M. E. Braddon
Part 2 out of 9
my last record and that which I begin to-day, has become almost as
familiar as the oldest friends of my youth. 'Non piu mesta'--I hear my
niece strumming the notes I know so well in the parlour below my room,
as I write these lines, and the sound of the melody brings before me the
image of a sweet pale face and dove-like brown eyes.
"I never fully realized the number and extent of feminine requirements
until a hack cab deposited my niece and her deal travelling-cases at our
hall-door. Miss Elizabeth Lester seemed to want everything that it was
possible for the human mind to imagine or desire. She had grown during
the homeward voyage; her frocks were too short, her boots were too
small, her bonnets tumbled off her head and hung forlornly at the back
of her neck. She wanted parasols and hair-brushes, frilled and
furbelowed mysteries of muslin and lace, copybooks, penholders, and
pomatum, a backboard and a pair of gloves, drawing-pencils, dumb-bells,
geological specimens for the illustration of her studies, and a hundred
other items, whose very names are as a strange language to my masculine
comprehension; and, last of all, she wanted a musical governess. The
little girl was supposed to be very tolerably advanced in her study of
the piano, and my sister was anxious that she should continue that study
under the superintendence of a duly-qualified instructress, whose terms
should be moderate. My sister Marian underlined this last condition. The
buying and making of the new frocks and muslin furbelows seemed almost
to absorb my mother's mind, and she was fain to delegate to me the duty
of finding a musical governess for Miss Lester.
"I began my task in the simplest possible way by consulting the daily
newspapers, where I found so many advertisements emanating from ladies
who declared themselves proficients in the art of music, that I was
confused and embarrassed by the wealth of my resources: but I took the
ladies singly, and called upon them in the pleasant summer evenings
after office hours, sometimes with my mother, sometimes alone.
"It may be that the seal of old-bachelorhood is already set upon me, and
that I am that odious and hyper-sensitive creature commonly called a
'fidget;' but somehow I could not find a governess whom I really felt
inclined to choose for my little Lizzie. Some of the ladies were elderly
and stern; others were young and frivolous; some of them were uncertain
as to the distribution of the letter _h_. One young lady declared that
she was fonder of music than anything in the world. Some were a great
deal too enthusiastic, and were prepared to adore my little niece at a
moment's notice. Many, who seemed otherwise eligible, demanded a higher
rate of remuneration than we were prepared to give. So, somehow or
other, the business languished, and after the researches of a week we
found ourselves no nearer a decision than when first I looked at the
advertisements in the _Times_ supplement.
"Had our resources been reduced, we should most likely have been much
easier to please; but my mother said, that as there were so many people
to be had, we should do well to deliberate before we came to any
decision. So it happened that, when I went out for a walk one evening,
at the end of the second week in July, Miss Lester was still without a
governess. She was still without a governess: but I was tired of
catechizing the fair advertisers as to their qualifications, and went
out on this particular evening for a solitary ramble amongst the quiet
Surrey suburbs, in any lonely lanes or scraps of common-land where the
speculating builder had not yet set his hateful foot. It was a lovely
evening; and I, who am so much a Cockney as to believe that a London
sunset is one of the grandest spectacles in the universe, set my face
towards the yellow light in the west, and walked across Wandsworth
Common, where faint wreaths of purple mist were rising from the hollows,
and a deserted donkey was breaking the twilight stillness with a
plaintive braying. Wandsworth Common was as lonely this evening as a
patch of sand in the centre of Africa; and being something of a
day-dreamer, I liked the place because of its stillness and solitude.
"Something of a dreamer: and yet I had so little to dream about. My
thoughts were pleasant, as I walked across the common in the sunset; and
yet, looking back now, I wonder what I thought of, and what image there
was in my mind that could make my fancies pleasant to me. I know what I
thought of, as I went home in the dim light of the newly-risen moon, the
pale crescent that glimmered high in a cloudless heaven.
"I went into the little town of Wandsworth, the queer old-fashioned High
Street, the dear old street, which seems to me like a town in a Dutch
picture, where all the tints are of a sombre brown, yet in which there
is, nevertheless, so much light and warmth. The lights were beginning to
twinkle here and there in the windows; and upon this July evening there
seemed to be flowers blooming in every casement. I loitered idly through
the street, staring at the shop-windows, in utter absence of mind while
"What could I have thought of that evening? and how was it that I did
not think the world blank and empty?
"While I was looking idly in at one of those shop-windows--it was a
fancy-shop and stationer's--a kind of bazaar, in its humble way--my eye
was attracted by the word 'Music;' and on a little card hung in the
window I read that a lady would be happy to give lessons on the
piano-forte, at the residences of her pupils, or at her own residence,
on very moderate terms. The word 'very' was underscored. I thought it
had a pitiful look somehow, that underscoring of the adverb, and seemed
almost an appeal for employment. The inscription on the card was in a
woman's hand, and a very pretty hand--elegant but not illegible, firm
and yet feminine. I was in a very idle frame of mind, ready to be driven
by any chance wind; and I thought I might just as well turn my evening
walk to some account by calling upon the proprietress of the card. She
was not likely to suit my ideas of perfection, any more than the other
ladies I had seen; but I should at least be able to return home with the
consciousness of having made another effort to find an instructress for
"The address on the card was, 'No. 3, Godolphin Cottages.' I asked the
first person I met to direct me to Godolphin Cottages, and was told to
take the second turning on my right. The second turning on my right took
me into a kind of lane or by-road, where there were some old-fashioned,
semi-detached cottages, sheltered by a row of sycamores, and shut in by
wooden palings. I opened the low gate before the third cottage, and went
into the garden,--a primly-kept little garden, with a grass-plat and
miniature gravel-walks, and with a grotto of shells and moss and craggy
blocks of stone in a corner. Under a laburnum-tree there was a green
rustic bench; and here I found a young lady sitting reading by the dying
light. She started at the sound of my footsteps on the crisp gravel, and
rose, blushing like one of the cabbage-roses that grew near her. The
blush was all the more becoming to her inasmuch as she was naturally
very pale. I saw this almost immediately, for the bright colour faded
out of her face while I was speaking to her.
"'I have come to inquire for a lady who teaches music,' I said; 'I saw a
card, just now, in the High Street, and as I am searching for an
instructress for my little niece, I took the opportunity of calling. But
I fear I have chosen an inconvenient time for my visit.'
"I scarcely know why I made this apology, since I had omitted to
apologize to the other ladies, on whom I had ventured to intrude at
abnormal hours. I fear that I was weak enough to feel bewildered by the
pensive loveliness of the face at which I looked, and that my confidence
ebbed away under the influence of those grave hazel eyes.
"The face is so beautiful,--as beautiful now that I have learned the
trick of every feature, though even now I cannot learn all the varying
changes of expression which make it ever new to me, as it was that
evening when it beamed on me for the first time. Shall I describe
her,--the woman whom I have only known four weeks, and who seems to fill
all the universe when I think of her?--and when do I not think of her?
Shall I describe her for the New Zealander, when the best description
must fall so far below the bright reality, and when the very act of
reducing her beauty into hard commonplace words seems in some manner a
sacrilege against the sanctity of that beauty? Yes, I will describe her;
not for the sake of the New Zealander, who may have new and
extraordinary ideas as to female loveliness, and may require a blue nose
or pea-green tresses in the lady he elects as the only type of beautiful
womanhood. I will describe her because it is sweet to me to dwell upon
her image, and to translate that dear image, no matter how poorly, into
words. Were I a painter, I should be like Claude Melnotte, and paint no
face but hers. Were I a poet, I should cover reams of paper with wild
rhapsodies about her beauty. Being only a cashier in a bank, I can do
nothing but enshrine her in the commonplace pages of my diary.
"I have said that she is pale. Hers is that ivory pallor which sometimes
accompanies hazel eyes and hazel-brown hair. Her eyes are of that rare
hazel, that soft golden brown, so rarely seen, so beautiful wherever
they are seen. These eyes are unvarying in their colour; it is only the
expression of them that varies with every emotion, but in repose they
have a mournful earnestness in their look, a pensive gravity that seems
to tell of a life in which there has been much shadow. The hair, parted
above the most beautiful brow I ever looked upon, is of exactly the same
colour as the eyes, and has a natural ripple in it. For the rest of the
features I must refer my New Zealander to the pictures of the old
Italian masters--of which I trust he may retain a handsome
collection;--for only on the canvases of Signori Raffaello Sanzio
d'Urbino, Titian, and the pupils who emulated them, will he find that
exquisite harmony, that purity of form and tender softness of outline,
which I beheld that summer evening in the features of Margaret
"Margaret Wentworth,--that is her name. She told it me presently, when I
had explained to her, in some awkward vague manner, who I was, and how
it was I wanted to engage her services. Throughout that interview, I
think I must have been intoxicated by her presence, as by some subtle
and mysterious influence, stronger than the fumes of opium, or the juice
of lotus flowers. I only know that after ten minutes' conversation,
during which she was perfectly self-possessed, I opened the little
garden-gate again, very much embarrassed by the latch on one hand, and
my hat on the other, and went back out of that little paradise of twenty
feet square into the dusty lane.
"I went home in triumph to my mother, and told her that I had succeeded
at last in engaging a lady who was in every way suitable, and that she
was coming the following morning at eleven o'clock to give her first
lesson. But I was somewhat embarrassed when my mother asked if I had
heard the lady play; if I had inquired her terms; if I had asked for
references as to respectability, capability, and so forth.
"I was fain to confess, with much confusion, that I had not done any one
of these things. And then my mother asked me why, in that case, did I
consider the lady suitable,--which question increased my embarrassment
by tenfold. I could not say that I had engaged her because her eyes were
hazel, and her hair of the same colour; nor could I declare that I had
judged of her proficiency as a teacher of the piano by the exquisite
line of her pencilled eyebrows. So, in this dilemma, I had recourse to a
piece of jesuitry, of which I was not a little proud. I told my dear
mother that Miss Wentworth's head was, from a phrenological point of
view, magnificent, and that the organs of time and tune were developed
to an unusual degree.
"I was almost ashamed of myself when my mother rewarded this falsehood
by a kiss, declaring that I was a dear clever boy, and _such_ a judge of
character, and that she would rather confide in a stranger, upon the
strength of my instinct, than, upon any inferior person's experience.
"After this I could only trust to the chance of Miss Wentworth's
proficiency; and when I went home from the city upon the following
afternoon, my mind was far less occupied with the business events of the
day than with abstruse speculations at to the probabilities with regard
to that young lady's skill upon the piano-forte. It was with an air of
supreme carelessness that I asked my mother whether she had been pleased
with Miss Wentworth.
"'Pleased with her!' cried the good soul; 'why, she plays magnificently,
Clement. Such a touch, such brilliancy! In my young days it was only
concert-players who played like that; but nowadays girls of eighteen and
twenty sit down, and dash away at the keys like a professor. I think
you'll be charmed with her, Clem'--(I'm afraid I blushed as my mother
said this; had I not been charmed with her already?)--'when you hear her
play, for she has expression as well as brilliancy. She is passionately
fond of music, I know; not because she went into any ridiculous
sentimental raptures about it, as some girls do, but because her eyes
lighted up when she told me what a happiness her piano had been to her
ever since she was a child. She gave a little sigh after saying that;
and I fancied, poor girl, that she had perhaps known very little other
"'And her terms, mother?' I said.
"'Oh, you dear commercial Clem, always thinking of terms!' cried my
"Heaven bless her innocent heart! I had asked that sordid question only
to hide the unreasoning gladness of my heart. What was it to me that
this hazel-eyed girl was engaged to teach my little niece 'Non piu
mesta'? what was it to me that my breast should be all of a sudden
filled with a tumult of glad emotions, and thus shrink from any
encounter with my mother's honest eyes?
"'Well, Clem, the terms are almost ridiculously moderate,' my mother
said, presently. 'There's only one thing that's at all inconvenient,
that is to say, not to me, but I'm afraid _you'll_ think it an
"I eagerly asked the nature of this objection. Was there some cold chill
of disappointment in store for me, after all?
"'Well, you see, Clem,' said my mother, with some little hesitation,
'Miss Wentworth is engaged almost all through the day, as her pupils
live at long distances from one another, and she has to waste a good
deal of time in going backwards and forwards; so the only time she can
possibly give Lizzie is either very early in the morning or rather late
in the evening. Now _I_ should prefer the evening, as I should like to
hear the dear child's lessons; but the question is, would _you_ object
to the noise of the piano while you are at home?'
"Would I object? Would I object to the music of the spheres? In spite of
the grand capabilities for falsehood and hypocrisy which had been
developed in my nature since the previous evening, it was as much as I
could do to answer my mother's question deliberately, to the effect that
I didn't think I should mind the music-lessons _much_.
"'You'll be out generally, you know, Clem,' my mother said.
"'Yes,' I replied, 'of course, if I found the music in any way a
"Coming home from the City the next day, I felt like a schoolboy who
turns his back upon all the hardships of his life, on some sunny summer
holiday. The rattling Hansom seemed a fairy car, that was bearing me in
triumph through a region of brightness and splendour. The sunlit
suburban roads were enchanted glades; and I think I should have been
scarcely surprised to see Aladdin's jewelled fruit hanging on the trees
in the villa gardens, or the gigantic wings of Sinbad's roc
overshadowing the hills of Sydenham. A wonderful transformation had
changed the earth to fairy land, and it was in vain that I fought
against the subtle influence in the air around me.
"Oh, was I in love, was I really in love at last, with a young lady
whose face I had only looked upon eight-and-forty hours before? Was I,
who had flirted with the Miss Balderbys; and half lost my heart to Lucy
Sedwicke, the surgeon's sister; and corresponded for nearly a year with
Clara Carpenter, with the sanction of both our houses, and everything
_en regle_, only to be jilted ignominiously for the sake of an
evangelical curate?--was I, who had railed at the foolish passion--(I
have one of Miss Carpenter's long tresses in the desk on which I am
writing, sealed in a sheet of letter-paper, with Swift's savage
inscription, 'Only a woman's hair,' on the cover)--was I caught at last
by a pair of hazel eyes and a Raffaellesque profile? Were the wings that
had fluttered in so many flames burnt and maimed by the first breath of
this new fire? I was ashamed of my silly fancy in one moment, and proud
of my love in the next. I was ten years younger all of a sudden, and my
heart was all a-glow with chivalrous devotion for this beautiful
stranger. I reasoned with myself, and ridiculed my madness, and yet
yielded like the veriest craven to the sweet intoxication. I gave the
driver of the Hansom five shillings. Had I not a right to pay him a
trifle extra for driving me through fairy-land?
"What had we for dinner that day? I have a vague idea that I ate cherry
tart and roast veal, fried soles, boiled custard, and anchovy sauce, all
mixed together. I know that the meal seemed to endure for the abnormal
period of half-a-dozen hours or so; and yet it was only seven o'clock
when we adjourned to the drawing-room, and Miss Wentworth was not due
until half-past seven. My niece was all in a flutter of expectation, and
ran out of the drawing-room window every now and then to see if the new
governess was coming. She need not have had that trouble, poor child,
had I been inclined to give her information; since, from the chair in
which I had seated myself to read the evening papers, I could see the
road along which Miss Wentworth must come. My eyes wandered very often
from the page before me, and fixed themselves upon this dusty suburban
road; and presently I saw a parasol, rather a shabby one, and then a
slender figure coming quickly towards our gate, and then the face, which
I am weak enough to think the most beautiful face in Christendom.
"Since then Miss Wentworth has come three times a week; and somehow or
other I have never found myself in any way bored by 'Non piu mesta,' or
even the major and minor scales, which, as interpreted by a juvenile
performer, are not especially enthralling to the ear of the ordinary
listener. I read my books or papers, or stroll upon the lawn, while the
lesson is going on, and every now and then I hear Margaret's--I really
must write of her as Margaret; it is such a nuisance to write Miss
Wentworth--pretty voice explaining the importance of a steady position
of the wrist, or the dexterous turning over or under of a thumb, or
something equally interesting. And then, when the lesson is concluded,
my mother rouses herself from her after-dinner nap, and asks Margaret to
take a cup of tea, and even insists on her accepting that feminine
hospitality. And then we sit talking in the tender summer dusk, or in
the subdued light of a shaded lamp on the piano. We talk of books; and
it is wonderful to me to find how Margaret's tastes and opinions
coincide with mine. Miss Carpenter was stupid about books, and used to
call Carlyle nonsensical; and never really enjoyed Dickens half as much
as she pretended. I have lent Margaret some of my books; and a little
shower of withered rose-leaves dropped from the pages of 'Wilhelm
Meister,' after she had returned me the volume. I have put them in an
envelope, and sealed it. I may as well burn Miss Carpenter's hair, by
"Though it is only a month since the evening on which I saw the card in
the window at Wandsworth, Margaret and I seem to be old friends. After a
year Miss Carpenter and I were as far as ever--farther than ever,
perhaps--from understanding each other; but with Margaret I need no
words to tell me that I am understood. A look, a smile, a movement of
the graceful head, is a more eloquent answer than the most elaborate of
Miss Carpenter's rhapsodies. She was one of those girls whom her friends
call 'gushing;' and she called Byron a 'love,' and Shelley an 'angel:'
but if you tried her with a stanza that hasn't been done to death in
'Gems of Verse,' or 'Strings of Poetic Pearls,' or 'Drawing-room Table
Lyrics,' she couldn't tell whether you were quoting Byron or Ben Jonson.
But with Margaret--Margaret,--sweet name! If it were not that I live in
perpetual terror of the day when the dilettante New Zealander will edit
this manuscript, I think I should write that lovely name over and over
again for a page or so. If the New Zealander should exercise his
editorial discretion, and delete my raptures, it wouldn't matter; but I
might furnish him with the text for an elaborate disquisition on the
manners and customs of English lovers. Let me be reasonable about my
dear love, if I can. My dear love--do I dare to call her that already,
when, for anything I know to the contrary, there may be another
evangelical curate in the background?
"We seem to be old friends; and yet I know so little of her. She shuns
all allusion to her home or her past history. Now and then she has
spoken of her father; always tenderly, but always with a sigh; and I
fancy that a deepening shadow steals over her face when she mentions
"Friendly as we are, I can never induce her to let me see her home,
though my mother has suggested that I should do so. She is accustomed to
go about by herself, she says, after dark, as well as in the daytime.
She seems as fearless as a modern Una; and that would indeed be a savage
beast which could molest such a pure and lovely creature."
AFTER FIVE-AND-THIRTY YEARS.
Joseph Wilmot waited patiently enough, in all outward seeming, for the
arrival of the steamer. Everybody was respectful to him now, paying
deference to his altered guise, and he went where he liked without
question or hindrance.
There were several people waiting for passengers who were expected to
arrive by the _Electra_, and the coming of the steamer was hailed by a
feeble cheer from the bystanders grouped about the landing-place.
The passengers began to come on shore at about eleven o'clock. There
were a good many children and English nursemaids; three or four
military-looking men, dressed in loose garments of grey and nankeen
colour; several ladies, all more or less sunburnt; a couple of ayahs;
three men-servants; and an aristocratic-looking man of about fifty-five,
dressed, unlike the rest of the travellers, in fine broadcloth, with a
black-satin cravat, a gold pin, a carefully brushed hat, and varnished
His clothes, in fact, were very much of the same fashion as those which
Joseph Wilmot had chosen for himself.
This man was Henry Dunbar; tall and broad-chested, with grey hair and
moustache, and with a haughty smile upon his handsome face.
Joseph Wilmot stood among the little crowd, motionless as a statue,
watching his old betrayer.
"Not much changed," he murmured; "very little changed! Proud, and
selfish, and cruel then--proud, and selfish, and cruel now. He has grown
older, and stouter, and greyer; but he is the same man he was
five-and-thirty years ago. I can see it all in his face."
He advanced as Henry Dunbar landed, and approached the Anglo-Indian.
"Mr. Dunbar, I believe?" he said, removing his hat.
"Yes, I am Mr. Dunbar."
"I have been sent from the office in St. Gundolph Lane, sir," returned
Joseph; "I have a letter for you from Mr. Balderby. I came to meet you,
and to be of service to you."
Henry Dunbar looked at him doubtfully.
"You are not one of the clerks in St. Gundolph Lane?" he said.
"No, Mr. Dunbar."
"I thought as much; you don't look like a clerk; but who are you, then?"
"I will tell you presently, sir. I am a substitute for another person,
who was taken ill upon the road. But there is no time to speak of that
now. I came to be of use to you. Shall I see after your luggage?"
"Yes, I shall be glad if you will do so."
"You have a servant with you, Mr. Dunbar?"
"No, my valet was taken ill at Malta, and I left him behind."
"Indeed!" exclaimed Joseph Wilmot; "that was a misfortune."
A sudden flash of light sparkled in his eyes as he spoke.
"Yes, it was devilish provoking. You'll find the luggage packed, and
directed to Portland Place; be so good as to see that it is sent off
immediately by the speediest route. There is a portmanteau in my cabin,
and my travelling-desk. I require those with me. All the rest can go
"I will see to it, sir."
"Thank you; you are very good. At what hotel are you staying?"
"I have not been to any hotel yet. I only arrived this morning. The
_Electra_ was not expected until to-morrow."
"I will go on to the Dolphin, then," returned Mr. Dunbar; "and I shall
be glad if you will follow me directly you have attended to the luggage.
I want to get to London to-night, if possible."
Henry Dunbar walked away, holding his head high in the air, and swinging
his cane as he went. Ha was one of those men who most confidently
believe in their own merits. The sin he had committed in his youth sat
very lightly upon his conscience. If he thought about that old story at
all, it was only to remember that he had been very badly used by his
father and his Uncle Hugh.
And the poor wretch who had helped him--the clever, bright-faced,
high-spirited lad who had acted as his tool and accomplice--was as
completely forgotten as if he had never existed.
Mr. Dunbar was ushered into a great sunny sitting-room at the Dolphin; a
vast desert of Brussels carpet, with little islands of chairs and tables
scattered here and there. He ordered a bottle of soda-water, sank into
an easy-chair, and took up the _Times_ newspaper.
But presently he threw it down impatiently, and took his watch from his
Attached to the watch there was a locket of chased yellow gold. Henry
Dunbar opened this locket, which contained the miniature of a beautiful
girl, with fair rippling hair as bright as burnished gold, and limpid
"My poor little Laura!" he murmured; "I wonder whether she will be glad
to see me. She was a mere baby when she left India. It isn't likely
she'll remember me. But I hope she may be glad of my coming back--I hope
she may be glad."
He put the locket again in its place, and took a letter from his
breast-pocket. It was directed in a woman's hand, and the envelope was
surrounded by a deep border of black.
"If there's any faith to be put in this, she will be glad to have me
home at last," Henry Dunbar said, as he drew the letter out of its
He read one passage softly to himself.
"If anything can console me for the loss of my dear grandfather, it is
the thought that you will come back at last, and that I shall see you
once more. You can never know, dearest father, what a bitter sorrow this
cruel separation has been to me. It has seemed so hard that we who are
so rich should have been parted as we have been, while poor children
have their fathers with them. Money seems such a small thing when it
cannot bring us the presence of those we love. And I do love you, dear
papa, truly and devotedly, though I cannot even remember your face, and
have not so much as a picture of you to recall you to my recollection."
The letter was a very long one, and Henry Dunbar was still reading it
when Joseph Wilmot came into the room.
The Anglo-Indian crushed the letter into his pocket, and looked up
"Have you seen to all that?" he asked.
"Yes, Mr. Dunbar; the luggage has been sent off."
Joseph Wilmot had not yet removed his hat. He had rather an undecided
manner, and walked once or twice up and down the room, stopping now and
then, and then walking on again, in an unsettled way; like a man who has
some purpose in his mind, yet is oppressed by a feverish irresolution as
to the performance of that purpose.
But Mr. Dunbar took no notice of this. He sat with the newspaper in his
hand, and did not deign to lift his eyes to his companion, after that
first brief question. He was accustomed to be waited upon, and to look
upon the people who served him as beings of an inferior class: and he
had no idea of troubling himself about this gentlemanly-looking clerk
from St. Gundolph Lane.
Joseph Wilmot stopped suddenly upon the other side of the table, near
which Mr. Dunbar sat, and, laying his hand upon it, said quietly--
"You asked me just now who I was, Mr. Dunbar."
The banker looked up at him with haughty indifference.
"Did I? Oh, yea, I remember; and you told me you came from the office.
That is quite enough."
"Pardon me, Mr. Dunbar, it is not quite enough. You are mistaken: I did
not say I came from the office in St. Gundolph Lane. I told you, on the
contrary, that I came here as a substitute for another person, who was
ordered to meet you."
"Indeed! That is pretty much the same thing. You seem a very agreeable
fellow, and will, no doubt, be quite as useful as the original person
could have been. It was very civil of Mr. Balderby to send some one to
meet me--very civil indeed."
The Anglo-Indian's head sank back upon the morocco cushion of the
easy-chair, and he looked languidly at his companion, with half-closed
Joseph Wilmot removed his hat.
"I don't think you've looked at me very closely, have you, Mr. Dunbar?"
"Have I looked at you closely!" exclaimed the banker. "My good fellow,
what do you mean?"
"Look me full in the face, Mr. Dunbar, and tell me if you see anything
there that reminds you of the past."
Henry Dunbar started.
He opened his eyes widely enough this time, and started at the handsome
face before him. It was as handsome as his own, and almost as
aristocratic-looking. For Nature has odd caprices now and then, and had
made very little distinction between the banker, who was worth half a
million, and the runaway convict, who was not worth sixpence.
"Have I met you before?" he said. "In India?"
"No, Mr. Dunbar, not in India. You know that as well as I do. Carry your
mind farther back. Carry it back to the time before you went to India."
"Do you remember losing a heap of money on the Derby, and being in so
desperate a frame of mind that you took the holster-pistols down from
their place above the chimney-piece in your barrack sitting-room, and
threatened to blow your brains out? Do you remember, in your despair,
appealing to a lad who served you, and who loved you, better perhaps
than a brother would have loved you, though he _was_ your inferior by
birth and station, and the son of a poor, hard-working woman? Do you
remember entreating this boy--who had a knack of counterfeiting other
people's signatures, but who had never used his talent for any guilty
purpose until that hour, so help me Heaven!--to aid you in a scheme by
which your creditors were to be kept quiet till you could get the money
to pay them? Do you remember all this? Yes, I see you do--the answer is
written on your face; and you remember me--Joseph Wilmot."
He struck his hand upon his breast, and stood with his eyes fixed upon
the other's face. They had a strange expression in them, those eyes--a
sort of hungry, eager look, as if the very sight of his old foe was a
kind of food that went some way towards satisfying this man's vengeful
"I do remember you," Henry Dunbar said slowly. He had turned deadly
pale, and cold drops of sweat had broken out upon his forehead: he wiped
them away with his perfumed cambric handkerchief as he spoke.
"You do remember me?" the other man repeated, with no change in the
expression of his face.
"I do; and, believe me, I am heartily sorry for the past. I dare say you
fancy I acted cruelly towards you on that wretched day in St. Gundolph
Lane; but I really could scarcely act otherwise. I was so harassed and
tormented by my own position, that I could not be expected to get myself
deeper into the mire by interceding for you. However, now that I am my
own master, I can make it up to you. Rely upon it, my good fellow, I'll
atone for the past."
"Atone for the past!" cried Joseph Wilmot. "Can you make me an honest
man, or a respectable member of society? Can you remove the stamp of the
felon from me, and win for me the position I _might_ have held in this
hard world but for you? Can you give me back the five-and-thirty
blighted years of my life, and take the blight from them? Can you heal
my mother's broken heart,--broken, long ago by my disgrace? Can you give
me back the dead? Or can you give me pleasant memories, or peaceful
thoughts, or the hope of God's forgiveness? No, no; you can give me none
Mr. Henry Dunbar was essentially a man of the world. He was not a
passionate man. He was a gentlemanly creature, very seldom demonstrative
in his manner, and he wished to take life pleasantly.
He was utterly selfish and heartless. But as he was very rich, people
readily overlooked such small failings as selfishness and want of heart,
and were loud in praise of the graces of his manner and the elegance of
"My dear Wilmot," he said, in no wise startled by the vehemence of his
companion, "all that is so much sentimental talk. Of course I can't give
you back the past. The past was your own, and you might have fashioned
it as you pleased. If you went wrong, you have no right to throw the
blame of your wrong-doing upon me. Pray don't talk about broken hearts,
and blighted lives, and all that sort of thing. I'm a man of the world,
and I can appreciate the exact value of that kind of twaddle. I am sorry
for the scrape I got you into, and am ready to do anything reasonable to
atone for that old business. I can't give you back the past; but I can
give you that for which most men are ready to barter past, present, and
future,--I can give you money."
"How much?" asked Joseph Wilmot, with a half-suppressed fierceness in
"Humph!" murmured the Anglo-Indian, pulling his grey moustaches with a
reflective air. "Let me see; what would satisfy you, now, my good
"I leave that for you to decide."
"Very well, then. I suppose you'd be quite contented if I were to buy
you a small annuity, that would keep you straight with the world for the
rest of your life. Say, fifty pounds a year."
"Fifty pounds a year," Joseph Wilmot repeated. He had quite conquered
that fierceness of expression by this time, and spoke very quietly.
"Fifty pounds a year--a pound a week."
"I'll accept your offer, Mr. Dunbar. A pound a week. That will enable me
to live--to live as labouring men live, in some hovel or other; and will
insure me bread every day. I have a daughter, a very beautiful girl,
about the same age as your daughter: and, of course, she'll share my
income with me, and will have as much cause to bless your generosity as
I shall have."
"It's a bargain, then?" asked the East Indian, languidly.
"Oh, yes, it's a bargain. You have estates in Warwickshire and
Yorkshire, a house in Portland Place, and half a million of money; but,
of course, all those things are necessary to you. I shall have--thanks
to your generosity, and as an atonement for all the shame and misery,
the want, and peril, and disgrace, which I have suffered for
five-and-thirty years--a pound a week secured to me for the rest of my
life. A thousand thanks, Mr. Dunbar. You are your own self still, I
find; the same master I loved when I was a boy; and I accept your
He laughed as he finished speaking, loudly but not heartily--rather
strangely, perhaps; but Mr. Dunbar did not trouble himself to notice any
such insignificant fact as the merriment of his old valet.
"Now we have done with all these heroics," he said, "perhaps you'll be
good enough to order luncheon for me."
THE FIRST STAGE ON THE JOURNEY HOME.
Joseph Wilmot obeyed his old master, and ordered a very excellent
luncheon, which was served in the best style of the Dolphin; and a
sojourn at the Dolphin is almost a recompense for the pains and
penalties of the voyage home from India. Mr. Dunbar, from the sublime
height of his own grandeur, stooped to be very friendly with his old
valet, and insisted upon Joseph's sitting down with him at the
well-spread table. But although the Anglo-Indian did ample justice to
the luncheon, and washed down a spatchcock and a lobster-salad with
several glasses of iced Moselle, the reprobate ate and drank very
little, and sat for the best part of the time crumbling his bread in a
strange absent manner, and watching his companion's face. He only spoke
when his old master addressed him; and then in a constrained,
half-mechanical way, which might have excited the wonder of any one less
supremely indifferent than Henry Dunbar to the feelings of his
The Anglo-Indian finished his luncheon, left the table, and walked to
the window: but Joseph Wilmot still sat with a full glass before him.
The sparkling bubbles had vanished from the clear amber wine; but
although Moselle at half-a-guinea a bottle could scarcely have been a
very common beverage to the ex-convict, he seemed to have no
appreciation of the vintage. He sat with his head bent and his elbow on
his knee; brooding, brooding, brooding.
Henry Dunbar amused himself for about ten minutes looking out at the
busy street--the brightest, airiest, lightest, prettiest High Street in
all England, perhaps; and then turned away from the window and looked at
his old valet. He had been accustomed, five-and-thirty years ago, to be
familiar with the man, and to make a confidant and companion of him, and
he fell into the same manner now, naturally; as if the five-and-thirty
years had never been; as if Joseph Wilmot had never been wronged by him.
He fell into the old way, and treated his companion with that haughty
affability which a monarch may be supposed to exhibit towards his prime
"Drink your wine, Wilmot," he exclaimed; "don't sit meditating there, as
if you were a great speculator brooding over the stagnation of the
money-market. I want bright looks, man, to welcome me back to my native
country. I've seen dark faces enough out yonder; and I want to see
smiling and pleasanter faces here. You look as black as if you had
committed a murder, or were plotting one."
The Outcast smiled.
"I've so much reason to look cheerful, haven't I?" he said, in the same
tone he had used when he had declared his acceptance of the banker's
bounty. "I've such a pleasant life before me, and such agreeable
recollections to look back upon. A man's memory seems to me like a book
of pictures that he must be continually looking at, whether he will or
not: and if the pictures are horrible, if he shudders as he looks at
them, if the sight of them is worse than the pain of death to him, he
must look nevertheless. I read a story the other day--at least my girl
was reading it to me; poor child! she tries to soften me with these
things sometimes--and the man who wrote the story said it was well for
the most miserable of us to pray, 'Lord, keep my memory green!' But what
if the memory is a record of crime, Mr. Dunbar? Can we pray that _those_
memories may be kept green? Wouldn't it be better to pray that our
brains and hearts may wither, leaving us no power to look back upon the
past? If I could have forgotten the wrong you did me five-and-thirty
years ago, I might have been a different man: but I couldn't forget it.
Every day and every hour I have remembered it. My memory is as fresh
to-day as it was four-and-thirty years ago, when my wrongs were only a
Joseph Wilmot had said all this almost as if he yielded to an
uncontrollable impulse, and spoke because he must speak, rather than
from the desire to upbraid Henry Dunbar. He had not looked at the
Anglo-Indian; he had not changed his attitude; he had spoken with his
head still bent, and his eyes fixed upon the ground.
Mr. Dunbar had gone back to the window, and had resumed his
contemplation of the street; but he turned round with a gesture of angry
impatience as Joseph Wilmot finished speaking.
"Now, listen to me, Wilmot," he said. "If the firm in St. Gundolph Lane
sent you down here to annoy and insult me directly I set foot upon
British ground, they have chosen a very nice way of testifying their
respect for their chief: and they have made a mistake which they shall
repent having made sooner or later. If you came here upon your own
account, with a view to terrify me, or to extort money from me, you have
made a mistake. If you think to make a fool of me by any maudlin
sentimentality, you make a still greater mistake. I give you fair
warning. If you expect any advantage from me, you must make yourself
agreeable to me. I am a rich man, and know how to recompense those who
please me: but I will not be bored or tormented by any man alive: least
of all by you. If you choose to make yourself useful, you can stay: if
you don't choose to do so, the sooner you leave this room the better for
yourself, if you wish to escape the humiliation of being turned out by
At the end of this speech Joseph Wilmot looked up for the first time. He
was very pale, and there were strange hard lines about his compressed
lips, and a new light in his eyes.
"I am a poor weak fool," he said, quietly; "very weak and very foolish,
when I think there can be anything in that old story to touch your
heart, Mr. Dunbar. I will not offend you again, believe me. I have not
led a very sober life of late years: I've had a touch of _delirium
tremens_, and my nerves are not as strong as they used to be: but I'll
not annoy you again. I'm quite ready to make myself useful in any way
you may require."
"Get me a time-table, then, and let's see about the trains. I don't want
to stay in Southampton all day."
Joseph Wilmot rang, and ordered the time-table; Henry Dunbar studied it.
"There is no express before ten o'clock at night," he said; "and I don't
care about travelling by a slow train. What am I to do with myself in
He was silent for a few moments, turning over the leaves of Bradshaw's
Guide, and thinking.
"How far is it from here to Winchester?" he asked presently.
"Ten miles, or thereabouts, I believe," Joseph answered.
"Ten miles! Very well, then, Wilmot, I'll tell you what I'll do. I've a
friend in the neighbourhood of Winchester, an old college companion, a
man who has a fine estate in Hampshire, and a house near St. Cross. If
you'll order a carriage and pair to be got ready immediately, we'll
drive over to Winchester. I'll go and see my old friend Michael Marston;
we'll dine at the George, and go up to London by the express which
leaves Winchester at a quarter past ten. Go and order the carriage, and
lose no time about it, that's a good fellow."
Half an hour after this the two men left Southampton in an open
carriage, with the banker's portmanteau, dressing-case, and
despatch-box, and Joseph Wilmot's carpet-bag. It was three o'clock when
the carriage drove away from the entrance of the Dolphin Hotel: it
wanted five minutes to four when Mr. Dunbar and his companion entered
the handsome hall of the George.
Throughout the drive the banker had been in very excellent spirits,
smoking cheroots, and admiring the lovely English landscape, the
spreading pastures, the glimpses of woodland, the hills beyond the grey
cathedral city, purple in the distance.
He had talked a good deal, making himself very familiar with his humble
friend. But he had not talked so much or so loudly as Joseph Wilmot. All
gloomy memories seemed to have melted away from this man's mind. His
former moody silence had been succeeded by a manner that was almost
unnaturally gay. A close observer would have detected that his laugh was
a little forced, his loudest merriment wanting in geniality: but Henry
Dunbar was not a close observer. People in Calcutta, who courted and
admired the rich banker, had been wont to praise the aristocratic ease
of his manner, which was not often disturbed by any vulgar demonstration
of his own emotions, and very rarely ruffled by any sympathy with the
joys, or pity for the sorrows, of his fellow-creatures.
His companion's ready wit and knowledge of the world--the very worst
part of the world, unhappily--amused the languid Anglo-Indian: and by
the time the travellers reached Winchester, they were on excellent terms
with each other. Joseph Wilmot was thoroughly at home with his patron;
and as the two men were dressed in the same fashion, and had pretty much
the same nonchalance of manner, it would have been very difficult for a
stranger to have discovered which was the servant and which the master.
One of them ordered dinner for eight o'clock, the best dinner the house
could provide. The luggage was taken up to a private room, and the two
men walked away from the hotel arm-in-arm.
They walked under the shadow of a low stone colonnade, and then turned
aside by the market-place, and made their way into the precincts of the
cathedral. There are quaint old courtyards, and shadowy quadrangles
hereabouts; there are pleasant gardens, where the flowers seem to grow
brighter in the sanctified shade than other flowers that flaunt in the
unhallowed sunshine. There are low old-fashioned houses, with Tudor
windows and ponderous porches, grey gables crowned with yellow
stone-moss, high garden-walls, queer nooks and corners, deep
window-seats in painted oriels, great oaken beams supporting low dark
ceilings, heavy clusters of chimneys half borne down by the weight of
the ivy that clings about them; and over all, the shadow of the great
cathedral broods, like a sheltering wing, preserving the cool quiet of
these cosy sanctuaries.
Beyond this holy shelter fair pastures stretch away to the feet of the
grassy hills: and a winding stream of water wanders in and out: now
hiding in dim groves of spreading elms: now creeping from the darkness,
with a murmuring voice and stealthy gliding motion, to change its very
nature, and become the noisiest brook that ever babbled over sunlit
pebbles on its way to the blue sea.
In one of the grey stone quadrangles close under the cathedral wall, the
two men, still arm-in-arm, stopped to make an inquiry about Mr. Michael
Marston, of the Ferns, St. Cross.
Alas! Ben Bolt, it is a fine thing to sail away to foreign shores and
prosper there; but it is not so pleasant to come home and hear that
Alice is dead and buried; that of all your old companions there is only
one left to greet you; and that even the brook, which rippled through
your boyish dreams, as you lay asleep amongst the rushes on its brink,
has dried up for ever!
Mr. Michael Marston had been dead more than ten, years. His widow, an
elderly lady, was still living at the Ferns.
This was the information which the two men obtained from a verger, whom
they found prowling about the quadrangle, Very little was said. One of
the men asked the necessary questions. But neither of them expressed
either regret or surprise.
They walked away silently, still arm-in-arm, towards the shady groves
and spreading pastures beyond the cathedral precincts.
The verger, who was elderly and slow, called after them in a feeble
voice as they went away:
"Maybe you'd like to see the cathedral, gentlemen; it's well worth
But he received no answer. The two men were out of hearing, or did not
care to reply to him.
"We'll take a stroll towards St. Cross, and get an appetite for dinner,"
Mr. Dunbar said, as he and his companion walked along a pathway, under
the shadow of a moss-grown wall, across a patch of meadow-land, and away
into the holy quiet of a grove.
A serene stillness reigned beneath the shelter of the spreading
branches. The winding streamlet rippled along amidst wild flowers and
trembling rushes; the ground beneath the feet of these two idle
wanderers was a soft bed of moss and rarely-trodden grass.
It was a lonely place this grove; for it lay between the meadows and the
high-road. Feeble old pensioners from St. Cross came here sometimes, but
not often. Enthusiastic disciples of old Izaak Walton now and then
invaded the holy quiet of the place: but not often. The loveliest spots
on earth are those where man seldom comes.
This spot was most lovely because of its solitude. Only the gentle
waving of the leaves, the long melodious note of a lonely bird, and the
low whisper of the streamlet, broke the silence.
The two men went into the grove arm-in-arm. One of them was talking, the
other listening, and smoking a cigar as he listened. They went into the
long arcade beneath the over-arching trees, and the sombre shadows
closed about them and hid them from the world.
HOW HENRY DUNBAR WAITED DINNER.
The old verger was still pottering about the grey quadrangle, sunning
himself in such glimpses of the glorious light as found their way into
that shadowy place, when one of the two gentlemen who had spoken to him
returned. He was smoking a cigar, and swinging his gold-headed cane
lightly as he came along.
"You may as well show me the cathedral," he said to the verger; "I
shouldn't like to leave Winchester without having seen it; that is to
say without having seen it again. I was here forty years ago, when I was
a boy; but I have been in India five-and-thirty years, and have seen
nothing but Pagan temples."
"And very beautiful them Pagan places be, sir, bain't they?" the old man
asked, as he unlocked a low door, leading into one of the side aisles of
"Oh yes, very magnificent, of course. But as I was not a soldier, and
had no opportunity of handling any of the magnificence in the way of
diamonds and so forth, I didn't particularly care about them."
They were in the shadowy aisle by this time, and Mr. Dunbar was looking
about him with his hat in his hand.
"You didn't go on to the Ferns, then, sir?" said the verger.
"No, I sent my servant on to inquire if the old lady is at home. If I
find that she is, I shall sleep in Winchester to-night, and drive over
to-morrow morning to see her. Her husband was a very old friend of mine.
How far is it from here to the Ferns?"
"A matter of two mile, sir."
Mr. Dunbar looked at his watch.
"Then my man ought to be back in an hour's time," he said; "I told him
to come on to me here. I left him half-way between here and St. Cross."
"Is that other gentleman your servant, sir?" asked the verger, with
"Yes, that gentleman, as you call him, is, or rather was, my
confidential servant. He is a clever fellow, and I make a companion of
him. Now, if you please, we will see the chapels."
Mr. Dunbar evidently desired to put a stop to the garrulous inclinations
of the verger.
He walked through the aisle with a careless easy step, and with his head
erect, looking about him as he went along: but presently, while the
verger was busy unlocking the door of one of the chapels, Mr. Dunbar
suddenly reeled like a drunken man, and then dropped heavily upon an
oaken bench near the chapel-door.
The verger turned to look at him, and found him wiping the perspiration
from his forehead with his perfumed silk handkerchief.
"Don't be alarmed," he said, smiling at the man's scared face; "my
Indian habits have unfitted me for any exertion. The walk in the
broiling afternoon sun has knocked me up: or perhaps the wine I drank at
Southampton may have had something to do with it," he added, with a
The verger ventured to laugh too: and the laughter of the two men echoed
harshly through the solemn place.
For more than an hour Mr. Dunbar amused himself by inspecting the
cathedral. He was eager to see everything, and to know the meaning of
everything. He peered into every nook and corner, going from monument to
monument with the patient talkative old verger at his heels; asking
questions about every thing he saw; trying to decipher half-obliterated
inscriptions upon long-forgotten tombs; sounding the praises of William
of Wykeham; admiring the splendid shrines, the sanctified relics of the
past, with the delight of a scholar and an antiquarian.
The old verger thought that he had never had so pleasant a task as that
of exhibiting his beloved cathedral to this delightful gentleman, just
returned from India, and ready to admire everything belonging to his
The verger was still better pleased when Mr. Dunbar gave him half a
sovereign as the reward for his afternoon's trouble.
"Thank you, sir, and kindly, to be sure," the old man cackled,
gratefully. "It's very seldom as I get gold for my trouble, sir. I've
shown this cathedral to a dook, sir; but the dook didn't treat me as
liberal as this here, sir."
Mr. Dunbar smiled.
"Perhaps not," he said; "the duke mightn't have been as rich a man as I
am in spite of his dukedom."
"No, to be sure, sir," the old man answered, looking admiringly at the
banker, and sighing plaintively. "It's well to be rich, sir, it is
indeed; and when one have twelve grand-children, and a bed-ridden wife,
one finds it hard, sir; one do indeed."
Perhaps the verger had faint hopes of another half sovereign from this
very rich gentleman.
But Mr. Dunbar seated himself upon a bench near the low doorway by which
he had entered the cathedral, and looked at his watch.
The verger looked at the watch too; it was a hundred-guinea chronometer,
a masterpiece of Benson's workmanship; and Mr. Dunbar's arms were
emblazoned upon the back. There was a locket attached to the massive
gold chain, the locket which contained Laura Dunbar's miniature.
"Seven o'clock," exclaimed the banker; "my servant ought to be here by
"So he ought, sir," said the verger, who was ready to agree to anything
Mr. Dunbar might say; "if he had only to go to the Ferns, sir, he might
have been back by this time easy."
"I'll smoke a cheroot while I wait for him," the banker said, passing
out into the quadrangle; "he's sure to come to this door to look for
me--I gave him particular orders to do so."
Henry Dunbar finished his cheroot, and another, and the cathedral clock
chimed the three-quarters after seven, but Joseph Wilmot had not come
back from the Ferns. The verger waited upon his patron's pleasure, and
lingered in attendance upon him, though he would fain have gone home to
his tea, which in the common course he would have taken at five o'clock.
"Really this is too bad," cried the banker, as the clock chimed the
three-quarters; "Wilmot knows that I dine at eight, and that I expect
him to dine with me. I think I have a right to a little more
consideration from him. I shall go back to the George. Perhaps you'll be
good enough to wait here, and tell him to follow me."
Mr. Dunbar went away, still muttering, and the verger gave up all
thoughts of his tea, and waited conscientiously. He waited till the
cathedral clock struck nine, and the stars were bright in the dark blue
heaven above him: but he waited in vain. Joseph Wilmot had not come back
from the Ferns.
The banker returned to the George. A small round table was set in a
pleasant room on the first floor; a bright array of glass and silver
glittered under the light of five wax-candles in a silver candelabrum;
and the waiter was beginning to be nervous about the fish.
"You may countermand the dinner," Mr. Dunbar said, with evident
vexation: "I shall not dine till Mr. Wilmot, who is my old confidential
servant--my friend, I may say--returns."
"Has he gone far, sir?"
"To the Ferns, about a mile beyond St. Cross. I shall wait dinner for
him. Put a couple of candles on that writing-table, and bring me my
The waiter obeyed; he placed a pair of tall wax-candles upon the table;
and then brought the desk, or rather despatch-box, which had cost forty
pounds, and was provided with every possible convenience for a business
man, and every elegant luxury that the most extravagant traveller could
desire. It was like everything else about this man: it bore upon it the
stamp of almost limitless wealth.
Mr. Dunbar took a bunch of keys from his pocket, and unlocked his
despatch-box. He was some little time doing this, as he had a difficulty
in finding the right key. He looked up and smiled at the waiter, who was
still hovering about, anxious to be useful.
"I _must_ have taken too much Moselle at luncheon to-day," he said,
laughing, "or, at least, my enemies might say so, if they were to see me
puzzled to find the key of my own desk."
He had opened the box by this time, and was examining one of the
numerous packets of papers, which were arranged in very methodical
order, carefully tied together, and neatly endorsed.
"I am to put off the dinner, then, sir?" asked the waiter.
"Certainly; I shall wait for my friend, however long he may be. I'm not
particularly hungry, for I took a very substantial luncheon at
Southampton. I'll ring the bell if I change my mind."
The waiter departed with a sigh; and Henry Dunbar was left alone with
the contents of the open despatch-box spread out on the table before him
under the light of the tall wax-candles.
For nearly two hours he sat in the same attitude, examining the papers
one after the other, and re-sorting them.
Mr. Dunbar must have been possessed of the very spirit of order and
precision; for, although the papers had been neatly arranged before, he
re-sorted every one of them; tying up the packets afresh, reading letter
after letter, and making pencil memoranda in his pocket-book as he did
He betrayed none of the impatience which is natural to a man who is kept
waiting by another. He was so completely absorbed by his occupation,
that he, perhaps, had forgotten all about the missing man: but at nine
o'clock he closed and locked the despatch-box, jumped up from his seat
and rang the bell.
"I am beginning to feel alarmed about my friend," he said; "will you ask
the landlord to come to me?"
Mr. Dunbar went to the window and looked out while the waiter was gone
upon this errand. The High Street was very quiet, a lamp glimmered here
and there, and the pavements were white in the moonlight. The footstep
of a passer-by sounded in the quiet street almost as it might have
sounded in the solemn cathedral aisle.
The landlord came to wait upon his guest.
"Can I be of any service to you, sir?" he asked, respectfully.
"You can be of very great service to me, if you can find my friend; I am
really getting alarmed about him."
Mr. Dunbar went on to say how he had parted with the missing man in the
grove, on the way to St. Cross, with the understanding that Wilmot was
to go on to the Ferns, and rejoin his old master in the cathedral. He
explained who Joseph Wilmot was, and in what relation he stood towards
"I don't suppose there is any real cause for anxiety," the banker said,
in conclusion; "Wilmot owned to me that he had not been leading a sober
life of late years. He may have dropped into some roadside public-house
and be sitting boozing amongst a lot of country fellows at this moment.
It's really too bad of him."
The landlord shook his head.
"It is, indeed, sir; but I hope you won't wait dinner any longer, sir?"
"No, no; you can send up the dinner. I'm afraid I shall scarcely do
justice to your cook's achievements, for I took a very substantial
luncheon at Southampton."
The landlord brought in the silver soup-tureen with his own hands, and
uncorked a bottle of still hock, which Mr. Dunbar had selected from the
wine-list. There was something in the banker's manner that declared him
to be a person of no small importance; and the proprietor of the George
wished to do him honour.
Mr. Dunbar had spoken the truth as to his appetite for his dinner. He
took a few spoonfuls of soup, he ate two or three mouthfuls of fish, and
then pushed away his plate.
"It's no use," he said, rising suddenly, and walking to the window; "I
am really uneasy about this fellow's absence."
He walked up and down the room two or three times, and then walked back
to the open window. The August night was hot and still; the shadows of
the queer old gabled roofs were sharply defined upon the moonlit
pavement. The quaint cross, the low stone colonnade, the solemn towers
of the cathedral, gave an ancient aspect to the quiet city.
The cathedral clock chimed the half-hour after nine while Mr. Dunbar
stood at the open window looking out into the street.
"I shall sleep here to-night," he said presently, without turning to
look at the landlord, who was standing behind him. "I shall not leave
Winchester without this fellow Wilmot. It is really too bad of him to
treat me in this manner. It is really very much too bad of him, taking
into consideration the position in which he stands towards me."
The banker spoke with the offended tone of a proud and selfish man, who
feels that he has been outraged by his inferior. The landlord of the
George murmured a few stereotyped phrases, expressive of his sympathy
with the wrongs of Henry Dunbar, and his entire reprobation of the
missing man's conduct.
"No, I shall not go to London to-night," Mr. Dunbar said; "though my
daughter, my only child, whom I have not seen for sixteen years, is
waiting for me at my town house. I shall not leave Winchester without
"I'm sure it's very good of you, sir," the landlord murmured; "it's very
kind of you to think so much of this--ahem--person."
He had hesitated a little before the last word; for although Mr. Dunbar
spoke of Joseph Wilmot as his inferior and dependant, the landlord of
the George remembered that the missing man had looked quite as much a
gentleman as his companion.
The landlord still lingered in attendance upon Mr. Dunbar. The dishes
upon the table were still hidden under the glistening silver covers.
Surely such an unsatisfactory dinner had never before been served at the
"I am getting seriously uncomfortable about this man," Mr. Dunbar
exclaimed at last. "Can you send a messenger to the Ferns, to ask if he
has been seen there?"
"Certainly, sir. One of the lads in the stable shall get a horse ready,
and ride over there directly. Will you write a note to Mrs. Marston,
"A note? No. Mrs. Marston is a stranger to me. My old friend Michael
Marston did not marry until after I left England. A message will do just
as well. The lad has only to ask if any messenger from Mr. Dunbar has
called at the Ferns; and if so, at what time he was there, and at what
hour he left. That's all I want to know. Which way will the boy go;
through the meadows, or by the high road?"
"By the high road, sir; there's only a footpath across the meadows. The
shortest way to the Ferns is the pathway through the grove between here
and St. Cross; but you can only walk that way, for there's gates and
stiles, and such like."
"Yes, I know; it was there I parted from my servant--from this man
"It's a pretty spot, sir, but very lonely at night; lonely enough in the
day, for the matter of that."
"Yes, it seems so. Send your messenger off at once, there's a good
fellow. Joseph Wilmot may be sitting drinking in the servants' hall at
The landlord went away to do his guest's bidding.
Mr. Dunbar flung himself into a low easy-chair, and took up a newspaper.
But he did not read a line upon the page before him. He was in that
unsettled frame of mind which is common to the least nervous persons
when they are kept waiting, kept in suspense by some unaccountable
event. The absence of Joseph Wilmot became every moment more
unaccountable: and his old master made no attempt to conceal his
uneasiness. The newspaper dropped out of his hand: and he sat with his
face turned towards the door: listening.
He sat thus for more than an hour, and at the end of that time the
landlord came to him.
"Well?" exclaimed Henry Dunbar.
"The lad has come back, sir. No messenger from you or any one else has
called at the Ferns this afternoon."
Mr. Dunbar started suddenly to his feet, and stared at the landlord. He
paused for a few moments, watching the man's face with a thoughtful
countenance. Then he said, slowly and deliberately,--
"I am afraid that something has happened."
The landlord fidgeted with his ponderous watch-chain, and shrugged his
shoulders with a dubious gesture.
"Well, it is _strange_, sir, to say the least of it. But you don't think
He looked at Henry Dunbar as if scarcely knowing how to finish his
"I don't know what to think," exclaimed the banker. "Remember, I am
almost as much a stranger in this country as if I had never set foot on
British soil before to-day. This man may have played me a trick, and
gone off for some purpose of his own, though I don't know what purpose.
He could have best served his own interests by staying with me. On the
other hand, something may have happened to him. And yet what _can_ have
happened to him?"
The landlord suggested that the missing man might have fallen down in a
fit, or might have loitered somewhere or other until after dark, and
then lost his way, and wandered into a mill-stream. There was many a
deep bit of water between Winchester Cathedral and the Ferns, the
"Let a search be made at daybreak to-morrow morning," exclaimed Mr.
Dunbar. "I don't care what it costs me, but I am determined this
business shall be cleared up before I leave Winchester. Let every inch
of ground between this and the Ferns be searched at daybreak to-morrow
He did not finish the sentence, for there was a sudden clamour of
voices, and trampling, and hubbub in the hall below. The landlord opened
the door, and went out upon the broad landing-place, followed by Mr.
The hall below was crowded by the servants of the place, and by eager
strangers who had pressed in from outside; and the two men standing at
the top of the stairs heard a hoarse murmur; which seemed all in one
voice, though it was in reality a blending of many voices; and which
grew louder and louder, until it swelled into the awful word "Murder!"
Henry Dunbar heard it and understood it, for his handsome face grew of a
bluish white, like snow in the moonlight, and he leaned his hand upon
the oaken balustrade.
The landlord passed his guest, and ran down the stairs. It was no time
He came back again in less than five minutes, looking almost as pale as
"I'm afraid your friend--your servant--is found, sir," he said.
"You don't mean that he is----"
"I'm afraid it is so, sir. It seems that two Irish reapers, coming from
Farmer Matfield's, five mile beyond St. Cross, stumbled against a man
lying in a little streamlet under the trees----"
"Under the trees! Where?"
"In the very place where you parted from this Mr. Wilmot, sir."
"Good God! Well?"
"The man was dead, sir; quite dead. They carried him to the Foresters'
Arms, sir, as that was the nearest place to where they found him; and
there's been a doctor sent for, and a deal of fuss: but the doctor--Mr.
Cricklewood, a very respectable gentleman, sir--says that the man had
been lying in the water hours and hours, and that the murder had been
done hours and hours ago."
"The murder!" cried Henry Dunbar; "but he may not have been murdered!
His death may have been accidental. He wandered into the water,
"Oh, no, sir; it's not that. He wasn't drowned; for the water where he
was found wasn't three foot deep. He had been strangled, sir; strangled
with a running-noose of rope; strangled from behind, sir, for the
slip-knot was pulled tight at the back of his neck. Mr. Cricklewood the
surgeon's in the hall below, if you'd like to see him; and he knows all
about it. It seems, from what the two Irishmen say, that the body was
dragged into the water by the rope. There was the track of where it had
been dragged along the grass. I'm sure, sir, I'm very sorry such an
awful thing should have happened to the--the person who attended you
Mr. Dunbar had need of sympathy. His white face was turned towards the
landlord's, fixed in a blank stare. He had not seemed to listen to the
man's account of the crime that had been committed, and yet he had
evidently heard everything; for he said presently, in slow, thick
"Strangled--and the body dragged down--to the water Who--who could--have
"Ah! that's the question, indeed, sir. It must all have been done for
the sake of a bit of money, I suppose; for there was an empty
pocket-book found by the water's edge. There are always tramps and
such-like about the country at this time of year; and some of them will
commit almost any crime for the sake of a few pounds. I remember--ah, as
long ago as forty years and more--when I was a bit of a boy in
pinafores, there was a gentleman murdered on the Twyford road, and they
But Mr. Dunbar was in no humour to listen to the landlord's
reminiscences. He interrupted the man's story with a long-drawn sigh,--
"Is there anything I can do? What am I to do?" he said. "Is there
anything I can do?"
"Nothing, sir, until to-morrow. The inquest will be held to-morrow, I
"Yes--yes, to be sure. There'll be an inquest."
"An inquest! Oh, yes, sir; of course there will," answered the landlord.
"Remember that I am a stranger to English habits. I don't know what
steps ought to be taken in such a case as this. Should there not be some
attempt made to find--the--the murderer?"
"Yes, sir; I've _no doubt_ the constables are on the look-out already.
There'll be every effort made, depend upon it; but I'm really afraid
this is a case in which the murderer will escape from justice."
"Because, you see, sir, the man has had plenty of time to get off; and
unless he's a fool, he must be far away from here by this time, and then
what is there to trace him by--that's to say, unless you could identify
the money, or watch and chain, or what not, which the murdered man had
Mr. Dunbar shook his head.
"I don't even know whether he wore a watch and chain," he said; "I only
met him this morning. I have no idea what money he may have had about
"Would you like to see the doctor, sir--Mr. Cricklewood?"
"Yes--no--you have told me all that there is to tell, I suppose?"
"I shall go to bed. I'm thoroughly upset by all this. Stay. Is it a
settled thing that this man who has been found murdered is the person
who accompanied me to this house to-day?"
"Oh, yes, sir; there's no doubt about that. One of our people went down
to the Foresters' Arms, out of curiosity, as you may say, and he
recognized the murdered man directly as the very gentleman that came
into this house with you, sir, at four o'clock to-day."
Mr. Dunbar retired to the apartment that had been prepared for him. It
was a spacious and handsome chamber, the best room in the hotel; and one
of the waiters attended upon the rich man.
"As you've been accustomed to have your valet about you, you'll find it
awkward, sir," the landlord had said; "so I'll send Henry to wait upon
This Henry, who was a smart, active young fellow, unpacked Mr. Dunbar's
portmanteau, unlocked his dressing-case, and spread the gold-topped
crystal bottles and shaving apparatus upon the dressing-table.
Mr. Dunbar sat in an easy-chair before the looking-glass, staring
thoughtfully at the reflection of his own face, pale in the light of the
He got up early the next morning, and before breakfasting he despatched
a telegraphic message to the banking-house in St. Gundolph Lane.
It was from Henry Maddison Dunbar to William Balderby, and it consisted
of these words:--
"_Pray come to me directly, at the George, Winchester. A very awful
event has happened; and I am in great trouble and perplexity. Bring a
lawyer with you. Let my daughter know that I shall not come to London
for some days_."
All this time the body of the murdered man lay on a long table in a
darkened chamber at the Foresters' Arms.
The rigid outline of the corpse was plainly visible under the linen
sheet that shrouded it; but the door of the dread chamber was locked,
and no one was to enter until the coming of the coroner.
Meanwhile the Foresters' Arms did more business than had been done there
in the same space of time within the memory of man. People went in and
out, in and out, all through the long morning; little groups clustered
together in the bar, discoursing in solemn under-tones; and other groups
straggled on the seemed as if every living creature in Winchester was
talking of the murder that had been done in the grove near St. Cross.
Henry Dunbar sat in his own room, waiting for an answer to the
While these things had been happening between London and Southampton,
Laura Dunbar, the banker's daughter, had been anxiously waiting the
coming of her father.
She resembled her mother, Lady Louisa Dunbar, the youngest daughter of
the Earl of Grantwick, a very beautiful and aristocratic woman. She had
met Mr. Dunbar in India, after the death of her first husband, a young
captain in a cavalry regiment, who had been killed in an encounter with
the Sikhs a year after his marriage, leaving his young widow with an
infant daughter, a helpless baby of six weeks old.
The poor, high-born Lady Louisa Macmahon was left most desolate and
miserable after the death of her first husband. She was very poor, and
she knew that her relations in England were very little better off than
herself. She was almost as helpless as her six-weeks' old baby; she was
heart-broken by the loss of the handsome young Irishman, whom she had
fondly loved; and ill and broken down by her sorrows, she lingered in
Calcutta, subsisting upon her pension, and too weak to undertake the
perils of the voyage home.
It was at this time that poor widowed Lady Louisa met Henry Dunbar, the
rich banker. She came in contact with him on account of some money
arrangements of her dead husband's, who had always banked with Dunbar
and Dunbar; and Henry, then getting on for forty years of age, had
fallen desperately in love with the beautiful young widow.
There is no need for me to dwell upon the history of this courtship.
Lady Louisa married the rich man eighteen months after her first
husband's death. Little Dorothea Macmahon was sent to England with a
native nurse, and placed under the care of her maternal relatives; and
Henry Dunbar's beautiful wife became queen of the best society in the
city of palaces, by the right of her own rank and her husband's wealth.
Henry Dunbar loved her desperately, as even a selfish man can sometimes
love for once in his life.
But Lady Louisa never truly returned the millionaire's affection. She
was haunted by the memory of her first and purest love; she was tortured
by remorseful thoughts about the fatherless child who had been so
ruthlessly banished from her. Henry Dunbar was a jealous man, and he
grudged the love which his wife bore to his dead rival's child. It was
by his contrivance the girl had been sent from India.
Lady Louisa Dunbar held her place in Calcutta society for two years. But
in the very hour when her social position was most brilliant, her beauty
in the full splendour of its prime, she died so suddenly that the
fashionables of Calcutta were discussing the promised splendour of a
ball, for which Lady Louisa had issued her invitations, when the tidings
of her death spread like wildfire through the city--Henry Dunbar was a
widower. He might have married again, had he pleased to do so. The
proudest beauty in Calcutta would have been glad to become the wife of
the sole heir of that dingy banking-house in St. Gundolph Lane.
There was a good deal of excitement upon this subject in the matrimonial
market for two or three years after Lady Louisa's death. A good many
young ladies were expressly imported from England by anxious papas and
mammas, with a view to the capture of the wealthy widower.
But though Griselda's yellow hair fell down to her waist in glossy,
rippling curls, that shone like molten gold; though Amanda's black eyes
glittered like the stars in a midnight sky; though the dashing Georgina
was more graceful than Diana, the gentle Lavinia more beautiful than
Venus,--Mr. Dunbar went among them without pleasure, and left them
The charms of all these ladies concentrated in the person of one perfect
woman would have had no witchery for the banker. His heart was dead. He
had given all the truth, all the passion of which his nature was
capable, to the one woman who had possessed the power to charm him.
To seek to win love from him was about as hopeless as it would have been
to ask alms of a man whose purse was empty. The bright young English
beauties found this out by and by, and devoted themselves to other
speculations in the matrimonial market.
Henry Dunbar sent his little girl, his only child, to England. He parted
with her, not because of his indifference, but rather by reason of his
idolatry. It was the only unselfish act of his life, this parting with
his child; and yet even in this there was selfishness.
"It would be sweet to me to keep her here," he thought; "but then, if
the climate should kill her; if I should lose her, as I lost her mother?
I will send her away from me now, that she may be my blessing by-and-by,
when I return to England after my father's death."
Henry Dunbar had sworn when he left the office in St. Gundolph Lane,
after the discovery of the forgery, that he would never look upon his
father's face again,--and he kept his oath.
This was the father to whose coming Laura Dunbar looked forward with
eager anxiety, with a heart overflowing with tender womanly love.
She was a very beautiful girl; so beautiful that her presence was like
the sunlight, and made the meanest place splendid. There was a
queenliness in her beauty, which she inherited from her mother's
high-born race. But though her beauty was queenlike, it was not
imperious. There was no conscious pride in her aspect, no cold hauteur
in her ever-changing face. She was such a woman as might have sat by the
side of an English king to plead for all trembling petitioners kneeling
on the steps of the throne. She would have been only in her fitting
place beneath the shadow of a regal canopy; for in soul, as well as in
aspect, she was worthy to be a queen. She was like some tall white lily,
unconsciously beautiful, unconsciously grand; and the meanest natures
kindled with a faint glow of poetry when they came in contact with her.
She had been spoiled by an adoring nurse, a devoted governess, masters
who had fallen madly in love with their pupil, and servants who were
ready to worship their young mistress. Yes, according to the common
acceptation of the term, she had been spoiled; she had been allowed to
have her own way in everything; to go hither and thither, free as the
butterflies in her carefully tended garden; to scatter her money right
and left; to be imposed upon and cheated by every wandering vagabond who
found his way to her gates; to ride, and hunt, and drive--to do as she
liked, in short. And I am fain to say that the consequence of all this
foolish and reprehensible indulgence had been to make the young heiress
of Maudesley Abbey the most fascinating woman in all Warwickshire.
She was a little capricious, just a trifle wayward, I will confess. But
then that trifling waywardness gave just the spice that was wanting to
this grand young lily. The white lilies are never more beautiful than
when they wave capriciously in the summer wind; and if Laura Dunbar was
a little passionate when you tried to thwart her; and if her great blue
eyes at such times had a trick of lighting up with sudden fire in them,
like a burst of lurid sunlight through a summer storm-cloud, there were
plenty of gentlemen in Warwickshire ready to swear that the sight of
those lightning-flashes of womanly anger was well worth the penalty of
incurring Miss Dunbar's displeasure.
She was only eighteen, and had not yet "come out." But she had seen a
great deal of society, for it had been the delight of her grandfather to
have her perpetually with him.
She travelled from Maudesley Abbey to Portland Place in the company of
her nurse,--a certain Elizabeth Madden, who had been Lady Louisa's own
maid before her marriage with Captain Macmahon, and who was devotedly
attached to the motherless girl.
But Mrs. Madden was not Laura Dunbar's only companion upon this
occasion. She was accompanied by her half-sister, Dora Macmahon, who of
late years had almost lived at the Abbey, much to the delight of Laura.
Nor was the little party without an escort; for Arthur Lovell, the son
of the principal solicitor in the town of Shorncliffe, near Maudesley
Abbey, attended Miss Dunbar to London.
This young man had been a very great favourite with Percival Dunbar and
had been a constant visitor at the Abbey. Before the old man died, he
told Arthur Lovell to act in everything as Laura's friend and legal
adviser; and the young lawyer was very enthusiastic in behalf of his
beautiful client. Why should I seek to make a mystery of this
gentleman's feelings? He loved her. He loved this girl, who, by reason
of her father's wealth, was as far removed from him as if she had been a
duchess. He paid a terrible penalty for every happy hour, every
delicious day of simple and innocent enjoyment, that he had spent at
Maudesley Abbey; for he loved Laura Dunbar, and he feared that his love
It was hopeless in the present, at any rate; for although he was
handsome, clever, high-spirited, and honourable, a gentleman in the
noblest sense of that noble word, he was no fit husband for the daughter
of Henry Dunbar. He was an only son, and he was heir to a very
comfortable little fortune: but he knew that the millionaire would have
laughed him to scorn had he dared to make proposals for Laura's hand.
But was his love hopeless in the future? That was the question which he
perpetually asked himself.
He was proud and ambitious. He knew that he was clever; he could not
help knowing this, though he was entirely without conceit. A government
appointment in India had been offered to him through the intervention of
a nobleman, a friend of his father's. This appointment would afford the
chance of a noble career to a man who knew how to seize the golden
opportunity, which mediocrity neglects, but which genius makes the
stepping-stone to greatness.
The nobleman who made the offer to Arthur Lovell had written to say that
there was no necessity for an immediate decision. If Arthur accepted the
appointment, he would not be obliged to leave England until the end of a
twelvemonth, as the vacancy would not occur before that time.
"In the meanwhile," Lord Herriston wrote to the solicitor, "your son can
think the matter over, my dear Lovell, and make his decision with all
Arthur Lovell had already made that decision.
"I will go to India," he said; "for if ever I am to win Laura Dunbar, I
must succeed in life. But before I go I will tell her that I love her.
If she returns my love, my struggles will be sweet to me, for they will
be made for her sake. If she does not----"
He did not finish the sentence even in his own mind. He could not bear
to think that it was possible he might hear his death-knell from the
lips he worshipped. He had gladly seized upon the opportunity afforded
by this visit to the town house.
"I will speak to her before her father returns," he thought; "she will
speak the truth to me now fearlessly; for it is her nature to be
fearless and candid as a child. But his coming may change her. She is
fond of him, and will be ruled by him. Heaven grant he may rule her
wisely and gently!"
On the 17th of August, Laura and Mrs. Madden arrived in Portland Place.
Arthur Lovell parted with his beautiful client at the railway station,
and drove off to the hotel at which he was in the habit of staying. He
called upon Miss Dunbar on the 18th; but found that she was out shopping
with Mrs. Madden. He called again, on the morning of the 19th; that
bright sunny August morning on which the body of the murdered man lay in
the darkened chamber at Winchester.
It was only ten o'clock when the young lawyer made his appearance in the
pleasant morning-room occupied by Laura Dunbar whenever she stayed in
Portland Place. The breakfast equipage was still upon the table in the
centre of the room. Mrs. Madden, who was companion, housekeeper, and
confidential maid to her charming young mistress, was officiating at the
breakfast-table; Dora Macmahon was sitting near her, with an open book
by the side of her breakfast-cup; and Miss Laura Dunbar was lounging in
a low easy-chair, near a broad window that opened into a conservatory
filled with exotics, that made the air heavy with their almost
She rose as Arthur Lovell came into the room, and she looked more like a
lily than ever in her long loose morning-dress of soft semi-diaphanous
muslin. Her thick auburn hair was twisted into a diadem that crowned her
broad white forehead, and added a couple of inches to her height. She
held out her little ringed hand, and the jewels on the white fingers
scintillated in the sunlight.
"I am so glad to see you, Mr. Lovell," she said. "Dora and I have been
miserable, haven't we, Dora? London is as dull as a desert. I went for a
drive yesterday, and the Lady's Mile is as lonely as the Great Sahara.
There are plenty of theatres open, and there was a concert at one of the
opera-houses last night; but that disagreeable Elizabeth wouldn't allow
me to go to any one of those entertainments. Grandpapa would have taken
me. Dear grandpapa went everywhere with me."
Mrs. Madden shook her head solemnly.
"Your gran'pa would have gone after you to the remotest end of this
world, Miss Laura, if you'd so much as held your finger up to beckon of
him. Your gran'pa spiled you, Miss Laura. A pretty thing it would have
been if your pa had come all the way from India to find his only
daughter gallivanting at a theaytre."
Miss Dunbar looked at her old nurse with an arch smile. She was very
lovely when she smiled; she was very lovely when she frowned. She was
most beautiful always, Arthur Lovell thought.
"But I shouldn't have been gallivanting, you dear old Madden," she
cried, with a joyous silver laugh, that was like the ripple of a cascade
under a sunny sky. "I should only have been sitting quietly in a private
box, with my rapid, precious, aggravating, darling old nurse to keep
watch and ward over me. Besides, how could papa be angry with me upon
the first day of his coming home?"
Mrs. Madden shook her head again even more solemnly than before.
"I don't know about that, Miss Laura. You mustn't expect to find Mr.
Dunbar like your gran'pa."
A sudden cloud fell upon the girl's lovely face.
"Why, Elizabeth," she said, "you don't mean that papa will be unkind to
"I don't know your pa, Miss Laura. I never set eyes upon Mr. Dunbar in
my life. But the Indian servant that brought you over, when you was but
a bit of a baby, said that your pa was proud and passionate; and that
even your poor mar, which he loved her better than any livin' creature
upon this earth, was almost afraid of him."
The smile had quite vanished from Laura Dunbar's face by this time, and
the blue eyes filled suddenly with tears.
"Oh, what shall I do if my father is unkind to me?" she said, piteously.
"I have so looked forward to his coming home. I have counted the very
days; and if he is unkind to me--if he does not love me----"
She covered her face with her hands, and turned away her head. "Laura,"
exclaimed Arthur Lovell, addressing her for the first time by her
Christian name, "how could any one help loving you? How----"
He stopped, half ashamed of his passionate enthusiasm. In those few
words he had revealed the secret of his heart: but Laura Dunbar was too
innocent to understand the meaning of those eager words.
Mrs. Madden understood them perfectly; and she smiled approvingly at the
Arthur Lovell was a great favourite with Laura Dunbar's nurse. She knew
that he adored her young mistress; and she looked upon him as a model of
all that is noble and chivalrous.
She began to fidget with the silver tea-canisters; and then looked
significantly at Dora Macmahon. But Miss Macmahon did not understand
that significant glance. Her dark eyes--and she had very beautiful eyes,
with a grave, half-pensive softness in their sombre depths--were fixed
upon the two young faces in the sunny window; the girl's face clouded
with a look of sorrowful perplexity, the young man's face eloquent with
tender meaning. Dora Macmahon's colour went and came as she looked at
that earnest countenance, and the fingers which were absently turning
the leaves of her book were faintly tremulous.
"Your new bonnet's come home this morning, Miss Dora," Elizabeth Madden
said, rather sharply. "Perhaps you'd like to come up-stairs and have a
look at it."
"My new bonnet!" murmured Dora, vaguely.
"La, yes, miss; the new bonnet you bought in Regent Street only
yesterday afternoon. I never did see such a forgetful wool-gathering
young lady in all my life as you are this blessed morning, Miss Dora."
The absent-minded young lady rose suddenly, bewildered by Mrs. Madden's
animated desire for an inspection of the bonnet. But she very willingly
left the room with Laura's old nurse, who was accustomed to have her
mandates obeyed even by the wayward heiress of Maudesley Abbey; and
Laura was left alone with the young lawyer.
Miss Dunbar had seated herself once more in the low easy-chair by the
window. She sat with her elbow resting on the cushioned arm of the
chair, and her head supported by her hand. Her eyes were fixed, and
looked straight before her, with a thoughtful gaze that was strange to
her: for her nature was as joyous as that of a bird, whose music fills
all the wide heaven with one rejoicing psalm.
Arthur Lovell drew his chair nearer to the thoughtful girl.
"Laura," he said, "why are you so silent? I never saw you so serious
before, except after your grandfather's death."
"I am thinking of my father," she answered, in a low, tremulous voice,
that was broken by her tears: "I am thinking that, perhaps, he will not
"Not love you, Laura! who could help loving you? Oh, if I dared--if I
could venture--I must speak, Laura Dunbar. My whole life hangs upon the
issue, and I will speak. I am not a poor man, Laura; but you are so
divided from the rest of the world by your father's wealth, that I have
feared to speak. I have feared to tell you that which you might have
discovered for yourself, had you not been as innocent as your own pet
doves in the dovecote at Maudesley."
The girl looked at him with wondering eyes that were still wet with
"I love you, Laura; I love you. The world would call me beneath you in
station, now; but I am a man, and I have a man's ambition--a strong
man's iron will. Everything is possible to him who has sworn to conquer;
and for your sake. Laura, for your love I should overcome obstacles that
to another man might be invincible. I am going to India, Laura: I am
going to carve my way to fame and fortune, for fame and fortune are
_slaves_ that come at the brave man's bidding; they are only _masters_
when the coward calls them. Remember, my beloved one, this wealth that
now stands between you and me may not always be yours. Your father is
not an old man; he may marry again, and have a son to inherit his
wealth. Would to Heaven, Laura, that it might be so! But be that as it
may, I despair of nothing if I dare hope for your love. Oh, Laura,
dearest, one word to tell me that I _may_ hope! Remember how happy we
have been together; little children playing with flowers and butterflies
in the gardens at Maudesley; boy and girl, rambling hand-in-hand beside
the wandering Avon; man and woman standing in mournful silence by your
grandfather's deathbed. The past is a bond of union betwixt us, Laura.
Look back at all those happy days and give me one word, my darling--one
word to tell me that you love me."
Laura Dunbar looked up at him with a sweet smile, and laid her soft
white hand in his.
"I do love you, Arthur," she said, "as dearly as I should have loved my
brother had I ever known a brother's love."
The young man bowed his head in silence. When he looked up, Laura Dunbar
saw that he was very pale.
"You only love me as a brother, Laura?"
"How else should I love you?" she asked, innocently.
Arthur Lovell looked at her with a mournful smile; a tender smile that
was exquisitely beautiful, for it was the look of a man who is prepared
to resign his own happiness for the sake of her he loves.
"Enough, Laura," he said, quietly; "I have received my sentence. You do
not love me, dearest; you have yet to suffer life's great fever."
She clasped her hands, and looked at him beseechingly.
"You are not angry with me, Arthur?" she said.
"Angry with you, my sweet one!"
"And you will still love me?"
"Yes, Laura, with all a brother's devotion. And if ever you have need of
my services, you shall find what it is to have a faithful friend, who
holds his life at small value beside your happiness."
He said no more, for there was the sound of carriage-wheels below the
window, and then a loud double-knock at the hall-door.
Laura started to her feet, and her bright face grew pale.
"My father has come!" she exclaimed.
But it was not her father. It was Mr. Balderby, who had just come from
St. Gundolph Lane, where he had received Henry Dunbar's telegraphic
Every vestige of colour faded out of Laura's face as she recognized the
junior partner of the banking-house.
"Something has happened to my father!" she cried.
"No, no, Miss Dunbar!" exclaimed Mr. Balderby, anxious to reassure her.
"Your father has arrived in England safely, and is well, as I believe.
He is staying at Winchester; and he has telegraphed to me to go to him
"Something has happened, then?"
"Yes, but not to Mr. Dunbar individually; so far as I can make out by
the telegraphic message. I was to come to you here, Miss Dunbar, to tell
you not to expect your papa for some few days; and then I am to go on to
Winchester, taking a lawyer with me."
"A lawyer!" exclaimed Laura.
"Yes, I am going to Lincoln's Inn immediately to Messrs. Walford and
Walford, our own solicitors."
"Let Mr. Lovell go with you," cried Miss Dunbar; "he always acted as
poor grandpapa's solicitor. Let him go with you."
"Yes, Mr. Balderby," exclaimed the young man, "I beg you to allow me to
accompany you. I shall be very glad to be of service to Mr. Dunbar."
Mr. Balderby hesitated for a few moments.
"Well, I really don't see why you shouldn't go, if you wish to do so,"
he said, presently. "Mr. Dunbar says he wants a lawyer; he doesn't name
any particular lawyer. We shall save time by your going; for we shall be
able to catch the eleven o'clock express."
He looked at his watch.
"There's not a moment to lose. Good morning, Miss Dunbar. We'll take
care of your papa, and bring him to you in triumph. Come, Lovell."
Arthur Lovell shook hands with Laura, murmured a few words in her ear,
and hurried away with Mr. Balderby.
She had spoken the death-knell of his dearest hopes. He had seen his
sentence in her innocent face; but he loved her still.
There was something in her virginal candour, her bright young
loveliness, that touched the noblest chords of his heart. He loved her
with a chivalrous devotion, which, after all, is as natural to the
breast of a young Englishman in these modern days, miscalled degenerate,
as when the spotless knight King Arthur loved and wooed his queen.
The coroner's inquest, which had been appointed to take place at noon
that day, was postponed until three o'clock in the afternoon, in
compliance with the earnest request of Henry Dunbar.
When ever was the earnest request of a millionaire refused?
The coroner, who was a fussy little man, very readily acceded to Mr.
"I am a stranger in England," the Anglo-Indian said; "I was never in my
life present at an inquest. The murdered man was connected with me. He
was last seen in my company. It is vitally necessary that I should have
a legal adviser to watch the proceedings on my behalf. Who knows what
dark suspicions may arise, affecting my name and honour?"
The banker made this remark in the presence of four or five of the
jurymen, the coroner, and Mr. Cricklewood, the surgeon who had been
called in to examine the body of the man supposed to have been murdered.
Every one of those gentlemen protested loudly and indignantly against
the idea of the bare possibility that any suspicion, or the shadow of a
suspicion, could attach to such a man as Mr. Dunbar.
They knew nothing of him, of course, except that he was Henry Dunbar,
chief of the rich banking-house of Dunbar, Dunbar, and Balderby, and
that he was a millionaire.
Was it likely that a millionaire would commit a murder?
When had a millionaire ever been known to commit a murder? Never, of
The Anglo-Indian sat in his private sitting-room at the George Hotel,
writing, and examining his papers--perpetually writing, perpetually
sorting and re-sorting those packets of letters in the
despatch-box--while he waited for the coming of Mr. Balderby.
The postponement of the coroner's inquest was a very good thing for the
landlord of the Foresters' Arms. People went in and out, and loitered
about the premises, and lounged in the bar, drinking and talking all the
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