M. E. Braddon
Part 8 out of 9
unmarried and intestate, this fortune would have gone to her mother;
besides which, there was the insurance on Miss Halliday's life."
"Yes. Were you not apprised of that fact? Mr. Sheldon, with very natural
precaution, insured his stepdaughter's life for a considerable sum--in
point of fact, as I believe, five thousand pounds; so that, in case of
her death prior to the recovery of the Haygarth estate, her mother might
receive some solatium."
"He had insured her life!" said Valentine, under his breath.
This, then, was the key to the mystery. The Haygarthian inheritance was
but a remote contingency, a shadowy prize, which could scarcely have
tempted the secret assassin; but the insurance had offered the prospect
of immediate gain. The one link wanting to complete the chain of evidence
against Philip Sheldon was found. There was no longer a question as to
"This man knows of one insurance on her life," Valentine thought to
himself; "there may have been more than one."
After a brief silence, in which Mr. Hawkehurst had been lost in thought,
the lawyer proceeded to discuss the terms of the post-nuptial settlement
necessary for the protection of his client's interests. In the course of
this discussion Valentine explained his position in relation to George
Sheldon, and stated the demands of that sharp practitioner.
Mr. Greenwood was utterly aghast upon hearing Mr. Hawkehurst's views on
"You mean to tell me that this man claims a clear half of the Haygarth
estate--fifty thousand pounds--in consideration of his paltry
"Such is the demand he has made, and which I have pledged myself not to
oppose. He certainly does open his mouth very wide; but we are bound to
consider that but for these discoveries of his, my wife and my wife's
relatives would in all probability have gone down to their graves in
ignorance of their claim to this estate."
"I beg your pardon, Mr. Hawkehurst. If Mr. George Sheldon had not made
the discovery, some one else would have made it sooner or later, depend
upon it. There would have been a little loss of time, that is all. There
are plenty of men of George Sheldon's class always on the look-out for
such chances as this--and for very small chances in comparison to this.
Why, I know a fellow, a Frenchman, called Fleurus, who will take as much
trouble about a few hundred pounds' worth of unclaimed stock as this man,
George Sheldon, has taken about the Haygarth succession. And he has
really the impudence to claim fifty thousand pounds from you?"
"A claim which I have pledged myself not to oppose."
"But which you have not pledged yourself to support. My dear Mr.
Hawkehurst, this is a business which you must allow me to settle for you,
as your wife's legal adviser. We will consider you quite out of the
question, if you please; you will thus come out of your relations to Mr.
George Sheldon with perfectly clean hands. You will not oppose his claim;
but I shall oppose him in my character of legal adviser to your wife.
Why, are you aware that this man executed an agreement with his brother,
consenting to receive a fifth share of the estate, and costs out of
pocket, in complete acquittance of all claims? I have an abstract of the
agreement, amongst Miss Halliday's--Mrs. Hawkehurst's papers."
After some further discussion, Valentine agreed to leave the whole matter
in Mr. Greenwood's hands. Greek must meet Greek. Gray's Inn and the
Fields must settle this business between themselves.
"I am only prince consort," he said, with a smile. "I pretend to no
actual interest in my wife's estate. I doubt, indeed, whether I should
not have felt more complete happiness in our marriage if she had not been
heiress to so large a fortune."
At this Mr. Greenwood laughed outright.
"Come, come, Mr. Hawkehurst," he exclaimed, "that really won't do. I am
an old stager, you know--a man of the world;--and you mustn't ask me to
believe that the idea of your wife's expectations can afford you anything
but unqualified satisfaction."
"You cannot believe? No, perhaps not," Valentine answered, thoughtfully.
"But you do not know how nearly these expectations have lost me my wife.
And even now, when she is mine by virtue of a bond that only death can
loosen, it seems to me as if her wealth would make a kind of division
between us. There are people who will always consider me a lucky
adventurer, and look at my marriage as the result of clever scheming. I
cannot advertise to the world the fact that I loved Charlotte Halliday
from the first hour in which I saw her, and asked her to be my wife three
days before I discovered her claim to John Haygarth's estate. A man can't
go through the world with his justification pinned upon his breast. I
think it will be my fate to be misjudged all my life. A twelvemonth ago I
cared very little about the opinions of my fellow-men; but I want to be
worthy of my wife in the esteem of mankind, as well as in the depths of
my own moral consciousness."
"Go and finish your honeymoon," said the lawyer, digging his client in
the ribs with elephantine playfulness; "the moon must be in her first
quarter, I should think. Go along with you, and leave me to tackle Mr.
ONLY A DREAM.
"I say, Lenoble," Captain Paget began abruptly one afternoon when his
daughter and his future son-in-law were in attendance upon his sofa,
"when are you and Diana to be married? There is nothing to hinder your
marriage now, you know."
Diana looked at the speaker with a grave countenance.
"Dear papa, there can be no marriage while you are so ill," she said
"And afterwards, when I'm gone, you won't like to marry within six months
of your father's funeral; and you will be left alone in the world. You
can't hang on to Hawkehurst and his wife. The best thing you can do,
Lenoble, is to marry her out of hand, and let me see her by my bedside as
Madame Lenoble of Cotenoir. It will be some consolation for me to see
that day. I thought to have shared your home, with a run to Paris
occasionally just to freshen myself up a little; but that's all over now.
It does seem rather hard to me sometimes; and I think of Moses, and his
forty years in the Desert with those ill-conditioned Israelites, who were
always getting into some scrape of other--setting up golden calves, and
that kind of thing--if he turned his back on them for twenty-four hours.
A pack of ungrateful beggars too, always ready for mutiny--regular
radicals, begad! And he went through it all: the sand, and the _toujours_
quails, and the ingratitude; and after forty years of it, when he saw the
Promised Land stretched before him green and fertile on the other side of
the river--he died! I've been through my desert, the dreary wanderings
over the barren sand, and the ingratitude of men I've served. Yes, I've
gone through it all; and just as I catch a glimpse of Canaan, the curtain
On this they comforted him; and sustained him with the promise of a
brighter Canaan than Cotenoir.
"Yes," he said in a dreamy voice, "I read about it very often. A city
with foundations of jasper and chalcedony, emerald and sardonyx; gates of
pearl, pavements of gold. That's what St. John the Evangelist saw in his
vision; and we've only his word for it. But there's something that I can
believe and can understand: 'In my Father's house there are many
mansions.' There's more hope for a sinful man of the world in that
promise than is all St. John's dreams about gates of pearl and
foundations of emerald."
The Captain was failing fast. He had exchanged his easy-chair for a sofa
now; and the time seemed near at hand when he must exchange the sofa for
his bed. After that there would remain but one last change, to the
contemplation whereof the sick man was becoming daily more reconciled.
He had read his Gospel more diligently of late, and had taken comfort
from those sublime pages. Do they not contain consolation, hope, promise
for all--for the weary man of the world as well as for the saint? There
is to be found the only creed that can adapt itself to every condition
of life, and has a margin wide enough for every weakness of erring
humanity. Buddhism may contain a scheme of morality almost as perfect;
Mahomet may have expounded hopes that seem well-nigh as divine; but in
the Gospel is the only system that will adapt itself at once to the
culture of the spiritual man, and the active life of the practical
worker in this lower world.
Gustave Lenoble was only too glad to claim his promised wife a little
sooner than he had hoped to claim her. "Thou hast put me off long enough,
cruel," he said; "and now it is thy father's wish that our marriage
should be soon. It shall be this week; I will take no longer thine
excuses. We shall be the sooner ready to receive thy friends, thy
Charlotte and her Hawkehurst."
"Dear Gustave, you are always kind," she said.
It was very sweet to her to think that her new home would afford a
pleasant haven for that dear friend who had sheltered her. And with
Charlotte, the dear adopted sister, would come the man she had once
loved, to share whose cares had once been the brightest dream.
She wondered at her own inconstancy on perceiving how completely the
dream had flown. Before the stern realities of life--before sickness and
sorrow and the dread shadow of death--that schoolgirl's vision had
utterly melted away. It is just possible that Gustave's manly outspoken
love may have helped to blot from the tablet of her mind the fantastic
picture of the life that might have been. She scarcely knew whether this
was so; but she did know that a new and happier existence began for her
from the hour in which she gave her heart in all truth and loyalty to
The wedding was arranged to take place within a week of Captain Paget's
expressly declared wish. It was to be solemnised at a church near
Knightsbridge, and again at a Catholic chapel in the neighbourhood of
Sloane-street; by which double ceremonial a knot would be tied that no
legal quibble could hereafter loosen. Charlotte was just sufficiently
recovered to obtain permission to be present at the ceremonial, after
some little exercise of her persuasive powers with the medical
practitioner to whose care Dr. Jedd had committed her when all danger was
The Captain protested, with an eager insistence, that the wedding
breakfast should be eaten at his domicile.
"And Val," he said, "be sure Val is with you. I have a secret to tell
him--a kind of atonement to make; some news to give him that he won't
quite relish, perhaps. But that's no fault of mine."
"No bad news, I hope, papa; for Charlotte's sake as well as for
"That depends upon how they both take it. Your friend Charlotte is not
particularly fond of money, is she?"
"Fond of money, papa? A baby knows as much of the value of money as
Lotta. Except to give to beggars in the streets, or to buy pretty
frivolous presents for her friends, she has neither use nor desire for
money. She is the most generous, most disinterested of created beings."
"I'm very glad to hear it," said the Captain, drily. "And how about
Hawkehurst, now? Do you think it was a real love-match, his marriage with
Miss Halliday? No _arriere pensee_--no looking out for the main chance at
the bottom of his romantic attachment, eh, Di?"
"No, papa. I am sure there was never truer love than his. I saw him under
most trying circumstances, and I can pledge myself for the truth of his
"I am very glad to hear it. Be sure you bring Hawkehurst and his wife to
my little breakfast. A chicken, a pine, a bottle of sparkling hock, and
a fond father's blessing, are all I shall give you; but the chicken and
the hock will be from Gunter, and the blessing from the bottom of a
* * * * *
Bright shone the day that gave Diana to her husband, and very beautiful
looked the bride in her simple dress. Gustave Lenoble's marriage was no
less quietly performed than that union which had secured the safety of
Charlotte Halliday and the happiness of Valentine Hawkehurst. The shadow
of death hovered very near bride and bridegroom; for they knew full well
that he who was to preside that day at their simple marriage-feast would
soon have tasted that last sacred cup which has no after-flavour of
The breakfast promised by the Captain was arranged with much elegance.
Hothouse flowers and fruits; wines with the icedew sparkling on the dark
glass; chickens and tongue, idealized by the confectioner's art, and
scarcely recognizable beneath rich glazings and embellishments of jellies
and forcemeats; the airiest and least earthly of lobster salads, and a
pyramid of coffee-ice, testified to the glory of the Belgravian purveyor.
It had been pleasant to Captain Paget to send his orders to Gunter,
certain of funds to meet the bill. It was almost a glimpse of that land
of milk and honey, that Canaan in Normandy, which he was never to
He was very weak, very ill; but the excitement of the occasion in some
measure sustained and revivified him. The man who had been engaged to
nurse and wait upon him had attired him with much care in a dressing-gown
as elegant as the robe in which he had disported himself, a penniless
young cornet, in his luxurious garrison quarters, some fifty years
before. His loose white locks were crowned with an embroidered
smoking-cap; his patrician instep was set off by a dainty scarlet
slipper. He had put away the Gospel, and all thoughts of that dread
reckoning which he had really some shadowy desire and hope to settle
satisfactorily, by some poor dividend which might discharge his
obligations to that merciful Creditor who forgives so many just debts.
To-day he was of the world, worldly. It was a kind of _ante-mortem_
lying-in-state--his last levee; and he was equal to the occasion.
The prettily adorned table was drawn near the sofa where the invalid host
reclined, supported by numerous pillows. His daughter and her husband,
Valentine, Charlotte, and Georgy, made a little circle about him. His own
man, and a clerical-looking person from Gunter's, assisted at the airy
banquet. Very little was eaten by any of the guests, and it was a relief
to every one when the clerical personage and Captain Paget's factotum
retired, after serving tea and coffee with funereal solemnity.
Valentine Hawkehurst was all gentleness and cordiality towards his old
taskmaster. The wrong must indeed be dire which is considered in such an
hour as this. Valentine remembered only that with this old man he had
seen many troubled days; and that for him the end of all earthly
wanderings was very near.
The little banquet was not served in Captain Paget's ordinary
sitting-room. For this distinguished occasion the landlady had lent a
dining-room and drawing-room on the ground floor, just deserted by a
fashionable bachelor lodger who had left town at the close of the season.
This drawing-room on the ground floor, like the room above, overlooked
the Park, and to this apartment the Captain requested his guests to
adjourn, with the exception of Mr. Hawkehurst, some little time after the
departure of the servants.
"I want to have a few words with Val in private," he said; "I have a
secret to communicate. Diana, show Mrs. Hawkehurst the Drive. You can see
the Bow from my room, but not from these lower windows. There are a good
many carriages still, but it is too late for the _creme de la creme_. I
remember when the West End was a desert at this time of year; but I have
lived to see the levelling of all distinctions, those of time as well as
Charlotte and Diana retired to the adjoining room with Mrs. Sheldon and
M. Lenoble. Valentine was at a loss to imagine what manner of
confidential communication his late patron and employer could desire to
impart to him. The cautious Horatio waited until the rest of the party
were quite out of hearing, talking gaily by the open window, beyond which
appeared all the fluttering life and motion of summer leaves, all the
brightness of summer green below, and deep blue sky above. When they
seemed to him to be quite engaged with their own conversation, Captain
Paget turned to his old companion.
"Val," he said, "we have seen hard times together we've roughed it among
strange places and strange people, you know and so on; and I think there
is a friendly kind of feeling between us?"
He held out his poor wasted hand, and Valentine grasped it firmly in his
own with prompt cordiality.
"My dear governor, I have no feeling in my heart that is not friendly to
This was perfectly true.
"And even if I had been inclined to bear any grudge against you on
account of the old days, when, you know, you were a little apt to be
indifferent as to what scrape you left me in, provided you got off
scot-free yourself; if I had been inclined to remember that kind of thing
(which, on my honour, I am not), your daughter's noble courage and
devotion in the time of my dear wife's peril should have stood against
that old wrong. I cannot tell you how deeply I feel her goodness in that
"She is a Paget," murmured the Captain, complacently. "_Noblesse
Valentine could scarcely refrain from a smile as he remembered the many
occasions upon which the obligations of a noble lineage had weighed very
lightly on his aristocratic patron.
"Yes, Val," the Captain resumed, in a dreamy tone, "we have seen many
strange things together. When I began my travels through this world, in
the palmy days of the Regency, I little thought what a weary journey it
was to be, and what queer people I was to encounter among my
fellow-passengers. However, I've come to the last stage of the long
journey now, and I thank Providence that it ends so comfortably."
To this Valentine assented kindly, but he was at a loss to understand why
Captain Paget should have required the adjournment of the rest of the
party before giving utterance to these mild commonplaces.
For some moments the invalid relapsed into thoughtful silence. Then,
rousing himself as if with an effort, he took a few sips of a cooling
drink that stood by his side, and began with a startling abruptness.
"You remember your journey to Dorking, Val, last October, when you went
to see that mysterious old aunt of yours, eh?"
Valentine blushed as the Captain recalled this cunningly-devised fable.
"Yes," he said gravely; "I remember telling you that I was going to see
an aunt at Dorking."
"An aunt who had a little bit of money, eh, Val?" asked the Captain,
with a grin.
"Yes. I may have gone so far as to speak of a little bit of money."
"And neither the aunt nor the bit of money ever existed, eh, Val? They
were mere figments of the brain; and instead of going to Dorking you went
to Ullerton, eh, Val? You stole a march upon me there. You wanted to
throw your old chum off the scent, eh? You thought you had got hold of a
good thing, and you were afraid your friend and companion might get a
share of it."
"Well, you see, my friend and companion had a knack of getting the
lion's share. Besides, this good thing was not my own affair. I had to
protect the interest of another person--my employer, in point of fact;
and it was by his suggestion, and in compliance with his request, that
I invented that harmless fiction about Dorking. I don't think there
was any dishonourable dealing in the matter. We were soldiers of
fortune both; and the stratagem with which I protected myself against
you was a very innocent one. You would have employed any stratagem or
invented any fiction under the same circumstances. It was a case of
diamond cut diamond."
"Precisely; and if the older soldier, if the free lance of many a
campaign, got the best of it in the long run, the younger freebooter
could hardly think himself ill-used--could he now, Val?"
"Well, no, I suppose not," replied Valentine, puzzled by the significance
in the face of his old companion. That sly twinkle in the Captain's eyes,
that triumphant smile wreathing the Captain's lips, must surely mean
Valentine Hawkehurst remembered the vague suspicion that had flashed into
his mind on that Christmas Eve when Captain Paget and he had dined
together at a West End restaurant, and the Captain had toasted Charlotte
Halliday with a smile of sinister meaning. He began to anticipate some
startling and unpleasant revelation. He began to understand that in some
manner this inscrutible schemer had contrived to overreach him.
"What are you going to tell me?" he asked. "I see there is some lurking
mischief in your mind. How was it you were at Ullerton when I was there?
I met you on the platform of the station, and I had a vague half
suspicion that you followed me up on more than one occasion. I saw a
glove in a man's parlour--a glove which I could have sworn to as yours.
But when I came back, you were so plausible with your talk of promoting
business, and so on, that I was fool enough to believe you. And I suppose
you cheated and tricked me after all?"
"Cheated and tricked are hard words, my dear Val," said the Captain, with
delightful blandness. "I had as much right to transact imaginary business
in the promoting line at Ullerton as you had to visit a fictitious aunt
at Dorking. Self-interest was the governing principle in both cases. I do
not think you can have any right to consider yourself injured by me if I
did steal a march upon you, and follow close upon your heels throughout
that Ullerton business. I do not think that you can have, on moral
grounds, any justification for making a complaint against your old ally."
"Well, I suppose you are right enough in that," said Valentine.
"Shake hands upon it, then. I have not very long to live, and I want to
feel myself at peace with mankind. You see, if you had come to me in the
first place, in a frank and generous spirit, and had said, 'My dear
friend, here is a good thing; let us go into it together, and see what
there is to be made out of it,' you would have placed the matter on such
a footing that, as a man of honour, I should have been bound to regard
your interests as my own. But when you set up a separate interest, when
you try to throw dust in my eyes, to hoodwink me--me, Horatio Paget,
a man of the world, possessed of some little genius for social
diplomacy--you attempt to do that which no man ever yet succeeded in
doing, and you immediately release me from those obligations which an
honourable man holds sacred. It was my glove which you saw in Mr.
Goodge's parlour. I had a very satisfactory interview with that reverend
person while you were absent from Ullerton on some short excursion, as to
the purpose of which I am still in the dark. On certain terms Mr. Goodge
agreed to give me the privilege of selecting a stated number from the
letters of Mrs. Rebecca Haygarth. I have reason to believe that I made a
judicious choice; for the information thus obtained placed me at once
upon a track which I followed industriously until it led me to a
"I do not understand--" began Valentine; but the Captain did not allow
him time to say more.
"You do not understand that there could be any other genealogical line
than that which you and George Sheldon fitted together so neatly. You
have neither of you the experience of life which alone gives wideness of
vision. You discovered the connections of the Haygarth and the Meynell
families in the past. That was a step in the right direction. The
discovery, so far as it went, was a triumph. You allowed the sense of
that triumph to intoxicate you. In a business which of all businesses
within the range of man's intellect most requires deliberation and
sobriety, you went to work in a fever of haste and excitement. Instead
of searching out _all_ the descendants of Christian Meynell, you pounce
upon the first descendant who comes to hand, and elect her, at your own
pleasure, sole heiress to the estate of the deceased John Haygarth.
You forget that there may be other descendants of the said Christian
Meynell--descendants standing prior to your wife Charlotte in the line of
"I can imagine no such descendants existing," said Valentine, with a
puzzled manner. "You seem to have made yourself master of our business;
but there is one point upon which you are mistaken. George Sheldon and I
did not go to work in a fever of haste. We did fully and thoroughly
examine the pedigree of that person whom we--and legal advisers of
considerable standing--believe to be the sole heir-at-law to the Haygarth
estate; and we took good care to convince ourselves that there was no
other claimant in existence."
"What do you call convincing yourselves?"
"Christian Meynell had only three children--Samuel, Susan, and Charlotte.
The last, Charlotte, married James Halliday, of Newhall and Hyley farms;
the other two died unmarried."
"How do you know that? How do you propose to demonstrate that Samuel and
Susan Meynell died unmarried?"
"Susan was buried in her maiden name. Mrs. Halliday, her sister, was with
her when she died. There was no question of marriage; nor is there the
record of any marriage contracted by Samuel."
"All that is no proof."
"Indeed! I should have thought the evidence sufficient. But, in any case,
the _onus probandi_ is not upon us. Can you prove the marriage of the
Samuel Meynell who died at Calais, or of the Susan Meynell who died in
"I can. Susan Meynell's legitimate son is in the next room. It's an
unpleasant kind of revelation to make, Val; as he, the son of one sister,
stands prior to your wife, the granddaughter of the other sister, in the
order of succession. AND HE TAKES ALL!"
"He takes all!" repeated Valentine, bewildered. "He! Susan Meynell's
son?--in the next room? What does all this mean?"
"It means that when Susan was deserted by the scoundrel who took her away
from her home, she found an honest fellow to marry her. The name of her
husband was Lenoble. Gustave Lenoble yonder, my daughter's husband, is
her only child by that marriage. A perfectly legal marriage, my dear
Val--everything _en regle_, I assure you. The business is in the hands of
Messrs. Dashwood and Vernon of Whitehall--a first-class firm; counsel's
opinion most decided as to Lenoble's position. They have been rather slow
about the preliminary steps; and, _entre nous_, I have not cared to hurry
them, for I wanted to get my daughter's marriage over quietly before we
began our proceedings in Chancery. It comes rather hard upon you, Val, I
allow; but, you see, if you had acted generously, not to say honourably,
towards me in the first instance, you'd have had the advantage of my
experience. As it is, you have been working in the dark. However, things
are not so bad as they might be. You might have married some ugly old
harridan for the sake of this Haygarth estate; you have secured a pretty
and amiable wife, and you mustn't be downhearted if you find yourself,
from a financial point of view, most outrageously sold."
The Captain could not refrain from a laugh as he contemplated his young
friend's surprise. The laugh degenerated into a fit of coughing, and it
was some little time before the enfeebled Horatio was ready to resume the
interrupted conversation. In this pause Valentine had leisure to face
this new position. There was for the moment a sharp sense of
disappointment. It is not possible for humanity to be quite indifferent
to a hundred thousand pounds. So much of the "light and sweetness" of
life is attainable for that sum,--such pleasures, of the purest and
noblest, are in the power of the possessor. But in this moment Valentine
fully realized the fact that he had never taken the idea of this fortune
into his mind--never made it part and parcel of himself, to be plucked
out of his heart with anguish, and to leave a bleeding wound in the place
where it had grown. It seemed to him as if he had been wakened abruptly
from some bright bewildering dream; but the sharp pang of mercenary
desires disappointed, of sordid hopes suddenly reft, was not for him.
Beyond this sense of uncertainty, which had made the Haygarthian fortune
seem at best such "stuff as dreams are made of," there had been ever
present in his mind of late the dismal association connected with this
money. For this, and to get power over this through the rights of his
weak wife, had Philip Sheldon plotted against the life of that sweet girl
who was but newly rescued from the jaws of the grave. The bitter memory
of those days and nights of suspense could never have been quite
dissociated from the money that had been the primary cause of all this
"Do you think I shall love my wife any less because she has no claim to
the Haygarth estate?" he exclaimed presently, looking with
half-contemptuous indignation upon the broken-down Bohemer. "I loved her
long before I knew the name of Haygarth; I should have loved her if I had
found her a beggar in the London streets, a peasant-girl weeding for
sixpence a day in some dismal swamp of agricultural poverty and
ignorance. I am not going to say that this money would not have brought
us pleasure; pictures and gardens, and bright rooms, and books without
number, and intercourse with congenial acquaintance and delightful
journeyings to all the fairest places upon the earth, and the power to do
some good in our generation, and a sense of security for our future, and
by-and-by, perhaps, for the future of dear children, for whose prosperity
we should be more anxious than for our own. Pleasure the money would most
probably have brought for us in abundance; but I doubt if it could buy us
more perfect happiness than we may know in the simplest home that my toil
can support. Ah, Captain, I question if you ever knew the sweetest
sensation life can give--the delight of working for those we love."
Captain Paget stared at his sometime protege in a kind of rapture of
wonder, not entirely unmingled with admiration.
"Egad!" he exclaimed, "I have read of this kind of thing in novels; but
in the whole course of my experience I never met with anything equal to
it. My son-in-law, Lenoble yonder, is a generous foo--fellow enough; but
then, since infancy, he has never known the want of money. And generosity
from that kind of man is no more of a virtue than the foolhardiness of a
child who pokes his finger into the candle, not knowing the properties of
the thing he has to deal with. But anything like generosity from you,
from a man reared as you were reared, is, I freely confess, a little
beyond my comprehension."
"Yes; it is a transformation, is it not? But I don't think I was ever
inordinately fond of money. Your genuine Bohemian rarely is. He is too
well schooled in the art of living without cash, and he asks so little
here below. His pipe, his friend, his dog, his books, his garret, his
billiards, his beer. It is all a question of a few pounds a week. And if,
some day, the divine enchanter Love takes the poor fellow underbids
guidance, and teaches him to do without billiards and beer, your Bohemian
settles down into the purest and best of men. Think what Goldy might have
been if some good woman had taken compassion upon him and married him,
and henpecked him ever afterwards. He might have written as many novels
as Sir Walter Scott, and died master of some Hibernian Abbotsford, some
fair domain among the bright green hills that look down upon broad
Shannon's silvery falls. No, Captain; your intelligence has not
annihilated me. I can face the future boldly with my dear young wife upon
"Upon my soul, Val, you're a very noble fellow!" exclaimed Horatio Paget,
with real enthusiasm; "and I am sorry I have kept you in the dark so
"You have kept me in the dark? Yes; to be sure. How long have you known
this--about Susan Meynell?"
"Well, my dear boy, not very long."
"But how long? A month--two months? Yes; you have known Lenoble's
position ever since you knew him; and Charlotte told me three months ago
of Diana's engagement to Lenoble. Do you know that if Sheldon had
succeeded, Charlotte's blood would have been upon your head? If you had
not concealed the truth, his villany would never have been attempted."
"But, my dear Val," exclaimed the Captain piteously, "I was not to
"No; you were not to know that there could be such a wretch as Philip
Sheldon upon this earth. We will say no more of that. I kept my secret,
you kept yours. Mischief unspeakable well-nigh came of all this underhand
work. But heaven has been merciful to us. We have passed through the
valley of the shadow of death; and if anything could make my wife dearer
to me than she was when first I won her promise to be mine, it would be
the sorrow of the last few months. And now I will go and shake hands with
Lenoble, my wife's kinsman. He is a fine fellow, and well deserves his
good fortune. Stay; one word. Did Diana know this? did she know that her
lover is heir to the Haygarth estate?"
"She does not know it now. She has never heard the name of Haygarth. And,
between you and me, Val, it cost me a world of trouble to persuade her to
say yes to Lenoble's offer, though he is a very decent match for her,
even without reference to the Haygarth estate."
"I am glad she knew nothing of this," said Valentine; "I am very glad."
After this he again shook hands with Captain Paget, at that gentleman's
request, and the Captain expressed himself much relieved by the
conversation, and by his late protege's very generous behaviour. He
called to his daughter and the rest presently, and they came at his
"Is your long talk finished, papa?" asked Diana.
"And is the secret told?" demanded Charlotte of her obedient husband
"Yes, dear, it is told," he answered gravely.
"I hope it is a pleasant secret."
"I do not think the knowledge of it will give you much pain, dearest.
You have learnt to think yourself a--a kind of an heiress of late,
have you not?"
"Papa--Mr. Sheldon--told me that I had a claim to some money; but I have
not thought much about it, except that I should give you Grote and
Macaulay in dark-brown calf, with bevelled boards and red edges, like
that edition you saw at the auctioneer's in Bond Street, and have talked
about ever since; and a horse, perhaps; and a glass porch to our
"Well, darling, the books in dark-brown calf, and the horse, and the
glass porch, may all be ours in the future; but the money was only a
dream--it has melted away, dear."
"Is that all?" asked Charlotte. "Why, I dare say the day will come when
you will be as rich as Sir Walter Scott."
"In the meantime I have something to give you instead of the money."
"Yes; a cousin. Will that do as well, my love?"
"A cousin? I shall like her very much if she is nice."
"The cousin I mean is a gentleman."
"But where is he to come from?" cried Charlotte, laughing. Has he
dropped from the moon? The only relations I have the world are Uncle and
Aunt Mercer. How can you pretend to find me a cousin?"
"Do you remember telling me of your grandmother's only sister--Susan
"Yes," said Charlotte, with a sudden blush; "I remember."
"That Miss Meynell married a gentleman of Normandy, and left one only
child, a son. His name is Gustave Lenoble, and he is standing by your
side. He is heir-at-law to a very large fortune, which it was once
supposed you could claim. Are you sorry, Lotta, to find a kinsman and
lose a fortune?--and are you contented to begin the world with no hope
except in your husband's patience and courage?"
"And genius!" cried Charlotte, with enthusiasm.
The sweet, blinding glamour of love shone upon this young scribbler, and
she believed that he was indeed worthy to take rank among the greatest of
that grand brotherhood of which he was so humble a member. She looked up
at him with the prettiest confidence; her clinging hand clasped his with
love and trust immeasurable. He felt and knew that love like this was a
treasure beside which the Reverend John Haygarth's hoarded thousands must
needs seem but sorry dross.
After this there was much explanation and congratulation. Gustave Lenoble
was delighted to claim so fair a kinswoman.
"Thou art like my eldest, my cousin," he said; "Diana saw the likeness at
the Sacre Coeur when she beheld my daughter; and I too saw my eldest's
look in thine eyes when I first met thee. Remember, it was convened
between us that Cotenoir should be a home for thee and for Hawkehurst
before I knew what link bound thee to the house of Lenoble. Now thou and
thy husband will be of our family."
Diana was bewildered, grieved, indignant with the father who had deceived
her by his studious suppression of the truth. She found herself placed in
the position of rival to Charlotte, and the whole proceeding seemed to
her mean and treacherous.
But it was no time for remonstrance or open expression of indignant
feeling. Her father's days were numbered. She knew this, and she held her
peace. Nor did Mrs. Sheldon utter any word of complaint, though the
disappointment she experienced upon hearing this revelation was very
keen. The idea of the four or five thousand pounds which were to come to
Charlotte had been a consolation to her in the midst of that confusion
and desolation which had newly come upon her life. She left Knightsbridge
that evening somewhat depressed in spirits, and half inclined to be angry
with Charlotte and her husband for their gaiety of manner, and evident
happiness in each other's society.
"It seems hard to have to begin the world at my age," she murmured
hopelessly, "after being accustomed to have everything nice about me, as
I had at the Lawn; though I own that the trouble and care of the servants
was wearing me to the grave."
"Dear mamma," exclaimed Charlotte tenderly, "there is no fear of trouble
or poverty for you or for us. Valentine has plenty of money, and is on
the high road to securing a comfortable income. Authors do not starve in
garrets now, you know, as they used to do, poor things, when Doctor
Johnson ate his dinner in a cave, or something dreadful of that kind; and
when Sir Richard Steele thought it quite a wonderful thing to get a pound
of tea for his wife. And Valentine's heart is in his profession, and he
will work for us."
"As long as I have a hand that can write, and a brain that can guide my
pen," interposed Mr. Hawkehurst, gaily. "I have given hostages to
Fortune. I can face the hazard boldly I feel as confident and as happy as
if we lived in the golden age, when there was neither care nor toil for
innocent mankind, and all the brightest things of earth were the
spontaneous gift of the gods."
Monsieur and Madame Lenoble went to Brighton for their honeymoon. A
letter or a telegraphic message would bring them thence swiftly to the
bedside of the dying Captain, should the last fatal change set in
suddenly. Diana had wished to stay with her father, but Horatio insisted
upon the honeymoon trip, and that everything should be done in a correct
and gentlemanly manner.
"You can engage rooms at the Albion," Captain Paget had said to his
son-in-law a few days before the quiet wedding. "The house is extremely
comfortable; and you will be received by a compatriot. The proprietor is
a Frenchman, and a very gentlemanly person, I assure you; the _cuisine_
irreproachable. I remember the old Steyne when Mrs. FitzHerbert lived
close by, and received all the best people, in the days when the Cockney
had not yet taken possession of Brighthelmstone, and the Chinese dragons
and pagodas were bright and fresh in the Pavilion."
To Brighton, therefore, the bride and bridegroom departed; Diana attended
by a maid, an appanage which the Captain had insisted upon. Poor Diana
was sorely puzzled as to what she should find for the maid to do when her
hair had been dressed early in the morning, and her costume laid out in
state for the day.
"I think I must buy some handkerchiefs for her to hem," she said to
Gustave; "it will be quite dreadful for her to have nothing to do all
The weather was warm and bright. The sea danced and sparkled under the
windows. Gustave was always in the same happy frame of mind. An elegant
landau had been secured for the period of their visit, and a pair of
capital horses carried them out on long and pleasant expeditions to the
pretty Sussex villages, or across the broad bare downs, beyond which the
sea stretched blue and bright.
In the evening, when the lamp was lighted and the urn hissed gaily, Diana
felt that she and her husband were at home. It was the first home she had
known--the first time she had been sole mistress and centre of a
household. She looked back at all the old desolation, the dreary shifting
from lodging to lodging, the degradation, the self-abasement, the dull
apathy of despair; and then she looked across at her husband as he
lounged in his easy-chair, contemplating her with dreamy adoring eye, in
a kind of lazy worship; and she knew that for this man she was the centre
of the universe, the very keystone in the arch of life.
She stretched out her hand to him with a smile, and he pressed it fondly
to his lips. There were twinkling jewels upon the slender fingers; for
the prettiest shop in Brighton--the brightest shop in Brighton--had been
ransacked that morning by the fond, frivolous, happy husband, as pleased
to bedeck his wife as a child to dress her last new doll.
"How can I ever be worthy of so much affection, Gustave!" she exclaimed,
as he kissed the twinkling fingers.
And it did indeed seem to her that for this free gift of love she could
never render a sufficient recompense.
"Thou wilt make Cotenoir a home," he said; "thou knowest not how I have
sighed for a home. This room, with the lamplight shining on thy face, and
thy white hands moving about the teacups, and thy sweet smile, which
greets me every now and then when thou lookest by here,--it is more of
home than I have ever known since I left Beaubocage, that modest dwelling
where lived those two angels of kindness, my aunt and my grandmother."
In one of those long pleasant drives to a distant village nestling under
the lee of a steep hill, the husband and wife had much serious talk about
the position of the former with reference to the Haygarth estate. The
result of that conversation was shown in a letter which Charlotte
Hawkehurst received the next day from her friend Diana Lenoble.
"Albion Hotel, Brighton.
"EVER DEAR LOTTA,--Gustave and I have discussed the Haygarth business
with great satisfaction to ourselves, since it transpired in the course
of our conversation that we are both of one mind in the matter. It is
agreed between us that, as he is very well off already, and as he never
hoped or expected to inherit a fortune from his maternal ancestor, it is
only just that he should divide this unlooked-for wealth with his dear
cousin, whose claim to that inheritance he recognizes as equal to his
own; the mere fact of seniority making only a legal and not a moral
difference in the degree of relationship to the Reverend John Haygarth.
Do you understand, darling?--_you_ are to have half this money. My
husband will not step in between you and good fortune. I cannot tell you
how happy this determination of Gustave's has made me. I felt myself in a
manner base and ungrateful when I thought I was to share wealth that
might have been yours; but I ought to have better understood the justice
of my husband's mind. And now, dearest, all will be arranged very simply;
Gustave will come to London and see his lawyers, and execute some kind of
deed, and the whole affair will be settled.
"We have had some charming drive," &c. &c.
Here the young wife branched off into a description of the simple
pleasures of their honeymoon holiday.
This letter was answered by Valentine Hawkehurst in person. He came down
to Brighton to thank his friends for their generous desire to enrich his
wife, and to decline, on her part, any share in John Haygarth's wealth.
It was in vain that Gustave and Diana argued the point, Mr. Hawkehurst
was fixed as fate.
"Believe me, it is better as it is," he said. "Charlotte and I have
arrived at this conviction with all due thought and deliberation. We are
both young, and the world is all before us. There is much in the past
that I have to redeem, as Diana well knows. It is better that I should
fight the battle of life unaided, and rise from the ranks by right of my
merit as a soldier. If ever we have need of help--if ever I find myself
breaking down--you may be sure that it is to you I shall come. By and by,
if Providence gives me children to work for, I will refuse no bounty that
you may bestow on them. Their future may be rendered secure by your
generosity, if you please, Lenoble; they will be your kindred. But for an
alien like myself there is no discipline so wholesome as honest hard
work. I am as rich as John Milton when he set up a school in St. Bride's
To this resolution Mr. Hawkehurst adhered with a gentle firmness.
"Thou art chivalrous like Don Quixote," said Gustave Lenoble; "but it
shall be as thou wouldest. Touch there."
He offered his hand, which the other grasped with all heartiness.
"I will be godfather to thy little first one, and I will settle on him
ten thousand pounds before he cuts his first tooth," said Gustave
BEYOND THE VEIL.
Diana and her husband did not linger long at Brighton; they went back to
town in time to see the last of that old wayfarer whose troubled journey
came to so peaceful an ending. It was a very calm haven in which this
battered old privateer lay at anchor after life's tempestuous course; but
to the Captain himself it seemed a hard thing that he should not have
been permitted one brief cruise upon that summer sea which danced so
gaily beneath the keel of the Lenobles' prosperous bark.
"We have shared adversity, my love," he said sadly, when he talked with
his daughter in the last few days; "but your prosperity I am to have no
share in. Well, I suppose I have no right to complain. My life has been
an erring one; but poverty is the most vicious companion that a man can
consort with. If I had come into six or seven thousand a year, I might
have been as starch in my notions as a bishop; but I have been obliged to
live, Diana--that was the primary necessity, and I learnt to accommodate
myself to it."
That he had erred, the Captain was very ready to acknowledge. That he had
sinned deeply, and had much need to repent himself of his iniquity, he
was very slow to perceive. But sometimes, in the still watches of the
night, when the faint lamplight on the shadowy wall was more gloomy than
darkness, when the nurse, hired to assist his own man in these last days,
dozed in her comfortable chair, the truth came hope to his shallow soul,
and Horatio Paget knew that he had been indeed a sinner, and very vile
among sinners. Then, for a moment, the veil of self-deception was lifted,
and he saw his past life as it had really been,--selfish, dishonourable,
cruel beyond measure in reckless injury of others. For a moment the awful
book was opened, and the sinner saw the fearful sum set against his name.
"What can wipe out the dread account?" he asked himself. "Is there such a
thing as forgiveness for a selfish useless life--a life which is one long
offence against God and man?"
In these long wakeful nights the dying man thought much of his wife. The
sweet tender face came back to him, with its mournful wondering look. He
knew, now, how his falsehoods and dishonours had wounded and oppressed
that gentle soul. He remembered how often she had pleaded for the right,
and how he had ridiculed her arguments, and set at naught her tender
pleadings. He had fancied her in a manner inimical to himself when she
urged the cause of some angry creditor or meek deluded landlady. Now,
with the light that is not upon earth or sea shining on the picture of
his past career, he could see and understand things as he had never seen
or understood them before. He knew now that it was for his own sake that
faithful and devoted wife had pleaded, his own interest that had been
near to her pitying heart, as well as the interest of bakers and
butchers, landladies and tailors.
"She might have made a good man of me, if I had let her have her way," he
thought to himself. "I know that she is in heaven. Will she plead for me,
I wonder, at the foot of the Great Throne? I used to laugh at her bad
English, or fly in a passion with her sometimes, poor soul, when I wanted
her to pass for a lady, and she broke down outrageously. But there her
voice will be heard when mine appeals in vain. Dear soul! I wonder who
taught her to be so pure and unselfish, and trusting and faithful? She
was a Christian without knowing it. 'I thank Thee, O Father, Lord of
heaven and earth, because Thou hast hid these things from the wise and
prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes.'"
He thought of his wife's lonely deathbed, and compared it with his own.
For him there was luxury; by him watched a devoted and all-forgiving
daughter, a generous friend and son-in-law. All that could be done to
soothe the painful descent was done for him. For her there had been
nothing but loneliness and sorrow.
"But she might be certain of a speedy welcome in a better home," thought
Horatio; "and I--? Ah, dear kind creature, _there_ the difference was all
in her favour."
As the closing scene grew nearer, he thought more and more of his gentle
low-born wife, whose hold upon him in life had been so slender, whose
memory had occupied until now so insignificant a place in his mind. His
daughter watched with him unceasingly in the last two days and nights.
His mind wandered. On the day of his death he mistook Diana for that
"I have not been a kind husband, Mary, my dear," he faltered; "but
the world has been hard upon me--debts--difficulties--crack
regiment--expensive mess--set of gamblers--no pity on a young man without
fortune--force of example--tied a millstone round my wretched neck before
I was twenty-one years of age."
Later, when the doctor had felt his pulse for the last time, he cried out
suddenly, "I have made a statement of my affairs, the liabilities are
numerous--the assets nil; but I rely on the clemency of this court."
These were his last words. He sank into a kind of stupor betwixt sleeping
and waking, and in this he died.
BETTER THAN GOLD.
The little fleet of paper boats which Mr. Sheldon had pioneered so
skilfully over the commercial seas came to grief very soon after the
disappearance of the admiral. A bill drawn upon the Honduras Mahogany
Company, Limited, was the first to reach maturity. The bill was referred
to the drawer--the drawer was not to be found.
"I have not seen Sheldon for the last fortnight," Mr. Orcott informed the
gentleman who brought him the document.
"Out of business for a fortnight?"
"He has not been in business for a month. His stepdaughter has been very
ill--at death's door, and all that kind of thing, and my governor was
awfully cut up about it. There used to be a couple of doctors at the
house every day, and no end of fuss. I took Sheldon his letters, and
managed matters for him here, and so on. And one fine morning my young
lady runs off and gets married on the quiet; so I suspect there was a
good deal of shamming about the illness--and those old fogies, the
doctors, winked at it. Between them all, I fancy Sheldon was completely
sold; and he has turned savage and gone off somewhere in the sulks."
"I wish he had chosen any other time for his sulks," said the holder of
the bill; "my partner and I have discounted several acceptances for him.
He gave us liberal terms, and we considered any paper of his as safe as a
Bank of England note; and now this confounded bill comes back to us
through our bankers, noted, 'Refer to drawer'--a most unpleasant thing,
you know, and very inconsiderate of Sheldon to leave us in such a fix."
"He has forgotten the bill, I suppose," said Mr. Orcott.
"Well, but you see, really now, a business man ought not to forget that
kind of thing. And so Miss Halliday has made a runaway match, has she? I
remember seeing her when I dined at Bayswater--an uncommonly fine girl.
And she has gone and thrown herself away upon some penniless scapegrace,
most likely? Now, by the bye, how about this Honduras Company, Mr.
Orcott; they don't seem to have any London offices?"
"I believe not. We've some of their prospectuses somewhere about, I
think. Would you like to see one?"
"I should, very much."
Mr. Orcott opened two or three drawers, and after some little trouble
produced the required document.
It was a very flourishing prospectus, setting forth the enormous
benefits to be derived by shareholders from the profitable dealings of the
company. Some good high-sounding names figured in the list of directors,
and the chairman was Captain H. N. Cromie Paget. The prospectus looked
well enough, but the holder of Mr. Sheldon's dishonoured bill was not
able to derive much comfort from high-sounding phrases and high-sounding
"I'll go down to Bayswater, and see if I can hear anything of your
governor," he said to Mr. Orcott.
"He was not there yesterday when I called, and his servants could tell me
nothing of his whereabouts," the young Yorkshireman said very coolly.
"Indeed!" cried the holder of the dishonoured bill in some alarm. "Now,
really, that is not right; a business man ought not to do that kind of
He called a cab and drove to the Lawn. There was the smart gothic villa,
with its pointed gables, and florid chimneys, and oriel windows, and in
the Tudor casements of the ground-floor appeared the bills of a West-end
auctioneer, announcing in large letters that the lease of this charming
mansion, together with the nearly new furniture, linen, books, china,
plate, carefully-selected proof-prints after distinguished modern
artists, small cellar of choice wines, &c., &c., &c., would be disposed
of by auction on the following day.
Mr. Sheldon's victim went into the house, where he found some men
preparing for the forthcoming sale.
"What is the meaning of all this?" he asked, aghast.
"A bill of sale, sir. Messrs. Napthali and Zabulon."
This was enough. The holder of the bill went back to the City. Another
bill came due on the following day, and before the members of the Stock
Exchange took their luncheon, it was known that Philip Sheldon's credit
was among the things of the past.
"I always thought he was out of his depth," said one set of talkers.
"He was the last man I should have expected to see come to grief," said
another set of talkers.
On settling-day came the awful proclamation--Philip Sheldon had
absconded, and would not meet his differences.
On the same day came a terrible revelation to Mr. George Sheldon, of
Gray's Inn, solicitor, genealogist, and pedigree hunter. The first
official step in the advancement of Gustave Lenoble's claim against the
Crown was taken by Messrs. Dashwood and Vernon, the solicitors, of
Whitehall; and George Sheldon discovered that between Charlotte
Hawkehurst and the Haygarth estate there stood a prior claimant, whereby
all his toil, trouble, costs out of pocket, and wear and tear of body and
mind, had been wasted.
"It is enough to make a man go and cut his throat," cried George, in his
first savage sense of utter disappointment.
He went into his slovenly bedroom, and took out one of his razors, and
felt the corrugated surface of the left side of his neck meditatively.
But the razor was blunt, and the corrugated surface seemed very tough and
unmanageable; so George Sheldon decided that this kind of operation was
an affair which might be deferred.
He heard the next day that his brother was _non est_, and, in his own
phraseology, that there was a pretty kettle of fish in the City.
"Upon my word, Phil and I seem to have brought our pigs to a very nice
market," he said. "I dare say, wherever that fellow has gone, he has
carried a well-lined purse with him. But I wouldn't have his conscience
for all the wealth of the Rothschilds. It's bad enough to see Tom
Halliday's face as I see it sometimes. What must it be to _him_?"
A little more than a year after this, and the yellow corn was waving on
the fertile plains of Normandy, fruit ripening in orchards on hillside
and in valley; merry holiday folks splashing and dabbling in the waves
that wash the yellow sands of Dieppe; horses coming to grief in Norman
steeplechases; desperate gamesters losing their francs and half-francs in
all kinds of frivolous games in the Dieppe _etablissement_; and yonder,
in the heart of Normandy, beyond the tall steeples of Rouen, a happy
family assembled at the Chateau Cotenoir.
One happy family--two happy families rather, but so closely united by the
bonds of love and friendship as to seem indeed one. Here are Gustave
Lenoble and his young wife Diana, with two tall slender damsels by their
side; and here is Valentine Hawkehurst, the successful young scribbler,
with his fair young wife Charlotte; and out on the terrace yonder are two
nurses walking with two babies, at that early, and, to some minds,
obnoxious stage of babyhood in which a perpetual rocking, and pacing to
and fro, and swaying backwards and forwards in the air, is necessary for
the preservation of anything approaching tranquillity. But to the minds
of the two young mothers and the two proud fathers, these small creatures
in their long white robes seem something too bright for earth. The united
ages of the babies do not amount to six months; but the mothers have
counted every gradual stage of these young lives, and to both it seems as
if there had been no time in which the children were not, with so firm a
hold have they possessed themselves of every thought in the foolish
maternal mind, of every impulse in the weak maternal heart.
Mrs. Hawkehurst has brought her son to see his aunt Diana; for Diana has
insisted upon assuming that relationship by letters-patent, as it were.
Madame Lenoble's baby is a daughter, and this fact in itself seems to the
two friends to be a special interposition of Providence.
"Would it not be delightful if they should grow up to love each other and
marry?" exclaimed Diana; and Charlotte agreed with her that such an event
in the future did indeed seem in a manner foreshadowed by the conduct of
the infants in the present.
"He takes notice of her already!" she exclaimed, looking out at the
little creature in white muslin robes, held up against the warm blue sky;
"see, they are cooing at each other! I am sure that must be cooing."
And then the two mothers went out upon the sunny terrace-walk and fondly
contemplated these domestic treasures, until the domestic treasures were
seized with some of the inexplicable throes and mysterious agonies of
early babyhood, and had to be borne off shrieking to their nurseries.
"Dear angel," said Gustave, of his "little last one," "she has the very
shriek of Clarice here, poignant and penetrating, until to drown the
heart. Dost thou figure to thyself that thy voice was penetrating as
that, my beautiful, in the time?"
He kissed his beautiful, and she ran off to join the procession following
the two babies,--alarmed nurses, distracted mammas, shrieking infants,
"_C'est un vrai tourbillon_," as Gustave remarked to his companion
Valentine Hawkehurst; "these women, how they love their children! What of
saints, what of Madonnas, what of angels!"
Whereupon he spouted Victor Hugo:
"Lorsque l'enfant parait, le cercle de famille
Applaudit a grands cris; son doux regard qui brille
Fait briller tous les yeux;
Et les plus tristes fronts, les plus souilles peut-etre,
Se derident soudain a voir l'enfant paraitre,
Innocent et joyeux."
All things had gone well for M. Lenoble. His direct descent from Matthew
Haygarth, the father of the intestate, had been proved to the
satisfaction of Crown lawyers and High Court of Chancery, and he had been
in due course placed in possession of the reverend intestate's estate, to
the profit and pleasure of his solicitors and M. Fleurus, and to the
unspeakable aggravation of George Sheldon, who washed his hands at once
and for ever of all genealogical research, and fell back in an embittered
and angry spirit upon the smaller profits to be derived from petty
transactions in the bill-discounting line, and a championship of
penniless sufferers of all classes, from a damsel who considered herself
jilted by a fickle swain, in proof of whose inconstancy she could produce
documentary evidence of the "pork-chop and tomato sauce" order, to a
pedestrian who knocked his head against a projecting shutter in the
Strand, and straightway walked home to Holloway to lay himself up for a
twelvemonth in a state of mental and bodily incapacity requiring large
pecuniary redress from the owner of the fatal shutter. To this noble
protection of the rights of the weak did George Sheldon devote his
intellect; and when malicious enemies stigmatized these Quixotic
endeavours as "speculative actions," or when, in the breaking-down of
some oppressed damsel's cause by reason of the slender evidence afforded
by some reticent lover's epistolary effusions, unjust judges told him
that he "ought to be ashamed of himself" for bringing such an action, the
generous attorney no doubt took consolation from an approving conscience,
and went forth from that court, to look for other oppressed damsels or
injured wayfarers, erect and unshaken.
Some little profit Mr. Sheldon of Gray's Inn did derive from the Haygarth
estate; for at the request of Gustave Lenoble Messrs. Dashwood and Vernon
sent him a cheque for one thousand pounds, as the price of those early
investigations which had set the artful Captain upon the right track. He
wrote a ceremoniously grateful letter to Gustave Lenoble on receiving
this honorarium. It is always well to be grateful for benefits received
from a rich man; but in the depths of his heart he execrated the
fortunate inheritor of the Haygarthian thousands.
Mr. Hawkehurst was not quite so vehement in the expression of his
feelings as that lively Celt, Gustave; but deep in his heart there was a
sense of happiness no less pure and exalted.
Providence had given him more than he had ever dared to hope; not
John Haygarth's thousands; not a life of luxurious idleness, and
dinner-giving, and Derby days, and boxes on the grand tier, and
carriage-horses at five hundred guineas a pair; not a palace in
Belgravia, and a shooting-box in the Highlands, and a villa at Cowes;
not these things, in which he would once have perceived the _summum
bonum_; but a fair price for his labour, a dear young wife, a tranquil
Nor had his researches among the dusty records of the departed Haygarths
been profitless in a pecuniary sense to himself. Gustave Lenoble insisted
that he should accept that honorarium of three thousand pounds which had
been promised by George Sheldon as the reward of his success.
"Captain Paget would never have been put on the right track if he had
not filched your secrets from you," said the son and heir of Susan
Meynell. "It is to your researches, in the first place, that I owe
this inheritance; and you cannot refuse to accept the agreed price of
Valentine did not refuse this fairly-earned reward, nor did he oppose the
settlement which Gustave made in favour of Charlotte's infant son. It
seemed to him only just that some share of the heritage should fall to
the descendant of poor Susan's younger sister and faithful friend.
With this capital of three thousand pounds comfortably invested in
consols, and with the interest of that sum of ten thousand pounds settled
on his infant son, Mr. Hawkehurst began the world, in his new character
of a husband and a father, very pleasantly.
Of his literary career very little need be said here. He was yet at the
beginning of the long dusty road that leads to the temple of Fame. It is
enough to state that he found the dusty high-road rather difficult
walking, and that he was pelted with more mud, flung by nameless
assailants hidden behind the hedges, than he had anticipated when he set
out upon the first stage of his journey. Happily, he found pleasant
fellow-travellers and kindly encouragement from an indulgent public, and
was thus able to accept the mud which bespattered his garments in a very
placid spirit, and to make light of all obstacles in the great highway.
The cottage at Wimbledon was no longer a dream. It was a pleasant
reality, the pride and delight of Mrs. Sheldon and Ann Woolper. It was a
picturesque dwelling-place, half cottage, half villa, situated on the
broad high-road from London to Kingston, with all the woodland of
Richmond Park to be seen from the windows at the back. Only a wall
divided Mr. Hawkehurst's gardens from the coverts of the Queen. It was
like a royal demesne, Charlotte said; whereupon her husband insisted that
it should be christened by the name of a royal dwelling, and so called it
Mr. Hawkehurst had secured this delightful abode for a considerable term
of years, and upon the furnishing and decoration of the pretty rustic
rooms Charlotte and he lavished unmeasured care. The delicious excitement
of "picking up," or, in more elegant parlance, "collecting," was to these
two happy people an inexhaustible source of pleasure. Every eccentric
little table, every luxurious chair, had its special history, and had
been the subject of negotiation and diplomacy that might have sufficed a
Burleigh in the reorganization of Western Europe. The little Dresden and
Vienna cups and saucers in the maple cabinet had been every one bought
from a different dealer. The figures on the mantelpiece were Old Chelsea,
of a quality that would have excited the envy of a Bernal or a Bonn, and
had only fallen to the proud possessors by a sequence of fortuitous
circumstances, the history of which was almost as thrilling as the
story of Boehmer's diamond-necklace. The curtains in the drawing-room
had draped the _portieres_ of the lovely Lady Blessington, and had been
bought for a song by Valentine Hawkehurst, after passing through the
hands of brokers and dealers innumerable. The tapestry-covered
Louis-Quatorze chairs had belonged to Madame de Sevigne, and had
furnished that dull country house whence she wrote the liveliest letters
extant to her disreputable cousin, Bussy, Count of Babutin. These
inestimable treasures had been picked up by Mr. and Mrs. Hawkehurst from
a bric-a-brac merchant in a little court at the back of the Rue Vivienne,
whither the young couple had gone arm-in-arm to choose a bonnet on their
first pleasure-trip to Paris. The clock in the modest dining-room had
been secured from the repository of the same merchant, and was warranted
to have sounded the last domestic hours of Maximilian Robespierre in his
humble lodging _chez le Menuisier_. The inkstand into which Mr.
Hawkehurst dipped his rapid pen had served the literary career of
Voltaire; the blotting-book on which he wrote had been used by Balzac.
To the plausible fictions of the second-hand dealer Mr. and Mrs.
Hawkehurst lent willing ears, and it seemed to them as if these
associations, for which they had paid somewhat dearly, imparted a new
grace to their home.
The arrangement and superintendence of all these treasures gave poor
Georgy endless pleasure and employment; but in her heart of hearts she
believed in the prim splendours of the dismantled Lawn as much superior
to these second-hand objects of art and upholstery. Nor did Ann Woolper
regard the Chelsea figures and Dresden teacups and old black Albert-Duerer
engravings as anything better than an innocent eccentricity on the part
of the master of the house, for the saving of whose purse she managed and
economized as faithfully as she had done for that lost master whereof the
memory was so bitter.
It will be seen, therefore, that Mr. Hawkehurst with a wife, a
mother-in-law, and a faithful old servant, was likely to be well taken
care of; a little spoiled perhaps by "much cherishing," but carefully
guarded from all those temptations which are supposed to assail the
bachelor man-of-letters, toiling alone and neglected in Temple chambers.
For him the days passed in a pleasant monotony of constant labour,
lightened always by the thought of those for whom he worked, cheered ever
by the fond hope of future fame. He was no longer a bookmaker. He had
written a book, the proceeds of which had enabled him to furnish the
Wimbledon villa; and he was engaged in writing a second book, the fruits
whereof would secure the needs of the immediate future. He had insured
his life for a considerable amount, and had shown himself in all things
prudent to a degree that verged upon Philistinism. But the policies taken
out on Charlotte's life by Mr. Sheldon had been suffered to lapse.
Valentine would have no money staked on that dear head.
The steed which Charlotte had desired for her husband's pleasure, the
library which she had catalogued so often, were yet among the delights of
the future; but life has lost half its brightness when there is no
unfulfilled desire left to the dreamer; and the horse which Mr.
Hawkehurst was to ride in time to come, and the noble library which he
was to collect, were the pleasant themes of Charlotte's conversation very
often, as she and her husband walked on the heights of Wimbledon in the
twilight, when his day's work was done.
These twilight walks were the happy holidays of his life, and a part of
his liberal education. He told his wife everything, every literary
scheme, every fancy, every shadowy outline of future work, every new
discovery in the boundless realms of Bookland. His enthusiasm; his
hero-worship; his setting-up of one favourite and knocking-down of
another; his unchristian pleasure in that awful slating of poor Jones in
this week's _Saturday_, or the flaying alive of Robinson in the _Bond
Street Backbiter_;--in a word, his "shop" never became wearisome to
Charlotte. She listened always with a like rapture and sympathy; she
worshipped his favourites of Bookland; she welcomed his friends and
fellow-workers with unvarying sweetness she devised and superintended the
fitting-up of a smoking-room that was perfectly paradisaical, a glimpse
of the Alhambra in miniature; and that obnoxious dish, the cold shoulder,
was never served in Mr. Hawkehurst's dwelling. So sweet a wife, so
pleasant a home, popularized the institution of matrimony among the young
writer's bachelor friends; and that much-abused and cruelly maligned
member of the human race, the mother-in-law, was almost rehabilitated by
Mrs. Sheldon's easy good-nature and evident regard for the interests of
her daughter's husband.
And after all the groping among dry as dust records of a bygone century,
after all the patient following of those faint traces on the sands of
time left by the feet of Matthew Haygarth, _this_ was Charlotte's
Inheritance,--a heart whose innocence and affection made home a kind of
earthly paradise, and gave to life's commonest things a charm that all
the gold ever found in California could not have imparted to them. This
was Charlotte's Inheritance,--the tender, unselfish nature of the
Haygarths and Hallidays; and thus dowered, her husband would not have
exchanged her for the wealthiest heiress whose marriage was ever
chronicled in _Court Circular_ or _Court Journal_.
LOST SIGHT OF.
A year and a half had passed since the disappearance of Philip Sheldon
from the circle in which he had been considered a person of some
importance. The repudiation of those bills by which he had sustained his
exhausted credit, or rather the discovery that the companies upon which
the bills pretended to be drawn were of all shadows the most shadowy, had
brought consternation upon many, and ruin upon some. Bitter and
unmeasured were the terms in which City men spoke of that Phil Sheldon
with whom they had eaten the sacred bait and quaffed the social moselle
in the taverns of Greenwich and Blackwall.
There is a saying current on the Stock Exchange to the effect that the
man who fails, and disappears from among his fellows behind a curtain of
commercial cloud, is sure to return sooner or later to his old circle,
with a moustache and a brougham. For Philip Sheldon there was, however,
no coming back. The moustache and the brougham of the chastened and
penitent defaulter were not for him. By his deliberate and notorious
dishonour he had shut the door against the possibility of return. It may
be supposed that the defaulter knew this, for he did not come back; and
since he had no lack of moral courage, he would scarcely have refrained
from showing himself once more in his old haunts, if it had been possible
for him to face the difficulties of his position.
Time passed, and there came no tidings of the missing man, though a
detective was despatched to America in search of him by one vengeful
sufferer among the many victims of the fictitious bills-of-exchange. It
was supposed that he must inevitably go to America, and thither went his
pursuer, but with no result except the expenditure of money and the
further exasperation of the vengeful sufferer.
"What will you do with him, if you get him?" asked a philosophical friend
of the sufferer. "He has nothing to surrender. Zabulon had a bill-of-sale
on his furniture."
"Furniture!" cried the infuriated victim; "I don't want his furniture. I
want his flesh and bones. I want to shut him up in Dartmoor Prison, or to
get him twenty years' hard labour at Portland Island."
"That sort of man would get a ticket-of-leave in less than twelve
months," replied the philosophic friend. "I'm afraid you are only
throwing good money after bad."
The event proved this gentleman but too able a seer. In the monster city
of New York Philip Sheldon had disappeared like a single drop of water
flung upon the Atlantic Ocean. There was no trace of him: too intangible
for the grasp of international law, he melted into the mass of humanity,
only one struggler the more in the great army perpetually fighting life's
From among all those who had known him this man had utterly vanished,
and not one sigh of regret followed him in his unknown wanderings--not
one creature amongst all those who had taken his hand and given him
friendly greeting thought of him kindly, or cared to know whither he
went or how he prospered. He had not left in the house that had
sheltered him for years so much as a dog to whine at his door or listen
for his returning footstep.
This fact, if he had known it or considered it, would have troubled him
very little. He had played his game for a certain stake, and had lost it.
This he felt, and cursed his own too cautious play as the cause of his
defeat. That there were higher stakes for which he might have played an
easier game, was a fact that never occurred to him. In his philosophy
there was indeed nothing higher given to the hopes of man than worldly
success, and a dull, cold, prosperous life spent among prosperous
He was gone, and those who remembered him most keenly--Valentine
Hawkehurst, Diana Paget, Ann Woolper--remembered him with a shudder. The
old Yorkshirewoman thought of him sometimes as she bent over the little
muslin-bedecked cradle where the hope of the Hawkehursts slumbered, and
looked round fearfully in the gloaming, half expecting to see his dreaded
face glower upon her, dark and threatening, from between the curtains of
It was a belief of all ancient races, nay indeed, a belief still current
amongst modern nations, that it is not given to man to behold the beings
of another world and live. The Arab who meets a phantom in the desert
goes home to his tent to die. He knows that the hand of doom is upon him.
He has seen that upon which, for mortal eyes, it is fatal to look. And it
is thus in some measure with those who are admitted within the dark
precincts of murder's dread sanctuary. Not swiftly does the curtain fall
which has once been lifted from the hidden horrors of that ghastly
temple. The revelations of an utterly wicked soul leave a lasting impress
upon the mind which unwillingly becomes recipient of those awful secrets.
The circumstances of Tom Halliday's death and of Charlotte's illness were
not to be forgotten by Ann Woolper. The shadow of that dark cruel face,
which had lain upon her bosom forty years before, haunted many a peaceful
hour of her quiet old age. Her ignorance, and that faint tinge of
superstition which generally accompanies ignorance, exaggerated the
terror of those dark memories. The thought that Philip Sheldon still
lived, still had the power to plot and plan evil against the innocent,
was an ever-present source of terror to her. She could not understand
that such an element could exist among the forces of evil without fatal
result to some one. It seemed to her as if a devil were at large, and
there could be neither peace nor security until the evil spirit was
exorcised, the baneful presence laid in nethermost depths of unfathomable
These feelings and these fears would scarcely have arisen in the old
woman's breast, had she alone been subject to the possible plottings of
that evil nature. For herself she had little fear. Her span of life was
nearly ended; very few were the sands that had yet to run; and, for her
own sake, she would have cared little if some rough hand had spilt them
untimely. But a new interest in life had been given to Mrs. Woolper just
as life drew near its close. That peerless child, the son and heir of the
Hawkehursts, had been intrusted to the old woman's care; and this infant
she loved with an affection much more intense than that which had once
made Philip Sheldon so dear to her.
It was by the cradle of this much-treasured child that Ann Woolper nursed
her fear of her old master. She knew that he had been counter-plotted and
beaten ignominiously in that deadly game which he had played so boldly.
And she asked herself whether he was the man to submit to such utter
defeat without any effort to revenge himself upon those who had helped to
compass his failure.
On that night when Charlotte Halliday had lain between life and death,
suffering on the one hand from the effects of a prolonged and gradual
course of poison, on the other from the violent measures taken to
eliminate that poisonous element from her system,--on that night when the
precious life yet trembled in the balance, Ann Woolper had seen murderous
looks in the face of the man whom she dared boldly to defy, and who knew
in that hour that his ghastly plot was discovered. Even now, secure in a
haven of safety, she could not forget that baneful look in Philip
Sheldon's eyes. She could not find perfect rest while she knew not where
that man might be, or what mischief he might be plotting against those
Her fears showed themselves in many ways. When she read of dark and
vengeful deeds in her newspaper, she thought of her old master, and how,
in such or such an act, his fatal hand might reveal itself. He might lie
in wait for Valentine some night on the dark road between Charlottenburgh
and the distant railway-station. She could fancy the young wife's agony
of terror as the night wore on, and her husband did not return; the
unspeakable horror that would come over all that happy household when the
news came that its young master had been found on the lonely road slain
by some unknown hand. Open utterance to her fears she was too wise to
give; but she warned Mr. Hawkehurst of the dangers on that dark road, and
besought him to arm himself with a trusty bludgeon wherewith to meet and
vanquish any chance assailant. Valentine laughed at her anxious warning;
but when Charlotte took up the cry he was fain to content her by the
purchase of a sturdy stick, which he swung cheerily to and fro as he
walked homewards in the gloaming, planning a chapter in his new book, and
composing powerful and eloquent sentences which eluded his mental grasp
when he tried to reduce his evening reverie to pen-and-ink.
"When the air blows fresh across the common, and the distant lights
twinkle, and the bright stars peep out in the pale-yellow sky, my
language flows as it never does when I sit at my desk, Lotta," he said to
his wife. "I feel myself a Swift or a Junius out there; equal to the
tackling of any social question that ever arose upon this earth, from the
Wood halfpence to the policy of American taxation, and triennial
elections. At home I am only Valentine Hawkehurst, with an ever-present
consciousness that so many pages of copy are required from me within a
given time, and that my son-and-heir is cutting his teeth, and making
more fuss about it than I ever made about _my_ teeth; and that the man
about the water-rate is waiting to see me, please, and is desperately
anxious about making-up his books; and that I have the dearest wife in
Christendom, who opens my door, and puts her pretty head into my room
once in half an hour to see how I am getting on, or to ask whether I want
any more coals, or to borrow my ink to make-up her washing-book."
"You mean, sir, that I prevent your becoming a Junius?" cried Charlotte,
with an enchanting _moue_.
"Yes, dear. I begin to understand why Swift kept his poor ill-used wife
at a respectful distance. She would have made him too happy if he had
allowed her to be on the premises. She would have given the cruel
indignation no chance of lacerating his heart; and such writing as
Swift's is only produced by a man whose heart is so lacerated. No, my
darling, I shall never be a Swift or a Junius while your pretty head is
thrust into my room once or twice an hour; but I may hope to be something
better, if bright eyes can inspire bright thoughts, and innocent smiles
give birth to pleasant fancies."
Upon this there was the usual little demonstration of affection between
this young couple; and Charlotte praised her husband as the most
brilliant and admirable of men; after which pleasing flattery she
favoured him with a little interesting information about the baby's last
tooth, and the contumacious behaviour of the new housemaid, between whom
and Mrs. Woolper there had been a species of disagreement, which the
Yorkshirewoman described as a "standfurther."
Thus occupied in simple pleasures and simple cares, the lives of Mr. and
Mrs. Hawkehurst went on, untroubled by any fear of that crime-burdened
wretch whose image haunted the dreams and meditations of Ann Woolper. For
these two Mr. Sheldon was numbered among the dead. To Charlotte the
actual truth had never been revealed; but she had been, in the course of
time, given to understand that her stepfather had committed some
unpardonable sin, which must for ever separate him from herself and her
mother. She had been told as much as this, and had been told that she
must seek to know no more. To this she submitted without questioning.
"I am very sorry for him," she said, "and for mamma."
She concluded that the unpardonable offence must needs have been some sin
against her mother, some long-hidden infidelity brought suddenly to
light, with all the treachery and falsehood involved therein. She never
mentioned her stepfather after this but in her prayers the sinner was not
ETEOCLES AND POLYNICES.
George Sheldon went his ways, picking up as good a living as he could
from that chivalrous assertion of the rights of the weak which has been
already described; and the thought of his brother's sin-burdened soul
troubled him very little. He did think of Tom Halliday; for that last
grasp of the honest Yorkshireman's hand, that last look in his old
friend's face, were haunting memories which this sharp practitioner had
found himself powerless to exorcise. If his brother, after an absence of
many years in the remote regions of the East Indies, had come home to his
fatherland with a colossal fortune, and the reputation of having
strangled a few natives during the process of amassing that fortune,
George Sheldon would have welcomed the returning wanderer, and would, in
his own parlance, have "swallowed the natives." A few niggers, more or
less, sent untimely to Gehenna, would have seemed scarcely sufficient
cause for quarrel with a fraternal and liberally-disposed millionaire.
But the circumstances of Tom Halliday's death had brought all the horror
of crime and treachery home to the spectator of that deliberate
assassination, and had produced such an impression as no other
circumstances could on so hard a nature.
It was some satisfaction to George Sheldon to know that his old friend's
daughter had found a happy home; and he was apt to take some credit from
his own share in his brother's discomfiture. He met Valentine sometimes
in the course of his peregrinations in the neighbourhood of the British
Museum, and the greeting between the two men was sufficiently cordial;
but Mr. Hawkehurst did not invite his old employer to Charlottenburgh,
and George was able to comprehend that to that household no one bearing
the name of Sheldon could be a welcome visitor.
He jogged on comfortably enough in his own way; living in his chambers,
and consorting with a few chosen friends and kindred spirits of the
jolly-good-fellow class, whom he met at an old-established tavern in the
west-central district, and in whose society, and the society of the
subscription-ground in the Farringdon Road, he found the _summum bonum_
in the way of social intercourse. He did a little speculation upon the
turf, and discounted the bills of needy bookmakers, or bought up their
bad debts, and thereby gained introductions to the noble patrons of the
humble "scums," and pushed his business into new grooves. He had no idea
that such an existence was in any way ignoble; nay, indeed, when he had
paid his rent, and his clerk, and his laundress, and his tavern score,
and "stood glasses round" amongst his friends, he lighted his cigar, and
thrust his hands into the depths of his pockets, and paced the flags of
Holborn happy in the belief that he had performed the whole duty of man.
"There are men whose business obliges them to keep up an establishment,
and go to church twice a day, and all that kind of thing," he said; "and
I dare say they find it pay. My clients don't care a doit where I live,
or how I spend my Sundays; and I'd rather have five pounds a week and my
liberty than the best family connection in the Fields."
The fate of that wretched man, who had dropped out of his old circle
and vanished no one knew whither, in no manner disturbed the peace of
"Take my word for it, that gentleman has fallen on his feet," he said, on
the only occasion when the fate of Philip was discussed by Valentine and
himself. "He's doing well enough, somewhere or other, you may depend; but
I don't think he'll ever be able to show his nose in London after those
bill transactions. There's a very strong feeling against him on Change.
He's looked upon as a discredit to the order, and that sort of thing, you
see. It isn't often a member of the House goes to the bad like that. No,
I don't think Phil will ever show himself in London again; but such a man
as that can always find a platform somewhere--"
"And go on to the end of his days unpunished, I suppose," remarked Mr.
Hawkehurst, with some bitterness.
"Well, yes; I don't see what's to touch him in the future. Of course he
could be dropped upon for those bills, if he came in the way of being
dropped upon; but, as I said before, he's too deep a card for that."
Thus did George Sheldon dismiss the subject. That his brother was an
exile for life from his native land he did not doubt; but he took it for
granted that in whatever distant spot of earth Philip had found a refuge,
he would there contrive to prosper and to show a bold front in the city
of his adoption.
This belief Mr. Sheldon of Gray's Inn cherished until one snowy Christmas
Eve, a year and a half after that event, or series of events, which the
lawyer briefly designated "the burst-up at Bayswater."
Bleak and bitter was that December, a December not long gone by. The
heart of the prosperous British nation melted as the heart of one man.
The columns of the _Zeus_ and the _Diurnal Hermes_, the _Flag_ and the
_Hesper_, overflowed with the record of subscriptions to charity funds;
and the leaders of the morning journals all preached the same kindly
sermon on the same Christian text. Thick lay the snow upon the housetops;
"thick and slab" the greasy slush upon the pavements of crowded
thoroughfares; merry the rogues and ragamuffins of the great city. The
ideal Christmas of our dreams seemed to have come at last, and the heart
of every true Briton rejoiced; while skaters in the parks made merry, and
cabmen demanded fabulous sums of helpless wayfarers; and luckless,
overworked, under-fed horses stumbled and fell at every turn, and the
familiar steep of Holborn was dangerous as Alpine mountain.
To George Sheldon neither the weather nor the Christmas season made much
difference. The even current of his life was little disturbed by festive
pleasures or dissipations. An extra glass at his tavern, an invitation to
dinner from some friend in the bill-discounting line, were the most
exciting events the season was likely to bring him. He saw the shops
brighten suddenly with semi-supernal glories of crystallized fruits and
gorgeous bonbon-boxes, and he was aware of a kind of movement in the
streets that was brisker and gayer than the plodding hurry of everyday
life. He stood aside and let the mummeries go by him, and was glad when
these Christmas follies were done with, and the law-courts in full swing
once more. In the happiest and most innocent days of his youth, Christmas
had brought him no more than extraordinary indulgences in the way of
eating and drinking, swiftly followed by that dread avenger, the demon of
Upon this particular occasion Mr. Sheldon had pledged himself to dine
with a horsey publican lately retired from business, and big with all the
pride and glory of a "place" at Hornsey.
"Come down and see my place, Sheldon," this gentleman had said. "I don't
pretend to do the swell thing; but I force my own pines and grow my own
grapes, and can put as good a dessert on my table as you could buy in
Covent Garden for a five-pun' note. That's my missus's fad, that is, and
I can afford it; so why shouldn't I do it? You come and eat your
Christmas dinner with us, Sheldon. I've got a friend coming that can
sing as good a song as Reeves hisself, and might make a fortune, if he
wasn't above coming out at one of them music-halls. And I'll give you a
bottle of Madeira that you won't match at any nobleman's table, if
noblemen's tables was in your line of business, which you and I know
they ain't, old fellow."
And then the jolly good fellow dug his fat fingers into George Sheldon's
ribs, and George accepted the invitation; not with any elation of
spirits, but sufficiently pleased to secure a good dinner with a man who
promised to be a profitable client, and whose house was within a
reasonable cab-fare from the west-central district.
"The cabmen are trying it on, anyhow, just now," thought Mr. Sheldon;
"but I don't think they'll try it on with me. And if they do, there's the
Marylebone stage. I'm not afraid of a five-mile walk."
Having accepted this invitation, and thus disposed of his Christmas-day,
George Sheldon refrained from the delights of social converse at his
tavern on Christmas-eve, and occupied himself with business. His clerk
left him at the usual hour; but the master sat, long after dark, writing
letters and reading law-papers, while the snow drifted against his
windows and whitened the quiet quadrangle below.
He had just laid aside his papers and lighted a cigar, when he was
startled by a stealthy knocking at his door. He was not unaccustomed to
late visitors, as he was known to live at his chambers, and to work after
office-hours; but the knocking of to-night was not the loud rollicking
rat-a-tat of his jolly-good-fellow friends or clients. If he had been a
student of light literature, and imbued with the ghostly associations of
the season, he would have gone to his door expecting to behold a weird
figure clothed in the vestments of the last century; or an old woman in
ruff and martingale, whose figure in the flesh had once haunted those
legal precincts; or the ghostly semblance of the Baron of Verulam
himself, revisiting the glimpses of the moon and the avenue of elms that
were planted by his order.
In George Sheldon's nature there was, however, no lurking dread of fiend
or phantom. His ideas in connection with ghosts were limited to a white
sheet, a broomstick, and a hollow turnip with a lighted candle inside it;
and he would have set down the most awful apparition that ever was
revealed to German ghost-seer, with a scornful grin, as a member of the
sheet and-hollow-turnip confraternity.
"I know how it's done," he would have said, if the spectral form had
glowered upon him in midnight churchyard or ruined abbey. "You'd better
go and try it on somewhere else, my friend."
* * * * *
To a superstitious mind the THING which crept across the dark lobby
and dragged itself into the glare of the gas-lighted office might
have seemed, indeed, some, creature too loathsome for humanity. A
plague-stricken corpse galvanized into a spasmodic life could scarcely
have lifted to the light a more awful countenance than that on which
George Sheldon looked with mingled anger and disgust.
"What do you want here" he asked. "Do you take this for the workhouse?"
"No," the creature answered, in a faint hoarse voice; "but I take you for
"WHAT!" cried George Sheldon, aghast.
He bent down and looked at the awful face. Yes, from the cavernous
hollows of those sunken cheeks, beneath the shaggy penthouse of those
bony brows, the fierce black eyes of Philip Sheldon looked out at him
with a savage glare that he had never seen in them before--even when the
savage nature of the man had revealed itself most nakedly--the fierce
glare of fever and starvation.
This walking horror, this mass of loathsome rags endued with motion, this
living disease, was the sometime prosperous stockbroker, the man whom it
had been impossible to think of except furnished with linen of spotless
whiteness, and the glossy broad-cloth, and well-made boots, and keyless
chronometer, and silk umbrella of commercial success.
"Good God!" exclaimed George, horror-stricken, "is it you?"
"Yes, it's I," answered the creature in his strange husky accents; and
the change--nay, indeed, the degradation, of the voice was as complete as
the degradation of the man. "Yes, George, it's I; your brother Phil.
You're surprised to see me fallen so low in the world, I suppose; but you
can't be more surprised than I am myself. I've tried hard enough to hold
my head above water. There's scarcely any trade that mortal man ever
tried to earn his bread by, that I haven't tried--and failed in. It has
been the experience of Fitzgeorge-street over and over again, in every
trade and every profession. I started as doctor in Philadelphia, and was
doing well;--till--till a patient died--and things went against me. I've
been clerk in more offices than you can count on your ten fingers; but
there was always something--my employer levanted, or was bankrupt, or
died, or dismissed me. I've been travelling-dentist, auctioneer,
commission-agent, tout, pedlar, out yonder; but it all came to the same
thing--ruin, starvation, the hospital, or the pauper's ward. I have swept
crossings in the city, and camped out in the wilderness among the bears
and opossums. One day I thought I'd come home. 'There's George,' I said
to myself; 'if I can get money enough to take me across the Atlantic, I
shall be all right. George will give me a lift.' I don't stand alone in
the world. A man's own flesh and blood won't let him starve--can't let
him starve. Blood's thicker than water, you know, George. So I came home.
I got the money; never you mind how. I needn't tell you what it cost me
to scrape half-a-dozen pounds together. When a man's as low down in the
world as I am, there's not a shilling he earns that doesn't cost him a
drop of his heart's blood; there's not a pound he gets together that
isn't bought by the discount of so much of his life. I found money enough
for my passage in an emigrant vessel; and here I am, ready for anything.
I'll work like your bought nigger. I'll do the work your clerk does for a
quarter of his wages. I'll sweep out your office, and run errands for
you. You'll give me something to keep body and soul together, won't you,
Nothing could be more utterly abject than the tone of this most abject
This man, who in prosperity had been the very personification of hardness
and insolence, was transformed into a grovelling, cringing supplicant,
ready to lie face downward in the dust beneath the feet of that brother
whose patronage, or charity, he besought.
Mr. Sheldon the younger contemplated the supplicant with looks of
undisguised gratification. He walked a few paces backward from the spot
where his brother had fallen, in a half-sitting, half-crouching attitude,
and where he remained, hugging himself in his rags, too abject to be
acutely conscious of his degradation. A year ago and he would have held
himself obstinately aloof from all old associations, and would have
declared himself ready to face starvation, rather than accept, still less
supplicate, relief from his younger brother. The events of that one year
had involved alternations and convulsions that change a year into a
cycle. He had faced starvation; he had walked with hunger for his
travelling companion; he had lain down night after night in such lairs
as the tramp can find for his refuge, with sickness and pain for his
bed-fellows. The crucible through which he had passed had left in him no
more of humanity than its outward semblance, and scarcely that; for when
the moral man sinks to the level of the beasts of prey, the physical man
undergoes an assimilative process only less marked than that which
transforms the mental nature.
For six months this man had lived by fawning upon or threatening his
fellow-men; by violence or craft; by the degradation of the vagrant or
the audacity of the thief. There is no limit to man's capacity for infamy
which he had not touched. Vilest amongst the vile, he had been cast forth
from the haunts of beggars and reprobates, as no fitting company for
honourable thieves or cadgers of good repute.
George Sheldon seated himself astride upon a chair, and, with his folded
arms resting on the back of it, contemplated this hideous spectacle. It
was a picture that he had never thought to see, and the feeling with
which he surveyed it was not unmingled with pleasure.
"When you rode me rough-shod, my friend, I used to think how I should
enjoy taking my change out of you," he said; "but I never thought I
should have such an opportunity as this--never, by Jove! I thought you
would ride the high horse to the end of the journey; I didn't think your
steed would land you in the gutter. And so you've tried every move, have
you?--tumbled upon every platform?--and you've found all your cleverness
no go upon the other side of the three thousand miles of everlasting wet,
as my Yankee friends call the Atlantic; and you've come back whining to
me, and I'm to help you, am I, and to give you a fresh start in life, I
suppose, and make you my clerk, or my junior partner, eh?--that would be
better. Messrs. Sheldon and Sheldon wouldn't look bad on my door. That's
about what you mean when you talk of blood being thicker than water,
The abject wretch who had once been Philip Sheldon felt that his brother
was trifling with him, savouring to the last drop that cup of triumph
which the chances of fortune had offered to his lips.
"Don't play the fool with me, George," he said piteously. "I don't ask
you much--a crust of bread, a corner to sleep in, and a cast-off suit of
clothes: that's not much for one brother to ask of another."
"Perhaps not," replied George Sheldon; "but it's a great deal for you to
ask of me. You've had your turn, Phil; and you made the most of it, and
contrived to keep me at arm's length. My turn has come at last, and you
may depend upon it I shall contrive now to keep _you_ at arm's length."
The vagrant stared at him aghast. Here he had felt secure of food and
shelter; and he had endured miseries and deprivations that reduce a man
to a state in which food and shelter seem to constitute the supreme good
that can be obtained in this life.
"You won't refuse to do something for me, George," he whined piteously.
"I will do nothing for you. Do you hear that, my man? Nothing! You taught
me that blood is not thicker than water twelve years ago, when you
married Tom Halliday's widow, and drew your purse-strings, after flinging
me a beggarly hundred as you'd throw a bone to a dog. You made me
understand that was all I should ever get out of your brotherly love, or
your fear of my telling the world what I knew. You gave me a dinner now
and then, because it suited you to keep your eye upon me; and you had
generally some piece of dirty work on hand that made the advice of a
sharp practitioner like me uncommonly useful to you. I don't believe that
you ever gave me so much as a dinner that you didn't take payment for in
meal or in malt. Don't come howling here now, trying to persuade me that
blood is thicker than water, or that brotherhood means anything more than
the accident of birth. And now I've said all I have to say; and the
sooner you make yourself scarce, the better for both of us."
"George!" cried the miserable suppliant, clasping his bony hands
convulsively, and whimpering as he had whimpered when he begged his bread
in the streets of New York, "you can't mean to turn me out of doors on
such a night. Look at me. It was as much as I could do to crawl to this
room. I have walked every step of the way from Liverpool; my wretched
limbs have been frost-bitten, and ulcered, and bruised, and racked with
rheumatism, and bent double with cramp. I came over in an emigrant
vessel, with a herd of miserable creatures who had tried their luck on
the other side of the Atlantic, and had failed, like me, and were coming
home to their native workhouses. You don't know what some of your
emigrant ships are, perhaps. People talk about the Black Hole of
Calcutta, and the Middle Passage; but let them try the cabin of an
emigrant vessel, and they'll have a pretty fair idea of what human beings
have to suffer when Poverty drives the ship. I landed in Liverpool with
half-a-dollar in my pocket, and I've had neither decent food nor decent
shelter since I landed. Give me some hole to lie in, George, till you can
get me an order for the nearest hospital. It's a toss-up whether I ever
come out of it."
"Do you think I'd sleep under the roof that sheltered you?" cried George.
"Why not! Because I'm afraid of you. Because I'd as soon have a cobra
for my companion, or a wolf for my bedfellow. I know you. I've seen what
you can do, and how you can do it. And if you could do those things when
the only pressure upon you was one that you could have cast off by going
through the _Gazette_, what would you _not_ do now when you are as
desperate as a famished wolf, and governed by no better law than that
which governs a wolf--the law of self-preservation? Am I to trust a
tiger because he tells me he is hungry? No, Phil Sheldon; neither will I
"You will give me some money--enough to keep me alive for a week or two."
"Not one sixpence. I'll establish no precedent; I'll acknowledge no tie
between us. You'd better march. I don't want to send for a policeman; but
if you won't go quietly, you must do the other thing."
"You mean that?"
"Most emphatically yes."
"I didn't think it was in you to be so hard upon me," faltered; the
wretch in that faint hoarse voice which had grown fainter and hoarser
during this interview.
"Did you think that I would trust you?" cried George. "Trust _you_! You
call me hard because I won't give you a corner to lie in. And if I did,
you would creep out of your corner to poison me, or cut my throat. You
would crawl into my room in the dead of the night and put a pillow over
my face, and kneel upon it till you'd done the trick for me; and then
you'd walk off with as much as you could carry, and begin the same kind
of work over again with some one else. I tell you, Mr. Phil Sheldon, I
will hold no intercourse with you. You've escaped hanging, but there's
something that's worse than hanging, to my mind, and that is the state of
a man whom nobody will trust. You've come to that; and if you had a spark
of gentlemanly feeling, you'd have bought two-pennyworth of rope and hung
yourself rather than come cringing to me."
"Suppose I don't cringe," said the outcast, dropping the fawning tone of
the mendicant for the threatening ferocity of the social wolf; "you'd
better give me a trifle to keep body and soul together for the next few
weeks. I'm a desperate man, George! You and I are alone up here. You are
pretty sure to have ready money about you. And there's your watch; that's
worth something. I didn't come here to go away empty-handed. AND I
He sprang to his feet, and in the next moment the lawyer heard the sharp
clicking noise made by the opening of a clasp-knife.
"O," cried he, "that's what you want, is it!"
He bent over his desk, with his eyes fixed on those other evil eyes that
still retained some likeness to his own, and with his left arm raised in
a boxer's defensive attitude, to guard his head, while his right hand
groped for something in a drawer. It was a moment's work. Philip had
seized that uplifted left arm, and was hanging on to it like a cat, with
his knife between his teeth, when George clapped the muzzle of a revolver
to his brow.
"There are plenty of wild beasts in London besides you," he said, "and I
am not such a fool as to be without the means of settling a chance
visitor of your sort. Drop your knife, and march."
The outcast dropped his knife submissively. He was too weak for anything
more than a spasmodic violence.
"Take your pistol away from my head," he whined.
"Certainly, when you are outside my door."
"You might give me a handful of silver, George. I haven't a week's life
left in me."
"All the better for society if you hadn't an hour's life in you. Be off.
I'm tired of holding this revolver to your head, and I don't mean to let
it go till you're off my premises."
Philip saw that there was no hope. Food and shelter were all he had
hoped for; but even these blessings were not for him. He backed out of
the office, closely followed by George, holding the muzzle of the
revolver within an inch or so of the fraternal brains. Upon the
threshold only did he pause.
"Tell me one thing," he said. "You won't give me sixpence to buy a loaf
of bread or a glass of gin. Give me one scrap of comfort. It need cost
you nothing. Tell me something bad of Valentine Hawkehurst: that he's
gone to the dogs, or drowned himself; that his wife has run away from
him, or his house been burned to the ground. Tell me that he's had a
taste of my luck; and that Ann Woolper has died in a workhouse. It will
be as good as meat and drink to me, and it will cost you nothing."
"If I told you anything of the kind, I should tell you a lie; Valentine
Hawkehurst is doing uncommonly well, and has got one of the prettiest
little boxes between Wimbledon and Kingston. Ann Woolper lives with them,
and is in better feather than she ever was in your time."
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