M. E. Braddon
Part 4 out of 9
look in his eyes, as they slowly reopened and glared upon Laura's
anxious face--were ever present to the young lawyer's mind.
Why was this man frightened of his beautiful child?--for that it was
fear, and not love, which had blanched Henry Dunbar's face, the lawyer
felt positive. Why was this father frightened of his own daughter,
Only one horrible and ghastly suggestion presented itself to Arthur
Lovell's mind. Henry Dunbar was the murderer of his old valet: and the
consciousness of guilt had paralyzed him at the first touch of his
daughter's innocent lips.
But, oh, how terrible if this were true--how terrible to think that
Laura Dunbar was henceforth to live in daily and hourly association with
a traitor and an assassin!
"I have promised to love her for ever, though my love is hopeless, and
to serve her faithfully if ever she should need of my devotion," Arthur
Lovell thought, as he sat silent at the dinner-table, while Henry Dunbar
and his daughter talked together gaily.
The lawyer watched his client now with intense anxiety; and it seemed to
him that there was something feverish and unnatural in the banker's
gaiety. Laura and her step-sister left the room soon after dinner: and
the two men remained alone at the long, ponderous-looking dinner-table,
on which the sparkling diamond-cut decanters and Sevres dessert-dishes
looked like tiny vases of light and colour on a dreary waste of polished
"I shall go to Maudesley Abbey to-morrow," Henry Dunbar said. "I want
rest and solitude after all this trouble and excitement: and Laura tells
me that she infinitely prefers Maudesley to London. Do you think of
returning to Warwickshire, Mr. Lovell?"
"Oh, yes, immediately. My father expected my return a week ago. I only
came up to town to act as Miss Dunbar's escort."
"Indeed, that was very kind of you. You have known my daughter for a
long time, I understand by her letters."
"Yes. We were children together. I was a great deal at the Abbey in old
Mr. Dunbar's time."
"And you will still be more often there in my time, I hope," Henry
Dunbar answered, courteously. "I fancy I could venture to make a pretty
correct guess at a certain secret of yours, my dear Lovell. Unless I am
very much mistaken, you have a more than ordinary regard for my
Arthur Lovell was silent, his heart beat violently, and he looked the
banker unflinchingly in the face; but he did not speak, he only bent his
head in answer to the rich man's questions.
"I have guessed rightly, then," said Mr. Dunbar.
"Yes, sir, I love Miss Dunbar as truly as ever a man loved the woman of
his choice! but----"
"But what? She is the daughter of a millionaire, and you fear her
father's disapproval of your pretensions, eh?"
"No, Mr. Dunbar. If your daughter loved me as truly as I love her, I
would marry her in spite of you--in spite of the world; and carve my own
way to fortune. But such a blessing as Laura Dunbar's love is not for
me. I have spoken to her, and----"
"She has rejected you?"
"Pshaw! girls of her age are as changeable as the winds of heaven. Do
not despair, Mr. Lovell; and as far as my consent goes, you may have it
to-morrow, if you like. You are young, good-looking, clever, agreeable:
what more, in the name of feminine frivolity, can a girl want? You will
find no stupid prejudices in me, Mr. Lovell. I should like to see you
married to my daughter: for I believe you love her very sincerely. You
have my good will, I assure you. There is my hand upon it."
He held out his hand as he spoke, and Arthur Lovell took it, a little
reluctantly perhaps, but with as good a grace as he could.
"I thank you, sir," he said, "for your good will, and----"
He tried to say something more, but the words died away upon his lips.
The horrible fear which had taken possession of his breast after the
scene of the morning, weighed upon him like the burden that seems to lie
upon the sleeper's breast throughout the strange agony of nightmare. Do
what he would, he could not free himself from the weight of this
dreadful doubt. Mr. Dunbar's words _seemed_ to emanate from the kind and
generous breast of a good man: but, on the other hand, might it not be
possible that the banker wished to _get rid_ of his daughter?
He had betrayed fear in her presence, that morning: and now he was eager
to give her hand to the first suitor who presented himself: ineligible
as that suitor was in a worldly point of view. Might it not be that the
girl's innocent society was oppressive to her father, and that he wished
therefore to shuffle her off upon a new protector?
"I shall be very busy this evening, Mr. Lovell," said Henry Dunbar,
presently; "for I must look over some papers I have amongst the luggage
that was sent on here from Southampton. When you are tired of the
dining-room, you will be able to find the two girls, and amuse yourself
in their society, I have no doubt."
Mr. Dunbar rang the bell. It was answered by an elderly man-servant out
"What have you done with the luggage that was sent from Southampton?"
asked the banker.
"It has all been placed in old Mr. Dunbar's bed-room, sir," the man
"Very well; let lights be carried there, and let the portmanteaus and
packing-cases be unstrapped and opened."
He handed a bunch of keys to the servant, and followed the man out of
the room. In the hall he stopped suddenly, arrested by the sound of a
The entrance-hall of the house in Portland Place was divided into two
compartments, separated from each other by folding-doors, the upper
panels of which were of ground glass. There was a porter's chair in the
outer division of the hall, and a bronzed lamp hung from the domed
The doors between the inner and outer hall were ajar, and the voice
which Henry Dunbar heard was that of a woman speaking to the porter.
"I am Joseph Wilmot's daughter," the woman said. "Mr. Dunbar promised
that he would see me at Winchester: he broke his word, and left
Winchester without seeing me: but he _shall_ see me, sooner or later;
for I will follow him wherever he goes, until I look into his face, and
say that which I have to say to him."
The girl did not speak loudly or violently. There was a quiet
earnestness in her voice; an earnestness and steadiness of tone which
expressed more determination than any noisy or passionate utterance
could have done.
"Good gracious me, young woman!" exclaimed the porter, "do you think as
I'm goin' to send such a rampagin' kind of a message as that to Mr.
Dunbar? Why, it would be as much as my place is worth to do it. Go along
about your business, miss; and don't you preshume to come to such a
house as this durin' gentlefolks' dinner-hours another time. Why, I'd
sooner take a message to one of the tigers in the Joological-gardings at
feedin' time than I'd intrude upon such a gentleman as Mr. Dunbar when
he's sittin' over his claret."
Mr. Dunbar stopped to listen to this conversation; then he went back
into the dining-room, and beckoned to the servant who was waiting to
precede him up-stairs.
"Bring me pen, ink, and paper," he said.
The man wheeled a writing-table towards the banker. Henry Dunbar sat
down and wrote the following lines; in the firm aristocratic handwriting
that was so familiar to the chief clerks in the banking-house.
"_The young person who calls herself Joseph Wilmot's daughter is
informed that Mr. Dunbar declines to see her now, or at any future time.
He is perfectly inflexible upon this point; and the young person will do
well to abandon the system of annoyance which she is at present
pursuing. Should she fail to do so, a statement of her conduct will be
submitted to the police, and prompt measures taken to secure Mr.
Dunbar's freedom from persecution. Herewith Mr. Dunbar forwards the
young person a sum of money which will enable her to live for some time
with ease and independence. Further remittances will be sent to her at
short intervals; if she conducts herself with propriety, and refrains
from attempting any annoyance against Mr. Dunbar.
"Portland Place, August 30, 1850_."
The banker took out his cheque-book, wrote a cheque for fifty pounds,
and folded it in the note which he had just written then he rang the
bell, and gave the note to the elderly manservant who waited upon him.
"Let that be taken to the young person in the hall," he said.
Mr. Dunbar followed the servant to the dining-room door and stood upon
the threshold, listening. He heard the man speak to Margaret Wilmot as
he delivered the letter; and then he heard the crackling of the
envelope, as the girl tore it open.
There was a pause, during which the listener waited, with an anxious
expression on his face.
He had not to wait long. Margaret spoke presently, in a clear ringing
voice, that vibrated through the hall.
"Tell your master," she said, "that I will die of starvation sooner than
I would accept bread from his hand. You can tell him what I did with his
There was another brief pause; and then, in the hushed stillness of the
house, Henry Dunbar heard a light shower of torn paper flutter down upon
the polished marble floor. Then he heard the great door of the house
close upon Joseph Wilmot's daughter.
The millionaire covered his face with his hands, and gave a long sigh:
but he lifted his head presently, shrugged his shoulders with an
impatient gesture, and went slowly up the lighted staircase.
The suite of apartments that had been occupied by Percival Dunbar
comprised the greater part of the second floor of the house in Portland
Place. There was a spacious bed-chamber, a comfortable study, a
dressing-room, bath-room, and antechamber. The furniture was handsome,
but of a ponderous style: and, in spite of their splendour, the rooms
had a gloomy look. Everything about them was dark and heavy. The house
was an old one, and the five windows fronting the street were long and
narrow, with deep oaken seats in the recesses between the heavy
shutters. The walls were covered with a dark green paper that looked
like cloth. The footsteps of the occupant were muffled by the rich
thickness of the sombre Turkey carpet. The voluminous curtains that
sheltered the windows, and shrouded the carved rosewood four-post bed,
were of a dark green, which looked black in the dim light.
The massive chairs and tables were of black oak, with cushions of green
velvet. A few valuable cabinet pictures, by the old masters, set in deep
frames of ebony and gold, hung at wide distances upon the wall. There
was the head of an ecclesiastic, cut from a large picture by
Spagnoletti; a Venetian senator by Tintoretto; the Adoration of the Magi
by Caravaggio. An ivory crucifix was the only object upon the high,
A pair of wax-candles, in antique silver candlesticks, burned upon a
writing-table near the fireplace, and made a spot of light in the gloomy
bed-chamber. All Henry Dunbar's luggage had been placed in this room.
There were packing-cases and portmanteaus of almost every size and
shape, and they had all been opened by a man-servant, who was kneeling
by the last when the banker entered the room.
"You will sleep here to-night, sir, I presume?" the servant said,
interrogatively, as he prepared to quit the apartment. "Mrs. Parkyn
thought it best to prepare these rooms for your occupation."
Henry Dunbar looked thoughtfully round the spacious chamber.
"Is there no other place in which I can sleep?" he asked. "These rooms
are horribly gloomy."
"There is a spare room upon the floor above this, sir."
"Very well; let the spare room be got ready for me. I have a good many
arrangements to make, and shall be late." "Will you require assistance,
"No. Let the room up-stairs be prepared. Is it immediately above this?"
"Good; I shall know how to find it, then. No one need sit up for me. Let
Miss Dunbar be told that I shall not see her again to-night, and that I
shall start for Maudesley in the course of to-morrow. She can make her
arrangements accordingly. You understand?"
"Then you can go. Remember, I do not wish to be disturbed again
"You will want nothing more, sir?"
The man retired. Henry Dunbar followed him to the door, listened to his
receding footsteps in the corridor and upon the staircase, and then
turned the key in the lock. He went back to the centre of the room, and
kneeling down before one of the open portmanteaus, took out every
article which it contained, slowly: removing the things one by one, and
throwing most of them into a heap upon the floor. He went through this
operation with the contents of all the boxes, throwing the clothes upon
the floor, and carrying the papers to the writing-table, where he piled
them up in a great mass. This business occupied a very long time, and
the hands of an antique clock, upon a bracket in a corner of the room,
pointed to midnight when the banker seated himself at the table, and
began to arrange and sort his papers.
This operation lasted for several hours. The candles were burnt down,
and the flames flickered slowly out in the silver sockets. Mr. Dunbar
went to one of the windows, drew back the green-cloth curtain, unbarred
the heavy shutters, and let the grey morning light into the room. But he
still went on with his work: reading faded documents, tying up old
papers, making notes upon the backs of letters, and other notes in his
own memorandum-book: very much as he had done at the Winchester Hotel.
The broad sunlight streamed in upon the sombre colours of the Turkey
carpet, the sound of wheels was in the street below, when the banker's
work was finished. By that time he had arranged all the papers with
unusual precision, and replaced them in one of the portmanteaus: but he
left the clothes in a careless heap upon the floor, just as they had
fallen when he first threw them out of the boxes.
Mr. Dunbar did one thing more before he left the room. Amongst the
papers which he had arranged upon the writing-table, there was a small
square morocco case, containing a photograph done upon glass. He took
this picture out of the case, dropped it upon the polished oaken floor
beyond the margin of the carpet, and ground the glass into atoms with
the heavy heel of his boot. But even then he was not content with his
work of destruction, for he stamped upon the tiny fragments until there
was nothing left of the picture but a handful of sparkling dust. He
scattered this about with his foot, dropped the empty morocco case into
his pocket, and went up-stairs in the morning sunlight.
It was past six o'clock, and Mr. Dunbar heard the voices of the
women-servants upon the back staircase as he went to his room. He threw
himself, dressed as he was, upon the bed, and fell into a heavy slumber.
At three o'clock the same day Mr. Dunbar left London for Maudesley
Abbey, accompanied by his daughter, Dora Macmahon, and Arthur Lovell.
THREE WHO SUSPECT.
No further discovery was made respecting the murder that had been
committed in the grove between Winchester and St. Cross. The police made
every effort to find the murderer, but without result. A large reward
was offered by the government for the apprehension of the guilty man;
and a still larger reward was offered by Mr. Dunbar, who declared that
his own honour and good name were in a manner involved in the discovery
of the real murderer.
The one clue by which the police hoped to trace the footsteps of the
assassin was the booty which his crime had secured to him: the contents
of the pocket-book that had been rifled, and the clothes which had been
stripped from the corpse of the victim. By means of the clue which these
things might afford, the detective police hoped to reach the guilty man.
But they hoped in vain. Every pawnbroker's shop in Winchester, and in
every town within a certain radius of Winchester, was searched, but
without effect. No clothes at all resembling those that had been seen
upon the person of the dead man had been pledged within forty miles of
the cathedral city. The police grew hopeless at last. The reward was a
large one; but the darkness of the mystery seemed impenetrable, and
little by little people left off talking of the murder. By slow degrees
the gossips resigned themselves to the idea that the secret of Joseph
Wilmot's death was to remain a secret for ever. Two or three "sensation"
leaders appeared in some of the morning papers, urging the bloodhounds
of the law to do their work, and taunting the members of the detective
force with supineness and stupidity. I dare say the social
leader-writers were rather hard-up for subjects at this stagnant
autumnal period, and were scarcely sorry for the mysterious death of the
man in the grove. The public grumbled a little when there was no new
paragraph in the papers about "that dreadful Winchester murder;" but the
nine-days' period during which the English public cares to wonder
elapsed, and nothing had been done. Other murders were committed as
brutal in their nature as the murder in the grove; and the world, which
rarely stops long to lament for the dead, began to think of other
things. Joseph Wilmot was forgotten.
A month passed very quietly at Maudesley Abbey. Henry Dunbar took his
place in the county as a person of importance; lights blazed in the
splendid rooms; carriages drove in and out of the great gates in the
park, and all the landed gentry within twenty miles of the abbey came to
pay their respects to the millionaire who had newly returned from India.
He did not particularly encourage people's visits, but he submitted
himself to such festivities as his daughter declared to be necessary,
and did the honours of his house with a certain haughty grandeur, which
was a little stiff and formal as compared to the easy friendly grace of
his high-bred visitors. People shrugged their shoulders, and hinted that
there was something of the "roturier" in Mr. Dunbar; but they freely
acknowledged that he was a fine handsome-looking fellow, and that his
daughter was an angel, rendered still more angelic by the earthly
advantage of half a million or so for her marriage-portion.
Meanwhile Margaret Wilmot lived alone in her simple countrified lodging,
and thought sadly enough of the father whom she had lost.
He had not been a good father, but she had loved him nevertheless. She
had pitied him for his sorrows, and the wrongs that had been done him.
She had loved him for those feeble traces of a better nature that had
been dimly visible in his character.
"He had not been _always_ a cheat and reprobate," the girl thought as
she sat pondering upon her father's fate. "He never would have been
dishonest but for Henry Dunbar."
She remembered with bitter feelings the aspect of the rich man's house
in Portland Place. She had caught a glimpse of its splendour upon the
night after her return from Winchester. Through the narrow opening
between the folding-doors she had seen the pictures and the statues
glimmering in the lamplight of the inner hall. She had seen in that
brief moment a bright confusion of hothouse flowers, and trailing satin
curtains, gilded mouldings, and frescoed panels, the first few shallow
steps of a marble staircase, the filigree-work of the bronze balustrade.
Only for one moment had she peeped wonderingly into the splendid
interior of Henry Dunbar's mansion; but the objects seen in that one
brief glance had stamped themselves upon the girl's memory.
"He is rich," she thought, "and they say that wealth can buy all the
best things upon this earth. But, after all, there are few _real_ things
that it can purchase. It can buy flattery, and simulated love, and sham
devotion, but it cannot buy one genuine heart-throb, one thrill of true
feeling. All the wealth of this world cannot buy _peace_ for Henry
Dunbar, or forgetfulness. So long as I live he shall be made to
remember. If his own guilty conscience can suffer him to forget, it
shall be my task to recall the past. I promised my dead father that I
would remember the name of Henry Dunbar; I have had good reason to
Margaret Wilmot was not quite alone in her sorrow. There was one person
who sympathized with her, with an earnest and pure desire to help her in
her sorrow. This person was Clement Austin, the cashier in St.
Gundolph's Lane; the man who had fallen head-over-heels in love with the
pretty music-mistress, but who felt half ashamed of his sudden and
"I have always ridiculed what people call 'love at sight,'" he thought;
"surely I am not so silly as to have been bewitched by hazel eyes and a
straight nose. Perhaps, after all, I only take an interest in this girl
because she is so beautiful and so lonely, and because of the kind of
mystery there seems to be about her life."
Never for one moment had Clement Austin suspected that this mystery
involved anything discreditable to Margaret herself. The girl's sad face
seemed softly luminous with the tender light of pure and holy thoughts.
The veriest churl could scarcely have associated vice or falsehood with
such a lovely and harmonious image.
Since her return from Winchester, since the failure of her second
attempt to see Henry Dunbar, her life had pursued its wonted course; and
she went so quietly about her daily duties, that it was only by the
settled sadness of her face, the subdued gravity of her manner, that
people became aware of some heavy grief that had newly fallen upon her.
Clement Austin had watched her far too closely not to understand her
better than other people. He had noticed the change in her costume, when
she put on simple inexpensive mourning for her dead father; and he
ventured to express his regret for the loss which she had experienced.
She told him, with a gentle sorrowful accent in her voice, that she had
lately lost some one who was very dear to her; and that the loss had
been unexpected, and was very bitter to bear. But she told him no more;
and he was too well bred to intrude upon her grief by any further
But though he refrained from saying more upon this occasion, the cashier
brooded long and deeply upon the conduct of his niece's music-mistress:
and one chilly September evening, when Miss Wentworth was _not_ expected
at Clapham, he walked across Wandsworth Common, and went straight to the
lane in which Godolphin Cottages sheltered themselves under the shadow
of the sycamores.
Margaret had very few intervals of idleness, and there was a kind of
melancholy relief to her in such an evening as this, on which she was
free to think of her dead father, and the strange story of his death.
She was standing at the low wooden gate opening into the little garden
below the window of her room, in the deepening twilight of this
September evening. It was late in the month: the leaves were falling
from the trees, and drifting with a rustling sound along the dusty
The girl stood with her elbow resting upon the top of the gate, and a
dark shawl covering her head and shoulders. She was tired and unhappy,
and she stood in a melancholy attitude, looking with sad eyes towards
the glimpse of the river at the bottom of the lane. So entirely was she
absorbed by her own gloomy thoughts, that she did not hear a footstep
approaching from the other end of the lane; she did not look up until a
man's voice said, in subdued tones,--
"Good evening, Miss Wentworth; are you not afraid of catching cold? I
hope your shawl is thick, for the dews are falling, and here, near the
river, there is a damp mist on these autumn nights."
The speaker was Clement Austin.
Margaret Wilmot looked up at him, and a pensive smile stole over her
face. Yes, it was something to be spoken to so kindly in that deep manly
voice. The world had seemed so blank since her father's death: such
utter desolation had descended upon her since her miserable journey to
Winchester, and her useless visit to Portland Place: for since that time
she had shrunk away from people, wrapped in her own sorrow, separated
from the commonplace world by the exceptional nature of her misery. It
was something to this poor girl to hear thoughtful and considerate
words; and the unbidden tears clouded her eyes.
As yet she had spoken openly of her trouble to no living creature, since
that night upon which she had attempted to gain admission to Mr.
Dunbar's house. She was still known in the neighbourhood as Margaret
Wentworth. She had put on mourning: and she had told the few people
about the place where she lived, of her father's death: but she had told
no one the manner of that death. She had shared her gloomy secret with
neither friends nor counsellors, and had borne her dismal burden alone.
It was for this reason that Clement Austin's friendly voice raised an
unwonted emotion in her breast. The desolate girl remembered that night
upon which she had first heard of the murder, and she remembered the
sympathy that Mr. Austin had evinced on that occasion.
"My mother has been quite anxious about you, Miss Wentworth," said
Clement Austin. "She has noticed such a change in your manner for the
last month or five weeks; though you are as kind as ever to my little
niece, who makes wonderful progress under your care. But my mother
cannot be indifferent to your own feelings, and she and I have both
perceived the change. I fear there is some great trouble on your mind;
and I would give much--ah, Miss Wentworth, you cannot guess how
much!--if I could be of help to you in any time of grief or trouble. You
seemed very much agitated by the news of that shocking murder at
Winchester. I have been thinking it all over since, and I cannot help
fancying that the change in your manner dated from the evening on which
my mother told you that dreadful story. It struck me, that you must,
therefore, in some way or other, be interested in the fate of the
murdered man. Even beyond this, it might be possible that, if you knew
this Joseph Wilmot, you might be able to throw some light upon his
antecedents, and thus give a clue to the assassin. Little by little this
idea has crept into my mind, and to-night I resolved to come to you, and
ask you the direct question, as to whether you were in any way related
to this unhappy man."
At first Margaret Wilmot's only answer was a choking sob; but she grew
calmer presently, and said, in a low voice,--
"Yes, you have guessed rightly, Mr. Austin; I was related to that most
unhappy man. I will tell you everything, but not here," she added,
looking back at the cottage windows, in which lights were glimmering;
"the people about me are inquisitive, and I don't want to be overheard."
She wrapped her shawl more closely round her, and went out of the little
garden. She walked by Clement's side down to the pathway by the river,
which was lonely enough at this time of the night.
Here she told him her story. She carefully suppressed all vehement
emotion; and in few and simple words related the story of her life.
"Joseph Wilmot was my father," she said. "Perhaps he may not have been
what the world calls a good father; but I know that he loved me, and he
was very dear to me. My mother was the daughter of a gentleman, a
post-captain in the Royal Navy, whose name was Talbot. She met my father
at the house of a lady from whom she used to receive music-lessons. She
did not know who he was, or what he was. She only knew that he called
himself James Wentworth; but he loved her, and she returned his
affection. She was very young--a mere child, who had not long emerged
from a boarding-school--and she married my poor father in defiance of
the advice of her friends. She ran away from her home one morning, was
married by stealth in an obscure little church in the City, and then
went home with my father to confess what she had done. Her father never
forgave her for that secret marriage. He swore that he would never look
upon her face after that day: and he never did, until he saw it in her
coffin. At my mother's death Captain Talbot's heart was touched: he came
for the first time to my father's house, and offered to take me away
with him, and to have me brought up amongst his younger children. But my
father refused to allow this. He grieved passionately for my poor
mother: though I have heard him say that he had much to regret in his
conduct towards her. But I can scarcely remember that sad time. From
that period our life became a wandering and wretched one. Sometimes, for
a little while, we seemed better off. My father got some employment; he
worked steadily; and we lived amongst respectable people. But soon--ah,
cruelly soon!--the new chance of an honest life was taken away from him.
His employers heard something: a breath, a whisper, perhaps: but it was
enough. He was not a man to be trusted. He promised well: so far he had
kept his promise: but there was a risk in employing him. My father never
met any good Christian who was willing to run that risk, in the hope of
saving a human soul. My father never met any one noble enough to stretch
out his hand to the outcast and say, 'I know that you have done wrong; I
know that you are without a character: but I will forget the blot upon
the past, and help you to achieve redemption in the future.' If my
father had met such a friend, such a benefactor, all might have been
Then Margaret Wilmot related the substance of the last conversation
between herself and her father. She told Clement Austin what her father
had said about Henry Dunbar; and she showed him the letter which was
directed to Norfolk Island--that letter in which the old clerk alluded
to the power that his brother possessed over his late master. She also
told Mr. Austin how Henry Dunbar had avoided her at Winchester and in
Portland Place, and of the letter which he had written to her,--a letter
in which he had tried to bribe her to silence.
"Since that night," she added, "I have received two anonymous
enclosures--two envelopes containing notes to the amount of a hundred
pounds, with the words 'From a True Friend' written across the flap of
the envelope. I returned both the enclosures; for I knew whence they had
come. I returned them in two envelopes directed to Henry Dunbar, at the
office in St. Gundolph's Lane."
Clement Austin listened with a grave face. All this certainly seemed to
hint at the guilt of Mr. Dunbar. No clue pointing to any other person
had been as yet discovered, though the police had been indefatigable in
Mr. Austin was silent for some minutes; then he said, quietly,--
"I am very glad you have confided in me, Miss Wilmot, and, believe me,
you shall not find me slow to help you whenever my services can be of
any avail. If you will come and drink tea with my mother at eight
o'clock to-morrow evening, I will be at home; and we can talk this
matter over seriously. My mother is a clever woman, and I know that she
has a most sincere regard for you. You will trust her, will you not?"
"Willingly, with my whole heart."
"You will find her a true friend."
They had returned to the little garden-gate by this time. Clement Austin
stretched out his hand.
"Good night, Miss Wilmot."
Margaret opened the gate and went into the garden. Mr. Austin walked
slowly homewards, past pleasant cottages nestling in suburban gardens,
and pretentious villas with, campanello towers and gothic porches. The
lighted windows shone out upon the darkness. Here and there he heard the
sound of a piano, or a girlish voice stealing softly out upon the cool
The sight of pleasant homes made the cashier think very mournfully of
the girl he had just left.
"Poor, desolate girl," he thought, "poor, lonely, orphan girl!" But he
thought still more about that which he had heard of Henry Dunbar; and
the evidence against the rich man seemed to grow in importance as he
reflected upon it. It was not one thing, but many things, that hinted at
the guilt of the millionaire.
The secret possessed, and no doubt traded upon, by Joseph Wilmot; Mr.
Dunbar's agitation in the cathedral; his determined refusal to see the
murdered man's daughter; his attempt to bribe her--these were strong
points: and by the time Clement Austin reached home, he--like Margaret
Wilmot, and like Arthur Lovell--suspected the millionaire. So now there
were three people who believed Mr. Dunbar to be the murderer of his old
LAURA DUNBAR'S DISAPPOINTMENT.
Arthur Lovell went often to Maudesley Abbey. Henry Dunbar welcomed him
freely, and the young man had not the power to resist temptation. He
went to his doom as the foolish moth flies to the candle. He went, he
saw Laura Dunbar, and spent hour after hour in her society: for his
presence was always agreeable to the impetuous girl. To her he seemed,
indeed, that which he had promised to be, a brother--kind, devoted,
affectionate: but no more. He was endeared to Laura by the memory of a
happy childhood. She was grateful to him, and she loved him: but only as
she would have loved him had he been indeed her brother. Whatever deeper
feeling lay beneath the playful gaiety of her manner had yet to be
So, day after day, the young man bowed down before the goddess of his
life, and was happy--ah, fatally happy!--in her society. He forgot
everything except the beautiful face that smiled on him. He forgot even
those dark doubts which he had felt as to the secret of the Winchester
Perhaps he would scarcely have forgotten the suspicions that had entered
his mind after the first interview between the banker and his daughter,
had he seen much of Henry Dunbar. But he saw very little of the master
of Maudesley Abbey. The rich man took possession of the suite of
apartments that had been prepared for him, and rarely left his own
rooms: except to wander alone amongst the shady avenues of the park: or
to ride out upon the powerful horse he had chosen from the stud
purchased by Percival Dunbar.
This horse was a magnificent creature; the colt of a thorough-bred sire,
but of a stronger and larger build than a purely thorough-bred animal.
He was a chestnut horse, with a coat that shone like satin, and not a
white hair about him. His nose was small, his eyes large, his ears and
neck long. He had all the points which an Arab prizes in his favourite
To this horse Henry Dunbar became singularly attached. He had a loose
box built on purpose for the animal in a private garden adjoining his
own dressing-room, which, Like the rest of his apartments, was situated
upon the ground-floor of the abbey. Mr. Dunbar's groom slept in a part
of the house near this loose box: and horse and man were at the service
of the banker at any hour of the day or night.
Henry Dunbar generally rode either early in the morning, or in the grey
twilight after his dinner-hour. He was a proud man, and he was not a
sociable man. When the county gentry came to welcome him to England, he
received them, and thanked them for their courtesy. But there was
something in his manner that repelled rather than invited friendship. He
gave one great dinner-party soon after his arrival at Maudesley, a ball,
at which Laura floated about in a cloud of white gauze, and with
diamonds in her hair; and a breakfast and morning concert on the lawn,
in compliance with the urgent entreaties of the same young lady. But
when invitations came flooding in upon Mr. Dunbar, he declined them one
after another, on the ground of his weak health. Laura might go where
she liked, always provided that she went under the care of a suitable
chaperone; but the banker declared that the state of his health
altogether unfitted him for society. His constitution had been much
impaired, he said, by his long residence in Calcutta. And yet he looked
a strong man. Tall, broad-chested, and powerful, it was very difficult
to perceive in Henry Dunbar's appearance any one of the usual evidences
of ill-health. He was very pale: but that unchanging pallor was the only
sign of the malady from which he suffered.
He rose early, rode for a couple of hours upon his chestnut horse
Dragon, and then breakfasted. After breakfast he sat in his luxurious
sitting-room, sometimes reading, sometimes writing, sometimes sitting
for hours together brooding silently over the low embers in the roomy
fireplace. At six o'clock he dined, still keeping to his own room--for
he was not well enough to dine with his daughter, he said: and he sat
alone late into the night, drinking heavily, according to the report
current in the servants' hall.
He was respected and he was feared in his household: but he was not
liked. His silent and reserved manner had a gloomy influence upon the
servants who came in contact with him: and they compared him very
disadvantageously with his predecessor, Percival Dunbar; the genial,
kind, old master, who had always had a cheerful, friendly word for every
one of his dependants: from the stately housekeeper in rustling silken
robes, to the smallest boy employed in the stables.
No, the new master of the abbey was not liked. Day after day he lived
secluded and alone. At first, his daughter had broken in upon his
solitude, and, with bright, caressing ways, had tried to win him from
his loneliness: but she found that all her efforts to do this were worse
than useless: they were even disagreeable to her father: and, by
degrees, her light footstep was heard less and less often in that lonely
wing of the house where Henry Dunbar had taken up his abode.
Maudesley Abbey was a large and rambling old mansion, which had been
built in half-a-dozen different reigns. The most ancient part of the
building was that very northern wing which Mr. Dunbar had chosen for
himself. Here the architecture belonged to the early Plantagenet era;
the stone walls were thick and massive, the lancet-headed windows were
long and narrow, and the arms of the early benefactors of the monastery
were emblazoned here and there upon the richly stained glass. The walls
were covered with faded tapestry, from which grim faces scowled upon the
lonely inhabitant of the chambers. The groined ceiling was of oak, that
had grown black with age. The windows of Mr. Dunbar's bedroom and
dressing-room opened into a cloistered court, beneath whose solemn
shadow the hooded monks had slowly paced, in days that were long gone.
The centre of this quadrangular court had been made into a garden, where
tall hollyhocks and prim dahlias flaunted in the autumn sunshine. And
within this cloistered courtway Mr. Dunbar had erected the loose box for
his favourite horse.
The southern wing of Maudesley Abbey owed its origin to a much later
period. The windows and fireplaces at this end of the house were in the
Tudor style; the polished oak wainscoting was very beautiful; the rooms
were smaller and snugger than the tapestried chambers occupied by the
banker; Venetian glasses and old crystal chandeliers glimmered and
glittered against the sombre woodwork: and elegant modern furniture
contrasted pleasantly with the Elizabethan casements and carved oaken
chimney-pieces. Everything that unlimited wealth can do to make a house
beautiful had been done for this part of the mansion by Percival Dunbar;
and had been done with considerable success. The doting grandfather had
taken a delight in beautifying the apartments occupied by his girlish
companion: and Miss Dunbar had walked upon velvet pile, and slept
beneath the shadow of satin curtains, from a very early period of her
She was used to luxury and elegance: she was accustomed to be surrounded
by all that is refined and beautiful: but she had that inexhaustible
power of enjoyment which is perhaps one of the brightest gifts of a
fresh young nature: and she did not grow tired of the pleasant home that
had been made for her. Laura Dunbar was a pampered child of fortune: but
there are some natures that it seems very difficult to spoil: and I
think hers must have been one of these.
She knew no weariness of the "rolling hours." To her the world seemed a
paradise of beauty. Remember, she had never seen real misery: she had
never endured that sick feeling of despair, which creeps over the most
callous of us when we discover the amount of hopeless misery that is,
and has been, and is to be, for ever and ever upon this weary earth. She
had seen sick cottagers, and orphan children, and desolate widows, in
her pilgrimages amongst the dwellings of the poor: but she had always
been able to relieve these afflicted ones, and to comfort them more or
It is the sight of sorrows which we cannot alleviate that sends a
palpable stab home to our hearts, and for a time almost sickens us with
a universe which cannot go upon its course _without_ such miseries as
To Laura Dunbar the world was still entirely beautiful, for the darker
secrets of life had not been revealed to her.
Only once had affliction come near her; and then it had come in a calm
and solemn shape, in the death of an old man, who ended a good and
prosperous life peacefully upon the breast of his beloved granddaughter.
Perhaps her first real trouble came to her now in the bitter
disappointment which had succeeded her father's return to England.
Heaven only knows with what a tender yearning the girl had looked
forward to Henry Dunbar's return. They had been separated for the best
part of her brief lifetime; but what of that? He would love her all the
more tenderly because of those long years during which they had been
divided. She meant to be the same to her father that she had been to her
grandfather--a loving companion, a ministering angel.
But it was never to be. Her father, by a hundred tacit signs, rejected
her affection. He had shunned her presence from the first: and she had
grown now to shun him. She told Arthur Lovell of this unlooked-for
"Of all the things I ever thought of, Arthur, this never entered my
head," she said, in a low, pensive voice, as she stood one evening in
the deep embrasure of the Tudor window, looking thoughtfully out at the
wide-spreading lawn, where the shadows of the low cedar branches made
patches of darkness on the moonlit surface of the grass; "I thought that
papa might fall ill on the voyage home, and die, and that the ship for
whose safe course I prayed night and day, might bring me nothing but the
sacred remains of the dead. I have thought this, Arthur, and I have lain
awake at night, torturing myself with the thought: till my mind has
grown so full of the dark picture, that I have seen the little cabin in
the cruel, restless ship, and my father lying helpless on a narrow bed,
with only strangers to watch his death-hour. I cannot tell you how many
different things I have feared: but I never, never thought that he would
not love me. I have even thought that it was just possible he might be
unlike my grandfather, and a little unkind to me sometimes when I vexed
or troubled him: but I thought his heart would be true to me through
all, and that even in his harshest moments he would love me dearly, for
the sake of my dead mother."
Her voice broke, and she sobbed aloud: but the man who stood by her side
had no word of comfort to say to her. Her complaint awoke that old
suspicion which had lately slumbered in his breast--the horrible fear
that Mr. Dunbar was guilty of the murder of his old servant.
The young lawyer was bound to say something, however. It was too cruel
to stand by and utter no word of comfort to this sobbing girl.
"Laura, dear Laura," he said, "this is foolish, believe me. You must
have patience, and still hope for the best. How _can_ your father do
otherwise than love you, when he grows to know you well? You may have
expected too much of him. Remember, that people who have lived long in
the East Indies are apt to become cold and languid in their manners.
When Mr. Dunbar has seen more of you, when he has become better
accustomed to your society----"
"That he will never be," Laura answered, impetuously. "How can he ever
know me better when he scrupulously avoids me? Sometimes whole days pass
during which I do not see him. Then I summon up courage and go to his
dreary rooms. He receives me graciously enough, and treats me with
politeness. With politeness! when I am yearning for his affection: and I
linger a little, perhaps, asking him about his health, and trying to get
more at home in his presence. But there is always a nervous restlessness
in his manner: which tells me,--oh, too plainly!--that my presence is
unwelcome to him. So I go away at last, half heart-broken. I remember,
now, how cold and brief his letters from India always seemed: but then
he need to excuse himself to me on account of the hurry of business: and
he seldom finished his letter without saying that he looked joyfully
forward to our meeting. It was very cruel of him to deceive me!"
Arthur Lovell was a sorry comforter. From the first he had tried in vain
to like Henry Dunbar. Since that strange scene in Portland Place, he had
suspected the banker of a foul and treacherous murder,--that worst and
darkest crime, which for ever separates a man from the sympathy of his
fellow-men, and brands him as an accursed and abhorred creature, beyond
the pale of human compassion. Ah, how blessed is that Divine and
illimitable compassion which can find pity for those whom sinful man
NEW HOPES MAY BLOOM.
Jocelyn's Rock was ten miles from Maudesley Abbey, and only one mile
from the town of Shorncliffe. It was a noble place, and had been in the
possession of the same family ever since the days of the Plantagenets.
The house stood upon a rocky cliff, beneath which rushed a cascade that
leapt from crag to crag, and fell into the bosom of a deep stream, that
formed an arm of the river Avon. This cascade was forty feet below the
edge of the cliff upon which the mansion stood.
It was not a very large house, for most of the older part of it had
fallen into ruin long ago, and the ruined towers and shattered walls had
been cleared away; but it was a noble mansion notwithstanding.
One octagonal tower, with a battlemented roof, still stood almost as
firmly as it had stood in the days of the early Plantagenets, when rebel
soldiers had tried the strength of their battering-rams against the grim
stone walls. The house was built entirely of stone; the Gothic porch was
ponderous as the porch of a church. Within all was splendour; but
splendour that was very different from the modern elegance that was to
be seen in the rooms of Maudesley Abbey.
At Jocelyn's Rock the stamp of age was upon every decoration, on every
ornament. Square-topped helmets that had been hacked by the scimitars of
Saracen kings, spiked chamfronts that had been worn by the fiery barbs
of haughty English crusaders, fluted armour from Milan, hung against the
blackened wainscoting in the shadowy hall; Scottish hackbuts, primitive
arquebuses that had done service on Bosworth field, Homeric bucklers and
brazen greaves, javelins, crossbows, steel-pointed lances, and
two-handed swords, were in symmetrical design upon the dark and polished
panels; while here and there hung the antlers of a giant red-deer, or
the skin of a fox, in testimony to the triumphs of long-departed
sportsmen of the house of Jocelyn.
It was a noble old house. Princes of the blood royal had sat in the
ponderous carved oak-chairs. A queen had slept in the state-bed, in the
blue-satin chamber. Loyal Jocelyns, fighting for their king against
low-born Roundhead soldiers, had hidden themselves in the spacious
chimneys, or had fled for their lives along the secret passages behind
the tapestry. There were old pictures and jewelled drinking-cups that
dead-and-gone Jocelyns had collected in the sunny land of the Medicis.
There were costly toys of fragile Sevres china that had been received by
one of the earls from the hand of the lovely Pompadour herself in the
days when the manufacturers of Sevres only worked for their king, and
were liable to fall a sacrifice to their art and their loyalty by the
inhalation of arsenicated vapours. There was golden plate that a king
had given to his proud young favourite in those feudal days when
favourites were powerful in England. There was scarcely any object of
value in the mansion that had not a special history attached to it,
redounding to the honour and glory of the ancient house of Jocelyn.
And this splendid dwelling-place, rendered almost sacred by legendary
associations and historical recollections, was now the property of a
certain Sir Philip Jocelyn--a dashing young baronet, who had been
endowed by nature with a handsome face, frank, fearless eyes that
generally had a smile in them, and the kind of manly figure which the
late Mr. G.P.R. James was wont to designate stalwart; and who was
moreover a crack shot, a reckless cross-country-going rider, and a very
tolerable amateur artist.
Sir Philip Jocelyn was not what is usually called an intellectual man.
He was more warmly interested in a steeplechase on Shorncliffe Common
than in a pamphlet on political economy, even though Mr. Stuart Mill
should himself be the author of the _brochure_. He thought John Scott a
greater man than Maculloch; and Manton the gunmaker only second to Dr.
Jenner as a benefactor of his race. He found the works of the late Mr.
Apperly more entertaining than the last new Idyl from the pen of the
Laureate; and was rather at a loss for small-talk when he found his
feminine neighbour at a dinner-table was "deeply, darkly, beautifully
blue." But the young baronet was by no means a fool, notwithstanding
these sportsmanlike proclivities. The Jocelyns had been hard riders for
half-a-dozen centuries or so, and crack shots ever since the invention
of firearms. Sir Philip was a sportsman, but he did not "hunt in
dreams," and he was prepared to hold his wife a great deal "higher than
his horse," whenever he should win that pleasant addition to his
household. As yet he had thought very little of the future Lady Jocelyn.
He had a vague idea that he should marry, as the rest of the Jocelyns
had married; and that he should live happily with his wife, as his
ancestors had lived with their wives: with the exception of one dreadful
man, called Hildebrande Jocelyn, who, at some remote and mediaeval
period, had been supposed to throw his liege lady out of an oriel window
that overhung the waterfall, upon the strength of an unfounded
suspicion; and who afterwards, according to the legend, dug, or rather
scooped, for himself a cave out of the cliff-side with no better tools
than his own finger-nails, which he never cut after the unfortunate
lady's foul murder. The legend went on further to state that the white
wraith of the innocent victim might be seen, on a certain night in the
year, rising out of the misty spray of the waterfall: but as nobody
except one very weak-witted female Jocelyn had ever seen the vision, the
inhabitants of the house upon the crag had taken so little heed of the
legend that the date of the anniversary had come at last to be
Sir Philip Jocelyn thought that he should marry "some of these days,"
and in the meantime troubled himself very little about the pretty
daughters of country gentlemen whom he met now and again at races, and
archery-meetings, and flower-shows, and dinner-parties, and
hunting-balls, in the queer old town-hall at Shorncliffe. He was
heart-whole; and looking out at life from the oriel window of his
dressing-room, whence he saw nothing but his own land, neatly enclosed
in a ring-fence, he thought the world, about which some people made such
dismal howling, was, upon the whole, an extremely pleasant place,
containing very little that "a fellow" need complain of. He built
himself a painting-room at Jocelyn's Rock; and-whistled to himself for
the hour together, as he stood before the easel, painting scenes in the
hunting-field, or Arab horsemen whom he had met on the great flat sandy
plains beyond Cairo, or brown-faced boys, or bright Italian
peasant-girls; all sorts of pleasant objects, under cloudless skies of
ultra-marine, with streaks of orange and vermilion to represent the
sunset. He was not a great painter, nor indeed was there any element of
greatness in his nature; but he painted as recklessly as he rode; his
subjects were bright and cheerful; and his pictures were altogether of
the order which unsophisticated people admire and call "pretty."
He was a very cheerful young man, and perhaps that cheerfulness was the
greatest charm he possessed. He was a man in whom no force of fashion or
companionship would ever engender the peevish _blase_-ness so much
affected by modern youth. Did he dance? Of course he did, and he adored
dancing. Did he sing? Well, he did his best, and had a fine volume of
rich bass voice, that sounded remarkably well on the water, after a
dinner at the Star and Garter, in that dim dewy hour, when the willow
shadowed Thames is as a southern lake, and the slow dip of the oars is
in itself a kind of melody. Had he been much abroad? Yes, and he gloried
in the Continent; the dear old inconvenient inns, and the extortionate
landlords, and the insatiable commissionaires--he revelled in the
commissionaires; and the dear drowsy slow trains, with an absurd guard,
who talks an unintelligible _patois_, and the other man, who always
loses one's luggage! Delicious! And the dear little peasant-girls with
white caps, who are so divinely pretty when you see them in the distance
under a sunny meridian sky, and are so charming in coloured chalk upon
tinted paper, but such miracles of ugliness, comparatively speaking,
when you behold them at close quarters. And the dear jingling
diligences, with very little harness to speak of, but any quantity of
old rope; and the bad wines, and the dust, and the cathedrals, and the
beggars, and the trente-et-quarante tables, and in short everything. Sir
Philip Jocelyn spoke of the universe as a young husband talks of his
wife; and was never tired of her beauty or impatient of her faults.
The poor about Jocelyn's Rock idolized the young lord of the soil. The
poor like happy people, if there is nothing insolent in their happiness.
Philip was rich, and he distributed his wealth right royally: he was
happy, and he shared his happiness as freely as he shared his wealth. He
would divide a case of choice Manillas with a bedridden pensioner in the
Union, or carry a bottle of the Jocelyn Madeira--the celebrated Madeira
with the brown seal--in the pocket of his shooting-coat, to deliver it
into the horny hands of some hard-working mother who was burdened with a
sick child. He would sit for an hour together telling an agricultural
labourer of the queer farming he had seen abroad; and he had stood
godfather--by proxy--to half the yellow-headed urchins within ten miles'
radius of Jocelyn's Bock. No taint of vice or dissipation had ever
sullied the brightness of his pleasant life. No wretched country girl
had ever cursed his name before she cast herself into the sullen waters
of a lonely mill-stream. People loved him; and he deserved their love,
and was worthy of their respect. He had taken no high honours at Oxford;
but the sternest officials smiled when they spoke of him, and recalled
the boyish follies that were associated with his name; a sickly bedmaker
had been pensioned for life by him; and the tradesmen who had served him
testified to his merits as a prompt and liberal paymaster. I do not
think that in all his life Philip Jocelyn had ever directly or
indirectly caused a pang of pain or sorrow to any human being, unless it
was, indeed, to a churlish heir-at-law, who may have looked with a
somewhat evil eye upon the young man's vigorous and healthful aspect,
which gave little hope to his possible successor.
The heir-at-law would have gnashed his teeth in impotent rage had he
known the crisis which came to pass in the baronet's life a short time
after Mr. Dunbar's return from India; a crisis very common to youth, and
very lightly regarded by youth, but a solemn and a fearful crisis
The master of Jocelyn's Rock fell in love. All the poetry of his nature,
all the best feelings, the purest attributes of an imperfect character,
concentrated themselves into one passion, Sir Philip Jocelyn fell in
love. The arch magician waved his wand, and all the universe was
transformed into fairyland: a lovely Paradise, a modern Eden, radiant
with the reflected light that it received from the face of a woman. I
almost hesitate to tell this old, old story over again--this perpetual
story of love at first sight.
It is very beautiful, this sudden love, which is born of one glance at
the wonderful face that has been created to bewitch us; but I doubt if
it is not, after all, the baser form of the great passion. The love that
begins with esteem, that slowly grows out of our knowledge of the loved
one, is surely the purer and holier type of affection.
This love, whose gradual birth we rarely watch or recognize--this love,
that steals on us like the calm dawning of the eastern light, strikes to
a deeper root and grows into a grander tree than that fair sudden
growth, that marvellous far-shooting butterfly-blossoming orchid, called
love at first sight. The glorious exotic flower may be wanting, but the
strong root lies deeply hidden in the heart.
The man who loves at first sight generally falls in love with the violet
blue of a pair of tender eyes, the delicate outline of a Grecian nose.
The man who loves the woman he has known and watched, loves her because
he believes her to be the purest and truest of her sex.
To this last, love is faith. He cannot doubt the woman he adores: for he
adores her because he believes and has proved her to be above all doubt.
We may fairly conjecture that Othello's passion for the simple Venetian
damsel was love at first sight. He loved Desdemona because she was
pretty, and looked at him with sweet maidenly glances of pity when he
told those prosy stories of his--with full traveller's license, no
doubt--over Brabantio's mahogany.
The tawny-visaged general loved the old man's daughter because he
admired her, and not because he knew her; and so, by and bye, on the
strength of a few foul hints from a scoundrel, he is ready to believe
this gentle, pitiful girl the basest and most abandoned of women.
Hamlet would not so have acted had it been his fate to marry the woman
he loved. Depend upon it, the Danish prince had watched Ophelia closely,
and knew all the ins and outs of that young lady's temper, and had laid
conversational traps for her occasionally, I dare say, trying to entice
her into some bit of toadyism that should betray any latent taint of
falsehood inherited from poor time-serving Polonius. The Prince of
Denmark would have been rather a fidgety husband, perhaps, but he would
never have had recourse to a murderous bolster at the instigation of a
Unhappily, some women are apt to prefer passionate, blustering Othello
to sentimental and metaphysical Hamlet. The foolish creatures are
carried away by noise and clamour, and most believe him who protests the
Philip Jocelyn and Laura Dunbar met at that dinner-party which the
millionaire gave to his friends in celebration of his return. They met
again at the ball, where Laura waltzed with Philip; the young man had
learned to waltz upon the other side of the Alps, and Miss Dunbar
preferred him to any other of her partners. At the _fete champetre_ they
met again; and had their future lives revealed to them by a
theatrical-looking gipsy imported from London for the occasion, whose
arch prophecies brought lovely blushes into Laura's cheeks, and afforded
Philip an excellent opportunity for admiring the effect of dark-brown
eyelashes drooping over dark-blue eyes. They met again and again; now at
a steeple-chase, now at a dinner-party, where Laura appeared with some
friendly _chaperon_; and the baronet fell in love with the banker's
He loved her truly and devotedly, after his own mad-headed fashion. He
was a true Jocelyn--impetuous, mad-headed daring; and from the time of
those festivities at Maudesley Abbey he only dreamed and thought of
Laura Dunbar. From that hour he haunted the neighbourhood of Maudesley
Abbey. There was a bridle-path through the park to a little village
called Lisford; and if that primitive Warwickshire village had been the
most attractive place upon this earth, Sir Philip could scarcely have
visited it oftener than he did.
Heaven knows what charm he found in the shady slumberous old street, the
low stone market-place, with rusty iron gates surmounted by the Jocelyn
escutcheon. The grass grew in the quiet quadrangle; the square
church-tower was half hidden by the sheltering ivy; the gabled
cottage-roofs were lop-sided with age. It was scarcely a place to offer
any very great attraction to the lord of Jocelyn Rock in all the glory
of his early man-hood; and yet Philip Jocelyn went there three times a
week upon an average, during the period that succeeded the ball and
morning concert at Maudesley Abbey.
The shortest way from Jocelyn's Bock to Lisford was by the high road,
but Philip Jocelyn did not care to go by the shortest way. He preferred
to take that pleasant bridle-path through Maudesley Park, that delicious
grassy arcade where the overarching branches of the old elms made a
shadowy twilight, only broken now and then by sudden patches of yellow
sunshine; where the feathery ferns trembled with every low whisper of
the autumn breeze: where there was a faint perfume of pine wood; where
every here and there, between the lower branches of the trees, there was
a blue glimmer of still water-pools, half-hidden under flat green leaves
of wild aquatic plants, where there was a solemn stillness that reminded
one of the holy quiet of a church, and where Sir Philip Jocelyn had
every chance of meeting with Laura Dunbar.
He met her there very often. Not alone, for Dora Macmahon was sometimes
with her, and the faithful Elizabeth Madden was always at hand to play
propriety, and to keep a sharp eye upon the interests of her young
mistress. But then it happened unfortunately that the faithful Elizabeth
was very stout, and rather asthmatic; and though Miss Dunbar could not
have had a more devoted duenna, she might certainly have had a more
active one. And it also happened that Miss Macmahon, having received
several practical illustrations of the old adage with regard to the
disadvantage of a party of three persons as compared to a party of two
persons, fell into the habit of carrying her books with her, and would
sit and read in some shady nook near the abbey, while Laura wandered
into the wilder regions of the park.
Beneath the shelter of the overarching elms, amidst the rustling of the
trembling ferns, Laura Dunbar and Philip Jocelyn met very often during
that bright autumnal weather. Their meetings were purely accidental of
course, as such meetings always are, but they were not the less pleasant
because of their uncertainty.
They were all the more pleasant, perhaps. There was that delicious fever
of suspense which kept both young eager hearts in a constant glow. There
were Laura's sudden blushes, which made her wonderful beauty doubly
wonderful. There was Philip Jocelyn's start of glad astonishment, and
the bright sparkle in his dark-brown eyes as he saw the slender, queenly
figure approaching him under the shadow of the trees. How beautiful she
looked, with the folds of her dress trailing over the dewy grass, and a
flickering halo of sunlight tremulous upon her diadem of golden hair!
Sometimes she wore a coquettish little hat, with a turned-up brim and a
peacock's plume; sometimes a broad-leaved hat of yellow straw, with
floating ribbon and a bunch of feathery grasses perched bewitchingly
upon the brim. She had the dog Pluto with her always, and generally a
volume of some new novel under her arm. I am ashamed to be obliged to
confess that this young heiress was very frivolous, and liked reading
novels better than improving her mind by the perusal of grave histories,
or by the study of the natural sciences. She spent day after day in
happy idleness--reading, sketching, playing, singing, talking, sometimes
gaily sometimes seriously, to her faithful old nurse, or to Dora, or to
Arthur Lovell, as the case might be. She had a thorough-bred horse that
had been given to her by her grandfather, but she very rarely rode him
beyond the grounds, for Dora Macmahon was no horsewoman, having been
brought up by a prim aunt of her dead mother's, who looked upon riding
as an unfeminine accomplishment; and Miss Dunbar had therefore no better
companion for her rides than a grey-haired old groom, who had ridden
behind Percival Dunbar for forty years or so.
Philip Jocelyn generally went to Lisford upon horseback; but when, as so
often happened, he met Miss Dunbar and her companion strolling amongst
the old elms, it was his habit to get off his horse, and to walk by
Laura's side, leading the animal by the bridle. Sometimes he found the
two young ladies sitting on camp-stools at the foot of one of the trees,
sketching effects of light and shadow in the deep glades around them. On
such occasions the baronet used to tie his horse to the lower branch of
an old elm, and taking his stand behind Miss Dunbar, would amuse himself
by giving her a lesson in perspective, with occasional hints to Miss
Macmahon, who, as the young man remarked, drew so much better than her
sister, that she really required very little assistance.
By-and-by this began to be an acknowledged thing. Special hours were
appointed for these artistic studies: and Philip Jocelyn ceased to go to
Lisford at all, contenting himself with passing almost every fine
morning under the elms at Maudesley. He found that he had a very
intelligent pupil in the banker's daughter: but I think, if Miss Dunbar
had been less intelligent, her instructor would have had patience with
her, and would have still found his best delight beneath the shadow of
those dear old elms.
What words can paint the equal pleasure of giving and receiving those
lessons, in the art which was loved alike by pupil and master; but which
was so small an element in the happiness of those woodland meetings?
What words can describe Laura's pleading face when she found that the
shadow of a ruined castle wouldn't agree with the castle itself, or that
a row of poplars in the distance insisted on taking that direction which
our transatlantic brothers call "slantindicular?" And then the cutting
of pencils, and crumbling of bread, and searching for mislaid scraps of
India-rubber, and mixing of water-colours, and adjusting of palettes on
the prettiest thumb in Christendom, or the planting a sheaf of brushes
in the dearest little hand that ever trembled when it met the tenderly
timid touch of an amateur drawing-master's fingers;--all these little
offices, so commonplace and wearisome when a hard-worked and poorly-paid
professor performs them for thirty or forty clamorous girls, on a
burning summer afternoon, in a great dust-flavoured schoolroom with bare
curtainless windows, were in this case more delicious than any words of
mine can tell.
But September and October are autumnal months; and their brightest
sunshine is, after all, only a deceptive radiance when compared to the
full glory of July. The weather grew too cold for the drawing-lessons
under the elms, and there could be no more appointments made between
Miss Dunbar and her enthusiastic instructor.
"I can't have my young lady ketch cold, Sir Philip, for all the
perspectives in the world," said the faithful Elizabeth. "I spoke to her
par about it only the other day; but, lor'! you may just as well speak
to a post as to Mr. Dunbar. If Miss Laura comes out in the park now, she
must wrap herself up warm, and walk fast, and not go getting the cold
shivers for the sake of drawing a parcel of stumps of trees and
Mrs. Madden made this observation in rather an unpleasant tone of voice
one morning when the baronet pleaded for another drawing-lesson. The
truth of the matter was that Elizabeth Madden felt some slight pangs of
conscience with regard to her own part in this sudden friendship which
had arisen between Laura Dunbar and Philip Jocelyn. She felt that she
had been rather remiss in her duties as duenna, and was angry with
herself. But stronger than this feeling of self-reproach was her
indignation against Sir Philip.
Why did he not immediately make an offer of his hand to Laura Dunbar?
Mrs. Madden had expected the young man's proposal every day for the last
few weeks: every day she had been doomed to disappointment. And yet she
was perfectly convinced that Philip Jocelyn loved her young mistress.
The sharp eyes of the matron had fathomed the young man's sentiments
long before Laura Dunbar dared to whisper to herself that she was
beloved. Why, then, did he not propose? Who could be a more fitting
bride for the lord of Jocelyn's Rock than queenly Laura Dunbar, with her
splendid dower of wealth and beauty?
Full of these ambitious hopes, Elizabeth Madden had played her part of
duenna with such discretion as to give the young people plenty of
opportunity for sweet, half-whispered converse, for murmured
confidences, soft and low as the cooing of turtle-doves. But in all
these conversations no word hinting at an offer of marriage had dropped
from the lips of Philip Jocelyn.
He was so happy with Laura; so happy in those pleasant meetings under
the Maudesley elms, that no thought of anything so commonplace as a
stereotyped proposal of marriage had a place in his mind.
Did he love her? Of course he did: more dearly than he had ever before
loved any human creature; except that tender and gentle being, whose
image, vaguely beautiful, was so intermingled with the dreams and
realities of his childhood in that dim period in which it is difficult
to distinguish the shadows of the night from the events of the
day,--that pale and lovely creature whom he had but just learned to call
"mother," when she faded out of his life for ever.
It was only when the weather grew too cold for out-of-door drawing
lessons that Sir Philip began to think that it was time to contemplate
the very serious business of a proposal. He would have to speak to the
banker, and all that sort of thing, of course, the baronet thought, as
he sat by the fire in the oak-panelled breakfast-room at the Rock,
pulling his thick moustaches reflectively, and staring at the red embers
on the open hearth. The young man idolized Laura; but he did _not_
particularly affect the society of Henry Dunbar. The millionaire was
very courteous, very conciliating: but there was something in his stiff
politeness, his studied smile, his deliberate speech, something entirely
vague and indefinable, which had the same chilly effect upon Sir
Philip's friendliness, as a cold cellar has on delicate-flavoured port.
The subtle aroma vanished under that dismal influence.
"He's _her_ father, and I'd kneel down, like the little boys in the
streets, and clean his boots, if he wanted them cleaned, because he is
her father," thought the young man; "and yet, somehow or other, I can't
get on with him."
No! between the Anglo-Indian banker and Sir Philip Jocelyn there was no
sympathy. They had no tastes in common: or let me rather say, Henry
Dunbar revealed no taste in common with those of the young man whose
highest hope in life was to be his son-in-law. The frank-hearted young
country gentleman tried in vain to conciliate him, or to advance from
the cold out-work of ceremonious acquaintanceship into the inner
stronghold of friendly intercourse.
But when Sir Philip, after much hesitation and deliberation, presented
himself one morning in the banker's tapestried sitting-room, and
unburdened his heart to that gentleman--stopping every now and then to
stare at the maker's name imprinted upon the lining of his hat, as if
that name had been a magical symbol whence he drew certain auguries by
which he governed his speech--Mr. Dunbar was especially gracious. "Would
he honour Sir Philip by entrusting his daughter's happiness to his
keeping? would he bestow upon Sir Philip the inestimable blessing of
that dear hand? Why, of course he would, provided always that Laura
wished it. In such a matter as this Laura's decision should be supreme.
He never had contemplated interfering in his daughter's bestowal of her
affections: so long as they were not wasted upon an unworthy object. He
wished her to marry whom she pleased; provided that she married an
Mr. Dunbar gave a weary kind of sigh as he said this; but the sigh was
habitual to him, and he apologized for and explained it sometimes by
reference to his liver, which was disordered by five-and-thirty years in
an Indian climate.
"I wish Laura to marry," he said; "I shall be glad when she has secured
the protection of a good husband."
Sir Phillip Jocelyn sprang up with his face all a-glow with rapture, and
would fain have seized the banker's hand in token of his gratitude; but
Henry Dunbar waved him off with an authoritative gesture.
"Good morning, Sir Philip," he said; "I am very poor company, and I
shall be glad to be alone with the _Times_. You young men don't
appreciate the _Times_. You want your newspapers filled with
prize-fighting and boat-racing, and the last gossip from 'the Corner.'
You'll find Miss Dunbar in the blue drawing-room. Speak to her as soon
as you please; and let me know the result of the interview."
It is not often that the heiress of a million or thereabouts is quite so
readily disposed of. Sir Philip Jocelyn walked on air as he quitted the
"Who ever would have thought that he was such a delicious old brick?" he
thought. "I expected any quantity of cold water; and instead of that, he
sends me straight to my darling with _carte blanche_ to go in and win,
if I can. If I can! Suppose Laura doesn't love me, after all. Suppose
she's only a beautiful coquette, who likes to see men go mad for love of
her. And yet I won't think that; I won't be down-hearted; I won't
believe she's anything but what she seems--an angel of purity and
But, spite of his belief in Laura's truth, the young baronet's courage
was very low when he went into the blue drawing-room, and found Miss
Dunbar seated in a deep embayed window, with the sunshine lighting up
her hair and gleaming amongst the folds of her violet silk dress. She
had been drawing; but her sketching apparatus lay idle on the little
table by her side, and one listless hand hung down upon her dress, with
a pencil held loosely between the slender fingers. She was looking
straight before her, out upon the sunlit lawn, all gorgeous with
flaunting autumn flowers; and there was something dreamy, not to say
pensive, in the attitude of her drooping head.
But she started presently at the sound of that manly footstep; the
pencil dropped from between her idle fingers, and she rose and turned
towards the intruder. The beautiful face was in shadow as she turned
away from the window; but no shadow could hide its sudden brightness,
the happy radiance which lit up that candid countenance, as Miss Dunbar
recognized her visitor.
The lover thought that one look more precious than Jocelyn's Rock, and a
baronetcy that dated from the days of England's first Stuarts--that one
glorious smile, which melted away in a moment, and gave place to bright
maidenly blushes, fresh and beautiful as the dewy heart of an
old-fashioned cabbage-rose gathered at sunrise.
That one smile was enough. Philip Jocelyn was no cox-comb, but he knew
all at once that he was beloved, and that very few words were needed. A
great many were said, nevertheless; and I do not think two happier
people ever sat side by side in the late autumn sunshine than those two,
who lingered in the deep embayed window till the sun was low in the rosy
western sky, and told Philip Jocelyn that his visit to Maudesley Abbey
had very much exceeded the limits of a morning call.
So Philip Jocelyn was accepted. Early the next morning he called again
upon Mr. Dunbar, and begged that an early date might be chosen for the
wedding. The banker assented willingly enough to the proposition.
"Let the marriage take place in the first week in November," he said. "I
am tired of living at Maudesley, and I want to get away to the
Continent. Of course I must remain here to be present at my daughter's
Philip Jocelyn was only too glad to receive this permission to hurry the
day of the ceremonial. He went at once to Laura, and told her what Mr.
Dunbar had said. Mrs. Madden was indignant at this unceremonious manner
of arranging matters.
"Where's my young lady's _trussaw_ to be got at a moment's notice, I
should like to know? A deal you gentlemen know about such things. It's
no use talking, my lord, there ain't a dressmaker livin' as would
undertake the wedding-clothes for baronet's lady in little better than a
But Mrs. Madden's objections were speedily overruled. To tell the truth,
the honest-hearted creature was very much pleased to find that her young
lady was going to be a baronet's wife, after all. She forgot all about
her old favourite, Arthur Lovell, and set herself to work to expedite
that most important matter of the wedding-garments. A man came down
express from Howell and James's to Maudesley Abbey, with a bundle of
patterns; and silks and velvets, gauzes and laces, and almost every
costly fabric that was made, were ordered for Miss Dunbar's equipment.
West-end dressmakers were communicated with. A French milliner, who
looked like a lady of fashion, arrived one morning at Maudesley Abbey,
and for a couple of hours poor Laura had to endure the slow agony of
"trying on," while Mrs. Madden and Dora Macmahon discussed all the
colours in the rainbow, and a great many new shades and combinations of
colour, invented by aspiring French chemists.
A NEW LIFE.
For the first time in her life, Margaret Wilmot knew what it was to have
friends, real and earnest friends, who interested themselves in her
welfare, and were bent upon securing her happiness; and I must admit
that in this particular case there was something more than
friendship--something holier and higher in its character--the pure and
unselfish love of an honourable man.
Clement Austin, the cashier at Dunbar, Dunbar, and Balderby's
Anglo-Indian banking-house, had fallen in love with the modest
hazel-eyed music-mistress, and had set himself to work to watch her, and
to find out all about her, long before he was conscious of the real
nature of his feelings.
He had begun by pitying her. He had pitied her because of her hard life,
her loneliness, her beauty, which doubtless exposed her to many dangers
that would have been spared to a plain woman.
Now, when a man allows himself to pity a very pretty girl, he places
himself on a moral tight-rope; and he must be a moral Blondin if he
expects to walk with any safety upon the narrow line which alone divides
him from the great abyss called love.
There are not many Blondins, either physical or intellectual; and the
consequence is, that nine out of ten of the gentlemen who place
themselves in this perilous position find the narrow line very slippery,
and, before they have gone twenty paces, plunge overboard plump to the
very bottom of the abyss, and are over head and ears in love before they
know where they are.
Clement Austin fell in love with Margaret Wilmot; and his tender regard,
his respectful devotion, were very new and sweet to the lonely girl. It
would have been strange, then, under such circumstances, if his love had
He was in no very great hurry to declare himself; for he had a powerful
ally in his mother, who adored her son, and would have allowed him to
bring home a young negress, or a North American squaw, to the maternal
hearth, if such a bride had been necessary to his happiness.
Mrs. Austin very speedily discovered her son's secret; for he had taken
little pains to conceal his feelings from the indulgent mother who had
been his confidante ever since his first boyish loves at a Clapham
seminary, within whose sacred walls he had been admitted on Tuesdays and
Fridays to learn dancing in the delightful society of five-and-thirty
Mrs. Austin confessed that she would rather her son had chosen some
damsel who could lay claim to greater worldly advantages than those
possessed by the young music-mistress; but when Clement looked
disappointed, the good soul's heart melted all in a moment, and she
declared, that if Margaret was only as good as she was pretty, and truly
attached to her dear noble-hearted boy, she (Mrs. Austin) would ask no
It happened fortunately that she knew nothing of Joseph Wilmot's
antecedents, or of the letter addressed to Norfolk Island; or perhaps
she might have made very strong objections to a match between her son
and a young lady whose father had spent a considerable part of his life
in a penal settlement.
"We will tell my mother nothing of the past, Miss Wilmot," Clement
Austin said, "except that which concerns yourself alone. Let the history
of your unhappy father's life remain a secret between you and me. My
mother is very fond of you; I should be sorry, therefore, if she heard
anything to shock her prejudices. I wish her to love you better every
Clement Austin had his wish; for the kind-hearted widow grew every day
more and more attached to Margaret Wilmot. She discovered that the girl
had more than an ordinary talent for music; and she proposed that
Margaret should take a prettily furnished first-floor in a
pleasant-looking detached house, half cottage, half villa, at Clapham,
and at once set to work as a teacher of the piano.
"I can get you plenty of pupils, my dear," Mrs. Austin said; "for I have
lived here more than thirty years--ever since Clement's birth, in
fact--and I know almost everybody in the neighbourhood. You have only to
teach upon moderate terms, and the people will be glad to send their
children to you. I shall give a little evening party, on purpose that my
friend may hear you play."
So Mrs. Austin gave her evening party, and Margaret appeared in a simple
black-silk dress that had been in her wardrobe for a long time, and
which would have seemed very shabby in the glaring light of day. The
wearer of it looked very pretty and elegant, however, by the light of
Mrs. Austin's wax-candles; and the aristocracy of Clapham remarked that
the "young person" whom Mrs. Austin and her son had "taken up" was
really rather nice-looking.
But when Margaret played and sang, people were charmed in spite of
themselves. She had a superb contralto voice, rich, deep, and melodious;
and she played with brilliancy, and, what is much rarer, with
Mrs. Austin, going backwards and forwards amongst her guests to
ascertain the current of opinions, found that her protegee's success was
an accomplished fact before the evening was over.
Margaret took the new apartments in the course of the week; and before a
fortnight had passed, she had secured more than a dozen pupils, who gave
her ample employment for her time; and who enabled her to earn more than
enough for her simple wants.
Every Sunday she dined with Mrs. Austin. Clement had persuaded his
mother to make this arrangement a settled thing; although as yet he had
said nothing of his growing love for Margaret.
Those Sundays were pleasant days to Clement and the girl whom he hoped
to win for his wife.
The comfortable elegance of Mrs. Austin's drawing-room, the peaceful
quiet of the Sabbath-evening, when the curtains were drawn before the
bay-window, and the shaded lamp brought into the room; the intellectual
conversation; the pleasant talk about new books and music: all were new
and delightful to Margaret.
This was her first experience of a home, a real home, in which there was
nothing but union and content; no overshadowing fear, no horrible
unspoken dread, no half-guessed secrets always gnawing at the heart. But
in all this new comfort Margaret Wilmot had not forgotten Henry Dunbar.
She had not ceased to believe him guilty of her father's murder. Calm
and gentle in her outward demeanour, she kept her secret buried in her
breast, and asked for no sympathy.
Clement Austin had given her his best attention, his best advice; but it
all amounted to nothing. The different scraps of evidence that hinted at
Henry Dunbar's guilt were not strong enough to condemn him. The cashier
communicated with the detective police, who had been watching the case;
but they only shook their heads gravely, and dismissed him with their
thanks for his information. There was nothing in what he had to tell
them that could implicate Mr. Dunbar.
"A gentleman with a million of money doesn't put himself in the power of
the hangman unless he's very hard pushed," said the detective. "The
motive's what you must look to in these cases, sir. Now, where's Mr.
Dunbar's motive for murdering this man Wilmot?"
"The secret that Joseph Wilmot possessed----"
"Bah, my dear sir! Henry Dunbar could afford to buy all the secrets that
ever were kept. Secrets are like every other sort of article: they're
only kept to sell. Good morning."
After this, Clement Austin told Margaret that he could be of no use to
her. The dead man must rest in his grave: there was little hope that the
mystery of his fate would ever be fathomed by human intelligence.
But Margaret Wilmot did not cease to remember Mr. Dunbar She only
One resolution was always uppermost in her mind, even when she was
happiest with her new friends. She would see Henry Dunbar. In spite of
his obstinate determination to avoid an interview with her, she would
see him: and then, when she had gained her purpose, and stood face to
face with him, she would boldly denounce him as her father's murderer.
If then he did not flinch or falter, if she saw innocence in his face,
she would cease to doubt him, she would be content to believe that
Joseph Wilmot had met his untimely death from a stranger's hand.
After considerable discussion, it was settled that Laura Dunbar's
wedding should take place upon the 7th of November. It was to be a very
quiet wedding. The banker had especially impressed that condition upon
his daughter. His health was entirely broken, and he would assist in no
splendid ceremonial to which half the county would be invited. If Laura
wanted bridesmaids, she might have Dora Macmahon and any particular
friend who lived in the neighbourhood. There was to be no fuss, no
publicity. Marriage was a very solemn business, Mr. Dunbar said, and it
would be as well for his daughter to be undisturbed by any pomp or
gaiety on her wedding-day. So the marriage was appointed to take place
on the 7th, and the arrangements were to be as simple as the
circumstances of the bride would admit. Sir Philip was quite willing
that it should be so. He was much too happy to take objection to any
such small matters. He only wanted the sacred words to be spoken which
made Laura Dunbar his own for ever and for ever. He wanted to take her
away to the southern regions, where he had travelled so gaily in his
careless bachelor days, where he would be so supremely happy now with
his bright young bride by his side. Fortune, who certainly spoils some
of her children, had been especially beneficent to this young man. She
had given him so many of her best gifts, and had bestowed upon him, over
and above, the power to enjoy her favours.
It happened that the 6th of November was a day which, some time since,
Philip Jocelyn would have considered the most important, if not the
happiest, day of the year. It was the date of the Shorncliffe
steeple-chases, and the baronet had engaged himself early in the
preceding spring to ride his thorough-bred mare Guinevere, for a certain
silver cup, subscribed for by the officers stationed at the Shorncliffe
Philip Jocelyn looked forward to this race with a peculiar interest, for
it was to be the last he would ever ride--the very last: he had given
this solemn promise to Laura, who had in vain tried to persuade him
against even this race. She was brave enough upon ordinary occasions;
but she loved her betrothed husband too dearly to be brave on this.
"I know it's very foolish of me, Philip," she said, "but I can't help
being frightened. I can't help thinking of all the accidents I've ever
heard of, or read of. I've dreamt of the race ever so many times,
Philip. Oh, if you would only give it up for my sake!"
"My darling, my pet, is there anything I would not do for your sake that
I could do in honour? But I can't do this, Laura dearest. You see I'm
all right myself, and the mare's in splendid condition;--well, you saw
her take her trial gallop the other morning, and you must know she's a
flyer, so I won't talk about her. My name was entered for this race six
months ago, you know, dear; and there are lots of small farmers and
country people who have speculated their money on me; and they'd all
lose, poor fellows, if I hung back at the last. You don't know what
play-or-pay bets are, Laura dear. There's nothing in the world I
wouldn't do for your sake; but my backers are poor people, and I can't
put them in a hole. I must ride, Laura, and ride to win, too."
Miss Dunbar knew what this last phrase meant, and she conjured up the
image of her lover flying across country on that fiery chestnut mare,
whose reputation was familiar to almost every man, woman, and child in
Warwickshire: but whatever her fears might be, she was obliged to be
satisfied with her lover's promise that this should be his last
The day came at last, a pale November day, mild but not sunny. The sky
was all of one equal grey tint, and seemed to hang only a little way
above the earth. The caps and jackets of the gentleman riders made spots
of colour against that uniform grey sky; and the dresses of the ladies
in the humble wooden structure which did duty as a grand stand,
brightened the level landscape.
The course formed a long oval, and extended over three or four meadows,
and crossed a country lane. It was a tolerably flat course; but the
leaps, though roughly constructed, were rather formidable. Laura had
been over all the ground with her lover on the previous day, and had
looked fearfully at the high ragged hedges, and the broad ditches of
muddy water. But Philip only made light of her fears, and told her the
leaps were nothing, scarcely worthy of the chestnut mare's powers.
The course was not crowded, but there was a considerable sprinkling of
spectators on each side of the rope--soldiers from the Shorncliffe
barracks, country people, and loiterers of all kinds. There were a
couple of drags, crowded with the officers and their friends, who
clustered in all manner of perilous positions on the roof, and consumed
unlimited champagne, bitter beer, and lobster-salad, in the pauses
between the races. A single line of carriages extended for some little
distance opposite the grand stand. The scene was gay and pleasant, as a
race-ground always must be, even though it were in the wildest regions
of the New World; but it was very quiet as compared to Epsom Downs or
the open heath at Ascot.
Conspicuous amongst the vehicles there was a close carriage drawn by a
pair of magnificent bays--an equipage which was only splendid in the
perfection of its appointments. It was a clarence, with dark
subdued-looking panels, only ornamented by a vermilion crest. The
liveries of the servants were almost the simplest upon the course; but
the powdered heads of the men, and an indescribable something in their
style, distinguished them from the country-bred coachmen and hobbledehoy
pages in attendance on the other carriages.
Almost every one on the course knew that crest of an armed hand clasping
a battle-axe, and knew that it belonged to Henry Dunbar. The banker
appeared so very seldom in public that there was always a kind of
curiosity about him when he did show himself; and between the races,
people who were strolling upon the ground contrived to approach very
near the carriage in which the master of Maudesley Abbey sat, wrapped in
Cashmere shawls, and half-hidden under a great fur rug, in legitimate
He had consented to appear upon the racecourse in compliance with his
daughter's most urgent entreaties. She wanted him to be near her. She
had some vague idea that he might be useful in the event of any accident
happening to Philip Jocelyn. He might help her. It would be some
consolation, some support to have him with her. He might be able to do
something. Her father had yielded to her entreaties with a very
tolerable grace, and he was here; but having conceded so much, he seemed
to have done all that his frigid nature was capable of doing. He took no
interest in the business of the day, but lounged far back in the
carriage, and complained very much of the cold.
The vehicle had been drawn close up to the boundary of the course, and
Laura sat at the open window, pale and anxious, straining her eyes
towards the weighing-house and the paddock, the little bit of enclosed
ground where the horses were saddled. She could see the gentleman riders
going in and out, and the one rider on whose safety her happiness
depended, muffled in his greatcoat, and very busy and animated amongst
his grooms and helpers. Everybody knew who Miss Dunbar was, and that she
was going to be married to the young baronet; and people looked with
interest at that pale face, keeping such anxious watch at the
carriage-window. I am speaking now of the simple country people, for
whom a race meant a day's pleasure. There were people on the other side
of the course who cared very little for Miss Dunbar or her anxiety; who
would have cared as little if the handsome young baronet had rolled upon
the sward, crushed to death under the weight of his chestnut mare, so
long as they themselves were winners by the event. In the little
enclosure below the grand stand the betting men--that strange fraternity
which appears on every racecourse from Berwick-on-Tweed to the
Land's-End, from the banks of the Shannon to the smooth meads of
pleasant Normandy--were gathered thick, and the talk was loud about Sir
Philip and his competitors.
Among the men who were ready to lay against anything, and were most
unpleasantly vociferous in the declaration of their readiness, there was
one man who was well known to the humbler class of bookmen with whom he
associated, who was known to speculate upon very small capital, but who
had never been known as a defaulter. The knowing ones declared this man
worthy to rank high amongst the best of them; but no one knew where he
lived, or what he was. He was rarely known to miss a race; and he was
conspicuous amongst the crowd in those mysterious purlieus where the
plebeian bookmen, who are unworthy to enter the sacred precincts of
Tattersall's, mostly do congregate, in utter defiance of the police. No
one had ever heard the name of this man; but in default of any more
particular cognomen, they had christened him the Major; because in his
curt manners, his closely buttoned-up coat, tightly-strapped trousers,
and heavy moustache, there was a certain military flavour, which had
given rise to the rumour that the unknown had in some remote period been
one of the defenders of his country. Whether he had enlisted as a
private, and had been bought-off by his friends; whether he had borne
the rank of an officer, and had sold his commission, or had been
cashiered, or had deserted, or had been drummed-out of his regiment,--no
one pretended to say. People called him the Major; and wherever he
appeared, the Major made himself conspicuous by means of a very tall
white hat, with a broad black crape band round it.
He was tall himself, and the hat made him seem taller. His clothes were
very shabby, with that peculiar shiny shabbiness which makes a man look
as if he had been oiled all over, and then rubbed into a high state of
polish. He wore a greenish-brown greatcoat with a poodle collar, and was
supposed to have worn the same for the last ten years. Round his neck,
be the weather ever so sultry, he wore a comforter of rusty worsted that
had once been scarlet, and above this comforter appeared his nose, which
was a prominent aquiline. Nobody ever saw much more of the Major than
his nose and his moustache. His hat came low down over his forehead,
which was itself low, and a pair of beetle brows, of a dense
purple-black, were faintly visible in the shadow of the brim. He never
took off his hat in the presence of his fellow-men; and as he never
encountered the fair sex, except in the person of the barmaid at a
sporting public, he was not called upon to unbonnet himself in
ceremonious obeisance to lovely woman. He was eminently a mysterious
man, and seemed to enjoy himself in the midst of the cloud of mystery
which surrounded him.
The Major had inspected the starters for the great event of the day, and
had sharply scrutinized the gentleman riders as they went in and out of
the paddock. He was so well satisfied with the look of Sir Philip
Jocelyn, and the chestnut mare Guinevere, that he contented himself with
laying the odds against all the other horses, and allowed the baronet
and the chestnut to run for him. He asked a few questions presently
about Sir Philip, who had taken off his greatcoat by this time, and
appeared in all the glory of a scarlet satin jacket and a black velvet
cap. A Warwickshire farmer, who had found his way in among the knowing
ones, informed the Major that Sir Philip Jocelyn was going to be married
to Miss Dunbar, only daughter and sole heiress of the great Mr. Dunbar.
The great Mr. Dunbar! The Major, usually so imperturbable, gave a little
start at the mention of the banker's name.
"What Mr. Dunbar?" he asked.
"The banker. Him as come home from the Indies last August."
The Major gave a long low whistle; but he asked no further question of
the farmer. He had a memorandum-book in his hand--a greasy and
grimy-looking little volume, whose pages he was wont to study profoundly
from time to time, and in which he jotted down all manner of queer
hieroglyphics with half an inch of fat lead-pencil. He relapsed into the
contemplation of this book now; but he muttered to himself ever and anon
in undertones, and his mutterings had relation to Henry Dunbar.
"It's him," he muttered; "that's lucky. I read all about that Winchester
business in the Sunday papers. I've got it all at my fingers'-ends, and
I don't see why I shouldn't make a trifle out of it. I don't see why I
shouldn't win a little money upon Henry Dunbar. I'll have a look at my
gentleman presently, when the race is over."
The bell rang, and the seven starters went off with a rush; four
abreast, and three behind. Sir Philip was among the four foremost
riders, keeping the chestnut well in hand, and biding his time very
quietly. This was his last race, and he had set his heart upon winning.
Laura leaned out of the carriage-window, pale and breathless, with a
powerful race-glass in her hand. She watched the riders as they swept
round the curve in the course. Then they disappeared, and the few
minutes during which they were out of sight seemed an age to that
anxious watcher. The people run away to see them take the double leap in
the lane, and then come trooping back again, panting and eager, as three
of the riders appear again round another bend of the course.
The scarlet leads this time. The honest country people hurrah for the
master of Jocelyn's Rock. Have they not put their money upon him, and
are they not proud of him?--proud of his handsome face, which, amid all
its easy good-nature, has a certain dash of hauteur that befits one who
has a sprinkling of the blood of Saxon kings in his veins; proud of his
generous heart, which beats with a thousand kindly impulses towards his
fellow-men. They shout aloud as he flies past them, the long stride of
the chestnut skimming over the ground, and spattering fragments of torn
grass and ploughed-up earth about him as he goes. Laura sees the scarlet
jacket rise for a moment against the low grey sky, and then fly onward,
and that is about all she sees of the dreaded leap which she had looked
at in fear and trembling the day before. Her heart is still beating with
a strange vague terror, when her lover rides quietly past the stand, and
the people about her cry out that the race has been nobly won. The other
riders come in very slowly, and are oppressed by that indescribable air
of sheepishness which is peculiar to gentleman jockeys when they do not
The girl's eyes fill suddenly with tears, and she leans back in the
carriage, glad to hide her happy face from the crowd.
Ten minutes afterwards Sir Philip Jocelyn came across the course with a
great silver-gilt cup in his arms, and surrounded by an admiring throng,
amongst whom he had just emptied his purse.
"I've brought you the cup, Laura; and I want you to be pleased with my
victory. It's the last triumph of my bachelor days, you know, darling."
"Three cheers for Miss Dunbar!" shouted some adventurous spirit among
the crowd about the baronet.
In the next moment the cry was taken up, and two or three hundred voices
joined in a loud hurrah for the banker's daughter. The poor girl drew
back into the carriage, blushing and frightened.
"Don't mind them, Laura dear," Sir Philip said; "they mean well, you
know, and they look upon me as public property. Hadn't you better give
them a bow, Mr. Dunbar?" he added, in an undertone to the banker. "It'll
please them, I know."
Mr. Dunbar frowned, but he bent forward for a moment, and, leaning his
head a little way out of the window, made a stately acknowledgment of
the people's enthusiasm. As he did so, his eyes met those of the Major,
who had crossed the course with Sir Philip and his admirers, and who was
staring straight before him at the banker's carriage. Henry Dunbar drew
back immediately after making that very brief salute to the populace.
"Tell them to drive home, Sir Philip," he said. "The people mean well, I
dare say; but I hate these popular demonstrations. There's something to
be done about the settlements, by-the-bye; you'd better dine at the
Abbey this evening. John Lovell will be there to meet you."
The carriage drove away; and though the Major pushed his way through the
crowd pretty rapidly, he was too late to witness its departure. He was
in a very good temper, however, for he had won what his companions
called a hatful of money on the steeple-chase, and he stood to win on
other races that were to come off that afternoon. During the interval
that elapsed before the next race, he talked to a sociable bystander
about Sir Philip Jocelyn, and the young lady he was going to marry. He
ascertained that the wedding was to take place the next morning, and at
"In that case," thought the Major, as he went back to the ring, "I
shall sleep at Lisford to-night; I shall make Lisford my quarters for
the present, and I shall follow up Henry Dunbar."
THE BRIDE THAT THE RAIN RAINS ON.
There was no sunshine upon Laura Dunbar's wedding morning. The wintry
sky was low and dark, as if the heavens had been coming gradually down
to crush this wicked earth. The damp fog, the slow, drizzling rain shut
out the fair landscape upon which the banker's daughter had been wont to
look from the pleasant cushioned seat in the deep bay-window of her
The broad lawn was soddened by that perpetual rain. The incessant
rain-drops dripped from the low branches of the black spreading cedars
of Lebanon; the smooth beads of water ran off the shining laurel-leaves;
the rhododendrons, the feathery furze, the glistening
arbutus--everything was obscured by that cruel rain.
The water gushed out of the quaint dragons' mouths, ranged along the
parapet of the Abbey roof; it dripped from every stone coping and
abutment; from window-ledge and porch, from gable-end and sheltering
ivy. The rain was everywhere, and the incessant pitter-patter of the
drops beating against the windows of the Abbey made a dismal sound,
scarcely less unpleasant to hear than the perpetual lamentation of the
winds, which to-day had the sound of human voices; now moaning drearily,
with a long, low, wailing murmur, now shrieking in the shrilly tones of
an angry vixen.
Laura Dunbar gave a long discontented sigh as she seated herself at her
favourite bay-window, and looked out at the dripping trees upon the lawn
She was a petted heiress, remember, and the world had gone so smoothly
with her hitherto, that perhaps she scarcely endured calamity or
contradiction with so good a grace as she might have done had she been a
little nearer perfection. She was hardly better than a child as yet,
with all a child's ignorant hopefulness and blind trust in the unknown
future. She was a pampered child, and she expected to have life made
very smooth for her.
"What a horribly dismal morning!" Miss Dunbar exclaimed. "Did you ever
see anything like it, Elizabeth?"
Mrs. Madden was bustling about, arranging her young mistress's breakfast
upon a little table near the blazing fire. Laura had just emerged from
her bath room, and had put on a loose dressing-gown of wadded blue silk,
prior to the grand ceremonial of the wedding toilet, which was not to
take place until after breakfast.
I think Miss Dunbar looked lovelier in this _deshabille_ than many a
bride in her lace and orange-blossoms. The girl's long golden hair, wet
from the bath, hung in rippling confusion about her fresh young face.
Two little feet, carelessly thrust into blue morocco slippers, peeped
out from amongst the folds of Miss Dunbar's dressing-gown, and one
coquettish scarlet heel tapped impatiently upon the floor as the young
lady watched that provoking rain.
"What a wretched morning!" she said.
"Well, Miss Laura, it is rather wet," replied Mrs. Madden, in a
"Rather wet!" echoed Laura, with an air of vexation; "I should think it
was _rather_ wet, indeed. It's miserably wet; it's horribly wet. To
think that the frost should have lasted very nearly three weeks, and
then must needs break up on my wedding morning. Did ever anybody know
anything so provoking?"
"Lor', Miss Laura," rejoined the sympathetic Madden, "there's all manner
of provoking things allus happenin' in this blessed, wicked, rampagious
world of ours; only such young ladies as you don't often come across
'em. Talk of being born with a silver spoon in your mouth, Miss Laura; I
do think as you must have come into this mortal spear with a whole
service of gold plate. And don't you fret your precious heart, my
blessed Miss Laura, if the rain _is_ contrairy. I dare say the clerk of
the weather is one of them rampagin' radicals that's allus a goin' on
about the bloated aristocracy, and he's done it a purpose to aggeravate
you. But what's a little rain more or less to you, Miss Laura, when
you've got more carriages to ride in than if you was a princess in a
fairy tale, which I think the Princess Baltroubadore, or whatever her
hard name was, in the story of Aladdin, must have had no carriage
whatever, or she wouldn't have gone walkin' to the baths. Never you mind
the rain, Miss Laura."
"But it's a bad omen, isn't it, Elizabeth?" asked Laura Dunbar. "I seem
to remember some old rhyme about the bride that the sun shines on, and
the bride that the rain rains on."
"Laws, Miss Laura, you don't mean to say as you'd bemean yourself by
taking any heed of such low rubbish as that?" exclaimed Mrs. Madden;
"why, such stupid rhymes as them are only made for vulgar people that
have the banns put up in the parish church. A deal it matters to such as
you, Miss Laura, if all the cats and dogs as ever was come down out of
the heavens this blessed day."
But though honest-hearted Elizabeth Madden did her best to comfort her
young mistress after her own simple fashion, she was not herself
The low, brooding sky, the dark and murky atmosphere, and that
monotonous rain would have gone far to depress the spirits of the gayest
reveller in all the universe.
In spite of ourselves, we are the slaves of atmospheric influences; and
we cannot feel very light-hearted or happy upon black wintry days, when
the lowering heavens seem to frown upon our hopes; when, in the
darkening of the earthly prospect, we fancy that we see a shadowy
curtain closing round an unknown future.
Laura felt something of this; for she said, by-and-by, half impatiently,
"What is the matter with me, Elizabeth. Has all the world changed since
yesterday? When I drove home with papa, after the races yesterday,
everything upon earth seemed so bright and beautiful. Such an
overpowering sense of joy was in my heart, that I could scarcely believe
it was winter, and that it was only the fading November sunshine that
lit up the sky. All my future life seemed spread before me, like an
endless series of beautiful pictures--pictures in which I could see
Philip and myself, always together, always happy. To-day, to-day, oh!
_how_ different everything is!" exclaimed Laura, with a little shudder.
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