Birds of Prey
Part 8 out of 9
had been compelled to endow my shadowy relative with a comfortable
little bit of money, in order to account for my devotion; since the
powerful mind of my Horatio would have refused to grasp the idea of
disinterested affection for an ancient kinswoman.
There was an ominous twinkle in the Captain's sharp gray eyes when I
gave this account of my absence, and I sorely doubt his acceptance of
this second volume of the Dorking romance. Ah, what a life it is we
lead in the tents of Ishmael, the cast-away! through what tortuous
pathways wander the nomad tribes who call Hagar, the abandoned, their
mother! what lies, what evasions, what prevarications! Horatio Paget
and I watch each other like two cunning fencers, with a stereotyped
smile upon our lips and an eager restlessness in our eyes, and who
shall say that one or other of our rapiers is not poisoned, as in the
famous duel before Claudius, usurper of Denmark? My dear one's letter
is all sweetness and love. She is coming home; and much as she prefers
Yorkshire to Bayswater, she is pleased to return for my sake--for my
sake. She leaves the pure atmosphere of that simple country home to
become the central point in a network of intrigue; and I am bound to
keep the secret so closely interwoven with her fate. I love her more
truly, more purely than I thought myself capable of loving; yet I can
only approach her as the tool of George Sheldon, a rapacious
conspirator, bent on securing the hoarded thousands of old John
Of all men upon this earth I should be the last to underrate the
advantages of wealth,--I who have been reared in the gutter, which is
Poverty's cradle. Yet I would fain Charlotte's fortune had come to her
in any other fashion than as the result of my work in the character of
a salaried private inquirer.
BOOK THE SEVENTH.
"IN YOUR PATIENCE YE ARE STRONG."
Miss Halliday returned to the gothic villa at Bayswater with a bloom on
her cheeks, and a brightness in her eyes, which surpassed her wonted
bloom and brightness, fair and bright as her beauty had been from the
hour in which she was created to charm mankind. She had been a creature
to adore even in the first dawn of infancy, and in her christening-hood
and toga of white satin had been a being to dream of. But now she
seemed invested all at once with a new loveliness--more spiritual, more
pensive, than the old.
Might not Valentine have cried, with the rapturous pride of a lover:
"Look at the woman here with the new soul!" and anon: "This new soul is
It was love that had imparted a new charm to Miss Halliday's beauty.
Diana wondered at the subtle change as her friend sat in her favourite
window on the morning after her return, looking dreamily out into the
blossomless garden, where evergreens of the darkest and spikiest
character stood up stern and straight against the cold gray sky. Diana
had welcomed her friend in her usual reserved manner, much to
Charlotte's discomfiture. The girl so yearned for a confidante. She had
no idea of hiding her happiness from this chosen friend, and waited
eagerly for the moment in which she could put her arms round Diana's
neck and tell her what it was that had made Newhall so sweet to her
during this particular visit.
She sat in the window this morning thinking of Valentine, and
languishing to speak of him, but at a loss how to begin. There are some
people about whose necks the arms of affection can scarce entwine
themselves. Diana Paget sat at her eternal embroidery-frame, picking up
beads on her needle with the precision of some self-feeding machine.
The little glass beads made a hard clicking sound as they dropped from
her needle,--a very frosty, unpromising sound, as it seemed to
Charlotte's hyper-sensitive ear.
There had been an unwonted reserve between the girls since Charlotte's
return,--a reserve which arose, on Miss Halliday's part, from the
contest between girlish shyness and the eager desire for a confidante;
and on the part of Miss Paget, from that gloomy discontent which had of
late possessed her.
She watched Charlotte furtively as she picked up her beads--watched her
wonderingly, unable to comprehend the happiness that gave such
spiritual brightness to her eyes. It was no longer the childlike gaiety
of heart which had made Miss Halliday's girlhood so pleasant. It was
the thoughtful, serene delight of womanhood.
"She can care very little for Valentine," Diana thought, "or she could
scarcely seem so happy after such a long separation. I doubt if these
bewitching women who enchant all the world know what it is to feel
deeply. Happiness is a habit with this girl. Valentine's attentions
were very pleasant to her. The pretty little romance was very agreeable
while it lasted; but at the first interruption of the story she shuts
the book, and thinks of it no more. O, if my Creator had made _me_ like
that! If I could forget the days we spent together, and the dream I
That never-to-be-forgotten vision came back to Diana Paget as she sat
at her work; and for a few minutes the clicking sound of the beads
ceased, while she waited with clasped hands until the shadows should
have passed before her eyes. The old dream came back to her like a
picture, bright with colour and light. But the airy habitation which
she had built for herself of old was no "palace lifting to Italian
heavens its marble roof." It was only a commonplace lodging in a street
running out of the Strand, with just a peep of the river from a trim
little balcony. An airy second-floor sitting-room, with engraved
portraits of the great writers on the newly-papered walls: on one side
an office-desk, on the other a work-table. The unpretending shelter of
a newspaper hack, who lives _a jour la journee_, and whose wife must
achieve wonders in the way of domestic economy in order to eke out his
This was Diana Paget's vision of Paradise, and it seemed only the
brighter now that she felt it was never to be anything more than a
supernal picture painted on her brain.
After sitting silent for some little time, eager to talk, but waiting
to be interrogated, Charlotte was fain to break silence.
"You don't ask me whether I enjoyed myself in Yorkshire, Di," she said,
looking shyly down at the little bunch of charms and lockets which
employed her restless fingers.
"Didn't I, really?" replied Diana, languidly; "I thought that was one
of the stereotyped inquiries one always made."
"I hope you wouldn't make stereotyped inquiries of _me_, Diana."
"No, I ought not to do so. But I think there are times when one is
artificial even with one's best friends. And you are my best friend,
Charlotte. I may as well say my only friend," the girl added, with a
"Diana," cried Charlotte, reproachfully, "why do you speak so bitterly?
You know how dearly I love you. I do, indeed, dear. There is scarcely
anything in this world I would not do for you. But I am not your only
friend. There is Mr. Hawkehurst, whom you have known so long."
Miss Halliday's face was in a flame; and although she bent very low to
examine the golden absurdities hanging on her watch-chain, she could
not conceal her blushes from the eyes that were so sharpened by
"Mr. Hawkehurst!" cried Diana, with unspeakable contempt. "If I were
drowning, do you think _he_ would stretch out his hand to save me while
you were within his sight? When he comes to this house--he who has seen
so much poverty, and misery, and shame, and--happiness with me and
mine--do you think he so much as remembers my existence? Do you think
he ever stops to consider whether I am that Diana Paget who was once
his friend and confidante and fellow-wayfarer and companion? or only a
lay figure dressed up to fill a vacant chair in your drawing-room?"
"It is all very well to look at me reproachfully, Charlotte. You must
know that I am speaking the truth. You talk of friendship. What is that
word worth if it does not mean care and thought for another? Do you
imagine that Valentine Hawkehurst ever thinks of me, or considers me?"
Charlotte was fain to keep silence. She remembered how very rarely, in
those long afternoons at Newhall farm, the name of Diana Paget had been
mentioned. She remembered how, when she and Valentine were mapping out
the future so pleasantly, she had stopped in the midst of an eloquent
bit of word-painting, descriptive of the little suburban cottage they
were to live in, to dispose of Diana's fate in a sentence,--
"And dear Di can stop at the villa to take care of mamma," she had
said; whereupon Mr. Hawkehurst had assented, with a careless nod, and
the description of the ideal cottage had been continued.
Charlotte remembered this now with extreme contrition. She had been so
supremely happy, and so selfish in her happiness.
"O, Di," she cried, "how selfish happy people are!" And then she
stopped in confusion, perceiving that the remark had little relevance
to Diana's last observation.
"Valentine shall be your friend, dear," she said, after a pause.
"O, you are beginning to answer for him already!" exclaimed Miss Paget,
with increasing bitterness.
"Diana, why are you so unkind to me?" Charlotte cried, passionately.
"Don't you see that I am longing to confide in you? What is it that
makes you so bitter? You must know how truly I love you. And if Mr.
Hawkehurst is not what he once was to you, you must remember how cold
and distant you always are in your manner to him. I am sure, to hear
you speak to him, and to see you look at him sometimes, one would think
he was positively hateful to you. And I want you to like him a little
for my sake."
Miss Halliday left her seat by the window as she said this, and went
towards the table by which her friend was sitting. She crept close to
Diana, and with a half-frightened, half-caressing movement, seated
herself on the low ottoman at her feet, and, seated thus, possessed
herself of Miss Paget's cold hand.
"I want you to like Mr. Hawkehurst a little, Di," she repeated, "for my
"Very well, I will try to like him a little--for your sake," answered
Miss Paget, in a very unsympathetic tone.
"O, Di! tell me how it was he offended you."
"Who told you that he offended me?"
"Your own manner, dear. You could never have been so cold and distant
with him--having known him go long, and endured so many troubles in his
company--if you had not been deeply offended by him."
"That is your idea, Charlotte; but, you see, I am very unlike you. I am
fitful and capricious. I used to like Mr. Hawkehurst, and now I dislike
him. As to offence, his whole life has offended me, just as my father's
life has offended me, from first to last. I am not good and amiable and
loving, like you; but I hate deceptions and lies; above all, the lies
that some men traffic in day after day."
"Was Valentine's--was your father's life a very bad one?" Charlotte
asked, trembling palpably, and looking up at Miss Paget's face with
"Yes, it was a mean false life,--a life of trick and artifice. I do not
know the details of the schemes by which my father and Valentine earned
their daily bread--and my daily bread; but I know they inflicted loss
upon other people. Whether the wrong done was always done deliberately
and consciously upon Valentine's part, I cannot say. He may have been
only a tool of my father's. I hope he was, for the most part an
She said all this in a dreamy way, as if uttering her own thoughts,
rather than seeking to enlighten Charlotte.
"I am sure he was an unconscious tool," cried that young lady, with an
air of conviction; "it is not in his nature to do anything false or
"Indeed! you know him very well, it seems," said Diana.
Ah, what a tempest was raging in that proud passionate heart! what a
strife between the powers of good and evil! Pitying love for Charlotte;
tender compassion for her rival's childlike helplessness; and
unutterable sense of her own loss.
She had loved him so dearly, and he was taken from her. There had been
a time when he almost loved her--almost! Yes, it was the remembrance of
that which made the trial so bitter. The cup had approached her lips,
only to be dashed away for ever.
"What did I ask in life except his love?" she said to herself. "Of all
the pleasures and triumphs which girls of my age enjoy, is there one
that I ever envied? No, I only sighed for his love. To live in a
lodging-house parlour with him, to sit by and watch him at his work, to
drudge for him, to bear with him--this was my brightest dream of
earthly bliss; and she has broken it!"
It was thus Diana argued with herself, as she sat looking down at the
bright creature who had done her this worst, last wrong which one woman
can do to another. This passionate heart, which ached with such cruel
pain, was prone to evil, and to-day the scorpion Jealousy was digging
his sharp tooth into its very core. It was not possible for Diana Paget
to feel kindly disposed towards the girl whose unconscious hand had
shattered the airy castle of her dreams. Was it not a hard thing that
the bright creature, whom every one was ready to adore, must needs
steal away this one heart?
"It has always been like this," thought Diana. "The story of David and
Nathan is a parable that is perpetually being illustrated. David is so
rich--he is lord of incalculable flocks and herds; but he will not be
content till he has stolen the one little ewe lamb, the poor man's pet
"Diana," said Miss Halliday very softly, "you are so difficult to talk
to this morning, and I have so much to say to you."
"About your visit, or about Mr. Hawkehurst?"
"About--Yorkshire," answered Charlotte, with the air of a shy child who
has made her appearance at dessert, and is asked whether she will have
a pear or a peach.
"About Yorkshire!" repeated Miss Paget, with a little sigh of relief.
"I shall be very glad to hear about your Yorkshire friends. Was the
visit a pleasant one?"
"Very, very pleasant!" answered Charlotte, dwelling tenderly on the
"How sentimental you have grown, Lotta! I think you must have found a
forgotten shelf of Minerva Press novels in some cupboard at your
aunt's. You have lost all your vivacity."
"Have I?" murmured Charlotte; "and yet I am happier than I was when I
went away. Whom do you think I met at Newhall, Di?"
"I have not the slightest idea. My notions of Yorkshire are very vague.
I fancy the people amiable savages; just a little in advance of the
ancient Britons whom Julius Caesar came over to conquer. Whom did you
meet there? Some country squire, I suppose, who fell in love with your
bright eyes, and wished you to waste the rest of your existence in
those northern wilds."
Miss Paget was not a woman to bare her wounds for the scrutiny of the
friendliest eyes. Let the tooth of the serpent bite never so keenly,
she could meet her sorrows with a bold front. Was she not accustomed to
suffer--she, the scapegoat of defrauded nurses and indignant
landladies, the dependent and drudge of her kinswoman's gynaeceum, the
despised of her father? The flavour of these waters was very familiar
to her lips. The draught was only a little more acrid, a little deeper,
and habit had enabled her to drain the cup without complaining, if not
in a spirit of resignation. To-day she had been betrayed into a brief
outbreak of passion; but the storm had passed, and a more observant
person than Charlotte might have been deceived by her manner.
"Now you are my own Di again," cried Miss Halliday; somewhat cynical
at the best of times, but always candid and true.
Miss Paget winced ever so little as her friend said this.
"No, dear," continued Charlotte, with the faintest spice of coquetry;
"it was not a Yorkshire squire. It was a person you know very well; a
person we have been talking of this morning. O, Di, you must surely
have understood me when I said I wanted you to like him for my sake!"
"Valentine Hawkehurst!" exclaimed Diana.
"Who else, you dear obtuse Di!"
"He was in Yorkshire?"
"Yes, dear. It was the most wonderful thing that ever happened. He
marched up to Newhall gate one morning in the course of his rambles,
without having the least idea that I was to be found in the
neighbourhood. Wasn't it wonderful?"
"What could have taken him to Yorkshire?"
"He came on business."
"But what business?"
"How do I know? Some business of papa's, or of George Sheldon's,
perhaps. And yet that can't be. He is writing a book, I think, about
geology or archaeology--yes, that's it, archaeology."
"Valentine Hawkehurst writing a book on archaeology!" cried Miss Paget.
"You must be dreaming, Charlotte."
"Why so? He does write, does he not?"
"He has been reporter for a newspaper. But he is the last person to
write about archaeology. I think there must be some mistake."
"Well, dear, it may be so. I didn't pay much attention to what he said
about business. It seemed so strange for him to be there, just as much
at home as if he had been one of the family. O, Di, you can't imagine
how kind aunt Dorothy and uncle Joe were to him! They like him so much
--and they know we are engaged."
Miss Halliday said these last words almost in a whisper.
"What!" exclaimed Diana, "do you mean to say that you have promised to
marry this man, of whom you know nothing but what is unfavourable?"
"What do I know in his disfavour? Ah, Diana, how unkind you are! and
what a dislike you must have for poor Valentine! Of course, I know he
is not what people call a good match. A good match means that one is to
have a pair of horses, whose health is so uncertain that I am sure
their lives must be a burden to them, if we may judge by our horses;
and a great many servants, who are always conducting themselves in the
most awful manner, if poor mamma's experience is any criterion; and a
big expensive house, which nobody can be prevailed on to dust. No, Di!
that is just the kind of life I hate. What I should like is a dear
little cottage at Highgate or Wimbledon, and a tiny, tiny garden, in
which Valentine and I could walk every morning before he began his
day's work, and where we could drink tea together on summer evenings--a
garden just large enough to grow a few rose-bushes. O. Di! do you think
I want to marry a rich man?"
"No, Charlotte; but I should think you would like to marry a good man."
"Valentine is good. No one but a good man could have been so happy as
he seemed at Newhall farm. That simple country life could not have been
happiness for a bad man."
"And was Valentine Hawkehurst really happy at Newhall?"
"Really--really--really! Don't try to shake my faith in him, Diana; it
is not to be shaken. He has told me a little about the past, though I
can see that it pains him very much to speak of it. He has told me of
his friendless youth, spent amongst unprincipled people, and what a
mere waif and stray he was until he met me. And I am to be his
pole-star, dear, to guide him in the right path. Do you know, Di, I
cannot picture to myself anything sweeter than that--to be a good
influence for the person one loves. Valentine says his whole nature has
undergone a change since he has known me. What am I that I should work
so good a change in my dear one? It is very foolish, is it not, Di?"
"Yes, Charlotte," replied the voice of reason from the lips of Miss
Paget; "it is all foolishness from beginning to end, and I can foresee
nothing but trouble as the result of such folly. What will your mamma
say to such an engagement? or what will Mr. Sheldon say?"
"Yes, that is the question," returned Charlotte, very seriously. "Dear
mamma is one of the kindest creatures in the world, and I'm sure she
would consent to anything rather than see me unhappy. And then, you
know, she likes Valentine very much, because he has given her orders
for the theatres, and all that kind of thing. But, whatever mamma
thinks, she will be governed by what Mr. Sheldon thinks; and of course
he will be against our marriage."
"Our marriage!" It was a settled matter, then--a thing that was to be
sooner or later; and there remained only the question as to how and
when it was to be. Diana sat like a statue, enduring her pain. So may
have suffered the Christian martyrs in their death-agony; so suffers a
woman when the one dear hope of her life is reft from her, and she dare
not cry aloud.
"Mr. Sheldon is the last man in the world to permit such a marriage,"
she said presently.
"Perhaps," replied Charlotte; "but I am not going to sacrifice
Valentine for Mr. Sheldon's pleasure. Mr. Sheldon has full power over
mamma and her fortune, but he has no real authority where I am
concerned. I am as free as air, Diana, and I have not a penny in the
world. Is not that delightful?"
The girl asked this question in all good faith, looking up at her
friend with a radiant countenance. What irony there was in the question
for Diana Paget, whose whole existence had been poisoned by the lack of
that sterling coin of the realm which seemed such sordid dross in the
eyes of Charlotte!
"What do you mean, Charlotte?"
"I mean, that even his worst enemies cannot accuse Valentine of any
mercenary feeling. He does not ask me to marry him for the sake of my
"Does he know your real position?"
"Most fully. And now, Diana, tell me that you will try to like him, for
my sake, and that you will be kind, and will speak a good word for me
to mamma by-and-by, when I have told her all."
"When do you mean to tell her?"
"Directly--or almost directly. I scarcely know how to set about it. I
am sure it has been hard enough to tell you."
"My poor Charlotte! What an ungrateful wretch I must be!"
"My dear Diana, you have no reason to be grateful. I love you very
dearly, and I could not live in this house without you. It is I who
have reason to be grateful, when I remember how you bear with mamma's
fidgety ways, and with Mr. Sheldon's gloomy temper, and all for love of
"Yes, Lotta, for love of you," Miss Paget answered, with a sigh; "and I
will do more than that for love of you."
She had her arm round her happy rival's beautiful head, and she was
looking down at the sweet upturned face with supreme tenderness. She
felt no anger against this fair enslaver, who had robbed her of her
little lamb. She only felt some touch of anger against the Providence
which had decreed that the lamb should be so taken.
No suspicion of her friend's secret entered Charlotte Halliday's mind.
In all their intercourse Diana had spoken very little of Valentine; and
in the little she had said there had been always the same half-bitter,
half-disdainful tone. Charlotte, in her simple candour, accepted this
tone as the evidence of Miss Paget's aversion to her father's
"Poor Di does not like to see her father give so much of his friendship
to a stranger while she is neglected," thought Miss Halliday; and
having once jumped at this conclusion, she made no further effort to
penetrate the mysteries of Diana's mind.
She was less than ever inclined to speculation about Diana's feelings
now that she was in love, and blest with the sweet consciousness that
her love was returned. Tender and affectionate as she was, she could
not quite escape that taint of egotism which is the ruling vice of
fortunate lovers. Her mind was not wide enough to hold much more than
one image, which demanded so large a space.
MRS. SHELDON ACCEPTS HER DESTINY.
Miss Halliday had an interview with her mother that evening in Mrs.
Sheldon's dressing-room, while that lady was preparing for rest, with
considerable elaboration of detail in the way of hair-brushing, and
putting away of neck-ribbons and collars and trinkets in smart little
boxes and handy little drawers, all more or less odorous from the
presence of dainty satin-covered sachets. The sachets, and the drawers,
and boxes, and trinkets were Mrs. Sheldon's best anchorage in this
world. Such things as these were the things that made life worth
endurance for this poor weak little woman; and they were more real to
her than her daughter, because more easy to realise. The beautiful
light-hearted girl was a being whose existence had been always
something of a problem for Georgina Sheldon. She loved her after her
own feeble fashion, and would have jealously asserted her superiority
over every other daughter in the universe; but the power to understand
her or to sympathise with her had not been given to that narrow mind.
The only way in which Mrs. Sheldon's affection showed itself was
unquestioning indulgence and the bestowal of frivolous gifts, chosen
with no special regard to Charlotte's requirements, but rather because
they happened to catch Mrs. Sheldon's eye as they glittered or sparkled
in the windows of Bayswater repositories.
Mr. Sheldon happened to be dining out on this particular evening. He
was a guest at a great City feast, to which some of the richest men
upon 'Change had been bidden; so Miss Halliday had an excellent
opportunity for making her confession.
Poor Georgy was not a little startled by the avowal.
"My darling Lotta!" she screamed, "do you think your papa would ever
consent to such a thing?"
"I think my dear father would have consented to anything likely to
secure my happiness, mamma," the girl answered sadly.
She was thinking how different this crisis in her life would have
seemed if the father she had loved so dearly had been spared to counsel
"I was not thinking of my poor dear first husband," said Georgy. This
numbering of her husbands was always unpleasant to Charlotte. It seemed
such a very business-like mode of description to be applied to the
father she so deeply regretted. I was thinking of your step-papa,"
continued Mrs. Sheldon.
"He would never consent to your marrying Mr. Hawkehurst, who really
seems to have nothing to recommend him except his good looks and an
obliging disposition with regard to orders for the theatres."
"I am not bound to consult my stepfather's wishes. I only want to
please you, mamma."
"But, my dear, I cannot possibly consent to anything that Mr. Sheldon
"O, mamma, dear kind mamma, do have an opinion of your own for once in
a way! I daresay Mr. Sheldon is the best possible judge of everything
connected with the Stock Exchange and the money-market; but don't let
him choose a husband for me. Let me have your approval, mamma, and I
care for no one else. I don't want to marry against your will. But I am
sure you like Mr. Hawkehurst."
Mrs. Sheldon shook her head despondingly.
"It's all very well to like an agreeable young man as an occasional
visitor," she said, "especially when most of one's visitors are
middle-aged City people. But it is a very different thing when one's
only daughter talks of marrying him. I can't imagine what can have put
such an idea as marriage into your head. It is only a few months since
you came home from school; and I fancied that you would have stopped
with me for years before you thought of settling."
Miss Halliday made a wry face.
"Dear mamma," she said, "I don't want to 'settle.' That is what one's
housemaid says, isn't it, when she talks of leaving service and
marrying some young man from the baker's or the grocer's? Valentine and
I are not in a hurry to be married. I am sure, for my own part, I don't
care how long our engagement lasts. I only wish to be quite candid and
truthful with you, mamma; and I thought it a kind of duty to tell you
that he loves me, and that--I love him--very dearly."
These last words were spoken with extreme shyness.
Mrs. Sheldon laid down her hair-brushes while she contemplated her
daughter's blushing face. Those blushes had become quite a chronic
affection with Miss Halliday of late.
"But, good gracious me, Charlotte," she exclaimed, growing peevish in
her sense of helplessness, "who is to tell Mr. Sheldon?"
"There is no necessity for Mr. Sheldon to be enlightened yet awhile,
mamma. It is to you I owe duty and obedience--not to him. Pray keep my
secret, kindest and most indulgent of mothers, and--and ask Valentine
to come and see you now and then."
"Ask him to come and see me, Charlotte! You must know very well that I
never invite any one to dinner except at Mr. Sheldon's wish. I am sure
I quite tremble at the idea of a dinner. There is such trouble about
the waiting, and such dreadful uncertainty about the cooking. And if
one has it all done by Birch's people, one's cook gives warning next
morning," added poor Georgy, with a dismal recollection of recent
perplexities. "I am sure I often wish myself young again, in the dairy
at Hyley farm, making matrimony cakes for a tea-party, with a ring and
a fourpenny-piece hidden in the middle. I'm sure the Hyley tea-parties
were pleasanter than Mr. Sheldon's dinners, with those solemn City
people, who can't exist without clear turtle and red mullet."
"Ah, mother dear, our lives were altogether happier in those days. I
delight in the Yorkshire tea-parties, and the matrimony cakes, and all
the talk and laughter about the fourpenny-piece and the ring. I
remember getting the fourpenny-piece at Newhall last year. And that
means that one is to die an old maid, you know. And now I am engaged.
As to the dinners, mamma, Mr. Sheldon may keep them all for himself and
his City friends. Valentine is the last person in the world to care for
clear turtle. If you will let him drop in sometimes of an afternoon--
say once a week or so--when you, and I, and Diana are sitting at our
work in the drawing-room, and if you will let him hand us our cups at
our five-o'clock tea, he will be the happiest of men. He adores tea.
You'll let him come, won't you, dear? O, mamma, I feel just like a
servant who asks to be allowed to see her 'young man.' Will you let my
'young man' come to tea once in a way?"
"Well, Charlotte, I'm sure I don't know," said Mrs. Sheldon, with
increasing helplessness. "It's really a very dreadful position for me
to be placed in."
"Quite appalling, is it not, mamma? But then I suppose it is a position
that people afflicted with daughters must come to sooner or later."
"If it were the mere civility of asking him to tea," pursued poor
Georgy, heedless of this flippant interruption, "I'm sure I should be
the last to make any objection. Indeed, I am under a kind of obligation
to Mr. Hawkehurst, for his polite attention has enabled us to go to the
theatres very often when your papa would not have thought of buying
tickets. But then, you see, Lotta, the question in point is not his
coming to our five-o'clock tea--which seems really a perfect mockery to
any one brought up in Yorkshire--but whether you are to be engaged to
"Dear mamma, _that_ is not a question at all, for I am already engaged
"I do not think I could bring myself to disobey you, dear mother,"
continued the girl tenderly; "and if you tell me, of your own free
will, and acting on your conviction, that I am not to marry him, I must
bow my head to your decision, however hard it may seem. But one thing
is quite certain, mamma: I have given my promise to Valentine; and if I
do not marry him, I shall never marry at all; and then the dreadful
augury of the fourpenny-piece will be verified."
Miss Halliday pronounced this determination with a decision of manner
that quite overawed her mother. It had been the habit of Georgy's mind
to make a feeble protest against all the mutations of life, but in the
end to submit very quietly to the inevitable; and since Valentine
Hawkehurst's acceptance as Charlotte's future husband seemed
inevitable, she was fain to submit in this instance also.
Valentine was allowed to call at the Lawn, and was received with a
feeble, half-plaintive graciousness by the lady of the house. He was
invited to stop for the five-o'clock tea, and availed himself
rapturously of this delightful privilege. His instinct told him what
gentle hand had made the meal so dainty and home-like, and for whose
pleasure the phantasmal pieces of bread-and-butter usually supplied by
the trim parlour-maid had given place to a salver loaded with innocent
delicacies in the way of pound-cake and apricot jam.
Mr. Hawkehurst did his uttermost to deserve so much indulgence. He
scoured London in search of free admissions for the theatres, hunting
"Ragamuffins" and members of the Cibber Club, and other privileged
creatures, at all their places of resort. He watched for the advent of
novels adapted to Georgy's capacity--lively records of croquet and
dressing and love-making, from smart young Amazons in the literary
ranks, or deeply interesting romances of the sensation school, with at
least nine deaths in the three volumes, and a comic housemaid, or a
contumacious "Buttons," to relieve the gloom by their playful
waggeries. He read Tennyson or Owen Meredith, or carefully selected
"bits" from the works of a younger and wilder bard, while the ladies
worked industriously at their prie-dieu chairs, or Berlin brioches, or
Shetland couvrepieds, as the case might be. The patroness of a fancy
fair would scarcely have smiled approvingly on the novel effects in
_crochet a tricoter_ produced by Miss Halliday during these pleasant
"The rows will come wrong," she said piteously, "and Tennyson's poetry
is so very absorbing!"
Mr. Hawkehurst showed himself to be possessed of honourable, not to say
delicate, feelings in his new position. The gothic villa was his
paradise, and the gates had been freely opened to admit him whensoever
he chose to come. Georgy was just the sort of person from whom people
take ells after having asked for inches; and once having admitted Mr.
Hawkehurst as a privileged guest, she would have found it very
difficult to place any restriction upon the number of his visits.
Happily for this much-perplexed matron, Charlotte and her lover were
strictly honourable. Mr. Hawkehurst never made his appearance at the
villa more than once in the same week, though the "once a week or so"
asked for by Charlotte might have been stretched to a wider
When Valentine obtained orders for the theatre, he sent them by post,
scrupulously refraining from making them the excuse for a visit.
"That was all very well when I was a freebooter," he said to himself,
"only admitted on sufferance, and liable to have the door shut in my
face any morning. But I am trusted now, and I must prove myself worthy
of my future mother-in-law's confidence. Once a week! One seventh day
of unspeakable happiness--bliss without alloy! The six other days are
very long and dreary. But then they are only the lustreless setting in
which that jewel the seventh shines so gloriously. Now, if I were
Waller, what verses I would sing about my love! Alas, I am only a
commonplace young man, and can find no new words in which to tell the
old sweet story!"
If the orders for stalls and private boxes were not allowed to serve as
an excuse for visits, they at least necessitated the writing of
letters; and no human being, except a lover, would have been able to
understand why such long letters must needs be written about such a
very small business. The letters secured replies; and when the order
sent was for a box, Mr. Hawkehurst was generally invited to occupy a
seat in it. Ah, what did it matter on those happy nights how hackneyed
the plot of the play, how bald the dialogue, how indifferent the
acting! It was all alike delightful to those two spectators: for a
light that shone neither on earth nor sky brightened everything they
looked on when they sat side by side.
And during all these pleasant afternoons at the villa, or evenings at
the theatre, Diana Paget had to sit by and witness the happiness which
she had dreamed might some day be hers. It was a part of her duty to be
present on these occasions, and she performed that duty punctiliously.
She might have made excuses for absenting herself, but she was too
proud to make any such excuses.
"Am I such a coward as to tell a lie in order to avoid a little pain
more or less? If I say I have a headache, and stay in my own room while
he is here, will the afternoon seem any more pleasant or any shorter to
me? The utmost difference would be the difference between a dull pain
and a sharp pain; and I think the sharper agony is easier to bear."
Having argued with herself thus, Miss Paget endured her weekly
martyrdom with Spartan fortitude.
"What have I lost?" she said to herself, as she stole a furtive glance
now and then at the familiar face of her old companion. "What is this
treasure, the loss of which makes me seem to myself such an abject
wretch? Only the love of a man who at his best is not worthy of this
girl's pure affection, and at his worst must have been unworthy even of
mine. But then at his worst he is dearer to me than the best man who
ever lived upon this earth."
MR. HAWKEHURST AND MR. GEORGE SHELDON COME TO AN UNDERSTANDING.
There was no such thing as idleness for Valentine Hawkehurst during
these happy days of his courtship. The world was his oyster, and that
oyster was yet unopened. For some years he had been hacking and hewing
the shell thereof with the sword of the freebooter, to very little
advantageous effect. He now set himself seriously to work with the
pickaxe of the steady-going labourer. He was a secessionist from the
great army of adventurers. He wanted to enrol himself in the ranks of
the respectable, the plodders, the ratepayers, the simple citizens who
love their wives and children, and go to their parish church on
Sundays. He had an incentive to steady industry, which had hitherto
been wanting in his life. He was beloved, and any shame that came to
him would be a still more bitter humiliation for the woman who loved
He felt that the very first step in the difficult path of
respectability would be a step that must separate him from Captain
Paget; but just now separation from that gentleman seemed scarcely
advisable. If there was any mischief in that Ullerton expedition, any
collusion between the Captain and the Reverend Goodge, it would
assuredly be well for Valentine to continue a mode of life which
enabled him to be tolerably well informed as to the movements of the
slippery Horatio. In all the outside positions of life expedience must
ever be the governing principle, and expedience forbade any immediate
break with Captain Paget.
"Whatever you do, keep your eye upon the Captain," said George Sheldon,
in one of many interviews, all bearing upon the Haygarth succession.
"If there is any underhand work going on between him and Philip, you
must be uncommonly slow of perception if you can't ferret it out. I'm
very sorry you met Charlotte Halliday in the north, for of course Phil
must have heard of your appearance in Yorkshire, and that will set him
wondering at any rate, especially as lie will no doubt have heard the
Dorking story from Paget. He pretended he saw you leave town the day
you went to Ullerton, but I am half inclined to believe that was only a
"I don't think Mr. Sheldon has heard of my appearance in Yorkshire
"Indeed! Miss Charlotte doesn't care to make a confidant of her
stepfather, I suppose. Keep her in that mind, Hawkehurst. If you play
your cards well, you ought to be able to get her to marry you on the
quiet." "I don't think that would be possible. In fact, I am sure
Charlotte would not marry without her mother's consent," answered
"And of course that means my brother Philip's consent," exclaimed
George Sheldon, with contemptuous impatience. "What a slow, bungling
fellow you are, Hawkehurst! Here is an immense fortune waiting for you,
and a pretty girl in love with you, and you dawdle and deliberate as if
you were going to the dentist's to have a tooth drawn. You've fallen
into a position that any man in London might envy, and you don't seem
to have the smallest capability of appreciating your good luck."
"Well, perhaps I am rather slow to realise the idea of my good
fortune," answered Valentine, still very thoughtfully. "You see, in the
first place, I can't get over a shadowy kind of feeling with regard to
that Haygarthian fortune. It is too far away from my grasp, too large,
too much of the stuff that dreams and novels are made of. And, in the
second place, I love Miss Halliday so fondly and so truly that I don't
like the notion of making my marriage with her any part of the bargain
between you and me."
Mr. Sheldon contemplated his confederate with unmitigated disdain.
"Don't try that sort of thing with me, Hawkehurst," he said; "that
sentimental dodge may answer very well with some men, but I'm about the
last to be taken in by it. You are playing fast-and-loose with me, and
you want to throw me over--as my brother Phil would throw me over, if
he got the chance."
"I am not playing fast-and-loose with you," replied Valentine, too
disdainful of Mr. Sheldon for indignation. "I have worked for you
faithfully, and kept your secret honourably, when I had every
temptation to reveal it. You drove your bargain with me, and I have
performed my share of the bargain to the letter. But if you think I am
going to drive a bargain with you about my marriage with Miss Halliday,
you are very much mistaken. That lady will marry me when she pleases,
but she shall not be entrapped into a clandestine marriage for your
convenience." "O, that's your ultimatum, is it, Mr. Joseph Surface?"
said the lawyer, biting his nails fiercely, and looking askant at his
ally, with angry eyes. "I wonder you don't wind up by saying that the
man who could trade upon a virtuous woman's affection for the
advancement of his fortune, deserves to--get it hot, as our modern
slang has it. Then I am to understand that you decline to precipitate
"I most certainly do."
"And the Haygarth business is to remain in abeyance while Miss Halliday
goes through the tedious formula of a sentimental courtship?"
"I suppose so."
"Humph! that's pleasant for me."
"Why should you make the advancement of Miss Halliday's claims
contingent on her marriage? Why not assert her rights at once?"
"Because I will not trust my brother Philip. The day that you show me
the certificate of your marriage with Charlotte Halliday is the day on
which I shall make my first move in this business. I told you the other
day that I would rather make a bargain with you than with my brother."
"And what kind of bargain do you expect to make with me when Miss
Halliday is my wife?"
"I'll tell you, Valentine Hawkehurst," replied the lawyer, squaring his
elbows upon his desk in his favourite attitude, and looking across the
table at his coadjutor; "I like to be open and above-board when I can,
and I'll be plain with you in this matter. I want a clear half of John
Haygarth's fortune, and I think that I've a very fair claim to that
amount. The money can only be obtained by means of the documents in my
possession, and but for me that money might have remained till doomsday
unclaimed and unthought of by the descendant of Matthew Haygarth. Look
at it which way you will, I think you'll allow that my demand is a just
"I don't say that it is unjust, though it certainly seems a little
extortionate," replied Valentine. "However, if Charlotte were my wife,
and were willing to cede half the fortune, I'm not the man to dispute
the amount of your reward. When the time comes for bargain-driving,
you'll not find me a difficult person to deal with.
"And when may I expect your marriage with Miss Halliday?" asked George
Sheldon, rapping his hard finger-nails upon the table with suppressed
impatience. "Since you elect to conduct matters in the grand style, and
must wait for mamma's consent and papa's consent, and goodness knows
what else in the way of absurdity, I suppose the delay will be for an
indefinite space of time." "I don't know about that. I'm not likely to
put off the hour in which I shall call that dear girl my own. I asked
her to be my wife before I knew that she had the blood of Matthew
Haygarth in her veins, and the knowledge of her claim to this fortune
does not make her one whit the dearer to me, penniless adventurer as I
am. If poetry were at all in your line, Mr. Sheldon, you might know
that a man's love for a good woman is generally better than himself. He
may be a knave and a scoundrel, and yet his love for that one perfect
creature may be almost as pure and perfect as herself. That's a
psychological mystery out of the way of Gray's Inn, isn't it?"
"If you'll oblige me by talking common sense for about five minutes,
you may devote your powerful intellect to the consideration of
psychological mysteries for a month at a stretch," exclaimed the
"O, don't you see how I struggle to be hard-headed and practical!"
cried Valentine; "but a man who is over head and ears in love finds it
rather hard to bring all his ideas to the one infallible grindstone.
You ask me when I am to marry Charlotte Halliday. To-morrow, if our
Fates smile upon us. Mrs. Sheldon knows of our engagement, and consents
to it, but in some manner under protest. I am not to take my dear girl
away from her mother for some time to come. The engagement is to be a
long one. In the mean time I am working hard to gain some kind of
position in literature, for I want to be sure of an income before I
marry, without reference to John Haygarth; and I am a privileged guest
at the villa."
"But my brother Phil has been told nothing?"
"As yet nothing. My visits are paid while he is in the City; and as I
often went to the villa before my engagement, he is not likely to
suspect anything when he happens to hear my name mentioned as a
"And do you really think he is in the dark--my brother Philip, who can
turn a man's brains inside out in half an hour's conversation? Mark my
words, Valentine Hawkehurst, that man is only playing with you as a cat
plays with a mouse. He used to see you and Charlotte together before
you went to Yorkshire, and he must have seen the state of the case
quite as plainly as I saw it. He has heard of your visits to the villa
since your return, and has kept a close account of them, and made his
own deductions, depend upon it. And some day, while you and pretty Miss
Charlotte are enjoying your fool's paradise, he will pounce upon you
just as puss pounces on poor mousy."
This was rather alarming, and Valentine felt that it was very likely to
"Mr. Sheldon may play the part of puss as he pleases," he replied after
a brief pause for deliberation; "this is a case in which he dare not
show his claws. He has no authority to control Miss Halliday's
"Perhaps not, but he would find means for preventing her marriage if it
was to his interest to do so. He is not _your_ brother, you see, Mr.
Hawkehurst; but he is mine, and I know a good deal about him. His
interest may not be concerned in hindering his stepdaughter's marriage
with a penniless scapegrace. He may possibly prefer such a bridegroom
as less likely to make himself obnoxious by putting awkward questions
about poor Tom Halliday's money, every sixpence of which he means to
keep, of course. If his cards are packed for that kind of marriage,
he'll welcome you to his arms as a son-in-law, and give you his
benediction as well as his stepdaughter. So I think if you can contrive
to inform him of your engagement, without letting him know of your
visit to Yorkshire, it might be a stroke of diplomacy. He might be glad
to get rid of the girl, and might hasten on the marriage of his own
"He might be glad to get rid of the girl." In the ears of Valentine
Hawkehurst this sounded rank blasphemy. Could there be any one upon
this earth, even a Sheldon, incapable of appreciating the privilege of
that divine creature's presence?
MR. SHELDON IS PROPITIOUS
It was not very long before Valentine Hawkehurst had reason to respect
the wisdom of his legal patron. Within a few days of his interview with
George Sheldon he paid his weekly visit to the villa. Things were going
very well with him, and life altogether seemed brighter than he had
ever hoped to find it. He had set himself steadily to work to win some
kind of position in literature. He devoted his days to diligent study
in the reading-room of the British Museum, his nights to writing for
the magazines. His acquaintance with press-men had stood him in good
stead; and already he had secured the prompt acceptance of his work in
more than one direction. The young _litterateur_ of the present day has
not such a very hard fight for a livelihood, if his pen has only a
certain lightness and dash, a rattling vivacity and airy grace. It is
only the marvellous boys who come to London with epic poems, Anglo-Saxon
tragedies, or metaphysical treatises in their portmanteaus, who must
needs perish in their prime, or stoop to the drudgery of office or
Valentine Hawkehurst had no vague yearnings after the fame of a Milton,
no inner consciousness that he had been born to stamp out the
footprints of Shakespeare on the sands of time, no unhealthy hungering
after the gloomy grandeur of Byron. He had been brought up amongst
people who treated literature as a trade as well as an art;--and what
art is not more or less a trade? He knew the state of the market, and
what kind of goods were likely to go off briskly, and it was for the
market he worked. When gray shirtings were in active demand, he set his
loom for gray shirtings; and when the buyers clamoured for fancy goods,
he made haste to produce that class of fabrics. In this he proved
himself a very low-minded and ignominious creature, no doubt; but was
not one Oliver Goldsmith glad to take any order which good Mr. Newberry
might give him, only writing the "Traveller" and the story of Parson
Primrose _pour se distraire_?
Love lent wings to the young essayist's pen. It is to be feared that in
roving among those shelves in Great Russell-street he showed himself
something of a freebooter, taking his "bien" wherever it was to be
found; but did not Moliere frankly acknowledge the same practice? Mr.
Hawkehurst wrote about anything and everything. His brain must needs be
a gigantic storehouse of information, thought the respectful reader. He
skipped from Pericles to Cromwell, from Cleopatra to Mary Stuart, from
Sappho to Madame de Sable; and he wrote of these departed spirits with
such a charming impertinence, with such a delicious affectation of
intimacy, that one would have thought he had sat by Cleopatra as she
melted her pearls, and stood amongst the audience of Pericles when he
pronounced his funeral oration. "With the De Sable and the Chevreuse,
Ninon and Marion, Maintenon and La Valliere, Anne of Austria and the
great Mademoiselle of France, he seemed to have lived in daily
companionship, so amply did he expatiate upon the smallest details of
their existences, so tenderly did he dwell on their vanished beauties,
their unforgotten graces."
The work was light and pleasant; and the monthly cheques from the
proprietors of a couple of rival periodicals promised, to amount to the
income which the adventurer had sighed for as he trod the Yorkshire
moorland. He had asked Destiny to give him Charlotte Halliday and three
hundred a year, and lo! while yet the wish was new, both these
blessings seemed within his grasp. It could scarcely be a matter for
repining it the Fates should choose to throw in an odd fifty thousand
pounds or so.
But was not all this something too much of happiness for a man whose
feet had trodden in evil ways? Were not the Fates mocking this
travel-stained wayfarer with bright glimpses of a paradise whose gates
he was never to pass?
This was the question which Valentine Hawkehurst was fain to ask
himself sometimes; this doubt was the shadow which sometimes made a
sudden darkness that obscured the sunshine.
Happily for Charlotte's true lover, the shadow did not often come
between him and the light of those dear eyes which were his pole-stars.
The December days were shortening as the year drew to its close, and
afternoon tea seemed more than ever delightful to Charlotte and her
betrothed, now that it could be enjoyed in the mysterious half light; a
glimmer of chill gray day looking coldly in at the unshrouded window
like some ghostly watcher envying these mortals their happiness, and
the red glow of the low fire reflected upon every curve and facet of
the shining steel grate.
To sit by the fire at five o'clock in the afternoon, watching the
changeful light upon Charlotte's face, the rosy glow that seemed to
linger caressingly on broad low brow and sweet ripe lips, the deep
shadows that darkened eyes and hair, was bliss unspeakable for Mr.
Hawkehurst. The lovers talked the prettiest nonsense to each other,
while Mrs. Sheldon dozed placidly behind the friendly shelter of a
banner-screen hooked on to the chimney-piece, or conversed with Diana
in a monotonous undertone, solemnly debating the relative wisdom of
dyeing or turning in relation to a faded silk dress.
Upon one special evening Valentine lingered just a little longer than
usual. Christmas was near at hand, and the young man had brought his
liege lady tribute in the shape of a bundle of Christmas literature.
Tennyson had been laid aside in favour of the genial Christmas fare,
which had the one fault, that it came a fortnight before the jovial
season, and in a manner fore-stalled the delights of that time-honoured
period, making the season itself seem flat and dull, and turkey and
plum-pudding the stalest commodities in the world when they did come.
How, indeed, can a man do full justice to his aunt Tabitha's
plum-pudding, or his uncle Joe's renowned rum-punch, if he has quaffed
the steaming-bowl with the "Seven Poor Travellers," or eaten his
Christmas dinner at the "Kiddleawink" a fortnight beforehand? Are not
the chief pleasures of life joys as perishable as the bloom on a peach
or the freshness of a rose?
Valentine had read the ghastliest of ghost-stories, and the most
humorous of word-pictures, for the benefit of the audience in Mrs.
Sheldon's drawing-room; and now, after tea, they sat by the fire
talking of the ghost-story, and discussing that unanswerable question
about the possibility of such spiritual appearances, which seems to
have been debated ever since the world began.
"Dr. Johnson believed in ghosts," said Valentine.
"O, please spare us Dr. Johnson," cried Charlotte, with seriocomic
intensity. "What is it that obliges magazine-writers to be perpetually
talking about Dr. Johnson? If they must dig up persons from the past,
why can't they dig up newer persons than that poor ill-used doctor?"
The door opened with a hoarse groan, and Mr. Sheldon came into the room
while Miss Halliday was making her playful protest. She stopped,
somewhat confused by that sudden entrance.
There is a statue of the Commandant in every house, at whose coming
hearts grow cold and lips are suddenly silent. It was the first time
that the master of the villa had interrupted one of these friendly
afternoon teas, and Mrs. Sheldon and her daughter felt that a domestic
crisis was at hand.
"How's this?" cried the stockbroker's strong hard voice; "you seem all
in the dark."
He took a wax-match from a little gilt stand on the mantelpiece and
lighted two flaring lamps. He was the sort of man who is always eager
to light the gas when people are sitting in the gloaming, meditative
and poetical. He let the broad glare of common sense in upon their
foolish musings, and scared away Robin Goodfellow and the fairies by
means of the Western Gaslight Company's illuminating medium.
The light of those two flaring jets of gas revealed Charlotte Halliday
looking shyly at the roses on the carpet, and trifling nervously with
one of the show-books on the table. The same light revealed Valentine
Hawkehurst standing by the young lady's chair, and looking at Mr.
Sheldon with a boldness of countenance that was almost defiance. Poor
Georgy's face peered out from behind her favourite banner-screen,
looking from one to the other in evident alarm. Diana sat in her
accustomed corner, watchful, expectant, awaiting the domestic storm.
To the surprise of every one except Mr. Sheldon, there was no storm,
not even the lightest breeze that ever blew in domestic hemispheres.
The stockbroker saluted his stepdaughter with a friendly nod, and
greeted her lover with a significant grin.
"How d'ye do, Hawkehurst?" he said, in his pleasantest manner. "It's an
age since I've seen you. You're going in for literature, I hear; and a
very good thing too, if you can make it pay. I understand there are
some fellows who really do make that sort of thing pay. Seen my brother
George lately? Yes, I suppose you and George are quite a Damon and
What's-his-name. You're going to dine here to-night, of course? I
suppose we may go in to dinner at once, eh, Georgy?--it's half-past
Mr. Hawkehurst made some faint pretence of having a particular
engagement elsewhere; for, supposing Sheldon to be unconscious, he
scorned to profit by that gentleman's ignorance. And then, having
faltered his refusal, he looked at Charlotte, and Charlotte's eyes
cried "Stay," as plainly as such lovely eyes can speak. So the end of
it was, that he stayed and partook of the Sheldonian crimped skate, and
the Sheldonian roast-beef and tapioca-pudding, and tasted some especial
Moselle, which, out of the kindliness of his nature, Mr. Sheldon opened
for his stepdaughter's betrothed.
After dinner there were oranges and crisp uncompromising biscuits, that
made an explosive noise like the breaking of windows whenever any one
ventured to tamper with them; item, a decanter of sherry in a silver
stand; item, a decanter of port, which Mr. Sheldon declared to be
something almost too good to be drunk, and to the merits of which
Valentine was supremely indifferent. The young man would fain have
followed his delight when she accompanied her mamma and Diana to the
drawing-room; but Mr. Sheldon detained him.
"I want a few words with you, Hawkehurst," he said; and Charlotte's
cheeks flamed red as peonies at sound of this alarming sentence. "You
shall go after the ladies presently, and they shall torture that poor
little piano to their hearts' delight for your edification. I won't
detain you many minutes. You had really better try that port."
Valentine closed the door upon the departing ladies, and went back to
his seat very submissively. If there were any battle to be fought out
between him and Philip Sheldon, the sooner the trumpet sounded to arms
"His remarkable civility almost inclines me to think that he does
really want to get rid of that dear girl," Valentine said to himself,
as he filled his glass and gravely awaited Mr. Sheldon's pleasure.
"Now then, my dear Hawkehurst," began that gentleman, squaring himself
in his comfortable arm-chair, and extending his legs before the cheery
fire, "let us have a little friendly chat. I am not given to beating
about the bush, you know, and whatever I have to say I shall say in
very plain words. In the first place, I hope you have not so poor an
opinion of my perceptive faculties as to suppose that I don't see what
is going on between you and Miss Lotta yonder."
"My dear Mr. Sheldon, I--"
"Hear what I have to say first, and make your protestations afterwards.
You needn't be alarmed; you won't find me quite as bad as the
stepmother one reads about in the story-books, who puts her
stepdaughter into a pie, and all that kind of thing. I suppose
stepfathers have been a very estimable class, by the way, as it is the
stepmother who always drops in for it in the story-books. You'll find
mo very easy to deal with, Mr. Hawkehurst, always provided that you
deal in a fair and honourable manner."
"I have no wish to be underhand in my dealings," Valentine said boldly.
And indeed this was the truth. His inclination prompted him to candour,
even with Mr. Sheldon; but that fatal necessity which is the governing
principle of the adventurer's life obliged him to employ the arts of
"Good," cried Mr. Sheldon, in the cheery, pleasant tone of an
easy-going man of the world, who is not too worldly to perform a
generous action once in a way. "All I ask is frankness. You and
Charlotte have fallen in love with one another--why, I can't imagine,
except on the hypothesis that a decent-looking young woman and a
decent-looking young man can't meet half a dozen times without beginning
to think of Gretna-green, or St. George's, Hanover-square. Of course a
marriage with you, looked at from a common-sense point of view, would be
about the worst thing that could happen to my wife's daughter. She's a
very fine girl" (a man of the Sheldonian type would call Aphrodite
herself a fine girl), "and might marry some awfully rich City swell with
vineries and pineries and succession-houses at Tulse-hill or Highgate, if
I chose to put her in the way of that sort of thing. But then, you see,
the worst of it is, a man seldom comes to vineries and pineries at
Tulse-hill till he is on the shady side of forty; and as I am not in
favour of mercenary marriages, I don't care to force any of my City
connection upon poor Lotta. In the neighbourhood of the Stock Exchange
there is no sharper man of business than your humble servant; but I
don't care to bring business habits to Bayswater. Long before Lotta
left school, I had made up my mind never to come between her and her
own inclination in the matrimonial line; therefore, if she truly and
honestly loves you, and if you truly and honestly love her, I am not
the man to forbid the bans."
"My dear Mr. Sheldon, how shall I ever thank you for this!" cried
Valentine, surprised into a belief in the purity of the stockbroker's
"Don't be in a hurry," replied that gentleman coolly; "you haven't
heard me out yet. Though I may consent to take the very opposite line
of conduct which I might be expected to take as a man of the world, I
am not going to allow you and Charlotte to make fools of yourselves.
There must be no love-in-a-cottage business, no marrying on nothing a
year, with the expectation that papa and mamma will make up the
difference between that and a comfortable income. In plain English, if
I consent to receive you as Charlotte's future husband, you and she
must consent to wait until you can, to my entire satisfaction, prove
yourself in a position to keep a wife." Valentine sighed doubtfully.
"I don't think either Miss Halliday or I are in an unreasonable hurry
to begin life together," he said thoughtfully; "but there must be some
fixed limit to our probation. I am afraid the waiting will be a very
long business, if I am to obtain a position that will satisfy you
before I ask my dear girl to share my fate."
"Are your prospects so very black?"
"No; to my mind they seem wonderfully bright. But the earnings of a
magazine-writer will scarcely come up to your idea of an independence.
Just now I am getting about ten pounds a month. With industry, I may
stretch that ten to twenty; and with luck I might make the twenty into
thirty--forty--fifty. A man has only to achieve something like a
reputation in order to make a handsome living by his pen."
"I am very glad to hear that," said Mr. Sheldon; "and when you can
fairly demonstrate to me that you are earning thirty pounds a month,
you shall have my consent to your marriage with Charlotte, and I will
do what I can to give you a fair start in life. I suppose you know that
she hasn't a sixpence in the world, that she can call her own?"
This was a trying question for Valentine Hawkehurst, and Mr. Sheldon
looked at him with a sharp scrutinising glance as he awaited a reply.
The young man flushed crimson, and grew pale again before he spoke.
"Yes," he said, "I have long been aware that Miss Halliday has no legal
claim on her father's fortune."
"There you have hit the mark," cried Mr. Sheldon. "She has no claim to
a sixpence in law; but to an honourable man that is not the question.
Poor Halliday's money amounted in all to something like eighteen
thousand pounds. That sum passed into my possession when I married my
poor friend's widow, who had too much respect for me to hamper my
position as a man of business by any legal restraints that would have
hindered my making the wisest use of her money. I have used that money,
and I need scarcely tell you that I have employed it with considerable
advantage to myself and Georgy. I therefore can afford to be generous,
and I mean to be so; but the manner in which I do things must be of my
own choosing. My own children are dead, and there is no one belonging
to one that stands in Miss Halliday's way. When I die she will inherit
a handsome fortune. And if she marries with my approval, I shall
present her with a very comfortable dowry. I think you will allow that
this is fair enough."
"Nothing could be fairer or more generous," replied Valentine with
Mr. Sheldon's agreeable candour had entirely subjugated him. Despite of
all that George had said to his brother's prejudice, he was ready to
believe implicitly in Philip's fair dealing.
"And in return for this I ask something on your part," said Mr.
Sheldon. "I want you to give me your promise that you will take no
serious step without my knowledge. You won't steal a march upon me. You
won't walk off with Charlotte some fine morning and marry her at a
registry-office, or anything of that kind, eh?"
"I will not," answered Valentine resolutely, with a very unpleasant
recollection of his dealings with George Sheldon.
"Give me your hand upon that," cried the stockbroker.
Upon this the two men shook hands, and Valentine's fingers were almost
crushed in the cold hard grip of Mr. Sheldon's muscular hand. And now
there came upon Valentine's ear the sound of one of Mendelssohn's
_Lieder ohne Worte_, tenderly played by the gentle hands he knew so
well. And the lover began to feel that he could no longer sit sipping
the stockbroker's port with a hypocritical pretence of appreciation,
and roasting himself before the blazing fire, the heat whereof was
multiplied to an insufferable degree by grate and fender of reflecting
Mr. Sheldon was not slow to perceive his guest's impatience, and having
made exactly the impression he wanted to make, was quite willing that
the interview should come to an end.
"You had better be off to the drawing-room," he said, good naturedly;
"I see you are in that stage of the fever in which masculine society is
only a bore. You can go and hear Charlotte play, while I read the
evening papers and write a few letters. You can let her know that you
and I understand each other. Of course we shall see you very often.
You'll eat your Christmas turkey with us, and so on; and I shall trust
to your honour for the safe keeping of that promise you made me just
now," said Mr. Sheldon.
"And I shall keep an uncommonly close watch upon you and the young
lady, my friend," added that gentleman, communing with his own thoughts
as he crossed the smart little hall, where two Birmingham iron knights
in chain armour bestrode their gallant chargers, on two small tables of
Mr. Sheldon's library was not a very inspiring apartment. His ideas of
a _sanctum sanctorum_ did not soar above the commonplace. A decent
square room, furnished with plenty of pigeon-holes, a neat brass scale
for the weighing of letters, a copying-press, a waste-paper basket, a
stout brass-mounted office inkstand capable of holding a quart or so of
ink, and a Post-office Directory, were all he asked for his hours of
leisure and meditation. In a handsome glazed bookcase, opposite his
writing-table, appeared a richly-bound edition of the _Waverley_
_Novels_, Knight's _Shakespeare_, Hume and Smollett, Fielding,
Goldsmith, and Gibbon; but, except when Georgy dusted the sacred
volumes with her own fair hands, the glass doors of the bookcase were
Mr. Sheldon turned on the gas, seated himself at his comfortable
writing-table, and took up his pen. A quire of office note-paper, with
his City address upon it, lay ready beneath his hand; but he did not
begin to write immediately. He sat for some time with his elbows on the
table, and his chin in his hands, meditating with dark fixed brows.
"Can I trust her?" he asked himself. "Is it safe to have her near me--
after---after what she said to me in Fitzgeorge-street? Yes, I think I
can trust her, up to a certain point; but beyond that I must be on my
guard. She might be more dangerous than a stranger. One thing is quite
clear--she must be provided for somehow or other. The question is,
whether she is to be provided for in this house or out of it; and
whether I can make her serve me as I want to be served?"
This was the gist of Mr. Sheldon's meditations; but they lasted for
some time. The question which he had to settle was an important one,
and he was too wise a man not to contemplate a subject from every
possible point of sight before arriving at his decision. He took a
letter-clip from one side of his table, and turned over several open
letters in search of some particular document.
He came at last to the letter he wanted. It was written on very common
note-paper, with brown-looking ink, and the penmanship was evidently
that of an uneducated person; but Mr. Sheldon studied its contents with
the air of a man who is dealing with no unimportant missive.
This was the letter which so deeply interested the stockbroker:--
"HONORED SIR--This coms hopping that You and Your Honored ladie are
well has it leevs me tho nott so strong has i coud wish wich his nott
too bee expect at my time off life my pore neffew was tooke with the
tyfus last tewsday weak was giv over on thirsday and we hav berried him
at kensil grean Honored Mr. Sheldon I hav now no home my pore neece
must go hout into survis. Luckly there har no Childring and the pore
gurl can gett hur living as housmade wich she were in survis hat hi
gate befor she marrid my pore Joseff Honored sir i ham trewly sorry too
trubbel you butt i think for hold times you will forgiv the libertey
off this letter i would nott hintrewd on you iff i had enny frend to
help me in my old aig,
"Your obeddient survent."
"17 Litle Tottles-yarde lambeft."
"No friend to help her in her old age," muttered Mr. Sheldon; "that
means that she intends to throw herself upon me for the rest of her
life, and to put me to the expense of burying her when she is so
obliging as to die. Very pleasant, upon my word! A man has a servant
in the days of his poverty, pays her every fraction he owes her in the
shape of wages, and wishes her good speed when she goes to settle
down among her relations; and one fine morning, when he has got into a
decent position, she writes to inform him that her nephew is dead, and
that she expects him to provide for her forthwith. That is the gist of
Mrs. Woolper's letter; and if it were not for one or two considerations,
I should be very much inclined to take a business-like view of the
case, and refer the lady to her parish. What are poor-rates intended
for, I should like to know, if a man who pays four-and-twopence in the
pound is to be pestered in this sort of way?"
And then Mr. Sheldon, having given vent to his vexation by such
reflections as these, set himself to examine the matter in another
"I must manage to keep sweet with Nancy Woolper somehow or other,
that's very clear; for a chattering old woman is about as dangerous an
enemy as a man can have. I might provide for her decently enough out of
doors for something like a pound a week; and that would be a cheap
enough way of paying off all old scores. But I'm not quite clear that
it would be a safe way. A life of idleness might develop Mrs. Woolper's
latent propensity for gossip--and gossip is what I want to avoid. No,
that plan won't do."
For some moments Mr. Sheldon meditated silently, with his brows fixed
even more sternly than before. Then he struck his hand suddenly on the
morocco-covered table, and uttered his thoughts aloud.
"I'll risk it," he said; "she shall come into the house and serve my
interests by keeping a sharp watch upon Charlotte Halliday. There shall
be no secret marriage between those two. No, my friend Valentine, you
may be a very clever fellow, but you are not quite clever enough to
steal a march upon me."
Having arrived at this conclusion, Mr. Sheldon wrote a few lines to
Nancy Woolper, telling her to call upon him at the Lawn.
MR. SHELDON IS BENEVOLENT.
Nancy Woolper had lost little of her activity during the ten years that
had gone by since she received her wages from Mr. Sheldon, on his
breaking up his establishment in Fitzgeorge-street. Her master had
given her the opportunity of remaining in his service, had she so
pleased; but Mrs. Woolper was a person of independent, not to say
haughty, spirit, and she had preferred to join her small fortunes with
those of a nephew who was about to begin business as a chandler and
general dealer in a very small way, rather than to submit herself to
the sway of that lady whom she insisted on calling Miss Georgy.
"It's so long since I've been used to a missus," she said, when
announcing her decision to Mr. Sheldon, "I doubt if I could do with
Miss Georgy's finnickin ways. I should feel tewed like, if she came
into the kitchen, worritin' and asking questions. I've been used to my
own ways, and I don't suppose I could do with hers."
So Nancy departed, to enter on a career of unpaid drudgery in the
household of her kinsman, and to lose the last shilling of her small
savings in the futile endeavour to sustain the fortunes of the general
dealer. His death, following very speedily upon his insolvency, left
the poor soul quite adrift; and in this extremity she had been fain to
make her appeal to Mr. Sheldon. His reply came in due course, but not
without upwards of a week's delay; during which time Nancy Woolper's
spirits sank very low, while a dreary vision of a living grave--called
a workhouse--loomed more and more darkly upon her poor old eyes. She
had well-nigh given up all hope of succour from her old master when the
letter came, and she was the more inclined to be grateful for very
small help after this interval of suspense. It was not without strong
emotion that Mrs. Woolper obeyed her old master's summons. She had
nursed the hard, cold man of the world whom she was going to see once
more, after ten years of severance; and though it was more difficult
for her to imagine that Philip Sheldon, the stockbroker, was the same
Philip she had carried in her stout arms, and hushed upon her breast
forty years ago, than it would have been to fancy the dead who had
lived in those days restored to life and walking by her side, still,
she could not forget that such things had been, and could not refrain
from looking at her master with more loving eyes because of that
A strange dark cloud had arisen between her and her master's image
during the latter part of her service in Fitzgeorge-street; but, little
by little, the cloud had melted away, leaving the familiar image clear
and unshadowed as of old. She had suffered her mind to be filled by a
suspicion so monstrous, that for a time it held her as by some fatal
spell; but with reflection came the assurance that this thing could not
be. Day by day she saw the man whom she had suspected going about the
common business of life, coldly serene of aspect, untroubled of manner,
confronting fortune with his head erect, living quietly in the house
where he had been wont to live, haunted by no dismal shadows, subject
to no dark hours of remorse, no sudden access of despair, always
equable, business-like, and untroubled; and she told herself that such
a man could not be guilty of the unutterable horror she had imagined.
For a year things had gone on thus, and then came the marriage with
Mrs. Halliday. Mr. Sheldon went down to Barlingford for the performance
of that interesting ceremony; and Nancy Woolper bade farewell to the
house in Fitzgeorge-street, and handed the key to the agent, who was to
deliver it in due course to Mr. Sheldon's successor.
To-day, after a lapse of more than ten years, Mrs. Woolper sat in the
stockbroker's study, facing the scrutinising gaze of those bright black
eyes, which had been familiar to her of old, and which had lost none of
their cold glitter in the wear and tear of life.
"Then you think you can be of some use in the house, as a kind of
overlooker of the other servants, eh, Nancy--to prevent waste, and
gadding out of doors, and so on?" said Mr. Sheldon, interrogatively.
"Ay, sure, that I can, Mr. Philip," answered the old woman promptly;
"and if I don't save you more money than I cost you, the sooner you
turn me out o' doors the better. I know what London servants are, and I
know their ways; and if Miss Georgy doesn't take to the housekeeping, I
know as how things must be hugger-mugger-like below stairs, however
smart and tidy things may be above."
"Mrs. Sheldon knows about as much of housekeeping as a baby," replied
Philip, with supreme contempt. "She'll not interfere with you; and if
you serve me faithfully--"
"That I allers did, Mr. Philip."
"Yes, yes; I daresay you did. But I want faithful service in the future
as well as in the past. Of course you know that I have a stepdaughter?"
"Tom Halliday's little girl, as went to school at Scarborough."
"The same. But poor Tom's little girl is now a fine young woman, and a
source of considerable anxiety to me. I am bound to say she is an
excellent girl--amiable, obedient, and all that kind of thing; but she
is a girl, and I freely confess that I am not learned in the ways of
girls; and I'm very much inclined to be afraid of them."
"As how, sir?"
"Well, you see, Nancy, they come home from school with their silly
heads full of romantic stuff, fit for nothing but to read novels and
strum upon the piano; and before you know where you are, they fall over
head and ears in love with the first decent-looking young man who pays
them a compliment. At least, that's my experience."
"Meaning Miss Halliday, sir?" asked Nancy, simply. "Has she fallen in
love with some young chap?"
"She has, and with a young chap who is not yet in a position to support
a wife. Now, if this girl were my own child, I should decidedly set my
face against this marriage; but as she is only my stepdaughter, I wash
my hands of all responsibility in the matter. 'Marry the man you have
chosen, my dear,' say I; 'all I ask is, that you don't marry him until
he can give you a comfortable home.' 'Very well, papa,' says my young
lady in her most dutiful manner, and 'Very well, sir,' says my young
gentleman; and they both declare themselves agreeable to any amount of
delay, provided the marriage comes off some time between this and
"Well, sir?" asked Nancy, rather at a loss to understand why Philip
Sheldon, the closest and most reserved of men, should happen to be so
"Well, Nancy, what I want to prevent is any underhand work. I know what
very limited notions of honour young men are apt to entertain nowadays,
and how intensely foolish a boarding-school miss can be on occasion. I
don't want these young people to run off to Gretna-green some fine
morning, or to steal a march upon me by getting married on the sly at
some out-of-the-way church, after having invested their united fortunes
in the purchase of a special license. In plain words, I distrust Miss
Halliday's lover, and I distrust Miss Halliday's common sense; and I
want to have a sensible, sharp-eyed person in the house always on the
look-out for any kind of danger, and able to protect my stepdaughter's
interests as well as my own."
"But the young lady's mamma, sir--she would look after her daughter, I
"Her mamma is foolishly indulgent, and about as capable of taking care
of her daughter as of sitting in Parliament. You remember pretty Georgy
Cradock, and you must know what she was--and what she is. Mrs. Sheldon
is the same woman as Georgy Cradock--a little older, and a little more
plump and rosy; but just as pretty, and just as useless."
The interview was prolonged for some little time after this, and it
ended in a thorough understanding between Mr. Sheldon and his old
servant. Nancy Woolper was to re-enter that gentleman's service, and
over and above all ordinary duties, she was to undertake the duty of
keeping a close watch upon all the movements of Charlotte Halliday. In
plain words, she was to be a spy, a private detective, so far as this
young lady was concerned; but Mr. Sheldon was too wise to put his
requirements into plain words, knowing that even in the hour of her
extremity Nancy Woolper would have refused to fill such an office had
she clearly understood the measure of its infamy.
Upon the day that followed his interview with Mrs. Woolper, the
stockbroker came home from the City an hour or two earlier than his
custom, and startled Miss Halliday by appearing in the garden where she
was walking alone, looking her brightest and prettiest in her dark
winter hat and jacket, and pacing briskly to and fro among the bare
frost-bound patches of earth that had once been flower-beds.
"I wan't a few minutes' quiet talk with you, Lotta," said Mr. Sheldon.
"You'd better come into my study, where we're pretty sure not to be
The girl blushed crimson as she acceded to this request, being assured
that Mr. Sheldon was going to discuss her matrimonial engagement.
Valentine had told her of that very satisfactory interview in the
dining-room, and from that time she had been trying to find an
opportunity for the acknowledgment of her stepfather's generosity. As
yet the occasion had not arisen. She did not know how to frame her
thanksgiving, and she shrank shyly from telling Mr. Sheldon how
grateful she was to him for the liberality of mind which had
distinguished his conduct in this affair.
"I really ought to thank him," she said to herself more than once. "I
was quite prepared for his doing his uttermost to prevent my marriage
with Valentine; and instead of that, he volunteers his consent, and
even promises to give us a fortune. 'I am bound to thank him for such
Perhaps there is no task more difficult than to offer grateful tribute
to a person whom one has been apt to think of with a feeling very near
akin to dislike. Ever since her mother's second marriage Charlotte had
striven against an instinctive distaste for Mr. Sheldon's society, and
an innate distrust of Mr. Sheldon's affectionate regard for herself;
but now that he had proved his sincerity in this most important crisis
of her life, she awoke all at once to the sense of the wrong she had
"I am always reading the Sermon on the Mount, and yet in my thoughts
about Mr. Sheldon I have never been able to remember those words,
'Judge not, that ye be not judged.' His kindness touches me to the very
heart, and I feel it all the more keenly because of my injustice."
She followed her stepfather into the prim little study. There was no
fire, and the room was colder than a vault on this bleak December day.
Charlotte shivered, and drew her jacket more tightly across her chest
as she perched herself on one of Mr. Sheldon's shining red morocco
chairs. "The room strikes cold," she said; "very, very cold."
After this there was a brief pause, during which Mr. Sheldon took some
papers from the pocket of his overcoat, and arranged them on his desk
with an absent manner, as if he were rather deliberating upon what he
was going to say than thinking of what he was doing. While he loitered
thus Charlotte found courage to speak.
"I wish to thank you, Mr. Sheldon--papa," she said, pronouncing the
"papa" with some slight appearance of effort, in spite of her desire to
be grateful: "I--I have been wishing to thank you for the last day or
two; only it seems so difficult sometimes to express one's self about
"I do not deserve or wish for your thanks, my dear. I have only done my
"But, indeed, you do deserve my thanks, and you have them in all
sincerity, papa. You have been very, very good to me--about--about
Valentine. I thought you would be sure to oppose our marriage on the
ground of imprudence, you know, and----"
"I do oppose your marriage in the present on the ground of imprudence,
and I am only consentient to it in the future on the condition that Mr.
Hawkehurst shall have secured a comfortable income by his literary
labours. He seems to be clever, and he promises fairly----"
"O yes indeed, dear papa," cried the girl, pleased by this meed of
praise for her lover; "he is more than clever. I am sure you would say
so if you had time to read his article on Madame de Sevigne in the
"I daresay it's very good, my dear; but I don't care for Madame de
"Or his sketch of Bossuet's career in the _Charing Cross_."
"My dear child, I do not even know who Bossuet was. All I require from
Mr. Hawkehurst is, that he shall earn a good income before he takes you
away from this house. You have been accustomed to a certain style of
living, and I cannot allow you to encounter a life of poverty."
"But, dear papa, I am not in the least afraid of poverty."
"I daresay not, my dear. You have never been poor," replied Mr.
Sheldon, coolly. "I don't suppose I am as much afraid of a rattlesnake
as the poor wretches who are accustomed to see one swinging by his tail
from the branch of a tree any day in the course of their travels. I
have only a vague idea that a cobra de capello is an unpleasant
customer; but depend upon it, those foreign fellows feel their blood
stagnate and turn to ice at sight of the cold slimy-looking monster.
Poverty and I travelled the same road once, and I know what the
gentleman is. I don't want to meet him again." Mr. Sheldon lapsed into
silence after this. His last words had been spoken to himself rather
than to Charlotte, and the thoughts that accompanied them seemed far
from pleasant to him.
Charlotte sat opposite her stepfather, patiently awaiting his pleasure.
She looked at the gaudily-bound books behind the glass doors, and
wondered whether any one had ever opened any of the volumes.
"I should like to read dear Sir Walter's stories once more," she
thought; "there never, never was so sweet a romance as the 'Bride of
Lammermoor,' and I cannot imagine that one could ever grow weary of
reading it. But to ask Mr. Sheldon for the key of that bookcase would
be quite impossible. I think his books must be copies of special
editions, not meant to be read. I wonder whether they are real books,
or only upholsterer's dummies?"
And then her fancies went vagabondising off to that little archetype of
a cottage on the heights of Wimbledon-common, in which she and
Valentine were to live when they were married. She was always
furnishing and refurnishing this cottage, building it up and pulling it
down, as the caprice of the moment dictated. Now it had bow-windows and
white stuccoed walls--now it was Elizabethan--now the simplest,
quaintest, rose-embowered cottager's dwelling, with diamond-paned
casements, and deep thatch on the old gray roof. This afternoon she
amused herself by collecting a small library for Valentine, while
waiting Mr. Sheldon's next observation. He was to have all her
favourite books, of course; and they were to be bound in the prettiest,
most girlish bindings. She could see the dainty volumes, primly ranged
on the little carved oak bookcase, which Valentine was to "pick up" in
Wardour-street. She fancied herself walking down that mart of
bric-a-brac arm-in-arm with her lover, intent on "picking up." Ah,
what happiness! what dear delight in the thought! And O, of all the
bright dreams we dream, how few are realised upon this earth! Do they
find their fulfilment in heaven, those visions of perfect bliss?
Mr. Sheldon looked up from his desk at last. Miss Halliday remarked to
herself that his face was pale and haggard in the chill wintry
sunlight; but she knew how hard and self-denying a life he led in his
stern devotion to business, and she was in no manner surprised to see
him looking ill.
"I want to say a few words to you on a matter of business, Lotta," he
began, "and I must ask you to give me all your attention."
"I will do so with pleasure, papa, but I am awfully stupid about
"I shall do my best to make matters simple. I suppose you know what
money your father left, including the sums his life had been insured
"Yes, I have heard mamma say it was eighteen thousand pounds. I do so
hate the idea of those insurances. It seems like the price of a man's
life, doesn't it? I daresay that is a very unbusiness-like way of
considering the question, but I cannot bear to think that we got money
by dear papa's death."
These remarks were too trivial for Mr. Sheldon's notice. He went on
with what he had to say in the cold hard voice that was familiar to his
clerks and to the buyers and sellers of shares and stock who had
dealings with him.
"Your father left eighteen thousand pounds; that amount was left to
your mother without reservation. When she married me, without any
settlement, that money became mine, in point of law--mine to squander
or make away with as I pleased. You know that I have made good use of
that money, and that your mother has had no reason to repent her
confidence in my honour and honesty. The time has now come in which
that honour will be put to a sharper test. You have no legal claim on
so much as a shilling of your father's fortune."
"I know that, Mr. Sheldon," cried Charlotte, eagerly, "and Valentine
knows also; and, believe me, I do not expect----"
"I have to settle matters with my own conscience as well as with your
expectations, my dear Lotta," Mr. Sheldon said, solemnly. "Your father
left you unprovided for; but as a man of honour I feel myself bound to
take care that you shall not suffer by his want of caution. I have
therefore prepared a deed of gift, by which I transfer to you five
thousand pounds, now invested in Unitas Bank shares."
"You are going to give me five thousand pounds!" cried Charlotte,
"You mean to say that you will give me this fortune when I marry,
papa?" said Charlotte, interrogatively.
"I shall give it to you immediately," replied Mr. Sheldon. "I wish you
to be thoroughly independent of me and my pleasure. You will then
understand, that if I insist upon the prudence of delay, I do so in
your interest and not in my own. I wish you to feel that if I am a
hindrance to your immediate marriage, it is not because I wish to delay
the disbursement of your dowry."
"O, Mr. Sheldon, O, papa, you are more than generous--you are noble! It
is not that I care for the money. O, believe me, there is no one in the
world who could care less for that than I do. But your thoughtful
kindness, your generosity, touches me to the very heart. O, please let
me kiss you, just as if you were my own dear father come back to life
to protect and guide me. I have thought you cold and worldly. I have
done you so much wrong."
She ran to him, and wound her arms about his neck before he could put
her off, and lifted up her pretty rosy mouth to his dry hot lips. Her
heart was overflowing with generous emotion, her face beamed with a
happy smile. She was so pleased to find her mother's husband better
than she had thought him. But, to her supreme astonishment, he thrust
her from him roughly, almost violently, and looking up at his face she
saw it darkened by a blacker shadow than she had ever seen upon it
before. Anger, terror, pain, remorse, she knew not what, but an
expression so horrible that she shrunk from him with a sense of alarm,
and went back to her chair, bewildered and trembling.
"You frightened me, Mr. Sheldon," she said faintly.
"Not more than you frightened me," answered the stockbroker, walking to
the window and taking his stand there, with his face hidden from
Charlotte. "I did not know there was so much feeling in me. For God's
sake, let us have no sentiment!"
"Were you angry with me just now?" asked the girl, falteringly, utterly
at a loss to comprehend the change in her stepfather's manner.
"No, I was not angry. I am not accustomed to these strong emotions,"
replied Mr. Sheldon, huskily; "I cannot stand them. Pray let us avoid
all sentimental discussion. I am anxious to do my duty in a
straightforward, business-like way. I don't want gratitude--or fuss.
The five thousand pounds are yours, and I am pleased to find you
consider the amount sufficient. And now I have only one small favour to
ask of you in return."
"I should be very ungrateful if I refused to do anything you may ask,"
said Charlotte, who could not help feeling a little chilled and
disappointed by Mr. Sheldon's stony rejection of her gratitude.
"The matter is very simple. You are young, and have, in the usual
course of things, a long life before you. But--you know there is always
a 'but' in these cases--a railway accident--a little carelessness in
passing your drawing-room fire some evening when you are dressed in
flimsy gauze or muslin--a fever--a cold--any one of the many dangers
that lie in wait for all of us, and our best calculations are
falsified. If you were to marry and die childless, that money would go
to your husband, and neither your mother nor I would ever touch a
sixpence of it, Now as the money, practically, belongs to your mother,
I consider that this contingency should be provided against--in her
interests as well as in mine. In plain words, I want you to make a will
leaving that money to me."
"I am quite ready to do so," replied Charlotte.
"Very good, my dear. I felt assured that you would take a sensible view
of the matter. If you marry your dear Mr. Hawkehurst, have a family
by-and-by, we will throw the old will into the fire and make a new one;
but in the mean time it's just as well to be on the safe side. You
shall go into the City with me to-morrow morning, and shall execute the
will at my office. It will be the simplest document possible--as simple
as the will made by old Serjeant Crane, in which he disposed of half a
million of money in half a dozen lines--at the rate of five thousand
pounds per word. After we've settled that little matter, we can arrange
the transfer of the shares. The whole affair won't occupy an hour." "I
will do whatever you wish," said Charlotte, meekly. She was not at all
elated by the idea of coming suddenly into possession of five thousand
pounds; but she was very much impressed by the new view of Mr.
Sheldon's character afforded her by his conduct of to-day. And then her
thoughts, constant to one point as the needle to the pole, reverted to
her lover, and she began to think of the effect her fortune might have
upon his prospects. He might go to the bar, he might work and study in
pleasant Temple chambers, with wide area windows overlooking the river,
and read law-books in the evening at the Wimbledon cottage for a few
delightful years, at the end of which he would of course become Lord
Chancellor. That he should devote such intellect and consecrate such
genius as his to the service of his country's law-courts, and _not_
ultimately seat himself on the Woolsack, was a contingency not to be
imagined by Miss Halliday. Ah, what would not five thousand pounds buy
for him! The cottage expanded into a mansion, the little case of books
developed into a library second only to that of the Duc d'Aumale, a
noble steed waited at the glass door of the vestibule to convey Mr.
Hawkehurst to the Temple, before the minute-hand of Mr. Sheldon's stern
skeleton clock had passed from one figure to another: so great an adept
was this young lady in the art of castle-building.
"Am I to tell mamma about this conversation?" asked Charlotte,
"Well, no, I think not," replied Mr. Sheldon, thoughtfully. "These
family arrangements cannot be kept too quiet. Your mamma is a talking
person, you know, Charlotte; and as we don't want every one in this
part of Bayswater to know the precise amount of your fortune, we may as
well let matters rest as they are. Of course you would not wish Mr.
Hawkehurst to be enlightened?"
"Why not, papa?"
"For several reasons. First and foremost, it must be pleasant to you to
be sure that he is thoroughly disinterested I have told him that you
will get something as a gift from me; but he may have implied that the
something would be little more than a couple of hundreds to furnish a
house. Secondly, it must be remembered, that he has been brought up in
a bad school, and the best way to make him self-reliant and industrious
is to let him think he has nothing but his own industry to depend upon.
I have set him a task. When he has accomplished that, he shall have you
and your five thousand pounds to boot. Till then I should strongly
advise you to keep this business a secret.
"Yes," answered Charlotte, meditatively; "I think you are right. It
would have been very nice to tell him of your kindness; but I want to
be quite sure that he loves me for myself alone--from first to last--
without one thought of money."
"That is wise," said Mr. Sheldon, decisively; and thus ended the
Charlotte accompanied her stepfather to the city early next morning,
and filled in the blanks in a lithographed form, prepared for the
convenience of such testators as, being about to dispose of their
property, do not care to employ the services of a legal adviser.
The will seemed to Charlotte the simplest possible affair. She
bequeathed all her property, real and personal, to Philip Sheldon,
without reserve. But as her entire fortune consisted of the five
thousand pounds just given her by that gentleman, and as her personal
property was comprised in a few pretty dresses and trinkets, and desks
and workboxes, she could not very well object to such an arrangement.
"Of course, mamma would have all my books and caskets, and boxes and
things," she said thoughtfully; "and I should like Diana Paget to have
some of my jewellery, please, Mr. Sheldon. Mamma has plenty, you know."
"There is no occasion, to talk of that, Charlotte," replied the
stockbroker. "This will is only a matter of form."
Mr. Sheldon omitted to inform his stepdaughter that the instrument just
executed would, upon her wedding-day, become so much waste paper, an
omission that was not in harmony with the practical and careful habits
of that gentleman.
"Yes, I know that it is only a form," replied Charlotte; "but, after
making a will, one feels as if one was going to die. At least I do. It
seems a kind of preparation for death. I don't wonder people rather
dislike doing it.
"It is only foolish people who dislike doing it," said Mr. Sheldon, who
was in his most practical mood to-day. "And now we will go and arrange
a more agreeable business--the transfer of the shares."
After this, there was a little commercial juggling, in the form of
signing and countersigning, which, was quite beyond Charlotte's
comprehension: which operation being completed, she was told that she
was owner of five thousand pounds in Unitas Bank shares, and that the
dividends accruing from time to time on those shares would be hers to
dispose of as she pleased.
"The income arising from your capital will be more than you can spend
so long as you remain under my roof," said Mr. Sheldon. "I should
therefore strongly recommend you to invest your dividends as they
arise, and thus increase your capital."
"You are so kind and thoughtful," murmured Charlotte; "I shall always
be pleased to take your advice." She was strongly impressed by the
kindness of the man her thoughts had wronged.
"How difficult it is to understand these reserved, matter-of-fact
people!" she said to herself. Because my stepfather does not talk
sentiment, I have fancied him hard and worldly; and yet he has proved
himself as capable of doing a noble action as if he were the most
poetical of mankind.
Mrs. Sheldon had been told that Charlotte was going into the City to
choose a new watch, wherewith to replace the ill-used little Geneva toy
that had been her delight as a schoolgirl; and as Charlotte brought
home a neat little English-made chronometer from a renowned emporium on
Ludgate-hill, the simple matron accepted this explanation in all good
"I'm sure, Lotta, you must confess your stepfather is kindness itself
in most matters," said Georgy, after an admiring examination of the new
watch. "When I think how kindly he has taken this business about Mr.
Hawkehurst, and how disinterested he has proved himself in his ideas
about your marriage, I really am inclined to think him the best of
Georgy said this with an air of triumph. She could not forget that
there were people in Barlingford who had said hard things about Philip
Sheldon, and had prophesied unutterable miseries for herself and her
daughter as the bitter consequence of the imprudence she had been
guilty of in her second marriage.
"He has indeed been very good, mamma," Charlotte replied gravely, "and,
believe me, I am truly grateful. He does not like fuss or sentiment;
but I hope he knows that I appreciate his kindness."
RIDING THE HIGH HORSE.
Never, in his brightest dreams, had Valentine Hawkehurst imagined the
stream of life so fair and sunny a river as it seemed to him now.
Fortune had treated him so scurvily for seven-and-twenty years of his
life, only to relent of a sudden and fling all her choicest gifts into
"I must be the prince in the fairy tale who begins life as a revolting
animal of the rhinoceros family, and ends by marrying the prettiest
princess in Elfindom," he said to himself gaily, is he paced the broad
walks of Kensington-gardens, where the bare trees swung their big black
branches in the wintry blast, and the rooks cawed their loudest at
close of the brief day.
What, indeed, could this young adventurer demand from benignant Fortune
above and beyond the blessings she had given, him? The favoured suitor
of the fairest and brightest woman he had ever looked upon, received by
her kindred, admitted to her presence, and only bidden to serve a due
apprenticeship before he claimed her as his own for ever. What more
could he wish? what further boon could he implore from the Fates?
Yes, there was one thing more--one thing for which Mr. Hawkehurst
pined, while most thankful for his many blessings. He wanted a decent
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