M. E. Braddon
Part 7 out of 9
"Will you ask her to step out here and speak to me for a few minutes?"
"Won't you come indoors and see her, sir?"
"No; I'd rather see her in the garden."
It was still daylight here, but it was growing shadowy among the avenues
in Kensington Gardens. The gate near which Valentine waited was not to be
seen from the windows of dining or drawing-room.
The housemaid ran off to summon Miss Paget; and in less than five minutes
Diana appeared, dressed in her hat and garden jacket.
"Will you come out into the road with me, dear?" asked Valentine. "I have
something serious to say to you."
"And I am so anxious to hear what the Doctor has said," answered Diana,
as she took Valentine's arm.
"The road before the Lawn was very quiet at this hour of the evening, and
here they were safely beyond Mr. Sheldon's ken.
"Tell me the Doctor's opinion, Valentine," Diana said, eagerly. "Does he
think the case very serious?"
"He does. It is more serious than you or I could have imagined, if
Providence had not helped me to discover the truth."
"What do you mean, Valentine?"
He gave her in brief the story of his day's work. She listened to him
breathlessly, but uttered no exclamation until his story was finished.
"It is most horrible," she said at last; "but I believe it is most true.
There has been so much in that man's conduct that has mystified me; and
_this_ explains all. But what earthly motive can have prompted this
"He believes that he has a beneficial interest in her death. I cannot
fully understand his motive; but, rely upon it, there is a motive, and a
sufficient one. And I have let that man delude me into belief in his
honesty after I had been warned against him! But there is no time for
regrets. Diana, I look to you to help me in saving my dear love."
"It is not too late to save her?"
"Dr. Jedd will commit himself to no positive statement. He tells me she
is in danger, but he does not refuse all hope. Now listen, my dear. In
that house I have only two people to help me--Ann Woolper and yourself.
Ann Woolper I hold only by a feeble bond. I think she will be true to us;
but I am not sure of her. Sheldon's influence over her is a powerful one;
and God knows what concession he might extort from her. She is the
ostensible guardian of Charlotte's room; you must contrive to be the real
guardian. You must keep custody over the custodian. How is your room
situated in relation to Charlotte's room?"
"The doors of the two rooms are exactly opposite."
"Providence favours us there. Can you keep watch over Charlotte's door
from your room without making your guardianship too apparent?"
"Day and night?"
"Day and night."
"God bless you, dear! Her life may be saved by your fidelity."
"I would do as much to render her a smaller service."
"My dear girl! And now go back to the house. Here is the medicine. You
will give that into Mrs. Woolper's hands; she has received her
instructions from Dr. Jedd, and those instructions leave no room for
doubt. If she permits Sheldon to tamper with the medicine or the food of
her patient, she will be the wilful accomplice of a murderer. I think she
may be trusted."
"I will watch her."
"The charge of procuring the medicine is mine. I shall come to this house
many times in the course of every day; but I am bound to prepare myself
for the hour in which Mr. Sheldon may forbid me his house. In that event
I shall come to this gate. I suppose the servants would stand by me if
you pleaded for me?"
"I am sure they would."
"And now, dear, go; the medicine is wanted. I shall come back in a few
hours to inquire if there is any change for the better. Go."
They had returned to the gate ere this. He grasped the hand which she
held out to him, and stood by the little gate watching her till she had
disappeared through the door of the servants' quarters. When the door
closed, he walked slowly away. He had done all that it was possible for
him to do, and now came his worst misery. There was nothing left for him
but to wait the issue of events.
What was he to do? Go home to his lodgings--eat, drink, sleep? Was it
possible for him to eat or to sleep while that precious life trembled in
the balance? He walked slowly along the endless roads and terraces in a
purposeless way. Careless people pushed against him, or he pushed against
them; children brushed past him as they ran. What a noisy, busy,
clattering world it seemed! And she lay dying! O, the droning, dreary
organs, and the hackneyed, common tunes, how excruciating they were to
He emerged into the high road by-and-by, in all the bustle and riot of
Netting Hill. The crowded shops, the clamorous people, seemed strange to
him. It was like the clamour of a foreign city. He walked on past the
bustle and riot, by the quieter terraces near Holland Park, and still
held on to Shepherd's Bush, where he went into a little public-house and
called for some brandy.
There was a bench on one side of the space in front of the bar, and
towards this he pushed his way.
"Where are you shoving to, my young swell?" growled a sturdy cabman,
indignant at the outrage inflicted by Valentine's elbows; but in the next
moment the sturdy cabman dashed suddenly forward and caught the young
swell in his strong arms.
"My eye, young un!" he cried; "where do you want to go to? Here, some one
bring a mug of cold water: I'm blest if he ain't in a fit!"
Happily it was no fit, only a dead faint into which Mr. Hawkehurst had
fallen. He came back to consciousness presently, after a few spoonfuls of
brandy had been forced into his mouth, and looked about him with a
"I'm jiggered if I don't believe he's fainted for the want of wittles!"
cried the cabman. "They keeps up till they drop, sometimes, these seedy
swells--walks about, lookin' like so many Dossays, on a hempty stomach.
Here, some one bring a plate o' cold meat, and look sharp about it. I'll
Valentine looked up with a faint smile.
"And I'll stand sam for anything you like to order, my friend," he said,
holding out his hand to the good-natured cabman. "I've eaten nothing
since last night; but I haven't fasted for want of money. There are worse
troubles than an empty pocket,--and I'm not unacquainted with _that_."
"I'm sure I beg your pardon, sir," said the man, sheepishly, very much
ashamed of his benevolence; "but, you see, it ain't the fust time I've
seen a swell come to the pavement with a cropper, in consequence of
having gone it too fast, and cleaned hisself out, in a manner of
NON DORMIT JUDAS.
The summer darkness closed round the Bayswater villa, but of sleep there
was little for any one in that household during this sad night. Is there
not, in almost every household, a memory of such days and nights--dread
intervals in which the common course of life and time seems to be
suspended, and all the interests of the universe hang upon the fitful
breath of one dear sufferer?
Lonely were the watchers in Mr. Sheldon's house. Georgy was in her own
room, forbidden to disturb the invalid by her restless presence--now
lying down, now pacing to and fro, now praying a little, now crying a
little--the very ideal of helpless misery.
In the sick-room there was no one but the invalid and Ann Woolper. In
the room opposite watched Diana Paget, her door ajar, her senses
sharpened by anxiety, quick to hear the faintest sound of footfall on
the stairs, or to feel the slightest vibration from stealthily opened
door on the story below.
Alone in the study sat Philip Sheldon, at the table where he was
accustomed to write--a blank sheet of paper before him, a pen held
loosely in his outstretched hand, and his eyes fixed in an unseeing gaze
upon the bookcase opposite--the living image of care. Now that the
turmoil of the day was done, and there was silence in the house, he had
set himself to face his position. It was no trifling task which he had to
perform. Not one difficulty, or one set of difficulties, had he to meet
and master. The armed enemies up-springing from the dragon's teeth which
he had sown were not to be set fighting amongst themselves, nor were they
to be smashed by any rocks that he could hurl amongst them. They stood
around him in an awful circle, and turn which way he would, he saw the
same appalling figure, armed to the teeth, and invincible as death.
What had he to fear?
Detection of a past crime? No, that was a fool's terror which shook him
at the sound of Tom Halliday's name--a child's fear of the nursery bogie.
Detection in the present was more to be dreaded. The work that he had
done was, according to his belief, work that could not be proved against
him. But there are crimes of which to be accused is to be condemned.
Lawyers may plead, and juries may acquit; but the fiat of public opinion
goes forth against the suspected wretch, and on _his_ forehead for ever
shows the dark brand of Cain.
For the criminal of almost every shade of colour, save this one dread
hue, society has a sanctuary and earth a refuge. The forger may find a
circle in which the signing of another man's name, under the pressure of
circumstances, is held to be a misfortune rather than an offence. The
swindler has the gentlemanly brotherhood and sisterhood of Macaire for
his family, and need never be lonely. The thief may dance away his jovial
nights among kindred spirits, and be carried to his grave by sorrowing
fellow-artists. The coiner may be jolly in his hiding-place among his
chosen band of brother coiners. But for the murderer there is no such
thing as human sympathy; and, when the blood of Nancy dyes his cruel
hand, Bill Sykes may thank God if he has a dog that will follow him to
his wretched end, for from mankind he can hope nothing.
Mr. Sheldon did not contemplate his position from any sentimental point
of view; but he told himself that to be suspected of having poisoned his
friend, and to be accused of poisoning, or attempting to poison, his
daughter, would be ruin--ruin social and commercial, ruin complete and
And having faced one of these dread armed antagonists, he passed on to
another shadowy enemy.
What if Charlotte recovered, and he escaped the taint of uttered
suspicion--for Dr. Jedd's private opinion he cared very little--what
Then the grim antagonist lifted his visor, and showed him the countenance
of Commercial Disgrace.
Unless within the next few weeks he could command from eight to ten
thousand pounds, his disgrace as a member of the Stock Exchange was
inevitable. Charlotte's death would give him the means of raising as much
upon the policies of assurance obtained by her, and which, by the terms
of her will, he would inherit. The life-insurance people might be
somewhat slow to settle his claims; but he had all possible facilities
for the raising of money upon any tangible security, and he could count
upon immediate cash, in the event of Charlotte's death.
But what if she should not die? What if this nameless languor, this
mysterious atrophy, taken vigorously in hand by Dr. Jedd, should be
vanquished, and the girl should live?
What indeed? A sharp spasm contracted the stockbroker's hard cold face as
he pictured to himself the result of failure.
He saw the crowd of busy faces in the House, and heard the low hum of
many voices, and the dull sound of the big half-glass doors swinging to
and fro, and the constant tread of hurrying feet. He heard the buzz of
voices and the tramp of feet stop as suddenly as if that busy tide of
human life had been arrested by an enchanter's wand. The enchanter is no
other than the head-waiter of the Stock Exchange, who takes his position
by a stand in the midst of that great meeting-place, and removes his hat.
After that sudden silence comes a faint sound of anxious whisperings; and
then again a second silence, still more profound, prevails in that
assembly. Three times, with wooden hammer sounding dull against the
woodwork of his stand, the waiter raps his awful rap. To some it is the
call of doom. The commercial Nemesis hides her awful countenance. Slow
and solemn sound those three deliberate strokes of the wooden hammer. You
can hear the stertorous breathing of an apoplectic stockbroker, the short
panting respiration of some eager speculator--the rest is silence. And
then the voice of the waiter--proxy for the commercial Nemesis--calmly
enunciates the dread decree.
"Philip Sheldon begs to inform the members of the House that he cannot
comply with his bargains."
A sudden flutter of the leaves of many note-books follows that awful
announcement. Voices rise loud in united utterance of surprise or
indignation. The doors swing to and fro, as hurrying members dash in and
out to scan the market and ascertain how far they may be affected by this
This was the scene which the watcher pictured to himself; and for him
Fate could wear no aspect more terrible. Respectability, solvency,
success--these were the idols to which he had given worship and tribute
in all the days of his life. To propitiate these inexorable ones he had
sacrificed all the dearest and best blessings which earth and heaven
offer to mankind. Best or happiness, as other men consider these
blessings, he had never known; the sense of triumph in success of the
present, the feverish expectation of success in the future--these had
stood to him in the place of love and hope, pleasure and idlesse, all the
joys and comforts of this lower world, and all the holy dreams of purer
pleasures in a world to come.
One vague brief thought of all that he had sacrificed flashed across
his brain; and swift upon his track followed the thought of what he
stood to lose.
Something more than his position upon the Stock Exchange was at stake. He
had done desperate things in the vain hope of sustaining that position
against the destroying sweep of Fortune's turning tide. Bills were afloat
which he must meet, or stand before the world a detected forger,--bills
drawn upon companies that were shadowy as the regions of their supposed
operations. Bills amounting to five thousand pounds, drawn, upon the
Honduras Mahogany Company, Limited; other bills amounting to upwards of
three thousand pounds, against the Pennsylvanian Anthracite Coal
Corporation, Limited. The sum he might raise on the policies of insurance
would about cover these bills; and, simultaneously with their withdrawal,
fresh bills might be floated, and the horse-leech cry of the brokers for
contango might be satisfied until there came a reaction in the City, and
the turning tide should float him into some harbour of safety. Beyond
this harbour shone a splendid beacon, the dead girl's inheritance--his,
to claim by right of the same will that would give him the sum insured
upon her life.
Without this immediate ready money there was no extraction from the
hideous labyrinth. His position had been already too long sustained by
bills of exchange. There were people in the City who wanted, in vulgar
parlance, to see the colour of his money. He knew this--and knew how
frail the tenure by which he held his position, and how dire the crash
which would hurl him down to ruin.
After the proclamation of his inability to meet his differences--the
Deluge: and, looking gloomily athwart the flood and tempest, he saw
neither ark nor Ararat.
Charlotte's death was the one chance of redemption; and to that event he
looked as to a figure in a mathematical proposition. Of this girl
herself, with all her wealth of beauty and goodness, of hope and love, he
had scarcely any definite idea. She had so long been no more to him than
an important figure in the mathematics of his life, that he had lost the
power to behold her in any other light.
The hardness of his nature was something lower than absolute cruelty of
heart. It was less human than the half-insane ferocity of a Nero. It was
a calm indifference to the waste of human life, which, displayed upon a
larger field of operation, would have made a monster cold and passionless
as Sphinx or Chimaera.
"I must see Ann Woolper," he said to himself, presently, "she will not
dare to exclude me from that room."
He listened to the striking of the Bayswater clocks. Two o'clock. Within
and without the house reigned a profound silence. The room immediately
over Mr. Sheldon's study was Charlotte's room, and here there had been
for a long time no sound of life or movement.
"Asleep, I dare say," muttered Mr. Sheldon, "invalid and nurse both."
He exchanged his boots for slippers, which he kept in a little cupboard
below the bookshelves, among old newspapers, and went softly from the
room. The gas was burning dimly on the stairs and on the landing above.
He opened the door of the invalid's room softly, and went in.
Mrs. Woolper was seated beside the bed. She looked up at him with
"I thought you was abed, sir," she said.
"No; I am too anxious to sleep."
"I think every one is anxious, sir," Mrs. Woolper answered, gravely.
"How is your patient?"
The pretty white curtains of the little brass Arabian bedstead were
"She is asleep, sir. She sleeps a great deal. The doctor said that was
"She has taken her medicine, I suppose?" said Mr. Sheldon.
He glanced round the room as he asked this question, but could see no
trace of medicine-bottle or glass.
"Yes, sir; she has taken it twice, the poor dear."
"Let me look at the medicine."
"The strange doctor said as I was to let no one touch it, sir."
"Very likely; but that direction doesn't apply to me."
"He said no one, sir."
"You are an old fool!" muttered Mr. Sheldon, savagely.
"Ah no, sir," the housekeeper answered, with a profound sigh; "I am wiser
than I was when poor Mr. Halliday died."
This answer, and the sigh, and the look of solemn sadness which
accompanied it, told him that this woman knew all. She had suspected him
long ago; but against her unsupported suspicion the mere force of his
character had prevailed. She was wiser now; for on this occasion
suspicion was confirmed by the voice of science.
He stood for a few minutes looking at his old nurse, with a dark moody
face. What could he feel except supreme indignation against this woman,
who dared to oppose him when he had the best right to rely on her
faithful service? She had promised him her fidelity, and at the first
hint from a stranger she coolly deserted him and went over to the enemy.
"Do you mean to say that you refuse to let me look at the medicine which
you have been giving to my stepdaughter?" he asked.
"I mean to say that I will obey the orders given me by the strange
doctor," the old woman answered, with a calm sadness of tone, "even if it
turns you against me--you that have given me a comfortable home when
there was nothing before me but the workhouse; you that I carried in my
arms forty years ago. If it was anything less than her dear life that was
in danger, sir, and if I hadn't stood by her father's deathbed, I
couldn't stand against you like this. But knowing what I do, I will stand
firm as a rock between you and her; and think myself all the more truly
your faithful servant because I do not fear to offend you."
"That's so much arrant humbug, Mrs. Woolper. I suppose you've made your
book with Miss Halliday and Miss Halliday's lover, and think you can
serve your turn best by sticking to them and throwing me over the bridge.
It's only the way of the world. You're genuine Yorkshire, and know how to
pack your cards for winning the trick. But suppose I were to spoil your
game by turning you out of doors neck and crop? What then?"
"I don't think you'll do that, sir."
"Why not, pray?"
"I don't think you dare do it, in the face of that strange doctor."
"You don't? And so Dr. Jedd is the master of this house, is he?"
"Yes, sir. Till that poor dear young lady is well again, if ever that day
comes, I think Dr. Jedd will be the real master in this house."
"By ----! Mrs. Woolper, you're a cool hand, I must say!"
He could say no more. Of passionate or declamatory language he had no
command. The symbols of thought that obtained in his world were of a
limited and primitive range.
"You're a cool hand," he repeated, under his breath. And then he turned
and left the room, opening and closing the door less cautiously than on
The door of the opposite room was opened softly as he came out into
the corridor, and Diana Paget stood before him, dressed as she had
been in the day.
"What!" he exclaimed, impatiently, "are you up too?"
"Yes, Mr. Sheldon. I cannot sleep while Lotta is so ill."
"Humph! I suppose you mean to get yourself on the sick-list, and give us
another invalid to nurse."
"I will not trouble you to nurse me if I should be ill."
"Ah!" growled the stockbroker, as he went to his own room, "you are a
pack of silly women altogether; and your fine friend Hawkehurst is more
womanish than the silliest of you. Goodnight."
He went into his own room, where he found his wife still awake. Her weak
lamentings and bewailings were insupportable to him; and at three o'clock
he went downstairs, put on his boots and a light overcoat, and went out
into the dim regions of Bayswater, whence he saw the sun rise red above
the eastern roofs and chimneys, and where he walked until the first
clatter of hoofs and roll of wheels began to echo through the empty
streets, and, with faint distant cries of sweeps and milk-women, life's
It was seven o'clock when he went back to his house, and let himself in
softly with his latchkey. He knew that he had been walking a long time,
and that he had seen the sun rise; but what streets or squares he had
been walking in he did not know. He crept upstairs to his dressing-room
with stealthy footsteps, and made an elaborate toilet. At eight o'clock
he was seated at breakfast in the hastily-arranged dining-room, with the
newspapers by the side of his cup and saucer. At nine he went into the
hall to receive Dr. Jedd and Dr. Doddleson, who arrived almost
simultaneously. His carefully-arranged hair and whiskers, his well made
unpretentious clothes, his spotless linen, would have done credit to an
archbishop. Of all the cares and calculations of his long dreary night
there was no trace, except a certain dulness in his eyes, and the dark
half-circles below them.
COUNTING THE COST.
For four days and four nights there were fear and watching in Mr.
Sheldon's house; and in all that time the master never quitted it, except
stealthily, in the dead of the night, or at early daybreak, to roam in a
purposeless manner he knew not where. The doctors came and went--Dr.
Doddleson once a day, Dr. Jedd two or three times a day--and every one in
villas adjoining and villas opposite, and even in villas round the
corner, knew that the stockbroker's stepdaughter lay sick unto death; for
the white horses of Dr. Jedd's landau were as the pale horse of the Pale
Rider himself, and where they came was danger or death. Ah, thank God! to
some they have brought hope and blessing; not always the dread answer,
"You have called me in vain."
Valentine Hawkehurst came many times in the day, but between him and Mr.
Sheldon there could be no safe meeting; and the lover came quietly to the
little gate, where a kindly housemaid gave him a little note from Diana
Paget. Miss Paget wrote half a dozen little notes of this kind in the
course of every day, but she never left her post in the room opposite the
sick-chamber. She complained of headache, or of some vague illness which
prevented her taking her meals in the dining-room, and Mr. Sheldon was
fain to be satisfied with this explanation of her conduct.
She was on guard; and the wretched master of the house knew that she was
on guard, and that if Ann Woolper could be bought over, or frightened
into compliance with his wishes, this girl would still remain, faithful
as watchdog, by the door of her friend and companion. He asked himself
whether by violent or diplomatic process, he could rid himself of this
second watcher; and the answer was in the negative. The circle around him
was a circle not to be broken.
His wife, as yet, had been told nothing of the suspicions that reigned in
the breasts of other people. He knew this; for in his wife's face there
was no token of that dark knowledge, and she, of all people, would be
least skilled to deceive his scrutinizing eyes. Nor had the younger
servants of his household any share in the hideous suspicion. He had
watched the countenance of the maid who waited on him, and had convinced
himself of this.
It was something to know that even these were not yet leagued against
him; but he could not tell at what moment they too might be sworn into
that secret society which was growing up against him in his own house.
Power to carry out his own schemes in the face of these people he felt
that he had none. Upon the dark road which he had travelled until of late
without let or hindrance, there had arisen, all at once, an
insurmountable barrier, with the fatal inscription, Here there is no
Beyond this barrier he could not pass. Sudden as the dread arrest of
Lot's wife was the mandate which had checked his progress. He was brought
to a dead stop; and there was nothing for him to do but to wait the issue
of Fate. He stood, defiant, unabashed, face to face with the figure of
Nemesis, and calmly awaited the lifting of the veil.
He hoped that Charlotte Halliday would die. If by her death he could tide
over his difficulties and drift into smooth water, it would be but a very
small thing to him that Dr. Jedd, and Dr. Doddleson enlightened by his
colleague, and Valentine Hawkehurst, and Diana Paget, and a stupid
pig-headed old Yorkshirewoman, should carry in their minds for the
remainder of their lives the suspicion that by his means that fair young
life had been brought to its early close.
What would it amount to in the future of his own existence? Prudential
considerations would induce these people to lock the secret of this
suspicion in their own breasts. Dr. Jedd would bow to him somewhat
coldly, perhaps, if they met in the streets of London, or possibly might
refuse to make any return to his passing salutation; but the cut direct
from Dr. Jedd would not cast a shadow over his commercial career, or even
weaken his social position. If, by the loud folly of Hawkehurst, some
evil rumour about him should float as far eastward as the Stock Exchange,
who would be found to give credence to the dark report? Men would shrug
their shoulders and shake their heads incredulously; and one of these
wise men of the east would remark that, "A fellow in Sheldon's position
doesn't do that kind of thing, you know;" while another would say, "I
dined with him at Greenwich last summer, and a remarkably good dinner he
gave us. Dawkins, the great shipbuilder, and M'Pherson, of M'Pherson and
Flinders, the Glasgow merchants, were there. Very jolly affair, I assure
you. Deuced gentlemanly fellow, Phil Sheldon." And so the matter would
Would there be an inquest in the event of his stepdaughter's death? Well,
no. Jedd knew that in such a case all _post-mortem_ inquiry must end in
confusion and perplexity, statement and counter-statement from medical
witnesses, who would contradict one another persistently in the support
of their pet theories, and who would regard the investigation as a very
convenient opportunity for ventilating their own opinions and airing
their own importance. A considerable number of the canine race would be
slaughtered, perhaps, in the process of dilettante experiments; the broad
principles of chemical science would be discussed from every point of
view, in innumerable letters published in the _Zeus,_ and the _Diurnal
Hermes_; and the fact that an amiable and innocent young woman had been
foully murdered would be swept out of the minds of mankind before a
whirlwind of technical debate. Jedd was the last man to stake his
reputation upon such a hazard. No: Mr. Sheldon knew that he had played a
cautious game; and if he should ultimately lose the stake for which he
had ventured, it would be because he had been just a little too cautious.
"These things are generally done too quickly," he said to himself. "My
mistake has been to make matters too slow."
Come what might, of after-consequences to himself from Charlotte
Halliday's illness or death he had no apprehension.
Thus it was that he met Dr. Jedd day after day with a face as calm as the
stony countenance of that distinguished physician himself. Such anxiety
as an affectionate stepfather should feel during the peril of his
stepdaughter Mr. Sheldon took care to express. Greater anxiety than this
by no look or gesture did he betray. He knew that he was watched; and
that the people about him were inimical to himself and to his interests;
and he was never off his guard.
It had been necessary for him to come to London in order to be within
easy reach of that troubled sea, the money-market. But perilous though
the voyage of his bark across that tempestuous ocean was, he could not
guide the helm in person. He was obliged to confide matters to the care
of Mr. Frederick Orcott, whom he harassed with telegraphic despatches at
all hours of the day, and who at this period seemed to spend his life
between the stockbroker's office and Bayswater.
It seemed as if Mr. Sheldon meant to hold his ground in that house until
the issue of events was determined. Valentine Hawkehurst and George
Sheldon met at the solicitor's offices, and there was a long and serious
consultation between them.
"One thing seems pretty clear," said George, conclusively, "and that is,
that my brother Phil isn't to be got off the premises except by some very
deep move. The question is, what move can be deep enough to trap such a
man as he? He's a man who knows the inside of your mind better than you
do yourself; and can reckon you up as easily as the simplest sum in
The two men talked together very seriously for some time after this, and
on the same day Valentine lay in wait for Dr. Jedd as he left Philip
Sheldon's house, and was driven back to town in that gentleman's
carriage. On the road there was much serious talk between Miss Halliday's
physician and Miss Halliday's lover. Valentine was still very grave and
very anxious when he took his leave of Dr. Jedd; but he was more hopeful
than he had been for the last few days.
On the same evening Gustave Lenoble received a brief epistle from his
"MY DEAR GUSTAVE,--I regret to find from your letter that the doctors
consider my father weaker than when I was last at Knightsbridge; but,
even knowing this, I cannot come to him just yet. The duty which detains
me here is even more sacred than his claim upon my care. And I know your
goodness to him, and feel that in you he has a better friend and
comforter than I could be to him. I thank you, dear, for your kindness to
this poor broken-down wanderer even more than for your generous devotion
to me. And now I am going to ask you a favour. It is, that you will
afford Mr. Hawkehurst, the person who will give you this letter, the help
of your friendship and counsel in very difficult and critical
circumstances, which he will explain to you. I have spoken to you of him
very little, though his devotion to my dear adopted sister, Charlotte
Halliday, brings him very near to me. Her long, and of late dangerous,
illness has been a bitter time of trial to him, even more than to me; but
the trial has proved him true as steel. I think your counsel may be of
some service to him just now, and I am sure your friendship will help to
support him in a period of acute anxiety.
"Do not ask to see me, dear Gustave. I _cannot_ leave this house while
Charlotte is in danger; but if it please God to remove that danger, I
shall then be free to go where I please, and my future life shall be at
your disposal. Do not think me cold or ungrateful; I am only faithful to
the first friend I ever knew.--Yours always, with all affection,
THE BEGINNING OF THE END.
Three days elapsed after the delivery of this letter. Upwards of a week
had gone by since the return of Mr. Sheldon and his family from Harold's
Hill: and as yet Philip Sheldon knew not what the issue of events was to
be. Very vague were the oracular sentences which his questioning extorted
from Dr. Jedd, and he had tried in vain to obtain a _tete-a-tete_
interview with Dr. Doddleson. The physician of Burlington Row took care
that his feeble colleague should not fall alone and defenceless into the
pathway of Philip Sheldon. Of Charlotte's actual condition her
stepfather, therefore, knew very little. He was told that her state was
attended by danger; and the solemn faces which greeted him on every side
implied that the danger was extreme. From her room he was in a manner
excluded. If he went to her door to make some benevolent and paternal
inquiry, he was met on the threshold by Ann Woolper, the sleepless and
unresting. If he hinted a natural desire to see his invalid stepdaughter,
he was told that she had that moment fallen asleep, or that she was too
ill to see him. There was always some plausible reason why he should not
be admitted to her room; and finding that this was so, he did not press
He had taken Mrs. Woolper's measure, and had found that she was too
strong for him; doubly strong since she was supported and sustained by
that second sleepless watcher, Diana Paget, whom Mr. Sheldon had long ago
pronounced to be a strong-minded and superior young person.
From his wife he could obtain no real information--nothing but weepings
and lamentations; weak apprehensions of future woe, weaker retrospective
reflections on the fatal illness and untimely end of her first husband.
Georgy was admitted once or twice a day to the sick-room; but she emerged
therefrom no wiser than she entered it. Sorrow in the present, and the
fear of greater sorrow to come, had utterly prostrated this poor weak
soul. She believed what other people told her to believe, she hoped what
they told her to hope. She was the very incarnation and express image of
So, in utter darkness of mind, Mr. Sheldon awaited his destiny. The day
drew very near on which he must find certain sums of ready money, or must
accept the dreary alternative of ruin and disgrace. He had the policies
of assurance in his cash-box, together with the will which made him
Charlotte's sole legatee; he had fixed in his own mind upon the man to
whom he could apply for an advance of four thousand pounds on one of the
two policies, and he relied on getting his banker to lend him money on
the security of the second. But for the one needful event he had yet to
wait. That event was Charlotte Halliday's death.
Of his dreary wanderings in the early morning the household knew nothing.
The time which he chose for these purposeless rambles was just the time
when no one was astir. The watchers in the two rooms above heard neither
his going out nor his coming in, so stealthy were his movements on every
occasion. But without this intermission from the dreadful concentration
of his life, without this amount of physical exercise and fresh air,
Philip Sheldon could scarcely have lived through this period. The
solitude of shipwrecked mariner cast upon a desolate island could hardly
be more lonely than this man's life had been since his return from
Harold's Hill. From his study to the dining-room, and from the
dining-room back to his study, was the only variety of his dreary days
and nights. He had an iron bedstead put up in his study, and there he lay
in the earlier hours of the night, taking such rest as he could from
fitful dozing that was scarcely sleep, or from brief intervals of heavy
slumber made horrible by torturing dreams.
In this room he could hear every sudden movement in the hall, every
footstep on the stairs, every opening and shutting of the outer door.
Here, too, he could keep his watch, holding himself ready to counter the
movements of his enemies, should any opportunity arise for action on his
part, defensive or aggressive.
To this room he stealthily returned one brilliant summer morning as the
clocks were striking six. He had been walking in the Bayswater Road,
amidst all the pleasant stir and bustle of early morning. Waggons coming
in from the country, milkwomen setting forth on their daily rounds,
clamorous young rooks cawing among the topmost branches of the elms,
song-birds chirruping and gurgling their glad morning hymn; and over all
things the glory and the freshness of the summer sunshine.
But to Philip Sheldon it was as if these things were not. For the last
twelve or fifteen years of his life he had taken no heed of the change
of the seasons, except insomuch as the passage of time affected his
bill-book, or the condition of that commercial world which was the
beginning and end of his life. Now, less than ever, had he an ear for
the carolling of birds, or an eye for the glory of summer sunlight, or
the flickering shadows of summer leaves faintly stirred by the soft
He re-entered his house with a half-dazed sense of the stir and life that
had been about him in the high road. It was a relief to him to escape
this life and brightness, and to take shelter in the gloom of his study,
where the shutters were closed, and only a faint glimmer of day crept
through a chink in the shrunken woodwork.
For the first time since the beginning of this dreary period of idleness
and suspense he felt himself thoroughly beaten, and instead of going up
to his dressing-room for his careful morning toilet, as it was his habit
to do at this hour, he flung himself, dressed as he was, upon the low
iron bedstead, and fell into a heavy slumber.
Yes, there they were--the familiar tortures of his slumbers, the
shadows of busy, eager faces; and upon all one universal expression of
mingled anger and surprise. The sound of a wooden hammer striking three
solemn strokes; the faint tones of Tom Halliday's voice, thanking him for
his friendly care; the dying look in Tom Halliday's face, turned to him
with such depth of trust and affection. And then across the shadowy
realm of dreams there swept the slow solemn progress of a funeral
_cortege_--plumed hearses, blacker than blackest night; innumerable
horses, with funereal trappings and plumed headgear waving in an icy
wind; long trains of shrouded figures stretching on into infinite space,
in spectral procession that knew neither beginning nor end. And in all
the solemn crowd passing perpetually with the same unceasing motion,
there was no sound of human footfall, no tramp of horse's hoof, only that
dismal waving of black plumage in an icy wind, and the deep boom of a
bell tolling for the dead.
He awoke with a start, and exclaimed, "If this is what it is to sleep, I
will never sleep again!"
In the next minute he recovered himself. He had been lying on his back.
The endless pageant, the dreadful tolling of the funeral bell, meant no
more than nightmare, the common torment of all humanity.
"What a fool I must be!" he muttered to himself, as he wiped his
forehead, which had grown cold and damp in the agony of his dream.
He opened the shutters, and then looked at the clock on the mantelpiece.
To his surprise he found that he had been sleeping three hours. It was
nine o'clock. He went upstairs to dress. There was an unusual stir in the
corridor above. Ann Woolper was standing there, with her hand on the door
of the sick-room, talking to Diana, who covered her face suddenly as he
approached, and disappeared into her own room.
The beating of his heart quickened suddenly. Something had happened to
disturb the common course of events. Something? What was likely to
happen, except the one dread circumstance for which he hoped and waited
with such horrible eagerness?
In Ann Woolper's solemn face he read an answer to his thought. For the
first time he was well nigh losing his self-possession. It was with an
effort that he steadied himself sufficiently to ask the usual
conventional question in the usual conventional tone.
"Is she any better this morning, Ann?"
"Yes, sir, she is much better," the Yorkshirewoman answered solemnly.
"She is where none can harm her now."
Yes; it was the usual periphrase of these vulgar people. He knew all
their cant by heart.
"You mean to say--she--is dead?"
He no longer tried to conceal his agitation. It was a part of his duty to
be agitated by the news of his stepdaughter's untimely death.
"O, sir, you may well be sorry," said the Yorkshirewoman, with deep
feeling. "She was the sweetest, most forgiving creature that ever came
into this world; and to the last no hard or cruel word ever passed her
innocent lips. Yes, sir, she is gone; she is beyond the power of any one
to harm her."
"All that sort of stuff is so much hypocritical twaddle, Mrs. Woolper,"
muttered Mr. Sheldon impatiently; "and I recommend you to keep it for the
chaplain of the workhouse in which you are likely to end your days. At
what time--did--did this--sad event--happen?
"About an hour ago."
In the very hour when, in his hideous dream, he had beheld the solemn
funeral train winding on for ever through the dim realms of sleep. Was
there some meaning in such foolish shadows, after all?
"And why was I not sent for?"
"You were asleep, sir. I came downstairs myself, and looked into your
room. You were fast asleep, and I wouldn't disturb you."
"That was very wrong; but it was of a piece with the rest of your
conduct, which has been from first to last antagonistic to me. I suppose
I can see my stepdaughter now," Mr. Sheldon added, with a grim smile.
"There is no further excuse--about headache--or sleep."
"No, sir, you cannot see her yet. In an hour, if you wish to come into
this room, you can come."
"You are extremely obliging. I begin to doubt whether I am really in my
own house. In an hour, then, I will come. Where is my wife?"
"In her own room, sir, lying down; asleep, I believe."
"I will not disturb her. How about the registration, by-the-by? That
must be seen to."
"Dr. Jedd has promised to attend to that, sir."
"Has Dr. Jedd been here?"
"He was here an hour ago."
"Very good. And he will see to that," muttered Mr. Sheldon thoughtfully.
The event for which he had been so long waiting seemed at the last a
little sudden. It had shaken his nerves more than he had supposed it
possible that they could be shaken.
He went to his dressing-room, and on this occasion made a very hasty
toilet. The event had been tardy, and he had no time to lose in
discounting it now that it had come to pass. He went from his
dressing-room back to his study, took the jacket containing the policies
of assurance and the will from the deed-box, and left the house.
CONFUSION WORSE CONFOUNDED.
A cab conveyed Mr. Sheldon swiftly to a dingy street in the City--a
street which might have been called the pavement of wasted footsteps, so
many an impecunious wretch tramped to and fro upon those dreary flags in
The person whom Mr. Sheldon came to see was a distinguished
bill-discounter, who had served him well in more than one crisis, and on
whose service he fancied he could now rely.
Mr. Kaye, the bill-discounter, was delighted to see his worthy friend Mr.
Sheldon. He had just come up from his family at Brighton, and had quite a
little court awaiting him in an outer chamber, through which Mr. Sheldon
had been ushered to the inner office.
"It's rather early for such a visitor as you," Mr. Kaye said, after a few
commonplaces. "I have not been in town half an hour."
"My business is too important for any consideration about hours,"
answered Mr. Sheldon, "or I should not be here at all. I have just come
from the deathbed of my wife's daughter."
"Indeed!" exclaimed the bill-discounter, looking inexpressibly
shocked. Until that moment he had lived in supreme ignorance of the
fact that Mr. Sheldon had a stepdaughter; but his sorrow-stricken
expression of countenance might have implied that he had known and
esteemed the young lady.
"Yes, it's very sad," said Mr. Sheldon; "and something more than sad for
me. The poor girl had great expectations, and would have come into a very
fine fortune if she had lived a year or two longer."
"Ha! dear me, how very unfortunate! Poor young lady!"
"Jedd and Doddleson--you know them by repute, of course--have been
attending her for the last six weeks. There will be no end of expense for
me; and it has been all of no use."
"Consumption, I suppose?"
"Well, no; not pulmonary disease. A kind of atrophy. I scarcely know what
to call it. Now, look here, Kaye. This illness has thrown all my affairs
into a muddle. Taken in conjunction with the depressed state of the
money-market, it has been altogether an upset for me. I have been staying
at home looking after this poor girl and my wife--who of course is
dreadfully cut up, and that sort of thing--when I ought to have been in
the City. Luckily for me, and for my wife, in whose interests I acted, I
took the precaution to get her daughter's life insured eight or nine
months ago; in point of fact, immediately after finding she was
heir-at-law to a considerable fortune. The policy is for five thousand
pounds. I want you to give me four thousand immediately upon the strength
of the document and of my stepdaughter's will."
"Give you four thousand!" exclaimed Mr. Kaye, with a little unctuous
laugh. "Do you suppose I keep such a balance as that at my banker's?"
"I suppose that you can give me the money if you like."
"I might be able to get it for you."
"Yes; that's a kind of humbug a hundred years old. We've heard all about
little Premium and his friend in the City, and so on, from that man who
wrote plays and cut a figure in Parliament. You can give me the money on
the spot if you like, Kaye; and if I didn't want ready money very badly I
shouldn't come to you. The insurance company will give me five thousand
in a month or two. I can give you my bill at two months' date, and
deposit the policy in your hands as collateral security. I might get this
money from other quarters--from my bankers', for instance; but I don't
want to let them know too much."
Mr. Kaye deliberated. He had assisted Mr. Sheldon's financial operations,
and had profited thereby. Money advanced upon such a security must be as
safe as money invested in Consols, unless there were anything doubtful in
the circumstances of the policy; and that, with a man of Mr. Sheldon's
respectability, was to the last degree unlikely.
"When do you want this money?" he asked at last.
"At the beginning of next week. On the twenty-fifth at latest."
"And this is the twentieth. Sharp work."
"Not at all. You could give me the money this afternoon, if you pleased."
"Well, I'll think it over. It's a matter in which I feel myself bound to
take my solicitor's opinion. Suppose you meet him here to-morrow at
twelve o'clock? You can bring the necessary evidence to support the
claim--the doctor's and registrar's certificate, and so on?"
"Yes," Mr. Sheldon answered, thoughtfully; "I will bring the documentary
evidence. To-morrow at twelve, then."
Very little more was said. Mr. Sheldon left the will and the policy in
the bill-discounter's possession, and departed. Things had gone as
smoothly as he could fairly expect them to go. From Mr. Kaye's office he
went to the Unitas Bank, where he had a very friendly, but not altogether
satisfactory, interview with the secretary. He wanted the Unitas people
to advance him money on the strength of the second policy of assurance;
but his balance had been very low of late, and the secretary could not
promise compliance with his desires. Those Unitas shares valued at five
thousand pounds, which he had transferred to his beloved stepdaughter,
had been retransferred by the young lady some months before, with a view
to the more profitable investment of the money.
This money, as well as all else that Philip Sheldon could command, had
gone to the same bottomless pit of unlucky speculation. From the bank the
stockbroker went to his office, where he saw Frederick Orcott, to whom he
announced his stepdaughter's death with all due appearance of sorrow. He
sat for an hour in his office, arranging his affairs for the following
day, then sent for another cab, and drove back to Bayswater. The noonday
press and noise of the City seemed strange to him, almost as they might
have seemed to a man newly returned from lonely wanderings in distant
The blinds were down at the Lawn. His own handsome bedchamber and
adjoining dressing-room faced the road, and it was at the windows of
these two rooms he looked. He fancied his weak foolish wife wailing and
lamenting behind those lowered blinds.
"And I shall have to endure her lamentations," he thought, with a
shudder. "I shall have no further excuse for avoiding her. But, on the
other hand, I shall have the pleasure of giving Mrs. Woolper and Miss
Paget notice to quit."
He derived a grim satisfaction from this thought. Yes; insolence from
those two women he would endure no longer. The time had come in which he
would assert his right to be master in his own house. The game had been
played against him boldly by Jedd and these people, and had been lost by
them. He was the winner. He could not dismiss doctors, nurse, friend,
lover. Charlotte Halliday's death made him master of the situation.
He went into his house with the determination to assert his authority at
once. Within all was very quiet. He looked into the dining-room--it was
quite empty; into the study--also empty. He went slowly upstairs,
composing his face into the appropriate expression. At the door of that
chamber which to him should have seemed of all earthly chambers the most
awful, he knocked softly.
There was no answer.
He knocked a little louder, but there was still no answer. A little
louder again, and with the same result.
"Is there no one there?" he asked himself. "No one, except--?"
He opened the door, and went in, with unshaken nerves, to look upon that
one quiet sleeper whom his summons could not awaken, whom his presence
could not disturb.
There was no nurse or watcher by the bed. Everything was arranged with
extreme neatness and precision; but it seemed to him that there were
objects missing in the room, objects that had been familiar to him during
the dead girl's illness, and which were associated with her presence,--
the clock that had stood on the table by her bed, a stand of books, a low
easy-chair, with embroidered cover worked by her mother and Diana Paget.
The room looked blank and empty without these things, and Mr. Sheldon
wondered what officious hand had removed them.
Yonder stood the pretty little bedstead, shrouded by closely drawn white
curtains. Philip Sheldon walked slowly across the room, and drew aside
one of the curtains. He had looked upon the death-sleep of Charlotte
Halliday's father, why not upon hers?
She was not there! Those closely drawn curtains shrouded only the bed on
which she had slept in the tranquil slumbers of her careless girlhood.
That cold lifeless form, whose rigid outline Philip Sheldon had steeled
himself to see, had no place here.
He put his hand to his head, bewildered. "What does it mean?" he asked
himself; "surely she died in this room!"
He went hurriedly to his wife's room. They had taken Charlotte there,
perhaps, shortly before her death. Some feverish fancy might have
possessed her with the desire to be taken thither.
He opened the door and went in; but here again all was blank and empty.
The room was arranged after its usual fashion; but of his wife's presence
there was no token. His sense of mystification and bewilderment grew
suddenly into a sense of fear. What did it mean? What hellish fooling had
he been the dupe of?
He went to Diana's room. That, too, was empty. A trunk and a portmanteau,
covered and strapped as if for removal, occupied the centre of the room.
There was no other room upon this floor. Above this floor there were only
the rooms of the servants.
He went downstairs to the dining-room and rang the bell The parlour-maid
came in answer to his summons.
"Where is your mistress?" he asked.
"Gone out, sir; she went at eight o'clock this morning. And O, if you
please, sir, Dr. Jedd called, and said I was to give you this--with the
The certificate! Yes, the certificate of Charlotte Halliday's death,--the
certificate which he must produce to-morrow, with other evidence, for the
satisfaction of the bill-discounter and his legal adviser. He stared at
the girl, still possessed by the sense of bewilderment which had come
upon him on seeing those empty rooms upstairs. He took the letter from
her almost mechanically, and tore it open without looking at the address.
The certificate dropped to the ground. He picked it up with a tremulous
hand, and for some moments stood staring at it with dazzled, unseeing
eyes. He could see that it was a document with dates and names written in
a clerkly hand. For some moments he could see no more. And then words and
names shone out of the confusion of letters that spun and whirled, like
motes in the sunshine, before his dazzled eyes.
"Valentine Hawkehurst, bachelor, author, Carlyle Terrace, Edgware Road,
son of Arthur Hawkehurst, journalist; Charlotte Halliday, spinster, of
the Lawn, Bayswater, daughter of Thomas Halliday, farmer."
He read no more.
It was a copy of a certificate of marriage--not a certificate of
death--that had been brought to him.
"You can go," he said to the servant hoarsely.
He had a vague consciousness that she was staring at him with curious
looks, and that it was not good for him to be watched by any one just
"About dinner, sir, if you please?" the young woman began timidly.
"What do I know about dinner?"
"You will dine at home, sir?"
"Dine at home? Yes; Mrs. Woolper can give you your orders."
"Mrs. Woolper has gone out, sir. She has gone for good, I believe, sir;
she took her boxes. And Miss Paget's luggage will be sent for, if you
please, sir. There's a letter, sir, that Mrs. Woolper left for you on the
"She was very good. That will do; you can go."
The girl departed, bewildered like her fellow-servants by the strangeness
of the day's proceedings, still more bewildered by the strangeness of her
"THERE IS A WORD WILL PRIAM TURN TO STONE."
When the servant was gone, Mr. Sheldon sat down and examined the document
she had given him.
Yes, it was in due form. A certified copy of the certificate
of a marriage performed that morning at the church of St.
Matthias-in-the-fields, Paddington, and duly witnessed by the registrar
of that parish. If this document were indeed genuine, as to all
appearance it was, Valentine Hawkehurst and Charlotte Halliday had been
married that morning; and the will and the policy of assurance deposited
with Mr. Kaye the bill-discounter were so much waste-paper.
And they had fooled him, Philip Sheldon, as easily as this! The furious
rage which he felt against all these people, and, more than against them,
against his own besotted folly for allowing himself to be so fooled, was
a sharper agony than had ever yet rent his cruel heart. He had been a
scoundrel all his life, and had felt some of the pains and penalties of
his position; but to be a defeated scoundrel was a new sensation to him;
and a savage impotent hate and anger against himself and the universe
took possession of his mind.
He walked up and down the room for some time, abandoned wholly to the
ungovernable rage that consumed him, and with no thought beyond that
blind useless fury. And then there came upon him the feeling that was
almost a part of his mind--the consciousness that something must be done,
and promptly. Whatever his position was, he must face it. His hurried
pacing to and fro came to a sudden stop, and he took the crumpled
document from his packet, and examined it once more.
There seemed little doubt that it was genuine; and a visit to the church
where the marriage was stated to have been performed would immediately
place the matter beyond all doubt. With the copy of the certificate, he
had taken from his pocket the letter that had enclosed it. He saw now
that the envelope was addressed in Hawkehurst's hand.
"Favoured by Dr. Jedd," he had written in a corner of the envelope.
Why should Dr. Jedd "favour" Mr. Hawkehurst's letter? Why, indeed, unless
there had been a conspiracy concocted by these men against his authority
and his interests?
Valentine's letter was brief and business-like.
"SIR,--With the full approbation of her mother and only near relation, my
dear Charlotte has this day become my wife. The enclosed attested copy of
the certificate of our marriage will afford you all particulars. I shall
refrain from entering upon any explanation of my conduct; and I believe
such explanation to be wholly unnecessary. You can scarcely fail to
understand why I have acted in this manner, and why I congratulate myself
and my dear wife on her departure from your house as on an escape from
imminent peril. It will be, I fear, little satisfaction to you to hear
that the doctors have pronounced your stepdaughter to be out of danger,
though still in very weak health. She is now comfortably established in a
temporary home, with her mother and Diana Paget; and in all probability
some months must elapse before she and I can begin our new life together.
To afford my darling girl the legal protection of marriage was the object
of this sudden and secret union. You, of all men, will most fully
comprehend how necessary such protection had become to ensure her safety.
"Should you, however, require farther enlightenment as to the motives
that prompted this step, Dr. Jedd will be the fittest person to give you
such information; and has expressed his willingness to answer any
questions you may please to put to him.
"For the rest, I beg to assure you that the rights of Mrs. Hawkehurst in
relation to the inheritance of the late John Haygarth's wealth will be as
carefully protected as those of Miss Halliday; nor will the hasty
marriage of this morning hinder the execution of any deed of settlement
calculated to guard her interests in the future.
"With this assurance, I remain, sir,
Your obedient servant,
Carlyle Terrace, Edgware Road."
Enclosed with this there was a second letter--from his wife.
He read it with a countenance that expressed mingled anger and contempt.
"Fool!" he muttered; "this is about the only service she could do me."
The letter was long and incoherent; blotted with tears--in places
completely illegible. Mr. Sheldon cared only to master the main facts
contained in it, which were these:--His wife had left him for ever. Dr.
Jedd and Valentine Hawkehurst had told her of something--something that
affected the safety of her darling and only child--and the knowledge of
which must separate her for ever from him. Of the money which she had
brought to him she claimed nothing. Even her jewels, which were in his
keeping, in the iron safe where he kept his papers, she did not attempt
to obtain from him. Valentine would not allow her to starve. The humblest
shelter, the poorest food, would suffice her in the future; but no home
of his providing could she ever inhabit again.
"What I have suffered in this last few days is only known to myself and
to heaven," she wrote. "O Philip, how could you--how could you even shape
the thought of such a deed as this, which you have been doing, day after
day, for the last two months? I could not have believed what they have
told me, if I had not seen my child fade hour by hour under your care,
slowly, surely--and recover as surely directly you were excluded from any
part in our care of her. If it were possible not to believe these people,
I would disbelieve them, and would cling to you faithfully still; but the
voices against you are too many, the proofs against you are too strong.
"Do not seek to see me. I am with my poor child, who was but just able to
bear the removal from your house, and to go through the ceremony that was
performed this morning. Little did I ever think my daughter would have
such a wedding. What a mockery all my plans seem now!--and I had chosen
the six bridesmaids, and arranged all the dresses in my own mind. To see
my dear girl dressed anyhow, in her oldest bonnet, standing before the
altar huddled up in a shawl, and given away by a strange doctor, who kept
looking at his watch in a most disrespectful manner during the ceremony,
was very bitter to me."
Mr. Sheldon flung aside the letter with an oath. He had no time to waste
upon such twaddle as this. He tore open Nancy Woolper's letter. It was a
poor honest scrawl, telling him how faithfully she had served him, how
truly she had loved him in the past, and how she could henceforth serve
him no more. It exhorted him, in humble ill-spelt phrases, to repentance.
It might not yet be too late even for such a sinner as he had been.
He tore these two epistles into infinitesimal fragments, and flung them
into the fireplace. Valentine Hawkehurst's letter he kept. It was a
document of some legal importance.
For a moment there had flashed across his brain the thought that he might
punish these people for their interference with his affairs. He might
bring an action against Dr. Jedd for slander, and compel the physician to
prove the charges insinuated against him, or pay the penalty attendant
upon an unjustifiable accusation. He was well assured that Dr. Jedd could
prove very little; and a jury, if properly worked, might award him
But on the other hand, the circumstantial evidence against him was very
strong; and evidence which might be insufficient to prove him guilty in a
trial for his life might be a sufficient defence for his enemies against
an action for slander; if, indeed, the course which Dr. Jedd and
Valentine Hawkehurst had taken did in itself constitute a slanderous and
malicious imputation. Nor could any such action invalidate the marriage
solemnized that morning; and that one fact comprised his utter ruin.
Charlotte's interests were merged in the interests of her husband. No
shadow of claim upon John Haygarth's wealth remained to him.
His ruin was complete and dire. For a long time his circumstances had
been desperate--no avenue of escape open to him but the one dark way
which he had trodden; and now that last road was closed against him. The
day was very near at hand when his fictitious bills on shadowy companies
must be dishonoured; and with the dishonour of those bills came the end
of all things for him,--a complete revelation of all those dishonest
artifices by which he had kept his piratical bark afloat on the
He surveyed his position in every light, calmly and deliberately, and saw
there was no hope. The whole scheme of his existence was reduced to the
question of how much ready-money he could carry out of that house in his
pocket, and in what direction he should betake himself after leaving it.
His first care must be to ascertain whether the marriage described in the
duplicate certificate had really taken place; his next, to repossess
himself of the papers left with Mr. Kaye.
Before leaving the house he went to his study, where he examined his
banker's book. Yes, it was as they had told him at the bank. He was
overdrawn. Among the letters lying unopened on his writing-table he found
a letter from one of the officials of the Unitas, calling his attention,
politely and respectfully, to that oversight upon his part. He read the
letter, and crumpled it into his pocket with an angry gesture.
"I am just about as well off now as I was twelve years ago, before Tom
Halliday came to Fitzgeorge Street," he said to himself; "and I have the
advantage of being twelve years older."
Yes, this is what it all came to, after all. He had been travelling in a
circle. The discovery was humiliating. Mr. Sheldon began to think that
his line of life had not been a paying one.
He opened his iron safe, and forced the lock of the jewel-case in which
his wife had kept the few handsome ornaments that he had given her in the
early days of their marriage, as a reward for being good--that is to say,
for allowing her second husband to dispose of her first husband's
patrimony without let or hindrance. The jewels were only a few rings, a
brooch, a pair of earrings, and a bracelet; but they were good of their
kind, and in all worth something like two hundred pounds.
These, and the gold chronometer which he carried in his waistcoat-pocket,
constituted all the worldly wealth which Mr. Sheldon could command, now
that the volcanic ground upon which his commercial position had been
built began to crumble beneath his feet, and the bubbling of the crater
warned him of his peril. He put the trinkets into his pocket without
compunction, and then went upstairs to his dressing-room, where he
proceeded to pack his clothes in a capacious portmanteau, which in itself
might constitute his credentials among strangers, so eminently
respectable was its appearance.
In this dread crisis of his life he thought of everything that affected
his own interests. To what was he going? That question was for the moment
unanswerable. In every quarter of the globe there are happy
hunting-grounds for the soldier of fortune. Some plan for the future
would shape itself in his mind by-and-by. His wife's desertion had left
him thoroughly independent. He had no tie to restrain his movements,
nothing to dread except such proceedings as might be taken against him by
the holders of those bills. And such proceedings are slow, while modern
locomotion is swift.
What was he leaving? That was easily answered. A labyrinth of debt and
difficulty. The fine house, the handsome furniture, were held in the same
bondage of the law as his household goods in Fitzgeorge Street had been.
He had given a bill of sale upon everything he possessed six months
before, to obtain ready-money. The final terrible resource had not been
resorted to until all other means had been exhausted. Let this fact at
least be recorded to his credit. He was like the lady whom the poet
To make a wash would _hardly_ boil a child:"
that is to say, she would try all other materials for her cosmetic
preparation first; and if they failed, would at last resort, unwillingly,
to the boiling of children.
No; he had nothing to lose by flight--of that fact it was easy for him to
He went downstairs, and rang for the servant.
"I am going out," he said, "to join my wife and her daughter, and return
with them to the sea-side. There is a portmanteau upstairs in my room,
ready packed. You will give it to the messenger I shall send in the
course of the next day or two. At what time did Mrs. Sheldon and Miss
Halliday leave this morning?"
"At eight o'clock, sir. Mr. Hawkehurst came to fetch them in a carriage.
They went out by the kitchen passage and the side gate, sir, because you
were asleep, Mrs. Woolper said, and was not to be disturbed."
"At eight. Yes. And Mrs. Woolper and Miss Paget?"
"They went a'most directly after you was gone out, sir. There was two
cabs to take Miss Halliday's and Mrs. Sheldon's things, and such
like,--just as there was when you came from Harold's Hill."
"Yes; I understand."
He was half inclined to ask the young woman if she had heard the
direction given to the drivers of these two cabs. But he refrained from
doing so. What could it profit him to know where his wife and
stepdaughter were to be found? Whether they were in the next street or at
the antipodes could matter very little to him, except so far as the
knowledge of their place of habitation might guide him in his avoidance
of them. Between him and them there was a gulf wider than all the waters
of the world, and to consider them was only foolish waste of time and
thought. He left the house, which for the last five years of his life had
been the outward and visible sign of his social status, fully conscious
that he left it for ever; and he left it without a sigh. For him the word
home had no tender associations, and the domestic hearth had never
inspired him with any sense of comfort or pleasure with which he might
not have been inspired by the luxurious fireside of a first-class
coffee-room. He was a man who would have chosen to spend his existence in
joint-stock hotels, if there had not been solidity of position to be
acquired from the possession of a handsome house.
He went to the Paddington church. It was only five o'clock in the
afternoon by the clock of that edifice. The church was closely shut, but
Mr. Sheldon found the clerk, who, in consideration of a handsome
donation, took him to the vestry, and there showed him the register of
marriages--the last entry therein.
Yes, there was Charlotte Halliday's signature, a little uncertain and
"I suppose you are one of the young lady's relations, sir," said the
clerk. "It was rather a strange affair; but the young lady's ma was with
her; and the young lady was over age, so, you see, there's nothing to be
said against it."
Mr. Sheldon had nothing to say against the marriage. If any false
statement of his, however base or cruel, could have invalidated the
ceremonial, he would have spared no pains to devise such a falsehood. If
he had been a citizen of the Southern States, he might have suborned
witnesses to prove that there was black blood in the veins of Valentine
Hawkehurst. If he had not been opposed to so strong an opponent as Dr.
Jedd, he might have tried to get a commission of lunacy to declare
Charlotte Halliday a madwoman, and thus invalidate her marriage. As it
was, he knew that he could do nothing. He had failed. All was said in
those three words.
He wasted no time at the church, but hurried on to the City, where he was
just in time to catch Mr. Kaye leaving his office.
"Have you sent those papers to your solicitor?" he asked.
"No; I was just going to take them round to him. I have been thinking
that it will be necessary to ascertain that there is no will of Miss
Halliday's subsequent to this; and that will be rather difficult to find
out. Women never know when to leave off making wills, if they once begin
making them. They have a positive rage for multiplying documents, you
know. If the testator in that great codicil case had been a woman, a jury
would scarcely have refused to believe in the story of half a dozen
different codicils hidden away in half a dozen different holes and
corners. Women like that sort of thing. Of course, I quite understand
that you bring me the will in all good faith; but I foresee difficulties
in raising money upon such a security."
"You need give yourself no further trouble about the matter," said Mr.
Sheldon coolly. "I find that I can do without the money, and I've come to
reclaim the papers."
Mr. Kaye handed them to his client. He was not altogether pleased by this
turn of affairs; for he had expected to profit considerably by Mr.
Sheldon's necessities. That gentleman honoured him with no further
explanations, but put the papers in his pocket, and wished the
bill-discounter good day.
And this was the last time that Philip Sheldon was ever seen in his
character of a solid and respectable citizen of London. He went from the
bill-discounter's office to a pawnbroker in the City, with whom he
pledged Georgy's trinkets and his own watch for the sum of a hundred and
twenty pounds. From the pawnbroker's he went back to Bayswater for his
portmanteau, and thence to the Euston Hotel, where he dined temperately
in the coffee-room. After dinner he went out into the dull back streets
that lurk behind Euston Square, and found an obscure little barber's
shop, where he had his whiskers shaved off, and his hyacinthine locks
cropped as close as the barber's big scissors could crop them.
The sacrifice of these hirsute adornments made an extraordinary change
in this man. All the worst characteristics of his countenance came out
with a new force; and the face of Mr. Sheldon, undisguised by the
whiskers that had hidden the corners of his mouth, or the waving locks
that had given height and breadth to his forehead, was a face that no one
would be likely to trust.
From the Euston Station he departed by the night mail for Liverpool,
under the cover of darkness. In that city he quietly awaited the
departure of the Cunard steamer for New York, and was so fortunate as to
leave England one day before that fatal date on which the first of his
fictitious bills arrival at maturity.
Book the Tenth.
HARBOUR, AFTER MANY SHIPWRECKS.
OUT OF THE DARK VALLEY.
Not with pomp or with splendour, with rejoicing or strewing of summer
blossoms in the pathway of bride and bridegroom, had the marriage of
Valentine and Charlotte been solemnized. Simple and secret had been the
ceremonial, dark with clouds was the sky above them; and yet it is
doubtful if happier bridegroom ever trod this earth than Valentine
Hawkehurst as he went to his lonely lodging under the starry summer sky,
after leaving his young wife to her mother's care in the new home that
had been found for them.
He had reason to rejoice; for he had passed through the valley of the
shadow of death. He had seen, very near, that dread presence before which
the angels of faith and love can avail nothing. Fearless as Alcides had
he gone down to the realms of darkness; triumphant and glad as the
demigod he returned from the under-world, bearing his precious burden in
his strong arms. The struggle had been dire, the agony of suspense a
supreme torture; but from the awful contest the man came forth a better
and a wiser man. Whatever strength of principle had been wanting to
complete the work of reformation inaugurated by love, had been gained by
Valentine Hawkehurst during the period of Charlotte's illness. His
promised wife, his redeeming angel, she for whose affection he had first
learned to render thanks to his God, had seemed to be slipping away from
him. In the happiest hour of his prosperous courtship he had known
himself unworthy of her, with no right, no claim, to so fair a prize,
except the right of pure and unselfish love. When the hour of trial came
to him he had said, "Behold the avenger!" and in that hour it seemed to
him that a lurking anticipation of future woe had been ever present with
him in the midst of his happiness,--it seemed so natural, go reasonable
that this treasure should be taken away from him. What had he done, that
he should go unpunished for all the errors and follies of his youth?
He looked back, and asked himself if he had been so vile a sinner as in
these hours of self-reproach he was inclined to esteem himself? Could his
life have been otherwise? Had he not been set in a groove, his young feet
planted in the crooked ways, before he knew that life's journey might be
travelled by a straighter road?
Alas, the answer given at the tribunal of conscience went against him!
Other men had come into this world amidst surroundings as bad, nay,
indeed, worse than the surroundings of his cradle. And of these men some
had emerged from their native mire spotless and pure as from newly-fallen
snow. The natural force of character which had saved these men had not
been given to him. His feet had been set in the crooked ways, and he had
travelled on, reckless, defiant, dimly conscious that the road was a bad
one, and that his garments were bespattered with more mud-stains than
would be agreeable to some travellers.
It was only when the all-powerful influence of love was brought to bear
upon this plastic nature that Valentine Hawkehurst became fully awakened
to the degradation of his position, and possessed with an earnest desire
to emerge from the great dismal swamp of bad company. Then, and then
only, began the transformation which was ultimately to become so complete
a change. Some influence, even beyond that of happy love, was needed to
give force to this man's character; and in the great terror of the last
three months that influence had been found. The very foundations of
Valentine Hawkehurst's life had been shaken, and, come what might, he
could never be again what he had been.
He had almost lost her. All was said in that. She had been almost taken
from him--she, who to this man was father, mother, wife, household, past,
present, future, glory, ambition, happiness--everything except that God
who ruled above and held her life and his peace in the hollow of His
hand. He had been face to face with death; and never, in all the years to
come--never in the brightest hour of future happiness, could he forget
the peril that had come upon him, and might come again. He had learned to
understand that he held her, not as a free gift, but as a loan--a
treasure to be reclaimed at any moment by the God who lent her.
The darksome valley was past, and Valentine stood by his darling's side,
safe upon the sunlit uplands.
The doctors had declared their patient safe. The hour of danger had been
passed in safety, and the mischief worked by the poisoner's slow process
had been well nigh counteracted by medical skill.
"In six weeks' time you may take your wife for her honeymoon tour, Mr.
Hawkehurst, with her health and spirits thoroughly re-established,"
said Dr. Jedd.
"What is that you say about honeymoon tours?" cried Gustave Lenoble.
"Hawkehurst and his wife will spend their honeymoon at Cotenoir; is it
Diana replied that it was to be, and must be so.
It was impossible to imagine a happier party than that which met day
after day in those pleasant lodgings at Kilburn, wherein Georgy and Diana
and Charlotte had been established with much devotion and care on the
parts of Valentine and Gustave. Mr. Hawkehurst had chosen the apartments,
and M. Lenoble had spent the day before the wedding in rushing to and fro
between the West End and Kilburn, carrying hot-house flowers, comestibles
of all kinds from Fortnum and Mason's, bonbon boxes, perfumery, new
books, new music, and superintending the delivery of luxurious
easy-chairs, hired from expensive upholsterers, a grand piano, and a
"We will have music in the evenings," he said to Diana, upon her
expressing surprise on beholding these arrangements, "when we are
assembled here, all. How thou dost open thine eyes on beholding these
nothings! Do you think it has been no pleasure to me to testify my
affection for one who has been so good to thee--thy friend, thine
adopted sister? I wished that all things should look bright around her,
when they brought her here, after that she had come to escape from the
jaws of death. And thou, was it not that thou wert also coming to make
thy home here for some days, until thy day of marriage? Thy father
astonishes himself to hear of such sudden events. Thou wilt go to see
him, soon, is it not?"
"Yes, dear Gustave. I will go to-morrow."
She went on the next day, and found Captain Paget much weaker than on her
It was evident that for him the end was very near. He was much changed
and subdued by his long illness; but the spirit of worldliness had not
been altogether exorcised even in this dismal period of self-communion.
"What does it all mean, Diana?" he asked. "I don't understand being kept
in the dark like this. Here are you suddenly leaving Mr. Sheldon's house
without rhyme or reason, to take up your quarters in lodgings with Mrs.
Sheldon. Here is a mysterious marriage taking place at a time when I have
been given to understand that one of the parties is at death's door; and
here is Lenoble introduced to Valentine Hawkehurst, in express opposition
to my particular request that my future son-in-law should be introduced
to none of the Sheldon set."
"Valentine is not one of the Sheldon set, papa. I do not think it likely
that he will ever see Philip Sheldon again."
"Bless my soul!" exclaimed Captain Paget. "There has been something
serious going on, then, surely?"
After this he insisted on an explanation, and Diana told him the story of
the last two or three weeks: Charlotte's increasing illness--so
mysterious and incurable; the sudden return from Harold's Hill;
Valentine's fears; Dr. Jedd's boldly-expressed opinion that the patient
was the victim of foul play; the systematic exclusion of Philip Sheldon
from the sick-room, followed immediately by symptoms of amelioration,
leading to gradual recovery.
All this Captain Paget heard with an awe-stricken countenance. The
distance that divides the shedder of blood from all other wrong-doers is
so great, that the minor sinner feels himself a saint when he
contemplates the guilt of the greater criminal.
"Great God! is this possible?" exclaimed the Captain, with a shudder.
"And I have taken that man's hand!"
Later in the evening, when Diana had left him, and he had been thinking
seriously of his own career, and those many transactions of his troubled
life which, in the slang denomination of the day, would be called
"shady," he derived some scrap of comfort from one consideration.
"I never hurt a worm," he murmured to himself, complacently. "No, I can
lay my hand upon my heart and say, I never hurt a worm."
The Captain did not pause to reflect that some of the merit involved in
this amiable trait of character might have been referable to the fact,
that he had never happened to fall upon a state of society in which a
comfortable living was to be made by the hurting of worms. He thought
only of the story he had heard about Philip Sheldon; and he told himself
that not in the direst necessity of his life could his brain have
fashioned the thought of such a deed as that, in the doing of which this
man had persevered for nearly three months.
For Charlotte Hawkehurst the summer days which succeeded her marriage
passed very quietly. She had not been told the real motive of that hasty
and stolen marriage which had given her to the man she loved and trusted
so completely. Valentine and Diana had between them contrived to mould
Mrs. Sheldon to their will; and it was at her request that Charlotte had
consented to so strange a step.
The fable invented to account for this desire on the part of Mrs. Sheldon
was very innocent. The doctors had ordered a milder climate than England
for the dear convalescent--Madeira, Algeria, Malta--or some other equally
remote quarter of the globe. It was impossible that Mr. or Mrs. Sheldon
could take so long a journey; Mr. Sheldon being bound hand and foot to
the mill-wheel of City life, Mrs. Sheldon being the slave and helpmeet of
her husband. Nor could dear Charlotte go to Malta alone, or attended only
by faithful Diana Paget. In short, there was no course so obvious or so
prudent as a hasty marriage, which would enable the invalid to seek a
milder clime, accompanied and guarded by her natural protector--a
"Consent, dearest, I entreat you," wrote Valentine, in the little note
which supported Mrs. Sheldon's request, "however strange our wishes may
seem to you. Believe that it is for the best, for your own sake, for the
sake of all who love you, and ask no questions. Say only yes."
To the prayer in this letter, to the entreaties of her mother and Diana,
Charlotte yielded. She wondered why Mr. Sheldon avoided her, and asked
anxiously, on more than one occasion, why she did not see that gentleman.
"Is papa ill," she asked, "that he never comes to see how I am?"
"The doctors have forbidden many people in your room, dear."
"Yes, a few days ago, when I was so very ill; but now that I am better,
papa might come. I want to thank him for all his anxious care of me, and
to be sure that _he_ consents to this marriage."
"My darling, be assured the marriage is for the best," pleaded Diana.
And the marriage took place.
Charlotte's innocent soul was thus spared the pain of a revelation which
must have cast a dark shadow on the bright beginning of her wedded life.
Georgy pledged herself to keep the fatal secret from her daughter; and
Diana Paget rewarded her discretion by the most patient attention to her
piteous and prosy lamentations upon the iniquity of mankind in general,
and Philip Sheldon in particular.
Of that hideous secret of the past, lately revealed by Mr. Burkham, Mrs.
Sheldon had been told nothing. No good end could have been served by such
a revelation. The criminal law has its statute of limitations--unwritten,
but not the less existent. A crime which would have been difficult of
proof at the time of its commission must after the lapse of twelve years
have travelled beyond the pale of justice. For three people to come
forward and declare that at the time of Mr. Halliday's death they had
suspected Mr. Sheldon of poisoning him, would be to prove nothing to the
minds of a British jury, except that the three people in question were
libellous and ill-disposed persons. The greater the issue, the wider the
chances of escape given to the accused; and a petty offender will be
condemned for picking a pocket upon much lighter grounds than will be
considered sufficient to prove a man guilty of blowing up the Houses of
AFTER THE WEDDING.
The manner in which Mr. Sheldon would act in the future was a matter of
considerable fear to his wife. She had a hazy idea that he would come to
the pleasant Kilburn lodgings to claim her, and insist upon her sharing
his dreary future.
"If I could only have a divorce," she said piteously, when she discussed
the subject with her son-in-law. "There ought to be divorces for such
dreadful things; but I never heard of one before Sir Creswick,
or the new judge, whose name I can't remember. O Valentine, I cannot live
with him; I cannot sit down to dinner day after day with such a man as
that. And to think that I should have known him when I was the merest
girl, and have danced my very first polka with him when it first came in,
and people wore polka boots and polka jackets, and wrote their notes of
invitation upon polka paper, and sang polka songs, and worked polking
peasants in Berlin wool, and went on altogether in the most absurd
manner. And O Valentine, whom can one trust, if not the man one has known
all one's life!"
Mr. Hawkehurst pledged himself to protect his mother-in-law from any
attempt at persecution upon the part of her husband. He did not know what
difficulties he might have to encounter in the performance of this
pledge; for, in his ignorance of the stockbroker's desperate
circumstances, he imagined that Philip Sheldon would make some attempt to
right himself in the eyes of the world, by compelling his wife to
reassume her position in his house.
He went to George Sheldon's office within a few days after his marriage
to take counsel from that astute adviser. He found the lawyer hard at
work, and in very good spirits. It was by his advice the marriage had
been hurried on; Charlotte's stealthy removal from the house while Philip
Sheldon slumbered had been planned by him; and he was triumphant in the
thought that the plot had succeeded so well, and that Philip, the coolest
and deepest of schemers, had been so completely baffled.
"That Ann Woolper is a treasure," he said; "I didn't think it was in her
to do what she has done. Nothing could be neater than the way she kept
Phil at bay; and nothing could be better than her tact and cleverness in
getting Charlotte and her mother quietly off the other morning while my
precious brother was in the land of nod."
"Yes, she has been invaluable to us."
"And that girl Paget, too; she has turned out a regular trump. I used to
think her a very stiff, consequential piece of goods when I saw her at
the Lawn; but, egad, she has shown herself the genuine metal all through
this business. Now that's a young woman I wouldn't mind making Mrs.
George Sheldon any day in the week."
"You do her too much honour," said Valentine, with an internal shiver.
"Unhappily, a prior engagement will prevent Miss Paget's availing herself
of so excellent an opportunity."
"It mayn't be such a very bad chance as you seem to think it, my friend,"
George replied, with some indignation. "Whenever the Reverend John
Haygarth's estate drops in, I stand to win fifty thousand pounds. And
that's not so bad for a start in life, I suppose you haven't forgotten
that your wife is heir-at-law to a hundred thousand pounds?"
"No, I have not forgotten her position in relation to the Haygarth
"Humph! I should rather think not. People don't generally forget that
kind of thing. But you are uncommonly cool about the business."
"Yes, I have passed through a fiery furnace in which all the bullion in
the Bank of England will not serve a man. That kind of ordeal upsets
one's old notions as to the value of money. And, again, I have never been
able to contemplate Charlotte's inheritance of that fortune as anything
but a remote contingency; the business is so slow."
"Yes, but it has been going on. Affidavits have been made; the whole
affair is in progress."
"I am glad to hear it. Don't think that I pretend not to value the
prospect of wealth; I have only learnt to know that money is not the
be-all and end-all of life. I could be very happy with my dear wife if
there were no prospect of this Haygarthian inheritance; but if it does
come to us, we shall, no doubt, be all the happier. The millionaire sees
the world from a very pleasant point of view. I should like my dear girl
to be the mistress of as fair a home as money can buy for her."
"Yes, and you'd like to have your name stand high in the statistics of
Government stockholders. Don't be sentimental, Hawkehurst; that kind of
thing won't wash. Thank God, we managed to save poor Tom's daughter from
the fangs of my brother Phil. But you can't suppose that I am going to
shut my eyes to the fact that this affair has been a very good thing for
you, and that you owe your chances of a great fortune entirely to me? You
don't pretend to forget _that_, I suppose?" said George Sheldon, with
"Why should I pretend to forget that, or any circumstance of our business
relations? I am perfectly aware that you started the hunt of the
Haygarths, and that to your investigations is to be traced the discovery
that proves my wife a claimant to the estate now held by the Crown."
"Very good; that's outspoken and honest, at any rate. And now, how about
our agreement? It's only a parole agreement, but an honest man's word is
as good as his bond."
"Our agreement!" repeated Valentine, with a puzzled expression of
countenance. "Upon my word, I forget."
"Ah, I thought it would come to that; I thought you would manage to
forget the terms agreed upon by you and me in the event of your marriage
with Charlotte Halliday. My memory is not so short as yours; and I can
swear to a conversation between you and me in this room, in which you
consented to my taking half the Haygarthian estate as the price of my
discovery and the fair reward of my labours."
"Yes," said Valentine, "I remember that conversation; and I remember
saying that the demand was a stiff one, but that I, as Charlotte's future
husband, would not oppose such a demand."
"You remember that?"
"I do; and if my wife is willing to consent to your terms, I will hold to
"Your wife's consent is not wanted. She married you without a settlement,
and her rights are merged in yours. To all intents and purposes, _you_
are heir-at-law to John Haygarth's estate."
Valentine laughed aloud; the whole affair seemed a tremendous joke. He,
the homeless, penniless, friendless reprobate of but one year ago--he,
the son and heir of a man who had been always on the verge of social
shipwreck for want of five pounds--he, of all other men upon this earth,
claimant against the Crown for an estate worth one hundred thousand
"The whole affair seems ridiculously improbable," he said.
"My brother wouldn't have done what he did if the whole thing had seemed
improbable to him. However, we needn't estimate the chances for or
against; all I want is a legal agreement between you and me, securing my
share of the plunder."
"I am ready to execute any reasonable agreement; but I am bound to
protect my wife's interests, and I must have a solicitor to act for me in
this affair. Greek must meet Greek, you know."
"Very good. I could have conducted the business myself without the
interference of strangers; but if you are going in for extreme caution,
you'd better leave your wife's affairs in the hands of Messrs. Greenwood
and Greenwood, who have acted for her hitherto, and have all papers
relating to the case in their possession."
"Greenwood and Greenwood? My dear girl told me she had signed some
document, and had seen some lawyers; but she did not tell me the nature
of the document, or the name of the lawyers. I have forborne to speak to
her on business matters. The treatment that she has undergone has left
her very nervous, and we try to keep all unpleasant subjects out of her
"Yes, that's all very well; but business is business, you know. You'd
better see Messrs. Greenwood and Greenwood at once. Tell them of your
marriage. You'll have to keep Phil's conduct dark, of course; that is
understood between us. You must say the marriage was a love-match
against my brother's wish, romantic, sentimental, and so on. They'll
raise no objections when they find you are willing to leave the case in
"You have heard nothing of your brother?"
"Well, no--nothing, or next to nothing. I called at his office yesterday.
He has not been there since the beginning of Charlotte's illness, and
there has been no letter or message for Orcott since your wedding-day.
Things look rather piscatorial, altogether. Orcott hints that Phil's
affairs are in queer street; but he's a shallow-headed fool, and knows
very little. It seems, by his account, that Phil was a Bull, and that
the fall in every species of stock has been ruin to him. You see, when a
man once goes in for the Bull business, he never by any chance turns
Bear--and _vice versa_. There's a kind of infatuation in the thing, and a
man sticks to his line until he's cleaned out--at least, that's what
stockbrokers have told me--and I believe it's pretty near the truth."
This was all that Valentine could ascertain about Mr. Sheldon at present.
Every knock fluttered Georgy; every accidental visitor at the Kilburn
villa seemed like the swooping of eagle on dovecote.
"I cannot get over the feeling that he will come and take me away with
him," she said. "If Sir Wilde Creswick would only do something, so that
my second husband mayn't be able to insist upon my living in that
dreadful, dreadful house, where I suffered such nights and days of agony,
that I am convinced the sight of chintz curtains lined with pink will
make me wretched as long as I live!"
"My dear Mrs. Sheldon, he shall not come," said Valentine.
"If I could only go ever so far away from him, and feel that there was
the sea, or something of that kind, between us!"
"We will take you away--across the British Channel, or further still, if
you like. Diana and M. Lenoble are to be married soon; and directly
Lotta is strong enough for the journey we are to go over to Normandy, to
"Chateau, indeed!" Mrs. Sheldon exclaimed peevishly. "The idea of Diana
Paget, without a sixpence, and with a regular scamp of a father, marrying
a man with a chateau, while my poor Charlotte--! I don't wish to wound
your feelings, Mr. Hawkehurst, but it really does seem hard."
"It is hard that Lotta should not have married a prince--all the
grandeurs of a prince in a fairy tale would only be her due; but it
happens fortunately, you see, dear Mrs. Sheldon, that our sweet girl has
simple tastes, and does not languish for jewels or palaces. If she should
ever become rich--"
"Ah," sighed, Georgy despondently, "I don't expect that. I can't
understand anything about this idea of a fine fortune that Mr. Sheldon
had got into his head. I know that my husband's mother was a Miss
Meynell, the daughter of a carpet-warehouseman in the city, and I can't
see how any grand fortune is to come to Charlotte through her. And as for
the Hallidays--Hyley and Newhall farms were all the property they ever
owned within the memory of man."
"The fortune for which Charlotte is a claimant comes from the maternal
ancestor of Christian Meynell. I do not count upon her possession of it
as a certain good in the future. If it comes we will be thankful."
"Is it a very large sum of money?"
"Well, yes; I believe it is a considerable sum."
"Twenty thousand pounds, perhaps?"
"I have been told that it is as much."
He did not want Georgy's weak mind to become possessed of the idea of
shadowy wealth. He remembered what Philip Sheldon had said to him on the
Christmas night in which they had paced the little Bayswater garden
together, and he felt that there was a substratum of common sense in that
scoundrel's artful warning.
GREEK AGAINST GREEK.
Valentine Hawkehurst called upon Mr. Greenwood, of the firm of Greenwood
and Greenwood, within a week of his marriage, and exhibited the
certificate to that gentleman. Mr. Greenwood received the information
with much solemnity, and even severity, of manner.
"Are you aware that this is a very serious step which you have taken,
Mr. Hawkehurst?" he demanded, sternly. "You entrap--that is to say,
you persuade a lady into a hasty marriage--without consultation with
her legal advisers, without settlements of any kind whatever--while at
the same time you are aware that the lady in question is heir-at-law
to a very large fortune, proceedings for the recovery of which are
now pending. Pardon me if I observe that there is a want of
delicacy--of--a--hem--right-mindedness in the transaction."
"The imputation contained in your remarks is not a pleasant one, Mr.
Greenwood," Valentine remarked quietly; "but I am quite willing to pardon
any injustice which you may inflict upon me by your desire to protect the
interests of your client. I think you will speedily discover that those
interests are in no way endangered by the lady's marriage with me. There
are social complications which are not to be settled by either law or
equity. Miss Halliday's surroundings of the last few months were of a
very painful nature; so painful, that the legal protection of marriage
became the only means of saving her from imminent peril. I cannot enter
more fully into those painful circumstances. I can only assure you that I
married your client with the consent and approval of her only near
relation, and uninfluenced in the smallest degree by mercenary
considerations. Whatever post-nuptial settlement you please to make for
my wife's protection I shall promptly execute."
"You express yourself in a very honourable and highly creditable manner,
Mr. Hawkehurst," exclaimed the lawyer, with sudden cordiality; "and I beg
distinctly to withdraw any offensive observations I may have made just
now. Your own affairs are, I conclude, in a sufficiently solvent state?"
"I do not owe a sixpence."
"Good; and Mr. Sheldon, the lady's stepfather and my client--had you his
approval for this hasty marriage?"
"The marriage took place without Mr. Sheldon's knowledge or consent."
"May I ask your reason for this secrecy?"
"No, Mr. Greenwood; it is just that one reason that I cannot tell you.
Accept my assurance that it was an all-powerful reason."
"I am compelled to do so, if you decline to confide in my discretion; but
as Mr. Sheldon is my client, I am bound to think of his interests as well
as those of Miss Halliday--er--Mrs. Hawkehurst. I am somewhat surprised
that he has not called upon me since the marriage. He has been made aware
of that circumstance, I suppose?"
"Yes; I wrote to him immediately after the ceremony, enclosing him a copy
of the certificate."
"The marriage will make a considerable difference to him."
"In what manner?"
"Well, in the event of his stepdaughter's death. If she had died
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