M. E. Braddon
Part 3 out of 9
demonstration with his wonted smile--the smile he smiled on Change, the
smile which was sometimes on his lips when his mind was a nest of
To Valentine, in these rosy hours, life seemed full of hope and
brightness. He transferred his goods and chattels from Omega Street,
Chelsea, to the pleasant lodging in the Edgware Road, where he was nearer
Charlotte, and out of the way of his late patron Captain Paget, in the
event of that gentleman's return from the Continent.
Fortune favoured him. The gaiety of heart which came with his happiness
lent a grace to his pen. Pleasant thoughts and fancies bedecked his
pages. He saw everything in the rosy light of love and beauty, and there
was a buoyant freshness in all he wrote. The Pegasus might be but a
common hackney, but the hack was young and fresh, and galloped gaily as
he scented the dewy morning air. It is not every poet whose Pegasus
clears at a bound a space as wide as all that waste of land and sea the
watchman views from his tall tower on the rock.
Mr. Hawkehurst's papers on Lauzun, Brummel, Sardanapalus, Rabelais, Lord
Chesterfield, Erasmus, Beau Nash, Apelles, Galileo, and Philip of
Orleans, were in demand, and the reading public wondered at this prodigy
of book-making. He had begun to save money, and had opened a deposit
account at the Unitas Bank. How he gloated over the deposit receipts in
the stillness of the night, when he added a fresh one to his store! When
he had three, for sums amounting in all to forty pounds, he took them to
Charlotte, and she looked at them, and he looked at them, as if the poor
little bits of printed paper had been specimens of virgin ore from some
gold mine newly discovered by Mr. Hawkehurst. And then these foolish
lovers kissed each other, as William Lee and his wife may have embraced
after the penniless young student had perfected his invention of the
"Forty pounds!" exclaimed Miss Halliday, "all won by your pen, and your
poor fingers, and your poor, poor head! How it must ache after a long
day's work! How clever you must be, Valentine!"
"Yes, dear; amazingly clever. Clever enough to know that you are the
dearest girl in Christendom."
"Don't talk nonsense, sir! You are not clever enough to have the
privilege of doing that yet awhile. I mean, how learned you must be to
know such lots of things, all about Erasmus, and Galileo, and--"
"No, my darling, not Erasmus and Galileo. I knew all about Erasmus last
week; but I am working at my paper on Galileo now, an exhaustive review
of all the books that were ever written on the subject, in ten pages. I
don't ask other people to remember what I write, you know, my dear, and I
don't pledge myself to remember it. That sort of thing won't keep. There
is a kind of sediment, no doubt, in one's note-book; but the
effervescence of that vintage goes off rather quickly."
"I only know that you are a very clever person, and that one obtains an
immensity of information from your writings," said Charlotte.
"Yes, dearest, there is a kind of wine that must be made into negus for
such pretty little topers as you--the 'Wine of Cyprus,' as Mrs. Browning
called it. It is better for pretty girls to have the negus than to have
nothing, or only weak home-brewed stuff that results in head-ache. My
dearest, Fate has been very good to me, and I love my profession of
letters. I am sure that of all educational processes there is none better
than book-making; and the man who begins by making books must be a dolt,
dunce, and dunderhead, if he do not end by writing them. So you may yet
hope to see the morning that shall make your Valentine famous--for a
fortnight. What man can hope to be famous for _more_ than a fortnight in
such a railroad age as this?"
During this halcyon period, in which Mr. Hawkehurst cultivated
alternately the society of the Muses and his mistress, he saw little or
nothing of George Sheldon. He had washed his hands of all share in the
work of establishing Charlotte Halliday's claim to the Reverend John
Haygarth's thousands. Indeed, since that interview in which Philip
Sheldon had made so light of his stepdaughter's chances, and ratified his
consent to her marriage with so humble a literary adventurer as himself,
Mr. Hawkehurst had come to consider the Haygarthian inheritance as
altogether a visionary business. If it were certain, or even probable,
that Charlotte was to inherit a hundred thousand pounds, was it likely
that Mr. Sheldon would encourage such an alliance? This question Mr.
Hawkehurst always answered in the negative; and as days and weeks went
by, and he heard no more of the Haygarth fortune, the idea of Charlotte's
wealth became more and more shadowy.
If there were anything doing in this matter, the two brothers were now
working together, and George had no further need of Valentine's help.
The two brothers were not working entirely together. Philip Sheldon had
taken the matter into his own strong hand, and George found it very
difficult to hold an inch of ground against that formidable antagonist.
The papers and information which George had boasted of to Valentine, and
the possession whereof was, as he asserted, the very keystone of the
arch, proved to be of such small account that he ultimately consented to
hand them over to his brother on the payment of expenses out of pocket,
and a bonus of one hundred and fifty pounds, together with a written
undertaking from Miss Halliday to pay him the fifth share of any fortune
recovered by means of those papers.
This undertaking had been executed in the easiest manner.
"My brother has taken it into his wise head that there is some unclaimed
stock standing in your grandfather's name which you are entitled to,
Lotta," Mr. Sheldon said one morning; "and he wants to recover the amount
for you, on condition of receiving a clear fifth when the sum is
recovered. Have you any objection to sign such an undertaking?"
"Dear papa, how can I object?" cried Charlotte gaily. "Why, stocks are
money, are they not? How fortunate we are, and how rich we are getting!"
"Valentine and I," murmured the girl, blushing. "I cannot help thinking
of him when any windfall of good fortune comes to me. What do you think,
papa? He has saved forty pounds in little more than three months--all
earned by his pen!
The arch-enchanter's wand! Itself a nothing;
But taking sorcery from the master-hand
To paralyze the Caesars, and to strike
The loud earth breathless!"
And Miss Halliday spouted the glowing lines of the noble dramatist with
charming enthusiasm. She signed the required undertaking without looking
at it, and it was duly witnessed by her stepfather.
"In your talk with your mother and Valentine, I should advise you to be
as silent about this small business as about your own little fortune,"
Mr. Sheldon remarked presently.
"Mustn't I tell Valentine?" cried Charlotte, making a wry face; "I should
so like to tell him--just about these stocks. I daresay _he_ knows what
stocks are; and it would be such cheering news for him, after he has
worked his poor brain so for that forty pounds. I don't so much care
about telling poor mamma; for she does exclaim and wonder so about
things, that it is quite fatiguing to hear her. But please let me tell
Miss Halliday pursed-up her lips and offered her stepfather one of those
kisses which she had of late been prompted to bestow on him out of the
gratitude of a heart overflowing with girlish joy. He took the kiss as he
might have taken a dose of medicine, but did not grant the request
preferred by it.
"If you want to be a fool, you can tell your lover of this windfall; but
if you wish to prove yourself a sensible girl, you will hold your tongue.
He has saved forty pounds by hard work in the last three months, you say:
do you think he would have saved forty pence if he had known that you had
five thousand pounds at his disposal? I know that class of men; look at
Goldsmith, the man who wrote the "Vicar of Wakefield," and "Rasselas,"
and "Clarissa Harlowe," and so on. I have read somewhere that he never
wrote except under coercion--that is to say, want of money."
Charlotte acknowledged the wisdom of this argument, and submitted. She
was not what was called a strong-minded woman; and, indeed, strength of
mind is not a plant indigenous to the female nature, but an exceptional
growth developed by exceptional circumstances. In Charlotte's life there
had been nothing exceptional, and she was in all things soft and womanly,
ready to acknowledge, and to be guided by, the wisdom of her seniors. So
Valentine heard nothing of the undertaking executed by his lady-love.
After this, Mr. Sheldon took counsel's opinion, and set to work in real
earnest to recover the estate of the deceased John Haygarth from the
yawning jaws of that tame but all-devouring monster, the Crown. The work
was slow, and the dry as dust details thereof need not be recorded here.
It had but just begun when Horatio Paget suddenly returned from his
Continental expedition, and established himself once more in the Omega
CAPTAIN PAGET AWAKENS TO A SENSE OF HIS DUTY.
Captain Paget's return was made known to the Sheldon circle by a letter
from the returning wanderer to his daughter. The Captain was laid up with
rheumatic gout, and wrote quite piteously to implore a visit from Diana.
Miss Paget, always constant to the idea of a duty to be performed on her
side, even to this _pere prodigue_, obeyed the summons promptly, with the
full approval of Georgy, always good-natured after her own fussy manner.
"And if you'd like to take your papa a bottle of Mr. Sheldon's old port,
Diana, remember it's at your disposal. I'm sure I've heard people say
that old port is good for the gout--or perhaps, by the bye, what I heard
was that it _wasn't_ good. I know old port and gout seem to run together
in my head somehow. But if there's anything in the house your papa would
like, Diana--wine, or gunpowder tea, or the eider-down coverlet off the
spare bed, or the parlour croquet, to amuse him of an evening, or a new
novel--surely one couldn't forfeit one's subscription by lending a book
to a non-subscribing invalid?"
While Georgy was suggesting the loan of almost every portable object in
the house as a specific for Captain Paget's gout, Charlotte sent for a
cab and made things smooth for her friend's departure. She wrapped her
warmly against the February blast, and insisted upon going out to see her
seated in the cab, whereby she offered to the pedestrians of that
neighbourhood a seraphic vision of loveliness with tumbled hair.
Charlotte had been always delightful, but Charlotte engaged to Valentine
Hawkehurst was a creature of supernal sweetness and brightness--a radiant
ministering angel, hovering lightly above a world too common for her foot
to rest upon.
Miss Paget found her father suffering from a by no means severe attack of
a respectable family gout, a little peevish from the effects of this
affliction, but not at all depressed in mind. He had, indeed, the manner
of a man with whom things are going pleasantly. There was a satisfaction
in his tone, a placidity in his face, except when distorted for the
moment by a twinge of pain, that were new to Diana, who had not been
accustomed to behold the brighter side of her father's disposition. He
seemed grateful for his daughter's visit, and received her with unwonted
kindness of manner.
"You have come very promptly, my dear, and I am gratified by your early
compliance with my request," he said with dignified affection, after he
had given his daughter the kiss of greeting. "I was a great sufferer last
night, Diana, a great sufferer, a prisoner to this chair, and the woman
below attempted to send me up a dinner--_such_ a dinner! One would think
a very small degree of education necessary for the stewing of a kidney,
but the things that woman gave me last night were like morsels of stewed
leather. I am not an epicure, Diana; but with such a constitution as
mine, good cooking is a vital necessity. Life in lodgings for a man of my
age is a sore trial, my dear. I wish you were well married, Diana, and
could give your father a humble corner at your fireside."
Diana smiled. It was a somewhat bitter smile; and there was scorn of
herself, as well as scorn of her father in that bitterness.
"I am not the sort of person to marry well, papa," she said.
"Who knows? You are handsomer than nine-tenths of the women who marry
"No, papa; that is your sanguine manner of looking at your own property.
And even if I were married to some one to whom I might give obedience and
duty, and all that kind of thing, in exchange for a comfortable home, as
they say in the advertisements, would you be content with a peaceful
corner by my fireside? Do you think you would never pine for clubs and
gaming-tables--nay, even for creditors to--to diplomatize with, and
difficulties to surmount?"
"No, my dear. I am an old man; the clubs and gaming-houses have done with
me, and I with them. I went to see a man at Arthur's a few months ago. I
had written to him on a little matter of business--in fact, to be candid
with you, my love, for the loan of a five-pound note--and I called at the
club for his reply. I caught sight of my face in a distant glass as I was
waiting in the strangers' room, and I thought I was looking at a ghost.
There comes a time towards the close of a long troublesome life in which
a man begins to feel like a ghost. His friends are gone, and his money is
gone, his health is gone, his good looks are gone; and the only mistake
seems to be that the man himself should be left behind. I remember an
observation of Lord Chesterfield's: 'Lord ---- and I have been dead for
the last two years, but we don't tell anyone so,' he said; and there are
few old men who couldn't say the same. But I am not down-hearted to-day,
my dear. No, the habit of hoping has never quite deserted me; and it is
only now and then that I take a dismal view of life. Come, my love, lay
aside your bonnet and things. Dear me! what a handsome black silk dress,
and how well you look in it!"
"It is a present from Charlotte, papa. She has a very liberal allowance
of pocket-money, and is generosity itself. I don't like to take so much
from her, but I only wound her by a refusal."
"Of course, my dear. There is nothing so ungracious as a refusal, and no
mark of high breeding so rare as the art of gracious acceptance. Any
booby can give a present; but to receive a gift without churlish
reticence or florid rapture is no easy accomplishment. I am always
pleased to see you well-dressed, my love"--Diana winced as she remembered
her shabby hat and threadbare gown at Foretdechene--"and I am especially
pleased to see you elegantly attired this evening, as I expect a
"A gentleman, papa!" exclaimed Miss Paget, with considerable surprise; "I
thought that you had sent for me because you were ill and depressed and
"Well, yes, Diana, I certainly am ill; and I suppose it is scarcely
unnatural that a father should wish to see his only daughter."
Diana was silent. A father's wish to see his daughter was indeed natural
and common; but that Captain Paget, who in no period of his daughter's
life had evinced for her the common affection of paternity, should be
seized all of a sudden with a yearning for her society, was somewhat
singular. But Diana's nature had been ennobled and fortified by the
mental struggle and the impalpable sacrifice of the last few months, and
she was in nowise disposed to repel any affectionate feeling of her
father's even at this eleventh hour.
"_He_ tells us the eleventh hour is not too late," she thought. "If it is
not too late in the sight of that Divine Judge, shall it be thought too
late by an erring creature like me?"
After a few minutes of thoughtful silence, she knelt down by her father's
chair and kissed him.
"My dear father," she murmured softly, "believe me, I am very pleased to
think you should wish to see me. I will come to you whenever you like to
send for me. I am glad not to be a burden to you; but I should wish to be
a comfort when I can."
The Captain shed his stock tear. It signified something nearer akin to
real emotion than usual.
"My dear girl," he said, "this is very pleasing, very pleasing
indeed. The day may come--I cannot just now say when--and events may
arise--which--the nature of which I am not yet in a position to indicate
to you--but the barren fig-tree may not be always fruitless. In its old
age the withered trunk may put forth fresh branches. We will say no more
of this, my love; and I will only remark that you may not go unrequited
for any affection bestowed on your poor old father."
Diana smiled, and this time it was a pensive rather than a bitter smile.
She had often heard her father talk like this before. She had often heard
these oracular hints of some grand event looming mighty in the immediate
future; but she had never seen the vague prophecy accomplished. Always a
schemer, and always alternating between the boastful confidence of hope
and the peevish bewailings of despair, the Captain had built his castle
to-day to sit among its ruins to-morrow, ever since she had known him.
So she set little value on his hopeful talk of this evening, but was
content to see him in good spirits. He contemplated her admiringly as she
knelt by his easy-chair, and smoothed the shining coils of her dark hair
with a gentle hand, as he looked downward at the thoughtful face--proud
and grave, but not ungentle.
"You are a very handsome girl, Diana," he murmured, as much to himself as
to his daughter; "yes, very handsome. Egad, I had no idea how handsome!"
"What has put such a fancy into your head to-night, papa?" asked Diana,
laughing. "I do not believe in the good looks you are so kind as to
attribute to me. When I see my face in the glass I perceive a pale gloomy
countenance that is by no means pleasing."
"You may be out of spirits when you look in the glass. I hope you are not
unhappy at Bayswater."
"Why should I be unhappy, papa? No sister was ever kinder or more loving
than Charlotte Halliday is to me. I should he very ungrateful to
Providence as well as to her if I did not appreciate such affection. How
many lonely girls, like me, go through life without picking up a sister?"
"Yes, you are right, my dear. Those Sheldon people have been very useful
to you. They are not the kind of people I should have wished a daughter
of mine to be _live_ with, if I were in the position my birth entitles me
to occupy; but as I am not in that position, I submit. That black silk
becomes you admirably. And now, my love, be so kind as to ring the bell
for lights and tea."
They had been sitting in the firelight--the mystic magical capricious
firelight--which made even that tawdry lodging-house parlour seem a
pleasant chamber. The tea-tray was brought, and candles. Diana seated
herself at the table, and made tea with the contents of a little
"Don't pour out the tea just yet," said the Captain; "I expect a
gentleman. I don't suppose he'll take tea, but it will look more civil to
wait for him."
"And who is this mysterious gentleman, papa?"
"A Frenchman; a man I met while I was abroad."
"_Really_ a gentleman?"
"Certainly, Diana," replied her father, with offended dignity.
"Do you think I should admit any person to my friendship who is not a
gentleman? My business relations I am powerless to govern; but friendship
is a different matter. There is no man more exclusive than Horatio Paget.
M. Lenoble is a gentleman of ancient lineage and amiable character."
"And rich, I suppose, papa?" asked Diana. She thought that her father
would scarcely speak of the gentleman in a tone so profoundly respectful
if he were not rich.
"Yes, Diana. M. Lenoble is master of a very fair estate, and is likely to
be much richer before he dies."
"And he has been kind to you, papa?"
"Yes, he has shown me hospitality during my residence in Normandy. You
need not speak of him to your friends the Sheldons."
"Not even to Charlotte?"
"Not even to Charlotte. I do not care to have my affairs discussed by
that class of people."
"But, dear papa, why make a mystery about so unimportant a matter.
"I do not make a mystery; but I hate gossip. Mrs. Sheldon is an
incorrigible gossip, and I daresay her daughter is no better."
"Charlotte is an angel, papa."
"That is very possible. But I beg that you will refrain from discussing
my friend M. Lenoble in her angelic presence."
"As you please, papa," said Diana gravely. She felt herself bound to obey
her father in this small matter; but the idea of this mystery and secrecy
was very unwelcome to her. It implied that her father's acquaintance with
this Frenchman was only a part of some new scheme. It was no honest
friendship, which the Captain might be proud to own, glad to show the
world that in these days of decadence he could still point to a friend.
It was only some business alliance, underhand and stealthy; a social
conspiracy, that must needs be conducted in darkness.
"Why did papa summon me here if he wants his acquaintance with this man
kept secret?" she asked herself; and the question seemed unanswerable.
She pictured this M. Lenoble to herself--a wizened, sallow-faced
Macchiavellian individual, whose business in England must needs be
connected with conspiracy, treason, commercial fraud, anything or
everything stealthy and criminal.
"I wish you would let me go back to Bayswater before this gentleman
comes, papa," she said presently. "I heard it strike seven just now, and
I know I shall be expected early. I can come again whenever you like."
"No, no, my love; you must stop to see my friend. And now tell me a
little about the Sheldons. Has anything been stirring since I saw them
"Nothing whatever, papa. Charlotte is very happy; she always had a
happy disposition, but she is gayer than ever since her engagement
"What an absurd infatuation!" muttered the Captain.
"And he--Valentine--is very good, and works very hard at his literary
profession--and loves her very dearly."
It cost her an effort to say this even now, even now when she fancied
herself cured of that folly which had once been so sweet to her. To speak
of him like this--to put him away out of her own life, and contemplate
him as an element in the life of another--could not be done without some
touch of the old anguish.
There was a loud double-knock at the street-door as she said this, and a
step sounded presently in the passage; a quick, firm tread. There was
nothing stealthy about that, at any rate.
"My friend Lenoble," said the Captain; and in the next instant a
gentleman entered the room, a gentleman who was in every quality the
opposite of the person whom Diana had expected to see.
These speculative pictures are seldom good portraits. Miss Paget had
expected to find her father's ally small and shrivelled, old and ugly,
dried-up and withered in the fiery atmosphere of fraud and conspiracy; in
outward semblance a monkey, in soul a tiger. And instead of this
obnoxious creature there burst into the room a man of four-and-thirty
years of age, tall, stalwart, with a fair frank face, somewhat browned by
summer suns; thick auburn hair and beard, close trimmed and cropped in
the approved Gallic fashion--clear earnest blue eyes, and a mouth whose
candour and sweetness a moustache could not hide. Henry of Navarre,
before the white lilies of France had dazzled his eyes with their fatal
splendour, before the court of the Medici had taught the Bearnois to
dissemble, before the sometime Protestant champion had put on that
apparel of stainless white in which he went forth to stain his soul with
the sin of a diplomatic apostasy.
Such a surprise as this makes a kind of crisis in the eventless record of
a woman's life. Diana found herself blushing as the stranger stood near
the door awaiting her father's introduction. She was ashamed to think of
the wrong her imagination had done him.
"My daughter, Diana Paget--M. Lenoble. I have been telling Diana how much
I owed to your hospitality during my stay in Normandy," continued the
Captain, with his grandest air, "I regret that I can only receive you in
an apartment quite unworthy the seigneur of Cotenoir.--A charming place,
my dear Diana, which I should much like you to see on some future
occasion.--Will you take some tea, Lenoble?--Diana, a cup of tea.--The
Pagets are a fallen race, you see, my dear sir, and a cup of tea in a
lodging-house parlour is the best entertainment I can give to a friend.
The Cromie Pagets of Hertfordshire will give you dinner in gold plate,
with a footman standing behind the chair of every guest; but our branch
is a younger and a poorer one, and I, among others, am paying the price
of youthful follies."
Gustave Lenoble looked sympathetic, but the glance of sympathy was
directed to Diana, and not to the male representative of the younger
Pagets. To pity the distressed damsel was an attribute of the Lenoble
mind; and Gustave had already begun to pity Miss Paget, and to wonder
what her fate in life would be, with no better protector than a father
who was confessedly a pauper. He saw that the young lady was very
handsome, and he divined, from some indefinable expression of her face,
that she was proud; and as he thought of his own daughters, and their
easy life and assured future, the contrast seemed to him very cruel.
Chivalrous as the house of Lenoble might be by nature, he could scarcely
have felt so keen an interest in Captain Paget's daughter at the first
glance, if his sympathies had not been already enlisted for her. The
noble Horatio, though slow to act a father's part, had shown himself
quick to make capital out of his daughter's beauty and virtues when the
In his intercourse with the seigneur of Cotenoir, which had developed
from a mere business acquaintance into friendship, Captain Paget had
discoursed with much eloquence upon the subject of his motherless
daughter; and M. Lenoble, having daughters of his own, also motherless,
lent him the ear of sympathy.
"I have heard much of you, Miss Paget," said Gustave presently, "and of
your devotion to your father. He has no more favourite theme than your
Diana blushed, and Diana's father blushed also. That skilled diplomatist
felt the awkwardness of the situation, and was prompt to the rescue.
"Yes," he said, "my daughter has been a heroine. There are Antigones,
sir, who show their heroic nature by other service than the leading to
and fro of a blind father. From the earliest age my poor child has
striven to stand alone; too proud, too noble to be a burden on a parent
whose love would have given all, but whose means could give but little.
And now she comes to me from her home among strangers, to soothe my hour
of pain and infirmity. I trust your daughters may prove as worthy of your
love, M. Lenoble."
"They are very dear girls," answered the Frenchman; "but for them life
has been all sunshine. They have never known a sorrow except the death of
their mother. It is the storm that tests the temper of the tree. I wish
they might prove as noble in adversity as Miss Paget has shown herself."
This was more than Diana could bear without some kind of protest.
"You must not take papa's praises _au pied de la lettre_, M. Lenoble,"
she said; "I have been by no means brave or patient under adversity.
There are troubles which one must bear. I have borne mine somehow; but I
claim no praise for having submitted to the inevitable."
This was spoken with a certain noble pride which impressed Gustave more
than all the father's florid eloquence had done. After this the
conversation became less personal. M. Lenoble talked of England. It was
not his first visit; but he had only the excursionist's knowledge of the
"I have been to Scotland," he said. "Your Scotland is grand,
mountainous--all that there is of the most savage and poetic. It is a
Switzerland lined with Brittany. But that which most speaks to the heart
of a stranger is the peaceful beauty of your English landscape."
"You like England, M. Lenoble?" said Diana.
"Have I not reason? My mother was English. I was only five years old when
I lost her. She went out of my life like a dream; but I can still recall
a faint shadow of her face--an English face--a countenance of placid
sadness, very sweet and tender. But why do I talk of these things?"
On this the Frenchman's talk took a gayer turn. This M. Lenoble showed
himself a lively and agreeable companion. He talked of Normandy, his
daughters and their convent, his little son at Rouen, his aunt Cydalise,
the quiet old lady at Beaubocage; his grandfather, his grandmother, the
old servants, and everything familiar and dear to him. He told of his
family history with boyish candour, untainted by egotism, and seemed much
pleased by Diana's apparent interest in his unstudied talk. He was quite
unconscious that the diplomatic Horatio was leading him on to talk of
these things, with a view to making the conversation supremely
interesting to him. That arch diplomatist knew that there is nothing a
man likes better than talking of his own affairs, if he can have a decent
excuse for such discourse.
The clock struck nine while Diana was listening, really interested. This
glimpse of a life so far apart from her own was a relief, after the
brooding introspective reveries which of late had constituted so large a
portion of her existence. She started up at the sound of the clock.
"What now, Cinderella?" cried her father. "Have you stopped beyond your
time, and will your fairy godmother be angry?"
"No one will be angry, papa; but I did not mean to stay so late. I am
sorry your description of Normandy has been so interesting, M. Lenoble."
"Come and see Vevinord and Cotenoir, and you will judge for yourself. The
town-hall of Vevinord is almost as fine as that of Louvain; and we have a
church that belongs to the time of Dagobert."
"She shall see them before long," said the Captain; "I shall have
business in Rouen again before the next month is out; and if my daughter
is a good girl, I will take her over there with me."
Diana stared at her father in utter bewilderment. What could be the
meaning of this sudden display of affection?
"I should not be free to go with you, papa, even if you were able to take
me," she replied, somewhat coldly; "I have other duties."
She felt assured that there was some lurking motive, some diplomatic art
at the bottom of the Captain's altered conduct, and she could not
altogether repress her scorn. The astute Horatio saw that he had gone a
little too far, and that his only child was not of the stuff to be
moulded at will by his dexterous hands.
"You will come and see me again, Diana?" he said in a pleading tone: "I
am likely to be a prisoner in this room for a week or more."
"Certainly, papa; I will come if you wish it. When shall I come?"
"Well, let me see--to-day is Thursday; can you come on Monday?"
"Yes, I will come on Monday."
A cab was procured, and Miss Paget was conducted to that vehicle by her
new acquaintance, who showed a gallant anxiety for her comfort on the
journey, and was extremely careful about the closing of the windows. She
arrived at Bayswater before ten, but being forbidden to talk of M.
Lenoble, could give but a scanty account of her evening.
"And was your papa kind, dear?" asked Charlotte, "and did he seem pleased
to see you?"
"He was much kinder and more affectionate than usual, Lotta dear; so much
so, that he set me wondering. Now, if I were as confiding and eager to
think well of people as you are, I should be quite delighted by this
change. As it is, I am only mystified. I should be very glad if my father
and I could be drawn closer together; very glad if my influence could
bring about an amendment in his life."
While Miss Paget was discussing her father's affectionate and novel
behaviour, the noble Horatio was meditating, by his solitary hearth, upon
the events of the evening.
"I'm half-inclined to think he's hit already," mused the Captain. "I must
not allow myself to be deluded by manner. A Frenchman's gallantry rarely
means much; but Lenoble is one of those straightforward fellows whose
thoughts may be read by a child. He certainly seemed pleased with her;
interested and sympathetic, and all that kind of thing. And she is an
uncommonly handsome girl, and might marry any one if she had the
opportunity. I had no idea she was so handsome until to-night. I suppose
I never noticed her by candlelight before. By Jove! I ought to have made
her an actress, or singer, or something of that kind. And so I might, if
I'd known her face would light up as it does. I wish she wasn't so
impracticable--always cutting in with some awkward speech, that makes me
look like a fool, when, if she had an ounce of common sense, she might
see that I'm trying to make her fortune. Yes, egad, and such a fortune as
few girls drop into now-a-days! Some of your straitlaced church-going
people would call me a neglectful father to that girl, I daresay; but I
think if I succeed in making her the wife of Gustave Lenoble, I shall
have done my duty in a way that very few fathers can hope to surpass.
Such a high-principled fellow as Lenoble is too!--and _that_ is a
"WHAT DO WE HERE, MY HEART AND I?"
After that first summons to Chelsea, Diana went many times--twice and
three times a week--to comfort and tend her invalid father. Captain
Paget's novel regard for his only child seemed to increase with the
familiarity of frequent intercourse. "I have had very great pleasure in
making your acquaintance, my dear Diana," he said one day, in the course
of a _tete-a-tete_ with his daughter; "and I am charmed to find you
everything that a well-born and well-bred young woman ought to be. I am
sure you have excellent reason to be grateful to your cousin, Priscilla
Paget, for the excellent education you received in her abode; and you
have some cause to thank me for the dash and style imparted to your
carriage and manner by our foreign wanderings."
The Captain said this with the air of a man who had accompanied his
daughter on the grand tour solely with a view to her intellectual
improvement. He really thought she had reason to be grateful to him for
those accidents of his nomadic life which had secured her a good accent
for French and German, and the art of putting on her shawl.
"Yes, my dear child," he continued with dignity, "it affords me real
gratification to know you better. I need scarcely say that when you were
the associate of my pilgrimage, you were not of an age to be available as
a companion. To a man of the world like myself, a young person who has
not done growing must always savour somewhat of the schoolroom and the
nursery. I am not going to repeat the Byronic impertinence about
bread-and-butter; but the society of a girl of the hobbledehoy age is apt
to be insipid. You are now a young woman, and a young woman of whom any
father might with justice be proud."
After a few such speeches as these, Diana began to think that it was just
possible her father might really experience some novel feeling of regard
for her. It might be true that his former coldness had been no more than
a prejudice against the awkwardness of girlhood.
"I was shabby and awkward, I daresay, in those days," she thought; "and
then I was always asking papa for money to buy new clothes; and that may
have set him against me. And now that I am no burden upon him, and can
talk to him and amuse him, he may feel more kindly disposed towards me."
There was some foundation for this idea. Captain Paget had felt himself
more kindly disposed towards his only child from the moment in which she
ceased to be an encumbrance upon him. Her sudden departure from
Foretdechene had been taken in very good part by him.
"A very spirited thing for her to do, Val," he had said, when informed of
the fact by Mr. Hawkehurst; "and by far the best thing she could do,
under the circumstances."
From that time his daughter had never asked him for a sixpence, and from
that time she had risen steadily in his estimation. But the feeling which
he now exhibited was more than placid approval; it was an affection at
once warm and exacting. The fact was, that Horatio Paget saw in his
daughter the high-road to the acquirement of a handsome competence for
his declining years. His affection was sincere so far as it went; a
sentiment inspired by feelings purely mercenary, but not a hypocritical
assumption. Diana was, therefore, so much the more likely to be softened
and touched by it.
She was softened, deeply touched by this late awakening of feeling. The
engagement of Valentine and Charlotte had left her own life very blank,
very desolate. It was not alone the man she loved who was lost to her;
Charlotte, the friend, the sister, seemed also slipping away from her. As
kind, as loving, as tender as of old, this dear friend and adopted sister
still might be, but no longer wholly her own. Over the hearts of the
purest Eros reigns with a too despotic power, and mild affection is apt
to sneak away into some corner of the temple on whose shrine Love has
descended. This mild affection is but a little twinkling taper, that will
burn steadily on, perhaps unseen amidst the dazzling glory of Love's
supernal lamp, to be found shining benignantly when the lamp is
For Charlotte, Valentine--and for Valentine, Charlotte--made the
sum-total of the universe at this time; or, at best, there was but a
small balance which included all the other cares and duties, affections
and pleasures, of life. Of this balance Diana had the lion's share; but
she felt that things had changed since those days of romantic school-girl
friendship in which Charlotte had talked of never marrying, and
travelling with her dearest friend Diana amongst all the beautiful scenes
they had read of, until they found the loveliest spot in the world, where
they would establish themselves in an ideal cottage, and live together
for the rest of their lives, cultivating their minds and their
flower-garden, working berlin-wool chairs for their ideal drawing-room,
and doing good to an ideal peasantry, who would be just poor enough to be
interesting, and sickly enough to require frequent gifts of calf's-foot
jelly and green tea.
Those foolish dreams were done with now; and that other dream, of a life
to be spent with the reckless companion of her girlhood, was lost to
Diana Paget. There was no point to which she could look forward in the
future, no star to lure her onward upon life's journey. Her present
position was sufficiently comfortable; and she told herself that she must
needs be weak and wicked if she were not content with her lot. But beyond
the present she dared not look, so blank was the prospect--a desert,
without even the mirage; for her dreams and delusions were gone with her
Possessed by such a sense of loneliness, it is scarcely strange if
there seemed to her a gleam of joy, a faint glimmer of hope, in the
newly awakened affection of her father. She began to believe him, and
to take comfort from the thought that he was drifting to a haven where
he might lie moored, with other battered old hulks of pirate and
privateer, inglorious and at rest. To work for him and succour him in his
declining years seemed a brighter prospect to this hopeless woman of
four-and-twenty than a future of lonely independence. "It is the nature
of woman to lean," says the masculine philosopher; but is it not rather
her nature to support and sustain, or else why to her is entrusted the
sublime responsibility of maternity? Diana was pleased to think that a
remorseful reprobate might be dependent on her toil, and owe his
reformation to her influence. She was indeed a new Antigone, ready to
lead him in his moral blindness to an altar of atonement more pure than
the ensanguined shrine of the Athenian Eumenides.
Her visits to Omega Street were not entirely devoted to _tete-a-tetes_
with her father. By reason of those coincidences which are so common to
the lives of some people, it generally happened that M. Lenoble dropped
in upon his invalid friend on the very day of Miss Paget's visit. M.
Lenoble was in London on business, and this business apparently
necessitated frequent interviews with Captain Paget. Of course such
interviews could not take place in the presence of Diana. Gustave was
wont, therefore, to wait with praiseworthy patience until the conclusion
of the young lady's visit; and would even, with an inconsistent
gallantry, urge her to prolong her stay to its utmost limit.
"It will always be time for my affairs, Miss Paget," he urged, "and I
know how your father values your society; and he well may value it. I
only hope my daughters will be as good to me, if I have the gout,
Diana had spent nearly a dozen evenings in Omega Street, and on each of
those evenings had happened to meet M. Lenoble. She liked him better on
every occasion of these accidental meetings. He was indeed a person whom
it was difficult for any one to dislike, and in the thirty-four years of
his life had never made an enemy. She had been pleased with him on the
first evening; his bright handsome face, his courteous reverence for her
sex--expressed in every word, every tone, every look--his sympathy with
all good thoughts, his freshness and candour, were calculated to charm
the coldest and most difficult of judges. Diana liked, and even admired
him, but it was from an abstract point of view. He seemed a creature as
remote from her own life as a portrait of Henry of Navarre, seen and
admired in some royal picture-gallery to-day, to fade out of her memory
There was only one point in connection with Gustave Lenoble which
occupied her serious thoughts; and this was the nature of his relations
with her father.
This was a subject that sorely troubled her. Hope as she might for the
future, she could not shut her eyes to the past. She knew that her
father had lived for years as a cheat and a trickster--now by one
species of falsehood and trickery, now by another--rarely incautious,
but always unscrupulous. How had this village seigneur of Normandy
fallen into the Captain's toils; and what was the nature of the net that
was spread for him?
The talk of business, the frequent interviews, the evident elation of her
father's spirits, combined to assure her that some great scheme was in
progress, some commercial enterprise, perhaps not entirely dishonest--nay
even honest, when regarded from the sanguine speculator's point of view,
but involving the hazard of Gustave Lenoble's fortune.
"It is quite as easy for my father to delude himself as it is for him to
delude others. This M. Lenoble is ignorant of English commerce, no doubt,
and will be ready to believe anything papa tells him. And he is so
candid, so trusting, it would be very hard if he were to be a loser
through his confidence in papa. His daughters, too; the hazard of his
fortune is peril to their future." Such doubts and fears, gradually
developed by reflection took stronger hold on Miss Paget's mind after
every fresh visit to Omega Street. She saw the Frenchman's light-hearted
confidence in all humanity, her father's specious manner and air of
quixotic honour. His sanguine tone, his excellent spirits, filled her
with intolerable alarm. Alas! when had she ever seen her father in good
spirits, except when some gentlemanly villany was in progress?
Miss Paget endured this uneasiness of mind as long as she could, and then
determined to warn the supposed victim. She planned the mode of her
warning, and arranged for herself a diplomatic form which would reflect
the least possible discredit upon her father; and having once come to
this resolution, she was not slow to put it into effect.
When her father was about to send for a cab to convey her back to
Bayswater, after her next visit to Omega Street, she surprised him by
intercepting his order.
"There is a cab-stand in Sloane Square, papa," she said; "and if M.
Lenoble will be so kind as to take me there, I--I would rather get the
cab from the stand. The man charges more when he is fetched off the rank,
She could think of no better excuse for seeing Gustave alone than this
most sordid pretence. She blushed as she thought how mean a sound it must
have in the ears of the man for whose advantage she was plotting. Happily
M. Lenoble was not among the people who see nothing but meanness in the
desire to save sixpence. His aunt Cydalise had shown him the loveliness
of poverty; for there are vows of holy poverty that need no spoken
formula, and that are performed without the cloister.
"Poor girl!" thought M. Lenoble; "I dare say even the cost of her coach
is a consideration with her; and one dare not pay the coachman."
This was how Gustave read that blush of shame which for a moment dyed
Diana's cheek. Her father's was a very different reading.
"The minx sees my game, and is playing into my hands," thought he. "So
demure as she is, too! I should never have supposed her capable of such
a clever manoeuvre to secure ten minutes' _tete-a-tete_ with an
He bade his daughter good night with more than usual effusion. He began
to think that she might prove herself worthy of him after all.
The district between Omega Street and Sloane Square is after dusk of all
places the most solitary. It is the border-land of Pimlico, or, to borrow
from Sidney Smith, the knuckle end of Belgravia. In these regions of
desolation and smoke-blackened stucco Diana and her companion were as
secure from the interruption of the jostling crowd as they might have
been in the primeval forests of Central America.
Miss Paget's task was not a pleasant one. Shape her warning as she might,
it must reflect some discredit upon her father. He had of late been kind
to her; she felt this keenly to-night, and it seemed that the thing she
was about to do was a sort of parricide. Not against her father's life
was her cruel hand to be lifted; but her still more cruel tongue was to
slay her father's good name.
"This M. Lenoble likes him and trusts him," she thought to herself. "What
a happiness for that poor broken-down old man to have so kind a friend!
And I am going to interfere in a manner that may put an end to this
This is the shape which her thoughts assumed as she walked silently by
Gustave's side, with her hand lying lightly on his arm. He spoke to her
two or three times about the dulness of the neighbourhood, the coldness
of the night, or some other equally thrilling subject; but, finding by
her replies that she was thinking deeply, he made no further attempt at
"Poor child! she has some trouble on her mind, perhaps," he thought to
himself sadly, for his sympathy with this young lady was a very profound
feeling. This was the first occasion on which he had ever been alone
with her, and he wondered to find what a strange emotion was developed
by the novelty of the situation. He had married at twenty years of age,
and had never known those brief fancies or foolish passions which waste
the freshness of mind and heart. He had married a wife whom he never
learned to love; but his nature was so essentially a happy one, that he
had failed to discover the something wanting in his life. In all
relations--as grandson, husband, father, master--he had been "all simply
perfect," as Mademoiselle Cydalise pronounced him; and in a mind occupied
by cares for the welfare and happiness of others, he had never found that
blank which needed to be filled in order to make his own life completely
happy. Only of late, in his thirty-fourth year, had he come to the
knowledge of a feeling deeper than dutiful regard for an invalid wife, or
affectionate solicitude for motherless children; only of late had he felt
his heart stirred by a more thrilling emotion than that placid
resignation to the will of Providence which had distinguished his
courtship of Mademoiselle de Nerague.
They had nearly reached Sloane Square before Diana took courage to broach
the subject so naturally repugnant to her. She had need to remember that
the welfare of M. Lenoble and all belonging to him might be dependent on
"M. Lenoble," she began at last, "I am going to say something I shall
find it most painful to utter, but which I feel it my duty to say to you.
I can only ask you to receive it in a generous spirit."
"But, my dear Miss Paget, I pray you not to say anything that is
disagreeable to you. Why should you give yourself pain?--why--"
"Because it is my duty to warn you of a danger which I know only too
well, and of which you may be quite ignorant. You are my father's friend,
M. Lenoble; and he has very few friends. I should be sorry if anything I
were to say should rob him of your regard."
"Nothing that you say shall rob him of my friendship. But why should
you persist thus to say anything that is painful? What can you tell me
that I do not know, or that I cannot guess? Will you tell me that he is
poor? But I know it. That he is a broken-down gentleman? And that also
I know. What, then, would you tell me? That he has a daughter who is to
him a treasure without price? Ah, mademoiselle, what must I be if I did
not know that also?--I, who have contemplated that daughter so many
times--ah, so many!--when she could not know with what sympathy my eyes
watched her dutiful looks, with what profound emotion my heart
interpreted her life of affectionate sacrifice."
There was a warmth, a tenderness in his tones which touched Diana's heart
as it had not been touched of late. Suddenly, unexpectedly, the full
meaning of those tender accents came home to her. The love that she had
once dreamed of from the lips of another spoke to her to-night in the
words of this stranger. The sympathy for which she had yearned long ago,
in the days of her wanderings with Valentine, was given to her to-night
without stint or measure. Unhappily it came too late; and it did not come
from the only lips which, as it seemed to her to-night, could make
sympathy precious or love divine. But to this lonely girl a good man's
affection seemed a treasure for which she must needs be deeply grateful.
It was something to discover that she could be loved.
"I too," she said to herself,--"I, of whose presence Valentine is
scarcely conscious when he enters a room where Charlotte and I are
together; I, whom he greets day after day with the same careless words,
the same indifferent look; I, who might fade and waste day by day with
some slow disease, until I sank into the grave, before he would be
conscious of any change in my face,--is it possible that amongst the same
race of beings there can be any creature so widely different from
Valentine Hawkehurst as to love _me_?"
This was the bitter complaint of her heart as she compared the tenderness
of this stranger with the indifference of the man to whom, for three long
years of her girlhood, she had given every dream, every thought, every
hope of her existence. She could not put him away from her heart all at
once. The weak heart still fondly clung to the dear familiar image. But
the more intensely she had felt the cold neglect of Valentine, the more
grateful to her seemed the unsought affection of Gustave Lenoble.
"You know me as little as you know my father, M. Lenoble," she said,
after a long pause, during which they had walked to the end of the long
dull street, and were close to the square. "Let us go back a little way,
please; I have much more to say. I wish you to be my father's friend
always, but, if possible, without danger to yourself. My father is one of
those sanguine people who are always ready to embark in some new
enterprise, and who go on hoping and dreaming, after the failure of a
dozen schemes. He has no money, that I know of, to lose himself, and that
fact may make him, unconsciously, reckless of other people's money. I
have heard him speak of business relations with you, M. Lenoble, and it
is on that account I venture to speak so plainly. I do not want my poor
father to delude you, as he has often deluded himself. If you have
already permitted him to involve you in any speculation, I entreat you
to try to withdraw from it--to lose a little money, if necessary, rather
than to lose all. If you are not yet involved, let my warning save you
from any hazard."
"My dear Miss Paget, I thank you a thousand times for your advice, your
noble thoughtfulness for others. But no, there is no hazard. The
business in which your father is occupied for me is not a speculation. It
involves no risk beyond the expenditure of a few thousand francs, which,
happily, I can afford to lose. I am not at liberty to tell you the nature
of the business in question, because I have promised your father to keep
that a secret. Dear young lady, you need have no fear for me. I am not a
rash speculator. The first years of my life were passed in extreme
poverty--the poverty that is near neighbour to starvation. That is a
lesson one cannot forget. How shall I thank you for your concern for
me?--so generous, so noble!"
"It was only my duty to warn you of my poor father's weakness," replied
Diana. "If I needed thanks, your kindness to him is the only boon I could
ask. He has bitter need of a friend."
"And he shall never lack one while I live, if only for your sake." The
last half of the sentence was spoken in lower tones than the first. Diana
was conscious of the lurking tenderness of those few words, and the
consciousness embarrassed her. Happily they had reached the end of the
quiet street by this time, and had emerged into the busier square. No
more was said till they reached the cab-stand, when Diana wished her
companion good night.
"I am going back to Normandy in a week, Miss Paget; shall I see you again
before I leave England?"
"I really don't know; our meetings are generally accidental, you see."
"O yes, of course, always accidental," replied Gustave, smiling.
"I am sorry you are going to leave London--for papa's sake."
"And I, too, am sorry--for my own sake. But, you see, when one has
daughters, and a farm, and a chateau, one must be on the spot. I came to
England for one week only, and I have stayed six."
"You have found so much to amuse you in London?"
"Nay, mademoiselle, so much to interest me."
"It is almost the same thing, is it not?"
"A thousand times no! To be amused and to be interested--ah, what can be
so widely different as those two conditions of mind!"
"Indeed! Good night, Mr. Lenoble. Please ask the cabman to drive as fast
as he can venture to do with consideration for his horse. I am afraid I
shall be late, and my friends will be anxious about me."
"You will be late. You consider your friends at Bayswater, and you
consider even the cabman's horse. You are charity itself. Will you not
consider me a little also, Miss Paget?"
"Let me see you before I go back to Normandy. Your papa likes to see you
twice a week, I know. This is Monday night; will you come to see him on
"If he wishes it."
"He does wish it. Ah, how he wishes it! You will come?"
"If Mrs. Sheldon and Charlotte can spare me."
"They cannot spare you. No one can spare you. That cannot be. It
is amongst the things that are impossible. But they will have pity
upon--your father, and they will let you come."
"Please ask the cabman to start. Indeed, I shall be late. Good night,
He took her hand in his, and kissed it, with the grace of a Bayard. He
loved her, and took no trouble to conceal his passion. No shadow of doubt
darkened that bright horizon to which M. Lenoble looked with hopeful
eyes. He loved this penniless, motherless girl, as it was in the blood of
the Lenobles to love the poor and the helpless; especially when poverty
and helplessness presented themselves in the guise of youth and beauty.
He loved her, and she would love him. But why not? He was ten years her
senior, but that makes nothing. His auburn hair and beard, in the style
of Henry the Great, could show no streak of grey. His eyes had the
brightness of one-and-twenty; for the eyes of a man whose soul preserves
its youthfulness will keep their clear lustre for half a century. The
tall figure, straight as a dart; the frank handsome face which M. Lenoble
saw in the glass when he made his toilet, were not calculated to
dishearten a hopeful lover; and Gustave, by nature sanguine, enjoyed his
dream of happiness, untroubled by one morbid apprehension.
He loved her, and he would ask her for his wife. She would accept his
offer; her father would rejoice in so fortunate an alliance; her friends
of Bayswater would felicitate a change so desirable. And when he returned
to Normandy he would take her with him, and say to his children, "Behold
your mother!" And then the great rambling mansion of Cotenoir would
assume a home-like aspect. The ponderous old furniture would be replaced
by lightsome appointments of modern fashion; except, of course, in the
grand drawing-room, where there were tapestries said to be from the
designs of Boucher, and chairs and sofas in the true Louis Quinze style,
of immovable bulkiness.
There was but one trifling hitch in the whole scheme of happiness--Diana
was a Protestant. Ah, but what then! A creature so sweet, so noble, could
not long remain the slave of Anglican heresy. A little talk with
Cydalise, a week's "retreat" at the Sacre Coeur, and the thing would be
done. The dear girl would renounce her errors, and enter the bosom of the
Mother Church. Pouff! M. Lenoble blew the little difficulty away from his
finger-tips, and then wafted a kiss from the same finger-tips to his
"And this noble heart warned me against her own father!" M. Lenoble said
to himself, as he walked towards the hotel at Blackfriars where he had
taken up his abode, quite unconscious that the foot of Blackfriars Bridge
was not the centre of West End London. "How noble, how disinterested!
Poor old man! He is, no doubt, a speculator--something even of an
Adventurer. What then? He shall have an apartment at Cotenoir, his place
at the family table, his _fauteuil_ by the hearth; and there he can do no
* * * * *
There was a strange sentiment in Diana's mind after this evening's
conversation with Gustave Lenoble. To feel herself beloved, to know that
there was some one creature in the wide crowded world interested in, nay,
even attached to her, was a mystery, a surprise, and in some sort a
source of pleasure to her. That Gustave Lenoble could ever be any nearer
to her than he was at the present time did not occur to her as being
within the limits of possibility. She had thrust Valentine from her
heart, but the empty chamber could receive no new tenant. It was not
swept and garnished; nay, indeed, it was sadly littered with the shreds
and patches left by the late occupant. But, while this was so, to know
that she could be loved was in some manner sweet to her.
"Ah, now I know that the poet is right," she said to herself. "There is
no creature so desolate but some heart responds unto its own. And I have
found the generous responsive heart that can pity and love me because
I seem so sorely to need love and pity. All my life--my blank, empty
life--I will remember and be grateful to him, the first good man who ever
called my father friend; the first of all mankind who thought this poor
hand worthy to be lifted to his lips."
SHARPER THAN A SERPENT'S TOOTH.
Having pledged herself to visit Omega Street on Thursday, Diana
considered herself bound to perform that promise. She felt, however, that
there was some touch of absurdity in the position, for to keep a promise
so made was in a manner to keep an appointment with M. Lenoble.
"I dare say he has a habit of falling in love with every young woman he
meets," she thought, when she considered his conduct from a more prosaic
standpoint than the grateful enthusiasm his generous sympathy had at
first awakened in her mind. "I have heard that it is a Frenchman's
faculty to consider himself irresistible, and to avow his adoration for a
new divinity every week. And I was so foolish as to fancy there was a
depth of feeling in his tone and manner! I am sure he is all that is good
and generous; but the falling in love is no doubt a national failing."
She remembered the impertinent advances of divers unknown foreigners whom
she had encountered on pier or _digue_, kursaal or beach, in the
frequently unprotected hours of her continental wanderings.
She had not seen the best side of the foreign mind in her character of
unattended and doubtfully attired English demoiselle. She knew that
Gustave Lenoble was of a very different stamp from those specimens of the
genus tiger whose impertinent admiration had often wounded and distressed
her; but she was inclined to attribute the fault of shallowness to a
nature so frank and buoyant as that of her father's friend.
She walked from Bayswater to Chelsea on the appointed Thursday, for the
cost of frequent journeys in cabs was more than her purse could supply.
The walk across the Park was pleasant even in the bleak March weather,
and she entered the little parlour in Omega Street with the bloom of
damask roses upon her cheeks.
"How do you do, papa dear?" she began, as she came into the dusky room;
but the figure sitting in her father's accustomed place was not that of
her father. It was M. Lenoble, who rose to welcome her.
"Is papa worse?" she asked, surprised by the Captain's absence.
"On the contrary, he is better, and has gone out in a hired carriage for
a breath of fresh air. I persuaded him to go. He will be back very
"I wrote to tell him I should be here to-day, but I am very glad he has
gone out, for I am sure the air will do him good. Was he well wrapped up,
do you know, M. Lenoble?"
"Enveloped in railway-rugs and shawls to his very nose. I arranged all
that with my own hands. He looked like an ambassador from all the
"How kind of you to think of such things!" said Diana gratefully.
"And tell me why should I not think of such things? Do you imagine that
it is not a pleasure to me to wait upon your father--for your sake?"
There was some amount of awkwardness in this kind of thing. Diana busied
herself with the removal of her hat and jacket, which she laid neatly
upon a stony-hearted horsehair sofa. After doing this she placed herself
near the window, whence she contemplated the dusky street, appearing much
interested in the movements of the lamp lighter.
"What an admirable way they have of lighting the lamps now," she
remarked, with the conversational brilliance which usually marks this
kind of situation; "how much more convenient it must be than the old
method with the ladder, you know!"
"Yes, I have no doubt," said Gustave, bringing himself to her side with a
couple of steps, and planting himself deliberately in a chair next to
hers; "but don't you think, as I start for Normandy to-morrow, we might
talk of something more interesting than the lamplighter, Miss Paget?"
"I am ready to talk of anything you like," replied Miss Paget, with that
charming assumption of unconsciousness which every woman can command on
"You are very good. Do you know that when I persuaded your father to go
out for an airing, I was prompted by a motive so selfish as to render the
proceeding quite diabolical? Don't be alarmed! The doctor gave his
permission for the airing, or I should not have attempted such a thing.
Hypocrisy I am capable of, but not assassination. You cannot imagine the
diplomacy which I exhibited; and all to what end? Can you imagine that?"
"That I might secure one half-hour's uninterrupted talk with you; and,
unhappily, you are so late that I expect your father's return every
minute. He was to be back again before dusk, and the appearance of the
lamplighter demonstrates that the dusk has come. I have so much to say,
and so little time to say it; so much, Diane--"
She started as he called her thus, as if in that moment of surprise she
would have risen from her chair by his side. She knew what was coming,
and having expected nothing so desperate, knew not how to arrest the
confession that she would fain have avoided hearing. M. Lenoble laid his
hand firmly on hers.
"So much, Diane; and yet so little, that all can be told in three words.
I love you."
"Ah, you are surprised, you wonder, you look at me with eyes of sweet
amazement! Dear angel, do you think it is possible to see you and not to
love you? To see you once is to respect, to admire, to bow the knee
before beauty and goodness; but to see you many times, as I have done,
the patient consoler of an invalid and somewhat difficult father--ah, my
sweet love, who is there so hard amongst mankind that he should escape
from loving you, seeing all that?"
The question had a significance that the speaker knew not. Who amongst
mankind? Why, was there not one man for whom she would have been content
to be the veriest slave that ever abnegated every personal delight for
the love of a hard master? And he had passed her by, indifferent,
unseeing. She had worshipped him on her knees, as it seemed to her; and
he had left her kneeling in the dust, while he went on to offer himself,
heart and soul, at another shrine.
She could not forget these things. The memory and the bitterness of them
came back with renewed poignancy at this moment, when the voice of a
stranger told her she was beloved.
"My dear one, will you not answer me?" pleaded Gustave, in nowise alarmed
by Diana's silence, which seemed to him only the natural expression of a
maidenly emotion. "Tell me that you will give me measure for measure;
that you will love me as my mother loved my father--with a love that
trouble and poverty could never lessen; with a love that was strongest
when fate was darkest--a star which the dreary night of sorrow could not
obscure. I am ten years older than you by my baptismal register, Diane;
but my heart is young. I never knew what love was until I knew you. And
yet those who know me best will tell you that I was no unkind husband,
and that my poor wife and I lived happily. I shall never know love again,
except for you. The hour comes, I suppose, in every man's life; and the
angel of his life comes in that appointed hour. Mine came when I saw you.
I have spoken to your father, and have his warm approval. He was all
encouragement, and hinted that I might be assured of your love. Had he
sufficient justification for that half-promise, Diane?"
"He had none," Miss Paget answered gravely, "none except his own wishes.
You have made me hear more than I wished to hear, M. Lenoble, for the
treasure you offer me is one that I cannot accept. With all my heart I
thank you for the love you tell me of. Even if it is, as I can but think
it, a passing fancy, I thank you, nevertheless. It is sweet to win the
love of a good man. I pray you to believe that with all my heart and mind
I honour your generous nature, your noble sympathy with the weak and
friendless. If you can give me your friendship, you shall find how I can
value a good man's regard, but I cannot accept your love."
"Why not?" asked Gustave, aghast.
"Because I cannot give you measure for measure, and I will not give you
"But in time, Diane, in time?"
"Time cannot show me your character in a nobler light than that in which
I see it now. You do not lack the power to win a woman's heart, but I
have no heart to give. If you will be my friend, time will increase my
affection for you--but time cannot restore the dead."
"Which means that your heart is dead, Diane?"
"Yes," she answered, with unutterable sadness.
"You love some one younger, happier than I?"
"No, M. Lenoble, no one."
"But you have loved? Yes!--a scoundrel, perhaps; a villain, who--"
A spasm of pain contracted his face as he looked at the girl's drooping
head; her face, in that dim light, he could not see.
"Tell me this, Diane," he said presently, in an altered voice; "there is
no barrier between us--no irrevocable obstacle that must part us for
ever? There is no one who can claim you by any right--" He paused; and
then added, in a lower voice, "by any wrong?"
"No one," answered Miss Paget, lifting her head, and looking her lover
full in the face. Even in that uncertain light he could see the proud
steady gaze that seemed the fittest answer of all doubts.
"Thank God!" he whispered. "Ah, how could I fear, even for one moment,
that you could be anything but what you seem--the purest among the pure?
Why, then, do you reject me? You do not love me, but you ask my
friendship; you offer me your friendship, even your affection. Ah,
believe me, if those are but real, time will ripen them into love. Your
heart is dead. Ah, why should that young heart be dead? It is not dead,
Diane; it needs but the fire of true love to warm it into life again. Why
should you reject me, since you tell me that you love me; unless you love
another? What should divide us?"
"Shadows and memories," Diana replied mournfully,--"vague and foolish;
wicked, perhaps; but they come between you and me, M. Lenoble. And since
I cannot give you a whole heart, I will give you nothing."
"You have loved some one, some one who did not value your love? Tell me
the truth, Diane; you owe me at least as much as that."
"I do owe you the truth. Yes; I have been very foolish. For two or three
years of my life there was a person who was our daily companion. He
travelled with us--with my father and me; and we saw many changes and
troubles together. For a long time he was like my brother; and I doubt if
many brothers are as kind to their sisters as he was to me. In his heart
that feeling never changed. He was always equally kind, equally careless.
Once I deluded myself with the fancy that in his looks and tones, and
even in his words, there was some deeper feeling than this careless
brotherly kindness; but it was no more than a delusion. My eyes were
opened rudely enough. I saw his heart bestowed elsewhere. Do not think
that I am so weak, or so wicked, as to abandon myself to despair because
I have been awakened from my foolish dream. I can look the realities of
life in the face, M. Lenoble; and I have taught myself to wish all good
things for the dear girl who has won the heart that I once thought was
mine. The person I am speaking of can boast no superior graces of mind or
person. He is only a very commonplace young man, with a certain amount of
talent, a disposition inclined to good rather than to evil. But he was
the companion of my girlhood; and in losing him it seems to me as if I
had lost a part of my youth itself."
To Diana's mind this seemed the end of the discussion. She expected M.
Lenoble to bow his head to the inevitable, to utter a friendly farewell,
and depart for his Norman home, convinced, if not satisfied. But the
light-hearted, easy-tempered Gustave was not a lover of the despairing
order, nor an easily answered suppliant.
"And that is all!" he exclaimed, in the cheeriest tone. "A companion of
your girlhood, for whom you had a girl's romantic fancy! And the memory
of this unspeakable idiot--great Heaven! but how idiotic must this wretch
have been, to be loved by you, and not even to know it!--the memory of
this last of the last is to come between you and me, and divide us for
ever? The phantom of this miserable, who could be loved by an angel
without knowing it, is to lift its phantasmal hand and thrust me
aside--me, Gustave Lenoble, a man, and not an idiot? Ah, thus we blow him
to the uttermost end of the world!" cried M. Lenoble, blowing an
imaginary rival from the tips of his fingers. "Thus we dismiss him to the
Arctic regions, the torrid zone--to the Caucasus, where await vultures to
gnaw his liver--wherever earth is most remote and uncomfortable--he and
the bread-and-butter miss whom he prefers to my Diane!"
This manner of taking things was quite unexpected by Diana. It was much
more pleasant than gloomy despair or sullen resentment; but it was, at
the same time, much more difficult to deal with.
"He is gone!" cried Gustave presently; "he is on the topmost heights of
Caucasus, and the vultures are sharpening their beaks! And now, tell me,
Diane--you will be my wife, will you not? You will be a mother to my
children? You will transform the old chateau of Cotenoir into a pleasant
home? You will cease to live amongst strangers? You will come to those
who will love and cherish you as their own, their dearest and best and
brightest? You will give your poor old father a corner by your fireside?
He is old and needs a home for his last years. For his sake, Diane, for
mine, for my children, let your answer be yes! Ah, not so fast!" he
cried, as she was about to speak. "Why are you so quick to pronounce your
fatal judgment? Think how much depends on your reply--your father's
happiness, my children's, mine!"
"It is of yours only I must think," Miss Paget answered earnestly. "You
fancy it is so easy for me to say no. Believe me, it would be much easier
to say yes. When you speak of my father's declining years, I, who know
his weary life so well, would be hard of heart indeed if I were not
tempted by the haven you offer. Every word that you say gives me some new
proof of your goodness, your generosity. But I will not wrong you because
you are generous. I shall always be your grateful friend, but you must
seek elsewhere for a wife, M. Lenoble. You will have little difficulty in
finding one worthier than I."
"I will seek nowhere else for a wife; I will have no wife but you. I have
had a wife of other people's choosing; I will choose one for myself this
time. Let us be friends, Diane, since your decision is as irrevocable as
the laws of Draco. You are stone, you are adamant; but no matter, we can
be friends. Your father will be disappointed. But what then? He is no
doubt accustomed to disappointments. My daughters--for them it is a
profound affliction to be motherless, but they must support it. Cotenoir
must go to wreck and ruin a little longer--a few more rats behind the
panelling, a few more moths in the tapestry, that is all. My children
say, 'Papa, our home is not comfortable; all is upside-down;' and I
reply. 'But what will you, my children? A home without a wife is always
upside down.' And then I take them between my arms, in weeping. It is a
poignant picture to rend the heart. But what does it matter, Miss Paget?
What is that verse of your grand Will?--
Blow, blow, thou wintry wind;
And let go weep the stricken land,
While harts ungalled go play.
Perhaps I have mixed him up somehow; but the meaning is clear."
A hollow-sounding and somewhat awful cough heralded the approach of
Captain Paget, who entered the room at this juncture. If the Captain had
prolonged his first airing, after six weeks' confinement to the house,
until this late period of the afternoon, he would have committed an
imprudence which might have cost him dearly. Happily, he had done nothing
of the kind, but had re-entered the house unobserved, while Diana and
Gustave were conversing close to the window, having preferred to leave
his fly at the end of the street, rather than to incur the hazard of
interrupting a critical tete-a-tete. The interval that had elapsed since
his return had been spent by the Captain in his own bedchamber, and in
the immediate neighbourhood of the folding-doors between that apartment
and the parlour. What he had heard had been by no means satisfactory to
him; and if a look could annihilate, Miss Paget might have perished
beneath the Parthian glance which her father shot at her as he came
towards the window, with a stereotyped smile upon his lips and
unspeakable anger in his heart.
He had heard just enough of the conversation to know that Gustave had
been rejected--Gustave, with Cotenoir and a handsome independence in the
present, and the late John Haygarth's fortune in the future. Rejected by
a penniless young woman, who at any moment might find herself without a
roof to shelter her from the winds of heaven! Was ever folly, madness,
wickedness supreme as this?
Horatio trembled with rage as he took his daughter's hand. She had the
insolence to extend her hand for the customary salutation. The Captain's
greeting was a grip that made her wince.
"Good-night, Miss Paget," said Gustave gravely, but with by no means the
despondent tone of a hopeless lover; "I--well, I shall see you again,
perhaps, before I go to Normandy. I doubt if I shall go to-morrow. I
have my own reasons for staying--unreasonable reasons, perhaps, but I
All this was said in a tone too low to reach Captain Paget's ear.
"Are you going to leave us, Lenoble?" he asked in a quavering voice. "You
will not stop and let Di give you a cup of tea as usual?"
"Not to-night, Captain. Good-bye."
He wrung the old man's hand and departed. Captain Paget dropped heavily
into a chair, and for some minutes there was silence. Diana was the
first to speak.
"I am glad your doctor considered you well enough to go out for a drive,
papa," she said.
"Indeed, my dear," answered her father with a groan; "I hope my next
drive may be in a different kind of vehicle--the last journey I shall
ever take, until they cart away my bones for manure. I believe they do
make manure from the bones of paupers in our utilitarian age."
"Papa, how can you talk so horribly! You are better, are you not? M.
Lenoble said you were better."
"Yes, I am better, God help me!" answered the old man, too weak alike in
mind and body to hide the passion that possessed, him. "That is one of
the contradictions of the long farce we call life. If I had been a rich
man, with a circle of anxious relations and all the noted men of Savile
Row dancing attendance round my bed, I dare say I should have died; but
as I happen to be a penniless castaway, with only a lodging-house drudge
and a half-starved apothecary to take care of me, and with nothing before
me but a workhouse, I live. It is all very well for a man to take things
easily when he is ill and helpless, too weak even to think. _That_ is not
the trying time. The real trial arrives when a little strength comes back
to him, and his landlady begins to worry him for her rent, and the
lodging-house drudge gets tired of pitying him, and the apothecary sends
in his bill, and the wretched high-road lies bare and broad before him,
and he hears the old order to move on. The moving-on time has come for
me, Di; and the Lord alone knows how little I know where I am to go."
"Papa, you are not friendless; even I can give you a little help."
"Yes," answered the Captain with a bitter laugh; "a sovereign once a
quarter--the scrapings of your pittance! That help won't save me from
"There is M. Lenoble."
"Yes, there is M. Lenoble; the man who would have given me a home for my
old age: he told me so to-day--a home fit for a gentleman--for the
position he now occupies is nothing compared to that which he may occupy
a year hence. He would have received me as his father-in-law, without
thought or question of my antecedents; and if I have not lived like a
gentleman, I might have died like one. This is what he would have done
for me. But do you think I can ask anything of him now, after you have
refused him? I know of your refusal to be that man's wife. I heard--I saw
it in his face. You--a beggar, a friendless wretch, dependent on the
patronage of a stockbroker's silly wife--_you_ must needs give yourself
grand airs, and refuse such a man as that! Do you think such men go
begging among young ladies like you, or that they run about the streets,
like the roast pigs in the story, begad, with knives and forks in their
backs, asking to be eaten?"
The Captain was walking up and down the room in a fever of rage. Diana
looked at him with sad wondering eyes. Yes, it was the old selfish
nature. The leopard cannot change his spots; and the Horatio Paget of the
present was the Horatio Paget of the past.
"Pray don't be angry with me, papa," said Diana sorrowfully; "I believe
that I have done my duty."
"Done your fiddlesticks!" cried the Captain, too angry to be careful of
his diction. "Your duty to whom? Did you happen to remember, miss, that
you owe some duty to me, your father, but for whom you wouldn't be
standing there talking of duty like a tragedy queen? By Jove! I suppose
you are too grand a person to consider my trouble in this matter; the
pains I took to get Lenoble over to England; the way I made the most of
my gout even, in order to have you about me; the way I finessed and
diplomatized to bring this affair to a successful issue. And now, when I
have succeeded beyond my hopes, you spoil everything, and then dare to
stand before me and preach about duty. What do you want in a husband, I
should like to know? A rich man? Lenoble is that. A handsome man? Lenoble
is that. A gentleman, with good blood in his veins? Lenoble comes of as
pure a race as any man in that part of France. A good man? Lenoble is one
of the best fellows upon this earth. What is it, then, that you want?"
"I want to give my heart to the man who gives me his."
"And what, in the name of all that's preposterous, is to prevent you
giving Gustave Lenoble your heart?"
"I cannot tell you."
"No, nor any one else. But let us have no more of this nonsense. If you
call yourself a daughter of mine, you will marry Gustave Lenoble. If
The Captain found himself brought to a sudden stop in his unconscious
paraphrase of Signor Capulet's menace to his recalcitrant daughter,
Juliet. With what threat could the noble Horatio terrify his daughter to
obedience? Before you talk of turning your rebellious child out of doors,
you must provide a home from which to cast her. Captain Paget remembered
this, and was for the moment reduced to sudden and ignominious silence.
And yet there must surely be some way of bringing this besotted young
woman to reason.
He sat for some minutes in silence, with his head leaning on his hand,
his face hidden from Diana. This silence, this attitude, so expressive of
utter despondency, touched her more keenly than his anger. She knew that
he was mean and selfish, that it was of his own loss he thought; and yet
she pitied him. He was old and helpless and miserable; so much the more
pitiable because of his selfishness and meanness. For the heroic soul
there is always some comfort; but for the grovelling nature suffering
knows no counterbalance. The ills that flesh is heir to seem utterly
bitter when there is no grand spirit to dominate the flesh, and soar
triumphant above the regions of earthly pain. Captain Paget's mind, to
him, was not a kingdom. He could not look declining years of poverty in
the face; he was tired of work. The schemes and trickeries of his life
were becoming very odious to him; they were for the most part worn out,
and had ceased to pay. Of course he had great hopes, in any event, from
Gustave Lenoble; but those hopes were dependent on Gustave's inheritance
of John Haygarth's estate. He wanted something more tangible than
this--he wanted immediate security; and his daughter's marriage with
Gustave would have given him that security, and still grander hopes for
the future. He had fancied himself reigning over the vassals of Cotenoir,
a far more important personage than the real master of that chateau. He
had pictured to himself a _pied-a-terre_ in Paris which it might be
agreeable for him to secure, for existence in Normandy might occasionally
prove _canuyeux_. These things were what he meant when he talked of a
haven for his declining years; and against the daughter who, for some
caprice of her own, could hinder his possession of these things, he had
no feeling but anger.
Diana compassionated this weak old man, to whose lips the cup of
prosperity had seemed so near, from whose lips her hand had thrust it.
He had been promised a home, comfort, respectability, friendship--"all
that should accompany old age"--and she had prevented the fulfilment of
the promise. Heaven knows how pure her motives had been; but as she
watched that drooping head, with its silvered hair, she felt that she
had been cruel.
"Papa," she began presently, laying her hand caressingly upon her
father's neck; but he pushed aside the timid, caressing hand--"papa, you
think me very unkind, only because I have done what I believe to be
right; indeed it is so, papa dear. In what I said to Gustave Lenoble this
evening, I was governed only by my sense of right."
"Indeed!" cried the Captain, with a strident laugh; "and where did you
pick up your sense of right, madam, I should like to know? From what
Methodist parson's hypocritical twaddle have you learnt to lay down the
law to your poor old father about the sense of right? 'Honour your father
and your mother, that your days may be long in the land,' miss, _that's_
what your Bible teaches you; but the Bible has gone out of fashion, I
dare say, since I was a young man; and your model young woman of the
present generation taunts her father with her sense of right. Will your
sense of right be satisfied when you hear of your father rotting in the
old-men's ward of a workhouse, or dying on the London stones?"
"I am not unfeeling, papa. With all my heart I pity you; but it is cruel
on your part to exaggerate the misery of your position, as I am sure you
must be doing. Why should your means of living fail because I refuse to
marry M. Lenoble? You have lived hitherto without my help, as I have
lived of late without yours. Nothing could give me greater happiness than
to know that you were exempt from care; and if my toil can procure you a
peaceful home in the future--as I believe it can, or education and will
to work must go for nothing--there shall be no lack of industry on my
part. I will work for you, I will indeed, papa--willingly, happily."
"When your work can give me such a home as Cotenoir--a home that one word
of yours would secure for me--I will thank you."
"If you will only wait, papa, if you will only have patience--"
"Patience! Wait! Do you know what you are talking about? Do you prate of
patience, and waiting, and hope in the future to a man who has no
future--to a man whose days are numbered, and who feels the creeping
chills of death stealing over him every day as he sits beside his
wretched hearth, or labours through his daily drudgery? I can live as I
have always lived! Yes; but do you know, or care to know, that with every
day life becomes more difficult for me? Your fine friends at Bayswater
have done with me. I have spent the last sixpence I shall ever see from
Philip Sheldon. Hawkehurst has cut me, like the ungrateful hound he is.
When they have squeezed the orange, they throw away the rind. Didn't
Voltaire say that, when Frederick of Prussia gave him the go-by? Heaven
knows it's true enough; and now you, who by a word might secure yourself
a splendid position--yes, I say splendid for a poor drudge and dependent
like you, and insure a home for me--you, forsooth, must needs favour me
with your high-flown sentiments about your sense of right, and promise me
a home in the future, if I will wait and hope! No, Diana, waiting and
hoping are done with for me, and I can find a home in the bed of the
river without your help."
"You would not be so wicked as to do that!" cried Diana, aghast.
"I don't know about the wickedness of the act. But, rely upon it, when my
choice lies between the workhouse and the river, I shall prefer the
river. The modern workhouse is no inviting sanctuary, and I dare say many
a homeless wretch makes the same choice."
For some minutes there was silence. Diana stood with her elbows resting
on the chimneypiece, her face covered with her hands.
"O Lord, teach me to do the thing which is right!" she prayed, and in the
next breath acted on the impulse of the moment.
"What would you have me do?" she asked.
"What any one but an idiot would do of her own accord--accept the good
fortune that has dropped into your lap. Do you think such luck as yours
goes begging every day?"
"You would have me accept Gustave Lenoble's offer, no matter what
falsehoods may be involved in my acceptance of it?"
"I can see no reason for falsehood. Any one but an idiot would honour
such a man; any one but an idiot would thank Providence for such good
"Very well, papa," exclaimed Diana, with a laugh that had no mirthful
music, "I will not be the exceptional idiot. If M. Lenoble does me the
honour to repeat his offer--and I think from his manner he means to do
so--I will accept it."
"He shall repeat it!" cried the Captain, throwing off his assumption of
the tragic father. The Oedipus Coloneus, the Lear--the venerable victim
of winter winds and men's ingratitude--was transformed in a moment into
an elderly Jeremy Diddler, lined with Lord Foppington. "He shall repeat
it; I will have him at your feet to-morrow. Yes, Di, my love, I pledge
myself to bring that about, without compromise to your maidenly pride or
the dignity of a Paget. My dear child, I ought to have known that
reflection would show you where your duty lies. I fear I have been
somewhat harsh, but you must forgive me, Di; I have set my heart on this
match, for your happiness as well as my own. I could not stand the
disappointment; though I admired, and still admire, the high feeling,
and all that kind of thing, which prompted your refusal. A school-girlish
sentimentality, child, but with something noble in it; not the
sentimentality of a vulgar schoolgirl. The blue blood will show itself,
my love; and now--no, no, don't cry. You will live to thank me for
to-night's work; yes, my child, to thank me, when you look round your
comfortable home by-and-by--when my poor old bones are mouldering in
their unpretending sepulchre--and say to yourself, 'I have my father to
thank for this. Adverse circumstances forbade his doing his duty as
happier fathers are allowed the privilege of doing theirs, but it was his
forethought, his ever-watchful care, which secured me an admirable
husband and a happy home.' Mark my words, the time will come when you
will say this, my dear."
"I will try to think of you always kindly, papa," Miss Paget answered in
a low sad voice; "and if my marriage can secure your happiness and
Gustave Lenoble's, I am content. I only fear to take too much, and give
"My love, you must certainly be the lineal descendant of Don Quixote. Too
much, and too little, forsooth! Let Lenoble find a handsomer woman, or a
more elegant woman, by gad, elsewhere! Such a woman as a duke might be
proud to make his duchess, by Jove! There shall be no sense of obligation
on our side, my love. Gustave Lenoble shall be made to feel that he gets
change for his shilling. Kiss me, child, and tell me you forgive me for
being a little rough with you, just now."
"Forgive you?--yes, papa. I dare say you are wiser than I. Why should I
refuse M. Lenoble? He is good and kind, and will give us a happy home?
What more can I want? Do I want to be like Charlotte, to whom life seems
all poetry and brightness?"
"And who is going to throw herself away upon a penny-a-liner, by Jove!"
interjected the Captain.
"Can I hope to be like that girl, with her happy ignorance of life, her
boundless love and trust! O, no, no, papa; those things are not for me."
She laid her head upon her father's breast, and sobbed like a child. This
was her second farewell to the man she had loved, the dreams she had
dreamed. The Captain comforted her with a paternal embrace, but was as
powerless to comprehend her emotion as if he had found himself suddenly
called upon to console the sorrows of a Japanese widow.
"Hysterical," he murmured. "These noble natures are subject to that kind
of thing. And now, my love," he continued, in a more business-like tone,
"let us talk seriously. I think it would be very advisable for you to
leave Bayswater, and take up your abode in these humble lodgings with me
"The reason is sufficiently obvious, my love. It is not right that you
should continue to eat the bread of dependence. As the future wife of
Gustave Lenoble--and in this case, the word future means immediately--"
"Papa," cried Diana suddenly, "you will not hurry me into this marriage?
I have consented for your sake. You will not be so ungenerous as to--"
"As to hurry you? No, my dear, of course not. There shall be no indecent
haste. Your wishes, your delicate and disinterested motives, shall be
consulted before all things; yes, my love," cried the Captain, sorely
afraid of some wavering on the part of his daughter, and painfully
anxious to conciliate her, "all shall be in accordance with your wishes.
But I must urge your immediate removal from Bayswater; first, because M.
Lenoble will naturally wish to see you oftener than he can while you are
residing with people whose acquaintance I do not want him to make; and
secondly, because you have no further need of Mrs. Sheldon's patronage."
"It has been kindness, affection, papa--never patronage. I could not
leave Mrs. Sheldon or Charlotte abruptly or ungraciously, upon any
consideration. They gave me a home when I most bitterly needed one.
They took me away from the dull round of schoolroom drudgery, that was
fast changing me into a hard hopeless joyless automaton. My first duty
is to them."
The Captain's angry sniff alone expressed the indignation which this
impious remark inspired.
"My next shall be to you and M. Lenoble. Let me give Mrs. Sheldon due
notice of the change in our plans."
"What do you call due notice?" asked Horatio, peevishly.
"A quarter's notice."
"O, indeed! Then for three months you are to dance attendance upon Mrs.
Sheldon, while M. Lenoble is waiting to make you his wife."
"I must consult the wishes of my friends, papa."
"Very well, my dear," replied the Captain, with a sigh that was next of
kin to a groan; "you must please yourself and your friends, I suppose;
your poor old father is a secondary consideration." And then, timeously
mindful of the skirmish he had just had with his daughter, Captain Paget
made haste to assure her of his regard and submission.
"All shall be as you please, my love," he murmured. "There, go into my
room, and smooth your hair, and bathe your eyes, while I ring for the
Diana obeyed. She found eau-de-cologne and the most delicate of Turkey
sponges on her father's wash-handstand; jockey-club, and ivory-backed
brushes, somewhat yellow with age, but bearing crest and monogram, on his
dressing-table. The workhouse did not seem quite so near at hand as the
Captain had implied; but with these sanguine people it is but a step from
disappointment to despair.
"What am I to tell Mrs. Sheldon, papa?" she asked, when she was pouring
out her father's tea.
"Well, I think you had better say nothing, except that my circumstances
have somewhat improved, and that my failing health requires your care."
"I hate secrets, papa."
"So do I, my dear; but half-confidences are more disagreeable than
Diana submitted. She secretly reserved to herself the right to tell
Charlotte anything she pleased. From that dear adopted sister she would
"If M. Lenoble should repeat his offer, and I should accept it, I will
tell her all," she thought. "It will make that dear girl happy to know
that there is some one who loves me, besides herself."
And then she thought of the strange difference of fate that gave to
this Charlotte Halliday, with her rich stepfather and comfortable
surroundings, a penniless soldier of fortune for a lover, while to her,
the spendthrift adventurer's daughter, came a wealthy suitor.
"Will hers be the dinner of herbs, and mine the stalled ox?" she thought.
"Ah, Heaven forbid! Why is it so difficult to love wisely, so easy to
love too well?"
She remembered the cynical French proverb, "When we can not have what
we love, we must love what we have." But the cynical proverb brought her
She went back to Bayswater with a strange bewildered feeling; after
having promised her father to go to Omega Street whenever he sent for
her. There was no actual pain in her mind, no passionate desire to recall
her promise, no dread horror of the step to which she had pledged
herself. The feeling that oppressed her was the sense that such a step
should have been the spontaneous election of her grateful heart, proud of
a good man's preference, instead of a weak submission to a father's
Book the Fifth.
THE FIRST ACT OF MR. SHELDON'S DRAMA.
TAKEN BY STORM.
Two days after her interview with Gustave Lenoble, Miss Paget received a
brief note from her father, summoning her again to Omega Street.
"He has not gone back to Normandy," wrote the Captain.
"My child, he positively worships the ground you walk upon. Ah, my love,
_it is something to have a father_! I need scarcely tell you that his
first idea of your excellence was inspired by those glowing descriptions
of your goodness, your beauty, your heroism, which I favoured him with,
_en passant_, during our conversations at Cotenoir, where the happy
accident of a business transaction first introduced me to him. The
interests of my only child have ever been near and dear to me; and where
a duller man would have perceived only a wealthy stranger, my paternal
instincts recognized at a glance the predestined husband of my daughter.
It needed my wide experience of life--and, as I venture to believe, my
subtle knowledge of the human heart--to understand that a man who had
lived for five-and-thirty years buried alive in a French province--a
charming place, my love, and for your refined taste replete with
interest--never seeing a mortal except his immediate neighbours, would be
the man of men to fall in love with the first attractive young woman he
met among strangers. Come to me this afternoon without fail, and come
Diana obeyed this summons submissively, but still troubled by that
strange sense of bewilderment which had affected her since her stormy
interview with Captain Paget. She was not quite certain of herself. The
old dreams--the sweet foolish girlish fancies--were not yet put away
altogether from her mind; but she knew that they were foolish, and she
was half-inclined to believe that there had been some wisdom in her
"What do I want more?" she asked herself. "He is good and brave and true,
and he loves me. If I were a princess, my marriage would be negotiated
for me by other people, and I should have reason to consider myself very
happy if the man whom the state selected for my husband should prove as
good a man as Gustave Lenoble. And he loves me; me, who have never before
had power over a man's heart!"
She walked across Hyde Park on this occasion, as on the last; and her
thoughts, though always confused--mere rags and scraps of thought--were
not all unpleasant. There was a smile, half shy, half tender, on her face
as she went into the little sitting-room where Gustave was waiting for
her. She had seen his hat and overcoat in the passage, and knew that he
was there waiting for her. To this poor desolate soul there was something
sweet in the idea of being waited for.
As she stood but a little within the doorway, blushing, almost trembling
with the sense of her changed position, her lover came across the room
and took her in his arms. The strong brave arms held her to his breast;
and in that one embrace he took her to his heart, and made her his own
In every story of life-long affection, there is one moment in which the
bond is sealed. Diana looked up at the frank tender face, and felt that
she had found her conqueror. Master, friend, protector, husband, adoring
and devoted lover, gallant and fearless champion--he was all; and she
divined his power and his worth as she glanced shyly upward, ashamed to
be so lightly won.
"M. Lenoble," she faltered, trying to withdraw herself from the strong
encircling arm that held her, as if by right.
"Gustave, now and for ever, my Diane! There shall be no more Monsieur
Lenoble. And in a few weeks it shall be 'my husband.' Your father has
given me to you. He tells me to laugh at your refusals your scruples; to
assail you like your Shakespeare's Petruchio assails his Katherine--with
audacious insolence that will not be denied. And I shall take his advice.
Look up into my face, dear angel, and defy me to take his advice."
Happily the dear angel looked only downwards. But M Lenoble was resolved
to have an agreeable response.
"See, then, thou canst not defy me!" he cried, in the only language he
spoke; and the "_tu_" for the first time sounded very tender, very sweet.
"Thou canst not tell me thou art angry with me. And the other--the
imbecile;--he is gone for ever, is he not? Ah, say yes!"
"Yes, he is gone," said Diana, almost in a whisper.
"Is he quite gone? The door of thine heart locked against him, his
luggage thrown out of the window?"
"He is gone!" she murmured softly. "He could not hold his place against
you--you are so strong--so brave; and he was only a shadow. Yes, he is
She said this with a little sigh of relief. It was in all sincerity that
she answered her suitor's question. She felt that a crisis had come in
her life--the first page of a new volume; and the old sad tear-blotted
book might be cast away.
"Dear angel, wilt thou ever learn to love me?" asked Gustave, in a
half-whisper, bending down his bearded face till his lips almost touched
"It is impossible not to love you," she answered softly. And indeed it
seemed to her as if this chivalrous Gaul was a creature to command the
love of women, the fear of men; an Achilles _en frac_; a Bayard without
his coat of mail; Don Quixote in his youth, generous, brave,
compassionate, tender, and with a brain not as yet distempered by the
reading of silly romances.
Captain Paget emerged from his den as the little love scene ended. He
affected a gentlemanly unconsciousness of the poetry involved in the
situation, was pleasantly anxious about the tea-tray, the candles, and
minor details of life; and thus afforded the lovers ample time in which
to recover their composure. The Frenchman was in no wise discomposed; he
was only abnormally gay, with a little air of triumph that was not
unpleasing. Diana was pale; but there was an unwonted light in her eyes,
and she had by no means the appearance of a victim newly offered on the
sacrificial altar of filial duty. In sober truth, Miss Paget was happier
to-night than she had been for a long time. At three-and-twenty she was
girl enough to rejoice in the knowledge that she was truly loved, and
woman enough to value the sense of peace involved in the security of a
If she was grateful to her lover--and the affection he had inspired in
her heart had grown out of gratitude--it was no mercenary consideration
as to his income or position that made her grateful. She thanked him for
his love--that treasure which she had never expected to possess; she
thanked him because he had taken her by the hand, and led her out of the
ranks of lonely dependent womanhood, and seated her upon a throne, on the
steps whereof he was content to kneel. Whether the throne were a rushen
chair in some rustic cottage, or a gilded _fauteuil_ in a palace, she
cared very little. It was the subject's devotion that was new and sweet
She went to Charlotte's room that night, when Mr. Sheldon's small
household was at rest; as she had gone on Christmas Eve to renounce her
lover and to bless her rival. This time it was a new confession she went
to make, and a confession that involved some shame. There is nothing so
hard to confess as inconstancy; and every woman is not so philosophic as
Rahel Varnhagen, who declared that to be constant was not always to love
the same person, but always to love some one.
Miss Paget seated herself at Charlotte's feet, as she had done on that
previous occasion. The weather was still cold enough to make a fire very
pleasant, though it was more than two months since the Christmas bells
had rung out upon the frosty air. Diana sat on a low hassock, playing
with the tassels of her friend's dressing-gown, anxious to make her
confession, and solely at a loss for words in which to shape so
humiliating an avowal.
"Charlotte," she began abruptly at last, "have you any idea when you and
Valentine are to be married?"
Miss Halliday gave a little cry of surprise.
"Why, of course not, Di! How can you ask such a question? Our marriage
is what uncle George calls a remote contingency. We are not to be married
for ages--not until Valentine has obtained a secure position in
literature, and an income that seems almost impossible. That was the
special condition upon which Mr. Sheldon--papa--gave his consent to our
engagement. Of course it was very proper and prudent of him to think of
these things; and as he has been very kind and liberal-minded in his
conduct to me throughout, I should be a most ungrateful person if I
refused to be guided by his advice."
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