of my misused life faded from me in the
hour in which I discovered my dearest girl's claim to the Haygarthian
inheritance. But I am not going to throw up the sponge before the fight
is over. Time enough to die when I am lying face downward in the
ensanguined mire, and feel the hosts of the foemen trampling above my
shattered carcass. I will live in the light of my Charlotte's smiles
while I can, and for the rest--"_Il ne faut pas dire, fontaine, je ne
boirai pas de ton eau_." There is no cup so bitter that a man dare say,
I will not drain it to the very dregs. "What must be, shall be--that's
a certain text;" and in the mean time _carpe diem_. I am all a Bohemian
_Nov. 5th_. After a day's delay I have obtained my tracing-paper, and
made two tracings of the entries in the Meynell Bible, How intercourse
with the Sheldonian race inclines one to the duplication of documents!
I consider the copying-press of modern civilization the supreme
incarnation of man's distrust of his fellow-men.
I spent this afternoon and evening with my dear love--my last evening
in Yorkshire. To-morrow I shall see my Sheldon, and inform him of the
very strange termination which has come to my researches. Will he
communicate at once with his brother? Will he release me from my oath
of secrecy? There is nothing of the masonic secretiveness in my
organisation, and I am very weary of the seal that has been set upon my
unwary lips. Will Charlotte be told that she is the reverend
intestate's next of kin? These are questions which I ask myself as I
sit in the stillness of my room at the Magpie, scribbling this wretched
diary of mine, while the church clock booms three solemn strokes in the
O, why did not the reverend intestate marry his housekeeper, and make a
will, like other honest citizens, and leave my Charlotte to walk the
obscure byways of honest poverty with me? I do believe that I could
have been honest; I do believe that I could have been brave and true
and steadfast for her dear sake. But it is the office of man to
propose, while the Unseen disposes. Perhaps such a youth as mine admits
of no redemption. I have written circulars for Horatio Paget. I have
been the willing remorseless tool of a man who never eats his dinner
without inflicting a wrong upon his fellow-creatures. Can a few moments
of maudlin sentimentality, a vague yearning for something brighter and
better, a brief impulse towards honesty, inspired by a woman's innocent
eyes--can so little virtue in the present atone for so much guilt in
the past? Alas! I fear not.
I had one last brief _tete-a-tete_ with my dear girl while I took the
tracing from the old Bible. She sat watching me, and distracting me
more or less while I worked; and despite the shadow of doubt that has
fallen upon me, I could not be otherwise than happy in her sweet
When I came to the record of Susan Meynell's death, my Charlotte's
manner changed all at once from her accustomed joyousness to a pensive
"I was very sorry you spoke of Susan Meynell to uncle Joseph," she
"But why sorry, my dear?"
I had some vague notion as to the cause of this sorrow; but the
instincts of the chase impelled me to press the subject. Was I not
bound to know every secret in the lives of Matthew Haygarth's
"There is a very sad story connected with my aunt Susan--she was my
great-aunt, you know," said Charlotte, with a grave earnest face. "She
went away from home, and there was great sorrow. I cannot talk of the
story, even to you, Valentine, for there seems something sacred in
these painful family secrets. My poor aunt Susan left all her friends,
and died many years afterwards in London."
"She was known to have died unmarried?" I asked. This would be an
important question from George Sheldon's point of sight.
"Yes," Charlotte replied, blushing crimson.
That blush told me a great deal.
"There was some one concerned in this poor lady's sorrow," I said;
"some one to blame for all her unhappiness."
"One whom she loved and trusted, perhaps?"
"Whom she loved and trusted only too well. O, Valentine, must not that
be terrible? To confide with all your heart in the person you love, and
to find him base and cruel! If my poor aunt had not believed Montagu
Kingdon to be true and honourable, she would have trusted her friends a
little, instead of trusting so entirely in him. O, Valentine, what am I
telling you? I cannot bear to cast a shadow on the dead."
"My dear love, do you think I cannot pity this injured lady? Do you
think I am likely to play the Pharisee, and be eager to bespatter the
grave of this poor sufferer? I can almost guess the story which you
shrink from telling me--it is one of those sad histories so often
acted, so often told. Your aunt loved a person called Montagu Kingdon--
her superior in station, perhaps?"
I looked at Charlotte as I said this, and her face told me that I had
"This Montagu Kingdon admired and loved her," I said. "He seemed eager
to make her his wife, but no doubt imposed secrecy as to his
intentions. She accepted his word as that of a true-hearted lover and a
gentleman, and in the end had bitter reason to repent her confidence.
That is an outline of the story, is it not, Charlotte?"
"I am sure that it was so. I am sure that when she left Newhall she
went away to be married," cried Charlotte, eagerly; "I have seen a
letter that proves it--to me, at least. And yet I have heard even mamma
speak harshly of her--so long dead and gone off the face of this earth--
as if she had deliberately chosen the sad fate which came to her."
"Is it not possible that Mr. Kingdon did marry Miss Meynell, after
"No," replied Charlotte, very sadly; "there is no hope of that. I have
seen a letter written by my poor aunt years afterwards--a letter that
tells much of the cruel truth; and I have heard that Mr. Kingdon came
back to Yorkshire and married a rich lady during my aunt's lifetime."
"I should like to see that letter," I said, involuntarily.
"Why, Valentine?" asked my darling, looking at me with sorrowful,
wondering eyes, "To me it seems so painful to talk of these things: it
is like reopening an old wound."
"But if the interests of other people require--" I began, in a very
"Whose interest can be served by my showing you my poor aunt's letter?
It would seem like an act of dishonour to the dead."
What could I say after this--bound hand and foot as I am by my promise
After a long talk with my sweet one, I borrowed uncle Joe's dog-cart,
and spun across to Barngrave, where I found the little church, beneath
whose gray old roof Charlotte Meynell plighted her troth to James
Halliday. I took a copy of all entries in the register concerning Mrs.
Meynell Halliday and her children, and then went back to Newhall to
restore the dog-cart, and to take my last Yorkshire tea at the
hospitable old farm-house.
To-morrow I am off to Barlingford, fifteen miles from this village, to
take more copies from registries concerning my sweet young heiress--the
registries of her father's marriage, and her own birth. After that I
think my case will be tolerably complete, and I can present myself to
Sheldon in the guise of a conqueror.
Is it not a great conquest to have made? Is it not almost an act of
chivalry for these prosaic days to go forth into the world as a private
inquirer, and win a hundred thousand pounds for the lady of one's love?
And yet I wish any one rather than my Charlotte were the lineal
descendant of Matthew Haygarth.
_Nov. 10th_. Here I am in London once more, with my Sheldon in
ecstatics, and our affairs progressing marvellously well, as he informs
me; but with that ponderous slowness peculiar to all mortal affairs in
which the authorities of the realm are in any way concerned.
My work is finished. Hawkehurst the genealogist and antiquarian sinks
into Hawkehurst the private individual. I have no more to do but to
mind my own business and await the fruition of time in the shape of my
Can I accept three thousand pounds for giving my dearest her
birthright? Can I take payment for a service done to her? Surely not:
and, on the other hand, can I continue to woo my sweet one, conscious
that she is the rightful claimant to a great estate? Can I take
advantage of her ignorance, and may it not be said that I traded on my
Before leaving Yorkshire, I stole one more day from the Sheldon
business, in order to loiter just a few hours longer in that northern
Arcadia called Newhall farm. What assurance have I that I shall ever
re-enter that pleasant dwelling? What hold have I, a wanderer and
vagabond, on the future which respectable people map out for themselves
with such mathematical precision? And even the respectable people are
sometimes out in their reckoning. To snatch the joys of to-day must
always be the policy of the adventurer. So I took one more happy
afternoon at Newhall. Nor was the afternoon entirely wasted; for, in
the course of my farewell visit, I heard more of poor Susan Meynell's
history from honest uncle Joseph. He told me the story during an
after-dinner walk, in which he took me the round of his pig-styes and
cattle-sheds for the last time, as if he would fain have had them leave
their impress on my heart.
"You may see plenty of cattle in Yorkshire," he remarked, complacently,
"but you won't see many beasts to beat that."
He pointed to a brown and mountainous mass of inert matter, which he
gave me to understand was something in the way of cattle.
"Would you like to see him standing?" he asked, giving the mass a prod
with the handle of his walking-stick, which to my cockney mind seemed
rather cruel, but which, taken from an agricultural point of view, was
no doubt the correct thing. "He _can_ stand. Coom up, Brownie!"
I humbly entreated that the ill-used mass might be allowed to sprawl in
"Thorley!" exclaimed Mr. Mercer, laying his finger significantly
against the side of his unpretending nose.
I had not the faintest comprehension of my revered uncle-in-law's
meaning; but I said, "O, indeed!" with the accents of admiration.
"Thorley's Condiment," said my uncle. "You'll see some fine animate at
the Cattle-show; but if you see a two-year-old ox to beat him, my name
is not Joe Mercer."
After this I had to pay my respects to numerous specimens of the bovine
race, all more or less prostrate under the burden of superabundant
flesh, all seeming to cry aloud for the treatment of some Banting of
the agricultural world.
After we had "done" the cattle-sheds, with heroic resignation on my
part, and with enthusiasm on the part of Mr. Mercer, we went a long way
to see some rarities in the way of mutton, which commodity was to be
found cropping the short grass on a distant upland.
With very little appreciation of the zoological varieties, and with the
consciousness that my dear one was sitting in the farm-house parlour,
wondering at my prolonged absence, this excursion could not be
otherwise than a bore to me. But it was a small thing to sacrifice my
own pleasure for once in a way, when by so doing I might gratify the
kindest of men and of uncles; so I plodded briskly across the fields
with the friendly farmer.
I had my reward; for, in the course of this walk, Mr. Mercer gave me
the history of poor Susan Meynell.
"I didn't care to talk about the story the other night before the young
lass," he said, gravely; "for her heart's so full of pity and
tenderness, pretty dear, that any tale such as that is like to upset
her. But the story's known to almost all the folks in these parts; so
there's no particular reason against my telling it to you. I've heard
my poor mother talk of Susan Meynell many a time. She was a regular
beauty, it seems; prettier than her sister Charlotte, and she was a
pretty woman, as you may guess by looking at _our_ Charlotte, who is
thought the image of her grandmother. But Susan was one of those
beauties that you don't see very often--more like a picture than flesh
and blood. The gentry used to turn round to look at her at Barngrave
church, I've heard my mother say. She was a rare one for dress, too;
for she had a few hundreds left her by her father and mother, who had
both of them been very well-to-do people. The mother was daughter to
William Rand, of Barngrave, a man who farmed above a thousand acres of
his own land; and the father kept a carpet warehouse in
This information I received with respectful deference, and a
hypocritical assumption of ignorance respecting Miss Meynell's
Mr. Mercer paused to take breath, and then continued the story after
his own rambling fashion.
"Well, my lad, what with her fine dress, and what with her pretty
looks, Susan Meynell seems to have thought a little too much of
herself; so that when Montagu Kingdon, of Kingdon-place, younger
brother to Lord Durnsville, fell in love with her, and courted her--not
exactly openly, but with the knowledge of her sister, Mrs. Halliday--
she thought it no more than natural that he should intend to make her
his wife. Mr. Kingdon was ten years older than Susan, and had served in
Spain, and had not borne too good a character abroad. He had been in a
hard-drinking cavalry regiment, and had spent all his money, and sold
out directly the war was over. There was very little of all this known
down hereabouts, where Mr. Kingdon stood very high, on account of his
being Lord Durnsville's brother. But it was known that he was poor, and
that the Durnsville estates were heavily encumbered into the bargain."
"Then this gentleman would have been no grand match for Miss Meynell,
if--" "If he had married her? No, my lad; and it might have been the
knowledge of his poverty that made Susan and her sister think less of
the difference between his station and the girl's. The two women
favoured him, anyhow; and they kept the secret from James Halliday, who
was a regular upstraight-and-downright kind of fellow, as proud as any
lord in his own way. The secret was kept safe enough for some time, and
Mr. Kingdon was always dropping in at Newhall when Jim was out of the
way; but folks in these parts are very inquisitive, and, lonesome as
our place is, there are plenty of people go by between Monday and
Saturday; so by-and-by it got to be noticed that there was very often a
gentleman's horse standing at Newhall gate, with the bridle tied to one
of the gate-posts; and those that knew anything, knew that the horse
belonged to Montagu Kingdon. A friend of Jim Halliday's told him as
much one day, and warned him that Mr. Kingdon was a scamp, and was said
to have a Spanish wife somewhere beyond seas. This was quite enough for
James Halliday, who flew into a roaring rage at the notion of any man,
most of all Lord Durnsville's brother, going to his house and courting
his sister-in-law in secret. It was at Barngrave he was told this, one
market-day, as he was lounging with his friends in the old yard of the
Black Bull inn, where the corn exchange used to be held in those days.
He called for his horse the next minute, and left the town at a gallop.
When he came to Newhall, he found Montagu Kingdon's chestnut mare tied
to the gate-post, and he found Mr. Kingdon himself, dawdling about the
garden with Miss Meynell."
"And then I suppose there was a scene?" I suggested, with unfeigned
interest in this domestic story.
"Well, I believe there was, my lad. I've heard all about it from my
poor Molly, who had the story from her mother. James Halliday didn't
mince matters; he gave Mr. Kingdon a bit of his mind, in his own rough
outspoken way, and told him it would be the worse for him if he ever
crossed the threshold of Newhall gate again. 'If you meant well by that
foolish girl, you wouldn't come sneaking here behind my back,' he said;
'but you don't mean well by her, and you've a Spanish wife hidden away
somewhere in the Peninsula.' Mr. Kingdon gave the lie to this; but he
said he shouldn't stoop to justify himself to an unmannerly yeoman. 'If
you were a gentleman,' he said, 'you should pay dearly for your
insolence.' 'I'm ready to pay any price you like,' answered James
Halliday, as bold as brass; 'but as you weren't over fond of fighting
abroad, where there was plenty to be got for it, I don't suppose you
want to fight at home, where there's nothing to be got for it.'"
"And did Susan Meynell hear this?" I asked. I could fancy this
ill-fated girl standing by and looking on aghast while hard things
were said to the man she loved, while the silver veil of sweet romance
was plucked so roughly from the countenance of her idol by an angry
rustic's rude hand.
"Well, I don't quite know whether she heard all," answered Mr. Mercer,
thoughtfully. "Of course, James Halliday told his wife all about the
row afterwards. He was very kind to his sister-in-law, in spite of her
having deceived him; and he talked to her very seriously, telling her
all he had heard in Barngrave against Montagu Kingdon. She listened to
him quietly enough, but it was quite clear that she didn't believe a
word he said. 'I know you have heard all that, James,' she said; 'but
the people who said it knew they were not telling the truth. Lord
Durnsville and his brother are not popular in the country, and there
are no falsehoods too cruel for the malice of his enemies.' She
answered him with some such fine speech as that, and when the next
morning came she was gone."
"She eloped with Mr. Kingdon?"
"Yes. She left a letter for her sister, full of romantic stuff about
loving him all the better because people spoke ill of him; regular
woman's talk, you know, bless their poor silly hearts!" murmured Mr.
Mercer, with tender compassion. "She was going to London to be married
to Mr. Kingdon, she wrote. They were to be married at the old church in
the city where she had been christened, and she was going to stay with
an old friend--a young woman who had once been her brother's
sweetheart, and who was married to a butcher in Newgate-market--till
the bans were given out, or the license bought. The butcher's wife had
a country-house out at Edmonton, and it was there Susan was going to
"All that seemed straightforward enough," said I.
"Yes," replied uncle Joe; "but if Mr. Kingdon had meant fairly by Susan
Meynell, it would have been as easy for him to marry her at Barngrave
as in London. He was as poor as a church mouse, but he was his own
master, and there was no one to prevent him doing just what he pleased.
This is about what James Halliday thought, I suppose; for he tore off
to London, as fast as post-horses could carry him, in pursuit of his
wife's sister and Mr. Kingdon. But though he made inquiries all along
the road he could not hear that they had passed before him, and for the
best of all reasons. He went to the butcher's house at Edmonton; but
there he found no trace of Susan Meynell, except a letter posted in
Yorkshire, on the day of the row between James and Mr. Kingdon, telling
her intention of visiting her old friend within the next few days, and
hinting at an approaching marriage. There was the letter announcing the
visit, but the visitor had not come." "But the existence of that letter
bears witness that Miss Meynell believed in the honesty of her lover's
"To be sure it does, poor lass," answered Mr. Mercer pensively. "She
believed in the word of a scoundrel, and she was made to pay dearly for
her simplicity. James Halliday did all he could to find her. He
searched London through, as far as any man can search such a place as
London; but it was no use, and for a very good reason, as I said
before. The end of it was, he was obliged to go back to Newhall no
wiser than when he started."
"And was nothing further ever discovered?" I asked eagerly, for I felt
that this was just one of those family complications from which all
manner of legal difficulties might arise.
"Don't be in a hurry, my lad," answered uncle Joe; "wickedness is sure
to come to light sooner or later. Three years after this poor young
woman ran away there was a drunken groom dismissed from Lord
Durnsville's stable; and what must he needs do but come straight off to
James Halliday, to vent his spite against his master, and perhaps to
curry favour at Newhall. 'You shouldn't have gone to London to look for
the young lady, Muster Halliday,' he said; 'you should have gone the
other way. I know a man as drove Mr. Kingdon and your wife's sister
across country to Hull with two of my lord's own horses, stopping to
bait on the way. They went aboard ship at Hull, Mr. Kingdon and the
young lady--a ship that was bound for foreign parts.' This is what the
groom said; but it was little good knowing it now. There'd been
advertisements in the papers beseeching her to come back; and
everything had been done that could be done, and all to no end. A few
years after this back comes Mr. Kingdon as large as life, married to
some dark-faced, frizzy-haired lady, whose father owned half the
Indies, according to people's talk: but he fought very shy of James
Halliday; but when they did meet one day at the covert side, Jim rode
up to the honourable gentleman and asked him what he had done with
Susan Meynell. Those that saw the meeting say that Montagu Kingdon
turned as white as a ghost when he saw Jim Halliday riding up to him
on his big, raw-boned horse; but nothing came of the quarrel. Mr.
Kingdon did not live many years to enjoy the money his frizzy-haired
West-Indian lady brought him. He died before his brother, Lord
Durnsville, and left neither chick nor child to inherit his money, nor
yet the Durnsville title, which was extinct on the death of the
"And what of the poor girl?"
"Ay, poor lass, what of her? It was fourteen years after she left her
home before her sister got so much as a line to say she was in the land
of the living. When a letter did come at last, it was a very melancholy
one. The poor creature wrote to her sister to say she was in London,
alone and penniless, and, as she thought, dying."
"And the sister went to her?"
I remembered that deprecating sentence in the family Bible, written in
a woman's hand.
"That she did, good honest soul, as fast as she could travel, carrying
a full purse along with her. She found poor Susan at an inn near
Aldersgate-street--the old quarter, you see, that she'd known in her
young days. Mrs. Halliday meant to have brought the poor soul back to
Yorkshire, and had settled it all with Jim; but it was too late for
anything of that kind. She found Susan dying, wandering in her mind off
and on, but just able to recognise her sister, and to ask forgiveness
for having trusted to Montagu Kingdon, instead of taking counsel from
those that wished her well."
"Was that all?" I asked presently.
Mr. Mercer made long pauses in the course of his narrative, during
which we walked briskly on; he pondering on those past events, I
languishing for further information.
"Well, lad, that was about all. Where Susan had been in all those
years, or what she had been doing, was more than Mrs. Halliday could
find out. Of late she had been living somewhere abroad. The clothes she
had last worn were of foreign make, very poor and threadbare; and there
was one little box in her room at the inn that had been made at Rouen,
for the name of a Rouen trunkmaker was on the inside of the lid. There
were no letters or papers of any kind in the box; so you see there was
no way of finding out what the poor creature's life had been. All her
sister could do was to stay with her and comfort her to the last, and
to see that she was quietly laid to rest in a decent grave. She was
buried in a quiet little city churchyard, somewhere where there are
green trees among the smoke of the chimney-pots. Montagu Kingdon had
been dead some years when that happened."
"Is that last letter still in existence?" I asked.
"Yes; my first wife kept it with the rest of her family letters and
papers. Dorothy takes care of them now. We country folks set store by
those sort of things, you know."
I would fain have asked Mr. Mercer to let me see this last letter
written by Susan Meynell; but what excuse could I devise for so doing?
I was completely fettered by my promise to George Sheldon, and could
offer no reasonable pretence for my curiosity.
There was one point which I was bound to push home in the interests of
my Sheldon, or, shall I not rather say, of my Charlotte? That
all-important point was the question of marriage or no marriage. "You
feel quite clear as to the fact that Montagu Kingdon never did marry
this young woman?" I said.
"Well, yes," replied uncle Joe; "that was proved beyond doubt, I'm
sorry to say. Mr. Kingdon never could have dared to come back here with
his West-Indian wife in poor Susan Meynell's lifetime if he had really
"And how about the lady he was said to have married in Spain?"
"I can't say anything about that. It may have been only a scandal, or,
if there was a marriage, it may have been illegal. The Kingdons were
Protestants, and the Spaniards are all papists, I suppose. A marriage
between a Protestant and a Roman Catholic wouldn't be binding."
"Not upon such a man as this Kingdon."
It seems more than probable that the opinion arrived at by this poor
soul's friends must be correct, and that Montagu Kingdon was a
scoundrel. But how about Susan Meynell's after-life?--the fourteen
years in which she was lost sight of? May she not have married some one
else than Mr. Kingdon? and may she not have left heirs who will arise
in the future to dispute my darling's claim?
Is it a good thing to have a great inheritance? The day has been when
such a question as that could not by any possibility have shaped itself
in my mind. Ah! what is this subtle power called love, which worketh
such wondrous changes in the human heart? Surely the miracle of the
cleansed leper is in some manner typical of this transformation. The
emanation of divine purity encircled the leper with its supernal
warmth, and the scales fell away beneath that mysterious influence. And
so from the pure heart of a woman issues a celestial fire which burns
the plague-spot out of the sinner's breast. Ah, how I languish to be at
my darling's feet, thanking her for the cure she has wrought!
I have given my Sheldon the story of Susan Meynell's life, as I had it
from uncle Joseph. He agrees with me as to the importance of Susan's
last letter, but even that astute creature does not see a way to
getting the document in his hands without letting Mr. Mercer more or
less into our secret.
"I might tell this man Mercer some story about a little bit of money
coming to his niece, and get at Susan Meynell's letter that way," he
said; "but whatever I told him would be sure to get round to Philip
somehow or other, and I don't want to put him on the scent."
My Sheldon's legal mind more than ever inclines to caution, now that he
knows the heiress of the Haygarths is so nearly allied to his brother
"I'll tell you what it is, Hawkehurst," he said to me, after we had
discussed the business in all its bearings, "there are not many people
I'm afraid of, but I don't mind owning to you that I am afraid of my
brother Phil. He has always walked over my head; partly because he can
wear his shirt-front all through business hours without creasing it,
which I can't, and partly because he's--well--more unscrupulous than I
He paused meditatively, and I too was meditative; for I could not
choose but wonder what it was to be more unscrupulous than George
"If he were to get an inkling of this affair," my patron resumed
presently, "he'd take it out of our hands before you could say Jack
Robinson--supposing anybody ever wanted to say Jack Robinson, which
they don't--and he'd drive a bargain with us, instead of our driving a
bargain with him."
My friend of Gray's Inn has a pleasant way of implying that our
interests are coequal in this affair. I caught him watching me
curiously once or twice during our last interview, when Charlotte's
name was mentioned. Does he suspect the truth, I wonder?
_Nov. 12th_. I had another interview with my patron yesterday, and
rather a curious interview, though not altogether unsatisfactory.
George Sheldon has been making good use of his time since my return
"I don't think we need have any fear of opposition from children or
grandchildren of Susan Meynell," he said; "I have found the registry of
her interment in the churchyard of St. Giles's, Cripplegate. She is
described in that registry by her maiden name, and there is a plain
headstone in a corner of the ground, inscribed with the name of Susan
Meynell, who died July 14th, 1835, much lamented; and then the text
about 'the one sinner that repenteth,' and so on," said Mr. Sheldon, as
if he did not care to dwell on so hackneyed a truism.
"But," I began, "she might have been married, in spite of--"
"Yes, she might," replied my Sheldon, captiously; "but then, you see,
the probability is that she wasn't. If she had been married, she would
have told her sister as much in that last letter, or she would have
said as much when they met."
"But she was delirious."
"Not all the time. She was sensible enough to talk about her sorrow for
the past, and so on; and she must have been sensible enough to have
spoken of her children, if she had ever had any. Besides, if she had
been married, she would scarcely have been wandering about the world in
that miserable manner, unless her husband was an uncommonly bad lot.
No, Hawkehurst, depend upon it, we've nothing to fear in that quarter.
The person we have to fear is that precious brother of mine."
"You talked the other day about driving a bargain with him," I said; "I
didn't quite understand your meaning. The fortune can only be claimed
by Char--Miss Halliday, and your brother has no legal authority to
dispose of her money."
"Of course not," answered my employer, with contemptuous impatience of
my dulness; "but my brother Phil is not the man to wait for legal
power. His ideas will be Miss Halliday's ideas in this business. When
my case is ripe for action, I shall make my bargain--half the fortune
to be mine from the day of its recovery. A deed containing these
conditions must be executed by Charlotte Halliday before I hand over a
single document relating to the case. Now, as matters stand at
present," he went on, looking very fixedly at me, "her execution of
that deed would rest with Philip."
"And when shall you make your overtures to Mr. Sheldon?" I asked, at a
loss to understand that intent look.
"Not until the last links of the chain are put together. Not before I'm
ready to make my first move on the Chancellor's chessboard. Perhaps not
"How do you mean?"
"If I can tide over for a little time, I may throw Philip overboard
altogether, and get some one else to manage Miss Halliday for me."
"What do you mean?"
"I'll tell you, Hawkehurst," answered my patron, resting his elbows on
the table by which we were sitting, and looking me through with those
penetrating black eyes of his. "My brother Phil played me a shabby
trick a few years ago, which I have not forgotten or forgiven. So I
shouldn't mind paying him out in some of his own coin. Beyond which, I
tell you again, I don't like the idea of his having a finger in this
business. Where that kind of man's finger can go, his whole hand will
follow; and if once that hand fastens on John Haygarth's money, it'll
be bad times for you and me. Miss Halliday counts for exactly nothing
in my way of reckoning. If her stepfather told her to sign away half a
million, she'd scribble her name at the bottom of the paper, and press
her pretty little thumb upon the wafer, without asking a single
question as to the significance of the document. And, of course, she'd
be still less inclined to make objections if it was her husband who
asked her to execute the deed. Aha! my young friend, how is it you grow
first red and then white when I mention Miss Halliday's husband?"
I have no doubt that I did indeed blanch when that portentous word was
uttered in conjunction with my darling's name. Mr. Sheldon leant a
little further across the table, and his hard black eyes penetrated a
little deeper into the recesses of my foolish heart.
"Valentine Hawkehurst," he said, "shall we throw my brother Phil
overboard altogether? Shall you and I go shares in this fortune?"
"Upon my word and honour I don't understand you," I said, in all
"You mean that you won't understand me," answered George Sheldon,
impatiently; "but I'll make myself pretty clear presently; and as your
own interest is at stake, you'll be very unlike the rest of your
species if you don't find it easy enough to understand me. When first I
let you in for the chance of a prize out of this business, neither you
nor I had the slightest idea that circumstances would throw the
rightful claimant to the Haygarth estate so completely into our way. I
had failed so many times with other cases before I took up this case,
that it's a wonder I had the courage to work on. But, somehow or other,
I had a notion that this particular business would turn up trumps. The
way seemed a little clearer than it usually is; but not clear enough to
tempt Tom, Dick, and Harry. And then, again, I had learnt a good many
secrets from the experience of my failures. I was well up to my work. I
might have carried it on, and I ought to have carried it on, without
help; but I was getting worn out and lazy, so I let you into my secret,
having taken it into my head that I could venture to trust you."
"You didn't trust me further than you could help, my friend," I replied
with my usual candour. "You never told me the amount left by the
reverend intestate; but I heard that down at Ullerton. A half share in
a hundred thousand pounds is worth trying for, Mr. Sheldon."
"They call it a hundred thousand down there, do they?" asked the
lawyer, with charming innocence. "Those country people always deal in
high figures. However, I don't mind owning that the sum is a handsome
one, and if you and I play our cards wisely, we may push Philip out of
the game altogether, and share the plunder between us."
Again I was obliged to confess myself unable to grasp my employer's
"Marry Charlotte Halliday out of hand," he said, bringing his eyes and
his elbows still nearer to me, until his bushy black whiskers almost
touched my face. "Marry her before Philip gets an inkling of this
affair, and then, instead of being made a tool of by him, she'll be
safe in your hands, and the money will be in your hands into the
bargain. Why, how you stare, man! Do you think I haven't seen how the
land lies between you two? Haven't I dined at Bayswater when you've
been there? and could any man with his wits about him see you two
sentimental young simpletons together _without_ seeing how things were
going on? You are in love with Charlotte, and Charlotte is in love with
you. What more natural than that you two should make a match of it?
Charlotte is her own mistress, and hasn't sixpence in the world that
any one but you and I know of; for, of course, my brother Phil will
continue to stick to every penny of poor old Tom's money. All you have
to do is to follow up the young lady; it's the course that would
suggest itself to any man in the same case, even if Miss Halliday were
the ugliest old harridan in Christendom, instead of being a very jolly
kind of girl, as girls go."
My employer said this with the tone of a man who had never considered
the genus girl a very interesting part of creation. I suppose I looked
at him rather indignantly; for he laughed as he resumed,--
"I'll say she's an angel, if you like," he said; "and if you think her
one, so much the better. You may consider it a very lucky thing that
you came in my way, and a still more lucky thing that Miss Halliday has
been silly enough to fall in love with you. I've heard of men being
born with silver spoons in their mouths; but I should think you must
have come into the world with a whole service of plate. However, that
is neither here nor there. Your policy will be to follow up your
advantages; and if you can persuade the young lady to change her name
for Hawkehurst on the quiet some fine morning, without stopping to ask
permission of her stepfather, or any one else, so much the better for
you, and so much the more agreeable to me. I'd rather do business with
you than with my brother Phil; and I shan't be sorry to cry quits with
that gentleman for the shabby trick he played me a few years ago."
My Sheldon's brow darkened as he said this, and the moody fit returned.
That old grudge which my patron entertains against his brother must
have relation to some very disagreeable business, if I may judge by
George Sheldon's manner.
Here was a position for me, Valentine Hawkehurst, soldier of fortune,
cosmopolitan adventurer, and child of the nomadic tribes who call
Bohemia their mother country! Already blest with the sanction of my
dear love's simple Yorkshire kindred, I was now assured of George
Sheldon's favour; nay, urged onward in my paradisiac path by that
unsentimental Mentor. The situation was almost too much for my
bewildered brain. Charlotte an heiress, and George Sheldon eager to
bring about my participation in the Haygarthian thousands!
And now I sit in my little room 1a Omega-street, pondering upon the
past, and trying to face the perplexities of the future.
Is this to be? Am I, so hopeless an outsider in the race of life, to
come in with a rush and win the prize which Fortune's first favourite
might envy? Can I hope or believe it? Can the Fates have been playing a
pleasant practical joke with me all this time, like those fairies who
decree that the young prince shall pass his childhood and youth in the
guise of a wild boar, only to be transformed into an Adonis at last by
the hand of the woman who is disinterested enough to love him despite
his formidable tusks and ungainly figure?
No! a thousand times no! The woman I love, and the fortune I have so
often desired, are not for me. Every man has his own especial Fates;
and the three sisters who take care of me are grim, hard-visaged,
harder-hearted spinsters, not to be mollified by propitiation, or by
the smooth tongue of the flatterer. The cup is very sweet, and it seems
almost within my grasp; but between that chalice of delight and the
lips that thirst for it, ah, what a gulf!
_Nov. 13th_. The above was written late at night, and under the
influence of my black dog. What an ill-conditioned cur he is, and how
he mouths and mangles the roses that bestrew his pathway, always bent
upon finding the worm at the core!
I kicked the brute out of doors this morning, on finding a letter from
my dear one lying in my plate. "Avaunt, aroint thee, foul fiend!" I
cried. "Thou art the veritable poodle in whose skin Mephistopheles
hides when bent on direst mischief. I will set the sign of the cross
upon my threshold, and thou shalt enter no more."
This is what I said to myself as I tore open Charlotte's envelope, with
its pretty little motto stamped on cream-coloured sealing-wax, "_Pensez
a moi._" Ah, love; "while memory holds a seat in this distracted
globe." I saw the eyes of my friend Horatio fixed upon me as I opened
my letter, and knew that my innermost sentiments were under inspection.
Prudence demands all possible caution where the noble Captain is
concerned. I cannot bring myself to put implicit faith in his account
of his business at Ullerton. He may have been there, as he says, on
some promoting spec; but our meeting in that town was, to say the
least, a strange coincidence, and I am not a believer in coincidences--
off the stage, where a gentleman invariably makes his appearance
directly his friends begin to talk about him.
I cannot forget my conviction that Jonah Goodge was bought over by a
rival investigator, and that Rebecca Haygarth's letters were tampered
with; nor can I refrain from connecting that shapely but well-worn
lavender glove with the person of my dandy friend, Horatio Paget. The
disappearance of a letter from the packet intrusted to me by Miss
Judson is another mysterious circumstance; nor can I do away with the
impression that I heard the name Meynell distinctly pronounced by
Philip Sheldon the last time I was at the villa.
George Sheldon tells me the secret cannot by any possibility have been
betrayed, unless by me; and I have been prudence itself.
Supposing my suspicions of Mr. Goodge to be correct, the letters
extracted from Mrs. Rebecca's correspondence might tell much, and might
even put Horatio on the track of the Meynells. But how should he get
his first inkling of the business?
Certainly not from me or from George Sheldon. But might not his
attention have been attracted by that advertisement for heirs-at-law to
the Haygarthian estate which appeared in the _Times_?
These are questions with which the legal intellect of my Sheldon may
best grapple. For myself, I can only drift with the resistless stream
I was so unfortunate as to make my appearance in our common
sitting-room five minutes after my patron. There had been time enough
for him to examine the superscription and postmark of my letter. He
was whistling when I went into the room. People who have been looking
at things that don't belong to them always whistle.
I did not care to read Charlotte's first letter with those hawk's eyes
fixed upon me. So I just glanced at the dear handwriting, as if running
over an ordinary letter with the eye of indifference, and then put the
document into my pocket with the best assumption of carelessness I was
capable of. How I longed for the end of that tedious meal, over which
Captain Paget lingered in his usual epicurean fashion!
My friend Horatio has shown himself not a little curious about my late
absence from the joint domicile. I again resorted to the Dorking
fiction,--my aged aunt breaking fast, and requiring much propitiation
from a dutiful nephew with an eye to her testamentary arrangements. I
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